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WITH REFERENCE TO THE SCHEME OF ARTHUR COLLIER.
1. Metaphysical Tracts by English Philosophers of the Eight
eenth Century. Prepared for the Press by the late Rev.
SAMUEL PARR, D.D. 8vo. London: 1837. 2. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Arthur Collier,
M.A., Rector of Langford Magna, in the County of Wilts.
We deem it our duty to call attention to these publications : for in themselves they are eminently deserving of the notice of the few who in this country take an interest in those higher speculations to which, in other countries, the name of Philosophy is exclusively conceded; and, at the same time, they have not been ushered into the world with those adventitious recommendations which might secure their intrinsic merit against neglect.
The fortune of the first is curious.—It is known to those who have made an active study of philosophy and its history, that there are many philosophical treatises written by English authors, -in whole or in part of great value, but, at the same time, of extreme rarity. Of these, the rarest are, in fact, frequently the most original : for precisely in proportion as an author is in advance of his age, it is likely that his works will be neglected and the neglect of contemporaries in general consigns a book,— especially a small book,—if not protected by accidental concomitants, at once to the tobacconist or tallow-chandler. This is more particularly the case with pamphlets, philosophical, and at the same time polemical. Of these we are acquainted with some, extant perhaps only in one or two copies, which display a metaphysical talent unappreciated in a former age, but which would command the admiration of the present. Nay, even of English philosophers of the very highest note, (strange to say !) there are now actually lying unknown to their editors, biographers, and fellow-metaphysicians, published treatises, of the highest interest and importance; (as of Cudworth, Berkeley, Collins, &c.]
We have often, therefore, thought that, were there with us a public disposed to indemnify the cost of such a publication, a collection, partly of treatises, partly of extracts from treatises, by English metaphysical writers, of rarity and merit, would be one of no inconsiderable importance. In any other country than Britain, such a publication would be of no risk or difficulty. Almost every nation of Europe, except our own, has, in fact, at present similar collections in progress--only incomparably more ambitious. Among others, there are in Germany the Corpus Philosophorum, by Gfroerer ; in France, the Bibliothèque Philosophique des Temps Modernes, by Bouillet and Garnier; and in Italy, the Collezione de' Classici Metafisici, &c. Nay, in this country itself, we have publishing societies for every department of forgotten literature—except Philosophy.
But in Britain, which does not even possess an annotated edition of Locke, --in England, where the universities teach the little philosophy they still nominally attempt, like the catechism, by rote, what encouragement could such an enterprise obtain ? It did not, therefore, surprise us, when we learnt that the publisher of the two works under review,—when he essayed what, in the language of "the trade,” is called " to subscribe” The Metaphysical Tracts, found his brother booksellers indisposed to venture even on a single copy.—Now, what was the work which our literary purveyors thus eschewed as wormwood to British taste ?
The late Dr Parr, whose erudition was as unexclusive as profound, had, many years previous to his death, formed the plan of reprinting a series of the rarer metaphysical treatises, of English authorship, which his remarkable library contained. With this view, he had actually thrown off a small impression of five such tracts, with an abridgement of a sixth ; but as these probably
formed only a part of his intended collection, which, at the same time, it is known he meant to have prefaced by an introduction, containing, among other matters, an historical disquisition on Idealism, with special reference to the philosophy of Collier, the publication was from time to time delayed, until its completion was finally frustrated by his death. When his library was subsequently sold, the impression of the six treatises was purchased by Mr Lumley, a respectable London bookseller; and by him has recently been published under the title which stands as Number First at the head of this article.
The treatises reprinted in this collection are the following:
“ 1. Clavis Universalis; or a new Inquiry after Truth : being a demonstration of the non-existence or impossibility of an external world. By Arthur Collier, Rector of Langford Magna, near Sarum. London : 1713.
2. d specimen of True Philosophy; in a discourse on Genesis, the first chapter and the first verse. By Arthur Collier, Rector of Langford Magna, near Sarum, Wilts. Not improper to be bound up with his Clavis Universalis. Sarum : 1730.
3. (An abridgement, by Dr Parr, of the doctrines maintained by Collier in his) Lugology, or Treatise on the Logos, in seven sermons on John i. verses 1, 2, 3, 14, together with an Appendix on the same subject. 1732.
4. Conjecturæ quædam de Sensu, Motu, et Idearum generatione. (This was first published by David Hartley as an appendix to his Epistolary Dissertation, De Lithontriptico a J. Stephens nuper invento (Leyden, 1741, Bath, 1746); and contains the principles of that psychological theory which he afterwards so fully developed in his observations on Man.)
