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M.DCCC.XLIV. - (^^ ^^ V


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This little book is published in compliance with
the wishes of one whose memory is very dear to
many, my friend and brother-in-law, the Kev.
John Sterhng. In a letter written last summer
he expressed himself as follows.

*' I cannot refrain from sending you a few
words to announce a discovery which I made
yesterday afternoon. Looking by accident into
Wilham Law's works, I found, at the beginning
of the second Volume, an answer to Mandeville's
Fable of the Bees. The first section is one of
the most remarkable philosophical Essays I have
ever seen in Enghsh. You probably know him,
as perhaps the most perfect of controversial
writers, whether rio-ht or wrons; in his aro^u-
ment. Now this section has all the highest
beauty of his polemical compositions and a
weight of pithy right reason, such as fills one's
heart with joy. Perhaps you know the Tract
already. For myself, I have never seen, in our
language, the elementary grounds of a rational
ideal philosophy, as opposed to cniplricisiii, stated



IV advi:rtj8Ejment.

with nearly the same clearness, simplicity, and
force. If you have not seen it, I think I can
answer for the pleasure it will give you; and it
seems to me that, conversing as you do with
young men, you could have many opportunities
of recommending it where it would be sure to
do good." He then speaks of his wish that it
should be reprinted, adding " the later sections
are of inferior interest and value, though mark-
ed with the same ability."

In a subsequent letter, he says: ''It gives
me great pleasure to knoAV that you agree with
me as to the merit of that Essav of Law's. I
also am quite of your opinion on the unfortunate
intertangling of the polemics and the principles,
and felt it strongly in reading the work, admi-
rable as the cleverness of the disputation is. As
to the republication, my opinion is worth no-
thing ; but I suppose you might write to

and ask him to read the book, and say whether
he thinks anything could be done."

In the same letter he suggests that a vo-
lume might be made out of Law, something
similar to '^Coleridge's Aids to Keflection,"
meaning, I suppose, that passages might be
made the texts for comments, as passages


from Leighton and other writers are by Cole-
ridge ; the object being to trace the outUnes of
a moral science. Bodily weakness made him
unequal to such a task : on other grounds I felt
myself equally incompetent to undertake it. In-
deed, the remark of a friend, that Law is the
most continuous writer in our language, each of
his sentences and paragraphs leading on naturally,
and as it were necessarily to that which follows,
makes me doubt whether the experiment of re-
ducing one of his books into aphorisms, could be
successful in any hands.

It was agreed, however, if the book were
republished, that I should write an Introduction,
for the purpose of explaining wherein I con-
ceived its special worth consisted, and how far
it was applicable to our circumstances. Tliis In-
troduction, though written in the lifetime of my
brother-in-laAv. he never saw. Believino- that
his admiration of Law arose from the delight
which he felt in meeting with a thoroughly
devout man, who recognized moral principles as
involved in our human constitution, and who
boldly appealed to the Conscience and Reason
of mankind as witnesses for them, I have made
it my chief object to defend this course as


honest, religious and safe. But I have expressed
my own convictions in my own way ; if he
were considered responsible for them it would
greatly disturb my gratification in being per-
mitted for the last time to be connected in any
earthly work with one from whom I have re-
ceived more benefits, and to whom I owe more
love than any words can express.

The poem of The Fable of the Bees, and
so much of Mandeville's exposition of it as
seemed necessary to make Law's " Remarks"
intelligible, will be found in the Appendix,
p. 101.


The Fable of the Bees, or " Private Vices
Public Benefits," was first published in a com-
plete form in the year 1714. The author,
Bernard Mandeville, a physician, had already
written a Satire upon the members of his own
profession, but he seems not to have attracted
much notice till he announced himself as a
moral and political theorist. In that charac-
ter he speedily received all the honours he
could have desired. The strange title of his
book was found faithfully to represent its con-
tents ; he had to all appearance arrived at a
serious conviction, that what are called vices,
are as necessary to the existence of society
as what are called virtues ; the opinion which
he had formed he had courage to assert and
abihty to defend ; many must have become
openly or covertly its supporters; it was ar-
raigned in numerous pamphlets and grave dis-
courses ; such men as Ilutcheson and Berkeley
thought that it needed a solemn refutation ; the
grand jury of the County of Middlesex pre-
sented the book in which it was put forth, as
one which was dano^erous to Religion and Order.


