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The following Essay will be to a considerable degree in the nature of confession, like the Confessions of St. Augustine or of Jean Jacques Rousseau. It may therefore at first sight appear of small intrinsic value, and scarcely worthy of a place in the present series. But, as I have had occasion more than once to remark, we are all of us framed in a great measure on the same model, and the analysis of the individual may often stand for the analysis of a species. . While I describe myself therefore, I shall probably at the same time be describing no inconsiderable number of
my fellow-beings. It is true, that the duty of man under the head of Frankness, is of a very comprehensive nature. We ought all of us to tell to our neighbour whatever it may be of advantage to him to know, we ought to be the sincere and zealous advocates of absent merit and worth, and we are bound by every means in our power to contribute to the improveinent of others, and to the diffusion of salutary truths through the world.
From the universality of these precepts many readers might be apt to infer, that I am in iny own person the bold and unsparing preacher of truth,
resolutely giving to every man his due, and, agreeably to the apostle's direction, “ instant in season, and out of season.” The individual who answers to this description will often be deemed troublesome, often annoying; he will produce a considerable sensation in the circle of those who know him; and it will depend upon various collateral circumstances, whether he shall ultimately be judged a rash and intemperate disturber of the contemplations of his neighbours, or a disinterested and heroic
suggester of new veins of thinking, by which his contemporaries and their posterity shall be essentially the gainers.
I have no desire to pass myself upon those who may have any curiosity respecting me for better than I am; and I will therefore here put down a few particulars, which may tend to enable them to form an equitable judgment.
One of the earliest passions of my mind was the love of truth and sound opinion. “Why should I,” such was the language of my solitary meditations, “because I was born in a certain degree of latitude, in a certain century, in a country where certain institutions prevail, and of parents professing a certain faith, take it for granted that all this is right ?This is matter of accident. “Time and chance happeneth to all :” and I, the thinking principle within me, might, if such had been the order of events, have been born under circumstances the very reverse of those under which I was born. I will not, if I
can help it, be the creature of accident; I will not, like a shuttle-cock, be at the disposal of every impulse that is given me." I felt a certain disdain for the being thus directed; I could not endure the idea of being made a fool of, and of taking every ignis fatuus for a guide, and every stray notion, the meteor of the day, for everlasting truth. I am the person, spoken of in a preceding Essay", who early said to Truth, “Go on: whithersoever thou leadest, I am prepared to follow.”
During my college-life therefore, I read all sorts of books, on every side of any important question, or that were thrown in my way, that I could hear of. But the very passion that determined me to this mode of proceeding, made me wary and circumspect in coming to a conclusion. I knew that it would, if any thing, be a more censurable and contemptible act, to yield to every seducing novelty, than to adhere obstinately to a prejudice because it had been instilled into me in youth. I was therefore slow of conviction, and by no means “ given to change." I never willingly parted with a suggestion that was unexpectedly furnished to me; but I examined it again and again, before I consented that it should enter into the set of my principles.
In proportion however as I became acquainted with truth, or what appeared to me to be truth, I was like what I have read of Melancthon, who, when he was first converted to the tenets of Luther, be
- See above, p. 245.
came eager to go into all companies, that he might make them partakers of the same inestimable treasures, and set before them evidence that was to him irresistible. It is needless to say, that he often encountered the most mortifying disappointment.
Young and eager as I was in my mission, I received in this way many a bitter lesson. But the peculiarity of my temper rendered this doubly impressive to me. I could not pass over a hint, let it come from what quarter it would, without taking it into some consideration, and endeavouring to ascertain the precise weight that was to be attributed to it. It would however often happen, particularly in the question of the claims of a given individual to honour and respect, that I could see nothing but the most glaring injustice in the opposition I experienced. In canvassing the character of an individual, it is not for the most part general, abstract or moral, principles that are called into question : I am left in possession of the premises which taught me to admire the man whose character is contested; and conformably to those premises I see that his claim to the honour I have paid him is fully made out. my
communications with others, in the endeavour to impart what I deemed to be truth, I began
with boldness : but I often found that the evi. dence that was to me irresistible, was made small account of by others; and it not seldom happened, as candour was my principle, and a determination to receive what could be shewn to be truth, let it
come from what quarter it would, that suggestions were presented to me, materially calculated to stagger the confidence with which I had set out. If I had been divinely inspired, if I had been secured by an omniscient spirit against the danger of error, my case would have been different. But I was not inspired. I often encountered an opposition I had not anticipated, and was often presented with objections, or had pointed out to me flaws and deficiencies in my reasonings, which, till they were so pointed out, I had not apprehended. I had not lungs enabling me to drown all contradiction; and, which was still more material, I had not a frame of mind, which should determine me to regard whatever could be urged against me as of no value. I therefore became cautious. As a human creature, I did not relish the being held up to others, or to myself, as rash, inconsiderate and headlong, unaware of difficulties the most obvious, embracing propositions the most untenable, and “against hope believing in hope.” And, as an apostle of truth, I distinctly perceived that a reputation for perspicacity and sound judgment was essential to my mission. I therefore often became less a speaker, than a listener, and by no means made it a law with myself to defend principles and characters I honoured, on every occasion on which I might hear them attacked.
A new epoch occurred in my character, when I published, and at the time I was writing, my Enquiry concerning Political Justice. My mind was