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buried in the quicksands of ignorance, or scorched with the lightning of momentary indignation, at length floats on the calm wave that is to bear it down the stream of time. Mr. Godwin's person is not known, he is not pointed out in the street, his conversation is not courted, his opinions are not asked, he is at the head of no cabal, he belongs to no party in the State, he has no train of admirers, no one thinks it worth his while even to traduce and vilify him, he has scarcely friend or foe, the world make a point (as Goldsmith used to say) of taking no more notice of him than if such an individual had never existed; he is to all ordinary intents and purposes dead and buried; but the author of Political Justice and of Caleb Williams can never die, his name is an abstraction in letters, his works are standard in the history of intellect. He is thought of now like any eminent writer a hundred-and-fifty years ago, or just as he will be a hundred-and-fifty years hence. He knows this, and smiles in silent mockery of himself, reposing on the monument of his fame
“Sedet, in eternumque sedebit infelix Theseus.”
No work in our time gave such a blow to the philosophical mind of the country as the celebrated Enquiry concerning Political Justice. Tom Paine was considered for the time as a Tom Fool to him; Paley an old woman; Edmund Burke a flashy sophist.
Truth, moral truth, it was supposed, had here taken up its abode; and these were the oracles of thought. “ Throw aside your books of chemistry,” said Words worth to a young man, a student in the Temple, “ and read Godwin on Necessity.” Sad necessity ! Fatal reverse! Is truth then so variable ? Is it one thing at twenty, and another at forty ? Is it at a burning heat in 1793, and below zero in 1814 ? Not so, in the name of manhood and of common sense! Let us pause here a little.—Mr. Godwin indulged in extreme opinions, and carried with him all the most sanguine and fearless understandings of the time. What then ? Because those opinions were overcharged, were they therefore altogether groundless ? Is the very God of our idolatry all of a sudden to become an abomination and an anathema ? Could so many young men of talent, of education, and of principle have been hurried away by what had neither truth, nor nature, not one particle of honest feeling nor the least show of reason in it ? Is the Modern Philosophy (as it has been called) at one moment a youthful bride, and the next a withered beldame, like the false Duessa in Spenser ? Or is the vaunted edifice of Reason, like his House of Pride, gorgeous in front, and dazzling to approach, while “ its hinder parts are ruinous, decayed, and old ?" Has the main prop, which supported the mighty fabric, been shaken and given way under the strong grasp of some Samson; or has it not rather been undermined by rats and vermin? At one time, it almost seemed, that “if this failed,
The pillar'd firmament was rottenness,
now scarce a shadow of it remains, it is crumbled to dust, nor is it even talked of! “What, then, went ye forth for to see, a reed shaken with the wind ?” Was it for this that our young gownsmen of the greatest expectation and promise, versed in classic lore, steeped in dialectics, armed at all points for the foe, well read, well nurtured, well provided for, left the University and the prospect of lawn sleeves, tearing asunder the shackles of the free born spirit, and the cobwebs of school-divinity, to throw themselves at the feet of the new Gamaliel, and learn wisdom from him? Was it for this, that students at the bar, acute, inquisitive, sceptical (here only wild enthusiasts) neglected for a while the paths of preferment and the law as too narrow, tortuous, and unseemly to bear the pure and broad light of reason ? Was it for this, that students in medicine missed their way to Lecturerships and the top of their profession, deeming lightly of the health of the body, and dreaming only of the renovation of society and the march of mind ? Was it to this that Mr. Southey's Inscriptions pointed ? to this that Mr. Coleridge's Religious Musings tended ? Was it for this, that Mr. Godwin himself sat with arms folded, and, “ like Cato, gave his little senate laws?" Or rather, like another Prospero, uttered syllables that with their enchanted breath were to change the world, and might almost stop the stars in their courses ? Oh! and is all forgot? Is this sun of intellect blotted from the sky ? Or has it suffered total eclipse? Or is it we who make the fancied gloom, by looking at it through the paltry, broken, stained fragments of our own interests and prejudices ? Were we fools then, or are we dishonest now? Or was the impulse of the mind less likely to be true and sound when it arose from high thought and warm feeling, than afterwards, when it was warped and debased by the example, the vices, and follies of the world ?
The fault, then, of Mr. Godwin's philosophy, in one word, was too much ambition—“ by that sin fell the angels!" He conceived too nobly of his fellows (the most unpardonable crime against them, for there is nothing that annoys our self-love so much as being complimented on imaginary achievements, to which we are wholly unequal)—he raised the standard of morality above the reach of humanity, and by directing virtue to the most airy and romantic heights, made her path dangerous, solitary, and impracticable. The author of the Political Justice took abstract reason for the rule of conduct, and abstract good for its end. He places the human mind on an
elevation, from which it commands a view of the whole line of moral consequences; and requires it to conform its acts to the larger and more enlightened conscience which it has thus acquired. He absolves man from the gross and narrow ties of sense, custom, authority, private and local attachment, in order that he may devote himself to the boundless pursuit of universal benevolence. Mr. Godwin gives no quarter to the amiable weaknesses of our nature, nor does he stoop to avail himself of the supplementary aids of an imperfect virtue. Gratitude, promises, friendship, family affection give way, not that they may be merged in the opposite vices or in want of principle ; but that the void may be filled up by the disinterested love of good, and the dictates of inflexible justice, which is “ the law of laws, and sovereign of sovereigns.” All minor considerations yield, in his system, to the stern sense of duty, as they do, in the ordinary and established ones, to the voice of necessity. Mr. Godwin's theory, and that of more approved reasoners, differ only in this, that what are with them the exceptions, the extreme cases, he makes the every-day rule. No one denies that on great occasions, in moments of fearful excitement, or when a mighty object is at stake, the lesser and merely instrumental points of duty are to be sacrificed without remorse at the shrine of patriotism, of honour, and of conscience. But the dis