« PredošláPokračovať »
more enlightened philosopher, is justly entitled, not only to his indulgence, but to his esteem and affection.
The remarks which have been already made are sufficient to show how necessary it is for us, in the formation of our philosophical principles, to examine with care all those opinions which, in our early years, we have imbibed from our instructors, or which are connected with our local situation. Nor does the universality of an opinion among men who have received a similar education, afford any presumption in its favour, for however great the deference is which a wise man will always pay to common belief, upon those subjects which have employed the unbiassed reason of mankind, he certainly owes it no respect in so far as he suspects it to be influenced by fashion or authority. Nothing can be more just than the observation of Fontenelle, that “the number of those who believe in a system already established in the world, does not in the least add to its credibility, but that the number of those who doubt of it has a tendency to diminish it.”
The same remarks lead, upon the other hand, to another conclusion of still greater importance, that notwithstanding the various false opinions which are current in the world, there are some truths which are inseparable from the human understanding, and by means of which the errors of education, in most instances, are enabled to take hold of our belief.
A weak mind, unaccustomed to reflection, and which has passively derived its most important opinions from habits or from authority, when, in consequence of a more enlarged intercourse with the world, it finds that ideas which it had been taught to regard as sacred, are treated by enlightened and worthy men with ridicule, is apt to lose its reverence for the fundamental and eternal truths on which these accessory ideas are grafted, and easily falls a prey to that sceptical philosophy which teaches that all the opinions, and all the principles of action by which mankind are governed, may be traced to the influence of education and example. Amidst the infinite variety of forms, however, which our versatile.nature assumes, it cannot fail to strike an attentive observer, that there are cer
tain indelible features common to them all. In one situation, we find good men attached to a republican form of government; in another, to a monarchy; but in all situations we find them devoted to the service of their country and of mankind, and disposed to regard with reverence and love the most absurd and capricious institutions which custom has led them to connect with the order of society. The different appearances, therefore, which the political opinions and the political conduct of men exhibit, while they demonstrate to what a wonderful degree human nature may be influenced by situation and by early instruction, evince the existence of some common and original principles which fit it for the political union, and illustrate the uniform operation of those laws of association to which, in all the stages of society, it is equally subject.
Similar observations are applicable, and indeed in a still more striking degree, to the opinions of mankind on the important questions of religion and morality. The variety of systems which they have formed to themselves concerning these subjects, has often excited the ridicule of the sceptic and the libertine ; but if, on the one hand, this variety shews the folly of bigotry, and the reasonableness of mutual indulgence; the curiosity which has led men in every situation to such speculations, and the influence which their conclusions, however absurd, have had on their character and their happiness, prove no less clearly on the other, that there must be some principles from which they all derive their origin, and invite the philosopher to ascertain what are these original and immutable laws of the human mind.
“Examine,” says Mr. Hume, “ the religious principles which have prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded that they are anything but sick men's dreams; or, perhaps, will regard them more as the playsome whimsies of monkeys in human shape, than the serious, positive, dogmatical asseverations of a being who dignifies himself with the name of rational."
“To oppose the torrent of scholastic religion by such
" feeble maxims as these, that it is impossible for the same thing [at once] to be and not to be, that the whole is greater than a
part, that two and three make five, is pretending to stop the ocean with a bulrush." But what is the inference to which we are led by these observations? Is it, (to use the words of this ingenious writer,) “ that the whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery; and that doubt, uncertainty, and suspense, appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny concerning this subject ?" Or should not rather the melancholy histories which he has exhibited of the follies and caprices of superstition, direct our attention to those sacred and indelible characters on the human mind which all these perversions of reason are unable to obliterate; like that image of himself, which Phidias wished to perpetuate, by stamping it so deeply on the buckler of his Minerva ; "ut nemo delere posset aut divellere, qui totam statuam non imminueret.”I In truth, the more strange the contradictions, and the more ludicrous the ceremonies to which the pride of human reason has thus been reconciled, the stronger is our evidence that religion has a foundation in the nature of man. When the greatest of modern philosophers declares, that "he would rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without mind,"2 he has expressed the same feeling which in all ages and nations has led good men, unaccustomed to reasoning, to an implicit faith in the creed of their infancy ;-a feeling which affords an evi. dence of the existence of the Deity, incomparably more striking than if, unmixed with error and undebased by superstition, this most important of all principles had commanded the universal assent of mankind. Where are the other truths, in the whole circle of the sciences, which are so essential to human happiness, as to procure an easy access, not only for themselves, but for whatever opinions may happen to be blended with them? Where are the truths so venerable and commanding, as to impart their own sublimity to every trifling memorial which recalls them to our remembrance; to bestow solemnity and elevation on every mode of expression by which they are con
