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Review Of A Free Enquiry Into The Nature And Origin Of Evil
by [?]

I am always afraid of determining on the side of envy or cruelty. The privileges of education may, sometimes, be improperly bestowed, but I shall always fear to withhold them, lest I should be yielding to the suggestions of pride, while I persuade myself that I am following the maxims of policy; and, under the appearance of salutary restraints, should be indulging the lust of dominion, and that malevolence which delights in seeing others depressed.

Pope’s doctrine is, at last, exhibited in a comparison, which, like other proofs of the same kind, is better adapted to delight the fancy than convince the reason.

“Thus the universe resembles a large and well-regulated family, in which all the officers and servants, and even the domestic animals, are subservient to each other, in a proper subordination: each enjoys the privileges and perquisites peculiar to his place, and, at the same time, contributes, by that just subordination, to the magnificence and happiness of the whole.”

The magnificence of a house is of use or pleasure always to the master, and sometimes to the domesticks. But the magnificence of the universe adds nothing to the supreme being; for any part of its inhabitants, with which human knowledge is acquainted, an universe much less spacious or splendid would have been sufficient; and of happiness it does not appear, that any is communicated from the beings of a lower world to those of a higher.

The inquiry after the cause of natural evil is continued in the third letter, in which, as in the former, there is mixture of borrowed truth, and native folly, of some notions, just and trite, with others uncommon and ridiculous.

His opinion of the value and importance of happiness is certainly just, and I shall insert it; not that it will give any information to any reader, but it may serve to show, how the most common notion may be swelled in sound, and diffused in bulk, till it shall, perhaps, astonish the author himself.

“Happiness is the only thing of real value in existence, neither riches, nor power, nor wisdom, nor learning, nor strength, nor beauty, nor virtue, nor religion, nor even life itself, being of any importance, but as they contribute to its production. All these are, in themselves, neither good nor evil: happiness alone is their great end, and they are desirable only as they tend to promote it.”

Success produces confidence. After this discovery of the value of happiness, he proceeds, without any distrust of himself, to tell us what has been hid from all former inquirers.

“The true solution of this important question, so long and so vainly searched for by the philosophers of all ages and all countries, I take to be, at last, no more than this, that these real evils proceed from the same source as those imaginary ones of imperfection, before treated of, namely, from that subordination, without which no created system can subsist; all subordination implying imperfection, all imperfection evil, and all evil some kind of inconveniency or suffering: so that there must, be particular inconvenieucies and sufferings annexed to every particular rank of created beings by the circumstances of things, and their modes of existence.

“God, indeed, might have made us quite other creatures, and placed us in a world quite differently constituted; but then we had been no longer men, and whatever beings had occupied our stations in the universal system, they must have been liable to the same inconveniencies.”

In all this, there is nothing that can silence the inquiries of curiosity, or culm the perturbations of doubt. Whether subordination implies imperfection may be disputed. The means respecting themselves may be as perfect as the end. The weed, as a weed, is no less perfect than the oak, as an oak. That imperfection implies evil, and evil suffering, is by no means evident. Imperfection may imply privative evil, or the absence of some good, but this privation produces no suffering, but by the help of knowledge. An infant at the breast is yet an imperfect man, but there is no reason for belief, that he is unhappy by his immaturity, unless some positive pain be superadded. When this author presumes to speak of the universe, I would advise him a little to distrust his own faculties, however large and comprehensive. Many words, easily understood on common occasions, become uncertain and figurative, when applied to the works of omnipotence. Subordination, in human affairs, is well understood; but, when it is attributed to the universal system, its meaning grows less certain, like the petty distinctions of locality, which are of good use upon our own globe, but have no meaning with regard to infinite space, in which nothing is high or low. That, if man, by exaltation to a higher nature, were exempted from the evils which he now suffers, some other being must suffer them; that, if man were not man, some other being must be man, is a position arising from his established notion of the scale of being. A notion to which Pope has given some importance, by adopting it, and of which I have, therefore, endeavoured to show the uncertainty and inconsistency. This scale of being I have demonstrated to be raised by presumptuous imagination, to rest on nothing at the bottom, to lean on nothing at the top, and to have vacuities, from step to step, through which any order of being may sink into nihility without any inconvenience, so far as we can judge, to the next rank above or below it. We are, therefore, little enlightened by a writer who tells us, that any being in the state of man must suffer what man suffers, when the only question that requires to be resolved is: Why any being is in this state. Of poverty and labour he gives just and elegant representations, which yet do not remove the difficulty of the first and fundamental question, though supposing the present state of man necessary, they may supply some motives to content.