W-MCP5-6.337 TO [DR.] CALVIN BROOKS MCQUESTEN from J.C.L. Learned
Sep 30 1859
To: [Dr.] Calvin Brooks McQuesten, Meriden, New Hampshire, [U.S.A.]
From: Divinity Hall, Cambridge, Massachusetts, [U.S.A.]
I am in receipt of your brief of the 20th inst. and perhaps have time to reply before going to the Gymnasium this morning. Just at this time there is considerable excitement in reference to the removal of the Webster Statue from the Capital grounds which will be largely petitioned for as the people of Ms. do not think the Advocate of the Fugitive Slave Bill worthy of place among their images of worship.1 I shall shed no tears if it is taken down for I think it would prove a salutary lesson to the young aspirants of this generation.
Day before yesterday I listened to Theophilus Parsons'2 eulogy on Keefer's Orate3 which was pretty good. Yesterday commenced Prof. Sewell's lectures who said among other things something of Tupper and his "Proverbial Philosophy." He called the latter "wishy-washy" and compared it to "bad charity soup" of which the long words were the bones which gave to it rather a "doubtful odor." He pleased me well, yet some of the students here didn't know how to bear it.4
In reference to your metaphysical queries and statements a word. The doctrine of "innate ideas" as people will understand the term well probably never be conclusively settled. Though as I argued with you I was endeavouring to sustain the doctrine of Locke, I am willing others should believe differently.5 You have however refuted your own position on the other side if I understand your words. Taking your premise for granted, viz., that "It is an admitted fact by all (?) who study the mind that whatever has been heard felt, seen, remain indelibly printed on the mind," (which by the way is a new idea to me), you ask "do you suppose a child young tho' it may be which had the impression pressed on its mind, can ever wholly forget it": and you immediately add "For instance take the child of infidel parents &c." Now if this is an "instance" of course when the child gets the impression (according to your premise) it will remain. But it is far from proving that the idea of a God was born with it.
Again you say "take the reasoning faculty of the mind" and cite for an instance, conscience or "Knowledge of right and wrong." Here you have similarly defeated your self for those who claim conscience to be innate spurn the idea of reason's having aught to do with it, it being above reason. For my own part I do not think much of the term "innate ideas." I should be willing to admit much more under the head of intuitions. I think it quite a tenable ground that man has an intuitive knowledge of "God, virtue and immortality." And this view is fast gaining ground among modern writers. Mansel of Oxford, however, the author of "Limits of Religious Thought" which has recently excited so much comment--[?] is one of the most reflective minds of the age, claims that all comes through the medium of the senses. He, of course is Orthodox.6 Norton of this institution (Unitarian) an admitted scholar takes the other side in favor of innate conceptions or ideas.
In the Bible you will notice, the "knowledge of good & evil" did not come on [at] the creation but only after the eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen. III. 4-6 also 22). So we infer they were not created, as you say, with a knowledge of good and evil if that can be depended on. In this letter you will see I have simply reviewed your position with expressing my own views at length. I always prefer arguing on paper for then it is in black & white, then the points are not so easily dodged. It requires more and shall be glad to hear from you again as I am pleased with your acc't of Meriden affairs.
[P.S.] What did the "other side" say at the election of Patterson?
[Note on envelope:] J.C. L., Ans. 20/10/59 7
1 Webster Daniel (1782-1852)--also known as "Black Dan"; "Defender of the Constitution"--of Boston, statesman, lawyer, and orator, was his era's foremost advocate of American nationalism. A farmer's son, he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1801. After a legal apprenticeship, Webster opened a legal practice in Portsmouth, N.H., in 1807. . . .Rising quickly as a lawyer and Federalist party leader, Webster was elected (1812) to the U.S. House of Representatives because of his opposition to the War of 1812, which had crippled New England's shipping trade. In a powerful speech before the Senate on Mar. 7, 1850, he supported the COMPROMISE OF 1850, denouncing Southern threats of secession but urging Northern support for a stronger law for the recovery of fugitive slaves. Webster was named secretary of state in July 1850 by President Millard Fillmore and supervised the strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. Webster's stand alienated antislavery forces and divided the Whig party, but it helped to preserve the Union. "Webster Daniel." November 12, 2003.
