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ON THE DECLINE OF A TASTE FOR METAPHYSICS.
Nothing is more remarkable in the repeatedly admonished, through the literature of the day, than the substi- organs of popular criticism, that the tution, which has been accomplished, nature of his undertaking accords nos of its lighter branches, for the more with the taste or fashion of these severe studies by which the preced- times; and has had the unmerited ing century was distinguished. This mortification, we are afraid, to find, important revolution is more palpable that the fruits of his profound and in the departments of metaphysics elevated toil have not been apprecia and moral science, than in any other ated with that ardent fondness which branch of learning. There is reason is the best stimulus and the most to believe, that notwithstanding the grateful reward of high and liberal outward deference still paid to the exertion. presciptive celebrity of Locke, Berke- This is indeed a striking revolution ley, and Hume, these illustrious men in the literary taste of a country which are secretly rated in public opinion, has been distinguished above all far beneath even the popular favour others for depth of thought and graites of the day. Their works are not vity of philosophical speculation. It now perused with that intense admir- was in England that the national ation which they commanded half a foundations of moral and metaphysical century ago, and which the decided philosophy were first laid—the trambias of literary taste, towards the toils mels of scholastic form and fruitless and delights of abstract speculations, subtlety first vigorously burst-and can alone explain. If an occasional the true objects and just boundaries effort be made to recal attention to of science first delineated, with a sthis deserted region, where, in former gacity and precision to which the times, no small share of the glory learned of all nations have offered which belongs to our national litera- their tribute of reverence and admirature was achieved, the attempt is in tion. It was in England that the so feeble and faulty a style, as to dis- genius of Bacon was nursed, in whose gust every ingenuous student of the immortal works may be traced the old masters, and to convince him, that outlines of all that science and philothe depth of thought and compre- sophy have since achieved, splendid hensiveness of views for which the as their triumphs have been in almost philosophers of England stood unri- every country of Europe. It was unvalled, have almost wholly abandoned der the same cloudy sky, that Locke, those who now attempt á vain com- exploring by the chart which his wonpetition with the strength and origi- derful precursor had left him, the yet nality of their genius.
untravelled region of metaphysia, We are aware, that there exist il- constructed a firm and massive fabric, lustrious exceptions to the absolute from the very fragments of which truth of these remarks ; but we speak new systems have been reared, and at present not so much with reference new honours gained, for the seconto the merits of individuals as to the dary genius which has advanced in general state of public thought and the magnificent track of his invention feeling. If it be true that we have for him the consenting admiration of yet among us a metaphysician of great every learned people conceded the talents and accomplishments, it is no high honour of having fixed an era less certain, that even the lustre of his in the most abstruse, but yet the genius has been unable to win the most interesting and sublime of the public regard to that course of study sciences of having cleared the founin which he has himself embarked dations, marked the laws, and de with enthusiastic and boundless den fined the limits of human thoughtvotion. Mr Stewart is almost a soli- of having laid deep in the rational tary example of high talent and fine and experimental philosophy of the accomplishment, wasted (as many human mind, the basis of moral and even of bis admirers may imagine) on political obligation—of having exthe thorny and barren track of meta- plored the remotest principles of abphysical speculation. He has been stract speculation and of having given
a rational and imperishable form to Beattie, and Reid-names still among that science to which a powerful in- the most illustrious that occur in stinct had attracted the elevated curi. Scottish literature, and whose fortune osity of every age, but of which it it was to raise the philosophical fame was given to him alone to fathom all of their country to a pitch of unrivalthe depths, and unfold the hitherto led eminence. impenetrable mysteries. He alone The influence and renown of Eng. carried the solidity of reason into the lish philosophy were not limited to recesses of that branch of philoso- this Island. It is the privilege of this phy, which had in all former times high department of intellectual exer, been filled with the successive but tion, that its honours are not confined perishable shadows of the imaginac to the narrow boundaries which potion.
