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Letters from a late eminent Prelate to one of his Friends. 4to. pp. 380. Kidderminster: 1808.
Warburton, we think, was the last of our Gnat Divines—the last, perhaps, of any profession, among us, who united profound learning with great powers of understanding, and, along with vast and varied stores of acquired knowledge, possessed energy of mind enough
cordiality among all the virtuous and enlightened, wasted their days in wrangling upon idle theories; and in applying, to the speculative errors of their equals in talents and in virtue, those terms of angry reprobation which should be reserved for vice and malignity.
to wield them with ease and activity. The day s ; In neither of these characters, therefore, can of the Cud worths and Barrows—me Hookers we seriously lament that Warburton is not and Tavlors, are long gone by. Among the likely to have any successor, oiher divisions of intellectual labour to which The truth is, tnat this extraordinary person the progress of society has given birth, the was a Giant in Literature—with many of the business of reasoning, and the business of vices of the Gigantic character. Strong as he collecting knowledge, have been, in a great was, his excessive pride and overweening measure, put into separate hands. Our scho- ¡ vanity were perpetually engaging him in enlars are now little else than pedants, and an-j terprises which he could not accomplish: liquaries, and grammarians,—who have never | while such was his intolerable arrogance toexercised any faculty but memory; and our j wards his opponents, and his insolence torpaeoners are, for the most part, but slenderly wards those whom he reckoned as his infeprovided with learning; or, at any rate, make j riors, that he made himself very generally but a slender use of it in their reasonings. Of | and deservedly odious, and ended by doing
the two, the reasoners are by far the best off; and, upon many subjects, have really profited by the separation. Argument from authority is. in general, the weakest and the most tedious of all arguments; and learning, we are inclined to believe, has more frequently played the part of a bully than of a fair auxiliary; and been oftener used to frighten people than to convince them,—to dazzle and overawe, rather than to guide and enlighten. A modem writer would not, if he could, reason as Barrow and Cud worth often reason ; and every reader, even of Warburton, must have felt that his learning often encumbers rather thA assists his progress, and, like shining armour, adds more to his terrors than to his strength. The true theory of this separation may be. therefore, that scholars who are capable of reasoning, have ceased to make a parade of their scholarship; while those who have nothing else must continue to set it forward— just as gentlemen now-a-days keep their gold in their pockets, instead of wearing it on their clothes—while the fashion of laced suits still prevails among their domestics. There are individuals, however, who still think that a man of rank looks most dignified in cut velvet and embroidery, and that one who is not a gentleman can now counterfeit that appearance a little too easily. We do not presume to settle so weighty a dispute ;—we only take the liberty of observing, that Warburton lived to see the fashion go out; and was almost the last native gentleman who appeared in a full trimmed coat.
He was not only the last of our reasoning scholars, but the last also, we think, of our powerful polemics. This breed too, we take it, is extinct;—and we are not sorry for it. Those men cannot be much regretted, who, instead of applying their great and active faculties in making their fellows better or »iser, or in promo Ing mutual kindness and
considerable injury to all the causes which he undertook to support. The novelty and the boldness of his manner—the resentment of his antagonists—and the consternation of his friends, insured him a considerable share of public attention at the beginning: But such was the repulsion of his moral qualities as a writer, and the fundamental unsoundness of most of his speculations, that he no sooner ceased to write, than he ceased to be read or inquired after,—and lived to see those erudite volumes fairly laid on the shelf, which he fondly expected to carry down a growing fame to posterity.
The history of Warburton, indeed, is uncommonly curious, and his fate instructive. He was bred an attorney at Newark; and probably derived, from his early practice in that capacity, that love of controversy, and that habit of scurrility, for which he was afterwards distinguished. His first literary associates were some of the heroes of the Dunciad; and his first literary adventure the publication of some poems, which well entitled him to a place among those worthies. He helped "pilfering Tibbalds" to some notes upon Shakespeare; and spoke contemptuously of Mr. Pope's talents, and severely of his morals, in his letters to Concarmen. He then hired his pen to prepare a volume on the Jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery; and having now entered the church, made a more successful endeavour to magnify his profession, and to attract notice to himself by the publication of his once famous book on "the Alliance between Church and State," in which all the presumption and ambition of his nature was first made manifest.
By this time, however, he seems to have passed over from the party of the Dunces to that of Pope; and proclaimed his conversion pretty abruptly, by writing an elaborate de fence of the Essay on Man, from some imputa lions which had been thrown on its theology and morality. Pope received the services of this voluntary champion with great gratitude; and Warburton having now discovered that he was not only a great poet, but a very honest man. continued to cultivate his friendship with great assiduity, and with very notable success: For Pope introduced him to Mr. Murray, who made him preacher at Lincoln's Inn. and to Mr. Allen of Prior Park, who gave him his niece in marriage,—obtained a bishopiic for him,—and left him his whole estate. In the mean time, he published his " Divine Legation of Moses,"—the most learned, most arrogant, and most absurd work, which had been produced in England for a century;—and his editions of Pope, and of Shakespeare, in which he was scarcely less outrageous and fantastical. He replied to some of his answerers in a style full of insolence and brutal scurrility; and not only poured out the most tremendous abuse on the infidelities of Bolingbroke and Hume, but found occasion also to quarrel with Drs. Middleton, Lowth, Jortin, Leland. and indeed almost every name distinguished for piety and learning in England. At the вате time, he indited the most highflown adulation to Lord Chesterfield, and contrived to keep himself in the good graces of Lord Mansfield and Lord Hardwicke;—while, in the midst of affluence and honours, he was continually exclaiming against the barbarity of the age in rewarding genius so frugally, and in not calling in the aid of the civil magistrate to put down fanaticism and infidelity. The public, however, at last, grew weary of these blustering novelties. The bishop, as old age stole upon him, began to doze in his mitre; and though Dr. Richard Hurd, with the true spirit of an underling, persisted in keeping up the petty traffic of reciprocal encomiums, yet Warburton was lost to the public long before he Sunk into dotage, and lay dead as an author for many years of his natural existence.
We have imputed this rapid decline of hie reputation, partly to the unsoundness of his general speculations, and chiefly to the offensiveiiess of his manner. The fact is admitted even by those who pretend to regret it; and, whatever Dr. Hurd may have thought, it must have had other causes than the decay of public virtue and taste.
In fact, when we look quietly and soberlyover the vehement and imposing treatises of Warburton, it is scarcely possible not to perceive, that almost every thing that is original in his doctrine or propositions is erroneous; and that his great gifts of learning and argumentation have been bestowed on a vain attempt to give currency to untenable paradoxes. His powers and his skill in controversy may indeed conceal, from a careless reader, the radical fallacy of his reasoning; and as, in the course of the argument, he frequently has the better of his adversaries upon incidental and collateral topics, and never fails to make his triumph resound over the whole field of battle, it is easy to understand how he should, for a while, have got the credit of
a victory, which is now generally adjudged M tiis opponents. The object of "the DÍtiiih Legation," for instance, is to prove that Ü;.' mission of Moses was certainly from Got!.-because his system is the only one which does not teach the doctrine of a future stale of rewards and punishments! And the object of "the Alliance" is to show, that the •Innc'ii (that is, as he explains it, ail the adherents of the church of England) is entitled to a legal establishment, and the protection of a test law,—because it constitutes a separat society from that which is concerned in the civil government, and. being equally sovereCT and independent, is therefore entitled to treat with it on a footing of perfect equality. Tae sixth book of Virgil, we are assured^ in tb« same peremptory manner, contains merely the description of the mysteries of Е1еиь?: and the badness of the New Testament Gittk a conclusive proof both of the eloquence aid the inspiration of its authors. These fanurs. it appears to us, require no refutation; and, dazzled and astonished as we are at the rich and variegated tissue of learning and argument with which their author has invested their extravagance, we conceive that no шаи of a sound and plain understanding cau ever mistake them for truths, or waver, in the leut degree, from the conviction which his own reflection must afford of their intrinsic absurdity.
