Monthly Archives: December 2006

Item of the Day: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1797)

Full Title: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. By Edward Gibbon, Esq. Volume the First. A New Edition. London: Printed for a. Strahan; and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies (Successors to Mr. Cadell) in the Strand, M.DCC.XCVII.

 PREFACE.

It is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiating on the variety, or the importance of the subject, which I have undertaken to treat: since the merit of the choice would serve to render the weakness of the execution still more apparent, and still less excusable. But as I have presumed to lay before the Public a first volume only of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it will perhaps be expected that I should explain, in a few words, the nature and limits of my general plan.

The memorable series of revolutions, which, in the course of about thirteen centuries, gradually undermined, and at length destroyed, the solid fabric of human greatness, may, with some propriety, be divided into the three following periods.

I. The first of these periods may be traced from the age of Trajan and the Antonines, when the Roman monarchy, having attained its full strength and maturity, began to verge towards its decline; and will extend to the subversion of the Western Empire, by the barbarians of Germany and Scythia, the rude ancestors of the most polished nations of modern Europe. This extraordinary revolution, which subjected Rome to the power of a Gothic conqueror, was completed about the beginning of the sixth century.

II. The second period of the Decline and Fall of Rome, may be supposed to commence with the reign of Justinian, who by his laws, as well as by his victories, restored a transient splendour to the Eastern Empire. It will comprehend the invasion of Italy by the Lombards; the conquest of the Asiatic and African provinces by the Arabs, who embraced the religion of Mahomet; the revolt of the Roman people against the feeble princes of Constantinople; and the elevation of Charlemagne, who, in the year eight hundred, established the second, or German Empire of the west.

III. The last and longest of these periods includes about six centuries and a half; from the revival of the Western Empire, till the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, and the extinction of a degenerate race of princes, who continued to assume the titles of Caesar and Augustus, after their dominions were contracted to the limits of a single city; in which the language as well as manners of the ancient Romans had been long since forgotten. The writer who should undertake to relate the events of this period, would find himself obliged to enter into the general history of the Crusades, as far as they contributed to the ruin of the Greek empire; and he would scarcely be able to restrain his curiosity from making some inquiry into the state of the city of Rome, during the darkness and confusion of the middle ages.

As I have ventured, perhaps too hastily, to commit to the press, a work, which, in every sense of the word, deserves the epithet of imperfect, I consider myself as contracting an engagement to finish, most probably in a second volume, the first of these memorable periods; and to deliver to the Public the complete History of the Decline and Fall of Rome, from the age of the Antonines, to the subversion of the Western Empire. With regard to the subsequent periods, though I may entertain some hopes, I dare not presume to give any assurances. The execution of the extensive plan which I have described, would connect the ancient and modern history of the World: but it would require many yeas of health, of leisure, and of perseverance.

Bentinck-Street

February 1, 1776.

P.S. The entire History, which is now published, of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, abundantly discharges my engagements with the Public. Perhaps their favourable opinion may encourage me to prosecute a work, which, however laborious it may seem, is the most agreeable occupation of my leisure hours.

Bentinck-Street

March 1, 1781.

An Author easily persuades himself that the public opinion is still favourable to his labours; and I have now embraced the serious resolution of proceeding to the last period of my original design, and of the Roman Empire, the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, in the year one thousand four hundred and fifty-three. The most patient Reader, who computes that three ponderous volumes have been already employed on the events of four centuries, may, perhaps, be alarmed at the long pros0pect of nine hundred years. But it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minuteness on the whole series of Byzantine history. At our entrance into this period, the reign of Justinian, and the conquests of the Mahometans, will deserve and detain our attention, and the last age of Constantinople (the Crusades and the Turks) is connected with the revolutions of Modern Europe. From the seventh to the eleventh century, the obscure interval will be supplied by a concise narrative of such facts, as may still appear either interesting or important.

Bentinck-Street

March 1, 1782.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is now delivered to the Public in a more convenient form. Some alterations and improvements had presented themselves to my mind, but I was unwilling to injure or offende the purchasers of the preceding editions. The accuracy of the Corrector of the Press has been already tried and approved; and, perhaps, I may stand excused, if, amidst the avocations of a busy winter, I have preferred the pleasures of composition and study, to the minute diligence of revising a former publication.

