IMMORTALITY AND RASSELAS:
A STUDY OF THE IDEA BEHIND JOHNSON'S APOLOGUE
ROBERT GARY WALKER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
lll11111111111111111111111111111111111 III I111111111i11111111
3 1262 08552 8551
Many people are responsible for whatever, degree of success the following study enjoys. A decade ago Mrs. Ruthanna Wise not only taught me to read Latin but also introduced me to an intelligent appreciation and understanding of literature. Later the English department at Washington and Jefferson College, especially Professors Gargano, Whiting, Branton, Keen, Laun, and Skutches, continued the lesson she had begun. All of these were good teachers, and I thank them for it.
My friend Michael Raymond and Professor Ben Pickard
read and commented upon an earlier version of part of this study. My thanks to them as well as to Professors Gareth Schmeling, Walter Herbert, and Ira Clark, who read the final version and served on my committee. Professor Aubrey Williams led me to an understanding of the early part of, the eighteenth century, read and commented at length. on this dissertation, and always has given graciously to me of his time as long as I have known him; I am grateful to him for all these reasons.
Finally,.this dissertation would not have been begun, let alone completed, without the inspiration and guidance of Professor Melvyn New. Words cannot express my gratitude for his continual help and his continuous friendship.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Notes . .
The Metaphysical Argument-.
The Moral Argument and The Argument from Desire .
Notes. . .
. . . .1- 10
. . . . . . . . 41- 45
46- 78 79- 84
A Reading of Rasselas
1. INTRODUCTION: "things temporal things eternal". .
2. THE PENSIVE PRINCE: "evils
recollected . . . evils anticipated" . . .
3. THE CHOICE OF LIFE: "the various
conditions of humanity".
4. EVIL IN RASSELAS: "the fruits of
autumn . . . the flowers of the
spring". . .
sp in . . ï¿½. . . hi i. . . . . .
5. MDMENTQ MORI: "this is the last"-.
Notes. . . CONCLUSION. . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . .
WORKS CITED. . . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . .
85- 88 89- 98 99-110
111-122 123-145 146-151
* . . 152-156 ï¿½ . . 157
* . .158-164
ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½ ï¿½
. . . . . . . . . . .
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate
Council of the University of Florida in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
IMMORTALITY AND RASSELAS:
A STUDY OF THE IDEA BEHIND JOHNSON'S APOLOGUE By
Robert Gary Walker
Chairman: Melvyn New
Major Department: English
The thesis of this study is that Samuel Johnson's
History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, is from beginning to end an argument that man has an immortal soul. The basic message of Rasselas, I believe, is neither sceptical nor contradictory (as some recent critics have contended) but profoundly Christian. In 1752 on the occasion of his wife's death Johnson turned toward that one doctrine of Christian thought most vital in the tradition of consolation, the doctrine of immortality, and made it the topic of a celebratory sermon. I maintain that seven years later the illness and death of his mother that was the immediate occasion of the writing of Rasselas prompted Johnson once more to turn to this doctrine and this time to embody it in the form of a moral apologue.
Whether the soul was immortal was a question of
special importance to Englishmen in general at the time Rasselas appeared. The various forms that the arguments for immortality took in the decades immediately preceding its appearance are the subject of the first two chapters of my study. Here I show that during this time the Christian apologist employed three main arguments to support the doctrine of immortality: the metaphysical argumentsought, by demonstrating the soul's immateriality, to show it could not die; the moral argument maintained the necessity of an afterlife to provide an ultimate reckoning for the inequities of this life; and the argument from desire held that man's soul was shown immortal by his insatiable wants, his infinite longings, which could never be fulfilled by any secular pleasures. The first two of these arguments drew increasing opposition from various philosophical and heterodox religious parties as the century advanced, while the third, the argument from desire, grew stronger and, not surprisingly then, occupies a transcendent position among all three arguments in Johnson's apologue.
The final section of this study is a close critical reading of Rasselas based on the materials provided in the previous chapters. Here I maintain that the opening of the work serves as a prelude and as an introductory
argument for the immortal soul of man and that it would have been recognized as such by many contemporary readers because of similar arguments about man's uniqueness in discourses on the soul. Next, the vanity of human wishes concept, long recognized as an essential part of Rasselas, takes on additional meaning when viewed as an essential part of one of the traditional proofs of man's immortality. An examination of a less frequently treated, but equally important topic, the nature of evil in Rasselas,. lends support to my belief that the.argument from desire, especially, is the -means Johnson employs in his apologue to the end of rendering a proof of immortality. Then I argue that the memento mori theme, meaningless. without a belief in an afterlife, dominates the final third of the work and climaxes in its last chapter but one in a metaphysical discussion of the nature of the soul. When all of Rasselas is seen as an argument, initially implicit but finally explicit, for the immortality of man in a Christian scheme, the last chapter of the work, so often regarded as a critical puzzle, is a puzzle no longer.
Much can be learned from the titles of significant
twentieth-century studies of Samuel Johnson. Paul Fussell's
recent Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing, for example,
points up what seems to me the necessity of considering the
life of Johnson (using life broadly in the sense of
Johnson's entire milieu) when examining the writings of
Johnson; new critical readings of Sam Johnson' s works are
conspicuous failures. On the other hand, once misconceptions have been established through the symbiotic network
of biography and criticism they are extraordinarily difficult to eradicate. Consider the following two statements:
There has been a good deal of speculation
as to what Johnson would have become had he "let
himself go." He was so much the sceptic in worldly
matters, he so often gives the impression, as
Hogarth puts it, that he is resolved to believe
nothing but the Bible,,that some critics have seen
in Johnson a temperament more inclined to scepticism and free thought than to religious faith.
Johnson's faith came hard for him, so runs this
assumption, and his notorious fear of death is
thus the product of "insecure faith" and its
consequence, "a terror of annihilation." This view has been generally abandoned, at least by
those who have made a special study of Johnson's
religious outlook. (Chester Chapin, 1968)1
Krutch's study is consistent with more recent
interpretations of Johnson that have stressed his
consistent skepticism and empiricism in almost all matters but religious ones, and it now seems clear
that the many inconsistencies of his career stem
from a powerful conflict between convictions sanctioned by both religion and tradition and convictions forced upon him by his temperamental receptivity to immediate experience. (William Holtz,
Obviously, Krutch's version of "Johnson Agonistes" has survived the well-reasoned eand ~well-documented attacks of Professor Chapin and others. In this study I hope to support Chapin's general contention of Johnson's religious orthodoxy by a specific, detailed examination of The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, a work which Holtz believes "has no religioust.component." (p. 272).
The view of Rasselas I shall advance opposes not only the position held by Krutch, Holtz, and others that Rasselas reveals Johnson struggling between Christianity and religious scepticism but also new critical readings of the work which discover it to beicomic andidistinctly unchristian. Though I do not wish to suggest 'that there is no humor in Johnson's apologue, I do wish strenuously to disagree with C. R. Tracy, who maintains that "the novel . . . was set deliberately in a non-Christian part of the world . . . so that Johnson could deal with man on a purely naturalistic level . . Though Johnson never wavered in his own adherence to Christian belief, he seems more and more to have unconsciously confined religion to a special and secret part of his mind, and
to have drawn the creative powers of his genius from
other sources.' Tracy's influence can be seen in Alvin Whitley's reading of the work, which includes the remark that "except for the vague 'monks of St. Anthony,' Johnson deliberately avoids Christian terminology. The
true faith has no place in a comic work." Recently, Patrick O'Flaherty has challenged the views of Tracy and Whitley, but in doing so he has found it necessary .to posit a split psyche for Johnson once more. He argues that at the heart of Rasselas lies "a paradox of staggering dimension," that "the view of life [Johnson] is proposing without apparent misgiving in Rasselas cannot easily be reconciled with the Christian belief in God," and that "the whole work is an image of his unsettled outlook on the world."5 O'Flaherty concludes, "the traditional view of Johnson's religious beliefs needs careful reconsideration . . His powerful, empirical intellect was rarely at ease with the Christian faith, yet he could not bear the thought which rejection of Christianity would have entailed: the thought of annihilation" (pp. 207- 08). By a different path O'Flaherty has arrived at the same position, it seems to me, that Krutch and Holtz occupy; thus, his view of Johnson's religious beliefs is more traditional than he realizes.
It is unnecessary, I feel, to posit a schism in the meaning of Rasselas or a split in the mind of its author. When the work is viewed from beginningto end as an argument that man has an immortal soul, those elements in it which ordinarily have been regarded assigns of Johnson's scepticism appear insteadas evidence of his completely traditional Christian belief. That the nature of the soul was of special importance to Johnson at the time he wrote Rasselas is quite understandable. In 1752 on the occasion of his wife's death Johnson had turned toward that one doctrine of Christian thought most vital in the tradition of consolation, the doctrine of immortality, and made it the topic of a celebratory sermon. I believe that seven years later the illness and death of his mother that was the immediate occasion of the writing of Rasselas prompted Johnson once more to turn to this doctrine and this time to embody it in the form of a moral apologue.6
That the nature of the soul was of special importance to' Englishmen in general at the time Rasselas appeared is indicated not only by the quantity of discussions on the topic but also by the quality of minds engaged.in those discussions: Locke, Clarke, Anthony Collins, Addison, Bolingbroke, Young, Hartley, Hume, several lesser figures-and to this list I would add Johnson. My opening chapters
sketch the main directions of these discussions involving philosophers and poets, deists and Christians, from 1690 to 1759. While the selection of the publication date of. Rasselas as a terminus ad quem is obvious, perhaps the selection of the date of Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding as a starting point needs some explanation. First, Johnson's thought on the nature of the soul has previously been traced to Locke.7 Secondly, Locke's Essay gave rise to a new round of discussions on the old topic of the immateriality of the soul, which in turn, I believe, encouraged other types of arguments for the soul's immor8
tality. Finally, there is no need to duplicate Don Cameron Allen's treatment of this topic from the late fifteenth to the late seventeenth century,9 especially if, as Philip Harth has argued, both the threat to orthodoxy and the philosophy used to defend the orthodox Christian position changed radically at the end of the seventeenth century:
With the appearance of Locke's Essay concerning
Human Understanding in 1690 and the widespread acceptance of the empiricism expounded in that
book, the crude sensationalism which Hobbes had
taught ceased to play any important part in
religious controversy. At the same time, the enormous popularity of Locke's empiricism was accompanied by a simultaneous decline in the
popularity of the Cartesian theory of knowledge,
and as a result an apologetics based upon the
epistemology of Descartes was no longer acceptable.
or convincing to many Englishmen.10
Beginning with Locke's -Essay, then, I treat first
the metaphysical argument for the soul's immortality (also called the -natural argument in the eighteenth century), which sought, by demonstrating the soul's immateriality, to show it could not die. This argument, though undercut by Locke, was still available to Johnson: it forms the basis of the penultimate chapter of Rasselas. Next I consider the moral argument--the necessity of an afterlife to provide an ultimate reckoning for the inequities of this life--and I examine the various factors which render this traditional proof of immortality less effective as the century progresses. Finally, I discuss the third of the three major proofs of immortality offered by Christian apologists in the Ages of Pope and Johnson, the argument from desire. (This label, to be sure, has less contemporary authenticity than the others I use; the argument was called "moral" also, but it seems to me important for an understanding of Rasselas to distinguish it from the moral argument mentioned above.) Based on the Christian assumption of the unique position of man in a created universe, this argument held that man's soul was immortal because of his insatiable desires, his infinite longings, which could not be fulfilled by any secular pleasures. Now, several arguments of lesser importance were also advanced for immortality during the century: arguments
were made from analogy with Nature, for-example, or from the consensus gentium (most people in:most ages have believed in immortality, witness ancient funeral rites, or references to the underworld in pagan writers, or the widespread belief in ghosts). Even though such arguments frequently crop up (see chapter XXXI of:-Rasselas, for example, for a brief version of consensus .gentium concerning "apparitions of the dead"), they are relatively. unimportant and very rarely are pursued at length. The other major proof available, to the Christian apologist, Revelation, was ordinarily treated with preterition on the grounds that it would be unpersuasive to the hon-believer. So Francis Gastrell:
It :is in vain . . . to:reason with such
Men [concerning the] Judgment to come, out of
Scripture; the only way to convince them of
the Certainty of a future State is, to prove
it to them from such Principles as are common to all Mankind; such as lie within every Man's
reach, and such as they must acknowledge and
feel in themselves to be true, without any
external Authority, or Influence, to direct
Three major proofs, then,--the metaphysical, the moral, and that from desire--become the mainstays of the orthodox doctrine of immortality, and the objects of heterodox attack, during the first half of the eighteenth century, and all three proofs, I shall argue, are in varying degrees informing principles of Johnson's Rasselas.
The final section of this study is a close, critical
reading of Rasselas based on the materials provided in the previous chapters. Here I maintain that the opening of the work serves as a prelude and as an introductory argument for the immortal soul of man and that it would have been recognized as such by many contemporary readers because of similar arguments about man's uniqueness in discourses on the soul. Next, the vanity of human wishes concept, long recognized as an essential part of Rasselas, takes on additional meaning when viewed as an essential part of one of the traditional proofs of man's immortality. An examination of a less frequently treated, but equally important topic, the nature of evil in Rasselas, lends support to my belief that the argument from desire, especially, is the .means Johnson employs in his apologue to the end of rendering a proof of immortality. Then I argue that the memento mori theme, meaningless without a belief in an afterlife, dominates the final third of the work and climaxes in its last chapter but one in a metaphysical discussion of the nature of the soul. When all of Rasselas is seen as an argument, initially implicit but finally explicit, for the immortality of man in a Christian scheme, the last chapter of the work, so often regarded as a critical puzzle, is a puzzle no longer.
Two basic assumptions underlie.this study. The first is a generic assumption: I have treated Rasselas as an apologue, a work which "is organized as a fictional example of the truth of a formulable statement or closely related set of such statements.,,l2 While virtually everyone agrees that Rasselas is not a novel, several attempts have been made to prove it a satire or a comedy, attempts which have resulted, I believe, in an overemphasis on the roles of individual characters, and an unfounded assertion of the work's lack of Christian values. I realize, of course, that ultimately my generic assumption rises or falls with the cogency of the reading that it allows.
