[ocr errors]

to value their present mildness. Every object as it catches the first rays of "the powerful king of day," appearing to smile at his approach. The lengthened shadows that shoot across the meadow, slowly diminishing as he advances. The clouds that seemed to check his early progress, gradually yielding to his growing might, and "illumed with fluid gold," disappearing amid" the kindling azure.' The glistening dew-drops, "stars of morning," impearling every leaf. Vegetation clothed in a richer verdure, and the variegated flowers in livelier hues. The groves resounding with the melody of the feathered tribes, who appear susceptible of gratitude for the return of the opening day: whilst every animal is in motion, and seems to feel a new satisfaction in the exercise of its active powers and the revival of its capacities for enjoyment." (P. 76—78.)

In aid of these observations, many passages are produced from our poets, as to the merit of which, there may be a difference of opinion, (we cannot say we think the selection happy,) but they are such, as are not unlikely to please and interest the fair and the young. But among the strongest persuasives to those morning exercises and contemplations, the author of this sensible and pious little volume has not omitted the chief, but has made it his principal theme. He has dilated in a very pleasing manner in his letters to the young lady, upon the delightful recreation of tracing the footsteps of the Deity in his brilliant creation, when the morning sun rises from his chambers in the east to repeat his daily and appointed race. He reminds her, that the pleasures resulting from these observations, are increased ten-fold to the real Christian, "who is living up to the exalted privileges which he is permitted to enjoy, and leading a life of consistency with his Maker's will;" he finds a fresh source of love, and a new spring of gratitude in every thing that surrounds him.

We cannot afford any more space for remarks on this little interesting and useful volume; but we should fail in our duty to the public, if we did not recommend every parent to make it one of the lecture books of his little family; and if he happen to have no time for the perusal of it himself, as his day is at present laid out, we can assure him that it will amply reward the effort, if he rises two hours earlier on the first morning after he has procured the book, to study and digest its contents.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ART. VII Elements of Political Economy. By James Mill, Esq. >[8vo. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy. London, 1821.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

AN elementary treatise on political economy has long been a desideratum in our literature. Mr. Mill has now supplied that deficiency; and he has supplied it in such a manner, as the degree and species of talent exhibited in his other writings would have led us to expect. His excellencies have been always of a rough and masculine nature; qualifying him rather for grappling vigorously with what is abstruse or complex, than for giving grace to what is obvious, or novelty to what is trite. His intellectual qualities are such as to render him a most effective expounder and powerful apostle of truth, but a weak and innoxious advocate of error. Though he may now and then de ceive himself, he disdains to practise the arts by which error can be made generally acceptable. He is at all times ready to sacrifice every grace to extreme precision of ideas and language. His thoughts always present themselves in a strictly logical order, unblended with collateral topics, and unembarrassed with extraneous or ornamental matter. Such rigid self-denying habits of composition may have obstructed his full success in the department of history; but they are the very qualities which are most essential to him who undertakes to explain the principles of an abstract science. It is therefore matter of congratulation to all who feel an interest in the advancement of political economy, that Mr. Mill should have undertaken the task of presenting to the world a summary of the doctrines of that science, and of the proofs on which they rest. He has thus rendered a greater, though less showy service to the cause of knowledge, than if he had made a positive addition to our store of truths.

The state of a science depends on two things; the degree of perfection to which it has been brought, and the degree in which the knowledge of it is diffused throughout the community. Its general diffusion is intrinsically a positive good; since, if knowledge is valuable, the blessing should be spread as widely as possible: and, besides, it has a direct tendency to promote the discovery of new truths, by rendering a greater number of minds capable of intellectual pursuits, and giving them stronger motives to aspire to intellectual excellence. In many cases, indeed, and in political economy more than in any other, knowledge would be worth little, were there no hopes that the course of time will gradually lead to its general diffusion. The object of political economy is to explain the principles on which the progress of national wealth depends, and thereby to subvert the false and mischievous systems of legislation which have been hitherto

prevalent in the world, as well as to prevent the adoption of similar schemes for the future. How can it accomplish this noble end, till it finds admission into the understandings of the great body of the community? Of what avail is it, that its principles should be cherished by a few enlightened philosophers? It is not to such hands that the government of nations is entrusted. Nay, if by a lucky accident they or their partisans have possession of the reins of power, they will not dare to make their policy completely conformable to their opinions. Rulers can seldom venture to be wiser than those whom they govern. They must yield to popular conviction:-and that conviction is generally the result of partial views, of petty prejudices, and private feelings and interests. Till correct opinions on political economy be generally received, no government, however wise and upright, can avoid being occasionally driven into pernicious measures.