Bentick-Street

April 20, 1783.

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Filed under 1790's, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Walpole’s Private Correspondence

Full Title: Private Correspondence of Harace Walpole, Earl of Orford. Now first collected. In four volumes. Vol. I. 1735-1756. London: Printed for Rodwell and Martin, Bond-Street; and Colburn and Co., Conduit-Street, 1820.

To Richard West, Esq.

Florence, Jan. 24, 1740, N.S.

Dear West,

I don’t know what volumes I may send you from Rome; from Florence I have little inclination to send you any. I see several things that please me calmly, but à force d’en avoir vù I have left off screaming, Lord! this! and Lord! that! To speak sincerely, Calais surprised me more than any thing I have seen. I recollect the joy I used to propose if I could but once see the Great Duke’s gallery; I walk into it now with as little emotion as I should into St. Paul’s. The statues are a congregation of good sort of people, that I have a great deal of unruffled regard for. The farther I travel, the less I wonder at any thing: a few days reconcile one to a new spot, or an unseen custom; and men are so much the same every where, that one scarce perceives any change of situation. The same weaknesses, the same passions that in England plunge men into elections, drinking, whoring, exist here, and show themselves in the shapes of Jesuits, Cicisbeos, and Corydon ardebat Alexins. The most remarkable thing I have observed since I came abroad, is, that there are no people so obviously mad as the English. The French, the Italians, have great follies, great faults; but then they are so national, that they cease to be striking. In England, tempers vary so excessively, that almost every one’s faults are peculiar to himself. I take this diversity to proceed partly from our climate, partly form our government: the first is changeable, and makes us queer; the latter permits our queernesses to operate as they please. If one could avoid contracting this queerness, it must certainly be the most entertaining to live in England, where such a variety of incidents continually amuse. The incidents of a week in London would furnish all Italy with news for a twelve-month. The only two circumstances of moment in the life of an Italian, that ever give occasion to their being mentioned, are, being married, and in a year after taking a cicisbeo. Ask the name, the husband, the wife, or the cicisbeo of any person, et voila qui est fini. Thus, child, ’tis dull dealing here. Methinks your Spanish war is a little more lively. By the gravity of the proceedings, one would think both nations were Spaniard. Adieu! Do you rmember my maxim, that you used to laugh at? Evert body does every thing, and nothing comes on’t. I am more convinced of it now than ever.  I don’t know wheterh S****’s was not still better, Well, ‘gad, there is nothing in nothing. You see how I distil all my speculations and improvements, that they may lie in a small compass. Do you remember the story of the prince, that after travelling three years brought home nothing but a nut? They cracked it: in it was wrapped a piece of silk, painted with all the kings, queens, kindgoms, and every thing in thw world: after many unfoldings, out stepped a little dog, shook his ears, and fell to dancing a saraband. There is a fairy tale for you. If I had any thing as good as your old song, I would send it too; but I can only thank you for it, and bid you good night.

Yours ever,

P.S. Upon reading my letter, I perceive still plainer the sameness that reigns here; for I find I have said the same things ten times over. I don’t care; I have made out a letter, and that was all my affair.

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Filed under 1740's, Letters, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel

Item of the Day: The General History of the Wars of the Romans, by Polybius (1812)

Full Title: The General History of thw Wars of the Romans, by Polybius. Translated from the Original Greek. By Mr. Hampton. And now reprinted and enlarged with several additions. Complete in one volume. London: Printed and published by J. Davis, 38, Essex Street, Strand, and sold by all the booksellers, 1812.

 

THE PREFACE.

Among all the historians of antiquity, whose works have been adjudged worthy of the admiration or regard of later times, there is none, perhaps, so little known, as the author who is now offered to the public. The words grave, judicious, excellent, are, indeed, transmitted from pen to pen, and fill the mouth of every critic. But though the name of Polybius be thus still accompanied with some mark of respect and honour, his real character has remained almost unnoticed; and his writings, even though confessed to be the objects of esteem and praise, by degrees have fallen under that kind of neglect and general disregard, which usually foreruns oblivion.

It may be useful, therefore, to consider some of the chief among the causes that have concurred to produce so perverse an accident, before we attempt to lead the reader into a closer view of those many excellences that are peculiar to the following history, and which drew towards it the attention of the wise and learned, in the enlightended times of the Greeks and Romans.

