網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

not of intuition, but of one sole purpose, and of a determined will operating on a clear and consecutive understanding. His Caleb Williams is the illustration of a single passion; his Political Justice is the insisting on a single proposition or view of a subject. In both, there is the same pertinacity and unity of desigo, the same agglomeration of objects round a centre, the same aggrandizement of some one thing at the expense of every other, the same sagacity in discovering what makes for its purpose, and blindness to every thing but that. His genius is not dramatic ; but it has something of an heroic cast : he gains new trophies in intellect, as the conqueror overruns new provinces and kingdoms, by patience and boldness; and he is great because he wills to be

[ocr errors]

We have said that Mr Godwin has shown great versatility of talent in his different works. The works themselves have considerable monotony; and this must be the case, since they are all bottomed on nearly the same principle of an uniform keeping and strict totality of impression. We do not hold with the doctrines or philosophy of the Enquiry concerning Political Justice ; but we should be dishonest to deny that it is an ingenious and splendid—and we may also add, useful piece of sophistical declamation. If Mr Godwin is not right, he has shown what is wrong in the view of morality he advocates, by carrying it to the utmost extent with unflinching spirit and ability.

Mr Godwin was the first whole-length broacher of the doctrine of Utility. He took the whole duty of man-all other passions, affections, rules, weaknesses, oaths, gratitude, promises, friendship, natural piety, patriotism,-infused them in the glowing cauldron of universal benevolence, and ground them into powder under the unsparing weight of the convictions of the individual understanding. The entire and complicated mass and texture of human society and feeling was to pass through the furnace of this new philosophy, and to come out renovated and changed without a trace of its former Gothic ornaments, fantastic disproportions, embossing, or relief. It was as if an angel had descended from another sphere to promulgate a new code of morality; and who, clad in a panoply of light and truth, unconscious alike of the artificial strength and inherent weakness of man’s nature,--supposing him to have nothing to do with the flesh, the world, or the Devil, -should lay down a set of laws and principles of action for him, as if he were a pure spirit. But such a mere abstracted intelligence would not require any rules or forms to guide his conduct or prompt his volitions. And this is the effect of Mr Godwin's book-to absolve a rational and voluntary

agent from all ties, but a conformity to the independent dictates and strict obligations of the understanding :

• Within his bosom reigns another lord,

Reason, sole judge and umpire of itself.' We own that if man were this pure, abstracted essence,-if he had not senses, passions, prejudices,—if custom, will, imagination, example, opinion, were nothing, and reason were all in all ;-if the author, in a word, could establish as the foundation, what he assumes as the result of his system, namely, the omnipotence of mind over matter, and the triumph of truth over every warped and partial bias of the heart—then we see no ebjection to his scheme taking place, and

no possibility of any other having ever been substituted for it. But this would imply that the mind's eye can see an object equally well whether it is near or a thousand miles off,—that we can take an interest in the people in the moon, or in ages yet unborn, as if they were our own flesh and blood, -that we can sympathize with a perfect stranger, as with our dearest friend, at a moment's notice,—that habit is not an ingredient in the growth of affection,--that no check need be provided against the strong bias of self-love,—that we can achieve any art or accomplishment by a volition, master all knowledge with a thought; and that in this well-disciplined intuition and faultless transparency of soul, we can take cognizance (without presumption and without mistake) of all causes and consequences,--establish an equal and impartial interest in the chain of created beings,—discard all petty feelings and minor claims,-throw down the obstructions and stumbling-blocks in the way of these grand cosmopolite views of disinterested philanthropy, and hold the balance even between ourselves and the universe. It were a consummation devoutly to be wished ;' and Mr Godwin is not to be taxed with blame for having boldly and ardently aspired to it. We meet bim on the ground, not of the desirable, but the practicable. It were better that a mau were an angel or a god than what he is; but he can neither be one nor the other. Enclosed in the shell of self, he sees a little way beyond himself, and feels what concerns others still more slowly. To require him to attain the highest point of perfection, is to fling him back to grovel in the mire of sensuality and selfishness. He must get on by the use and management of the faculties which God has given him, and not by striking more than one half of these with the dead palsy. To refuse to avail ourselves of mixed motives and imperfect obligations, in a creature like man, whose' very name is frailty, and who is a compound of contradictions, is to lose the substance in

[graphic]

catching at the shadow. It is as if a man would be enabled to fly by cutting off his legs. If we are not allowed to love our neighbour better than a stranger, that is, if habit and sympathy are to make no part of our affections, the consequence will be, not that we shall love a stranger more, but that we shall love our neighbour less, and care about nobody but ourselves. These partial and personal attachments are the scale ! by which wo ascend' to sentiments of general philanthropy. Are we to act upon pure speculation, without knowing the circumstances of the case, or even the parties ?--for it would come to that. If we act from a knowledge of these, and bend all our thoughts and efforts to alleviate some immediate distress, are we to take no more interest in it than in a case of merely possible and contingent suffering ? This is to put the known upon a level with the unknown, the real with the imaginary. It is to say that habit, sense, sympathy, are non-entities. It is a contradiction in terms. But if man were such a being as Mr Godwin supposes, that is, a perfect intelligence, there would be no contradiction in it; for then he would have the same knowledge of whatever was possible, as of his gross and actual experience, and would feel the same interest in it, and act with the same energy and certainty upon a sheer hypothesis, as now upon a matter of fact. We can look at the clouds, but we cannot stand upon them. Mr Godwin takes one element of the human mind, the understanding, and makes it the whole; and hence he falls into solecisms and extravagancies, the more striking and fatal in proportion to his own acuteness of reasoning, and honesty of intention. He has, however, the merit of having been the first to show up the abstract, or Utilitarian, system of morality in its fullest extent, whatever may bave been pretended to the contrary; and those who wish to study the question, and not to take it for granted, cannot do better than refer to the first edition of the Enquiry concerning Political Justice ; for afterwards Mr Godwin, out of complaisance to the public, qualified, and in some degree neutralized, his own doctrines.

