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We must draw our remarks to a close. We feel how imperfect an idea we have given of Archbishop Whately’s Annotations,—of their range, their cogency, their wisdom, their experience, their practical instruction, their wit, their eloquence. The extracts we have quoted are like a sheaf of wheat brought from a field of a hundred acres; but we trust our readers may be induced to study the book for themselves.
E do not think, judging from the contempt in which Mr. Lewes holds the Scotch philosophical school, that he would concur in the common opinion that the Scotch are a metaphysical race. But we believe that Mr. Lewes would admit that a certain Scotch lacksmith, mentioned in Dr. Fleming's book, succeeded in expressing in a pithy sentence the opinion as to metaphysical science which is accepted by the mass of mankind :— ‘Twa folk,” said he, “disputin’ thegither; he that's listenin' doesna ken what he that's speakin' means; and he that's The popular impression of metaphysics is of something excessively uninteresting; utterly away from all bearing on practical life, and for the most part quite unintelligible. The unintelligibility, so far as it exists, is mainly the fault of the authors who have written upon metaphysical subjects: the want of interest and of practical concern is chargeable, we fear, upon the branch of science itself. Very acute, very profound, and very subtle thought is of course more difficult to follow, than it is to take in and apprehend such a proposition as that the day is rainy, or that two and two make four ; and it is natural enough for ignorant persons to consider the difficulty of apprehending any thought as the measure of its subtlety, profundity, or acuteness; and to think that the harder they find it to understand what an author would be at, the greater philosopher that author must be. It is but carrying out this notion to its legitimate conclusion, when many people judge, that if they find it utterly impossible to understand an author, it must be because he possesses powers greatly superior to those bestowed upon one whom they understand throughout, or by occasional glimpses. But we believe that in almost every instance in which men and women of ordinary intelligence and education find it difficult to make out an author's meaning, the fault lies entirely with the author himself. Either he himself has no clear notion of what he wishes to say, or he wants the power of saying it in intelligible words. In the case of metaphysical writings, we find many proofs that both these evils exist. Many metaphysical writers, it is evident, are groping their way through their subject as they proceed: they have no defined notion in their mind: they do not know what they want to express, and it is not at all surprising that they do not succeed in expressing it. An author will generally present his thoughts to other minds, somewhat less sharply outlined than they exist in his own mind. And as if the essential difficulty of apprehending the impalpable and evanescent entities with which the metaphysician deals were not sufficient, many metaphysicians have employed a terminology so odd, affected, and unnatural, and a general style so intricate and involved, that it is not to be wondered at if the great majority of readers throw aside their works in disgust. There has been of late years a healthy reaction from that blind admiration which for a time followed the intellectual ‘children of the mist.” The Archbishop of Dublin, in the preface to his recent edition of Bacon's Essays, has remarked with his usual force and felicity upon the utterly undeserved influence which German theology and metaphysics for a considerable period exercised, and in some measure do still exercise, over many in this country;—an influence founded mainly upon the belief that whatever is abstruse and recondite must be abstruse and recondite wisdom. It is not too much to say, that if many of the young persons who regard German thinking as much more profound than English, understood the true meaning (so far as there is any) of what they admire, they would discover that it consists partly of what is undoubtedly true but perfectly trivial; and in greater part of what is flagrantly and absurdly false.
speakin' doesna ken what he means himsel', that's metaphysics.”
* The Biographical History of Philosophy, from its Origin in Greece down to the Present Day. By George Henry Lewes. London: 1857.
Encyclopaedia Metropolitana : Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy. Part I. Ancient Philosophy: Part II. Philosophy of the First Six Centuries: Part III. Mediaeval Philosophy. By Frederick Denison Maurice, M.A. London and Glasgow : 1854—1857.
The Vocabulary of Philosophy; Mental, Moral, and Metaphysical : with Quotations and References, for the use of Students. By William Fleming, D.D., Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow London and Glasgow : 1857.
* It is pity, we sometimes hear it said, “that such and such an author does not express in simple, intelligible, unaffected English such admirable matter as his.” They little think that it is the strangeness and obscurity of the style that make the power displayed seem far greater than it is ; and that much of what they now admire as originality and profound wisdom, would appear, if translated into common language, mere commonplace matter. Many a work of this description may remind one of the supposed ancient shield which had been found by the antiquary Martinus Scriblerus, and which he highly prized, encrusted as it was with venerable rust. He mused on the splendid appearance it must have had in its bright newness; till, one day, an oversedulous house-maid having scoured off the rust, it turned out to be merely an old pot-lid.*
We heartily wish that the Archbishop's words were impressed on the mind of every clever young undergraduate of every university in Britain. If a man writing English in England writes so as to be generally unintelligible, the simple inference in most cases should be, that he has not the command of his mother-tongue. And we think that such an instance as that of Archbishop Whately himself, who habitually treats the most recondite subjects with a crystalline clearness which makes the difficulty of following him, when it is difficult, that which arises from the severity of the thinking alone, must have tended powerfully to prove that there is no necessary connection between profundity of thought and unintelligibility of language. The last retreat of the theory that such a connection is essential, we believe to be among the bumpkins of many remote country parishes. They judge, that as a depth of the ocean is a point where the plummet finds no ground, so a deep
* Archbishop Whately's Bacon, pp. viii—ix.