« AnteriorContinuar »
capable of living in a body different from the one it now inhabits, as that we were alive in the womb, and the many and complete changes our bodies experience between infancy and old age. The same law,xas he justly observes, holds good with respect to other creatures; as, for instance, worms become beautiful flies, and birds and insects burst the shell, finding (which none can deny) their powers of locomotion much enlarged by the change. Such arguments as these should be divested of the hard and uncouth shell in which the Bishop confined them; and, like butterflies, make their appearance in a new form. They should be told in soft and delightful verses, purporting to be sung under pomegranate trees by lovers in Persia. An inhabitant of another planet would imagine, from Mr. Butler's language, that our powers of consciousness were the same in the womb as in the meridian of life, so little does he say of the changes the mind undergoes. This much is certain; that, as helpless as is an infant, for any conceivable purpose his mind is no less feeble than his body. How it is in the womb, no probe or chloroform, yet discovered, has been able to tell; but, if we reason from analogy, there the mind and body are alike in their incipient existence. As for the life after birth, we know that the two grow with each other's growth and strengthen with each other's strength ; that they are most vigorous in manhood, and that, in extreme old age, the}*, together, return to the imbecility of childhood. And yet, from all this, or rather in spite of all this, our author argues not that they die together, but that when the one dies the other lives on. With almost as good a show of reason, he might undertake to demonstrate that the rattle, on the end of a snake's tail, has a separate existence from that of the serpent to which it is attached. For, according to Mr. Butler's idea of such things, it has served at the end of various reptiles of different sizes and capacity.
After leaving this, his chrysalis argument, Mr. Butler proceeds with his subject, after a fashion which a decent respect for the opinion of the world forbids us to call floundering. We would present a few extracts, but from a sincere apprehension that, to do so, would cause the reader to lose the thread of our remarks. Apart, however, from the obscure and ill-chosen language in which the earnest, but not worldly-wise scholar, expresses himself, candour compels the acknowledgment that he shows abundant evidence of a mind well fitted, when not under undue influence, for the closest logical investigation. In fact, this whole chapter is to us, even when familiarized to the author's style, a source rather of pain than pleasure ; like the desperate, the hopeless struggle of genius with poverty. He displays not only great ability, but, which is exceedingly strange, much seeming prudence and circumspection. However much we may differ with him as to the justness of his argument, we are compelled to award him the admiration and respect due to an advocate who defends with genius and talent a cause obviously weak. If he flounders, it is in a road where few, except himself, could keep from falling. He is careful to impress on the reader's mind, that his endeavour is of the most metaphysical nature ; and declares that he claims the victory only because the weight of probability is on his side. A declaration which is certainly at war with his unjustifiable and almost intolerant confidence in the conclusiveness of his demonstration. Here is his own lucid statement of his view of this matter:—In questions of difficulty, or such as are thought so, where more satisfactory evidence cannot be had, or is not seen, if the result of examination be, that there appears, upon the whole, any, the lowest, presumption on one side, and none on the other, or a greater presumption on one side, though in the lowest degree greater, this determines the question, even in matters of speculation; and, in matters of practice, will lay us under an absolute and formal obligation, in point of prudence and of interest, to act upon that presumption, or low probability, though it be so low as to leave the mind in a very great doubt which is the truth.
