1902 Encyclopedia > English Literature > English Literature

English Literature
(Part 9)


Cowper, Burns, Sheridan, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne...

In the early part of this period, Pope, who died in 1744, was still the great literary force; for most of the remainder of it, that honour belonged to Samuel Johnson. Nothing can more strongly demonstrate the vitality of the political principles which triumphed at the Revolution than the fact that both these great men, though in secret they abhorred the compromise, had no choice but to acquiesce in it. Pope, whose grounds of dislike were both religious and political, indemnified himself for his acquiescence by many a scornful gibe and bitter sarcasm leveled at the German family which had seated itself on the Stuart throne. Witness the mocking adulation of the opening lines of the epistle to Augustus (George II), or the scathing satire with which he pursued the memory of queen Caroline both in the Dunciad and the Epilogue to the Satires, though he knew, and even "manifested the utmost courage and resolution." Johnson, whose objection to the compromise was almost wholly political, was an arrant Jacobite in feeling to the end of his days. One of his earliest productions, the Marmor Norfolciense, is a clever and cutting Jacobite squib. Allusions in his satire of London (1738) show the same political colour, and probably had much to do with the sympathizing approval which Pope expressed for the unknown poet, who, he said, would soon be deterre. And although, after he had accepted a pension from George III., he could not decently, as he smilingly admitted to Boswell, " drink King James’s health in the wine that King George gave him the money to pay for," yet the old feeling lurked in his mind, and found violent expression in a recorded conversation as late as 1777. "He had this evening. . . . . a violent argument with Dr Taylor as to the inclinations of the people of England at this time towards the royal family of Stuart. He grew so outrageous as to say that, ‘if England were fairly polled, the present king would be sent away tonight, and his adherents hanged tomorrow.’

But, in general, the compromise met with inward no less than outward assent on the part of all the leading minds of the nation, literary men and divines equally with statesmen. For the first part of the period, the resolute common sense of Walpole, and the moderate churchmanship of Warburton, accurately represented the English mind. The defect of a compromise is, as was said in the last section, that it does not kindle enthusiasm; under it politics and politicians are apt to grow dull and vapid. Such a state of things prevailed at the time of the rising of 1745, when the young Pretender was not very far from succeeding, from sheer inertness on the part of those concerned in upholding the Revolution settlement. Soon afterwards there was a change. Young men grew up, before whose eyes floated visions of an expanding empire; the rapid advance of the American colonies, the success of Englishmen in India, on both which fields France was then our rival, stimulated the genius of the elder Pitt, and furnished themes for the eloquence of Burke. Then the value of those principles of political liberty which had been consolidated at the Revolution came to be understood. Through these Pitt achieved in the Seven Years’ War his memorable triumph over the absolute monarchies of France and Spain; and at the Peace of Paris (1763) England stood at the greatest height of national glory which is recorded in her history. Yet the brilliant scene was soon overcast. A Tourism without ideas, which was but in fact the portion of revolution Whiggism which refused to move with the times, aided by the personal influence of a narrow-minded, illiberal king, got possession of the administration, and immediately everything went wrong. The American war succeeded, and neither the authority of Chatham nor the enlightenment of Burke and Wyndham could prevent its ending in disaster. Soon after the Peace of Versailles the younger Pitt, then a sincere Whig, came into power. He applied himself with great skill and industry to the work of binding firmly together that inheritance of empire,- still sufficiently ample,- which the peace had left us, when in the middle of his task he was suddenly confronted by the portentous outbreak of the French revolution.

