After reviewing the many, and almost unsurmountable obstacles to literary eminence in Ireland, it is rather to be wondered, that she has produced so many, than so few writers of distinction. Usher was a scholar, second to none these islands can boast of, unless we except Selden. In mere science, the Biographia Britannica furnishes not a fourth comparable to Lord Bacon, Newton, and Boyle49.
Berkeley, bishop of Cloyne, was a writer of very superior talents. He has been called the Irish Plato. His Minute Philosopher is among the standards of the English language. His essay on vision has extended the boundaries of science; and however
p.410whimsical his Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge may appear, it is unanswerable, except on the principles of common sense. I cannot help admiring his Siris however it may have been ridiculed for beginning with the properties of Tar, and ending with those of the Godhead.
The advocates for Newton's principles, affect to decry his scientifick abilities, because he would persuade infidels in religion not to swallow the doctrine of fluxions, as an article of faith. So high a respect have I for the genius of Sir Isaac Newton, that it approaches towards veneration. My submission, however, to his authority, is not so resigned as that of the Pythagoreans to their master, whose ipse dixit was not to be controverted. The passion people have to account for every thing, disposes them to a ready acquiescence in some general principle, which for every why shall give a wherefore. The hypotheses of Thales, Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, Democritus, &c. have prevailed in their turns. Aristotle pulled down the fanciful fabricks raised by his predecessors. Lord Verulam rose against this tyrant of the schools. At length all were swallowed up in the vortices
p.411of Des Cartes. Now the system of that great man is exploded as a philosophical romance. And may not the day come, when the principles of a still greater shall be called a mathematical romance? I cannot help thinking it far beyond the pitch of human understanding to reach the cause, second to the first, which moves the planets in their orbs; and therefore will venture to ask, Why should it be assumed, that in quantities infinitely small, an arch, its chord, and tangent, shall be considered as equals?
The relation of lines to each other is unalterable, however the dimension of those lines may be altered; no matter whether the arch be said to be nascent or evanescent, still it bears the same proportion to its chord as if extended to a great circle of the heavens. Quantity is still quantity, call it infinitesimal, or what you will, and must consequently be subject to its laws, relations, and proportions. But an arch can never be related to its chord, in the proportion of equality, for that would impugn the principle, that a right line is the shortest that can be drawn between any
p.412two points. Yet upon this foundation is the whole system of the mathematical philosophy built, as may be seen from Sir Isaac Newton's own words; Iisdem positis dico quod ultima ratio arcus, chordae & tangentis ad invicem est ratio aequalitatis.
Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, De Motu Corporum Liber Primus, sect. 1, Lemma VII.
I have placed this matter in a light somewhat different from the Analyst; and for my pains, you among the rest will call me Sciolist. But I am contented, since they have called him a Pseudo-mathematician. Let him, however, be right or wrong in his speculative opinions, he was certainly an ingenious man, and according to Pope, a good one too.
- Even in a Bishop he can spy desert;
Seeker is decent, Rundel has a heart;
Manners with candour are to Benson given.
To Berkeley every virtue under Heaven.
King, Archbishop of Dublin, was a less fanciful, but a more consistent philosopher than Berkeley. His book upon the origin of evil is a masterpiece. He was a man of wit, and of a sarcastic vein. Between him and Swift, strict intimacy always subsisted, and in their familiar letters we find him
p.413frequently pressing Swift to turn his pen to grave subjects, and reminding him that his talents were not suited to such important trifles, as sometimes engaged them.
It is related of him, that when Boulter was raised over his head, to the primacy of all Ireland, under the pretext that he was too old, he was so piqued, that he neglected to pay the usual complimentary visit. But, as he was so respectable a personage, the Primate, dispensing with etiquette, went to see him. King received him with great courtesy, except in not getting up to meet his grace, humorously excusing himself by saying, that he was grown too old to rise. He was the son of a poor miller in the county of Tyrone.
Dr. Dodwell, the famous Camden professor of history in the university of Oxford, was of this country, and bred in T. C. D. He was a man of universal erudition, but of an enthusiastick turn of mind. It was his opinion that the soul of man was naturally mortal, but that it received its principle of immortality at baptism. The dogma now maintained by Dr. Priestley, is not unlike this on the philosophical side,
p.414however different it may be on the theological.
