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Had your Lordship reflected ever so little on the history of literature, you must have perceived that no such plan as this ever has succeeded, nor is it possible, in the nature of things, that it ever should. No work of man, especially one of an historical kind, and of any considerable extent, ever was free from imperfections ; and therefore, upon your principle, the credit of no historical work whatever could stand ; and yet there are many works of this kind in the highest reputation, with far more acknowledged inperfections than you have pretended to discover in mine ; not to say that you have been completely foiled in all your attempts to discover any error, of the least consequence to my main argument. Would it destroy the credit of the late Dr. Johnson with respect to his knowledge of the English language, to point out faults in his style, of which many might be found? Was Newton no philosopher, because he made a mistake in one of his experiments; or no mathematician, because he is said to have comınitted an error in one of the demonstrations of his Principia?
No writer, perhaps, except yourself, ever made greater mistakes in ecclesiastical history than Mr. Whiston ; yet no person who is acquainted with them will say that his writings of this class are of no use. The real value of every work comes in time to be justly appreciated. Allowance is made for errors and imperfections, and due credit is given to every man, and to every production, for what is just, and will bear examination. This is all that I desire, and I am confident that I shall not be disappointed. As to all premature attempts to decry any particular work, or any parti. cular man, such as your Lordship's, and those of your allies, as you call them, with respect to me, they always operate in favour of what is thus attempted to be cried down; because no person will take the trouble to give an alarm, where he apprehends no danger.
After the contemptuous manner in which your Lordship affects upon all occasions to treat me, both with respect to knowledge and integrity, you may easily perceive that it has no effect in inspiring others with the same sentiments. It is not even believed that you really entertain them yourself. You make me destitute of the very rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages, and altogether unacquainted with the writers of Christian antiquity. You pretend that I purposely misquoted the common English translation of the Bible, in order to impose upon my readers. You now say, in a peculiarly solemn manner, that you would not take my
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evidence upon oath,* and perpetually represent me as acting from the worst principles that can actuate a writer, or a man. But all persons for whose good opinion I have the least regard, really consider all this, if it be not affectation, as a kind of insanity; and we cannot help thinking that your mind is affected in the same manner as that of the knight of La Mancha, who inistook a wind-mill for a giant, and a dock of sheep for an arnıy. Your Lordship's peculiarly haughty and indignant phraseology only serves to amuse your readers by the singular curiosity of it.
The manner in which your Lordship affects to speak of my“ History of Early Opinions concerning Christ,” cannot mortify any writer. I shall quote it for the entertainment of my readers : “ The author is well aware that Dr. Priestley will charge him with one capital omission. That he hath taken no notice of any thing that may be contained, relating to the various points of this controversy, in Dr. Priestley's • History of Early Opinions concerning Christ;' that large work in four volumes, the result of a whole two years' study of the writers of antiquity, which, as it hath been published since Dr. Priestley's last Letters, may be supposed to con. tain better arguments, or at least his old arguments in a better form. The only apology to be made is a simple declaration of the truth. Not conceiving himself obliged. to engage in the insipid task of reading so long a book, without better hope of information from it than his past experience of the writer's knowledge in the subject gives ; Dr. Priestley's adversary is as ignorant of the contents of that work as he could have been had it never been pub. lished. It is reported, indeed, that the work, whatever may be its merits, has a very slow sale. Of consequence it has found but few readers. The antagonist of Dr. Priestley, were he better acquainted with its contents, would still disdain to do the office of the midwife for this laborious birth. He would not, by an unnecessary and unseasonable opposition to neglected arguments, be the instrument of drawing four volumes, fraught, as the very title imports, with pernicious, heretical theology, from the obscurity in which they may innocently rot in the printer's warehouse.”+
Now, my Lord, I am confident that my expectation of your producing any thing new and valuable on the subject of my history, is in reality less than yours concerning me; * Tracts, pp. 488, 189. (P.) + Pref. pp. xii. xiii. (P.) See Vol. XVIII. p. 298.
and yet had you, in the course of this controversy, produced a work of the same extent, on the same subject; more engaged as I am in business of various kinds than I can suppose so indolent a man as your Lordship to be, I should have had the curiosity at least to look into it. I therefore cannot help suspecting, with many others, that there is another reason for your not reading my work, (if what you say of it be literally true,) and a reason that is not at all to its disadvantage. Slow as the sale of so large a work, on such a subject, must be expected to be, it produces its effect, and will do so still more, the more it is considered ; and of this, I doubt not, you yourself have some secret suspicion ; and that if your Lordship thought that your considering and answering it would have done more than your silence, indolent as you are, you would have been roused to a little more exertion. But where there is no hope of success, there can be no motive to action. At present your Lordship's conduct may be compared to that of a general who should say to his antagonist, “ Sir, I shall return the fire of your small arms; but as to your cannon, I shall not trouble myself about them.” But you, my Lord, have so ill returned the fire of the small arms, that I do not wonder at your willingness to turn away from artillery of a large size.
