網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版
[ocr errors]

3

us in it, and that what he delivers is the entire and deep-wrought sentimentof a being of flesh and blood like ourselves, a being who claims our attention, and is entitled to our déference. The living human voice, with a countenance and manner corresponding, constrains, us to weigh what is said;shoots through us like a stroke of electricity, will not away from our memory, and haunts our very dreams. It is by means of this peculiarity in the nature of mind, that it has been often observed that there is from time to time an Augustan age in the intellect of nations, that men of superior powers shock with each other, and that light is struck from the collision, which most probably no one of these men would have given birth to, if they had not been thrown into mutual society and communion.. And even so, upon a narrower scale, he that would aspire to do the most of which his faculties are susceptible, should seek the intercourse of his fellows, that his powers may be strengthened, and he may be kept free from that torpor and indolence of soul, which, without external excitement, are ever apt to take possession of us.

The man, who lives in solitude, and seldom communicates with minds of the same class as his own, works out his opinions with patient scrutiny, returns to the investigation again and again, imagines that he had examined the question on all sides, and at length arrives at what is to him a satisfactory conclusion. He resumes the view of this conclu-,

0

sion day after day; he finds in it an unalterable validity; he says in his heart, “Thus much I have gained; this is a real advance in the search after truth; I have added in a defined and palpable degree to what I knew before.”: And yet it has sometiines' happened, that this person, after having been shut up for weeks, or for a longer period, in his sanctuary, living, so far as related to an exchange of oral disquisitions with his fellow-men, like Robinson Crusoe in the desolate island, shall come into the presence of one, equally clear-sighted, curious and indefatigable with himself, and shall hear from him an obvious and palpable statement, which in a moment shivers his sightly' and glittering fabric into atoms. The statement was palpable and near at hand; it was a thin, an almost imperceptible' partition that hid it from him ; he wonders in his heart that it never occurred to his meditations. And yet so it is : it was hid from him for weeks, or perhaps for a longer period : it might have been hid from him for twenty years, if it had not been for 'the accident that supplied it. And he no sooner sees it, than he instantly perceives that the discovery upon which he plumed himself, was an absurdity, of which even a schoolboy might be ashamed.

A circumstance not less curious, among the phenomena which belong to this subject of belief, is the repugnance incident to the most ingenuous minds, which we harbour against the suddenly discarding an opinion we have previously entertained,

and the adopting one which comes recommended to us with almost the force of demonstration. Nothing can be better founded than this repugnance. The mind of man is of a peculiar nature. It has been disputed whether we can entertain more than one idea at a time. But certain it is, that the views of the mind at any one time are considerably narrowed. The mind is like the slate of a schoolboy, which can contain only a certain number of characters of a given size, or like a moveable panorama, which places a given scene or landscape before me, and the space assigned, and which comes within the limits marked out to my perception, is full. Many things are therefore almost inevitably shut out, which, had it not been so, might have essentially changed the view of the case, and have taught nie that it was a very different conclusion at which I ought to have arrived.

At first sight nothing can appear more unreasonable, than that I should hesitate to admit the seemingly irresistible force of the argument presented to

An ingenuous disposition would appear to require that, the moment the truth, or what seems to be the truth, is set before me, I should the allegiance to which truth is entitled. If I do otherwise, it would appear to argue a pusillanimous disposition, a mind not prompt and disengaged to receive the impression of evidence, a temper that loves something else better than the lustre which all men are bound to recognise, and that has a reserve

me.

pay to it

in favour of ancient prejudice, and of an opinion no longer supported by reason.

In fact however I shall act most wisely, and in the way most honourable to my character, if I resolve to adjourn the debate. No matter how complete the view may seem which is now presented to my consideration, or how irresistible the arguments: truth is too majestic a divinity, and it is of too much importance that I should not follow a delusive semblance that may shew like truth, not to make it in the highest degree proper that I should examine again and again, before I come to the conclusion to which I mean to affix my seal, and annex my sanction, “This is the truth.” The ancient Goths of Germany, we are told, had a custom of debating every thing of importance to their state twice, once in the high animation of a convivial meeting, and once in the serene stillness of a morning consultation. Philip of Macedon having decided a cause precipitately, the party condemned by him immediately declared his resolution to appeal from the sentence. And to whom, said the king, wilt thou appeal ? To Philip, was the answer, in the entire possession of his understanding.

Such is the nature of the human mind-at least, such I find to be the nature of my own—that many trains of thinking, many chains of evidence, the result of accumulated facts, will often not present themselves, at the time when their presence would be of the highest importance. The view which now

comes before me is of a substance so close and wellwoven, and of colours so brilliant and dazzling, that other matters in a certain degree remote, though of no less intrinsic importance, and equally entitled to influence my judgment in the question in hand, shall be entirely shut out, shall be killed, and fail to offer themselvčs to my perceptions.

It is a curious circumstance which Pope, a man of eminent logical power and acuteness, relates, that, having at his command in his youth a collection of all the tracts that had been written on both sides in the reign of James the Second, he applied himself with great assiduity to their perusal, and the consequence was, that he was a Papist and Protestant by turns, according to the last book he reada.

This circumstance in the structure of the human understanding is well known, and is the foundation of many provisions that occur in the constitution of political society. How each man shall form his creed, and arrange those opinions by which his conduct shall be regulated, is of course a matter exclusively subjected to his own discretion. But, when he is called upon to act in the name of a community, and to decide upon a question in which the public is interested, he of necessity feels himself called upon to proceed with the utmost caution. A judge on the bench, a chancellor, is not contented with that sudden ray of mental illumination to which an ingenuous individual is often disposed to

Correspondence with Atterbury, Letter IV.

« 上一頁繼續 »