Page images
PDF
EPUB

proportion; it will also be admitted, that 8-2-6 is also an identical proportion, though not stated in such plain and obvious terms. Now, in the equation x-2=6, the object is to find the value of a; by the terms, it is stated to be equal to 6, when 2 are taken from it; consequently, the question simply is,-what number is greater than 6 by 2; and whether we answer 6+2=8=x; or x=8=6+2, the proportion is identical: the terms may vary; in one case be more simple and familiar than in another; the process by which the identity is made manifest, may in one case be short and plain, and in another long, laborious, and complicated, but the result is the same. The equation 12-12 is in words, as well as in fact, so obviously identical, that no person, notwithstanding the terms, can hesitate about it. The equation 8-6X 4+4=12, is also identical, though, from the terms not being identical, and a process being required of subtracting, adding, and multiplying, the identity is not so soon made out and perceived. Algebraical analysis, then, conducts us to truth, by enabling us to ascertain the value of an unknown quantity, which, together with certain known quantities, makes up a given quantity; if none of the quantities are known, the given quantity cannot be ascertained. Whereas in chemical analysis, it is not necessary that any of the component parts should be previously known, in order to determine the constitution of a body.

The phenomena of organized matter, whether vegetable or animal, must be ascertained and accounted for, in the same manner as those of all other branches of science, except mathema tics; by a careful and repeated attention to them; by the abstraction of every circumstance that is adventitious and incidental, as well as of those which disturb or modify the more general and regular appearances and results. Chemistry affords its aid; but it is apt to lead astray, as, both in the vegetable and animal world, there are agents in existence which either prevent the laws of chemistry from exerting their influence, or produce results for which these laws cannot account. Here there is a source of error; che mistry cán decompose the vegetable and animal frame into its component parts; these are few and simple, ex

actly such as we meet in unorganized matter, but chemistry is utterly inca pable of reforming what she has decompounded, or even of accounting for the appearances and properties which these elements, as united by the hand of nature, exhibit. The laws of vegetable and animal life must therefore be drawn from their own facts, though chemistry may assist us in explaining a few of the subordinate phenomena, or guide us in some of our investigations.

But though our explanation of the phenomena of vegetable and animal life cannot be much advanced, and may be retarded by chemistry, and in this respect our knowledge of them and of their causes must rest on their own peculiar grounds; yet, on the other hand, they present a path unknown in the study of unorganized matter, which, if pursued with attention and with sufficient knowledge, will frequently lead to the truth. From what we do ourselves, and what we observe in others, we are convin ced that wherever there is a conformation of parts, these parts must have some function to perform; there must have been some end and use in view. When we perceive the conformation of plants and animals, the association of our ideas leads us to reason on this principle; we conclude, without hesitation, that every organ must have had its appropriate destination and use; hence we endeavour to ascer tain its use; and this advances our knowledge in two modes; in the first place directly, by bringing us acquainted with its use; and, secondly, indirectly, by leading us to examine into the construction of other organs, which may be either necessary towards the use we have ascertained, or which, from perceiving that use accomplished, we infer must exist, in order to bring about a higher and more general end. The circumstances and conjectures which led Harvey to the discovery of the circulation of the blood, as stated by Mr Boyle, (Works, vol. IV. p. 539,) are strongly and beautifully il lustrative of the sources of truth, which are open, in the study of organized matter, to those who proceed with due knowledge and caution, on the idea that every organ and system of organs must have not only their peculiar use, but co-operate, in all their objects, towards one great object-the preserva

tion and reproduction of the vegetable and animal in which they are found.* If we ascend from mere life to the actions of living beings, we still find the path to real and useful knowledge the same. At first sight it seems impossible to discover any common principles among the almost infinite variety of animated beings with which the world abounds; but we afterwards perceive that in some respects they all agree; these points, of course, impress us more strongly and deeply, as presenting themselves much more frequently, than the points in which they differ; and on these the most general principles, which in reality are only the most general and simple parts, are founded. Abstracting them, we trace another class of resemblances, which do not extend to so many as the former; and this serves as the foundation of another set of principles; these principles, or general facts, to which we thus reduce our knowledge, we term the laws of nature, in all its departments except mathematics. We thus proceed gradually,disengaging the points of resemblance, till at last our facts relate peculiarly and exclusively to individuals.

