INCREASE OF HIS PARISH AND NEW CHURCH AT STRATFORD; MORE CONTROVERSY; SYSTEM OF MORALITY; STUDY OF HEBREIW, AND HUTCHINSON S PRINCIPLES; PHILOSOPHICAL CORRESPONDENCE; EDUCATION OF SONS, AND LETTERS TO THE ELDER; PROJECT OF A COLLEGE AT PHILADELPHIA, AND JOHNSON INVITED TO ITS CHARGE.
IT was no longer doubtful that the movement towards the Church, in consequence of the extravagancies of Whitefield and his followers, was an earnest and important one. Many things conspired to give it strength, and the growth of the parishes in Connecticut necessitated the erection of larger houses of worship to accommodate the congregations. This was the case at Stratford, where there had been an accession of several of the most influential families of the place; and Johnson was much occupied in 1743 with preparations to build a new edifice suited to the wants of the people. Money was scarce in those days, and contributions of labor, time, timber, and other material were accepted in its place. The subscription of the Rector was for a bell, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the new church opened, though not completed on the 8th of July 1744, when he preached a sermon from Psalms xxvi. 8, on "the great duty of loving and delighting in the public worship of God." The discourse was afterwards printed, with an appendix containing prayers for use in the family and closet. In the same year a church was begun at Ripton (now Huntington), then a part of the town of Stratford and under his pastoral care, and it was this "growing disposition among the people in many places to forsake the tenets of enthusiasm and confusion," that added to the labors of Johnson, and required his unceasing ministrations. Probably no period of his life was filled with greater anxiety than that which immediately followed the itinerancy of Whitefield, and witnessed the results of his disorderly proceedings.
When the spirit that was rampant in the land placed all in predestination and mere sovereignty, and denied that there are any promises to our prayers and endeavors, another controversy arose which engaged his own practiced pen and that of Jonathan Dickinson. [So early as 1725, one of his parishioners was sharply attacked by this same gentleman, a Presbyterian divine of Elizabethtown, N.J., upon the subject of Episcopacy, and not being able to cope with his antagonist, Johnson sketched, at his request, the chief arguments in its favor which the parishioner sent in his own name to Mr. Dickinson and soon had an answer. To this a reply was furnished him, and some time after, Mr. Dickinson enlarged and printed his own papers in the dispute, which involved the necessity of publishing what had been written on the other side with the name of the real author. "On this occasion, Mr. Foxcroft, of Boston, took up their cause' against the Church, "and wrote more largely, to whom Mr. Johnson replied but was not answered."] He published towards the end of 1744 a pamphlet of thirty-two pages, entitled "A Letter from Aristocles to Authades concerning the sovereignty and the promises of God," and said in his advertisement that what prevailed on him to consent to its publication "was a sincere and firm persuasion, that it is really the cause of God and his Christ that I here plead, and that the eternal interest of the souls of men is very nearly concerned in it. For it is manifest to me, that some notions have of late been propagated and inculcated in this country, that are equally destructive to the right belief both of God and the Gospel. I have, indeed, that charity for those that have done it that I do not believe they are sensible of these fatal consequences of what they teach, though I very much wonder they are not aware of them."
Johnson would not be understood to aim at undermining any of the soul-humbling doctrines of the Gospel, for he insisted that his way of explaining the Divine Sovereignty and promises was not a distortion of the Scriptures; but entirely agreeable to them, and such as unprejudiced men of plain common sense might accept and be saved with an everlasting salvation. It was a controversy, as one of the pamphlets of the day characterized it, between a Calvinist and a believer of mere primitive Christianity; and Mr. Dickinson published a first and second "Vindication of God's Sovereign free grace," -the last appearing just before his death; but Dr. Johnson had already issued another letter in defense of "Aristocles to Authades," [Mr. Dickinson, in his first Vindication, interpreted these names to represent Johnson, and the Rev. Mr. Cooke of Stratfield, who had printed a sermon in favor of his own side.] and closed it thus: "I will add no more but my earnest wishes that we may, on all sides, be above all things careful, for the sake of the love of God, which is my greatest motive in writing, that we do by no means advance or inculcate any notions or doctrines that may reflect dishonor upon the best of Beings, and upon the Gospel of his grace, or be any ways detrimental to any of the souls which He hath made." In a letter to a friend, he spoke with the warmest feelings against those who represented the Deity as consigning some persons to everlasting happiness and others to everlasting misery, by an unconditional decree. "In truth, if it were possible, I would rather believe there is no God than to imagine Him to be such a Being as these teachers not only represent Him, but insist He is; and you must believe so too upon the pain of damnation." [Letter to C. Colden, April 22, 1746.]
"These controversies" says Johnson in his autobiography, "ended in 1744," but he mistook his own dates; for the pamphlets, which were all printed at Boston, show that they were rather begun at this time, and carried on for the next two years by the principals, and then Mr. Beach of Newtown and "Mr. Jedediah Mills, pastor of a church at Ripton," engaged in the contest and lengthened it out nearly a lustrum.
Mills was an enthusiastic follower of Whitefield, and had broken a lance with Johnson, on original sin, several years before, by writing him letters and calling in question his belief and doctrinal teachings. In one of his replies, dated November, 1741, Johnson said: "You talked about Dr. Clarke, but I never undertook to justify his doctrine of original sin, which I even allowed to be expressed too loosely and unguardedly: only I was willing to put a more favorable construction on it than you did; nor do I remember I ever advised Darby people to read his sermons in public, but I am sure I advised them not to do it, and lent them another book to read that they might not read his."
With a view of counteracting the evil effects of the spirit of the times, Johnson prepared and published in 1746 a "System of Morality," in two parts; one treating of Ethics in a speculative aspect, and the other of the practical duties that result from established truths. [In 1743, a small 18mo volume was published, entitled An Introduction to the Study of Philosophy, exhibiting a general view of all the arts and sciences, with a "Catalogue of the most valuable books in the Library of Yale College, disposed under proper heads." It was written by Johnson "for young men at the College," and was the second edition enlarged, the first having been published at London in the Republic of Letters for May, 1731. At the end of what must have been the original draught, dated October 5, 1730, he made a note: "This system did not please me well and I drew another." The Catalogue was prepared by Rector Clap, and in his advertisement, addressed to the students, he said: "The Introduction to Philosophy will give you a general idea or scheme of all the arts and sciences, and the several things which are to be known and learnt; and the Catalogue will direct you to many of the best books to be read, in order to obtain the knowledge of them. And I would advise you, my pupils, to pursue a regular course of Academical studies in some measure according to the order of this Catalogue."] It was a useful and seasonable work, and received the approbation of sober and thoughtful men. The following letter was written by one who, though he had no sympathy with him in ecclesiastical matters, yet respected his learning, and was himself, in his day, a guiding mind among the theologians of New England:--
REV. SIR,--I have read your new "System of Morality" with a pleasure which I cannot easily express. You have honored our country by this production of the most perfect piece of Ethics, and in the best form, that I have seen in any language, and I like it most in our own. I hope the tutors in our academies may even with the greater advantage read it to their pupils, show them the connection and strength of every part of it, and the force with which it should enter their souls and abide there. For I think it is strongly adapted to inform the mind and affect the heart; and under the blessing of the Holy Spirit to form both into all the emotions of virtue and piety, in its connection with and submission to the Sacred Scriptures, and the revelation of Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to us sinners.