How, it may be asked, can a childish par-
adox have deserved such treatment as this ?
No one who has read Mandeville's work will
be at a loss for a reply. Let a paradox, which
is merely the fancy of an individual mind, be
defended by the cleverest arguments in the
world, and you may safely leave it to be
confuted by the common sense, the indiffer-
ence, the vis inertice, of those to whom it is
presented. But if it be nothing else than the
setting forth in a clear definite proposition of a
notion upon which men have been acting, differ-
ent applications of which have been sanctioned by
the practice and the apologies of moralists, states-
men, and divines, the case is greatly changed.
There is a state of mind to be met with, in
young men especially, which refuses to shrink
from the explicit statement of a creed which
has been received impHcitly, and which it
seems that other men would confess if they
had only more of logical consistency or prac-
tical courage. There is a state of mind, far less
honest than this, which disposes men to look upon
words as having no connexion wdth realities,
and therefore to utter carelessly and fearlessly
whatever notions may present themselves to
them as possible or as amusing. Sober people,
who in the midst of habitual worldliness re-
tain something of real reverence for opinions


which they have inherited, and a great dis-
like to be reminded of their own inconsisten-
cies, are scandahsed by the discourses which
they hear from both these classes, and long for
some summary method of silencing them. Their
zeal is encouraged by politicians, who grieve
that their secret of ruling the world should be
divulo:ed to the vulo-ar. Earnest men who
might have regarded the popular heresy as
a boyish freak to frighten aged women, per-
ceive that it is in fact a reductio ad ahsurdurri
of many prevalent practices and dogmas, and
welcome the opportunity of reasserting the
principles with wliich these practices and dog-
mas are at strife.

These considerations are, I think, quite
sufficient to account for the importance which
was attached to Mandeville's work by his con-
temporaries. He brought the great question,
whether the words "right'^ and "wrong" mean
anything, to an issue. Those who had a
trembling suspicion that no answer could bo
given to it, wished that it had never been
raised. Those who believed that there was
infinite danger in confusion of mind upon such
a subject, no danger in the subject itself, were
ready at once to declare the reason of their

But they were not equally successful. Who
would not have expected from such -a man


as Berkeley, the noblest and most courageous
assertion of moral principles, an encounter with
the sophist upon the main issue, with a com-
parative indifference to the accidents or acces-
sories of his arguments ? How painful it is to
find him, in his Minute Philosopher, abandoning
the high ground, and condescending to discuss
the important question, whether on the whole,
more malt would be brought into the market to
answer the demands of drunken or of sober men^
But alas ! this admirable sage had been tempted,
in his previous dialogue, into a still graver sin, of
which this was the inevitable consequence. He
had permitted the worthy farmer, Euphranor, to
contend that the interests of society must be
injured by the publication of Alciphron's doc-
trines, and that this was a higher cf»nsideration
than their truth or their falsehood. He had
left it to the atheist to assert the godly doc-
trine, that truth is above all things, and is, at
all hazards, to be spoken.

