« AnteriorContinuar »
In Oedipus Coloneus, the other tragedy mentioned, a very different opinion is maintained. A defence is made for that unlucky man, agreeable to found moral principles; that having had no bad intention, he was entirely innocent; and that his misfortunes ought to be ascribed to the wrath of the gods
Thou who upbraid'at me thus for all my woes,
Again, in the fourth act, the followir
Ogrant, That not oppress'd by tort'ring pain, Beneath the stroke of death he linger long; But fwift, with easy steps, descend to Styx's drear
abode; For he hath led a life of toil and pain ; : May the just gods repay his undeserved woe.
The audience was the same in both plays. Did they think Oedipus to be guilty in the one play, and innocent in the other? If they did not, how could both plays be relished ? if they did, they niuft have been grossly stupid.
The ftatues of a Roman Emperor were held so sacred, that to treat them with any contempt was high treason. This ridiculous opinion was carried so far out of common sense, that a man was held guilty of high treason, if a stone thrown by him happened accidentally to touch one of these statues. And the law continued in force till abrogated by a refcript of Severus Antoninus (a):
In England, so little was intention regarded, that casual homicide, and even homicide in felfdefence, were capitally punished. It requires strong evidence to youch so absurd' a law; and I have the strongest, viz. the act 52 Henry III. cap. 26. converting the capital punishment into a forfeiture of moveables. The same absurdity. continued much longer to be law in Scotland. - By act: 19. parl. 1649, renewed act 22. parl. 1661, the capital punishment is converted to imprisonment, or a fine to the wife and children. In a period so late as the Restoration, ftrange blindness it was not to be sensible, that homicide in self-defence, being a lawful act justified by the strictest rules of morality, subjects not a man to punishment,
(a) I. 5. ad leg. Jul. Majest,
more than the defending his property against a robber; and that casual homicide, meaning homicide committed innocently without ill intention, may fubject him to reparation, but never to any punifhinent mild or fevere. . The Jefuits in their doctrines feem to rest on the external act, disregarding intention. Tt is with them a matter of perfect indifference, from what motive men obey the laws of God; conséquently that the fervice of those who obey from fear of 'punishment, is no less acceptable to the Deity, than of those who obey from a principle of love.
The other error mentioned above, is, That the end justifies the means. In defence of that propo. sition, it is urged that the character of the means is derived from the end ; that every action must be wrong, which contributes to an ill end. According to this reasoning, it is right to assassinaté a man who is a declared or conceal. ed enemy to his country. It is right to roba rich man in order to relieve a perfon in want. -What' becomes then of property, which by all is held inviolable? It is totally unhinged. The pro. position then is untenable as far as light can be drawn from reason. At the fame time the tribunal of reason may be justly declined in this case. Reason is the only touchstone of right and wrong. And to maintain, that the qualities of right and wrong are discoverable by reason, is no Jefs absurd than that truth and falsehood are discoverable by the moral sense. The moral sense dic: tates, that on no pretext whatever it is lawful to do an act of injustice, or any wrong (a) : and men, conscious that the moral sense governs in matters of right and wrong, submit implicitly to its dictates. Influenced however by the reasoning mentioned, men, during the nonage of the
moral moral sense, did wrong currently in order to bring about a good end; witness pretended miracles and forged writings, urged without reserve by every fect of Christians against their antagonists. And I am sorry to observe, that the error iş not entirely eradicated : missionaries employed in converting infidels to the true faith, are little scrupulous about the means : they make no difficulty to feign prodigies in order to convert those who are not moved by argument. Such pious frauds tend to fap the very foundations of morality,
a) See the first part of this sketch, Sect. 3. at the end,
A s no other science can vie with theology, either in dignity or importance, it justly claims to be a favourite study with every personen, dued with true taste and solid judgement. From the time thạt writing was invented, natural religion has employed pens without number; and yet in no language is there found a connected history of it. The present work will only admit a slight sketch: which I shall glory in, however. imperfect, if it excite any one of superior talents to undertake a complete history;
1 HAT there exist beings, one or many, pow. crful above the human race, is a proposition uni. versally admitted as true, in all ages, and among all nations. I boldly call it universal, notwithstanding what is reported of some grofs savages ; for reports that contradict what is acknowledged to be general among men, require more able vouchers than a few illiterate voyagers. Among many favage tribes, there are no words but for objects of external sense : is it surprising, that such people are incapable to express their religious perceptions, or any perception of internal sense ? and from their filence can it be fairly presumed, that they have no such perception t? The conviction that men have of superior powers in every country where there are words to express it, is so well vouched, that in fair reasoning it ought to be taken for granted among the few tribes where language is deficient. Even the grofsest idolatry affords evidence of that conviction. No nation can be fo brutish as to worship a stone, merely as such ; the visible object is always imagined to
+ In the language even of Peru, there is not a word for expresfing. an abstract idea, such as time, endurance, Space, existence, fubftance, matter, body. It is no less defective in expressing moral ideas, such as virtue, justice, gratitude, liberty. The Yameos,, a tribe on the river Oroonoko der cribed by Condamine, use the word poettarrarcincouroac to express the num, þer three, and have no word for a greater number. The Brasilian lang guage is nearly as barren.