Yet, sir, I also freely own to you that your words, page 64, "of God's sending a glorious person under the character of his own Son, who had an inexpressible glory with Him before the world was;" although enforced by the following Scripture expressions, "the express image of his person, and the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in Him bodily in his incarnate state;" seem not enough to me in honor of revealed religion, the Holy Scriptures; by which it is, Sir, that our reason is illuminated and raised to such a gracious height; as that you, my honored brother, after the diligent study of them for many years, have by their help and the assistance of the blessed Inspirer of them (I am willing to add), been enabled to write this correct and exalted book of Ethics.
Your own modesty will not permit you to blame me, if I freely say, that none of the learned Heathen ever wrote to this height, with like perspicuity, method, and enforcement on conscience. It is the Christian Divine, after a diligent search into the religion of Jesus, together with what the masters of morality had wrote before his manifestation in the flesh, or since that blessed day, who exhibits himself in your treatise. And though I am too much a stranger now to Mr. Wollaston's delineation of the Religion of Nature to give my opinion of it, yet I persuade myself also that his performance, praised as it has been by those that I highly esteem, may stand also much indebted to his improvements by Christianity.
Upon all Sir, to lay my whole intention before you in this latter part of my letter, I request you to consider whether those words: "a glorious person under the character of his own Son in our nature, who had an imperishable glory with Him before the world was," with what follows of Scripture expressions in that pious paragraph, is sufficient to answer unto the doctrine of the eternal Godhead of Christ, as it is explained to us in the Athanasian Creed, daily read in your worshipping congregations?
This is the defect that occurs to me in the close of your excellent treatise; which yet I have not observed to any one but yourself. And I hope, Sir, that this freedom, after the high brotherly regards I have been expressing, will be candidly taken by you.
I ask your prayers for me in my age; and wishing you always the presence of God with you in your holy studies and ministrations,
I am, Rev. Sir,
Your affec. brother and servant, BENJ. COLMAN.
BOSTON, June 2, 1746.
The answer was worthy of the subject and of the man:--
REV. SIR--You needed not to make any apology or beseech my candor for so very kind and obliging a letter as you did me the favor to write of the 2d instant. The favorable opinion you express of that small piece of morals I wrote, I wish it would pretend to deserve, and I am highly obliged to you for the candor wherewith you read it, and the brotherly kindness you express towards me.
But what I am particularly obliged to you for is that you was so good as to point out to me the passage you mention as what you apprehended liable to exception. This I take as a singular act of friendship, and what the rather deserves my thankful acknowledgment as it comes from a gentleman of your venerable age and character, and one to whom I had never had the honor of being known. I apprehend, therefore, that as I had the presumption to appear in public, your kind aim was that nothing that I offer should be either liable to misconstruction, or of any mischievous tendency to the disadvantage of our common faith.
In answer, therefore, to your kind suggestion, I beg leave to say, that, as I am sincerely tenacious of the Athanasian Faith, so I beg those expressions may not be understood to be inconsistent with it, but rather expressive of it as they appear to me to be, and that you will do me the favor to assure any gentlemen of this who may be apt to suspect me. The only reason of my expressing myself as I did was, because I was not willing to meddle with anything controversial, and therefore chose to confine myself to the language of the Sacred Scriptures. However, if it were not too late, I could wish one word were inserted which would put the matter out of all ambiguity. I would express it thus: "Who was truly God of God, and had inexpressible glory with Him from all Eternity, before the world was," and I should be highly obliged to you, if you will desire the printer (provided it be not too late) to insert those words, Was truly God of God from all Eternity, in their proper place.
I readily agree with you that even such an imperfect sketch of morals as this could never have been beat out without the help of Revelation, to which no doubt but Mr. Wollaston was also very much beholden; and indeed I am of opinion that those noble pieces of Epictetus, Antoninus, and Hierocles, though they were not professed Christians, were notwithstanding the better for the light which Christianity had brought into the world, though they had it at second hand; which indeed might be the case with Seneca and Tully before, and even Plato and Pythagoras, who in their travels might pick up many notions which originally came from the inspired prophets.
I again repeat my humblest thanks for your kind letter, and especially for your prayer for me with which it concludes, and beg the continuance of it; and I earnestly pray to God for you that He will be your shield and the staff of your age while you continue here, and your exceeding great reward in a better world hereafter.
I am, Rev. Sir, your most obliged, etc. S. J.
Colman died the next year, and too soon to know the success of the little work, whose author he had so gracefully complimented. Reference will be made to a second edition of it in a future chapter.
Hebrew had been a favorite study with Johnson, but about this time, his philosophical and theological readings led him to take a new interest in it and to refresh and improve his critical knowledge. Lord President Forbes' "Thoughts on Religion and Letter to a Bishop" fell in his way, and opened to him a scene of study and inquiry both novel and interesting. He found in this author an abridgment or summary of the works of John Hutchinson, then attracting the attention of the learned world. These he procured and read, and considered again and again with the utmost care and with the best helps which he could command; and "though in many things," to use his own words, "he seemed to overdo and go into extremes, and his language was obscure, yet no man in these last ages, ever appeared to have so laboriously studied, and so thoroughly understood the Hebrew language and antiquities, as Mr. Hutchinson." Some of his translations were forced and unnatural, and his criticisms were not all just. It grieved Johnson that he should hurt his own cause by censuring bitterly the great name of Sir Isaac Newton, and representing him and others as no better than atheists who renounced Christianity; and he could not be pleased with his harsh treatment of the Jewish Rabbis, whatever defects in their character might be proved. But still Hutchinson appeared to him to be a "prodigious genius," little inferior, if not superior to Sir Isaac himself, and to have established several very important philosophical and theological principles. He wrote to his friend John Berriman in London to know more about him and the estimation in which he was held, and the answer which he received was not very flattering to his cultured mind: "Mr. Hutchinson, I never saw in my life but once; he had rather the appearance of a plowman than a philosopher. He was not bred to learning; but by the leisure he enjoyed, while he was steward to the Duke of Richmond, he found means to attain a good measure of knowledge in the Hebrew tongue; upon which he became so conceited that he thought nobody knew anything of the matter but himself; and those few that learned of him to be so sharpsighted as to see in the Old Testament the only true principles of philosophy, quite contrary to the Newtonian, and clearer accounts of the Trinity than are to be found in the New." [MS. Letter, June 19, 1747.]