5. An Inquiry into the Origin of the Human Appetites and Affections, showing how each arises from Association, with an account of the entrance of Moral Evil into the world. To which are added some remarks on the independent scheme which deduces all obligation on God's part and Man's from certain abstract relations, truth, &c. Written for the use of the young gentlemen at the Universities. Lincoln : 1747. (The author is yet unknown)
6. Man in quest of himself; or a defence of the Individuality of the lluman Mind or Self. Occasioned by some remarks in the Monthly Review for July 1763, on a note in Search's Freewill. By Cuthbert Comment, Gent. London : 1763. (The author of this is Search himself, that is, Mr Abraham Tucker.)"
These tracts are undoubtedly well worthy of notice; but to the first-the Clavis Universalis of Collier—as by far the most interesting and important, we shall at present confine the few observations which we can afford space to make. *
* [It never rains but it pours. Collier's Clavis was subsequently reprinted, in a very handsome form, by a literary association in Edinburgh. Would that the books wanting reimpression, were first dealt with ! ]
This treatise is in fact one not a little remarkable in the history of philosophy; for to Collier along with Berkeley is due the honour of having first explicitly maintained a theory of Absolute Idealism; and the Clavis is the work in which that theory is developed. The fortune of this treatise, especially in its own country, has been very different from its deserts. Though the negation of an external world had been incidentally advanced by Berkeley in his Principles of Human Knowledge, some three years prior to the appearance of the Clavis Universalis, with which the publication of his Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous was simultaneous; it is certain, that Collier was not only wholly unacquainted with Berkeley's speculations, but had delayed promulgating his opinion till after a ten years' meditation. Both philosophers are thus equally original. They are also nearly on a level in scientific talent; for, comparing the treatise of Collier with the writings of Berkeley, we find it little inferior in meta-, physical acuteness or force of reasoning, however deficient it may be in the graces of composition and the variety of illustration, by which the works of his more accomplished rival are distinguished. But how disproportioned to their relative merits has been the reputation of the two philosophers! While Berkeley's became a name memorable throughout Europe, that of Collier was utterly forgotten :-it appears in no British biography; and is not found even on the list of local authors in the elaborate history of the county where he was born, and of the parish where he was hereditary Rector! Indeed, but for the notice of the Clavis by Dr Reid (who appears to have stumbled on it in the College Library of Glasgow), it is probable that the name of Collier would have remained in his own country absolutely unknown —until, perhaps, our attention might have been called to his remarkable writings, by the consideration they had by accident obtained from the philosophers of other countries. In England the Clavis Universalis was printed, but there it can hardly be said to have been published; for it there never attracted the slightest observation; and of the copies now known to be extant of the original edition,
numerus vix est totidem quot Thebarum portæ vel divitis ostea Nili."
The public libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, as Mr Benson observes, do not possess a single copy. There are, however, two
in Edinburgh; and in Glasgow, as we have noticed, there is another.
The only country in which the Clavis can truly be said to have been hitherto published is Germany.
In the sixth supplemental volume of the Acta Eruditorum (1717) there is a copious and able abstract of its contents. Through this abridgement the speculations of Collier became known-particularly to the German philosophers; and we recollect to have seen them quoted, among others, by Wolf and Bilfinger.
In 1756 the work was, however, translated, without retrenchment, into German, by Professor Eschenbach of Rostock, along with Berkeley's Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. These two treatises constitute his “Collection of the most distinguished Writers who deny the reality of their own body and of the whole corporeal world,”—treatises which he accompanied with “ Counter observations, and an Appendix, in which the existence of matter is demonstrated These are of considerable value. [I have spoken of them, in Stewart's Dissertation, Note SS.] In reference to Collier's treatise, the translator tells us :—" If any book ever cost me trouble to obtain it, the Clavis is that book. Every exertion was fruitless. At length an esteemed friend, Mr J. Selk, candidate of theology in Dantzic, sent me the work, after I had abandoned all hope of ever being able to
The preface is wanting in the copy thus obtained—a proof that it was rummaged, with difficulty, out of some old book magazine. It has not, therefore, been in my power to present it to the curious reader, but I trust the loss may not be of any great importance.”—In regard to the preface, Dr Eschenbach is, however, mistaken ; the original has none.
By this translation, which has now itself become rare, the work was rendered fully accessible in Germany; and the philosophers of that country did not fail to accord to its author the honour due to his metaphysical talent and originality. The best comparative view of the kindred doctrines of Collier and Berkeley is indeed given by Tennemann (xi. 399, sq.); whose meritorious History of Philosophy, we may observe, does justice to more than one English thinker, whose works, and even whose name, are in his own country as if they had never been !
Dr Reid's notice of the Clavis attracted the attention of Mr Dugald Stewart and of Dr Parr to the work; and to the nomi