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" AS when two pilgrims in a forest stray
It is a Maxim, unexceptionably acceded to, by the best men and the best authors, that great respect is due to the public eye, and, much more, to the public mind. To this principle I most perfectly assent. I shall therefore feel it a moral obligation, not to force myself on their notice, without that deferential introduction they have an unquestionable right to demand : as
no measure of conceit can scarcely surpass, or be more offensive than that, which impels a writer to presume, that he may boldly claim that candid attention, which the most exalted merit should not blush to solicit, from an intelligent community.
Thus much by way of apology, and in order to conciliate that liberal sentence from the perusal of the subsequent strictures, which I am anxious they should receive; especially, as they profess to contain, what either commands the highest regard, or else, what may be thrown aside, as a matter of indifference and mere literary amusement. For, in this instance, there is, what seldom occurs, no medium, no other alternative. Either they are the intellectual dream of a misguided imagination, or, they should engage the utmost powers and faculties of the human soul.
The best improvement, I apprehend, that can possibly be made of universal history, is, to consider it as the History of
Reason, Philosophy, Virtue, and Morals. In the annals of HUMAN REASON, which we have very accurately inspected, though that faculty has been so often represented as the boasted distinction of our species, nothing has ever been exhibited to us in
more obscure and cloudy medium. Notwithstanding the learning and ingenuity, the time and the talents, which have been devoted to this discussion, it is a fact, that it remains to this hour almost as undefined and equivocal a thing, as it was in the days of the Stagyrite; who is thought to have possessed an acuteness of penetration and argument, which no subtilty can exceed. He seems to have looked down indeed, in all the pride of fancied superiority, upon the rational endowments of his great predecessors, Socrates and Plato. And yet, are we not, even now, with all the advantages accruing from many intervenient centuries, as much in the dark, as to the inherent properties of human Reason, and the extent of its unassisted energies, as if the subject had
never been agitated ? A very lively Philosopher, by far too much read and admired, has been, for once, ingenuous enough to confess, that “this same Reason ® is a very ridiculous thing, and borders very
much upon folly.” Even in natural pursuits, or physical inquiries, it is, as another Philosopher, of less brilliancy, but greater sagacity, has expressed it, “ Ratio mersa et confusa.” And if, in these inferior matters, it be so weak and incompetent, can it be less' so, in objects infinitely more sublime? The impartial history of human Reason would not reflect | much honour upon human nature*.
* Reid's admirable essays on the intellectual powers of man are an incontestible proof of this. They impressed this idea very powerfully on my mind, as I once travelled through them with close attention. The philosophy of the human mind, as it has been called, is indeed, next *to its moral depravity, one of the most humiliating scenes, that has ever been exhibited to the inquiring part of our
species. I have compared it, in some solitary hour of amusement, to a grave harlequin, with his coat of many colours, playing tricks upon our mental faculties. Thus, some of the philosophers undertake to prove, that there is no such thing as matter ; others, that there is no such
Little, however, as it seems to have been generally understood, or satisfactorily defined—that there is such a faculty in man is universally admitted. But, so long as the subject is agitated in a way of metaphysical investigation, it is to be feared, that it will remain in its present state of obscurity: not but what one thing is sufficiently clear, and of no trifling importance, that Reason, as a faculty, is indeed the Cause, but, in no sense, the Rule, of
thing as spirit in man; some, that there is no First intelligent Cause at all; others, that we see every thing in God; some talk of the taleology of nature;” others, of the cosmological contest into which reason falls with itself !” If all this be not transcendental and chaotic nonsense, what is? It is really astonishing, how the rational intellect can ever be even diverted with such prostitution of time and talents. There is something like wisdom in the writer, who, perfectly competent for the purpose, has had so much moral magnanimity, as to tell the world, that, “Philosophers have hitherto been only imposing on themselves and others, by words without meaning.” One of their own tribe indeed has discovered, in this enlightened era, that “ men are only educated monkies !” and these may be some of their monkey pranks.