Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]


being a point of no importance whatever, "whether our living substances (those that shall survive the body) be material or immaterial :"* but, as a faculty of intelligence is discernible in brutes as well as in man, he thought himself compelled to ascribe it in both to a common principle; and believing this principle to be immortal in the latter, he supposed it also to be immortal in the former; and hence speaks of the "natural immortality of brutes." But as to what becomes of this natural immortality of the brute creation after death, he says nothing whatever, and even regards the inquiry as "invidious and weak."

By some immaterialists, and particularly by Vitringa and Grotius, it has been conceived that, as something distinct from matter must be granted to brutes, to account for their powers of perception, mankind are in possession of a principle superadded to this, and which alone constitutes their immortal spirit. But such an idea, while it absurdly supposes every man to be created with two immaterial spirits, leaves us as much as ever in the dark as to the one immaterial, and consequently incorruptible, soul or principle possessed by brutes. The insufficiency of the solution has not only been felt but acknowledged by other immaterialists; and nothing can silence the objection, but to advance boldly, and deny that brutes have a soul or percipient principle of any kind; that they have either thought, perception, or sensation; and to maintain in consequence, that they are mere mechanical machines, acted upon by external impulsions alone. Des Cartes was sensible that this is the only alternative: he, therefore, cut the Gordian knot, and strenuously contended for such an hypothesis: and the Abbé Polignac, who intrepidly follows him, gravely devotes almost a whole book of his anti-Lucretius to an elucidation of this doctrine: maintaining that the hound has no more will of his own in chasing the fox than the wires of a harpsichord have in exciting tones; and that, as the harpsichord is mechanically thrown into action by a pressure of the fingers upon its keys, so the hound is mechanically urged onwards by a pressure of the stimulating odour that exhales from the body of the fox upon his nostrils. Such are the fancies which have been invented to explain what appears to elude all explanation whatever; and consequently to prove that the hypothesis itself is unfounded.

Yet the objections that apply to the conjecture of materialism, as commonly understood and professed, are still stronger. By the denial of an intermediate state of being between the death and the resurrection of the body, it opposes not only what appears to be the general tenour, but what is, in various places, the direct declaration of the Christian Scriptures ; and by conceiving the entire dissolution and dispersion of the percipient as well as impercipient parts of the animal machine, of which all the atoms may become afterwards constituent portions of other intelligent beings, it renders a resumed individuality almost, if not altogether, impossible.§

The idea, that the essence or texture of the soul consists either wholly or in part of spiritualized, ethereal, gaseous, or radiant matter, capable of combining with the grosser matter of the body, and of becoming an object of sense, seems to avoid the difficulties inherent to both systems. It says to the materialist, matter is not necessarily corruptible; as a believer in the Bible, you admit that it is not so upon your own principle, which maintains the body was incorruptible when it first issued from the

Analysis of Religion, Natural and Revealed, Part i. ch. i.

Id. Part i. ch. i. p. 30. Edit. 1802.

I Id. p. 29.

§ See the author's Life of Lucretius, prefixed to his translation of the poem De Rerum Natura, Vol. I. p. 92.


hands of its Maker, and that it will be incorruptible upon its resurrection. It says to the immaterialist, the term immaterial conveys no determinate idea; it has been forcibly enlisted into service, and at the same time by no means answers the purpose that was intended. It tells him that it is a term not to be found in the Scriptures, which, so far from opposing the belief that the soul, spirit, or immortal part of man, is either wholly or in combination, a system or radiant of ethereal matter, seems rather, on the contrary, to countenance it, not only as I have already observed, by expressly asserting that it was originally formed out of a divine breath, aura, or vapour, but by presenting it to us under some such condition in every instance in which departed spirits are stated to have re-appeared.

That a principle of the same kind, though under a less active and elaborate modification, appertains to the different tribes of brutes, there can, I think, be no fair reason to doubt. Yet it by no means follows that in them it must be also immortal. Matter, as we have already seen, is not necessarily corruptible, nor have we any reason to suppose, that whatever is immaterial is necessarily incorruptible. Immortality is in every instance a special gift of the Creator; and so wide is the gulf that exists between the intelligence of man and that of the brute tribes, that there can be no difficulty in conceiving where the line is drawn, and the special endowment terminates. It is an attribute natural to the being of man, merely because his indulgent Maker has made it so. But there is nothing either in natural or revealed religion that can lead us to the same conclusion in respect to brutes; and hence, to speak of their natural immortality is altogether visionary and unphilosophical.

