Article 15

ART. XV. Letters from a late Eminent Prelate to one of his Friends. Kidderminster. 4to. pp. 380, and 8vo, pp. 510. London. Cadell and Davies.

[pp. 401-412] [original article in PDF format]

  1. 'A MAN of eminence owes it to himself, to put together all such letters and papers as he would wish to have preserved, and to destroy the rest. There is otherwise no security against the folly or indiscretion of those, into whose hands they may afterwards come.' This sound advice was given to Warburton by the venerable Bishop to whom we owe the present publication; and his apparent neglect of it adds, in our opinion, a new argument in favour of its justice. There are grounds, undeniably, that may warrant the publication of private correspondence, even where it is impossible to learn the writer's wishes. Letters, like those of Cicero for example, which throw important light on the history and politics of the age; or which bear intrinsic marks of excellence as compositions, like those of Pliny and Pope; or which unite a portion of both these merits, as, among many others, those of Lady Wortley Montague and Madame de Sevigné, carry with [401] them a reason and an excuse for their publication. The letters before us, however, possess none of these qualities in any considerable degree. Too hasty to be elegant, too violent to be amiable, too personal to be generally interesting; even though they abound with proofs of a bold imagination, and a mind stored with various learning, what can they add to the fame of Warburton, whose erudition, acuteness, vigour, and luxuriant fancy, his bitterest enemies never ventured to decry?

  2. The Bishop, however, assigns as his own reason for presenting these letters to the world, that 'they give a true picture of the writer's character, and are, besides, worthy of him in all respects.' To the first of these praises they have an undoubted claim. And if it was before insufficiently known, that the principal features of Warburton's character were intolerance of opinion, and energy of mind; warm* friendship, and vehement animosity; these letters may be said to draw an original portrait. But, in fact, this portrait was already in the possession of all the readers of his works. His character was already descending to posterity, as 'uniting a most vigorous and comprehensive intellect with an open and generous heart: as zealous and constant in friendship, as choleric but not implacable in enmity.'* Warburton was incapable of disguise; and disclosed his sentiments to the public almost as fearlessly as he addressed his friend.

  3. But though we deny the necessity, advantage, or policy of introducing again upon the stage Warburton's 'hardy opposition to the general sense of mankind,'* we are nevertheless tempted to stop and admire a character so wholly and altogether literary; especially as this character is particularly drawn out by the nature of the correspondence before us. Warburton, it would seem, had attained a certain age and a considerable reputation, without finding in any one, even in Dr. Balguy, such kindred pursuits and studies, that he could communicate in unreserved openness his literary projects and opinions. At length, in 1749, Mr. Hurd, then resident at Cambridge, sent him a copy of his critique on Horace's Ars Poetica. He 'became on a sudden his acquaintance, his correspondent, and his friend.'* Warburton, even in the formation of his attachments, displaying his constitutional ardour, passes over all the uninteresting detail of compliments and introductions which [402] usually pave the way to familiarity, and rushes at once into intimacy with the Cambridge critic, his admirer.

  4. From this period Warburton, with the alacrity of a person who, after some tedious confinement, is restored to a congenial air, breathes out to his friend, in a very unremitting correspondence, his sentiments and plans, his bitter and affectionate feelings, with all the confidence of early intimacy. Those to whom the literary and controversial history of the times is familiar, will read with interest the contemporary remarks which at once recal the books, the events, and the characters to which they allude. We transcribe a specimen of this almost graphic illustration.

    'Have you seen Lord Hallifax's book of Maxims? He was the ablest man of business in his time. You will not find the depth of Rochefoucault's nor his malignity. Licence enough, as to Religion. They are many of them very solid, and I persuade myself were made occasionally, as the affairs of those times occurred, while he was in business. And we lose half their worth by not knowing the occasions. Several of them are the commonest thoughts, or most obvious truths, prettily turned: some, still lower, pay us with the jingling of sound for sense.

