Page images

of. And again, he may be said to have thought very unfavourably of mankind, inasmuch as he had no notion at all of a character of exalted virtue, and regarded any indication of pure and high principle as affectation and humbug, and always suispected every one of acting for such ends, and employing such means, as a really high-minded man would reject with disdain.

Yet he was a very intelligent and acute man as far as regards the lower parts of human nature. His constant suspicion of inferior motives and underhand proceeding arose from the moral twilight of his mind.

In reference to such suspicions as relate rather to things than persons--the doubts which sometimes flutter about in the occasional twilight of the mind respecting the evidence for important and well-established conclusions, I will take the liberty of extracting some admirable passages from the Edinburgh Review for January, 1847, on “The Genius of Pascal':

Neither has the understanding the absolute dominion in the formation of our judgments, nor does she occupy an “unshaken throne. A seditious rabble of doubts, from time to time, rise to dispute her empire. Even where the mind, in its habitual states, is unconscious of any remaining doubt,—where it reposes in a vast preponderance of evidence in favour of this or that conclusion, there may yet be, from one or other of the disturbing causes adverted to, a momentary eclipse of that light in which the soul seemed to dwell;—a momentary vibration of that judgment which we so often flattered ourselves was poised for ever. Yet this no more argues the want of habitual faith than the variations of the compass argue the severance of the connection between the magnet and the pole; or, than the oscillations of the “rocking stone' argue that the solid mass can be heaved from its bed. A child may shake, but a giant cannot overturn it.

And, as a matter of fact, there are, we apprehend, very few who have not been conscious of sudden and almost unaccountable disturbances of the intellectual atmosphere, unaccountable even after the equilibrium has been restored, and the air las again become serene and tranquil. In these momentary fluctuations, whether arising from moral or physical causes, or from causes of both kinds—from nervous depression, or a fit of melancholy, or an attack of pain, or harassing anxieties, or the loss of friends, or their misfortunes and calamities, or signal triumplis of baseness, or signal discomfitures of virtue, or, above all, from conscious neglect of duty—a man shall sometimes feel as if he had lost sight even of those primal truths on which he has been accustomed to gaze as on the stars of the firmament-bright, serene, and unchangeable; even such truths as the existence of God, his paternal government of the world, and the divine origin of Christianity.

* In these moods, objections which he thought had long since been dead and buried, start again into sudden existence. They do more, like the escaped genius of the Arabian Nights, who rises from the little bottle in which he had been imprisoned, in the shape of a thin sınoke, which finally assumes gigantic oullines, and towers to the skies, these flimsy objections dilate into monstrous dimensions, and fill the whole sphere of mental vision. The arguments by which we have been accustomed to combat them seem to have vanished, or, if they appear at all, look diminished in force and vividness. If we may pursue the allusion we have just made, we even wonder how such mighty forms should ever have been compressed into so narrow a space. Bunyan tells us, that when his pilgrims, under the perturbation produced by previous terrible visions, turned the perspective glass towards the Celestial City from the Summits of the Delectable Mountains, their hands shook so that they could not steadily look · through the instrument; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. It is even so with many of the moods in which other pilgrims' attempt to

gaze in the same direction; a deep haze seems to have settled over the golden pinnacles and the gates of pearl :. they, for a moment, doubt whether what others declare they have seen, and what they flatter themselves they have seen themselves, be anything else than a gorgeous vision in the clouds; and faith' is no longer the substance of things hoped for,' and the evidence of things not seen.'

* And as there are probably few who have profoundly investigated the evidences of truth, who have not felt themselves for a moment at least, and sometimes for a yet longer space, as if on the verge of universal scepticism, and about to be driven forth, without star or compass, on a boundless ocean of doubt and perplexity, so these states of feeling are peculiarly apt to infest the highest order of minds. For if, on the one hand, these can best discern and estimate the evidence which proves any truth, they, on the other, can see most clearly and feel most strongly the nature and extent of the objections which oppose it; while they are, at the same time, just as liable as the vulgar to the disturbing influences already adverted to. This liability is of course doubled when its subject, as in the case of Pascal, labours under the disadvantage of a gloomy temperament.

A circumstance which in these conflicts of mind often gives sceptical objections an undue advantage is, that the great truths which it is more especially apt to assail are generally the result of an accumulation of proof by induction, or are even dependent on quite separate trains of argument. The mind, therefore, cannot comprehend them at a glance, and feel at once their integrated force, but must examine them in detail by successive acts of mind,just as we take the measurement of magnitudes too vast to be seen at once in successive small portions. The existence of God, the moral government of the world, the divine origin of Christianity, are all truths of this stamp. Pascal, in one of his Pensées, refers to this infirmity of the logical faculties. He justly observes—To have a series of proofs incessantly before the mind is beyond our power.' D'en avoir toujours les preuves présentes, c'est trop d'affaire.