Amidst all the advantages which the moderns are by many supposed to have gained against the ancients, with respect to the points of useful knowledge, and the enlargement of all true and solid science, it cannot but be allowed, that, in the art of writing, the latter still maintain their rank unrivalled; and that the graces and charms, the exactness, strength, and energy, which make severally the character of their most perfect compositions, are in vain sought for in the productions of the present age. Those, therefore, that take into their hands the remains of any celebrated name either of Greece or Rome, are, in the first place, accustomed to expect, if not a faultless work, yet some display, at least, of that superiority which the warmest emulation has not yet been able to exceed; some beaming of those excellences, which strike and captivate the mind, and render irresistible the words of wisdom, when delivered through the lips of beauty. It is not, therefore, judged sufficient, that the matter be grave and weighty, unless the manner also be enchanting. In vain are things disposed in order, and words made expressive of the sense. We demand, likewise, an arrangement that may please the fancy, and a harmony that may fill the ear. On the other hand, if the style be such as rejects the embellishments of art, yet let us find in it at least that full and close conciseness, that commanding dignity, that smooth and pure simplicity, in a word, those naked graces which outshine all ornament.

Such are the expectations of every reader, who has gained a taste sufficient to discern, that these beauties are, in fact, diffused through all the finished pieces of antiquity. For though, even among the antients, there were as many different styles as authors, yet nature, and sound criticism which drew its rules from nature, referred them all to two or three different kinds, of which each had its established laws; which, while they served to instruct the writer in his art, afforded likewise a sure criterion by which his works were either censured or approved. Was it the purpose of an author to recite past events, or convey lessons of instruction, in a language simple and unadorned? It was demanded by these laws that his style should be concise and pure; that the sentiment and diction should be closely joined, and no word admitted that did not add somewhat to the sense: that through the whole should be found a certain air of ease and freedom, mixed, however, with strength and dignity; and that, void of all appearance of study and art, he should strive to make even negligence itself alluring. If on the contrary, his desire was to excel in the florid kind, the same laws required that the simple charms of nature should be adorned with all the elegance and pomp of art; that splendid images should flatter and delude the fancy; that the diction should be noble, polite, and brilliant; that every word should be dressed in smiles; and that the periods should be measured with the nicest care, joined together in the softest bands of harmony, and flow intermingled without obstacle or pause. Lastly, with respect to that likewise which was called the intermediate kind of compositon, these laws were careful also to prescribe the proper temperament in which the beauties of the former two should meet and be united; and to adjust the mixture of graceful and austere, the artificial and the simple, in such exact proportion, that the one never should prevail against the other, but both govern through the whole with a kind of mingled sway . . .

 

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Filed under 1810's, Greek/Roman Translations, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Howard’s Lazarettos in Europe (1789)

Full Title: An Account of the Principal Lazarettos of Europe; With Various Papers Relative to the Plague: Together with Further observations on some Foreign Prisons & Hospitals; and additional remarks on the present state of those in Great Britain and Ireland, By John Howard London: T. Cadell, 1789.

SECTION II.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS
AND
A NEW PLAN FOR A LAZARETTO.

Having now given the plans of the principal lazarettos in Europe, I shall in what follows take the same liberty that I took with respect to prisons, and draw the outlines of a proper lazaretto. – Many lazarettos are close, and have too much the aspect of prisons; and I have often heard captains in the Levant trade say, that the spirits of their passengers sink at the prospect of being confined in them. In those of them which I have visited, I have observed several pale and dejected persons, and many fresh graves. To prevent as much as possible these disagreeable circumstances, a lazaretto should have the most cheerful aspect. A spacious and pleasant garden in particular, would be convenient as well as salutary.

But waving this observation, I will offer a few remarks respecting quarantines and lazarettos in general; after which I will take notice of some advantages in respect of commerce as well as health, which may accrue from such an establishment in England. I will farther, in the sequel, give the answers of some physicians abroad to a set of questions which I was led to propose to them, by considering that should a lazaretto be erected among us, and this country be ever visited with a scourge so dreadful as the plague, the opinions of eminent physicians experienced in this calamity might be of particular service.

