Page images
[blocks in formation]


WILLIAM PALEY, a celebrated divine and philosopher, and author of the following admirable volume, was the son of a clergyman, who held a small living near Peterborough, where the subject of this memoir was born in 1743. He was instructed under his father, who became master of a grammar-school in Yorkshire, whence he was removed as a sizar to Christchurch college, Cambridge. He soon obtained a scholarship, and in 1763, having highly distinguished himself as a disputant on questions of natural and moral philosophy, he took his first degree. He was afterwards employed for three years as an assistant to an academy at Greenwich, and on taking deacon's orders, officiated as curate to Dr. Hinchcliffe, then vicar of Greenwich, and afterwards bishop of Peterborough. In 1766 he proceeded MA., was elected a fellow of his college, and appointed one of its tutors. In the latter capacity he signally distinguished himself by his assiduity and ability; and the lectures which he then delivered on the Greek Testament and on moral philosophy, contain the outlines of the works by which he subsequently obtained so much celebrity. In 1767 he took priest's orders, and maintained an intimate acquaintance with the most eminent persons in the university, particularly Dr. Law, bishop of Carlisle, Dr. John Law his son, and doctors Waring and Jebb. Most of these being presumed to fall below the established standard of orthodoxy, Mr. Paley began to be regarded with some coolness by its most zealous defenders. His friends could not, however, persuade him to sign the petition for relief in the matter of subscription to the articles, on which occasion he observed, with more point than decorum, that “ he could not afford to keep a conscience.” In 1776 he quitted the university, after a residence of ten years, and entered into a matrimonial connexion. He had previously obtained a small benefice in Westmoreland, and he now was inducted into the vicar. age of Dalston, in Cumberland, to which was soon after added the living of Appleby, and a prebendal stall in the cathedral of Carlisle. In 1782 he was appointed archdeacon of the diocese, and not long afterwards succeeded Dr. Burn in the chancellorship, for all which preferments he was indebted to the bishop of Carlisle.

In 1785 he published his Elements of Moral and Political Philosophy,with a highly liberal dedication to his episcopal patron. Of a work so well known, it is unnecessary to say more than that, while with much vigor and discrimination it stands unrivalled for its simplicity and pertinence of illustration, many of the definitions and principles laid down, both in his politics and morals, are justly open to exception.

In 1790 appeared the Horæ Pauline, or the Truth of the Scripture History of St. Paul evinced, by a Camparison of the Epistles which bear his name, with the Acts of the Apostles, and with one another This work will be valued by sagacious judges as the most ingenious and original of all our author's productions. It has been translated into the German language; but has never obtained in this country that general perusal with which Paley's larger works have been honored. This comparative neglect is to be attributed not to the execution of the work, which is admirable, but to the subtile nature of the proof which the design admitted. Although the total result of the argument is an accumulation of evidence, that is almost irresistible; yet the proofs, singly, are established by a recondite criticism, by minute collations, and verbal peculiarities, which few have delicacy of taste enough to relish. This publication is the only one in which Paley seems not to have adapted himself exactly to the tone of the public mind; but he is repaid for the neglect of the many by the approbation of the few that are learned and critical readers.

Early in the year 1794, his View of the Evidences of Christianity was given to the public. In this luminous and comprehensive work, the historical evidence for the authenticity of our Scriptures, selected from the volumes of Dr. Lardner, is arranged with clear. ness, and stated to the reader with the utmost force and precision Many persons are wearied into impatience by the number of pages he has occupied in proving the sufferings of the first propagators of Christianity. But as this fact is the basis of the work, it was requisite that it should be undeniably established: superfluity of proof may be tedious, but deficiency would have been fatal. To those who shrink from the labors of weighing the detail of historical evidence, the two last parts of the work will be more interest ing than the first. It is impossible to arise from a careful perusal of the whole, we will not say, without conviction (for that may be impeded by many obstructions in the reader's mind), but without feeling a sincere admiration of the tenets of Christianity, and the character of its Founder; and without being impressed at the same time with this sentiment, That however miraculous the truth of our religion may appear, we must assent to propositions equally miraculous, before we can conclude it to be false.

It seems, at last, to have roused the episcopal bench into a due sense of his services; and he was made a sub-dean of Lincoln, by bishop Pretyman, and received the valuable living of Bishop's Wearmouth, from the bishop of Durham, and the prebend of St. Pancras, from the bishop of London.

In 1795 he was created DD. by the university of Cambridge ; and his health not allowing him to officiate in the pulpit, he undertook the compilation of his “Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, collected from the Appearances of Nature,” 8vo; which, however, was not published until 1802. This disquisition alone (he reminds us) was wanted to make up his works into a system; in which works the public have now before them, the Evidences of Natural Religion, the Evidences of Revealed Religion, and an Account of the Duties that result from both. His Theology may be classed among the most interesting books of the English language. We are carried by the author with unceasing delight through the most prominent wonders and striking contrivances of the whole creation. Where indolence before saw nothing to admire, it suddenly discovers the most ingenious designs, and elaborate workmanship; where apathy beheld no cause for affecting sentiments, it sees the most powerful reason to kindle with gratitude, and be awed with reverence to the Deity. It is a small objection to urge, that in his discussions upon the human frame, Dr. Paley is not, according to the modern discoveries of science, always anatomically correct. Truth does not require that any of his conclusions should be retracted on account of this inaccuracy. His arguments against the atheistic schemes cannot be overthrown, even though some of his physiological descriptions may be disputed. If he had been a better anatomist, his reasonings in proof of a Deity would have been even more forcible than at present because all the improvements in the knowledge of our own bodies, 'tend to unfold more and more the curious subtilty of their mechanism. For those who do not study the human structure profession



MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR. ally, Paley's delineation is sufficiently correct: others, who are re quired to be rigid anatomists, will obtain from his book something more interesting than technical knowledge; they will be delighted with acute reflections, and devout speculations upon universal nature.

Such was the favorable reception of this work, that it reached a tenth edition before the expiration of three years.

This was his last publication, his death taking place on the 25th of May, 1805, in his sixty-second year. He left four sons and four daughters by his first wife, and a second wife who survived him.

In private life, Dr. Paley seems to have exhibited very little of he gravity of the philosopher, being fond of amusement and company, whom no one could better entertain, by a spontaneous exhibition of wit and humor. At the same time, no man was more beloved by his friends, or evinced more attachment to them in re

It is said, that Mr. Pitt wished to make him a bishop, but that objections prevailed in a high quarter in the church; but whether on account of suspicions of his orthodoxy, or any other latent reason, is not known. As a writer, Dr. Paley was less solicitous to delight the ear than inform the understanding ; yet few authors have written so pleasingly on similar subjects, and there is, both in his conceptions and language, a peculiarity of manner which marks the native vigor of his mind. After his death, a volume of his sermons was published in 8vo; and he was also au. thor of two small pieces, entitled, “The Clergyman's Companion to the Sick;” and “The Young Christian Instructed."

This short sketch of the author's life and works cannot better be terminated than by subjoining the following remarks, from the pen of the Rev. Dr. ALEXANDER, of Princeton, N. J.

“This treatise is one concerning which it is wholly unnecessary for me to speak, by way of commendation. Paley's EVIDENCES is a work, which by its merit has become a text-book in the higher seminaries of learning, both in Great Britain, and in this country ; and as long as our educated young men are required carefully to study this manual, there will be small danger of their being led away by the plausible but flimsy objections of deists.

“Few men have ever lived who were as well qualified to estimate the value of historic evidence, and to form an impartial judg. ment of the force of human testimony, as Doctor Paley. His per

« PreviousContinue »