Page images

at home in the world, and more satisfied with its order, the longer he lives in it. The melancholy contrasts which old men are sometimes disposed to state, between its condition, when they are about to leave it, and that in which they found it at the commencement of their career, arises, in most cases, from the unlimited influ. ence which in their early years they had allowed to the fashions of the times, in the formation of their characters. How different from those sentiments and prospects which dignified the retreat of Turgot, and brightened the declining years of Franklin! ???

The querulous temper, however, which is incident to old men, although it renders their manners disagreeable in the intercourse of social life, is by no means the most contemptible form in which the prejudices I have now been describing may display their influence. Such a temper indicates at least a certain degree of obfervation, in marking the vicissitudes of human affairs, and a certain degree of sensibility in early life, which has connected pleasing ideas with the scenes of infancy and youth. A very great proportion of mankind are, in a great measure, incapable either of the one or of the other; and, suffering themselves to be carried quietly along with the stream of fashion, and finding their opinions and their feelings always in the same relative situation to the fleeting objects around them, arę perfeâly unconscious of any progress in their own ideas, or of any change in the manners of their age. In vain the philosopher reminds them of the opinions they yesterday held; and forewarns them, from the spirit of the times, of those which they are to hold to-morrow. The opinions of the present mosuch a lituation, how natural is it for a man of benevolence, to acquire an indiscriminate and superstitious veneration for all the institutions under which he has been educated; as these institutions, however capricious and absurd in themselves, are not only familiarised by habit to all his thoughts and feelings, but are consecrated in his mind by an indiffoluble association with duties which nature recommends to his affections, and which reason commands him to fulfil. It is on these ac. counts that a superstitious zeal against innovation, both in religion and politics, where it is evidently grafted on piety to God, and good will to mankind, however it may excite the forrow of the more enlightened philosopher, is justly entitled, not only to his indulgence, but to esteem and affection.

ment 6 number

The remarks which have been already made, are fufficient to shew, how necessary it is for us, in the formation of our philofophical principles, to examine with care all those opinions which, in our early years, we have imbibed from our instructors; or which are connected with our own local situation. Nor does the univerfality of an opinion among men who have received a similar education, afford any presumption in its favour; for however great the deference is, which a wise man will always pay to common belief, upon those fubjects which have employed the unbiased reason of mankind, he certainly owes it no respect, in so far as he suspects it to be influenced by fashion or authority. Nothing can be more just than the observation of Fontenelle, that “ the number of those who believe in a “ fystem already established in the world, does not, “ in the least, add to its credibility; but that the " number of those who doubt of it, has a tendency to “ diminish it."

The fame remarks lead, upon the other hand, to another conclusion of still greater importance; that, notwithstanding the various false opinions which are current in the world, there are some truths, which are inseparable from the human understanding, and by means of which, the errors of education, in most inítances, are enabled to take hold of our belief.

A weak mind, unaccustomed to reflexion, and which has passively derived its most important opinions from habits or from authority, when, in consequence of a more enlarged intercourse with the world, it finds, that ideas which it had been taught to regard as sacred, are treated by enlightened and worthy men with ridicule, is apt to lose its reverence for the fundamental and eternal truths on which these accessory ideas are grafted, and easily falls a prey to that sceptical philosophy which teaches, that all the opinions, and all the principles of action by which mankind are governed, may be traced to the influence of education and example. Amidst the infinite variety of forms, however, which our versatile nature assumes, it cannot fail to strike an attentive observer, that there are certain indelible features com. mon to them all. In one situation, we find good men attached to a republican form of government; in another, to a monarchy; but in all situations, we find them devoted to the service of their country and of mankind, and disposed to regard, with reverence and love, the most absurd and capricious institutions which custom has led them to connect with the order


of society. The different appearances, therefore, which the political opinions and the political conduct of men exhibit, while they demonstrate to what a wonderful degree human nature may be influenced by situation and by early instruction, evince the existence of some common and original principles, which fit it for the political union, and illustrate the uniform operation of those laws of association, to which, in all the stages of society, it is equally subject.

Similar observations are applicable, and, indeed, in a still more striking degree, to the opinions of mankind on the important questions of religion and morality. The variety of systems which they have formed to themselves concerning these subjects, has often excited the ridicule of the sceptic and the libertine; but if, on the one hand, this variety shews the folly of bigotry, and the reasonableness of mutual indulgence; the curiosity which has led men in every situation to such speculations, and the influence which their conclusions, however absurd, have had on their character and their happiness, prove, no less clearly, on the other, that there must be some principles from which they all derive their origin ; and invite the philofopher 'to ascertain what are these original and immutable laws of the human mind.

“ Examine” (says Mr. Hume) “ the religious “ principles which have prevailed in the world. You es will scarcely be persuaded, that they are any thing « but fick men's dreams; or, perhaps, will regard " them more as the playsome whimsies of monkeys “ in human fhape, than the serious, positive, dog“ matical asseverations of a being, who dignifies him

« felf

" self with the names of rational."-" To oppose “ the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble " maxims as these, that it is impossible for the same " thing to be and not to be; that the whole is

greater than a part ; that two and three make five; " is pretending to stop the ocean with a bulrush." But what is the inference to which we are led by these obfervations? Is it, (to use the words of this ingenious writer,)“ that the whole is a riddle, an “ ænigma, an inexplicable mystery; and that doubt, “ uncertainty, and suspense, appear the only result of « our most accurate scrutiny concerning this subject?” Or should not rather the melancholy histories which he has exhibited of the follies and caprices of fuperstition, direct our attention to those facred and inde. lible characters on the human mind, which all these perversions of reason are unable to obliterate ; like that image of himself, which Phidias wished to perpetuate, by stamping it so deeply on the buckler of his Minerva ; " ut nemo delere posset aut divellere, " qui totam ftatuam non imminueret *.” In truth, the more striking the contradiction, and the more ludicrous the ceremonies to which the pride of human reason has thus been reconciled; the stronger is our evidence that religion has a foundation in the nature of man.

When the greatest of modern philosophers declares, that “he would rather believe all the fables “ in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, “ than that this universal frame is without mind;”+

* Select Discourses by JONN SMITH, p. 119. Cambridge, 1673 't Lord Bacon, in his Essays.


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »