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been described as our first uniformly careful and correct writer;" and he may be admitted to have at least set the first conspicuous and influential example, in what may be called our existing English (for Roger Ascham, Sir Thomas Elyot, and one or two other early writers, seem to have aimed at the same thing in a preceding stage of the language), of that regularity of style which has since his time been generally attended to. This, however, is his least merit. No writer has succeeded in making language a more perfect exponent of thought than it is as employed by Hobbes. His style is not poetical or glowingly eloquent, because his mind was not poetical, and the subjects about which he wrote would have rejected the exaggerations of imaginative or passionate expression if he had been capable of supplying such. But in the prime qualities of precision and perspicuity, and also in economy and succinctness, in force and in terseness, it is the very perfection of a merely expository style. Without any affectation of point, also, it often shapes itself easily and naturally into the happiest aphoristic and epigrammatic forms. Hobbes's clearness and aptness of expression, the effect of which is like that of reading a book with a good light, never forsake him— not even in that most singular performance, his version of Homer, where there is scarcely a trace of ability of any other kind. There are said to be only two lines in that work in which he is positively poetical; those which describe the infant Astyanax in the scene of the parting of Hector and Andromache, in the Sixth Book of the Iliad:—
* Hallam, in Lit. of Eur.
Now Hector met her with her little boy, That in the nurse's arms was carried; And like a star upon her bosom lay His beautiful and shining golden head. But there are other passages in which by dint of mere directness and transparency of style he has rendered a line or two happily enough—as, for instance, in the description of the descent of Apollo at the prayer of Chryses, in the beginning of the poem:— His prayer was granted by the deity, Who, with his silver bow and arrows keen, Descended from Olympus silently, In likeness of the sable night unseen. As if expressly to proclaim and demonstrate, however, that this momentary success was merely accidental, immediately upon the back of this stanza comes the following:— His bow and quiver both behind him hang, The arrows chink as often as he jogs, | And as he shot the bow was heard to twang, And first his arrows flew at mules and dogs. For the most part, indeed, Hobbes's Iliad and Odyssey are no better than travesties of Homer's, the more ludicrous as being undesigned and unconscious. Never was there a more signal revenge than that which Hobbes afforded to imagination and poetry over his own unbelieving and scoffing philosophism by the publication of this work. It was almost as if the man born blind, who had all his life-time been attempting to prove that the sense which he himself wanted was no sense at all, and that that thing, colour, which it professed peculiarly to discern, was a mere delusion, should have himself at last taken the painter's brush and pallet in hand, and attempted, in confirmation of his theory, to produce a picture by the mere senses of touch, taste, smell, and hearing. The great subject of the merits or demerits, the truth or falsehood, of Hobbes's system of metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy, of course cannot be entered upon here. His works certainly gave a greater impulse to speculation in that field than those of any other English writer had ever before done; even the startling paradoxes with which they abound, and their arrogant and contemptuous tone, co-operated with their eminent merits of a formal kind to arouse attention, and to provoke the investigation and discussion of the subjects of which they treat. It must also be admitted that scarcely any writings of their class contain so many striking remarks; so much acute and ingenious, if not profound and comprehensive, thinking; so much that, if not absolutely novel, has still about it that undefinable charm which even an old truth or theory receives from being born anew in an original mind. Such a mind Hobbes had, if any man ever had. Moreover, it is not necessary to deny that, however hollow or insufficient may have been the bases of his philosophy, he may have been successful in explaining some particular intellectual phenomena, or placing in a clearer light some important truths both in metaphysics and in morals. But as for what is properly to be called his system of philosophy, and it is to be observed that, in his own writings, his views in metaphysics, in morals, and in politics are all bound and built up together into one consistent whole, the question of the truth or falsehood of that seems to be completely settled. Nobody now professes more than a partial Hobbism. If so much of the creed of the philosopher of Malmesbury as affirms the non-existence of any essential distinction between right and wrong, the nonexistence of conscience or the moral sense, the nonexistence of anything beyond mere sensation in either motion or intelligence, and other similar negations of his moral and metaphysical doctrine, has still its satisfied disciples, who is now a Hobbist either in politics or in mathematics? Yet, certainly, it is in these latter departments that we must look for the greater part of what is absolutely original and peculiar in the notions of this teacher. Hobbes's philosophy of human nature is not amiss as a philosophy of Hobbes's own human nature. Without passions or imagination himself, and steering his own course through life by the mere calculations of an enlightened selfishness, one half of the broad map of humanity was to him nothing better than a blank. The consequence is, that, even when he reasons most acutely, he is constantly deducing his conclusions from insufficient premises. Then, like most men of ingenious rather than capacious minds, having once adopted his hypothesis or system, he was too apt to make facts bend to that rather than that to facts; a tendency which in his case was strengthened by another part of his character which has left its impression upon all his writings, a much greater love of victory than of truth.
The most remarkable treatise on political philosophy which appeared in the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution is Henry Nevile’s ‘Plato Redivivus, or a Dialogue concerning Government;’ which was first published in 1681, and went through at least a second
edition the same year. Nevile, who was born in 1620, and survived till 1694, had in the earlier part of his life been closely connected with Harrington, the author of the Oceana, and also with the founders of the Commonwealth, and he is commonly reckoned a republican writer; but the present work professes to advocate a monarchical form of government. Its leading principle is the same as that on which Harrington's work is founded, the necessity of all stable government being based upon property; but, in a Preface, in the form of an Address from the Publisher to the Reader, pains are taken to show that the author's application of this principle is different from Harrington's. It is observed, in the first place, that the principle in question is not exclusively or originally Harrington's; it had been discoursed upon and maintained in very many treatises and pamphlets before ever the Oceana came out; in particular in “A Letter from an Officer in Ireland to His Highness the Lord Protector,’ printed in 1653, “which was more than three years before Oceana was written.” Besides, continues the writer, who is evidently Nevile himself, “Oceana was written (it being thought lawful so to do in those times) to evince out of these principles that England was not capable of any other government than a democracy. And this author, out of the same maxims or aphorisms of politics, endeavours to prove that they may be applied, naturally and fitly, to the redressing and supporting one of the best monarchies in the world, which is that of England.” And the tenor of the work is in conformity with this declaration. Although the ‘Plato Redivivus' has been reprinted in modern times (by Mr. Thomas Hollis), it is but little known; and it