Page images

are ambitious to merit this appellation, think nothing below them which the Author of Nature has been pleased to create, to preferve, and to adorn.- Away with this paffion for fyftem-building! it is pedantry: away with this luft of paradox! it is prefumption. Be equally ashamed of dogmatical prejudice, and sceptical incredulity; for both are as remote from the spirit of true philofophy, as bullying and cowardice from true valour.

It will be faid, perhaps, that a general knowledge of man is fufficient for the philofopher; and that this particular knowledge which we recommend, is necessary only for the novelist and poet. But let it be remembered, that many important errors in moral philosophy have arisen from the want of this particular knowledge; and that it is by too little, not by too much experience, by fcanty, not by copious, induction, that philofophy is corrupted. Men have rarely framed a fyftem, without firft confulting experience in regard to fome few obvious facts. We are apt to be prejudiced in favour of the notions that prevail within our own narrow circle; but we must quit that circle, if we would diveft ourselves of prejudice, as we must go from home, if we would get rid of our provincial accent. "Horace af"ferts wisdom and good fense to be the "fource and principle of good writing; for "the attainment of which he prescribes a


"careful study of the Socratic, that is, mo"ral wifdom, and a thorough acquaintance with human nature, that great ex

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

emplar of manners, as he finely calls it; 66 or, in other words, a wide extenfive view of real practical life. The joint direction “of these two,” I quote the words of an admirable critic and moft ingenious philofopher, as means of acquiring moral knowledge, is perfectly neceffary. For the former, when alone, is apt to grow abstract“ed and unaffecting; the latter uninstruct

[ocr errors]


ing and fuperficial. The philofopher talks "without experience, and the man of the "world without principles. United they

fupply each other's defects; while the

man of the world borrows fo much of "the philofopher, as to be able to adjust the "feveral fentiments with precision and ex"actness; and the philofopher so much of "the man of the world, as to copy the

[ocr errors]

manners of life (which we can only do by experience) with truth and spirit. Both "together furnish a thorough and complete comprehenfion of human life *."

That I may not be thought a blind admirer of antiquity, I would here crave the reader's indulgence for one fhort digreffion more, in order to put him in mind of an important error in morals, inferred from par

* Hurd's Commentary on Horace's Epistle to the Pifos, P. 25. edit. 4.

tial and inaccurate experience, by no less a perfon than Ariftotle himself. He argues, "That men of little genius, and great bo"dily ftrength, are by Nature destined to "ferve, and thofe of better capacity to com"mand; that the natives of Greece, and of "fome other countries, being fuperior in

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

genius, have a natural right to empire; "and that the reft of mankind, being naturally ftupid, are destined to labour and flavery*." This reafoning is now, alas! of little advantage to Ariftotle's countrymen, who have for many ages been doomed to that flavery which, in his judgement, Nature had destined them to impofe on others; and many nations whom he would have configned to everlasting stupidity, have fhown themfelves equal in genius to the most exalted of human kind. It would have been more worthy of Aristotle, to have inferred man's natural and univerfal right to liberty, from that natural and univerfal paffion with which men defire it, and from the falutary confequences to learning, to virtue, and to every human improvement, of which it never fails to be productive. He wanted, perhaps, to devife fome excufe for fervitude; a practice which, to their eternal reproach, both Greeks and Romans tolerated even in the days of their glory.

* De Republ. lib. 1. cap. 5. 6.


3 H


Mr HUME argues nearly in the fame manner in regard to the fuperiority of white men over black. "I am apt to suspect," fays he, "the negroes, and in general all "the other fpecies of men, (for there are four or five different kinds), to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual "eminent either in action or fpeculation. "No ingenious manufactures among them, 66 no arts, no fciences. There are negro"flaves difperfed all over Europe, of which none ever difcovered any fymptoms of in

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

genuity." Thefe affertions are strong; but I know not whether they have any thing elfe to recommend them.-For, first, though true, they would not prove the point in queftion, except it were alfo proved, that the Africans and Americans, even though arts and fciences were introduced among them, would still remain unfufceptible of cultivation. The inhabitants of Great Britain and France were as favage two thousand years ago, as those of Africa and America are at this day. To civilize a nation, is a work which it requires long time to accomplish. And one may as well fay of an infant, that he can never become a man, as of a nation now barbarous, that it never can be civilized. — Secondly, of the facts here afferted,

* Hume's Effay on National Characters.


no man could have fufficient evidence, except from a perfonal acquaintance with all the negroes that now are, or ever were, on the face of the earth. These people write no hiftories; and all the reports of all the travellers that ever vifited them, will not amount to any thing like a proof of what is here affirmed.- But, thirdly, we know that thefe affertions are not true. The empires of Peru and Mexico could not have been governed, nor the metropolis of the latter built after fo fingular a manner, in the middle of a lake, without men eminent both for action and fpeculation. Every body has heard of the magnificence, good government, and ingenuity, of the ancient Peruvians. The Africans and Americans are known to have many ingenious manufactures and arts among them, which even Europeans would find it no eafy matter to imitate. Sciences indeed they have none, because they have no letters; but in oratory, fome of them, particularly the Indians of the Five Nations, are faid to be greatly our fuperiors. It will be readily allowed, that the condition of a flave is not favourable to genius of any kind; and yet the negro-flaves difperfed over Europe, have often difcovered fymptoms of ingenuity, notwithstanding their unhappy circumftances. They become excellent handicraftsmen, and practical musicians, and indeed learn every thing their masters are at pains to teach them, perfidy and debauche3 H 2


« PreviousContinue »