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of Malmesbury, introduces one of the most distinguished names both in English literature and in modern metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy. Hobbes, born in 1588, commenced author in 1628, at the age of forty, by publishing his translation of Thucydides, but did not produce his first original work, his Latin treatise entitled De Cive, till 1642. This was followed by his treatises entitled Human Nature and De Corpore Politico, in 1650; his Leviathan, in 1651; his translations in verse of the Iliad and Odyssey, in 1675; and his Behemoth, or History of the Causes of the Civil Wars of England, and of the counsels and artifices by which they were carried on, from the year 1640 to the year 1660, a few months after his death, at the age of ninety-two, in 1679. Regarded merely as a writer of English, there can be little difference of opinion about the high rank to be assigned to Hobbes. He has been described as our first uniformly careful and correct writer;and he may be admitted to have at least set the first conspicuous and influential example in what may be called our existing English (for Roger Ascham, Sir Thomas Elyot, and one or two other early writers, seem to have aimed at the same thing in a preceding stage of the language), of that regularity of style which has since his time been generally attended to. This, however, is his least merit. No writer has succeeded in making language a more perfect exponent of thought than it is as employed by Hobbes. His style is not poetical or glowingly eloquent, because his mind was not poetical, and the subjects about which he wrote would have rejected the exaggerations of imaginative or passionate expression if he had been capable of supplying such. But in the prime qualities of precision and perspicuity, and also in economy and succinctness, in force and in terseness, it is the very perfection of a merely expository style. Without any affectation of point, also, it often shapes itself easily and naturally into the happiest aphoristic and epigrammatic forms. Hobbes's clearness and aptness of expression, the effect of which is like that of reading a book with a good light, never forsake him — not even in that most singular performance, his version of Homer, where there is scarcely a trace of ability of any other kind. There are said to be only two lines in that work in which he is positively poetical ; those which describe the infant Astyanax in the scene of the parting of Hector and Andromache, in the Sixth Book of the Iliad :
1 Hallam, Lit. of Eur. iv. 316.
Now Hector met her with her little boy,
That in the nurse's arms was carried ;
His beautiful and shining golden head. But there are other passages in which by dint of mere directness and transparency of style he has rendered a line or two happily enough, — as, for instance, in the description of the descent of Apollo at the prayer of Chryses, in the beginning of the poem :
His prayer was granted by the deity,
Who, with his silver bow and arrows keen,
In likeness of the sable night unseen. As if expressly to proclaim and demonstrate, however, that this momentary success was merely accidental, immediately upon the back of this stanza comes the following:
His bow and quiver both behind him hang,
The arrows chink as often as he jogs,
And first his arrows flew at mules and dogs. For the most part, indeed, Hobbes's Iliad and Odyssey are no better than travesties of Homer's, the more ludicrous as being undesigned and unconscious. Never was there a more signal revenge than that which Hobbes afforded to imagination and poetry over his own unbelieving and scoffing philosophism by the publication of this work. It was almost as if the man born blind, who had all his lifetime been attempting to prove that the sense which he himself wanted was no sense at all, and that that thing, color, which it professed peculiarly to discern, was a mere delusion, should have himself at last taken the painter's brush and pallet in hand, and attempted, in confirmation of his theory, to produce a picture by the mere senses of touch, taste, smell, and hearing.1
The great subject of the merits or demerits, the truth or falsehood, of Hobbes's system of metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy, of course cannot be entered upon here. His works
1 It is right, however, to state that Coleridge, in a note to the second (1819) edition of the Friend, Introd. Essay iv., admits that in the original edition of that work he had spoken too contemptuously of Hobbes's Odyssey, which when he so wrote of it he had not seen. “It is doubtless,” he adds, “as much too ballad-like as the later versions are too epic; but still, on the whole, it leaves a much truer impression of the original."
