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“I am, my Dear Sir, with sincere regard, your most faithful and obedient humble servant,
Ja. FERGUSSON. Hill Street, Jan. 5, 1806.
Dugald Stewart, Esq.
“P. S. Conceiving it to be but the common duty of one gentleman to another to explain the grounds of any statement in point of fact, which has led to error or controversy, I leave you at liberty to use this letter in any manner you think proper. .
“ In a note with which Mr. Stewart has enriched the third edition of his pamplet (p. 108, &c.) he seems delighted with a discovery which he has made, that another author, (the late Dr. Hunter, a Presbyterian clergyman in London) had, in common with Mr. Leslie, expressed a profound admiration of Mr. Hume's Essay on Necessary Connexion. Mr. Stewart refers his readers to some strong expressions of this admiration, in a note subjoined to Euler's Lettere to a German Princess; and, after balancing the claims of the French and the English Editor to the honor of the note in question, he assigns the palm of victory to Dr. Hunter, the English editor.Will it, after all, be believed, that the author of the note alluded to is neither the French nor the English editor, but Mr. Leslie himself! Inquiry, at any rate, will soon convince those who may desire to ascertain the fact. For, however zealous Mr. Stewart appears to have been to find an associate for his friend in his admiration of Mr. Hume's Essay, Mr. Leslie has been heard to disavow the associate, and to acknowledge that he himself wrote the note to which Mr. Stewart has referred.”
The first knowledge I had of the existence of the note quoted from Dr. Hunter's translation of Euler, was conveyed to me in an anonymous letter, the very day before the discussion of Mr. Leslie's cause in the General Assembly. Of this letter I communicated the contents to my friend the Rev. Dr. Hunter, Professor of Divinity; who accordingly mentioned the note in his speech from the bar. I afterwards introduced the same quotation, with some remarks of my own, in the third Edition of my Short Statement ; * and I am convinced, that every man of common candor, who takes the trouble to read these remarks with the slightest attention, will agree with me in thinking, that the argument they contain, far from being destroyed, is infinitely strengthened, by the criticisms to which it lately has given occasion.
During the proceedings relative to Mr. Leslie, before the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court, that gentleman was in London, where he remained for several months afterwards; and so little did either he or I occupy ourselves about his antagonists in Edinburgh, that not a single letter passed between us from the day he left Scotland till his return. It was not till the month of October, that I heard, very accidentally, that Mr. Leslie was himself the friend, to whom Dr. Henry Hunter has alluded in his preface, as the author of some of the Philosophical and Mathematical Annotations subscribed with the initials E. E. (English Editor ;) and that, in fact, the passage which Ì had quoted in his favor, was his uwn composition. In remarking this curious and fortunate coincidence, Mr. Leslie could not fail to perceive the triumphant reply which it enabled him to make to his accusers; for the very first sentence asserts, that “the properties of matter must ultimately be referred to the arbitrary appointment of the Author of Nature ;”—not to mention, that to have written the note under the eye of Dr. Hunter, and with his express sanction and approbation, was of itself no slight testimony to the soundness of his doctrine. His Reverend Adversaries, however, wisely suppressing any intimation of what is expressed in this part of the note, now exultingly ask, “Will it after all
“ be believed, that the author of the note alluded to, is neither the French nor the English Editor, but Mr. Leslie himself! Inquiry, at any rate, will soon convince those who may desire to ascertain the fact."
On the subject of this note I have only to regret, that
Sce pp. 108, 109, 110.
I was ignorant of the fact stated in the foregoing passage, while the cause was in dependence before the Ecclesiastical Court. I can hardly bring myself to believe, that the most intrepid of these ten gentlemen would have presumed to deny, that this short and simple proposition, “The properties of matter must ultimately be referred to the arbitrary appointment of the Author of Nature,” expresses a conviction of the Being of God, in somewhat less ambiguous terms, than if he had subscribed their never-to-be-forgotten dogma, That THERE
SUCH A NECESSARY CAUSE AND EFFECT AS IMPLIES AN OPERATING PRINCI
PLE IN THE CAUSE.
