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tial valets in French comedies; and to the habits of familiarity in which they are always represented as living with their masters. The sentiments which they are made to utter may, accordingly, be safely considered as but an echo of the lessons which they have learned from their superiors.*
My anxiety to state, without any interruption, my remarks on some of the most important questions to which the attention of the public was called by the speculations of Locke, of Leibnitz, of Newton, and of Clarke, has led me, in various instances, to depart from the strict order of chronology. It is time for me, however, now to pause, and, before I proceed farther, to supply a few chasms in the foregoing sketch.
Of some Authors who have contributed by their Critical or Historical Writings, to diffuse a taste for Metaphysical Studies-Bayle-Fontenelle-Addison. Metaphysical Works of Berkeley.
AMONG the many eminent persons who were either driven from France, or who went into voluntary exile, in consequence of the revocation of the edict of Nantz, the most illustrious by far was Bayle; † who, fixing his residence in Holland, and availing himself, to the utmost extent, of the religious toleration then enjoyed in that country, diffused from thence over Europe, a greater mass of accurate and curious information, accompanied by a more splendid display of acute and lively criticism, than had ever before come from the pen of a single individual.‡
A reflection of Voltaire's on the writings of Spinoza may, I think, be here quoted without impropriety. "Vous êtes très confus, Baruc Spinoza, mais êtes-vous aussi dangereux qu'on le dit? Je soutiens que non, et ma raison c'est que vous êtes confus, que vous avez écrit en mauvais Latin, et qu'il n'y a pas dix personnes en Europe qui vous lisent d'un bout à l'autre. Quel est l'auteur dangereux? C'est celui qui est lu par les Oisifs de la Cour, et par les Dames." (Quest. sur l'Encyclop. Art. Dieu.)
Had Voltaire kept this last remark steadily in view in his own writings, how many of those pages would he have cancelled which he has given to the world!
† Born in 1647, died 1705.
The erudition of Bayle is greatly undervalued by his antagonist Le Clerc. "Toutes les lumières philosophiques de M. Bayle consistoient en quelque peu de Péripatétisme, qu'il avoit appris des Jésuites de Toulouse, et un peu de Cartesianisme, qu'il n'avoit jamais approfondi." (Bib. Choisie, Tom. XII. p. 106.)
Happy! if he had been able to restrain within due bounds his passion for sceptical and licentious discussion, and to respect the feelings of the wise and good, on topics connected with religion and morality. But, in the peculiar circumstances in which he was educated, combined with the seducing profession of a literary adventurer, to which his hard fortune condemned him, such a spirit of moderation was rather to be wished than expected.
When Bayle first appeared as an author, the opinions of the learned still continued to be divided between Aristotle and Descartes. A considerable number leaned, in secret, to the metaphysical creed of Spinoza and of Hobbes; while the clergy of the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, instead of uniting their efforts in defence of those truths which they professed in common, wasted their strength against each other in fruitless disputes and recriminations.
In the midst of these controversies, Bayle, keeping aloof as far as possible from all the parties, indulged his sceptical and ironical humor at the common expense of the various combatants. Unattached himself to any system, or to speak more correctly, unfixed in his opinions on the most fundamental questions, he did not prosecute any particular study with sufficient perseverance to add materially to the stock of useful knowledge. The influence, however, of his writings on the taste and views of speculative men of all persuasions, has been so great, as to mark him out as one of the most conspicuous characters of his age; and I shall accordingly devote to him a larger space than may, at first sight, appear due to an author who has distinguished himself only by the extent of his historical researches, and by the sagacity and subtilty of his critical disquisitions.
We are informed by Bayle himself, that his favorite authors during his youth, were Plutarch and Montaigne; and from them, it had been alleged by some of
In the judgment of Gibbon," Bayle's learning was chiefly confined to the Latin authors; and he had more of a certain multifarious reading than of real erudition. Le Clerc, his great antagonist, was as superior to him in that respect as inferior in every other." (Extraits Raisonnés de mes Lectures, p. 62.)
his biographers, he imbibed his first lessons of scepticism. In what manner the first of these writers should have contributed to inspire him with this temper of mind, is not very obvious. There is certainly no heathen philosopher or historian whose morality is more pure or elevated; and none who has drawn the line between superstition and religion with a nicer hand.* Pope has with perfect truth said of him, that "he abounds more in strokes of good nature than any other author;" to which it may be added, that he abounds also in touches of simple and exquisite pathos, seldom to be met with among the greatest painters of antiquity. In all these respects what a contrast does Bayle present to Plutarch!
Considering the share which Bayle ascribes to Montaigne's Essays in forming his literary taste, it is curious, that there is no separate article allotted to Montaigne in the Historical and Critical Dictionary. What is still more curious, there is more than one reference to this article, as if it actually existed; without any explanation of the omission (as far as I recollect) from the author or the publisher of the work. Some very interesting particulars, however, concerning Montaigne's life and writings, are scattered over the Dictionary, in the notices of other persons, with whom his name appeared to Bayle to have a sufficient connexion to furnish an apology for a short episode.
It does not seem to me a very improbable conjecture, that Bayle had intended, and perhaps attempted, to write an account of Montaigne; and that he had experienced greter difficulties than he was aware of, in the execution of his design. Notwithstanding their common tendency to Scepticism, no two characters were ever more strongly
See, in particular, his account of the effects produced on the character of Pericles by the sublime lessons of Anaxagoras.
