Imatges de pàgina
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and laws of nature, which are here the principles of our reasoning, and marims, or 'elements of belief,' which answer to the axioms in mathematics. If, at the opening of a treatise, for example, on chemistry, on agriculture, on political economy, &c., the author should make, as in mathematics, a' formal statement of all the propositions he intended to assume as granted, throughout the whole work, both he and his readers would be astonished at the number; and, of these, many would be only probable, and there would be much room for doubt as to the degree of probability, and for judgment in ascertaining that degree.

“ Moreover, mathematical axioms are always employed precisely in the same simple form : e. g., the axiom that the things equal to the same are equal to one another,' is cited, whenever there is need, in those very words; whereas the maxims employed in the other class of subjects, admit of, and require, continual modifications in the application of them. E. g., the stability of the laws of nature,' which is our constant assumption in inquiries relating to natural philosophy, appears in many different shapes, and in some of them does not possess the same complete certainty as in others; e. g., when, from having always observed a certain sheep ruminating, we infer, that this individual sheep will continue to ruminate, we assume that the property which has hitherto belonged to this sheep will remain unchanged ;' when we infer the same property of all sheep, we assume that the property which belongs to this individual belongs to the whole species;' is, on comparing sheep with some other kinds of horned animals,' and finding that all agree in ruminating, we infer that all horned animals ruminate,' we assume that the whole of a genus or class are likely to agree in any point wherein many species of that genus agree :' or in other words, that if one of two properties, &c., has often been found accompanied by another, and never without it, the former will be universally accompanied by the latter ;' now all these are merely different forms of the maxim, that "nature is uniform in her operations,' which, it is evident, varies in expression in almost epery different case where it is applied, and the application of which admits of every degree of evidence, from perfect moral certainty, to mere conjecture.

“The same may be said of an infinite number of principles and maxims appropriated to, and employed in, each particular branch of study. Hence, all such reasonings are, in comparison of mathematics, very complex; requiring so much more than that does, beyond the process of merely deducing the conclusion logically from the premises : so that it is no wonder that the longest mathematical demonstration should be so much more easily constructed and understood than a much shorter train of just reasoning concerning real facts. The former has been aptly compared to a long and steep, but even and regular, flight of steps, which tries the breath, and the strength, and the perseverance only; while the latter resembles a short, but rugged and uneven, ascent up a precipice, which requires a quick eye, agile limbs, and a firm step; and in which we have to tread now on this side, now on that—ever considering, as we proceed, whether this or that projection will, afford room for our foot, or whether some loose stone may not slide from under us. There are probably as many steps of pure reasoning in one of the longer of Euclid's demonstrations, as in the whole of an argumentative treatise on some other subject, occupying perhaps a considerable volume.

1 Viz., having horns on the skull. What are called the horns of the rhinoceros are quite different in origin, and in structure, as well as in situation, from what are properly called

Dorus.

“It may be observed here that mathematical reasoning, as it calls for no exercise of judgment respecting probabilities, is the best kind of introductory exercise ; and from the same cause, is apt, when too exclusively pursued, to make men incorrect moral reasoners.

As for those ethical and legal reasonings which were lately mentioned as in some respects resembling those of mathematics, (viz., such as keep clear of all assertions respecting facts,) they have this difference; that not only men are not so completely agreed respecting the maxims and principles of ethics and law, but the meaning also of each term can not be absolutely, and for ever, fixed by an arbitrary definition; on the contrary, a great part of our labor consists in distinguishing accurately the various senses in which men employ each term, -ascertaining which is the most proper,--and taking care to avoid confounding them together.

“It may be worth while to add in this place, that as a candid disposition,-a hearty desire to judge fairly, and to attain truth,--are evidently necessary with a view to give fair play to the reasoning powers, in subjects where we are liable to a bias from interest or feelings, so, a fallacious perversion of this maxim finds a place in the minds of some persons; who accordingly speak disparagingly of all exercise of the reasoning faculty in moral and religious subjects ; declaiming on the insufficiency of mere intellectual power for the attainment of truth in such matters on the necessity of appealing to the heart rather than to the head, &c., and then leading their readers or themselves to the conclusion that the less wo reason on such subjects the safer we are.

“But the proper office of candor is to prepare the mind not for the rejection of all evidence, but for the right reception of evidence ;-not to be a substitute for reasons, but to enable us fairly to weigh the reasons on both sides. Such persons as I am alluding to are in fact saying that since just weights alone, without a just balance, will avail nothing, therefore we have only to take care of the scales, and let the weights take care of themselves.

"This kind of tone is of course most especially to be found in such writers as consider it expedient to inculcate on the mass of mankind what—there is reason to suspect-they do not themselves fully believe, and which they apprehend is the more likely to be rejected the more it is investigated."