On quite different grounds Mandeville was
encountered by Wilham Law. Most English
readers are familiar with his name. If they be-
long to the religious world, they will have read

^ See Minute Philosopher, Dialogues 1 and 2. It is
one of the inconveniences of Berkeley's Dialogues that so
many persons of different philosophical views are brought
together under a common name. Lysicles is the repre-
sentative of Mandeville' s opinions.


his Serious Call : if they are zealous about
ecclesiastical doctrines, they will probably have
looked at liis pamphlets upon the Bangor Con-
troversy ; a few may have been tempted by
curiosity, or some higher motive, to study the
mystical writings of his later years. His most
popular work bears abundant witness to the
clearness and manliness of his Enghsh style,
and to his humorous perception of character.
His argument with Bishop Hoadley shews that
he had the powers and temptations of a singu-
larly able controversialist. His Spirit of Love,
and his Treatise on Christian Perfection, are at
least proofs that he did not seek for popular
reputation, and that he set before himself an
object, in the pursuit of which all his charac-
teristic infirmities were likely to manifest them-
selves, and would make him feel continual need
of help from above to resist them. The struggle
to overcome the bitterness of a polemic, without
sacrificing his zeal for truth, must have been
severe, and may not always have been suc-
cessful. Yet of all the persons whom he must
have irritated, Freethinkers, Methodists, Actors,
Hanoverians — of all the nonjuring friends, whom
he alienated by his quietism, no one, so far as
I know, ever expressed a doubt of his sincerity
and singleness of purpose. An ample testimony
to those qualities is borne by Gibbon, who knew
the reputation wliich he had enjoyed among


persons who saw him in the trying position of
a domestic chaplain ^ A suspicion therefore in
which Mr Alexander Knox permitted himself to
indulge respecting Law, must be pronounced un-
charitable and unwarrantable^.

The book, which is here submitted to the
reader, belongs to a stage of his life, long
previous to his acquaintance with the German
Theosophist. It exhibits all his wonted dia-
lectical skill, and is full of ingenious and sa-
gacious retorts upon his opponent. The former
merit I should have considered a very insufficient
reason for republishing the book; the latter a
positive reason against it. We do not par-
ticularly want to hear Mandeville's arguments
refuted, seeing that we probably have little
familiarity with them. We cannot have the
shghtest pleasure in hearing him abused, seeing
that upon the whole he may have done more
good, by bringing forth falsehood openly and
nakedly, than harm by the ingenuity with
which he defends it. But Law's book has
quaUties of a far more enduring kind ; qualities

^ "In our family lie had left the reputation of a
worthy and pious man, who believed all that he pro-
fessed, and practised all that he enjoined." Memoirs of
my Life and Writings, p. 21. Gibbon also exj^resses
high respect for Law as a wit and a scholar.

^ See Knox's Remains, Vol. L, Letter to Parken on


which entitle it, especially the two first sections
of it, to a very high rank among works on
Moral Science. For the clearness of his expo-
sitions we may tolerate his skilful satire, since
it would be a vain attempt to separate the po-
lemical part of the treatise from the didactic.
No book which has any life in it, can be safely
torn apart from the occasion which called it
forth ; to reduce it into a set of dry theorems
and demonstrations, is to destroy its meaning.
And although Mandeville's work may not be
much read in our day, I fancy that we are
sufficiently acquainted with some of his maxims
and some of the current answers to them, to
be in a condition for estimating the worth of
a reply, which strikes at the root of the
sopliism, instead of merely plucking off a few /',
of the leaves which grow upon it. *

When a person, who aims at the reputation
of being profound, endeavours to prove that the
acts, feelings, habits, which are described by
the titles, good or virtuous, may be resolved
at last into those which are called mean, or
paltry, or base : how often have we heard the
answer, "But what necessity is there for this
rigid analysis ? What is gained by it ? Men
do not consciously act upon these low impulses.
They seem to themselves kindly, generous,
benevolent. And while this is the case, may
not we say that to all intents and purposes


they are so ? Why tell them that in all their
acts and thoughts they are but seeking their
own interest? Of course you make them
angry. They think you are unjust ; for till
you reveal the fact to them, it was to them
no fact at all. And besides provoking them,
you make them actually the bad men you
affirmed them to be. Do not probe sores
which nature has dehcately and graciously
plastered over, and which without your trouble-
some interference might never offend either the
patient or the by-standers."

