Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE

ANALECTIC MAGAZINE.

JULY, 1820.

Art. I.-An account of the Life and Writings of the Rev.

Samuel Stanhope Smith, D. D. L. L. D., late President of Princeton College.

(Continued from vol. 1. p. 474.) WE shall now proceed to state his claims as a philosopher, a president of the college, a writer, a pulpit orator and a man. Dr. Smith, from the earliest period of life, devoted himself exclusively to the cultivation of science. His pretensions as a philosopher do honour to his country. In all his works we discover great justness and profoundness of observation, extensive acquaintance with science and literature, together with a liberal and philosophical cast of thinking. His Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion, his Moral Philosophy, his Lectures upon the Evidences of Christianity delivered to the students in college, his 'Treatise upon the Figure and Complexion of the human species, and lastly, his sermons, consisting of one volume already published, and what will probably fill two volumes more that are at present in manuscript, are the works upon which his reputation is built, and they are all written with the hand of a master. In his Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion, he has given a concise but neat and perspicuous view of the doctrines and rites of the christian religion, as they are received and practiced in the Presbyterian church. His views are decidedly calvinistick, but couched in terms of so much moderation and liberality, that in his hands they are rendered as little offensive to those who have embraced a different creed, as it is possible to make them. In this treatise he has comprised within a small compass, a great variety of theological learning and useful and interesting disquisition, expressed in a language at once neat and elegant, while his doctrines are recommended by profound reflections and happy illustrations. His Moral Philosophy is certainly among the best productions of this kind at present in the possession of the literary world. As a book for the use of colleges and schools, it is liable to fewer objections than any that can be obtained. The treatise of Dr. Paley on this subject, although perhaps as a work of genius superior to any other, and characterised by all those excellences usually discoverable in the productions of that amiable moralist and elegant writer, is well known, and I believe, generally admitted to be most materially defective in tracing the foundations of moral duty. The excellent work of Hutcheson, is too abstract and diffuse for the use of schools, and that of Dr. Beattie rather an inferior production, and without that body of interesting matter which we have reason to expect in an elementary treatise intended for the instruction of youth. It is a common objection against this work of Dr. Smith, that he has introduced into it many topics, which are irrelative to the subject of moral and political philosophy; and, perhaps, it is, in some degree, liable to an exception of this kind. But even this circumstance which may be admitted to be a real imperfection in the work, when estimated as a production of genius, may be of service to it, when received into our colleges as a manual of instruction in the education of youth. The variety of subjects discussed serves to open, and expand the faculties of youthful minds, to extend the sphere of their acquaintance with science and literature, and at once to gratify their fondness for novelty, and to strengthen and invigorate their intellectual powers. His Lectures upon the Evidences of the Christian Religion, hold a respectable rank with the works of Stillingfleet, Grotius, Paley, and the numerous writers who have undertaken the discussion of the same subject, and his volume of sermons is one of the best on the subjects of practical divinity, which issued from the press during the last century. The treatise, however, upon which, if he had written no other, he might found a high and well-merited reputation as a philosopher, is that upon the variety of figure and complexion in the human species, which is among the first and best of his productions. It was at first published as delivered to the philosophical society of Philadelphia, and of course much less in size than it now appears in a separate volume, but it may reasonably be doubted whether by introducing into it a greater accumulation of matter, although that matter be of a very interesting and useful kind, and undoubtedly contributes to the information and amusement of the reader, he has not upon the whole weakened the impression, which the argument produces upon the mind. However this may be, in its present form, it is indisputably a masterpiece of philosophical writing, and such as would have done honour to any man that ever lived. He who contributes to the detection and exposure of error and the establishment of the great principles of truth and duty, who exhibits important doctrines in science, morals or religion in new and interesting points of light, recommends them by original embellishments of fancy and all the graces of style and composition, may, alike with him who has the happiness to make great discoveries in philosophy, be regarded as one of the benefactors of his race. In efforts of this kind lies the merit of Dr. Smith, in the treatise of which we are now speaking. If he had not the honour of conceiving the original plan upon which the varieties in the race might be explained, which it is conceded had been sketched out by the philosophers of Europe, he is entitled to the still higher merit of having reduced what they had only conjectured, or feebly supported, to a finished and conclusive argument amounting to the highest degree of moral certainty. His object in this treatise, is to show that all that great variety exhibited among our race in their stature, complexion and figure, commencing from the Tartar and Simoide in the north of Europe, including the fair complexion and regular features of the temperate zones, the copper-coloured Indian, the deep olive of the Moors, and terminating in the indelibly black of tropical Africa, together with the other peculiarities of that nation, may be explained from the united action of climate, the state of society, and manner of living. Besides that this doctrine would seem to be evidently deducible from the account given in the Sacred Scriptures of the original of our race, which is there traced, in the first instance to Adam our great progenitor, and in the next, to Noah and his sons after the deluge, by whom the whole earth is said to have been overspread, it would appear equally to result by unavoidable inference from the maxims of a sound philosophy. No more causes of things are to be admitted than are both true and sufficient to explain the phenomena, is a maxim which, ever since the days of Newton, has been held as undeniable. That admirable simplicity, which runs through all the adjustments and operations of nature, would seem to indicate that the Creator, in accomplishing the purposes of infinite wisdom, would resort to no more expedients than are absolutely necessary to the attainment of his ends. If, therefore, from, a single pair, or from the family of Noah, in the natural course of propagation, the whole globe would be speedily peopled and the purposes of the Creator in replenishing it with inhabitants be accomplished, it would be against all the principles of a just philosophy to resort to the supposition of a diversity of origin, in order to account for the varieties which exist. Nothing can be imagined more unphilosophical and less founded in fact and experience, than the opinion of those who, with Voltaire, imagine different races to be produced, suited to their various situations, like vegetable productions springing out of the soils to which they are severally adapted. Such

a crude and unconcocted theory as this could have arisen only out of a wanton spirit of hostility to religion. How completely would the scene displayed in this affair have been reversed, had the Sacred Scriptures contained an account of the original of the human race, and the first settlement of the globe, conformable to the views of those who now undertake, by this indirect means, to invalidate their claims to credit? Had they informed us, that progenitors for the different nations sprang up, like mushrooms, suited to their conditions upon the globe; what sage lessons would have been read to us by the same men who are now maintaining these absurdities, about the simplicity of nature in her operations, the necessity of being guided in all our inquiries by the strictest rules of philosophising, which require us to assign no more causes of things than are absolutely necessary to explain the phenomena, and since a single pair would be all that would be necessary to the population of the earth, it would be contrary to the principles of right reason, to suppose that the Supreme Being would have originally created more? This method of reasoning would at least be more consistent with their usual course of procedure in attacking the doctrines of religion or the authority of revelation, than the one to which they have resorted in the present case, as they generally wish to conduct their operations against us, if not with the genuine and authentic arms of philosophy, at least, with those which counterfeit her venerable image and superscription. Complaint has been made on this subject, that the advocates of the identity of the race, by attempting to enlist revelation on their side, would wish to extinguish the lights of philosophical investigation or stifle the voice of free inquiry. But might not the same complaint be made with equal justness and application, in reference to any other doctrines inculcated upon the authority of revelation? Might not the Sacred Scriptures be considered as liable to a similar reprehension, because they establish the truths

« AnteriorContinuar »