« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
sibility, but of our free agency he has failed to give any satisfactory account; and without this, all moral accountability sinks into an empty name. With regard to the problem—what is virtue ? Brown replies, if we may put the language of Bentham into his mouth, that it is a fictitious entity. Deluded by his psychological principles, he made no attempt to penetrate behind the veil of our feelings to the real world of moral truth itself; accordingly he has left behind him an ethical system, which merely plays upon the surface of the phenomena, but fails entirely to shew that our moral sentiments are grounded in the eternal nature of things themselves.
Having thus strongly expressed our views of Brown's errors and defects, it is but just that we should award him our meed of sincere admiration in those points where he is truly admirable. His wonderfully acute power of analysis, aided him in resolving many facts, which his predecessors had left unexplained. His polished and poetical mind threw a charm over every subject he undertook to discuss. His gentle nature, and loving heart, infused a warmth and tenderness into his style, which makes it peculiarly pleasing and persuasive. With such accompaniments every theory he propounds looks attractive and beautiful, his errors themselves are so charming that we would fain believe them for the loveliness of their exterior, and we are led almost insensibly into sympathy with his thoughts from the sympathy we cannot fail to have with his affections. Added to this, -Brown, though not profoundly read in philosophical loreyet was an eminently learned man in the usual acceptation of that word. His mind was stored with classical allusions, the choicest passages of our own most elegant literature were treasured up in his wonderfully retentive memory; and his knowledge of physical science was such as would have probably rendered him a discoverer in that department, had not the charms of poetry and philosophy attracted him into another sphere of mental action. All this has tended to give not only popularity, but a kind of weight and authority to his opinions upon metaphysical questions. It seemed impossible, that a mind so accomplished should wander far from the road of truth. On these grounds it is that the public has found it difficult to appreciate him aright, and for this very purpose, we have felt it to be the more needful to express as clearly as possible our dissent from many of his opinions.
The work, which has led to the preceding remarks, is & republication of Brown's lectures on Ethics and Natural Theology, with an introductory preface by Dr. Chalmers. To do the editor justice, we must say, that the Doctor has written a very lucid and impartial critique upon the subject. He has dealt with the errors of his author, it is true, with a very gentle hand; but no less firmly has he asserted the deficiency of his system as it now stands, and the absolute necessity of completing it by studying in connexion the profounder principles of Butler, upon the objective validity of moral distinctions, and the supremacy of conscience. If the work be read and judged of under the influence of this recommendation, we trust, that it may be productive of much instruction, as we have no doubt it will afford much enjoyment to many a reflective mind. There is one point of view indeed, in which we believe that the circulation of these lectures may be eminently useful, and that is in the masterly examination they afford of all those selfish and utilitarian systems, which have played their part and deluded their votaries in modern times. Upon this subject, Brown evidently felt strongly; his own high moral sensibility could not endure to regard right and wrong under the aspect of a cold calculation of profit and loss; and he has brought all his eloquence to bear upon the refutation of opinions so derogatory to the sanctity of moral truth. Added to this, the very fact that so great and so good a man as Dr. Chalmers, has ventured to send forth these lectures at once with the cordial expression of his admiration at much they contain, and the no less cordial recommendation to all who read them, to shun their errors and supply their defects,—this very fact, we say, may be sufficient to impress the real nature of moral truth upon many minds, who might otherwise have read the lectures in other editions with unmingled admiration. In fact, we can hardly help entertaining the secret thought, that one object in bringing out the present work, was to give the public the opportunity of reading it, in connection with the remarks, which the preface contains, and of seeing the weighty authority of Brown in some points counterbalanced by the equally illustrious name of Chalmers.
In an age marked like the present by a very lamentable dearth, in sound ethical writing, we hardly know how we could supply the place of these lectures, so far as the polemical part of them is concerned, with anything better. We say nothing to depreciate the valuable disquisitions of Payne and Wardlaw upon moral truth, nor the admirable work of the lamented Spalding; we would rather entreat the ethical student first to peruse the masterly analysis which he will find in Brown, of the different systems, and then turn to the other writers we have mentioned, to supply the remaining deficiencies. Everything around us seems to impress the conviction, that in philosophy and morals, as well as in many other departments of thought, an enlightened eclecticism must be our guide. Let mind still continue to act upon mind : instead of condemning a man for his intellectual errors, let us shew how they may be corrected by the sounder thinking of another, or the vigorous efforts of his own understanding; let the principle of labour by association be carried into the spiritual republic, and we have no fear of the result. It is only the weak and sickly understanding which trembles at beholding the wanderings of honest minds in the search after truth; the man who loves truth itself more than a system or a school, and has an unshaking confidence in its power, will see it gaining strength at every turn, and rejoice in the very controversies which, sweeping like storms through the stagnant atmosphere, render it only more clear and more pervious to the glorious light of heaven.
