Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

it possess power to do this or that,—then that something must have existence. For a nonentity, a negation of every thing, cannot possess ! Possession cannot reside in nothing ! If this assumption, therefore, be allowed, there is no further question about the matter—there is an end of it—the thing is settled, decided, proved-all further argument is supererogatory-the thing to be proved is, at the very outset, assumed as proven -all reasoning, therefore, on the subject is but “idle breath,”- a mere brutum fulmen.

Before I proceed further, I must once more disclaim the possible imputation of doubting myself the existence of mind apart from matter. It is impossible to argue upon this subject without using expressions which would seem to sanction such an imputation, and this forms, I think, one strong objection against arguing about it at all. That mind exists is just as certain as that matter exists, and for the same reason, viz. that it is self-manifested: and if such writers as my Lord Brougham had never attempted to reduce it to any other proof (I mean, than its own manifestation) its existence would never have been questioned.

But the most extraordinary part of the whole book is that portion wherein Lord Brougham asserts, that it is possible for a man to arrive at the idea of numbers entirely without the aid of his senses. What! can a man be destitute of the possibility of becoming acquainted with things, and yet acquire ideas of those things ? Things of which a man is, in all respects, totally ignorant, for that man, have no existence—no more than if they really did not exist—and can a man form or conceive an idea of that which has no existence? Surely the author does not mean to deny the truth of that doctrine of Locke's—that, to which, indeed, he owes all his glory, viz. that we derive our ideas solely through the medium of our senses! If he do, then I can only say, that I believe him to be the only man of the present day, with any pretension to learning or talent, who does so.

But no. This assertion must have escaped him unwittingly.

In page 102 the author says, “We may first of all observe that if a particular combination of matter gives birth to what we call mind, this is an operation altogether peculiar and unexampled. When, by chiselling, 'the marble softened into life grows warm,' we have the marble newmoulded and endowed with the power of agreeably affecting our senses, our memory, and our fancy; but it is all the while the marble; there is the beautiful and expressive marble instead of the amorphous mass, and we have not, besides the marble, a new existence created by the form which has been given to that stone." I beg your lordship’s pardon-did not your lordship just now say that the marble, by means of the sculptor's chisel, became endowed with the power of agreeably affecting our senses, our memory, and our fancy? A power which did not exist in the amorphous mass? How then can your lordship say, that in this case, we have no new existence created, when almost in the same breath, certainly in the same sentence, your lordship acknowledges that a new power does exist in the finished statue, which did not exist in the amorphous mass? You contradict yourself, my lord-you deny a new creation at the beginning of the sentence, and admit it at the end of it: for by the word “power," your lordship must mean either something or nothing ; if nothing, then I have nothing more to say, but if something, then that something, according to your lordship’s own showing and admission, is a new creation. This new power—this newly-created something,is what the world calls beauty-a "something," my lord, which has often manifested a power greater than that of the human mind itself; for it has often proved itself capable of enchaining the strongest minds, of overcoming the firmest resolves, of bending the stubbornest, of humbling the haughtiest, and of driving the wisest stark staring mad.

In page 106, the author says, “ The existence and the operations of mind, supposing it to exist, will account for all the phenomena which matter is supposed to exhibit. But the existence and action of matter, vary it how we may, will never account for one of the phenomena of mind. We do not believe more firmly in the sensible objects around us when we are well and awake, than we do in the reality of those phantoms which the imagination conjures up in the hours of sleep, or the season of derangement. But no effect produced by material agency ever produced a spiritual existence, or engendered the belief of such an existence.' Here, my lord, you say, the existence and operations of mind will account for the phenomena of matter, supposing mind to exist—which supposition you make for argument's sake. But suppose mind, for argument's sake, not to exist! What then? Why then the solution of those phenomena must be sought for in matter. Again, you say, “ the existence and action of matter will never account for one of the phenomena of mind.” This is your assertion ; but those who argue on the other side of the question assert that it will. Whether it will or not, therefore, is precisely the question in dispute-the thing to be proved, --but assertions are not proofs, and without proof one man's assertion is as good as another's—their assertion that it will, as good as yours that it will not. It is proof, my lord, not assertion, that is required to settle this question. Again, you say, that “no effect produced by material agency ever produced a spiritual existence.” If, by spiritual existence, you mean, as I suppose, an immaterial existence, then, my lord, I can tell you of a thousand spiritual or immaterial existences "produced by material agency;" for instance, beauty and power, as we have already seen in the illustration of the chiselled statue- motion, gravitation, affinity, and a thousand others. These are all produced by material agency --they are causes producing stupendous effects: and to say,

" these are causes,” is to say, " these causes are,”—and to say,

“ these causes are,” is the same as saying, “these causes exist;" and surely if they exist, they must have existence, and it is equally certain they are not material substances, and equally clear that they are produced by materiał agency; as, without matter, there can be neither beauty, gravitation, nor affinity. Again.