    'Bp. Berkeley, of Ireland, has published a thing of a very different sort, but much in the same form, which he calls Queries, very well worth attending to by the Irish nation. He is indeed a great man, the only visionary I ever knew that was.

    'I suppose this shallow dirty Brooke* you have been dabbling in may fancy me to be the author of a foolish pamphlet writ against him. I know some of Dr. M.'s friends suspected me to be the author. I have heard it was the Lay-Dodwell's. If this be Brooke's ground of abuse, he does me much less honour than Weston did.

    'Pray once more let me know that you are in earnest with your plan, and believe me to be, &c.

    'P.S. Pray did you feel either of these earthquakes? They have made Whiston ten times madder than ever. He went to an ale-house at Mile-End to see one, who, it was said, had predicted the earthquakes. The man told him it was true, and that he had it from an Angel. Whiston rejected this as apocryphal. For he was well assured that, if the favour of this secret was to be communicated to any one, it would be to himself. He is so enraged at Middleton, that he has just now quarrelled downright with the Speaker for having spoke a good word for him many years ago in the affair of the Mastership of the Charter-House. The Speaker the other day sent for him to dinner, he said he would not come. His Lady sent, he would not come. She went to him and clambered up into his garret to ask him about the earthquake. He told her, Madam, you are a virtuous woman, you need not fear, none but the wicked will be destroyed. You will escape. [403] I would not give the same promise to your husband.—What will this poor nation come to! In the condition of troops between two fires; the madness of irreligion and the madness of fanaticism.'—p. 33.

    Interest of this kind is the charm of the collection; and will not be undervalued by those who are pleased with the anatomy of an energetic and literary mind. But it could only have been disguised from the partiality of friendship, that the very fidelity of delineation, whence our interest arises, endangers the character of Warburton. Letters like these, in the truest sense, 'warm from the heart, and faithful to its fires,' subject the writer, and not his style, to criticism: and it is forgotten, while the torch of controversy burns before us, that the same ardent mind which kindled it, was ever susceptible of the pure flame of friendship, and shone with a steady light in the cause of religion. He must be an unusually accurate composer, who intrusts his rough draft to the public eye; and that heart unusually pure, whose secret workings are disclosed. Every man has indeed an undoubted right to make his own confession to the world, with the severity, if he is so inclined, of Cardan, the solemnity of Pascal, or the tremendous fidelity of Rousseau; but we cannot think every man's friend at liberty to make this confession for him, or to deem it an 'honour to his memory' to divulge his private thoughts and feelings. And if we needed not, as has been already hinted, proofs of the ready learning, the fertile wit, or the originality of Warburton; still less needed we, to complete the 'picture of his character,' additional testimony of his irascibility, arrogance, and pertinacity of opinion. The public, it should be remembered, are impartial spectators; and do not sympathise, as Dr. Smith has taught us, with those hasty effusions of spleen, envy, contempt, or anger, which a man of ardent temper pours out to his intimate friend, but checks in presence of a stranger. Passages of this impetuous nature are scattered throughout the work; and in justification of our censure, we should be tempted to exhibit a few of them, did we not feel a kind of reluctance to aid the propagation of what, in our hearts, we highly disapprove.—We have yet stronger objections to the levities upon sacred subjects, which occasionally occur; and sincerely regret that the editor was not so just to himself or so generous to his friend, as to suppress the letters in which they are found.

