Category Archives: Common sense

Item of the Day: Rights of Man (1791)

Full Title: Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr. Burke’s Attack on the French Revolution.  Second Edition.  By Thomas Paine, Secretary for Foreign Affairs to Congress in the American War, and Author of the Work Intitled “Common Sense.”  London: Printed for J. S. Jordan, No. 166.  Fleet-Street.  MDCCXCI.

Preface to the English Edition.

From the part Mr. Burke took in the American Revolution, it was natural that I should consider him a friend to mankind; and as our acquaintance commenced on that ground, it would have been more agreeable to me to have had cause to continue in that opinion, than to change it.

At that time Mr. Burke made his violent speech last winter in the English Parliament against the French Revolution and the National Assembly, I was in Paris, and had written him, but a short time before, to inform him how prosperously matters were going on.  Soon after this, I saw his advertisement of the Pamphlet he intended to publish: As the attack was to be made in a language he little studied, and less understood, in France, and as every thing suffers by translation, I promised some of the friends of the Revolution in that country, that whenever Mr. Burke’s Pamphlet came forth, I would answer it.  This appeared to m the more necessary to be done, when I saw the flagrant misrepresentations which Mr. Burke’s Pamphlet contains; and that while it is an outrageous abuse on the French Revolution, and the principles of Liberty, it is an imposition on the rest of the world.

I am the more astonished and disappointed at this conduct of Mr. Burke, as (from the circumstance I am going to mention), I had formed other expectations.

I had seen enough of the miseries of war, to wish it might never more have existence in the world, and that some other mode might be found out to settle the differences that should occasionally arise in the neighborhood of nations.  This certainly might be done if Courts were disposed to set honestly about it, or if countries were enlightened enough to not be made the dupes of Courts.  The people of America had been bred up in the same prejudices against France, which at that time characterized the people of England; but experience and an acquaintance with the French Nation have most effectually shown to the Americans the falsehood of those prejudices; and I do not believe that a more cordial and confidential intercourse exists between any two countries than between America and France. 

When I came to France in the Spring of 1787, the Archbishop of Thoulouse was then Minister, and at that time highly esteemed.  I became much acquainted with the private Secretary of that Minister, a man of an enlarged and benevolent heart; and found, that his sentiments and my own perfectly agreed with respect to the madness of war, and the wretched impolicy of two nations, like England and France, continually worrying each other, to no other end than that of a mutual increase of burdens and taxes.  That I might be assured I had not misunderstood him, nor he me, I put the substance of our opinions into writing, and sent it to him; subjoining a request, that if I should see among the people of England, any disposition to cultivate a better understanding between the two nations than had hitherto prevailed, how far I might be authorized to say that the same disposition prevailed on the part of France?  He answered me by letter in the most unreserved manner, and that not for himself only, but for the Minister, with whose knowledge the letter was declared to be written.

I put this letter into the hands of Mr. Burke almost three years ago, and left it with him, where it still remains; hoping, and at the same time naturally expecting, from the opinion I had conceived of him, that he would find some opportunity of making good use of it, for the purpose of removing those errors and prejudices, which two neighboring nations, from the want of knowing each other, had entertained, to the injury of both.

When the French Revolution broke out, it certainly afforded to Mr. Burke an opportunity of doing some good, had he been disposed to it; instead of which, no sooner did he see the old prejudices wearing away, than he immediately began sowing the seeds of a new inveteracy, as if he were afraid that England and France would cease to be enemies.  That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrel of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord, and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes more unpardonable.

With respect to a paragraph in this Work alluding to Mr. Burke’s having a pension, the report has been some time in circulation, at least two months; and as a person is often the last to hear what concerns him the most to know, I have mentioned it, that Mr. Burke may have an opportunity of contradicting the rumour, if he thinks proper.

THOMAS PAINE.

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Filed under 1790's, Common sense, Eighteenth century, Europe, Foreign Relations, French Revolution, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Matthew Williams, Revolution

Item of the Day: The Art of Sinking in Poetry (1751)

Full Title: Miscellanies.  The Second Volume. By D. Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Pope.  London, Printed for Charles Bathurst, and sold by T. Woodward, C. Davis, C. Hitch, R. Dosley, and W. Bowyer.  MDCCLI.

Martinus Scriblerus,

П Е Р І   В А Θ О Υ Σ:

or, Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry.

[by Alexander Pope] 

CHAP. V.

Of the true Genius for the Profound, and by what it is constituted.

AND I will venture to lay it down, as the first Maxim and Corner-stone of this our Art; that whosoever would excel therein, must studiously avoid, detest, and turn his head from all the ideas, ways, and workings of that pestilent Foe to Wit, and Destroyer of fine Figures, which is known by the name of Common Sense. His business must be to contract the true Gout de travers; and to acquire a most happy, uncommon, unaccountable Way of Thinking. 