The second assumption is an historic one, perhaps best suggested by Johnson himself in his complimentary letter to Thomas Warton, upon Warton's publication of Observations on Spenser's Fairy Queen: "You have shewn to all, who shall hereafter attempt the study of our ancient authours, the way to success;. by directing them to the perusal of the books which those authours had read."13 Now, I have in no way attempted to limit my inquiry on the topic of immortality to books which I can prove Johnson had read. Indeed, I make frequent use of two works which he categorically denies ever having opened: "Mr. Burney asked [Johnson] if he had seen Warburton's book against .Bolingbroke's Philosophy? 'No, Sir; I have never read,
Bolingbroke's impiety, and thereoire am not interested about its confutation.'"'l14 And I would not have my argument rest on evidence such as Johnson's demonstrable affection for a Renaissance poem on the immortality of the soul by Sir John Davies,15 his possible familiarity with the edition of Thomas Blacklock's poems which includes the Scottish poet's essay on the soul's immortality,16 the probability that he not'only read but reviewed two English versions of Isaac Hawkins Browne 's Latin poem De Animi Immortalitate for the Gentleman's Magazine in 1754,17 or the certainty that his intimate friend Anna Williams was moved to write a response to a controversial pamphlet published in 1751 attacking the immortality of the soul.18 Rather I am concerned to establish the pervasiveness of the arguments throughout the first half of the century,19 and the remarkable degree to which these arguments are reflected in Rasselas, confident in the awareness all students of Johnson have that he was ignorant of no important philosophical or theological dispute of his time.20
iThe Religious Thought of Samuel Johnson (Ann Arbor: .Univ. of Michigan Press, 1968), p. 101. Chapin cites his agreement with Robert Voitle, Samuel Johnson the Moralist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni-.Press, 1961), who provides an excellent discussion of Johnson's fear of death and of his belief in a future life (pp. 155-79).
We Didn't Mind His Saying So: Homage to Joseph Wood Krutch: Tragedy and the Ecological Imperative," ASch, 43 (1974), 273. Holtz refers to Joseph Wood Krutch, Samuel Johnson (New York: Henry Holt, 1944).
3C. R. Tracy, "Democritus Arise! A Study of Dr. Johnson's Humor," YR, 39 (1949), 310.
4Alvin Whitley, "The Comedy of Rasselas," ELH, 23 (1956) , 69n.
5Patrick O'Flaherty, "Dr. Johnson as Equivocator:
The Meaning of Rasselas," MLQ, 31 (1970), 205, 206, 208. The Tracy-Whitley view has been opposed also by Nicholas Joost, "Whispers of Fancy; or, the Meaning of Rasselas," ModA, 1 (1957), 166-73; unfortunately the corrective value of this essay is diminished by Joost's assertion of Johnson's fideism, in opposition to holders of "the traditional and more orthodox Christian doctrine" (p. 172). As Arieh Sachs remarks in his thoroughly excellent study, Passionate, Intelligence: Imagination and Reason in the Work of Samuel Johnson (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 113-14, "For Johnson true rationality and Christian faith are identical. . . there is no trace of either fideism or mysticism in his religious writings."
6For Johnson's sermon on the death of his wife, see The Works of Samuel Johnson (Troy, New York: Pafraets, 1903), XVI, 364-76; hereafter cited as Works. As one who understands Johnson's deference to the force of genre might expect, the sermon differs from Rasselas in its emphasis on the consolatory value of Revelation (see Sermon X, pp. 18588, for a similar emphasis). An excellent argument for the force of genre in Johnson's works is advanced by Paul Fussell, Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1971), pp. 6290.
7R. K. Kaul, "Dr. Johnson on Matter and Mind,"
Johnsonian Studies, ed. Magdi Wahba (Cairo, 1962), pp. 101108. Kaul's article is accurate but sketchy.
8See John W. Yolton, John Locke and the Way of Ideas (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1956), pp. 153-66, for a review of the controversies generated by the sections of Locke's Essay dealing with the soul's materiality.
9Doubt's Boundless Sea: Scepticism and Faith in the Renaissance (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1964), pp. 150-85. Allen links the proliferation of discussions. about immortality during this period to the increased threat to Christianity from scepticism. "The Middle Ages was keenly enough interested in eschatological matters, and this interest depended upon the actuality of immortality, which was accepted commonly and almost never demonstrated. The philosophical expositions of this concept really begin toward the end of the fifteenth century" (p. 152). Johnson undoubtedly knew classical discussions of the soul's immortality, especially those of Plato and Cicero, and was probably aware of some such discussions by the early church fathers. It is my contention, however, that a wave of scepticism gave rise to numerous arguments in favor of the soul's immortality during the first half of the eighteenth century just as it had during the Renaissance and that Johnson's Rasselas was on the crest of that wave.
10Phillip Harth, Swift and Anglican Rationalism: The Religious Background of A Tale of -a Tub (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 151-52.
11[Francis Gastrell], A Moral Proof of the Certainty of a Future State (London, 1725), p. 3; hereafter cited in the text.
12Sheldon Sacks, Fiction and the Shape of Belief: A Study of Henry Fielding, with Glanc-es at Swift, Johnson and Richardson (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1964), P. 8. For an earlier study of Rasselas as a moral apologue see Gwin J. Kolb, "The Structure of Rasselas," PMLA, 66 (1951), 698-717.
13Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, rev. L. F. Powell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934-50), I, 270.
14Boswell, I, 330.
Nosce Teipsum, which. Johnson, "read and reread and greatly admired. His admiration for Nosce Teipsum began before 1750 and lasted until his death," W. B. C. Watkins, Johnson and English Poetry before 1660 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1936), p. 74.
Johnson ridiculed certain ideas in Joseph Spence's
biography of Blacklock--see Boswell, I, 466--which he knew either from its first appearance in pamphlet form in 1754 or from its inclusion:in a 1756 edition of Blacklock:'s poems which also contained the Scottish poet's essay on immortality.
The attribution of the anonymous reviews is made by
Arthur Sherbo, "Samuel Johnson and the Gentleman's Magazine, 1750-1755," Johnsonian Studies, ed. Magdi Wahba (Cairo, 1962) , p. 152.
18Her response was first printedin the Gentleman's
Magazine, 57 (July, 1787), 557-59, where the editor identifies the notorious pamphlet as "The grand Question debated; or, an Essay to prove that the Soul of Man is not, neither cannot be, immortal. The whole founded on the Arguments of Locke, Newton, Pope, Burnet, Watts,, &c. By Ontologos. Dublin, 1751).," Apparently the work was a hoax, for the author, "supposed to be Dr. Kenrick," followed his first publication in the same year with one refuting it completely.
19The absence of a short-title catalogue for the eighteenth century makes an accurate statistical study impossible, but a perusal of book reviews in the Monthly Review from 1751 to 1759 indicates that the immortality of the soul was a popular subject during the decade Rasselas was written. Davies' poem was reprinted during the period (1759); Browne's poem was translated thrice into English the year it appeared and once more, by Soame Jenyns, probably in 1759; and, in addition, about once a year during the decade a tract or essay was published arguing the topic.
20I gratefully record here a further indebtedness to the scholarship of Chester F. Chapin. His recent essay, "Johnson and Pascal," English Writers of the Eighteenth Century, ed. John H. Middendorf (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 3-16, points out.striking parallels between the religious thought of the two writers, especially in the area of Christian evidences. In the second half of his essay Professor Chapin notes the way both "Pascal and Johnson turn [an] analysis of the human condition into an argument for religion." He continues,, paraphrasing Johnson's and Pascal's argument, "Men do have intimations of immortality. They can imagine a kind of felicity which, in duration and intensity, partakes of that eternal joy which
--their reason should tell them--can never be theirs under the limitations of finite existence. Where could such a concept of happiness come from, unless from God? And why should God have implanted this concept within man, unless as a sign of man's transcendent destiny?" (p. 12). My study differs from Chapin's in focusing on a single work by Johnson and in maintaining that in that work Johnson is primarily concerned with establishing man's immortality, not the existence of God and immortality; moreover, the intellectual context on wFih-h my work depends is the specific eighteenth-century controversy over the nature of the soul. Of course, Chapin's view that the Augustinian Christianity which animated Pascal's Pensees still flourished a century later in all of Johnson's writings strengthens my argument about the specifically orthodox Christian meaning of Rasselas.
THE METAPHYSICAL ARGUMENT
That the human soul was a spiritual not material,
substance, exempt from physical dissolution, and, therefore, naturally immortal was a belief that served western civilization for two thousand years and Christianity in particular for almost that long without being seriously threatened. To be sure, threats regarded as serious arose; in seventeenth-century England, for example, the various materialisms of Epicurus (via Gassendi), Hobbes, and Spinoza menaced orthodox:Christianity. This menace subsided, however, until, in one of the ironies of intellectual history, an incidental remark by John Locke about the impossibility of knowing whether matter can think produced not only more contemporary controversy than any other statement in his Essay concerning Human Understanding, but also so persistent a challenge to the metaphysical argument of natural----------immortality that Christian apologists eventually had to abandon it almost completely in favor of different proofs.
The key passage in the Essay occurs as Locke
attempts to illustrate the limits of human knowledge:
We have the ideas of matter and thinking, but
possibly shall never be able to know whether
any mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our
own ideas, without revelation, to discover
whether Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to
matter, so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance: it being, in respect of our notions,
not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, superadd
to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he
should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking . . . For I see no contradiction in it, that the first Eternal thinking Being, or Omnipotent Spirit, should, if he
pleased, give to certain systems of created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception, and
Although Locke's reverence of Christianity seems clear
even in this passage; and although earlier in the Essay
he argues that the immateriality of thersoul is at least
as easy to believe as the existence of the body (II,
xxiii, 22); and although later he demonstrates the
immateriality of God, probably in response to the materialism of Spinoza and Hobbes (IV, x, 13-16), the English
Christian apologists were unable to countenance Locke's
position here, for they realized that it shook the very
foundation of Christianity by removing the primary pillar
on which the doctrine of immortality had rested. Though
Locke contended that "All the great ends of morality and
religion are well enough secured, without philosophical
proofs of the soul's immateriality" (IV, iii, 6), "in the minds of Browne, Stillingfleet,:and many other theologians of the period, the immortality of the soul could not be accepted or demonstrated until the immateriality of the soul had first been established. Locke's readers could not understand his contention thatlimmateriality was irrelevant to the doctrine of immortality."2
In the early part of the eighteenth century Locke's digression influenced writers to propose as fact what he had suggested merely.as possibility. William Coward in Second Thoughts concerning Human Soul (1702) denied the existence of spiritual substance and maintained that.the soul was a power of life and motion superadded to matter; the following year Henry Layton advanced similar ideas in several publications. The history of these and other discussions springing from this controversial section of Locke's Essay has been reviewed before; let:us here, therefore, center on the Dodwell-Clarke-Collins segment of the dispute, "the most extended exchange of tracts on this subject,"3 which shows the deist and orthodox Christian in direct confrontation and which carries the metaphysical argument to its extreme. Later in the century debates about the immortality of the soul would invariably involve deist and Christian ibut:would be fought in different arenas.
The non-juring Henry Dodwell initiated the dispute, subsequently carried to greater lengths in a series of attacks and counterattacks between the Christian metaphysician and clergyman Samuel Clarke and the noted deist Anthony Collins, when he attempted to prove that the human soul was by nature mortal and was. rendered immortal only through God's grace by baptism-performed by one of his ordained ministers. Perhaps-Leslie Stephen was right to attribute this eccentric doctrineof natural mortality to a brain "bewildered with excessive reading, and crammed with obsolete theological
curiosities.", More kindly, one may view it as an attempt to provide a logical solution to the Problem Dr yden regarded as the chief among all the deistic objections to revealed religion: what provision does revelation make "To Indian Souls,.and Worlds discover'd New?" 5Dodwell's scheme would allow the souls of heat hens deprived of the light of revelation to perish naturally with their bodily deaths while still providing an immortal soul for Christians. Dodwell's intent aside, his work was in effect a demonstration of the mortality of the soul based on evidence from scripture and from the 'early Church fathers, a demonstration which drew almost immediately a refutation from Samuel Clarke.
Clarke answered Dddwell's citations of authority one by one, and this type of argument'makes up a large part of his reply, but for our purposes the most important part of Clarke's response is his metaphysical demonstration of the immortality of the soul. Dodwell had maintained "that because the actual Immortality of the Soul is a Revelation of the Gospel, therefore it is not capable of being proved by Reason from the Nature of the Soul it self." Clarke held, on the other hand, that the soul's immortality was one of those' doctrines "such as were capable of being in great measure discovered by the Light of Nature and right Reason," though Revelation would add to the certainty of the doctrine.6 Reasoning from the integrity of consciousness, Clarke argued that the soul couldinot possibly be material,
For Matter being a divisible substance, consisting always of separable, nay of actually separate
and distinct parts, 'tis plain, that unless it
were essentially Conscious, in which case every
particle of Matter must consist of innumerable
separate and distinct Consciousnesses, no System
of it in any possible Composition or Division,
can be any individual Conscious Being. (p. 730)
This is the heart of Clarke's argument, for once it is established that consciousness is not a property of matter, then it follows that it must be a property of some nonmaterial substance and that such a substance is, by definition, naturally immortal:
When we speak of, the Soul as created naturally
immortal, we mean that it is by the Divine
Pleasure created such a Substance, as, not having in it self any-Composition, or any
Principles of Corruption,,will naturally, or
of it self continue for ever; that is, will
not by any natural decay, or by any Power of
Nature, be dissolved or destroyed; But yet nevertheless depends continually upon God, who has power to destroy or annihilate it,
if he should so think fit. (p. 722)
Clarke, then, in his response to Dodwell, attempted to restore confidence in the metaphysical argument by demonstrating that indeed it could be shown that matter dia not think. This direct contradiction not only of Dodwell, but more importantly, of Locke as well, was answered by Locke's friend Anthony Collins, who was, however, no match for Clarke. The series of eight tracts exchanged between Clarke and Collins have little to do with Dodwell's original argument; instead they center on the metaphysical proof Clarke had offered for the soul's immortality and in ,so doing provide the source for several ideas which recur later in the century within metaphysical discussions of the nature of the soul.