The process, therefore, which we pursue, in order to gain such a knowledge of man, is exactly that which the botanist or natural historian pursues in acquiring and arranging his knowledge of plants and animals. Our conclusions will be the more general, and the more certainly and uniformly applicable to future contingencies, in proportion as we extend our views from particulars to generals, and from individuals to communities.

of circumstances and actions in particular cases, that are totally at variance with the general principles of human nature. The lessons of experience, on the great concerns of human life, which we may draw from attending to the history of our own species, it is well observed, "require an uncommon degree of acuteness and good sense to collect them, and a still more uncommon degree of caution, to apply them to practice; not only because it is difficult to find cases in which the combinations of circumstances are exactly the same, but because the peculiarities of individual character are infinite, and the real springs of action in our fellow-creatures, are objects only of vague and doubtful conjecture." But on the other hand, the application of general principles, which, of course, are drawn from what common to the human character in all times and places, must prove correct and useful, when it is made to large masses, or to the final and permanent result of a steady and continued operation of causes:-and principles less general, drawn, for instance, from a thorough knowledge of national character, and from the circumstances of all kinds, physical, political, moral, religious, &c. by which it is surrounded and acted upon, must be instructive and useful, in enabling us to conjecture respecting the future events and condition of that nation from which they are drawn, and the consequences that will result to it, from any particular measure or line of conduct.

In no part of our investigations and endeavours to gain knowledge, do we find more difficulties and obstructions in our path, than in what relates to human character; we are often apt, in the midst of our perplexities and mistakes, to question whether the law of nature, that like causes will always produce like effects, and like effects always flow from like causes, applies to it; or in other words, whether nature is permanent and stable here, as in all the other divisions of her empire. Hence we are too apt to suppose or admit the possibility or actual existence

We must, however, guard against the error of applying principles or general maxims to different combinations of circumstances from those on which they are founded; if we apply such as are drawn from any particular nation to mankind in general, we must be led to error; because in this case we apply principles that are drawn from circumstances peculiar to that nation-to mankind at large; the general principles really applicable to whom, are, of course, drawn from circumstances not national, but common to all mankind. And we shall also fall into error, if we apply the principles drawn from our knowledge of one nation, to the character and events

• See some excellent remarks on the doctrine of final causes, as it is improperly called, in Mr Stewart's Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. II. pp. 453477, 4to edition; and in the Preface to the Edition of Derham's Physico-Theology, published at Edinburgh in 1798.

of another; for that would, in fact, be expecting that the same events should flow from a different combina tion of causes.

On the other hand, we are perfectly safe and justified in applying those principles which are common to human nature, to any particular nation, or individual; we are not quite so safe, however, in applying the principles which national character supplies, to any one individual of that nation, though, in proportion as we apply them to a greater number of individuals, so will be the probability that the application will be appropriate and fitting.

If this sketch of the nature and sources of human knowledge be correct, it may be divided into two grand branches; the first is conversant about those properties which are not only common to all things, but which seem essential to matter, and without which we cannot even conceive matter to exist: figure, extension, magnitude, and number, each of these properties of matter have certain relations, which are as necessary and essential as the properties themselves; and to assert that they do not exist, or that they are different from what they are found to be, is to maintain a contradiction as real though not so manifest, as to assert that matter could exist without those properties, among which these relations subsist. That branch of human knowledge which is employed in investigating these relations, is mathematics; and as those properties of matter about which it is conversant are obvious and simple, neither obscured nor acted upon by circumstances, no doubts or difficulties can arise from those sources which mainly create them in the other grand branch of human knowledge. The process by which a mathematical proportion is proved, may be long, prolix, and abstruse, requiring close and continued attention, and great skill and preparatory information, but its result, if accurate, must lead to a certain and necessary truth, an identical proportion, the reverse of which involves a real and absolute contradiction.

The other grand branch of human knowledge, though consisting of several subordinate parts, all of which may again be divided into parts still more subordinate, relates to properties of matter or mind which do not seem essential properties which we can conceive either not to exist at all, or to

VOL. XVII.

exist in different relations from those which they actually possess. Our knowledge of these properties depends entirely on the permanency and stability of the order of nature, and on that constitution of the human mind by which our ideas are associated; the permanency of the order of nature implies that every preceding circumstance being the same, every following circumstance will be the same; and that where any of the preceding circumstances are different, some of the following circumstances will be different also; or, that a difference in the effect must have been preceded and occasioned by some difference in the cause. Our object in endeavouring to attain physical, moral, and intellectual, or political truth, must be to find out what previous circumstances belong peculiarly to each effect or result: by associating these and these only in our mind with the event or result, we gain that knowledge which will not only enable us to account for what happens, but to predict what will happen, and in many cases to produce what will benefit us, or to avert what would prove injurious.