  5. But we have farther grounds of dissent from the partial judgment that held these letters in all respects worthy of their writer. The prevalent subject which meets us at every page, is controversy. Now it cannot honour the memory of the author of the Divine Legation, to revive the adversary of Jortin, and the antagonist of Lowth. It is derogatory to his fame, to represent to posterity as an angry disputant, the man whom posterity should admire as the sturdy [404] defender of revelation. Had indeed that vehemence of temper, which distinguished Warburton in his controversial writings, been directed against the enemies of religion alone, it would rather have discredited his judgment, than stained his reputation. On this matter he has said, with some justice, in his own defence, 'What must an indifferent person think of a world, by profession Christian, of so exceeding delicate a feeling, as to be less scandalized at three or four bulky volumes of red hot impiety, than at the cool contempt of such an insult in a defender of the religion of his country?'* For, with respect to Bolingbroke, whose system, if it deserves that name, would break down all moral, as well as all religious sanctions; and who had entered the lists, by stigmatising divines in the lump as 'fools, knaves, cheats, madmen, impostors, and blasphemers;' and as 'in general much fitter to hinder by their example, than to promote by their doctrine the advancement of religion natural or revealed;' and Hume,* who had termed Judaism 'one of the most absurd and unphilosophical superstitions which have yet been known in the world:' it must surely be confessed on all sides that they had no claim to civility or moderation, who had shewn so little; and indeed it was particularly acknowledged that Bolingbroke had deserved any severity from Warburton, whom he had personally ill-used, and who was 'a member of that order which he had treated in the like manner.'* But if the question be turned from justice to policy, we would use 'gentleness' as our strongest 'enforcement.' First, because warm expression will be malignantly ascribed to personal pique, or bigotry, or any thing except earnestness in the cause, by those who cannot conceive sincere warmth on the subject of religion: secondly, because vehemence in argument will be attributed to weakness of reasoning, and by affording this objection to an adversary, will supply, like the Pelian spear, a cure to a wound otherwise irremediable. On this account it is better to sustain the charge of lukewarmness from the over zealous, than to receive the praise of zeal at the expense of the interests of religion.

  6. If however it is indiscreet, though perhaps pardonable to resent with vehemence the injuries of a sacred cause, what must we think of the intolerance which treats as personal enemies the adversaries of indifferent opinions? Warburton seems to have considered the ground which he had chosen to argue and reason upon, as consecrated [405] to his use; to have attacked without ceremony all who ventured to approach that magic circle. To differ respecting the age and nature of the book of Job, and the sixth book of Virgil, was heretical in Lowth, and criminal in Jortin: nor was Leland permitted to maintain the undisturbed possession of his opinion, concerning a subject so open and general as the nature of eloquence. It has been said, that when, as in solitude, 'we are apt to feel too strongly whatever relates to ourselves; to overrate the good offices we may have done, and the injuries we have suffered; the conversation of a friend brings us to a better temper.'* It is to the praise of Hurd, that while he exposes to censure the 'departed excellence' of his friend, he has not concealed from posterity that he himself fostered that trembling sensibility to the breath of opposition, which it was rather his duty to repress, as being Warburton's characteristic failing. The dissertation on the delicacy of friendship, and the letter to Leland, are here for the first time formally acknowledged; and the style in which they are written gives too just foundation to that accusation of petulance, urged by Hume against the Warburtonian school. Dr. Hurd, indeed, in all his works, has shewn himself a correct, rather than a vigorous writer; and fonder of recurring to the critical examination of particular passages, than is suitable to the conductor of a general argument. We have no wish to disturb the ashes of the dead; and are contented to abide by the public voice, which determined, that if Jortin had offended, his demerits were so overpaid as to turn the balance of opinion in his favour: and that Dr. Hurd had as little reason to look back with satisfaction on his contest with Leland, as either Lowth or Warburton on their personal hostility, in which, says Johnson, both were very abusive, with very little argument on either side.

  7. From these unworthy controversies, which seem to be occasionally required by literature, to carry off her superabundant humours, we revert with pleasure to Warburton's great work, 'The Divine Legation;' in which Learning appears in her natural character, supplying such arms to Genius, as only Genius could wield. The tempest of discordant censure and adulation with which this performance was ushered into the world, has been succeeded by a calm which is as much more conducive to a true appreciation of the merits of the book, as it is more congenial to the cause which the writer defends. No one now reads Warburton, who is not able to read him dispassionately, neither dazzled by the splendid array of his authorities, nor frightened by the boldness and novelty of his arguments. The book, which was never written for the [406] multitude, now holds its proper place on the shelf of the learned divine; who, though reserving his own opinion as to the subordinate branches of the argument, and by no means disposed 'jurare in verba magistri,' wonders equally at the timidity which could fear the recoil of the reasoning, and at the superficial judgment which mistook originality for absurdity.