Johnson may have had the feeling to which Jones of Nayland gave expression in the preface to the second edition of his life of Bishop Horne, when, speaking of the Hutchinsonian principles, he said: "These things came down to us under the name of John Hutchinson, a character sui generis, such as the common forms of education could never have produced; and it seems to me not to have been well explained, how and by what means he fell upon things, seemingly so new and uncommon; but we do not inquire whose they are, but what they are, and what they are good for. If the tide had brought them to shore in a trunk, marked with the initials J. HI., while I was walking by the sea-side, I would have taken them up, and kept them for use; without being solicitous to know what ship they came out of, or how far, and how long they had been floating at the mercy of the wind and the waves. If they should get from my hands into better hands, I should rejoice; being persuaded they would revive in others the dying flame of Christian faith, as they did in Bishop Horne and myself."
A correspondence, chiefly upon philosophical subjects, was carried on for some time between Johnson and Cadwallader Colden, afterwards Lieutenant-governor of the Province of New York. Colden was the son of a Scotch divine, and finished a course of studies at the University of Edinburgh, and devoted himself to medicine and mathematics. While yet a young man, he emigrated to America and finally settled in New. York, where he was appointed the first surveyor-general of the lands of the Colony, and at the same time master in chancery. His botanical and medical essays were numerous; but the work upon which he bestowed the most labor was first published under the title of the "Cause of Gravitation," and then enlarged and printed with the title of the "Principles of Action in Matter," to which was added a "Treatise on Fluxions." Among his correspondents were such distinguished characters of the time as Linnaeus, Gronovius, and Franklin. His letters to Johnson are full of the principles involved in his chief work, and in one of them he said: "I am now printing something on the subject of material agents, which I hope may be of use to enlarge our knowledge' in moral philosophy. I print only so many copies as may submit it to the examination of the learned. As soon as it shall be printed, it will kiss your hands for that purpose."
Johnson directed his attention to the philosophy of Berkeley, and sent him some of his productions, as the following letter will show:--
COLDENGHAM, March 26, 1744.
SIR,--I now take this opportunity, by Mr. Watkins, to return you my hearty thanks with the books you were pleased to send me. As to the Bishop's "New Theory of Vision," I think he has explained some things better than had been done before, but as to the main design he labors at, I cannot say that I comprehend it. I allow that the object which reflects light is not in a proper sense the object of vision, no more than a bell or any other sounding body is the object of the sense of hearing, and yet I think we may without much impropriety say that we see or hear a bell as well as that we feel it, though it be certain that the bell is not the immediate object of the senses of seeing and hearing, as it is of the sense of feeling, and that it is only from reasoning and experience that we form the conception of the same objects affecting all the senses. If his sentiments do not differ from this conception of the matter, then I must look on a great part of his books to contain a most subtle disputation about the use of words. If his sentiments be different, I can form no conception of them. His mistake in the "Analyst," in my opinion, may be made very apparent, that he does not understand the doctrine of Infinites or Fluxions, as received by mathematicians, and this I think I can demonstrate. I formerly had illustrated the principles of that doctrine in writing, in order to assist my own imagination in forming a regular and true conception of it.
Since I received that book from you I have carefully reexamined what I had formerly wrote, and am so far from finding any defect in what was formerly clear to me, that I think I clearly see his error, that he has no conception of the principles of that doctrine. If you have a curiosity to be satisfied in this, I will send you a copy of my paper. It is contained in about two sheets of paper.
I assume the liberty always to be allowed in philosophizing to differ from any man without disrespect or disregard to his character, as I now do with respect to Bishop Berkeley, whose merit is very conspicuous, and whom I highly esteem.
I am sir, your humble servant,
In replying, Johnson as usual defended his friend and favorite author, and said: "I am much obliged to you for the observations you have made upon Bishop Berkeley's pieces that I sent you. I take it that the great design of that gentleman in what he wrote was to banish scholasticism, and all talk without any meaning, out of philosophy, which, you very well know, has been the bane of science in all other parts of learning, as well as in religion and morality." He did not claim to be competent to understand all his reasonings: "As to his mathemiatical pieces," said he, "I confess I am not versed enough in the sublime mathematics to be a judge of them, and so cannot pronounce on this subject. I am very loth to give you the trouble of transcribing, otherwise I should have a great curiosity to see what you have wrote upon it, in order that I might make a better judgment; but this is too great a favor for me to ask."
In another letter of later date he showed his independent thinking, and confessed: "Your notions of prescience and liberty are entirely agreeable to the apprehensions I have of those matters; nor could anything have been expressed better, nor can the greatest authority in the world induce me to think otherwise. You knew good Dr. Turner's works. He takes for his motto: Nuliius in verba. It is a very good one; and for the same reason, though I have a profound veneration for Mr. Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, yet I will not be determined by their authority, nor by their reasons, any further than I can see for myself. I am not attached to Hutchinson. Sir Isaac was doubtless very exact; but no wonder if even he, in matters very abstruse, should sometimes be mistaken; nor is it less to be wondered at, if this should be the case now with Bishop Berkeley, though I cannot but think him one of the first men of the age. I have lately read his "Siris," and have desired Mr. Nicholls to send it you, if he can consistent with his engagements with Mr. Franklin, of whom he was so obliging as to borrow it for me. Be it so that there may be some things in it that may be thought fictitious, yet I cannot but wish I had your opinion upon the philosophical part of it."
Colden paid his respects to Bishop Berkeley's "Treatise on Tar Water," and published his reflections by themselves, "which" said he, "turned out to the benefit of the printer." But in his correspondence with Johnson his pen ran chiefly upon mental and moral philosophy; and the several letters which passed between them serve to illustrate as much the character of the one as the other:
COLDENGHAM, June 2, 1746.
REVEREND SIR,--I now desire Mr. Nicholls to send you a copy of the " Treatise" which I mentioned to you in my last. In it you will find my thoughts on some things which were the subject of your last to me by the Rev. Mr. Watkins. One thing I am desirous to be more fully informed of from you, how consciousness and intelligence become essential to all agents that act from a power in themselves. As to my own part, I do not perceive the necessary connection between power or force and intelligence or consciousness. We may certainly in a thousand objects of our senses discover power and force without perceiving any intelligence in them. And though this power or force should be only apparent and the consequence or effect of some other primary cause, yet I am certainly to be excused in my thinking it real till it appear otherwise to me, as I believe every man is to be excused who does not understand astronomy, and thinks that the sun moves, and this opinion cannot in any proper sense be called an absurdity in him.
In the next place I must beg you will give me a definition of matter, or of any other being merely passive, without any power or force or action. Such a being I cannot conceive, and therefore as to me does not exist.
