« PreviousContinue »
whereas the same is said of cray-fish ; there is no other answer to be made but that the whole is a fable: as several persons very diligent and exact have assured me, that as well the bones, as cray-fish, are sometimes more and sometimes less full, in all the quarters of the moon. Many observations of this nature there are in reference to the cutting of wood, sowing, and gathering of fruit, grafting, and taking physic. But the world will be delivered at length from these little bondages, which have no other ground than mere suppos sitions that were never seriously examined *.
To this sort of sophistry ought also to be referred that usual fallacy of human wit, Poste hoc, Ergo propter hoc. After this, therefore by this. Hence it is, that the dog-star is concluded to be the cause of the violent heat at that time of the year which is called the DogDays; whereas M. Gassendus has well observed, that there is nothing less probable than this vain imagination. For this same star being beyond the line, the influences ought to be stronger in those places that lie more perpendicularly under it. And yet, when the dog-days are so vehemently hot with us, it is winter in those parts; so that they beyond the line may as well believe the dog-star to be the cause of cold, as we to believe it to be the cause of heat.
BLESSINGS CONFERRED ON THE POOR BY
SIR, I am a poor man, and a poor man's son ; yet, by some means or other, I learned to read in my youth, not
* The world has undoubtedly made rapid progress in its emancipation from the bondages of astrology since the above was originally written; but the mass remain still clanking its fetters. Witness the numerous purchasers of Old Moore's Almanack. This must be my excuse with the more intelligent readers of the Enquirer for having extracted so much on this subject. T. M.
withstanding the new systems of Mr. Lancaster and his antagonist Doctor Bell had not then been heard of. In consequence of my good luck, I have a custom, and I really am not ashamed to confess it, of now and then looking into a book.--"Ah,” says our worthy clergyman; “ so much the worse for you! how many among the inferior orders of society have had bitter reason to regret that they were ever taught to read and write.” It may be so, sir; but I am of opinion, that more have had reason to regret that they were never taught to read and write. A first cousin of my wife's, I am sorry to say, was condemned and executed two years ago, for highway robbery :-he was an Irishman, and came over to this country shortly after the rebels had been defeated by the king's troops. Patrick was as kind-hearted a creature as ever lived frank and brave to a degree; and many a time when my wife and I have been taking him to task for not sticking to his work, and telling him his wild pranks could not end in good, he has seemed quite penitent. But, alas! sir, it was in at one ear, and out at the other--for Patrick had learned nothing when he was young; and I have often heard my neighbour the horse-breaker say, that it was of no use to put old horses into his hands, unless he had them when they were colts he could make nothing of them.
Can there be any situation more melancholy than that of such poor creatures as Patrick ; who, if they
take a book in their hands, look on it as you or I · would look on a bit of wood, who can derive from it
neither entertainment nor instruction; to whom its leaves are, in fact, but so much waste paper : and can it be possible that there are men, who have tasted of the enjoyment of reading, who would debar others from so pure, and at the same time so exquisite a pleasure !
I have heard it said that Education is by no means so general in Ireland as in England and Scotland; and indeed it would seem so, for you never meet with a Scotchman, and but seldom with an Englishman, who cannot both read and write, but scarcely any of the Irish, who come into this part of the country at the hay-making and harvest-times can do either. Now, sir, I am no politician (although I wish well to my native land), and therefore am not very sure whether what I'm going to say be proper-but of this you will be able to judge-only I hope you will not print it if it be likely to lead you or me into a scrape. If, however, I may be allowed to take such a liberty with state-matters, I would just hint that perhaps the people of Ireland would be more quiet if they were better instructed'; nay, I must give it as my humble opinion, that Sunday Schools, and other institutions for spreading the blessings of education among the poor peasantry of that country (who, I am told, live in a sad hugger-mugger way) would do more than even martial law towards repressing tumult and rebellion, and introducing habits of order, and a spirit of peace, in lieu of that licentiousness and turbulence, which, if the news-papers are to be believed, prevail in a very terrible manner in the country I am speaking of. From all the different accounts that have come to my ears, I am inclined to think that my poor cousin Patrick was a pretty fair representative of the greater part of his countrymen in the lower condi. tions of life; and, as I am sure he would have done better had he known more, I cannot help forming this opinion of the Irish people. At all events, one thing is certain-namely, ihat that part of the united kingdom, the inhabitants of which are the most ignorant, is at the same time the most disorderly, and gives government the most trouble and this is, to my mind, a very sufficient reason for disagreeing with our worthy clergyman, who is afraid that by extending knowledge you would extend vice.
