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This is daily illustrated in the case of those who, by the arrangements of society, are born to the possession of the means of gratifying all their passions. The miserable exertions made by them to fill up their vacancy of mind frequently cost them more care, more loss of health, of fortune, and of true enjoyment, than would have been necessary to have rendered them the most enlightened of mankind. Nature, however, has so managed matters that they usually do, in the midst of their anxiety for amusement, acquire a small degree of improvement arising from that very anxiety, although this improvement is often too small to be of much importance either to themselves or to the world.' P. 197.
If the author pushes his system much further than may perhaps be practicable, and would have the time filled up by various, by well directed, and by constant activity, still many of his exhortations to shake off indolence are excellent; and we would only bring to his recollection the old saying, that a bow never relaxed will be good for nothing.'
The appetites, affections, and passions, form an interesting part of this work; and in the introduction to this topic a just distinction is advanced on the use which nature makes of our appetites and affections, and the conduct which men as individuals ought to observe with regard to them.'
Nature' (says Mr. Forsyth) 'excites and cherishes them, but it is our duty as rational beings to subdue and restrain them. In this we may seem to contend against nature, but in truth we fulfil her purpose, which is that of at once exciting us to action by motives, and of teaching us skill and self command by appretiating and subduing these motives.'
The benevolent affections are generally esteemed objects of praise; but as, according to our author, every affection implies a certain degree of imperfection of character,' it is not benevolence, but that which regulates benevolence, which ought to be regarded as the supreme director of human conduct, and as the ultimate object of human pursuit.' We might be in danger of sinking in the scale of being, if benevolent affec tions were considered by us of little estimation; but this evil is guarded against by the consideration of their value in the formation of character. Though they do not constitute the perfection of our nature, yet they are closely connected with that perfection; and they are the means, by which a very considerable portion of it is produced: the most generous and affectionate minds are at the same time the most active, earnest, and valuable.' Rules for cultivating the benevolent affections are rejected for two reasons: because a blind affection cannot constitute the perfection of an intelligent being; and because our affections grow up spontaneously and require no culture. And if an individual is engaged in the true pursuit of human
life, he will ultimately love only the wise and the amiable, and be thus regarded with approbation by every intelligent being.
The malevolent affections are stigmatised by every thinking mind as a man improves in the study of wisdom, he will become superior to malevolent passions, and they who labour under them will be in his eyes objects of compassion. Avarice, self-love, ambition, and the passion for reforming the world, are treated separately; and under the article of self-love is an observation on a class of selfish men, who in peaceable times so often govern the world, but in periods of political trouble are frightened off the stage. They call themselves moderate men. Under this pretence of moderation, which is mere cowardice or selfishness, they leave the field to more ardent spirits, and are disposed of at pleasure by every successive party.
The inconsistency of a life under the direction of the passions is well described:
'We wish to reconcile contradictions, by pursuing at once both wisdom and folly, by indulging our passions, and acquiring selfcommand at the same time. Hence we often talk of our own pro sperity, and of the prosperity of our native country, as connected, not with the progress of reason, but with the acquisition of lands and goods. It is seldom recollected that we and our country exist in vain, excepting so far as we advance in moral excellence. We talk of the importance of virtue, and, at the same time, both our fathers and we have talked of our country's interests in distant regions, as promoted by conquests and treachery and murder; that is to say, we allow that moral worth is a good thing, while, at the same time, we consider ourselves as deriving advantage from something, not only different from intellectual improvement, but even altogether hostile to its progress, and inconsistent with its existence.
It is not wonderful that this contradictory and inaccurate mode of thinking should infect our conduct. We have no single object of pursuit, but alter our schemes, as avarice, ambition, pleasure, or conscience, chance to be uppermost. We perform religious ceres monies from habit, or a superstitious reverence for we know not what. We indulge our passions, because it pleases us for the instant to do so, or because others do the same. We pursue the objects of these passions with anxiety, and are thrown into grief and despair by disappointment with regard to them. We do kind actions, because we are of a soft temper, or are met with in a good humour; and we act harshly when the contrary' is the case. We pursue riches, because the world admires them; and we think Qurselves and our families ruined by the loss of them, because fools have said that we are so. Thus we stagger on at random, without principle, through life. At the end of it, we know not whether we have been wise or foolish, and begin to wonder what is to become of us hereafter. The terrors of superstition lay hold of use
Some lay these asleep by levity, and others by vain prayers and repentance: till at last, between hope and despair, we find ourselves compelled to close our eyes, and to take a leap into the dark.'P. 298.
