Page images

He pro

under the influence of Locke, he had imbibed from his cradle the political principles of the great Whig families. fessed, indeed, to adhere to the genuine party creed, with an independence not shown by its official representatives. Above all, he shared the Whig hatred to High-Church principles; and contempt for the slavish political doctrines of nonjurors and highflyers was naturally allied in his mind, as in the minds of many other members of his party, with an equally hearty contempt for their theology. The Church, according to his view, was useful in so far as it tied the hands of priests and fanatics, or acted as a gag instead of a trumpet; it would be pernicious if it could be made an engine of priestly power. He contemptuously professes his 'steady orthodoxy, resignation and entire submission to the truly Christian and catholic doctrines of our Holy Church, as by law established' -a profession in which the stress is, of course, to be laid upon the last three words. His Utopia implied an era of general indifference, in which the ignorant might be provided with dogmas for their amusement; and wise men smile at them in secret. The Church, in short, was excellent as a national refrigerating machine; but no cultivated person could believe in its doctrines.

22. Shaftesbury, however, by native intellectual power, and by force of cultivation, was raised far above the ordinary politicians of his day. On the rude stock of commonplace Whiggism were grafted accomplishments strange to most of his countrymen. Driven from a public school by the unpopularity of his grandfather, he had acquired the rare power of enjoying classical literature, without being drilled by grammatical pedants. He had travelled abroad, and there learnt to value, even to excess, the advantages of cosmopolitan culture in art and philosophy. In Italy he had become a connoisseur, and could frame high-sounding æsthetic canons of taste. In Holland, he had made the acquaintance of Bayle and Le Clerc, the leaders of European criticism. He is never tired of preaching the advantages obtainable by the refining process of which he was thus a brilliant example. He complains of the narrow prejudices of his countrymen. Those only will relish his writings 'who delight in the open and free commerce of

„Misc. v. ch. iii.


the world, and are rejoiced to gather views and receive light from every quarter.'' A highly cultivated taste is the sole guide both in art and philosophy. “To philosophise in a just signification is but to carry good breeding a step higher.'?

The taste of beauty and the relish of what is decent, just, and amiable, perfects the character of the gentleman and the philosopher.'? The person who is thus thoroughly trained is called, in his old-fashioned dialect, the 'virtuoso;' and if Shaftesbury has a full measure of the pedantry and conceit belonging to the character, he has also some of the intellectual sensibility which the virtuoso arrogates as his peculiar merit.

23. Shaftesbury's writings appeared between 1708 and 1711.3 His first two treatises explain his view of contemporary theologians. I have not discussed them in speaking of the deist controversy, although their influence was considerable. Shaftesbury, however, confines himself chiefly to indicating his general attitude of mind, and deals but little in those specific attacks upon the letter of the Bible which formed the staple of contemporary controversy. He looks upon the whole struggle with the supercilious contempt of an indifferent spectator. His ' Letter on Enthusiasm,' provoked by the strange performances of the French prophets, and its sequel, called ' Sensus Communis,' or an 'Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour,' explains his theory. His strongest antipathies are excited by that ugly phenomenon which our ancestors condemned under the name of criticism-a word, the change in whose signification is characteristic of many other changes. 'Inspiration,' he says, “is a real feeling of the Divine presence, and enthusiasm a false one;'4 to which he adds, significantly, that the passions aroused in the two cases are much alike. This false belief in a supernatural influence is at the bottom of the disgusting manifestations of popular superstition, in which men mistake mental diseases for divine inspirations; and equally at the bottom of the superstitions which the Church of Rome has succeeded, with marvellous skill, in fettering and turning to account for the support of its majestic hierarchy. To provide for the enthusiasm of the loftier kind, the rulers of that Church allowed their mystics to write and preach in the most rapturous and seraphic strains.' To the vulgar they appealed by temples, statues, paintings, vestments, and all the gorgeous pomp of ritual. No wonder, he exclaims, if Rome, the seat of a monarchy resting on foundations laid so deep in human nature, still appeals to the imagination of all spectators, though some are charmed into a desire for reunion, whilst others conceive a deadly hatred for all priestly rule.

1 Misc. üi. ch. i.

: Ib. iii. ch. i. 3 The essay on Virtue ' had been published in an imperfect state by Toland in 1698. The Characteristics,' containing his collected treatises, first appeared in 1711, the year of his death.

