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Let good Quinctilius all your lines revise,
If you have not the advantage of friends to survey your writings, then read them over yourself, and all the way consider what will be the sentence and judgement of all the various characters of mankind upon them; think what one of your own party would say, or what would be the sense of an adversary; imagine what a curious or a malicious man, what a captious or an envious critic, what a vulgar or a learned reader would object, either to the matter, the manner, or the style ; and be sure and think with yourself what you yourself could say against your own writing, if you were of a different opinion, or a stranger to the writer: and by these means you will obtain some hints whereby to correct and improve your own work, and to guard it better against the censures of the public, as well as to render it more useful to that part of mankind for whom you chiefly
CH A P. VIII.
Of Writing and Reading Controversies.
Of Writing Controversies. When a person of good sense writes on any controverted subject, he will generally bring the strongest arguments that are usually to be found for the support of his opinion;
and when that is done, he will represent the most powerful objections against it in a fair and candid manner, giving them their full force : and at last will put in such an answer to those objections as he thinks will dissipate and dissolve the force of them: and herein the reader will generally find a full view of the controversy, together with the main strength of argument on both sides.
When a good writer has set forth his own opinion at large, and vindicated it with its fairest and strongest proofs, he shall be attacked by some pen on the other side of the question ; and if his opponent be a wise and sensible writer, he will shew the best reasons why the former opinions cannot be true; that is, he will draw out the objections against them in their fullest array, in order to destroy what he supposes a mistaken opinion : and here we may reasonably suppose that an opponent will draw up his objections against the supposed error in a brighter light, and with stronger evidence, than the first writer did, who propounded his opinion which was contrary to those objections.
If, in the third place, the first writer answers his opponent with care and diligence, and maintains his own point against the objections which were raised in the best man. ner, the reader may then generally presume, that in these three pieces he has a complete view of the controversy, together with the most solid and powerful arguments on both sides of the debate.
But when a fourth, and fifth, and sixth volume appears in rejoinders and replies, we cannot reasonably expect any great degrees of light to be derived from daily experience, that
many mischiefs attend this prolongation of controversies among men of learning, which, for the most part, do injury to the truth, either by turning the attention of the reader quite away from the original point to other matters, or by covering the truth with a multitude of occasional incidents and perplexities, which serve to bewilder rather than guide a faithful inquirer. Sometimes, in these latter volumes, the writers on both
sides will hang upon little words and occasional expressions of their opponent, in order to expose them, which have no necessary connexion with the grand point in view, and which have nothing to do with the debated truth.
Sometimes they will spend many a page in vindicating their own character, or their own little sentences or acci. dental expressions, from the remarks of their opponent, in which expressions or remarks the original truth has no
And sometimes again you shall find even writers of good sense, who have happened to express themselves in an improper and indefensible manner, led away by the fondness of self-love to justify those expressions, and vindicate those little lapses they were guilty of, rather than they will condescend to correct those little mistakes, or recall those improper expressions. O that we could put off our pride, our self-sufficiency, and our infallibility, when we enter into a debate of truth! But if the writer is guilty of mingling these things with his grand argument, happy will that reader be who has judgement enough to distinguish them, and to neglect every thing that does not belong to the original theme proposed and disputed.
Yet here it may be proper to put in one exception to this general observation or remark, namely, when the second writer attacks only a particular or collateral opinion which was maintained by the first, then the fourth writing may be supposed to contain a necessary part of the complete force of the argument, as well as the second and third, because the first writing only occasionally or collaterally mentioned that sentiment which the second attacks and opposes; and, in such a case, the second may be esteemed as the first treatise on that controversy. It would take up too much time should we mention instances of this kind, which might be pointed to in most of our controversial writers, and it might be invidious to enter into the detail *.
SECT, Upon this it may be remarked farther, that there is a certain spirit of modesty and benevolence which never fails to adorn a writer on such occa
Of Reading Controversies. When we take a book into our hands, wherein any doctrine or opinion is printed in a way of argument, we are too often satisfied and determined beforehand whether it be right or wrong; and if we are on the writer's side, we are generally tempted to take his arguments for solid and substantial; and thus our own former sentiment is established more powerfully, without a sincere search after truth.
If we are on the other side of the question, we then take it for granted that there is nothing of force in these arguments, and we are satisfied with a short survey of the book, and are soon persuaded to pronounce mistake, weakness, and insufficiency concerning it. Multitudes of common readers, who are fallen into any error, when they are directed and advised to read a treatise that would set them right, read it with a sort of disgust which they have before entertained ; they skim lightly over the arguments, they neglect or despise the force of them, and keep their own conclusion firm in their assent, and thus they maintain their error in the midst of light, and grow incapable of conviction.
But if we would indeed act like sincere searchers for the truth, we should survey every argument with a careful and
sions, and which generally does him much more service, in the judgement of wise and sensible men, than any poignancy of satire with which he might be able to animate his productions; and as this always appears amiable, so is it peculiarly charming, when the opponent shews that pertness and petulancy which is so very common on such occasions. When a writer, instead of pursuing with eager resentment the antagonist that has given such provocation, calmly attends to the main question in debate, with a noble negligence of those little advantages which ill-nature and illmanners always give, he acquires a glory far superior to any trophies which wit can raise. And it is highly probable that the solid instruction his pages may contain will give a continuance to his writings far beyond what tracts of peevish controversy are to expect, of which the much greater part are borne away into oblivion by the wind they raise, or burnt in their own flames.
unbiassed mind, whether it agree with our former opinion or not: we should give every reasoning its full force, and weigh it in our sedatest judgement. Now the best way to try what force there is in the arguments which are brought against our own opinions is, to sit down and endeavour to give a solid answer, one by one, to every argument that the author brings to support his own doctrine: and in this attempt, if we find there some arguments which we are not able to answer fairly to our own minds, we should then begin to bethink ourselves, whether we have not been hitherto in a mistake, and whether the defender of the contrary sentiments may not be in the right. Such a method as this will effectually forbid us to pronounce at once against those doctrines, and those writers, which are contrary to our sentiments; and we shall endeavour to find solid arguments to refute their positions, before we entirely establish ourselves in a contrary opinion.
Volatilis had given himself up to the conversation of the free-thinkers of our age apon all subjects; and being pleased with the wit' and appearance of argument, in some of our modern Deists, had too easily deserted the Christian faith, and gone over to the camp of the infidels. Among other books which were recommended to him, to reduce him to the faith of the gospel, he had Mr John Reynolds's three Letters to a Deist put into his hands, and was particularly desired to peruse the third of them with the utmost care, as being an unanswerable defence of the truth of Christianity. He took it in hand, and after having given it a short survey, he told his friend he saw nothing in it but the common arguments which we all use to support the religion in which we have been educated, but they wrought no conviction in him ; nor did he see sufficient reason to believe that the gospel of Christ was not a piece of enthusiasm, or a mere imposture.
Upon this the friend, who recommended Mr Reynolds's three Letters to his study, being confident of the force of truth which lay there, entreated of Volatilis that he would