Collins reasserted Locke's contention that certain knowledge of the properties of any substance was impossible, developed further Locke's suggestion that to deny the possibility of thinking matter was arrogantly to limit the power of an omnipotent God, and, again like Locke, maintained that the concept of an immaterial soul
was not necessary to Christianity. *Conceding to Collins
(and Locke) that man's knowledge ofethe essence of substances was not complete, Clarke nevertheless maintained
that man knew enough to demonstrate the impossibility of
thinking matter, and the existence of an immaterial soul:
some of the first and most obvious Properties
which we certainly know of Matter . . . do necessarily and confessedly imply Discerpibility: But in Immaterial Beings we do not
know of any such Properties, as any-wise imply
Discerpibility. It cannot be collected from
any Property we know of Them, but that they
may be such Beings as can no more be divided
than annihilated . . . Nay, the only Properties we certainly and indisputably know of
them, namely Consciousness and its Modes, do prove . . . that they must necessarily
be such Indiscerpible Beings. (pp. 762-63)
To the argument that an all-powerful God could certainly
superadd the faculty of thinking to matter regardless
of its essential qualities, Clarke replies,
I think the Argument drawn from the Divisibility
of Matter, proves that Matter is not a Subject capable of such a Superaddition: And if it be
not; then recurring to the Divine Omnipotence
for the making out an Impossibility, is not magnifying but destroying the Power of God;
as indeed all contradictory Apprehensions
concerning any of his Perfections, are really
and in event destructive of our whole Notion
of God; and have no other Effect, than to
give profane Men an Occasion of scoffing
at Religion. (p. 841)
Finally, the Anglican apologist outlines three reasons
why he believes the doctrine of the soul's immateriality
is essential to the Christian faith. If the mind be a
system of matter, then man's thought may depend on external impulses just as the motion of a 'physical object does; this implies, of course, a loss of selfdetermination, of free will. Moreover, reasons Clarke, if the soul of man is material, what keeps us from conceiving of a material rather than a spiritual God? Third,
If the Soul, be nothing but a System of Matter; and Thinking, nothing but a Mode of Motion, or of some other Power of Matter; the Doctrine of
the Resurrection .will be inconceivable
and incredible; and the Justice of future
Rewards and Punishments, impossible to be made
out. The Notion of the Soul's Immateriality,
evidently facilitates the Belief of a Resurrection and of a future Retribution, by securing
a Principle of Personal Individuality, upon
which the Justice of all Reward or Punishment
is entirely grounded. (p. 851)
The immateriality--and hence immortality--of the soul was, then, from Clarke's point of view, a major support of the entire Christian moral scheme.
Now it is important to note at this point that Clarke did not originate the integrity of consciousness method for demonstrating metaphysically the immateriality of the. soul; Leslie Stephen refers to his argument as "the familiar doctrine of Descartes, elaborated into quasimathematical shape, and rendered more precise by help of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities."7 But earlier versions of the argument tended to be less
rigorous than Clarke's in their demonstration that matter could not think. For instance, in 1704, two years before the Dodwell-Clarke-Collins debate began, William Sherlock writes,
We feel in our selves something which understands, reasons, and wills;:which can act freely and spontaneously; which can chuse and refuse; . . . which are of a very different Nature from all the Virtues
and Qualities of Bodies, that we know of; and therefore must have a distinct and essentially
different Subject also, which we call the Soul or
From here Sherlock's proof is identical to what Clarke would use: "All Material Compositions, such as Human Bodies are, may be dissolved by the separation of the parts from each other . But that which is not Matter, which has no Parts, and no Extension, may be annihilated, if God so please, but can't die, as Bodies do" (p. 75). Albeit largely unoriginal, Clarke's version of the metaphysical argument--perhaps because of the dramatic nature of the confrontation with the heterodox Collins which produced it, perhaps because of its author's reputation as the most learned man of his day--became the most famous and most frequently referred to such argument throughout the first half of the eighteenth century.
Undoubtedly the widest avenue for the dissemination
of Clarke's version of the metaphysical proof was William Wollaston's immensely popular The Religion of Nature
Delineated, first circulated privately in 1722 and by 1750 in its seventh edition. Wollaston's work is of primary importance in the history of .ideas for its extended development of the moral argument for the soul's immortality--to be considered hereafter--but like many of the writers of this period he advanced several different kinds of arguments, the first among them being the metaphysical one. "The soul cannot be mere matter," Wollaston holds, "For if it is, then either all matter must think; or the difference must arise from the different modification, magnitude, figure, or motion of some parcels of matter in respect of others; or a faculty of thinking must be superadded to some systems of it, which is not
superadded to others." The first of these possibilities is put down by a series of short arguments, including one that if self-consciousness were essential to matter, every part of matter must have it and then no system of matter could be a self-conscious unity. To the second possibility, Wollaston demonstrates that there is no relation between these modifications of matter and thinking. To the possibility of a faculty of thinking being added to matter, Wollaston writes, "But the truth is, matter seems not to be capable of such improvement, of being made to think. For since it is not of the essence of matter, it cannot be made to be so without making
matter another kind of substance from what it is" (pp. 187-89). This last point,, as we shall see, becomes one of the targets of Lord Bolingbroke's attack on the. metaphysical proof later in the century.
After Wollaston nothing significant was added to the metaphysical argument, although it was repeated many times. Joseph Butler cites it briefly in his wellknown Analogy of Religion (1736); 10 earlier and mo.r e extended is the treatment of Andrew Baxter, an avowed member of the school of Clarke and perhaps the second most popular source of Clarke's ideas: his Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul; Wherein the Immateriality of the Soul is Evidenced from the Principles of Reason and Philosophy (1733), appeared in two subsequent editions in 1737 and 1745. Its derivativeness can easily be illustrated:
Divisibility is such an affection of substance,.
as shews on the one hand, that matter, because
divisible, cannot think, or be a living substance;
and on the other, that spiritual substance, be-.
cause thinking, cannot be divisible, or have
The human soul then, having no parts, must
be indissoluble in its nature, by any thing
that hath not power to destroy or annihilate
it. And since it hath not a natural tendency to annihilation, nor a power to annihilate itself, nor can be annihilated by any Being
finitely powerful only; without an immediate
act of the omnipotent Creator to annihilate
it, it must endlessly abide an active Erceptive substance, without either fear or hopes of dying through all eternity. Which is, in
other words, to be immortal as to the agency
of all natural, or second causes; i.e. naturally
In the same year that Baxter's Enquiry first appeared, Thomas Sheridan, friend of Swift' and grandfather of the famous playwright, prefaced an edition of Sir John Davies' renaissance poem on the immortality of the soul with an' essay on the same subject. Sheridan's essay rehearses several different types of arguments for the soul's immortality, his metaphysical argument being derived from Clarke although Clarke is not mentioned'. First consider, Sheridan says, any species of a corporal being reduced to its smallest atoms.' "If.each of these have a Power of thinking, they must likewise have a Self-consciousness of that Power, distinct from each other, as so many individual Men find in themselves; so that every Atome according to its different Situation, might be employed at the same time, in a different way of thinking, which in bne aggregate Body would produce an infinite Confusion."l2 The immateriality of consciousness is thus proved by the impossibility of its negation. We shall return to Baxter and Sheridan later in this chapter, for each, in his discussion of the nature of the human soul, contributes to an important, subsidiary argument, namely, what is the nature of the souls of brutes.
The credibility given the metaphysical argument by
the authority of Clarke and Wollaston kept it relatively free from attack until theimiddle of the century, when Lord Bolingbroke posthumously triggered his infamous blunderbuss. This attack was notorious and deserves to be discussed in some detail, but first, let us look briefly at two lesser known works of roughly the same period which, in their criticism of the metaphysical argument, suggest that Bolingbroke's position, although certainly a minority view, was not a solitary one.
The two works I shall now consider are so similar
in their criticism of the metaphysical proof that, were it not for the anonymity of the one and the imprecise chronology and relative unavailability of the other, one would be tempted to speculate about influence between them. An Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul, Its Origin, Properties, and Faculties; Considered both in regard to Itself, and Its Union with the Body. In Which Several Received Opinions Are Confuted concerning Both-I give the complete title to distinguish it from Baxter's Enquiry--appeared anonymously in 1750; David Hume's essay "On the Immortality of the Soul" was written sometime before 1755, printed in 1756, suppressed, but nonetheless circulated.13. The burden of the Enquiry is that the proof of the soul's immortality from its nature is
bothu'unnecessary, due to Christian revelation, and
inevitably unsuccessful. Quoting Locke favorably and
taking issue both with Clarke and with Baxter, the writer
argues that the unknowable nature of substance spiritual
and material makes the metaphysical proof inconclusive.14
Indeed he objects to any a priori proofs:
the Way of arguing I find so much Fault with
[is] raising Conclusions from abstracted Ideas
of Matter in general, and two or three trifling
Properties belonging to it, and not reasoning.
from the State of things, as we see and experience them actually existing in Nature, with all
their Properties attending them, as their inseparable Retinue. (p. 46)
Similarly, Hume realizes that Locke's theory of substance,
once accepted, renders the metaphysical argument difficult,
if not impossible, and criticizes the travellers of the
high priori road:
metaphysics teach us, that the notion of substance is wholly confused and imperfect . .
Matter, therefore, and spirit, are at bottom
equally unknown; and we cannot determine what
qualities inhere in the one or in the other.
They likewise teach us, that nothing can be
decided a priori concerning any cause or effect;
and that experience, being the only source of our judgments of this nature, we cannot know from any other principle, whether matter, by its structure or arrangement, may not be the
cause of thought.15
Hume's essay differs from the anonymous Enquiry in that
it goes on to deflate not only the metaphysical argument
but also the moral argument and by'implication all arguments in favor of the immortality of the soul except
that from revelation. "By the mere light of reason it seems difficult to prove the immortality of the soul," he writes in opening his essay; "in reality it is the gosepl, and the gospel alone, that has brought life and immortality to light" (p. 597). The work concludes, "Nothing could set in a fuller light the infinite obligations which mankind have to Divine revelation, since we find that no other medium could ascertain this great and important truth [that the soul is immortal]" (p. 604). This orthodox frame for a heterodox picture, even if sincere, is relatively unconvincing. The writer of the Enquiry, on the other hand, accepts most traditional arguments--the moral argument, the argument from desire, and revelation--and is concerned only to show the inadequacy of the metaphysical proof.
The arguments against the metaphysical proof advanced by David Hume and the unknown writer of the Enquiry were strong ones, cogently and clearly presented; less cogent because they were less clear, the polemical arguments on the same topic by Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke were nevertheless more important because their impact was much more pronounced. Written two or three decades before their first public appearance in 1754, Bolingbroke's philosophical works were awaited with great anticipation and received with even greater contro16
versy. Partly by its denial of particular providence
but even more, I believe, by 1its denialof the spiritual nature of the soul, Bolingbroke's philosophy placed him firmly in the ranks of the opponents of, Christianity. His attack on ,the doctrineof immortality proceeds, rhapsodically to be sure, on two fronts: the moral argument and its most famous proponent William Wollaston are refuted by Bolingbroke's optimistic philosophy (see below, pp. 53-54) and the metaphysical. _rgument of Clarke and others is countered.by reasoning tht is by now quite familiar to us. With characteristic flair, Bolingbroke rejects all speculation about the nature of the human mind by philosophers from Plato to Berkeley:
They have reasoned about the human mind a priori, have assumed that they know the nature of it, and
have employed muct wit, and eloquence to account
for all the phaenomena of it upon these assumptions.
But the nature of it is.as much unknown as ever, and
we must despair of having any real knowledge at all
about it, unless we will content ourselves with
that which is to be acquired, a posteriori.17
A priori arguments based on the definition of the essential qualities of matter and spirit (like that advanced by Wollaston) the stateman-turned-philosopher regards merely as presumptive "playing with words in a solemn dogmatical tone." Assuming the voice of such reasoners, he writes,
We metaphysicians and ontosophists have fixed the essence of matter. It can be .no other than it is represented in our abstract ideas . . . . If you
suppose it modified or mixed in any system .
it is no longer conformable to our ideas: it is
therefore no longer matter . . . it is another
substance, and must be called by another name.
To such reasoners it would be, I think, sufficient to say; learn that -human knowledge is derived from
existence: and that to be *real, it must be conformable to things as they exist. (111, 515-18)
At times Bolingbroke's materialism is pronounced, as when he calls spirits "the creatures of metaphysics and theology; because in truth, considered as distinct substances, they are such. All spirits are hypothetical, except the infinite spirit, the father of spirits,.the supreme Being" (111, 427). At other times it is less so: "I do not pretend to deny the possible existence of spiritual, that is, according to, the present notion, of immaterial beings. I have no more right to deny that there are such, than the persons just mentioned [Descartes and Locke] have to affirm it" (111, 509); even here, however, Bolingbroke's intent is not to give hope to the spiritualists, but to refute one of the orthodox trappings of Locke's Essay, namely that although doubtful, spiritual existence is more certain than physical existence. "Upon the whole, therefore," he writes, "we may conclude without presumption against two of the greatest men of their ages,, against-Des Cartes, that thinking is not the essence of the soul; and against Locke, that a solid extended substance is not quite so hard to be conceived as a thinking immaterial one" (111, 512-13).
Bolingbroke's mention~of Descartes is not at all
surprising, for the shadow of the French philosopher fell
across many eighteenth-century discussions of the nature
of the soul, not only because of the obvious relationship
of such discussions with Cartesian mind-body dualism,
but also because of the ancillary concept Descartes
developed to reinforce the view that man and brute were
essentially different. How Descartes' well-known theory
of animal automatism, designed to support his orthodox
position, became an important weapon in the arsenal of
the unorthodox is one of the most interesting chapters of
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century intellectual history.
We must here be content with a brief summary of the
Animals are inferior to men [Descartes argued]
because they neither talk, nor acquire knowledge--proof that they possess no reason.
There is, then, no comparison possible between man and beast, and Descartes can say with certainty that the brute has no soul like the
immortal soul of man. When the brute soul was
stated to be material and mortal, the reply
was soon made that from a comparison of animal and human actions, it could be concluded that what beast could do with a material soul, man also could do with a material soul. Matter is
sufficient for all things. Descartes became the father of materialists when his greatest concern was to make secure the exclusive prerogative of man to a divine and immortal soul,
and to hush the charges of injustice and cruelty
against a God who allows feeling and innocent
creatures to suffer.18
A passage from Andrew Baxter shows us that even in the eighteenth century the ironic result of the brute-machine idea was known: "Probably Cartes's opinion that there .was nothing but matter and motion in brutes, hath been one reason among others, why so many of late have thought it not impossible but that it might be so in men. There is indeed nothing more common to be heard than a confident assertion that it is impossible to prove the soul to be immaterial" (p. 94).
The orthodox position was a dilemma. If thought was attributed to beasts, then it followed that they, too, .must possess an immortal soul, to the Christian an awkward conclusion at the very best. If, on the contrary, beasts were considered to be purely mechanical, then there was every reason to affirm that man was also a machine, as the French materialist La Mettrie did in L'Homme Machine (1747, English translation, 1749).19
This weak point in the orthodox position having been recognized, eighteenth-century tracts which dispute the metaphysical argument very frequently bring up the issue of the souls of brutes. The author of An Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul (1750), for example, points out as one difficulty of Clarke's metaphysical proof,; "If every thing that thinks and perceives, has an immaterial Soul . . . then it follows, that the Souls of
Brutes . . . are so; for they think or perceive in their Degree; and consequently these Gentlemen must conclude, that the Maker of them works a Miracle to annihilate them, when ever they depart from their Bodies; or else affirm, they remain in the immortal State they are entitled to" (pp. 41-2). In similar fashion, Hume notes that "Animals undoubtedly feel, think, love, hate, will, and even reason, though in a more imperfect manner than men: are their souls also immaterial and immortal?" (p. 598).
