Page images
PDF
EPUB

Affectus petere auxilium, et præstare juberet,
Dispersos trahere in populum, migrare velusto
De nemore, et proavis habitatas linquere sylvas;
Ædificare domos, laribus conjungere nostris
Tectum aliud, tulos vicino limine somnos
Ut collata daret fiducia ; protegere armis
Lapsum, aut ingenti nutantem vulnere civem :
Communidare signa tuba. defendier isdem
Turribus, atque una portarum clave teneri.”

Nor is his account of the golden age much more flattering. (See Satire 6, at the beginning, etc.)

"Credo pudicitiam Saturno rege moratam
In terris, visamque diu ; cùm frigida parvas
Præberet spelunca domos, ignemque, Laremque,
El pecus, et dominos communi clauderet umbrâ:
Sylvestrem montana torum cùm sterneret uxor
Frondibys et culmo, vicinarumque ferarum
Pellibus: haud similis tibi, Cynthia, nec libi, cujus
Turbavit nicidos extinctus passer ocellos :
Sed potanda lerens infantibus ubera magnis,
El sæpè horridior glandem rucianie marito,"

It is unnecessary to quote many authorities on this subject. The truth is, that a similar train of sentiment seems to pervade the philosophy and the mythology of the classic ages. We meet with it in the theology of the early Christian fathers. And among modern writers, whether Christian or infidel, it would be difficult to enumerate all who have professedly or incidentally advocated or countenanced the same system. “The greater part of modern philosophers (says one of them) have declared for the original savageism of men."*

* As specimens of the several classes of authors who have, in their various works, insinuated or assumed or distinctly enunciated the same doctrine, the following names may be cited: viz. Hobbes, Rousseau, Hume, Condorcet, Buffon, Kaimes, White, Robertson, Gillies, Shaftesbury, Russell, Vol. taire, Raynal, Millot, Astle, Darwin, Condillac, Adam Smith, Gibbon, Maupertuis, Michaelis, Volney, Tytler, Priestley, Mallet, Heeren, Klaproth, Ferguson. See more especially, Goguet's “Origin of Laws, Arts and Sciences, and their Progress among the most Ancient Nations :-Gebelin's “ Monde Primitif, analysé et comparé avec Le Monde Moderne ;" and that most ingenious of all philological romances, the “History of the European Languages,” by the late Alexander MurPassing, therefore, a multitude of names, we proceed to pay our respects to its most distinguished champion among the philosophers of the last century. In that very learned, elaborate, and, in many respects, ingenious treatise, on the Origin and Progress of Language," by the late celebrated James Burneti, afterwards Lord Monboddo, of Scotland, we have a complete development of the old Epicurean theory, in all its most repulsive features. The learned author intended no caricature, but a beautiful and finished picture. He was an enthusiast in the cause; but yet cool, collected, and persevering in his investigations of all the stores of ancient and modern learning, and of all the facts with which he could become acquainted. It is true, that, like most other honest, candid, unprejudiced inquirers after truth, he set out upon his researches, or voyage of discovery, with his mind made up-with his system already formed; -and, of course, he readily enough met with materials adapted to his purpose, quite sufficient to eke out a very plausible case ; and, in his own view at least, to operate perfect conviction upon all the ethereal spirits capable of comprehending him. But, let the philosopher speak for himself: “I cannot doubt (says he) but that I shall convince every one who will think it worth his while to read what follows, that articulation is altogether the work of art, at least of a habit acquired by custom and exercise, and that we are truly by nature the mutum pecus, the mute herd, that Horace makes us to be. This, I think, I am able to prove, both from theory and facts.” (Vol. I. p. 185.)

We shall not accompany him through his curious details of facts, derived from ancient bistorians and from modern voyagers and travellers; the fish-eaters, the wood-eaters, the ray, D.D., Professor of Hebrew, &c. in the University of Edinburgh. The whole current of our periodical literature is in a similar vein. Thus, in the first volume of the Classical Journal (page 41) the late Professor R. Scott, of Aberdeen, treating “ of the origin and progress of language and writing," commences a paragraph as follows: “As language must at first have been the invention of rude and unenlightened men, very little raised above the state of barbarism, it may appear to some of my readers very difficult to comprehend how such men should have been capable of exercising that degree of abstraction, which the formation of its mere elements im

plies.”

insensibles of Diodorus Siculus; the Troglodytes of Herodotus; the Bornians of Leo Africanus; and the thousands of brutish hordes of savages and cannibals, reported to have existed or as still existing in America, in Africa, in New Holland, and in the islands of the great Pacific Ocean : all of which the author carefully marshals and arrays in support of his theory. He avails himself too, with great skill, of the opinions of eminent writers, ancient and modern, whenever they seemed to favor his own. We say seemed; for he sometimes appears to have decided rather hastily, or he could never have dragged Plato and Warburton into his ranks ;men who, though they did not entertain, what we deem, orthodox sentiments on this subject, yet differed widely from his Lordship in the main features of his scheme.

After thus citing a host of facts and authorities, to prove that men are allied to the Simian tribes—that man and the monkey belong to the same species—and are no otherwise to be distinguished from each other than by circumstances, which can be accounted for by the different physical and moral agencies to which they have been exposed, he very modestly adds: “ This opinion, therefore, of mine may be false ; but it is not new nor singular; and being supported by such respectable authorities, I may say the concurring testimony of all ancient authors who have treated the subject, is, I think, entitled to a fair and candid examination, which, however, it cannot expect from vulgar prejudice, but only from men of liberal thought, and more than common learning; and it is for such only that I write.” The author did not here mean to intimate that he himself entertained a shadow of doubt on the subject. On the contrary, he fully believed every thing that he has advanced. outangs (says he) are proved to be of our species by marks of humanity that I think are incontestable.” (Ibid. p. 375)

Now although his Lordship has exposed himself to much ridicule for having thus gratuitously provided his ancestors with tails, and has thereby brought his system somewhat into disrepute, yet we cannot help thinking ihat he has pursued quite as logical and philosophical a course as others have done, who, commencing with the same general premises, have yet stopped short of the same pleasant results. He has accomplished in this department of science what Berkley and Hume effected in metaphysics. He has reasoned con

" The orang

sistently upon false, but hitherto almost undisputed principles. He has arrived, by a legitimate process of induction and argumentation from unquestioned data, at conclusions, which shock as extravagant, or provoke laughter or pity as ridiculous or absurd. The true dignity of man, and his orig. inal character and condition, will probably be better understood and appreciated, in consequence of his learned labors to degrade him. His book may possibly open the eyes of many, who will startle at what appears monstrous, while otherwise they might not choose to suspect the soundness of commonly received dogmas.

We could as soon go all lengths with Monboddo, as subscribe to the following statement or position of Adam Ferguson, in his Essay on Civil Society : “ The individual in every age, has the same race to run from infancy to manhood, and every infant or ignorant person now, is a model of what man was in his original state." He evidently intends to avoid the extravagance of the former, and of the ultra Epicureans, for he adds, a few pages after : “ If there was a time in which he had his acquaintance with his own species to make, and his faculties to acquire, it is a time of which we have no record, and in relation to which our opinions can serve no purpose, and are supported by no evidence,” This is put hypothetically. It may, or it may not have been so. We know little or nothing about the matter, according to this sagacious political philosopher and able historian.

Again, in the progress of his work, he presents us with another view of the subject, a little modified indeed, but in the main sufficiently consistent with the one already cited. “ The inhabitants of Britain, at the time of the first Roman invasions, resembled, in many things, the present natives of North America ; they were ignorant of agriculture, they painted their bodies, and used for clothing the skins of beasts. Such, therefore, appears to have been the commencement of history with all nations, and in such circumstances are we to look for the original character of mankind."*

* Ferguson's Essay on Civil Society, p. 125. See also Robertson's History of America ; vol. 2. pp. 34–51, where a similar opinion is maintained. Also Millot's Ancient History, at beginning,

Dr. Beattie, speaking of the system of Epicurus, which had found so powerful an advocate in his erudite but eccentric countryman and contemporary, has the following very just observations:—“One would wonder, (says he,) what charms men could find in a system so degrading to our nature; or what evidence in that which has no other foundation, than poetical fancy and wild hypothesis. The Pagans, indeed, who knew little of the origin of mankind, might be excused for favoring an opinion, which, as it appears in Lucretius, has at least harmonious numbers and elegant description to recommend it. And yet, unseduced by poetical allurement, Quinctilian declares, in the language of true philosophy, that moral sentiments are natural to us, and that men had speech from the beginning, and received that choice gift from their Creator. And Ovid's beautiful account of the first men seems to have been composed, partly from Hesiod's golden age, and partly from traditions founded on the Mosaic history of the creation ;-that we were at first good and happy, and lost our felicity when we lost our innocence.- Is it not an idea more honorable to our nature, more friendly to virtue, and more consonant to the general notions of mankind, than that we were in the beginning a species of wild beast, and afterwards by improvement degenerated into wicked and wretched men? If there be, in the consciousness of honorable descent, any thing that elevates the soul, surely those writings cannot be on the side of virtue which represent our nature, and our origin, as such as we should have reason to be ashamed of. But he, who tells me, upon the authority of Scripture, and agreeably to the dictates of right reason, that we were all descended from beings, who were created in the image of God, wise, innocent and happy ; that, by their and our unworthy conduct, human nature is miserably degraded ; but that on the performance of certain most reasonable conditions, we may retrieve our primitive dignity, and rise even to higher happiness than that of our first parents ;-the man, I say, who teaches this doctrine, sets before me the most animating motives to virtue, humility and hope, to piety and benevolence, to gratitude and adoration." (Beattie's Theory of Language, p. 100.)

Again, he says: “We learn to speak, when our organs are most flexible, and our powers of imitation most active ;

« PreviousContinue »