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UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD,
A LATE ANONYMOUS PAMPHLET:
A short POSTSCRIPT concerning another Pamphlet, lately published by the Rev. Mr. HEATHCOTE.
EXODUS, XX. 16.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
THE SECOND EDITION.
BETWEEN the years 1750 and 1760, there were at the University of Oxford a set of Gentlemen, whose studies in Divinity and Natural Philosophy procured them the name of Hutchinsonians. They were then, and are still (though not so much as formerly), spoken against with more than ordinary contempt and acrimony; as if they were the most mistaken in their opinions, and the most dangerous in their attempts, of any men that ever infested the Christian church: which being so strange a thing in an age tender to all persuasions, and affecting universal candour, there must have been something very new and singular in the case, to have raised such an unaccountable alarm. Even archbishop Secker (then bishop of Oxford) who certainly was a good and charitable man, had his prejudices against them; which he expressed in a Charge to his clergy at a visitation; but it is now pretty well known, that his opinion was greatly altered upon this subject, long before the time of his death.
Upon these Gentlemen a name was imposed very unfairly, because it marked them out as a party; a bad thing in itself; and in consequence of which some are made answerable for the faults of others. The whole affair is
curious; and in justice calls for a more impartial examination; such as it may possibly meet with in these times, when the outrageous wickedness of the world has brought all honest and good men nearer together; and united them in one great struggle against barbarians, who are the sworn enemies of truth, wisdom, and humanity.
Great offence was taken against the Hutchinsonians, because they expressed their doubts in regard to some commonly received opinions in Natural Philosophy. In this there could be no great sin: there are no articles of faith in Natural Philosophy; except it be this one, that God was the maker of the world. The world itself is open to all; and a very difficult subject it is; about which learned men will differ after all their inquiries; and they should be indulgent to the errors, or reputed errors, of each other, as they affect to be in higher subjects. The best of Sir Isaac Newton's friends, and the most capable of following him in his speculations, have had, and still have, their doubts; and those of no small importance. He was accused of introducing the old, useless doctrine of occult qualities: he provided against it by his Æther; but for this he is blamed more than ever. The learned Professor of Edinburgh, who has lately done so much service to the public by unveiling the darkest and blackest conspiracy that ever disgraced the annals of the world, finding that this æther has had its share in the greatest errors of the time, calls it a whim, invented in an unhappy hour, when its author was under provocation; by which he paved the way for much of the atomical philosophy (the atheistic Materialism) of the moderns*. The fact, it is to be feared, is too much according to the learned Professor's report, how ill soever
*See Proofs of a Conspiracy, &c. by J. Robison, p. 484, 3d Edit.
it may agree with reason: but let it be as it will, it seems to be a worse blot than any Hutchinsonian ever cast upon the memory of Newton. This accident is to be lamented; because his Ether has been thought to lessen the objection against his Qualities, and to give his whole philosophy a nearer alliance to the real powers of nature, particularly to those which discover themselves to us in electricity on which consideration, many philosophers who certainly are not atheists, would have been glad to keep it, and make the most of it. If Newton suffers under abuses and ill reports, well may the name of Hutchinson be expected, to labour under a load of reproach and misrepresentation. That he was without exception, the gentlemen who approved his principles never thought. They well knew that his doctrines wanted a great deal of sifting; though his general principles were good, and will stand the test of discussion so long as men shall be inclined to dispute, that is, to the end of the world.
Things, we know, are not to be voted right or wrong from their alliance to persons: but let any wise and learned man consider soberly the character of Bishop Horne, such as it was when he was a young Master of Arts; and he cannot but conclude, there must have been something very great, and very inviting, in the doctrines which could engage so much of the attention of so excellent a man: and though we shall be told perhaps, with a view to his justification, that time changed his opinions; it does not appear, that he ever departed from any single doctrine defended in this book: therefore we are confident the republication of it can do no harm. Some young students, of whom their friends may justly conceive great hopes, having heard that such a cause was once pleaded by such a man, and being not able to procure the book, wish for an opportunity of seeing what he then said, and of judging of it for themselves: which liberty