You will oblige me exceedingly by giving your opinion of the printed "Treatise" or of any part of it without reserve. For my design only is to discover and be assured of the truth. You will find by some parts of that piece that though I have the greatest esteem of Sir Isaac Newton's knowledge and performances, I take the liberty to differ from him in some points. That man never existed who never erred. As I have a great esteem of your judgment, I am very desirous to have your opinion of what I send as soon as may be with your conveniency, and thereby you will very much oblige,
Sir, your most humble servant,
June 19. SIR,--I now return you my hearty thanks for yours of the 2d instant, and especially for your kind present that accompanied it. It is my sincere opinion of it that it is a very ingenious piece, and the result of much and deep thought. There is one thing in it that I am much pleased with, which is, that you make the resistance of what you call matter to be an action deriving from a self-exerting principle. This I take to be a point of very great importance and use, both in physics and metaphysics as well as in religion. All the odds between you and me is, that you imagine matter to be a self-exerting principle, whereas I suppose matter to be a mere passive thing, and if it is spirit pervading and agitating all things, that is one principle of action according to Virgil's philosophy: mens agitat molem, etc., which though it be the most ancient notion, I believe is nevertheless true; and that elasticity and gravitation or attraction and repulsion as well as resistance, or what Sir Isaac calls vis inertiae, and perhaps several others, are so many various exertions of the one self-exerting active principle Who pervades all things, and in Whom we live, move, and have our being.
Your attempt to assign the cause of gravitation appears to me a curious dissertation, but I have hardly furniture and force of mind enough to comprehend it, having for many years discontinued these kind of studies, and indeed never turned my thoughts that way so closely as I find you have done. Your system seems to me pretty near of kin to Mr. Hutchinson's, as far as I have had opportunity to be acquainted with his from my Lord Forbes, but I believe you have much outdone him in the exactness of your method and methodical reasoning.
And now in answer to your candid inquiries, you ask me how consciousness and intelligence become essential to all agents that act from a power within themselves? where, by a power within themselves I take you to mean a principle of activity belonging to their essence, and not either arbitrarily annexed to them, or exerting itself in and by then. To which I answer, a power of action without a principle of self-exertion and activity, I can form no notion of, and a blind power or principle of activity--were it possible--would be so far from being of any use that it could be only mischievous in nature. In fact we find that all these motions and consequently actions in nature are conformable to the wisest laws and rules, ever aiming at some useful end or design, and must therefore be under the management of a most wise and designing principle, so that it seems to me repugnant to place intelligence and activity in or derive them from different principles; for if you suppose a blind principle of action in matter, you must still suppose it under the ever ruling force of an intelligent and designing principle; and as it is not the part of a philosopher to multiply beings and causes without necessity, it seems plain to me that we ought not to imagine any other principle of action than the principle of intelligence, which we know from our own soul in fact has, and in nature must have, a power of self-exertion and activity. We must come at it eventually in our inquiries, and I see not how one can avoid admitting it immediately. I can find nothing of activity in the idea of matter; nothing but what is merely passive, and therefore can only conceive it as a mere passive instrument acted on by the one principle of intelligence and activity. Thus I say things appear to me, nor can I with the utmost force of mind that my little capacity will admit of, conceive of them any otherwise, but I submit what I am about to advance on this subject to your better judgment, and remain Sir,
Your most obliged friend and humble servant,
A letter from Colden, dated November 19, 1746, continued his speculative inquiries, and met very emphatically the apprehension, reported to him by Johnson, of one of the Fellows of Yale College, that there was a "tendency in his system towards atheism." This was a misfortune in his view which had happened to all new discoveries in philosophy, and after rejecting the thought that he was an enemy to true religion, he proceeded to say:--
I shall add something on this occasion, in defense of my system, that from it a certain proof may be given of the evidence of spirits, or immaterial beings. For as in the idea of all immaterial beings, quantity or shape or form is included, and their actions are all divisible into degrees or quantities of action; the being from whence thinking proceeds cannot be material, because no kind of quantity enters our conception thereof, neither can any kind of measure or division be applied to it, so much as in imagination.
All allow that when God created matter, He gave it some essential property; otherwise there can be no essential difference between matter and spirit, and why may not I say, in my way of speaking, that God gave at the creation to different kinds of matter, different and distinct kinds of action. As to my part, I can discover no kind of ill consequence in the one more than in the other.
In answer to your demand of my opinion of Dr. Berkeley's book "De Motu," I shall give it with the freedom requisite to Philosophy. I think that the doctor has made the greatest collection in this and his other performances, of indistinct and indigested conceptions from the writings of both the ancients, and the moderns that I ever met with in any man's performances; that he has the art of puzzling and confounding his readers in an elegant style not common to such kind of writers; and that he is as great an abuser of the use of words as any one of those he blames most for that fault. I hope you will pardon me for writing so freely of your friend, and of so great a man. I do it with the less concern in hopes thereby to provoke you to use the same freedom with me. Compliments without sincerity spoil all philosophy.
I am so often interrupted at this time with business, and which I wish I could avoid, that you must excuse the incoherence of this scrawl, and likewise that I say nothing on the subject of your treatise. I will do it when I can apply my thoughts to it in the manner you desire. I must still stay some days on business in this place, which deprives me of that pleasure which I had hoped to obtain in old age; that is, free thoughts and conversation with my friends on philosophy.
The next letter contained the notice of the treatise which Johnson had desired him to examine, and is dated:--
COLDENGHAM, January, 27, 1746-7.
REV. SIR,--In my last I told you how much I had been involved in the public affairs, that I had not been able to consider your new System of Morality with the attention which I designed to give to the reading of it, and which it truly deserves. Nothing has been a greater injury to true religion than the pretenses that some people have set up that religion is not the object of the understanding, but is merely founded on authority, for in such case it could not with any propriety be designed for the use of an intelligent being, and there are no means left to distinguish between true and false Religion when we are not allowed to use our understanding in forming our judgment, and the false may set up as strong pretenses to authority as the true, and in fact always does.
You have by your performance clearly evinced the contrary of this, that true religion is founded on the reason or nature of things, and you have shown this in a manner adapted to common capacities and the commonly received conceptions, which makes it more generally useful and the more valuable.
I have considered the same in my own Principles of Natural Philosophy, and I have done this for two reasons: viz. thereby to remove some metaphysical objections which you made to my principles, and which I hope by this method to remove more easily than by a direct answer; the other reason is in hopes to give you some hints which may perhaps be of use to you in reconsidering your subject, as you tell me that you intend to publish a second edition of that work. I hope you will give me your sentiments with the same freedom that you see I write to you, and thereby I shall judge that the freedom I take is not disagreeable to you. I have no other view but truth, and for that reason I shall myself be more obliged by having my mistakes shown to me than by any applause. I am, Sir,
Your most humble servant,
Johnson waited nearly three months, and then returned the following answer:--
April 15. SIR,--I have been so much taken up of late in several journeys and various other affairs, that this must be my apology for not sooner answering your kind letter of Jan. 27. Your beautiful little draught of the first principles of morality is what I have been very much pleased with; I have read it with attention three times, and every time with a fresh increase of pleasure, and I now at length return my hearty thanks for it, and for the candor you express towards the piece I had the presumption to publish. You have in this little piece of yours made such all easy, gradual, and natural progress from physics to metaphysics, and from thence to morality, as is very pleasing to the mind; and I think, if I rightly apprehend, you have now so explained yourself that we do not much differ, and what difference yet remains I believe is but merely verbal. My chief objection was against your using the term action as expressing anything in matter, which I take to be a mere passive thing, and that action cannot in strict propriety of speaking be attributed to it; for which reason that expression still grated upon my mind till I came to your 7th section, in which, when you come to explain the difference between spirit and body, you say "the actions of the latter are altered by efficient causes always external to themselves."
