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legislature, jurisdiction, proportion, symmetry, elegance. It will considerably increase the danger of our being deceived by an unmeaning use of such terms, if they are, besides (as very often they are), of so indeterminate, and, consequently, equivocal significations, that a writer, unobserved either by himself or by his reader, may slide from one sense of the term to another, till by degrees he fall into such applications of it as will make no sense at all. It deserves our notice, also, that we are in much greater danger of terminating in this, if the different meanings of the same word have some affinity to one another, than if they have none. In the latter case, when there is no affinity, the transition from one meaning to another is taking a very wide step, and what few writers are in any danger of; it is, besides, what will not so readily escape the observation of the reader. So much for the second cause of deception, which is the chief source of all the noisense of writers on politics and criticism.
The third and last, and, I may add, the principal species of composition, wherein we are exposed to this illusion by the abuse of words, is that in which the terms employed are very abstract, and, consequently, of very extensive signification. It is an observation that plainly ariseth from the nature and structure of language, and may be deduced as a co. rollary from what hath been said of the use of artificial signs, that the more general any name is, as it comprehends the more individuals under it, and consequently requires the more extensive knowledge in the mind that would rightly apprehend it, the more it must have of indistinctness and obscurity. Thus the word lion is more distinctly apprehended by the mind than the word beast, beast than animal, animal than being. But there is, in what are called abstract subjects, a still greater fund of obscurity than that arising from the frequent mention of the most general terms. Names must be assigned to those qualities, considered abstractly, which never subsist independently or by themselves, but which constitute the generic characters and the specific differences of things; and this leads to a manner which is in many instances remote from the common use of speech, and therefore must be of more difficult conception. The qualities thus considered as in a state of separation from the subjects to which they belong, have been not unfitly compared by a famous wit of the last century to disimbodied spirits :
“He could reduce all things to acts,
The ghosts of defunct bodies fly."* As the names of the departed heroes which Æneas saw in the infernal regions were so constituted as effectually to elude
* Hudibras, b. i., c. i
the embrace of every living wight, in like manner, the abstract qualities are so subtile as often to elude the apprehension of the most attentive mind. They have, I may say, too much volatility to be arrested, were it but for a moment.
“ The flitting shadow slips away,
Like winds or empty dreams that fly the day."*--DRYDEN. It is no wonder, then, that a misapplication of such words, whether general or abstract, should frequently escape our notice. The more general any word is in its signification, it is the more liable to be abused by an improper or unmeaning application. A foreigner will escape discovery in a crowd, who would instantly be distinguished in a select company. A very general term is applicable alike to a multitude of different individuals, a particular term is applicable but to a few. When the rightful applications of a word are extremely numerous, they cannot all be so strongly fixed by habit, but that, for greater security, we must perpetually recur in our minds from the sign to the notion we have of the thing signified; and for the reason afore mentioned, it is in such instances difficult precisely to ascertain this notion. Thus the latitude of a word, though different from its ambiguity, hath often a similar effect.
Farther, it is a certain fact, that when we are much accustomed to particular terms, we can scarcely avoid fancying that we understand them, whether they have a meaning or not. The reason of this apprehension might easily be deduced from what hath been already said of the nature of signs. Let it suffice at present to observe the fact. Now, on ordinary subjects, if we adopt such a wrong opinion, we may easily be undeceived. The reason is, that on such subjects the recourse from the sign to the thing signified is easy. For the opposite reason, if we are in such an error on abstract subjects, it is next to impossible that ever we should be undeceived. Hence it is, if without offence I may be indulged the observation, that in some popular systems of religion, the zeal of the people is principally exerted in support of certain favourite phrases, and a kind of technical and idiomatical dialect to which their ears have been long inured, and which they consequently imagine they understand, but in which often there is nothing to be understood.
