« PreviousContinue »
While he was engaged in preparing for the press, a treatise composed on this plan, Alexander Baxter, Esq; of Odiham, Hants, the worthy fon of the late Mr. Baxter, was pleased to put into his hands a collection of manuscripts upon the same Tubject, written, at different times, by his late father. This fortunate incident,' says the Editor, ' has enabled me to prosecute my design, with a prospect of better success, by arranging and digesting his arguments into a form somewhat more regular and conclufive than his last lingering illness had permitted him to do himself.
The intention of the late Mr. Baxter to publish the papers which Dr. Duncan has here collected and methodised, appears from the following paffage, contained in a letter annexed to the end of this work, written about fix weeks before his death (which happened in March 1750), and addressed to John Wilkes, Esq.
“ I own, if it had been the will of heaven, I would have gladly lived, till I had put in order the second part of the Inquiry, thewing the immortality of the human soul : but infinite wisdom cannot be mistaken in calling me sooner. Our' blindness makes us form wishes. I have left leven or eight manuscript books, where all the materials I have been collecting, for near thirty years, are put down, without any order, in the book that came next to hand, in the place or circumstances I was in at the time. There are a great many miscellaneous subjects in philosophy, of a very serious nature, few of them ever confidered before, as I know of. But (as I hinted above) a short time of separate existence, will make every good man look with pity on the deepest researches we make here, and which we are apt to be vain of."
From the Editor's address to the reader, it appears, that no part of these writings, except that which conftitutes the firit lection of this performance, was esteemed fit for the public infpection, in its original form; and that throughout all the rest, it was found indispensably necessary to cast anew inany passages, to lop redundancies in some, and to supply deficiencies in others, He elsewhere observes, and with some justice, that the style and manner, though retouched throughout, where it was most re. quifite, may probably ftill appear to many readers rather uncouth and dry, and that to these, a lighter work, in a more fashionable garb, and less replete with solid sense, might have been more entertaining. It is unhappily,' he observes, ' in that more acceptable form, that such readers commonly receive the poison, against wbich the proper antidote is here administered without disguise, or specious colouring.' á After having given this history of the origin, &c. of the present publication, we fhall conhine ourselves to the forming *
Mort summary of its contents; after premising, that the argu ments contained in it are not of the metaphysical and abstracted kind, but are founded chiefly on observations more level to common apprehension, or which come home to men's bosoms.
AFter proving the existence of a first cause, infinite in goodness, wisdom, and all other perfections, the Author proceeds to thew that, if the human soul were mortal, our existence would be
a thing without design, irrelative, incomplete :'--that the immortality of the foul is indicated by the natural affections of man, or by the nature of his rational pleasures, and by that of the infinitely rational being who is the Author of the soul :that, on the supposition of the soul's mortality, many things confesledly unreasonable to be practised become reasonable, because consistent with the present nature and constitution of man; and, on the other hand, the perfection and improvement of reafon becomes irrational, on the same supposition :-that man, by the nature and constitution of his body, and in every condition of life, is susceptible of more pain than pleasure; and that therefore, on the hypothesis of the mortality of the soul, we are brought into being, to be inevitably miserable while we exist, and then sink back into nothing ;-a proposition that contradiets that fundamental truth, the existence of an infinitely good being :--that the suppofition of the mortality of the soul is fub. versive of morality, or incompatible with the right rule of action :- and that the prepofTefion that we shall always exift, or always continue conscious of our existence, is inseparable from the constitution of human nature; this belief influencing, more or less, the sentiments and actions of all men, even those not excepted who affect to maintain the negative *
These are the principal topics, delivered nearly in the Author's own language, that are, very copiously, díscuffed in this performance; which carries the most convincing internal evidence of its being the production of the ingenious and worthy Author of the Enquiry into the Nature of the human soul; to which
On this head, the Editor takes norice of the remarkable incogs fiftency between two passages, extracted from a late work of a celebraced historian.-"Seveçał tribes have been discovered in America," says the celebrated Dr. Robertson," which have no idea whatever of a Supreme Being, and no rites of religious worship.” (Hift. of America, B. IV. p. 381.] Let the reflecting reader compare this with the following passage from the same elegant writer, and judge of their confiltency. “We can trace this opinion (of the immortali, ty of the foul) from one extremity of America to the other; in some regions, more faint and obscure, in others, more perfectly develop ed, but nowhere unknown. The most ur.civilised of its savage tribes do not apprehend death as the extinction of being. All hope for a future and more happy Italę."-Ibid. p. 3870
the present publication forms an excellent, though perhaps rather too bulky an appendix.
ART. IX. Ejay; Moral and Literary. By the Rev. Mr. Knox,
Master of Tunbridge School, and late Fellow of St. John's Cola lege, Oxford. Vol. II. Small 8vo. 3 $. 6 d. sewed. Dilly, 1779.
Tis, perhaps, a proof of his modesty, that this ingenious and scale of Authorship, than Esay-writing, in its present exhausted ftate, can possibly raise him to. The first volume t of Elays moral and literary, displayed a juftness of thinking and an elegance of expreffion, which we wished to see directed to the elucidation of some particular and interesting subject, instead of being scattered over many. To reclaim one acre from the waste, and to bring it under cultivation, is of greater utility than to bestow the same portion of toil on ninety and nine that are already manured by art and industry.-On subjects that lie level to common observation (and to these the Effayist is chiefly confined), what is left us in this late age but to repeat what has been often repeated, and to express that which has been expreffed a thousand times before? The skill, indeed, of placing received truths in new lights, and of clothing them in sprightly and graceful language, implies a secondary kind of merit which ought not to be undervalued. And this skill and this merit some celebrated writings of the periodical form have aimed at and have attained: but even here the hope of success is daily lessening; and with all the praise that is due to Mr. Knox's Effays, we may be allowed to suspect, that had they been published periodically, i. e. SEPARATELY, they would have attracted no great share of the public notice. If, however, in the second volume of this Gentleman's detached performances, now before us, his readers be not much enlightened by any discoveries of what is new, not much enlivened by any uncommon turns given to what is known, they may at leaft reap an innocent pleasure from the perusal of just sentiments, clothed in polished language.
