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Essays of Montaigne ·

·Their influence on the Public

Italian and English Moralists.

1. Ir must naturally be supposed that by far the greater part of what was written on moral obligations in the sixteenth century will be found in the theological quarter of ancient libraries. The practice of auricular confession brought with it an entire science of casuistry, which had gradually been wrought into a complicated system. Many, once conspicuous writers in this province, belong to the present period; but we shall defer the subject till we arrive at the next, when it had acquired a more prominent importance.

2. The first original work of any reputation in ethical philosophy since the revival of letters, and which, being apparently designed in great measure for the chair of the confessional, serves as a sort of link between the class of mere casuistry and the philosophical systems of morals which were to follow, is by Dominic Soto, a Spanish Dominican, who played an eminent part in the deliberations of the Council of Trent, in opposition both to the papal court and to the theologians of the Scotist, or, as it was then reckoned by its adversaries, the Semi-Pelagian school. This folio volume, entitled De Justitia et Jure, was first published, according to the Biographie Universelle, at Antwerp, in 1568. It appears to be founded on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the polar star of every true Dominican. Every question is dis

cussed with that remarkable observation of distinctions, and that unremitting desire both to comprehend and to distribute a subject, which is displayed in many of these forgotten folios, and ought to inspire us with reverence for the zealous energy of their authors, even when we find it impossible, as must generally be the case, to read so much as a few pages consecutively, or when we light upon trifling and insufficient arguments in the course of our casual glances over the volume.

3. Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity might seem more properly to fall under the head of theology; but the first book of this work being by much the best, Hooker ought rather to be reckoned among those who have weighed the principles, and delineated the boundaries, of moral and political science. I have, on another occasion, done full justice to the wisdom and eloquence of this earliest among the great writers of England, who, having drunk at the streams of ancient philosophy, has acquired from Plato and Tully somewhat of their redundancy and want of precision, with their comprehensiveness of observation and their dignity of soul. The reasonings of Hooker, though he bore in the ensuing century the surname of Judicious, are not always safe or satisfactory, nor, perhaps, can they be reckoned wholly clear or consistent; his learning, though beyond that of most English writers in that age, is necessarily uncritical; and his fundamental principle, the mutability of ecclesiastical government, has as little pleased those for whom he wrote as those whom he repelled by its means." But he stood out at a vast

"Constitut. Hist. Engl., chap. iv.

[The phrase, "fundamental principle," may appear too strong to those who have not paid much attention to the subject, especially when a man of so much ability as the last editor of the Ecclesiastical Polity has laboured to persuade his readers that Hooker maintained the divine right of episcopal government. By a fundamental principle, I mean a leading theorem which determines the character of a book, and gives it its typical form, as distinguished from others which may have the same main object in view. Thus, to take a very different instance, the main object of Homer was to celebrate


the prowess of the Greeks in the war of Troy; but the mode in which he presented this, the typical character of the Iliad, was the illustration of one memorable portion of that contest, the quarrel of Achilles with Agamemnon. What the wrath of Achilles was to Homer, that was the mutability of positive laws to Hooker; a leading idea, which gave its peculiar form to his work, and through which his ultimate end, the defence of the ecclesiastical constitution of his country, was to be effected. It may be inquired of those who think otherwise, why the first book of the Ecclesiastical Polity was written at all? Was it merely to display his

height above his predecessors and contemporaries in the English church, and was, perhaps, the first of our writers who had any considerable acquaintance with the philosophers of Greece, not merely displayed in quotation, of which others may have sometimes set an example, but in a spirit of reflection and comprehensiveness which the study of antiquity alone could have infused. The absence of minute ramifications of argument, in which the schoolmen loved to spread out, distinguishes Hooker from the writers who had been trained in those arid dialectics, such as Soto or Suarez: but, as I have hinted, considering the depth and difficulty of several questions that he deals with in the first book of the Polity, we might wish for a little less of the expanded palm of rhetoric, and somewhat of more dialectical precision in the reasoning.

reasoning or eloquence upon a subject far more appertaining to philosophy than to theology? Surely this would have been idle ostentation, especially in the very outset of his work. But those who read it can hardly fail to perceive that it is the broad basis of what is to follow in the second and third books; that in laying down the distinction between natural and positive law, and affirming the former alone to be immutable, he prepares the way for denying the main position of his puritan antagonists, that all things contained in Scripture are of perpetual obligation. It is his doctrine, that where God has not declared a positive command to be perpetual, it may be dispensed with by lawful human authority; and in the third book he, in express words, asserts this of ecclesiastical government. Whether he is right or no, we do not here inquire; but those who prefer an honest avowal of truth to that small partyinterest which is served by counting all names as on our side, cannot feel any hesitation about his opinion on this point. I repeat, that it may be called his fundamental principle.

