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and failure of practice. It is sufficiently evident that the sense of duty must have been erroneous and weak, where men were instructed to rely, in the foolish vanity of self-confidence and self-dependence, on the fancied sufficiency of their own strength*. It is no less certain, that the ground and obligation of morality must have been little understood, where the scholar was taught to abstract himself from the aid and approbation of heaven, and to repose
his trust solely in the ideal infallibility of his individual wisdom. And it will be as readily admitted, that the most indispensable of virtues, those which are every moment rendered necessary by the trials of this world, and without which trial must be accompanied by despair, were ill defined, and feebly impressed, in the school which encouraged its disciples to lerminate their evils, anticipated or immediate, by the last act of deliberate suicide.
III. It may be questioned whether we shall find more wisdom in the Academy. That school, distinguished by the fancy, the genius, and the erudition of its master, surpassed all others in the inventive powers which it called forth, and the profound acquirements by which it was enlightened and adorned. Philosophy, at once acute and meditative, borrowed from it a garb of courtly elegance; and it covered the cold severity of Logic itself with garlands of
But moral hesitation and doubt were there, also, to mar the precept which moral taste
* Turpe est etiamnum deos fatigare. Quid vocis opus est? Fate ipse felicem. Hoc est summum bonum, quod si occupas, incipis deorum esse socius, non supplex. Quam stultum optare, cum possis a te impetrare. Non sunt ad cælum elevandæ manus.
Senec. Epist. 31, 41.
might have enjoined, and genuine wisdom would have confirmed. On common topics, we are told, names are understood. If silver or gold be mentioned, the term leaves no ground for cavil or dispute. But is virtue the subject of discourse, and do we discuss the nature and obligation of her laws, Then, indeed, commences the warfare of discordant opinion. The plainest and most simple precept is surrendered to the hostility of dispute; and doctrines of the most essential and important nature, are enuntiated only to be involved in darkness not to be dispersed, or subjected to cavil, neither to be confuted nor convinced *. In these sentiments Plato educated his sect, and in this spirit of scepticism he uttered his precepts. The light he kindled was but a metor that shone dimly and doubtfully amid the glooms of academical scepticism. There was no guidance afforded, because the guide was as uncertain of his way, as he whom he was to lead; and the best precept lost its value or its influence, because it was impossible to ascertain whether it might be adopted as true, or should be rejected as false.
Cicero knew, and seems to have approved of, the leading dogma of the Academy. He, like Plato, indulged his fancy in the contemplation of a republic, and exercised his reason in framing such a code as his republic might require. With great sublimity of conception, he united the whole universe in one mighty and perfect community. Gods, and men, who are of the essence of gods, are included, by his hypothesis, in this stupendous commonwealth; and he piously labours to deduce from a celestial
Plato. In Phædr. pass.
origin, the laws and institutions by which it is to be maintained and governed. But scarcely has he completed his rare and goodly structure, when he anticipates the ruin to which it is exposed. He beholds the approach of the spirit of the Academy, with its bold objections, and sophistical cavils; and, supplicating the silence of that sceptical hostility before which his fair and lofty system, like so many other magnificent speculations, would crumble away, he admits, like a true follower of the master he had chosen, the academical darkness and uncertainty in which all things are involved *.
Of the Platonic school, therefore, in which nothing was to be either affirmed or denied, but every thing to be doubted, the moral doctrines must have been impaired, in their authority and influence, by the uncertainty which was ascribed to them. Yet, convinced though he was of this dubiousness of things, the disciple of the Academy was to repose his confidence in the dreams of superstition. Omens, presages, sacrifices, the flight of birds, the appearances of the sky, were to be consulted for the
of discovering the will and obtaining the guidance of heaven; divination was alike to assist the conjectures of the wise, and to afford a light to the darkness of the ignorant; and, above all, the Oracle of Delphos, as was pretended, to which so many should have thus descended to debase and insult, what it should have been proud to exalt and to protect *.
* Perturbatricem autem omnium harum rerum academiam, exoremus ut sileat, nam si invaserit in hæc, quæ satis scite instructa et composita videantur, nimis edet ruinas, quam quidem ego placare cupio, submovere non audeo. Cicer. de Legib. i. 13. This is but one of many passages in his writings, which prove bow firmly Cicero believed in the primary doctrine of the Academy; and he has, in various instances, availed himself with great dexterity of the scepticism of his master.
The religion, then, and philosophy of Greece and Italy, afford the most striking evidence of moral insufficiency
That the poets and the scholars who adorned those illustrious countries in ancient times, announced to mankind principles and maxims of distinguished wisdom; that every sect, without exception, produced great men, and inculcated noble precepts; that Zeno, Epictetus, Plato, Socrates, Marcus Antoninus, and Aristotle, constituted but a small portion of that constellation of genius and of wisdom which shed so much lustre on Rome and Athens, it would be vain and ungrateful to deny. But while we admit and rejoice in the occasional brightness, we may not forget the glooms by which it was so frequently obscured.
“ Non ex singulis “ vocibus philosophi spectandi sunt, sed ex perpe“ tuetate atque constantia f.” We are not to judge the philosopher by the casual and insulated sentences which he may utter, but by the general tenor of his doctrines; and if we have discovered, in the volumes of the ancient schools, the most signal inconsistencies and contradictions, the most pernicious intermixture
• I have adverted but slightly, in the preceding remarks, to the preceptive wisdom of Socrates. Plato and Xenophon have done justice to it, and the task was worthy of their genius. - If, however, I could experience a pleasure in sullying the honours with which the name of the first moralist of antiquity has been distinguished, I might not find it difficult, perhaps, to produce passages from the writings of his disciples, which would answer my purpose. The excellent translator of Aristophanes, Mr. Mitchel, has taught us to measure with accuracy the defects and merits of the illustrious Athenian.
+ Tuscul. Disput. lib. v. c. 9. See also, De Finib. lib. ii. c. 22, 26.
to be governed by a principle equally odious and corrupt. The children were to be considered as the sole property of the republic; and women, “ clothed
only in their virtues," were to become a common possession, that the son might not know the father, nor the father the son, and that all might become the right and family of the state*. In detailing these institutes, the philosopher, forgetting alike what he owed to himself and to public decorum, exults and wantons in the very grossness of Diogenes; and the courtly academician seems to be changed, by a degrading metamorphosis, into the disgusting cynic. Modesty and decency are violated without reluctance and reserve; the code, intended for moral and political regulation, is rendered, by the indecent minute: ness of its details, offensive and odious; and the freedom and coarseness with which the sex are degraded into instruments of policy, valuable only as they give robust and healthy children to their country, cannot but provoke the reprobation or contempt of every generous and civilized mind, and excite astonishment that the lofty spirit of Plato
Plato. de Repub. lib. v.
I have not dared to sully my page with a more minute detail of these odious and pernicious laws. Plato has had his followers in modern times. .“ If,” says Bayle,
we only consult reason as distinct from revelation, a man would make no more difficulty in disposing of his wife, than of his book ; and were it not for a false and ridiculous jealousy, reason would rather advise a community of women.” Nouvelles Lettres Contr. Maimb, lett. xvii.
Bolingbroke, the feeble sage, but accomplished courtier, has rivalled, on this subject, the philosophical freedom of Bayle. Bolingb. Works, 4to, vol. v. p. 172.
Puffendorf easily proves the folly and falsehood of these opinions. De Jure Nat. et Gent. lib. vi. c. 1. $ 15.