Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tucker, Abraham

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TUCKER, Abraham (1705-1774), holds a place of his own among the English moralists of the 18th century. He was born in London, of a Somerset family, on 2d September 1705. His father, a wealthy city merchant, died in his son's infancy, leaving him to the guardianship of his uncle, Sir Isaac Tillard, a man of a rare integrity of character, to whom Tucker never failed to acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude. In 1721 Tucker entered Merton College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. Here he devoted himself chiefly to philosophical and mathematical studies, but also found leisure to master French and Italian, and to acquire considerable proficiency in music. He after wards studied law at the Inner Temple, but as his fortune made him independent of a profession he was never called to the bar. In 1727 he bought Betchworth Castle, near Dorking, where he passed the remainder of his life, occupied, in addition to his favourite studies, with the usual pursuits of a well-to-do country gentleman. He took no part in politics, however, and even wrote a pamphlet, The Country Gentleman's Advice to his Son on the Subject of Party Clubs (1755), cautioning young men against the dangers of rashly pledging themselves to political principles and measures of which their riper judgment may disapprove. In 1736 Tucker married Dorothy Barker, the daughter of a neighbouring landed proprietor. His wife, to whom he was fondly attached, died in 1754, leaving him with two daughters. "As soon as the first excess of his grief was somewhat mitigated," we are told, "he occupied himself in collecting together all the letters that had passed between them at periods when they were accidentally separated from each other, which he transcribed twice over, under the title of 'The Picture of Artless Love'. One copy he gave to Mr Barker, his father-in-law, and the other he kept, and frequently read over to his daughters." He took an active part in the education of his daughters, and from this time onward began to occupy himself with the composition of the work by which he is known—The Light of Nature Pursued. He made several sketches of the plan of his work, one of which—in dialogue—he went the length of printing before finally deciding on the method he should pursue. He also sought to qualify himself for authorship by the study of the most elegant Greek and Latin classics and by translating the most admired passages of Cicero, Demosthenes, and Pliny several times over. Moreover, after his work was written, he twice transcribed it with his own hand. In 1763 he published a specimen under the title of "Free Will." The strictures of a critic in the Monthly Review of July 1763 drew from him a pamphlet called Man in Quest of Himself, by Cuthbert Comment. This, as its sub-title states, is "a defence of the individuality of the human mind or self"; it has been reprinted in Parr's Metaphysical Tracts (1837). In 1765 the first four volumes of his work were published under the pseudonym of Edward Search. The remaining three volumes did not appear till after his death. His eyesight failed him completely in 1771, but his cheerfulness did not leave him. He contrived an ingenious apparatus which enabled him to write so legibly that the result could easily be transcribed by his daughter. In this way he completed the later volumes, which were ready for publication when he was seized by his last illness. He died on 20th November 1774.

A second edition of The Light of Nature appeared in 1805, with a short life of the author by his grandson, Sir H. P. St John Mildmay, which forms the sole biographical source. The work has since been repeatedly re-published in two large closely printed volumes. A useful abridgment was published (anonymously) by Hazlitt in 1807; for, as he truly says, it is "swelled out with endless repetitions of itself. The author was a private gentleman, who wrote at his ease, and for his own amusement. When a subject presented itself to him, he exhausted all he had to say upon it, and then dismissed it for another. If the same subject recurred again in a different connexion, he turned it over in his thoughts afresh; as his ideas arose in his mind, he committed them to paper; he repeated the same things over again or inserted any new observation or example that suggested itself to him in confirmation of his argument; and thus by the help of a new title, and by giving a different application to the whole, a new chapter was completed. By this means, as he himself remarks, his writings are rather a tissue of loose essays than a regular work." In spite of Tucker's elaborate care in composition, there is no doubt that this fairly characterizes the rambling prolixity of his book; but it may be questioned whether an epitome can convey the real merits of such a style and treatment—qualities which have earned for Tucker from Sir James Mackintosh the designation of a "metaphysical Montaigne." These are his sound hearty common sense, the originality of a man who looks at everything for himself completely untrammelled by system, a remarkable aptness in illustration, and occasional gleams of a mild humour. Though the The Light of Nature embraces in its scope many psychological and more strictly metaphysical discussions, it is chiefly in connection with ethics that Tucker's speculations are remembered. This is the subject which the author puts into the foreground himself; from his earliest youth, he tells us, his thoughts took a turn "toward searching into the foundations and measures of right and wrong." In some important points Tucker anticipates the utilitarianism shortly afterwards systematized by Paley, and Paley, it may be noted, expresses in the amplest terms his obligations to his predecessor. "Every man's own satisfaction" Tucker holds to be the ultimate end of action; and satisfaction or pleasure is one and the same in kind, however much it may vary in degree. This universal motive is further connected, as by Paley, through the will of God, with the "general good, the root where out all our rules of conduct and sentiments of honour are to branch." Tucker adopts from Hartley the principle of association, or, as he calls it, "translation," to explain the formation of the moral sentiments and the phenomena of disinterested action generally. In his general analysis of the mind he professes to follow Locke, though with great latitude in details, and even in much that is not matter of detail.