1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

Thomas Green, 15 January 1797; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 22.



Looked over, by a cursory perusal, Beattie's Essay on Truth. I remember to have been much charmed with this work; but it has sunk lamentably in my estimation, on this maturer review. Its declamation, indeed, is lively and specious: but, as a disquisition, it is miserably deficient in acuteness of discrimination and solidity of judgment; and though we should allow that the author has, on many occasions, felt justly, we must confess that throughout he has reasoned very weakly. The great object of this Treatise, is, to prove, to the confusion of Des Cartes, Malbranche, Berkeley, and Hume, — that there are principles intuitively certain or intuitively probable, — that common sense determines what these principles are, — that all reasoning rests upon these principles, and that to bring such principles themselves to the test of reason, is a measure preposterous in nature, and highly injurious to the interests of truth and virtue. In answer to all this, it might well be observed, that reasoning consists in nothing but the production of some one or more propositions, from which it follows, as a necessary, or as a probable consequence, that the proposition to be proved or disproved, is true or false; — that the propositions thus adduced, are amenable to the judgment; — that if the dictates of common sense are consistent, they cannot overthrow each other; — that all fair reasoning, consequently, must at least be harmless; and, that to encourage men to adopt any opinion, and shut their eyes to all discussion upon it, as a point previously settled by common sense, and beyond the jurisdiction of reason, would be to give the privilege of sanctuary to every species of prejudice.