For the CUMBERLAND PACQUET.
Many speculative men (amongst whom I doubt not may be some of your Readers) having lately been engaged in a controversy concerning BERKLEY's opinion of a material world, I shall, with your leave, take the liberty of pointing out, through the channel of your paper, an extraordinary and most egregious mistake, which almost every one I have seen write or heard speak on the subject seems to have fallen into, concerning the sentiments of that most ingenious author.
According to the general opinion and representation of it, BERKLEY's scheme is the most wild and extravagant one that ever entered into the mind of man. It is represented as being the very extreme of Scepticism, as depriving us of all certainty with regard to the things we daily see and feel, nay as denying their very existence.
In this view it seems to be considered by almost every author who makes the least mention of it, and is as constantly treated with ridicule and contempt. Amongst others, LORD CHESTERFIELD, in his celebrated Letters to his Son, tells him, that he has seen the Doctor's book, but that, notwithstanding all the arguments therein advanced, he is still determined to take every precaution in his power, to preserve in good health that Body which BERKLEY would persuade him "has no existence".
The late POPE CLEMENT, also, in his equally admired Letters, calls the Doctor "an illustrious madman", and some Scotch writers, whose works are now in much seeming high repute, go still farther. They are so much out of patience with the Doctor's scheme that they declare he deserves not to be argued with; nay fame of them more than hint that the propagators of such opinions ought not to escape without punishment. If you will believe them, were such a scheme once universally adopted, there would soon be an end of every thing.
We should distrust all our senses, and run headlong into ruin. We should have no incitement to the preservation of our bodies, should disregard the calls of hunger and thirst, and run into the fire or the ocean, or over the brink of a precipice, without the smallest cause for fear, or apprehension of danger.
In short, every blockhead you meet with thinks himself capable of refuting the unfortunate BISHOP OF CLOYNE, and will assure you that if they had an opportunity of knocking his head against a wall, they would soon convince him of the Absurdity of his fine spun Hypothesis; and we are not unfrequently reminded of these Lines of DR. BROWN's:
No more shalt Reason boast her power divine.
Her base eternal shook by Folly's mine !
Truth's sacred sort th'exploded laugh shall win;
And coxcombs vanquish BERKLEY by a grin.
From such representations as we have been speaking of, so often repeated, and that too by men of known sense and learning, one would be apt to imagine this BERKLEY was one of the most wrongheaded Enthusiasts that ever pretended to Literature; and that his writings could only serve to obscure the plainest subjects, and to fill the world with Sceptics and Paradoxes. And yet nothing can be more remote from truth than such a supposition.
His amiable character and exemplary life must convince every one that, whatever were his principles or opinions, they were far from being inconfident with the most useful and active virtues, or a rational, manly, and exalted Piety.
And whoever is acquainted with his writings cannot but know that they are equally remarkable for elegance of stile and solidity of argument; and this book in particular, against which so much has been said, is so far from aiming at making men Sceptics, or leading them into a distrust of their senses, or any doubts concerning the existance of things; that it was intended to strike at the very root of Scepticism, to assert the authority of the senses against the commonly received principles of Philosophy, and to shew that the existance of things is made most clearly evident to the mind, on those very principles which lead, or I might rather: say "force" every man of plain Common Sense into a belief and firm persuasian of such existence.
"Is it not, says he, a sufficient evidence "to me of the Existence of any external thing (or my Glove "for example) that I see, and feel, and swear it." And what other evidence does any man of Common Sense require, or can any Philosopher boast, of their certainty of the existence of any external object whatever, or how is it more refined or unintelligible than the reason which DR. BEATTIE himself would give in this case, "I believe it, because I must believe it, and cannot doubt of it."
How BERKLEY's opinions on this subject have come to be so grossly and universally misrepresented, must be matter of surprize to all who have read his book with any tolerable degree of attention.
That he denies the existence of a 'Material Substratum" is indeed true, but whoever understands what he means by that term, just know that he does not therefore deny the existence of Things, but the existence of a Philosophical Chimera.
He was sufficiently sensible that the principal prejudices against his opinions arose from mistaking the question, and from a supposition that in denying the existence of matter, he deny'd the existence of sensible things; and he laments that in explaining his notions, he is sometimes obliged to use some "Ambages and ways of speech, not common", that might render him liable to be misunderstood, which, however, one would imagine he could not be, by an intelligent and attentive reader, after having explained himself on this head so fully as he has done.
And whatever excuse we may admit for the generality, who are often rather curious to know what is said than what is true, and who dwell more on the 'sound' than on the 'sense' of what they hear, it is surely much beneath the dignity of those who assume the character of Philosophers, to content themselves with such imperfect views of the subjects they treat of.
For after all the virulence and ridicule with which some men have treated this ingenious and enlightened author, could they but be persuaded to peruse his works with candour and attention, I think they would find reasons to suspect that they have not been railing at his opinions, but at the ridiculous creatures of "their own" imaginations.