This seems evidently to conclude what I would be at, and that at the bottom we think alike, viz. that when we speak of matter and the action of it we use that word for want of a better, in a sense rather figurative than literal, and understand it in a vulgar sense rather than a sense that is strictly philosophical, [as we] do the rising and setting of the sun. So we may call writing the action of the pen, when it is only in reality merely acted [on], and consequently that by the action of matter you do not mean any exertion of its own, much less a designed conscious self-exertion which always enters into my notion of efficient causes; and that therefore when you say it is determined by the (exertion I would say of) efficient causes always external to itself, those efficient causes must always be self-exerting and intelligent beings i.e., spirits, which therefore only are properly agents, and consequently that all the actions in all nature that affect our senses and excite ideas in our minds are really the actions of that Great Supreme Almighty Being or Spirit whom you call (25) the soul of the universe.
I do not, with Sir Isaac in §9, quite like that expression. It may however be admitted, if it means that He animates and governs the world as the soul does the body, which is merely passive to it: it is so far right,--He being in this sense the natural Governor of the natural world; but this seems not sufficient unless you also conceive Him as the moral Governor of the intelligent or moral world, rewarding or punishing men according as they behave,which is what I would apprehend you to mean by the real words.
You say very truly, § 9, We have no idea of matter; by which it is plain that by matter you mean something that is not the object either of our senses or minds. Of what use then is it in philosophy? Why may we not wholly drop it, and do as well without it, perhaps much better, and suppose what you call the action of it to be the action of that Almighty Spirit in whom we live, move, and have our being, and consider all nature as being the glorious system of his incessant exertions and operations, with which by his own action governed by fixed rules of his most wise establishment called the laws of nature, He perpetually and with endless variety of objects affects our senses and minds This will sufficiently account for everything, whereas matter, whereof we have no idea, can account for nothing.
You use the expression, §§ 20 and 21, During the time of our existence, which sounds as though it was to have a period with this vain life. This I cannot suppose your meaning (and therefore might perhaps be better left out), because I apprehend you must think it evident from the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, compared with that excellent nature He has given us, that we must be designed for nobler ends than can be answered by our existence only in this short, uncertain, and troublesome life. Thus, Sir, I have used the freedom you desire, and which I doubt not you will take in the same good part, and with the same pleasure as I do yours, and always shall. I am glad to find by your "Gazette" that you are at last resolved to have a College in your Government. This is what I doubt not you have much at heart, and I heartily wish success to it, and shall be glad to correspond with you in anything in my little power that may tend to promote it, and wish it may take effect speedily that you may not suffer the Jersey College (which will be a fountain of nonsense) to get ahead of it.
I am, Sir, etc.
The business of his official position crowded upon him, and Colden found little leisure to pursue his favorite speculations, but he wrote again to Johnson in answer to the foregoing letter, and then there appears to have been for a short time a suspension of their correspondence:
NEW YORK, May 18th, 1747.
REV. SIR,--Yours of the 15th of last month, in which you express some satisfaction in the little rude sketch I sent you on the first principles of morality, gave me a good deal of pleasure, though I cannot be fully clear that either of us has received clear conceptions of the other's thoughts. But in the first place I must thank you for your taking notice of some expressions in my paper liable to exceptions. I own they are justly so, but as what I wrote was only for your private amusement, and to obtain your opinion on my thoughts, I did not much attend to the accuracy of expression.
I did not think of the old opinion of the soul of the world when I wrote that paragraph. My design was only to avoid all expressions which could raise any idea of matter or corporeity, as the word spirit in its natural signification is apt to do, and for that reason only I made use of the words soul or mind. Please then to put in their place infinitely Intelligent Being. It was by the same inadvertency the words,--During the time of our existence, were made use of, and I am obliged to you for the correction which you have made of them.
But now to come to the matter itself, I cannot have any idea of anything merely passive or without any kind of action. I can have no idea of a mere negative, and since, as I observed, all our ideas of everything external to us must arise from the actions of those things on our minds, everything of which we have any idea must be active. This is my fundamental argument, to which I suspect you have not given sufficient attention; and from whence I conclude that all matter is active. You seem likewise not to have alluded to the distiction which I make between the substance and the action of that substance. We have no idea of the substance of intelligent Beings, as little as of material. We have only ideas of their actions. Or the ideas are the effects of their actions on our minds. But, Sir, if you attribute all action immediately to that Almighty Spirit in whom we live, move, and have our Being, all nature (as you say) being a system of his incessant exertions, etc., I do not see how anything or action can be morally evil in a proper sense, and the foundation of morality seems merely to be sapped. It seems to be a kind of Spinozism in other words. But as this is inconsistent with the whole tenor and end of your treatise I can only conclude that I have not been able to form any conception of the first principles of your and Dr. Berkeley's system of Philosophy. I am afraid you will find me of a much duller apprehension than you at first imagined, and that if you are willing to make me understand your system, it will give you more trouble than perhaps anything, that can be expected from me on the subject, can deserve.
The public affairs have employed my time so much that I cannot write more fully at this time on this or any other subject, and I must desire that the same excuse may serve for my not answering your letter sooner. But if you be at more leisure, a line or two from you will be exceedingly agreeable to me, that I may know whether I have been so lucky as to explain anything to your satisfaction, or to free me from my mistakes. I hope soon to be freed from these clogs to the pleasantest amusement in old age, and to have time to show how much I am, Sir,
Your most obliged humble servant,
SIR,--Could you be sensible of the manner of life I am obliged to live, I should have little occasion to make any apology for my being so long before I answer your obliging letters, and especially your last of May 18, for which I now return you my sincerest thanks; or for my incorrectness of expression when I do write, which doubtless is the chief occasion of my not being clearly understood, as well as of my not sufficiently attending to what you write. For my case is not altogether dissimilar to that of the great Apostle, particularly in being in journeyings often and in perils among false brethren.