licy, laws, and manners prescribe to The supremacy of Locke is uni- the other triumphs of learning ; but versally confessed; but there were that, transcending the limits assigned others also, to whose genius this de- to a literature purely local and popupartment of knowledge is profoundly lar, it unites in one illustrious school indebted. The subtle but amiable all that is lofty or profound in the gescepticism of Berkeley, who, in the nius of the civilized world. The high confidence of an original and light and airy, but liberal spirit of comprehensive mind, meditated the Voltaire, perceived the grandeur of a destruction of popular infidelity, by system which it wanted strength to expunging the material world from have constructed ; and with a noble the catalogue of philosophical realities, surrender of national prejudice, this gave an impulse, in spite of its starts singular man descended to the humling extravagance, to the spirit of in- ble toil of familiarising the philosophy tellectual philosophy, such as a great of England to the nations of the conand inventive genius can alone im- tinent. He made his universal lanpart. His theory, derided by wits guage the instrument of expounding, and stared at by the vulgar, in equal in a popular form, the sublime system ignorance of its aim, was admired by of Newton; with the armour of his philosophers for the depth, subtlety, wit he covered the name of Locke and vigour of understanding, which it from the assaults of scholastic pedandisplayed, and the bold and original try and envenomed dulness; he spread cast of thought which this amiable throughout Europe the philosophical and enlightened ecclesiastic pre-emin- reputation of England, and gave, even ently discovered.
to the name of philosopher, a high deThe philosophical spirit which pre- gree of popular estimation, by the zeal dominated in England, and which with which he ever vindicated it for communicated its depth and precision himself as the proudest of all his liteto the various departments of litera- rary distinctions. ture, was soon caught by the literary It thus happened, that during the men of Scotland, and followed with last century the spirit of a rational their characteristic perseverance into and profound philosophy made greater very splendid results. It was then progress throughout Europe than it that the quiet, frigid, incredulous, but had done at any former period. The subtle and profound intellect of Hume same principles of a wary and induce -attracted to the study of metaphysics tive logic—the same precision of exby the blaze of reputation which en- periment and accuracy of observation circled the philosophy of England--the same stern rejection of mere attempted to push the principles of hypothesis and gratuitous conjecture the pure and pious Locke to conclu- which had wrought so many wonders sions which would have struck their in physical science, were found no author with horror; and to construct less efficient in accelerating the proupon the foundation laid by a most gress of intellectual philosophy. The christian philosopher, a splendid and effects of the magnificent system imposing
fabric of philosophical scep- which the genius of Bacon had creatticism. The road, to literary distinc ed, and of the fresh impulse which tion, thus trodden by this eminent the progress of events had commuapostle of unbelief,' was pursued, nicated to the human mind, were though with very different feelings, not limited to that profound and inand for other views, by Campbell, teresting science which treats of the intellectual laws and faculties, for that cognised ; and the result was not only capacity and love of abstract specula- a vast accession to the neglected protion-of comprehensive and philoso- vince of moral and intellectual philo. phical reasoning—which had become sophy, to which the works of Locke, the prominent feature of the literature and Montesquien, and Smith, and of the age, expanded itself through Hume, and Reid, bear ample testievery branch of moral and political mony, but the formation of a loftier science
leading original and inquisi- and more philosophical cast of think. tive minds to ascend from the humble ing throughout all the instructed level of a narrow and contracted ex- classes of society, which is yet visible perience to the lofty region of princi- in the general state of opinion, and ple and to subdue the coarse resisto even in the most ordinary efforts of ance of vulgar prejudice, before the literary composition. The humblest spirit of a predominating reason. of them all now breathes an affectae Happy had it been for mankind if tion, at least, of general principle, and baser spirits had never interposed in a disdain of vulgar prejudice, such as this high intellectual cause, to disturb could have been generated only in the and disgust the world by contamina- triumph of a profound and rational ting the oracles of truth and of reason philosophy. with the blasphemies of atheism and It is true there was a coldness in the atrocities of revolution.