· From the inability of the mind to retain in perpetuity, or to comprehend at a glance a long chain of evidence, or the total effect of various lines of argument, Pascal truly observes that it is not sufficient for the security of our convictions, and their due influence over our belief and practice, that we have proved them, once for all, by a process of reasoning :—they must be, if possible, tinctured and coloured by the imagination, informed and animated by feeling, and rendered vigorous and practical by habit. His words are well worth writing: Reason acts slowly, and with so many views upon so many principles which it is necessary should be always present, that it is perpetually dropping asleep, and is lost, for want of having all its principles present to it. The affections do not act thus; they act instantaneously, and are always ready for action. It is necessary, therefore, to imbue our faith with feeling; otherwise it will be always vacillating.'

'It will not, of course, be imagined that, in the observations we have now made, we are disposed to be the apologists of scepticism; or even, so far as it is yielded to, of that transient doubt to which we affirm even the most powerful minds are not only liable, but liable in defiance of what are ordinarily their strong convictions. So far as such states of mind are involuntary (and for an instant they often are, till, in fact, the mind collects itself, and repels them), they are of course the object, not of blame, but of pity. So far as they are dependent upon fluctuations of feeling, or upon physical causes which we can at all modify or control, it is our duty to summon the mind to resist the assault, and reflect on the nature of that evidence which has so often appeared to us little less than demonstrative.

*We are not, then, the apologists of scepticism, or anything approaching it; we are merely stating a psychological fact, for the proof of which we appeal to the recorded confessions of many great minds, and to the experience of those who have reflected deeply enough on any large and difficult subject to know what can be said for or against it.

"The asserted fact is, that habitual belief of the sincerest and strongest character is sometimes checkered with transient fits of doubt and misgiving, and that even when there is no actual disbelief-no, not for a moment; the mind may, in some of its moods, form a very diminished estimate of the evidence on which belief is founded, and grievously understate it accordingly. We believe that both these states of mind were occasionally experienced by Pascal—the latter, however, much more frequently than the former; and hence, as we apprehend, are we to account for those passages in which he speaks of the evidence for the existence of a God, or for the truth of Christianity, as less conclusive than he ordinarily believed, or than he has at other times declared them.

“At such times, the clouds may be supposed to have hung low upon this lofty mind.

"So little inconsistent with a habit of intelligent faith are euch transient invasions of doubt, or such diminished perceptions of the evidence of truth, that it may even be said that it is only those who have in some measure experienced them, who can be said, in the highest sense, to believe at all. He who has never had a doubt, who believes what he believes for reasons which he thinks as irrefragable (if that be possible) as those of a mathematical demonstration, ought not to be said so much to believe as to know; his belief is to him knowledge, and his mind stands in the same relation to it, however erroneous and absurd that belief may be. It is rather he who believes ---not indeed without the exercise of his reason, but without the full satisfaction of his reason—with a knowledge and appreciation of formidable objections—it is this man who may most truly be said intelligently to believe.”' (Pages 213-217.)

Wise men assuredly consider it as a most important element in the education of their own children, not indeed that they should be taught to believe what they are told without any reason (and if they have been properly trained, a just confidence in the assurances of their superiors in knowledge will on many subjects be reason sufficient), yet, upon evidence far less than demonstration ; indeed, upon evidence far less than they will be able to appreciate, when the lapse of a few brief years has transformed them from children into men. We certainly expect that they will believe many things as facts which as yet they cannot fully comprehend—nay, which they tell us are, in appearance, paradoxical; and to rest satisfied with the assurance, that it is vain to attempt to explain the evidence until they get older and wiser. We are accustomed even to augur the worst results as to the future course and conduct of a youth who has not learned to exercise thus much of practical faith, and who flip

1 The same thought is thus expressed in a short poem by Bp. Hinds:And the Apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.'—Luke xvii. 5.

What! gazing on your Saviour's face,

And listening to his word,
Dared you to ask for further grace,

To credit all you heard?
*Yet so it is; belief springs still

In soils that nurture doubt;
And we must go to Him who will

The baneful weed cast out.
Did never thorns thy path beset?

Beware—be not deceived;
He who has never doubted yet,

Has never yet believed.'

« PreviousContinue »