Besides, sir, I am credibly informed that most of the Irish are papists-a circumstance which one would not believe but upon good authority, and unless it were to be accounted for in some rational way. Now, it appears to me, that the errors of Popery, as they may be traced to their origin in ignorance, and as they were strengthened and extended by ignorance, must owe their present feeble but lingering existence to the same cause. The monks and priests, as I have seen it
observed in a book, knew so well the value of ignorance, that they would not allow the deluded people to read the scriptures; and it seems that many of the folks in Ireland are not able to read the scriptures, which, you know, comes to much the same thing. So firmly am I convinced of the power and sacredness of the Protestant faith, that I feel assured so many of the Irish are at this day Papists, only because they do not possess the same advantages in point of education that we do ;-and I am apt to suspect, but I mention this with great diffidence, that our church wants no other assistance from our government, but what it would afford by protecting and encouraging popular institutions, for the extension of knowledge among all the subjects of this united kingdom.
It has been said, I know, that the poor, by being enabled to read, are rendered liable to be seduced by the Jacobin newspapers ; but I look upon this, if I may be so bold as to say so, as a great reflection upon our rulers. I have heard, and do firmly believe, that there are laws by which all improper publications may be punished ; and I hope the persons in power are not so remiss as to make no use of them when occasion requires it. It would indeed be a great pity if their mercy hindered their justice in this respect. I dare say, sir, you know better than me whether this be the case or not.
On the whole, then, I trust, that your readers will be of my opinion, although it is opposed to the wisdom and learning of our clergyman. It would indeed be mortifying, if to preserve virtue it were necessary to prevent knowledge; but it seems very strange to me that any one can believe the book of Proverbs to be inspired, and yet think to this effect. I earnestly pray, that the exertions both of Dr. Bell and of Mr. Lancaster may be encouraged, and that out of their rivalship may spring forth the fruits of peace and virtue.
ESSAY ON NOTHING. Perhaps the following Essay from “ Fielding's Miscellanies,” may be considered as an answer to Query 29, “ Required a logical definition of nothing.”
D. C. • It is extremely hard to define nothing in positive terms, I shall therefore do it in negative. Nothing then is not something. And here I must object to an error concerning it, which is, that it is in no place, which is an indirect way of depriving it of existence; whereas indeed it possesses the greatest and noblest place on this earth, viz. the human brain. But, indeed, this mistake has been sufficiently refuted by many wise men ; who, having spent their whole lives in the contemplation and pursuit of nothing, have at last gravely concluded that there is nothing in this world.
“Further, as nothing is not something, so every thing which is not something is nothing; and wherever something is not, nothing is; a very large allowance in its favour, as must appear to persons well skilled in human affairs *. For instance, when a bladder is full of wind, it is full of something; but when that is let out, we aptly say there is nothing in it. The same may be as justly asserted of a man as of a bladder. How well soever he may be daubed with lace, or with titles, yet if he have not something in him, we may predicate the same of him as of an empty bladder. But if we cannot reach an adequate knowledge of the true essence of nothing, no more than we can of matter; let us, in imitation of the experimental philosophers, examine some of its properties or accidents. And here we shall see the infinite allvantages which nothing has over something; for while the latter is confined to one sense, or two perhaps at most, no. thing is the object of them all.
“ For first, nothing may be seen, as is plain from the
* The author appears to have overlooked the greatest superiority which nothing has over something in the following common observation : 'Nothing is certain !'- which cannot be predicated of something in every condition. D. C.