Imatges de pÓgina








OF WILLIAM PALEY, whose writings have exerted no inconsiderable influence on the moral and theological opinions of the more enlightened part of the English community, no life has yet appeared that is worthy of the subject, or that gives us a full and satisfactory insight into his character. Though he was known to so many scholars, and had enjoyed a rather enlarged intercourse with the world, but few particulars of his conduct, his manners, and habits, have been detailed, and but few of his sayings recorded. Yet there are few men whose conversation was more varied and instructive; and as he always expressed himself with cogency and perspicuity, our regret is increased that we possess such scanty details of his familiar hours, when the internal state of his mind was exhibited withcut disguise, when he spoke what he felt, and felt what he spoke.

The best account of Mr. Paley's life, with which we have been hitherto favoured, is by Mr. Meadley, who had not known him till late in life; and who, if he had known him longer and earlier, was hardly capable of analysing his mind, or of estimating his character. Mr. Meadley was a man neither of very enlarged mind, very refined taste, nor very ample information. What he knew, he could relate; but he did not know enough to enable him to give much vivacity to his narrative, or to exhibit in his memoirs the living identity of the writer to whom we are indebted for some of the best moral and theological productions of the last century.

But whatever may be the scantiness of Mr. Meadley's information, his narrative is the most copious which we possess; and as we are not likely soon to be furnished with a richer store, we must be contented with taking his memoirs for our principal guide in the present biographical sketch. We make no boast of novelty. All that we can do is to give a new form to old materials.

William Paley was born at Petersborough, in July 1743. His father was a minor canon in that cathedral; but he relinquished this situation upon being appointed head-master of the grammar school at Giggleswick, in Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here the family had long resided on a small patrimonial estate. His mother is described as a woman of strong and active mind. At school young Paley soon surpassed the other boys of his age, by superior diligence and abilities. A mind, like his, could not but profit of the opportunities which he possessed for acquiring classical knowledge; but he appears to have been at all times more ambitious of enriching himself with knowledge of other kinds. He was curious in making inquiries about mechanism, whenever an opportunity occurred. His mind was naturally contemplative; and he mingled in. tellectual activity with corporeal indolence. He never excelled in any of those boyish pastimes which require much dexterity of hand or celerity of foot.

he appears to have imbibed an early taste for the amusement of fishing; and this taste remained unimpaired, or rather invigorated, to a late period of his life. In one of his portraits he is represented with a fishing rod and line. His cheerfulness and drollery are said to have made him a favourite with his school-fellows. Before he left school he one year attended the assizes at Lancaster, where he is said to have been so much interested by the judicial proceedings he had witnessed, that he introduced them into his juvenile games, and presided over the trials of the other boys.

In November 1758, Paley was admitted a sizer of Christ's College, Cambridge. He proceeded to the University on horseback, in company with his father; and in after-life he thus described the disasters that befell him on the way.

"I was never a good horseman," said he, " and when I followed my father on a pony of my own, on my first journey to Cambridge, I fell off seven times: I was lighter then than I am now; and my falls were not likely to be serious: My father, on hearing a thump, would turn his head half aside, and say-Take care of thy money, lad."

Young Paley did not become a resident member in the University till the October in the year after his matriculation. His father is said to have anticipated his future eminence, and to have remarked, with parental delight, the force and clearness of his intellectual operations.

Mr. Paley took with him to the University such a considerable share of mathematical science, that the mathematical tutor, Mr. Shepherd, excused his attendance at the college lectures with the students of his own year. But he was regularly present at Mr. Backhouse's lectures in logic and metaphysics.

Whatever might be his assiduity in those studies which the discipline of the University required, he had little of the appearance, and none of the affectation, of a hard student. His room was the common resort of the juvenile loungers of his time; but it must be remembered that Mr. Paley possessed the highly desirable power of concentrating his attention in the subject before him; and that he could read or meditate in the midst of noise and tumult with as much facility as if he had been alone. During the first period of his undergraduateship, he was in the habit of remaining in bed till a late hour in the morning, and as he was much in company during the latter part of the day, many wondered how he found leisure for making the requisite accession to his literary stores.

But the mind of Paley was so formed that, in reading, he could rapidly select the kernel and throw away the husk. By a certain quick and almost intuitive process, he discriminated between the essential, and the extraneous matter that were presented to his mind in the books that he perused; and, if he did not read so much as many, he retained more of what he read.

The hilarity and drollery, which Mr. Paley had manifested at school, did not desert him when he entered the University. Thus his company was much sought ; and the cumbrousness of his manner, and the general slovenliness of his apparel, perhaps contributed to increase the effect of his jocularity.

When he made his first appearance in the schools, he surprised the spectators by a style of dress, very different from his ordinary habiliments. He exhibited his hair full dressed, with a deep ruffled shirt, and new silk stockings.

When Paley kept his first act, one of the theses in support of which he proposed to dispute was, that the eternity of punishments is contrary to the Divine Attributes. But finding that this topic would give offence to the master of his

college, (Dr. Thomas,) he went to Dr. Watson, the moderator, to get it changed. Dr. Watson told him that he might put in non before contradicit. Mr. Paley, therefore, defended this position, that "Eternitas pœnarum non contradicit Divinis Attributis," or that the eternity of punishments is not contrary to the Divine Attributes. As he had first proposed to argue against the eternity of future punishments, we may suppose that that was his undissembled opinion; and therefore, it would have been more honourable to his candour, to have taken an entirely new question, rather than to have argued in opposition to his real sentiments. Through the whole course of his life, Dr. Paley seemed too willing to support established doctrines; and to find plausible reasons for existing institu tions; even in cases in which he must have felt those doctrines to be at variance with truth, and those institutions in opposition to the best interests of mankind. His great and vigorous mind ought to have disdained the petty subterfuges of disingenuous subtlety, and interested sophistication.

