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all her brightness and glory. Instead, therefore, of debasing, as some weak and pious Christians have done, the noble faculty of reason, how ought we rather to appreciate that prerogative of our nature, which enables us to command the animal creation, and to soar up to the throne of God himself? Precious and glorious prerogative! which, like the sun amidst the planets, communicates light to all our actions and desires. Without reason, we could derive no idea of God, either from the book of nature or revelation; and without this idea, what, alas! should we be? Uncertain as to the existence of any religion whatever, we should never bestow a thought on a virtuous life, or a happy death. Reason, then, always points out to man his obligations to his Creator, and when submitting to the direction of revelation, her lessons can never mislead or deceive us.
FOE THE THEOLOGICAL MAGAZINE.
SO.ME ACCOUNT OF HELVETIUS, AND HIS BOOK DE L'esprit.
AS I sometimes indulge myself in a walk along the busy wharves of Philadelphia, and contemplate with admiration the many gallant vessels which waft to our shores the productions of every clime, the names on their sterns frequently attract my notice. These names, I suppose, are generally intended to designate some commercial relations, some domestick connexions, or some favourite sentiments and predilections of their owners. Among others I observed the names of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Helvetius, inscribed on the sterns of three beautiful ships; and being informed that they were the property of one wealthy merchant, I immediately concluded that, in his veneration and zeal for the new fihilosofihy he had forgotten, or overlooked, the history and characteis of these writers. How far the two first of them may be deemed worthy to be borne in triumph over the globe, on vessels sailing from a port supposed to be Christian, I leave those to determine, who will be at the pains of perusing the communications concerning these philosophists, which have appeared in many popular and religious miscellanies. But why Helvetius should be found in such company, must be matter of surprise to every person acquainted with his history. And if the worthy merchant should ever read the following account of him, he will, I doubt not, direct liis painter to draw his brush over the name of bis discarded favourite, that Thomas Paine, or some other worthy of that description, may ride the ocean in his place.
Helvetius is well known in the literary world, by his Essay on Mind,or Spirit. It was published in 1758, under very discouraging
Vol. I.—No. II* 2 *
auspices, and is written in manifest contradiction to its title. It should have been entitled an Essay on Matter. Systems as ancient as impiety itself, false principles repeatedly refuted, paradoxes, and childish trifles thrown out at a venture, mutilated citations, assumed facts, and scandalous anecdotes, fill every page ot this celebrated performance. It was condemned by the parliament ot Paris in 1759, and the Theological College of the Sorbonne published a severe censure upon it, which met the approbation ol every candid man.
Helvetius was endowed by nature with that happy moderation which is one of the features of true philosophy. He beheld with the regrets of a good citizen, the offence which he had occasioned, and being informed that the parliament was about to condemn his book, he thought it his duty to present a memorial on the subject, which was deposited among the records of the court. In this memorial he declares, that " the more he reflects on the unfortunate publication of his book, de l'M*firit, the more apprehensive he shall always feel of not having expressed himself with sufficient perspicuity in his preceding retractations and declarations on this head, that he therefore deems it his duty to endeavour to dissipate, as far as he is able, every shadow of doubt respecting the sincerity of his sorrow and repentance. He earnestly requests, that the court would be pleased to grant him a publick document, certifying, that he disavows, detests, and formally and explicitly retracts, all the numerous errours of his book; and that, moreover, he will sincerely embrace and faithfully maintain, the truths opposed to these errours; and that, submitting with all humility to the judgment which the Court may pronounce, he earnestly implores it to consider his false opinions as proceeding from a deluded mind, but not from a corrupt heart."
This book had been submitted to the examination of Mons. Tercier, who unadvisedly authorized its publication; but convinced of his mistake, he accompanied the memorial of the author with one from himself, in which he says, that, " having learnt that Helvetius had given in a petition to the Court respecting his book, entitled de I''Esprit, and having been so unfortunate as to license the said book through an unpardonable inadvertency, I feel myself compelled, from a sense of duty, to express to the Court my 1 eal sentiments, my sorrow, and my repentance. I entreat the Court to favour me with a certificate, that I disavow and detest all the innumerable errours contained in this book, and that I formally retract my approbation of it with which it is inscribed, declaring that, throughout the remainder of my life, I will make an open profession of the truths opposed to these errours, and that it was through inattention only that I authorized thciv publication."
To both these memorials a favourable answer was returned by the parliament, together with certificates of the retractation and disavowal. Now what will the admirers of Helvetius say to all this? tf they choose to esteem him as an amiable man, well known among his friends for the suavity of his manners, and the generosity of his heart, nothing can be said against such predilection; but if the dogmas of his book be the ground-work of his fame, however acceptable they may be to modern philosophists, they can never establish his claim to the appellation of an honest man with those who consider them to have been the real and permanent sentiments of his heart. He was either a base dissembler, or unworthy to rank with Voltaire and Rousseau in the class of philosophical unbelievers. I am firmly persuaded that the latter was the case, and that he sincerely reprobated the doctrines for which the disciples of what is called the new philosophy affect to admire\ him.
I will conclude by slightly mentioning a few of the opinions contained in Helvetius's book, in order that the reader may become acquainted with a degree of eccentricity in the human mind, of which probably they could never have suspected the existence; I mean a propensity to embrace and appreciate certain opinions^ which must appear to the plainest understanding evidently subversive of individual happiness, and of human society.