I am entirely satisfied and well pleased with the amendments you allow me to make in the ingenious draught you were so good as to send me of your notion of the first principles of morality; with which it now runs clearly to my mind and is equally pleasing to my friends here, to whom I have communicated it. As for the incidental turn I made upon an expression of yours in favor of Bp. Berkeley's system, I was little more than jocular on that occasion, being not dogmatically tenacious of his peculiar sentiments, much less zealous of making you a proselyte to them. I would however observe that you have made a considerable approach towards them, at least as far as I am concerned to wish you to do, particularly in your allowing that all our ideas of sensible things are the effects of the actions of something external to our minds, and that even resistance is an action. Your supposing an active medium which you call matter intervening between the action of the Deity and our minds perceiving, to which they are immediately passive, though I am not clear in it, does not affect me so long as you allow all action throughout all sensible nature to derive originally from Him.
I doubt I expressed myself sometimes uncouthly, at least very incorrectly, otherwise you would not have inferred from what I wrote that I attributed "all action immediately to the Almighty Spirit." I meant only all the actions in sensible nature only, or which produce in our minds the ideas of sense and imagination; but I was far from meaning that there are no other actions besides those of the Deity. For this would be in effect to deny or doubt whether there be any other Beings besides Him and our ideas. This would sap the foundation of morality sure enough, and would be at least as bad as Spinozism. Bp. Berkeley any more than I, never doubted of the existence or actions of other inferior created spirits, free agents and subject to moral government. All he contends for is that there are no other than two sorts of beings, the one active the other passive,--that spirit, the Deity, and created intelligence alone are the active beings, and the objects of sense alone are merely passive; and that there is no active medium intervening between the actions of the Deity and our minds whom He has made to be perceptive and self-active Beings. These I take to be the first principles of his system. But however at a loss you may be about his peculiar system, there is a very pretty book published in England in 1745, called "Dialogues Concerning Education," being a plan for training up the youth of both sexes in learning and virtue, which I have lately seen, and long to have you read; and in which I don't doubt we should perfectly agree. I have recommended it to Mr. Shatford of New York to procure several copies, and do not think we could put a better thing into the hands of our children. It is the prettiest thing in its kind, and the best system both in physical, metaphysical, and moral philosophy I have ever seen.
Dr. Johnson had two sons; the birth of the elder has been already given, and that of the other--William--took place March 9, 1731. He saw as their intellects opened, that if they had such an education as he desired for them, it would be necessary for him to give his personal attention to it, and carry them through the preliminary course, and "that it might be the more agreeable to them to have companions, he took several gentlemen's sons of New York and Albany." When the youngest was born he wrote in his private diary: "O God, I give this child as well as the other to Thee. Bless them both," and "let me live to see them well educated and engaged in Thy service." At the age of about thirteen they were each admitted to the lowest class in Yale College, but "it was a great damage to them," said the father "that they entered so young, and that when they were there, they had so little to do, their classmates being so far behind them." He regretted that he had not taught them Hebrew before they entered; a study which they could not pursue in College, as there was no competent teacher. William Samuel, the eldest, received the degree of B. A. in 1744, and was the single "scholar of the house," for that year, to whom was adjudged the premium under the bounty of Dean Berkeley. He chose the law for his profession, and in the last week of May, 1747, he took a journey to Boston, that he might attend a few Lectures, be present at the Commencement, and admitted a Master of Arts in Harvard University.
Some external preparation for the occasion appears to have been necessary, since he wrote to his father from Cambridge that he had spoken for a wig and could not have one under £10; everything being "monstrously dear." The cost of his degree exceeded his expectations: "Commencement is now over " said he, "and I have taken a Degree which cost me £8; four of which I was unwilling to pay, but the Corporation appointed the charge when they granted my request, and it was then too late to hesitate about it." The letters which passed between the father and the son at this time are full of affection, and because it was the turning point in the son's life, the most important of them deserve a place in this connection. He had reported his pleasant journey and safe arrival, and given some account of the old friends of his father,--Dr. Cutler and Mr. Caner, [Rev. Henry Caner, long his neighbor over the Church at Fairfield, Conn., had recently been made Rector of King's Chapel Boston.]--as well as his inclinations about a profession and his desire to be governed by the paternal counsels, before he penned the following letter:--
HONORED SIR,--When I wrote last it was in great haste, and only that you might just know that I was well. Since which I have met with nothing very remarkable. The small-pox, which, when I wrote first, I informed you was in town, is now only in the pest-house, and there only one negro has it, so that there is now no danger. The gentleman also, I then mentioned, is since taken up and buried; he was found with his money and watch about him, and therefore 'tis thought was not murdered as was suspected. It proved to be the gentleman from London. He was son to a Deacon of Dr. Guise's Church, of a fine fortune, and came recommended to Dr. Colman, who never saw him but once. He preached a sermon about it last Sunday, and told them that the last was the most afflicting week that he ever endured.
About £40 of the money I brought with me was of the; Rhode Island last emission, and consequently of no use here, for it is £50 fine to tender it to any one. What I mention it for is because I got Captain Prince to change it, and he expects that you will indemnify him, if the law prohibiting the bills of the neighboring colonies (which we hear our Assembly is about to enact) should take place before he gets home. If it should, I believe you must repay him and send it down to me if you have an opportunity, that I may exchange it at Newport on my return home.
The precepts you gave me in your letter are excellent, and the method you prescribe is no doubt the best; for I find by experience that vice is not to be reasoned with, but the temptation to it to be avoided, and none is there greater than that of bad company. It is almost impossible to associate with ill men and not sometimes do as they do, and even though we do not, yet their converse leaves a stain upon the mind which it is very difficult to get rid of. For this reason it shall be, as you advise, my greatest concern to avoid them, and chief care not to consent with them in their wickedness.
It is the greatest desire of my soul to be useful to mankind, but the difficulty is to determine in what way; for as we must necessarily be confined to some one kind of business or profession for a subsistence, so I think every man ought to choose that which is most agreeable to his dispositions and abilities, for in that he is most likely to succeed; and here it seems that what is really the best profession, in itself considered, is out of the question, but the point is what is best for this or that particular man. For as it is impossible that all men can live by any one profession, though it be really the best, so the Wisdom of Heaven has almost infinitely diversified the dispositions and powers of men, that they may not only follow but also delight in the different pursuits of life; and he I take it as much answers the end of his being who adorns a lower as he who fills a higher station of life, provided he is apparently calculated for it, and, therefore, it means I must consider not in what profession the greatest good may be done to mankind, but in what station I, with these dispositions, these abilities and acquirements which I possess, am most likely to serve them; for where there is one that succeeds in an employment for which he is not calculated there are thousands that fail.