this system--a sternness of abstrace The philosophy of the modern tion which a vigorous intellect alone school is the philosophy of reason, not could sustain ; it spoke neither to the that of imagination. Hostile alike to imagination nor the heart, and prethe seductive dreams of fancy and the sented no other charm, but the sub presumptuous 'arrogance of system, lime and simple beauty of truth. Such and disdaining every other support are the profound and masterly discus. but the solid basis of experiment and sions of Locke, Berkeley, Smith, and observation, it aspires to raise the Reid, and of all the illustrious writers study of human nature--which had who are now neglected as too subtle in all former ages been a tasteless age and frigid for the impassioned charas. gregate of insulated facts, and fascin- ter of the age. ating but unsatisfactory visions-to It must be owned, indeed, that the the dignity of a science. The sub- tendency of this cold and vigorous lime mysticism and charmed reveries system of reasoning-ambitious as it of Plato, which cast an air and aspect was inflexible-penetrating, without of divinity around the aberrations of scruple, into the darkest mysterias human intellect-the ambitious, sub- connected with the origin, the conditle, and comprehensive scheme of Aris- tion, and the destinies of the species-totle, which, aspiring to chain the and proud of sporting on the very universe of matter and of mind within brink of that abyss where the energy the limits of a system, lost all reality of human reason is extinguished, and in the expansion of its grasp, and re- the light of philosophy expires-was tained, in syllogistic fetters, only the but too favourable to that spirit of forms and shadows of existence the scepticism which was the disgrace of wild visions of a speculative super- the last age. But it is on secondary stition and corrupted theology-and minds alone that modern philosophy the spirit of barren but laborious sub- produces this baneful effect. Witness tlety which usurped the honour of the profound and unshaken piety of genius during the long night of bar- Bacon, which was on a high level barian ignorance, were alike denounc- with all the other elements of his ined and contemned in the bright æra tellectual greatness—with his grave of European intellect. Reason alone and awful cast of thought-with the was obeyed in the plenitude of her sobriety and majesty of his feeling and restored empire. The imperative de- comprehensive soul, which was too mands of the inductive logic were near an emanation from the Deity to scrupulously complied with the ne. forget for a moment its celestial descessity of founding the generalizations cent. Witness also the venerable of philosophy upon a large experience, names of Locke and of Newton, to and of resting systems of knowledge whom it was not given to range over upon a wide survey of nature, was re- the universe of mind and of matter is
ignorance of the divine Author, of the ing and their creed; but if they are mighty gifts with which they were read in history, and familiar with the endued, and of the magnificent scenes horrors which it records, that system spread out for their employment. The must be bad indeed, which shall not master spirits of every age have towe appear to them tolerable in the comered above the seductions of scepti- parison. In the rashness and obsticism; firm in the purity and stability nacy of their spirit of generalization, of their own character-exalted by the they will, on contemplating such privileges of a larger capacity, and a mournful records, pronounce upon the wider range of contemplation—by the irremediable depravity of the species, susceptibility of graver and loftier and repose contented in the arms of a feeling-by a clearer perception of the mild and mitigated despotism. They limits
imposed by nature on the auda- expect no sudden renovation of mancity of human speculation--and a kind, -no rapid movement which deeper and more intense humility in should enable the intellect of the crowd the mingled consciousness of their to rival the velocity of their own enown gifts and frailties--they aban- lightened career. Who can, upon this doned to the minor race of cold and subject, forget the despotic prejudices contemptuous sophists the odious dis- of Hobbes, one of the greatest intinction of a daring and reckless une tellects of modern times, or the mebelief. The progress of physical morable servility of Bacon, who, with science, and the multiplied power of a deep sense of his own intellectual matter which have been developed to omnipotence, and a lofty presage of its researches, cannot seduce their the miracles which knowledge was to calm and considerate minds into the work in after times, exemplified in his puny sophism, that matter is, there own person, a submissive and boundfore, all-that a cold and repulsive less obedience to power, revolting even scepticism is the natural creed of an to the slavish spirit of his own fettered impassioned and aspiring soul, that age? What, again, could have roused the magnificent triumphs of human the mild and placid spirit of Newton intellect warrant a denial of its exist to resistance, or seduced it from the ence, or a doubt as to the supreme sublime harmony of the spheres to the and presiding power of that Spirit in vulgar discord of earthly turbulence whose might alone all that is great or and faction ? Locke was cast on disgood must be achieved.
