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be found conformable to truth. This is the method of investigation attempted in the Enquiry concerning Political Justice.
An enquiry thus pursued is undoubtedly in the highest style of man. But it is liable to many disadvantages; and, though there be nothing that it involves too high for our pride, it is perhaps a method of investigation incommensurate to our powers. A mistake in the commencement is fatal. An error in almost any part of the process is attended with extensive injury; where every thing is connected, as it were, in an indissoluble chain, and an oversight in one step vitiates all that are to follow. The intellectual
eye of man, perhaps, is formed rather for the inspection of minute and near, than of immense and distant objects. We proceed most fafely, when we enter upon
each portion of our process, as it
were, and there is danger, if we are too exclusively anxious about consistency of system, that we may forget the perpetual attention we owe to experience, the pole-star of truth.
An inceffant recurrence to experiment and actual observation, is the second me
de novo; The au
thod of investigating truth, and the method
The Essays are principally the result of conversations, some of them held many years ago, though the Essays have all been composed for the present occasion. The author has always had a passion for colloquial discussion ; and, in the various opportunities that have been afforded him in different scenes of life, the result seemed frequently to be fruitful both of amusement and instruction. There is a vivacity, and, if he may be permitted to say it, a richness, in the hints ftruck out in conversation, that are with difficulty attained in any other method. In the subjects of several of the 6
most considerable Essays, the noyelty of idea they may possibly contain, was regarded with a kind of complacence by the author, even when it was treated with supercilious inattention in its first communication. It is very possible, in these instances, that the public may espouse the party of the original auditor, and not of the author. Wherever that shall be strikingly the case, the complacence he mentions will be radically affected. An opinion peculiar to a fingle individual, inust be expected, to that individual to appear pregnant with dissatisfaction and uncertainty.
From what has been said the humble pretensions of the contents of the present volume are sufficiently obvious. They are presented to the contemplative reader, not as dieta, but as the materials of thinking, They are committed to his mercy. In themselves they are trivial; the hints of enquiry rather than actual enquiries: but hereafter perhaps they may be taken under other men's protection, and cherished to maturity. The utinoit that was here proposed, was to give, if possible, a certain 7
perspicuity and consistency to each detached member of enquiry. Truth was the object principally regarded ; and the author endeavoured to banish from his mind every modification of prepossession and prejudice.
There is one thought more he is desirous to communicate ; and it may not improperly find a place in this Preface. It relates to the French Revolution ; that inexhaustible source of meditation to the reflecting and inquisitive. While the principles of Gallic republicanism were yet in their infancy, the friends of innovation were somewhat too imperious in their tone. Their minds were in a state of exaltation and ferment. They were too impatient and impetuous. There was something in their fternness that savoured of barbarism. The barbarism of our adversaries was ng adequate excuse for this. The equable and independent mind should not be diverted from its bias by the errors of the enemy with whom it may have to contend.
The authorconfeffes that he did not escape the contagion. Those who ranged
themselves themselves on the same party, have now moderated their intemperance, and he has accompanied them also in their present stage. With as ardent a passion for innovation as ever, he feels himself more patient and tranquil. He is desirous of affisting others, if possible, in perfecting the melioration of their temper. There are many things discussed in the following Essays, upon which perhaps, in the effervescence of his zeal, he would have disdained to have written. But he is persuaded that the cause of political reform, and the cause of intellectual and literary refinement, are inseparably conne&ed. He has also descended in his investigations into the humbler walks of private life. He ardently desires that those who shall be active in promoting the cause of reform, may be found amiable in their personal manners, and even attached to the cultivation of miscellaneous enquiries. He believes that this will afford the best security, for our preserving kindness and universal philanthropy, in the midst of the operations of our justice.