Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

deep in the search after truth ; thus defeating the kind intention of Nature, which brings it forth to their view, while they foolishly plunge in search of it to the bottom, where nothing but obscurity and perplexity reigns.

In consequence of this erroneous method, all writers have contended for a particular truth, or set of truths, appropriate to each particular subject; but what these appropriate truths are, no two of them are agreed in; while each with great ingenuity and zeal contends for his favourite doctrine ; each has his admirers and followers for a while; and each gives place to his successor, whose system, issuing from the same source, flourishes and passes into oblivion like that of his predecessor. My discovery presents to me but one great truth in Nature; it denies and it allows a truth in every opinion or system of opinions, which the world has favourably received. It denies to each of them if compared together at the same time,

but allows to each in its respective day; for the truth of each is just as much as the fashion of the moment gives to it.

But how unguardedly have I disclosed my hypothesis in the very entrance of my discourse, and thus robbed it of the advantage of an artful and elaborate investigation! I ought to have conducted you through a long ambages of subtle reasoning, till, having seduced your affections or blinded

your understanding, I should all at once break upon you with the blaze of a wonderful discovery. But my error is now irretrievable; and considering the ease with which I profess to have made the discovery, it may perhaps be more consistent with the simplicity of my theory to avoid the air of a mysterious concealment. It is, however, my purpose to defend it both by reason and experiment; by reasoning from the confessed nature of man, and

and by producing the unvaried course of human experience; that is, by experiment, the boasted foundation of


modern philosophy, on which the great and most ingenious of delusive theorists affected to rest his hypothesis.

It is allowed by all, that man is an imitative being; but to what degree has not perhaps been observed before. Buried in mysterious investigations of every phænomenon of the human mind, men have passed by the all-sufficient power of this single principle, which alone accounts for all our determinations, affections, and forms of truth, that are continually presenting themselves to the mind. Not that man is singular in the possession of this important faculty; he enjoys it only in common with the whole animal creation, of which each species is more or less perfect, as it is endowed with a greater or less portion of this faculty. It may seem to degrade the dignity of man, to refer his superior acquisitions to the same source, from which the diminished character of brutes is derived. But this is a foolish pride, in being offended with a name, while the attainment of the end is alone of conse2


quence, let the mode be what it will. To a like mechanic faculty we owe a gate-post and an orrery ; yet the comparison lessens not the honour of the more ingenious artist ; neither does man appear diminished in deriving the ampler furniture of his mind from a principle common to every diversified order of brutes, if the wider extent of the faculty be but sufficient to account for his more varied character. It is thought to be no objection to the moral system of Hutcheson, that he finds only a greater number of instincts, and instincts of a higher order, in man than in his fellow-animals.

To this imitative faculty all the scanty acquisitions of the various tribes of animals appear entirely to be owing. The very progress of it is visible to a curious observer. The parent exhibits to her young, before she quits her maternal care, the few man@uvres proper to her kind, whatever are necessary to their future being, to launch them safely into life. The imitative faculty catches the resemblance, and as soon as the


[ocr errors]

dam is assured of their facility in the practice, she leaves them to acquire more at leisure, from their commerce with their kind, what remaining propensities and habits are requisite in order to perfect them in the character which herself has sustained *.


* If we may give credit to the learned arguments the author of the Zoonomia, this is assuredly the source from which the whole character of the animal creation, except man, is derived. And who can hesitate, in giving credit to an author, to whom all the secrets of Nature appear to be revealed ? It is something astonishing, that the author should arrest his discovery in its most important application, and not extend it to man also, to whom it appears to be equally fitted. Shall we ascribe it to timidity? -But this is hardly to be supposed in a writer, who in every other instance discovers a manly intrepidity, and defiance of all antiquated notions. Had he made this one step further, he would have anticipated the publication of this essay, and communicated the same simple theory of all animated nature. I cannot therefore suppress my sense of the higher honour which is due to myself, who have pursued the truth to its whole extent, nor deprive myself of the honour of being altogether original in the whole of the discovery. The discovery of the ingenious doctor, limited as it is, was certainly


« AnteriorContinuar »