He is to consider himself as a Grotesque Painter, whose works would be spoil’d by an imitation of nature or uniformity of design. He is to mingle bits of the most various, or discordant kinds of landscape, history, portraits, animals, and connect them with a great deal of flourishing, by head or by tail, as it shall please his imagination, and contribute to his principal end, which is to glare by strong oppositions of colours, and surprize by contrariety of images.

Serpentes avibus geminentur, trigibus agni.  HOR.

His design ought to be like a labyrinth, out of which no body can get clear by himself. And since the great Art of all Poetry is to mix Truth with Fiction, in order to join the Credible with the Surprizing; our author shall produce the Credible, by painting nature in her lowest simplicity; and the Surprizing, by contradicting common opinion. In the very Manners he will affect the Marvellous; he will draw Achilles with the patience of a Job; a prince talking like a Jack-pudding; a Maid of honour selling bargains; a footman speaking like a philosopher; and a fine gentleman like a scholar.  Whoever is conversant in modern Plays, may make a most noble collection of this kind, and at the same time, form a complete body of modern Ethics and Morality

Nothing seem’d more plain to our great authors, than that the world had long been weary of natural things. How much the contrary are form’d to please, is evident from the universal applause daily given to the admirable entertainments of Harlequins and Magicians on our stage. When an audience behold a couch turn’d into a wheelbarrow, a conjurer into an old woman, or a man’s head where his heels should be; how are they struck with transport and delight? Which can only be imputed to this cause, that each object is chang’d into that which hath been suggested to them by their own ideas before.

He ought therefore to render himself master of this happy and anti-natural way of thinking to such a degree, as to be able, on the appearance of any object, to furnish his imagination with ideas infinitely below it.  And his eyes should be like unto the wrong end of a perpective glass, by which all the objects of nature are lessen’d.

For Example; when a true genius looks upon the Sky, he immediately catches the idea of a piece of blue lute-string, or a child’s mantle.

The Skies, whose spreading volumes scarce have room,
Spun thin, and wove in nature’s finest loom,
The new-born world in their soft lap embrac’d,
And all around their starry mantle cast. *

If he looks upon a Tempest, he shall have an image of a tumbled bed, and describe a succeeding calm in this manner;

The Ocean, joy’d to see the tempest fled,
New lays his waves, and smooths his ruffled bed. **
____________________________
* Prince Arthur, p. 41, 42.
** p. 14

NB. In order to do justice to these great Poets, our Citations are taken from the best, the last, and most correct Editions of their Works.  That which we use of Prince Arthur, is in duodecimo, 1714. the fourth Edition revised.

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Filed under 1750's, Common sense, Criticism, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

Item of the Day: Plain Truth (1776)

Full Title: Plain Truth; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America. Containing Remarks on a late Pamphlet, Intitled Common Sense; Wherein are shewn, that the Scheme of Independence is ruinous, delusive, and impracticable; that were the Author’s Asseverations, respecting the Power of America, as real as nugatory, Reconciliation on liberal Principles with Great Britain would be exalted Policy; and that, circumstanced as we are, permanent Liberty and true Happiness can only be obtained by Reconciliation with that Kingdom. Written by Candidus. Second Edition. Philadelphia, printed; London: reprinted for J. Almon, opposite Burlington House, in Piccadilly, M.DCC.LXXVI.

I have now before me the pamphlet intitled Common Sense; on which I shall remark with freedom and candour. It may not be improper to remind my reader, that the investigation of my subject demands the utmost freedom of enquiry; I therefore entreat his indulgence, and that he will carefully remember, that intemperate zeal is an injurious to liberty, as a manly discussion of facts is friendly to it. “Liberty, says the great Montesquieu, is a right of doing whatever the laws permit; and if a citizen could do what they forbid, he would no longer be possessed of liberty, because all his fellow citizens would have the same power.” In the beginning of his pamphlet the author asserts, that society in every state is a blessing. This in the sincerity of my heart I deny; for it is supreme misery to be associated with those who, to promote their ambitious purposes, flagitiously pervert the ends of political society. I do not say that our author is indebted to Burgh’s Political Disquisitions, or to Rousseau’s Social Compact for his definiton on government, and his large tree; although I wish he had favoured his reader with the following extract from that sublime reasoner: “To investigate those conditions of society which may best answer the purpose of nations, would require the abilities of some superior intelligence, who should be witness to all the passions of men, but be subjects itself to none, who should have no connections with human nature, but should have a perfect knowledge of it; a being, in short, whose happiness should be independent of us, and who would nevertheless enploy itslef about us. It is the province of Gods to make laws for men.” With the utmost deference to the celebrated Rousseau, I cannnot indeed imagine, that laws even so constructed, would materially benefit our imperfect race, unless Omniscience designed previously to exalt our nature. The judicious reader will therefore perceive, that malevolence only is requisite to decaim against, and arraign the most perfect governments. Our political quack avails himself of this trite expedient, so cajole the people into the most abject slavery, under the delusive name of independence. His first indecent attack is against the English constitution, which, with all its imperfections, is, and ever will be, the pride and envy of mankind. To this panegyric involuntarily our author subscribes, by granting individuals to be safer in England, than in any other part of Europe. He indeed isidiously attributes this pre-eminent excellency to the constitution: to such contemptible subterfuge is our author reduced. I would ask him why did not the constitution of the people afford them superior safety, in the reign of Richard the third, Henry the eighth, and other tyrannic princes? Many pages might indeed be filled with encomiums bestowed on our excellent constitution by illustrious authors of different nations.

