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I do not mean, my Lord, by the mention of this example, to insinuate, that any popular opinion which your Lordship may have encountered, ought to be compared with transubstantiation, or that the assurance with which we reject that extravagant absurdity, is attainable in the controversies in which your Lordship has been engaged: but I mean, by calling to mind those great reformers of the public faith, to observe, or rather to express my own persuasion, that to restore the purity, is most effectually to promote the progress of Christianity; and that the same virtuous motive which hath sanctified their labours, suggested yours. At a time when some men appear not to perceive any good, and others to suspect an evil tendency, in that spirit of examination and research which is gone forth in Christian countries, this testimony is become due, not only to the probity of your Lordship's views, but to the general cause of intellectual and religious liberty.
That your Lordship’s life may be prolonged in health and honour; that it may continue to afford an instructive proof, how serene and easy old age can be made by the memory of important and well-intended labours, by the possession of public and deserved esteem, by the presence of many grateful relatives ; above all, by the resources of religion, by an unshaken confidence in the designs of a 'faithful Creator,' and a settled trust in the truth and in the promises of Christianity; is the fervent prayer of,
In the treatises that I have met with upon the subject of morals, I appear to myself to have remarked the following imperfections ; -either that the principle was erroneous, or that it was indistinctly explained, or that the rules deduced from it were not sufficiently adapted to real life and to actual situations. The writings of Grotius, and the larger work of Puffendorff, are of too forensic a cast, too much mixed up with civil law and with the jurisprudence of Germany, to answer precisely the design of a system of ethics,--the direction of private consciences in the general conduct of human life. Perhaps, indeed, they are not to be regarded as institutes of morality calculated to instruct an individual in his duty, so much as a species of law books and law authorities, suited to the practice of those courts of justice, whose - decisions are regulated by general principles of natural equity, in conjunction with the maxims of the Roman code : of which kind, I understand, there are many upon the Continent. To which may be added, concerning both these authors, that they are more occupied in describing the rights and usages of independent communities, than is necessary in a work which professes not to adjust the correspondence of nations, but to delineate the offices of domestic life. The profusion also of classical quotations, with which many of their pages abound, seems to me a fault from which it will not be easy to excuse them. If these extracts be intended as decorations of style, the composition is overloaded with ornaments of one kind. To any thing more than ornament they can make no claim. To propose them as serious
arguments, gravely to attempt to establish or fortify a moral duty by the testimony of a Greek or Roman poet, is to trifle with the attention of the reader, or rather to take it off from all just principles of reasoning in morals.
Of our own writers in this branch of philosophy, I find none that I think perfectly free from the three objections which I have stated. There is likewise a fourth property observable almost in all of them, namely, that they divide too much of the law of nature from the precepts of revelation; some authors industriously declining the mention of scripture authorities, as belonging to a different province; and others reserving them for a separate volume : which appears to me much the same defect, as if a commentator on the laws of England should content himself with stating upon each head the common law of the land, without taking any notice of acts of parliament; or should choose to give his readers the common law in one book, and the statute law in another. When the obligations of morality are taught,' says a pious and celebrated writer, 'let the sanctions of Christianity never be forgotten: by which it will be shown that they give strength and lustre to each other : religion will appear to be the voice of reason, and morality will be the will of God.'*
The manner also in which modern writers have treated of subjects of morality, is in my judgment liable to much exception.
It has become of late a fashion to deliver moral institutes in strings or series of detached propositions, without subjoining a continued argument or regular dissertation to any of them. This sententious, apophthegmatizing style, by crowding propositions and paragraphs too fast upon the mind, and by carrying the eye of the reader from subject to subject in too quick a succession, gains not a sufficient hold upon the attention, to leave either the memory furnished, or the understanding satisfied. However useful a syllabus of topics or a series of propositions may be in the hands of a lecturer, or as a guide to a student, who is supposed to consult other books, or to institute upon each subject researches of his own, the method is by no means convenient for
* Preface to · The Preceptor,' by Dr Johnson.
ordinary readers; because few readers are such thinkers as to want only a hint to set their thoughts at work upon; or such as will pause and tarry at every proposition, till they have traced out its dependency, proof, relation, and consequences, before they permit themselves to step on to another. A respectable writer of this class* has comprised his doctrine of slavery in the three following propositions
'No one is born a slave, because every one is born with all his original rights.'
• No one can become a slave, because no one from being a person can, in the language of the Roman law, become a thing or subject of property.'
"The supposed property of the master in the slave, therefore, is matter of usurpation, not of right.'
It may be possible to deduce from these few adages such a theory of the primitive rights of human nature, as will evince the illegality of slavery; but surely an author requires too much of his reader, when he expects him to make these deductions for himself; or to supply, perhaps from some remote chapter of the same treatise, the several proofs and explanations which are necessary to render the meaning and truth of these assertions intelligible.
There is a fault, the opposite of this, which some moralists who have adopted a different, and I think a better plan of composition, have not always been careful to avoid ; namely, the dwelling upon verbal and elementary distinctions with a labour and prolixity proportioned much more to the subtlety of the question, than to its value and importance in the prosecution of the subject. A writer upon the law of naturef whose explications in every part of philosophy, though always diffuse, are often very successful, has employed three long sections in endeavouring to prove that permissions are not laws. The discussion of this controversy, however essential it might be to dialectic precision, was certainly not necessary to the progress of
* Dr Ferguson, author of 'Institutes of Moral Philosophy,'1767.