At a period somewhat later, an attempt has been made to connect the same law of continuity with the history of human improvement, and more particularly with the progress of invention in the sciences and arts. Helvetius is the most noted writer in whom I have observed this last extension of the Leibnitzian principle; and I have little doubt, from his known opinions, that, when it occurred to him, he conceived it to afford a new illustration of the scheme of necessity, and of the mechanical concatenation of all the phenomena of human life. Arguing in support of his favorite paradox concerning the original equality of all men in point of mental capacity, he represents the successive advances made by different individuals in the career of discovery, as so many imperceptible or infinitesimal steps, each individual surpassing his predecessor by a trifle, till at length nothing is wanting but an additional mind (not superior to the others in natural powers) to combine together, and to turn to its own account, their accumulated labors. "It is upon this mind," he observes, "that the world is always ready to bestow the attribute of genius. From the tragedies of The Passion, to the poets Hardy and Rotrou, and to the Mariamne of Tristan, the French theatre was always acquiring successively an infinite number of inconsiderable improvements. Corneille was born at a moment, when the addition he made to the art could not fail to form an epoch; and accordingly Corneille is universally regarded as a Genius. I am far from wishing," Helvetius adds, “to detract from the glory of this poet. I wish only to prove, that Nature never proceeds PER SALTUM, and that the Law of Continuity is always exactly observed. The remarks, therefore, now made on the dramatic art, may also be applied to the sciences which rest on observation."* (De l'Esprit, Dis. IV. Chap. 1.)

décider si dogmatiquement, la continuité réelle, de ce qui avoit une continuité apparente; et la non-existence des intervalles qu'ils n'apercevoient pas."-(Essai de Chymie Mécanique. Couronné en 1758, par l'Académie de Rouën; Imprimé à Genève, 1761. pp. 94, 95, 96.)

* It may, perhaps, be alleged, that the above allusion to the Law of Continuity was introduced merely for the sake of illustration, and that the author did not mean his words to be strictly interpreted; but this remark will not be made by those who are acquainted with the philosophy of Helvetius.

Let me add, that, in selecting Corneille as the only exemplification of this theory,



With this last extension of the Law of Continuity, as well as with that of Bonnet, a careless reader is the more apt to be dazzled, as there is a large mixture in both of unquestionable truth. The mistake of the ingenious writers lay in pushing to extreme cases a doctrine, which, when kept within certain limits, is not only solid but important; a mode of reasoning, which, although it may be always safely followed out in pure Mathematics (where the principles on which we proceed are mere definitions), is a never-failing source of error in all the other sciences; and which, when practically applied to the concerns of life, may be regarded as an infallible symptom of an understanding better fitted for the subtle contentions of the schools than for those average estimates of what is expedient and practicable in the conduct of affairs, which form the chief elements of political sagacity and of moral wisdom.*

If on these two celebrated principles of Leibnitz, I have enlarged at greater length than may appear to some of my readers to be necessary, I must remind them, 1. Of the illustration they afford of what Locke has so forcibly urged with respect to the danger of adopting, upon the

Helvetius has been singularly unfortunate. It would have been difficult to have named any other modern poet, in whose works, when compared with those of his immediate predecessors, the Law of Continuity has been more remarkably violated. "Corneille," says a most judicious French critic, "est, pour ainsi dire, de notre tems; mais ses contemporains n'en sont pas. Le Cid, Les Horaces, Cinna, Polieucte, forment le commencement de cette chaîne brillante qui réunit notre littérature actuelle de celle du règne de Richelieu et de la minorité de Louis XIV.; mais autour de ces points lumineux règne encore une nuit profonde; leur éclat les rapproche en apparence de nos yeux; le reste, repoussé dans l'obscurité, semble bien loin de nous. Pour nous Corneille est moderne, et Rotrou ancien," &c. (For detailed illustrations and proofs of these positions, see a slight but masterly historical sketch of the French Theatre, by M. Suard.)

Locke has fallen into a train of thought very similar to that of Bonnet, concerning the Scale of Beings; but has expressed himself with far greater caution;-stating it modestly as an inference deduced from an induction of particulars, not as the result of any abstract or metaphysical principle. (See Locke's Works, Vol. III. p. 101.) In one instance, indeed, he avails himself of an allusion, which, at first sight, may appear to favor the extension of the mathematical Law of Continuity to the works of creation; but it is evident, from the context, that he meant this allusion merely as a popular illustration of a fact in Natural History; not as the rigorous enunciation of a theorem applicable alike to all truths, mathematical, physical, and moral. "It is a hard matter to say where sensible and rational begin, and where insensible and irrational end; and who is there quick-sighted enough to determine precisely, which is the lowest species of living things, and which is the first of those which have no life? Things, as far as we can observe, lessen and augment, as the quantity does in a regular cone, where, though there be a manifest odds betwixt the bigness of the diameter at a remote distance, yet the difference between the upper and under, where they touch one another, is hardly discernible." (Ibid.)

