網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

was made much more so by the conversation and good qualities of my host, Euphranor, who unites in his own person the philosopher and the farmer, two characters not so inconsistent in nature as by custom they seem to be. Euphranor, from the time he left the university, hath lived in this small town, where he is possessed of a convenient house with a hundred acres of land adjoining to it; which, being improved by his own labour, yield him a plentiful subsistence. He hath a good collection, chiefly of old books, left him by a clergyman his uncle, under whose care he was brought up. And the business of his farm doth not hinder him from making good use of it. He hath read much, and thought more , his health and strength of body enabling him the better to bear fatigue of mind. He is of opinion that he could not carry on his studies with more advantage in the closet than the field, where his mind is seldom idle while he prunes the trees, follows the plough, or looks after his flocks. In the house of this honest friend I became acquainted with Crito, a neighbouring gentleman of distinguished merit and estate, who lives in great friendship with Euphranor. Last summer, Crito, whose parish-church is in our town, dining on a Sunday at Euphranor's, I happened to inquire after his guests, whom we had seen at church with him the Sunday before. They are both well, said Crito, but having once occasionally conformed, to see what sort of assembly our parish could afford, they had no farther curiosity to gratify at church, and so chose to stay at home. How, said Euphranor, are they then dissenters ? No, replied Crito, they are free-thinkers. Euphranor, who had never met with any of this species or sect of men, and but little of their writings, shewed a great desire to know their principles or system. That is more, said Crito, than I will undertake to tell you. Their writers are of different opinions. Some go farther, and explain themselves more freely, than others. But the current general notions of the sect are best learned from conversation with those who profess themselves of it. Your curiosity may now be satisfied, if you and Dion

would spend a week at my house with these gentlemen, who seem very ready to declare and propagate their opinions. Alciphron is about forty, and no stranger either to men or books. I knew him first at the Temple, which upon an estate's falling to him he quitted, to travel through the polite parts of Europe. Since his return he hath lived in the amusements of the town, which, being grown stale and tasteless to his palate, have flung him into a sort of splenetic indolence. The young gentleman, Lysicles, is a near kinsman of mine, one of lively parts, and a general insight into letters, who, after having passed the forms of education, and seen a little of the world, fell into an intimacy with men of pleasure, and free-thinkers, I am afraid much to the damage of his constitution and his fortune. But what I most regret, is the corruption of his mind by a set of pernicious principles, which, having been observed to survive the passions of youth, forestal even the remote hopes of amendment. They are both men of fashion, and would be agreeable enough, if they did not fancy themselves free-thinkers. But this, to speak the truth, has given them a certain air and manner, which a little too visibly declare they think themselves wiser than the rest of the world. I should therefore be not at all displeased if my guests met with their match, where they least expected it, in a country farmer. I shall not, replied Euphranor, pretend to any more than barely to inform myself of their principles and opinions. For this end I propose to-morrow to set a week's task to my labourers, and accept your invitation, if Dion thinks good. To which I gave consent. Mean while, said Crito, I shall prepare my guests, and let them know that an honest neighbour hath a mind to discourse with them on the subject of their free-thinking. And, if I am not much mistaken, they will please themselves with the prospect of leaving a convert behind them, even in a country village. Next morning Euphranor rose early, and spent the forenoon in ordering his affairs. After dinner we took our walk to Crito's, which lay through half a dozen pleasant fields planted round with planetrees, that are very common in this part of the country. We walked under the delicious shade of these trees for about an hour before we came to Crito's house, which stands in the middle of a small park, beautified with two fine groves of oak and walnut, and a winding stream of sweet and clear water. We met a servant at the door with a small basket of fruit, which he was carrying into the grove, where he said his master was with the two strangers. We found them all three sitting under a shade. And after the usual forms at first meeting, Euphranor and I sat down by them. Our conversation began upon the beauty of this rural scene, the fine season of the year, and some late improvements which had been made in the adjacent country by new methods of agriculture. Whence Alciphron took occasion to observe, that the most valuable improvements came latest. I should have small temptation, said he, to live where men have neither polished manners, nor improved minds, though the face of the country were ever so well improved. But I have long observed, that there is a gradual progress in human affairs. The first care of mankind is to supply the cravings of nature ; in the next place they study the conveniences and comforts of life. But the subduing prejudices, and acquiring true knowledge, that Herculean labour, is the last, being what demands the most perfect abilities, and to which all other advantages are preparative. Right, said Euphranor, Alciphron hath touched our true defect. It was always my opinion, that as soon as we had provided subsistence for the body, our next care should be to improve the mind. But the desire of wealth steps between and engrosseth men's thoughts.