The case is very nearly the same with Íls subordinate general propositions; which, in so far as they are original, are all brought forward with the parade of great discoveriis. and yet appear to us among the most falile and erroneous of modern speculations. We are tempted to mention two, which we think we have seen referred to by later writers with some degree of approbation, and which, at any rate, make a capital figure in all the fundamental philosophy of Warburton. Theooe relates to me necessary imperfection of hurtas laws, as dealing in Punishments only, and r.o: in Rewards also. The other concerns knotion of the ultimate foundation of moni Obligation.
The very basis of his argument for the necessity of the doctrine of a future flaw to the well-being of society, is, that, by humaa laws, the conduct of men is only conirolW by the fear of punishment, and not excited b the hope of reward. Both these sanclK-:* however, he contends, are necessary to rrp. late our actions, and keep the world in order, and, therefore, legislators, not finding reward in this world, have always been oblised :o connect it with a future world, in which they have held out that they would be be*toweo on all deservers. It is scarcely possible, vt believe, to put this most important itoctriw on a more injudicious foundation ; and if thii were the only ground either for believing or inculcating the doctrine of a future state, vt should tremble at the advantages which ;h* infidel would have in the contest. We shau not detain our readers longer, than just s point out three obvious fallacies in this, the most vaunted and confident, perhaps, of aJ the Warburtonian dogmata. In the first place, it ia obvious that disorders in society can scarcely be said to be prevented by the hope of future rewards: the proper use of that doctrine being, not to repress vice, but to console affliction. Vice and disorder can only be quelled by the dread of future punishment— whether in this world or the next; while it is obvious that the despondency and distress which may be soothed by the prospect of future bliss, are not disorders within me purview of the legislator. In the second place, it is obviously not true that human laws are wcessarily deficient in the article of providing rewards. In many instances, their enactments have this direct object; and it is obvious, that if it was thought essential to the well-be,ing of society, they mígAí reward quite as often as they punish. But, in the third place, the whole argument proceeds upon a gross and unaccountable misapprehension of the nature and object of legislation;—a very brief explanation of which will show, both. that the temporal rewards of virtue are just as sure as the temporal punishments of vice, and at the same time explain why the law has so seldom interfered to enforce the former. The law arose from human feelings and notions of justice ; and those feelings and notions, were, of course, before the law, which only came in aid of their deficiency. The natural and necessary effect of kind and virtuous conduct is, to excite love, gratitude. and benevolence ;—the effect of injury and vice is to excite resentment, anger, and revenge. While there was no law and no magistrate, men must have acted upon those feelings, and acted upon them in their whole extent. He who rendered kindness, received kindness; and he who inflicted pain and suffering, was sooner or later overtaken by retorted pain and suffering. Virtue vas rewarded therefore, and vice punished, at all times; and both, we must suppose, in the same measure and degree. The reward of virtue, however, produced no disturbance or disorder; and. after society submitted to regulation, was very safely left in the hands of gratitude and sympathetic kindness. But it was far otherwise with the punishment of vice. Resentment and revenge tended always to a dangerous excess,—were liable to be assumed as the pretext for unprovoked aggression,—and, at all events, had a tendency to reproduce revenge and resentment, in an interminable series of violence and outrage. The law, therefore, took fAt's duty into its own hands. It did not invent, or impose for the tirst time, that sanction of punishment, which was coeval with vice and with society, and is implied, indeed, in the very notion of injury:—it only transferred the right of applying it from the injured individual to the public; and tempered its application by more impartial and extensive views of the circumstances of the delinquency. But if the punishment of vice be not ultimately derived from law, neither is the reward of virtue; and although human passions made it necessary for law to undertake the regulation of that pun
ishment, it evidently would not add to its perfection, to make it also the distributer of rewards; unless it could be shown, that a similar disorder was likely to arise from leaving these to the individuals affected. It is obvious, however, not only that there is no likelihood of such a disorder, but that such an interference would be absurd and impracticable. It is tree, therefore, that human laws do in general provide punishments only, and not rewards; but it is not true that they are. on this account, imperfect or defective; or that human conduct is not actually regulated by the love of happiness, as much as by the dread of suffering. The doctrine of a future state adds, no doubt, prodigiously to both these motives; but it is a rash, a presumptuous, and, we think, a most shortsignted and narrow view of the case, to suppose, that it is chiefly the impossibility of rewarding virtue on Earth, that has led legislators to secure the peace of society, by referring it for its recompense to Heaven.
