« FöregåendeFortsätt »
twenty years. As if the Almighty could not produce his work perfect at one instant."
"Bath, March 29th. "What is prejudice? a word hunted down like a poor strange dog, when the cry is against him that he is mad. But let us give it fair play. Prejudice is a fault wherever evidence may be obtained, and leisure to attend to it is not wanting. The judge that pronounces sentence without hearing the cause is highly criminal; but if you saw a man beating a boy very severely, you would try to stop him, without listening to a bystander who should want to prove to you that the man did right: you would act according to the prejudice that the boy should not be so cruelly used. Such is the state of the human species. We are sent into this world, not for speculation, but to act: wants press us on all sides, time flies fast away, and life requires dispatch; therefore, he who made us as we are, say some, who suffered us to exist after the fall, say others, designed us for instruction; subjected us, by our birth, to be influenced by authority; in short, made us liable to prejudice, from a necessity of nature; for whatever we are taught we are prejudiced for; but whatever we never heard of we are by that circumstance alone really prejudiced against. We are called to act every moment, and must act upon prejudice, and are rational agents in so doing, for we act upon the best evidence we can get. The child eats the food and rejects the poison on the authority of his teacher; he takes the poison when grown up on the authority of the physician. Geometrical truths are capable of demonstration, and the philosopher that sits at ease in his closet, is in the right not to proceed a step without proof; but the mechanic that has his bread to get, takes a shorter method, and makes use of the same principles on the authority of his master. It signifies nothing to say, why are we thus made? the fact is so: and the rule I gave you when I explained to you the catechism, will be found the only rational method of proceeding. Do not say, I will believe, and do as 1 am taught, when I know it is right; but say, I will believe, and do as I am taught, till I know I am wrong. It does not, therefore, follow, that whoever is misled, must go on to do wrong: a man has eyes to see, and we have reason to guide us; and he that has bad eyes, must set the object in a favourable light, must take time to consider it, must use glasses if need be; but if he cannot have all these helps, what can he do but trust to those that have better eyes, as to any case where he is obliged to take a resolution? So, let every one make use of his reason, and neglect none of those helps his state of life will admit of; but in things which will not allow of delay, such as the daily duties towards God and towards man, let him follow those rules of faith and practice which he has been taught. Believe me, my dear, it is the heart, not the head, which is wrong, for the most part, in our modern unbelievers. Instead of a generous love towards God, which should prompt us to do our utmost to please him; instead of the humble confidence of a child, which would make us with simplicity believe whatever our Creator has revealed concerning himself, we treat religion like a worldly purchase; we would fain know at how cheap a rate we may go to heaven, and do just as much as will exempt us from punishment, and no more. You say, and say very right, if the Scriptures were so plain that every one must understand and believe them, faith would be no virtue. The creatures, both animate and inanimate, obey the will of their Creator in a regular manner; but from man he requires a rational obedience; and, therefore, gave him freer dom of will, and placed him in a state of trial. Voluntary obedience seems alone worthy of God, and seems to be required of every creature capable of knowing and loving him. How far the mind of man is influenced by prejudice or affection, we know not: How should we? we know not what performs those motions that support life; and when we move a finger, though it is done at the command of our will, we know not what does it. The fatalist, though not, perhaps, to be confuted by argument, confutes himself every moment: if he acted rationally (which however, is a contradiction in terms), he should sit still, and not so much as open his mouth to receive food. But do we not see these men as eager after pleasure, and the things of this world, as others are? If their desires after eternal happiness, and their love for their Creator were as great, we should see their endeavour as great also towards virtue and knowledge. Consider the case of the Jews; those who by a righteous behaviour, a desire of a better life, confidence in God, and love for him, were prepared to follow a suffering Messiah, embraced his doctrine; but those who were attached to the glories of this world, or thought an outward performance of God's commands sufficient, went away sorrowful, because they had great possessions, or tempting pleasures to lose. Christ should come out of Bethlehem; this man is of Nazareth, says one, and enquires no further. We know this man, a carpenter's son, says another. He keeps not the Sabbath day, he is not, therefore, of God, says the Pharisee. But would not any of these have enquired farther, if they had been willing to be informed? Now such as these are our freethinkers: they lay hold of some pretended objection; that is enough; they cannot believe, they say, and so they give themselves up to indulge their passions, amongst which vanity is not the least powerful; and they soon render themselves incapable of embracing the doctrines of Christianity, because they cannot obey its precepts, nor have any regard for its promises. I am glad you like Skelton's sermons: they are a fine body of divinity. I wish, when
Dr. made you the discourse you mention, you had
looked him in the face, and asked him which of the Fathers he objected to; it is probable he never read one of them. Adieu, my dear, I have preached long enough; I shall tire you with religion, and Tom with philosophy; but you are both free to silence me when you will. Buffon spends several pages in proving that stags' horns are really wood, as called in French; I want somebody to desire him to make jelly of an old broom-stick. Such is the wisdom of philosophers, which the experience of a cook-maid would often confute, if consulted."
"lam much obliged to you, my love, for taking an opportunity to write, and for sending me the words of ch. 39. of Magna Charta. You seem to suppose that I wanted you to answer all my questions, and plead for excuse your ignorance on the subject; whereas your ignorance is the very reason why I put the questions; for I want to make you the cat's-paw. The questions are none of them such as concern the law as now studied, but are chiefly concerning matters of fact, which those you mention them to will know to be out of your way of study, and yet to be what you might very properly want to know; and, therefore, I took this time to put you upon making such an enquiry for me; especially as you are to see Mr. Brett, who is the person most likely to answer my queries, but to whom I wish you to put them from yourself, not from me. If he has a book, called " D'Achery's Spicilegium," or if it is in Whiston's shop, you will there find the French copy which I mentioned to you of King John's Magna Charta, which was published from the records of France, and is, I believe, only there to be found. The want of this French copy seems to me the cause that the Latin of Magna Charta in King Charles the First's time was shamefully misinterpreted as to the article now before us; and has, I doubt, been misunderstood ever since. They could make nothing of sending upon, and going upon, super eum mittimus, and, therefore, concluded, that the words in car cere must be understood, which was your wise Lord Coke's interpretation, but was, in fact, very absurd; for the word imprisonetur had been used before: and yet, for want of the French copy, that interpretation passed, and has been looked upon as law ever since. The article, as you see it compared in the three languages in my letter, plainly refers to the unjust practice common in those days, for the king, as soon as he was offended, to enter with armed force upon the lands of the offenders, take their cattle, destroy their corn, &c.; sometimes take possession of their castles, seize their lands, force them to fly, put them in prison, or keep them attending near his own person as prisoners at large: all which circumstances are described by the different words of art. 39; and the king promises that he will neither go himself, nor send any, to proceed in such illegal ways; but will punish offenders no other way, than by judgment of their peers, if barons, or by legal process, if only freemen, that is, landholders. The French words nous n'irons, ny n'enveyrons, make the sense very plain; for want of which the disputants in King Charles the First's time went to work ft) find out what was the legal way of committing a man to prison; whereas the words legem terra had as much to do with every other circumstance mentioned in the article, as with