Page images

however, in my opinion, is not just. Times of tumult, it is true, are not the times to learn ; but the choice which men make of their side and party, in the most critical occasions of the commonwealth, may nevertheless depend npon the lessons they have received, the books they have read, and the opinions they have imbibed, in seasons of leisure and quietness. Some judicious persons who were present at Geneva during the troubles which lately convulsed that city, thought they perceived, in the conten. tions there carrying on, the operation of that political theory, which the writings of Rousseau, and the unbounded esteem in which these writings are holden by his countrymen, had diffused amongst the people. Throughout the political disputes that have within these few years taken place in Great Britain, in her sisterkingdom, and in her foreign dependencies, it was impossible not to observe in the language of party, in the resolutions of public meetings, in debate, in conversation, in the general strain of those fugitive and diurnal addresses to the Public which such occasions call forth, the prevalency of those ideas of civil authority which are displayed in the works of Mr. Locke. The credit of that great name, the courage and liberality of his principles, the skill and clearness with which his arguments are proposed, no less than the weight of the arguments themselves, have given a reputation and currency to his opinions, of which I am persuaded, in any unsettled state of public affairs, the influence would be felt. As this is not a place for examining the truth or tendency of these doctrines, I would not be understood by what I have said to express any judgment concerning either. I mean only to remark, that such doctrines are not without effect; and that it is of practical importance to have the principles from which the obligations of social union, and the extent of civil obedience, are derived, rightly explained and well understood. Indeed, as far as I have observed, in political, beyond all other subjects, where men are without some fundamental and scientific principles to resort to, they are liable to have their understandings played upon by cant phrases and unmeaning terms, of which every party in every country possesses a vocabulary. We appear astonished when we see the multitude led away by sounds; but we should remember that, if sounds work miracles, it is always upon ignorance. The influence of names is in exact proportion to the want of knowledge.

ossesses a led awas cles, it i

These are the observations with which I have judged it expedient to prepare the attention of my reader. Concerning the personal motives which engaged me in the following attempt, it is not necessary that I say much : the nature of my academical situation, a great deal of leisure since my retirement from it, the recommendation of an honoured and excellent friend, the authority of the venerable prelate to whom these labours are inscribed, the not perceiving in what way I could employ my time or talents better, and my disapprobation, in literary men, of that fastidious indolence which sits still because it disdains to do little, were the considerations that directed my thoughts to this design. Nor have I repented of the undertaking. Whatever be the fate or reception of this work, it owes its author nothing. In sickness and in health I have found in it that which can alone alleviate the one, or give enjoyment to the other,-occupation and engagement.


Tucker's Light of Nature, from which Paley derived, as he has here informed us, a great part of his System of Morals, is a Work of great originality and ingenuity in many parts, and contains much that is very valuable, mixed up with no small amount of very inferior Matter. It may be compared to a gold-mine, in which there are many particles, and several considerable masses, of precious metal mixed with gravel and clay.

The portion which Paley fixed on for adoption is one which cannot, I think, be reckoned among the most valuable. Bishop Butler would have been a far safer guide.

For the rest, the mode of making use of previous Writers which our Author describes himself as having pursued, is one strongly to be recommended.‘My method,' he says, 'of writing has constantly been this; to extract what I could from my own stores and my own reflections, in the first place; to put down that, and afterwards to consult upou each subject such readings as fell in my way; which order, I am convinced, is the only one whereby any person can keep his thoughts from sliding into other men's trains.'






DEFINITION AND USE OP THE SCIENCE. M ORAL Philosophy, Morality, Ethics, Casuistry, Natural N1 Law, mean all the same thing ; namely, that science which teaches men their duty and the reasons of it.

The use of such a study depends upon this, that, without it, the rules of life, by which men are ordinarily governed, oftentimes mislead them, through a defect either in the rule, or in the application.

These rules are, the Law of Honour, the Law of the Land, and the Scriptures.


THE LAW OF HONOUR. THE Law of Honour is a system of rules constructed by 1 people of fashion, and calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one another; and for no other purpose.

Consequently, nothing is adverted to by the Law of Honour, but what tends to incommode this intercourse.

Hence this law only prescribes and regulates the duties

betwixt equals ; omitting such as relate to the Supreme Being, as well as those which we owe to our inferiors.

For which reason, profaneness, neglect of public worship or private devotion, cruelty to servants, rigorous treatment of tenants or other dependents, want of charity to the poor, injuries done to tradesmen by insolvency, or delay of payment, with numberless examples of the same kind, are accounted no breaches of honour ; because a man is not a less agreeable companion for these vices, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between one gentleman and another.

Again ; the Law of Honour, being constituted by men occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, and for the mutual conveniency of such men, will be found, as might be expected from the character and design of the law-makers, to be, in most instances, favourable to the licentious indulgence of the natural passions.

Thus it allows of fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, duelling, and of revenge in the extreme; and lays no stress upon the virtues opposite to these.

ANNOTATION. Perhaps the 'Law of Honour might not improperly be taken in a wider acceptation, as embracing any system of rules established by some Class of persons, who require a conformity thereto of all members of their Society, and which are to be observed on pain of exclusion from that Society, or, as we sometimes say, 'losing Caste.' Hence, these rules vary in each Nation, Sex, or Circle ; what would be in one a breach of honour, such as would cause a person to be despised and shunned by those of his Class, being no such offence in another circle. A Chinese for instance, is very little ashamed of being detected as a cheat ; but he would be disgraced by not treating his parents with due respect, or not keeping the Tombs of his Ancestors in good repair. And he is not disgraced by being flogged ; but he would be ready to die of mortification at having his hair cut off.

And in the same nation, different Classes of persons have different points of Honour. The Honour of the Male Sex for instance, and of the Female, are not the same.

« PreviousContinue »