Obrázky na stránke

yield in an affair of abstract spéculation. He feels that he is obliged to wait for evidence, the nature of which he does not yet anticipate, and to adjourn his decision. A deliberative council or assembly is aware of the necessity of examining a question again and again. It is upon this principle that the two houses of the English parliament are required to give a first, a second and a third reading, together with various other forms and technicalities, to the provision that is brought before them, previously to its passing into a law. And there is many a fundamental dogma and corner-stone of the sentiments that I shall emphatically call my own, that is of more genuine importance to the individual, than to a nation is a number of those regulations, which by courtesy we call acts of parliament.

Nothing can have a more glaring tendency to subvert the authority of my opinion among my fellow-men, than instability. “What went

“What went ye out into the wilderness to see?” said Jesus Christ: “a reed shaken with the wind?” We ought at all times to be open to conviction. We ought to be ever ready to listen to evidence. But, conscious of our human frailty, it is seldom that we ought immediately to subscribe to the propositions, however specious, that are now for the first time presented to us. is our duty to lay up in our memory the suggestions offered upon any momentous question, and not to suffer them to lose their inherent weight and impressiveness ; but it is only through the medium


[ocr errors]

of consideration and reconsideration, that they can become entitled to our full and unreserved assent.

The nature of belief, or opinion, has been well illustrated by Lord Shaftesburyb. There are many notions or judgments floating in the mind of every man, which are mutually destructive of each other. In this sense men's opinions are governed by high and low spirits, by the state of the solids and fluids of the human body, and by the state of the weather. But in a paramount sense that only can be said to be a man's opinion which he entertains in his clearest moments, and from which, when he is most himself, he is least subject to vary. In this emphatical sense, I should say, a man does not always know what is his real opinion. We cannot strictly be said to believe any thing, in cases where we afterwards change our opinion without the introduction of some evidence that was unknown to us before. But how many are the instances in which we can be affirmed to be in the adequate recollection of all the evidences and reasonings which have at some time occurred to us, and of the opinions, together with the grounds on which they rested, which we conceived we had justly and rationally entertained?

The considerations here stated however should by no means be allowed to inspire us with indifference in matters of opinion. It is the glory and lustre of our nature, that we are capable of receiving evidence, and weighing the reasons for and

• Enquiry concerning Virtue, Book I, Part I, Section ii.

against any important proposition in the balance of an impartial and enlightened understanding. The only effect that should be produced in us, by the reflection that we can at last by no means be secure that we have attained to a perfect result, should be to teach us a wholsome diffidence and humility, and induce us to confess. that, when we have done all, we are ignorant, dim-sighted and fallible, that our best reasonings may betray, and our wisest conclusions deceive us.



Magna debetur pueris reverentia.


of my

I am more doubtful in writing the following Essay than in any of those which precede, how far I am treating of human nature generally, or to a certain degree merely recording my own feelings as an individual. I am guided however in composing it, by the principle laid down in my Preface, that the purpose

book in each instance should be to expand some new and interesting truth, or some old truth viewed under a new aspect, which had never by any preceding writer been laid before the public.

Education, in the conception of those whose office it is to direct it, has various engines by means of which it is to be made effective, and among these are reprehension and chastisement.

The philosophy of the wisest man that ever existed, is mainly derived from the act of introspection. We look into our own bosoms, observe attentively every thing that passes there, anatomise our motives, trace step by step the operations of thought, and diligently remark the effects of external impulses upon our feelings and conduct. Philosophers, ever since the time in which Socrates flourished, to carry back our recollections no further, have found that the minds of men in the most essential particulars are framed so far upon the same model, that the analysis of the individual may stand in general consideration for the analysis of the species. Where this principle fails, it is not easy to suggest a proceeding that shall supply the deficiency. I look into my own breast; I observe steadily and with diligence what passes there ; and with all the parade of the philosophy of the human mind I can do little more than this.

In treating therefore of education in the point of view in which it has just been proposed, I turn my observation upon myself, and I proceed thus.-If I do not stand as a competent representative for the whole of my species, I suppose I may at least assume to be the representative of no inconsideráble number of them.

I find then in myself, for as long a time as I can trace backward the records of memory, a prominent vein of docility. Whatever it was proposed to teach me, that was in any degree accordant with my constitution and capacity, I was willing to learn. And this limit is sufficient for the topic I am proposing to treat. I do not intend to consider education of any other sort, than that which has something in it of a liberal and ingenuous nature. I am not here discussing the education of a peasant, an artisan, or a slave.

In addition to this vein of docility, which easily

« PredošláPokračovať »