The other dogma to which we alluded, is advanced with equal confidence and pretensions; and is, if possible, still more shallow and erroneous. Speculative moralists had been formerly contented with referring moral obligation, either to a moral sense, or to a perception of utility ;—Warburton, without much ceremony, put both these together: But his grand discover)' is, that even this tie is not strong enough ; and that the idea of moral obligation is altogether incomplete and imperfect, unless it be made to rest also on the Will of a Superior. There is no point in all his philosophy, of which he is more vain than of this pretended discovery; and he speaks of it, we are persuaded, twenty times, without once suspecting the gross fallacy which it involves. The fallacy is not, however, in stating an erroneous proposition—for it is certainly true, that the command of a superior will generally constitute an obligation: it lies altogether in supposing that this is a separate or additional ground of obligation,—and in not seeing that this vaunted discovery of a third principle for the foundation of morality, was in fact nothing but an individual instance or exemplification of the principle of utility.
Why are we bound by the will of a superior ?—evidently for no other reason, than because superiority implies a power to affect our happiness; and the expression of will assures us. that our happiness will be affected by our disobedience. An obligation is something which constrains or induces us to act;—but there neither is nor can be any other motive for the actions of rational and sentient beings, than the love of happiness. It is the desire of happiness—well or ill understood—seen widely or narrowly,—that neces-tarily dictates all our actions, and is at the bottom of all our conceptions of morality or duty: and the will of a superior can only constitute a ground of obligation, by connecting itself with this single and universal agent. If it were possible to disjoin the idea of oar own happiness or suffering from the idea of a superior, it is obvious, that we should no longer be tinder any obligation to conform to the will of that superior. If we should be equally secure of happiness—in mind and in body—in time and in eternity, by disobeying his will, as by complying with it, it is evidently altogether inconceivable, that ihe expression of that will should impose any obligation upon us: And although it be true that we cannot suppose such a case, it is not the less a fallacy to represent the will of a superior as a third and additional ground of obligation, newly discovered by this author, and superadded to the old principle of a regard to happiness, or utility. We take these instances of the general unsoundness of all Warburton's peculiar doctrines, from topics on which he is generally supposed to have been less extravagant than on any other. Those who wish to know his feats in criticism, may be referred to the Canons of Mr. Edwards; and those who admire the originality of his Dissertation on the Mysteries, are recommended to look into the Eleusis of Mcursius,
Speculations like these could never be popular; and were not likely to attract the attention, even of the studious, longer than their novelty, and the glare of erudition and originality which was thrown around them, protected them from deliberate consideration. But the real cause of the public alienation from the works of this writer, is undoubtedly to be found in the revolting arrogance of his general manner, and the offensive coarseness of his controversial invectives. These, we think, must be confessed to be somewhat worse than mere error in reasoning, or extravagance in theory. They are not only offences of the first magnitude against good taste and good manners, but are likely to be attended with pernicious consequences in matters of much higher importance. Though we are not disposed to doubt of the sincerity of this reverend person's abhorrence for vice and infidelity, we are seriously of opinion, that his writings have been substantially prejudicial to the cause of religion and morality ; and that it is fortunate for both, that they have now fallen into general oblivion.