This beautiful system (according to Montesquieu) our constitution is a compound of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. But it is often said, that the sovereign, by honours and appointments, influences the commons. The profound and elegant Hume agitating this question, thinks, to this circumstance, we are in part indebted for our supreme felicity; since, without such controul in the crown, our constitution would immediately degenerate into democracy; a goverment which, in the sequel, I hope to prove ineligible. Were I asked marks of the best government, and the purpose of political society, I would reply, the encrease, preservation, and prosperity of its members; in no quarter of the globe are those marks so certainly to be found, as in Great Britain and her dependencies. After our author has employed several pages to break the mounds of society by debasing monarchs, he says, “the plain trugh is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.”

Hume, treating of the original contract, has the following melancholy, but sensible observation; “yet reason tells us, that there is no property in durable objects, such as lands and houses, when carefully examined, in passing from hand to hand, but must in some period have been founded on fraud and injustice. The necessities of human society, neither in private or public life, will allow of such an accurate enquiry; and there is no virtue or moral duty, but what may, with facility, be refined away, if we indulge a false philosophy, in sifting and scrutinizing, by every captious rule of logic, in every light or position in which it may be placed.”

Say, ye votaries of honour and truth, can we adduce a stronger proof of our author’s turpitude, than his quoting the anti-philosophical story of the Jews, to debase monarchy and the best of monarchs. Briefly examing the story of this contemptible race, more barbarous than our savages, we find their history a continued succession of miracles, astonishing our imaginations, and exercising our faith. After wandering forty years in horrid desarts [sic], they are chiefly condemned to perish for their perverseness, although under the immediate dominion of the king of Palestine, which they conquer by exterminating the inhabitants and warring like demons. The inhabitants of the adjoining regions justly, therefore, held them in detestation, and the Jews finding themselves constantly abhorred, have ever since hated all mankind. This people, as destitute of arts and industry as humanity, had not even in their language a word expressive of education. We might indeed remind our author, who so readily drags in the Old Testament to support his sinister measures, that we could draw from that source many texts favourable to monarchy, were we not conscious that the Mosaic law gives way to the gospel dispensation. The reader no doubt will be gratified by the following extract from a most primitive christian: “Christianity is a spiritual religion, relative only to celestial objects. The christian’s inheritance is not of this world. He performs his duty it is true, but this he does with a profound indifference fo the good or ill success of his endeavours; provided he hath nothing to reproach himself, it is of little consequence to him whether matters go well or ill here below. If the state be in a flourishing condition, he can hardly venture to rejoice in the public felicity, lest he should be puffed up with the inordinate pride of his country’s glory. If the state decline, he blesses the hand of God, that humbles his people to the dust.” . . .

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Filed under 1770's, Common sense, Liberty, Loyalists, Political Commentary, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense (1817)

Full Title: An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense. By Thomas Reid. Glasgow: Printed by W. Falconer, and sold by the booksellers, 1817.

[First published 1764].

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

JAMES, EARL OF FINDLATER AND SEAFIELD

CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OLD ABERDEEN

My Lord,

Though I apprehend that there are things new and of some importance, in the following inquiry, it is not without timidity that I have consented to the publicaiton of it. The subject has been canvassed by men of very great penetration and genius: for who does not acknowledge DES CARTES, MALEBRANCHE, LOCKE, BERKELEY, and HUME, to be such? A view of the human understanding, so different from that which they have exhibited, will, no doubt, be condemened by many without explanation, as proceeding from temerity and vanity.

BUT I hope the candid and discerning Few, who are capable of attending to the operations of their own minds, will weigh deliberately what is here advanced, before they pass sentence upon it. To such I appeal, as the only competent judges. If they disapprove, I am probably in the wrong, and shall be ready to change my opinion upon conviction. If they approve, the Many will at last yield to their authority, as they always do.

HOWEVER contrary my notions are to those of the writers I have mentioned, their speculations have been of great use to me, and seem even to point out the road which I have taken: and your Lordship knows, that the merit of useful discoveries is sometimes not more justly due to those that have hit upon them, than to others that have ripened them, and brought them to the birth.

