Page images
PDF
EPUB

She gives thee to adorn : 'tis thine alone
To mend,' not change her features.”

MASON. . In a picture bounded by its frame, a perfect lanscape is looked for : it is of itself a whole, and the frame must be filled. But it is not fo in ornamented nature : for, if a fide-screen be wanting, the

eye

is not offended with the frame, or the wainfcot; but has always some natural and pleasing object to receive it. Suppose a room to be hung with one continued rural representation ---would pretty pictures be expected ? would correct landscapes be looked for Nature scarcely knows the thing mankind call a landscape. The landscape-painter seldom, if ever, finds it perfected it to his hands ;--some addition or altera ation is almost always wanted. Every man who has made his observations upon nacural scenery, knows that the milletoe of the oak occurs almost as often as a perfect natural landscape; and to attempt to make up artificial landscape, upon every occasion, is unnatural and absurd.'

We have paid more than usual attention to this work, because we think it in many respects valuable; but, as we have remarked some inaccuracies in composition, the intelligent author will forgive us for observing, that the language also is not always correct.

The Principles of Moral and Political Philofophy. By William

Paley, M. A. Archdeacon of Carlisle. 410. il. 1s. Faulder. THE candour, the liberality, and good sense, which are

conspicuous in every page of this important volume, deserve the greatest commendation. The writer on morality has generally diverted himself of his feelings, or, in the conduct of the human mind, has forgotten that Providence implanted desires and propenfities, not to be destroyed, but to be regulated; not to be checked, as the bane of human felicity, but to be conducted with moderation and prudence, as its best sources. We have not often perceived, in authors of this kind, an intimate acquaintance with the human heart, so necessary. to unravel its intricacies, and develope its inconsistencies: we have feldom feen, in those well versed in this science, a knowlege of human life, and abilities to trace the ruling paflion, viz. a defire for happiness, through its various mazes, and its different errors. In all these respects, Mr. Paley seems to be well qualified for his undertaking. The forın of the work differs from that of many other systems of morality; and this we shall explain chiefly in the author's own words.

In the treatises that I have met with upon the subject of morals, I appear to myself to have remarked the following im.

pero

6

perfections-either that the principle was erroneous, or that it was indiitinctly explained, or that the rules deduced from it, were not sufficiently adapted to real life and to actual situations. The writings of Grotius, and the larger work of Puffendorf, are of too forensic a cast, too much inixed up with the civil law, and with the jurisprudence of Germany, to answer precisely the design of a system of ethics, the direction of private confciences in the general conduct of human life.'

Our own writers are not free from these imputations, to which may be added, their separating the law of nature from the precepts of revelation ; and declining to mention the scripe ture authorities in support of their other arguments.

The manner is also sometimes liable to exception. Moral institutes have been delivered in detached propositions, which are of too transitory a nature to fix themselves in the mind : one effaces the other, in a continued series, 'velut unda undam.' The opposite fault to this is a laboured and prolix difcustion of elements and verbal distinctions. The principal examples of these two kinds of writings are Dr. Ferguson's Institutes of Moral Philosophy, and Dr. Rutherford's of Natural Law.

The subjects of Mr. Paley's work speak to men's business and bofoms :' they are generally interesting and important. The question is always stated with precision; it is fairly laid down, and in its full force. For this we owe him our thanks; and, in this part, he has had few competitors. Authors frequently fear difficulties, and attempt to elude them, instead of meeting them with an attention equal to their importance. They tremble for a name, and, to save it, facrifice the dignity of their subject, or the subject itself; hence they afford a temporary triumph to the sceptic or the libertine, by the weakness of an injudicious defence.

The author apologises for mixing politics with ethics, and for not quoting authorities. That a margin, crowded with names, can give a force to truth, and a dignity to morality, those will only think, who have been conversant with the authors on the continent, or who suppose, that in much labour there is much learning. A precept of morality is undoubtedly to be appreciated by its intrinsic worth ; for a name 'cannot adà force to one obviously just, or support another that may be trifling, or ill-founded. In natural knowlege, the importance of the observation is often determined by the credit of the observer ; and with reason, since so few are to be trusted with the use of their own eyes.

• The next circumstance for which fome apology may be expected, is the joining of moral and political philofophy together, or the addition of a book of politics to a system of ethics. Against this objection, if it be made one, I might defend myfelt by the example of many approved writers, who have treated, de officiis hominis et civis, or, as some chuse to express it, “ of the rights and obligations of man, in his individual and focial capacity,” in the same book. I might alledge also, that the part a member of the commonwealth Thall take in political contentions, the vote he shall give, the counsels he shall approve, the support he shall afford, or the opposition he shall make, to any system of public measures, is as much a question of personal duty, as much concerns the conscience of the individual, who deliberates, as the determination of any

ther,

doubt which relates to the conduct of private life; that consequently political philosophy is, properly speaking a continuation of moral philoTophy; or rather, indeed, a part of it, supposing moral philosophy to have for its aim, the information of the human conscience in every deliberation that is likely to come before it. I might avail myself of these excuses, if I wanted them; but the vindication upon which I rely, is the following. In stating the principle of morais, the reader will observe, that I have ema ployed some industry in explaining the theory, and shewing the necessity of general rules; without the full and constant consideration of which, I am persuaded that no system of moral philosophy can be satisfactory or consistent. This foundation being laid, or rather, this habit being formed, the discussion of political subjects, to which, more than almost to any other, general rules are applicable, became clear and easy. Whereas, had these topics been assigned to a distinct work, it would have been necessary to have repeated the same rudiments, to have established over again the same principles, as those which we had already exemplified, and rendered familiar to the reader, in the former parts of this. In a word, if there appear to any one too great à diversity, or too wide a diftance between the subjects treated of, in the course of the present volume, let him be reminded, that the doctrine of general rules pervades and connects the whole.'

