Front Page Titles (by Subject) A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY.: A. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1)
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A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY.: A. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. III.
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A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY.
The letter A has been accounted sacred in almost every nation, because it was the first letter. The Egyptians added this to their numberless superstitions; hence it was that the Greeks of Alexandria called it hier’alpha; and, as omega was the last of the letters, these words alpha and omega signified the beginning and the end of all things. This was the origin of the cabalistic art, and of more than one mysterious folly.
The letters served as ciphers, and to express musical notes. Judge what an infinity of useful knowledge must thus have been produced. A, b, c, d, e, f, g, were the seven heavens; the harmony of the celestial spheres was composed of the seven first letters; and an acrostic accounted for everything among the ever venerable Ancients.
A, B, C, OR ALPHABET.
Why has not the alphabet a name in any European language? Alphabet signifies nothing more than A, B, and A, B, signifies nothing, or but indicates two sounds, which two sounds have no relation to each other. Beta is not formed from alpha; one is first, the other is second, and no one knows why.
How can it have happened that terms are still wanting to express the portal of all the sciences? The knowledge of numbers, the art of numeration, is not called the one-two; yet the first rudiment of the art of expressing our thoughts has not in all Europe obtained a proper designation.
The alphabet is the first part of grammar; perhaps those who are acquainted with Arabic, of which I have not the slightest notion, can inform me whether that language, which is said to contain no fewer than eighty words to express a horse, has one which signifies the alphabet.
I protest that I know no more of Chinese than of Arabic, but I have read, in a small Chinese vocabulary, that this nation has always had two words to express the catalogue or list of the characters of its language: one is ko-tou, the other hai-pien; we have neither ko-tou nor hai-pien in our Occidental tongues. The Greeks, who were no more adroit than ourselves, also said alphabet. Seneca, the philosopher, used the Greek phrase to designate an old man who, like me, asks questions on grammar, calling him Skedon analphabetos. Now the Greeks had this same alphabet from the Phœnicians—from that people called the letter nation by the Hebrews themselves, when the latter, at so late a period, went to settle in their neighborhood.
It may well be supposed that the Phœnicians, by communicating their characters to the Greeks, rendered them a great service in delivering them from the embarrassment occasioned by the Egyptian mode of writing taught them by Cecrops. The Phœnicians, in the capacity of merchants, sought to make everything easy of comprehension; while the Egyptians, in their capacity of interpreters of the gods, strove to make everything difficult.
I can imagine I hear a Phœnician merchant landed in Achaia saying to a Greek correspondent: “Our characters are not only easy to write, and communicate the thoughts as well as the sound of the voice; they also express our respective debts. My aleph, which you choose to pronounce alpha, stands for an ounce of silver, beta for two ounces, tau for a hundred, sigma for two hundred. I owe you two hundred ounces; I pay you a tau, and still owe you another tau; thus we shall soon make our reckoning.”
It was most probably by mutual traffic which administered to their wants, that society was first established among men; and it is necessary that those between whom commerce is carried on should understand one another.
The Egyptians did not apply themselves to commerce until a very late period; they had a horror of the sea; it was their Typhon. The Tyrians, on the contrary, were navigators from time immemorial; they brought together those nations which Nature had separated, and repaired those calamities into which the revolutions of the world frequently plunged a large portion of mankind. The Greeks, in their turn, carried to other nations their commerce and their convenient alphabet, which latter was altered a little, as the Greeks had altered that of the Tyrians. When their merchants, who were afterwards made demi-gods, went to Colchis to establish a trade in sheepskins—whence we have the fable of the golden fleece—they communicated their letters to the people of the country, who still retain them with some alteration. They have not adopted the alphabet of the Turks, to whom they are at present subject, but whose yoke, thanks to the Empress of Russia, I hope they will throw off.