You may perhaps think from that warmth and eagerness of temper which is natural to me, that I am for rushing into life and business hand over head without due deliberation and forecast. But in this you are really mistaken, for I am fully sensible that all my future happiness in life depends upon my taking a right course; so I have employed my most serious and intense thought upon it for this long time past, and have endeavored so far as I am able to consider everything relating to it, and to view my case, in every possible light I could place it. But I am resolved to do nothing rashly, yet I think it is high time for me to have some particular business in view, and to be qualifying myself for it. And as I chiefly and above all (under the conduct of Heaven) depend upon your advice, direction, and approbation in this most important case, so I hope you will be prepared when I come home to give me your last and best advice in the affair, that I may earnestly apply myself more immediately to fit myself for business. And pray, Sir, consider the distinction I mentioned above, and consider not what profession is best in itself (for if I am not fit for it, that must be the very worst of all for me), but what is best for me such as I am. We cannot unmake ourselves. We may correct but can never eradicate the first principles of our constitution either in body or mind. I know and am fully persuaded you would do what to you appears best for me in every case, and you know my temper, dispositions, abilities, etc. as well, perhaps better than I do myself; therefore, Sir, consider these and direct me to a course of life that is suitable for me; for by this means, and by the practice of virtue in such a course, I apprehend it is most likely I may become an instance of the generis humani debitio, and an instrument of doing all the good I am capable of among this degenerate race, and may best secure both my temporal and eternal interest.... I am, honored Sir,
Your most dutiful son and humble servant,
WM. SAM'L JOHNSON
CAMBRIDGE, June 13, 1747.
STRATFORD, June 23, 1747.
DEAREST SON,--I thank you for yours of the 13th, and am glad to find the small-pox is not likely to spread. That is a very melancholy story you tell of the young gentleman, and must come with a most shocking force to his poor father's ears, whom every human breast must tenderly compassionate, though perhaps the less, if what I heard be true, that that idle passion called love was the occasion of it, on account of which, it being unequal, he forced him away. I conclude the affair of the Rhode Island money need give us no concern, since though Prince told me of his changing it, he said nothing further about it.
I am extremely well pleased with the remarks you make on the advice I gave you about the infectiousness of vice and the great danger of bad company, and the resolution you express to be upon the strictest guard, which I pray God you may steadfastly abide by; and remember that that loose, weak, inconstant humor, abusively called Free Thinking, is equally infectious with vice, of which it is always either a cause or an effect, or most commonly both. I hope, therefore, you will be no less upon your guard against that, and any conversations leading to it, especially those of the ludicrous kind, which can be no more reasoned with than vice itself, or the most violent temptation to it. And as I doubt not but the infidelity of this wicked age is chiefly occasioned by an unbounded self-conceit and the unconstrained indulgence of lust, I would particularly recommend it to you above all things to be clothed with humility and to flee youthful lust.
I am also equally well pleased with the reflections you make upon the subject of making a wise choice of a course of life wherein to be useful to mankind. They are very just. If a man is not pleased with the business he follows, it cannot be expected he will succeed in it. For which reason I have always resolved as far as possible to indulge your inclinations, though at the expense of my own, for I am so much concerned, if possible, that you may be happy, that I should gladly undergo a great deal of uneasiness rather than stand in the way of it: nay, I have said, though I could never enjoy myself if you should follow war, yet I would rather submit to that, than that you should not be able to enjoy yourself well in some other calling.
But with regard to the question before us, I agree with you, that in choosing a course of life much allowance must be made to one's natural genius and inclination. Genuine nature must always be consulted. Notwithstanding which, I cannot quite agree with you in saying that what is really the best profession in itself considered is out of the question. Methinks it ought by all means to be taken into consideration with other things, in order to make a just judgment how to steer. If indeed it is plainly humoris impar, or one has an unconquerable aversion to it as a business of life, as I have for husbandry (though a great opinion of it), it must be doubtless a duty to choose rather some other course. But if I am equally qualified for that with another, perhaps better, and have only some little reluctances and misgivings, I ought in that case, for the sake of the superior intrinsic excellency and usefulness, to set my reason to work to conquer those reluctances if possible. And I know by experience, agreeable to what you allow, that the nature cannot be eradicated yet it may be corrected; that what one has no genius for, and even a reluctance to, may by dint of resolution and application be rendered not only tolerable but even delightful, as was my case with regard to Mathematics.
You are, my son, and I bless God for it, by genius and ability equally qualified to shine either in the pulpit, at the bar, or at arms. As to the last, I hope that is now at least in a great measure out of the question. And as to the two former, I shall for my part be entirely easy whichsoever you choose, though I prefer the first, for which you are already so well qualified that you can well afford to spend a year or two in making a trial of the study of Law, which would by no means be lost time, if you should afterwards quit it for Divinity. On the other hand, if you like it you may abide by it.
You say well (as being so young you well may), that you are not for rushing suddenly into life. And as you can spare yet three or four years to consider and qualify yourself, I doubt not but by that time you may begin in either of those professions with good advantage. Meantime assure yourself it is my daily and earnest prayer both for you and your brother not only that you may be duly qualified, but also directed to such a choice of business for life as may enable you to do God the greatest honor and mankind the greatest good you are capable of, and at the same time, in the best manner to enjoy yourselves here, and be qualified for the most ample reward hereafter. And to my prayers I shall willingly add my best advice and endeavors, and I am glad you have opened the way to a particular and free correspondence and conversation upon these subjects, and would wish you always to converse with me in the freest and most unreserved manner upon any subject that may be of importance to you, nay even upon the choice of a companion as well as a business for life, as occasion may offer. For there is nothing pleases me better than a decent, open, and unreserved freedom. You will make allowance for the extreme haste of my writing. It is now half an hour past 12, and high time to break up, so I conclude. With our hearty love to you, Dear son,
Your most tender and affectionate father,
The answer to this letter caused the father to write another with more advice about plans for the future; and he addressed it to his son aft Guilford, where he would stop on his return to visit relations. It closed the correspondence, and nothing more was needed to fix him in the choice of a profession:--
STRATFORD, July 7, 1747.
DEAR SON,--I do not now write to you as at Boston, having been informed you was to leave it this week. How ever as writing rather than speaking may be most agreeable to you on some of the subjects of your letter, I send this to meet you on the road. Methinks you are rather too severe upon that instance of human frailty which is called Love. I believe there are few of us without some tincture of distraction, and I take that to be a species of it, which, in some degrees, of which there have been many instances, deserves as great a compassion and tenderness as any other kind of distraction, it being sometimes equally impossible even for a good genius to be master of himself in that case, as in ally other case of distraction, which makes it a matter of great importance with regard to that, as well as other dangers, to think much of the Apostle's aphorism, Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
I am pleased with the declaration you make of your sense and resolution about Free Thinking. Indeed I have thought (nor am I yet secure) that you are in too much danger of it, I mean in the bad sense; instances of which, you complain you have met with. But it is rather too cold an expression you use, that the more you know of this humor the less you esteem it. This seems to imply as if you had had too much of a favor for it, and upon the experience and observations you have had opportunity to make of it, I should hope you might have said, the more you know of it the more you abhor it.