This period witnessed the foundation of the science of political economy by Adam Smith, whose memorable Inquiry into the Nature and causes of the wealth of Nations appeared in 1776. It also produced several eminent historians and philosophers, of whose works some notice will be taken presently. In other departments of literature, after the death of Pope, it was but poorly distinguished. Gray will be long remembered for the beauty and melody of some of his pieces,- the Elegy in a Country Churchyard, the bard, and the Progress of Poesy. In the elegant poems of Goldsmith occur passage of sentiment, e.g., the famous lines "Ill fares the land," &c., which read like anticipants of Rousseau. The satires of Churchill, though vigorous and pointed, are founded upon no intelligible principle; they have no universal character, like those of Pope, nor do they represent any definite political or religious view; rather they are dictated by mere national prejudice (e.g., the Prophecy of famine, a tirade against the Scotch), or by vulgar partisanship,- the eternal animosity of the outs against the ins. The Rosciad was a satire upon a stage sunk so low as not be worth satirizing. There is much sweetness and grace in the verses of Shenstone; they formed part of the intellectual food which nourished the strong soul of Burns. Collins’s Ode to the Passions, so much praised by our grandfathers, is gradually passing out of ken. The Night Thoughts of Young demand our notice, as the work of a man of large intellectual capacity, though of ignoble character. His meditations, though they never pass into the mystical or transcendental stage, are just and edifying; in applying them he displays a rich sermonizing vein; but a flavour of cant hangs about his most ambitious efforts. Beattie’s Minstrel, a poem in the Spenserian stanza, deserves a passing word of commendation; it unites manly dignity to refinement and delicacy of feeling. Cowper, even on the brink of insanity, resorted to literature in order to prevent his mind from preying itself. An amiable piety makes his task, a long moralizing poem in blank verse, attractive to many minds; from the mere literary point of view, it must be allowed to be a feeble production. As he gained more confidence in himself, he developed a curious sort of mild feline humour, which appears in the delightful ballad of John Gilpin, and in several shorter pieces. The strength which had been wanting all his life came to him near its close, and inspired him to write those stanzas of wondrous majesty and beauty which have the title of The Castaway;- unhappily it was the strength of spiritual despair.

Beyond the tweed, as Johnson was sinking towards the grave, and when the voice of English poetry had almost ceased to sound, a man of genius was coming to maturity, whose direct and impassioned utterances, straight from the heart of nature, were to reduce the frigid imitators of Pope to their proper insignificance, to startle the dull worshippers of the conventional, and to prepare the English-speaking world for that general break-up of formulas which the tempest of the French Revolution was about to initiate. Robert Burns was a native force; no foreign literature moulded him, no influence of Continental thought either made or marred him. He had the education of a Scottish peasant, and his self-culture does not appear to have consisted in much more than reading Pope and Shenstone, the Spectator, Sterne’s novels, and a few other popular books. His natural powers were of the finest and highest order. Truly writes his countryman, the late Professor Craik: "Burn’s head was a strong as his heart; his natural sagacity, logical faculty, and judgement were of the first order; no man, of poetical or prosaic temperament, ever had a more substantial intellectual character." The man being such, and such the equipment with which education and circumstance had furnished him, we observe with interest that he came into serious collision, on becoming complete master of his powers, with the religious system,- that of the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland,- in which he had been brought up. It neither awed, nor attracted, nor convince him. He never wrote more powerfully, or with a more searching humour, than when employed in exposing the hypocrisy and fanaticism of certain of its ministers. If he had friends among them, it was among the "Moderates", a party corresponding to the Broad Church clergy of the present day, whom their colleagues in the Presbyterian ministry regarded with undisguised abhorrence. Religion, therefore established no control over him, and unhappily this splendid nature found no resource in philosophy, nor moral strength within; which could avail to save him from the tyrrany of his passions. "Vina, Venus,"- two out of the three banes spoken of by the Roman epigrammatist,- undermined too soon that stalwart frame, and silvered that glorious head. He died in his thirty-seventh year in 1796, leaving behind him, besides a few longer pieces, more than 200 songs, among which may be found gems of pathos, melody, and beauty, which may nation might be proud to wear in its intellectual coronet.

In the history of the drama during this period, the most noteworthy feature is the return of Shakespeare to the stage, brought about, soon after the middle of the century, by the reverent zeal of Garrick. When Drury Lane theatre was opened in 1747, chiefly for the performance of Shakespeare’s plays, Johnson wrote the celebrated Prologue which was delivered on the occasion, describing the great dramatist as "exhausting worlds and then imagining new", as spurning the "bounded reign" of real existence, and forcing time to "pant after him in vain". Comedy, no longer gross had become commonplace. From this reproach the two admirable plays of Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer and The Good-Natured Man, temporarily freed it; nor could it be justly imputed during the period of Sheridan’s connection with the stage, from 1775 to 1780. But the wit that blazes,- the fun that sparkles,- in the scenes of the Rivals and the Critic, are of no purely English growth. Sheridan’s Irish birth and Celtic temperament must be largely credited with the brightness and permanent attractiveness of his displays.