Leslie of Glaslough was a man of great reading, prodigious memory, and voluminous composition. His Short and easy method with the Deists is esteemed one of the best pieces extant on the subject. An odd story is recorded of a disputation held by this gentleman, with a titular bishop of Clogher, in the reign of James II. who had given a challenge to all the protestant clergy. The issue of which was, that both sides claimed the victory; for a Mr. Stewart, who had been a Papist, turned Protestant, and one who had been a Protestant turned Papist.
Toland was a writer of opposite principles. A popish priest originally, he became a Deist in religion, and a Republican in politicks. His scholarship has been arraigned by his antagonists, but he is commended by Mr. Locke as a man of parts and learning.
Clayton, bishop of Clogher, wrote an Essay on spirit; an analysis of the works of Lord Bolingbroke, and other books. He was a disciple of Dr. Clarke, to whom
p.415they say, he owed his preferment. His essay was answered by Dr. M'Donnel , once fellow of the college of Dublin, and a celebrated preacher.
Irish writers upon controversy have been numerous, but they are chiefly to be found in the popish church, and in popish countries. Peter Walsh is a name well known. Burnet says, He was a learned and an able man, much practised in the intrigues and methods of the Jesuits, yet honest, and in points of controversy almost a Protestant. This, however, is an uncouth track, nor is the prospect much brightened in exploring the regions of antiquity. Yet Ireland has her Camden in Ware, and the Ogygia of Flaherty seems learned. He would synchronize the kings and transactions of Ireland, with those of the other parts of the world, down from the deluge. The consequence is, that great part of his book is almost as applicable to any other country as to Ireland.
There are other writers of some note in the same line, viz. Lynch, author of Cambrensis Eversus. M'Mahon of the Jus Armacanum50, Peter Lombard, Mr. Harris, Dr. Raymond,
p.416Mr. Simon, Luke Wadding, Cusack, White, Stanihurst, and the Abbe Geoghegan, who wrote the history of Ireland in French. The fabulous Keating is well known to every body. It was reserved for Dr. Leland to give the form of history to the transactions of Ireland, since it became dependant on the crown of England.
I mentioned to you in a former letter, Mr. Molyneux, the friend of Mr. Locke, and champion for the independence of his native country. I now speak of him as a philosopher and mathematician, for he was reckoned among the first of that scientifick age. His Dioptricks are highly commended by Dr. Halley. As his character seems to me well drawn upon his monument in St. Audeon's church, I shall give you an extract from it.
- Familiae eruditae famam
Per universam Rempublicam litterariam
Abditis Matheseos penetratis
Geometriam, Astronomiam, Dioptricam, Algebramque
Multis auxit inventis.
Philosophiae verae ac utilis incrementa
Studiis & impensis strenue promovit.
p.417Patriae jura quae putavit, noto tibi, viator, libello
Nec moribus minus quam scientia insignis
Tam supra plebem vixit quam sapuit.
Dr. Helsham published an elegant and learned Course of lectures, upon the several branches of physics and mechanics. Dr. Brian Robinson wrote an essay upon that ethereal fluid, to which Newton alludes in his queries: and also a treatise on the animal oeconomy, in which he appears happily to have applied his great mathematical knowledge to the extension of medical science. You know every thing relative to Sir Hans Sloane, more remarkable for his museum than his genius. Yet upon these principally must we rest the national character in the line of natural philosophy. Nor can I hear of any other mathematician of this country, except Mr. Ronayne, author of a Treatise of Algebra, and the present Dean of Armagh; who from a consideration of the Cone, has immediately deduced the properties of the Sections. His demonstrations are perspicuous and well arranged. He has also published those ingenious philosophical essays, which I have heard you speak so well of.
In this class, however, we may arrange the works of Dr. Macbride, who has so successfully applied the theory of fixed air to practice, in the cure of the sea-scurvy.
Dr. Sullivan's treatise on the feudal law, and constitution of England, is making its way in the good opinion of the world notwithstanding this avenue to same had been pre-occupied by Dr. Blackstone's Commentaries.
Mr. Hutcheson is the principal ethick writer of this country. Whilst a teacher of an academy in Dublin, he wrote his books on the origin of our ideas of beauty, and on the passions. These raised his reputation so high, that he was invited to accept the moral chair in the university of Glasgow which he filled with such celebrity, as to lay the foundation for that fame which Glasgow now enjoys as an Ethick school. He it was who first used the term moral sense, for that principle which approves the To Kalon of Plato, and the pulchrum et honestum of Cicero.
