Page images

its pains increased; but the inconvenienees which are experienced in such cases, are not to be ascribed to education, but to a partial and injudicious education. In such cases, it is possible, that the poet, the metaphysician, or the man of taste and refinement, may appear to disadvantage, when compared with the vulgar; for such is the benevolent appointment of Providence with respect to the lower orders, that although not one principle of their nature be completely unfolded, the whole of these principles preserve among themselves, that balance which is ta. vorable to the tranquillity of their minds and to a prudent and steady conduct in the limited sphere which is assigned to them, far more completely, than in those of their superiors, whose education has been conducted on an erroneous or imperfect fyftem : but all this, far from weakening the force of the foregoing observations, only ferves to demonstrate how impossible it always will be, to form a rational plan for the improvement of the mind, without an accurate and comprehensive knowledge of the principles of the human conftitution.

The remarks which have been already made, are sufficient to illustrate the dangerous consequences which are likely to result from a partial and injudi. cious cultivation of the mind; and, at the same time, to point out the utility of the intellectual philofophy, in enabling us to preserve a proper balance among all its various faculties, principles of action, and capacities of enjoyment. Many additional observations might be offered, on the tendency which an accurate analysis of its powers night probably have, to suggest rules for their farther improvement, and for a more successful application of them to their proper purposes : but this subject I shall not prosecute at present, as the illustration of it is one of the leading objects of the following work.—l'hat the memory, the imagination, or the realonig faculty,


are to be instantly strengthened in consequence of our speculations concerning their nature, it would be absurd to suppose ; but it is surely far from be. ing unreasonable to think, that an acquaintance with the laws which regulate these powers, may suggest some useful rules for their gradual cultivation ; for remedying their defects, in the case of individuals, and even for extending those limits, which nature seems, at first view, to have assigned them.

To how great a degree of perfection the intellect. ual and moral nature of man is capable of being raised by cultivation, it is difficult to conceive. The effects of early, continued, and systematical education, in the case of those children who are trained, for the fake of gain, to feats of strength and agility, justify, perhaps, the moft fanguine views which it is possible for a philofopher to form, with respect to the improvement of the species.

I now proceed ta consider, how far the philosophy of mind may be useful in accomplishing the fec. ond object of education ; by aflisting us in the management of early impressions and affociations.

By far the greater part of the opinions on which we act in life, are not the result of our own investi. gations; but are adopted implicitly, in infancy and youth, upon the authority of others. Even the great principles of morality, although implant. ed in every heart, are commonly aided and cherished, at least to a certain degree, by the care of our instructors.-All this is undoubtedly agreeable to the intentions of nature ; and, indeed, were the cafe otherwise, fociety could not fubfift; for nothing can be more evident, than that the bulk of mankind, condemned as they are to laborious occupations, which are incompatible with intellectu. al improvement; are perfectly incapable of forming their own opinions on some of the moft important subjects that can employ the human mind. It is ev.


ident, at the fame time, that as no fyftem of education is perfect, a variety of prejudices must in this way, take an early hold of our belief; so as to acquire over it an influence not inferior to that of the most incontrovertible truths. When a child hears, either a speculative absurdity, or an erroneous principle of action, recommended and enforced daily, by the same voice which first conveyed to it those limple and sublime lessons of morality and religion which are congenial to its nature, is it to be wondered at, that, in future life, it should find it so difficult to eradicate prejudices which have twined their roots with all the essential principles of the human frame ?-If fuch, however, be the obvious intentions of nature, with respect to those orders of men who are employed in bodily labor, it is equally clear, that she meant to im. pofe it as a double obligation on those who receive the advantages of a liberal education, to examine, with the most fcrupulous care, the foundation of all those received opinions, which have any connexion with morality, or with human happiness. If the multitude must be led, it is of consequence, surely, that it should be led by enlightened conductors ; by men who are able to diftinguish truth from error; and to draw the line between those prejudices which are innocent or falutary, (if indeed there are any preju. dices which are really falutary,) and those which are hostile to the interests of virtue and of mankind.

In such a state of society as that in which we live, the prejudices of a moral, a political, and a religious nature, which we imbibe in early life, are fo various, and at the fame time fo intimately blended with the belief we entertain of the most facred and important truths, that a great part of the life of a philosopher muft neceffarily be devoted, not so much to the acquisition of new knowledge, as to unlearn the er. rors to which he had been taught to give an impli. cit affent, before the dawn of reason and reflecion.


And unless he submit in this manner to bring all his opinions to the test of a severe examination, his ingenuity, and his learning, instead of enlightening the world, will only enable him to give an additional currency, and an additional authority, to established

To attempt such a struggle against early prejudices, is, indeed, the professed aim of all philosophers; but how few are to be found who have force of mind sufficient for accomplishing their object; and who, in freeing themselves from one let of errors, do not allow themselves to be carried away with another ? To succeed in it completely, Lord Bacon seems to have thought, (in one of the most remarkable passages of his writings,) to be more than can well be expected from human frailty. “ Nemo adhuc tanta mentis constantia inventus eft, “ ut decreverit, et fi'i imposuerit, theorias et no“tiones communes peuitus abolere, et intellectum « abrasum et æquum ad particularia, de integro, ap

plicare. Itaque illa ratio humana, quam habemus, “ ex multa fide, et multo etiam calu, nec non ex e puerilibus, quas primo hausimus, notionibus, far.

rago quædam eft, et congeries. Quod fiquis, ætate

matura, et fenfibus integris, et mente repurgata, “ fe ad experientiam, et ad particularia de itegro ap

plicet, de eo melius fperaudum est."

Nor is it merely in order to free the mind from the influence of error, that it is useful to examine the foundation of established opinions. It is such an examination alone, that, in an inquisitive age like the present, ran secure a philofopher from the danger of ultimated scepticism. To this extreme, indeed, the complexion of the times is more likely to give him a tendency, than to implicit credulity. In the former ages of ignorance and superstition, the intimate affociation which had been formed, in the prevailing systems of education, between truth and error, had given to the latter an ascendant over the

[ocr errors]

minds of men, which it could never have acquired, if divested of such an alliance. The case has, of late years, been moft remarkably reversed: the common fense of mankind, in consequence of the growth of a more liberal spirit of inquiry, has revolted against many of those absurdities, which had so long heid human reason in captivity ; and it was, perhaps, more than * could reasonably have been expected, that, in the first moments of their emancipation, philosophers should have stopped short, at the precise boundary, which cooler reflection, and more moderate views, would have prescribed. The fact is, that they have passed far beyond it ; and that, in their zeal to destroy prejudices, they have attempted to tear up by the roots, many of the best and happiest and most effential principles of our nature. Having remarked the powerful influence of education over the mind, they have con. cluded, that man is wholly a factitious being; not recollecting, that this very susceptibility of education presupposes certain original principles, which are common to the whole species; and that, as error can only take a permanent hold of a candid mind by being grafted on truths, which it is unwilling or unable to eradicate; even the influence, which false and absurd opinions occasionally acquire over the belief, instead of being an argument for universal scepticism, is the most decisive argument against it ; inasmuch as it shews, that there are some truths so incorporated and identified with our nature, that they can reconcile us even to the absurdities and contradictions with which we suppose them to be inseparably connected. The sceptical philosophers, for example, of the present age, have frequently attempted to hold up to ridicule, those contemptible and puerile superstitions, which have disgraced the creeds of some of the most enlightened nations; and which have not only commanded the aflent, but the reverence, of men of the most accomplished understandings. But these his

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »