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as he will, but to every one sufficient for the accomplishment of the purposes he hath in view, whereof common sense never presumes to judge, but always thinks itself charged, at least, to the full amount of its abilities, and each man is much more apt to inflame this charge against himself, than to mitigate it by humility.
Some time after I had thrown these thoughts together, I met with an extraordinary performance, written by the Reverend Doctor Fletcher, of Madely, in England. This gentleman, a foreigner, but a master of the English language, is an itinerant preacher among the Methodists. His imagination is fully equal to that of Mr. Hervey, whom he greatly excels in judgment and correctness. The title of his book is ' An Appeal to Reason and Common Sense;' wherein the corruption and depravity of mankind are by observation, experience, and innumerable passages of Scripture, well applied, painted in such colours as leave the attentive reader, not only humbled, but so terrified, as to stand in need of all the consolation he supplies, in the latter part of the work, from the mercies of God, and the merits of our Redeemer, warranted to faith and repentance in the holy Scriptures, and adduced by the writer in a manner fully satisfactory to common sense and reason. The blemish (and in my opinion no small one it is) of this work, consists in an attempt to prove, that the souls of all mankind are ex traduce; that is, that when a man begets the bodies, he also begets the souls, of his children, and this his position, he endeavours to support by Scripture. The very ingenious and entertaining Mr. Jennings, in a late essay, asserts that the souls of all men pre-existed before they were conceived or born. Both wild and dangerous opinions, and both, long ago, exploded. Neither of them, however, can be fathomed by reason or common sense; nor is either of them ascertained by revelation; and therefore with neither of them hath a Christian, or indeed a philosopher, any thing to do. Vanity alone dictates such subjects as these to petulance and presumption. They are as high as heaven ; what can we do' in such matters ? deeper than hell, what can we know?' There are men who think nothing too high or deep for them, who looking for fame and glory by speaking in the clouds,
and hoping that we below should take it all for thunder, with Hotspur, think
It were an easy leap
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks.—SHAKSPEARE. Readers in their senses take these for the lunatics of science, and wish they would swagger on any other subjects, than those of religion. In how just a light were they set by captain who, in a parallel case, took upon him both to do and know! He told a large company, that in passing mount Cenis, he found himself among the stars, and that he plucked and eat one of them ; being asked how it tasted ? answered, upon his honour, very like a Carlingford oyster. Shall we not class the more serious metaphysical ranters, the propagators of souls, the Pre-existents, the Transmigrators, the Arians, the Materialists, the Fatalists, the Astrologers, with this facetious taster of stars, and with him who may hereafter eat another, and swear it tasted exactly like a turnip, though a wise polemic folio should be published on each side of the palatical controversy?
The famous bishop Wilkins, of high metaphysical and mechanical memory, employed his thoughts, during no small part of his life, on the invention of wings, instead of lawn sleeves, to waft him through the air in the manner of a kite, but so failed in his attempt, as never to make half so high a flight as his cousin Oliver Cromwell had done, though it was a common declaration of his, that he hoped to see the day when it should be as usual for a man to call for his wings, as it was then for his boots. How happy must he have been, had he lived till now, when the balloon, in a way of daily improvement, promises soon to carry up whole companies of ladies and gentlemen, to dine on a dish of stars, with stewed moons, for cockle sauce! Yes, and how happy should I be, could I but laugh my fellow-caterpillars out of their notions of soaring before they become butterflies! The sneers of Elijah and Isaiah at idolatry were of force, not inferior to their gravest admonitions, and menaces. If the pigmies of former ages have been bantered out of their attempts to pull fruits, placed fifty feet higher than themselves, should we not rather ridicule our contemporary dwarfs, on tiptoes, reaching at the same fruits, than seriously endeavour to convince them, that they are not of sufficient stature ? that the giant geniuses of old were not tall enough for the purpose ? and that some of those very fruits themselves, shook down by the winds of false or fanciful doctrines, have been found poisonous, instead of nutritive? To maintain any degree of gravity in censuring such sort of writers, is, both as to matter and manner, to answer a fool according to his folly, and become like unto himself, in this case, the most consummate of all fools, on account of the solemnity, perhaps ingenious, but not for that reason less ridiculous.
It is a great many years since the astronomical song of Tom o’Bedlam was set by Purcel, I believe, to the music of the spheres, too loud, as some very eminent philosophers averred, to be heard, no doubt, just as the sun is too visible to be seen. Tom was an enthusiast in astronomical philosophy; and as all enthusiasts do at last, be their subjects ever so high or sacred, grow into such a familiarity with them, as borders on contempt, so did Tom. The song was this:
The two first lines of the second stanza furnish the bucks with a very prudent hint; and the two last of that stanza exceed in sublimity every thing that Longinus hath been able to collect from his celebrated Greek poets. However, whatever comes of Tom as a poet, his name ought to stand as the common title of all philosophers, Reid only excepted, so that common sense should never call them by any other appellation, than that of Tomists.
The wife of the famous Doctor Halley, a woman of very common sense, like Juno, took it into her head to be jealous of an intrigue between her husband and some of the stars, and the rather, as more than one of them had previously lost their characters among the lampooning poets, because the doctor often forsook his bed to go out and ogle those luminaries. At them, therefore, she took such mortal offence, that she was often heard, especially by night, articulately caterwauling, my curse,
and curse on the stars. However distant the telescopical addresses of the doctor were to the objects of his amours, Mrs. Halley and the rest of her sex had a right at least to brand them with the name of unnatural philosophy.
It is not my meaning to censure all speculation, and every degree of it, on every subject. Our Maker hath extended the intellect of man to somewhat more of knowledge than is absolutely necessary to his present subsistence, most probably because he intended bim for a wider and higher field of enjoyment, than the present, and because even here he hath opened to his understanding, and even senses, a view of scenes, which invite him to a contemplation of things, far above food and raiment. However, it is found by experience, that our range of knowledge is circumscribed by a circle, not a great deal wider, than that of utility. Our speculations therefore, howsoever bounded, should be regulated by use and capacity; and common sense ought ever to be the basis of all our inquiries. It is only vanity and ignorance of ourselves which, at any time, prompt us to attempt excursions beyond these. It is true, one man can leap farther than another, but not much; he is not, however, on this account to imagine he can fly. If one philosopher, for instance, should take upon him to maintain there is no such thing in nature as frost, cold being only, in his opinion, an absence of heat, though he himself applies to a clothier and tailor for a warmer coat in winter, common sense will laugh at the conceit, howsoever plausibly supported by arguments. If another should insist, there is no heat in the fire, a little girl of common sense, hearing him (as once happened) and seeing him standing with his back to the fire, with his hands
clasped behind, might refute him by stealing a bright coal into one of them, whilst he was intent on his philosophical lecture. If a third should assert, that no two parts or particles of matter ever were, or could be, in immediate contact with each other, and should even bring some inextricable arguments in proof of his assertion, common sense might be provoked to try the force of those arguments by smartly tweaking the nose of that philosopher. A fourth, a great divine, and a preacher of righteousness, goes still farther, and proves, at least to his own satisfaction, that no man or woman ever did, ever could, do any one thing, good, bad, or indifferent, in any other sense, than as a hand-saw or hatchet is said to sever the parts of a piece of timber. Let common sense beware of these two last philosophers, and take care of itself. Nay, let religion, morality, and law, look about them, for if there is no liberty, there must be no punishment; if there is no contact, there can be no theft, no battery, no murder-no tithes for the clergy, no fees for the lawyers—no judgment to come, no heaven, no hell. One of the most eminent of all our modern philosophers, to the entire satisfaction, for some time, of almost all his learned readers, proved that all space is perfectly filled with matter, so as not to leave the smallest interstice between the parts of that matter. This system hath still its fautors, who laugh at such as object, that a plenum would leave no room for motion. Here all is an immense mass of solid impenetrable matter, an immeasurable atom! One, hardly less eminent, maintains, that our earth was formerly a part of the sun, struck off by a comet, and left here to cool and circulate about its still luminous constituent. A bishop, not eighty years ago, published a book to prove, there is no such thing as matter in the universe; and no one, that I heard of, was able to answer it otherwise, than by the testimony of his sight and feeling. Here is infinite room for motion, but nothing to move in it. Another, now alive, hath published it as his system of philosophy, that there is nothing in the universe but matter. With or without the leave of this right reverend machine, I shall venture to think (poorly I confess) as my reader, if he can think, may perceive. This my assurance, built on the basis of common sense, leaves me in no sort of pain about any thing that uncommon sense may