OBSERVATIONS UPON QUARANTINES AND LAZARETTOS.

1. All vessels subject to a quarantine, arriving on our coast, should be obliged to hoist a red flag, or some other signal, at the main top-gallant mast head; in order to warn all persons coming on board notwithstanding such warning, should be detained to perform the quarantine.

2. All boats belonging to any ship in quarantine, as well as all craft employed in unloading the same, should be obliged to carry a red pendant at the mast head, whenever sent from the ship.

3. The ship’s hatch-ways ought not to be opened till the captain and mate have given in their depositions; and all the passengers, the secretary, and such of the sailors who may be permitted to leave the ship, should be landed at the lazaretto, under a very severe penalty.

4. The place appointed for receiving deposition should be so contrived, that the person who takes them may at all times place himself to windward of those who make them. This should also be observed as much as possible, at the barrier of the lazaretto, where people are permitted to speak with those in quarantine. But if not, they should be placed on this account at a greater distance from one another.

5. A fort of quarantine having been performed during the long voyage to England and there being, in my opinion, a great probability that the infection cannot remain in any person without shewing itself, beyond forty-eight hours; the persons under quarantine ought to be allowed to quit the lazaretto sooner than is now customary in other countries. Perhaps a residence of twenty-two days may be fully sufficient.

6. Fumigating of passengers as practiced at Marseilles is an advantage; for a person may carry the infection in his clothes, and communicate it to others, without taking it himself, as in the gaol-fever. But this implies, that it ought to be done at the end of the quarantine, to those only who go out with the clothes which they wore when they came in.

7. Great care should be taken, to keep at a proper distance from persons performing quarantine, all sailors and passengers as well as others. My reason for giving this caution is, that I have seen persons just arrived in ships with foul bills, permitted at the bar of a lazaretto, to come very near to persons whose quarantine was almost over; and thus danger was produced of communicating the plague. – And here I shall take occasion to observe, that in my opinion, this distemper is not generally to be taken by the touch, any more than the gaol-fever, or small-pox; but either by inoculation, or by taking in with the breath in respiration the putrid effluvia which hover round the infected object, and which when admitted set the whole mass of blood into a fermentation, and sometimes so suddenly and violently as to destroy its whole texture, and to produce putrefaction and death in less than forty-eight hours. These effluvia are capable of being carried from one place to another upon any substance where what is called scent can lodge, as upon wool, cotton, &c. and in the same manner that the smell of tobacco is carried from one place to another.

It is by these ideas of the communication of the plague that the foregoing rules have been suggested; and were the regulations for performing quarantine directed by them, some of the restrictions in lazarettos would be abolished, and more care would be taken to improve and enforce others.*

It may be asked, how it is possible, if the plague be communicated by infected air, that a whole body of men in a town where it rages should be capable of being preserved from it, as is the case with Englishmen in Turkey: and also, why every individual in such a town is not taken with it? In answer to the first of these questions, it may be observed, that the infection in the air does not extend far from the infected object, but lurks chiefly, (like that near carrion) to the leeward of it. I am so assured of this, that I have not scrupled going, in the open air, to windward of a person ill of the plague and feeling his pulse. The next question may be answered, by asking why, of a number of persons equally exposed to the infection of the small-pox, or of the gaol-fever, some will not take it? Perhaps physicians themselves are not capable of explaining this sufficiently. It is, however, evident in general, that it must be owing to something in the state of the blood and the constitutions of such persons which renders them not easily susceptible of infection. – The rich are less liable to the plague than the poor, both because they are more careful to avoid infection, and have larger and more airy apartments, and because they are more cleanly and live on better food, with plenty of vegetables; and this, I suppose, is the reason why Protestants are less liable to this distemper than Catholics during their times of fasting; and likewise, why the generality of Europeans are less liable to it than Greeks, and particularly Jews. And would not the former be still more secure in this respect, were they more attentive to the qualities of their food, and lived more on plain and simple diet?**

*It is remarkable, that when the corpse is cold of a person dead of the plague, it does not infect the air by any noxious exhalations. This is so much believed in Turkey, that the people there are not afraid to handle such corpses. The governor at the French hospital in Smyrna told me, that in the last dreadful plague there, his house was rendered almost intolerable by an offensive scent (especially if he opened any of those windows which looked toward the great burying-ground, where numbers every day were left unburied); but that it had no effect on the health either of himself or his family. An opulent merchant in this city likewise told me, that he and his family had felt the same inconvenience, without any bad consequences.