Driven to desperate ingenuity by this philosophical mousetrap, some orthodox writers replied yes to what Hume obviously intended as a rhetorical question. Confusion dominated most responses from the Christian writers, Andrew Baxter maintaining, for example, that brute souls were immaterial but different from man's, not necessarily immortal but probably so (pp. 94-95), and Thomas Sheridan asserting that brutes had souls, but mortal ones that suffered annihilation (pp. xviii-xx). John Hildrop-motivated by Father William Bougeant's extravagant (albeit satiric) hypothesis that the souls of animals were indeed immaterial and immortal, being the souls of devils waiting for judgment day--predicated a demonstration of the immortality of brute souls on Clarke's metaphysical proof of the immortality of human souls and concluded, "Who can determine the lowest Degree of human Ignorance,
and the highest Pitch of brutal Knowledge; who can say
where the one ends, and the other begins, or whether
there be any other Difference betwixt them but in degree."20
By denying the essential distinction between man and
beast, a statement like Hildrop's plays right into the
hands of a Bolingbroke, who writes,
As these animal systems come to be more and
more sensible to us . . . we discover in them . .
in some more, in others fewer, of the same appearannces, that denote a power of thinking in us from
the lowest conceivable degrees of it, up to such as are not far, if at allremote, from those in
which some men enjoy it. I say some men, because I think it indisputable that the distance between
the intellectual faculties of different men is
often greater than that between the same faculties
in some men and some other animals. (III, 526)21
Bolingbroke considers it established that animals think,
assumes that their souls are material, concludes, therefore,
that matter may think, and links this line of reasoning,
perhaps somewhat weakly, to another position that we have
seen argued before:
No man living has higher notions of the divine
omnipotence, nor carries them further than I do.
An argument fairly drawn from the power of God
will determine me at any time and on any occasion . I am persuaded that God can make material
systems capable of thought, not only because I
must renounce one of the kinds of knowledge that
he has given me, and the first tho not the principle in the order of knowing [the sensory perception, in this case, of thinking animals], or
admit that he has done so: but because the
original principles and many of the properties
of matter being alike unknown to me, he has
not shewn me that it implies any contradiction to assert a material thinking substance. (III,
To sum up, Bolingbroke',s position,4gainpt the ,metaphysical argument was.highlighted by his use and extension of Locke's concept of the limited ability of man to know the true nature of spiritual substance (this in opposition to a priori reasoning), by his;restatement of the well-known souls-of-brutes concept, and by the use of yet another idea promulgated by Locke--thatto disbelieve the possibility of thinking matter was to limit the power of an omnipotent God.
With the orthodox responses to Bolingbroke the debate over the material or immaterial nature of the soul reaches its final stage. William Warburton's A View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy (1754) and John, Hill's Thoughts concerning Godand Nature. In Answer to.Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy (1755) devote much of their attention to shoring up Wollaston's moral argument attacked by Bolingbroke, and defend the metaphysical argument primarily by citing the authority of previous Christian apologists.,Warburton, for instance, begins by asserting that Clarke and Wollaston "had proved the Soul to be a thinking substance distinct from Matter: And I don't know of any body, before his Lordship (who very civilly permited them to enjoy the honour of it for life) that pretended to question the demonstration," and later accuses Bolingbroke of not even venturing "to confute the arguments of Clarke and Baxter:
who, on the principles of'the NeWtobiahtPhiliosophy, have
demonstrated that thesoul is :a substance, distinct from
the body, and different from'matter.'"2-2 Bolingbroke's
penchant for overstatement is cleveriy translated
into symptoms of quixotic madness 'inapassage which
illustrates the desire of the orthodox writers to
dissociate Locke from the deist cause:
Whoever attentively considershis Lordship's
Essays, will, I dare say, be of my mind, That the
much reading his master Locke, who was deeply
engaged with School-divines and Metaphysicians,
had the same effect on his Lordship's temper, then in an advanced age, and under a bilious
habit, that the reading books of Chivalry had
on the prudent Gentleman of La Mancha. And, by his own confession, a man's head is soon turned by complex and abstract ideas. From henceforth the gigantic Forms' of Schoolmen and the enchantments of Metaphysical Divines got entire possession
of his Fancy.
So again, when he says--Clarke shall not
force me into Atheismi; no nor Wollaston neither;
What is this, but Don Quixote, up and down? dreadfully afraid that these Necromancers would, at last, force him into their enchanted castle of
a Future State. (pp. 39-41)
Bolingbroke's error, argues Warburton, 'onsists in extending Locke's view of the uncertain nature 'of substance
beyond reasonable bounds while at the same time ignoring
modifications of Locke by later philosophers.* Bolingbroke's position is identical with
the state of the controversy:when Locke skimed over the argument. But Clarke and Baxter went
to the bottom. They draw their conclusion, not
in the presumption that they knew all the knowable
qualities of matter, and that between these and
Thought, there was no perceivable connexion;
but from this deep and solid truth, that from the little we do know of body, there arises a
contradiction to suppose intelligence to be
a quality of matter. (p. 86)
As to the soul being material, "Locke only contended for the bare possibility. His Lordship has found it to be a fact. So fairly has the disciple outdone his Master" (p. 88).2
The context of John Hill's answer to Bolingbroke is wider than Warburton's, but his manner of proceeding is the same: he too relies on the authority of previous metaphysical proofs, especially Clarke's, and he too attempts to move Bolingbroke away from Locke's authority; in fact, he lists Locke first in a group of philosophers "who have opposed the several systems of Atheism."2 Hill provides clear and accurate summaries of Locke's and Clarke's positions (pp. 270-310), but his work is. probably most valuable to us as an indication of the way Bolingbroke's works were regarded by the mid-eighteenthcentury Christian and as an indication of the importance generally of the belief in immortality to such a man. After tracing the lineage of the two radical heresies, atheism and deism, from Xenophanes and Epicurus respectively, Hill suggests Bolingbroke as the epitome of the latter group: "As the followers of Xenophanes, who deify matter, or deny a God, may be all answered under the names of the two already mentioned, Spinoza and.Hobbes: those
of the other kind, who,: acknowledgingthe existence of a God, disputed his providence, maybe refuted in the consideration of the single Bolingbroke: He is to deists what they are to atheists, the master writer of the sect." All the members of this sect "deny the immortality'of the human soul: nay they question the existenceof such a thing. They call themselves deists, and will say that they entertain more honourable notions of God than others: but none besides themselves say this. Indeed no writers are more irreverend" (p. 247). That the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a pillar of Christianity- almost a sine cua non, and that this is the doctrine most endangered by Bolingbroke's work Hill makes quite clear:
The Lord Bolingbroke expressly and repeatedly
says, he doubts whether there be any such thing
as an human soul, distinct from the body, and that can live after the body; and he declares
himself, in some passages, of opinion, that there
is not. Upon the belief of an immortality of the soul depends all Religion: those who aim
to overthrow that faith, aim at the destruction
of all. (pp. 305-06)
To be able to show that the soul is immortal was, then, extremely important to the believing Christian in the Age of Johnson, especially with the opposing view of the archdeist Bolingbroke attracting so much attention. Yet to support the traditional metaphysical proof Warburton and Hill could produce no new arguments; instead they cited authority. The dispute over the metaphysical argument
had reached a standoff: on the one hand, the orthodox writers, 'by having accepted to a member the-Lockean hypothesis of substance as unknbowable25 irrevocably weakened their position from the start; o':the other hand, the very nature of this hypothesis made it impossible for the heterodox absolutely to prove that indeed the soul was not immaterial.26 Overall, the orthodox side was, of course, a loser in the inconclusive struggle, 'for: it had seen what was traditionally the ''strongest argument for the immortality of man rendered if not impotent at least much less powerful.27 Unwilling to discard a position that had stood them in good stead for so long.; 'especially since it had not actually been disproved, Anglican 'writers continued to employ it, but obviously it alone could" no' longer carry the battle. Increasingly, other argumentsfor the soul's immortality were employed, and two of those arguments-the moral argument and the argument from desire--are the topic of the next chapter of this study.
1John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Alexander Campbell Fraser (Oxford:.,Clarendon Press, 1894), II, 192-93. All quotations from Locke are from this edition and are hereafter cited by book, chapter, and section number.
Yolton, pp. 152-53.
Yolton, p. 164; for a summary of the writings of Coward, Layton, and others, see pp.153-66.
Leslie Stephen,.History of English Thought in the
Eighteenth Century (1876; rpt. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1962), I, 239. Dodwell's Epistolary Discourse Proving from the Scriptures and the First Fathers that the Soul is a Principle Naturally Mortal, but Immortalized Actually by the Pleasure of God appeared in 1706.
Religio Laici, 1. 179, The Poems of John Dryden, ed. James Kinsley (Oxford:. Clarendon Press, 1958), I, 315.
6The Works of Samuel Clarke (London, 1738), III, 743. This volume of the works reprints the entire Clarke-Collins debate and will be hereafter cited in the text.
7Stephen, I, 240.
8W[illiam] Sherlock,.A Discourse concerning the
Happiness of Good Men, and-the Punishment of the Wicked, in the Next World. Part I. Containing the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul, and Immortal Life (London, 1704), p. 78; hereafter cited in the text.
[William Wollaston], The Religion of.Nature Delineated (London, 1726), p. 186; hereafter cited in the text.
10Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion (London, 1736), pp. 16-17.
[Andrew Baxter], An Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul; Wherein the Immateriality of the Soul is Evidenced from the Principles of Reason and Philosophy (London, n.d.), p. 106; hereafter cited in the text.
1Sir John Davis, A Poem on the Immortality of the
Soul. To Which Is Prefixed an Essay upon the Same Subject, by Dr. :Thomas Sheridan (Dublin, 1733), p. x; hereafter cited in the text.
See Ernest Campbell Mossner, "Hume's Four Disserta-'tions: An Essay in Biography and Bibliography," MP, 48 (1950), 37-57. Mossner is no help with the date of composition. Paul C. Davies, in "The Debate on Eternal Punishment in Late Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century English Literature," ECS, 4 (1971), p. 271, dates Hume's essay 1741-42 but with no reason given; he maybe giving the date of Hume's Essays, Moral and Political, with which this essay is printed in modern ediTons even though it does not appear in the edition of that year.
14An Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul, Its
Origin, Properties, and Faculties; Considered both in regard to Itself, and Its Union with the Body. In Which Several Received Opinions Are Confuted concerning Both (London: E. Owen, 1750), pp. 6-7; hereafter cited in the text.
15David Hume, "On The Immortality of the Soul," Essays Moral, Political and Literary (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963), p. 597; hereafter cited in the text.
Walter McIntosh Merrill, From Statesman to Philosopher: A Study in Bolingbroke's Deism (New York.: The Philosophical Library, 1949), pp. 12-13. Leslie Stephen seems mistaken in his opinion that Bolingbroke's "tremendous counterblast for theologians completely missed its aim. It excited little notice, except from Warburton, whose orthodox imagination was here warmed by personal antipathy, and from the inevitable Leland" (I, 149). Merrill lists contemporary responses from Johnson, Thomas Church, Fielding, Burke, Edward Young, and Charles Bulkeley (pp. 12-13, 20n) and overlooks John Hill (see below, pp. 38-39). Merrill, incidentally, evaluates Bolingbroke's concept of immortality in terms of the Clarke-Collins debate, but with an emphasis different from mine. "Bolingbroke," he writes, "is specifically attacking Wollaston's conception of the soul and its immortality
. . . . Bolingbroke, therefore, is assuming much the same position in regard to Wollaston as Collins had taken in regard to Clarke, and Bolingbroke's arguments resemble Collins' about as closely as Wollaston's resembles Clarke's" (p. 122).
17The Works of the Late Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Boln-gbroke (London, 1754), II, 360; hereafter cited in the text.
18Hester Hastings, Man and Beast in French Thought of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1936), pp. 13-14.
19I paraphrase this statement of the dilemma from Lester G. Crocker, An Age of Crisis: Man and World in Eighteenth Century French Thought (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959, p. 84.
20John Hildrop, Free Tho.ughts upon the Brute-Creation: or, an Examination of Father Bougeant's Philosophical Amusement, &c. In Two Letters to a Lady (London, 1742), epistle 2, pp. 36, 65-66.
21Arthur 0. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1936), pp. 195-98, has demonstrated that the reduction to a very slight difference of man's seperation from the lower orders, of living things occurred in the eighteenth century as a function of the principle of continuity. Lovejoy's classic study, esp. pp. 183287, provides a useful complement to mine. For the literary rather than philosophical history of the idea that "Man differs more from Man, than Man from Beast," see Henry Fielding, Miscellanies, ed. Henry Knight Miller (Oxford: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1972), I, 153n.
22[William Warburton], A View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy; in Four Letters to a Friend. Letters First and Second (London, 1754), pp 9-10, 84-85; hereafter cited in the text.
23Cf. John Leland, A View of the Principle Deistical Writers, 5th ed. (London, 1798), II, 9: "what Mr. Locke had advanced as barely possible, for aught he knew, to Almighty Power, our author [Bolingbroke] assumes as having been actually done, and as continually done in the ordinary course of things." Roughly forty percent of Leland's work, which first appeared in 1754, treats Bolingbroke's philosophy, and in a way that is frequently very similar to Warburton's.
24John Hill, Thoughts concerning.,God.and Nature. In Answer to Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy (London, 1755), p. 270; hereafter cited in the text.
25The idea of unknowable substance was, at first,
challenged by theologians. See Yolton, pp. 126-48. But apparently its acceptance by Clarke among others paved the way for the idea to receive virtually universal credence by the mid-eighteenth century.
26The situation of the debate,,which-had been reduced to assertion versus counter-assertion with no possibility of either side winning, can be easily illustrated by the response Hill gives to Bolingbroke's remark about the intellectual faculties of men and animals (quoted above, p. 35): "I must tell this philosopher, for so he-affects to call himself, that there is, and that he might have found it, an unmeasurably greater difference between the most ignorant human creature, and the half reasoning elephant; that between his lordly and magesterial self, and that most uninformed human creature. The reason is plain; their knowledge differs only in degree, that of the peasant and the quadruped in kind" (p. 517). The question of whether or not man and brute are essentially the same, which formed an important part of the debate of the metaphysical argument, comes up again in the course of discussions of the argument from desire, as we shall see in chapter two.
27Interesting evidence of the weakening of the metaphysical argument is available in the reaction of an anonymous reviewer for the Monthly Review at mid-century. After summarizing such an argument from A New Method of Demonstrating from Reasonand Philosophy, the Four Fundamental Points of Religion, he comments, "What conviction this manner of reasoning may carry along with it to others, we know not, but to us it appears far from being conclusive. Indeed, all the arguments that are generally adduced from the spirituality of the soul, to prove its immortality, seem to have very little, if any weight in them. The immortality of the soul must depend upon the will of its Creator, and be proved, by arguments which will be equally conclusive, whether the soul be supposed to be material or immaterial. It implies no contradiction, that we know of, to any of the perfections of the supreme Being, to suppose that he should annihilate an immaterial Being; and as to the impossibility of our conceiving how such a Being can be dissolved, or cease to be the same sort of Being, as our
author says, it signifies nothing, since it must be allowed, .that he who had power to form, has likewise power to destroy," 14 (1756), 279. For a similar opinion, apparently from the same.pen, see a review of Leland's View of the Deistical Writers, 12 (1755), 427.
