« PreviousContinue »
without this, all its tumid efforts will be less pernicious than vain and abortive. Plato shewed himself to be a person of frigid apprehension, “ with eye severe and beard of formal cut," when he banished the poets from his Republic, as corrupters of morals, because they described the various passions and affections of the mind. This did not suit with that Procrustes' bed of criticism on which he wished to stretch and lop them; but Homer's imitafions of nature have been more popular than Plato's inversions of her ; and his morality is at least as sound. The errors of nature are accidental and pardonable ; those of science are systematic and incorrigible. The understanding, or reasoning
, faculty presumes too much over her younger sisters ; and yet plays as fantastic tricks as any of them, only with more solemnity, which enhances the evil. We have partly seen what right she has, on the score of past behaviour, to set up for a strict and unerring guide. The haughtiness of her pretensions at present, "full of wise saws and modern instances," is not the most unequivocal pledge of her abandonment of her old errors. To bring down this account then from the ancients to the morderns.
People of sense, the self-conceited wise, are at all times at issue with common sense and feel
ing. They formerly dogmatised on speculative matters, out of the reach of common apprehension ; they now dogmatise with the sarne head
; strong self-sufficiency on practical questions, more within the province of actual inquiry and observation. In this new and more circumscribed career, they set out with exploding the sense of all those who have gone before them, as of too light and fanciful a texture. They make a clear stage of all former opinions-get rid of the mixed modes of prejudice, authority, suggestion - and begin de novo, with reason for their rule, certainty for their guide, and the greatest possible good as a sine qua non. The modern Panoptic and Chreistomathic School of reformers and reconstructors of society propose to do it upon entirely mechanical and scientific principles. Nothing short of that will satisfy their scrupulous pretensions to wisdom and gravity. They proceed by the rule and compass, by logical diagrams, and with none but demonstrable conclusions, and leave all the taste, fancy, and sentiment of the thing to the admirers of Mr. Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution. That work is to them a very flimsy and superficial performance, because it is rhetorical and figurative, and they judge of solidity by barrenness, of depth by dry
Till they see a little farther into it, they
will not be able to answer it, or counteract its influence; and yet that were a task of some importance to atchieve. They say that the proportions are false, because the colouring is fine, which is bad logic. If they do not like a painted statue, a florid argument, that is a matter of taste and not of reasoning. Some may conceive that the gold, the sterling bullion of thought, is the better for being wrought into rich and elegant figures ; they are the only people who contend that it is the worse on that account. These crude projectors give, in their new plan and elevation of society, neither“ princes' palaces nor poor men's cottages,” but a sort of log-houses and gable-ends, in which the solid contents, and square dimensions are to be ascertained and parcelled out to a nicety ; they employ the carpenter, joiner, and bricklayer, but will have nothing to say to the plasterer, painter, paper-hanger, upholsterer, carver and gilder, &c.; so that I am afraid, in this fastidious and luxurious age, they will hardly find tenants for their bare walls and skeletons of houses, run up in haste and by the job. Their system wants house-warming; it is destitute of comfort as of outside shew; it has nothing to recommend it but its poverty and nakedness. They profess to set aside and reject all compromise with the prejudices of authority,
the allurements of sense, the customs of the world, and the instincts of nature. They will make a man with a quadrant, as the tailors at Laputa made a suit of clothes. They put the mind into a machine, as the potter puts a lump of clay into a mould, and out it comes in any clumsy or disagreeable shape that they would have it. They hate all grace, ornament, elegance. They are addicted to abstruse science, but sworn enemies to the fine arts. They are à kind of puritans in morals. Do you supposé that the race of the Iconoclasts is dead with the dispute in Laud's time about image-worship? We have just the same set of moon-eyed philosophers in our days, who cannot bear to be dazzled with the sun of beauty. They are only half-alive. They can distinguish the hard edges and determinate outline of things; but are alike insensible to the stronger impulses of passion, to the finer essences of thought. Their intellectual food does not assimilate with the juices of the mind, or turn to subtle spirit, but lies a crude, undigested heap of material substance, begetting only the windy impertinence of words. They are acquainted with the form, not the power of truth; they insist on what is necessary, and never arrive at what is desirable. They refer every thing to utility, and yet banish pleasure with stoic pride and cynic slovenliness, They talk big of increasing the sum of human happiness, and yet in the mighty grasp and extension of their views, leave hardly any one source from which the smallest ray of satisfaction can be derived. They have an instinctive aversion to plays, novels, amusements of every kind; and
! this not so much from affectation or want of knowledge, as from sheer incapacity and want of taste. Shew one of these men of narrow comprehension a beautiful prospect, and he wonders you can take delight in what is of no use: you would hardly suppose that this very person had written a book, and was perhaps at the moment holding an argument, to prove that nothing is useful but what pleases. Speak of Shakespear, and another of the same automatic school will tell you he has read him, but could find nothing in him. Point to Hogarth, and they do confess there is something in his prints, that, by contrast, throws a pleasing light on their Utopian schemes, and the future progress of society. One of these pseudo-philosophers would think it a disparagement to compare him to Aristotle : he fancies himself as great a man as Aristotle was in his day, and that the world is much wiser now than it was in the time of Aristotle. He would be glad to live the ten remaining years of his life,
Second Series, VOL. II.