To account for a thing, or to explain how it happens, is in reality only to apply a general truth to a particular case; this general truth or fact may again be explained by one still more simple and general, till at last we arrive at a fact which we cannot explain. As knowledge, however, increases, we shall be enabled to go still farther back; but probably we shall never be able to perceive as necessary a connexion between the physical properties of matter, as we do in its mathematical properties. We can conceive gravity not tending to the centre-we can conceive it causing bodies to fall at a greater or less rate than 16 1-12th feet in a second; but so long as gravity tends to the centre, it must follow the law of decreasing as the squares of the distances increase.

Political Economy being conversant about the conduct of mankind, and the circumstances that influence their condition, and tend to advance or retard their progress in civilization and wealth-requires for its legitimate and successful study, a careful attention to those facts that are peculiar, accidental, or temporary, so as to separate them from those which are more permanent and general, before we draw our general conclusions; and it also requires great care in applying those

2 F

general conclusions, so as to allow for the operation of particular causes. The order of nature is as stable and permanent in what relates to man in all his relations and actions, as it is in what relates to matter; but it is much more difficult to trace this order, and to separate what is universally true from what is only generally so, and what is more generally true from what is so in various diminishing degrees. Till this is done, our associations must be erroneous; in our belief and expectation, things will be united as cause and effect, which are not united in nature; hence our belief will be erroneous-our expectations diɛappointed our predictions will prove false, and our conduct will be at variance with our substantial good.

The real nature of the evidence on

which Political Economy rests, and the sources from which that evidence ought to be drawn, next require our consideration; and we trust that the contents of the present paper will not be deemed irrelevant or useless, if by means of them we are the better able to define and explain the nature of the evidence on which Political Economy must rest-to unfold the sources from which that evidence must be derived, and thence to prove, that, containing within itself principles drawn from numerous and well-established facts, and which, therefore, while the order of nature is stable and permanent, must be guides for our conjectures, expectations, advice, and conduct in future, it deserves the name and rank of a science.

* In treating the subject of this paper, we have purposely omitted all consideration of the influence of language on knowledge. We are by no means disposed to regard it as an instrument of thought, except perhaps to the extent, in the instance, and in similar instances to that stated by Hobbes: (Treatise on Human Nature, ch. v. § 4.:) numeral and universal arithmetic certainly could not be carried to any extent, even by a solitary individual, without some marks for number. The influence of language on the reception and communication of knowledge, is quite a distinct subject. We have already referred to Locke on the use and abuse of words. Voltaire, who sometimes condenses into a short and epigrammatic sentence much solid truth, more perhaps than he was himself aware of, remarks, in rather too sweeping and unqualified a manner, however"l'Alphabet fut l'origine de toutes les connoissances de l'homme, et de toutes ses sottises." We shall afterwards see grounds to assent to the latter part of this sentence, in reference to Political Economy.

"

The metaphysics of human knowledge, of which this paper treats, though necessarily in a very summary and imperfect manner, involve much that is extremely curious and instructive, but they are also beset with much obscurity and difficulty. D'Alembert well remarks, "A proprement parler il n'y a point de science qui n'ai sa metaphysique, si on entend par ce mot les principes generaux sur lesquelles une science est appuyee, et qui sont comme le germe des verites de detail qu' elle renferme et qu' elle expose; principes d' on il faut partir pour decouvrir de nouvelles verites, ou auxquels il est necessaire de remonter pour mettre au creuset les verites qu' on croit decouvrir." (Elemens de Philosophie; Eclaircissement 15 sur l'usage et sur l'abus de la Metaphysique en Geometrie, et en general dans les Sciences Mathematiques.) There are some very profound observations on the respective provinces of physics and metaphysics in the theory of motion, by Berkley, in his Tract de Motu, first published in 1721, and incorporated in a miscellany, containing several tracts on various subjects, by the Bishop of Cloyne, Dublin, 1752.

D'Alembert remarks, in the Eclaircissement already referred to, that the use and abuse of metaphysics is particularly perceptible in its application to the infinitesimal calculus. The real metaphysics of this highest branch of mathematics is still a desideratum, notwithstanding the tracts that were published in reply to Berkley's Analyst, particularly those by Dr Pemberton, and Mr Robins, and an anonymous one, entitled "An Introduction to the Doctrine of Fluxions," London, 1736-the disquisitions of D'Alembert himself in the work referred to; and the express treatise of Carnot on the subject, entitled "Reflexions sur la Metaphysique du Calcul Infinitesimal."

