Зображення сторінки

which he occupies in the history of literature belongs less to any claim of splendid ability or extensive acquirement, than to that false reputation which may be easily acquired by the meanest talents, when employed in the service of a reigning folly or a popular delusion; and most, perhaps, of all, in the support of any of those forms of unbelief which have their origin in the perversions of human nature. Any empiric-and such are the infidel writers from first to last-who will undertake to release men from the terrors and restraints of the law of God, as declared by himself, and substitute in its place some specious invention, of a kind more accommodating to sin, is sure of all the support that the worst dispositions of mankind can venture to give. To acquire eminence in the senate, at the bar, in the chair of science, is no easy matter,—but it is easy to rise to the vicious eminence of an apologist for vice or folly; and what but such a facility can account for Deism, and the fame of its most eminent professors? If, on any other subject of study which lies within the compass of their power, such reasoners as Herbert, Shaftesbury, and Spinoza, with their long train of jarring sectaries in folly, had appeared,—not even the splendour of eloquence, the original nerve and vein of thought, or the utmost dexterity of perversion, could for an hour impose on the meanest understanding capable of the perusal of such writings. If they had so reasoned on municipal law, on political economy, on mathematics, or on astronomy,-replete as the history of human knowledge is with error, it would at once be seen that they were gratuitous in their data, evasive and sophistical in their reasonings, and all irreconcilably at variance among themselves. On no other subject but revealed religion will the most coarse and palpable contradictions pass; or the most current and practical observation and experience which govern in all other things, be flippantly denied. Hundreds of persons may be met indeed in the public-room of a stagecoach hotel who pretend to have no acquaintance with history, or law, or science, or any branch of human knowledge beyond some low calling; and yet, if the subject of christianity should by accident be introduced, will shake their heads, smile sardonically, and rise to the dignity of philosophers. To these the mission of a man, like Toland, will always be an avatar of living inspiration. And though, happily, there is a predominance of respect for known truth, and a reverence for the rock-built structure of our faith which will combine against such men all that is respectable in society; yet he will not want a congregation. It is also a truth, applicable in this place, that artifice holds as large a place in the proceedings of the deist, as sophistryto be heard by christians, he will profess to be a christian-when Satan preaches it will be in a garb of light, and perhaps not without interpretations of holy writ. Toland, like Herbert and Shaftesbury, set out with the profession of christianity~ like these eminent men to whom, indeed, the comparison is no compliment, he professed friendship, in order to betray. It is curious to observe how the character of Judas has been transmitted.

First assuming the character of a christian writer, and falling in with the notions of a sect favourable to his purpose, he wrote a book full of craft, and in the highest degree calculated to deceive. At that time it was too usual in the pulpit to hear christianity divested of its


doctrines, and reduced to the ethical system which should have its true source in those doctrines—this also favoured the craft of Toland. There were then-as there are still-vast numbers of professing christians who, without denying the authority of Divine revelation, thought very little about it; and who, adopting the ethical system of their preachers, were virtually no more than deists with a christian morality. All this afforded great facility for Toland's attack—it was substantially no more than an assault upon quarters which there was no very general zeal to defend. To the professing christian, ignorant of the elementary foundations of his creed, and mainly anxious to take the ground which was most conformable to his inclinations-it would not be unwelcome to have an assurance which lowered the standard of faith, and stripped christianity of all but that which it has in common with worldly wisdom and virtue. Toland met these dispositions in a work in which he attempted to prove that christianity has no mysteries, as it could not be believed that God would impose upon his creatures a faith in things which they could not by nature understand. Such a sophism can hardly be conceived to deceive its author, and is but a proof of dishonesty of purpose. If God had required that man should understand that which he had made him incapable of understanding, the argument would have some force. Or if it could be proved from experience, that no fact could be believed until it was first clearly explicable by the understanding, still there would follow some conclusion. But Toland's proof amounts to the lowest equivocation between belief and understanding. Man believes much, and understands little. And there are few things indeed, and those only human inventions for which he has the evidence which Toland would require for the truths of Scripture. That there should be things existing beyond the narrow limits of human sense is in no way improbable-that these things may be unintelligible to one who understands so little, is as obvious to reason

that a being who is to exist in another state may be in some way concerned in such things, is not liable to any rational objection that God, the ruler of both states, should reveal them, seems a consequence

