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paragraph, the author proceeds in the same careless and desultory manner, not much unlike that of the critical essay upon the faculties of the mind; affording at times some glimmerings of sense, perpetually ringing the changes on a few favourite words and phrases. A poetical example of the same signature, in which there is not even a glimpse of meaning, we have in the following lines of Dryden :
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began :
From harmony to harmony
In general it may be said, that in writings of this stamp, we may accept of sound instead of sense, being assured at least that if we meet with little that can inform the judgment, we shall find nothing that will offend
2. The learned.
ANOTHER sort I shall here specify, is the learned nonsense.
I know not a more fruitful source of this species, than scholastical theology. The more incomprehensible the subject is, the greater scope has the declaimer to talk plausibly without any meaning. A specimen of this I shall give from an author, who
The unintelligible.... Part III. From want of meaning.
should have escaped this animadversion, had he not introduced from the pulpit a jargon which ( if we can say without impropriety, that it was fit for any thing) was surely fitter for the cloister. For what cannot in the least contribute to the instruction of a christian society, may afford excellent matter of contemplative amazement to dronish monks, Although we read “ of several properties attributed to God in scripture, " as wisdom, goodness, justice, &c. we must not apprehend them to be several powers, habits, or qualities, as they are in us; for as they are in God, they
are neither distinguished from one another, nor from “ his nature or essence in whom they are said to be. In
whom, I say, they are said to be: for, to speak proper“ ly, they are not in him, but are his very essence or na“ ture itself; which, acting severally upon several objects, seems to us to act from several properties or perfections in him ; whereas, all the difference is
only in our different apprehensions of the same thing. * God in himself is a most simple and pure act, and " therefore cannot have any thing in him, but what “ is that most simple and pure act itself; which, seeing it bringeth upon every creature what it deserves,
we conceive of it as of several divine perfections in " the same Almighty Being. Whereas God, whose
understanding is infinite as himself, doth not appre“hend himself under the distinct notions of wisdom,
or goodness, or justice, or the like, but only as Jeho
“ vah *.” How edifying must it have been to the hearers to be made acquainted with these deep discoveries of the men of science; divine attributes, which are no attributes, which are totally distinct and
perfectly the same; which are justly ascribed to God, being ascribed to him in scripture, but do not belong to him ; which are something and nothing, which are the figments of human imagination, mere chimeras, which are God himself, which are the actors of all things; and which, to sum up all, are themselves a simple act!“ Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge t?, Can the tendency of such teaching be any other than to perplex and to confound, and even to throw the hearers into universal doubt and scepticism? To such a style of explication these lines of our British bard, addressed to the patroness of sophistry as well as dulness, are admirably adapted :
Explain upon a thing, till all men doubt it;
Of the same kind of school-metaphysics are these lines of Cowley :
Nothing is there to come, and rothing past,
* Fere:idge's Sermons. + Job xxxviii. 2. ' s Duncaid.
I Davideis, Bcok i,
The unintelligible.... Part III. From want of meaning.
What an insatiable appetite has this bastard-philosophy for absurdity and contradiction! A now that lasts; that is, an instant which continues during successive instants; an eternal now, an instant that is no instant, and an eternity that is no eternity. I have heard of a preacher, who, desirous to appear very profound, and to make observations on the commonest subjects, which had never occurred to any body before, remarked, as an instance of the goodness of providence, that the moments of time come successively, and not simul. taneously or together, which last method of coming would, he said, occasion infinite confusion in the world. Many of his audience concluded his remark to be no better than a bull: and yet, it is fairly defensible on the principles of the schoolmen; if that can be called principles which consists merely in words. According to them, what Pope says hyperbolically of the transient duration and narrow range of man, is a literal description of the eternity and immensity of God :
I remember to have seen it somewhere remarked, that mankind, being necessarily incapable of making a present of any thing to God, have conceived, as a succedaneous expedient, the notion of destroying what should be offered to him, or at least of rendering it unfit for any other purpose. Something similar appears to have taken place in regard to the explanations of
Essay on Man, Ep. 1.
the divine nature and attributes, attempted by some theorists. On a subject so transcendent, if it be impossible to be sublime, it is easy to be unintelligible. And that the theme is naturally incomprehensible, they seem to have considered as a full apology for them in being perfectly absurd. In the former case, what people could not in strictness bestow upon their Maker, they could easily render unfit for the use of men; and in the latter, if one cannot grasp what is above the reach of reason, one can without difficulty say a thousand things which are contrary to reason.
But though scholastic theology be the principal, it is not the only subject of learned nonsense. In other branches of pneumatology we often meet with rhapsodies of the same kind. I shall take an example from a late right honourable writer, who, though he gives no quarter to the rants of others, sometimes falls into the ranting strain himself: “ Pleasures are the ob
jects of self-love ; happiness that of reason. Reason “ is so far from depriving us of the first, that happiness " consists in a series of them : and as this can be nei“ther attained nor enjoyed securely out of society, a “ due use of our reason makes social and self-love co
incide, or even become in effect the same. The “ condition wherein we are born and bred, the very « condition so much complained of, prepares' us for " this coincidence, the foundation of all human happi
ness; and our whole nature, appetite, passion, and reason, concur to promote it. As our parents loved