From such causes it hath arisen, that ever since the earliest days of philosophy, abstract subjects have been the principal province of altercation and logomachy; to the support of which, how far the artificial dialect of the schoolmen, nay, the analytics and the metaphysics, the categories and the topics of the justly admired Stagyrite, have contributed, we
Ter comprensa manus effugit imago,
have considered already.* Indeed, at length, disputation in the schools came to be so much a mechanical exercise, that if once a man had learned his logic, and had thereby come to understand the use of his weapons, and had gotten the knack of wielding them, he was qualified, without any other kind of knowledge, to defend any position whatsoever, how contradictory soever to common sense, and to the clearest discoveries of reason and experience. This art, it must be owned, observed a wonderful impartiality in regard to truth and error, or, rather, the most absolute indifference to both. If it was oftener employed in defence of error, that is not to be wondered at ; for the way of truth is one, the ways of error are infinite. One qualified in the manner above mentioned could as successfully dispute on a subject of which he was totally ignorant, as on one with which he was perfectly acquainted. Success, indeed, tended then no more to decide the question, than a man's killing his antagonist in a duel serves now to satisfy any person of sense that the victor had right on his side, and that the vanquished was in the wrong. Such an art as this could at bottom be no other than a mere playing with words, used indeed grammatically, and according to certain rules established in the schools, but quite insignificant, and, therefore, incapable of conveying knowledge.
“Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy." This logic, between two and three centuries ago, received a considerable improvement from one Raimond Lully, a native of Majorca, who, by the ingenious contrivance of a few concentric movable circles, on the borders of some of which were inscribed the subjects, of others the predicaments, and of others the forms of questions, he not only superseded the little in point of invention which the scholastic logic had till then required, but much accelerated the operations of the artist. All was done by manual labour. All the circles, except the outmost, which was immovable, were turned upon the common centre, one after another. In this manner the disposition of subjects, predicaments, and questions was perpetually varied. All the proper questions on every subject were suggested, and pertinent answers supplied. In the same way did the working of the engine discover and apply the several topics of argument that might be used in support of any question. On this rare device one Athanasius Kircher made great improvements in the last century. He boasted that by means of a coffer of arts, divided into a number of small receptacles, entirely of his own contriving, a thousand prodigies might be performed, which either could not be effected at all by Lully's magical circles, or, at least, not so expeditiously.
* Book i., chap. vi.
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Nothing can more fully prove that the fruit of all such contrivances was mere words without knowledge, an empty show of science without the reality, than the ostentatious and absurd way in which the inventors and their votaries talk of these inventions. They would have us believe that in these is contained a complete encyclopedia, that here we may discover all the arts and sciences as in their source, that hence all of them may be deduced à priori, as from their principles. Accordingly, they treat all those as no better than quacks and empirics who have recourse to so homely a tutoress as experience.
The consideration of their pretensions hath indeed satisfied me that the ridicule thrown on projectors of this kind, in the account given by Swift* of a professor in the academy of Logado, is not excessive, as I once thought it. The boasts of the academist, on the prodigies performed by his frame, are far less extravagant than those of the above-mentioned artists, which in truth they very much resemble.f
So much for the third and last cause of illusion that was taken notice of, arising from the abuse of very general and abstract terms, which is the principal source of all the nonsense that hath been vented by metaphysicians, mystagogues, and theologians.
* Gulliver's Travels, part iii.
