« AnteriorContinuar »
Conduct of the Understanding, and several theological treatises, the composition of which had been the employment of the last years of his industrious and productive old age. Locke's famous Essay was the first work, perhaps in any language, which professedly or systematically attempted to popularise metaphysical philosophy. The author's persuasion evidently is, that there is nothing more difficult to comprehend, or at least more incomprehensible, about the operations of the human mind than there is in the movements of an eight-day clock. What he especially sets himself to run down and do away with, from the beginning to the end of his book, is the notion that there is any mystery in any part of the subject he has undertaken to expound which his pen cannot make clear to the most ordinary capacity that will lend him half an hour's fair attention. Locke was a man of great moral worth, of the highest integrity, disinterested, just, tolerant, and humane, as well as of extraordinary penetration and capacity; moreover, he was probably as free from anything like self-conceit, or the over-estiration either of his own virtues or his own talents, as people of good sense usually are ; and he had undoubtedly a great respect for the deity, as the First Magistrate of the universe; yet, to a mind differently constituted from his, and which, instead of seeing a mystery in nothing, sees a mystery in all things, there is, it must be confessed, something so offensive in the whole tone and manner of his speculations, that his real merits perhaps will scarcely be rated by such a mind so high as they deserve. It seems all like a man,
if not trying to deceive others, at least so perseveringly shutting his eyes upon, and turning away his head from, every real difficulty, that lic may be almost said to be wilfully deceiving himself; merely skimming the surface of his subject while he assumes the air of exploring it to the bottom; repelling objections sometimes by dexterously thrusting them aside, mostly by not noticing them at all; in other words, a piece of mere clever and plausible, but hollow and insincere, conjuring; a vain show of wisdom, having in it almost as little of the real as of the reverential. No awe, no wonder, no self-distrust- no sense of anything above-we might almost say beside, or out of-the intellect of the speculator. Malebranche saw all things in God; Locke saw all things in himself, Nay, he went all but the length of seeing the whole universe in his five corporeal senses; and the majority of his disciples in more recent times have boldly leaped across the slight barrier which kept their master back from that great dis, covery. But, while there will continue to be in many minds this dissent from the general spirit of Locke's philosophy, and also from the general tenor of his conclu. sions, the Essay on Human Understanding will, nevertheless, always be recognised as not only an illustrious monument of the penetration, ingenuity, and other high mental powers and resources of its author, but as a fundamental book in modern metaphysics. It is, as has been remarked, the first comprehensive survey that had been attempted of the whole mind and its faculties; and the very conception of such a design argued an intellect of no common reach, originality, and boldness. It will remain also of very considerâble value as an extensive register of facts, and a storehouse of acute and often suggestive observations on psychological phenomena, whatever may be the fate of the views propounded in it as a metaphysical system. Further, it is not to be denied that this work has exercised a powerful influence upon the course of philosophical inquiry and opinion ever since its appearance. At first, in particular, it did good service in putting finally to the rout some fantastic notions and methods that still lingered in the schools; it was the loudest and most comprehensive proclamation that had yet been made of the liberation of philosophy from the dominion of authority; but Locke's was a mind stronger and better furnished for the work of pulling down than of building up; he had enough of clearsightedness and independence of mental character for the one; whatever endowments of a different kind he possessed, he had too little imagination, or creative power, for the other. Besides, the very passionless character of his mind would have unfitted him for going far into the philosophy of our complex nature, in which the passions are the revealers and teachers of all the deepest truths, and alone afford us any intimation of many things which, even with the aid of their lurid light, we discern but as' fearful and unfathomable mysteries. What would Shakspeare's understanding of the philosophy of human nature have been, if he had had no more imagination and passion in his own nature than Locke ?
WRITERS ON POLITICAL ECONOMY.
Among Locke's writings are two treatises, the one entitled. Considerations on the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money,' published in 1691, the other entitled “Further Considerations on Raising the Value of Money,' published in 1695. Some of the most important questions in what is now called Political
Economy had been discussed in England in a popular fashion before the end of the sixteenth century; but it was only since the Revolution that attempts had been made to settle the general principles of the science of wealth or to give it a systematic form. Sir William Petty, Sir Josiah Child, and Mr. Thomas Mun had all written upon the subject of money before Locke, and both his publications and theirs contain many sound and valuable observations; but by far the most remarkable work belonging to this early era of the science is Sir Dudley North’s ‘Discourses on Trade, principally directed to the cases of Interest, Coinage, Clipping, and Increase of Money,' published in the same year with Locke's first tract, and with reference to the same matter, the general recoinage of the silver currency which was about this time first proposed by the government, and was accomplished five years afterwards. Sir Dudley's pamphlet was in opposition to a material point of the plan actually adopted, by which the loss arising from the clipped money was thrown upon the public, and the publication is supposed to have been suppressed; but a few years ago a distinguished living political economist (Mr. M‘Culloch) was fortunate enough to recover a copy, then supposed to be the only one in existence.*
Its leading principle is simply, that gold and silver differ commercially in no respect whatever from other commodities; and on this basis the author has reared a theory entirely unvitiated by the ancient and almost universally received errors and prejudices of his day, and, so far as
* In his · Literature of Political Economy,' svo. Lond. 1845, p. 43, Mr. M‘Culloch informs us that he has since met with two other copies of the original edition.
it goes, as perfect as the subject admits of. A more voluminous writer on commerce and finance in this and the next reign was Dr. Charles Davenant (son of Sir William, the poet), whose works, however, are more valuable for the mere facts they record than for any light they throw on the principles of economical science. Davenant, who held the office of Inspector-general of Exports and Imports, was a laborious examiner of documents and accounts, and a sensible man withal, but rather dull, it must be allowed, notwithstanding his poetical descent,
BOYLE AND BENTLEY CONTROVERSY.
In taking leave of the seventeenth century we must not omit noticing the memorable contest of wit and learning which arose, in the reign of William, out of the publication of an edition of the Greek Epistles attributed to Phalaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, in Sicily, famous for his brazen bull, by the Honourable Charles Boyle (afterwards Earl of Orrery). In the preface to his book, which was published in the beginning of the year 1695, Boyle, who was then an undergraduate of Christ Church, Oxford, animadverted with some severity upon a piece of discourtesy which he conceived he had met with from Dr. Bentley, then keeper of the King's Library, in regard to the loan of a manuscript of the Epistles there preserved. After an interval of two years Bentley published, in an appendix to the second edition of his friend William Wotton's 'Reflections on Ancient and Modern Learning,' an elaborate exposition of his reasons for holding the compositions printed by Boyle, and ranked by him with the most precious remains of the