« PreviousContinue »
Character of Dugald Stewart.-SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH.
DUGALD STEWART was the son of Dr. Matthew Stewart, professor of mathematics in the university of Edinburgh; a station immediately before filled by Maclaurin, on the recommendation of Newton. He was born in 1753. He was educated in Edinburgh, and he heard the lectures of Reid at Glasgow. He was early associated with his father in the duties of the mathematical professorship; and, during the absence of Dr. Ferguson as secretary to the commissioners sent to conclude a peace with the United States, he occupied the chair of moral philosophy. He was appointed to the professorship on the resignation of Ferguson.
This office, filled in immediate succession by Ferguson, Stewart and Brown, received a lustre from their names, which it owed in no degree to its modest exterior or its limited advantages; and was rendered by them the highest dignity in the humble, but not obscure establishments of Scottish literature. The lectures of Mr. Stewart, for a quarter of a century, rendered it famous through every country where the light of reason was allowed to penetrate. Perhaps few men ever lived who poured into the breasts of youth a more fervid and yet reasonable love of liberty, of truth, and of virtue. How many are still alive, in different countries, and in every rank to which education reaches, who, if they accurately examined their own minds and lives, would not ascribe much of whatever goodness and happiness they possess, to the early impressions of his gentle and persuasive eloquence! He lived to see his disciples distinguished among the lights and ornaments of the council and the senate. He had the consolation to be sure that no words of his promoted the growth of an impure taste, of an exclusive prejudice, of a malevolent
passion. Without derogation from his writings, it may be said that his disciples were among his best works.
He, indeed, who may justly be said to have cultivated an extent of mind which would have otherwise remained barren, and to have contributed to raise virtuous dispositions where the natural growth might have been useless or noxious, is not less a benefactor of mankind, and may, indirectly, be a larger contributor to knowledge than the author of great works, or even the discoverer of important truths. The system of conveying scientific instruction to a large audience by lectures, from which the English universities have in a great measure departed, renders his qualities as a lecturer a most important part of his merit in a Scottish university, which still adheres to the general method of European education.
Probably no modern ever exceeded Mr. Stewart in that species of eloquence which springs from sensibility to literary beauty and moral eloquence; which neither obscures science by prodigal ornament, nor disturbs the serenity of patient attention; but, though it rather calms and soothes the feelings, yet exalts the genius, and insensibly inspires a reasonable enthusiasm for whatever is good and fair.
Few writers rise with more grace from a plain groundwork to the passages which require greater animation or embellishment. He gives to narrative, according to the precept of Bacon, the color of the time by a selection of happy expressions from original writers. Among the secret arts by which he diffuses elegance over his diction, may be remarked the skill which, by deepening or brightening a shade in a secondary term, by opening partial or preparatory glimpses of a thought to be afterwards unfolded, unobservedly heightens the import of a word, and gives it a new meaning, without any offence against old use. It is in this manner that philosophical originality. may be reconciled to purity and stability of speech-that we may avoid new terms, which are the easy resource of
the unskilful or the indolent, and often a characteristic mark of writers who love their language too little to feel its peculiar excellences, or to study the art of calling forth its powers.
Aristotle, Bacon and Luther.-DUGALD STEWART.
THE Correction of one single prejudice has often been attended with consequences more important and extensive than could be produced by any positive accession to the stock of our scientific information. Such is the condition of man, that a great part of a philosopher's life must necessarily be spent, not in enlarging the circle of his knowledge, but in unlearning the errors of the crowd, and the pretended wisdom of the schools; and that the most substantial benefit he can bestow on his fellow-creatures, as well as the noblest species of power to which he can aspire, is to impart to others the lights he has struck out by his meditations, and to encourage human reason, by his example, to assert its liberty. To what did the discoveries made by Luther amount, but to a detection of the impostures of the Romish church, and of absurdities sanctioned by the authority of Aristotle ? Yet how vast the space which is filled by his name in the subsequent history of Europe! and how proud his rank among the benefactors of mankind! I am doubtful if Bacon himself did so much by the logical rules he gave for guiding the inquiries of his followers, as by the resolution with which he inspired them to abandon the beaten path of their predecessors, and to make excursions into regions untrodden before; or if any of his suggestions concerning the plan of experimenting can be compared in value to his classification and illustration of the various prejudices
or idols which mislead us from the pure worship of truth. If the ambition of Aristotle has been compared, in the vastness of its aim, and the plenitude of its success (and who can say that it has been compared unjustly?), to that of his royal pupil who conquered the world, why undervalue the efforts of those who first raised the standard of revolt against his universal and undisputed despotism? Speedily after the death of Alexander, the Macedonian empire was dismembered among his principal officers. The empire founded by the philosopher continued one and undivided for the period of two thousand years.— In consequence of this slow and gradual emancipation of the mind, the means by which the final result has been accomplished attract the notice only of the reflecting inquirer; resembling, in their silent but irresistible operation, the latent and imperceptible influence of the roots, which, by insinuating themselves into the crevices of an ancient edifice, prepare its infallible ruin, ages before its fall; or that of the apparently inert moisture, which is concealed in the fissures of a rock, when enabled, by the expansive force of congelation, to rend asunder its mass, or to heave it from its basis.
As it is seldom, in such instances, easy to trace to particular individuals what has resulted from their exertions, with the same precision with which, in physics or mechanics, we refer to their respective inventors the steamengine, or the thunder-rod, it is not surprising that the attention of the multitude should be so little attracted to the intellectual dominion of superior minds over the moral world; but the observer must be blind, indeed, who does not perceive the vastness of the scale on which speculative principles, both right and wrong, have operated on the present condition of mankind; or who does not now feel and acknowledge, how deeply the morals and the happiness of private life, as well as the order of political society, are involved in the final issue of the contest between true and false philosophy.
Influence of perverted Talents.-PROFESSOR FRISBIE.
THOSE Compositions in poetry and prose which constitute the literature of a nation, the essay, the drama, the novel, it cannot be doubted, have a most extensive and powerful operation upon the moral feelings and character of the age. The very business of the authors of such works is, directly or indirectly, with the heart. Even descriptions of natural scenery owe much of their beauty and interest to the moral associations they awaken. In like manner, fine turns of expression or thought often operate more by suggestion than enumeration. But when feelings and passions are directly described, or embodied in the hero, and called forth by the incidents of a story, it is then that the magic of fiction and poetry is complete, that they enter in and dwell in the secret chambers of the soul, moulding it at will.
In these moments of deep excitement, must not a bias be given to the character, and much be done to elevate and refine, or degrade and pollute, those sympathies and sentiments, which are the sources of much of our virtue and happiness, or our guilt and misery? The danger is, that, in such cases, we do not discriminate the distinct action of associated causes. Even in what is presented to the senses, we are aware of the power of habitual combination. An object naturally disagreeable becomes beautiful, because we have often seen the sun shine or the dew sparkle upon it, or it has been grouped in a scene of peculiar interest. Thus the powers of fancy and of taste blend associations in the mind, which disguise the original nature of moral qualities.
A liberal generosity, a disinterested self-devotion, a powerful energy or deep sensibility of soul, a contempt of danger and death, are often so connected in story with