To this reasoning Mandeville would have
replied : " You do in fact concede to me all
that I have asked for. I never said more
than you have said, namely, that human exist-
ence is an useful and excellent compound of
the most vulgar ingredients. I did not disturb
the compound. I heard people complaining
very angrily when some of the degrading ele-
ments came to light, and wishing to cast them
out. I warned them to beware of doing so.
I besought them not to meddle with these parts
of the mass, lest the whole should fall to pieces.
How unreasonable and ungrateful you are, to
tell me, I have pushed my inquiries too far.
You would not suffer people to be quiet in their
ignorance of their own state. I told them what
it was, because in their understanding it lay
the only remaining chance of peace."


Another class of persons take up the matter
quite (liiferently. They say : " High concep-
tions of beauty and excellence, it is true, do not
belong to the world at large. They are the
special characteristics of the great, the wise,
the noble. But it is by following these con-
ceptions, these dreams, if you will call them
so, that they become better than their brethren.
And their superiority sheds a light upon the
whole species. To them the herd of men owe
most of the advantages which they enjoy.
See what you are doing when you take these
thoughts away from us ; when you make the
rules and maxims of the multitude the measures
and standards of all. You do not leave men
even their common good things, their loaves and
fishes. The greater men have conferred these
upon them, and by the help of those conceptions
which you suppose proceed from the same root
as the meanest thoughts of the meanest men."

" I never denied," our doctor would have
rejoined, " the advantage of these high notions,
and of a class which should cultivate them.
I have admitted expressly that society has need
of a head of gold, as well as of feet of clay.
And moreover, I see the advantage of per-
suading men, that the gold is intrinsically
better than the clay. But the question stands
thus : The clay, you admit, is the ordinary
substance of humanity ; the gold is something


extra-liuman ; you only trace veins of it in
certain exalted personages. Now, if I maintain
that all men are made of the same lump, my
opinion is at least as reasonable and even as
orthodox as the opposite one. And supposing I
do maintain that to be the case, I am bound to
suppose that the gold, by some process or other,
must have been wrought out of the clay. The
nature of the process I have endeavoured to ex-
plain in my book. I have shewn how possible
it is to get a conceit of the superiority of se^
restraint to self-indulgence, of generosity t^
meanness, of honesty to baseness, propagated
among men ; and how much good flows from
that conceit. There is no dispute between us
as to the value of fine thoughts where they
exist, but only as to the way in which they
are generated, and their relation to other parts
of the scheme."

Again, by a party most unlike the one
just alluded to, it is often said : " We acknow-
ledge that human nature is what you describe
it to be, selfish in its root, and utterly corrupt in
all its branches. The behef in this corruption,
and in its universality, is the starting-point of
religious faith. But the redeemed and regene-
rate man is raised out of the corrupt state
which is proper to humanity ; to him your
descriptions of mankind in the gross do not


To these statements also the reply is given
already in the Fable of the Bees. " I grant
your exception," says Mandeville. "To Jews
and Christians, as such, that is, to them in so
far as they are out of the condition of ordinary
human beings, my remarks do not apply. Those
who are in some other state than my own, are
beyond the reach of my criticism. I merely
speak of man as man. I merely say what are
the necessary conditions of society in his present
osition ; for he must be regarded and governed
accorcUng to the laws which we discover by ob-
serving liis actual doings and feelings."