Prose fiction, which more and more came to supply that kind of intellectual distraction which had before been sought in the drama, and aided by the printing press, to diffuse its blessings (if they are blessings) to strata of the population which the drama had never reached, was employed in this period by several writers of rare ability. Fielding’s Tom Jones and Amelia, Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe and Sir Charles Grandison, made the same kind of stir in general society that had been caused by Dryden’s heroic plays some eighty years before. An ingenious French critic (Philarete Chasles) has attempted to trace in the works of these writers the conflict, though much transformed, of the Puritans and Cavaliers of an earlier age. Lovelace, he thinks, represents the insolent temper and disregard for morality of the aristocratic Cavaliers; Clarissa, his victim, the daughter of a virtous middle class family, exhibits the substantial rectitude of that "gold old cause", which licentious courts could persecute but could not subdue. Fielding, the aristocrat, recalls and continuous the jovial recklessness of the men of the Restoration; Richardson, the plebeian, is in the line of Milton, Penn,Fox, Bunyan, and other witnesses. Yet these resemblancea are after all superficial. It is true that Fielding cannot help writing like a gentleman, and a member of an ancient house; while Richardson, though he is fond of giving titles to his characters, betrays perhaps by his seriousness his breeding among the upper and most respectable classes of the proletariat. But when we look more closely, we find that both Fielding and Richardson adhere firmly to the Revolution-compromise, both in religion and politics- and the one quite as much as the other. Fielding is as zealous a Protestant as Bunyan or Baxter; and the doctrine of non-resistance was rejected by him as warmly as by the Whig prosecutors of Sachevere ll. Richardson, again, is neither a republican nor a nonconformist. He finds no objection, on the score of tolerance and latitude, to the church of Burnet, Tillotson, and Hoadly; and the hereditary presidency which the Act of Settlement had vested in the Hanoverian family was too feeble and offensive to excite the breast of the most zealous of whigs fears of the preponderance of the regal power in the constitution. Both Richardson and Fielding are entirely satisfied with the political and religious constitution of the land they live in. Dismissing such fancies, let us consider what were the actual occasions which led to the production of Pamela and the novels which followed it, and in what relation they stand to preceding literary work. They were in the main at once the symptoms and the developing causes of a reaction against the sentimental romances with which ladies and gentlemen had stuffed their heads and beguiled their time in the 17th and in the early part of the 18th century. A list of the chief works of this kind of literature is to be found in Addison’s amusing paper on Leonora’s library (Spectator, No. 37); it includes Sidney’s Arcadia, the Grand Cyrus, Cassandra, Pharamond, Cleopatra, &c., the works named being all translations from the French romances of Scudery and Calprenede. The excessive popularity of this kind of reading is intimated by Addison when he says (No. 92), adverting to letters which he has received in relation to his project of forming a perfect "lady’s library," that he has been "advised to place Pharamond at the head of hi catalogue, and, if he thinks proper, to give the second place to Cassandra." In the character of Leonora herself, Addison mildly ridicules the sentimentality, affectation, and unreality which such reading, carried to excess, engenders. Richardson, whose father was a Derbyshire joiner, and who was brought up to the trade of a printer, in which he persevered all his life and prospered, had reached his fiftieth year when he was requested by two London booksellers to write for publication a series of Familiar Letters, for the instruction of persons who did not know how to express themselves properly in writing about the ordinary affairs of life. He consented, but proposed to give a moral and improving turn to the instruction to be communicated; to this the booksellers at once agreed. While he was writing model letters giving advice to young women going out to service, the incidents of a story which had come within his own experience occurred to his mind. It seemed to him that this story, if told by way of "letters," in an easy and natural manner, suitable to the simplicity of it, might possibly introduce a new species of writing that might turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance writing, and, dismissing the improbable and marvelous, with which novels generally abound, might tend to promote the cause of religion and virtue". The heroine of his tale was a simple country girl, without book-learning, but strong in virtue and honesty of heart, to whom he gave the name Pamela (one of the two pricesses in Sidney’s Arcadia), as if to show that, to quote from Emerson, "the life of man is the true romance, which, if it be valiantly conducted, will yield the imagination a higher charm than any fiction." Pamela’s virtue is assailed by the young libertine in whose house she is living as a servant; she resists him. And her "virtue" is "rewarded" (this is the second title of the book) by the homour and glory of marriage with this reprobate, who, being a fine gentleman, and stooping to a union with a "lass of low degree," atones for all past shortcomings by this amazing condescension. The book was well received; Pope, then declining towards the tomb, praised it as "likely to do more good than twenty volumes of sermons." There was, however, a strain of vulgarity in the manner in which the catastrophe of this romance of real life was narrated; and