The subjects. discussed in this volume are the following:
On Essay Writing Classical Education vindicated. Strictures on Modern Ethics. On the Retirement of a Country Town. On Epiftolary Writers. On the Happiness of Domestic Life. On the Merits of Cowley, as a Poct. Letters the Source of Consolation. On Oriental Poetry, particularly that of Isaiah. On the Principles of Conversation. On the Grave and Gay Philosophy. On the Pleasures of a Garden. The Story
+ For an account of Ms. Koox's first volume, fee our Review, vol. Iviii. p. 136. The Author's name was not then printed with his works 4
of , a Student. On Satire and Satirists. On Preaching, and Sermon Writers. On Logic and Metaphysics. On Latin Verse as an Exercise at Schools. On Novel Reading. Oa Monumental Inscriptions. On the Character of Atticus, On Biography. On Hospitality, and the little Civilities of Life. On the Merits of Illustrious Birth. On Lord Chancellor Bacon. On the Professions. On Simplicity of Style in Prosaic Composition. On Affectation of the Character of Sportimen.
On some of the Minor English Poets. On the Neceflity of Attention to Things as well as Books. On the Amusement of Music, On the choice of Books. On the Influence of Fashion. On Female Literature. On Parental Indulgence. On the ill Effects of proving by Argument Truths already admitted. On Affectation of Female Learning. On Speculative Criticism, and on Genius. On the Superior Value of Solid Accomplishments. On the Propriety of adorning Life by some laudable Exertion.
These Ellays take in so large a compass of discussion, and the subjects of them lie so wide of each other, that it is no easy matter to ascertain their separate merits, and utterly imposible to enter into them with minuteness. We shall just observe, that those of a moral caft evidently flow from a heart warmly attached to the interests of society and the cause of virtue. The fixth Essay, in particular,' On the Happiness of domestic Life, cannot fail of impreiling the Readers with an amiable prejudice in favour of its Author, and with a consequent belief that he is in private life what Pope describes Mr. Gay to have been,
“ Of manners gentle, of affections mild,” The sentiments contained in it are certainly not new; but can we expect novelty on this subject? or would it be for the honour of human nature that novelty should be found on a theme like this?
In Eflay VIII. we are presented with a series of refledions which may serve as a comment on an elegant passage in the Preface to this volume. Mr. Knox there tells us, that in whata ever manner his book fall be received, he will not think the time loft that was spent in composing it, since it was passed at least innocently, and furnished a sweet relief in those moments of forrow which are occasionally the lot of all who feel and think, and from which he has not been exempted.' The arguments by which he proves. Letters the source of Confolation will rete dily recommend themselves to men of taste and sensibility. The superiority which the pursuits of literature enjoy over those of interest or ambition, is a favourite topic with the sons of learning. In lavishing all their eloquence upon it, they sometimes forget that they make themselves judges in their own cause; and that in the sentence they pronounce, pride and vanity will be suspected
to have some thate. Mr. Knox confines his observations to points in which there is less danger of this fufpicion, when he represents the influence that ' Letters' poffefs to footh the mind in the hour of dejection, and to lighten the burthen of distress.
Under the title of * Literary Effays we suppose Mr. Knox classes his critical productions. The term literary has yet acquired no appropriate fignification in our language. It is included in that of Essay. It is therefore equally descriptive of every species of composition, and characteristic of none.
In the province of criticism, this Gentleman discovers rather a correct and classical taste, than any superior degree of originality, or depth of penetration. His aversion to logic and metaphyfics (which the abuse of these studies may almost juftify in its excess) is difcernible even here. Fearful of being abftrule, he is too loose and indeterminate in his remarks: in avoiding the charge of fubtilty, he gives into a languid style of criticism and spiritless obfervation, from which little improvement will be derived by those who are moderately tinctured with this sort of literature. The Effays on “ Preaching and Sermon Writers,'and on the Ckoice of Books,' are too superficial and too futile to merit a place in this work. Those on · Simplicity of Style - on
Epistolary Writers'— On some of the Minor English Poets,' are elegant, but contain no very striking remarks. The Effay On Oriental Poetry' is of an higher order ; and exhibits a rich and flowing style, at the same time that it abounds with ingenious and solid observations,
The undistinguishing censure which Mr. Knox pafles on the kindred studies of Logic and Metaphysics,' and the heat and passion with which he is carried away when he speaks of Modern Ethics,' may incline some of his Readers to suspect that he is himself no very accurate reasoner, and that he does not understand very clearly what he condemns so decisively. We hope too he is mistaken in the fact he alleges. He observes with a sort of triumph, that even Malebranche and Locke, the most rational of the metaphysicians, are daily losing ground. "As a task they are attended to in public seminaries, where some obsolete plan of study requires metaphysical exercises; but the multitude of more agreeable works seldom leave time of inclination to the student who is at liberty to chufe his books for the controversy concerning innate ideas.'
We have too much respect for Mr. Locke's writings not to regret that they are falling into neglect. If the fact be fo, we
Mr. Knox is guilty of the same inaccuracy when he talks of bua Siness. civil of professional. With no propriety can professional be distinguithed from civil, unless he means the profeflion of the fword.' In this case civil or military would have been better.