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ART. I. Remarks on the Science of History; followed by an a priori Autobiography. Boston: Crosby & Nichols. 1849. 12mo. pp. 164.
THIS work appears without the author's name; but we presume we betray no confidence in saying that it is by a Unitarian minister, in whom, while he was pursuing his preparatory studies, we took a deep personal interest, and who was one of our most intimate and highly esteemed young friends. If we submit, in the course of the following remarks, some of its reasonings and speculations to a severe, this fact may assure the author that it is to no unfriendly, criticism.
The author inscribes his work to "Citoyen Pierre Leroux, Republican and Philosopher," and tells us that the materials requisite for its construction are to be found in the works of Jacob Boehme, Fabre d'Olivet, and P. J. B. Buchez; but this, though creditable to his independence and frankness, can hardly be regarded as a recommendation of his work itself. We have, it is true, never studied the writings of Jacob Boehme, but we have looked into them far enough to see that their author was a wild enthusiast, who mistook his own heated fancies for the illuminations of the Holy Ghost. Fabre d'Olivet we know only as cited by Leroux in his L'Humanité; but we hazard nothing in classing him with those profound scholars who draw their erudition from their theories, and then support their theories by it. Buchez, best known to our public as the first President of the French National Assembly, appears to be a man of moderate abilities and respectable attainments, a half disciple of Lamennais, and a visionary, who would conform
NEW SERIES. - VOL. IV. NO. I.
the Church to the spirit of the age, and make her on earth the Church Triumphant, by effecting an impossible amalgamation between Catholicity and modern pantheistic Socialism. All three are men with whom we have little sympathy, and the last from whose works we should expect materials suitable for a work to be composed and published by a professedly Christian minister.
Leroux is, unquestionably, a man of ability, endowed with no small portion of the philosophical spirit, and possessed of various and extensive, though ill-digested, erudition. He has been well characterized by M. Lerminier, in one of the French periodicals, we cannot now recollect which, author with numerous notions on a variety of subjects, but acquired in a manner somewhat confused," as having "more fervor of spirit than strength of mind, more impetuosity in the pursuit of ideas than power to master and translate them, and more boldness of imagination than solidity of judgment." The present writer, as editor of The Boston Quarterly Review, had, we believe, the very questionable honor of being the first to introduce him to the American public; and we cannot deny that there was a brief period when he exerted a very great influence over our own philosophical speculations. Indeed, the study of his writings formed an epoch in our mental history, and we drew largely upon him in constructing our Synthetic Philosophy, some chapters of which were published in The Democratic Review for 1842 and 1843; and we are indebted to him for much that is sound, and nearly all that is unsound, chimerical, extravagant, and pantheistic, in the various philosophical essays which we published during the period beginning with January, 1842, and ending with July, 1844, and which we hope no one will regard as indicative of the philosophical doctrines we have since held or now hold.
We learned, it is true, much from Leroux which we have seen no reason to reject, but still more which we now regard as false and absurd. We learned from him to substitute, intentionally at least, the ontological method of philosophizing for the psychological, which we had hitherto professed, and this was much; but, unhappily, we learned from him, at the same time, a vicious ontology, conducting, though we saw it not then, necessarily to pantheism or nihilism. We learned from him, though for false and insufficient reasons, to respect scientific tradition, the continuity of science through the ages, and that every system which breaks it is to be rejected, — a
great and important truth; but we learned from him to confound scientific and theological tradition, and to subject both to a psychological instead of an ontological test. We learned from him to assert the direct intuition of ideas, or the intelligible, as Reid had taught us to assert the direct perception of bodies, -a fact, the neglect or denial of which has ruined modern philosophy; but we were, at the same time, led by him to disregard all distinction between intuition and reflection, and therefore to contend that reflection, as well as intuition, reproduces the order of being; which involves the absurdity of supposing that, in the order of being, the abstract precedes the concrete, the possible the real, and that the creator is fulfilled or completed in the creature. In fine, we learned from him to assert an ontological basis for Christianity, and to regard the Christian mysteries as great ontological truths or facts; but were led by him to assert natural ontology, or the ontological truths and facts of the natural order, in the place of those of the supernatural order, the peculiarly Christian ontology. These errors vitiated the truths we borrowed from Leroux, and which we might better have learned from far purer sources, if we had had any thing like that acquaintance with philosophical literature which every one should have who assumes the attitude of a teacher of philosophy.
The author of the small, but ambitious and not insignificant volume before us, appears to have adopted from Leroux, substantially, these same truths, coupled with these same errors, however widely he may differ from his master in his development of them. He is not a plagiarist, he is not a mere compiler, but he fails to give his own fine metaphysical genius fair play. He thinks and writes too much under the influence of masters, and relies with too generous a confidence on the acuteness, depth, and erudition of the school to which he finds himself accidentally attached. In consequence of this, though possessing the capacity for original thought, and no ordinary aptitude for free and independent philosophical speculation, he does not work freely, and gives us, after all, little else than what we may find in the authors he has studied. He will, we trust, emancipate himself, one of these days, and justify the expectation we long ago indulged, that he would prove a valuable contributor to American philosophical science.
The author has bestowed much thought and labor on his work, and yet it bears the marks of haste. It is not equally elaborated throughout, and it wants artistic conception and
finish. Its several parts do not seem to us to cohere, or to have originated in the same design. We feel, in reading it, that it lacks unity and regular scientific development. It is not easy to discover the connection between the author's Remarks on the Science of History, and his A priori Autobiography, which follows, avowedly for the purpose of illustrating and verifying them. The Autobiography is said to be constructed according to the a priori methods; that is, as we understand it, deduced, geometrically, from necessary and eternal principles. No such principles appear to be enunciated, and there is nothing in the Autobiography itself to lead one to regard it as any thing else than an autobiographical sketch of the religious experience of a serious young man, of a speculative turn, exhibiting with spirit and fidelity the various doubts he encountered, and the methods and reasonings by which he solved or attempted to solve them. But as the author really has a philosophical genius, we must presume that he connects the several parts of his work in his own mind, and has, underlying them, a philosophy which he regards as moulding them all into a uniform and systematic whole. This philosophy, which he presupposes rather than states, we must seize in the best way we can, and appreciate, as the condition of understanding and appreciating what he has written.
It is evident from the Remarks on the Science of History, with which the author prefaces his A priori Autobiography, that he holds, 1st, that the human race is progressive, and that the history of its progress is universal history; 2d, that universal history may be written in the form of the biography of any given individual; and 3d, that biography, and therefore universal history, may be constructed a priori. The following extract will clearly prove this much.
"Desire, according to Buchez, the first President of the present French National Assembly, is a movement of the will, an outbreak, and energetic operation, of the active principle, toward something we have not as yet.
"When we do not understand our desire, we are conscious of uneasiness, doubt, and trouble: as soon, however, as the intelligence begins to comprehend the blind appetency, a formula for it rises to the mind, and it becomes transformed at once into acceptation, hope, determinate volition, aspiration in view of an ideal, a conviction, a form of faith, a belief, &c. ;— it becomes, moreover, a thesis proposed for reasoning. Thus the movement for the comprehens sion of a desire may be considered as containing the progress and