4 Enthusiasm,' sec. 7.

24. Shaftesbury, of course, belongs to the latter category, and for both evils he prescribes the same remedy. Ridicule is the proper antidote to every development of enthusiasm. Instead of breaking the bones of the French charlatans, we had the good sense to make them the subject of a puppetshow at Bartle'my fair;'? and if a similar prescription had been applied by the Jews seventeen centuries before, he thinks that they would have done far more harm to our religion. For enthusiasm in priestly robes, and armed with the implements of persecution, there is the same remedy as for the enthusiasm serving the passions of a mob by counterfeit miracles. He maintained as

He maintained as a general principle that ridicule was the test of truth; a theory which produced a very pretty quarrel between Warburton and Akenside. Truth, he argues, ‘may bear all lights,'3 and one of the principal lights is cast by ridicule. This is an anticipatory justification of the practice of the deists and their pupil Voltaire. Ridicule is the natural retort to tyranny. 'Tis the persecuting spirit that has raised the bantering one.'" The doctrine, questionable enough in this dogmatic form, may perhaps be admitted with some limitation. Ridicule, out of place, when men are still in earnest enough to fight for their creeds, may be useful or venial for destroying the phantoms of dead creeds. When the prestige has survived the power, when heterodoxy is unfashionable, but not criminal, when priests bluster but cannot burn, satire may fairly come into play. Dogmas whose foundations have been sapped by reason may be toppled over by the lighter bolts of ridicule. The 1 Misc. ii. ch. ii.

8 Wit and Humour,' part i. sec. I. : • Enthusiasm,' sec. 3.

4 Ib. sec. 4.

method is hardly possible till some freedom of discussion is allowed, nor becoming when free discussion has brought all disputants to equal terms. Ridicule clears the air from the vapours of preconceived prejudice. Shaftesbury, though insisting even to tediousness upon its importance, is awkward in its application. Nor, indeed, is he to be reckoned amongst the unscrupulous employers of the weapon. It is 'good humour, not a scoffing humour, which he professes to desire. Good humour,' he tells us, 'is not only the best security against enthusiasm, but the best foundation of piety and true religion.'' Good humour, in fact, is the disposition natural to the philosopher when enthusiasm has been finally exorcised from religion. All turbulent passions and vehement excitements are alien to his nature. The sour fanatic and the bigoted priest are at opposite poles of disturbance, whilst he dwells in the temperate latitudes of serene contemplation. With the more rational forms of religion he would be the last man to quarrel. He sets himself at one place to prove that "wit and humour are corroborative of religion and promotive of true faith ;' that they have been used by the holy founders of religion ;' and that ours is ‘in the main a witty and good-humoured religion.'? He passes with suspicious lightness over the proof of the last head ; and the phrase “in the main ’ is obviously intended to exclude a large, but undefined, element of base alloy. So long, however, as religion makes no unpleasant demands upon him he will not quarrel with its general claims. He speaks with contempt of the mockery of modern miracles and inspiration ;' he is inclined to regard all pretences to such powers as 'mere imposture or delusion;' but on the miracles of past ages he resigns his judgment to his superiors, and on all occasions 'submits most willingly, and with full confidence and trust, to the opinions by law established.' 3 A miracle which happened seventeen centuries before could hurt nobody; but the miracles of the French prophets, or at the tomb of the Abbé Paris, were noxious enough to require a drastic remedy in the shape of satire. One exception, indeed, must be admitted. Shaftesbury's philosophic calm is slightly disturbed by any mention of the Jews. The idol of the Puritans was naturally the bugbear of the deists. The Jew was the type of all that was fanatical, superstitious, narrow-minded, and offensive, and Shaftesbury hated him with the hatred of Voltaire. When writing as a literary critic, his examples of subjects upon which no poet could confer any interest are taken from Jewish history. Nothing, as the friend of Bayle naturally thinks, could be made of David. 'Such are some human hearts that they can hardly find the least sympathy with that only one which had the character of being after the pattern of the Almighty.'' When writing as a moralist the same fertile source supplies him with abundant instances of the fearful consequences of superstition. Deism may be evil when it implies belief in a bad God. If religion gives a divine warrant for cruelty, persecution, barbarity to the conquered, human sacrifices, self-mutilation, treachery, or partiality to a chosen race, the practices which it sanctions are still ‘horrid depravity.'? The reference to the Jews is more explicitly pointed in his later writings, where, for example, he explains the allusion to human sacrifice by the story of Abraham and Isaac, and discovers the origin of enthusiasm in priest-ridden Egypt, whence it was derived by the servile imitation of the Jews. Shaftesbury was a theist; but he was certainly not a worshipper of Jehovah.

I 'Enthusiasm,' sec. 3.

2 Misc. ii. ch. ii.

3 Ib. i. ch. ii.

25. The destructive element of Shaftesbury's writings is, however, strictly subordinate to his main purpose. He differs from Hobbes, the typical representative of the destructive impulses, as profoundly, though he does not hate him so heartily, as the soundest contemporary divines. Suppose, he says, that we had lived in Asia at the time when the Magi, by an egregious imposture, had got possession of the empire,'s but had endeavoured to obviate hatred justly due to their cheats by recommending the best possible moral maxims, what would be our right course? Should we attack both the Magi and their doctrines; repudiate every moral and religious principle, and make men as much as possible wolves to each other ? That, he says, was the course pursued by Hobbes, who, both in religion and politics, went on the principle of Magophony,'

I Soliloquy,' part iii. sec. 3.
? · Virtue,' book i. part ii. sec. 3, and pt. iv. sec. 2.

5 Wit and Humour,' part ii. sec. I.

3 Misc. ii. ch. iii. * Ib. ii. ch. i.

« PreviousContinue »