Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

cure, but by which his clerical dignity was increased, and his temporal income enlarged.

In 1785, the period arrived when Mr. Paley, who had hitherto published only a pamphlet, or a few occasional sermons, was to appear as an author in a larger and more substantial form. It was in this year that his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy issued from the press. This work soon experienced a degree of success, not indeed greater than its general excellence deserves, but greater than any work of merit, on its first appearance, usually receives. In this most useful production Paley exhibits no dazzling novelties, and makes no parade of new discoveries; for what that is new, was likely to be said on such a subject, of which the great principles are coeval with the existence of man upon the habitable globe? But though the matter, of which this work consists, is so old, and has so often been fabricated into a diversity of forms by other writers, yet the capacious mind of Paley has formed it anew into a system in which there is so much clearness in the arrangement, so much cogency in the reasoning, and so much precision in the language, that there is no moral treatise by which it is surpassed in the great merit of general usefulness. Mr. Paley did not make his materials; he found them already made; but his own hands raised the fabric ; and of that fabric the merit is all his own.

Some few parts of Mr. Paley's moral, and more of his political reasoning are liable to objections ; but with all its defects, his " Moral and Political Philosophy" constitutes a valuable addition to that department of our literature. As it forms one of the lecture books for the students in the University of Cambridge, this circumstance must have tended greatly to augment its circulation, and to extend its usefulness.

In addition to his other honours and emoluments in the see of Carlisle, Mr. Paley was, at the end of the year 1785, appointed chancellor of that diocese. In the year 1787, he lost his venerable friend and patron, the Bishop of Carlisle, who died on the 14th of August, at the advanced age of eighty-four. Bishop Law was an honest and intrepid inquirer after truth; and though he was inferior to his younger friend in intellectual energy, yet it would have made no small addition to Paley's fame, if he had equalled his affectionate and revered patron in the fearless declaration of all his theological opinions. · It is highly honourable to Paley that he was among the first of those, who expressed a decided opinion against the iniquity of the slave-trade. What he wrote on that subject, and particularly his unreserved reprobation of the abominable traffic, in his Moral Philosophy, contributed very much to accelerate the abolition. It was, for a long time, a mere question of interest with a considerable part of the community; but moral considerations, in unison with the amiable spirit of the gospel, and the tender sympathies of humanity, at length triumphed over the sordid projects of avarice and cruelty.

Mr. Paley, much to his honour, suggested a plan for promoting the civilization of Africa, and for making some restitution to that outraged continent, for the cruelty, the injustice, and the oppression, which it had so long experienced. He proposed to export from the United States of America several little colonies of free Negroes, and to settle them in different parts of Africa, that they might serve as patterns of more civilized life to the natives in their several vicinities.

In the year 1790, Mr. Paley published his Horæ Paulinæ, in which he appears to have displayed more originality of thought, more sagacity of remark, and

more delicacy of discrimination, than in any of his other works. The great object of this volume is to illustrate and enforce the credibility of the Christian revelation, by showing the numerous coincidences between the Epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles. These coincidences, which are often incorporated or intertwined in references and allusions, in which no art can be discovered, and no contrivance traced, furnish numerous proofs of the truth of both these works, and consequently of that of Christianity. The Epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles mutually strengthen each other's credibility; and Mr. Paley has shown, in the clearest manner, how one borrows light from the other; and how both conjunctively reflect the splendour of their united evidence on some of the principal facts and most important truths in the memoirs of the Evangelists.

Some of the coincidences which Mr. Paley discovers, seem too minute for common observation ; but his remarks show their importance, while they evince the keenness of his intellectual sight. The merit of this performance, though it has been generally acknowledged both at home and abroad, is even yet greater than the celebrity it has acquired, or the praise it has received.

In 1790, Mr. Paley delivered an excellent charge to the clergy of the diocese of Carlisle, in which he forcibly recommended them to imitate the example of Christ, in the adaptation of their sermons to local circumstances, to times and seasons, and to the general state of mind in their several congregations. Much of the efficacy of preaching depends upon the observance of this rule.

In May 1791, Mr. Paley had the misfortune to be left a widower, with four sons and four daughters. In the following year, the dean and chapter of Carlisle added the vicarage of Addingham, near Great Salkeld, to his other ecclesiastical preferments. In the same year he published his Reasons for Contentment, which he addressed to the labouring classes of society. This work appeared at a time when the principles of the French revolution had been widely disseminated, and when the richer part of the community, terrified almost into idiocy by the wild alarms of Burke, and the sonorous declamations of Pitt, trembled with a sort of paralytic horror for the security of their property. They fondly imagined, that it was the great object of the poorer class of reformers to divide the possessions of the rich; and thus to attempt not merely to establish a political equality of rights, but a substantial equality of fortunes. Some few fanatics might have cherished such a delusion, and might have entertained such a wish, without being aware that it was only one of those frantic chimeras of a distempered brain which could never be accomplished. Inequality in the mental and physical pow. ers of individuals is the order of nature, or rather the appointment of God; and consequently no equality of circumstances is ever possible to be realised. If it could be established to-day, it would be altered to-morrow.