**The poorer sort of Greeks and Jews use much oil with their food; and this I reckon a disadvantage to them. I have heard of instances of servants in European families, who through imprudence and carelessness, have been attacked with the plague, while the rest of the family escaped it.

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Filed under 1780's, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Reform

Item of the Day: Harris’s Hermes (1751)

Full Title: Hermes: or, a Philosophical Inquiry concerning Language and Universal Grammar. By James Harris, London, J. Nourse and P. Vaillant, 1751.

BOOK I.

 

 

Chap. I

 

 

Introduction.

 

 

Design of the Whole.

 

 

 

 

If Men by nature had been framed for Solitude, they had never felt an Impulse to converse one with another. And if, like lower Animals, they had been by nature irrational, they could not have recogniz’d the proper Subjects of Discourse. Since Speech then is the joint Energie of our best and noblest Faculties, (that is to say, of our Reason and our social Affection) being withal our peculiar Ornament and distinction, as Men; those Inquiries may surely be deemed interesting as well as liberal, which either search how Speech may be naturally resolved; or how, when resolved, it may be again combined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here a large field for speculating opens before us. We may either behold Speech, as divided into its constituent Parts, as a Statue may be divided into its several Limbs; or else, as resolved into its Matter and Form, as the same Statue may be resolved into its Marble and Figure.

 

These different Analyzings or Resolutions constitute what we call Philosophical, or Universal Grammar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we have viewed Speech thus analyzed, we may then consider it, as compounded. And here in the first place we may contemplate that Synthesis, which by combining simple Terms produces a Truth; then by combining two Truths produces a third; and thus others, and others, in continued Demonstration, till we are led, as by a road, into the regions of Science.

 

Now this is that superior and most excellent Synthesis, which alone applies itself to our Intellect or Reason, and which to conduct according to Rule, constitutes the Art of Logic.

 

After this we may turn to those inferior Compositions, which are productive of the Pathetick, and the Pleasant in all their kinds. These latter Compositions aspire not to the intellect, but being addressed to the Imagination, the Affections, and the Sense, become from their different heightnings either Rhetoric or Poetry.

 

 

 

Nor need we necessarily view these Arts distinctly and apart. We may observe, if we please, how perfectly they co-incide. Grammar is equally requisite to every one of the rest. And though Logic may indeed subsist without Rhetoric or Poetry, yet so necessary to these last is a sound and correct Logic, that without it, they are no better than warbling Trifles.

 

Now all these Inquiries (as we have said already) and such others arising from them as are of still sublimer Contemplation, (of which in the Sequel there may be possibly not a few) may with justice be deem’d Inquiries both interesting and liberal.

 

 

 

At present we shall postpone the whole synthetical Part, (that is to say, Logic and Rhetoric) and confine ourselves to the analytical, that is to say Universal Grammar. In this we shall follow the Order, that we have above laid down first dividing Speech, as a Whole into its Constituent Parts; then resolving it, as a Composite, and its Matter and Form; two Methods of Analysis very different in their kind, and which lead to a variety of very different speculations.

 

Should any one object, that in the course of our Inquiry we sometimes descend to things, which appear trivial and low; let him look upon the Effects, to which those things contribute, then from the Dignity of the Consequences, let him honour the Principles.

 

 

 

 

The following Story may not improperly be here inserted. “When the Fame of Heraclitus was celebrated throughout Greece, there were certain persons, that had a curiosity to see so great a Man. They came, and, as it happen’d, found him warming himself in a Kitchen. The Meanness of the place occasioned them to stop, upon which the Philosopher thus accosted them — Enter (says he) Boldly, for here too there are Gods.”

We shall only add, that as there is no part of nature too mean for the divine Presence; so there is no kind of Subject, having its foundation in Nature, that is below the Dignity of a philosophical Inquiry.

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Filed under 1750's, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1723)

Full Title:

The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits. The second edition, enlarged with many additions. As also an essay on Charity and Charity-Schools and a Search into the Nature of Society. By Bernard Mandeville. Printed in London for Edmund Parker at the Bible and Crown in Lombard Street, 1723.