this defect was noted by the eagle eye of Fielding. As a burlesque upon Pamela. He wrote (1742) the Adventures of Joseph Andrews. Joseph is a virtuous footman who resists the improper advances of the titled lady in whose service he is; this of course was mere jest and caricature; in the end Joseph, instead of, like Pamela, marrying out of his condition, is wedded, as common sense would dictate, to a pretty modest girl of his own rank. The bent of his own powers, and the suitableness of this new field for their employment, must have been revealed to Fielding while writing Joseph Andrews. Till now it had been his ambition to shine as a dramatist, and he had produced some plays of no inconsiderable merit; but soon after the appearance of his first novel he quitted the stage and gave up the remainder of his life, so far as it was not engrossed by the duties of a zealous police magistrate, partly to the production of essays on social topics, partly to novel-writing. Tom Jones (1749) is allowed to be his master-piece; it is one of the finest pieces of character-painting to be found in the whole range of literature. Yet it must be understood that Fielding’s character belong to a social medium from which the ideal and the heroic are shut out by the conditions of its existence; the "compromise" which England had accepted repressed enthusiasm and a high strain of virtue in every direction; creations, therefore, possessing the immortal interest of some of those in Don Quixote could be expected from him who has been sometimes called the " English Cervantes." But taking them as they are, the characters of Tom Jones and Blifil, of Thwackum and Square, present us with inimitable types. Tom Jones, as the generous, manly youth, whom passion hurries into vice, but good feeling and innate rectitude never fail to rescue, is contrasted with the artful hypocrite Blifil, whose outward demeanour pays a homage to virtue which his secret practices and desires undo. Thwackum, the pedagogue, shows what comes of a pedantic learning which has nothing of the largeness of true culture; Square, the thinker, exhibits the moral decadence that results from a groveling philosophy. In 1748 Richardson published Clarissa Harlowe, and in 1753 Sir Charles Grandison; both these novels are in the epistolary form. Clarissa soon obtained a European reputation, the sentimental metaphysics which constitute so large a portion of it being exactly to the taste of a large number of readers in France and Switzerland. Rousseau adopted the style, while corrupting the principles. Of the English author, when he wrote his Nouvelle Heloise. The casuistry of love and seduction is interminable; so also is the novel of Clarissa, yet perhaps no reader who had launched fairly into it ever put the book down unfinished.. It excites a deep tragic interest which no formal tragedy. Produced uin England had awakened for several generations; the noble Clarrisa, dying because she cannot brook a strain which yet touched not her will, nor came near her conscience is spectacle pathetic and touching in the extreme the chivalrous, but provokingly perfect, Sir Charles Gandison was the character created by Richardson as a kind of contrast to, and compensation for he aristocratic villain, Lovelace . His embarrassing situation between two lovely women who both adore him and both of whom he loves, the English Hariret and the Italian Clementina.though in the brief telling it seems absurd. Is managed in the novel with so much art and resemblanced as to inspire the reader during seven volumes with a genuine perplexity and solicitude. His abrupt half- declaration to Harriet " Honour forbids me; yet honour bids me yet I cannot be in just, ungenerous, selfish, is a delicious modern which can never fail to captivate, and fill attendressement, souls of sensibility. After Richardson and Fielding came smollet, with his Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker, novels or coarser mould and Sterned with Tristram Shandy abnd Sentimental Journey. As works of humour, which contain also several admirable and minutely draw pictures of character, the two last named works or at any rate Tristam Shandy, stand alone in our literature; but they are not in the proper sense of the terms novels. It is interesting to note that Sheridan borrowed some of his most popular characters from the novelist; Charles and Joseph surface are evident copies of Tom Jones and Blifil; while Tabitha Bamble and Sir uric Macklligut are not less manifestly the originals of Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Luciouys O’trigger. These are not the only resemblances; I fact Hymphrey Clinker is the mine out of which Sheridan dug The Rivals. Nothing was more common, in the drama of the Elizabethan age, than for the paly-wrights to take their plots from novels. But in the present case we note a difference in the epode of procedure, which is marked testimony to the increased relative importance of the novel. The Elizabethan dramatists borrowed only names and incidents; they created their characters. The Georgian dramatist often borrowed their characters ready made from the pages of the novels,, now with a warmer life and richer coloring than their own. To the novels already mentioned Goldsmiths Vicar of Wakefield (1766) must be added, the book which first Goether’s attention to English, literature and disclosed the hitherto unsuspected idyllic side of the existence of the good Protestant village pastor. To pass over inferior writes ( Frances Burney, Henry Mackenzie etc.) enough has been said to show that England, after the middle of the 18th century, obtained a school of novel writers of her own, and shook herself free from the trammels alike of French classicism and French romanticism; nor have the able writers who then came into prominence ever wanted worth successors down to the preset day.