Speaking of the soul, he tells us, that we are possessed of two passive powers, viz. physical sensibility and memory, from which, as Jiom their causes, all our thoughts proceed. "Judgment is nodiing more than sensation. In man every thing is resolved into feeling." But as this physical sensibility must be altogether material, the soul must be matter also; and if matter, it follows, that matter is capable of thinking: " this," says Helvetius, « is very probable; as the discovery of attraction forms a well-grounded presumption that many unknown properties belong to unorganized bodies; and among the rest, the faculty of feeling."—Again— "Were it not for the flexibility of his hands, and that his fingers, terminate in nails instead of horn and talons, man would still continue a fugitive animal, and a wanderer in the forest." page 4— Again—" In the days of Nero complaints were heard at Rome, that the doctrine of another world had been recently introduced at Rome." This was done, no doubt, by the preaching of the Gospel; and so the complaint is accounted for. But, in regard to other times and places, " Love," says he, " in order to flatter the grief of a young and disconsolate widow for the death of a beloved husband, first discovered to her the system of the soul's immortality."
Thus we see, from these few specimens of the many that might be quoted, that Helvetius, in his book, was an advocate for pure materialism. No wonder, then, that he regarded the morality of human actions as resting upon foundations altogether vague and unsettled, and derided the pretensions of the Christian religion to establish it by its doctrines, and enforce it by its sanctions. He accordingly styles the Gospel morality " a vain and frivolous science," (p. 154. 161,) « the precepts of which are equivocal and contradictory, and have been, always made a pretext to justify the conduct of the most profligate of men." p. 167.— Again; " Self-love alone can lay the foundations of useful morality." p. 230. "Paiir and pleasure are the only moving springs in the monal world." Ibid. "Physical sensibility and personal interest, have been the only sources of justice." p. 176.—Again; "By the word virtue can be understood, only the desire of general or publick happiness:" p. 134. so that " the same actions may become in succession, useful, or pernicious; and of course, assume in their turns, the appellation of virtuous or vicious actions." p. 134. Wherefore the idea that virtue means order, harmony the To *0nr, or the beautiful, essential, and immutable, "is nothing more than the ingenious, but unintelligible dream of Platonism." p. 133.—Again: " Motives of worldly interest, skilfully managed by a wise legislator, are sufficient to render men virtuous." p. 132. If asked in what light we are to consider virtue, when, on certain occasions, it ceases to be useful, "we must exclaim with Brutus," says he, " O Virtue, thou art nothing but a name!*' p. 397.
Such were the opinions contained in the book de VEsprit, writ* ten by Helvetius, for which, I fear, rather than for his formal recantation of them, some persons among us delight to honour him. At any rate, it must be for the sake of these opinions that he is made to rank with such worthies as Voltaire and Rousseau.
It is a lamentable symptom of actual degeneracy and approaching ruin to a community, when doctrines which loosen all the bonds of society, and have actually deluged Europe with blood for more than twenty years past, obtain countenance and credit •with persons of influence and wealth. Upon minds naturally •weak, or superficially enlightened, the word philosophy acts like a talisman. Its influence arises from some secret potency, altogether unconnected with the language of reason: its paradoxes are appreciated in proportion to their obscurity, and the most recondite wisdom is supposed to lie concealed under a cumbrous load of phrases, which excite admiration because they are not understood. It was the opinion of the great Frederick of Prussia, that no greater misfortune could befall a state, than to be governed by a philosopher; and the remark applies as readily to the republick of letters, and the empire of morals. Taste and morality are congenial qualities, and generally speaking, inseparable also. When the morals of a people are thoroughly depraved, their literary taste must soon be vitiated. No productions will be relished, but such as pander to their passions. The divine simplicity and sublime effusions,which have immortalized the age of Augustus, were little relished by the profligate slaves of his beastly successours: and the bright constellation of wit and genius that illuminated the reign of Louis XIV. was observed to set in obscurity, amidst the polluting exhalations of Pere du Chene, and other chilling vulgarities of the French revolution.
He, therefore, who would adopt the devout aspiration of Sarpi, etto perjietuet, respecting liis beloved country, must sct ^§ f*ce against the corruptions of philosophy, and learn to appreciate every boasted discovery on better grounds than because it is new. Let the taste for the fine arts, now rapidly progressing among us, lie directed to stimulate honourable emulation; let the canvass, by fascinating the eye, convey to the heart the lessons of virtue; let all the works of genius, both in the belles lettres and the arts, speak the language of reason, and speak it intelligibly; let this only be accounted true philosophy, and then, in despite of the advocates of groveling selfishness, and the deriders of those noble principles which animated our forefathers in the career of freedom and glory, in spite of the baneful example of the many who seek by base deception to acquire or retain the emoluments of office, this language, I trust, will be heard through the country, and convince every thoughtful and honourable man, that virtue js something more than a name, and patriotism something mors than blind devotion to a party.
OH THE REPUBLICATION OF BISHOP FOWLER'S TREATISE ON
Of this excellent work it is intended to give an abridgment in the
THE celebrated author of the Biographia Britannica, in his notes annexed, to the catalogue which he gives of the works of this truly primitive bishop, makes the following remark— "The value of these most excellent books has been little understood, else they would have borne more impressions than they have."—There are indeed few men of sound learning, and true piety, who have been acquainted with bishop Fowler's works, but willjointhe sentiments of the ingenious writer above mentioned. There may be, and let us also hope, that there will be a time, when these shall be diligently sought after, carefully collected, and preserved entire to posterity.
The eminent and truly reverend author of the treatise, is too much known in the learned world to stand in need of a character here; especially as such particulars of his life, as could be collected, have been lately inserted amongst those of the most illustrious persons whom Great Britain has produced. The best knowledge of him is to be had from his works, in which let not the reader look for the graces of oratory, which were by no means the object of this excellent person's attention. Indeed the strength of his judgment, and weight of his reasonings, are so much superiour to his diction and style, that the