The Introduction:

One of the greatest Reasons why so few People understand themselves, is, that most Writers are always teaching Men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them what they really are. As for my part, without any Compliment to the Courteous Reader, or my self, I believe Man (besides Skin, Flesh, Bones, &c. that are obvious to the Eye) to be a Compound of various Passions, that all of them, as they are provoked and come uppermost, govern him by turns, whether he will or no. To shew, that these Qualifications, which we all pretend to be asham’d of, are the great support of a flourishing Society, has been the subject of the foregoing Poem [“The Grumbling Hive”]. But there being some Passages in it seemingly Paradoxical, I have in the Preface promised some explanatory Remarks on it; which, to render more useful, I have thought fit to enquire, how Man no better qualify’d, might yet by his own Imperfections be taught to distinguish between Virtue and Vice: And here I must desire the Reader once and for all to take notice, that when I say Men, I mean neither Jews nor Christians; but meer Man, in the State of Nature and ignorance of the true Deity.

From An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue:

All untaught Animals are only Sollicitous of pleasing themselves, and naturally follow the bent of their own Inclinations, without considering the good or harm that from their being pleased wiill accrue to others. This is the Reason, that in the wild State of Nature those Creatures are fittest to live peaceably together in great Numbers, that discover the least of Understanding, and have the fewest Appetites to gratify, and consequently no Species of Animals is without the Curb of Government, less capable of agreeing long together in Multitudes than that of Man; yet such are his Qualities, whether good or bad, I shall not determine, that no Creature besides himself can ever be made sociable: But being an extraordinary selfish and headstrong, as well as cunning Animal, however he may be subdued by superior Strength, it is impossible by force alone to make him tractable, and receive the Improvements he is capable of.

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Filed under 1720's, Philosophy, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Paley’s Philosophy (1787)

Full Title: The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. By William Paley, M.A. Archdeacon of Carlisle. Dublin: Printed by Brett Smith, For Messrs. P Byrne, W. McKenzie, and W. Jones.
M, DCC,XCIII.

MORAL PHILOSOPHY

BOOK I.

PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS.

CHAP. I.
DEFINITION AND USE OF THE SCIENCE.

Moral Philosophy, Morality, Ethics Casuistry, Natural Law, mean all the same thing; namely, That science which teaches men their duty and the reasons of it.

The use of such a study depends upon this, that, without it, the rules of life, by which men are ordinarily governed, oftentimes mislead them, through a defect either in the rule, or in the application.

These rules are, the Laws of Honour, the Law of the Land, and the Scriptures.

CHAP.II

THE LAW OF HONOUR.

The Law of Honour is a system of rules constructed by people of fashion, and calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one another; and for no other purpose. Consequently, nothing is adverted to by the Law of Honour, but what tends to incommode this intercourse.

Hence this law only prescribes and regulates the duties betwixt equals; omitting such as relate to the Supreme Being, as well as those which we owe to our inferiors.

For which reason, profaneness, neglect of public worship or private devotion, cruelty to servants, rigorous treatment of tenants or other dependants, want of charity to the poor, injuries done to tradesmen by insolvency or delay of payment, with numberless examples of the same kind, are accounted no breaches of honour; because a man is not a less agreeable companion for these vices, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between one gentleman and another.

Again, the Law of Honour being constituted by men occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, and for the mutual conveniency of such men, will be found, as might be expected from the character and design of the law-makers, to be, in most instances, favourable to the licentious indulgence of the natural passions.

Thus it allows of adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, duelling, and of revenge in the extreme; and lays no stress upon the virtues opposite to these.

CHAP. III.

THE LAW OF THE LAND.

That part of mankind, who are beneath the Law of Honour, often make the Law of the Land their rule of life; that is, they are satisfied with themselves, so long as they do or omit nothing, for the doing or omitting of which the law can punish them.

Whereas every system of human laws, considered as a rule of life, labours under the two following defects.

I. Human laws omit many duties, as not objects of compulsion; such as piety to God, bounty to the poor, forgiveness of injuries, education of children, gratitude to benefactors.

The law never speaks but to command, nor commands but where it can compel; consequently those duties, which by their nature must be voluntary, are left out of the statute book, as lying beyond the reach of its operation and authority.

