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in the general conduct of human life. Perhaps, indeed, they are not to be regarded as institutes of morality calculated to instruct an individual in his duty, so much as a species of law books and law authorities, suited to the practice of those courts of justice, whose decisions are regulated by general principles of natural equity, in conjunction with the maxims of the Roman code: of which kind, I understand, there are many upon the Continent. To which may be added, concerning both these authors, that they are more occupied in describing the rights and usages of independent communities, than is necessary in a work which professes, not to adjust the correspondence of nations, but to delineate the offices of domestic life. The profusion also of classical quotations with which many of their pages abound, seems to me a fault from which it will not be easy to excuse them. If these extracts be intended as decorations of style, the composition is overloaded with orna
ments of one kind. To any thing more than ornament they can make no claim. To propose them as serious arguments; gravely to attempt to establish or fortify a moral duty by the testimony of a Greek or Roman poet, is to trifle with the attention of the reader, or rather to take it off from all just principles of reasoning in morals.
Of our own writers in this branch of philosophy, I find none that I think perfectly free from the three objections which I have stated. There is likewise a fourth property observable almost in all of them, namely, that they divide too much of the law of nature from the precepts of revelation; some authors industriously declining the mention of scripture authorities, as belonging to a different province; and others reserving them for a separate volume: which appears to me much the same defect, as if a commentator on the laws of England should content himself with stating upon each head the common law of the land, without taking any no
tice of acts of parliament; or should choose to give his readers the common law in one book, and the statute law in another. " When es the obligations of morality are taught,” fays a pious and celebrated writer, 6 let the “ sanctions of Christianity never be forgotten;
by which it will be shewn that they give
strength and lustre to each other : religion “ will appear to be the voice of reason, and " morality will be the will of God*.'
The manner also in which modern writers have treated of subjects of morality, is in my judgment liable to much exception. It has become of late a fashion to deliver moral institutes in strings or series of detached propositions, without subjoining a continued ar, gument or regular dissertation to any of them. This sententious, apothegmatizing style, by crowding propositions and paragraphs too, fast upon the mind, and by carrying the
eye of the reader from subject to subje& in too quick a succession, gains not a sufficient hold
* Preface to The Preceptor, by Dr. Johnson.
upon the attention, to leave either the més
“ No one is born a slave, because
* Dr. Ferguson, author of « Institutes of Moral Philo-
"one from being a person can, in the lan
guage of the Roman law, become a thing, “ or subject of property."
“ The supposed property of the master in • the slave, therefore, is matter of usurpation, « not of right.”
It may be possible to reduce from these few adages such a theory of the primitive rights of human nature, as will evince the illegality of slavery; but surely an author requires too much of his reader, when he expects him to make these deductions for himself; or to sup: ply, perhaps from some remote chapter of the same treatise, the several proofs and explanations which are necessary to render the meaning and truth of these assertions intelligible.
There is a fault, the opposite of this, which some moralists who have adopted a different, and I think a better plan of composition, have not always been careful to avoid ; namely, the dwelling upon verbal and elementary distinctions, with a labour and pro