« PreviousContinue »
ON PEOPLE OF SENSE.
PEOPLE of sense (as they are called) give themselves great and unwarrantable airs over the rest of the world. If we examine the history of mankind, we shall find that the greatest absurdities have been most strenuously maintained by these very persons, who give themselves out as wiser than every body else. The fictions of law, the quibbles of school-divinity, the chicanery of politics, the mysteries of the Cabbala, the doctrine of Divine Right, and the secret of the philosopher's stone, -all the grave impostures that have been acted in the world, have been the contrivance of those who set up for oracles to their neighbours. The learned professions alone have propagated and lent their countenance to as many perverse contradictions and idle fallacies as have puzzled the wits, and set the credulous, thoughtless, unpretending part of mankind together by the ears, ever since the distinction between learning and ignorance subsisted. It is the part of deep in
vestigators to teach others what they do not know themselves, and to prove by infallible rules the truth of any nonsense they happen to take in their heads, or chuse to give out to amuse the gaping multitude. What every one felt and saw for himself-the obvious dictates of common sense and humanity such superficial studies as these afforded a very insufficient field for the excercise of reason and abstruse philosophy, in the view of "the demure, grave-looking, springnailed, velvet-pawed, green-eyed" despisers of popular opinion; their object has regularly been, by taking post in the terra incognita of science, to discover what could not be known, and to establish what could be of no use if it were. Hence one age is employed in pulling down what another with infinite pomp and pains has been striving to build up; and our greatest proof of wisdom is to unlearn the follies and prejudices that have been instilled into us by our predecessors. It took ages of ingenuity, of sophistry, and learning, to incorporate the Aristotelian, or scholastic philosophy, into a complete system of absurdity, applicable to all questions, and to all the purposes of life; and it has taken two centuries of metaphysical acuteness and boldness of inquiry, to take to pieces the cumbrous, disproportioned edifice, and to
convert the materials to the construction of the modern French philosophy, by means of verbal logic, self-evident propositions, and undoubted axioms—a philosophy just as remote from truth and nature, and setting them equally at defiance. What a number of parties and schools have we in medicine,--all noisy and dogmatical, and agreeing in nothing but contempt and reprobation of each other! Again, how many sects in religion, all confident of being in the right, able to bring chapter and verse in support of every doctrine and tittle of belief, all ready to damn and excommunicate one another; yet only one, out of all these pretenders to superior wisdom and infallibility, can be right; the conclusions of all the others, drawn with such laboured accuracy, and supported with such unbending constancy and so-, lemnity, are, and must be, a bundle of heresies and errors ! How many idle schemes and intolerant practices have taken their rise from no better a foundation than a mystic garment, a divining-rod, or Pythagoras's golden thigh! When Baxter, the celebrated controversial divine, and nonconformist minister in the reign of Charles II. went to preach at Kidderminster, he regularly every Sunday insisted from the pulpit that baptism was necessary to salvation, and
roundly assserted, that “ Hell was paved with infants' skulls." This roused the indignation of the poor women of Kidderminster so much, that they were inclined to pelt their preacher as he passed along the streets. His zeal, however, was as great as theirs, and his learning and his eloquence greater; and he poured out such torrents of texts upon them, and such authorities from grave councils and pious divines, that the poor women were defeated, and forced with tears in their eyes, to surrender their natural feelings and unenlightened convictions to the proofs from reason and Scripture, which they did not know how to answer. Yet these untutored, unsophisticated dictates of nature and instinctive affection have, in their turn, triumphed over all the pride of casuistry, and merciless bigotry of Calvinism! We hear it said, that the Inquisition would not have been lately restored in Spain, but for the infatuation and prejudices of the populace. That is, after power and priestcraft have been instilling the poison of superstition and cruelty into the minds of the people for centuries together, hood-winking their understandings, and hardening every feeling of the heart, it is made a taunt and a triumph over this very people (so long the creatures of the government, carefully, moulded by them, like clay in the potter's hands, into vessels, not of honour, but of dishonour) that their prejudices and misguided zeal are the only obstacles that stand in the way of the adoption of more liberal and humane principles. The engines and establishments of tyranny, however, are the work of cool, plotting, specious heads, and not the spontaneous product of the levity and rashness of the multitude. It is a work of time to reconcile them to such abominable and revolting abuses of power and authority, as it is a work of time to wean them from their monstrous infatuation *. We may trace a speculative absurdity or practical enormity of this kind into its tenth or fifteenth century, supported story above story, gloss upon gloss, till it mocks at Heaven, and tramples upon earth, propped up on decrees and councils and synods, and appeals to popes and cardinals and fathers of the church all grave, reverend men!) with the regular clergy and people at their side battling for it, and others below (schismatics and heretics)
* It appears, notwithstanding, that this sophistical apology for the restoration of the Spanish Inquisition, with the reversion of sovereign power into kingly hands, was false and spurious. The power has once more reverted into the hands of an abused people, and the Inquisition has been abolished.--Since this was written, there has been another turn of the screws, and But no more on that head.