Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

finds grateful relief in that magical and fantastic coloring which tricks external objects, and diffuses life and sentiment throughout nature. Pomp of language-smoothness and harmony of verse—are only the accessory decorations; fervid animation constitues the soul of descriptive poetry. It is hence that mythology, the religion of the vulgar, has ever been a favorite subject with the poets.”Leslie on Heat, p. 525.

“When we turn our attention to external objects, and begin to exercise our rational faculties about them, we find, that there are some motions and changes in them, which we have power to produce, and that they have many which must have some other cause. Either the objects must have life and active power, as we have, or they must be moved or changed by something that has life and active power, as external objects are moved by

us.

“Our first thoughts seem to be, That the objects in which we perceive such motion have understanding and active power as we have.”

• Savages, says the Abbé Raynal, wherever they see motion which they cannot account for, there they sup

pose a soul.'

“All men may be considered as savages in this respect, until they are capable of instruction, and of using their faculties in a more perfect manner than savages do.

“ The rational conversations of birds and beasts in Æsop's Fables do not shock the belief of children. They have that probability in them which we require in an epic poem. Poets give us a great deal of pleasure, by clothing every object with intellectual and moral attributes, in metaphor and in other figures. May not the pleasure which we take in this poetical language, arise, in part, from its correspondence with our earliest sentiments ?

“ However this may be, the Abbé Raynal's observation is sufficiently confirmed, both from fact, and from the structure of all languages.

“Rude nations do really believe sun, moon, and stars,

earth, sea, and air, fountains and lakes, to have understanding and active power. To pay homage to them, and implore their favor, is a kind of idolatry natural to savages.

“ All languages carry in their structure the marks of their being formed when this belief prevailed. The distinction of verbs and participles into active and passive, which is found in all languages, must have been originally intended to distinguish what is really active from what is merely passive; and, in all languages, we find active verbs applied to those objects, in which, according to the Abbé Raynal's observation, savages sup

pose a soul.

“ Thus we say the sun rises and sets, and comes to the meridian, the moon changes, the sea ebbs and flows, the winds blow. Languages were formed by men who believed these objects to have life and active power in themselves. It was therefore proper and natural to express their motions and changes by active verbs.

“ There is no surer way of tracing the sentiments of nations before they have records, than by the structure of their language, which, notwithstanding the changes produced in it by time, will always retain some signatures of the thoughts of those by whom it was invented. When we find the same sentiments indicated in the structure of all languages, those sentiments must have been common to the human species when languages were invented.

“ When a few of superior intellectual abilities find leisure for speculation, they begin to philosophize, and soon discover, that many of those objects which, at first, they believed to be intelligent and active, are really lifeless and passive. This is a very important discovery. It elevates the mind, emancipates from many vulgar superstitions, and invites to farther discoveries of the same kind.

“ As philosophy advances, life and activity in natural objects retires, and leaves them dead and inactive. Instead of moving voluntarily, we find them to be moved necessarily ; instead of acting, we find them to be acted upon; and nature appears as one great machine, where one wheel is turned by another, that by a third ; and how far this necessary succession may reach, the philosopher does not know.

“The weakness of human reason makes men prone, when thy leave one extreme, to rush into the opposite; and thus philosophy, even in its infancy, may lead men from idolatry and polytheism into atheism, and from ascribing active power to inanimate beings, to conclude all things to be carried on by necessity."

[ocr errors]

Although the following paper (which has already ap

peared in print under the authority of the University of Edinburgh,) may not seem, at first view, to have any immediate relation to the subject of the foregoing pages, it will not be considered as altogether out of place in this publication, by those who had an opportunity of observing the rise and progress of the ecclesiastical proceedings which have taken place here, subsequent to the late vacancy in the Mathematical Professorship

At the College of Edinburgh, the 15th day of March 1805: Which day the Senatus Academicus, in a very full meeting, had a letter laid before them by the principal, subscribed by Dr. Greive, and written by authority of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, the tenor of which follows:

“ REVEREND SIR, “ As convener of a committe of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, I am directed to acquaint you, in their name, for the information of the Senatus Academicus of the University, that in a meeting of said Presbytery upon Wednesday, the 27th day of February last, the following resolution was moved and adopted :- Whereas for many years past the members of the University of Edinburgh have not been in the use of complying with those Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, by which they

* Essays on the Active Powers, p. 281 et seq. 4to Edit.

1

are expressly required to acknowledge, profess, and subscribe, before this Presbytery, the confession of faith which was ratified by the said Parliament on the 7th day of June, 1690: It is moved, that the Presbytery should appoint a committee of their number, to write, in their name, a letter to the Rev. Dr. George Baird, Principal of the University, intimating the desire and expectation of the Presbytery, that the laws on this subject shall be observed and obeyed by the said University, and requesting him to communicate the said letter to that learned body, with all convenient speed.”—The Presbytery, after agreeing to this motion, did accordingly appoint a committee for the purpose therein stated, whose orders I now obey in making this communication. At their desire, I beg leave farther to inform you, that the Acts of Parliament to which the Presbytery more particularly refer are, Act 17th of King William and Queen Mary's first Parliament, session 2d, entitled, Act for Visitation of Universities, Colleges, and Schools; and Act 6th of the 4th session of Queen Anne's Parliament, which is entitled, Act for securing the Protestant Religion, and Presbyterian Church Government; and that the General Assembly have specially enjoined Presbyteries to'attend to the execution of said Acts. Let me only add, that the committee hope you will be so obliging as to take an early opportunity of laying this letter before the University.

with very sincere esteem,
Reverend Sir,
Your most faithful,
and most obedient servant,

(Signed) HENRY GREIVE.” Edinburgh, March 9, 1805."

Addressed,
The Rev. Dr. George Baird,
Principal of the University of
Edinburgh.

I am,

The Senatus Academicus having deliberated on this subject, with that respectful consideration which is due to every communication from the Reverend Presbytery,

47

VOL. VII.

feel it incumbent on them to submit to that Reverend Body a few observations on the contents of Dr. Greive's letter, as well as a short statement of their own views relative to the subject to which the Presbytery has been pleased to call their attention.

As the letter of the Presbytery cannot be supposed to have a reference to any members of the University, but those of the laity who have the honor to belong to it, the Senatus Academicus beg leave, in the first place, in justice to this class of their colleagues, to assure the Presbytery, that they were all fully apprised of the existence of those Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, which the Presbytery has thought proper to point out to their notice. By accepting the offices which they hold in the University, they necessarily understood, that their assent to the confession of faith of the National Church was as fully implied, as their allegiance to the Civil Government of the country ; and they have accordingly been always ready, when called on by the Reverend Presbytery for the one purpose, or by the Civil Magistrate for the other, to give that public and formal testimony of their faith, and of their allegiance, which is enjoined by law. .: Of the expediency of that resolution which the Presbytery has formed, to give effect in future to the same statutes which it has allowed to remain dormant for the long period of half a century, it belongs not to the Senatus Academicus to judge; and they have only to regret, that the unlucky coincidence, in point of date, between the letter from the Presbytery, and the interposition of an Avisamentum from the ministers of this city in the election of a mathematical professor, is likely to convey an idea to the public, (notwithstanding the solemn assurances which the Senatus Academicus have received that the coincidence was purely accidental) that the character or principles of some of the present professors are viewed in an unfavorable light by the Reverend Presbytery ; or (what is still more to be dreaded)—that it may afford to those who are ill affected to thé ecclesiastical establishment of this country, a pre

« VorigeDoorgaan »