It is very likely (I do not say it is certain—God forbid!) that neither Tyre nor Egypt, nor any other country situated near the Mediterranean Sea, communicated its alphabet to the nations of Eastern Asia. If, for example, the Tyrians, or the Chaldæans, who dwelt near the Euphrates, had communicated their method to the Chinese, some traces of it would have remained; we should have had the signs of the twenty-two, twenty-three, or twenty-four letters, whereas they have a sign for each word in their language; and the number of their words, we are told, is eighty thousand. This method has nothing in common with that of Tyre; it is seventy-nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-six times more learned and more embarrassing than our own. Besides this prodigious difference, they write from the top to the bottom of the page; while the Tyrians and the Chaldæans wrote from right to left, and the Greeks, like ourselves, wrote from left to right.
Examine the Tartar, the Hindoo, the Siamese, the Japanese characters; you will not find the least resemblance to the Greek or the Phœnician alphabet.
Yet all these nations, and not these alone, but even the Hottentots and Kaffirs, pronounce the vowels and consonants as we do, because the larynx in them is essentially the same as in us—just as the throat of the rudest boor is made like that of the finest opera-singer, the difference, which makes of one a rough, discordant, insupportable bass, and of the other a voice sweeter than the nightingale’s, being imperceptible to the most acute anatomist; or, as the brain of a fool is for all the world like the brain of a great genius.
When we said that the Tyrian merchants taught the Greeks their A, B, C, we did not pretend that they also taught them to speak. It is probable that the Athenians already expressed themselves in a better manner than the people of Lower Syria; their throats were more flexible, and their words were a more happy assemblage of vowels, consonants, and diphthongs. The language of the Phœnician people was rude and gross, consisting of such words as Shasiroth, Ashtaroth, Shabaoth, Chotiket, Thopheth, etc.—enough to terrify a songstress from the opera of Naples. Suppose that the Romans of the present day had retained the ancient Etrurian alphabet, and some Dutch traders brought them that which they now use; the Romans would do very well to receive their characters, but it is not at all likely that they would speak the Batavian language. Just so would the people of Athens deal with the sailors of Capthor, who had come from Tyre or Baireuth; they would adopt their alphabet as being better than that of Misraim or Egypt, but would reject their speech.
Philosophically speaking, and setting aside all inferences to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures, which certainly are not here the subject of discussion, is not the primitive language a truly laughable chimera?
What would be thought of a man who should seek to discover what had been the primitive cry of all animals; and how it happens that, after a series of ages, sheep bleat, cats mew, doves coo, linnets whistle? They understand one another perfectly in their respective idioms, and much better than we do. Every species has its language; that of the Esquimaux was never that of Peru; there has no more been a primitive language or a primitive alphabet than there have been primitive oaks or primitive grass.
Several rabbis assert that the Samaritan was the original tongue; other persons say that it was that of Lower Brittany. We may surely, without offending either the people of Brittany or those of Samaria, admit no original tongue.
May we not, also, without offending any one, suppose that the alphabet originated in cries and exclamations? Infants of themselves articulate one sound when an object catches their attention, another when they laugh, and a third when they are whipped, which they ought not to be.
As for the two little boys whom the Egyptian king Psammeticus—which, by the by, is not an Egyptian word—brought up, in order to know what was the primitive language, it seems hardly possible that they should both have cried bee bee when they wanted their breakfast.
From exclamations formed by vowels as natural to children as croaking is to frogs, the transition to a complete alphabet is not so great as it may be thought. A mother must always have said to her child the equivalent of come, go, take, leave, hush! etc. These words represent nothing; they describe nothing; but a gesture makes them intelligible.
From these shapeless rudiments we have, it is true, an immense distance to travel before we arrive at syntax. It is almost terrifying to contemplate that from the simple word come, we have arrived at such sentences as the following: Mother, I should have come with pleasure, and should have obeyed your commands, which are ever dear to me, if I had not, when running towards you, fallen backwards, which caused a thorn to run into my left leg.