They have produced, in the first place, all the mischief of a conspicuous, and, in some sense, a successful example of genius and learning, associated with insolence, intolerance, and habitual contumely and outrage. All men who are engaged in controversy are apt enough to be abusive and insulting.—and clergymen, perhaps, rather more apt than others. It is an intellectual warfare, in which, as in other wars, it is natural, we suspect, to be ferocious, unjust, and unsparing; but experience and civilisation have tempered this vehemence, by gentler and more generous maxims,—nnd introduced a law of honourable hostility, by which the fiercer elements of our nature are mastered and controlled. No greater evil, perhaps, can be imagined, than the violation of this law from any quarter of influence and reputation ;—yet the Warburlonians may be said to have used their best endeavours to introduce the use of poisoned weapons, and to abolish the practice of giving quarter,
n the fields of controversy. Fortunatplr heir example has not been generally fcilo*ed; and the sect itself, (hough graced m rth mitres, and other trophies of worldly succès, las perished, we think, in conséquence of The ixperiment.
A second, and perhaps, a still more fo-rr.:dable mischief, arose from the discredit «heb was brought on the priesthood, and ir,c>> ii upon religion in general, by thi? interchs; •_» of opprobriousand insulting accusationàarrc _• its ministers. If Ihe abuse va? justifia! >. then the church itself gave shelter to lolly and wickedness, at least as great as was !<> : » found under the banners of infidelity ;—il it was not justifiable, then it was apparent, tr.sj abuse by those holy men was no prool'oi •!(•• merit in those against whom it was directed: and the unbelievers, of course, were fumir-h- Л with an objection to the sincerity of those invectives of which they themselves were tiobjects.
This applies to those indecent expression« of violence and contempt, in which Wartunct and his followers were accustomed tomdulir. when speaking of their Christian and tirria! opponents. But the greatest evil of all. *e think, arose from the intemperance, coarseness, and acrimony of their remarks, етеп ов those who were enemies to revelation There is, in all well-constituted minds, a natural feeling of indulgence towards those errors of opinion, to which, from the infirmity of human reason, all men are liable, and of compas«."* for those whose errors have endangered iheir happiness. It must be the natural tendency of all candid and liberal persons, therefore, ю regard unbelievers with pity, and to г<т,ч>': with them with mildness and forbearance. Infidel writers, we conceive, may gérera! ¡y be allowed to be actual unbelievers; for it ¡s difficult to imagine what other motive than i sincere persuasion of the truth of their opinions, could induce them to become objects of horror to the respectable part of any слтгггиnity, by their disclosure. From what v;cej of the heart, or from what defects in lh* understanding, their unbelief may hare origin!ed, it may not always be easy to determine, but it seems obvious that, for the unbelief itself, they are rather to be pitied than rent«' and that the most effectual way of prrrea-1.:; the public that their opinions are refntfi <'••' of a regard to human happiness, i« tr tr>'-' their author (whose happiness is most in <brger) with some small degree of liberality ¡.'ni gentleness. It is also pretty generally rail n for granted, that a very angry disputai):? usually in the wrong; that it is not a si;: •: much confidence in the argument, to take advantage of the unpopularity or legal da: ;p: of the opposite doctrine; and that, whn ал unsuccessful and unfair attempt is made to discredit Ihe general ability or personal north of an antagonist, no great reliance if nrirfer stood to be placed on the argument by *г!жЬ he may be lawfully opposed.
