페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

of the Letter he gives the principle of his system in these words: “Omnipotence cannot work contra“ dictions, it can only effect all possible things. “ But so little are we acquainted with the whole

system of nature, that we know not what are

possible, and what are not: but if we may judge “ from that constant mixture of pain with pleasure, “ and inconveniency with advantage, which we must s observe in every thing round us, we have reason “ to conclude, that to endue created beings with “ perfection, that is, to produce Good exclusive of “ Evil, is one of those impossibilities which even “ infinite power cannot accomplish.”

This is elegant and acute, but will by no means calm discontent, or silence curiosity; for whether Evil can be wholly separated from Good or not, it is plain that they may be mixed in various degrees, and as far as human eyes can judge, the degree of Evil might have been less without any impediment to Good.

The second Letter on the evils of imperfection, is little more than a paraphrase of Pope's Epistles, or yet less than a paraphrase, a mere translation of poetry into prose. This is surely to attack difficulty with very disproportionate abilities, to cut the Gordian knot with very blunt instruments. When we are told of the insufficiency of former solutions, why is one of the latest, which no man can have forgotten, given us again? I am told, that this pamphlet is not the effort of hunger: what can it be then but the product of vanity ? and yet how can vanity be gratified by plagiarism or transcription? When this speculatist finds himself prompted to another performance, let him consider whether he is about to disburthen his mind, or employ his

fingers;

fingers; and if I might venture to offer him a subject, I should wish that he would solve this question, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer ?

Yet is not this Letter without some sentiments, which, though not new, are of great importance, and may be read with pleasure in the thousandth repetition.

“ Whatever we enjoy is purely a free gift from our “ Creator ; but that we enjoy no more, can never “ sure be deemed an injury, or a just reason to ques“ tion his infinite benevolence. All our happiness is

owing to his goodness; but that it is no greater, « is owing only to ourselves; that is, to our not “ having any inherent right to any happiness, or “ even to any existence at all. This is no more to “ be imputed to God, than the wants of a beggar to " the person who has relieved him : that he had

something, was owing to his benefactor; but that “ he had no more, only to his own original poverty.”

Thus far he speaks what every man must approve, and what every wise man has said before him. He then gives us the system of subordination, not invented, for it was known I think to the Arabian metaphysicians, but adopted by Pope; and from him borrowed by the diligent researches of this great investigator.

“ No system can possibly be formed, even in “ imagination, without a subordination of parts. « Every animal body must have different members “ subservient to each other; every picture must be “ composed of various colours, and of light and

shade; all harmony must be formed of trebles, “ tenors, and basses; every beautiful and useful edi

[ocr errors]

66 fice

e fice must consist of higher and lower, more and “ less magnificent apartments. This is in the very

essence of all created things, and therefore cannot “ be prevented by any means whatever, unless by “ not creating them at all."

These instances are used instead of Pope's Oak and Weeds, or Jupiter and his Satellites; but neither Pope, nor this writer, have much contributed to solve the difficulty. Perfection or imperfection of unconscious beings has no meaning as referred to themselves; the bass and the treble are equally perfect; the mean and magnificent apartments feel no pleasure or pain from the comparison. Pope might ask the weed, why it was less than the oak, but the weed would never ask the question for itself. The bass and treble differ only to the hearer, meanness and magnificence only to the inhabitant. There is no Evil but must inhere in a conscious being, or be referred to it; that is, Evil must be felt before it is Evil. Yet even on this subject many questions might be offered, which human understanding has not yet answered, and which the present haste of this extract will not suffer me to dilate.

He proceeds to a humble detail of Pope's opinion: « The universe is a system whose very essence con“ sists in subordination; a scale of beings descending

by insensible degrees from infinite perfection to ab“ solute nothing; in which, though we may justly “ expect to find perfection in the whole, could we “ possibly comprehend it; yet would it be the high“ est absurdity to hope for it in all its parts, because as the beauty and happiness of the whole depend al“ together on the just inferiority of its parts, that is,

on

[ocr errors]

on the comparative imperfections of the several “ beings of which it is composed.”

" It would have been no more an instance of God's “ wisdom to have created no beings but of the highest “ and most perfect order, than it would be of a

painter's art to cover his whole piece with one “ single colour, the most beautiful he could compose. “ Had he confined himself to such, nothing could “ have existed but demi-gods, or arch-angels, and « then all inferior orders must have been void and « uninhabited: but as it is surely more agreeable to “ infinite Benevolence, that all these should be filled

up with beings capable of enjoying happiness them“ selves, and contributing to that of others, they must “ necessarily be filled with inferior beings, that is, « with such as are less perfect, but from whose “ existence, notwithstanding that less perfection, " more felicity upon the whole accrues to the uni

verse, than if no such had been created. It is

moreover highly probable, that there is such a “ connexion between all ranks and orders by subor“ dinate degrees, that they mutually support each “ other's existence, and every one in its place is ab“solutely necessary towards sustaining the whole “ vast and magnificent fabrick.

“ Our pretences for complaint could be of this

only, that we are not so high in the scale of ex“ istence as our ignorant ambition may desire; a “ pretence which must eternally subsist; because,

were we ever so much higher, there would be still “ room for infinite power to exalt us; and since no o link in the chain can be broke, the same reason “ for disquiet must remain to those who succeed to

66 that

«« that chasm, which must be occasioned by our pre“ ferment. A man can have no reason to repine “ that he is not an angel; nor a horse that he is not

a man ; much less, that in their several stations

they possess not the faculties of another; for this « would be an insufferable misfortune."

This doctrine of the regular subordination of beings, the scale of existence, and the chain of nature, I have often considered, but always left the enquiry in doubt and uncertainty.

That every being not infinite, compared with infinity, must be imperfect, is evident to intuition; that whatever is imperfect must have a certain line which it cannot pass, is equally certain. But the reason which determined this limit, and for which such being was suffered to advance thus far and no farther, we shall never be able to discern. Our discoveries tell us, the Creator has made beings of all orders, and that therefore one of them must be such as man. But this system seems to be established on a conces. sion, which, if it be refused, cannot be extorted.

Every reason which can be brought to prove, that there are beings of every possible sort, will prove that there is the greatest number possible of every sort of beings; but this with respect to man we know, if we know any thing, not to be true.

It does not appear even to the imagination, that of three orders of being, the first and the third receive any advantage from the imperfection of the second, or that indeed they may not equally exist, through the second had never been, or should cease to be; and why should that be concluded necessary, which cannot be proved even to be useful?

The

« 이전계속 »