It is hardly to be supposed that Mr. Paley really believed that a large body of the people ever designed to equalize, or had actually conspired to equalize, the whole mass of private property, and thus subvert the foundations of the social scheme by establishing a community of goods. But, whatever might be Mr. Paley's real opinions on the political temper of the times, and on the perils to which rank and property seemed exposed, this pamphlet, which he addressed to the labouring classes, proves, that he had placed himself on the list of the alarmists of that stormy period. Was Mr. Paley anxious to rest the permanence of his future fame on his larger works, while he made use of this trivial pamphlet to procure an ephemeral applause ? or, did he deliberately labour to accomplish some secular project by seconding the wishes of the court, and promoting the views of the minister ?-If the real object of Mr. Paley, in writing this two-penny political pamphlet, which consists of some common-place truisms, clearly developed and forcibly expressed, were to place a mitre upon his brow, the attempt proved abortive, and the wish vain. Mr. Pitt was, no doubt, pleased in seeing a great mind like that of Paley bending to act in subserviency to his will, and cooperating in augmenting the delusion under which the nation was at that time mistaking its bane for its good, and pursuing its ruin for its interest. But though Mr. Pitt loved and rewarded flexibility of opinion, it is well known that he loved and rewarded it most, where it was accompanied with mediocrity of talent. The haughty premier, in his treatment both of Watson and Paley, showed that he had no fondness for intellectual superiority; and he seems to have been particularly studious not to elevate any mind that might wrestle with his own.

In 1793, Mr. Paley vacated the benefice of Dalston, and was inducted to that of Stanwix, which was more in the vicinity of Carlisle. He assigned the following reasons to a clerical friend for assenting to this change :-“First, (said he,) it saved me double housekeeping, as Stanwix was within twenty minutes' walk of my house in Carlisle ; secondly, it was fifty pounds a year more in value ; and, thirdly, I began to find my stock of sermons coming over again too fast.”

The most popular of Mr. Paley's theological works appeared in the year 1794, under the title of a “ View of the Evidences of Christianity.” The author showed great wisdom in not mingling any controversial ingredients in the body of this work, and in not connecting the facts of the Christian Scriptures with any doctrinal matter of doubtful authority or ambiguous interpretation. He has thus added very much to the usefulness of his labours, and has rendered them acceptable to a greater number of readers. If he has not silenced every gainsayer, or converted every infidel, he has at least established many in the faith, and has in. duced some to study the evidences of revelation, who were previously disposed to reject it without examination. Mr. Paley is less compressed than Grotius, and less diffuse than Lardner; but he is more convincing than either, and more lumin. ous than both. His reasoning is every where remarkable for its cogency, and his statement for its perspicuity. There are several works which evince more research, but there are none so well calculated for general perusal, and, consequently, general utility.

Mr. Paley was, in a pecuniary point of view, better rewarded for his Evidences of Christianity than for any of his other works. The minister of the day, indeed, showed no willingness to put a mitre on his head, but three bishops seemed to vie with each other in remunerating him for his labours in vindicating the truth of the Scriptures, and serving the cause of the church. The then bishop of Lon. don, Porteus, gave him a prebendal stall in St. Paul's. The bishop of Lincoln made him the subdean of that diocese ; and the bishop of Durham presented him with the valuable living of Bishop Wearmouth. These several pieces of prefer. ment amounted to considerably more than two thousand pounds a-year. It would be well for the church, if the episcopal patronage were always equally well bestowed, or if it were always made equally subservient to the remuneration of learning, to the cause of piety, and the interests of truth. After being installed as subdean of Lincoln, Mr. Paley proceeded to Cambridge to take his degree of Doctor of Divinity. In the Concio ad clerum which he preached on the occasion, he unfortunately pronounced the word profugus, profugus, which was noticed by one of the University wits in the following epigram:

Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit
Litora
Errat Virgilius, forte profugus erat.

Neither Paley nor Watson, both of whom had received their classical instruction at private schools in the country, ever attained to an accurate knowledge of quantity, or to a familiar acquaintance with the rules of prosody. Watson says, that it often cost him more pains to recollect the right quantity of a few Latin words than to solve a difficult problem in mathematics. But both Paley and Watson aspired to higher intellectual excellence than that of classical erudition. Paley was, indeed, by no means deficient in Greek or Roman literature. He had enough for his purpose, but he had no superfluity.

Of Mr. Paley's occasional sermons, not the least memorable is that which he preached before the University of Cambridge, when he returned thither for the purpose of completing the exercises for his doctor's degree. In this discourse he expatiates with much force of expression and shrewdness of remark on the dangers incidental to the clerical character. He shows how the constant repetition of the same devotional labours is apt to diminish the sensibility to religious impressions; and he notices, with great truth, the moral perils to which even a secluded and contemplative life is exposed. The clergy are earnestly admonished, that it is their duty to make their own devotion contribute to augment that of their congregation, while it is instrumental in improving their own hearts, and saving their own souls.

At Bishop Wearmouth, where Dr. Paley fixed his residence in 1795, he found one of the best parsonage houses in the kingdom, and associated with every accommodation which he could desire. In order to avoid all dissension with his parishioners, he granted them a lease of the tithes for his life. In his Moral Philosophy he had represented tithes as injurious to cultivation and improvement; and he now acted, as far as circumstances would permit, in conformity to his opinions. As the produce of land was considerably augmented in price soon after this period, and the value of landed property in general experienced an extraordinary advance, Dr. Paley's tenants had reason to congratulate themselves on the good bargains they had made, and to extol his forbearance and moderation.

The growing prosperity of his parishioners and his tenants was a source of unfeigned satisfaction to Dr. Paley; and he never regretted the opportunities of gain which he had lost, or by which they had been enriched. It seems to mani. fest a higher degree of virtue cordially to rejoice at the prosperity of others, than to sympathise with their adversities and sufferings.

In December 1795, Dr. Paley took for his second wife a Miss Dobinson, of Carlisle, whose friendship he had long enjoyed, and whose worth he had long known. His office of subdean of Lincoln obliged him to reside in that city for three months in the beginning of the year; and he accordingly now divided his time between Lincoln and Bishop Wearmouth. At both places he maintained the relations of social intercourse with his neighbours without any affectation of superiority; and practised the rights of hospitality without any ostentation. did not disdain the amusement of the card-table, and was partial to a game at

whist. When a lady once remarked to him, “ that the only excuse for their playing was, that it served to kill time:"_“The best defence possible (replied he,) though time will, in the end, kill us.” Dr. Paley possessed as much of what the French call “ savoir vivre," as most men. He knew how to make the most of life, with all its diversified concomitants; and there were few even of its less pleasurable accessories from which he knew not how to extract some lesson of usefulness, or some particles of enjoyment.

In order to enlarge his sphere of doing good, and to comply with the wishes of the Bishop of Durham, Dr. Paley consented to act in the commission of the peace. Mr. Meadley has informed us, that in discharging these functions, he was blamed for his irascibility and impatience. No ordinary tranquillity of mind is requisite in investigating the wants, ascertaining the claims, or composing the bickerings, of the poor.

Dr. Paley enjoyed the singular happiness of having his parents live to witness his celebrity, and to rejoice at his success. His mother did not die till March 1796, at the age of eighty-three; and his father survived her till September 1799, when he reached the more advanced period of eighty-eight.

In 1800, Dr. Paley experienced a violent paroxysm of some nephralgic com plaint, which returned with increased exacerbations during the next and the fol. lowing year, and by which he was agonised for longer or shorter intervals during the remainder of his life. His last, and, perhaps, greatest work, entitled “ Natural Theology," was principally composed during the period in which he was subject to attacks of this terrible malady. These attacks must occasionally have impeded the progress of the work ; but it is probable that he had been long previ. ously revolving the materials in his mind. In this, as well as in his other publications, he has made large use of the labours of others; but he has illuminated what they left obscure, enriched what was jejune, amplified what was scanty, invigorated what was weak, and condensed what was diffuse. The proofs which he adduces of the Divine Attributes, are clear and cogent, and calculated to carry conviction to every capacity. These proofs are not so arranged as to distract by the multiplicity of the parts, or to confound by the enormity of the mass. They consist of a few simple expositions, but of such a nature as to interest every reader, and to edify both the young and the old in the prosecution of the argu

Natural theology can never be dull or uninteresting when it is occupied in illustrating the perfections of the Deity by his works, and does not diverge into the subtleties of metaphysics, or lose itself in the labyrinths of interminable speculation.

Dr. Paley was never more at home than in the composition of this work. The materials, with which he was furnished by what he had read, and by what he had observed, were so various and ample, that it was more difficult for him to select than to amplify, to methodise than to vary, and to compress than to dilate.Though the proofs of the Divine power and wisdom are so many, so vast, and so luminous, that they hardly need any explanation, yet there is no one who can peruse the demonstrative evidence which Dr. Paley has produced of these attri. butes, without being more deeply impressed with the sentiment of their presence than he was before.

The chapter on the Divine Goodness, though it evinces strong marks of the same unclouded and powerful intellect that predominates in other parts of the work, is perhaps upon the whole less copious and satisfactory than the rest. The

« VorigeDoorgaan »