Page images

of our species for an extensive exercise of this higher faculty; as the thoughts of the far greater part of mankind are neceffarily restrained within the ordinary purposes of animal life. But if we look up even to those who move in much fuperior orbits, and who have opportunities to improve, as well as leisure to exercise their understandings; we shall find, that thinking is one of the last exerted privileges of cultivated humanity.

IT is, indeed, an operation of the mind which meets with many obstructions to check its just and free direction ; but there are two principles which prevail more or lefs in the conftitutions of most men, that particularly contribute to keep this faculty of the foul unemployed; I mean pride and indolence. To defcend to truth thro the tedious progreffion of well examined deductions, is confidered as a reproach to the quickness of understanding; as it is much too laborious a method for any, but those who are poffeffed of a vigorous and resolute activity of mind. For this reafon, the greater part of our fpecies generally choose either to feize upon their conclufions at once, or


to take them by rebound from others, as best suiting with their vanity or their lazinefs. Thus Mr. Locke obferves, that there are not fo many errors and wrong opinions in the world, as is generally imagined. Not that he thinks mankind are by any means uniform in embracing truth; but because the majority of them, he maintains, have no thought or opinion at all about those doctrines, concerning which they raise the greatest clamor. Like the common foldiers in an army, they follow where their leaders direct, without knowing, or even inquiring into the caufe for which they fo warmly contend.

THIS will account for the flow steps by which truth has advanced in the world, on one fide; and for thofe abfurd systems which, at different periods, have had an univerfal currency on the other. For there is a strange difpofition in human nature, eitheir blindly to tread the fame paths that have been traversed by others, or to strike out into the moft devious extravagancies: the greater part of the world will either totally renounce their reason, or reason only from

[ocr errors]

from the wild fuggestions of an heated ima-

FROM the fame fource may be derived
those divifions and animofities, which break
the union both of public and private focie-
ties, and turn the peace and harmony of hu-
man intercourse into diffonance and conten-
tion. For while men judge and act by
fuch measures as have not been proved by
the standard of difpaffionate reafon, they
muft equally be mistaken in their estimates
both of their own conduct and that of

If we turn our view from active to contemplative life, we may have occafion, perhaps, to remark, that thinking is no lefs uncommon in the literary than the civil world. The number of those writers who can with any juftness of expreflion be termed thinking authors, would not form a very copious library, tho one were to take in all of that kind which both antient and modern times have produced. Neceffarily, I imagine, muft one exclude from a collection of this fort, all critics, commentators, modern Latin poets, tranflators, and, in fhort, all that numerous under-tribe in the com



[ocr errors]

monwealth of literature that owe their existence merely to the thoughts of others. I should reject for the fame reason fuch compilers as Valerius Maximus and Aulus Gellius tho, it must be owned indeed, their works have acquired an accidental value, as they preferve to us feveral curious traces of antiquity, which time would otherwife have entirely worn out. Those teeming geniuses likewise, who have propagated the fruits of their studies thro a long series of tracts, would have little pretence, I believe, to be admitted as writers of reflection. For this reafon I cannot regret the loss of those incredible numbers of compofitions, which fome of the antients are faid to have produced :

Quale fuit Caffe rapido ferventius amni Ingenium; capfis quem fama eft effe, librifque Ambuftum propriis.


Thus Epicurus, we are told, left behind him three hundred volumes of his own works, wherein he had not inferted a single quotation; and we have it upon the authority of Varro's own words a, that he him-

This paffage is to be found in Aul. Gellius, who quotes it from a treatise which Varro had written con


felf compofed four hundred and ninety books. Seneca affures us, that Didymus the grammarian wrote no less than four thousand; but Origen, it seems, was yet more prolific, and extended his performances even to fix thousand treatifes. It is obvious to imagine with what fort of materials the productions of fuch expeditious workmen were wrought up: found thought and well-matured reflections could have no fhare, we may be fure, in these hafty performances. Thus are bocks multiplied, whilst authors are scarce; and fo much eafier is it to write than to think! But fhall I not myself, Palamedes, prove an instance, that it is fo, if I fufpend any longer your own more important reflections, by interrupting you with fuch as mine? Adieu.

concerning the wonderful effects of the number Seven. But the fubject of this piece cannot be more ridiculous, than the style in which it appears to have been compofed: for that moft learned author of his times (as Cicero, if I miftake not, fomewhere calls him) informed his readers in that performance, fe jam duodecimam annorum bebdomadam ingreffum effe, et ad eum diem feptuaginta, hebdomadas librorum confcripfiffe. Aul. Gell. iii. 10.


« PreviousContinue »