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of a great assembly, he seldom or ever spoke whilst sitting in parliament.
As an author, so long as a taste of fine writing shall exist, he will have a distinguished place among those who have excelled. Whatever he published, whether he played with his muse, or appeared in the plain livery of prose, was sought for with avidity, and read with pleasure, by those, who, at the time, were esteemed the best judges of composition. A minute criticism on their several excellencies is unnecessary, as the public sanction has stamped their merit. Suffice it to say, that his poems are on the most pleasing subjects, and are executed with a warm animation of fancy, sterling wit, and great correctness. As a writer of prose, he will be found on examination to be entitled to rank among the purest writers of the English language.
This is his characteristic as a writer : on whatever subject he engaged, whether political, moral, religious, or metaphysical, his matter is always most pertinent to the subject which he handles ; he reasons with coolness and precision, and always, by a regular train of argument, arrives at the conclusions wbich he designs to establish.
The free inquiry into the nature and origin of evil, was the first of the author's works on account of which he was attacked. Pamphlets were published, and private letters addressed to him on that occasion; some of them charged with great acrimony, much abuse, and no small portion of calumny. In a second edition of that work, published some years after the first, having long submitted with silent patience to a treatment which he by no means deserved, in a preface to that edition he answered his adversaries, which whosoever will take the pains to read, will admire as a specimen of his superior talent in controversial wri. ting. With great sagacity and perspicuity he answers his numerous host of adversaries, at the same time forgetting all the obliquy with which they had loaded him, he never loses sight of that candour, civility, and good humour, which he had always observed, as well in his writings as in his conversation.
FROJI TIE INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION OF A FREE
INQUIRY INTO THE
THE author of the following letters is too well acquaintech with human nature, to be in the least surprised at the reception they have met with; that is, that they have been much liked, much censured, and little assented to: truth, he knows, has at all times been so received; for though by her native beauty she is sure to charm, yet from her repugnancy to most men's interests she is seldom welcome: politicians are afraid of her, parties detest her, and ail professions agree that she is mad, and very dangerous if suffered to go about in public: he knows, that mankind live all in masquerade, and that whoever presumes to come amongst them barefaced must expect to be abused by the whole assembly : he could therefor have no motive for thus imparting his free sentiments to the public, except the dictates of his own heart, which tell him, that it is every man's duty, who comes into the world, to use his best endeavours, however insignificant, to leave it as much wiser, and as much better as he can. Induced by this motive alone he at first undertook this inquiry; and now, actuated by the same principle, and unprovoked by all the senseless misapprchensions, and malicious misconstructions, with which it has been tortured, he will here, with all possible conciseness, endeavour to explain those parts of it, which have been so misunderstond, or misrepresented, and give satisfaction to all, who are cither able or willing to understand it.
The first letter treats of evils in general, and endeavours to prove, that they all owe their existence, not to any voluntary ad. mission of a benevolent Creator, but to the necessity of their ows natures, that is, to the impossibility of excluding them from any system of created beings whatever; and that in all such systems, however wisely contrived, they must have, and must at all times have had a place. Against this, but one material objection has berri urged: which is this, that, in order to make room for this nccessity of evil, the real existence of a paradisiacal state is represented as at all times impossible; and consequently, the Mosaic account of that state is utterly exploded, on which the whole fabric of the Christian religion is erected. How far the literal belief of that account is essential to the true faith of a Christian, need not be here decided; because not the least mention of it is made in this letter: and therefore this objection is entirely founded on a mistake. The argument there made use of, is only this, that some have endeavoured to justify the goodness of God from the introduction of evil, by asserting, that at the beginning there was no such thing, but that, at first, all creation came out of his omnipotent hand, endued with absolute perfection, and free from all evil, both natural and moral: to show, that this was an ancient opinion, some lines are quoted from Ovid's Metamorphosis, describing the golden age in such a state of perfect happiness and innocence; on which the author, thinking them to be no part of any one's creed, imagined himself at liberty to observe, that from the nature of man, and the nature of this terrestrial globe, which he inhabits, the real existence of such a state seemed impossible; and therefore, that these descriptions of it could be nothing more than amusing dreams and inchanting fables. This bears not the least reference to the Mosaic account of paradise, in which such a state of absolute perfection, void of all evil, is so far from being described, that the serpent, or the devil, the parent of all evil, is one of the principal characters of that history; which therefore by no means contradicts the proposition here asserted.