It appears to my astonished imagination that it must have required ages to adjust this sentence, and ages more to put it into language. Here we might tell, or endeavor to tell, the reader how such words are expressed and pronounced in every language of the earth, as father, mother, land, water, day, night, eating, drinking, etc., but we must, as much as possible, avoid appearing ridiculous.
The alphabetical characters, denoting at once the names of things, their number, and the dates of events, the ideas of men, soon became mysteries even to those who had invented the signs. The Chaldæans, the Syrians, and the Egyptians attributed something divine to the combination of the letters and the manner of pronouncing them. They believed that names had a force—a virtue—independently of the things which they represented; they went so far as to pretend that the word which signified power was powerful in itself; that which expressed an angel was angelic, and that which gave the idea of God was divine. The science of numbers naturally became a part of necromancy, and no magical operation could be performed without the letters of the alphabet.
Thus the clue to all knowledge led to every error. The magi of every country used it to conduct themselves into the labyrinth which they had constructed, and which the rest of mankind were not permitted to enter. The manner of pronouncing vowels and consonants became the most profound of mysteries, and often the most terrible. There was, among the Syrians and Egyptians, a manner of pronouncing Jehovah which would cause a man to fall dead.
St. Clement of Alexandria relates that Moses killed a king of Egypt on the spot by sounding this name in his ear, after which he brought him to life again by pronouncing the same word. St. Clement is very exact; he cites the author, the learned Artapanus. Who can impeach the testimony of Artapanus?
Nothing tended more to retard the progress of the human mind that this profound science of error which sprung up among the Asiatics with the origin of truth. The universe was brutalized by the very art that should have enlightened it. Of this we have great examples in Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, etc.
Origen, in particular, expressly says: “If, when invoking God, or swearing by him, you call him the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob you will, by these words, do things the nature and force of which are such that the evil spirits submit to those who pronounce them; but if you call him by another name as God of the roaring sea, etc., no effort will be produced. The name of Israel rendered in Greek will work nothing; but pronounce it in Hebrew with the other words required, and you will effect the conjuration.”
The same Origen had these remarkable words: “There are names which are powerful from their own nature. Such are those used by the sages of Egypt, the magi of Persia, and the Brahmins of India. What is called magic is not a vain and chimerical art, as the Stoics and Epicureans pretend. The names Sabaoth and Adonai were not made for creates beings, but belong to a mysterious theology which has reference to the creator; hence the virtue of these names when they are arranged and pronounced according to rule,” etc.
It was by pronouncing letters according to the magical method, that the moon was made to descend to the earth. Virgil must be pardoned for having faith in this nonsense, and speaking of it seriously in his eighth eclogue:
In short, the alphabet was the origin of all man’s knowledge, and of all his errors.
The word abbé, let it be remembered, signifies father. If you become one you render a service to the state; you doubtless perform the best work that a man can perform; you give birth to a thinking being: in this action there is something divine. But if you are only Monsieur l’Abbé because you have had your head shaved, wear a small collar, and a short cloak, and are waiting for a fat benefice, you do not deserve the name of abbé.
The ancient monks gave this name to the superior whom they elected; the abbé was their spiritual father. What different things do the same words signify at different times! The spiritual abbé was once a poor man at the head of others equally poor: but the poor spiritual fathers have since had incomes of two hundred or four hundred thousand livres, and there are poor spiritual fathers in Germany who have regiments of guards.
A poor man, making a vow of poverty, and in consequence becoming a sovereign? Truly, this is intolerable. The laws exclaim against such an abuse; religion is indignant at it, and the really poor, who want food and clothing, appeal to heaven against Monsieur l’Abbé.
But I hear the abbés of Italy, Germany, Flanders, and Burgundy ask: “Why are not we to accumulate wealth and honors? Why are we not to become princes? The bishops are, who were originally poor, like us; they have enriched and elevated themselves; one of them has become superior even to kings; let us imitate them as far as we are able.”
Gentlemen, you are right. Invade the land; it belongs to him whose strength or skill obtains possession of it. You have made ample use of the times of ignorance, superstition, and infatuation, to strip us of our inheritances, and trample us under your feet, that you might fatten on the substance of the unfortunate. Tremble, for fear that the day of reason will arrive!
An abbey is a religious community, governed by an abbot or an abbess.
The word abbot—abbas in Latin and Greek, abba in Chaldee and Syriac—came from the Hebrew ab, meaning father. The Jewish doctors took this title through pride; therefore Jesus said to his disciples: “Call no one your father upon the earth, for one is your Father who is in heaven.”
Although St. Jerome was much enraged against the monks of his time, who, in spite of our Lord’s command, gave or received the title of abbot, the Sixth Council of Paris decided that if abbots are spiritual fathers and beget spiritual sons for the Lord, it is with reason that they are called abbots.
According to this decree, if any one deserved this appellation it belonged most assuredly to St. Benedict, who, in the year 528, founded on Mount Cassino, in the kingdom of Naples, that society so eminent for wisdom and discretion, and so grave in its speech and in its style. These are the terms used by Pope St. Gregory, who does not fail to mention the singular privilege which it pleased God to grant to this holy founder—that all Benedictines who die on Mount Cassino are saved. It is not, then, surprising that these monks reckon sixteen thousand canonized saints of their order. The Benedictine sisters even assert that they are warned of their approaching dissolution by some nocturnal noise, which they call the knocks of St. Benedict.
It may well be supposed that this holy abbot did not forget himself when begging the salvation of his disciples. Accordingly, on the 21st of March, 543, the eve of Passion Sunday, which was the day of his death, two monks—one of them in the monastery, the other at a distance from it—had the same vision. They saw a long road covered with carpets, and lighted by an infinite number of torches, extending eastward from the monastery to heaven. A venerable personage appeared, and asked them for whom this road was made. They said they did not know. “It is that,” rejoined he, “by which Benedict, the well-beloved of God, has ascended into heaven.”
An order in which salvation was so well secured soon extended itself into other states, whose sovereigns allowed themselves to be persuaded that, to be sure of a place in Paradise, it was only necessary to make themselves a friend in it, and that by donations to the churches they might atone for the most crying injustices and the most enormous crimes.
Confining ourselves to France, we read in the “Exploits of King Dagobert” (Gestes du Roi Dagobert), the founder of the abbey of St. Denis, near Paris, that this prince, after death, was condemned by the judgment of God, and that a hermit named John, who dwelt on the coast of Italy, saw his soul chained in a boat and beaten by devils, who were taking him towards Sicily to throw him into the fiery mouth of Etna; but all at once St. Denis appeared on a luminous globe, preceded by thunder and lightning, and, having put the evil spirits to flight, and rescued the poor soul from the clutches of the most cruel, bore it to heaven in triumph.
Charles Martel, on the contrary, was damned—body and soul—for having rewarded his captains by giving them abbeys. These, though laymen, bore the title of abbot, as married women have since borne that of abbess, and had convents of females. A holy bishop of Lyons, named Eucher, being at prayer, had the following vision: He thought he was led by an angel into hell, where he saw Charles Martel, who, the angel informed him, had been condemned to ever-lasting flames by the saints whose churches he had despoiled. St. Eucher wrote an account of this revelation to Boniface, bishop of Mayence, and to Fulrad, grand chaplain to Pepin-le-bref, praying them to open the tomb of Charles Martel and see if his body were there. The tomb was opened. The interior of it bore marks of fire, but nothing was found in it except a great serpent, which issued forth with a cloud of offensive smoke.
Boniface was so kind as to write to Pepin-le-bref and to Carloman all these particulars relative to the damnation of their father; and when, in 858, Louis of Germany seized some ecclesiastical property, the bishops of the assembly of Créci reminded him, in a letter, of all the particulars of this terrible story, adding that they had them from aged men, on whose word they could rely, and who had been eye-witnesses of the whole.
St. Bernard, first abbot of Clairvaux, in 1115 had likewise had it revealed to him that all who received the monastic habit from his hand should be saved. Nevertheless, Pope Urban II., having, in a bull dated 1092, given to the abbey of Mount Cassino the title of chief of all monasteries, because from that spot the venerable religion of the monastic order had flowed from the bosom of Benedict as from a celestial spring, the Emperor Lothario continued this prerogative by a charter of the year 1137, which gave to the monastery of Mount Cassino the pre-eminence in power and glory over all the monasteries which were or might be founded throughout the world, and called upon all the abbots and monks in Christendom to honor and reverence it.
Paschal II., in a bull of the year 1113, addressed to the abbot of Mount Cassino, expresses himself thus: “We decree that you, as likewise all your successors, shall, as being superior to all abbots, be allowed to sit in every assembly of bishops or princes; and that in all judgments you shall give your opinion before any other of your order.” The abbot of Cluni having also dared to call himself the abbot of abbots, the pope’s chancellor decided, in a council held at Rome in 1112, that this distinction belonged to the abbot of Mount Cassino. He of Cluni contented himself with the title of cardinal abbot, which he afterwards obtained from Calixtus II., and which the abbot of The Trinity of Vendôme and some others have since assumed.
Pope John XX., in 1326 granted to the abbot of Mount Cassino the title of bishop, and he continued to discharge the episcopal functions until 1367; but Urban V., having then thought proper to deprive him of that dignity, he now simply entitles himself Patriarch of the Holy Religion, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Mount Cassino, Chancellor and Grand Chaplain of the Holy Roman Empire, Abbot of Abbots, Chief of the Benedictine Hierarchy, Chancellor Collateral of the Kingdom of Sicily, Count and Governor of the Campagna and of the maritime province, Prince of Peace.
He lives, with a part of his officers, at San-Germano, a little town at the foot of Mount Cassino, in a spacious house, where all passengers, from the pope down to the meanest beggar, are received, lodged, fed, and treated according to their rank. The abbot each day visits all his guests, who sometimes amount to three hundred. In 1538, St. Ignatius shared his hospitality, but he was lodged in a house on Mount Cassino, six hundred paces west of the abbey. There he composed his celebrated Institute—whence a Dominican, in a work entitled, “The Turtle-Dove of the Soul,” says: “Ignatius dwelt for twelve months on this mountain of contemplation, and, like another Moses, framed those second tables of religious laws which are inferior in nothing to the first.”
Truly, this founder of the Jesuits was not received by the Benedictines with that complaisance which St. Benedict, on his arrival at Mount Cassino, had found in St. Martin the hermit, who gave up to him the place in his possession, and retired to Mount Marsica, near Carniola. On the contrary, the Benedictine Ambrose Cajeta, in a voluminous work written for the purpose, has endeavored to trace the origin of the Jesuits to the order of St. Benedict.
The laxity of manners which has always prevailed in the world, even among the clergy, induced St. Basil, so early as the fourth century, to adopt the idea of assembling in one community the solitaries who had fled into deserts to follow the law; but, as will be elsewhere seen, even the regulars have not always been regular.
As for the secular clergy, let us see what St. Cyprian says of them, even from the third century: “Many bishops, instead of exhorting and setting an example to others, neglected the affairs of God, busied themselves with temporal concerns, quitted their pulpits, abandoned their flocks, and travelled in other provinces, in order to attend fairs and enrich themselves by traffic; they succored not their brethren who were dying of hunger; they sought only to amass heaps of money, to gain possession of lands by unjust artifices, and to make immense profits by usury.”
Charlemagne, in a digest of what he intended to propose to the parliament of 811, thus expresses himself: “We wish to know the duties of ecclesiastics, in order that we may not ask of them what they are not permitted to give, and that they may not demand of us what we ought not to grant. We beg of them to explain to us clearly what they call quitting the world, and by what those who quit it may be distinguished from those who remain in it; if it is only by their not bearing arms, and not being married in public; if that man has quitted the world who continues to add to his possessions by means of every sort, preaching Paradise and threatening with damnation; employing the name of God or of some saint to persuade the simple to strip themselves of their property, thus entailing want upon their lawful heirs, who therefore think themselves justified in committing theft and pillage; if to quit the world is to carry the passion of covetousness to such a length as to bribe false witnesses in order to obtain what belongs to another, and to seek out judges who are cruel, interested, and without the fear of God.”
To conclude: We may judge of the morals of the regular clergy from a harangue delivered in 1493, in which the Abbé Tritême said to his brethren: “You abbés, who are ignorant and hostile to the knowledge of salvation; who pass your days in shameless pleasures, in drinking and gaming; who fix your affections on the things of this life; what answer will you make to God and to your founder, St. Benedict?”
The same abbé nevertheless asserted that one-third of all the property of Christians belonged of right to the order of St. Benedict, and that if they had it not, it was because they had been robbed of it. “They are so poor at present,” added he, “that their revenues do not amount to more than a hundred millions of louis d’ors.” Tritême does not tell us to whom the other two-thirds belong, but as in his time there were only fifteen thousand abbeys of Benedictines, besides the small convents of the same order, while in the seventeenth century their number had increased to thirty-seven thousand, it is clear, by the rule of proportion, that this holy order ought now to possess five-sixths of the property in Christendom, but for the fatal progress of heresy during the latter ages.
In addition to all other misfortunes, since the Concordat was signed, in 1515, between Leo X. and Francis I., the king of France nominating to nearly all the abbeys in his kingdom, most of them have been given to seculars with shaven crowns. It was in consequence of this custom being but little known in England that Dr. Gregory said pleasantly to the Abbé Gallois, whom he took for a Benedictine: “The good father imagines that we have returned to those fabulous times when a monk was permitted to say what he pleased.”
Those who fly from the world are wise; those who devote themselves to God are to be respected. Perhaps time has corrupted so holy an institution.
To the Jewish therapeuts succeeded the Egyptian monks—idiotoi, monoi—idiot then signifying only solitary. They soon formed themselves into bodies and became the opposite of solitaries. Each society of monks elected its superior; for, in the early ages of the church, everything was done by the plurality of voices. Men sought to regain the primitive liberty of human nature by escaping through piety from the tumult and slavery inseparably attendant on great empires. Every society of monks chose its father—its abba—its abbot, although it is said in the gospel, “call no man your father.”
Neither abbots nor monks were priests in the early ages; they went in troops to hear mass at the nearest village; their numbers, in time, became considerable. It is said that there were upwards of fifty thousand monks in Egypt.
St. Basil, who was first a monk and afterwards Bishop of Cæsarea and Cappadocia, composed a code for all the monks of the fourth century. This rule of St. Basil’s was received in the East and in the West; no monks were known but those of St. Basil; they were rich, took part in all public affairs, and contributed to the revolutions of empires.
No order but this was known until, in the sixth century, St. Benedict established a new power on Mount Cassino. St. Gregory the Great assures us, in his Dialogues, that God granted him a special privilege, by which all the Benedictines who should die on Mount Cassino were to be saved. Consequently, Pope Urban II., in a bull of the year 1092, declared the abbot of Mount Cassino chief of all the abbeys in the world. Paschal II. gave him the title of Abbot of Abbots, Patriarch of the Holy Religion, Chancellor Collateral of the Kingdom of Sicily, Count and Governor of the Campagna, Prince of Peace, etc. All these titles would avail but little were they not supported by immense riches.