  8. Nothing has been more prejudicial to the author of 'The Divine Legation,' than the idea that he confined the credibility of the Jewish revelation, to the truth and force of his individual argument. Revelation may say with the poet,

    The divine commission of Moses will stand confirmed by the internal evidence;—we mean by the confident authority with which the lawgiver, in that early age, and to that unsettled, unlearned people, proclaims the Being and Unity of God; by the fearlessness with which he founds his laws upon this conviction, and refers them to this original; by the manifest and uniform consciousness that the truth he proceeded upon had been miraculously proved to the satisfaction of the people he was addressing; by this, collaterally supported as it is by the whole history of the Jewish nation, the divine commission of the legislator will stand confirmed to all who are able to judge of such a basis, and willing to examine it,

    But as there must always be many, who are more easily captivated by the specious objections which appear upon the surface, than guided by the truths that lie below, the Jewish revelation has been frequently assailed, because it was supported by other sanctions than those which arise from the doctrine of the soul's immortality: a doctrine, which, as all who are conversant with antiquity must allow, has obtained its universality from the Christian dispensation; and which the adversaries of all revelations, with no great fairness or consistency, have borrowed for the purpose of discrediting the Hebrew code. Bolingbroke began the charge, by observing, that 'One cannot see without surprise a doctrine so useful to all religions, and therefore incorporated into all the systems of Paganism, left wholly out of that of the Jews.' (V. v. p. 240.) 'We might naturally expect,' says Gibbon, in his usual insidious tone, 'that a principle so essential to religion would have been revealed in the clearest terms to the people of Palestine; and that it [407] might safely have been intrusted to the hereditary priesthood of Aaron. It is incumbent on us to adore the mysterious dispensations of Providence, when we discover that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is omitted in the law of Moses.'* The argument of 'The Divine Legation' is specifically directed against this objection; and the force of the shaft, striking upon this shield of Ajax, is not only repelled, but retorted upon the assailants.

  9. That the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments is no less useful to the practical legislator than to the philosophic theist, is abundantly shewn by Warburton, both from the professed object of legislation, and from the limitations of its power. Those in fact who deny it, must either affirm that the doctrine has no tendency to discourage vice, and promote virtue; or that the legislator is indifferent to the virtuous or vicious habits of his community. No one, we conceive, will be hardy enough to maintain the first of these propositions. With respect to the second, it is no doubt true that the legislator has no concern with virtue and vice, morally considered. But as it has proved the result of experience that a community is happy in proportion as it conforms to the great rules of morality, that vice and disorder, virtue and order, are inseparable companions, the lawgiver having, as is supposed, the welfare of his community at heart, must encourage virtue by all the means in his power, and restrain vice by whatever punishments it is within his views of expediency to threaten. The legislator however, though he threatens delinquents, is so far unlike the executioner, who is said to delight in vice, because it affords him an opportunity of punishing, that he never wishes to have recourse to the terrors of the law. He knows that of ten offences which are committed, scarcely one will be disclosed to justice; that punishment, therefore, affords a very inadequate security against the frequency of crimes, and that the existence of a strong moral sense in the society is more valuable to him than the ingenuity of Perillus, or the power of Phalaris. Accordingly he inflicts punishment, not to avenge the injured person, but to deter the future offender. Having this object alone in view, he will avail himself of the dread of future punishment as his most powerful and natural ally, which not only holds over the head of the one discovered offender a fear of punishment beyond the force of human law, but points out to the nine undiscovered offenders an assurance, that the vengeance which is uncertain and tardy on this side the grave, will be swift and certain on the other.