The luminous intellect of Voltaire had, in the Essai sur les moeurs, cast a fresh light on history, which was soon reflected in the writings of English students in this field. In the preface to the Essai, Voltaire said that the question was no longer to inform the worked in what year a prince who did not deserve to be remembered succeeded another barabarian like himself, in the midst of a rude and coarse nation. Henceforth it would be the business of a historian to seek out, amidst the throng of recorded events," that which deserves to be known by us, the spirit, the manners, the usages of the principal nations, Not believingly in Christianity, and looking to intellectual and literary culture as the great means of human progress, Voltaire naturally regarded the history of the first ten centuries of our era as " no more deserving of being known than the history of the wolves and the bears:" feudalism and the Middle ages filled him with disgust; it was only when he came to the Renaisance, with its revival of learning its, tolerance of theological differences and its love of polish, that he seemed to find anything worth writing a history about Hume, composing of History of England (1752) under the influence of ideas not very dissimilar to those of Voltaire, and commencing with the Stuart period, was not likely to write favorably of the Puritansm who were neither tolerant nor polished. His work accordingly game much offence to the Whig party, which had inherited the political traditions of Puritanism. Robertson’s historical pictures, of Scotland of Charles V. and of the settlement of America, did not, except incidentally, go back beyond the period of the Renaissance; the actions of men who lived before that age seemed to him scarcely on a par with the ‘ dignity of history". Gibbon’s great work, the Decline and Fall of The Roman empire, is designed to trace the gradual political debilitation of the empire, and the extinction of letters and arts through ravages of the barbarians; thence passing with a firm and vigorous step through the long night of barabarism he dilates with eloque and delight on the story of there kindling of the flame of learning and the renewed appreciation of beauty and refinement, which characterized the Italian Renaissance of the 14th and 15*/.th Centuries. We see that the historians of the 18th century, our own among the number, regarded the early and middle ages of our era as the province of the antiquary and the annalist rather than the historian proper, who if he dealth with them at all, should dispatch them in brief summaries, in which, assuming an air of great superiority, he should try the men of the 9th or any other early century by the prevalent ideas of the eightieth. Obviously, in the age in which we live, we have ‘ changed all that: the age of Renaissance no longer, presents itself to our eyes with such an overpowering luster, and research into the motives and cast of thought of a Charlemagne or a Henry II, seems to us no longer beneath the " dignity of history".