As if you could not depreciate your antagonist too much, which, however, lessens the importance of your victory over him, you now speak of my philosophical discoveries (which on a former occasion you thought proper to mention with some respect) as merely lucky ones. On this subject I shall not make any defence ; for forlunate, no doubt, I have been, as I have always readily confessed. But every philosopher knows, that a series of success of twenty years' continuance, could not be wholly fortuitous ; and some praise is always due to activity in any useful pursuit.
If I were disposed to imitate your Lordship's contemptuous treatment of me, (which, however, I flatter myself is only affected,) I might inquire concerning your discoveries, the effect of luck, or otherwise, and I do not know where to look for information concerning them.
Of your Commentary on the works of Newton, undertaken, as you say, Societatis Regiæ Londinensis adhortatione, et summo Optimatum atque Literatorum totius Angliæ favore; from which the world was led to expect a work that would do credit not only to yourself, but to the nation which had produced the original, I know as little as you do of my
“ History of Early Opinions concerning Christ,” and, there. fore, I can say nothing of my own knowledge ; but mathematicians of my acquaintance do not say that it does much credit to either, and that your Notes illustrate no real dif. ficulty.
The depth of your Lordship's knowledge on the subject of this controversy has been sufficiently explored; and what you have published in the form of Sermons, * though at the request of grave bishops, on other subjects of theology, are truly curiosities of the kind, and have contributed to the amusement of such of my friends as have had time to spare for the perusal of them. But as I hope the public will not be influenced by your mere opinion concerning me or ny writings, so neither do I desire that they should be influenced by mine concerning you or yours. Our arguments are before them, and I desire nothing more than a candid attention to them.
I am, &c.
LETTER II. .
My LORD, PROFESSING, as you somewhere do, to “strike at your adversary without remorse,” (and, as I may add, without judgment or discretion,) and perhaps perceiving, by the impression which your writings have made upon others, that you had indulged your pride and resentment rather more than becaine a Christian, or more than answered your pur. pose, you seemed willing, at least, to bring me in as a sharer in your guilt, and charged me with dividing “ the clergy
* One of these, viz. an Ordination Sermon, has been well animadverted upon by Mr. Wakefield, and another by the anonymous author of " A Letter to his Lordship, occasioned by his Sermon on the Principle of Vitality in Man." (P.)
'I'he pamphlet by Mr. Wakefield was published in 1788, and entitled “ Remarks on Dr. Horsley's Ordination Sermon : in a Letter to the Lord Bishop of Gloucester" (Dr. Halifax, before whom it had been preached). In this Sermon, Dr. Horsley hazarded the assertion, that “ the apostles were, by infinite degrees, the best-informed of all philosophers, profound metaphysicians,” and “accurate logicians." On these representations, Wakefield thus remarks :
“ This position, if it were true, would invalidate the capital argument for the truth of Christianity-an argument perpetually insisted on by the sacred writers; namely, that the gospel was not indebted to the information of philosopbers for its establishment, but to plain, unlettered men, (Acts iv. 13,) proclaiming the intelligence of their senses, and exhibiting in attendant miracles the power of God, as a complete demoustration of their veracity. (1 Cor. i. 27, ii. 5; 2 Cor. iv. 7.) But the position, my Lord, is unquestionably and absolutely false." Sec Remarks, quoted in Mem, of Wakefield, I. p. 282–285.
into two classes only, the ignorant and the insincere."* In answer to this charge, I said that I could not pretend to recollect all that I had written, but that I was confident I never meant to say what you ascribed to me ; that I had frequently declared the very contrary, in the very frankest manner; and that if I had advanced any thing which, by a fair construction, should amount to the charge, I retracted it, and asked pardon. In a generous mind this kind of reply would have excited some generous sentiment; but it is to mistake the soil to expect any such produce from your Lord. ship.
After being frequently called upon to cite the passage on which your charge was founded, you now produce one in which I speak of Trinitarians in general (but without any particular view to the clergy, many of whom are not Trinitarians) as persons who, 6 if they were ingenuous, would rank with Socinians, believing that there is no proper divi. nity in Christ besides that of the Father, or else with Tri. theists, holding three equal and distinct gods.”+ You also quote two other passages, in one of which I speak of some persons as writing so weakly in defence of the doctrine of the Trinity, that it is barely possible that they should be in earnest; and another in which I suppose that some defenders of the established religion are insincere. But who will say that the whole of any class of men, defenders of an esta. blishment or not, are sincere ? Must complaisance require us to say, that there are no bad men in the world, or that any particular class of men is free from them, when truth requires the contrary, and candour allows that there are many who are good ?
If what I have said with respect to ingenuousness had been interpreted by the general strain of my writings, the controversial ones not excepted, it would have been ascribed to what I have more than once said of that secret influence of motives of which the agent himself is not distinctly apprized, and what only a rigorous examination of himself, and a comparison of his conduct with that of other men, can enable him to discover. In this sense, many worthy persons are far from being those ingenuous and impartial inquirers after truth that they take themselves to be, not perceiving the real source or tendency of their principles.
As this is a subject to which I wish that more attention
* Tracts, p. 294. (P.)
+ Vol. V. p. 88. See ibid. p 497. | Tracts, p. 294, Note. See Vol. V. pp. 88, 497.