« AnteriorContinuar »
posed of two elastic fluids, united in a definite and exact proportion ; a proportion so precisely suited to those for whose respiration it was intended, that any difference in the quantity of either ingredient would prove, according to its degree, injurious or destructive. The same air which supplies life and health to the human race is equally and alone salubrious to every other animal. It might be expected that the portion of this air which animals return in the alternate motion of the lungs, having performed its service, would prove of no further utility: but it has been otherwise contrived. This part of the atmosphere, though insalubrious to man, affords the most grateful nourishment to the plants by which he is surrounded ; according to which provision nothing is lost, and the constant purity of the air we breathe is preserved.
*The same air which in its compound state supports the life of the animal creation, administers also to the comfort and necessities of man in the shape of fire. Combustion is the decomposition of the atmosphere, a process which, under certain circumstances of temperature, most of the products of the earth have in a greater or less degree the power of effecting; and which is regularly accompanied by the disengageinent of the light and heat for which we have such frequent occasion, when the assistance of the solar rays is either wanting, or inapplicable. The same elastic fluids which perform these important purposes, in another state of composition become the clief constituents of water also. And the result is, that the principal wants of the animal and vegetable world are supplied by three elastic fluids, the peculiar union of which furnishes us with water, fire, and vital air. Neither do these fluids require the interposition of the Creator to supply their constant.expenditure. The original mandate of Eternal Wisdom provided, as far as we can learn from physical researches, for a world of wbich we cannot foresee the termination. The simple gasses, disengaged by various natural processes, from the combustibles, vegetables, and different substances which absorb them, are so contrived as to form a natural reunion, and preserve a constant equilibrium.'-vol. ii. p. 8—11.
But the case by no means terminates here. From the rapid progress which modern chemists have made in the discoveries arising from what may be termed the electro-chemical science, many bodies hitherto considered as elementary have been decomposed;—the number of elements or simple substances is diminished by almost every elaborate experiment.
The philosopher to whom we owe many of these discoveries, and who is equally distinguished by the brilliancy and importance of the facts which he has disclosed, by the humane and useful purposes to which he has adapted them, and by the singular candour and modesty of his deportment as a man of science and a gentlemen, has declared bis opinion * that we are probably not yet acquainted with any of the true elements of matter.' And yet so far * See Davy's Agricultural Chemistry, 4to.-p. 38.
have the successful efforts of science in reducing compounded substances already extended, that the same philosopher has in another place thought himself, upon good grounds, entitled to statę, that a few undecompounded bodies, which may perhaps ultimately be resolved into still fewer elements, or which may be different forms of the same material, constitute the whole of our tangible universe of things.'*
It must, we think, be acknowledged, that a more beautiful display of exalted wisdom, of grandeur and simplicity in contrivance, of minuteness and delicacy in operation, of what is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working,' cannot even be faintly conceived by the imagination of man. But we turn with pleasure even from these engaging speculations to others yet more interesting to the moralist, who after all is the true philosopher, at least if the importance of the science is to be estimated by the value of the sub- , jects about which it is conversant. We turn to the contemplation, with that 'lively sympathy with the fortunes of the human race, and that warm zeal for the interests of truth and justice, without the guidance of which, it has been well observed, the highest mental endowments, when applied to moral or to political researches, are in perpetual danger of mistaking their way. To this higher department of the inquiry,—to MAN as a member of civil society and as a moral and accountable being, the remainder of the Essay exclusively relates.
As we have already hinted, there is no reasoning justly upon the Creator's provisions respecting man, without some understanding of the design of God in bringing him into existence, which involves the question, what man is in his state of nature, or as he is placed by. Providence in connection with the scheme of earthly things. Now all reflection upon the moral and intellectual powers of man, compared with the circumstances calling for their exercise with which he is surrounded, tend uniformly to the conviction that he was placed here in order to exercise, according to his opportunities in his progress through the world, the various powers of reason and virtue with which he is endowed. The state of nature then, when applied to man, is a state of progressive improvement; and we are convinced that it is equally true of communities as of individuals, that if they do not wilfully or through ignorance place themselves in a state contrary to anture, that is, inconsistent with the rules which God has given them for their government, they might proceed, through the whole period of their existence, in a growing course of moral and political welfare. But we must not anticipate.
• Davy's Elements of Chem. Phil.-p. 503; as quoted by Mr. Sumner.
Mr. Sumner very satisfactorily refutes the arguments of those philosophers, who, by exhibiting what they are pleased to call the chain of existence, virtually deny the gradual improvement of man to be the design of the Creator; and this he does by shewing the elastic and extendible nature of those links in the moral chain which are made up of human beings. M. Bonnet and a Mr. White are great advocates for this catenarian system of philosophy; and because they have observed that there is less difference between the highest brute and the lowest savage than between the savage and the most improved man, have thought themselves justified in concluding that man forms part of a regular gradation of beings, and is himself instinctively the subject of similar gradations ; that the Ouranoutang, for example, is the first link which connects man with quadrupeds, and that the Negro is the connecting tie between the white man and the ape. Upon these principles we see no sound objection to ranging Messrs. Bonnet and White as severally the intermediate links between the philosopher and the madman; for if it is to be understood that individual or national character is always to continue precisely at that point where it may have been observed at any particular period to have stood;-or that there is a mental and moral circle drawn round each variety of human character, of the nature of an impassable barrier; (which is evidently the case with animals regulated by instinct;)—then we must allow that the Bonnet and White links in the series must be permanently kept up, or the ways of Providence interrupted. But if the human mind in those individuals is of an expansive and improveable nature, although their moral faculties have been deadened or their intellectual powers perverted by abuse, then it will become us to use our best exertions in devising the means whereby more sober and enlightened philosophers than Messrs. Bonnet and White may be provided for the use of future generations. In short, man is placed in the world with moral powers and faculties, dormant indeed till called into exertion by the circumstances which surround him, but capable of being improved and exalted in the highest degree by a right application of them to those circumstances. He is commanded so to apply them, and instructed in the method of obeying that command. He is placed in a state of moral and mental trial, whereas brutes are placed in a condition of mere instinctive obedience to their animal propensities.