certainly gave a greater impulse to speculation in that field than those of any other English writer had ever before done ; even the startling paradoxes with which they abound, and their arrogant and contemptuous tone, coöperated with their eminent merits of a formal kind to arouse attention, and to provoke the investigation and discussion of the subjects of which they treat. It must also be admitted that scarcely any writings of their class contain so many striking remarks ; so much acute and ingenious, if not profound and comprehensive, thinking; so much that, if not absolutely novel, has still about it that undefinable charm which even an old truth or theory receives from being born anew in an original mind. Such a mind Hobbes had, if any man ever had. Moreover, it is not necessary to deny that, however hollow or insufficient may have been the bases of his philosophy, he may have been successful in explaining some particular intellectual phenomena, or placing in a clearer light some important truths both in metaphysics and in morals. But as for what is properly to be called his system of philosophy, — and it is to be observed that, in his own writings, his views in metaphysics, in morals, and in politics are all bound and built up together into one consistent whole, the question of the truth or falsehood of that seems to be completely settled. Nobody now professes more than a partial Hobbism. If so much of the creed of the philosopher of Malmesbury as affirms the non-existence of any essential distinction between right and wrong, the non-existence of conscience or the moral sense, the non-existence of anything beyond mere sensation in either emotion or intelligence, and other similar negations of his moral and metaphysical doctrine, has still its satisfied disciples, who is now a Hobbist either in politics or in mathematics ? Yet, certainly, it is in these latter departments that we must look for the greater part of what is absolutely original and peculiar in the notions of this teacher. Hobbes's philosophy of human nature is not amiss as a philosophy of Hobbes's own human nature. Without passions or imagination himself, and steering his own course through life by the mere calculations of an enlightened selfishness, one half of the broad map of humanity was to him nothing better than a blank. The consequence is, that, even when he reasons most acutely, he is constantly deducing his conclusions from insufficient premises. Then,
, like most men of ingenious rather than capacious minds, having once adopted his hypothesis or system, he was too apt to make
facts bend to that rather than that to facts: a tendency which in his case was strengthened by another part of his character which has left its impression upon all his writings, — a much greater love of victory than of truth.
The most remarkable treatise on political philosophy which appeared in the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution is Henry Nevile's Plato Redivivus, or a Dialogue concerning Government; which was first published in 1681, and went through at least a second edition the same year. Nevile, who was born in 1620, and survived till 1694, had in the earlier part of his life been closely connected with Harrington, the author of the Oceana, and also with the founders of the Commonwealth, and he is commonly reckoned a republican writer ; but the present work professes to advocate a monarchical form of government. Its leading principle is the same as that on which Harrington's work is founded, the necessity of all stable government being based upon property ; but, in a Preface, in the form of an Address from the Publisher to the Reader, pains are taken to show that the author's application of this principle is different from Harrington's. It is observed, in the first place, that the principle in question is not exclusively or originally Harrington's; it had been discoursed upon and maintained in very many treatises and pamphlets before ever the Oceana came out ; in particular in A Letter from an Officer in Ireland to His Highness the Lord Protector, printed in 1653, " which was more than three years before Oceana was written.” Besides, continues the writer, who is evidently Nevile himself, “ Oceana was written (it being thought lawful so to do in those times) to evince out of these principles that England was not capable of any
other government than a democracy. And this author, out of the same maxims or aphorisms of politics, endeavours to prove that they may be applied, naturally and fitly, to the redressing and supporting one of the best monarchies in the world, which is that of England.” The tenor of the work is throughout in conformity with this declaration.
Although the Plato Redivivus has been reprinted in modern
times (by Mr. Thomas Hollis), it is but little known; and it is both very well written, and contains some curious illustrations of the state of opinion, and of other matters, in that day. The argument is carried on in the form of a dialogue, continued through three days or morning meetings, between a Venetian nobleman travelling in England, an English physician, under whose care he is recovering from an attack of illness, and an English gentleman, who is the chief speaker, and may be understood to represent Nevile himself. It is commonly said that the physician, or doctor, is intended for the famous Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation ; but this, we think, may be doubted. The conversations are supposed to have taken place only a short time before their publication ; and Harvey had died, at a great age, in 1658. In one place (p. 81), in reference to an observation by the doctor about the property of land in Padua being wholly in the possession of the nobility of Venice, the Venetian nobleman remarks, “ I perceive, doctor, by this question, that you have studied at Padua ;” to which the doctor replies, “ No, really, sir, the small learning I have was acquired in our own university of Oxford, nor was I ever out of this island.” This may be meant for a blind, though why anything of the kind should be had recourse to is not apparent; but the fact is that Harvey was abroad when a young man, and did actually study at Padua. There is no allusion anywhere in the book to Harvey's great discovery. Yet the doctor is described as of the first eminence in his profession, and also as a person of great literary reputation both in his own and other countries :— " an eminent physician of our nation, as renowned for his skill and cures at home as for his writings both here and abroad; and who, besides his profound knowledge in all learning, as well in other professions as his own, had particularly arrived at so exact and perfect a discovery of the formerly hidden parts of human bodies, that every one who can but understand Latin may. by his means, know more of anatomy than either Hippocrates or any of the ancients or moderns did or do perceive : and, if he hat lived in the days of Solomon, that great philosopher would never have sail Cor hominis inscrutabile (the heart of man is past finding, out].” This points, no doubt, to some great anatomist and writer on anatomy, and the description is sufficiently applicable to suggest Harvey in the first instance; but it seems scarcely specific enough to fix the character upon him, without further evidence.