As to the manner of this statement, the reader hath it. As to the matter, we propose these objections. 1st. When a question of abstract and metaphysical character cannot be solved except by unsatisfactory presumption, it is right and proper that rational man should not force his mind to a conelusion. It is useless to argue this point. Enough, that if such a doctrine had once been established, the world would, in the beginning, have been fixed in a Stygian darkness of ignorance and delusion. 2nd. That the existence of a soul, and the connection of that soul with animal life, certainly furnishes the grandest field for thought known to the enlarged and liberal mind. It is, therefore, equally useless and mean to expect that man should come to a conclusion on this lofty subject, more easily than on any matter of doubt occurring in the ordinary affairs of life. ,
After leaving what we call his chrysalis argument, the author proceeds to demonstrate, from the reason of the thing, that there is no need to infer that the soul or power of consciousness, dies upon the happening of the dissolution of the body. To this demonstration he devotes the rest of the chapter, saying, among other things, that the mind is as little dependent on the body it happens to inhabit, as on any other matter. The thought is striking, and to us it was novel. He reasons on it with surpassing ingenuity. We believe that this is, in effect, his argument: That the soul or power of consciousness, being enclosed in a prison-house of flesh, is compelled, in the acquisition of knowledge, to make use of all the fleshly senses through which alone it can have perception of and communication with the outer world. This power of consciousness is not part of these senses, but an intelligent actor who makes use of these mechanical instruments. As, for instance, the eye is but a beautiful instrument formed of lenses and crystalline humours, by the use of which the intellect perceives the presence of matter, and the forms, dimensions and relative positions of material things. This eye is only an instrument of limited power, and, such being the case, the intellect of man, when it desires to see farther than the eye can reach, makes use of other instruments which, like the eye, are formed of exquisite lenses. These telescopic and magnifying glasses, many thousand fold, are themselves the creatures of the mind of man. The intellect is independent of all optical instruments, for it is but lately they have been invented, and now it uses them and lays them aside at pleasure. But the intellect, also, uses the eye or closes it at pleasure, without death or injury to itself, for we can think as well or better with the eyes shut. The mind, then, is as independent of the eye as of an optical instrument, and it is certainly as independent of an optical instrument as of a plough or any other utensil. Now, therefore, if the mind or soul, or power of consciousness, (by which ever name it be called,) have a separate existence from the eye, it has also a separate existence from the ear, and, in short, from all the senses. Again, suppose a man sitting in a chair, has need of an object a few feet from him on the floor. He takes a stick with which he draws it nearer, and then, stretching out his arm, gains possession of it. Both the arm and the stick are, plainly, but mechanical instruments used by the mind to effect a purpose. The mind is independent of both, for the stick is presently thrown aside, and we have abundant evidence that the mind would not be injured if the owner's arm were amputated, as was the case with Lord Nelson's, and perhaps also with the great Cervantes. Neither would this power of consciousness suffer at all, should both arms and both legs be cut off. Therefore, it is not reasonable to suppose that it has one and the same existence with the body; but rather, that when so much of the body is gone as that the rest dies, then the power of consciousness is released from a condition in which, being confined in matter, it was compelled to make use of material things: and that the spirit cannot then be seen and known, because previously it could only be seen and known by its use of material things. We fear that the reader, in his admiration of this beautiful theory, will forget to acknowledge his indebtedness to us for having translated it out of the original.
On this die all is cast. The first and palpable objection to it the author meets himself, and in a lofty strain of sentiment, worthy of its elevated source. That it is equally applicable to brutes as men, he says, in effect, is certainly true; but the enlarged and liberal mind must allow that the inferior animals may as well have immortals souls as we, for both they and we are now in so low a state, that, to the eyes of angels, there can be little to choose between us. Good man! If this were the only objection to his argument, we should accept it with grateful thanks. But, whether or not we receive the teacher's doctrine, it is a pleasure to us again to declare our belief that a church, whose members were such men as he, would be acceptable in the sight of heaven, whatever might be its creed.
The objections to the Bishop's reasoning are few and simple, not turning on any slight, and perhaps imaginary, weight of probability. They seem to us plain and conclusive, and directly fatal to every idea the author advances. In the first place, we have never known the mind, soul or intellect, by which ever name the power of consciousness be called, except as one, and not the greatest one, of the phenomena of our existence. And, therefore, when we know that death certainly terminates this existence, reason, with an iron law, proclaims that all perishes at once, and that death is, as it appears, a perfect privation of life to mind and body. When we look on the body of a slain beast or reptile, the mind, which has no option but to reason from analogy, cannot view it except carelessly as a thing that has perished. Like a Venice glass broken, it cannot be mended. This single fact, then, viz: that except as with the body we know nothing of the mind—is, in itself, when left to bare reason, a mountain of an argument on the side of mortality, compared to which the Bishop's subtle and air-drawn theories are but the down of a thistle.
If it were necessary to say more, which is not the case, we might add that, on a nearer view, the whole fabric of his reasoning becomes not only flimsy but shadowy in the extreme. As for the mind, it is known to be seated in the brain—a fact that is proven in many ways. Among others, that an injury to the brain deprives us of reason, exactly as an injury to the heart deranges the circulation of the blood, or an injury to the eye or ear deprives us of sight or hearing. When the brain is heated by fever, the mind wanders from its throne. The combatant who is struck on the head is stunned for the time, though the wound prove trifling. So well, indeed, is this now understood, that, in ordinary conversation, the terms brain and mind are used without distinc