that the authority of God should be the surest proof, cannot be denied-and the argument of Toland is, of course, absurd. The question which meets him, and every deist who has straitness of intellect enough to see it, is, as to the immediate authentication of Divine authority. Accordingly, in a subsequent work, he made a very similar attack upon the canon of the Scriptures, under the pretence of discussing a wholly different question. We may, however, dismiss the subject. Christianity has two classes of assailants, of which one must never pass without especial notice; the other may be left to those who are professionally engaged in the maintenance of sacred truth: sophisms which have their foundation in the common infirmity of human reason, and which, without study or prompting, are forever renewed, ought to be resisted in every quarter. But attacks on the canon of Scripture demand a degree of study which, when any honest understanding applies to the subject, such attacks must be soon relinquished. The best works on testimony, as being the most irrefragable in their reasonings, are those on the canon of Scripture.

[merged small][ocr errors]

This eminent mathematician should have appeared at a somewhat earlier period of our labours. The particulars of his life, on record, are few. He was born in 1620-of his education we can only ascertain that it was irregular, but that, following the bent of his genius, he applied himself with zeal to mathematical science, and early obtained a high reputation among the most eminent philosophers of his day. On the incorporation of the Royal Society, he was elected pro tempore, the first president, and continued, by successive election, to fill this exalted station for fifteen years. During this period he contributed some important papers to the Transactions. To him is due the honour of the first idea of continued fractions. He also first solved some ingenious problems in the Indeterminate Analysis. Among his papers, in the “ Transactions," the most remarkable are “Experiments concerning the recoiling of Guns; and a series for the quadrature of the Hyperbola.”

He was appointed chancellor to the queen, and keeper of her sealwas one of the commissioners for executing the duties of lord high admiral. In 1681, he obtained the mastership of St Katherine's Hospital, near the Tower. He died at his house, in St James' Street, April 5, 1684, and was buried in a vault which he had built for himself in the choir of the hospital.

George Farquhar.

BORN, A.D. 1678.-DIED, A.D. 1707. FARQUHAR was the son of a clergyman, and was born in Londonderry in 1678. He is said to have manifested early proofs of dramatic genius. He entered in the university of Dublin, in 1694; and, for some time, showed both industry and talent, but soon fell into a course of dissipation. The result was a total relaxation in his studies, and, if the account which has been given of his expulsion from college be true, he must have, for some time at least, fallen very low into the depraved levities, to which the young are liable when too soon set free from parental control. His class had been given an exercise on a sacred subject, which Farquhar having neglected until he was called upon in the hall, or perhaps in his tutor's apartment; he then proposed to acquit himself by an extemporaneous exercise. The proposal was allowed, and he wrote or uttered a jest at the same time so wretched, indecent, and blasphemous, that we cannot here make even an allusion to its monstrous purport. We are, indeed, inclined to disbelieve a story of such silliness and depravity; but, if it really occurred, it would serve to exemplify a mind so far gone from every sense of respect and decency, as for a time at least to have forgotten their existence in others; for it is said that Farquhar was disappointed at the failure of a witticism which could only have been tolerated in the last stages of drunkenness, to elicit the approbation of sober and religious men.

The narrative of this strange account relates that, in consequence he was expelled, tanquam pestilentia hujus societatis, from the university. The walks of professional life, which are the general aim of academic study, were thus closed against him, and he took refuge upon the stage for which he had in the meantime contracted a strong taste. He had formed an intimacy with Wilks, a well-known English actor, at the time engaged in Dublin, and by his interposition obtained an engagement. His debut was favourable, and he continued for a short time on the stage, until he had the ill fortune to wound a brother actor very severely in playing a part in Dryden's play of the Indian emperor. The accident was occasioned by his having inadvertently neglected to change his sword for a foil, in a scene in which he was to kill his antagonist. He was so much shocked that he resolved at once to abandon the stage as an actor.

His friend Wilks was at the time engaged by Rich to play in London. Farquhar accompanied him-and there is reason to presume, that he must have previously made up his mind to try his fortune and genius as a dramatic writer. He had also the good fortune to become acquainted with the earl of Orrery, who gave him a lieutenancy in his regiment.

In 1698, he brought out his comedy of “ Love in a Bottle,” which was acted with applause. In 1700, he produced his “ Trip to the Jubilee,” and obtained well-merited popularity by the character of Sir Harry Wildair. This celebrated comedy had a run of fifty-three nights, and gained a reputation for Wilks in the principal character not inferior to that of the author. The same year Farquhar paid a visit to Holland, where he obtained the notice due to his celebrity. Among the incidents of this visit, he mentions an entertainment given by the earl of Westmoreland, at which king William was a guest.

By the influence of Farquhar, that well-known actress, Mrs Oldfield, was first introduced to the London boards in her sixteenth year. Her success was promoted by a drama brought out in 1701 by her protector, in which she obtained very distinguished applause. This was the year of Dryden's death—and Farquhar gives a description of his funeral in one of his letters. The following year he published his letters, essays, and poems, which are replete with all the peculiar qualities of his mind. Among these letters there is one in which he gives to his mistress, Mrs Oldfield, a very characteristic description of himself. “My outside is neither better nor worse than Creator made it; and the piece being drawn by so great an artist, 'twere presumption to say there were many strokes amiss. I have a body qualified to answer all the ends of its creation, and that's sufficient. As to the mind, which, in most men, wears as many changes as their body, so in me 'tis generally dressed in black. In short, my constitution is very splenetic, and my amours, both which I endeavour to hide lest the former should offend others, and the latter incommode myself; and my mind is so vigilant in restraining these two failings, that I am taken for an easy-natured man by my own sex, and an ill-natured clown by

yours. I have little estate but what lies under the circumference of my hat; and should I by misfortune lose my head, I should not be worth a groat. But I ought to thank Providence that I can, by three hours' study, live one and twenty, with satisfaction to myself, and contribute to the maintenance of more families than some who have thousands a

[ocr errors]

In 1702, “ the Inconstant” appeared with less than his usual success: this is accounted for by the circumstance of a change in the public taste in favour of the Italian opera. The same year he became the dupe of a female adventurer, who took a violent fancy to him, and determined to obtain him for a husband by an unprincipled stratagem, which, perhaps, loses much of its disgusting character when viewed in reference to the lax morals of the period, and the depraved lessons of the stage, in which Farquhar had his ample share. Knowing that he was not to be won without inoney, the female of whom we speak, caused reports of her ample fortune to be circulated in every quarter which best suited her design. And, in the same way, it was conveyed to the vain poet's ear, that she had become desperately in love with him. Farquhar, who was utterly devoid of discretion, at once fell into the snare: the double bait was more than vanity and poverty could withstand. He married his fair ensnarer, and was, of course, undeceived not very satisfactorily—such a practical exemplification of his art he must have considered as bordering too nearly upon the tragic. But it was among the lessons of his pen, and in the habitual contemplation of his mind more nearly allied to the wit of the comic author, than to the baseness of the actual reality. Farquhar too, was not one to brood over an injury, or to reflect very seriously on anything: if he was shocked, it was only for a moment, and he easily forgave the trick; and is said to have always after conducted himself with affection and kindness to his wife.

In 1704, he produced the “Stage Coach," a farce, with the assistance of a friend. In the following year “ The Twin Rivals” appeared; and in 1706, “ The Recruiting Officer,” of which he is mentioned to have collected the materials on a recruiting party in which he was employed for his regiment, in Shrewsbury. Captain Plume, in this farce, is supposed to represent the author himself, and serjeant Kite his serjeant.

The “ Beaux Stratagem” completes the list of his works. It still holds a high place in the list of what is called genteel comedy; we know not whether it yet retains any place on the stage, but it was a favourite in the early part of the present century. He died before its appearance-a prey to grief and disappointment, owing to great distress of circumstances, and, it is said, the perfidy of his patron. This nobleman, when applied to in the hour of need, persuaded him to reJieve himself by the sale of his commission, and promised to obtain another for him very soon. The advice was followed, but the promise was forgotten; and Farquhar was so heavily affected by the painful feelings occasioned by such a complicated affliction he never again held up his head, but died in April, 1707, in his twenty-ninth year. He left two daughters in a state of entire destitution; but they were befriended by Wilks, his first and last earthly friend, to whom a very pathetic

« НазадПродовжити »