In theology, one very remarkable work belongs to this period, Butlers Analogy of Religion to the Constitution and Course of Nature ( 1736). This is an apologetic work, and a may perhaps be regarded as the last work it the deistical controversy. Butte, whose and fairness of mind are truly admirable, and who does not pretend that the inquiry which he institutes leads to more than probable conclusions, argues in this work that it is just as difficult to believe nature to have proceeded from and to be ruled by God, as to admit that Christianity a divine origin. This line of reasoning, though cogent as against the diest, most of whom admitted a divine author of nature is obviously insufficient meet the skepticism of the present day, which, embracing the theory off evolution., either rejects the belief in a First Course altogether, or declines to examine it, as lying beyond the scope of the human faculties, The sermons of Bishop Butles, in which he establish against Hobbes the fat of the existence in the human mind of disinterested affections and dispositions pointing to the good of others, belongs rather to the department of Philosophy than that of theology.

The philosophical speculations of this period may be described as a series of oscillations round Locke’s Essay of the Human Understanding, Hume taking Locke’s principles and turning them into a theory of skepticism; Hutche son starting the theory of a new " sense" never dreamed of before, the moral sense; Hartly and Priestly developing Lockes’s sensationalism into materialism; while the Scotch school (Reid, "Beattie, Dugald Stewart), recoiling from the consequences of Locke’s system, attempted to smuggle "innate ideas" back into philosophy under the names of " common sense" instinctive Judgments" irresistible beliefs and so forth. Such brief examination of these writers as our limits allow will make our meaning clearer.

Locke’s system, says Dugald Stewart, in making sensation and reflection the sources of all our simple ideas led him " to some dangerous opinions concerning the nature of moral distinctions, which eh seems to have considered as the offspring of education and fashion. How Berkeley combated the tendencies of Locke’s princip0les we have already seen. Hutcheson, and Irishman of great acuteness, who was appointed to a philosophical chair at Glasgow in 1729, unwilling to admit that our moral idea shad no other ultimate source than sensation, yet wishing to conform as much as possible to Locke’s terminology, referred the "origin of our moral ideas to a particular power of perception, to which he gave the name of the moral sense.." But this was to use the word "sense" in a different meaning from what it had ever borne before; inasmuch as the objects of this so-called sense, being the qualities of moral actions, must be of necessity incorporeal, intangible, and imperceptible, and, as such, totally unlike the objects of the faculties commonly called senses, viz, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, &c. Nor was anything gained for the independence and immutability of morality; fo it was argued by commentators on Hutcheson that, if the moral faculty were a "sense" then the qualities perceived by it, like the secondary qualities of material objects perceived by sensation and reflection, must be understood as subjective not objective, as existing in and for the perceiving mind alone, and not inherent in the actions themselves, which would thus become colourless and neutral, i.e., destitute of moral character.

A return upon skepticism was a frequent in the history of the Greek schools of thought, especially when the principles of opposing systems had been put forth with unusual warmth, and their supports had found reconciliation and the explanation of differences out of the question. An example of this, in the history of English thought, is furnished by the case of Hume. Provoked by the extravagant paradoxes of Berkely, who had ecclesiastical and professional reasons for trying to convince men that material objects had no reality,- mind was everything,- since the mystical and unnatural state of mind so engendered would favour the reception of any theology the philosopher might afterwards desire to implant, - Hume undertook to prove that mind had no real existence any more than matter, or that, if it had, such existence could not be proved. When I talk of "my mind", he said, how do I know that there is anything really existent which corresponds to the words. By the impressions and sensations of which I am conscious? But these only prove themselves; no one of course denies them; I only deny at least I say you cannot prove, the existence of an entity in which these impressions inhere, and to which you give the name of "mind". If these was no flaw in such reasoning, philosophy was brought to a stand, and no certainty of any kind was attainable by the human faculties.

Before the Scotch school and the great Immanuel Kant appeared to challenge these conclusions, David Hartley, in his Observations on Man (1749), espoused the tenets of Locke, and applied all his ingenuity to explaining the origin of as much of our knowledge as he could with any plausibility so treat, by reffering it to the physical principle of the "association of ideas".