2 Theophilus Parsons, 1797-1882, one of the leading lawyers in New England was born in Newburyport, Mass. A professor of law at Harvard, he wrote many law manuals. He was converted to Swedenborgianism and wrote several religious works. He was the son of Theophilus Parsons 1750-1813, American jurist, b. Byfield, Mass. He helped to frame a new constitution. A supporter of the Constitution of the United States, he urged its ratification by Massachusetts (1788). He was chief justice of Massachusetts from 1806 until his death. ("Theophilus Parsons." Columbian Encyclopedia, sixth Edition. November 12, 2003.
3 We have been unable to locate any information on "Keefer's Orate."
4 Tupper, Martin Farquhar (1810-89), of an old Huguenot family, was educated at Oxford. He published in 1838-42, his Proverbial Philosophy: A Book of Thoughts and Arguments, Originally Treated, common-place maxims and reflections couched in a rythmical form, which achieved extra-ordinary popularity. He published numerous other works, including two successful novels, The Crock of Gold (1844) and Stephen Langton (1848) (OCEL 838). Proverbial Philosophy is considered doggerel, and to this day, is and will probably always remain, one of the chief curiosities of literature. . . which made his reputation, sold in unbelievable numbers and has sometimes earned for him the title "The People's Poet Laureate," is such incredible rubbish that it would almost justify the obloquy which has come upon "early Victorian" taste if it were not that even the loose and unregimented criticism of that period itself would have none of it. . . . it was a hissing and a scorn to all who had any sense of literature. . . . But the great middle, or lower middle, class here, and, still more, in America, steadily bought it till much later; and nobody can refuse it rank as a "document" of what myriads of people thought might be poetry in the beginning of the second third of the nineteenth century. Tupper, Martin Farquhar. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–-21). Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One. November 12, 2003. http://www.bartleby.com/223/0602.html.
5 In the Doctrine of Innate Ideas, John Locke comments on the Meno dialogue in which Plato presents a challenge to the philosopher who thinks that we can gain knowledge by rational reflection.
John Locke and The Doctrine of Innate Ideas,
"It is an established opinion amongst some men, that there are in the understanding certain principles; some primary notions, characters, as it were, stamped upon the mind of man, which the soul receives in its very first being; and brings into the world with it." (Essay I, I, 1). Locke also says that according to the proponents of the Doctrine, "there are certain principles, both speculative and practical, (for they speak of both), universally agreed upon by all mankind: Which therefore, they argue, must needs be the constant impressions, which the souls of men receive in their first beings, and which they bring into the world with them, as necessary and really as they of any of their faculties." (Essay I, I, 2).
Locke's Attack on Innate Ideas
Locke's first objection to the Doctrine of Innate Ideas is that even if there were principles that were universally agreed upon, that would not show that these principles were innate "if there were any other way shewn how men may come to that universal agreement, in the things they do consent in, which I presume may be done." (Essay I, I, 3) And Locke's project in the Essay is to show us another explanation for our knowledge.
It would be sufficient to convince unprejudiced readers of the falseness of this supposition, if I should only shew (as I hope I shall in the following parts of this discourse) how men, barely by the use of their natural faculties, may attain to all the knowledge they have, without the help of any innate impressions; and may arrive at certainty, without any such original notions or principles." (Essay I, I, 1). "Innate Ideas." November 12, 2003. access.nku.edu/garns/190/tutorial/locke1.asp.
6 Mansel, Henry Longueville (1820-71), educated at . . . St. John's College, Oxford was professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford 1866-8, and dean or St. Paul's for the last three years of his life. . . . His fame rests on his Limits of Religious Thought (1858). . . . His position is that human knowledge is limited to the finite, and that a conception of the Deity, in His absolute existence, involves contradiction; for the conception itself is a limitation, and conception of the absolute Deity is a limitation of the illimitable (OECL 513).
7 We have four letters from J.C. Learned to [Dr.] C.B. McQuesten. See also: W-MCP5-6.338, W-MCP5-6.382, W-MCP3-6.55.