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LETTER XVII.

My time, for these two past days, has been occupied in a manner, that, I hope, will give pleasure to Maandaara. I have been engaged in translating for your perusal, the greatest part of a very long epistle, with which Doctor Severan has had the goodness to favour his unworthy servant. According to previous agreement, I transmitted to him, all that I had written to you since my arrival at Ardent-Hall; intreating him to favour me with such strictures upon it, as he thought might be necessary, towards giving me more just ideas upon the subjects of which I had treated. In his observations, the Doctor does not follow me through the particular systems of the philosophers; but speaks, in general terms, of the effects produced, by what he calls Scepticism; which, according to the great English Cosha, is the art of doubting. But you shall have it, as nearly as the different idioms of the two languages will permit, in his own words,-After opening his letter with the usual exordium, he thus proceeds: “Knowing the ardour with which you pursue knowledge, and the strong inclination that impels you to investigate the causes of the different phenomena which presents themselves to your observation, I cheerfully comply with your request. “The history of Literature is intimately connected with the revolutions of Empires; and among all the rude storms which have assailed it, in none did it suffer more, than in that which it endured, together with the government of ancient Rome. Literature was, by this event, effectually driven from those countries where it had formerly flourished; and, during a long period (emphatically distinguished by our historians, by the WOL. II. 13 *

epithet of dark) learning was almost completely obliterated. In this aera of ignorance, superstition established her gloomy reign : and when the attention of men was once more turned to literary pursuits, the objects they had to surmount were new and numerous, and of a nature not very easily to be subdued. “Instead of that free communication, which had formerly been permitted to men, they were now settered by the tyrannical edicts of Kings and Priests; the investigation of truth being equally hostile to the interests of both. While freedom of discussion was thus restrained, the faculties of the human mind were benumbed, and truth and falsehood were confounded together. Crude speculations were ushered into the world, with the authority of truths; and not only was scepticism propagated by means of the promulgation of opinions, nurtured in ignorance, but encreased from that propensity which the mind has, when newly freed

from restrictions, to rush from one extreme to another. “From the nature of our constitution (whose spirit is toleration) and from the freedom of our religion from superstition, scepticism has made little progress here, in comparison of what it has done upon the Contitinent. There, its triumph has been in proportion to the blind obedience exacted to the national superstition, to which men of sense and observation could not, contrary to the dictates of their reason, subscribe ; and from that propensity of the human mind, which I have just mentioned, these formed systems for themselves, as distant from the truth, as the doctrines of the high priests of the country were from the pure precepts of Christianity. “The only species of scepticks that abound in this kingdom, are not thinking, but may be called talking scepticks. These are men of shallow understandings, and cold hearts; who, feeling their incapacity to attract attention, by going on in the ordinary path, endeavour to gain it by stating opinions which may astonish their hearers, and acquire them some degree of applause, for their ingenuity and boldness. It may, indeed, be observed of this class, that they take special care never to utter their oracles before those who are capable of entering into argument with them, though they deliver themselves with dogmatical assurance before the ignorant and illiterate. “But let not my noble friend imagine from this account of scepticism, or from his own penetrating observation on the conduct of the gentleman at Ardent-Hall, that metaphysical inquiry is without its use. Such inquiry expands the powers of the human mind, enlarges the understanding, and by placing the science of morals on a true foundation, tends to encrease the happiness of society. “Would its professors pursue the same plan of investigation that has been so successfully adopted by natural philosophers, that of first making themselves well ac

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