Alc. Tell me, Euphranor, whether truth be not one and the same uniform invariable thing: and, if so, whether the many different and inconsistent notions which men entertain of God and duty, be not a plain proof there is no truth in them? Euph. That truth is constant and uniform I freely own, and that consequently opinions repugnant to each other cannot be

true ; but I think it will not hence follow they are all alike false. If among various opinions about the same thing, one be grounded on clear and evident reasons, that is to be thought true, and others only so far as they consist with it. Reason is the same, and rightly applied will lead to the same conclusions, in all times and places. Socrates two thousand years ago seems to : have reasoned himself into the same notion of a God which is entertained by the philosophers of our days, if you will allow that name to any who are not atheists. And the remark of Confucius, that a man should guard in his youth against lust, in manhood against faction, and in old age against covetousness, is as current morality in Europe as in China. Alc. But still it would be a satisfaction if all men thought the same way, difference of opinions implying uncertainty. Euph. Tell me, Alciphron, what you take to be the cause of a lunar eclipse. Alc. The shadow of the earth interposing between the sun and moon. Euph. Are you assured of this ? Alc. Undoubtedly. Euph. Are all mankind agreed in this truth ? Alc. By no means. Ignorant and barbarous people assign different ridiculous causes of this appearance. Euph. It seems then there are different opinions about the nature of an eclipse. Alc. There are: Euph. And nevertheless one of these opinions is true. Alc. It is. Euph. Diversity therefore of opinions about a thing doth not hinder but that the thing may be, and one of the opinions concerning it may be true. Alc. I acknowledge it. Euph. It should seem, therefore, that your argument against the belief of a God from the variety of opinions about his nature is not conclusive. Nor do I see how you can conclude against the truth of any moral or religious tenet, from the various opinions of men upon the same subject. Might not a man as well argue, that no historical account of a matter of fact can be true, when different relations are given of it ? Or may we not as well infer, that because the several sects of philosophy maintain different opinions, none of them can be in the right, not even the minute philosophers themselves ? During this conversation

Lysicles seemed uneasy, like one that wished in his heart there was no God. Alciphron, said he, methinks you sit by very tamely, while Euphranor saps the foundation of our tenets. Be of good courage, replied Alciphron : a skilful gamester has been known to ruin his adversary by yielding him some advantage at first. I am glad, said he, turning to Euphranor, that you are drawn in to argue and make your appeals to reason. For my part, wherever reason leads I shall not be afraid to follow. Know then, Euphranor, that I freely give up what you now contend for. I do not value the success of a few crude notions thrown out in a loose discourse, any more than the Turks do the loss of that vile infantry they place in the front of their armies, for no other end but to waste the powder and blunt the swords of their enemies. Be assured I have in reserve a body of other guess arguments, which I am ready to produce. I will undertake to prove— Euph. O Alciphron! I do not doubt your faculty of proving. But before I put you to the tro uble of any farther proofs, I should be glad to know whether the notions of your minute philosophy are worth proving. I mean, whether they are of use and service to mankind.

Euph. What you now say is very intelligible: I wish I understood your main principle as well. Alc. And are you then in earnest at a loss? Is it possible you should have no notion of beauty, or that having it you should not know it to be amiable, amiable, I say, in itself, and for itself? Euph. Pray tell me, Alciphron, are all mankind agreed in the notion of a beauteous face ? Alc. Beauty in human kind seems to be of a mixed and various nature; forasmuch as the passions, sentiments, and qualities, of the soul being seen through and blending with the features, work differently on different minds, as the sympathy is more or less. But with regard to other things is there no steady principle of beauty? Is there upon earth a human mind without the idea of order, harmony, and proportion? Euph. O Alciphron, it is my weakness

« 上一頁繼續 »