THE MORAL ARGUMENT AND THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIRE
To Samuel Johnson, and to other eighteenth-century
Englishmen as well, there seems to have been often no clearcut distinction between the moral argument for the immortality of the soul and the argument to the same end from
desire. In Adventurer 120, after several paragraphs which
describe the vanity of human wishes, man's futile quest
for secular happiness, Johnson writes,
From this general and indiscriminate distriSbution of misery, the moralists have always derived one of their strongest moral arguments for a future
state; for since the common events of the present life happen alike to the good and bad, it follows from the justice of the Supreme Being, that there
must be another state of existence, in which a just
retribution shall be made, and every man shall be happy and miserable according to his works.
From this straightforward statement of the moral argument
Johnson glides almost imperceptibly into the argument from
It is scarcely to be imagined that Infinite Benevolence would create a being capable of enjoying so
much more than is here to be enjoyed, and qualified by nature to prolong pain by remembrance, and anticipate it by terrour, if he was not designed for
something nobler and better than a state, in which
many of his faculties can serve only for his torment;
in which he is to be importuned by desires that
never can be satisfied, to feel many evils which he had no power to avoid, and to fear many which
he shall never feel: there will surely come a time, when every capacity of happiness shall be
filled, an none.shall be wretched but by his
Such a conflation is easy to understand: both arguments are moral in the sense that both are dependent on the assumption of a just God; moreover, both arguments assume that man's quest for happiness in thisworldis inevitably a failure. Nevertheless, the arguments differ in several important ways, and, as I trace the history of each in the century, these differences will help to.explain why the moral argument was attacked (as was the- metaphysical argument, but on different grounds) while the argument from desire remained unscathed and actually increased in importance.
The major promulgator of the moral argument during the eighteenth century must be William Wollaston. The argument shows up in writers earlier in the century, to be sure, but none develops it to the extent Wollaston does in The Religion of Nature Delineated. For example, William Sherlock, writing two decades before Wollaston, while he discusses in detail arguments from revelation and from the immateriality of the soul, merely pays lip service to the moral argument, listing as a final proof of the soul's immortality "that though there are many remarkable Demonstrations of the Wisdom and Justice of God in this World, yet Justice is not so equally administered here, as to
answer thosd Natural Notions we have of the Justice of the Divine Government" (p. 180). Wollaston, on the other, hand, develops the argument at length and in a manner interesting to follow.
Wollaston first announces the-basis of the moral
argument: "We may conclude the souls of men to be immortal from the nature of God. For-if he is (which sure no body doubts) a Perfect being, He, as such, can do nothing inconsistent with perfect or right reason. . . . He cannot,. but deal reasonably with all His dependents" (pp. 199-200). An examination of the general and usual state of mankind, however, reveals that life is filled with toil and trouble from birth to death, that all our e njoyments are mixed at best and our expectations frequently disappointed, that neither youth nor adulthood nor old age is happy, that even envied states are sorrowful, and that domestic bliss is nonexistent (pp. 205-08). "Seriously, the present state of mankind is unaccountable, if it has not some connexion with another, and be not as it were the porch or entry to it" (p. 207). The contrast, in other words, between a just creator and an unjust creation necessarily implies, the existence of a life after death where the inequities of this life can be rectified. Wollaston even suggests that the contrast is provided intentionally by God to illustrate this point:
perhaps . . . He has so ordered things on purpose,
that from the various compositions of men's circumstances with the natural effects of their virtues and vices, and the many inequalities arising thence, they might see the necessity and certainty
of another state: and that for this reason there
should always be some remarkable instances of
opprest innocence and flourishing wickedness. (p. 204)
Only one objection appears to this rather pat argument,
and Wollaston shows himself aware of it by raising it in
order to dismiss it curtly. The objection, popularized by
Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, is
that virtue will make men happy in this life, and that,
therefore, moral men have no real need to believe in rewards
hereafter. Wollaston's answer is the standard orthodox
response, that virtue tends to this effect but is more
often outweighed by worldly circumstances that men cannot
Wollaston's thin reply does not indicate the seriousness of the threat to the moral argument from Shaftesbury s
philosophy; on this point a modern student of the aristocratic philosopher has written,
Much of Shaftesbury's polemic against the religion of his time was directedagainst those who
denied that there was a moral order evident in
the present life because they thought this would
make belief in future retribution all the more necessary in a supposedly just universe. This
procedure, which Shaftesbury describes as "building a future state on the ruins of virtue," can
only succeed in undermining our faith in Deity
Shaftesbury is perhaps best described as an -agnostic on the issue of personal immortality, but his-attempts to establish the intelligibility of the world as presently experienced clash as violently with the moral argument as if he had been immortality's avowed enemy. His exaltation of secular experience and, consequently, his lack of concern with the question of immortality except as it impinged on his concept of the workings of this world are reflected in a comment he makes after reading a letter by John Locke written shortly before Locke's death: in contrast to the orthodox Christian sentiment of his former mentor "that this life is a scene of vanity, that soon passes away, and affords no solid satisfaction but in the consciousness of doing well, and in hopes of another life," Shaftesbury writes, "I ask no reward from heaven for that which is reward itself. Let my being be continued or discontinued, as in the main is best. The author of
it best knows, and I trust Him with it." Perhaps because of his relative indifference to the issue, Shaftesbury does not advance an argument in favor of immortality that appears to spring from the school of moral sensibility with which he is often associated (see below, pp. 74-78). Rather, Shaftesbury's view that this world was a just and moral one seriously undercut one important orthodox Christian argument for the soul's immortality, and
Shaftesbury showed no concern for thd consequences.
All this became evident later in the century, when his
position--adopted by Bolingbroke among others and coupled
with an increasing moral relativism and empiricism, prominently displayed by Hume--seriously impaired the efficacy
of the moral argument.
In 1733 Thomas Sheridan can still advance the moral
argument without qualification:
For can it consistiwith the Goodness of God, to let the sincerely pious and virtuous Man, and one altogether corrupt and vicious, end
alike, and undistinguished in the Dust? When
the former hath done such Actions, as no Reward
in this World can be an Equivalent for; and
the other committed such Crimes, as no Tortures
here, could sufficiently punish. (p. xvii)5
By 1749, however, David Hartley, in his "Of a Future State
after the Expiration of this Life," has to hedge somewhat
in his moral argument, perhaps due to Shaftesbury's
Virtue is, in general, rewarded here, and has
the Marks of the Divine Approbation; Vice, the
contrary. And yet, as far as we can judge,
this does not always happen; nay, it seems to
happen very seldom, that a good Man is rewarded
here in any exact Proportion to his Merit, or
a vicious Man punished exactly according to
.his Demerit. Now these apparent Inequalities
in the Dispensations of Providence, in subordinate Particulars, are the strongest Argument
for a future State, in which God may shew his
perfect Justice and Equity, and the Consistency
of all his Conduct with itself.6
Recognizing that a disproportionbetween happiness and virtue in the present life "must be established previously, before we can draw an Argument for a future State from this, and the moral Character ofithe Deity, put together" (p. 364) and also recognizing that a universe governed. by a just God should reflect a moral scheme--"Virtue has always the .fairest Prospect, even in this Life; and Vice is always exposed to the greatest Hazards" (p. 363)-Hartley equivocates. -He advances the moral argument while at the same time downplaying one of its bases, the unhappiness of earthly existence: "It is probable, that most or all Men receive more Happiness than Misery in their Passage thro' the present Life" (p. 359).
While Shaftesbury's influence on Hartley is conjectural, his influence on the blind Scottish poet Thomas Blacklock can be demonstrated. In his "On the Immortality of the Soul: 'An Essay" (1756), Blacklock advances, in addition to the metaphysical argument and the argument from desire, a proof of the soul's immortality from the attributes of God:
If we compare the character of God, as a
wise superintendent and generous benefactor of
nature, with the state in which things at present
appear; where virtue is often depressed and
afflicted, and vice apparently triumphs; it will
seem highly inconsistent, that in no future scene,
vice should be treated with the punishment and
infamy it merits, and virtue receive that happiness and honour . . . it has reason to expect.
'Tis true, this subject has been too much
exaggerated; and [here a note reading "Shaftesbury"]
some pious men have weakly thought, the best way to convince us, that order and happiness, prevailed in a future state, was to persuade
us, that there was none at all in this.
Let us on the contrary candidly own, that
virtue is sovereignly and solely good; least
by depreciating her charms, we obliquely detract from the character of God himself.7
Both in Hartley and in Blacklock, then, the erosive effect of Shaftesburian optimism on the moral argument is evident; however, just as was the case with the metaphysical argument, the most vociferous attack on the Orthodox position occurs in the writings of, Lord Bolingbroke-,
Taking issue specifically with Wollaston's statement that "if there is not a future state, God is neither good nor just," Bolingbroke maintains that divines who so argue "betray the cause of God to the atheist, wh en they joyn with him in so many points, that nothing remains to be opposed to him, in defence of God's existence, but the problematical and futile reasonings they employ to prove a future state" (V, 323). He continues, "the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, having been precariously established, and neither generally nor entirely believed, by those who believed the existence of God on better foun-. dations, there is a real danger to this first principle of all religion arising from the hypothesis against which I contend" (V, 355) . Besides asserting a confederacy between the divines and the atheists, Bolingbrokel
thinking it arrogant for man to a:,sum' like Wollaston that the entire world was created for his happiness, suggests rather that "the several parts of the material world, like the machines of a theater, were contrived not for the actors, but for the action. . . . The nature of every creature . . . is adapted to his state here, to the place he is to inhabit, and, as we say to the part he is to act" (V, 377).8 Bolingbroke's optimism will admit occasional evils in the universal drama, but no necessary general misery: "Let us be convinced . in opposition to atheists and divines, that the general state of mankind in the present scheme of providence is a state not only tolerable, but happy" (V, 382).
John Hill's response to Bolingbroke's attack is
somewhat meager: he restates the moral argument briefly and comments, "in this there is nothing absurd surely; but this man ridicules it" (p. 580). William Warburton answers at greater length. He explains that, to produce the supposed confederacy of atheist and divine, Bolingbroke has "jumbled . . . two controversies together; and, in the confusion . . . commodiously slipped in one fact for another" (p. 28). The nature of the divines' argument varies, depending on whether the antagonist is atheist or deist.
In disputing with the Atheist, the- principle held in common, was the present unequal distribution of Good and Evil. So that to cut
off their conclusion from it, of No God, they
proved his being and attributes,. . . With the Deist, the common principle was the being
and attributes of God. Therefore, to.bring
them to the allowance of a Future State, they
proved the present unequal distribution of,
good and evil; and from thence inferred, that
there must be such a State. (p. 26)
Warburton concludes this point, "'Well then, the whole
amount of his Chimerical Confederacy rises to this, That
Divines and Atheists.hold a principlein common; but
in common too with all the rest of mankind; namely,
that there are irregularities in the distribution of
moral good and evil" (p. 29).
Warburton continues in the same vein against Bolingbroke's optimism, the other source of his attack on the
moral proof. The maxim--whatever is, is right--as applied
by Lord Bolingbroke is impious cant, says Warburton, who
contrasts his application with the poet's:
Mr. Pope's Essay on man is a real vindication of Providence against Libertines and Atheists;
who quarrel with the present constitution of
things, and deny a future State. To these he answers that whatever is, is right: and the.
reason he gives, is, that we see only a part
of the moral system, and not the whole: .
Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are a pretended vindication of Providence against an ,imaginary confederacy between Divines and Atheists .
His Lordship . . . endeavours to overthrow
their common principle, by his Friend's maxim,
that whatever is, is right; not because the
present state of our moral world . . . is necessary for the greater perfection of the whole, but because our moral world is an entire system
of itself. (pp. 80-81)
The tendency for both'lthe ,heterodox and the orthodox sides to make use of Pope's sententia during the moral argument is further shown by Hume's treatment of it (to be discussed in aimoment)'and by its appearance in the Latin poem De Animi Immortalitate (1754) by Isaac Hawkins Browne. William Hay renders Browne's position succinctly: "Whatever is, is right, take all in view: /.If nought survives us, the reverse is-true."9
To an impartial reader today Warburton clearly seems to get the better of Bolingbroke,, but historical perspective tells us that here was a case wheretfeeling prevailed over logic, for Warburton was engaged in a rearguard action against optimistic tendencies which rendered the. moral argument for the immortality of the soul simply unpalatable to many late eighteenth-century Englishmen. In fact, the optimistic tendencies which negated the moral argument had a similar effect' on the entire orthodox position; when Joseph Butler attempted to:dounter these tendencies in The Analogy of Religion (1736), he realized the necessity of establishing through natural theology the orthodox doctrines that natural theology had weakened. Thus, his opening chapters dealt with the existence of a future life, the rewards and punishments of a life hereafter, and God's moral government in this world.
Specifically written to oppose the Shaftesburian influence, Butler's Analogy is considered one of the most effective defenses of orthodoxy in the century. It ultimately failed, however, for the same reasons Bolingbroke's view won out over Warburton's, reas ons which will become clearer through a comparison of the moral argument with the more easily digested argument from desire. 1
David Hume's essay on the soul provides a convenient' bridge between the two arguments we are considering in this chapter, though the Scottish philosopher himself deals with only one of them., When he writes on moral arguments, that is, arguments "derived from the justice of God," he finds
these arguments are grounded on the supposition
that God has attributes beyond what he has
exerted in this universe, with which alone we are acquainted. Whence do we infer the existence of these attributes? It is very safe for
us to affirm, that whatever we know the Deity to have actually done is best; but it is very
dangerous to affirm that he must always do what
to us seems best. (p. 598)11
"Whatever is, is right" is acceptable to Humne it seems, but not "whatever will be, will be right." The moral argument--predicated on the demonstration of the injustice of this world and the assumption of divine moral attributes exceeding those displayed here-- falls victim to the twin forces of optimism, with its emphasis on the
completeness of the secular moral system, and empiricism,
with its stress on the secular limitations of human knowledge. While earlier in the century Wollaston could maintain that God's ends were servedand the moral argument
supported by "some remarkable instances of opprest innocence .and flourishing wickedness," Hume's point of view
makes such moral distinctions impossible:
Heaven and Hell suppose two distinct species of
men, the good and the bad; but the greatest part
of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue. Were one to go round the world with an intention of
giving a good supper to the righteous and a
sound drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently
be embarrassed in his choice, and would find the
merits and demerits of most men and women scarcely
amount to the value'of either. (pp. 600-01)12
The rapacity with which Hume attacks the moral argument
(and the metaphysical argument for that matter) makes noteworthy the absence of a similar attack on the argument
from desire, as was observed late in the nineteenth century by the militant agnostic Thomas Huxley. After tracing
the influence of Hume's essay on nineteenth-century theologians, especially Dr. Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin,
It is remarkable that Hume does not refer to
the sentimental arguments for the immortality of
the soul which are so much in vogue at the present
day; and which are based upon our desire for a
longer conscious existence than that which nature
appears to have allotted to us. Perhaps he did
not think them worth notice.' For indeed it is
not a little strange, that our strong desire that
a certain occurrence should happen should be put
forward as evidence that it will happen.13
Besides making clear his own religious position, Huxley's statement illustrates that the argument from desire, rather than the moral argument, became the proof Christian apologists primarily used during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century to demonstrate the soul's immortality.