tracted times he was in his person In politics, the influence of abstract the victim of persecution-he was comphilosophy was still more variable. pelled, in self-defence, to weigh the Men of great genius, wholly occupied claims of freedom against the arrogance with their own speculations, seldom of power and to become a liberal engage with much ardour in political theorist in matters of policy, that he discussion, unless they are dragged might baffle with effect the vengeance from their beloved retirement by the of an odious despotism. Hume again, unexpected approach of persecution, or phlegmatic by nature, became slavish the arrival of some great pu con- by learning; he was a man of the vulsion, which sweeps every thing world, and had studied much of its within its baleful and degrading vor- history, and every page spoke so much tex. They are naturally calm and of actual tyranny, that he came at last submissive; and it must be the fault to think freedom but a dream, which of governments if they are ever roused could never be realized, but through to disturb them by their opposition. scenes of blood, from which the timiWhat to them are the petty intrigues dity of his nature recoiled. Voltaire the vulgar jealousies--the warring fac- and Rousseau, persecuted by power, tions—the ostentatious bustle—the pig. by pedantry, and by superstition, remy magnificence of the actors or the sisted accordingly; and the warfare fugitive importance of the ordinary once begun was perpetuated by the events which agitate and distract the pride of wit, and the quenchless enworld-compared with the grandeur thusiasm of perverted genius. of their own enduring speculations ? The passion for abstract science If they be men of mere theory, which distinguished the last age, has strangers to the business and the cares perished before the power of that very of the world, such will be their feele spirit which was generated by its as buse. The bold and frequent dissec- grateful compensation. Have not some tions of the inmost frame of society, profound metaphysicians verified the which were conducted with unfaul- justice of these remarks in the history tering hand, under the auspices, and of their philosophical career? Have in the name of philosophy,—the con- they not sometimes been over-ambitemptuous triumph which it arrogated tious of popularity, and feeling with over many of the salutary prejudices anguish, that the tide of public sentiof mankind,--the unsparing ferocity ment was turning against their fawith which its later and perverted vourite pursuits, have they not occae disciples vowed, and in part accom- sionally made abortive efforts to acplished the destruction of religion and commodate themselves to the light and of government,
--have generated a se- fickle taste of the multitude; to lower ries of events of a new and oppressive the dignity of science to the prejudices interest, before which its own refined of the vulgar ; to transplant the smalabstractions have disappeared. The ler graces which the public taste affects long train of stupendous occurrences, to demand, into regions where they the swift and regular succession of ap- are either stinted in their growth, or palling realities, which it has been pernicious in their luxuriance; to mie our fortune to witness, has forcibly mic the language of feeling, where withdrawn every mind from all other they ought to have aspired, only at the contemplations but that of the passing strength of argument; and to comscene; and by inverting the ordinary promise the lofty character of the vulgarities of political discussion with science by a feigned contempt for its an interest and importance which they profounder branches, and a feeble prenever attained in any former age, has ference of its more tasteful appendages? attracted to them the intense regard, And what has been the result? Éren and almost undivided sympathy of with the aid of their impolitic conmankind.
descension they have been wholly eThe mightiest of all modern revo- clipsed by lighter and inferior spirits, lutions, indeed, is that which has been who, by the exclusive devotion of their accomplished in the state of the pub- slenderer talent to its appropriate purlic mind. Forms may be revived, and suits, have ever vindicated for theme institutions may be restored ; but the selves the literary honours in which a restoration of intellect and feeling to competition so unwise had been at their former level, is beyond the power tempted with them. of armies, and above the scope of al- The philosophers have had themliances. An intellectual movement selves to blame, indeed, for a portion has been made, whether for good or of that neglect with which they have for evil signifies not, and it cannot be of late been visited. They have long arrested; for the progress of know- rejected, it is true, the embarrassing ledge, with the existing safeguards for formality of the syllogism in the strucits perpetuity, scorns all impediment. ture of their dissertations; but they It advances by a myriad of avenues, are often no less insipid than if they which no vigilance can secure,-it is yet adhered to the tedious rigour of buried deep in the human heart, and that obsolete appendage. The method the freezing severity of despotism can- of induction is indeed excellent; but not reach the sacred recess. But the it is by no means a talisman against consequence of this diffused know. drivelling enumerations and operose ledge is to alter the standard of lite and unfruitful disquisitions. The efrary taste,—to change the distributors fect of writing a great deal about that of favour, and vary the objects of re- which all understand at a glance, even ward,—to establish a real democracy although the entire gravity of the Baof literature, in which the candidate conian method should be scrupulously for its envied honours must appeal, not kept up-of descanting upon commonto the few, but to the many,—to vul- places, and demonstrating truismsgarize philosophy and learning,--and of setting out from the very beginning, to extinguish in all, but the noblest when every one is more than half adbosoms, the old longing after immor- vanced on the road, is extremely untality for which the tumultuous ap- propitious to the credit of the philo plause of the moment is in most cases sopher, and of the science, however Jelt to be not only a prompt but a profound and ingenious, which he pre