Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

follows that for him there is neither right nor wrong, for the idea of right he has already assumed to proceed from the idea of law, and for the absolute despot there can be no law," the king can do no wrong."

Such is Hobbes's political theory. Actuated as man is by that desire of power (which he affirms to be the ruling principle of humanity), his first most natural state is a state of constant warfare, or if not of war, of mutual mistrust and suspicion. Fear and desire, however, inclining men to peace, laws spring up; and as for the execution of these laws some personal authority is necessary, the multitude agree to resolve their wills into the absolute will of one individual person, or a collective assembly of persons. Hence (thus do extremes meet) absolute Despotism is the best and most natural mode of government, and next to that, Republicanism. The feelings of right and wrong* spring up afterwards from the constitution of laws, and are nothing more than a sense of conformity to, or transgression from, the will of the majority. The result he comes to is, that the subject owes allegiance to the monarch only so long as the latter is able to protect him. This result he expresses in the following language:-"To resist the sword of the Commonwealth, in defence of another guilty or innocent man, no man hath liberty, because such liberty takes away from the commonwealth the means of protecting us; and is, therefore, destructive of the very essence of government. But in case a great many men have already resisted the sovereign power unjustly, or committed some capital crime for which every one of them expecteth death, whether they have not the liberty then to join together, and assist to defend one another? Certainly they have; for they but defend their lives, which the guilty man may do as well as the innocent. There was, indeed, injustice in the first breach of their duty. Their bearing of arms subsequent to it, though it be to maintain what they have done, is no new unjust act." And having educed so much from his principle of force and fear, being the basis of all institutions, he proceeds, "Since the . . . . . end or design of men in the introduction of restraint upon themselves. . . . . is the foresight of their own preservation, the obligation of the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them." From these passages alone we might have inferred what Hobbes himself told Clarendon, that he had a mind to go home and transfer his allegiance to Cromwell.

It is by no means to the credit of literature that a scholar-a man

* He makes the idea of wrong to precede that of right.

[ocr errors]

of learning and ability-the friend of Selden, Harvey, and Cowley*— could maintain, and not only maintain, but with an Englishman's earnestness and sincerity, require others to believe this view of humanity to be the true one,-could advocate a doctrine which reduces everything to locomotion; which makes Appetite the great "primum mobile," and supposes men to be a set of steam-engines, running against each other with a mutual implacable hatred, and only restrained by the intervention of a set of provisional tram-roads, formed so as to allow to each the greatest possible latitude, and the creation of a despotic Leviathan, or engineer, with an unlimited irresponsible power over all, to see that each keeps to his own line.

And now that we have briefly analysed the moral and political philosophy of Hobbes, and shown but little charity to his principles, let us manifest some for the man. There is, as I have shown, much to admire in his character; and there is also much to account for his adoption of those pernicious principles which he so ably promulgated, and was the first to bring into fashion. It has been said, with a certain degree of truth, that all men are born Aristotelians or Platonists, Nominalists or Realists; and Hobbes was by nature a Nominalist.† Thus the very constitution of his mind, and his natural tone of thought, would of themselves incline to the sensualistic school of philosophers. Moreover, Hobbes lived and wrote in times of civil war, when the bad passions, to which he attributes so much, are most prominently and distinctly brought forward. That Hobbes had meditated much and deeply upon the nature and consequences of these passions, is likely enough from his constant study of Thucydides, (one of his few favourite authors)—a study which enabled him to perceive that the working of the same passions and feelings in his own times, were silently paving the way for troubles similar to those of which the Athenian historian wrote. Moreover, Hobbes was a late learner and self-taught, both of which, in some measure, account for the dogmatical character of his writings. Indeed, the sincerity and downright heartiness with which he brings forward and urges his one idea, bending all else to it, and the thorough contempt which he entertains for all other

Hobbes was also intimate with Galileo, Gassendi, Descartes, and others.

+ Hobbes studied the logic of the Nominalists, when at Oxford. See Ritter's "Geschichte der Neuern Philosophie," vol. ii. p. 453. Hobbes may also have been partially influenced by one side of Bacon's writings; for the most dangerous errors are those which are the shadows "and ghosts of truth," caricatures of some great truth, partial truth, lying at the bottom of every widely-spread error, otherwise it could never become widely spread; and Hobbes had none of that true science, which Novalis beautifully defines to be " a voiceless knowledge of what is knowledge," to guide him.

*

systems than his own, are grand in their way. His quiet and retired life, which was quite that of a recluse, may serve to explain the extraordinary ignorance of human nature, (especially on its brighter side,) which he so constantly displays. Something also must be attributed to a natural and somewhat violent reaction from the philosophy of the preceding age, which was certainly tainted to a great extent with Neo-Platonic mysticism. + Moreover, like Voltaire, Bentham, and other short-sighted men, Hobbes was wonderfully clear-sighted, as far as he did see, and so had no notion of anything beyond what met his intellectual eye, lying beneath the surface. The chief causes of his errors, however, are the confusion which he makes between the Reason and the Understanding-between Ideas and Conceptions, between relative and positive Truth, from his utterly ignoring all moral sentiment, and innate sense of duty;—and from his unphilosophical method of proceeding from the outward to the inward, instead of the reverse. From Hobbes, as from most other men of one idea, we may learn much, if we know how to read him. He thought for himself, which, as Lessing says, is better, even if you think wrongly, than not to think at all; while the originality of his thoughts, and the startling character of his paradoxes, force his readers to think. Another good point in Hobbes is, that he acted thoroughly up to his principles; and it is, indeed, a good thing, as well as a rare one, when the founder of a philosophical school does act up to his principles-for then we see the tendency of those principles. Did not the disciples of Hobbes and Locke contradict their principles by their deeds every day of their lives, and act more from benevolent instincts and good-hearted impulses than from any fixed principles whatever, it would be pitiable indeed.

* We must also bear in mind, that Hobbes was a wanderer all his life, without a home, and with but few ties of affection.

+ Lord Herbert, of Cherbury, for instance (who, in point of authorship, was an immediate 'predecessor of Hobbes), maintained that an internal illumination was given to all mankind by means of a closed book in the mind, the clasps of which would only open when nature bade them. The extraordinary doctrines of that philosophic cobbler, the German mystic Jacob Böhme, who is said to have numbered among his disciples our unfortunate martyr monarch, are better known.

Hobbes, we have seen, denies the existence of any moral faculty. Bishop Butler ("Essay on the Nature of Virtue,") in language very similar to that of Coleridge, already quoted, well says, "That we have a moral approving and disapproving faculty is certain, from our experiencing it in ourselves, and recognizing it in others. It appears from our exercising it unavoidably in our approbation and disapprobation even of feigned characters; from the words right and wrong, odious and amiable, base and worthy, with many others of like signification in all languages. Great part of common language and common behaviour is formed upon the supposition of such a moral faculty, whether called conscience, moral reason, moral sense, or Divine reason; whether considered as a sentiment of the understanding, or as a perception of the heart, or, which seems the truth, as including both."

The effect and influence of the writings of Hobbes appears to me to have been usually underrated. It is true that they never became popular in their original form-that the "Leviathan" was condemned by Parliament to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman ;— still the principles of these works exercised a very great, though a silent influence, especially among the higher ranks of society, and that large class who adopt opinions, as they do money, because they are current; and clothe their minds as they do their bodies, according to the newest fashion in vogue. The selfish nature of Hobbes's morality appears to have extensively leavened the literature of the succeeding age; and many a sparkling couplet of the poets of the reign of Charles II. owes much of its wit and causticity to one or other of Hobbes's definitions of our human passions and affections;-nay, Bishop Burnet, in the " History of his Own Times," goes so far as to ascribe the corruption of the monarch himself to the influence of his old tutor.

Before dismissing Hobbes, I must call your attention to the solidity, brilliancy, and lucid clearness of his style. His intellect, keen and clear, and cold as it is clear, liable to be led astray by no glimmer of affection, or fire of passion-nay, through the very want of these passions and affections, ignoring and misrepresenting many of the fairest and richest tracts on the map of the human heart-rarely, indeed, rises above the creeping selfishness of his ordinary morality; but still, as far as it does see and know, it illustrates with wonderful force and clearness, and expresses many a worldly maxim with an epigrammatic terseness, which has anticipated celebrated proverbial dicta of after-writers. One example of the happy manner in which he can express an universally-allowed truth will suffice: "Words are wise men's counters; but they are the money of fools,"*—an observation which we shall do well to bear in mind, when reading Hobbes himself.

* As examples of one two more of such pregnant expressions, we may quote, “The errours of definitions multiply themselves as the reckoning proceeds;" Men measure, not only all other men, but all other things, by themselves;" "Thought is quick."

[ocr errors]

FOURTEENTH MEETING.

ROYAL INSTITUTION.-May 15, 1854.

JOSEPH DICKINSON, M.D., F.L.S., &c., PRESIDENT, in the Chair.

Mr. FRANCIS ARCHER exhibited a living specimen of Beröe, taken by Mr. Price at Birkenhead.

Mr. T. C. ARCHER exhibited a large and interesting series of ropes, &c. manufactured from vegetable fibre, principally the produce of the East Indies; also the celebrated fish poison from Demerara.

The Rev. ABRAHAM HUME, D.C.L., LL.D., F.S.A., &c., read a Paper on the "Dialects of the English Language," being the continuation of a Paper read before the Society on the 9th January, 1854.

EXTRAORDINARY MEETING.

ROYAL INSTITUTION.-May 29, 1854.

JOSEPH DICKINSON, M.D., F.L.S., &c., PRESIDENT, in the Chair.

The circular convening this meeting-"To receive the REPORT of the DELEGATES appointed at an Extraordinary Meeting held the 31st March last, To carry out further arrangements for the proposed amalgamation with one or more of the other Learned Societies, and report thereon, with a sketch of amended laws,'" having been read

·

The SECRETARY communicated the following resolutions, passed at a Meeting of the Council held this evening, viz.:

1. "That this Council, finding that the union of the two Societies under the proposed name is unpalatable to many of the older members of this Society, is of opinion that the union is advisable only in case the name of the Literary and Philosophical' be retained, without change or addition."

6

2. "That the Council consider that if the name of the Society is changed, and a new code of laws adopted, the Society will no longer be the old Literary and Philosophical Society, and that therefore the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »