« AnteriorContinuar »
NATURE AND ORIGIN OF EVIL.
THIS is a treatise consisting of Six Letters upon a very difficult and important
question, which I am afraid this author's endeavours will not free from the perplexity which has intangled the speculatists of all ages, and which must always continue while we see but in part. He calls it a Free Enquiry, and indeed his freedom is, I think, greater than his modesty. Though he is far from the contemptible arrogance, or the impious licentiousness of Bolingbroke, yet he decides too easily upon questions out of the reach of human determination, with too little consideration of mortal weakness, and with too much vivacity for the necessary caution.
In the first letter on Evil in general, he observes, that, “it is the solution of this important question, “ whence came Evil, alone, that can ascertain the “ moral characteristick of God, without which « there is an end of all distinction beetween Good “ and Evil.” Yet he begins this Enquiry by this declaration : “ That there is a Supreme Being,
“ infinitely powerful, wise, and benevolent, the “ great Creator and Preserver of all things, is a “ truth so clearly demonstrated, that it shall be « here taken for granted.” What is this but to say, that we have already reason to grant the istence of those attributes of God, which the present Enquiry is designed to prove? The present Enquiry is then surely made to no purpose.
The attributes, to the demonstration of which the solu. tion of this great question is necessary, have been demonstrated without
any solution, or by means of the solution of some former writer.
He rejects the Manichean system, but imputes to it an absurdity, from which, amidst all its absurdities, it seems to be free, and adopts the system of Mr Pope.
“ That pain is no evil, if asserted “ with regard to the individuals who suffer it, is “ downright nonsense ; but if considered as it af. “ fects the universal system, is an undoubted truth, « and means only that there is no more pain in it “ than what is necessary to the production of hap“ piness. How many soever of these evils then “ force themselves into the creation, so long as the “good preponderates, it is a work well worthy of “ infinite wisdom and benevolence; and, notwith“ standing the imperfections of its parts, the whole “ is most undoubtedly perfect.” And in the former part of the Letter he gives the principle of his system in these words:
Omnipotence cannot « work contradictions, it can only effect all pos “ sible things. But so little are we acquainted
with the whole system of nature, that we know “ not what are possible, and what are not: but if
we may judge from that constant mixture of « pain with pleasure, and inconveniency with adri vantage, which we must observe in every thing o round us, we have reason to conclude, that to
endue created beings with perfection, that is, to 6 produce Good exclusive of Evil, is one of those « impossibilities which even infinite power cannot s accomplish."
This is elegant and acute, but will by no means calm discontent, or silence curiosity; for whether Evil can be wholly separated from Good or not, it is plain that they may be mixed in various des grees, and as far as human eyes can judge, the degree of Evil might have been less without any impediment to Good.
The second Letter on the evils of imperfection, is little more than a paraphrase of Pope's Epistles, or yet less than a paraphrase, a mere translation of poetry into prose. This is surely to attack difficulty with very disproportionate abilities, to cut the Gordian knot with very blunt instruments. When we are told of the insufficiency of former solutions, why is one of the latest, which no man can have forgotten, given us again? I am told, that this pamphlet is not the effort of hunger: what can it be then but the product of vanity? and yet how can vanity be gratified by plagiarism or transcription? When this speculist finds himself prompted to another performance, let him consider whether he is about to disburthen his mind, or em. ploy his fingers; and if I might venture to offer him a subject, I should wish that he would solve this qestion, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer ?
Yet is not this Letter without some sentiments, which, though not new, are of great importance, and may be read with pleasure in the thousandth repetition.
“ Whatever we enjoy is purely a free gift from
our Creator; but that we enjoy no more, can “ never sure be deemed an injury, or a just reason “ to question his infinite benevolence. All our “ happiness is owing to his goodness; but that it “ is no greater, is owing only to ourselves; that is, “ to our not having any inherent right to any hap“ piness, or even to any existence at all. This is
no more to be imputed to God, than the wants “ of a beggar to the person who has relieved him: " that he had something, was owing to his bene66 factor; but that he had no more, only to his own 6 original poverty.
Thus far he speaks what every man must approve, and what every wise man has said before him. He then gives us the system of subordination, not invented, for it was known I think to the Arabian metaphysicians, but adopted by Pope ; and from him borrowed by the diligent researches of this great investigator.
“ No system can possibly be formed, even in
imagination, without a subordination of parts. “ Every animal body must have different members < subservient to each other; every picture must “ be composed of various colours, and of light " and shade ; all harmony must be formed of • trebles, tenors, and basses ; every beautiful and “ useful edifice must consist of higher and lower, “ more and less magnificent apartments. This is de in the very essence of all created things, and
therefore cannot be prevented by any means “ whatever, unless by not creating them at all.”
These instances are used instead of Pope's Oak and Weeds, or Jupiter and his Satellites ; but neither Pope, nor this writer, have much contributed to solve the difficulty. Perfection or imperfection of unconscious beings has no meaning as referred to themselves; the bass and the treble are equally perfect; the mean and magnificent apartments feel no pleasure or pain from the comparison. Pope might ask the weed why it was less than the oak, but the weed would never ask the question for itself. The bass and treble differ only to the hearer, meanness and magnificence only to the inhabitant. There is no evil but must inhere in a conscious being, or be referred to it; that is, Evil must be felt before it is evil. Yet even on this subject many questions might be offered which human understanding has not yet answered, and which the present haste of this extract will not suffer me to dilate.
He proceeds to a humble detail of Pope's opinion : • The universe is a system whose very es
consists in subordination ; a scale of beings descending by insensible degrees from infinite perfection to absolute nothing; in which, though
we may justly expect to find perfection in the “ whole, could we possibly comprehend it; yet “ would it be the highest absurdity to hope for “ it in all its parts, because the beauty and hap
piness of the whole depend altogether on the
just inferiority of its parts, that is, on the com“ parative imperfections of the several beings of “ which it is composed.”
“ It would have been no more an instance of Vol. IX