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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XIV. Philosophers

§ 18. Abraham Tucker

Abraham Tucker was a psychologist of a different temper from Hartley. He was a constant critic of Hartley’s physiological doctrines, and he excelled in that introspective analysis which has been practised by many English writers. Tucker was a country gentleman whose chief employment was a study of the things of the mind. The first fruit of his reflection was a fragment Freewill, Foreknowledge and Fate (1763), published under the pseudonym of Edward Search; certain criticisms of this piece produced, also in 1763, Man in quest of Himself: or a Defence of the Individuality of the Human Mind, “by Cuthbert Comment.” Thereafter, he did not turn aside from his great work, The Light of Nature pursued, of which the first four volumes were published by himself (again under the name of Search) in 1765, and the last three appeared after his death (1774). The author was a man of leisure himself, and he wrote for men of leisure; he was not without method; but his plan grew as he proceeded; when new fields of enquiry opened, he did not refuse to wander in them; and he liked to set forth his views de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis. Indeed, it is a work of inordinate length, and the whole is of unequal merit. Many of the long chapters have lost their interest through lapse of time and the changes which time has brought. Others, perhaps, may appeal to us only when we can catch the author’s mood. Such are the speculations—put forward as purely hypothetical—concerning the soul’s vehicle, the mundane soul and the vision of the disembodied soul. Mysticism is apt to appear fantastic when expressed in language so matter of fact; but the writer has a rare power of realising his fancies. The chapters, however, which deal more specifically with human nature are a genuine and important contribution to the literature of mind and morals. The writer was as innocent of Hume as was Hartley; he criticised Berkeley, though seldom with insight and never with sympathy; and he took Locke as his master. But he was not a slavish follower; it would be difficult to instance finer or more exhaustive criticism than his examination of the Lockean view that all action has for its motive the most pressing uneasiness. His moral doctrine is, perhaps, still more remarkable for the candour and elaboration with which he discussed the problem which faced all followers of Locke—the consistency of an analysis of action in terms of personal pleasure and pain with a theory of morality in which benevolence is supreme. Herein, he provided most of the material afterwards made use of by Paley. Into the details of his teaching it is impossible to enter. But, perhaps, it is not too much to say that only his diffuseness has prevented him from becoming a classic. The mere mass of the book is deterrent. Yet he would be an unlucky reader who could spend half-an-hour over its pages without finding something to arrest his attention and even to enthral his interest. The author sees mankind and the human lot with a shrewd but kindly eye; his stores of illustration are inexhaustible and illuminate subjects which in other hands would be dull; even the subtlest points are made clear by a style which is free and simple and varied; there is never any trace of sentimentality; but there are passages of humour and of pathos worthy of Goldsmith.