The ascendency of the argument from desire can be explained, it seems to me, by contrasting its premises with those of the moral argument. First, we have seen a growing reluctance in the eighteenth century to view the world in terms of opprest innocence versus flourishing wickedness.14 Whereas the moral argument demanded such a division, the argument from desire needed only a recognition that the world failed to satisfy man's infinite yearnings. Man's general dissatisfaction with the world, whether that world were just or unjust, could be asserted without running headlong into deistic (i.e., optimistic) opposition. Furthermore, and this is the second point of contrast between the two arguments, while the moral argument hinged on the attributes of God, the argument from desire depended primarily on the attributes of man.
It was an argument "taken from human Nature, and though it presupposed a moral God who would not allow man to desire in vain, emphasis was always on the hopes and fears of men, attributes which might be verified
empirically. A sketch of the development of this argument through the century will show its being refined from an early crudeness :which Huxley persists in attributing to.it into a highly sophisticated and persuasive psychological argument for man's immortality.
If we turn to William Sherlock again, we find in
1704 an early example of a limited version of the argument, centering on the desire of men to live forever and the desire for fame as indications of immortality and including the half-facetious remark, "'And this ,is the only difference between Men and Brutes; the Principle of Self-preservation is the same in both; but this admir'd Reason deceives Men into the vain Hopes and Desires of Immortality, which Brutes never think of" (pp.; 175-76). Probably more popular and accessible than Sherlock's work, the Spectator in several numbers mentions briefly the argument from desire. At least one of these numbers Johnson appreciated particularly: "One of the finest pieces in the English language is the [Spectator] paper on Novelty, yet we do not hear it talked of. It was written by Grove, a dissenting teacher."l6 Despite Johnson's unwillingness to call the non-conforming minister a clergyman, his admiration for Henry Grove's essay is ,unrestrained and completely understandable when we recognize that Spectator 626, Mon-.,
Nov. 29, 1714, is in large part a proof of man's immortality drawn from his insatiability. Grove asks, "Is not [man's] Fondness for Novelty . . . a convincing Proof of a future State? . . . when I see [men] hurry from Country to Town, and then from the Town back again into the Country, continually shifting Postures, and placing Life in all the different Lights they can think of; Surely, say I to my self, Life is vain, and the Man beyond Expression stupid or prejudic'd, who from the Vanity of Life cannot gather, He is designed for Immor,,17
tality. Another contributor to the Spectator, John
Hughes, writes in No. 210, Wed., Oct. 31, 1711,
since Nature . . . does nothing in vain, or,
to speak properly, since the Author of our Being has planted no wandering Passion in
it, no Desire which has not its Object, Futurity
is the proper Object of the Passion so constantly
exercis'd about it; and this Restlessness in
the present, this assigning our selves over
to farther Stages of Duration, this successive
grasping at somewhat still to come, appears.
to me . . as a kind of Instinct or natural Symptom which the Mind of Man has of its own
Immortality. (11, 322-23)
The argument would eventually develop along the lines suggested here by Hughes and Grove, emphasizing man's dissatisfaction with the present and the secular and his insatiable appetite for the future and the infinite; but not until the theological writings of Francis Gastrell some fifteen years later and the poetry of
Edward Young some twenty years after Gastrell would this development become easily discernible.
A more famous cont ributor to the Spectator, Joseph Addison, had also used the argument from desire, though in a less concrete manner and tinged with traces of another Argument which was to be developed by the school of moral sensibility. In Spectator 111, Sat., July 7, 17 11, he speaks of the proof of immortality from the soul's "Passions and Sentiment, as particularly from its Love of Existence, its Horrour of Annihilation, and its ,Hopes of Immortality, with that secret Satisfaction which it finds in the Practice of Virtue, and that Uneasiness which follows'in it upon the Commission of Vice" (I, 457). Addison'iseems here to mix the argument from desire not only with the argument from conscience1 but also with what we might term an argument from sentiment. Note particularly the mention of passions and sentiments as a basis for the proof and the suggestion of an inner, secret satisfaction found in the practice of virtue. This type of argument is too important a part of later eighteenth century discussions of immortality to be ignored, but, since it is relatively unimportant to a reading of Johnson's Rasselas, I reserve treatment of it until the conclusion of this chapter.
Of all early versions of the argument from desire perhaps the most widely known throughout the eighteenth
century is the soliloquy on immortality that opens the final act of Addison's neo-classical tragedy Cato (1713). James Boswell knew this speech well and repeated it (along with some less elevated verse) upon his first sight of London in 1762; and in 1768 Laurence Sterne parodied the soliloquy in Yorick's famous apostrophe to sensibility near the end of his Sentimental Journey.19 The stage directions at the beginning of act five of Addison's drama describe "Cato solus, sitting in a thoughtful posture: In his hand Plato's book on the immortality of the soul [probably the Phaedo]. A drawn sword on the table by him." Cato's opening lines present the argument from desire with its frequent concomitant, the idea of man's horror of annihilation:
It must be so--Plato, thou reason'st well!
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror,
Of falling into nought? why shrinks the soul Back on herself, and startles at destruction?
'Tis the divinity that stirs within us;
'Tis heaven itself,'that points out an hereafter,
And intimates eternity to man.20
Certainly there are tendencies in Addison, if not in Shaftesbury, toward a sentimental argument for immortality, and a comment by Fielding's Parson Adams--"I never heard of any plays fit for a Christian to read, but Cato and the Conscious Lovers"21_--puts Addison's play in dubious company; nevertheless, the distance
between the intimations ofimmortality suggested in Cato's soliloquy and those in later writers of the sentimental mode is substantial, and a further examination of the argument from desire will show that it continued to develop relatively independent of the school of moral sensibility.
Continued conflation of the argument from desire is evident in William Wollaston's treatment, as he joins it not with the arguments of conscience and sentiment (as had Addison), but with the argument based on consensus gentium:
that great expectation, which men have, of
continuing to live in another state, beyond
the grave, has I suppose been commonly admitted
as one proof, that they shall live . . .
That theygenerally have had such an expectation, can scarce be denied. The histories of
mankind, their deifications, rites, stories of
apparitions, the frequent mention of a hades,
with rewards and punishments hereafter, &c. all
testify, that even the Heathen world believed,
that the souls of men survived their bodies. (p. 208) In its early version the argument from desire is frequently mixed with other types ofarguments primarily, I think, because in this form it is somewhat superficial and certainly capable of little elaboration. To argue that because we desire immortality we are immortal is not to convince the unbeliever, whose response is likely to be that of Thomas Huxley:
If my intense desire to see the friend, from
whom I have parted, does not bring him from
the other side of the world, or take me thither;
if the mother's agonised prayer that her child
should live has not prevented him from dying;
experience certainly affords no presumption
that the strong desire to be alive after death, which we call the aspiration after immortality,
is any more likely to be gratified. (p. 208)
By 1725, however, with the appearance of Francis
Gastrell's Moral Proof of the Certainty of a Future State,
the argument from desire has attained independent status.
Gastrell's work, in fact, has a two-fold importance,
both as perhaps the most extended eighteenth-century
example of the argument and also as its chief source for
Edward Young, whose Night Thoughts was further to popu22
larize it throughout the remainder of the century.
Gastrell's treatment includes the older version of the
argument--it mentions the impossibility of setting "Bounds
to our Desires of living" and the human impulse to be
famous (pp. 13-14)--but transcends it frequently,
especially in its development of the vanity of human
Whatever View we take of Man, we shall find the Prospect continually enlarging upon us,
till it open into another World. But, if
that be only an imaginary State, then every thing we meet with here will come under the
Character either of Mystery, or Delusion, and
we shall be sure of nothing but Vanity, and
Vexation of Spirit. (p. 6)
Developing his thesis from characteristics of the human
psyche, Gastrell continues,
If Man were made for this Life only, and not
design'd to aim at any thing beyond it, why
were not all his Desires and Expectations confined within the Compass of hi-s Being? When
the Time allotted us to appear in is but a
Span long, why are we continually reaching out
into Eternity, and never satisfyed with any
thing less that infinite? (p. 7)
The argument from desire permits the Christian apologist once more to insist on the essential difference between,
man and brute and to be on much firmer ground than he was
during the metaphysical argument. Thus Gastrell writes,
There are no other Beings, within our Observation, which are liable to Sorrow and Affliction but Man;
at least he is the only Being that knows himself
to be miserable, and is capable' of complaining
that he is so. For, whatever Pain we can suppose the Beasts that perish feel, it is all in present:
They have noT Concern for what is past, nor any
Apprehensions of what is to come . . . . And why our Souls disquieted within us, by the Fears and
Apprehensions of Evils to come; if there were
not some future Dispensation, which concerned us
more, and deserved to be more in our Thoughts,
than any thing, about which we are now employed can do? And what Reason can be alleged, why we
should be troubled for any thing that is past,
and which, by being past, could not possibly
create us the least Uneasiness, without our
own Reflection upon it? (pp. 10-11)
Man is the only animal with a sense of time, the only
animal that fears or hopes for things not immediate,
thereby distinguishing himself from brute creation and
partially accounting for his terrestrial discontent.
This concept becomes almost a commonplace in literature
on the soul in the eight eenth century. Gastrell's con-
temporary William Wollaston argues,
if the souls of men are mortal (extinguishd
at death), the case of brutes is by much preferable to that of men. The pleasures of brutes, tho but sensual, are more sincere, being palled or diminishd by no diverting consideration . . . Their sufferings are
attended with no reflexion . . . . They
are void of cares; are under no apprehension
for families and posterity; never fatigue
themselves with vain inquiries, hunting
after knowledge which must perish with them;
are not anxious about their future state, nor
can be disappointed of any hopes or expectations. (pp. 210-11)
And Edward Young, some twenty years after Gastrell and
Wollaston, in the seventh of his Night Thoughts four different times compares man and beast in similar fashion.
Near the beginning of the poem he suggests briefly, then
denies, that heaven is kinder to a shepherd's flocks than
to the shepherd himself.23 Later he discusses the topic
Or own the Soul immortal, or invert
All Order. Go, Mock-Majesty! go, Man!
And bow to thy Superiors of the Stall;
Thro' ev'ry Scene of Sense superior far:
They graze the Turf untill'd; they drink the Stream
Unbrew'd, and ever full, and un-embitter'd
With Doubts, Fears, fruitless Hopes, Regrets, Despairs
Their Good is Good intire, unmixt, unmarr'd;
They find a Paradise in ev'ry Field,
On Boughs forbidden where no Curses hang:
Their Ill, no more than strikes the Sense; unstretched
By previous Dread, or Murmur in the Rear. (p. 148)
Still later Young returns to the idea that man's sense of
time distinguishes him from beasts and is one of the sources
of his terrestrial discontent; he asks concerning man,
Why by Reflection marr'd the Joys of Sense?
Why Past, and Future, preying on our Hearts?
And putting all our present Joys to Death?
Why labours Reason? Instinct were as well;
Instinct, far better; what can chuse, can err:
O how infallible the thoughtless Brute! (p. 158) Man is truly "fatally distinguisht" (p. 161) from beast if indeed he is not immortal, but once distinction is established, especially on psychological terms, the argument for man'simmortality is almost accomplished. The opening of Johnson's Rasselas, as we shall see, depends to a large extent on this idea.
Gastrell's-argument from desire, even as expanded by him in the ways we have just examined, definitely retains an ethical component, and parts of his tract could just, as easily appear in works concentrating on the moral argument. Consider, for instance, this passage:
The troubles and miseries of human Life
S. . which we cannot, by any care or foresight of our own prevent, are so many, and
make such deep impressions upon the Soul, that
should we, at our leaving this World, take a
true estimate of all the common events that
have happened -to us in it, there are very few
of us, who, upon a just balance, would find
the Good to exceed the Evil. (p. 33)
Still, Gastrell stresses , in conjunction with the futility of the search for human happiness in this world, not the moral attributes of God, which demand future reparation, but the psychological-attributes of men, which commit them to the futile search and:condemn them to secular
discontent; echoing Henry Grove he writes, "For so
are we made, that, whatever work we are engaged in,
we are often desiring to shift our posture; and, which
way soever our thoughts are employed, we frequently want
to have them turned into another channel" (p. 27).
Here is the argument in a brief but complete form,
again in Gastrell's words:
Since therefore ittis manifest that Man, with
all his knowledge and understanding, is not
capable of obtaining that end, which is proper
and agreeable to his nature, in this Life;
it necessarily follows, that God hath appointed some other state for him. For it is impossible
to conceive . . . That [God] should give him
capacities that could never be filled, and inclinations and desires that could never be answered;
that he should deceive him with false hopes, amuse him with the prospect of good things at a distance,
which he could never reach . . . . This, I say,
is no way reconcileable to any notions we have
of God. (pp. 71-72)
More modest instances of the argument are found in
works we have cited before by Thomas Sheridan and David
Hartley. The argument is not clearly defined in Sheridan,
though it seems to me that the following quotations show
traces, at least, of the position:
Shall Man then, for whom all these Things
[the natural universe] were made, not have his End answered? I mean, shall he not be
translated to a World of Happiness, since Happiness is his only Pursuit, and that he
cannot have it here. (p. xxi)
the most evident Argument for the Continuance
of our Being hereafter, is that Principle
within us, by which Nature . . . hath plainly
pointed out another World to us. This never
dies, for Self-preservation, both here and
hereafter, is so plainly imprinted in us, that we cannot seriously think of Annihilation, but
with the utmost Horror. (pp. xxii-xxiii)
Hartley specifically links horror of annihilation24 with the argument from desire in a passage which also reinforces the suggestion I.made earlier that this argument is less dependent than the moral argument on the attributes of God:
The great Desire of a future Life, with the
Horror of Annihilation, which are observable in a great Part of Mankind, are Presumptions for a future Life, and against Annihilation.