A curious anecdote (which I had heard, in substance, some years before) was told me by the late Sir Alexander Johnstone. When he was acting as temporary governor of Ceylon, (soon after its cession,) he sat once as judge in a trial of a prisoner for a robbery and murder ; and the evidence seemed to him so conclusive, that he was about to charge the jury (who were native Cingalese) to find a verdict of guilty. But one of the jury asked and obtained permission to examine the witnesses himself. He had them brought in one by one, and cross-examined them so ably as to elicit the fact that they were themselves the perpetrators of the crime, which they afterwards had conspired to impute to the prisoner. And they were accordingly put on their trial and convicted.

Sir A. J. was greatly struck by the intelligence isplayed by this juror ; the more, as he was only a small farmer, who was not known to have had any remarkable advantages of education. He sent for him, and after commending the wonderful sagacity he had shown, inquired eagerly what his studies had been. The man replied that he had never read but one book, the only one he possessed, which had long been in his family, and which he delighted to study in his leisure hours. This book he was prevailed on to show to Sir A. J., who put it into the hands of one who knew the Cingalese language. It turned out to be a translation into that language of a large portion of Aristotle's Organon. It appears that the Portuguese, when they first settled in Ceylon and other parts of the East, translated into the native languages several of the works then studied in the European Universities; among which were the Latin versions of Aristotle.

The Cingalese in question said that if his understanding had been in any degree cultivated and improved, it was to that book he owed it.

It is very important to warn all readers of the influence likely to be exercised in the formation of their opinions, indirectly, and by works not professedly argumentutive, such as Poems and Tales. Fletcher of Saltoun said, he would let any one have the making of the laws of a country, if he might have the making of their ballads.

An observation in the Lectures on Political Economy on one cause which has contributed to foster an erroneous opinion of the superior moral purity of poor and half-civilized countries, is equally applicable to a multitude of other cases, on various subjects. “One powerful, but little suspected cause, I take to be, an early familiarity with poetical descriptions of pure, unsophisticated, rustic life, in remote, sequestered, and unenlightened districts ;--of the manly virtue and practical wisdom of our simple forefathers, before the refinements of luxury bad been introduced ;-of the adventurous wildness, so stịwulating to the imagination, of savage or pastoral life, in the midst of primæval forests, lofty mountains, and all the grand scenery of uncultivated nature. Such subjects and scenes are much better adapted for poets, than thronged cities, workshops, coalpits, and iron-foundries. And poets, whose object is to please, of course keep out of sight all the odious or disgusting cireumstances pertaining to the life of the savage or the untutored clown, and dwell exclusively on all the arniable and admirable parts of that simplicity of character which they feign or fancy. Early associations are thus formed, whose influence is often the stronger and the more lasting, from the very circumstance that they are formed unconsciously, and do not come in the form of propositions demanding a deliberate assent. Poetry does not profess to aim at conviction; but it often leaves impressions which affect the reasoning and the judgment. And a false impression is perhaps oftener conveyed in other ways than by sophistical argument; because that rouses the mind to exert its powers, and to assume, as it were, a reasoning mood.!!!

The influence exercised by such works is overlooked by those who suppose that a child's character, moral and intellectual, is formed by those books only which are put into his hands with that design. As hardly anything can accidentally touch the soft clay without stamping its mark on it, so, hardly any reading can interest a child without contributing in some degree, though the book itself be afterwards totally forgotten, to form the character; and the parents, therefore, who, merely requiring from him a certain course of study, pay little or no attention to story-books, are educating him they know not how.

And here, I would observe that in books designed for children there are two extremes that should be avoided. The one, that reference to religious principles

1 In an article in a Review I have seen mention made of a person who discovered the falsity of a certain doctrine (which, by the way, is nevertheless a true one, that of Malthus,) inslinci. vely. This kind of instinct, i. e. the babit of forming opinions at the suggestion rather of feeling than of reason, is very common.

in connection with matters too trifling and undignified, arising from a well-intentioned zeal, causing a forgetfulness of the maxim whose notorious truth has made it proverbial, “Too much familiarity breeds contempt.” And the other is the contrary, and still more prevailing extreme, arising from a desire to preserve a due rederence for religion, at the expense of its useful application in conduct. But a line may be drawn which will keep clear of both extrenies. We should not exclude the association of things sacred with whatever are to ourselves trifling matters, (for “these little things are great” to children,) but, with whatever is viewed by them as trifling. Every thing is great or small in reference to the parties concerned. The private concerns of any obscure individual are very insiguificant to the world at large, but they are of great importance to himself. And all worldly affairs must be small in the sight of the Most High ; but irreverent familiarity is engendered in the mind of any one, then, and then only, when things sacred are associated with such as aro, to bim, insignificant things.

