« AnteriorContinuar »
riod of his life,—when defending the religion he sincerely believed and prized above every consideration, or inculcating the pure doctrines of civil liberty, next to religion, his chief care, or extending the bounds of useful science, did Bishop Watson lead a life of more unmixed pleasure than after he had broken himself in at Trinity College to habits of unremitting application, and begun to climb the steep ascent with all the hard labour designated in the passage we have just quoted.
We have not read far in these Memoirs before we perceive the strong and uniform tendency of his mind to support the best principles of constitutional liberty: I every week' (he observes) - imposed upon myself a task of composing a themie • or a declamation in Latin or English. I had great pleasure ' in lately finding among my papers, two of these declamations, • one in English, the other Latin ; there is nothing excellent . in either of them, yet I cannot help valuing them, as they are • not only the first of my compositions of which I have any me• morial remaining, but as they show that a long commerce in • the public world has only tended to confirm that political bent
of my mind in favour of civil liberty, which was formed in it • before I knew of what selfish and low-minded materials the • public world was made. The subject of the English decla• mation is, “ Let tribunes be granted to the Roman people;"
that of the Latin, - Sociis Italicis detur civitas : " Both of them * were suggested to my mind from the perusal of Vertot's Ro• man Revolutions, a book which accidentally fell into my hands. • Were such kind of books put into the hands of kings during • their boyhood, and Tory trash at no age recommended to • them, kings in their manhood would scorn to aim at arbitrary • power through corrupted Parliaments.' Lord Bolingbroke has somewhere remarked, that in his times, the prevalence of what were ormerly termed Tory principles, such as divine and indefeasable right, was impossible among any people above the rank of the Samoyedies or Hottentots. A century has elapsed since he said so; and during that period, the family has been extinguished which signalized and sacrificed itself by being foremost among the patrons of those doctrines.--And yet, strange to tell, in our own times, if not the divine right, certainly the indefeasable hereditary title to govern by mere course of descent, independent of all other pretensions, and liable to no forfeiture for any misdemeanour, has found a cloud of supporters among the freest and most enlightened nations in Europe. Nay, the foundations of our own excellent Constitution being laid in the very opposite principles, we seem, or rather some of our rulers seem anxious to extinguish everywhere
else all traces of such doctrines ; as if they would retain the possession of power on grounds the very opposite of those on which it was first gotten, or were jealous of any other people in the world enjoying a taste of rational and regular liberty.
When our author was Moderator for the first time, the celebrated Paley took his degree and was senior wrangler; one of the theses which he proposed to take for disceptation, and brought to Watson, was, Æternitas poenarum contradicit Divinis attributis.' The Moderator made no objection; but a few days afterwards, the yourg logician came to him greatly alarmed, on finding that the master of his College (a dignitary of higher order in the church, and, consequently, more under the influence of panic terror), had sent to insist on his not mooting such a question, at least in that shape. Our author readily permitted Paley to change the proposition, by inserting the powerful word non before contradicit, which removed the very reverend the Dean's objections; who was little aware that the celebrated Tillotson had handled the same subject many years before. This is an amusing anecdote sufficiently characteristic of all these parties. We see the rudiments of Paley's natural boldness, restrained by his habitual prudence and discretion; the unqualified and unbending hardihood of Watson, tempered only by good humour, or consideration for other men's interests; and the ignorant and inconsistent bigotry of the great dignitary and head of the house, interposing obstacles, and raising difficulties about sounds rather than things, and appeased by changes which removed nothing really objectionable. Our author subjoins to the passage an observation not marked by his usual acuteness. He is stating the. difficulties of the question itself: And, trying to reconcile the eternity of punishments with the perfect benevolence of the Deits, he asks, How is it proved that the everlasting pu" nishment of the wicked may not answer a benevolent end; • may it not be the mean of keeping the righteous in everlast. ing holiness and obedience? How is it proved that it may
not answer, in some way unknown to us, a benevolent end in
promoting God's moral government of the universe ?' Now, this question, if answered in the affirmative, in no way gets rid of the dishculty. We have here, in another shape, the great question of the origin of evil, and its incompatibility with the goodness of the Deity. They who assert that incompatibility, deny that the working a good end, by means of misery inflicted on the creature, is a mode of government consistent with perfect wisdom and benevolence; they assert that it is an imperfect contrivance, arguing either deficiency of skill or of goodness; inas
much as a being wholly perfect in both attributes could and would have attained the same end, without the misery involved in the means. Dr Watson shuts his eyes to this difficulty. We do not say it is insuperable; but only that he has left it where he found it, and has not even removed it a step,
In the year 1760, our author was elected a Fellow of Trinity, and soon after became assistant tutor and professor of Chemistry, a science with which he was at this time wholly unacquainted, having hitherto devoted himself entirely to the abstract sciences and natural philosophy. His ambitious industry, as usual, bore him through all difficulties. "I sent,' he says, immediately af* ter my election, for an operator to Paris; í buried myself as • it were in my laboratory, at least as much as my other avoca
tions would permit; and in fourteen months from my election, 'I read a course of chemical lectures to a very full audience,
consisting of persons of all ages and degrees, in the Univer
sity. I read another course in November, 1766, and was 'made Moderator, for the fourth time, in October, 1765.
