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TN the treatises that I have met with upon the subject of morals, 1 I appear myself to have remarked the following imperfections ; -either that the principle was erroneous, or that it was indistinctly explained, or that the rules deduced from it were not sufficiently adapted to real life and to actual situations. The writings of Grotius, and the larger work of Puffendorff, are of too forensic a cast,—too much mixed up with civil law and with the jurisprudence of Germany—to answer precisely the design of a system of ethics,—the direction of private consciences in the general conduct of human life. Perhaps, indeed, they are not to be regarded as institutes of morality calculated to instruct an individual in his duty, so much as a species of law-books and lawauthorities, suited to the practice of those courts of justice, whose decisions are regulated by general principles of natural equity, in conjunction with the maxims of the Roman code; of which kind, I understand, there are many upon the Continent. To which may be added, concerning both these authors, that they are more occupied in describing the rights and usages of independent Communities than is necessary in a work which professes not to adjust the correspondence of nations, but to delineate the offices of domestic life. The profusion also of classical quotations with which many of their pages abound seems to me a fault from which it will not be easy to excuse them. If these extracts be intended as decorations of style, the composition is overloaded with ornaments of one kind. To anything more than ornament they can make no claim. To propose them as serious arguments,-gravely to attempt to establish or fortify a moral duty by the testimony of a Greek or Roman poet,-is to trifle with the attention of the reader, or rather to take it off from all just principles of reasoning in morals.
Of our own writers in this branch of philosophy, I find none that I think perfectly free from the three objections which I have stated. There is likewise a fourth property observable almost in all of them, namely, that they divide too much the law of Nature from the precepts of Revelation; some authors industriously declining the mention of Scripture-authorities, as belonging to a different province; and others reserving them for a separate volume: which appears to me much the same defect, as if a commentator on the laws of England should content himself with stating upon each head the common law of the land, without taking any notice of acts of parliament; or should chuse to give his readers the common law in one book, and the statute law in another. When the obligations of morality are taught,' says a pious and celebrated writer, ‘let the sanctions of Christianity never be forgotten; by which it will be shown that they give strength and lustre to each other: religion will appear to be the voice of reason, and morality will be the will of God.'1
The manner also in which modern writers have treated of subjects of morality is, in my judgment, liable to much exception. It has become of late a fashion to deliver moral institutes in strings or series of detached propositions, without subjoining a continued argument or regular dissertation to any of them. This sententious apophthegmatising style, by crowding propositions and paragraphs too fast upon the mind, and by carrying the eye of the reader from subject to subject in too quick a succession, gains not a sufficient hold upon the attention to leave either the memory furnished, or the understanding satisfied. However useful a syllabus of topics or a series of propositions may be in the hands of a lecturer, or as a guide to a student, who is supposed to consult other books, or to institute upon each subject researches of his own, the method is by no means convenient for ordinary readers; because few readers are such thinkers as to want only a hint to set their thoughts at work upon; or such as will pause and tarry at every proposition, till they have traced out its dependency, proof, relation, and consequences, before they permit themselves to step on to another. A respectable
1 Preface to The Preceptor, by Dr. Johnson.