Page images
[ocr errors]

surprised his audience with extemporaneous bursts of eloquence never surpassed under similar circumstances,' we cannot but believe that the character of his mind was not in a general way fairly developed, except by slow and continuous operations. His intellect, as Mr. James states, if not in the fullest sense of the term profound, was vigorous, clear, and prompt; capable of rigid analytical processes of investigation, possessed of much power of keen discrimination, and though by no means wanting in creative genius, yet rather logical than imaginative.' This is a faithful description. Dr. Fletcher's productions bore no marks of rapid, electrical, thinking. He did not put paragraphs into sentences, and sentences into words. He seldom had the figures which serve not only as illustrations, but expressions, of ideas. He was cool, calm, accurate, and finished, definite in conception, unimpeachable in reasoning, distinct in utterance, but conveying the impression that he was giving forth thoughts that he had sought out, not thoughts that had come upon him—indicating work rather than inspiration. It was felt that however excellent he was, the same diligence and taste continued might have made him still more excellent, and not that he had reached the utmost limit, and to touch his work would be to spoil it. Naturally endowed with superior abilities, he owed not a little to the great educational advantages which he enjoyed, and the habits of precise and comprehensive thought rendered necessary by his circumstances and his duties. Hence, he was peculiarly adapted to the treatment of a subject requiring patient and comprehensive discussion, and always realized proportionate advantages from the continued application of his powers to the theme in hand. If he had not the intuition of some, he had more than the industry, and sound judgment, of many. If he needed elaboration to do his best, with elaboration the best he did. The comparison between his more hasty productions, and those to which he had devoted profound and protracted attention, will fully bear out this remark.

As an author, the most important productions of Dr. Fletcher were controversial, in form or reality, or both; and for the work of a polemic he was specially adapted. He had a strong conviction of the importance of theoretical truth and a healthy love of it, not only for its own sake but for that of its connection with true holiness; he was perspicuous and logical; the fulness and copiousness of his style rendered it a suitable vehicle of arguments, often felt to be dry; while the great courtesy and gentleness of his spirit prevented the possibility of just offence from the mode in which he conducted his discussion. The Discourse on Personal Election and Divine Sovereignty, the Lec

tures on the Principles and Institution of the Roman Catholic Religion, the sermon on the Miraculous Gifts of the Primitive Churches, and Modern Pretensions to their exercise, are all examples of lucid thought, clear discrimination, effective reasoning, and eloquent writing. The first has done good service in exhibiting and commending the now most prevalent form of Calvinistic theology; the last exerted a considerable influence in checking the delusive opinions and practices against which it was directed, and had the honour, as we happen to know, of being accounted the most formidable of all the foes of the work of the Lord,' by Edward Irving himself; and the second has had an extensive circulation, having reached the fourth edition, and taken a prominent and permanent place among the popular defences of the faith once delivered to the saints.' The lectures were delivered at Blackburn between thirty and forty years ago, 'in consequence of the zealous efforts of the Roman Catholic priest,' resident in that town, 'in the vindication of his own principles,' which excited great attention, and seemed imperatively to call for counteracting measures.

The lectures created much excitement at the time of their delivery, and established the fame of their author when published. They were highly commended in the reviews of the day, and are referred to by some of the first critics, in terms of high approval. Many and excellent as are the works which have since been published on the subject of popery, none, perhaps, so fairly discusses the essential principles of the system as ascertained from the best authorities; while the general structure of the argument throughout is marked by the presence of the severest logic. Great care was bestowed upon the composition of the work if it has any fault, it is one that would be an excellency in oral discourse, namely, a somewhat redundant eloquence. . . . They were highly successful in his own neighbourhood, and have been useful in enlightening and directing the public mind in its higher ranges of influence. The Abbé Bossut, of Paris, informed Protestant gen

tleman that he had read them, and that he considered their argument unanswerable; Mr. Moffat, the well-known missionary, related an instance of their usefulness at the Cape, in the conversion of two Roman Catholics; and the following incident, communicated by the Rev. James Thompson, in the year 1826, was a further proof that the work was not without the Divine blessing.

"I took a copy of this work with me when I went out to South America, in 1818. After being there some time, I got intimately

Dr. Dunn, a Roman Catholic priest, then at Preston, hearing of Mr. Fletcher's intention to publish his Lectures, offered the use of his library, and transmitted a large cargo of books, not easily to be obtained in any other way. Mr. Fletcher's courtesy, as a controversialist, secured these good offices of truly catholic kindness, by which he was enabled to quote from the best authorities.'

acquainted with a Dominican friar, and had with him many interesting conversations on general subjects, as well as on religion. I at length lent him your volume; and upon seeing him some time after, he expressed great satisfaction at the candour with which you had treated the subject, and particularly noticed the spirit of piety in which the argument was managed. He told me he had translated several passages of the lectures into Spanish, and every way he seemed much pleased with the work. A few days before I went to Chili, wishing to take your Lectures with me, I called on my friend for the volume I had lent him. Upon my asking him for it, he brought it out, and holding it in both his hands, and pressing it to his breast, he spoke of it so much, and seemed so reluctant to part with it, that I could not summon courage enough to deprive him of it. I therefore presented it to him as a memorial of our friendship, with which he was truly gratified.' '-pp. 205, 206.