I ACKNOWLEDGE, my Lord, that I never thought of calling in question the principles commonly received with regard to human understanding, until the Treatise of Human Nature was published in the year 1739. The ingenious author of that treatise, upon the principles of LOCKE, who was no sceptic, hath built a system of scepticism, which leaves no ground to believe any one thing rather than the contrary. His reasoning appeared to me to be just: there was therfore a necessity to call in question the principles upon which it was founded, or to admit the conclusion.

BUT can any ingenuous mind admit this sceptical system without reluctance? I truly could not, my Lord: for I am persuaded, that absolute scepticism is not more destructive of the faith of a Christian, than  of the science of a philospher, and of the prudence of a man of common understanding. I am persuaded, that the unjust live by faith as well as the just; that, if all belief could be laid aside, piety, patriotism, friendship, parental affection, and private virtue, would appear as ridiculous as knight-errantry; and that the pursuits of pleasure, of ambition, and of avarice, must be grounded upon belief, as well as those that are honourable or virtuous.

THE day-labourer toils at his work, in the belief that he shall receive his wages at night; and if he had not this belief he would not toil. We may venture to say, that even the author of this sceptical system, wrote it in the belief that it should be read and regarded. I hope he wrote it in the belief also, that it would be useful to mankind: and perhaps it may prove so at last. For I conceive the sceptical writers to be a set of men, whose business is to pick holes in the fabric of knowledge wherever it is weak and faulty; and when these places are properly repaired, the whole building becomes more firm and solid than it was formerly.

FOR my own satisfaction, I entered into a serious examination of the principles upon which this sceptical system is built; and was not a little surprised to find, that, it leans with its whole weight upon a hypothesis, which is ancient indeed, and hath been very generally received by philosophers, but of which I could find no solid proof. The hypothesis I mean, is, That nothing is perceived but what is in the mind which perceives it: That we do not really perceive things that are external, but only certain images and pictures of them imprinted upon the mind, which are called impressions and ideas.

IF this be true; supposing certain impressions and ideas to exist in my mind, I cannot, from their existence, infer the existence of any thing else: my impressions and ideas are the only existences of which I can have any knowledge or conception; and they are such fleeting and transitory beings, that they can have no existence at all, any longer than I am conscious of them. So that, upon this hypothesis, the whole universe about me, bodies and spirits, sun, moon, stars, and earth, friends and relations, all things without exception, which I imagined to have permanent existence, whether I thought of them or not, vanish at once;

And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,

Leave not a track behind.

I THOUGHT it unreasonable, my Lord, upon the authority of philosophers, to admit a hypothesis, which, in my opinion, overturns all philosophy, all religion and virtue, and all common sense: and finding that all the systems concerning the human understanding which I was acquainted with, were built upon this hypothesis, I resolved to inquire into this subject anew, without regard to any hypothesis.

WHAT I now humbly present to your Lordship, is the fruit of this inquiry, so far only as it regards the five senses; in which I claim no other merit, than that of having given great attention to the operations of my own mind, and of having expressed, with all the perspicuity I was able, what I conceive every man, who gives the same attention, will feel and perceive. The productions of imagination, require a genius which soars above the common rank; but the treasures of knowledge are commonly buried deep, and may be reached by those drudges who can dig with labour and patience, though they have not wings to fly. The experiments that were to be made in this investigation suited me, as they required no other expence, but that of time and attention, which I could bestow. The leisure of an academical life, disengaged from the pursuits of interest and ambition; the duty of my profession, which obliged me to give prelections on these subjects to the youth; and an early inclination to speculations of this kind, –have enabled me, as I flatter myself, to give a more minute attention to the subject of this inquiry, than has been given before.

MY thoughts upon this subject were, a good many years ago, put together in another form, for the use of my pupils, and afterwards were submitted to the judgment of a private philosophical society, of which I have the honour to be a member. A great part of this inquiry was honoured even by your Lordship’s perusal. And the encouragement which you, my Lord, and others, whose friendship is my boast, and whose judgment I reverence, were pleased to give me, counterbalance my timidity and diffidence, and determined me to offer it to the public.

IF it appears to your Lordship to justify the common sense and reason of mankind, against the sceptical subtilties which, in this age, have endeavoured to put them out of countenance; if it appears to throw any new light upon one of the noblest parts of the divine workmanship; your Lordship’s respect for the arts and sciences, and your attention to every thing which tends to the improvement of them, as well as to every thing else that contributes to the felicity of your country, leave me no room to doubt of your favourable acceptance of this essay, as the fruit of my industry in a profession wherein I was accountable to your Lordship; and as a testimony of the great esteem and respect wherewith I have the honour to be,

My Lord,

Your Lordship’s most obliged,

and most devoted servant,

Tho. Reid.

 

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Filed under 1760's, Common sense, Enlightenment, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs