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 From Philadelphia, then the literary centre of the country, Franklin, the printer of the book, wrote that those parts of the Elements of philosophy that savoured of what is called Berkeleianism are “not well understood here.” And in London one can imagine the reception that would be given to a colonial production, from the anecdote recounted of the son of the American Samuel Johnson when he met the great lexicographer. The latter, after speaking harshly of the colonials, exclaimed, “The Americans! What do they know and what do they read?” “They read, Sir, the Rambler,” was the quick reply. Like son, like father. The elder Johnson was able to extricate himself from even such difficulties as those offered by the Berkeleian system. He also had the boldness to apply the principles of the new rationalism not only to all men, but to all ages of man. Intellectual light, he argues, is common to all intelligent beings, a Chinese or Japanese, a European or an American. It is also to be found in children. In contrast to such an opinion as that of Jonathan Edwards that infants were “like little vipers,” Johnson asserted that we ought to think them of much more importance than we usually apprehend them to be. Considering their achievements in learning not only the mother tongue but the divine visual language, we should apply to them the good trite old saying, Pueris maxima reverentia debetur. Considerations such as these were so contrary to the spirit of the times as to arouse opposition from both sides. To consider children worthy of reverence was opposed to the Puritan view of them as born in sin, and to consider that man as such is assisted by an inward intellectual light “perpetually beaming forth from the great fountain of all light” ran counter to the common sense of the day. Thus William Smith, provost of the College of Philadelphia, who held the place once offered by Franklin to Johnson, argues against these very issues as presented in the Elements. “Our author,” he explains, “from a sincere zeal to vindicate the rights of the Deity, and a just abhorrence of the absurd system of the materialists, has gone farther towards the opposite extreme than will be justified by some philosophers.” 1 The extreme here referred to was, of course, Berkeleianism, against which the Philadelphian argues
1 Preface to the Element.
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