II. Human laws permit, or, which is the same thing, suffer to go unpunished, many crimes, because they are incapable of being defined by any previous description — Of which nature is luxury, prodigality, partiality in voting at those elections in which the qualification of the candidate ought to determine the success, caprice in the disposition of men’s fortunes at their death, disrespect to parents, and a multitude of similar examples.

For this is the alternative; either the Law must define beforehand and with precision the offences which it punishes, or it must be left to the discretion of the magistrate to determine upon each particular accusation, whether it constitutes that offence which the law designed to punish, or not; which is in effect leaving to the magistrate to punish or not to punish, at his pleasure, the individual who is brought before him: which is just so much tyranny. Where, therefore, as in the instances above-mentioned, the distinction between right and wrong is of too subtile or of too secret a nature, to be ascertained by any pre-concerted language, the law of most countries, especially of free states, rather than commit the liberty of the subject to the discretion of the magistrate, leaves men in such cases to themselves.

CHAP. IV.
THE SCRIPTURES.

Whoever expects to find in the Scriptures a specific direction for every moral doubt that arises, looks for more than he will meet with. And to what a magnitude such a detail of particular precepts would have enlarged the sacred volume, may be partly understood from the following consideration. The laws of this country, including the acts of the legislature and the decisions of our supreme courts of justice, are not contained in fewer than fifty folio volumes; and yet it is not once in ten attempts that you can find the case you look for, in any law-book whatever, to say nothing of those numerous points of conduct, concerning which the law professes not to prescribe or determine anything. Had then the same particularity, which obtains in human laws so far as they go, been attempted in the Scriptures, throughout the whole extent of morality, it is manifest they would have been by much too bulky to be either read or circulated; or rather, as St. John says, “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

Morality is taught in Scripture in this wise. General rules are laid down of piety, justice, benevolence, and purity: such as worshipping God in spirit and in truth; doing as we would be done by; loving our neighbour as ourself; forgiving others, as we expect forgiveness from God; that mercy is better than sacrifice; that not that which entereth into a man, (nor by parity of reason, any ceremonial pollutions) but that which proceedeth from the heart, defileth him. These rules are occasionally illustrated either by fictitious examples, as in the parable of the good Samaritan; and of the cruel servant who refused to his fellow-servant that indulgence and compassion which his master had shewn to him: or in instances which actually presented themselves, as in Christ’s reproof of his disciples at the Samaritan village; his praise of the poor widow, who cast in her last mite; his censure of the Pharisees, who chose out the chief rooms — and of the tradition, whereby they evaded the command to sustain their indigent parents: or lastly, in the resolution of questions, which those who were about our Saviour proposed to him; as in his answer to the young man who asked him, “What lack I yet?” and to the honest scribe, who had found out, even in that age and country, that “to love God and his neighbour was more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifice.”

And this is in truth the way in which all practical sciences are taught, as Arithmetic, Grammar, Navigation, and the like. — Rules are laid down, and examples are subjoined; not that these examples are the cases, which less all the cases which will actually occur, but by way only of explaining the principle of the rule, and as so many specimens of the method of applying it. The chief difference is, that the examples in Scripture are not annexed to the rules with the didactic regularity to which we are now-a-days accustomed, but delivered dispersedly, as particular occasions suggested them; which gave them however, especially to those who heard them, and were present to the occasions which produced them, an energy and persuasion, which beyond what the same or any instances would have appeared with, in their places in a system.

Beside this, the Scriptures commonly pre-suppose, in the persons to whom they speak, a knowledge of the principles of natural justice; and are employed not so much to teach new rules of morality, as to enforce the practice of it by new sanctions, and by a greater certainty: which last seems to be the proper business of a revelation from God, and what was most wanted.

Thus, the “unjust, covenant breakers and extortioners” are condemned in Scripture, supposing it known, or leaving it, where it admits of doubt, to moralists to determine, what injustice, extortion, or breach of covenant are.

The above considerations are intended to prove that the Scriptures do not supersede the use of the science of which we profess to treat, and at the same time to acquit them of any charge of imperfection or insufficiency on that account.

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Filed under 1780's, Philosophy, Posted by Rebecca Dresser