+ At what an amazing pitch of perfection doth Knittelius, a great admirer both of Lully and Kircher, suppose that the adepts in this literary handi craft may arrive. The assiduous and careful practice will at length, ac. cording to him, fully instruct us : “Quomodo de quacunque re proposita sta tim librum concipere, et in capita dividere, de quacunque re extempore dis. serere, argumentari, de quocunque themate orationem formare, orationem mentalem per horam dies et septimanas protrahere, rem quamcunque describere, per apologos et fabulas proponere, emblemata et hieroglyphica, invenire, de quacunque re historias expeditè scribere, adversaria de quacun. que re facere, de quacunque materia consilia dare, omnes arguitas ad unam regulam reducere, assumptum thema in infinitum multiplicare, ex falso rem demonstrare, quidlibet per quidlibet probare, possimus." Quirinus Kuhl. manus, another philosopher of the last century, in a letter to Kircher, hath said, with much good sense, concerning his coffer, “ Lusus est ingeniosus, ingeniose Kirchere, non methodus, prima fronte aliquid promittens, in recessu nihil solvens. Sine cista enim puer nihil potest respondere, et in cista nihil præter verba habet ; tot profert quot audit, sine intellectu, ad instar psittaci et de illo jure dicitur quod Lacon de philomela, Vox est, pren tereaque nihil.” Could anybody imagine that one who thought so justly of Kircher's device was himself the author of another of the same kind ? 'He had, it seems, contrived a scientific machine that moved by wheels, with the conception of which he pretended to have been inspired by Heaven, but, unfortunately, he did not live to publish it. His only view, therefore, in the words above quoted, was to depreciate Kircher's engine, that he might the more effectually recommend his own. “Multa passim,” says Morhoff concerning him (Pólyhistor, vol. i., lib. ii., cap. v.), “de rotis suis combinatoriis jactat, quibus ordinatis unus homo millies mille, imo millies millies mille scribas vincat; qui tamen primarius rotarum scopus non est, sed grandier longe restat : nempe notitia providentiæ æternæ, orbisque terrarum motus." And again : “Nec ullus hominum tam insulso judicio præditus
THE EXTENSIVE USEFULNESS OF PERSPICUITY.
WHEN 18 OBSCURITY APPOSITE, IF EVER IT BE APPOSITE, AND WHAT
Having fully considered the nature of perspicuity, and the various ways in which the laws relating to it may be transgressed, I shall now inquire whether, to be able to transgress with dexterity in any of those ways, by speaking obscurely, ambiguously, or unintelligibly, be not as essential to the perfection of eloquence as to be able to speak perspicuously.
Eloquence, it may be said, hath been defined io be that art or talent whereby the discourse is adapted to produce the effect which the speaker intends it should produce in the hear
* May not, then, obscurity, on some occasions, be as conducive to the effect intended, as perspicuity is on other occasions? If the latter is necessary in order to inform, is not the former necessary in order to deceive? If perspicu
est, qui hac institutione libros doctos, novos, utiles, omni rerum scientia plenos, levissima opera edere non potest.” How much more modest is the professor of Logado. “He flatters himself, indeed, that a more noble, exalted thought than his never sprang in any other man's head,” but doth not lay claim to inspiration. “Every one knows," he adds,“ how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathè. matics, and theology" (no mention of history), “ without the least assistance from genius and study.” He is still modest enough to require time and some corporeal exercise in order to the composing of a treatise ; but those artists propose to bring a proficient “ statim librum concipere" instantly, " levissima opera,” with little or no pains. I shall conclude with laying before the reader the opinion of Lord Verulam concerning the Lullian artan opinion that may, with equal justice, be applied to the devices of all Lully's followers and imitators: “Neque tamen illud prætermittendum, quod nonnulli viri magis tumidi quam docti insudarunt circa methodum quandam, legitimæ methodi nomine haud dignam, cum potius sit methodus imposturæ, quæ tamen quibusdam ardelionibus acceptissima procul dubio fuerit. Hæc methodus ita scientiæ alicujus guttulas aspergit, ut quis sciolus specie nonnulla eruditionis ad ostentationem possit abuti. I'alis fuit ars Lulli, talis typocosmia a nonnullis exarata; quæ nihil aliud fuerunt, quam vocabulorum artis cujusque massa et acervus: ad hoc, ut qui voces artis haberant in promptu, etiam artes ipsas perdidicesse existimentur. Hugus generis collectanea officinam referunt veteramentariam, ubi præsig. mina multa reperiuntur, sed nihil quod alicujus sit pretii.”-- De Augm. Scien., lib. vi., cap. ii. I shall only observe, that when he calls this art a method of imposture, he appears to mean that it puts an imposition upon the mind, not so much by infusing error instead of truth, as by amusing us with mere words instead of useful knowledge.
'* Book i., chap. i.