In January every year, when the Bachelors of Arts take their degrees, one of the two Moderators makes a sort of
speech in Latin to the Senate; I made this speech three ' times: the last was in 1766. I had, in a former speech, taken • the liberty to mention, with great freedom, some defects in . the University education, especially with respect to Noblemen
and Fellow-Commoners: and, without hinting the abolition • of the orders, strongly insisted on the propriety of obliging • them to keep exercises in the schools, as the other candidates ' for degrees did. In this last speech I recommended the in
stituting public annual examinations, in prescribed books, of • all the orders of students in the University.' After seven years of most brilliant success in this chair, he was chosen Professor of Divinity, whereof, he fairly says he then possessed but a
curta supellex.' But he speedily set himself about mastering this subject with his wonted eagerness and success. His liberality and good sense had now full play in a very delicate situation; and the following passage may show how steadily he followed those lights, wise by his experience of their use in the walks of other sciences.
· I reduced the study of divinity into as narrow a compass as I could, for I determined to study nothing but my Bible, being much unconcerned about the opinions of councils, fathers, churches, bishops, and other men, as little inspired as myself. This mode of proceeding being opposite to the general one, and especially to that of the Master of Peterhouse, who was a great reader, he used to call me autodidaxtos, the self-taught divine. The Professor of Divinity had been nick-named Malleus Hæreticorum ; it was thought to be his duty to demolish every opinion which militated against what is called the orthodoxy of the Church of England. Now my mind was wholly unbiassed ; I had no prejudice against, no predilection for the Church of England; but a sincere regard for the Church of Christ, and an insuperable objection to every degree of dogmatical intolerance. I never troubled myself with answering any argu. ments which the opponents in the divinity-schools brought against the articles of the church, nor ever admitted their authority as decisive of a difficulty ; but I used on such occasions to say to them, holding the New Testament in my hand, En sacrum codicem! Here is the fountain of truth, why do you follow the streams derived from it by the sophistry, or polluted by the passions of man? If you can bring proofs against any thing delivered in this book, I shall think it my duty to reply to you. Articles of churches are not of diviné authority; have done with them; for they may be true, they may be false ; and appeal to the book itself. This mode of disputing gained me no credit with the hierarchy; but I thought it an honest one, and it produced a liberal spirit in the University.
Of the same liberal stamp were the doctrines delivered by him upon National Establishments and Subscription.
Whether the majority of the members of any civil community have a right to compel all the members of it to pay towards the maintenance of a set of teachers appointed by the majority, to preach a particular system of doctrines, is a question which might admit a serious discussion. I was once of opinion, that the majority had this right in all cases, and I am still of opinion that they have it in
тапу. But I am staggered when I consider that a case may happen, in which the established religion may be the religion of a minority of the people, that minority, at the same time, possessing a majority of the property, out of which the ministers of the establishment are to be paid. P. 43,
He held, on Subscription, that no Christian church ought to require a confession of faith, upon principles of human invention, or any thing beyond a declaration of belief in the scriptures, as containing a revelation of the will of God. And, speaking of two tracts, in which he maintains these and other principles of an equally liberal cast, both on religious and civil topics, he notes their coincidence with the sentiments of Bishop Hoadley, and honestly glories in following that illustrious prelate's example, notwithstanding the abuse which he suffered in his own times, and the sneers of Horseley, who has, in ours, called him a republican bishop. In the same admirable, and to us most edifying, spirit, is his remark upon his friend the late Duke of Grafton's Unitarian principles. I never,' says he, at• tempted either to encourage or to discourage his profession of • them; for I was happy to see a person of rank professing, with
with intelligence and with sincerity, Christian principles. If
any one thinks that an Unitarian is not a Christian, I plainly •
say, without being myself an Unitarian, that I think other- wise.' We believe that these passages comprize the greater part of the matter which has caused so great a ferment in the minds of bigotted High-church men and violent fanatics, since this volume was published. Interested and timeserving politicians, who care nothing for either religion or the church, except as they may help to bolster up their temporal power, and afford handles of abuse against their adversaries, have not failed to turn the ferment to their own account. But the good sense of the community has not been wanting upon the occasion; and all the efforts, whether of his deluded, or his hypocritical revilers, have failed to shake the publick opinion of his wisdom and piety.
The pure constitutional principles which Dr Watson cherished himself
, he naturally impressed upon the minds of his pupils. Among these, the Marquis of Granby, son of the Duke of Rutland, was one, upon whose education he had bestowed, at all times, unwearied pains. How far he succeeded, may be learnt from the following letter which that nobleman wrote to him in 1775.
“ “ If the Whigs will not now unite themselves in opposition to “ such a Tory principle, which has established the present unconsti“ tutional system, this country will be plunged into perdition beyond “ redemption. I never can thank you too much for making me study “ Locke: While I exist, those tenets, which are so attentive to the * natural rights of mankind, shall ever be the guide and direction of “ my actions. I live at Chevley; I hope often to see you ; you may, “ and I am sure you will, still assist me in my studies. Though I “ have formed a Tory connexion, Wlrig principles are too firmly ri: “ vetted in me ever to be removed. Best compliments to Mrs Wat. « son, and reserve to yourself the assurance of my being most affec
tionately and sincerely yours.”' p. 49.
This amicable and honest letter, was written soon after his entrance into publick life. A few years appear to have shaken a little those principles so firmly riyetted,' and to have obscured the recollection of ! tenets ever to be the guide and direction of his actions.' When Lord Shelburne and the Whigs separated, Lord Granby, now become Duke of Rutland, adhered to the former, and to office. Had he waited for a few weeks, until the coalition had astonished and disgusted the country, and rendered the Whigs universally unpopular, there would have been less cause to lament the noble eleve of Bishop Watson having left them. But he took his resolution, while they had all the right, and all the popular favour on their side;