In reality, the difference between this suggested hypothesis and that of the general body of immaterialists, is little more than verbal. For there are few of them who do not conceive in their hearts (with what logical strictness I stay not to inquire) that the soul, in its separate state, exists under some such shadowy and evanescent form; and that, if never suffered to make its appearance in the present day, it has thus occasionally appeared in earlier ages, and for particular purposes. Yet what can in this manner become manifest to material senses, must have at least some of the attributes of matter in its texture, otherwise it could produce no sensible effect or recognition. From what remote source universal tradition may have derived this common idea of disembodied spirits, I pretend not to ascertain; the inquiry would, nevertheless, be curious, and might be rendered important: it is a pleasing subject, and embued with that tender melancholy that peculiarly befits it for a mind of sensibility and fine taste. Its universality, independently of the sanction afforded to it by revealed religion, is no small presumption of its being founded in fact. But I throw out the idea rather as a speculation to be modestly pursued, than as a doctrine to be precipitately accredited. Enough, and more than enough has been offered, to show that in the abstruse subject before us, nothing is so becoming as humility; that we have no pole-star to direct us: no clue to unriddle the perplexities of the labyrinth in which we are wandering; that every step is doubtful; and that to expatiate is perhaps only to lose ourselves. To show this has been my first object; my second has been to conciliate discordant opinions, and to connect popular belief with philosophy.

But I have also aimed at a much higher mark; and have followed up the aim through the general train of reasoning introduced into the preceding division of this course of instruction. I have endeavoured to show that, though every part of the visible creation is transient and imperfect,

every part is in a state of progression, and striving at something more perfect than itself; that the whole unfolds to us a beautiful scale of ascension every division harmoniously playing into every other division, and, with the nicest adjustment, preparing for its furtherance. The mineral kingdom lays a foundation for the vegetable, the vegetable for the animal: infancy for youth, youth for manhood, and manhood for the wisdom of hoary hairs. We have hence strong ground, independently of that furnished us by revelation, for concluding that the scene will not end here: that we are but upon the threshold of a vast and incomprehensible scheme, that will reach beyond the present world and run coeval with eternity. The admirable Bishop of Durham, to whose writings I have already occasionally adverted, pursues this argument with great force in his immortal Analogy, and shows, with impressive perspicuity, the general coincidence of design that runs throughout the natural and the moral government of Providence, all equally leading to a future and more perfect state of things. "The natural and moral constitution and government of the world," says he," are so connected as to make up together but one scheme; and it is highly probable that the first is formed and carried on merely in subserviency to the latter as the vegetable is for the animal, and organized bodies for minds. Every act, therefore, of divine justice and goodness may be supposed to look much beyond itself, and its immediate object may have some reference to other parts of God's moral administration and to a genuine moral plan; and every circumstance of this his moral government may be adjusted beforehand, with a view to the whole of it.—It is hence absurd, absurd to the degree of being ridiculous, if the subject were not of so serious a kind, for men to think themselves secure in a vicious life; or even in that immoral thoughtlessness which far the greatest part of them are fallen into."*



We have entered upon a subject in which human wisdom or imagination can afford us but very little aid; and I have already observed, that I have rather touched upon it, in order that, with suitable modesty, we may know and acknowledge our own weakness, and apply to the only source from which we can derive any real information concerning it, than to support any hypothesis that can be deduced from either physical or metaphysical investigations. "The science of abstruse learning," observes Mr. Tucker, and no man was ever better qualified to give an opinion upon it, "when completely attained, is like Achilles's spear, that healed the wounds it had made before. It casts no additional light upon the paths of life, but disperses the clouds with which it had overspread them. It advances not the traveller one step in his journey, but conducts him back again to the spot from whence he had wandered." But if it do not

*Analysis of Religion, Natural and Revealed, Part i. chap. vii. p. 148, 149. 165. Edit. 1802.

* Light of Nature Pursued, chapter xxxii.

discover new truths, it prepares, or should prepare, the mind for apprehending those that are already in existence with a greater facility, and far more accurately appreciating their value.

In our last lecture we took a glance at several of the discordant opinions, supported respectively by men of the deepest learning and research, that have been offered in relation to the essence of the mind or soul; and showed by a scale of analysis conducted through all the most striking modifications of that plastic and fugitive substance which composes the whole of the visible world, that all such discussions must be necessarily uncertain, and considerably less likely to be productive of truth than of error. But there is a question of far more consequence to us than the nature of the soul's essence, and that is, the nature of its duration. Is the soul immortal? Is it capable of a separate existence? Does it perish with the body as a part of it? Or if a distinct principle, does it vanish into nothingness as soon as the separation takes place? What does philosophy offer upon this subject? This too has been studied from age to age; the wisest of mankind have tried it in every possible direction: new opinions have been started, and old opinions revived;—and what, after all, is the upshot? The reply is as humiliating as in the former case; vanity of vanities, and nothing more; utter doubt and indecision,-hope perpetually neutralized by fear.