You suspect my tenderness may carry me too far. It may have been so in some instances. It is a pardonable esteem, for which I hope you know how to make allowances. But give me leave to say, that there is at least as great a danger in youth of being too secure and self-sufficient; and, in consequence of that, of thinking too hardly of the caution and anxiety of age, and being not sufficiently sensible of the great advantage which age has of youth, in having gone through a long course of experience, and having had larger opportunities of trial, both of the treachery of a tempting world, and of the instability and deceitfulness of the heart of man,--our own as well as that of others; and consequently of the great dangers to which youth is particularly exposed, and of which it is not sufficiently aware.
I did not allege the case of Mathematics, as being at all concerned with choosing a course of life (as you seem to understand me), but only as a case, wherein a choice being made of any pursuit, even though somewhat against the grain, a resolute practice and application might, as I experienced, render it not only tolerable but even delightful.
Perhaps it is only the knowledge of yourself as you now are, in the heat of youth, that makes you apprehensive that you are not well calculated for Divinity (of which you give so just an encomium). I doubt not but with a careful management of yourself, you will in a few years grow more sedate, and your taste may much alter. However, as you profess that you have no notion of hurrying into life, you will do well to study law industriously two or three years. I would only observe, that so far as temper and disposition and conduct in life are concerned, such a management of them as is necessary to make a good Christian will be equally consistent with being a divine; and if you should not follow divinity as your profession, I beg to depend that your conduct be such as would be an ornament to it, and that you so order your manner of life, as vastly more to serve than disserve that cause; much less would I fear as you seem to do, that if you were a divine you should do more hurt than good to it.
You abhor the thought of making a woman unhappy, i.e., in matrimony, or a family miserable. You are very right in this, and I hope I may take this as a good omen that you are resolute (and then you will succeed in it) so to act your part in life, as will not fail by God's blessing to make all those happy in a good measure to whom you may ever be related. And I would hope the same tenderness for that tender and unwary sex will always make you equally careful while you are in a state of celibacy to guard against anything that may have the least tendency to make any of them miserable, which often proves the effect of a frequent intercourse with them when no thoughts of anything further than mere conversation are intended. This is an affair of great tenderness, and has occasioned in time past a great deal of grief to me, and were I to go over life again I would never frequently or much converse with a person I had not even remote thoughts of making a partner in life, or when I was in no condition for it.
You say you are not worth a farthing, etc. It is true you are not in possession, but whenever you are disposed to settle yourself, I can spare you 2,000 pounds worth of lands to dispose of for that purpose, and hope in God's time I may leave you at least as much more. Meantime, I am,
Your most affectionate father,
In the year 1749 a project was set on foot to establish a college at Philadelphia, and several gentlemen of the first rank in the province gave it their support. One of this number was the celebrated Benjamin Franklin, who drew up and published the original proposals for erecting the English, Latin, and Mathematical schools of the institution under the name of an Academy, "which was considered as a very proper foundation on which to raise something further at a future period if these should be successful." He consulted Dr. Johnson, for whose opinion on such matters he had the highest respect, about the plan of education; and was very urgent to get him to assume the Presidency, and for this purpose, in company with another gentleman, visited him at Stratford. A similar movement was begun about the same time in New Yorkl and Johnson, in writing to his fast friend, Bishop Berkeley, desired his good offices and "1 advice upon the undertaking." The following letter in reply was inclosed to Dr. Franklin, that he might have the benefit of the suggestions and thoughts which it contained:
CLOYNE AUYUST 23, 1749.
REV. SIR,--I am obliged for the account you have sent me of the prosperous estate of learning in your College of New Haven. I approve of the regulations made there, and am particularly pleased to find your sons have made such a progress as appears from their elegant address to me in the Latin tongue. It must indeed give me a very sensible satisfaction to hear that my weak endeavors have been of some use and service to that part of the world. I have two letters of yours at once on my hands to answer, for which business of various kinds must be my apology. As to the first, wherein you inclosed a small pamphlet relating to tar-water, I can only say in behalf of those points in which the ingenious author seems to dissent from me, that I advance nothing which is not grounded on experience, as may be seen at large in Mr. Prior's narrative of the effects of tar-water, printed three or four years ago, and which may be supposed to have reached America.
For the rest, I am glad to find a spirit towards learning prevail in those parts, particularly New York, where you say a college is projected, which has my best wishes. At the same time I am sorry that the condition of Ireland, containing such numbers of poor uneducated people, for whose sake Charity Schools are erecting throughout the kingdom, obligeth us to draw charities from England; so far are we from being able to extend our bounty to New York, a country in proportion much richer than our own. But as you are pleased to desire my advice upon this undertaking, I send the following hints to be enlarged and improved by your own judgment.
I would not advise the applying to England for charters or statutes (which might cause great trouble, expense, and delay), but to do the business quietly within themselves.
I believe it may suffice to begin with a President and two Fellows. If they can procure but three fit persons, I doubt not the college from the smallest beginnings would soon grow considerable: I should conceive good hopes were you at the head of it.
Let them by all means supply themselves out of the seminaries in New England. For I am very apprehensive none can be got in Old England (who are willing to go) worth sending.
Let the Greek and Latin classics be well taught. Be this the first care as to learning. But the principal care must be good life and morals to which (as well as to study) early hours and temperate meals will much conduce.
If the terms for degrees are the same as in Oxford and Cambridge, this would give credit to the College, and pave the way for admitting their graduates ad eundem in the English universities.
Small premiums in books, or distinctions in habit, may prove useful encouragements to the students.
I would advise that the building be regular, plain, and cheap, and that each student have a small room (about ten feet square) to himself.
I recommended this nascent seminary to an English bishop, to try what might be done there. But by his answer it seems the colony is judged rich enough to educate its own youth.
Colleges from small beginnings grow great by subsequent bequests and benefactions. A small matter will suffice to set one a going. And when this is once well done, there is no doubt it will go on and thrive. The chief concern must be to set out in a good method, and introduce, from the very first, a good taste into the society. For this end the principal expense should be in making a handsome provision for the President and Fellows.
I have thrown together these few crude thoughts for you to ruminate upon and digest in your own judgment, and propose from yourself, as you see convenient.
My correspondence with patients who drink tar water, obliges me to be less punctual in corresponding with my friends. But I shall be always glad to hear from you. My sincere good wishes and prayers attend you in all your laudable undertakings.
I am your faithful, humble servant, G. CLOYNE.
The Philadelphia gentlemen matured their plans, and the subscriptions obtained for carrying them out were a strong proof of the public spirit and generosity of their fellow-citizens. The hints of Berkeley appear to have been carefully studied, and Johnson was importuned to become the head of an institution which he showed himself so well qualified to direct, and which promised to be such a nursery of classic and Christian learning. [The memory of this distinguished prelate as interested in Christian Education is perpetuated in Connecticut. His name designates one of its most useful and prosperous Institutions,--the "Berkeley Divinity School" at Middletown, incorporated in 1854, and conducted, since its foundation, under the immediate charge of the Bishop of the Diocese.]