Unfortunately we have too ample proofs, that sound views on this important subject are still comparatively rare in our own country. Whether we turn our attention to the petitions from every quarter of the kingdom, with which the tables of the two houses of parliament have been loaded; or to the evidence produced before committees of the two houses respectively; or to the language lately held at county meetings; or to the extravagancies which we every day hear broached in conversation; what do we find, but rude, incoherent notions, believed and announced with all the confidence of blind unhesitating ignorance? If we look into our statute book, shall we be able to select, in the long course of past centuries, a single parliament which has not given the sanction of law to injurious measures, founded on maxims demonstratively false? Nay, if we raise our eyes to that which is most venerable among us our bench of judicature,—we some times behold men endowed with the greatest talents, and raised by those talents to the highest dignities in the country, promul gating opinions which, for more than half a century, have been satisfactorily refuted. Facts like these clearly show that an able elementary treatise on political economy is much wanted among us. Such a treatise must contribute powerfully to disseminate correct principles and modes of thinking on the subject. It is indeed almost the only means in our power of counteracting the operation of some causes which have hitherto retarded, and always must, to a certain degree, retard the wide diffusion of the doctrines of this most important branch of knowledge.

Of these causes the principal undoubtedly is the extreme difficulty of the science. It deals not so much with single facts as with general results, which form themselves into long and numerous deductions connected with and modified by each other, Is

it surprising, that we should find it difficult to trace back the complex phenomena of society to their simple elements, so as to determine the final effect of given circumstances amid the various cooperating or counteracting influences to which they are subject? The mind is bewildered by the multiplicity of operations, which go on and must be comprehended simultaneously; it is fatigued before it can reach the end of the long succession of consequences through which it must travel. It can rarely alleviate its labour by a reference to particular facts. The details of statistics have no more connexion with political economy, than a collection of anecdotes has with the philosophy of the human mind. Some of the most elaborate treatises on the science contain not one particular matter of fact; and where matters of fact are brought forward, it is for the purpose not so much of thence deducing principles, as of explaining them by principles previously established. Speculations, which thus require the constant exercise of abstraction and generalization, must make slow progress; because the intellectual talents requisite for the successful prosecution or even distinct comprehension of them, are of rare and laborious attainment.

The difficulty arising from the abstract nature of the doctrines and reasonings of political economy, is further increased by the very close connexion of every one of them with all the rest. Its principles have a greater mutual dependence, and form a more systematic whole, than those of any other department of moral or political philosophy. No part of it can be thoroughly comprehended, unless we have previously mastered, and can at any time take a bird's eye view of the whole science. Erroneous or indistinct conception on one point will spread mist and obscurity far around. If a single stitch is dropped, the whole texture becomes entangled. To acquire the knowledge of such a science demands a much more severe intellectual effort, than where doctrines are in a certain degree isolated, so that some of them may be comprehended, while others of them are neglected or only imperfectly conceived.

It is chiefly in consequence of the systematic character of the science, that its present imperfect state becomes likewise an obstacle to the diffusion of its truths. It is still far from maturity. It is tainted with errors; it exhibits many vacuities, that remain to be filled up. Its doctrines, therefore, have not yet that clear evidence, and do not give each other that complete mutual support, which belongs only to a perfect and compact system The more a science approaches to perfection, the more easily does it make its way in the world; because there are fewer doubts and obscurities to impede its progress.

These circumstances could of themselves sufficiently account

for the slow diffusion of political economy: but their operation is rendered still more powerful by the little suspicion which the generality of men entertain, that its reasonings involve any thing peculiarly arduous or demand any preparatory discipline. As it treats of the affairs of daily life, and employs only common words, it has the appearance of being level with every man's capacity; and accordingly every man plunges into its speculations. The crude and ill-defined notions, which he may have previously formed, are adopted as principles: words are used with all the vagueness that talking without thinking is apt to generate: no order is followed: accident presses some particular topic on the attention; and a few misunderstood facts are framed into a superficial hypothesis. Private interest, too, interferes to aggravate the mischief. It is in times of partial or general distress, that most attention is given to the causes which affect the amount and distribution of national wealth. They who feel the distress most severely, expatiate on its causes the most earnestly. They form some scheme, by which they imagine that the inconveniences, under which they actually labour, might be removed or palliated; and to such a scheme they adapt the whole system of their belief. Thus the science is corrupted; and the very occasions which attract the public attention towards it, create at the same time a powerful obstacle to the diffusion of its genuine principles.

The mischief does not stop here. The patrons and concocters of such crude and partial views never fail to raise a wild clamour against all who differ from them. Unable to defend themselves by reason, they rail against her dictates as vain and delusive theory. They, forsooth, are practical men, while their adversary is a mere dreamer, whose fine-spun arguments must shrink into nothing before solid practical knowledge. Most assuredly these practical philosophers are not theoretical: for a theory is a connected system of opinions, and their notions have no coherence, nothing systematic, nothing consistent; a theory is logically deduced from premises, and their doctrines, without evidence or apparent bases, are supposed to shine by their own intrinsic light. But, though not theoretical, they are the greatest of all dreamers: they are even unable to distinguish between matters of fact and their own most extravagant suppositions. It has often been remarked that in describing a disease, while a physician confines himself to an unadulterated statement of facts, an ignorant peasant unconsciously introduces a conjecture in almost every phrase. The observation is strikingly applicable to all the practical sectarians that are daily appearing and disappearing in political economy. Their whole language is metaphorical and hypothetical. An hypothesis lurks in every

« VorigeDoorgaan »