Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XVIII.: ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE EIGHTEENTH AND THAT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, A PROPOS OF M. GARAT'S WORK, ENTITLED HISTORICAL MEMOIRS ON THE LIFE OF M. SUARD. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XVIII.: ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE EIGHTEENTH AND THAT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, A PROPOS OF M. GARAT’S WORK, ENTITLED “HISTORICAL MEMOIRS ON THE LIFE OF M. SUARD.” - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE EIGHTEENTH AND THAT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, A PROPOS OF M. GARAT’S WORK, ENTITLED “HISTORICAL MEMOIRS ON THE LIFE OF M. SUARD.”
The hatred of the nobles of the present day against the philosophy of the last century is an inveterate, an implacable hatred; a hatred which history will inscribe amongst celebrated aversions. From the vehemence of this aversion, it might be supposed an ancient one; it might be taken for one of those hereditary feuds which were transmitted, increasing as they descended, from one generation to another; this is not the case however: the fathers of almost all our nobles, and what is more, a great number of the nobles themselves, were the servile disciples and shameless extollers of the philosophers: it is their masters whom they deny in railing against the philosophers. And would to Heaven that the thinkers of the eighteenth century had not been the objects of their rash affections; would to Heaven that gilded arm-chairs had not been the first benches of that school: it would have been far greater, had it been popular; the seeds of reason which its founders sowed, instead of languishing half smothered in the dust of the salons, would have largely fructified in the midst of the rich soil of plebeian good sense and national conviction.
In 1789, the nation, agitated by the old leaven of insurrection which had been brewing beneath the soil of France since the overthrow of the free towns, had rallied the whole country by the necessity of a common effort; the nation arose and called on philosophy (as it was said one existed) to give it a social state at once more just and more worthy. Philosophy, which had passed from the writings whence it sprung into the frivolous circles, and had stopped there, in the hands of commentators in trains and embroidered waistcoats, was unable to give a sufficiently profound or complete answer. The nation, once universally shaken, was unable to quiet down again; the revolution was compelled to take place as it could. Supported on the wavering basis of some vague axioms and incomplete theories, it stumbled at the first blow; from the moment it was felt to totter, all presence of mind was lost, and men became cruel from fear. France was made bloody, not, as it is erroneously pretended, because the philosophers of the eighteenth century had made themselves heard by the people, but because their philosophy had not become popular; the philosophers and the people had been unable to have a mutual explanation; a class of men, reasoners from idleness, and patriots from vanity, had placed themselves between them. These men, born in a sphere inaccessible to public evil as to public good, took upon themselves the employment of dissertating on what they could not understand; they established in their salons a sort of monopoly of moral and political ideas, without real want of science, without real love for it; impelled by the desire of escaping ennui, the only social calamity able to reach them.
When troubles and dangers came, all this uselessly busy troop took flight, as the drones take flight when the business of the hive commences. After corrupting the century, bringing down writers to the position of boudoir orators, destroying the taste for solitude which constitutes the dignity of thinkers and gives gravity and energy to ideas, after carrying away from amongst the people the men who owed it their labours, they abandoned this people to the trifling and presumptuous half science which their vain conversations had made for it. They did more, they rose against the people and their own science; they were traitors to their principles, and impudently calumniated what they had proclaimed to be just and true. For forty years they had strained every nerve to evoke from the solitude of the provinces disciples for the philosophers, and wits for their salons; four whole years they had recruited for philosophy in France; they recruited in Europe against philosophy and France. Poor France! she saw herself attacked for having produced what were called the detestable philosophers of the execrable eighteenth century; and it was the patrons, the disciples of the philosophers, the courtiers and princes to whom the century had deigned to give a name, who made or commanded the attack. Their hostility drew the popular attention and confidence towards the eighteenth century. The opinions of that century then descended into the body of common ideas; the nation embraced them, not with servility as the aristocracy had done, but amending them by its calm examination, and investing them with a grandeur which the labour of great assemblies of men always gives to the ideas of individuals. There commenced for France a truly national philosophical opinion, peculiar to the nation, the result of its writers, commented on by itself, and not by cordons bleus, or women in great hoops; a perfectly French science, capable of extending its empire into all places where Frenchmen may be. The condemnation of the science of 1760, was that it did not possess this power; its first flight carried it out of France into the foreign cities of idlers and great nobles: it reigned at St. Petersburg and Berlin before Lyons and Rouen had heard of it.