The passions could not be found in the human race without a tendency to some good purpose; and in appreciating their value a question occurs, which no doubt frequently arises in the thinking mind. Nations have been seen to rise and fall; pursuing nearly the same career of the passions, and then vanishing from off the face of the earth. Is this process to go on for ever? and is there no possibility of preserving a nation from the fate that has attended its predecessors? There is only one way, it seems, to arrest its destiny. Unless the pursuit of human improvement is the object the most highly valued in it, and numbers are employed in that task, the passions will effect their purpose, which ends in total ruin,
Upon the existence of persons engaging in it in sufficient numbers to enable them to influence the character, opinions, and pursuits of society, the future destiny of nations depends. In ancient Rome, accomplished and virtuous men, who considered power and fame and riches as pursuits subordinate to intellectual excellence, were so few, that when half a dozen individuals were cut off, the nation was lost. The extensive diffusion of knowledge has with us greatly altered the character and state of society. But as I am here discussing the duty of individuals towards themselves, or the subject of self-improvement, I shall only remark, that they who have engaged in it as the great business of life, to which other pursuits are accounted and rendered subordinate, may well reflect with pride and satisfaction, that upon them rest the hope of future ages and the stability of their country. It may be difficult to say how many righteous persons will, in this stage of the history of the world, be necessary to save a guilty city; but it is certain, that the nation in which men honestly and truly engaged in the pursuit of intellectual improvement shall first abound, will become perma, nent upon the earth. Being engaged in an improving instead of a fluctuating career, it will at all times contain multitudes of active and enlightened men, capable of seizing every advantage that may occur in human affairs. It will therefore steadily increase, while other nations decline and pass away; and its race, constantly augmenting in numbers and intelligence, will ultimately be the masters of the globe. P. 329.
From the contemplation of man in himself and his duties in consequence, we are led to the relationship which subsists between him and the Creator; and religion forms a very important topic of discussion. It is divided by our author into two kinds; that which arises out of the passions and the imagination, and that which is founded on reason or the dictates
of the understanding. The religious passion, under the name of devotion, is well examined; its use and abuse explained; and it is concluded, that when it impedes the perfect exercise of the faculties, it ought to be suppressed, and rational religion adopted in its stead. The latter is then examined, under its four heads: the knowledge of the being and character of God, and of the relation in which we are placed towards him; the practice of our duties towards him; and a correct discernment of the tendency of his works, and the future destiny of man.
The usual proofs are advanced of the existence of a first cause; and it is justly observed, that we must seek the quali ties and character of the author of the universe in his works, and not in the fancies of our imagination. From the unity of design in them, is inferred the unity of his nature; steadfastness and unchangeableness, from the order which prevails in the world; a love of variety, from the various beings which he has created. Omniscience and omnipresence are his attributes; and if the benevolent affections that mortal beings possess cannot be attributed to him, yet, in viewing the progress of human nature, its welfare is attended to with the highest degree of satisfaction. The connection in which this great being stands toward us, is that of cause and effect: and here the difficult question of liberty and necessity is discussed; in which the author takes decidedly the part of the necessitarian, and, entering into a subject which he might with great prudence have abstained from, advances an opinion that we reject with horror. Matter, it seems, is proved to be neither a solid nor an inactive substance; and on this account he makes no scruple of advancing the atheistical opinion in Pope's 'Essay on Man :' I am upon the whole inclined to believe that there is in truth only one substance in the world, that this substance is mind, and that thus God is indeed all and in all that exists.' lame and impotent conclusion' arises from a confused notion of substance: which, if it had been considered as a collection of ideas existing together independent of any other ideas, and that the nature of the meanest substance before our eyes is not developed, the author would not have had the temerity to hazard so wild a conjecture; and, contenting himself with some of the qualities he had discovered in the author of our being, would have waited till greater accession of knowledge had permitted him to speculate on the nature and essence of the great Creator. The idea is not novel, nor was Spinosa the first who embraced it; and it is little merit to Pope to have clothed it with the fascination of poetry. A being of to-day, who cannot analyse a common stone, must be deemed very presumptuous to model that'essence which is incomprehensible to the highest angel.
When we had read the sentiment on the nature of God, we were prepared for every thing that might follow. Many of the speculations are ingenious, and several remarks on different religions worthy of attention. Religious worship is allowed in the present state of the world, and we are exhorted to study and imitate the perfections of God. The question of a future state embarrasses the author, as it naturally may, but he inclines to it from the favourite notion of the improvement of mind, and thinks that it will be enjoyed by some of the human species. Indeed we are not surprised at his conclusions: for in vain does philosophy aim at discovering the nature of the Supreme Being, or pretend to solve the question of the future state. If we do not embrace the light of the gospel, from no other source can any satisfaction be derived on so intricate a question as our future existence.
The first volume of this work only is published: before the second appears, the author will have time to revise some of his opinions advanced in the first part of his subject. The great fault is in aiming at too much; and pretending to decide, where it is impossible to arrive at certainty. There can be no harm in encouraging human beings to cultivate their minds; for this is the excellence of their character, this distinguishes them from beasts: but very great improvement of mind is consistent with great depravity of heart, and there is not sufficient distinction made between these facultics. It will be found, that the christian religion takes the best steps to improve both our heads and our hearts: and that they are best preparing themselves for the future state of their existence, who follow the precepts of our Saviour; pursuing what he has commanded, and avoiding what he has prohibited.
ART. 10.-An Antidote to Infidelity, opposed to the anti-christian Strictures of Mr. Gibbon; containing Expositions on the Prophecies of our blessed Saviour, in Matt. xxiv, Mark xiii, and Luke xxi; with other interesting Disquisitions, &c. By a Lover of Truth. 8vo. 2s. 6d. Hatchard. 1804.
AN apt example is here furnished of the rage for authorship with which a poor wight may unhappily be seized. The work is com CRIT. REV. Vol. 4. March, 1805.