Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

more strongly to the feelings, than to the taste, or the understanding

But this, perhaps, would not satisfy an ill-natured objector, or one who should feel it his duty to be critical. The few great minds, he might observe, with which the world is favoured, truly great because truly good, are no proofs of the merit or demerit of the system in which we find them. It would almost seem that the antagonism of evil is as favourable to the development of their powers, as the co-operation of good. Their virtue, as it lies in themselves, so it began there; they are the instruments of Providence for great ends, and have a strength independent of circumstances. The effectiveness of education must be tested at a lower point in the scale of humanity; its chief work lies among those who have neither the temptation of very , strong propensions, nor the responsibility of great intellectual power; on such men it may impress a character so deeply, that it seems indelible, and it becomes hard to hold the balance between the force of implanted habits, and the freedom of an accountable agent. Persons of this kind, if not deficient in those powers of inference which are brought into play in the higher mathematics, are often unable to apply the results to any useful purpose; no general habit of investigation is formed; no love of truth for its own sake is elicited: the sum of their conclusions stands alone in its consistency, the plaything of the reason, or the burden of the memory; but, in all that regards their higher being, isolated and unemployed. It is as the stone boulder, heavy indeed and coherent, but sleeping idly on the side of the hill; and not the tree, striking its roots far and wide into the adjacent soil, and deriving fresh strength from the very earth which it knits together. Most men are marvellously wanting in the faculty of mind, which is akin to the process of assimilation in the body. Knowledge must be given them much in the form in which they have to use it, or they will never discover that it is useful at all; and where there is not great talent, or considerable earnestness, indirect teaching will be almost thrown away. The reasoning powers may be cultivated, and the imagination supplied with new and higher ideas, and yet the individual for whose benefit this discipline is meant, shall be little or none the better. It is the duty of authority, and especially of authority employed in education, to inculcate directly those moral truths on which its dominion is ultimately founded.

Now in what manner does the University of Cambridge aim at fulfilling this duty ? Where shall we look for the exponent of her practical teaching ? Supposing that she places in the hands of her students a work professing to treat of that science which teaches men their duty, and the reasons of it;' that to this work she calls more particularly the attention of those, who from any cause decline to pursue her more abstract course of study, and need, therefore, in her walls, more immediate preparation for the active engagements of life; supposing further, that this manual receives her explicit sanction, by being admitted to a prominent place in her University examinations, what can be more reasonable than to view it as a part of her system, and to hold her responsible for its contents ?

Yet, on the present occasion, we feel an invincible repugnance to this obvious course. It is not to be believed that the morality of Cambridge is fairly represented by Paley's Moral Philosophy. That a Christian divine could have written some parts of that remarkable book, is itself sufficiently surprising, without the additional wonder, that a Christian society should have adopted it. Many a youthful mind must have recoiled in astonishment at the first perusal of a treatise recommended by the voice of authority, speaking through some reverend senior, from the first principles of which it requires little logic to infer, that disinterestedness is a mistake, and heroism little short of madness. A religious man, young or old, who has endeavoured, however imperfectly, to follow the evangelical rule of life, will be slow to embrace a system in which he finds no place for devotion or self-denial. The speculative moralist at once condemns it, with its false definition of right, as conformity to a rule self-chosen, not obedience to a law imposed, and its more than virtual rejection of the in-born light of conscience. The practical value of such teaching it is not difficult to estimate. Without heart, or warmth, or instinctive vitality, expressly refusing any credit for dignity, or delicacy, or refinement, it may serve in common times to propel common men along the dead level of expediency; but if ever it claim to have kindled the high and generous spirit, which alone can face unlooked-for difficulties, and rise superior to emergencies, it will have proved too much, and convicted itself of falsehood.

No excellence of oral instruction can ever remedy this fundamental evil. A teacher is placed in an unnatural position, when he is obliged to contradict his text-book. Such a course is indeed often necessary, as well as allowable, in matters of detail; but it becomes an absurdity when principles are called into question. Any doubt thrown upon these must affect the sequel also ; and when the premises are rejected, the conclusions may be true, but scarcely trustworthy. That faith in authority, so useful and encouraging to the young learner, is then rendered impossible. Who can wonder, if, with his judgment suspended between the text and the ill-according comment, in his doubt what to believe, he declines believing at all, and reconciles himself to the difficulties attendant on either view by an entire indifference to both ? Neither, if he reject this summary proceeding, is it at all unlikely that the book will prevail over its interpreter. There is a common impression, it matters little whether well or ill founded, that it is easier to talk than to write. Many too, who have no desire to live under the sovereignty of the press, have a greater respect for the mysteries of type, than they are at all aware of. Again, the apparent unfairness of this mode of assault may gain some allies for the persecuted treatise. Literature is not without its code of honour; the war of opinion should be carried on with all due observance of ceremony. Paley has, as it were, established his position in Cambridge. His assailant is in the place of a challenger, and the challenged has the choice of weapons. A book of any caste deserves a book to answer it.