The Lectures are nine in number: on The Authority of the Church,' 'Oral Tradition,' 'The Papal Supremacy,' 'Transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass,' The Sacraments of the Church of Rome,' 'The Invocation of Saints and the Love of Images,' 'Purgatory and the Doctrine of Merit,' 'The Roman Catholic Hierarchy,' and 'The Genius and Tendency of the Papal Religion.' We sincerely hope that they will be still more widely circulated, as they present a comprehensive view of the important subject discussed, in a manner to engage the attention and convince the judgment, of a large class of readers who are not to be reached or satisfied by every day productions. To this work are now added two lectures on Puseyism, which the author intended to publish, and which, though not by any means unworthy of their companions, would doubtless have been improved by his further revision. He could scarcely have retained the two introductory pages of the second lecture, which are an exact copy of those of the ninth on popery.

[blocks in formation]


Art. III. Lectures on Ethics. By Thomas Brown, M.D., late Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh: with a Preface, by Thomas Chalmers, D.D. Edinburgh: William Tate. 1846.

DR. THOMAS BROWN has now become an historical character. In the philosophical hemisphere, he occupies confessedly no unimportant place. By some he is regarded as a star of the first magnitude; and not a few even profess to direct themselves athwart the ocean of metaphysical speculation by the light that he has shed upon it. Notwithstanding this, his merits as a philosopher have never yet been very definitely fixed; and we verily believe that there are few, whose works it is so difficult rightly to appreciate, and whose position in the priesthood of letters, it is so hard a matter to assign. In our capacity as judges, in these questions, and in the spirit of that Eclecticism, we have so long professed, we shall attempt to add a few materials to aid the verdict, which the mind of humanity is pronouncing.

Dr. Brown was the son of a Scottish clergyman. Having the misfortune to lose his father in his infancy, he was taken by his widowed mother to Edinburgh, where, in the first few years of his mental development, he manifested that precocity of intellect, which often proves the early delight, but the subsequent disappointment, of parental love. In his seventh year he was sent to the vicinity of London for education. Here he remained until his age was sufficiently mature to allow of his matriculation at the University of Edinburgh, from the literary atmosphere of which capital he never withdrew, until compelled to bend his steps southward by the illness, which terminated in his death.

From this sketch let us attempt to trace some of the main influences, under which the mind of our philosopher expanded. The early bias of his childhood, spent as it was in the family circle of a Scottish clergyman, must have cherished the earnest and reflective tendency of a mind naturally inquisitive, and eager for truth. His residence in England was always admitted by his northern associates to have added that polish to his manner, that refinement to his imagination, and that beauty both to his writing and elocution, in which he stood preeminent amongst his countrymen. His first predilection for philosophy was fostered in the lecture-room of Dugald Stewart; and the comments he published upon Darwin's Zoonomia,' before he had completed his twentieth year, are a sufficient proof of the success, with which he had applied himself to that

department of his education. All this pointed him out as eminently fitted for the prosecution either of a literary, or a professional life.

From this period his literary history, as far as it appears to the public eye, may be said to have commenced, and its subsequent tendencies to have manifested themselves. Edinburgh, at that juncture, offered to him associates, all in the burning zeal of their early manhood, well calculated to fan the flame of his incipient genius. There were to be found Brougham, and Horner, and Reddie, and Jeffrey; there were many other like aspirants to literary and philosophic reputation, less in fame, though hardly less in ability; there, in a word, was the circle of minds at once profound and brilliant, to which the Edinburgh Review' owed its birth and primary influence. The spirit which predodominated in this circle is pretty well known to the literary world. Though held under the spell of the Scottish school of philosophy, as then represented by the flowing eloquence and graceful auctoritas' of Stewart, yet it was struggling from time to time to be free. The love of physical science began to break in upon the steady action of the higher reflection; and the tendency to simplify the analysis of the mental phenomena, if it did not reach to the verge of materialism, yet showed a lingering relish for the principles of Hartley and Condillac. In the wake of this, there followed, as was quite natural there should, a weakening of the religious element within the mind, an absorption of the loftiest spiritual ideas, in the pursuit of natural phenomena, and an under current of sarcastic contempt aimed against the peculiar truths of revelation, which are usually denominated evangelical. Of this spirit it is well known that Brown largely partook, although his affection for his family, and the natural gentleness of his disposition always restrained any offensive expression thereof.

Two circumstances may yet be added, which must have operated considerably upon the formation of Brown's philosophic character. The one was his devotion to the studies of the medical profession. Where the mind is well fortified beforehand by habits of inward reflection, the pursuits of this profession may be in the highest degree valuable. The parallelism between the body and the mind, and their mutual adaptations, must be such, that the knowledge of the one is, to say the least, very suggestive of facts and operations relating to the other. experience tells us, that where the love of the ideal has already grown dim, there is nothing more calculated than such an 'immersion in matter' as medical pursuits foster, to extinguish it altogether. The other circumstance to which we refer, was the peculiar tendency of the age at the time of which we are speaking. In


« PreviousContinue »