Page images

are now neither more nor less perfect, than

The intellectual trace even a suggestion, that the minds and power of man intellects of our antediluvian ancestors were

more vigorous or perfect, than those of their there formerly posterity; though from the excess of their

longevity they must have had the advantage of experimental information : yet Solomon, who was endowed with more wisdom, than any of his predecessors, existed long after this

abbreviation of the natural days of man. I Antiquity not

am free to own, it has ever appeared to me

as unwarrantable to maintain, that the true dence of truth.

principles of civil and religious liberty have only been disclosed to the present generation, as to attribute an exclusive preference to all the doctrines of our predecessors, upon the mere score of antiquity. Every succeeding age must necessarily have the advantages of observation and experience; but beyond these I can discover no traits, that mark the superiority of the present age above any that have preceded it*. The more closely we

conclufive evi.

*" For as our modern wits beheld, mounted a pick-back on the old, &c. Hudib. 1st pt. 2d canto. v. 71,72. A ban“ ter on those modern writers, who, as Sir W. Temple “ observes, (Eday on ancient and modern Learning), that as to knowledge, the moderns must have more, than the “ antients, because they have the advantage both of “ theirs and their own; which is commonly illustrated " by a dwarf's ftanding upon a giant's shoulders, or

seeing more or farther than he." Grey's Hud. v. 1. p. 104.


attend to the various excellencies of individuals within our own acquaintance, the more fully we shall be convinced, that the innate powers of men have not varied for these two thousand years; but that they have ever acquired a degree of excellence proportioned to the variety of the circumstances, that called them into action. Thus are obviously traced the various causes, which through the succession of ages, have given birth to, encouraged, and perfected the different arts and sciences. I cannot help differing, upon this Our present expoint, from Dr. Priestley *, who says, “ That no such advana “ the human species itself is capable of a predeceffors as “ similar and unbounded improvement; teaches.

whereby mankind in a latter age are greatly superior to mankind, in a former

age, the individuals being taken at the " same time of life. Of this progress of the

species, brute aniinals are more incapable,

than they are of that relating to indivi" duals. No horse of this age seems to " have any advantage over other horses of

former ages; and if there can be any improvement in the species, it is owing to our manner of breeding and training them:

a man at this time, who has been tolerably well educated, in an improved Essay on the First Principles of Government, p. 2.

« Christian

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


“ Christian country, is a being posieffed of “ much greater power, to be, and to make,

happy, than a person of the same age in “ the same or any other country fome cen

« turies ago."

The design of the work.

Hence, assured that this learned philosopher will not refuse me, on account of


differing from some of his opinions, the common superiority of reasoning, which my existence in the present age gives me over all my ancestors and predecessors, (though unconscious of the advantage) I lay in my full claim to it, and shall endeavour to support it more by the perspicuity and strength of arguments gleaned from others, than by my own.

In the prosecution of my design, I shall follow the order, which the subject seems plainly to prescribe: I shall consider man, first, in the pure state of nature; then, in the general state of society; and lastly, in the state of the English government and constitution; and as every Englishman, or person living under the protection of the English government, assumes or contracts a relative duty and obligation to the community, of which he is a member, I shall endeavour to enforce the indispensible coercion of these duties and obligations, by the examination and exposition of the instances, in which they may be infringed


and violated by crimes against the state; and I shall conclude by a faithful narrative of the effects already produced in this isand, by the diffemination of the very doctrines, which are now attempted to be revived with such infatuated zeal.

If Britons shall chuse again to get up the old tragedy, I shall but have given in the list of the dramatis persone, who are most qualified to keep up the genuine spirit of the play.

A cool and collected revisal of the argument may determine my countrymen, either to the repetition, or irrevocable damnation, of


the piece.


CH A P. I.


Reasons for considering the Subject.


THE contemplation of the British con

stitution in its origin, in its structure and in its effects, is the important and the


The trite adage of nil sub sole novum is more emphatically applicable to the subjcct under our present confideration, than to any other. This subject has in all agcs been the primary object of the politician, the historian, and the philosopher; and in many ages, such have been the exalted ideas entertained of its dignity, that it has constituted a very confiderable part of theology. As in religion, the written word of God, which, from its divine inspiration, must essentially bear a determined and unequivocal meaning, is in disputes and differences often resorted to, and modified by the appellants to its authority, so as to colour, countenance, and support the most extravagant and contradi&ory opinions; so few or no political errors, treasons, rebellions, or usurpations have at any time been attempted to be justified, but by appeal. ing and resorting to the authority of the Rights of Man. Since the subject has been so often and so fully considered by others, I shall think I give more satisfaction to the public by collecting and arranging their opinions upon it, than by endeavouring to dress and serve up the old subAtance in the disguise of some new fashion. I shall


« PreviousContinue »