I do not, however, deny that, in the seventh book of the Ecclesiastical Polity, written several years after the former, there are signs that Hooker had in some degree abandoned the broad principle of indifferency, and that he occasionally seems to contend for episcopal government as always best, though not always indispensable. Whether this were owing to the natural effects

of controversy, in rendering the mind tenacious of every point it has to maintain, or rather to the bolder course of defence which Saravia and Bancroft had latterly taught the advocates of the church to take, I do not determine. But, even in this book, we shall not find that he ever asserts in terms the perpetual obligation of episcopacy; nor does he, I believe, so much as allude to what is commonly called the apostolical succession, or transmission of spiritual power from one bishop to another; a question wholly distinct from that of mere ecclesiastical government, though perpetually confounded with it.-1842.]

It has been shown with irresistible proof by the last editor of Hooker, that the sixth book of the Ecclesiastical Polity has been lost; that which we read as such being, with the exception of a few paragraphs at the beginning, altogether a different production, though bearing marks of the same author. This is proved, not only by its want of relation to the general object of the work, and to the subject announced in the title of this very book, but by the remarkable fact, that a series of observations by two friends of Hooker on the sixth book are extant, and published in the last edition, which were obviously designed for a totally different treatise from that which has always passed for the sixth book of the Ecclesiastical Polity. This can only be explained by the confusion in which Hooker's manuscripts were left at his death, and upon which suspicions of

4. Hooker, like most great moral writers both of antiquity and of modern ages, rests his positions on His theory of one solid basis, the eternal obligation of natural natural law. law. A small number had been inclined to maintain an arbitrary power of the Deity, even over the fundamental principles of right and wrong; but the sounder theologians seem to have held that, however the will of God may be the proper source of moral obligation in mankind, concerning which they were not more agreed then than they have been since, it was impossible for him to deviate. from his immutable rectitude and holiness. They were unanimous also in asserting the capacity of the human faculties to discern right from wrong, little regarding what they deemed the prejudices or errors that had misled many nations, and more or less influenced the majority of mankind.

5. But there had never been wanting those who, struck by the diversity of moral judgments and behaviour Doubts felt among men, and especially under circumstances by others. of climate, manners, or religion, different from our own, had found it hard to perceive how reason could be an unerring arbiter, when there was so much discrepancy in what she professed to have determined. The relations of travellers, continually pressing upon the notice of Europe in the sixteenth century, and perhaps rather more exaggerated than at present, in describing barbarous tribes, afforded continual aliment to the suspicion. It was at least evident, without any thing that could be called unreasonable scepticism, that these diversities ought to be


interpolation have been founded. Such suspicions are not reasonable; and, notwithstanding the exaggerated language which has sometimes been used, I think it very questionable whether any more perfect manuscript was ever in existThe reasoning in the seventh and eighth books appears as elaborate, the proofs as full, the grammatical structure as perfect, as in the earlier books; and the absence of those passages of eloquence, which we occasionally find in the former, cannot afford even a presumption that the latter were designed to be written over again. The eighth

book is manifestly incomplete, wanting some discussions which the author had announced; but this seems rather adverse to the hypothesis of a more elaborate copy. The more probable inference is, that Hooker was interrupted by death before he had completed his plan. It is possible also that the conclusion of the eighth book has been lost like the sixth. All the stories on this subject in the Life of Hooker by Walton, who seems to have been a man always too credulous of anecdote, are unsatisfactory to any one who exacts real proof.

well explained and sifted before we acquiesced in the pleasant conviction that we alone could be in the right.

Essays of

6. The Essays of Montaigne, the first edition of which appeared at Bordeaux in 1580,4 make in several Montaigne. respects an epoch in literature, less on account of their real importance, or the novel truths they contain, than of their influence upon the taste and the opinions of Europe. They are the first provocatio ad populum, the first appeal from the porch and the academy to the haunts of busy and of idle men, the first book that taught the unlearned reader to observe and reflect for himself on questions of moral philosophy. In an age when every topic of this nature was treated systematically, and in a didactic form, he broke out without connexion of chapters, with all the digressions that levity and garrulous egotism could suggest, with a very delightful, but, at that time, most unusual rapidity of transition from seriousness to gaiety. It would be to anticipate much of what will demand attention in the ensuing century, were we to mention here the conspicuous writers who, more or less directly, and with more or less of close imitation, may be classed in the school of Montaigne; it embraces, in fact, a large proportion of French and English literature, and especially of that which has borrowed his title of Essays. No prose writer of the sixteenth century has been so generally read, nor probably has given so much delight. Whatever may be our estimate of Montaigne as a philosopher, a name which he was far from arrogating, there will be but one opinion of the felicity and brightness of his genius.

Their cha

7. It is a striking proof of these qualities, that, in reading his Essays, we can hardly help believing racteristics. him to have struck out all his thoughts by a spontaneous effort of his mind, and to have fallen afterwards upon his quotations and examples by happy accident. I have little doubt but that the process was different; and that, either by dint of memory, though he absolutely disclaims the possessing a good one, or by the usual method of common-placing, he had made his reading instrumental

4 This edition contains only the first third was published in that of Paris, and second books of the Essays; the 1588.

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