  10. But in the second place, there is a still more important reason, why the lawgiver should desire the aid of religion. It is his interest [408] to wish not only the absence of vice, but the positive existence of virtue. It is his interest not only that Gaius should be prevented from robbing Titius, but that he should be encouraged to assist him. But there are two obstacles, as fully stated by Warburton, which must always oppose any direct encouragement of private virtue on the part of the state; first, the impossibility of distinguishing it, unless man could fathom the heart, and dive into the motives of his fellow man; and secondly, the impossibility of saying how it shall be rewarded, even when clearly ascertained. The lawgiver, therefore, who called in the terror of future punishment to assist him in what he could effect but imperfectly, calls in the hope of future reward to do for him what he is himself unable to effect at all.

  11. It may be alleged, indeed, that such is the natural amiableness of virtue, as to conciliate its proper reward, love and admiration; that benevolence is sufficiently repaid by gratitude, and private justice by public esteem. It is certainly most true, that the favor which virtue commands on earth, is a sort of earnest of God's moral government; 'is a declaration,' as Butler argues, 'from him who is supreme in nature, which side he is of, or what part he takes; a declaration for virtue and against vice.' But is the consequence either universal, or impartial? Is the public voice always just in its applause, or its condemnation? Is the public judgment never perverted by false principles, nor misled by false appearances? As ostentation is often mistaken for charity, is charity, on the other hand, never miscalled ostentation? Does hypocrisy, while it assumes the garb of virtue, never receive its honorable reward? It will not be denied that these instances are most frequent; and every such instance tends to confound the landmarks which ought decisively to separate virtue from vice, if she was to seek no other reward than temporal esteem and approbation. It is manifest, too, that this approbation would be wholly engrossed by the social virtues, which, as they communicate pleasure, have a natural tendency to excite affection. But is the favour of the world so clearly shewn towards temperance and patience, and all the train of silent and unobtrusive virtues which must be cultivated in the individual; which are not blazoned out into public view, but are an affair between man and his own heart; and which, by controuling the affections and resisting the first impulse of the passions, check the vices which break the peace of society, and impose restraint, not on the hands, but on the mind of the offender? The silent consciousness of well-doing is a powerful principle; but it must sink in spiritless languor, unless supported either by the hope of present justification or future reward.

  12. It is a mere sophism to deny that the vices which violate the rules [409] of society, are prevented by the hope of reward. Revenge and robbery are among the most flagrant disorders of society, and are excited, it is plain, by the desire of some present gratification. But if a man foregoes the gratification of his revenge, or exchanges his love of plunder for laborious exertion, in the hopes of future recompence, the benefit to the society is direct and obvious. Why human actions should be deprived of the cheering animation of hope, and confined to the servile principle of fear, we should be at a loss to say if we considered the mere reason of the thing; and if we refer to Scripture, we find the hope of a glorious immortality represented as no ignoble motive, either for the encouragement of virtue, or the restraint of vice. We would not, however, here be misunderstood. We no more intend to assert, than Warburton imagined, that the doctrine of future rewards and punishments is supported by the same arguments which prove its beneficial tendency: much less to represent the necessity of a future state, in order to remedy, as it were, the imperfections of human law. The proper foundation which natural reason affords of such a belief, is the inequality in the conditions of mankind, and the misfortunes into which the best men are sometimes suffered to fall, not only in spite of their virtue, but even in consequence of it. We are not, indeed, here concerned with the truth of the doctrine, but with its utility. And that legislators have been perfectly sensible of its value, is clear from the example of all antiquity: where we find the same philosophers who were prepared to dispute the doctrine in the academy, maintaining its truth in the forum; and prefacing their laws by an elaborate proof of what their treatises confuted and their practice denied.