It is impossible, then, to be indifferent to the treatise before us, coming as it does from the Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge, and that at a time when an author of Dr. Whewell's eminence fills the professorial chair. We should look with interest on the slightest literary straw which marks the course of the current: how much more on a work that may possibly turn the stream! In this case, too, there is ground not only for expectation, but for hope. Nearly eight years have now passed since Dr. Whewell clearly and publicly declared his opinion on the question. In the preface to his four sermons, preached before the University of Cambridge in the year 1837, he stated his impression, that the evils arising from the countenance afforded by that University to the principles of Paley's system were so great, as to make it desirable that its sanction should be withdrawn from its doctrines without further delay. At that time, however, it appears he was not aware of any system of ethics, constructed on a sounder basis, which he could recommend as a substitute for the justly obnoxious treatise. He alluded, indeed, to Bishop Butler, as the representative of a sounder school, but rightly observed, that he has not in his admirable sermons delivered a system of morals. To the construction of such a system as the fundamental idea of a moral law, Dr. Whewell then referred, as both a possible and highly interesting undertaking; while he mentioned the probability, that he should long be prevented from making the attempt by other objects and avocations. But men of a certain power of mind seldom let difficulties not absolutely insurmountable hinder the execution of a plan they have once conceived; and we are at length allowed to welcome two octavo volumes on the Elements of Morality, including Polity, from the pen of the Master of Trinity College.

Of the distinctive merits of this work we shall shortly have occa

present

to this work she calls more particularly the attention of those, who from any cause decline to pursue her more abstract course of study, and need, therefore, in her walls, more immediate preparation for the active engagements of life; supposing further, that this manual receives her explicit sanction, by being admitted to a prominent place in her University examinations, what can be more reasonable than to view it as a part of her system, and to hold her responsible for its contents ?

Yet, on the present occasion, we feel an invincible repugnance to this obvious course. It is not to be believed that the morality of Cambridge is fairly represented by Paley's Moral Philosophy. That a Christian divine could have written some parts of that remarkable book, is itself sufficiently surprising, without the additional wonder, that a Christian society should have adopted it. Many a youthful mind must have recoiled in astonishment at the first perusal of a treatise recommended by the voice of authority, speaking through some reverend senior, from the first principles of which it requires little logic to infer, that disinterestedness is a mistake, and heroism little short of madness. A religious man, young or old, who has endeavoured, however imperfectly, to follow the evangelical rule of life, will be slow to embrace a system in which he finds no place for devotion or self-denial. The speculative moralist at once condemns it, with its false definition of right, as conformity to a rule self-chosen, not obedience to a law imposed, and its more than virtual rejection of the in-born light of conscience. The practical value of such teaching it is not difficult to estimate. Without heart, or warmth, or instinctive vitality, expressly refusing any credit for dignity, or delicacy, or refinement, it may serve in common times to propel common men along the dead level of expediency; but if ever it claim to have kindled the high and generous spirit, which alone can face unlooked-for difficulties, and rise superior to emergencies, it will have proved too much, and convicted itself of falsehood.

No excellence of oral instruction can ever remedy this fundamental evil. A teacher is placed in an unnatural position, when he is obliged to contradict his text-book. Such a course is indeed often necessary, as well as allowable, in matters of detail ; but it becomes an absurdity when principles are called into question. Any doubt thrown upon these must affect the sequel also ; and when the premises are rejected, the conclusions may be true, but scarcely trustworthy. That faith in authority, so useful and encouraging to the young learner, is then rendered impossible. Who can wonder, if, with his judgment suspended between the text and the ill-according comment, in his doubt what to believe, he declines believing at all, and reconciles him

self to the difficulties attendant on either view by an entire indifference to both ? Neither, if he reject this summary proceeding, is it at all unlikely that the book will prevail over its interpreter. There is a common impression, it matters little whether well or ill founded, that it is easier to talk than to write. Many too, who have no desire to live under the sovereignty of the press, have a greater respect for the mysteries of type, than they are at all aware of. Again, the apparent unfairness of this mode of assault may gain some allies for the persecuted treatise. Literature is not without its code of honour; the war of opinion should be carried on with all due observance of ceremony. Paley has, as it were, established his position in Cambridge. His assailant is in the place of a challenger, and the challenged has the choice of weapons. A book of

A book of any caste deserves a book to answer it.

It is impossible, then, to be indifferent to the treatise before us, coming as it does from the Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge, and that at a time when an author of Dr. Whewell's eminence fills the professorial chair. We should look with interest on the slightest literary straw which marks the course of the current: how much more on a work that may possibly turn the stream! In this case, too, there is ground not only for expectation, but for hope. Nearly eight years have now passed since Dr. Whewell clearly and publicly declared his opinion on the present question. In the preface to his four sermons, preached before the University of Cambridge in the year 1837, he stated his impression, that the evils arising from the countenance afforded by that University to the principles of Paley's system were so great, as to make it desirable that its sanction should be withdrawn from its doctrines without further delay. At that time, however, it appears he was not aware of any system of ethics, constructed on a sounder basis, which he could recommend as a substitute for the justly obnoxious treatise. IIe alluded, indeed, to Bishop Butler, as the representative of a sounder school, but rightly observed, that he has not in his admirable sermons delivered a system of morals. To the construction of such a system as the fundamental idea of a moral law, Dr. Whewell then referred, as both a possible and highly interesting undertaking; while he mentioned the probability, that he should long be prevented from making the attempt by other objects and avocations. But men of a certain power of mind seldom let difficulties not absolutely insurmountable hinder the execution of a plan they have once conceived; and we are at length allowed to welcome two octavo volumes on the Elements of Morality, including Polity, from the pen of the Master of Trinity College.

Of the distinctive merits of this work we shall shortly have occa

« AnteriorContinuar »