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The unintelligible.... Part III. From want of meaning.
“ themselves in us, so we love ourselves in our child
ren, and in those to whom we are most nearly rela“ ted by blood. Thus far instinct improves self-love. “ Reason improves it further. We love ourselves in “our neighbours, and in our friends too, with Tully's
leave ; for if friendship is formed by a kind of sym
pathy, it is cultivated by good offices. Reason pro“ ceeds. We love ourselves in loving the political bo
dy whose members we are ; and we love ourselves, “ when we extend our benevolence to all mankind. " These are the genuine effects of reason *.” I would not be understood to signify, that there is no meaning in any clause of this quotation, but that the greater part of it is unmeaning; and that the whole, instead of exhibiting a connected train of thought, agreeably to the author's intention, presents us only with a few trifling or insignificant phrases speciously strung together. The very first sentence is justly exceptionable in this respect. Had he said,
Had he said, “ Pleasure is the object “ of appetite, happiness that of self-love,” there had been some sense in it; as it stands, I suspect there is none. Pope, the great admirer and versifier of this philosophy, hath succeeded much better in contradistinguishing the provinces of reason and passion, where he says,
Reason the card, but passion is the gale †.
This always the mover, that the guide. As the card serves equally to point to us the course that we must
* Bolingb. Ph. Fr. 51.
+ Essay on Man, Ep. ü.
steer, whatever be the situation of the port we are bound for, east or west, south or north ; so reason serves equally to indicate the means that we must employ for the attainment of any end, whatever that end be (right or wrong, profitable or pernicious) which passion impels us to pursue [. All that follows of the passage quoted, abounds with the like loose and indefinite declamation. If the author had any meaning, a point very questionable, he hath been very unhappy, and very unphilosophical in expressing it. What are we to make of the coincidence or sameness of selflove and social affection produced by reason? What of parents loving themselves in their children ? &c. &c.-Any thing you please, or nothing. It is a say. ing of Hobbeś, which this author hath quoted with deserved commendation, that " words are the counters " of wise men, but the money of fools.” The thought is ingenious and happily expressed. I shall only remark upon it, that this noble writer may be produced as one of many witnesses, to prove, that it is not peculiar to fools to fall into this error. He is a wise man indeed who never mistakes these counters for legal coin. So much for the learned nonsense. And doubtless, if nonsense ever deserves to be exposed, it is when she has the arrogance to assume the garb of wisdom.
For the further elucidation of this point, see the analysis of persuasion given in Book 1, Chap. vii. Sect. 4.
The unintelligible....Part III. From want of meaning.
3. The Profound.
I PROCEED to another species, which I shall denominate the profound, and which is most commonly to be met with in political writings. No where else do we find the merest nothings set off with an air of solemnity, as the result of very deep thought and sage reflection. Of this kind, however, I shall produce a specimen, which, in confirmation of a remark made in the preceding paragraph, shall be taken from a justly celebrated tract, of a justly celebrated pen : “ 'Tis “ agreed," says Swift,“ that, in all governments, there " is an absolute and unlimited power, which natural
ly and originally seems to be placed in the whole * body, wherever the executive part of it lies. This " holds in the body natural ; for wherever we place * the beginning of motion, whether from the head, ot “ the heart, or the animal spirits in general, the body
moves and acts by a consent of all its parts *.” The first sentence of this passage contains one of the most hackneyed máxims of the writers on politics; a maxim, however, of which it will be more difficult than is commonly imagined, to discover, I say, not the justness, but the sense. The illustration from the natural body, contained in the second sentence, is indeed more glaringly nonsensical. What it is that constitutes this consent of all the parts of the body, which must be
* Disc. of the Contests and Dissensions in Athens and Rome, first sentence.
obtained previously to every motion, is, I will' take upon me to affirm, utterly inconceivable. Yet the whole of the paragraph from which this quotation is taken, hath such a speciousness in it, that it is a hundred to one, even a judicious reader will not, or the first perusal, be sensible of the defect.
The last species of nonsense to be exemplified I shall denominate the marvellous. It is the characteristic of this kind, that it astonishes and even confounds by the boldness of the affirmations, which always appear flatly to contradict the plainest dictates of common sense, and thus to involve a manifest absurdity. I know no sort of authors that so frequently abounds in this manner, as some artists, who have attempted to philosophise on the principles of their art. I shall give an example from the English translation of a French book +, as there is no example which I can remember at present in any book written originally in our own language : “ Nature,” says this writer, “ in “ herself is unseemly, and he who copies her servilely, “ and without artifice, will always produce something
poor, and of a mean taste. What is called load “ in colours and lights, can only proceed from a “ profound knowledge in the values of colours, and “ from an admirable industry, which makes the
+ Dr Piles' Principles of Painting.
The unintelligible... Part III. From want of meaning.
painted objects appear more true, if I may say so, " than the real ones. In this sense it may be assert
ed, that in Rubens pieces, Art is above Nature, " and Nature only a copy of that great master's 4 works.” What a strange subversion, or inversion, if you will, of all the most obvious, and hitherto undisputed truths. Not satisfied with affirming the unseemliness of every production of Nature, whom this philosopher hath discovered to be an arrant bungler, and the immense superiority of human Art, whose humbler scholar dame Nature might be proud to be accounted, he riseth to asseverations, which shock all our notions, and utterly defy the powers of apprehension. Painting is found to be the original; or rather Rubens' pictures are the original, and Nature is the copy: and indeed very consequentially, the former is represented as the standard by which the beauty and perfections of the latter are to be estimated. Nor do the qualifying phrases, if I may say so, and in this sense it may be asserted, make here the smallest odds. For as this sublime critic has nowhere hinted what sense it is which he denominates this sense, so I believe no reader will be able to conjecture, what the author might have said, and not absurdly said, to the same effect.
The misfortune is, that when the expression is stript of the absurd meaning, there remains nothing but balderdash, a jumble of bold words without meaning * Specimens of the same kind are
* Since writing the above observations, I have seen De Piles' original performance, and find that his translator hath, in this