In the treatise already referred to, Hume declares that he does not wish to undermine or even to combat any man’s belief; his aim was only to demolish bad logic, to expose the emptiness of alleged proofs of the divine government which were no proofs at all, and to make men see that "belief is more properly an act of the sensitive than of the cogitative part of our nature." The line of thought suggested by this and similar expressions appears to have been taken up and eagerly pursued by Reid, who, in his the Principles Inquiry into the Human Mind upon of Common sense (1764), maintains that a large, and not the least important part of our knowledge is acquired, not, as Locke asserted, through sensation and reflection, but by means of immediate and instinctive judgments, in forming which the common sense of all mankind is at one. The moral faculty, according to Reid, judges of right and wrong in this instinctive way; it is a branch of common sense. Beattie, who was a better poet than he was a philosopher, pushed Reid’s theory to an extreme which bordered on the ridiculous, including among the "irresistible" and "necessary" beliefs of the human mind a number of notions which are really of a historic and derivative character. Dr Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, adopting the system of Locke as a basis, wrote on Matter and Spirit, criticized the philosophy of Reid, and discussed the tenet of philosophical necessity; a strong materialistics bias pervades his writings. A greater thinker than any that Europe had witnessed since Descartes, now arose in Germany. This was Kant, whose ambition it was to put a period to the desolating prevalence of skepticism, and deliver philosophy from the instability and uncertainty by which it had been long beset. His Critique of the Pure Reason appeared about 1781. Against Locke, he showed that the mind can form neither conceptions nor judgments without the pre-existence in the thought of the absolute and universal ideas of time, space, unity, cause, being, &c.,- which ideas proceed from the intelligence itself, without any action being exerted on the organs of sensation. They are a prior, that is prior to sensible experience; they belong to the pure reason, and may be regarded as the forms of which the understanding applies to the material furnished by perceptions. He does not, however, allow that these ideas, though a priori, have any objective character; and for this metaphysical subjectivism he has been strenuously assailed by the Platonizing and orthodox schools of the present day. Against the materialists he maintains, in the Critique of the Practical Reason, that the "moral motive" or principle, which the intelligence (called in this aspect the practical reason) furnishes us with for the direction of our will, is immutable,- absolute,- necessary- given a priori by the reason, and presenting to us the supreme and universal good as the final end of our existence, our desires, and our efforts. This motive is duty, or the moral obligations imposed on the human will by the power above it which consequently is not man himself. To the knowledge, therefore derived from the practical reason, Kant ascribes an objective character, which, as we saw, he denied to the forms of the pure reason. This law of duty supposes liberty in man as the very condition of the obligation which it imposes on him. Here of course Kant is at variance with the necessitarians and materialist. There being a necessary connection between virtue, e.i., the obedience to duty, and the supreme good which it seeks, yet his connection being only partially realizable in this life, Kant infers the reality of a future life and the immorality of the soul. And, in view of our powerlessness to bring about this harmony between happiness and virtue, he infers the existence of a First Cause, infinitely powerful, just, and wise, which will establish it hereafter. The colossal system of Kant was known to Dugald Stewart (whose first work, Outlines of Moral Philosophy, appeared in 1793), but only through the medium of an imperfect Latin translation; from this cause, probably, he is thought to have failed to do full justice to it. Dugald Stewart, who was appointed to the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh in 1785, was the master of a clear and charming style, which made his lectures the delight of a large circle of pupils. Among these were numbered not a few, in the spheres both of thought and action, who have left their mark on the age and the society to which they belonged,- Brougham, LordPalmerston, Lord Russe, Francis Horner, Lord Landsdowne, Jeffrey, Sir walter Scott, Sydney Smith, James Mill, Alison the historian, and Dr Chalmers,- a varied and brilliant auditory for one professor to have lectured to and influenced in his day. One of the most interesting of Stewart’s numerous works is his Dissertation concerning the Progress of Metaphysical, Ethical, and Political Philosophy since the Rivival of Letters in Europe. In his Outlines (the work above mentioned), he argued, keeping generally to the lines of Butler and Hutcheson, that there is a moral faculty in man, that is guided by duty not by interest, and that these two are not in the present state of the world identical, nor are the feelins that are inspired by actions prompted by the one of the same as those which are suggested by actions prompted by the other. Right and wrong, he thinks must be held to be intrinsic qualities of actions, not merely modes of the mind observing those actions. Everywhere he is firm and explicit on the immutability of moral distinctions. In fact, in its general outcome his ethical philosophy resembles pretty closely that of Kant; but it is not thought out with the same rigour of logic; nor founded on as searching a psychological analysis, nor expressed in as exact a terminology, as belong to the writings of the philosopher of Konigsberg.

Read the rest of this article:
English Literature - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries