« PreviousContinue »
IT is now about twenty years since Mr. Stewart gave to the world his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind; a work which is already established among the classics of the country; and which, whether we consider the originality of many of the truths contained in it, the justness and scientific arrangement of the observations, which are not strictly original, or the elegance of its composition, is entitled to be classed among the most valuable productions which we possess in philosophy and literature. It was intended by the author, as the first part of a systematic inquiry into the nature of man, contemplated as an intellectual being, or mo. ral agent, and a member of political society. Mr. Stewart complains, in the earlier parts of that publication, that the proper objects of metaphysical investigation had been, in general, much mistaken, and the progress of the science proportionably re
tarded ;—that philosophers had been chiefly employed in controversies concerning the origin of our knowledge, while the steady contemplation of the known powers and affections of the human mind had been little attended to ;—and that the only true way to render this important science of practical value to men, or to make real advances in it, must be, as in physics, to collect carefully the phenomena which belong to it, and build upon them a system of general principles ; observing rigidly, through the whole
process, the same laws of induction which have long been universally recognized in the sister science. Acting upon this view of things, the justness of which we think it impossible to controvert, Mr. Stewart in the work alluded to, after some very acute and valuable observations on the nature of our perceptions, and the essential difficulties which will probably for ever attend our inquiries respecting them, proceeds to take a general survey of the faculties of the human understanding ; and the greater part of the volume is occupied with observations and reasonings upon the powers of Attention, Conception, Abstraction, Association, Memory, and Imagination. All the chapters upon these subjects, but particularly those upon Attention and Conception, contain much that is new and valuable; and what is not entitled to the praise of originality, may generally claim that of correctness and elegance. The plan of Mr. Stewart's work entitles him to be considered as original in a degree to which few authors' can lay claim; for, though much of the ma
terials which he digested was undoubtedly drawn froin metaphysical writers who preceded him, none of them, except perhaps Mr. Locke, (whose great work, however, is not very orderly,) employed the facts, of which they were in possession, in such a manner as could tend, in any considerable measure, to the advancement of the science ; having been generally content to adduce them for the purpose of supporting some hypothesis respecting the origin of our knowledge,-(a question rather curious than useful;) and having, for the most part, neglected to combine and extend them, for the purpose of shewing the nature, the proper application of, and the best means of improving, the faculties of man; which ought to be the main objects of metaphysical investigations, and are perhaps those which can alone be strictly termed practical.
The Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind were intended, as we have already mentioned, as the commencement of a course of inquiries into subjects of a very extensive and interesting nature. But “ art is long, and life is short.” In this “land of shadows,” even those who seem to be the least exposed to the varieties of fortune, too often find their leisure consuined by avocations which they cannot forbid, and saddened with sorrows which they had no power to anticipate. Twenty years are elapsed, and the projects which were conceived by Mr. Stewart, not in the eagerness of youth, but in the maturity and experience of riper years, still reinain unaccomplished ; and this justly celebrated writer
may perhaps, after all his efforts, add one to the number of the many great and wise men, who have indulged and awakened expectations which the vicissitude of human things never allowed them to fulfil. In this, however, he differs from most others, that even at the time of expressing his hopes, he had the wisdom to anticipate the possibility of their failure. May the tranquillityof his future years enable him to prove, what none who justly estimate his works can doubt, that the fulfilment of his projects has been retarded by no disproportion between his talents and his designs, but by that wise economy of things, which has provided, that, in this imperfect state, even the highest intellectual endowments shall seldom be allowed to produce their full effect.
In the mean time, and still, as he informs us, intent on the prosecution of his great work, Mr. Stewart has presented to the public a volume of Essays on subjects intimately connected with his favourite studies. Of these we are now to give some account. They were written, the author tells us, during an interval of ill-health, which disqualified him from severer labours ; like Baxter's Saint's Rest, “ in the time of his languishment:" but there are probably few persons whose full vigour would have been sufficient for the production of such a volume; and certainly none, whose years of health and strength had not been assiduously devoted to the cultivation of science and letters.
The Essays before us are preceded by a Prelimi