We have not seen the time when philosophy was friends with the great and idle ones of the world; we have not seen it reposing on silken seats in the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy; we have seen it calumniated, pursued, hardly tolerated on the humble benches of a dusty school, the last refuge from which aristocratic hatred threatened soon to drive it. We should therefore be bad judges of the truth of the pictures presented in M. Garat’s work upon M. Suard and the eighteenth century. The whole of that century, except ten years, is to us like another world. We run through the society into which the ingenious author has introduced us; we find there, thanks to him, original and piquant portraits, but not a single face of our acquaintance, not a single feature that we have ever seen: these men are almost our cotemporaries; and yet there are centuries between us. The witty race of their time is now the stupid race; conversation exists no longer in France, meditation has taken its place; the spirit of reason is in the public, the gilded saloons make no more pretence to it; philosophy is no longer gracefully lisped there, it is cursed; and this is better, for it proves that it is solemn and powerful.
Yet if we must leave to those who have seen the things described by M. Garat the care of pronouncing on the ground work of his book, we can at least with knowledge give our opinion on the style of the book, and the merit of the writer: this merit is remarkably great. Lightly sketched portraits, narratives full of grace, a style artfully varied and always sustained without ceasing to be easy; a number of witty fancies, keen aperçus, grand thoughts and always noble sentiments; such is a detail of the means of pleasing possessed by this book, and the cause of its success. M. Garat gives evidence in every page of a profoundly felt admiration for talent and probity. He represents in the most favourable light those he has known and loved, without ever placing himself on the scene by their side; he praises them overflowingly, without thinking he has himself a right to some share of praise. Some persons may reproach him with rather too excessive a complaisance for mediocrities which the salons have praised highly because they were their work; but this fault is very excusable in a writer who commits it out of pure generosity of heart and the fear of underrating the merit of others; and besides, in retracing the events of our youth, it is difficult not to embellish them by a little involuntary fiction; it is a time for which the most generally faithful memory is never perfectly exact. Superior to the circles of scribbling wits, of thinkers without dignity and good faith, who compose the exterior of the eighteenth century, M. Garat has painted with grander strokes the real genius which the century produced, and who, born far from the frivolous world, became lessened perhaps by entering it. They attract attention; they will attract it for a long while still; but we should prefer seeing them without their miserable retinue, like fine oaks which appear larger when they stand alone, than when a thousand parasitical shrubs envelope and deform their trunks.
The eighteenth century still bears the name of the century of French philosophy; we believe that it will be deprived of this noble title by the present century. Young men who have not made your course of moral studies in the salons of Madame Geoffrin and at the dinner-table of M. de Vaines; young men who form your convictions under nobody’s patronage, it is for you that the glory is reserved of founding a new school, popular like your habits, sincere and firm like your minds. The philosophy of this school will see no deserters, because it will be the work of consciences; it will form itself gradually by the concourse of so many young and active minds, who emigrate for the sake of science from every part of the country, meet one moment at Paris, and there become imbued with general maxims, without losing the native originality which they owe to the places of their birth. This labouring fraternity, yearly dissolved and yearly renewed, will carry into the cities of France a groundwork of grand and in no ways exclusive doctrine, which the cities will not accept without control. Thus the great opinion of the country will ripen at a hundred different firesides; thus the national thought, existing in every place, will never again be destroyed by one blow, like a tree which has but one root.