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of it in their minds, it may possibly be very dangerous to the society to suffer such pernicious doctrines to stand unobjected to with so great a name at their head. Many, I am convinced, will think the authority of this name alone sufficient to establish their own belief upon, without any farther inquiry at all. Many others will imagine very little inquiry necessary, and, though they did not entirely acquiesce in taking his word, will be casily cajoled with his reasons, which, however little they may have of substance, have much of the specious ornaments of wit and language, with all the allurements of novelty both of style and manner; and, finally, with an appearance, at least, of reading very singular and extensive.
From which last particular may arise a third sort very worthy of receiving some assistance on this occasion ; such, I mean, as have not the least inclination to his lordship's doctrines, nor would, indeed, assent to them on the authority of any man breathing, who may yet have wanted leisure or opportunity sufficient to provide themselves with a proper fund of knowledge, to give a ready answer to various assertions which will occur in the works now under consideration, and which, though they have the worst of tendencies, have in reality themselves no better support (and not always so good a one) than some very weak and slender hypotheses, and are at other times built on the revival of old chimerical principles which have been confuted and exploded long ago.
Now to all these different constitutions we shall endeavour to apply our several antidotes. And here, luckily for us, we are provided with an argument which must most effectually silence those who are the most difficult of all others to be usually dealt with in the way of reasoning; such are the persons I mentioned in the first class, who believe
from authority only, and who have not yet, with the schools, given up the irresistible argument of he himself said it.
The force of this argument, however, even in the days when it flourished most, drew all its strength from a supposition that, if he himself said it, he himself believed it: for, if it could have been proved of Aristotle that he had asserted pro and con, and had, with the same clearness, affirmed in one part of his works the same thing to be, and in another the same thing not to be, none of his scholars would have known which he believed, and all others would, perhaps, have thought that he had no belief at all in, nor indeed any knowledge of, the matter.
If, therefore, his lordship shall appear to have made use of this duplicity of assertion, and that not in one or two but in many instances, may we not draw the like conclusions ? Luckily, perhaps, for his lordship, we may not be driven to the same absolute degree of uncertainty as must have resulted from the case of Aristotle, as I have put it above; since our noble author himself seems to have left us a kind of clue, which will sufficiently lead to the discovery of his meaning, and will shew us as often as he is pleased to assert both sides of a contradiction on which side we are to believe him.
And here I shall premise two cautions : one of which I shall borrow from the rules established among writers ; the reasonableness of the other I shall endeavour to evince from a rule given us by one of the greatest lawyers whom this kingdom ever bred.
The first is, that of interpreting the sense of an author with the utmost candour, so as not to charge him with any gross and invidious meaning when his words are susceptible of a much more benign and favourable sense.
The second is, the observation formed upon the Morks of judge Littleton by lord chief justice Coke ; this is, that whenever that great lawyer is pleased to put down two opinions directly contradicting each other, that the latter opinion is always the best, and always his own.
To apply these to the present purpose, I first of all recommend to the candour of the reader, that whenever he shall find two assertions directly contrary to each other (and many such we do promise to produce to him) one of which directly tends to take away all religion whatever, and the other as directly to establish natural religion at least, that he will be so kind, since it is impossible that my lord should have believed both, to imagine that he rather believed the latter; especially as this latter, from its contradicting the apparent purpose of the author, appears to have been last set down; and, consequently, will have my lord Coke's sanction in favour of the superior authority.
Lastly, if it should ever happen that his lordship's sentiments should be more clearly expressed in favour of the worse than of the better doctrine, we will endeavour all that in us lies to explain and illustrate those hints; by which, we trust, he will always assist a careful and accurate examiner in rescuing the esoteric purity of his doctrines from that less amiable appearance in which their exoteric garb represents them.
In short, we doubt not but to make it appear as a fact beyond all contest, that his lordship was in jest through the whole work which we have undertaken to examine. If an inflamed zealot should, in his warmth, compare such jesting to his in the Psalmist; or if a cooler disposition should ask how it was possible to jest with matters of such importance; I confess I have no defence against the accusation, nor can give any satisfactory answer to the question,
To this, indeed, I could say, and it is all that I could say,
lord Bolingbroke was a great genius, sent into the world for great and astonishing purposes. That the ends, as well as means, of action in such personages are above the comprehension of the vulgar. That his life was one scene of the wonderful throughout. That, as the temporal happiness, the civil liberties and properties, of Europe, were the game of his earliest youth, there could be no sport so adequate to the entertainment of his advanced age as the eternal and final happiness of all mankind. That this is the noblest conservation of character, and might, if perceived in himself, possibly lead our great genius to see the Supreme Being in the light of a dramatic poet, and that part of his works which we inhabit as a drama. "The sensitive inhabitants of our globe,' says lord Bolingbroke *, like the dramatis persona, • have different characters, and are applied to dif'ferent purposes of action in every scene. The • several parts of the material world, like the ma• chines of a theatre, were contrived not for the "actors but for the action; and the whole order and system of the drama would be disordered and spoiled, if any alteration was made in either. The nature of
every creature, bis manner of being, is adapted to his state here, to the place he is to inhabit, and, as we may say, to the part he is to
act. It hath been, I think, too common with poets to aggrandize their profession with such kind of similies, and I have, somewhere in an English dramatic writer, met with one so nearly resembling the above, that his lordship might be almost suspected to have read it likewise ; but such conceits are inconsistent with any (even the least) pretence to philosophy. I recollect, indeed, a single instance, in the writings of Jordano Bruno, who was burnt at
* Vol. V. p. 377.
Rome for heresy, or, if we believe Scioppius, for most horrid blasphemy, the latter end of the fifteenth century; and who, from a want of a due correspondence between the passive powers of matter and the active power of God, compares the Supreme Being to a fiddler who hath skill to play but cannot for want of a fiddle. This, it must be confessed, is going somewhat farther ; as much farther, in reality, as to descend from the stage to the orchestra. This ludicrous treatment of the Being so universally (for half a dozen madmen must not be allowed to strip any opinion of universality) acknowledged to be the cause of all things, whilst it sounds so ill in the grave voice of reason, very well becomes the lips of a droll: for novelty, boldness, and even absurdity, as they all tend to surprise, do often give a poignancy to wit, and serve to enhance a jest. This affords a second reason why we may suspect his lordship was not over serious in the work before us.
Thirdly, that his lordship never thought proper to revise this performance, is a very strong argument that he could not be in earnest either in believing himself in his own doctrines, or in endeavouring to imprint such a belief on others. That he did not in fact revise his works is manifest, from the numerous contradictions that occur in them, and these often in the same page; so that, for the most part, they could not escape the dullest and bluntest degree of penetration ; surely we cannot impute such repeated oversights to one who hath so explicitly asserted, * That to be liable to contradict yourself is to be liable to one of the greatest of human imperfections ! An author, in the first hurry of setting down his thoughts on a subject which warms him may possibly, indeed, assert two opinions not perfectly reconcileable with each other; nay, there are
* Essays, p. 181.