All other Appetites and Inclinations have
adequate Ojbects prepared for them: It cannot
therefore be supposed, that this Sum total of
them.all should go ungratified. And this Argument will hold, in some measure, from the mere
analogy of Nature, though we should not have recourse to the moral Attributes of God; but it receives great additional Force from considering him as our Father and Protector. (p. 385)
Unquestionably more Englishmen read the argument from desire in verse than in the prose of Gastrell, Sheridan, and Hartley put together. The verse I refer to is Edward Young's Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742-46), perhaps the most popular poem 'of the second 25
half of the eighteenth century. Evidence exists, moreover, that at least among Johnson and his circle and probably among most literate Englishmen Young's poem was highly regarded specific ly for its treatment of the doctrine of immortality. In his. life of Akenside, Johnson wrote, ."One great defect of his [Pleasures of
Imagination] is very properly censured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be said in his defence that what he has omitted was not properly in his plan." Johnson then quotes from John Walker's Exercises for Improvements in Elocution:
[Akenside's] picture of man is grand and beautiful, but unfinished. The immortality of the soul, which
is the natural consequence of the appetities and
powers she is invested with, is scarcely once hinted
throughout the poem. This deficiency is amply supplied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young, who, like a good philosopher, has invincibly proved the immortality of man, from the grandeur of his conceptions
and the meanness and misery of his state; for this reason a few passages are selected from the Night
Thoughts, which, with those from Akenside, seem to form a complete view of the powers, situation, and
end of man.26
Both Night the Sixth and Night the Seventh (1744) in
the poem to which Mr. Walker refers are concerned explicitly with reclaiming the infidel by means of arguments for immortality. In the preface to the former Young writes, "Few-Ages have been deeper in Dispute about Religion, than this. . . . I think [these disputes) may be reduced to this single Question, Is Man Immortal, or is he not?" The poet continues, "I have been long persuaded, that most, if not all, our Infidels .are supported in their dep lorable Error, by some Doubt of their Immortality, at the Bottom. And I am satisfied, that Men once thoroughly convinced of their Immortality, are not far from being Christians" (pp. 109, 110). Prefacing Night the Seventh Young stresses again the particular relevance of his topic
to his time: "The Soul's Immortality has been the favourite Theme with the Serious of all Ages. . . Of highest Moment this Subject always was, and always will be. Yet this its highest Moment seems to admit of Increase, at this Day; a Sort of occasional Importance is superadded to the natural Weight of it" (p. 136). Since he is interested in reclaiming a lost soul, Young specifies that he will advance "Arguments derived from Principles: which Infidels admit in common with Believers" (pp. 110-11); in fact, he concludes Night the Seventh with an exaltation of Revelation, but this presumably occurs after the infidel has been reclaimed.
The sections which concern us! here appear in Night the Seventh, where Young presents his proofs "drawn from Man" (p. 139) , for the most part types of the argument from desire. Man's terrestial. discontent the subject, the poet asks why cottager and king alike are disquieted in this world.
Is it, that Things Terrestial can't content?
Deep in rich Pasture, will thy Flocks complain?
Not so; but to their Master is deny'd
To share their sweet Serene. Man, ill at Ease, In this, not his own Place, this foreign Field
Where Nature fodders him with other Food,
Than was ordain'd his Cravings to suffice,
Poor in Abundance, famish'd at a Feast,
Sighs on for something more, when most enjoy'd.
Is Heav'n then kinder to thy Flocks, than Thee?
Not so; thy: Pasture richer, but remote. (p. 141)
Man's hope and his 'never-ending undefined quest, the poet suggests, while sources of discomfort in this world, are
signs and proofs of immortality:
His Immortality alone can solve
That darkest of AEnigmas, human Hope;
Of all the darkest, if at Death we die.
Hope, eager Hope, th' Assassin of our Joy, All present Blessings treading under-foot,
Is scarce a milder Tyrant than Despair.
.With no part Toils content, still planning new,
Hope turns us o'er to Death alone for Ease.
Possession, why, more tasteless than Pursuit?
Why is a Wish far dearer than a Crown? (p. 143)
The vanity of human wishes (with Young emphasizing human wishes as much as vanity) leads directly here to a proof of the soul's immortality. Later the poet repeats virtually the .same argument:
Why Life, a Moment; Infinite, Desire?
Our Wish, Eternity? Our Home, the Grave?
Heav'n's Promise dormant lies in human Hope;
Who wishes Life Immortal, proves it too.
Why Happiness pursu'd, tho' never found?
Man's Thirst of Happiness declares It is
(For Nature never gravitates to nought)
That Thirst unquencht declares It is not Here. (p. 157) These passages, coupled with the.man-beast comparisons discussed earlier, make it evident that the argument from desire is indeed the informing principle of this section of Young's.Night Thoughts.28
Earlier we observed William Wollaston, in the course of his moral argument for the immortality of the soul, suggest that perhaps God placed inequity in the world that man "might see:-the necessity and certainty of another state." Without the. disadvantage .of opening.the door to detractors of:Christianity by: stressing the inequity of
this:world and with the advantage of stressing to an increasingly secular society the attributes of man rather than the attributes of God, the argument from desire obtains the same conclusion as Wollaston's moral argument, as this statement from Thomas Blacklock's use of it reveals:
That insatiable desire of good, which scorns
every possession already in our power, and
ever pants for untasted delights, is likewise
a strong argument of the, Immortality of the Soul
S. . . It is not to be thought, that the
great Author of the human constitution would
kindle and enlarge the desires of his creatures
so far beyond .the proportion of any sublunary
good, with any other view than to give their expectations a nobler aim; and to teach them,
that they were formed for eternity and unbounded
perfection. ,(pp. 223-24)
Three major arguments, then, the metaphysical, the moral, and that from desire, were available to the mideighteenth-century .Christ ian apologist todemonstrate the immortality of man. Yet another proof, let us call it for convenience the argument from sentiment, became popular in the second half of the century, though it never became a mainstay of the orthodox position, and it is worth regarding briefly, first in an exaggerated and then in a serious form.
Near the end of Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey
(1768), Yorick, "in quest of melancholy adventures" because, as he tells us, "I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in
them," seeks out the mad but attractive Maria, who having Previously lost her lover and her senses has recently been deprived of her father and her goat. Yarick sits down beside her, alternately wiping her tears and his, "and as I did it," he says, "I felt such undescribable emotions within me, as I am sure could not be accounted for from any combinations of matter and motion. I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have pe'ster'd the world ever convince me of the contrary."29 Most likely, Sterne manages in this passage to undercut the argument from sentiment with the suggestion that Yorickis emotions are more sexual than theological; without calling his own belief in immortality in question, he has devastating fun at the expense of the man of feeling who would assert, in opposition to the equally foolish materialist, that his sensibility demonstrates his immortality. 3 But this argument was advanced seriously as well.
For a non-satiric representation of the argument from sentiment let us turn to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar (1762), a work remarkable both as a clear and concise statement of Rosseau' s mature religious position and as an indication of the blending of orthodox and heterodox views which comprised it. The last of the three fundamental principles Rousseau' s vicar establishes as basic to his faith,
that man is free and has antimmortal soul, suggests the orthodox nature of most of the Profession.31 Moreover, the vicar's expressed admiration of Samuel Clarke's metaphysics, his opposition to Locke's theory of thinking matter, and his general acceptance of the metaphysical argument for the soul's immortality, all indicate the traditional strain in Rousseau's religious thought (pp. 6, 23-25, 30). The moral as well as the metaphysical proof shows up in the Profession, again in a perfectly orthodox way; the vicar says, "Even if I had no other proof of the immaterial nature of the soul than the triumph of the wicked and the oppression of the just in this world, that alone would prevent me from doubting it. . . . I should say to myself: Everything does not end for us with this life; at death, everything goes back into order" (p. 30). What then is the-reason for discussing the Profession as an example of the heterodox, or at least untraditional, argument from sentiment?
Not well defined for the very reason that it is not traditional, the argument from sentiment nevertheless plays an important role in Rousseau's fictionalized statement of his faith. The rhetorical climax of the work is the vicar's famous apostrophe to conscience, which I shall quote in full:
Conscience! conscience! divine instinct,
immortal and celestial voice; sure guide of an
ignorant and limited being, but intelligent and
free; infallible judge of good and evil, who
make man like God! it is you who make the
excellence of his nature and the morality ofhis actions; without you, I feel nothing in me which raises me above the beasts, except
the sad privilege of wandering from error to
error with the help of an unguided understanding
and an unprincipled reason. (pp. 43-44)
On first glance the meaning here may seem similar to Addison's in.Spectator 111, but when the passage is considered in the light of the rest of the discourse, it becomes apparent that Rousseau's understanding of conscience is quite different from Addison's. Just three paragraphs before, the vicar has told us that "the acts of conscience are not judgments, but feelings: although all our ideas come to us from outside, the feelings which weigh the worth of those ideas are within us." He continues, "For us, to exist is to feel; our sensitivity incontestably comes before our intelligence, and we have feelings before ideas" (p. 42). Louis Bredvold is surely correct when he describes the action of the apostrophe as "the ethics of feeling borrowing the phraseology of the philosoph y which it is contradicting;,3 the essence of conscience for Rousseau has nothing of the moral connotation it must have had for Addison. Rousseau's belief, expressed via the vicar's vocative, that man .is separated from beast only by his inner immortal feelings is truly an argument from sentiment.
Whether the influence of the school of sensibility
with its emphasis on the inner feelings of man made Englishmen in the second half of the eighteenth century more receptive to the argument from desire or whether both sensibility and the orthodox argument independently found' fertil e ground at this time is a moot point. Enough has been said to indicate the approximate-position of'the arguments about immortality in the sentimental tradition. Like other parts of this tradition, the argument from sentiment tended to emphasize the sufficiency of human instincts and emotions to a degree that made holders of the orthodox Christian ethic more than a little uncomfortable, and this alone would account for Johnson's refusal to recognize such an argument in his writings. We shall see, then, that not the argument from sentiment, but the metaphysical, moral, and, especially, the argument from desire form the basic intellectual context of Johnson's Rasselas.
iWorks, V, 24-25; in Samuel Johnson the Moralist, pp. 161-62, Robert Voitle discusses this passage from Adventurer 120 with slightly different emphasis, regarding what I term the argument from desire as Johnson's "favorite variant" of the moral argument.
See A Letter to Samuel Johnson, LL. D. on the Subject of a Future State (1787), the joint product of Dr. John Taylor and Johnson himself, for another instance of Johnson's rehearsing the moral argument, the argument from desire, and the metaphysical argument. (The rare document is conveniently reprinted in an appendix to James Gray's Johnson's Sermons: A Study [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19721, pp. 235-44.) I consider this a separate instance, rejecting the implication made by J. H. Hagstrum in "The Sermons of Samuel Johnson," MP, 40 (1943), 258-59, that Taylor plagiarized this portl-hn of the letter from Johnson's manuscript sermons in his possession at that time. It seems more likely that Johnson repeated phrases in the letter that he had used elsewhere than that Taylor would attempt a plagiarism not only from unpublished manuscripts but also from Rasselas.
2For an extended answer to Shaftesbury along these lines, see Butler's Analogy of Religion, pp. 57-63.
3Stanley Grean, Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics: A Study in Enthusiasm (Athens: OHTo Univ. Press, 1967), p. 93.
4Grean, pp. 96-97.
5Sheridan, incidentally, shows the same tendency that
Johnson does to conflate the moral argument and the argument from desire; see especially pp. xvii-xxi.
6David Hartley, Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (London, 1749), II, 388; hereafter cited In the text.
7Thomas Blacklock, Poems, 2nd ed. (London, 1756), p. 227; hereafter cited in the text.
8 For the larger intellectual context of Bolingbroke's opposition to anthropocentric teleology, see Lovejoy, pp. 186-89.
9Willian Hay, The Immortality of the Soul. A Poem, Translated from the Latin of Isaac Hawkins Browne, Esq. (London,' 1754), p. 28. The passage is Book 2, 11. 141-43 in the original.
1To consider in depth the wider theological implications of Shaftesburian optimism suggested in this paragraph is beyond the scope of this work. I do think it indicative of the importance of the issue of immortality in that wider context that Butler begins his attempt to include the religion of Nature within the religion of Revelation by trying to prove without Revelation the immortality of the soul.
11The eleventh section of Humne's Enquiry concerning Human Understanding contains an attack on the moral proof quite similar to this; the attack is refuted by Leland, I, 303-1l.
12 This quotation from Hume epitomized a movement. toward-moral relativism that has been chronicled, in somewhat different terms, by Paul C. Davies, "The Debate on Eternal Punishment in Late Seventeenth- and EighteenthCentury English Literature." Davies traces the dulcification and ultimate disappearance of the doctrine of eternal p unishments in the writings of both orthodox churchmen and avowed enemies of Christianity. Interestingly, he places Pope, Swift, and Johnson in opposition to this process. For evidence that the debate was international, see Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Creed of a Priest of Savoy, trans. Arthur H. Beattie (Neiw-Yo-rk: Ungar, 1956),7pp. 32-33.
13Thomas H. Huxley, Hume with Helps to the Study of Berkeley (New York: Appleton, 1896), pp. 207-08; hereafter cited in the text.
1This, of course, is a generalization to which many
conspicuous exceptions could be found. Samuel Richardson, for example, shows no such tendency toward relativism in his fiction. In Clarissa (1747-48) none of the main characters question the existence of man's immortal soul, and not only Belford but even Lovelace rehearses the moral argument: upon learning of Clarissa' s rape, Belford writes, "0 Lovelace! Lovelace! had I doubted it before, I should now be convinced that there must be a World After
.This, to do justice to injured merit, and to punish barbarous perfidity! Could the divine Socrates, and the divine Clarissa, otherwise have suffered?" In his next letter to Belford Lovelace says, ,"As every vice generally brings on its own punishment, even in this Life, if anything were to tempt me to doubt of future punishment, it would be, that there can hardly be a greater than that which I at this instant experience in my own remorse," letters of June 14 and June 15, ed. George Sherburn (Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1962), pp. 306, 314.
1Boswell, 111, 33; Baretti apparently shared
Johnson's admiration of this essay: see Boswell, IV, 32.
1The Spectator, ed. Donald F. Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), V, 142; hereafter cited in the text.
18Although Sheridan writes, "Among all the Arguments I can bring for the Soul's being distinct from the Body, intended for another State, I cannot conceive one
stronger than that of Conscience, by which I mean an inward Approbation, or Dislike of our Actions, according to their moral Goodness or Turpitude" (p. xv) , this argument shows up relatively infrequently. Hartley treats it briefly: "The Voice of Conscience within a man; accusing or excusing him, from whatever Cause it proceed, supernatural Impression, natural Instinct, acquired Associations, &c. is a Presumption, that we shall be called hereafter
* to a Tribunal; and that this Voice of Conscience is intended to warn and direct us how to prepare ourselves for a Tryal at the Tribunal. This, again, is an Argument, which Analogy teaches us to draw from the Relation in which we stand to God, compared with earthly Relations.