Plutarch, it is true, had said before Bayle, that atheism is less pernicious than superstition; but how wide the difference between this paradox, as explained and qualified by the Greek philosopher, and as interpreted and applied in the Reflections on the Comet! Mr. Addison himself seems to give his sanction to Plutarch's maxim in one of his papers on Cheerfulness. "An eminent Pagan writer has made a discourse to show, that the atheist, who denies a God, does him less dishonor than the man who owns his being, but, at the same time, believes him to be cruel, hard to please, and terrible to human nature. For my own part, says he, I would rather it should be said of me, that there was never any such man as Plutarch, than that Plutarch was ill-natured, capricious, and inhuman." (Spectator, No. 494.)
discriminated in their most prominent features; the doubts of the one resulting from the singular coldness of his moral temperament, combined with a subtlety and overrefinement in his habits of thinking, which rendered his ingenuity, acuteness, and erudition, more than a match for his good sense and sagacity;-the indecision of the other partaking more of the shrewd and soldier-like étourderie of Henry IV., when he exclaimed, after hearing two lawyers plead on opposite sides of the same question, "Ventre St. Gris! il me semble que tous les deux ont raison."
Independently of Bayle's constitutional bias towards Scepticism, some other motives, it is probable, conspired to induce him, in the composition of his Dictionary, to copy the spirit and tone of the Old Academic school. On these collateral motives a strong and not very favorable light is thrown by his own candid avowal in one of his letters. "In truth," says he to his correspondent Minutoli," it ought not to be thought strange, that so many persons should have inclined to Pyrrhonism; for of all things in the world it is the most convenient. You may dispute with impunity against every body you meet, without any dread of that vexatious argument which is addressed ad hominem. You are never afraid of a retort; for, as you announce no opinion of your own, you are always ready to abandon those of others to the attacks of sophists of every description. In a word, you may dispute and jest on all subjects, without incurring any danger from the lex talionis.” * It is amusing to think, that the Pyrrhonism which Bayle himself has here so ingeniously accounted for, from motives of conveniency and of literary cowardice, should have been mistaken by so many of his disciples for the sportive triumph of a superior intellect over the weaknesses and errors of human reason.†
"En verité il ne faut pas trouver étrange que tant des gens aient donné dans le Pyrrhonisme, Car c'est la chose du monde la plus commode. Vous pouvez impunément disputer contre tous venans, et saus craindre ces argumens ad hominem, qui font quelquefois tant de peine. Vous ne craignez point la rétorsion; puisque ne soutenant rien, vous abandonnez de bon cœur à tous les sophismes et à tous les raisonnemens de la terre quelque opinion que ce soit. Vous n'êtes jamais obligé d'en venir à la défensive. En un mot, vous contestez et vous daubez sur toutes choses toute votre saoul, sans craindre la peine du talion." (Euv. Div. de Bayle, IV. p. 537.)
†The estimate formed by Warburton of Bayle's character, both intellectual and
The profession of Bayle, which made it an object to him to turn to account even the sweepings of his study, affords an additional explanation of the indigested mass of heterogeneous and inconsistent materials contained in his Dictionary. Had he adopted any one system exclusively, his work would have shrunk in its dimensions into a comparatively narrow compass.*
When these different considerations are maturely weighed, the omission by Bayle of the article Montaigne, will not be much regretted by the admirers of the Essays. It is extremely doubtful if Bayle would have been able to seize the true spirit of Montaigne's character; and, at any rate, it is not in the delineation of character that Bayle excels. His critical acumen, indeed, in the examination of opinions and arguments, is unrivalled; but
moral, is candid and temperate. "A writer whose strength and clearness of reasoning can only be equalled by the gaiety, easiness, and delicacy of his wit; who, pervading human nature with a glance, struck into the province of paradox, as an exercise for the restless vigor of his mind: who, with a soul superior to the sharpest attacks of fortune, and a heart practised to the best philosophy, had not yet enough of real greatness, to overcome that last foible of superior geniuses, the temptation of honor, which the academical exercise of wit is supposed to bring to its professors." (Divine Legation.)
If there be any thing objectionable in this panegyric, it is the unqualified praise bestowed on Bayle's wit, which, though it seldom fails in copiousness, in poignancy, or in that grave argumentative irony, by which it is still more characteristically marked, is commonly as deficient in gaiety and delicacy as that of Warburton himself.
Leibnitz seems perfectly to have entered into the peculiar temper of his adversary Bayle, when he said of him, that "the only way to make Bayle write usefully, would be to attack him when he advances propositions that are sound and true; and to abstain from attacking him, when he says any thing false or pernicious."
"Le vrai moyen de faire écrire utilement M. Bayle, ce seroit de l'attaquer, lorsqu'il écrit des bonnes choses et vraies, car ce seroit le moyen de le piquer pour continuer. Au lieu qu'il ne faudroit point l'attaquer quand il en dit de mauvaises, car cela l'engagera à en dire d'autres aussi mauvaises pour soutenir les premières." (Tom. VI. p. 273.)
Leibnitz elsewhere says of him: “Ubi bene, nemo melius." (Tom. I. p. 257.) "The inequality of Bayle's voluminous works," says Gibbon, "is explained by his alternately writing for himself, for the bookseller, and for posterity; and if a severe critic would reduce him to a single folio, that relic, like the books of the sybils, would become still more valuable. (Gibbon's Mem. p. 50.)
Mr. Gibbon observes in another place, that, "if Bayle wrote his Dictionary to empty the various collections he had made, without any particular design, he could not have chosen a better plan. It permitted him every thing, and obliged him to nothing. By the double freedom of a Dictionary and of Notes, he could pitch on what articles he pleased, and say what he pleased on those articles." Raisonnés de mes Lectures, p. 64.)
"How could such a genius as Bayle," says the same author, " employ three or four pages, and a great apparatus of learning, to examine whether Achilles was fed with marrow only; whether it was the marrow of lions and stags, or that of lions only," &c.? (Ibid. p. 66.)
For a long and interesting passage with respect to Bayle's history and character, see Gibbon's Memoirs, &c. Vol. I. pp. 49, 50, 51.