  13. How then, says Warburton's argument, does the Hebrew lawgiver omit that sanction which the imperfection of human justice requires? And how does he support the strictest moral code which was ever imposed upon the freedom of human actions, without the assistance of a doctrine which was found a necessary prop even to the lax morality of Greece and Rome? By the Theocratic government which was peculiar to the Jews, which being administered by an extraordinary Providence, dispensed, with exact equality, temporal rewards and punishments, both to the community and individuals. It is the government of the world by general laws, which renders a future state necessary to the purposes of justice; because these laws, 'though they usually contribute to the rewarding virtue and punishing vice, as such, yet they often contribute also, not to the inversion of this, which is impossible, but to the rendering persons prosperous, though wicked, afflicted, though righteous; and which is worse, to the rewarding some actions, though vicious, and punishing other actions, though righteous.' Butler's Analogy, b.i. c.3. From these consequences, the necessary result of general laws, a [410] Theocracy or particular providence, like that which governed the Jews, being alone exempted, can alone succeed and flourish without the doctrine of future rewards.

  14. Now we do confess it appears to us to be a very low appreciation of this argument, as it is strengthened by the research, and illustrated by the ingenuity of the Divine Legation, to assert that it sets for ever at rest the particular objection to which it is opposed. 'For if it is indeed proved that the doctrine of a future state is necessary to the well-being of civil society, under the ordinary government of Providence—that all mankind have ever so conceived of the matter—that the Mosaic institution was without this support, and yet that it did not want it:—what follows but that the Jewish affairs were administered by an extraordinary Providence, distributing reward and punishment with an equal hand; and consequently that the mission of Moses was divine?' Div. Leg. b.6, s.6. The Jewish religion, say the unbelievers, cannot be of divine authority, because it wants the sanction of future rewards and punishments. The Jewish religion, says the answer to that argument, must have been divine; because it neglected that support which all other lawgivers have caught hold of, and stood without that sanction which all other governments have required. The objection is grounded on a supposed acquaintance with those laws which the Supreme Being must prescribe to himself, in promulgating a revelation of his will: the answer is grounded on the intelligible analogy, which the experience of human actions affords.

  15. We have been led to these general remarks upon the argument of the Divine Legation, not under the idea that its forcible reasonings require any illustration, much less that they can receive any from ours: but rather to recal the attention of the age to the book itself which it has been too much the fashion to condemn without inquiry, and to attack without examination. At the same time, we are far from pretending that all the ramifications into which the general argument branches out, are equally sound with the stem from which they proceed. Learning, when it comes to the aid of argument, has much reason often to stop and look round, lest the facility of supporting an opinion should lead to temerity in forming one. For want of this necessary circumspection, the argument of the Divine Legation has lost much of its clearness and something of its vigour from the multiplication of its branches and the exuberance of its foliage. We maintain, however,

    Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aera ramos
    Ostendens, trunco, non frondibus, efficit umbram.

    No one, we think, will turn from this work to the verbal criticism and personal disputes, which disfigure the controversies of Warburton, and which have been rudely awakened from the sleep that justly [411] awaits all controversial writings, by the volume before us. Nor will posterity forget the Discourses on Prophecy, and rest the fame of Bishop Hurd on his Seventh Dissertation or Letter to Leland; or even on those respectful compositions addressed to Warburton, with which we are now for the first time presented. To counteract, however, the impression which this publication may leave, we should wish to add to the frontispiece of these letters, which misjudging friendship intended as a posthumous monument to the author's fame, the inscription of a hand confessedly impartial: 'The dawn of Warburton's fame was overspread with many clouds, which the native force of his mind quickly dispelled. Soon after his emersion from them, he was honoured by the friendship of Pope, and the enmity of Bolingbroke: in the fulness of his meridian glory, he was caressed by Lord Hardwicke and Lord Mansfield; and his setting lustre was viewed with nobler feelings than those of mere forgiveness, by the amiable and venerable Dr. Lowth. Halifax revered him, Balguy loved him, and in two immortal works, Johnson has stood forth in the foremost ranks of his admirers.'*