The metaphysics of a more confined branch of Mathematics is still more obscure; indeed it is entirely hidden, notwithstanding the endeavours of D'Alembert, Euler, Bernouille, Maclaurin, Playfair, Buce, and a writer (Playfair ?) in the Edinburgh Review, July 1808, to bring it to light; we allude to the theory of imaginary or impossible quantities. Mr C. Butler, in his Reminiscences, well observes, "Perhaps the reasoning on impossible quantities, and exterminating them by algebraic operations, till the impossible symbols disappear, and an equation of real quantities is produced, is the highest and most delightful effort of the human understanding." And yet the nature of this powerful instrument, and the principle and means by which it operates, so as to produce such important results, some of which cannot be attained by any other method, and few, if any, by a method so concise and of such easy application, baffle the most profound mathematicians.

NEW SERIES OF SAYINGS AND DOINGS."

We are by no means certain that we shall much entertain our readers in general by anything we have to say in regard to these gay and lively volumes. The world have decided (nem. con.) that they are Theodore Hook's, and nothing even suspected to be his can run the smallest risk of being neglect ed. The former series formed the chief table-talk of London for considerably more than nine days last season, and has subsequently enjoyed no trivial share of popularity, even in the remotest of our provinces. The volumes now before us are at least equal to then predecessors in merit of all kinds, with only the necessary and unavoidable exception of novelty in style; and we have no sort of doubt they are destined to have quite an equal measure of success.

The novelty of Theodore's style, as applied to this species of composition, formed, without doubt, the principal attraction of his first series, unless even that must yield the pas to the universal suspicion which forthwith got abroad, that the author had drawn his materials, not from human nature in general, as studied in the comparative characters and actions of many individuals, but from particular and precise bits of human nature, as embodied in the doings and sayings of particular individuals. This suspicion was, we cannot doubt, in some degree just, in regard to the Tale of Danvers, but we are not aware that anything of the sort has been established, or even shewn to be probable, in regard to any others of that series. As to the present series, we are certainly inclined to put entire faith in the prefatory denial of "Portrait-Painting." We have no notion that any one of these tales is merely a caricature of the history of one particular individual. As little, however, can we doubt that innumerable subordinate sketches after individual life will be forthwith recognized; and so far all is well. Such was assuredly the practice of all the old novelists. Witness a tolerably competent judge, Sir Walter Scott, who, in one of his excellent prefaces to Ballantyne's Novelist's Library, has

Sayings and Doings, or Sketches from Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street.

distinctly expressed his belief, that "EVERY COMIC WRITER OF FICTION DRAWS, AND MUST DRAW, LARGELY FROM HIS OWN CIRCLE." The question, then, is one merely as to degree. Mr Hook may have drawn more largely from his own circle than other writers of the same class; he has at least invented for himself no new species of licence. The truth seems to be, that his habits of life and course of destiny having thrown him almost exclusively among persons possessed of some notoriety, it is no wonder that his esquisses should have been traced more immediately, and with far greater interest, to their originals, than those perhaps quite as faithlessly faithful of scribes moving in quieter circles of society.

His tales, then, came before the public with two decided claims to popularity. Their materials were drawn in no trifling measure, and were supposed to be entirely drawn, from what he himself had actually witnessed among some of the most-talked-about circles of London life; and they were written in a style distinguished by several most attractive qualities. There are plenty of people who can, even in these plotless days, invent far better plots for stories than Theodore Hook. There are plenty who can command passions and feelings higher, far higher, in class, than those he wishes to meddle with: There are several, certainly, who can lead us to look much deeper into character, and, indeed, who have much wider and more philosophical notions of what constitutes character, than he appears to have. But who is he that has touched with equal skill the actual living, reigning follies of the existing society of England, or rather, say we, of London? Who is he that glances over the absurdities of the actual everyday surface-life of our own day with so sharp and quizzical a pen? And who, finally, contrives, by general lightness of touch, facility of transition, careless recklessness of allusion, and perpetual interspersion of really masterly paragraphs of humorous description, to make all the world forget the absurdities of plots, which are not

Life; a New Series. London: printed for 1825.

« PreviousContinue »