See some Reflections on this speculation of Locke's in the Spectator, No. 519.

faith of reasonings a priori, metaphysical conclusions concerning the laws by which the universe is governed 2. Of the proof they exhibit of the strong bias of the human mind, even in the present advanced stage of experimental knowledge, to grasp at general maxims, without a careful examination of the grounds on which they rest; and of that less frequent, but not less unfortunate bias, which has led some of our most eminent mathematicians to transfer to sciences, resting ultimately on an appeal to facts, those habits of thinking which have been formed amidst the hypothetical abstractions of pure geometry: Lastly, Of the light they throw on the mighty influence which the name and authority of Leibnitz has, for more than a century past, exercised over the strongest and acutest understandings in the most enlightened countries of Europe.

It would be improper to close these reflections on the philosophical speculations of Leibnitz, without taking some notice of his very ingenious and original thoughts on the etymological study of languages, considered, as a guide to our conclusions concerning the origin and migrations of different tribes of our species. These thoughts were published in 1710, in the Memoirs of the Berlin Academy; and form the first article of the first volume of that justly celebrated collection. I do not recollect any author of an earlier date, who seems to have been completely aware of the important consequences to which the prosecution of this inquiry is likely to lead; nor, indeed, was much progress made in it by any of Leibnitz's successors, till towards the end of the last century; when it became a favorite object of pursuit to some very learned and ingenious men, both in France, Germany, and England. Now, however, when our knowledge of the globe, and of its inhabitants, is so wonderfully enlarged by commerce, and by conquest; and when so great advances have been made in the acquisition of languages, the names of which, till very lately, were unheard of in this quarter of the world ;-there is every reason to hope for a series of farther discoveries, strengthening progressively, by the multiplication of their mutual points of contact, the common evidence of their

joint results; and tending more and more to dissipate the darkness in which the primeval history of our race is involved. It is a field, of which only detached corners have hitherto been explored; and in which, it may be confidently presumed, that unthought of treasures still lie hid, to reward sooner or later the researches of our posterity.*

My present subject does not lead me to speak of the mathematical and physical researches, which have associated so closely the name of Leibnitz with that of Newton, in the history of modern science; of the inexhaustible treasures of his erudition, both classical and scholastic; of his vast and manifold contributions towards the elucidation of German antiquities and of Roman jurisprudence; or of those theological controversies, in which, while he combated with one hand the enemies of revelation, he defended, with the other, the orthodoxy of his own dogmas against the profoundest and most learned divines of Europe. Nor would I have digressed so far as to allude here to these particulars, were it not for the unparalleled example they display, of what a vigorous and versatile genius, seconded by habits of persevering industry, may accomplish, within the short span of human life. Even the relaxations with which he was accustomed to fill up his moments of leisure, partook of the general character of his more serious engagements. By early and long habit, he had acquired a singular facility in the composition of Latin verses; and he seems to have delighted in loading his muse with new fetters of his own contrivance, in addition to those imposed by the laws of classical prosody.† The number, besides, of his literary correspondents was immense; including all that was most illustrious in Europe: and the rich materials everywhere scattered over his letters are sufficient of themselves to show, that his amusements consisted rather in a change of objects, than in a suspension of his mental

*See Note (C c.)

† A remarkable instance of this is mentioned by himself in one of his letters. "Annos natus tredecim unâ die trecentos versus hexametros effudi, sine elisione omnes, quod hoc fieri facilè posse fortè affirmâssem." (Leib. Op. Tom. V. p. 304.) He also amused himself occasionally with writing verses in German and in French.

activity. Yet while we admire these stupendous monuments of his intellectual energy, we must not forget (if I may borrow the language of Gibbon) that "even the powers of Leibnitz were dissipated by the multiplicity of his pursuits. He attempted more than he could finish; he designed more than he could execute; his imagination was too easily satisfied with a bold and rapid glance on the subject which he was impatient to leave; and he may be compared to those heroes whose empire has been lost in the ambition of universal conquest." *

From some expressions which Leibnitz has occasionally dropped, I think it probable, that he himself became sensible, as he advanced in life, that his time might have been more profitably employed, had his studies been more confined in their aim. "If the whole earth," he has observed on one occasion, " had continued to be of one language and of one speech, human life might be considered as extended beyond its present term, by the addition of all that part of it which is devoted to the acquisition of dead and foreign tongues. Many other branches of knowledge, too, may, in this respect, be classed with the languages; such as Positive Laws, Ceremonies, the Styles of Courts, and a great proportion of what is called critical erudition. The utility of all these arises merely from opinion; nor is there to be found, in the innumerable volumes that have been written to illustrate them, a hundredth part, which contains any thing subservient to the happiness or improvement of mankind."

The most instructive lesson, however, to be drawn from the history of Leibnitz, is the incompetency of the most splendid gifts of the understanding to advance essentially the interests either of Metaphysical or of Ethical Science, unless accompanied with that rare devotion to truth, which may be regarded, if not as the basis, at least as one of the most indispensable elements, of moral genius. The chief attraction to the study of philosophy, in

* May I presume to remark farther, that the native powers of Leibnitz's mind, astonishing and preternatural as they certainly were, seem sometimes oppressed and overlaid under the weight of his still more astonishing erudition? The influence of his scholastic reading is more peculiarly apparent in warping his judgment, and clouding his reason, on all questions connected with Metaphysical Theology.

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