The second letter undertakes to show, that evils of imperfection are in truth no evils at all; but only the absence of comparative good, resulting solely from the necessary inferiority of some beings with regard to others, which cannot be prevented in a system of creation, whose very essence consists in a chain of subordination, descending from infinite perfection to absolute nothing. To this likewise one objection only has been made; which is, that no such chain of subordinate beings, reaching from infinite perfection to absolute nothing, can, in fact, exist ; for this notable reason; because no being can approach next to infinite perfection; nor any be contiguous to nothing. But this argument being no more than a quibble on metaphysical terms, to which no precise ideas are affixed, neither deseryes, nor is capable of an answer.
The third letter treats of natural evils; and attempts to show that the most of these, which we complain of, are derived likewise from the same source; that is, from the imperfection of our natures, and our station in the universal system: to this are added three conjectures ; first, that many of our miseries may be owing to some secret, but invincible disposition in the nature of things, that renders it impracticable to produce pleasure exclusive of pain ; a certain degree of which must therefore be endured by individuals, for the happiness and well-being of the whole : secondly, that many other of our miseries may be inflicted on us by the agency of superior beings, to whose benefit they may possibly be as conducive as the deaths and sufferings of inferior animals are to ours: and, lastly, that by the ancient doctrine of transmigration, the miseries, which for the sake of general utility we are obliged to suffer in one life, may be recompensed in another, and so the divine goodness be sufficiently justified from the admission of them all. To every one of these some objections have been made ; against the first it has been alledged, that this impracticability to produce pleasure, without pain, whence arises this utility of the sufferings of individuals for the good of the whole, is merely a production of the author's own daring imagination, founded on no reason, and supported by no proof. To which he answers, that he proposes it as a conjecture only; but cannot think it ill-founded, since it is confirmed by the appearance of every thing around us, and since it is reasonable to believe, that a benevolent creator would not have permitted his creatures to have suffered on any other terms.
In ridicule of the second conjecture, it has been asked, with an air of humour, whether we can think it credible, that superior beings should ride, or hunt, or roast, or eat us, as we make use of. inferior animals? Which question is most properly to be answered by another: whether, in the unbounded systein of creation, there may not be numberless methods, by which beings of different orders may be subservient to each other's uses, totally above the reach of our comprehensions ? To doubt of which would be like the incredulity of the ignorant peasant, who can scarce be persuaded to believe that there is any thing in the. world, some specimen of which he has not beheid within the narrow limits of his own parish. To the last it is objected, that the
doctrine of transmigration being only the fanciful and exploded opinion of some ancient philosophers, in the times of darkness, ought not, by the author, to have been here advanced in direct contradiction to the faith and tenets of the Christain religion: to which he replies, that he neither proposes this doctrine as an article of his own belief, or imposes it on others; but mentions it only as the most rational conjecture of the human mind, uninformed by supernatural assistance concerning a future state : that it is confirmed by Revelation he does not pretend, but that it directly contradicts it, by no means appears ; so silent are the Scriptures concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection, that the most learned divines still widely differ on that subject; some maintaining that it enters immediately into a state of retribution ; others, of sleep; and others, of purgation from past offences: why therefore is it more repugnant to the sense of these writings, to suppose, that it may possibly animate other bodies during that period, and, at the last day, receive such punishments or rewards as is due on the whole account of its past behaviour ? Thus the probability of every one of these conjectures seems to be sufficiently established, and they appear perfectly consistent with reason, and not at all contradictory to revelation.
The fourth letter endeavours to account for moral evil: the most arduous part of the whole undertaking; to which end it attempts to show, that the common opinion, which derives it solely from the abuse of free-will in man, is ineffectual for that purpose; and that therefore, though its very essence consists in the production of natural evil, yet it could never have been admitted into the works of a just and beneficent creator, if it had not some remote and collateral tendency to universal good, by answering some ends beneficial to the immense and incomprehensible whole ; one of which may possibly be the conversion of unpreventable miseries into just punishment by the production of guilt, without which they must have been inflicted on perfect innocencc. To this account of the origin of moral evil, not only many weighty objections have been made, but on it many imputations have been laid, of a most formidable nature, as that it makes God the cause of all wickedness, destroys free-will in man, and consequently roots up the foundation of all virtue and morality whatever; and it is,