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serious ; the useful investigations in which we may engage are multiplied. It is excellent to see a rational being conscious of his genuine province, and not idly wasting powers adapted for the noblest uses in unmeasured essays and ill-concocted attempts.
OF THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE.
In the preceding Essay I have referred to the theory of Berkeley, whose opinion is that there is no such thing as matter in the sense in which it is understood by the writers on natural philosophy, and that the whole of our experience in that respect is the result of a system of accidents without an intelligible subject, by means of which antecedents and consequents flow on for ever in a train, the past succession of which man is able to record, and the future in many cases he is qualified to predict and to act upon.
An argument more palpable and popular than that of Berkeley in favour of the same hypothesis, might be deduced from the points recapitulated in that Essay as delivered by Locke and Newton. If what are vulgarly denominated the secondary qualities of matter are in reality nothing but sensations existing in the human mind, then at any rate matter is a very different thing from what it is ordinarily apprehended to be. To which I add, in the second place, that, if matter, as is stated by Newton, consists in so much greater a degree of pores than solid parts, that the absolute particles contained in the solar system might, for aught we know, be contained in a nutshella, and that no two ever touched each other, or approached so near that they might not be brought nearer, provided a sufficient force could be applied for that purpose,—and if, as Priestley teaches, all that we observe is the result of successive spheres of attraction and repulsion, the centre of which is a mathematical point only, we then certainly come very near to a conclusion, which should banish matter out of the theatre of real existences b.
But the extreme subtleties of human intellect are perhaps of little further use, than to afford an amusement to persons of curious speculation, and whose condition in human society procures them leisure for such enquiries. The same thing happens here, as in the subject of my Twelfth Essay, on the Liberty of Human Actions. The speculator in his closet is one man: the same person, when he comes out of his retirement, and mixes in intercourse with his fellow-creatures, is another man. The necessarian, when he reasons on the everlasting concatenation of antecedents and consequents, proves to his own apprehension irrefragably, that he is a passive instrument, acted upon, and acting upon other things, in turn, and that he can never disengage himself from the operation of the omnipotent laws of physical nature, and the impulses of other men with whom he is united in the ties of society. But no sooner does this acute and ingenious reasoner come into active life and the intercourse of his fellowmen, than all these fine-drawn speculations vanish from his recollection. He regards himself and other men as beings endowed with a liberty of action, as possessed of a proper initiative power, and free to do a thing or not to do it, without being subject to the absolute and irresistible constraint of motives. It is from this internal and indefeasible sense of liberty, that we draw all our moral energies and enthusiasm, that we persevere heroically in defiance of obstacles and discouragements, that we praise or blame the actions of others, and admire the elevated virtues of the best of our contemporaries, and of those whose achievements adorn the page of history.
See above, p. 382, et seqq.
It is in a manner of precisely the same sort as that which prevails in the philosophical doctrines of liberty and necessity, that we find ourselves impelled to feel on the question of the existence of the material universe. Berkeley, and as many persons as are persuaded by his or similar reasonings, feel satisfied in speculation that there is no such thing as matter in the sense in which it is understood by the writers on natural philosophy, and that all our notions of the external and actual existence of the table, the chair, and the other material substances with which we conceive ourselves to be surrounded, of woods, and mountains, and rivers, and seas, are mere prejudice and misconception. All this is very well in the closet, and as long as we
are involved in meditation, and remain abstracted from action, business, and the exertion of our limbs and corporal faculties. But it is too fine for the realities of life. Berkeley, and the most strenuous and spiritualised of his followers, no sooner descend from the high tower of their speculations, submit to the necessities of their nature, and mix in the business of the world, than they become impelled, as, strongly as the necessarian in the question of the liberty of human actions, not only to act like other men, but even to feel just in the same manner as if they had never been acquainted with these abstractions. A table then becomes absolutely a table, and a chair a chair: they are “ fed with the same food, hurt by the same weapons, and warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter,” as other men: and they make use of the refreshments which nature requires, with as true an orthodoxy, and as credulous a temper, as he who was never assailed with such refinements. Nature is too strong, to be prevailed on to retire, and give way to the authority of definitions and syllogistical deduction.
But, when we have granted all this, it is however a mistake to say, that these “subtleties of human intellect are of little further use, than to afford an amusement to persons of curious speculation." We have seen, in the case of the doctrine of philosophical necessity', that, though it can never form a rule for the intercourse between man and man, it
See above, p. 437.
* p. 241.