Mr. Paley acquired no small celebrity in the University by the ability which he displayed in keeping his first act; and the schools were afterward uniformly crowded when he was expected to dispute. He took his degree of bachelor of arts, in January 1763; and was the senior wrangler of the year.

After taking his bachelor's degree, he became second usher in an academy at Greenwich. Here his office was to teach the Latin language. During his leisure hours he often visited London, and rambled about the metropolis, which af fords such numerous opportunities for edifying contemplation to an active and discriminating mind. He pursued knowledge and amusement with equal,, or nearly equal, eagerness and avidity. The mind cannot always be kept upon the stretch; and those minds which are capable of great intensity of exertion, seem most to require proportionate relaxation. One of the characteristics of a great mind, is flexibility of attention to a diversity of objects. Mr. Paley attended the play-houses and the courts of justice with similar delight. Every scene furnished him with intellectual aliment.

In 1765, Mr. Paley obtained one of the prizes, which are annually given by the members of the University for the two best dissertations in Latin prose. The subject was, "A Comparison between the Stoic and Epicurean philosophy with respect to the influence of each on the morals of the people." Mr. Paley vindicated the Epicurean side of the question. He had afterward to read his dissertation in the senate-house before the University. His delivery is reported not to have done justice to the merits of the composition.

In June 1766, Mr. Paley was elected fellow of Christ's College. This occasioned his return to the University, where he soon became one of the tutors of his college. Tuition was a province, in which his clear and vigorous understanding, the lucid perspicuity with which he could develope his ideas, and the diversified modes in which he could illustrate his positions, combined with no small share of hilarity and good-humour, rendered him peculiarly qualified to excel. Mr. Law, son of the master of Peterhouse, was his coadjutor in the business of tuition; and the union of so much ability soon raised the fame of the college to an unusual height. The intimacy which was thus cemented between Mr. Paley and Mr. Law, contributed to promote the interest of our author by the friendship to which it led with Mr. Law's father; who, on his elevation to the see of Carlisle, in 1769, made Mr. Paley his chaplain.

In his province of tutor to Christ's College, Mr. Paley lectured on metaphysics,

morals, the Greek Testament, and, subsequently, on divinity. The whole sub. stance of his moral instructions is contained in his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy; and it is well known that hardly a single idea has found its way into his subsequent publications, which he had not previously promulgated in his lectures.

In his theological lectures, he very judiciously avoided, as much as possible, all matter of polemical strife or sectarian animosity. He used to consider the thirty-nine articles of religion, as mere articles of peace, of which it was impossible that the framers could expect any one person to believe the whole, as they contain altogether about two hundred and forty distinct, and many of them inconsistent, propositions.

Notwithstanding the great liberality of opinion which Mr. Paley exhibited in his lectures, and constantly inculcated upon his pupils, he refused to sign the clerical petition to the House of Commons in 1772, for a relief from subscription to articles of religion, though he approved the object of the petition, and wished to see it accomplished.-Ought he not then to have given the petition the sanction of his name? On this occasion he is reported to have said,—“ I cannot afford to have a conscience;" but no serious stress ought to be laid on such effusions of jocularity or inconsideration. If all a man's light, humorous, or inadvertent sayings were to be brought up in judgment against him, the purest virtue, and the brightest wisdom, would hardly be able to endure the ordeal. The best and the wisest men are often remarkable for particular inconsistencies.

Though Mr. Paley refused to lend his name to the clerical petition, yet he appears afterward to have vindicated the object which it proposed to obtain, in the defence of a pamphlet written by Bishop Law, entitled, "Considerations on the propriety of requiring a subscription to Articles of Faith." The defence which is just mentioned has been uniformly ascribed to Mr. Paley: and though it must be reckoned among his more juvenile performances, yet it must be allowed, in many instances, to have exhibited a display of ability, and a force of argument, worthy of his more improved judgment, and his more matured abilities.

While Paley was engaged in the office of tuition at Christ's College, his celebrity induced the late Earl Camden to offer him the situation of private tutor to his son. But this was incompatible with his other occupations, and was accordingly declined.

In 1775, Mr. Paley began to receive solid proofs of Bishop Law's regard.The ecclesiastical patronage, which is attached to the see of Carlisle, is very scanty and poor; but after providing for his son, Bishop Law conferred upon Paley the best benefices which he had to bestow. He was collated to the rectory of Musgrove in Westmoreland, which was at that time worth about £80 a-year. He was soon after presented to the vicarage of Dalston in Cumberland : and on the 5th of September, 1777, he resigned the rectory of Musgrove upon being inducted to the more valuable benefice of Appleby. Whilst he was in possession of this benefice, he published a little work, denominated "The Clergyman's Companion in Visiting the Sick." Such a book was much wanted; and as it contains a judicious selection of prayers for different occasions, it has supplied the clergy with a very useful auxiliary in their devotional occupations.

In 1780, Paley was preferred by his patron, Bishop Law, to a prebendal stall in the cathedral of Carlisle, which was worth about four hundred pounds a-year. And in August, 1782, he was appointed Archdeacon of Carlisle, a sort of sine

« AnteriorContinua »