" that all around us should only be the creatures of our fancy, no one can affirm to be impossible. But that our mind—that which remembers, compares, imagines-in a word, that which thinks, —that this should have no existence is both impossible and indeed a contradiction in terms." Here again your lordship is heinously guilty of the petitio principii, against which you so loudly complain in your remarks on the “Système de la Nature.” Th question to argued is, whether there be such an existence as mind apart from matter. But your lordship, instead of attempting to argue or prove that there is such an existence, broadly and roundly asserts at once, that there is ; for you assert or assume that it is the mind which remembers, thinks, &c.; and to assume this is to assume that the mind exists, because if it be the mind which remembers and thinks, why then it is clear that the mind exists. Thus having assumed that the mind exists, you then tell us that (this being the case) it is impossible that it should have no existence ; and that to deny it is a “ contradiction in terms. Why, certainly, it did not require your lordship’s acumen to discover that if the mind does exist, it does exist! and that to admit its existence and deny its existence is a contradiction in terms !! But, my lord, is it the mind which remembers, compares, imagines, thinks ? For that is the question—it is that which you have to prove ; for gratuitous assumptions go for nothing in argument, as your lordship knows infinitely better than I do.

In page 106 the author says, “ If mind perishes it is the only example

You say,

of annihilation which we know.” This is not true, my lord. When the clock stops, motion is annihilated ; when the statue crumbles, beauty is annihilated ; when the spring breaks, power is annihilated; when your lordship holds your tongue, sound is annihilated.

In page 108 the author says, “We can form no conception of any one particle that once is, ceasing to be. How then can we form any conception of the mind which we now know (how do we know it?) to exist ceasing to be?” But why may not those against whose opinion your lordship is reasoning, reply to you, that it is just as easy to conceive the cessation of mind as the cessation of motion ? Many of them say that mind is only the result of a certain condition of matter, as motion is the result of another condition; and before your lordship proceeds to found any argument upon the falsehood of this opinion, it is manifestly incumbent on your lordship to prove it false. But supposing it to be true that we can form no conception of the mind, any more than of matter, ceasing to be—what then? because, for the same reason, so neither can we form any conception of the mind, any more than of matter, beginning to be. How then can we form any conception of the mind of a man not yet born beginning to be? which mind, of course, we now know, is not? And yet, my lord, you tell us in the next page but one, that we see mind called into existence every day. Besides, you tell us in other parts of your book, that our seeing and feeling the material objects around us is no proof of their existence. How then can seeing new mind called into existence every day, be considered as proof that it really is so. But I think your lordship will find few believers even in the possible truth of this crotchet of Berkeley's, viz., that seeing and feeling are no proof of the existence of matter. Because if that possibility were once admitted, there would be an end at once to all the mystery and mistiness of metaphysics; and mankind, I think, would be very glad to escape so easily from the study of a science so obscure and unsatisfactory.

But “ retournons à nos moutons.If the not being able to conceive how mind can cease to be, can be considered as proof that it cannot cease to be, then manifestly the not being able to conceive how it can begin to be, is also a proof that it cannot begin; or, in other words, that it is eternal. And indeed, at page 270, your lordship seems to assent to the doctrine of Lucretius, as expressed by Persius, De nihilo nihil, in nihilum nil posse rererti.” For your lordship says, page 271, that there is “manifestly just as much difficulty (your lordship does not say more) and of the sam kind, in comprehending how a being can cease to exist, as how it can come into existence.” The difficulty being the same in either case, the passage may therefore be reversed in its order, without any alteration in the sense, and may be read thus: “there is manifestly as much difficulty, and of the same kind, in comprehending how a being can come into existence, as how it can cease to exist,” &c. Thus your lordship acknowledges that it is as hard to conceive a “ beginning to be," as a ceasing to be.” And yet your lordship talks familiarly of “seeing new mind called into existence every day!” Thus one of your lordship's arguments destroys another. For first you argue, page 108, near the bottom, that it is impossible to conceive how the mind, which we know now is, can cease to be from which you conclude that it does not cease to be.Then, (page 271,) you admit that it is just as impossible to conceive" beginning to be," as “a ceasing to be.” And then again, (page 110,) you say that this “ beginning to be,” which it is “impossible to conceive, is seen, nevertheless, every day with our eyes. Your words are—" It (that is, mind) is called into existence perpetually, before our eyes.” And what is “the being called into existence,” but a “ beginning to be?”

At page 241 it is said, that “the celebrated argument of Descartescogito, ergo sum—had a correct and a profound meaning.” Because Des

ime

a

book you

one 8on.

