Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Letter from Lady Mary Shepherd

Frabjous day! Like everyone else I've had my frustrations with the Google Book search; but I'm feeling very generous tonight toward it because through it I found a letter written by Lady Mary Shepherd, in the Memoirs of Robert Blakey. I transcribe it here.

Cromsley Park, Henley-on-Thames,
May 26, 1843.


I feel very much flattered by your letter containing a prospectus of your interesting forthcoming work; but through weakness and indisposition I could not find energy enough to answer it as I could wish. Nor do I feel very well able to do so now.

The Essay on "Cause and Effect" is now entirely out of print; insomuch that Dr. Forster returned me his copy for a reprint. The ideas there advanced are the foundation of all sound philosophy. This copy I lent to a gentleman, who, I understand, has returned it to Mr. Shepherd, in Hyde Park Terrace. I have requested him to have it made into a parcel and sent to you.

This " Essay" and that on " Final Causes," together with that on " Single and Double Vision," are the three whose secret principle, I think, you will not find in any other authors named in your prospectus. They confute modern Atheism, founded, as it is, upon fallacious inferences, from Locke, Newton, Hume, and Berkeley. For unless there be a cause, there exists no first, essential, or necessary cause. Unless final causes are physical efficients, they could not operate, unless upon every theory of the mind. The fact of single and double vision cannot be explained consistently with any theory, and as being deducible from the general laws of causation. Such a theory is null, for two reasons; therefore, I encourage myself to hope for the future success and prevalence of my own notions. Firstly, for truth's sake, which is the Word of God ; secondly, for God's sake, because Atheists, more than all others, are feeling after Him, but cannot find Him, as ever existing, though invisible. To do this must be an honourable calling, and one which may prove successful whether I know it or not.

I should wish, therefore, my name were mentioned in your prospectus. I conceive there can be little doubt but that the Essay on " Cause and Effect" made a decided impression on the Edinburgh School. When I first married, about thirty years ago, every ambitious student piqued himself on maintaining there was no such thing as Cause and Effect. It was one of that school—but one wiser and better informed—that, on reading my Essay, was startled by the discovery, he was pleased to say, I had made, as to the reality and attributes of Causation. But through indisposition, I am scarcely able to discuss this greatest of all subjects which can occupy the spirit of man.

I am, yours respectfully,

R. Blakey, Esq.

Shepherd was in her sixties at the time; the prospectus mentioned in the letter was Blakey's History of Philosophy, which does have a brief section on her. Some parts of the letter I find obscure, but notable points:

(1) The importance placed on the vision essay is unexpected; but if she did think that it an especially significant example showing the superiority of her theory over others, that makes it much more interesting than it would otherwise be.

(2) Shepherd herself assesses the Enquiry as having had a definite effect on Scottish philosophy; I wish we knew who the member of the Edinburgh school mentioned in the last paragraph was.

[Incidentally, related to my research on Lady Mary, I'm looking for good works on Thomas Ignatius Forster, who was one of her biggest fans -- he gushes about her works in a number of his writings. If you know of any, or have found works on other topics that discuss him at some length, let me know.]

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer McRobert10:11 AM

    Hi Brandon, Like your stuff. Find me on Facebook if you are interested in an exchange on Mary Shepherd. - Jennifer McRobert


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