By way of counterpart to this coincidence, which has been contemplated with so much self-congratulation by the Decemvirate, as an additional and unlooked for argument in proof of Mr. Leslie's atheism, I shall take this opportunity of presenting to them another, no less curious and important; a coincidence which will give pleasure to every person who has sincerely at heart those great interests, which persecution abandons and disgraces, whonever she professes to defend them.
There is, at this inoment, lying before me, an original letter from Mr. Dempster of Dunnichen, to a correspondent in Edinburgh ; which letter appears evidently, from the contents, to have been written with a view to publication at the opening of the present session of the College, in consequence of the calumnies which Mr. Leslie's enemies were then circulating, with more (if possible) than their ordinary assiduity. The name of MR. GEORGE DEMPSTER, I am inclined to think, will have fully as great weight, at a distance from the scene of the dispute, as that of any one of the ten Reverend Authors, who have now, for the first time, stepped forth as candidates for literary distinction. For my own part, I have not the honor to be personally known to him ; but I have had good access to be acquainted with the warmth and steadiness of his attachment to Mr. Leslie ; and I know, in common with the rest of his countrymen, that his friendship is the boast of all who have the happiness to possess it.—Mr. Dempster's letter (from which I am now to quote a short extract) is dated 4th November, 1805.
“ I should be wanting to the cause of learning and science, and to the University where I studied, were I to withhold from the public a circumstance, which will prove, beyond all doubt, that the sentiments of our second Maclaurin with respect to the Deity are to the full as pious and becoming as those of his illustrious predecessor, or even of the immortal Newton himself.
“ It is now above a twelvemonth, and some time before the Mathematical chair became vacant, that Mr. Leslie did me the favor to communicate to me a manuscript Essay of his, on the subject of Electricity, bearing date 15th February, 1796, from which the following is an extract.
“«Some indeed are unwilling to admit the probability of action at a distance, and like the poor Indian, who placed the world on the back of a tortoise, they have recourse to some intervening medium. But is it more difficult to conceive an effect at the distance of 1000 miles, or at the modo part of an inch?
Or have we ever any idea of the connexion between Cause and Effect, but that of CONSTANT CUNCOMITANCY ? The various hypotheses which have amused the philosophic world, derive their origin from the early and inveterate prejudice, that all motion is caused by impulse. Vortices · and Æther enjoyed only a temporary reputation : and every sober inquirer was convinced, that such gratuitous assumptions, instead of simplifying the laws of nature, involved them in greater obscurity and perplexity. The question still recurred, What produced the motions of those elements? The understanding, bewildered and confounded amid the increasing difficulties, abandoned the pursuit. The imagination alone was, delighted to dwell in mystery and illusive darkness. The chain of principles which govern this universe terminates in the Will of its ALMIGHTY ARCHITECT: and prudence calls us to stop where the link appears simplest, and not to strain beyond the limits of our faculties.”
NOTE.-See p. 379, line 4.
In order to prevent the possibility of any uncandid misconstruction of my meaning, I think it proper to state explicitly, that I employ the phrase Ecclesiastical Junto in this sentence merely as descriptive of a small class of individuals, who, by blending the politics of a party in the Church with the Academical concerns of the University, have wounded deeply the reputation and the peace of a learned body, to the prosperity of which the union and harmony of its members are scarcely less essential than their learning and talents.
What two individuals ever differed more widely, or more conscientiously, in many of their opinions concerning ecclesiastical policy, than our late Principal, Dr. Robertson, and our present learned and worthy Professor of Divinity? And yet how anxiously was this difference kept out of view within the walls of the University; and with what cordial zeal did they cooperate in every measure tending to advance its interests and honor?
“ Fuit hæc sapientia QUONDAM, Publica privatis secernere, sacra profanis.”
END OF VOLUME VII.