Art. IV.- Observations in Natural History: with an introduction on Habits of Observing, as connected with the Study of that Science. Also a Calendar of Periodic Phenomena in Natural History; with remarks on the importance of such Registers. By the Rev. Leonard Jenyns, M.A., F.L.S., etc. Svo. pp. 440. London: John Van
Voorst, 1846. MR. JENYNs in the present volume has contributed to natural science the result of his observations, commencing, when he was yet warm with the ardour inspired by a first perusal of White's own work,' and extending over a period of several years. His original intention was to publish the facts he had collected in the form of notes to a new edition of the Natural History of Selborne, but in consequence of the quantity of his materials, he found it necessary to embody them in a separate volume. We think that in doing so he has exercised a sound judgment. The system of overloading popular scien. tific works with editorial notes, and comments is, in many respects, objectionable. If a writer has really anything of value to communicate to the public, he had far better give it an independent existence, than seek to force it into notice, and probably consign it into oblivion, under the halo of another's reputation. The editorial system is alike unjust to himself and to his author. White's Selborne requires few notes either illustrative or emendatory. We like to read it as he left it. It is just what it professes to be-a simple record of his own observations within a particular district. And, therefore, with every respect to his numerous editors, we can only say that if we are to be favoured with a record of their experience, we prefer having it in their own pages and not in bis.
Most field-naturalists have it in their power to make valuable contributions to their favourite science, and we always gladly welcome such, when they appear in a form similar to that adopted by Mr. Jenyns in the present instance. His work is a favorable specimen of the class. It makes a very readable book. His position as a country clergyman has afforded him excellent opportunities of investigating natural objects, and many of the facts which he has recorded are highly interesting. He already ranks high as a scientific naturalist, and the present work proves him to be a diligent and accurate observer. Still there are some particulars recorded in his pages of such trifling importance that they might have been safely omitted, and a considerable portion of the volume might, in our opinion, have been condensed with advantage. We wish, too, that a cheaper style of publication had been adopted. We have no sympathy with large type and leaded lines and blank spaces. By a judicious getting up the bulk and price of the volume might have been reduced at least one half, and in that case we should have been spared the necessity of saying, that we think the money devoted to its purchase might, in this age of cheap literature, be better expended.
Mr. Jenyns opens his work with an essay on 'Habits of Observing. Our readers are no doubt familiar with Mrs. Barbauld's tale entitled Eyes and no Eyes,' and the lessons it teaches might be applied to a large section of mankind. It is astonishing how circumscribed is the knowledge which most persons have of the commonest objects by which they are surrounded. They may walk through the fields, or wander in the woods, but the varied notes of the birds strike on dull ears, and the eye fails to notice the opening blossom or the spangled insect. The study of natural history is nothing more than the exercise of our senses. It is simply to use our sight, our hearing, and our smell. If we examine the petals of a flower, the structure of an animal, or mark the transformations of a butterfly, we are to that extent naturalists. It is not necessary that we should enter into recondite questions of specific arrangements, or burden our memories with puzzling technicalities, -all these may be well in their place, but the study of nature may exist without them. Nor are we required to devote large portions of our time in order to derive enjoyment from natural history. The most pleasing departments of the science are the most easily accessible. In this, as in most other things, there are extremes on both sides. We meet with some men who have no eyes,' who stupidly deny themselves the gratification for which God has so exquisitely adapted their senses, and with others whose microscopical powers of vision VOL. XX.
of a study. Andory, then, rather in the less enquiry.
search into the most insignificant matters, and who devote months and years to a patient, but almost profitless enquiry.
- We consider natural history, then, rather in the light of a recreation than of a study. And whilst we think that a life entirely devoted to it might be more usefully spent, we are convinced that there are very few persons who might not pay some attention to the pursuit with advantage and enjoyment. To those resident in the country, natural history offers especial inducements, not only as a means of amusement, but because they may obtain, by careful observation, practical knowledge of considerable value. Serious injury often arises to agriculturists from their ignorance of the habits of common species. Certain kinds of birds, for instance, are frequently destroyed in places where their preservation would be beneficial. And the ravages of insects are suffered to a great extent, when probably a little information respecting them, mighč suggest means for eradicating the evil. Mr. Jenyns has some remarks on this subject :
It is to be regretted,' he observes, that the study of noxious insects is not more attended to by practical agriculturists. It is often such persons alone who can supply the facts necessary for clearing up their history. And the extent to which they suffer in their crops from the attacks of different species in certain seasons, one might have supposed a sufficient motive for undertaking the inquiry. Something has been done of late years in this way; but a vast deal more of investigation is needed to put us in the way of successfully counteracting these enemies, so as to prevent the immense damage they occasion. They may appear puny and insignificant when viewed singly; but, in their combined operations, they are often more destructive and alarming than other animals infinitely superior to them in size, and ranking far higher in the scale of nature.'— pp. 245, 246.
The perceptive faculties, like every other, derive accuracy and power from exercise. When the habit of observation has been acquired, it is astonishing how many objects of interest strike the senses that would have been otherwise unnoticed. To the observer, it is like a new creation; and barren spots, which formerly appeared destitute of life, are now seen to possess multitudes of active inhabitants.
The exercise of our perceptive faculties can scarcely fail to impress us with the fact that this earth is full of happy beings. The miseries of man, the offspring of his own perverse disobedience to the benevolent administration of God, stand out as the only blot upon the face of creation. In every other direction, there seems to be the greatest possible happiness to the greatest possible number. The minutest organism, whose existence can only be reckoned by seconds, sports in its tiny