-And it is a farther Evidence of the Justness of this Argument, that all Mankind in all Ages seem to have been sensible of the Force of it" (pp. 388-89).
19Boswell writes, "When we came upon Highgate hill and had a view of London, I was all life and joy. I repeated Cato's soliloquy on the immortality of the soul, and my soul bounded forth to a certain prospect of happy futurity. I sung all manner of songs, and began to make one about an amorous meeting with a pretty girl,' the burthen of which was as follows:
She gave me this, I gave her that;
And tell me, had she not tit for tat?
I gave three huzzas, and we went briskly in," Boswell's London Journal: 1762-1763, ed. Frederick A. Pottle (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950), pp. 43-44.
For Sterne's parody, see A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick, ed. Gardner D. Stout, Jr. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1967), pp. 277-78. Stout notes that Johnson had reservations about Cato's dramatic qualities, but against this must be weighed his lavish praise of its "just sentiments in elegant language;" see Lives of the English Poets, ed. George Birkbeck Hill (1905, rpt. New York: Octagon, 1967), II, 132-33.
The Miscellaneous Works, in Verse and Prose, of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq. (London, 1765), II, 143.
21Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews and Shamela, ed. Martin C. Battestin (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), p. 226.:
22For Young's debt to Gastrell, see Isabel St. John
Bliss, "Young's Night Thoughts in Relation to Contemporary Christian Apologetics," .PMLA, 49 (1934), 66.
23[Edward Young], The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (London, 1755), p. 141; hereafter cited inthe text. .
Recall Addison's mentioning man's horror of annihilation, above pp. 62-63. The numerous studies of Johnson's fear of death make mucho.of his horror of annihilation, frequently regarding it as:a sign of religious scepticism or proto-existentialism. To my knowledge no one has pointed out that such horror was a regular part of many eighteenthcentury arguments in: favor of the soul'.s immortality. Hume feels the necessity of refuting the idea as one: "artificially fostered by precept and education" (p. 599); "Were our horrors of annihilation an original passion, not the effect of our general love of happiness, it would rather prove the mortality of the soul: for as nature does nothing in vain, she would never give us a horror against an impossible event" (p. 604). My observation lends support to the thesis cogently argued by J. H. Hagstrum, "On Dr. Johnson's Fear of Death," ELH, 14 (1947), 308-19,i"that Johnson . . considered fear of:death a rational-and necessary result of his religious position" and "that the emotion in its essence is easily recognizable as that religious sensibility which had always been prominent in Christian piety" (p. 309)
25In 1750 the first complete collection appeared
of all nine Nights, a book destined to be reprinted in more editions than any other book of the eighteenth century over the next hundred years," Isabel St. John Bliss, Edward Young (New York: Twayne, 1969), p. 109.
26Lives of the English Poets, III, 418-19.
27Drawn from nature, the proofs of Night the Sixth
specifically involve analogies from Nature and the everpresent chain of being concept, along with an argument based on man's worldly achievements. The proof from analogy, similar in many ways to the argument from design in favor of the existence of God, attained some prominence in the century; see Hartley, p. 385, for another presentation of it and Hume, pp. 602-04, for a refutation.
28That Young brings up the moral argument briefly and
only twice in Night the Seventh supports my contention that it was becoming less important at mid-century than it had been earlier. Young's use of the argument, by the way, shows him tangling with the Shaftesburian threat:
Has Virtue Charms?--I grant her heav'nly Fair,
But if unportion'd, all will Int'rest wed; Tho' That our admiration, This our Choice.
The Virtues grow on Immortality;
That Root destroy'd, they wither and expire.
A Deity believ'd, will nought avail;
Rewards and Punishments make God ador'd. (pp. 173-74)
See also p. 147.
29sentimental Journey, pp. 270-71; see pp. 68-69 for
a somewhat similar passage. As Stout's note to the latter suggests, Sterne in France would be especially aware of the controversy generated by the French materialists like La Mettrie. On the other hand, there is evidence that he was also aware of English arguments about the soul's immortality, especially the metaphysical argument, which he parodies in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. James Aiken Work (New York: Odyssey Press, 1940) , pp. 263-64.
30For a discussion of this passage along these lines, see Arthur Hill Cash, Sterne's Comedy of Moral Sentiments: The Ethical Dimension of the Journey; (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 91-94. That materialists were the primary target of the cult of feeling in discussions on
immortality is suggested also by a passage in Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest (1791), where man's appreciation of the sublimity of the universe prompts Clara to exclaim, "0! how expressively does this prove the spirituality of our being! Let the Materialist consider it, and blush that he has ever doubted," 6th ed. (London, 1799), III, 90; and by Rousseau, The Creed of a Priest of Savoy, pp. 14, 25, and passim.
31The Creed of a Priest of Savoy, p. 26; hereafter cited in the text.
32Louis I. Bredvold, The Natural History of Sensibility (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1962), p. 24. I am indebted to Bredvold's discussion throughout this paragraph.
A READING OF RASSELAS
1. INTRODUCTION: "things temporal . . . things eternal"
That the vanity of human wishes is an important part
of the meaning of Johnson's Rasselas was evident even to
its earliest readers. James Boswell writes that the tale
leads us through the most important scenes .of
human life, and shews us that this stage of our
.being is full of "vanity and vexation of spirit."
To those who lookno further than the present
life, or who maintain that human nature has not
fallen from the state in which it was created, the instruction of this sublime story will be of no avail. . . . Johnson meant, by shewing the unsatisfactory nature of things temporal, to direct the hopes of-man to things eternal.
Rasselas, as was observed to me by a very accomplished lady, may be considered as.a more enlarged and more deeply philosophical discourse in prose, upon the interesting truth, which in his 'Vanity of Human Wishes" he had so successfully enforced in verse. (I, 341-42)
Despite attempts by a few modern critics to play down
the significance of this theme in Rasselas, Boswell's
view is pretty much accepted as an accurate assessment of
at least part of the apologue.1 Some recent commentators,
to be sure, have been inclined to stress the psychological
-to the exclusion of the religious connotations of this
theme; thus, Sheridan Baker finds that Rasselas treats
the "psychological irony of the mind itself, always wishing, always imagining happiness even in the midst of happiness, always, by its very nature, incapable of satisfaction."2 A large part of the triumph of.Arieh Sachs'. Passionate Intelligence is his ability to deal simultaneously with the psychological and religious threads in Johnson's thought, and his work has had a great influence on my ideas about Rasselas;3 but Sachs is not concerned to give a reading of Rasselas or of any of Johnson's works per se nor does he note in particular the relationship between the insufficiency of the world to the spirit.of man and the argument.from desire for man's.immortality, a relationship which I hope to demonstrate is central to the meaning of Rasselas. In a sense, then, what follows is an attempt to show that Johnson did precisely what Boswell thought he did in Rasselas, that is, from the unsatisfactory nature of things temporal he encouraged the hopes of man for things eternal.
In writers like Williami Wollaston and Francis Gastrell we have seen two major arguments for man's immortality, the moral argument and the argument from desire, develop directly out of a presentation of the vanity of human wishes. This in itself suggests at least the strong possibility that Rasselas contains an implicit argument
along the same lines, especially in view of the conspicuous presence of the third major argument for immortality in the penultimate chapter of the work. Rather than give a chronological reading of Rasselas from beginning to end which points out the vanity of human wishes motif (already, as I have just indicated, sufficiently established by others) and ties this motif repeatedly with the arguments summarized in my second chapter, I have chosen to offer several essays on topics closely related to the immortality argument in Rasselas, each of which contributes directly to my primary aim. In this way I hope not only to avoid belaboring the obvious or the already demonstrated but also to call attention to several topics in Rasselas which have been hitherto ignored and which are, in my opinion, extraordinarily important.
My topics, arranged roughly in chronological order, begin with an examination of the opening of the apologue and the situation of Rasselas in the happy valley--a situation which is illuminated, I believe, by an awareness of similarities to it in arguments about immortality in the eighteenth century. Next I examine what has frequently been recognized as a leitmotif of Rasselas, the choice of life, and I show the close connection between Johnson's use of this motif and its use in the argument from desire. That the argument from desire is relatively more important
than the moral argument in Rasselas becomes clear from an examination of the depiction of evil in the work, a topic that until how has hardly been broached. Finally, I argue that memento mori, a concept impossible without a belief in personal immortality, thematically dominates the last third of Rasselas; in this final essay I follow the work's chronology quite closely, for much of the impact of the eschatological theme depends upon the dramatic repetition and.accumulation of reminders of death and decay. The conclusion to my study is an interpretation of the apologue's vexed conclusion: here I find that the final chapter of Rasselas follows naturally. from the argument of the previous chapter (so often ignored by critics) and is perfectly explicable in relation to it. Both enforce the theme of man's immortality that runs throughout the work.
2. :THE PENSIVE PRINCE: "evils recollected . . . evils anticipated"
The title of the second chapter of Rasselas--"The Discontent of Rasselas in the Happy:Valley"--suggests the ironic juxtaposition which controls the meaning of the beginning of the work. Having opened his apologue with a description of an Edenic location where "all the diversities of the world were brought together, the blessings of nature were collected,iand its evils
extracted and excluded,", Johnson promptly produces his titular hero, somehow discontented in a land where everyone's desires, are immediately granted. The contrast between the physical state of the happy valley and the mental state of one of its most important inhabitants (Rasselas, recall,i:is "the fourth son of the mighty emperour") is further emphasized when the prince himself notices his uniqueness from the rest of animal creation:
Rasselas . . . having for some time fixed his eyes upon the goats that were brousing among the rocks, began to compare their condition
with his own.
"What," said he, "makes the difference
between man and all the rest of the animal
creation? Every beast that strays beside me
has the same corporal necessities with myself;
he is hungry and crops the grass, he is thirsty
and drinks the stream, his thirst and hunger are appeased, he is satisfied and sleeps; he
rises again and is hungry, he is again fed and is at rest. I am hungry and thirsty like him,
but when thirst and hunger cease I am not at rest; I am, like him, pained with want, but am not, like him, satisfied with fulness. The intermediate hours are tedious
and gloomy; I long again to be hungry that
I may again quicken my attention. " (p. 611)
The question Rasselas asks--what makes the difference
between man and beast?--is perhaps the basic question of
pagan as well as Christian humanism, with the locus classicus to be found in Cicero's De Of ficiis. Here, after
noting similarities between man and beast which include
the instinct "to hunt and provide everything necessary
to maintain life, such as nourishment, shelter and other
similar requirements," Cicero remarks,
The greatest difference between man and beast,
however, is this: that the beast adapts itself
to what is at hand and what is present only
to the extent that a physical reaction impels it; it perceives the past and the future only
slightly. But man is endowed with reason, by which he perceives inferences and sees the causes of facts, that is, he is fully
aware of what we might call their antecedents
or their origins; he compares resemblances
and connects with or weaves into present circumstances those in the future; he easily sees the entire course of life and prepares beforehand the things necessary to its conduct.5
As Tully-identifies a sense of time, an awareness of past
and future as well as present, as the first effect of man's
distinguishing reason, so Rasselas observes this sense
differentiates him from the beasts of, the earth. "I fear
pain when I do not feel it," laments the prince; "I sometimes shrink at evils recollected, and sometimes start at
evils anticipated" (p. 611). Johnson, however, is not merely echoing one of his favorites classical writers; he is using the concept of man's uniqueness very differently from the way Cicero had used it, and somewhat differently from the way other contemporary writers were using it. A brief glance at an essay by one of those contemporaries, Oliver Goldsmith, will help to illustrate this point.
In Letter XLIV of The Citizen of the World (Fri.,
6 June 1760), Goldsmith writes,
A remembrance of what is past, and an
anticipation of what is to come, seem to be the two faculties by which man differs most
from other animals. Though brutes enjoy them in a limited degree, yet their whole
life seems taken up in the present, regardless of the past and the future. Man on the contrary, endeavors to derive his happiness,
and experiences most of his miseries from
these two sources.6
The overall point of the essay is that man should view life philosophically, or, as Goldsmith puts it, choose the life of a philosopher. Most striking is the essay's balance: just as man's temporal sense is a ,source of happiness and misery, so choosing the life of a philosopher, rather than that of a lover of pleasure or a man of business (the only other alternatives mentioned by Goldsmith), adds to man's happiness primarily by diminishing his misery. Goldsmith concludes, "Happy were we all born philosophers, all born, with a talent of thus dissipating our own cares, by spreading them upon all mankind!" (p. 190).
Now the differences among these three very similar
passages can tell us a good deal about the meaning of the second chapter of Rasselas. Goldsmith, it seems to me, occupies an intermediate position between Cicero and Johnson. In Cicero no connection is made between man's temporal sense and any unhappiness in this world; on the contrary, the classical philosopher seems to exalt as ennobling this effect of man's reason-. In Goldsmith the sense of time becomes a source of both secular happiness and secular misery; no tendency is evident to reason beyond this world. In Johnson, the emphasis is on the worldly discomfort caused by man':s unique temporal faculty. To be sure, this discomfort is qualified by two remarks Rasselas makes in the midst of his complaint, remarks which function ambivalently in the apologue, being proved false in a secular sense but true in terms of a life after death: "Man has surely some latent sense for which this-place [the happy valley? this world?] affords no gratification, or he has some desires distinct from sense which must be satisfied before he can be happy;" and to the animals Rasselas says, "nor do I, ye gentle beings, envy your felicity; for it is not the felicity of man. I have many distresses from which ye are free; . . surely the equity of providence has ballanced peculiar sufferings with
peculiar enjoyments" (pp. 611-12). 1 view Rasselas' statements as an embryonic argument from desire; the same tendency that they show to move from the discontent of time-conscious man to an argument for immortality is also found, by the way, in a clear though undeveloped form at the beginning of Rambler 41, where the necessity of searching into the past and the future "for matter on which the attention may be employed" Johnson considers Ila strong proof of the superior and celestial nature of the soul of man." 7
To make another distinction among the selections from Cicero, Goldsmith, and Johnson, an unmistakable air of, confidence pervades the passage from Cicero: man "easily sees the entire course of life and prepares beforehand the things necessary to its conduct." Goldsmith's essay. is almost as secularly oriented: the choice of life is not so easily made, but the life of a philosopher tops the other two avenues considered, and for an interesting reason: "The great source of calamity lies in regret or anticipation: he, therefore, is most wise who thinks of the present alone, regardless of the past or the future. This is impossible to the-man of pleasure; it is difficult. to the man of business; and is in some measure attainable by the philosopher" .(pp. 189-90). Rasselas is to learn,