Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
Critical Introduction by J. Bonar
Dugald Stewart (1753–1828)
 
[Dugald Stewart, son of Dr. Matthew Stewart, the mathematician, was born at Edinburgh 1753, and educated at Edinburgh High School and Glasgow University. In 1775 he became Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh, and in 1785 Professor of Moral Philosophy, resigning through ill health in 1810. He died at Edinburgh in 1828.  1
  He published in 1792 Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. i.; in 1793 vol. ii.; in 1814 vol. iii.; in 1827 Outlines of Moral Philosophy; in 1810 Philosophical Essays; in 1816 and 1821 “Dissertation on the Progress of Metaphysical, etc., Philosophy,” in the Supplement to the 6th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica; in 1828 Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man. His Political Economy and minor works were published in the complete edition of his works carefully and learnedly edited (1854–6) by Sir William Hamilton, his friend and pupil. Stewart published also (1795, etc.) biographies of Adam Smith, Robertson, and Reid. Stewart’s own biography has been written by Professor Veitch (for Hamilton’s edition of his works).]  2
 
TOWARDS Dugald Stewart his friends and hearers felt something of the reverence of Plato’s Socrates for Parmenides. “He breathed the love of virtue into whole generations of pupils.” The fragrance of his character impressed such different men as Francis Horner, Henry Cockburn, Sir James Mackintosh, Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, and Sir William Hamilton. He was at once saint and philosopher. His fame went far beyond Scotland. “Without derogation from his writings it may be said that his disciples were among his best works” (Mackintosh). No professor ever aroused more interest in his subject or more truly formed the minds of his students. He had eloquence too, that fascinated hearers who cared nothing for his or any other philosophy. “He was the greatest of didactic orators” (Cockburn).  3
  Such powers must be taken on testimony; but every one who is inclined may make proof of the wide reach of Stewart’s learning, especially in philosophical and economical subjects, and gather by reading his books a notion of the fineness of that “fine writing,” which showed him a son of the eighteenth century.  4
  As a philosopher, he stands or falls with Thomas Reid. He bettered Reid’s terminology. Nothing could be worse than Reid’s expression “common sense,” to indicate the knowledge of first principles; and Stewart more wisely made use of the phrase “fundamental laws of belief” in describing the leading philosophical view of the Scottish school (Outlines of Mor. Phil., pt. i. sect. ix). If earlier adopted, this cautious phraseology might have saved the school from much ridicule. But otherwise Stewart leaves the “Scottish Philosophy” where he found it.  5
  The effect of devotion to “fundamental laws,” was, at least in Stewart’s case, to give undue prominence to mere classifications, and to leave details almost ostentatiously unsystematic. This applies both to his metaphysics and to his moral philosophy. Stewart’s imperfect knowledge of German speculations may have saved his style, at the cost of his philosophy.  6
  Out of the classroom he enjoyed conversation of a “rambling light literary kind.” He shunned the least approach to a discussion. Such is Horner’s account; and Horner was his typical pupil, thoughtful, calm, studious, interested in philosophy, and still more interested in the problems of government and in the condition of the people.  7
 
 
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