Two of the ablest divines of this country were dissenters from the established church,
p.419Mr. Abernethy and Dr. Leland. The sermons of the former upon the attributes, are held to be one of the best systems of natural theology. They are taught and recommended in several Universities, and translated into French. The Author was founder of a sect called, The New Light whose distinguishing tenets are Arianism in doctrine, and independence in discipline. Mr. Abernethy was endowed with great powers of speech. His admirers say, that he united the precision of Clarke, the abundance of Barrow, and the perspicuity of Tillotson. He was deputed by the Dissenters of Ulster to address the Duke of Ormond, in a tour he made when Lord Lieutenant; and his grace was afterwards heard to say, that, of all the men who ever approached him on like occasions, he was most pleased with the young man of Antrim.
Dr. Leland's View of Deistical Writers and other works, are well known. Of principles different from Mr. Abernethy, he was an independent in discipline, but an Athanasian in doctrine. He is sometimes confounded with the Author of the History
p.420of Ireland, whose Lectures upon Oratory, in T. C. D. wherein he overthrows some opinions of Dr. Warburton, and his defence of them against Dr. Hurd, have obtained him a very high rank among the writers of Ireland.
Dr. Duchal wrote Presumptive arguments in favour of Revelation, and several Volumes of sermons, which have been well received. And Mr. Boyce, another dissenting Minister, published sermons on the Four last Things, which I have heard commended. He was father to Boyce the Poet, author of a Pantheon, and other works.
You cannot expect a large catalogue of eminent preachers in the established church of Ireland, for the reasons I have already given; yet I must say, that the Dublin pulpits, are just as well filled as those of London. The Writers who have done the nation most honour in the divinity line are, Synge, Story, Brown, Delany, Lawson, Orr, and Skelton.
Bishop Synge is said to have been a man of great parts and learning, he was author of the Religion of a Gentleman.
p.421Story, Bishop of Kilmore, published only some occasional sermons, but in his Treatise on the Priesthood; deep erudition and Christian moderation are equally conspicuous.
Brown, Bishop of Cork, published some volumes of sermons; he is however more celebrated for his delivery than his composition. It is related of him, that when he preached before Queen Anne upon the text, no man ever spoke like this man, the Queen applied those words to the Preacher. They have another anecdote of him: Being a violent tory, he wrote a book to prove, that drinking memories was a species of idolatry, in order to abolish a custom then prevalent among the whigs of Ireland, of drinking the glorious memory of King William. But instead of cooling, he only inflamed their rage for the toast, to which they afterwards tacked, and a f--t for the Bishop of Cork.
Delany's Sermons on the Social Duties are excellent. He was not however free from enthusiasm: He wrote a book to prove, that eating of blood was a crime equal to a breach of the decalogue. Lord Bolingbroke remarks, that he always argues as if
p.422he were preaching before an Irish congregation. Yet I have heard one of the best judges on our side the water say, that his Introduction to Revelation examined with candour, was one of the finest pieces of declamation in the English language.
Dr. Lawson was a most celebrated preacher. His sermons, which, by the bye, were published contrary to his directions on his death-bed, are elegant compositions. His lectures upon Oratory, which he delivered in Trinity College Dublin, he gave to the world himself; they shew a nice classical taste, a fine poetical vein, and a thorough knowledge of the art of preaching.
Mr. Orr published a volume of sermons, which procured him the friendship of Hoadly, bishop of Winchester; they discover a free and original cast of thought, and are composed in a manly, nervous style. The present bishop of Clogher, has the honour of promoting him to an Archdeaconry, when he governed the see of Ferns. And to the same excellent prelate Mr. Skelton owes his preferment.
This gentleman, though ungraduated, but as Batchelor, by any of the universities, is the living glory of the Irish church. He has published five volumes, mostly in defence of revelation, which, though ably written, shed but a secondary lustre on the character of this excellent person, to whom I have had the happiness of being introduced. His learning is almost universal, and his language uncommonly fluent and vigorous nature formed him a poet, but a bishop prematurely ordained him a divine; and no sooner did he assume this function, than his feeling heart was penetrated by the nicest sense of duty. He resigned himself wholly to the service of his master. Such a servant could not long escape notice; he became eminent; he was followed in London as a preacher. He dedicated two volumes of sermons to the citizens of that metropolis, at a time when he languished upon a curacy of forty pounds a year. But then he was as rich as he is now; for he knows no use of money but to relieve distress. In one of those seasons of calamity, which neglect of tillage in this country renders so frequent, he sold his books, his only worldly goods, and the
p.424only worldly goods wherein he took delight, to buy bread for the poor.