It is needless to apply these observatiorí :c the case of the Warburtonian controversies There is no man, we believe, however hen.aj be convinced of the fallacy and danger of the principles maintained by Lord Bolingbroke, by Voltaire, or by Hume, who has not felt indignation and disgust at the brutal violence, the affected contempt, and the flagrant unfairness with which they are treated by this learned author,—who has not, for a moment, taken part with them against so ferocious and insulting an opponent, and wished for the mortification and chastisement of the advocate, even while impressed with the greatest veneration for the cause. We contemplate this scene of orthodox fury, in shurt, with something of the same emotions with which we should see a heretic subjected to the torture, or a freethinker led out to the stake by a zealous inquisitor. If this, however, be the effect of such illiberal violence, even on those whose principles are settled, and whose faith is confirmed by habit and reflection, the consequences must obviously be still more pernicious for those whose notions of religion are still uninformed and immature, and whose minds are open to all plausible and liberal impressions. Take the case, for instance, of a young man, who has been delighted with the eloquence of Bolingbroke, and the sagacity and ingenuity of Hume ;—who knows, moreover, that the one lived in intimacy with Pope, and Swift, and Atterbury. and almost all the worthy and eminent persons of his time;— and that the other was the cordial friend of Robertson and Blair, and was irreproachably correct and amiable in every relation of life; —and who, perceiving with alarm the tendency of some of their speculations, applies to Warburton for an antidote to the poison he may have imbibed. In Warburton he will then read that Bolingbroke was a paltry driveller— Voltaire a pitiable scoundrel—and Hume a puny dialectician, who ought to have been set on the pillory, and whose heart was as base and corrupt as his understanding was contemptible! Now. what, we would ask any man of common candour and observation, is the effect likely to be produced on the mind of any ingenious and able young man by this style of confutation? Infallibly to make him take part with the reviled and insulted literati, —to throw aside the right reverend confuter with contempt and disgust,—and most probably to conceive a fatal prejudice against the cause of religion itself—thus unhappily associated with coarse and ignoble scurrility. He must know to a certainty; in the first place, that the contempt of the orthodox champion is either affected, or proceeds frortl most gross ignorance and incapacity ;—since the abilities of the reviled writers is proved, not only by his own feeling and experience, but by the suffrage of the public and of all men of intelligence. He must think, in the second place, that the imputations on their moral worth are false and calumnious, both from the fact of their long friendship with the purest and most exalted characters of their age. and from the obvious irrelevancy of this topic in a fair refutation of their errors ;—and then, applying the ordinary maxims by which we judge of a disputant's cause, from his temper and his fair
nrs?, he disables both the judgment and the candour of his instructor, and coucewres a strong prejudice in favour of the cause which has been attacked in a manner so unwarrantable.
We have had occasion, oftener than once, to trace an effect like this, from this fierce and overbearing aspect of orthodoxy;—¡uid we appeal to the judgment of all our readtis, whether it be not the very effect which it is calculated to produce on all youthful inii.ds of any considerable strength and originality. It is to such persons, however, and to such only, that the refutation of infidel writers ought to be addressed. There is no need to write books against Hume and Voltaire for the use of the learned and orthodox part of the English clergy. Such works are necessarily supposed to be intended for the benefit of young persons, who have either contracted some partiality for those seductive writers, or are otherwise in danger of being misled by them. It is to be presumed, therefore, that they know and admire their real excellences; —and it might consequently be inferred, that they will not listen with peculiar complacency to a refutation of their errors, which sets out with a torrent of illiberal and unjust abuse of their talents and characters.
We are convinced, therefore, that the bullying and abusive tone of the Warburtonian school, even in its contention with infidèle, has done more harm to the cause of religion, and alienated more youthful and aspiring minds from the true faith, than any other error into which zeal has ever betraved orthodoxy. It may afford a sort of vindictive delight to the zealots who stand in no need of the instruction of which it should be the vehicle; but it will, to a certainty, revolt and disgust all those to whom that instruction was necessary,—enlist all the generous feelings of their nature on the side of infidelity,—and make piety and reason itself appear like prejudice and bigotry. We think it fortunate, therefore, upon the whole, that the controversial writings of Warburton have already passed into oblivion,—since, even if we thought more highly than we do of the substantial merit of his arguments, we should still be of opinion | that they were likely to do more mischief ! than the greater part of the sophistries which it was their professed object to counteract and discredit.
These desultory observations have carried us so completely away from the book, by the title of which they were suggested, that we have forgotten to announce to our reader», that it contains a series of familiar letters, addressed by Warburton to Doctor (afterwards Bishop) Hurd, from the year 1749, when their acquaintance commenced, down to 1776, when the increasing infirmities of the former put a stop to the correspondence. Some little use was made of these letters in the life of his friend, which Bishop Hurd published, after a very long delay, in 1794 ; but the treasure wae hoarded up, in the main, till the death of that prelate; soon after which, the present volume wae prepared for publication, in obedience to