Billeder på siden

to say in that correspondence (we can but refer the reader to it) which of the two appears the more mag


Let us also listen to a few traits given by Le Clerc.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

'He considered civility not only as something agreeable and proper to gain people's hearts, but as a duty of Christianity which ought to be more insisted on than it commonly is. . . His conversation was very agreeable to all sorts of people, and even to ladies; and nobody was better received than he was among people of the highest rank. Those who courted the acquaintance of Mr. Locke, to collect what might be learned from a man of his understanding, and who approached him with respect, were surprised to find in him not only the manners of a well-bred man, but also all the attention which they could expect. He was very charitable to the poor, provided they were not the idle or the profligate, who did not frequent any church, or who spent their Sundays in an alehouse. He felt, above all, compassion for those who, after having worked hard in their youth, sunk into poverty in their old age. He said that it was not sufficient to keep them from starving, but that they ought to be enabled to live with some comfort. He sought opportunities of doing good to deserving objects; and often in his walks he visited the poor of the neighbourhood, and gave them the wherewithal to relieve their wants, or to buy the medicines which he prescribed for them if they were sick, and had no medical aid.

[ocr errors]

He did not like any thing to be wasted; which was, in his opinion, losing the treasure of which God has made us the economists. He himself was very regular, and kept exact accounts of every thing. He was kind to his servants, and showed them with gentleness how he wished to be served. He not only kept strictly a secret which had been confided to him, but he never mentioned any thing which could prove injurious, although he had not been enjoined secrecy; nor could he ever wrong a friend by any sort of indiscretion or inadvertency.'

It really seems impossible to imagine a social character more free from the imputed defect, nor a better exemplification of the fact that it is possible to combine an innocent cheerfulness with the gravity of philosophy, severely regulated habits and complete control of mere passion and enthusiasm, with ready sympathy for all that really claimed it.

But it is high time that we proceed to make our proposed remarks on Locke's philosophy.

It is impossible to deny that the immortal 'Essay' is disfigured by serious blemishes-by some errors, and many inconsistencies and ambiguities. The latter flowed chiefly from that figurative and popular style which is yet one of its most attractive, as well as serviceable features; but partly also from the desultory manner in which the Essay was composed, and the length of time (nearly twenty years) occupied in its completion. This allowed, it is true, time for elaboration; but it also allowed time for the 'sleepy nods' which proverbially overtake a man in a ‘long work;' and for those variations which are sure to characterise every large edifice when it is an aggregate of accretions. Hence the apparent, and sometimes real inconsistencies and ambiguities of expression among the frequent repetitions and restatements of the same or similar thoughts. These have made it possible for critics to fight so long even over the fundamental principles of Locke's philosophy. Of errors, some are the errors of that defective philosophy of his age which he did so much to correct; but others, as, for example, his infelicitous theory of personal identity, and his gratuitous speculation as to the possibility of 'thinking matter,' are his own unchallenged and unenvied property. But whatever the faults of his book,

for his method of appealing exclusively to consciousness as the basis of mental science, he was much indebted to the study of Descartes. Locke greatly admired the writings of that philosopher, and to his influence, as we have seen, he avows his signal early obligations, however much he recoiled from many of the tenets of the Cartesian philosophy.

It is impossible to avoid detaining the reader, for a while, on that long and not yet exhausted controversy, respecting the extent to which Locke is responsible or otherwise for the extravagancies of those Sensational schools, especially the French, which avowedly adopted him as their patron;—an honour which, we apprehend, would have been about, as acceptable to Locke as it would have been to Aristotle to know that he was to be held responsible for all the comments of the schoolmen, or to Milton, to learn that his 'Satan' would be pleaded by Lord Byron in defence of 'Cain.'

[ocr errors]

There is nothing of which we feel more convinced, than that Locke would have recoiled with abhorrence from all attempts of men of the Condillac and Condorcet stamp to reduce all knowledge to sensation— to sensation proper, or sensation transformed; which last expression, if it had had any distinct meaning at all, might well have suggested doubts to those who used it, whether they were not conceding by the change of phrase what, by a mere change of phrase, they were attempting to conceal. He who should

contend that there is no essential difference between the vital fluid which circulates in our veins, and the food from which it is extracted, would seem hardly to satisfy our doubts by saying that blood is only 'transformed' beef and mutton. Is it not so ?' it might be said: 'do not these contain the elements

which enter into it?' Very true: but is not that subtle and intricate internal apparatus of chemistry which transmutes these elements into something so different by its own mysterious action, to go for something?

We have said that this controversy is not yet exhausted, perhaps we should rather say that it ought to have been. But metaphysicians, like the English at Waterloo, have the faculty of not knowing when they are beaten, though not always with as much reason for their ignorance. What is equally strange, it is not always very easy, in the present and many other cases, for even the spectator to know which party is beaten. We have not much doubt, therefore, that this old controversy over Locke's suspected or imputed delinquencies will be fought over and over again. Meantime the very frequency of the combat not only shows the obstinacy of the controversy, but makes it more difficult of decision. Already have Locke's words been so often quoted, misquoted, perverted, and supplemented, and such a voluminous body of controversy raised about them, that as in the case of the trampled body of Gustavus Adolphus, whose very features were almost trodden out under the heap of combatants who fought and fell around him, it is difficult to recognise Locke's true linea


That Locke himself must in part bear the blame of all this, cannot be disputed. His language, as already said, is often deficient in precision; he does not use the same terms with steadiness; and, writing in a style eminently popular for such subjects, he has availed himself very freely of colloquial and metaphorical language; language which, though in general admirably adapted to the intelligence of ordinary

readers, has paid the usual penalty of involving occasional obscurity. All this has been generally admitted. It may also be suspected that the self-reliant temper of Locke, on which we have made some remarks, his almost exclusive dependence on a profound inspection of his own consciousness, and comparative indifference to the literature and criticism. of his subject,-may, in some measure, have contributed to the same results by leading him to guard insufficiently against the prepossessions under which many of his readers would come to his statements, and against the ambiguity which would attach to many of the terms he employed-terms used differently by others, and not defined with the requisite rigour by himself. A critical acquaintance with the literature of a subject is well calculated to make a man aware of the points in which words are liable to be misunderstood by others and to guard against their misapprehensions of them as used by himself. But another cause of obscurity, in this as in many other cases, more powerful than ignorance of the literature of the past, was the impossibility of anticipating the controversies of the future; -when a more exact weighing of all the terms Locke had used would discover much that is ambiguous and fluctuating. It was just so with Descartes' first statements respecting his innate ideas; he was, no doubt, sincerely surprised, as in more than one place he says he was, at the meaning which men put upon them. Thus it ever is; each succeeding philosopher exposes some of the inaccuracies and negligences of his predecessors, but if he has added new matter of his own, (all un conscious of the sifting to which it will be subjected,) he is sure to deposit in his own writings the larvæ of future controversies.

« ForrigeFortsæt »