If we turn to the oldest hypotheses of the East,-to the Vedas of the Bramins and the Zendavesta of the Parsees,-to those venerable but fanciful stores of learning, from which many of the earliest Greek schools drew their first draughts of metaphysical science, we shall find indeed a full acknowledgment of the immortality of the soul, but only upon the sublime and mystical doctrine of emanation and immanation, as a part of the great soul of the universe; issuing from it at birth, and resorbed into it upon the death of the body; and hence altogether incapable of individual being, or a separate state of existence. If we turn from Persia, Egypt, and Hindustan to Arabia, to the fragrant groves and learned shades of Dedan and Teman, from which it is certain that Persia, and highly probable that Hindustan derived its first polite literature, we shall find the entire subject left in as blank and barren a silence, as the deserts by which they are surrounded; or, if touched upon, only touched upon to betray doubt, and sometimes disbelief. The tradition, indeed, of a future state of retributive justice seems to have reached the schools of this part of the world, and to have been generally, though perhaps not universally, accredited; but the future existence it alludes to is that of a resurrection of the body, and not of a survival of the soul after the body's dissolution. The oldest work that has descended to us from this quarter (and there is little doubt that it is the oldest, or one of the oldest works in existence)* is that astonishing and transcendant composition, the book of Job ;-a work that ought assuredly to raise the genius of Idumæa above that of Greece, and that of itself is demonstrative of the indefatigable spirit with which the deepest as well as the most polished sciences were pursued in this region, during what may be comparatively called the youth and dayspring of the world. Yet in this sublime and magnificent poem, replete with all the learning and wisdom of the age, the doctrine upon the subject before us is merely, as I have just stated it, a patriarchal or traditionary belief of a future state of retributive justice, not by the natural immortality of the soul, but by a resurrection of the body. And the same

* Ser. II. Lect. X.

general idea has for the most part descended in the same country to the present day; for the Alcoran, which is perpetually appealing to the latter fact, leaves the former almost untouched, and altogether in a state of indecision, whence the expounders of the Eslam scriptures, both Sonnites and Motazzalites, or orthodox and heterodox, are divided upon the subject, some embracing and others rejecting it. And it is hence curious to observe the different grounds appealed to in favour of a future existence, in the most learned regions of the east: the Hindu philosophers totally and universally denying a resurrection of the body, and supporting the doctrine alone upon the natural immortality of the soul, and the Arabian philosophers passing over the immortality of the soul, and resting it alone upon a resurrection of the body.

The schools of Greece, as I have already observed, derived their earliest metaphysics from the gymnosophists of India; and hence, like the latter, while for the most part they contended for the immortal and incorruptible nature of the soul, they in like manner overlooked or reprobated the doctrine of a resurrection of the body. On which account, when St. Paul, with an equal degree of address and eloquence, introduced this subject into his discourse in the Agora or great square of Athens, the philosophers that listened to it carried him to Areopagus, and inquired what the new doctrine was of which he had been speaking to the people.

The earliest Greek schools, therefore, having derived this tenet from an Indian source, believed it, for the most part, after the Indian manner. And hence, though they admitted the immortality of the soul, they had very confused ideas of its mode of existence; and the greater number of them believed it, like the Hindus, to be resorbed, after the present life, into the great soul of the world, or the creative spirit, and consequently to have no individual being whatsoever.

Such, more especially, was the doctrine of Orpheus and of the Stoics; and such, in its ultimate tendency, that of the Pythagoreans, who, though they conceived that the soul had, for a certain period, an individual being, sometimes involved in a cloudy vehicle, and sleeping in the regions of the dead, and sometimes sent back to inhabit some other body, either brutal or human, conceived also that at length it would return to the eternal source from which it had issued, and for ever lose all personal existence in its essential fruition; a doctrine, under every variety, derived from the colleges of the East.

I have said that this principle was imported by the Pythagorists, and the Greek schools in general, from the philosophy of India. The slightest dip into the Vedas will be a sufficient proof of this. Let us take the following splendid verse as an example, upon which the Vedantis peculiarly pride themselves, and which they have, not without reason, denominated the Gayatri, or most holy verse.

"Let us adore the supremacy of that divine sun the Bhargas, or godhead, who illuminates all, who recreates all, FROM WHOM ALL HAVE PROCEEDED, TO WHOM ALL MUST RETURN, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress towards his holy seat."*

The doctrine of the later Platonists was precisely of the same kind, and it was very extensively imbibed, with the general principles of the Platonic theory, by the poets and philosophers who flourished at the period of the revival of literature. Lorenzo de Medici is well known to have been warmly attached to this sublime mysticism; yet he has made it a founda

* Sir Wm. Jones, vi. p. 417.

« AnteriorContinuar »