And here I would add that those works of fiction are worse than unprofitable that inculcate morality, with an exclusion of all reference to religious principle. This is obviously and notoriously the character of Miss Edgeworth's moral tales. And 80 entire and resolute is this exclusion, that it is maintained at the expense of what may be called poetical truth; it destroys, in many instances, the probability of the tale, and the naturalness of the characters. That Christianity does exist, every one must believe as an incontrovertible truth ; nor can any one deny that, wbether true or false, it does exercise,--at least is supposed to exercise,--an influence on the feelings and conduct of some of the believers in it. To represent, therefore, persons of various ages, sex, country, and station in life, as practicing, on the most trying occasions, every kind of duty, and encountering every kind of danger, difficulty, and hardship, while none of them ever makes the least reference to a religious motive, is as decidedly at variance with reality, what is called in works of fiction unnatural,

,-as it would be to represent Mahomet's enthusiastic followers as rushing into battle without any thought of his promised paradise. This, therefore, is a blemish in point of art, which every reader possessing taste must perceive, whatever may be bis religious or non-religious persuasion. But a far bigher, and more important, question than that of taste is involved. For though Miss Edgeworth may entertain opinions which would not permit her, with consistency, to attribute more to the influence of religion than she has done, and in that case may stand acquitted, in foro conscientia, of willfully suppressing anything which she acknowledges to be true and important; yet, as, a writer, it must still be considered as a great blemish, in the eyes at least of those who think differently, that virtue should be studiously inculcated, with scarcely any reference to what they regard as the mainspring of it,—that vice should be traced to every other source except the want of religious principle,-that the most radical change from worthlessness to excellence should be represented as wholly independent of that Agent which they consider as the only one that can accomplish it, -and that consolation under affliction should be represented as derived from every source, except the one which they look to as the only true and sure one. “Is it not because there is no God in Israel, that ye have sent to inquire of Baalzebub, the God of Ekron?” This vital defect iu such works should be constantly pointed out to the young reader ; and he should be warned that, to realize the picture of noble, disinterested, thorough-going virtue, presented in such and such an instance, it is absolutely necessary to resort to thuse principles which in these fictions are unnoticed. He should, in short, be reminded that all these things that are lovely and of good report," whioh have been placed before him, are the genuine fruits of the Holy Land; though the spies who have brought them bring also an evil report of that land, and would persuade us to remain wandering in the wilderness.

The student of history, also, should be on his guard against the indirect influence likely to be exercised on his opinions. On this point I take the liberty of quoting a passage from my Lectures on Political Economy:

An injudicious reader of history is liable to be misled by the circumstance, that historians and travelers occupy themselves principally (as is natural) with the relation of whatever is remarkable, and different from what commonly takes place in their own time or country. They do not dwell on the ordinary transactions of human life, (which are precisely what furnish the data on which political economy proceeds,) but on every thing that appears an exception to general rules, and in any way such as could not have been anticipated. The sort of information which the political economist wants is introduced, for the most part, only incidentally and obliquely; and is to be collected, imperfectly, from scattered allusions. So that if you will give a rapid glance, for instance, at the history of these islands, from the time of the Norman conquest to the present day, you will find that the differences between the two states of the country, in most of the points with which our science is conversant, are but very imperfectly accounted for in the main outline of the narrative.

“If it were possible that we could have a full report of the common business and common conversation, in the markets, the shops, and the wharfs of Athens and Piræus, for a single day, it would probable throw more light on the state of things in Greece at that time, in all that political economy is most concerned with, than all the histories that are extant put together.

* There is a danger, therefore, that the mind of the student, who proceeds in the manner I have described, may have been even drawn off from the class of facts which are, for the purpose in question, most important to be attended to.

“For, it should be observed that in all studies there is a danger to be guarded against, which Bacon, with his usual acuteness, has pointed out: that most men are so anxious to make or seek for some application of what they have been learning, as not unfrequently to apply it improperly, by endeavoring, lest their knowledge should lie by them idle, to bring it to bear on some question to which it is irrelevant; like Horace's painter, who, being skillful in drawing a cypress, was for introducing one into the picture of a shipwreck. Bacon complains of * this tendency among the logicians and metaphysicians of his day, who introduced an absurd and pernicious application of the studies in which they had been conversant, into natural philosophy : Artis sæpe ineptus fit usus, ne sit nullus.' But the same danger besets those conversant in every other study likewise, (political economy of course not excepted,) that may from time to time have occupied a large share of each man's attention. He is tempted to seek for a solution of every question on every subject, by a reference to his own favorite science or branch of knowledge; like a schoolboy when first intrusted with a knife, who is for trying its edge on every thing that comes in his way.

“Now in reference to the point immediately before us, he who is well read in history and in travels should be warned of the danger (the more on account of. the real high importance of such knowledge) of misapplying it-of supposing

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