Concerning the personal motives which engaged me in the following attempt, it is not necessary that I say much; the nature of my academical situation, a great deal of leisure since my retirement from it, the recommendation of an honoured and excellent friend, the authority of the venerable prelate to whom these labours are inscribed, the not perceiving in what way I could employ my time er talents better, and my disapprobation in literary men of that faftidious indolence, which lits till because it disdains to do little, were the considerations that directed my thoughts to this design. Nor have I repented of the undertaking. Whatever be the fate or reception of this work, it owes its author nothing. In fickness and in health, I have found in it that, which can alone alleviate the one, or give enjoyment to the other-occupation and engagement.'

We

We have been diffuse in explaining the author's design, because we think the work deserves great attention. We shall now give a short analysis of the various fubjects, and subjoin fome extracts, chiefly calculated to illustrate the manner which diftinguishes the present volume.

The great use of moralicy is to regulate the rules of life, viz. the law of honour, that of the land, and the scriptures. Some authors have substituted for moral precepts, an instinctive monitor, called the moral sense, as a principle of our conftitution, capable of discerning right and wrong, and of informing us of the nature of our actions, by a secret, though often a powerful impulse. Our author thinks, with reason, that there is no such innate principle. The great source of confusion, in almost every branch of metaphysics, has been the velocity with which the mind acts, and the readiness with which she appropriates every thing external to herself. By this means we can feldom diftinguish her natural powers from her acquisitions ; for qualities apparently inherent, are often the creatures of her own formation. The science wants great allistance from careful and accurate observers : Mr. Paley does not add much to it in this light; but he examines with candour, and generally decides with judgment. Human happiness and virtue are the two next objects of confideration, which our author styles preliminary. The chapter on happiness is written with great perspicuity and exactness.

The second book is on Moral Obligation;' and Mr. Paley, with singular address, establishes the union between morality and religion. Indeed, as he has pointed the question, it is difficult to elude it. He himself seems to think that, independent of the declared will of God, there are not sufficient motives to check vice. Without wishing to weaken the inducements, or to diminish one link in this great chain of union, we cannot implicitly follow our author in this opinion, It is enough to agree that, in a well regulated reflecting mind, motives of either kind will add weight to the others; and itis a pleasing refiection, that each mode of reasoning is capable '. of proving the necessity of morality. Perhaps no one has, for a moment, doubted it, fince however different tenets and precepts may be, in this great point every sect agrees.

Our author's plan next leads him to consider Divine Benevolence,' which he establishes so unexceptionably, that we may safely follow him in his enquiry into the ' will of God,' concerning any given action, by the confideration of its tendency, to promote or diminih general happiness. This engairy, and the proper limitations, leads our author to cita bliih the neces

1

lity of general rules, and to distinguish between the general' and particular consequences of an action.

The connection of obligation' and right,' or rather their opposition, induces the author to close the first book with some remarks and distinctions of general and particular rights.' These observations are extremely just, and involve some important consequences, which we would recommend to those who are eager to support monopolies; but unfortunately the defire of gain, or the luft of power, seldom attend to the dice tates of morality.

The third book is on• Determinate Relative Duties," as property, its utility, and the various means by which it is 'acquired; promises of different kinds, which are accurately distinguished, and the remarks on each kind are extremely just and clear. Contracts of different forts; and from this part of the work we shall select a specimen, because it is less connected with the reasoning of the rest.

"I know few subjects which have been more misunderstood: than the law which "authorises the imprisonment of insolvene debtors. It has been represented as a gratuitous cruelty, which contributes nothing io the reparation of the creditor's loss, or to the advantage of the community. This prejudice arises prina cipally from considering the fending of a debtor to jail, as an act of private satisfaction to the creditor, instead of a public punishment. As an act of satisfaction or revenge it is always wrong in the motive, and often intemperate and undistinguishe ing in the exercise: Confider it as a public punishment, founded upon the same reason, and subject to the fame rules, as other punishments; and the justice of it, together with the des gree to which it should be extended, and the objects upon whom it may be inflicted, will be apparent. There are frauds relata, ing to insolvency, against which it is as necessary to provide punishment, as for any public crimes whatever ; as where a man gets your money into his possession, and forthwith runs away with it; or, what is little better, squanders it with vio' tious expences ; or stakes it at the gaming table; in the alley ; or upon wild adventures in trade; or is conscious at the time he borrows it, that he can never repay it ; of wilfully puts it out of his power by profuse living; or conceals his effects, or transfers them by collusion to another; not to mention the obu ftinacy of fome debtors, who had rather rot in a jail, than dea liver

up their estates ; for, to say the truth, the first absurdity is in the law itself, which leaves it in a debtor's power to witha hold any part of his property from the claim of his creditors. The only qaestion is, whether the punishment be properly placed in the hands of an exasperated creditor? for which it may be said, that these frauds ar fu subtle and versatile, that nothing but a discretionary power can overtake them; and that

Vol. LX. July, 17856

AO

« PreviousContinue »