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HIS CHARACTER AND PHILOSOPHY.*
PROBABLY no philosopher of our own country-hardly any of any country-has exerted a more extensive or durable influence over the intellectual world than our illustrious countryman, John Locke. This is not owing, certainly, to the universal acceptance of all the dogmas he maintained, or to any lack of doubts and disputes as to what, on many points, were his dogmas. On the contrary, the criticism which has been expended on even the fundamental principles of his metaphysical theory would, as Judge Jeffreys said of the voluminous writings of Richard Baxter, 'fill a cart.'
Yet Locke has enjoyed his protracted and extensive empire not without sufficient reason. Not only has he extracted from the mine as ample a treasure of the ore of TRUTH as could fairly be demanded from the efforts of a single mind; not only has he exhibited it in a form as free from error as could be hoped from the limitations of any human intellect, however powerful; but throughout his writings he breathes a spirit of philosophy more precious, and calculated to exert a more beneficial influence over the reader, than his philosophy itself. They are inspired by an intense love of Truth, and exhibit a rare combination of independence and caution in seeking it;-independence
Edinburgh Review,' April, 1854.
The Works of John Locke. In nine volumes, 8vo. London.
in sturdily thrusting aside all authority but that of Reason; caution, in a perpetual recognition of the feebleness and ignorance of that very Reason; a profound consciousness that the highest achievement of man's wisdom will ever consist in wisely ascertaining within what limits alone he can be wise. When to these qualities we add the cogency of Locke's logic, his practical sagacity, the unusual vivacity and originality of his modes of treating abstruse subjects, we need not wonder that he is still a favourite with his countrymen, or that he continues to enjoy a European reputation. Hallam remarks, that he should hardly pardon himself for neglecting to put into the hands of any young person, over whose education he had any control, Locke's little tract on the 'Conduct of the Understanding;' and much of it, in truth, is not unworthy of comparison with those portions of the First Book of the Novum Organum,' which expose the 'idola' of the human mind. We should even go a step further; we should be disposed to censure ourselves if we did not recommend to every young person, who had leisure carefully to peruse it, the larger treatise on theUnderstanding' itself; assured that, whatever the points in which it convinced or failed to convince, few books in any language could more effectually enamour the soul of truth, inspire the contempt of sophistry, develop and discipline the powers of the mind, train it to clearness of thought and expression, inspire it with an ambition to know wherever knowledge is possible, and, (not less signal benefit,) teach it humbly to acquiesce in ignorance where ig. norance is inevitable.
Though, like the other greater luminaries of philosophy and science, Locke has shone on with tolerably uniform lustre, he has had, like most of them,
his periods, if not of waxing and waning, yet of brighter effulgence or transient obscuration. He seems to us labouring under some such partial eclipse at present. In the reaction against the sensational schools of the last century-in itself a happy revolution he has been in some danger of having his merits underrated from his presumed connexion with the extravagancies of those schools.
Yet Dugald Stewart, in his admirable criticism on Locke, contained in his celebrated 'Preliminary Dissertation,' (published nearly forty years ago,) did much to adjust the true position of our philosopher in relation to the sensational systems; much, in our judgment, to show that Locke's meaning had been perverted or misunderstood, alike by many of his admirers and opponents, but particularly by many of his admirers, who, claiming him as a patron of their sensational theories, had honoured him with homage equally undeserved and ruinous. Recent symptoms, however, in the literature both of our own country and of France, where the acute and, in many respects, admirable lectures on Locke by M. Cousin have excited much attention, seem to render some renewed discussion of Locke's position and merits not altogether superfluous.
It is a suspicion of this kind which has induced us, in spite of the necessary disadvantage of having to deal with so ample a theme in the contracted limits of an Article, to dwell on some traits of our great countryman's CHARACTER, and some features of the controversies which chiefly affect the merits of his
The principal characteristics of the genius of Locke are visible at once to the reader in almost every page.
No author has impressed the image of his own mind more indelibly on his works, or given them a character of more perfect originality. Hence, in part, and in great part, the continued popularity they possess, and the delight and profit with which they are perused; - delight and profit, as usual, often greater than can be reaped from writings less marked indeed by defects, and even by errors, but tamer in character and less stimulating to the mind of the student. Some of his characteristics-half moral and half intellectual -have been already adverted to; his rare combination of boldness and caution, of independence and humility, necessary complements of one another in every true philosopher. To these must be added a wonderful robustness and vigour in the logical faculty, rare sagacity, comprehensiveness and patience in the survey of whatsoever subject attracted his attention, -the characteristics of what he himself so much admired as a large round-about mind,'-a power of abstraction capable of detaining, separating, and analysing the most evanescent and complicated phenomena of thought, and great copiousness, often felicitous aptness, of homely illustrations and examples in describing and explaining them. A word or two more on two or three of the above peculiarities.
Perhaps the quality of Locke's intellect which most generally strikes the youthful reader is the force of the logical faculty, partly because it is more easily apprehended than the rest, and partly because it more continually manifests itself. Locke admired Chillingworth intensely, and often strongly reminds us of him. As with Chillingworth, the peculiar vigour of Locke's logic displays itself most in controversy. In the replies to Stillingfleet, but especially in the letters on 'Toleration,' (certainly the most brilliant, perhaps in
his own day the most useful, of his productions,) it is impossible not to recognise the logical Milo in every page. The unhappy Jonas Proast,' who ventured to oppose him on the latter subject, is not so much vanquished as annihilated. Like some criminals who have been punished by being blown from a cannon's mouth, not a fragment of the unfortunate champion for persecution is to be found.
But not one of the traits of Locke indicated above -neither his logical acuteness, nor his thirst for truth, nor the sagacity with which he prosecuted his search for it, is more marked than his habitual recognition of the narrow limits of the human faculties, and his conviction that the chief and most difficult function of a philosopher is to ascertain within what sphere men may legitimately philosophise. Profoundly feeling that there are impassable barriers which environ us on all sides, he is everywhere anxious to recognise the limits where philosophy must pause, the brink of those abysses and precipices on which there is no access to human hand or foot. Acknowledging without shame rather with manly modesty-this fact of the true position of man, he never hesitates to confess his ignorance where he is ignorant, nor even in many cases his despair of ever attaining knowledge. His great work originated, as he himself tells us, in a discussion, in which he suspected that the baffling difficulties felt by the disputants arose from not having ascertained the limits of the human faculties; and that therefore the first thing is to discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things they are in any degree proportioned, and where they fail us.' In the well-known metaphor, he reminds us that ‘it is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths