1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Mackintosh

Thomas Green, 29 April 1799; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 130-31.



Read Mackintosh's Vindiciae Gallicae. His style and manner in this Piece are magnificent; but uniformly cumbrous, and occasionally coarse. He has infinitely improved both, in his Preliminary Discourse; though some of the ponderosity still remains. — There can hardly be a more express and full contradiction, than in two passages, p. 265 of the Vindiciae, and p. 49 of the Discourse. In the former, he says, "It is perhaps susceptible of proof, that these governments of balance and control, have never existed but in the vision of theorists": in the latter, he affirms, that "The result of such an examination will be, that no institution so detestable as an absolutely unbalanced government, perhaps ever existed; and that the simple governments are mere creatures of the imagination of theorists." — Page 215-16-17, he maintains, that morality is founded on expediency, and that utility alone constitutes its obligation; but that the moment the moral edifice is reared, its basis is hid from the eye for ever — the moment that general maxims, founded on an utility paramount and perpetual, are embodied and consecrated, they cease to yield to partial and subordinate expediency; and it then becomes the perfection of virtue, to consider,, not whether an action be useful, but whether it be right. This is a very ingenious, (as not admitting the system I must not call it a successful,) attempt at extrication from a most importunate difficulty, involved in adopting the principle of utility as the basis of morals. — Had I been Burke, I could hardly have forgiven his comparison of me to Judge Jeffereys, p. 326.