Man then being placed in a state of moral discipline through the media of surrounding circumstances operating upon his moral faculties, and of the reaction of those faculties modifying the principles upon which the affairs of the world are regulated, it behoves us, in estimating the wisdom and goodness of those principles as originally ordained by the Creator, always to keep in mind their VOL. XVI. NO. XXXI.
main object, which appears to be to preserve the moral faculties in a state of perpetual exercise and improvement, in order to fit them for a superior state of existence.
This is nearly the view which Mr. Sumner has taken of the design of the Creator with respect to this world, and to the Being into whose hands He has delivered it over as a possession; and the conclusions which he draws from the premises are expressed in the following words:
"It is evident, that if the present state is not final, if its object is discipline, what might appear to us the happiest, or easiest, or best condition for the human race in an immediate view, would not be the most suitable to the ultimate intention of the Creator. The object which would be present to the divine mind; in determining the circumstances in which it were expedient to place mankind, would be, to assign them that state of being which was best suited to render this world the stage of discipline it was designed to prove : one that should most effectually and inevitably work out the powers, exercise the virtues, and display the character of man. And it might be expected from what we see in other instances of the Creator's wisdom, that he would place mankind in circumstances through which the order of things best calculated to further this design should naturally establish itself, without any such immediate interference as might disturb the spontaneity of human actions.
I think it may be rendered evident that He has done so; and the proof of wisdom I shall endeavour to illustrate, is this ; that the order of things, in which the human race arrives at the highest degree of improvement, and has the widest scope for moral and intellectual perfection, is inevitably, and with some trifling exceptions, universally established, by the operation of a SINGLE PRINCIPLE, and the instinctiye force of a single natural desire.'-vol. ii. p. 26, 27.
The SINGLE PRINCIPIE here alluded to, is the PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION—concerning which so much has been said and written since the publication of Mr. Malthus's original and elaborate Essay upon that subject.
Differing, as we do, most widely from the statements and conclusions of that ingenious writer, we are nevertheless disposed to agree as to the effects ascribed by Mr. Sumner to the principle itself when rightly stated; and we derive no common degree of satisfaction from the proof afforded by the Essay before us, that although Mr. Sumner has brought hiniself to admit the truth of Mr. Malthus's principles, he can yet have derived from them the same conclusions respecting the wisdom and goodness of God which we have ourselves derived from what we conceive to be a refutation of those principles. We are disposed to welcome this remarkable coincidence of conclusions from opposite premises, in the case of the party which has takeu the wrong premises, as a signal instance
of the power of a well regulated mind over an acute understanding. When we come to the discussion of this subject, we shall shew, that had Mr. Sumner embraced all the parts of Mr. Malthus's Essay he would have found, (as that author himself has too frequently found,) that the principles extended much too far to warrant the conclusions which he attempts to deduce from then), as merely sufficient to urge men to exertion and self-denial, and to reward them in proportion to their obedience. He must, we think, have discovered that, notwithstanding any practicable degree of general virtue and self-denial, the progress of society from the lower to the higher stages (which we have already shewn to be the design of Providence) must, upon Mr. Malthus's statement, inevitably bring with it large accessions of vice and misery to man, instead of concentrating the greatest possible proportion of happiness in a given space of territory.* He would surely therefore have concluded that the principles themselves could not be true, and would have bent the powers of his mind to the discovery and statement of those points where paralogisms might be detected, before he ventured to argue upon the principles themselves as the great fundamental proof of the wisdom of God in the construction of human society. We should then have had the third and fourth chapters which are now occupied with a discussion concerning the effects of the equality or the inequality of ranks and fortunes, devoted to a new and corrected statement of the principle of population. We may add too, that many conclusions in the fourth chapter, in which we cordially agree, would have followed with greater force and effect as the natural consequences of a right statement of the principle of population. Mr. Sumner, however, having chosen to take another course, we feel bound to follow him through this preliminary matter.
The advocates for political equality are, consistently enough, the advocates for the superior comforts and happiness of the savage state of society :-for political equality can only be practically enjoyed, and that very imperfectly, in such a condition of mankind. On the sillinesses of Rousseau, Condorcet, Godwin, the Père du Tertre, and a crowd of imitators on this subject, it is at this time of day, thank God! useless to expatiate. But we think the general conclusion is stated by Mr. Sumner in the following passage, with candour and iinpartiality.
• A partial survey of civilized life represents, it is true, each individual neglectful of the general good, and struggling merely for the advancement of his own; flourishing by the discomfiture of competitors, and elevated by the depression of his brethren. But the other side of the picture shews individual advantage terminating in public benefits, and the desire of aggrandizement which is stimulated by ambition or do
* See Paley's Mor. Phil.