He is now advancing towards seventy; yet he preserves an uncommon share of vivacity. If he sometimes descends into the ludicrous, his flashes of wit and humour keep the table. in a roar. His powers of description are beyond what I could have conceived; he has a stock of imagination sufficient to set up ten modern tragic poets. Had he been educated and lived in England, a stage little enough for his great abilities, he would have long since obtained the first nitch in the temple of fame; now he is known only in Ireland, and by a few inquisitive men elsewhere.
The chief miscellaneous Irish writers of the present century, that I hear of, are, Parnell, the very deliciae musarum, of whose poetry, above all others, it may be said decies repetita placebit Burke, on the sublime &c. Lord Molesworth Lord Orrery Lord Clare Mr. and Mrs. Millar Dr. Arbuckle, writer of Hibernicus's Letters &c. Molloy, author of a periodical paper in London, called Common Sense, &c.
p.425Ogle, who modernized Chaucer's Tales Dr. Dunkin, author of a quarto collection of humorous poems, some of which are in three languages, Greek, Latin, and English Wood, who published Ruins of Palmyra and Balbeck and an Essay on the Genius and Writings of Homer Sterne, bishop of Clogher, author of a book de visitatione infirmorum Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, &c. Webb, who inquired into the Beauties of paintings &c Pilkington, who published a Dictionary of Painters51 Cunningham, author of several poetical pieces Starrat, who wrote on the Doctrine of projectiles and some of the songs in Allan Ramsay's collection Canning, writer of an Epistle from Lord Russel to Lord Cavendish &c. Derrick, of letters and poems Dr. Clancy, author of the Templum Veneris, &c Bush, of Socrates, Johnston, author of Chrysal Brooke, of the Farmers Letters, Fool of Quality the learned Mr. Maclaine, now of the Hague. Dr. Sheridan, in whose family genius seems as hereditary as the name. To these, I might add, list of female writers, Mrs. Sheridan, Mrs. Pilkington, Mrs. Grierson, Mrs. Barber, Mrs. Davies,
p.426Mrs. Griffith, &c Nor should we forget the truly comical G. A. Stevens. There are several other 52 living writers, who are not publici juris as their works are anonymous; such as the author of Longsword Earl of Salisbury, Polite Philosopher, &c.
As Swift was a writer, cujus gloriae neque profuit quisquam laudando, nec vituperando obfuit, I should only have mentioned his name, had I not seen a letter of his53, never published, which entirely acquits him of that breach of hospitality, laid to his charge from some passages in his Hamilton's Bawn. The letter was written to that Dr. Jenny represented in the poem as looking so like a ninny. The purport of it is to acquaint the Doctor (then rector of Armagh, in the neighbourhood of which he spent the Summer), how he passed his time. Among other amusements, he mentions that of writing this very poem, the motives which excited him to it, and the effects
p.427it produced. And so far was it from giving umbrage to the lady, or jealousy to the knight, that every addition he made at night came up with the bread and butter, as part of the entertainment next morning, and all parties expressed the utmost satisfaction. One of the misrepresentations of this affair, among others, gave occasion to the following epigram, written by the curate of Lord Orrery's own town of Caledon.
- A sore disease this scribbling itch is!
His lordship, in his Pliny vein.
Turns Madam Pilkington in breeches.
And now attacks our patriot Dean.
- What! Libel his friend when laid in ground:
Nay, good Sir, you may spare your hints,
His parallel, at last, is found.
For what he writes, George Faulkner prints.
- Had Swift provok'd to this behaviour,
Yet after death resentment cools,
Sure his last act bespoke his favour;
He built an hospital for Fools.
This alludes to St. Patrick's Hospital for lunaticks and idiots, for the founding of
p.428which Swift bequeathed his fortune or to use his own words:
- He left the little wealth he had.
To build a house for fools and mad,
And shew'd, by one satiric touch.
No nation wanted it so much.