1 Selech Discourses, by John Smith, p. 119. Cambriilge, 1673. ? Lord Bacon, in his Essays.
veyed, and which, in whatever scene they have habitually occupied the thoughts, consecrate every object which it presents to our senses, and the very ground we have been accustomed to tread ? To attempt to weaken the authority of such impressions, by a detail of the endless variety of forms which they derive from casual associations, is surely an employment unsuitable to the dignity of philosophy. To the vulgar it may be amusing in this, as in other instances, to indulge their wonder at what is new or uncommon; but to the philosopher it belongs to perceive, under all these various disguises, the workings of the same common nature; and in the superstitions of Egypt, no less than in the lofty visions of Plato, to recognise the existence of those moral ties which unite the heart of man to the Author of his being.
SECT. II.--INFLUENCE OF THE ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS ON OUR
JUDGMENTS IN MATTERS OF TASTE.
The very general observations which I am to make in this section, do not presuppose any particular theory concerning the nature of Taste. It is sufficient for my purpose to remark, that Taste is not a simple and original faculty, but a power gradually formed by experience and observation. It implies, indeed, as its ground-work, a certain degree of natural sensibility ; but it implies also the exercise of the judgment, and is the slow result of an attentive examination and comparison of the agreeable or disagreeable effects produced on the mind by external objects.
Such of my readers as are acquainted with An Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste, lately published by Mr. Alison, will not be surprised that I decline the discussion of a subject which he has treated with so much ingenuity and elegance.
The view which was formerly given of the process by which the general laws of the material world are investigated, and which I endeavoured to illustrate by the state of medicine among rude nations, is strictly applicable to the history of Taste. That certain objects are fitted to give pleasure, and
others disgust, to the mind, we know from experience alone; and it is impossible for us, by any reasoning a priori, to explain how the pleasure or the pain is produced. In the works of nature we find, in many instances, Beauty and Sublimity involved among circumstances which are either indifferent, or which obstruct the general effect; and it is only by a train of experiments that we can separate those circumstances from the rest, and ascertain with what particular qualities the pleasing effect is connected. Accordingly, the inexperienced artist when he copies Nature, will copy her servilely, that he may be certain of securing the pleasing effect; and the beauties of his performances will be encumbered with a number of superfluous or of disagreeable concomitants. Experience and observation alone can enable him to make this discrimination: to exhibit the principles of beauty pure and unadulterated, and to form a creation of his own, more faultless than ever fell under the observation of his senses.
This analogy between the progress of taste from rudeness to refinement, and the progress of physical knowledge from the superstitions of a savage tribe to the investigation of the laws of nature, proceeds on the supposition that, as in the material world there are general facts, beyond which philosophy is unable to proceed ; so, in the constitution of man, there is an inexplicable adaptation of the mind to the objects with which these faculties are conversant, in consequence of which, these objects are fitted to produce agreeable or disagreeable emotions. In both cases, reasoning may be employed with propriety to refer particular phenomena to general principles; but in both cases we must at last arrive at principles of which no account can be given, but that such is the will of our Maker.
A great part, too, of the remarks which were made in the last section on the origin of popular prejudices, may be applied to explain the influence of casual associations on taste; but these remarks do not so completely exhaust the subject as to supersede the necessity of farther illustration. In matters of taste, the effects which we consider are produced on the mind itself, and are accompanied either with pleasure or with pain.