« PreviousContinue »
be found conformable to truth. This is the method of inveftigation attempted in the Enquiry concerning Political Juftice.
An enquiry thus pursued is undoubtedly in the highest style of man. But it is liable to many disadvantages; and, though there be nothing that it involves too high for our pride, it is perhaps a method of investigation incommenfurate to our powers. A mistake in the commencement is fatal. An error in almost any part of the process is attended with extenfive injury; where every thing is connected, as it were, in an indiffoluble chain, and an overfight in one step vitiates all that are to follow. The intellectual eye of man, perhaps, is formed rather for the inspection of minute and near, than of immenfe and diftant objects. We proceed most fafely, when we enter upon each portion of our process, as it were, de novo; and there is danger, if we are too exclufively anxious about confiftency of fyftem, that we may forget the perpetual attention we owe to experience, the pole-star of truth.
An inceffant recurrence to experiment and actual obfervation, is the fecond method
thod of investigating truth, and the method adopted in the prefent volume. The author has attempted only a fhort excursion at a time; and then, difmiffing that, has fet out afresh upon a new purfuit. Each of the Effays he has written, is intended in a confiderable degree to stand by itself. He has carried this principle fo far, that he has not been severely anxious relative to inconfiftencies that may be difcovered, between the fpeculations of one Effay and the fpeculations of another.
The Effays are principally the result of conversations, fome of them held many years ago, though the Effays have all been compofed for the prefent occafion. The author has always had a paffion for colloquial difcuffion; and, in the various opportunities that have been afforded him in different scenes of life, the refult seemed frequently to be fruitful both of amufement and inftruction. There is a vivacity, and, if he may be permitted to fay it, a richness, in the hints ftruck out in converfation, that are with difficulty attained in any other method. In the fubjects of feveral of the
moft confiderable Effays, the novelty of idea they may poffibly contain, was regarded with a kind of complacence by the author, even when it was treated with fupercilious inattention in its firft communication. It is very poffible, in thefe inftances, that the public may espouse the party of the original auditor, and not of the author. Wherever that fhall be ftrikingly the cafe, the complacence he mentions will be radically affected. An opinion peculiar to a fingle individual, must be expected, to that individual to appear pregnant with dissatisfaction and uncertainty.
From what has been faid the humble pretenfions of the contents of the present volume are fufficiently obvious. They are prefented to the contemplative reader, not as dicta, but as the materials of thinking, They are committed to his mercy. In themselves they are trivial; the hints of enquiry rather than actual enquiries: but hereafter perhaps they may be taken under other men's protection, and cherished to maturity. The utmost that was here propofed, was to give, if poffible, a certain perfpicuity
perfpicuity and confiftency to each detached member of enquiry. Truth was the object principally regarded; and the author endeavoured to banifh from his mind every modification of prepoffeffion and prejudice.
There is one thought more he is defirous to communicate; and it may not improperly find a place in this Preface. It relates to the French Revolution; that inexhauftible fource of meditation to the reflecting and inquifitive. While the principles of Gallic republicanifm were yet in their infancy, the friends of innovation were somewhat too imperious in their tone. Their minds were in a state of exaltation and ferment. They were too impatient and impetuous. There was fomething in their fternnefs that favoured of barbarifm. The barbarifm of our adverfaries was no adequate excufe for this. The equable and independent mind fhould not be diverted from its bias by the errors of the enemy with whom it may have to contend.
The author confeffes that he did not escape the contagion. Those who ranged themfelves
themselves on the fame party, have now moderated their intemperance, and he has accompanied them also in their present stage. With as ardent a paffion for innovation as ever, he feels himself more patient and tranquil. He is defirous of affisting others, if poffible, in perfecting the melioration of their temper. There are many things dif cuffed in the following Effays, upon which perhaps, in the effervefcence of his zeal, he would have difdained to have written. But he is perfuaded that the cause of political reform, and the caufe of intellectual and literary refinement, are infeparably connected. He has alfo defcended in his investigations into the humbler walks of private life. He ardently defires that those who shall be active in promoting the cause of reform, may be found amiable in their perfonal manners, and even attached to the cultivation of miscellaneous enquiries. He believes that this will afford the beft fecurity, for our preferving kindness and univerfal philanthropy, in the midst of the operations of our justice.
LONDON, February 4, 1797