« AnteriorContinuar »
and may in order be confuted. An indiscriminate reply, which repels in the gross, and attends to nothing minutely, can lead to no definite and åccurate conclusion.
In deference therefore to that respect which history claims, it is admitted, that history may be perused with great advantage by those, who bring to the perusal a proper and well-directed spirit of inquiry, and that the loss of history would be an irreparable loss. But it is contended, that, to reap these advantages, those requisites are necessary, which the
do not and cannot possess, and without which they cannot be guarded against the ill impression and ill tendencies, which, in respect to them at least, I have charged to the account of history. While in the page of history we contemplate the degraded state to which vice, ignorance, and the dominion of false and illiberal prejudices have so greatly subjected man, it does indeed require a strong and well-prepared mind to look on this degraded picture of humanity, without having our own principles of in
tegrity and benevolence weakened, and perhaps subverted; or our confidence in the superintendence of an overruling Providence endangered. All the events of history which are opprobrious to humanity will, by the judicious reader, be referred to their proper cause, to the corruption, not to the depravity of human nature ; that easy refuge of men, who are themselves corrupted; nor in the sentence of one, or a thousand villains, will he involve the whole human race; and thus by a rash and unjust inference rob man at once of his God, and of all generous confidence in the work of God. In fine, the fascinations of splendid crime should not screen the criminal, but the natural abhorrence of wickedness, rising in proportion to the enormity of its examples, should strengthen the virtuous inclination of the reader's heart. To read history with truth and with advantage, the nicest discrimination of causes is often requisite. Folly and errour are frequently as prominent in the page as deliberate bad intention, but by the historian and his reader
the deceived are rudely confounded with the deceiver, the seduced with the seducer; while many of the most overwhelming calamities, which have fallen on mankind, may with great truth be referred to an honest, though mistaken, principle of virtue. This might be illustrated by many memorable examples; but to adduce these would lead me into too wide a field, and exceed the limits which I apprehend are prescribed to me. I may be allowed however to observe, that, inattentive to this just discrimination, history and its readers often pass the most erroneous judgments, condemn where they should pity, infiame where they should instruct, excite national antipathies, where national sympathies would be the wiser and more salutary application, and authorize the most pernicious of all conclusions, the moral depravity of man, where in the intention of the actors the moral character of man is most prominent.
Vice and acheisın are certainly unnatural to man. Vice, in man as a part of the general system, is a state of great disorder, offensive
system ; while in
of the ge
as a spectacle, and, so far as it extends, ope-
ence, but to be uniform and consistent, this the atheist ought to do. The attribute of idiotism or madness would not be increased thereby.
These observations are not impertinent or irrelevant; they arise out of the view which we have taken, and prelude what is the summary of the charges which I have brought against history, that it is one principal cause of the increase both of vice and atheism in the world. It does not repel the charge, that history is abhorrent to such intention; this I am as firmly persuaded of as the greatest admirer of history can be; but the more I consider the subject, I am also the more persuaded that the charge is just. If vice, in a high degree, and atheism altogether, be unnatural to man, there must be some singular cause of the propagation of both.I will ask a few plain questions.
Is the exhibition of human character in history a fair representation of human nature? Is it the representation of man at all, considered in the abstract ? Is it not the 1