]S^ow the reader, I think, will perceive that
the argument of Law is diitcrent in kind from
any of these. He does not complain of any
analysis as too rigid; he does not cry quarter
for Goodness. On the contrary, he demands a
stricter investigation of all the facts to which
Mandeville appeals. And he asks you whether
this investigation dues not prove that evil is not
the substantial part of any act T\hich is ^cted,
or thought which is thought in the world;
but, on the contrary, the destructive element
of it, that which is making it unreal and
false; and whether the attempt to shew that
the real is the product of the unreal, that the
ti'ue is got by the mixture of different counter-
feits, is not the most monstrous of all possible
insults to the reason of mankind. Assuming


this ground, Law cannot speak of those high
conceptions of goodness and virtue to which
the second class of Mandeville's opponents refer,
precisely in their language. Tliat he was not
likely to undervalue such conceptions, his life
and his books sufficiently testify. But according
to the principle just laid down, nothing can be
good, except so far as it is real. If these
dreams be of something diiferent from what man
is, according to the will and purpose of his
Creator, they must be bad dreams. And if
they are dreams of the way in which any
particular individual, or any class of individuals,
may follow a different standard from the stand-
ard of humanity, and so may become isolated
from their kind, they ai'e bad dreams. To speak
plainly, if they are to be worth anything, they
must not be dreams at all; but sober, waking
perceptions of that which is the true state of
man, and of the methods whereby the life of
the perceiver may be brought into conformity
with it.

These conclusions of course would have been
set at nought, if Law had permitted liimself to
speak of human depravity in those terms which
were common among the religious writers of his
day, and are still more common in ours. There
was nothing, in his view, which could lead him
to underrate the amount and aggravation of this
depravity, or to explain away the scriptural


history of its entrance into the world. But he
was bound to maintain that transgression can
never be a rule ; that evil must always be ano-
malous ; that sin can have no meaning in any
human creature, if there be not a right state
belonging to that creature, from which he is
departing ; and that this state, so implied in all
human acts, must be the one which is meant for
man — the proper human condition. All rej3roof
and moral censure imply the existence of it ;
all restoration implies the existence of it. Deny
that there is such a state belonging to any man,
and you say in effect, that as to him, the words
(I rejyroof," "jiichjment,'' and " restoration," are
without mcanino'.

It is obvious that these conclusions do not
form a system which Law is setting up in oppo-
sition to that of Mandeville. The question between
them is not this : — Of two moral theories, which
is the more probable one ? but this : Is there
anything certain, or, if certain, to be ascertained,
in morals at all ? In the natural world there
is a method of arriving at what is. If you ask
the things you see and handle what they mean,
not contenting yourself Avitli their first rude or
incoherent reply, but tormenting them till they
have manifestly told their secret, you feel that
a truth has been made known to you upon
which you may act. Is it altogether otherwise
in the reo;ion of human thoui^ht and life ? Ara

b 2


we there merely in a world of opinions and no-
tions? Law finds that the words which men
speak, the deeds which they do, the judgments
which they pronounce, are as much facts as any
which can come under the notice of the physical
philosopher. And he finds that if you do not
satisfy yourself with the mere shadows which
are cast from these words, and acts, and judg-
ments, but resolutely insist upon their letting
you know what is in them, they too will speak
plainly and faithfully. For that human exist-
ence is not more a phantom and a trick, than
the existence of the sun and stars ; and that it
is not denied to a man to find out the real
ground of that which is nearest and dearest to
him, any more than of that which is distant,
and comparatively indifferent.

Experience, I think, has shewn that in all
ages this is the method, and the only method,
of dealing with sophistry. The Grand Jury of
the county of Middlesex had, no doubt, a cer-
tain indefinite impression that religion and order
are weak, delicate, sensitive plants, most neces-
sary, however, to be preserved for their plea-
sant odours, or their cuhnary uses, demanding
therefore the watchful eye of any functionaries
who are bound by their office to protect the
feeble. To some such apprehension as this,
mingling with another, and much truer, sense
of the weak hold which men in general have of


the principles that are most needful to their
existence, nearly all such interferences, and the
cry for them among religious men, may be
traced. The conviction communicates itself to
the more thoughtful and inquiring youths of the
time. It is not their business, they think, to
take care of a thing which cannot take care of
itself ; they want something to lean upon. ' How
can these tender nurshngs be what they want?
Keep them as long as you will or can from the
rude hoof of the multitude, but do not pretend
to us that they were planted in the soil by any

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