Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

but does not seem to have been' equally distinguished by force of reason or solidity of judgment.

In his philosophy he appears to me superficial, and in his notions of virtue wild and romantic. To justify this censure it may be sufficient to observe, that an author who associates the names of Voltaire and Rousseau with that of the illustrious Bacon, and who regards their writings in common as devoted to the instruction and happiness of mankind*, must have very slender pretensions to the character either of a philosopher or a moralist; and, when most favourably estimated, can only rank as a grave sentimentalist.

And here let me be permitted a remark or two on the sentimental turn of this

age, to which I am persuaded the author now in question is indebted for no small portion

* Zimmermann on Solitude, p. 176, 7.–This reminds me. of a . minor prophet of the Gallican school, who laments that the two former of these great men could not bring themselves to unite for the salvation of the world! or words to the same effect.

of his celebrity. In the former part of the last century, it was usual with writers on moral subjects to insist much on the reason and fitness of things, their several natures and mutual relations, and thence to deduce the laws of moral obligation ; and to have deserted these grounds for the sake of a theory which leaves every one to resolve his duty into his feelings, would have been thought at best extremely unphilosophical. How different are the times in which we live! Now the sentimental system extends its influence to every subject, and is become at once powerful and universal. It has invaded our histories, and even our philosophy, and given an air of fiction to them both ; it has made its way into our politics, insomuch that warm and frequent appeals are made to the feelings, by our gravest senators in their gravest delibera. tions, upon the most important interests of their country: and, what is still more, it has cast a sickly hue over our religion and morals, which has greatly tarnished their beauty, and impaired their authority.

What, then, it may be said, would you deprive men of their natural susceptibility, and convert them into Stoics! No: for this would be to deprive them of half their virtue. Let them continue to feel, but to feel as they ought; not as false opinion or corrupt principle may direct, but according to the immutable measures of truth and duty. I am no more disposed to be an advocate for the dry moralist, who can talk of nothing but reason and fitness, and eternal and necessary relations,

, than for the man 'of sentiment, who mistakes the suggestions of fancy, and the impulses .of inordinate paffion, for the pure dictates of uncorrupted nature; and whose boasted philanthropy generally terminates in empty speculations and barren sensibilities.

The following discourse proceeds upon other principles; its foundation is, I trust, so firmly laid in reason and revelation, in the knowledge of God, of ourselves, and of the world, as to be entirely adequate

to bear up the solid superstructure of virtue and happiness.

The occasion which gave rise to it has been already stated ; to which I shall now add a few reasons which may, perhaps, be thought sufficient to justify, or, at least, to excuse its publication.

That there exists at present amongst us a lamentable want of rural philosophy, or of that wisdom which teaches a man at once to enjoy and to improve a life of retirement, is, I think, a point too obvious to be contested. Whence is it else that the country is almost deserted; that the ancient mansions of our nobility, and gentry, notwithstanding all the attractions of rural beauty, and every elegance of accommodation, can no longer retain their owners, who, at the approach of winter, pour into the metropolis, and even in the summer months wander to the sea-coast, or to some other place of fashionable resort. This unsettled humour in the midst of

such advantages, plainly argues much inward disorder, and points out the need as well as the excellency of that discipline, which can inspire a pure taste of nature, furnish occupation in the peaceful labours of husbandry, and, what is nobler still, open the sources of moral and intellectual enjoyment.

It is indeed only in late times that this migratory spirit has been prevalent. Our great grandfathers were content to reside in the country the year round. They were neither led abroad by the course of their education, nor by the amusements and dissipations of fashionable society, which are now arrived at such a pitch of luxurious refinement, that to come within the verge of their influence is to lose all power of return to rural simplicity; unless the mind is happily fortified against the seduction, by a philosophy which can supply both pleasure and employment without the aid of artificial life.

« AnteriorContinuar »