Our author, not contented with his ethical honours, (for no work of the kind could produce a stronger sensation, or gain more converts than this did at the time, determined to enter upon a new career, and fling him into the arena once more; thus challenging public opinion with singular magnanimity and confidence in himself. He did not stand shivering on the brink of his just-acquired reputation, and fear to tempt the perilous stream of popular favour again. The success of Caleb Williams justified the experiment. There was the same hardihood and gallantry of appeal in both. In the former case, the author had screwed himself up to the most rigid logic; in the latter, he gave unbounded scope to the suggestions of fancy. It cannot be denied that Mr Godwin is, in the pugilistic phrase, an out-and-outer. He does not stop till he reaches the verge of all we hate :' is it to be wondered if he sometimes falls over? He certainly did not do this in Caleb Williams or St Leon. Both were eminently successful; and both, as we conceive, treated of subjects congenial to Mr Godwin's mind. The one, in the character of Falkland, embodies that love of fame and passionate respect for intellectual excellence, which is a cherished inmate of the author's bosom; (the desire of undying renown breathes through every page and line of the story, and sheds its lurid light over the close, as it has been said that the genius of war blazes through the Iliad ;)-in the hero of the other, St Leon, Mr Godwin has depicted, as well he might, the feelings and habits of a solitary recluse, placed in new and imaginary situations : but from the philosophical to the romantic visionary, there was perhaps but one step. We give the decided preference to Caleb Williams over St Leon; but if it is more original and interesting, the other is more imposing and eloquent. In the suffering and dying Falkland, we feel the heart-strings of our human being break; in the other work, we are transported to a state of fabulous existence, but unfolded with ample and gorgeous circumstances. The palm-tree waves over the untrodden path of luxuriant fiction; we tread with tiptoc elevation and throbbing heart the high hill-tops of boundless existence; and the dawn of hope and renovated life makes strange music in our breast, like the strings of Memnon's harp, touched by the morning's sun. After these two works, he fell off; he could not sustain himself at that height by the force of genius alone, and Mr Godwin has unfortunately no resources but his genius. He has no Edie Ochiltree at his elbow. His New Man of Feeling we forget; though we well remember the old one by our Scottish Addison, Mackenzie. Mandeville, which followed, is morbid and disagreeable; it is a description of a man and his ill-humour, carried to a degree of derangement. The reader is left far behind. Mr Godwin has attempted two plays, neither of wbich has succeeded, nor could succeed. If a tragedy consisted of a series of soliloquies, nobody could write it better than our author. But the essence of the drama depends on the alternation and conflict of different passions, and Mr Godwin's forte is harping on the same string. He is a reformist, both as it regards the world and himself. If he is told of a fault, he amends it if he can. His Life of Chaucer was objected to as too romantic and dashing; and in his late History of the Commons wealth, he has gone into an excess the other way. His style creeps, and hitches in dates and authorities. We must not omit his Lives of Edward and John Phillips, the nephews of Milton -an interesting contribution to literary history; and bis Observations on Judge Eyre's Charge to the Jury in 1794,—one of the most acute and seasonable political pamphlets that ever appeared. He some years ago wrote an Essay on Sepulchres, which contained an idle project enough, but was enriched with some beautiful reflections on old and new countries, and on the memorials of posthumous fame. It is a singular circumstance that our author should maintain for twenty years, that Mr Malthus's theory (in opposition to his own) was unanswerable, and then write an answer to it, which did not much mend the matter. It is worth knowing (in order to trace the history and progress of the intellectual character) that the author of Political Justice and Caleb Williams commenced his career as a dissenting clergyman; and the book-stalls sometimes present a volume of Sermons by him, and we believe, an English Grammar.

We cannot tell whether Mr Godwin will have reason to be pleased with our opinion of him; at least, he may depend on our sincerity, and will know what it is.

ART. VII. The Question of Registry, or no Registry, considered,

with reference to the Interests of Landowners and Commercial Credit; in a Letter to the Right Honourable ROBERT PEEL. By H. BELLENDEN KER, Esq. F.R.S. 8vo. London. 1830.

The uncertainty

and the complexity of the principles which govern the laws relating to the transfer of real property in England, have long been known and admitted. Till lately, however, none has ventured to approach the task of reform in this important department. Some years ago, we called the attention of our readers, generally, to the subject, and attempted, as far as perhaps it was then possible, to point out some of the more glaring evils of the system. After this came Mr Humphrey's valuable work, which has also been noticed in this Journal; and there can be but few of our readers who are unacquainted with the result of Mr Brougham's motion for a general enquiry into the state of the law. Two Commissions were appointed to enquire, the one into the proceedings of the English courts of Common Law, the other, into the

state of the laws relating to Real

« 上一頁繼續 »