« Co

cartes (according to the author of the “ Discourse of Natural Theology”)
did not mean, by the pronoun ego, understood in the words cogito and
sum, any fraction of matter, but a reasoning, inferring, believing being
in other words, mind.Now, my lord, observe to what this leads. In
part

of
your

admit that beasts have " some portion of reaNow it cannot be denied, that to exercise any portion of reason, however minute, is in some sort to think. But, according to your lordship’s interpretation of Descartes' logic, whatever has the power of thinking, must possess a mind. Cogito,” said Descartes, "ergo sum. gito,” says Lord Brougham-"Ergo, I possess a mind;" and mind, according to his lordship's book, is indestructible. Ergo, as beasts “cogitant” they possess minds—and as mind is indestructible they possess immortal minds.

Such are a few of the arguments used by Lord Brougham, to prove the separate existence of mind. I ask, are they such as can convince the infidel, or confirm the waverer? On the contrary, are they not well calculated to make him, who had never doubted before, exclaim, “Is it possible that the existence of the mind, which I have all along considered so certain, can be supported by no better arguments than these?” I fear something like this will be the ejaculation of many a reader, and whoever so ejaculates, from that moment becomes a doubter-a disturbed wanderer in the dark night of metaphysical mystification. Farewell to the quiet of that man's mind. The bright vision of eternal happiness which had ever been present to his imagination, beckoning him heavenward, has disappeared—a thick veil has fallen before it, and shut it from his view-a restless anxiety is gnawing at his heart-an indefinable dread sits heavily on his soul. Whither shall he turn for consolation ? On one side is the black gulf of annihilation, on the other the impenetrable mists of metaphysical subtleties. Hope, perhaps, who never entirely forsakes us, may still be seen flickering at intervals through the “dark obscure," but her sickly smile and perturbed eye give the lie to her own promises. What has this man lost? And what has he gained ? “Errare Meherculè malo cum Platone quàm cum istis vera sentire !"

I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,

E. JOHNSON.

We had repeatedly heard speak of this bi-titular work either with doubtful praise or undisguised condemnation. Knowing the constitution of his lordship's mind, its mad ambition, its restlessness that too often trembles on the very verge of insanity, and his insatiate craving to be ever the theme of public conversation, we deemed it to be, probably, an eloquent, brilliant, and meretricious rhapsody, with sufficient reason in it to rescue it from the imputation of being a flight of imagination ; in fact, a peg upon which to hang a few antithetical figures of speech, an oratorical deluge to drown the reproaches attendant on political chicanery, or an embellished clap-trap for a little transient applause. Supposing this to be the case—and who will say that our supposition was unnatural ?-we allowed this treatise to remain on our library table with its leaves uncut, looking upon it with something of the feeling with which we are too apt to eye a lawyer's bill, which we know must be attended to, but which disgreeable operation we defer with zealous procrastination.

Under these circumstances we were roused from our self-imposed apathy by the receipt of the letter from our acute and talented correspondent, that immediately precedes this article. We consequently exclaimed, “Can such things be?” Wondering if it were possible that an ex-Lord Chancellor, and one who ought, at some period of his life to have been a lawyer, could so far commit himself, and that none of our contemporaries should notice it, we opened his work and read.

We read. In absolute kindness to the great majority of our countrymen—in honest kindness to Lord Brougham himself

, when we closed the book, we fervently wished that we should be the last reader that might ever lose his time over the pernicious work. “ In kindness to Lord Brougham"—the words have dropped unconsciously from our pen, and we will not recall them. In the most baleful objects, there is always something that is beautiful. In the vivid and irresistible lightning-flash, whose aim is devastation, and whose contact death, there is a stern grandeur that writes its name in the heavens, and the word is “ beauty;"—the insidious viper, whose sting is instant corruption, has, notwithstanding its reptile form and earthcontaminating creep, a beauty in its variegated colours; even the toad, that would tempt the crushing of the heel, did not its defence lie in its very hideousness, has an eye which Earth's master-mind has not disdained to celebrate ; and even Lord Brougham's “ Natural Theology" has one or two solitary points on which the mind does not loathe to dwell. For the sake of these, small and overwhelmed as they are, we wish in kindness to him, that his “ Discourse

may sink into instant oblivion, and pass away from the memory of man.

There is a certain successful physician now practising, who has given it as his opinion, upon his oath, and in a court of justice, that he believed that every human being was insane, in a degree, upon some particular point; and that perfect sanity was only to be found in the divine essence of perfection—the Deity. If every deviation from the line of rectitude be an act of madness, the doctor is right. But there is a large class of individuals who are not mad, but stolid. These have faculties so obtuse, that, except in the most obvious cases, they cannot discriminate right from wrong, and are therefore no more mad than the brutes that browse; but we refer to another class, upon whom some one or two absorbing passions are so strong, that they become the instinct of their lives, the moving principle of all their actions, and the enjoyment of which is the summum bonum of their existence. These men are not, strictly speaking, mad, they only follow out those sensations that give them the most enjoyment, and endeavour to be as happy as they can after their own hearts. The besetting sin of this class is an inordinate vanity, a burning and a destroying thirst for applause, and an egregious self-exaltation, ridiculous to every body but its unconscious victim. Such a character was the Roman Nero.

« ForrigeFortsæt »