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most useful one in practice. It is precisely such a one as a moralist would be likely to frame, who, careless about merely speculative truth, and indifferent to the praise of originating a complete and elaborate system of ethics, should make it his only aim to be practically useful to his fellow-beings, by alluring them in the most persuasive manner to the practice of virtue. We do not mean, that Paley actually saw the error of his own theory, and passed over it intentionally, because he believed a faulty definition would be more useful than a correct one. He had far too much reverence for truth, too firm a belief that whatever is erroneous or false is also least expedient, to stoop to such an unworthy course. But the whole cast of his disposition inclined to practical benevolence ; his whole ambition centred in the desire of doing good to his fellow-men. In his investigation of any subject, he was led by an imperceptible bias to that conclusion, which promised most effectually to subserve the interests of mankind. Those who are most loud in their denunciations of his base and selfish morality, would do well to imitate his philanthropy, while they avoid his faulty and mistaken speculations.
We have said, that he was deficient in enthusiasm. He possessed a shrewd and penetrating mind, that looked quite through the motives and dispositions of his fellow-men, and formed such nutriment for them, as he judged to be best suited to their present tastes and capacities.
He framed no ideal standard ; he set up no lofty conception of virtue, imposing in its purity and grandeur, but chilling by its remoteness and difficulty of attainment. Hence, there was some danger lest he should compromise with principle, and admit rules of conduct, which in some cases might offend a nice and delicate sense of rectitude. But the purity of his taste in ethics, and his caution in limiting the application of his principles, preserved him from this error ; and the sternest moralist will find no cause for censure in his practical expositions of virtue. He was skilful in casuistry, and often framed nice distinctions, but the conclusion was invariably on the safe side. As a compend of practical morality, therefore, his work is invaluable. He is never vague in enunciating his rules, and never declamatory in enforcing them. His argument is inimitable in force and conciseness, and often rises without effort to the height of eloquence. The
language never admits of a doubt as to its meaning, and the terseness of expression, together with the homely but apposite illustrations, often produces the same pleasing surprise as refined wit. Though many may deem the comparison too honorable to Paley, we confess that his manner often reminds us of Socrates, as represented in the “ Memorabilia,” confuting the Sophists and teaching virtue about the streets. His shrewdness, good sense, and occasional humor, his pithy arguments and familiar style, his mode of vanquishing an opponent with his own weapons, his use of striking but homely figures, and the pure and elevated philosophy of his discourses, are all in the best manner of the Grecian sage.
Though he sometimes handles general principles with ease and correctness, his mind was not naturally a comprehensive
He divided a subject into minute parts, and considered them in succession. In argument, he attached himself to the strong points of his subject, and flashed the light of a dark lantern upon them, while their branches and connexions with the surrounding parts were left in obscurity. His reasoning can seldom be confuted, but the opponent may sometimes get out of its range, by taking up the matter from a side which he had never contemplated. This defect, again, arose from the wish to adapt his work to common minds. He chose that aspect of a question, which most readily offers itself, and presented it with such force and clearness, that the inquirer remained satisfied with the demonstration, and felt no desire to pursue the subject further. Paley was cautious about overlaying the argument, or wearying the beholder with an attempt to stop every crevice in the walls, when the first glance showed that the fortress was impregnable. His work was deficient in scientific completeness, but it answered its end ; it convinced the reader. There is no wordiness, nor mysticism, nor affectation of technical phrases in his writings. He never seeks to get out of a difficulty by raising a cloud of words, nor to escape from reasoning by running into declamation, nor to evade an argument in any matter whatever. There is a delightful simplicity and bonhommie in his clear and powerful way of stating an objection, which he then proceeds to demolish in the same plain and forcible manner.
Frankness and candor breathe from every page of his writings, and one relishes these qualities the more under such circumstances, because they are not usually to be found in controversial writings of the same class. Men have written in defence of morality and religion, as if the sacredness of the subject absolved them from all obligations to use courtesy and fairness towards an opponent, and justified all wiles and stratagems by which a victory might be obtained. Paley stooped to no such unworthy practices, and his fairdealing is rewarded by the docility of the reader, who soon finds himself compelled to follow submissively the train of argument, and seldom closes the book without having conceived an affection for the author. Indeed, the whole character of the writer, in all its strong and honest features, is imprinted on the work ; Montaigne did not convey a livelier image of himself to his readers. Much of the indefinable charm, which invests his writings, must be attributed to this unconscious self-portraiture, though much is due also
to the admirable qualities of his style. His chapter on “ Reverencing the Deity,” has always appeared to us one of the most masterly compositions in the English language. It will suffer little by comparison with Lord Bacon's noble essay on Atheism, which, like the chapter in Paley, consists of only three or four pages, but is lighted up by the most brilliant flashes of the writer's glowing imagination.
The great merit which belongs to Paley for his work on “ Natural Theology” may be best seen by comparison. Look at the state of the science since his death. An English nobleman bequeaths a princely sum to be given to some person for writing a book on a branch of the same subject. By the advice of the Bishop of London, the legacy is divided, and given in equal portions to six individuals, among the most distinguished in their respective sciences of any in the country ; and in a few years the result comes forth in the shape of six or eight thick octavos, called the “ Bridgewater Treatises."
Their publication may be of some advantage to the other sciences, but, as a contribution to Natural Theology, they can hardly be said to possess any merit what
Dr. Buckland has written a very good treatise on Geology, and Dr. Roget a very admirable one on Physiology, but the theological comments in each might be omitted altogether without detriment. The reader perceives at once, that the argument in respect to the Deity is a mere secondary affair ; that it is interpolated in an ordinary scientific treatise, with which it has no proper connexion. The portion of the general subject allotted to Dr. Chalmers was of such a nature, that he seemed compelled to confine himself to the theme assigned by the noble donor. Yet he has done his best to escape from the trammels, and frankly confesses some incongruity between the title and the subject matter of his volumes. He embraced the opportunity to expatiate upon the philosophy of mind; and the result of his labors only proves, that Dr. Chalmers is a clumsy writer, a weak reasoner, and a metaphysician equally deficient in learning, originality, and discretion. It is an act of charity towards the writers to pass over some of the other treatises altogether. We have mentioned those only, which possess some claims to attention. In spite of the high expectations created by the benevolent purpose of the Earl
of the Earl of Bridgewater, and the great efforts that were made to carry his wishes into effect, it seems that the loss of Paley's small volume would still be irreparable.
Lord Brougham and Sir Charles Bell, in the volumes now before us, have limited their ambition to preparing a new edition of Paley's work, with copious notes and supplementary dissertations. They considered rightly, that their own lucubrations stood a better chance of being noticed and studied, if published in such a connexion, than if they appeared in an independent form. The desire of illustrating the original, we consider as a mere pretence. Paley's command of language and illustration renders all aid unnecessary, even for the most
shallow capacity. He who runs may read and understand. Even the anatomical portions of the work do not require the aid of engravings in order to be fully understood. A description couched in the simplest and most graphic terms, and a homely comparison, — the latch or hinge of a door, the teeth of a saw, or the packing of a box, -make the whole structure in question as plain as day. That Paley was not a surgeon by profession only renders his explanations the more intelligible to ordinary minds. There was less danger of sliding unawares into the use of technical terms, or of presuming too much on the reader's stock of previous knowledge. Though Sir Charles Bell writes with à fair share of ease and perspicuity, it will generally be found, when he adds a note for the mere purpose of elucidating the text, that the explanation is less clear than the original. He supplies a few other instances of adaptation from
the structure of the human frame, but adds nothing to the argument, and his labors, on the whole, rather encumber the work.
Lord Brougham's “ Preliminary Discourse” has already been noticed at length in our pages, * and we have nothing to add to that estimate of its merits and defects. The noble writer at least confines himself to the subject, whatever may be thought of the ability with which it is treated. But we cannot say as much of the “Dissertations,” two thick volumes of which are appended to this edition. They contain a parade of various, though not very profound learning, on a number of subjects, some of thein bearing about the same relation to Natural Theology that they do to the study of Sanscrit, or the science of ship-building. Thus, about half of the second volume is occupied with an analysis of Newton's 6 Principia, ” which might with equal propriety have been printed in connexion with his Lordship’s translation of Demosthenes "concerning the Crown.” It answers no purpose except to display the writer's acquaintance with mathematics. An account of Cuvier's work on Fossil Osteology is not out of place to the same degree, though all the relations of the subject to Natural Theology might be stated in five pages, as well as in a hundred and twenty. We can hardly hope much from any attempt to throw light upon the deep and dark problem of the origin of evil, and Lord Brougham is certainly the last person, from whom aid in such a case could reasonably be expected. His long dissertation upon the subject contains nothing new, and will not increase the writer's reputation for learning, or skill in handling metaphysical questions. Four dialogues upon Instinct, and an account of the structure of the cells of bees, occupy a whole volume, but contribute very little, by way either of argument or illustration, to the reasoning of Paley. In fine, the supplementary Dissertations serve to display a versatile genius and much general information ; but they show neither originality nor depth of thought, and are utterly valueless in the place they now occupy.
We are disappointed in this edition, for we had hoped that the concluding volumes would carry out some of the hints in the Preliminary Discourse, and, by a fair examination of
See North American Review, Vol. XLII., p. 467 et seq.