Not long ago I received a letter from one of my German correspondents, which began with these words: “The abbots, princes of Kempten, Elvengen, Eudestet, Musbach, Berghsgaden, Vissemburg, Prum, Stablo, and Corvey, and the other abbots who are not princes, enjoy together a revenue of about nine hundred thousand florins, or two millions and fifty thousand French livres of the present currency. Whence I conclude that Jesus Christ’s circumstances were not quite so easy as theirs.” I replied: “Sir, you must confess that the French are more pious than the Germans, in the proportion of 4 16–41 to unity; for our consistorial benefices alone, that is, those which pay annats to the Pope, produce a revenue of nine millions; and two millions fifty thousand livres are to nine millions as 1 is to 4 16–41. Whence I conclude that your abbots are not sufficiently rich, and that they ought to have ten times more. I have the honor to be,” etc. He answered me by the following short letter: “Dear Sir, I do not understand you. You doubtless feel, with me, that nine millions of your money are rather too much for those who have made a vow of poverty; yet you wish that they had ninety. I beg you will explain this enigma.” I had the honor of immediately replying: “Dear Sir, there was once a young man to whom it was proposed to marry a woman of sixty, who would leave him all her property. He answered that she was not old enough.” The German understood my enigma.
The reader must be informed that, in 1575, it was proposed in a council of Henry III., King of France, to erect all the abbeys of monks into secular commendams, and to give them to the officers of his court and his army; but this monarch, happening afterwards to be excommunicated and assassinated, the project was of course not carried into effect.
In 1750 Count d’Argenson, the minister of war, wished to raise pensions from the benefices for chevaliers of the military order of St. Louis. Nothing could be more simple, more just, more useful; but his efforts were fruitless. Yet the Princess of Conti had had an abbey under Louis XIV., and even before his reign seculars possessed benefices. The Duke de Sulli had an abbey, although he was a Huguenot.
The father of Hugh Capet was rich only by his abbeys, and was called Hugh the Abbot. Abbeys were given to queens, to furnish them with pin-money. Ogine, mother of Louis d’Outremer, left her son because he had taken from her the abbey of St. Mary of Laon, and given it to his wife, Gerberge.
Thus we have examples of everything. Each one strives to make customs, innovations, laws—whether old or new, abrogated, revived, or mitigated—charters, whether real or supposed—the past, the present and the future, alike subservient to the grand end of obtaining the good things of this world; yet it is always for the greater glory of God.
Able.—An adjective term, which, like almost all others, has different acceptations as it is differently employed.
In general it signifies more than capable, more than well-informed, whether applied to an artist, a general, a man of learning, or a judge. A man may have read all that has been written on war, and may have seen it, without being able to conduct a war. He may be capable of commanding, but to acquire the name of an able general he must command more than once with success. A judge may know all the laws, without being able to apply them. A learned man may not be able either to write or to teach. An able man, then, is he who makes a great use of what he knows. A capable man can do a thing; an able one does it. This word cannot be applied to efforts of pure genius. We do not say an able poet, an able orator; or, if we sometimes say so of an orator, it is when he has ably, dexterously treated a thorny subject.
Bossuet, for example, having, in his funeral oration over the great Condé, to treat of his civil wars, says that there is a penitence as glorious as innocence itself. He manages this point ably. Of the rest he speaks with grandeur.
We say, an able historian, meaning one who has drawn his materials from good sources, compared different relations, and judged soundly of them; one, in short, who has taken great pains. If he has, moreover, the gift of narrating with suitable eloquence, he is more than able, he is a great historian, like Titus, Livius, de Thou, etc.
The word able is applicable to those arts which exercise at once the mind and the hand, as painting and sculpture. We say of a painter or sculptor, he is an able artist, because these arts require a long novitiate; whereas a man becomes a poet nearly all at once, like Virgil or Ovid, or may even be an orator with very little study, as several preachers have been.
Why do we, nevertheless, say, an able preacher? It is because more attention is then paid to art than to eloquence, which is no great eulogium. We do not say of the sublime Bossuet, he was an able maker of funeral orations. A mere player of an instrument is able; a composer must be more than able; he must have genius. The workman executes cleverly what the man of taste has designed ably.
An able man in public affairs is well-informed, prudent and active; if he wants either of these qualifications he is not able.
The term, an able courtier, implies blame rather than praise, since it too often means an able flatterer. It may also be used to designate simply a clever man, who is neither very good nor very wicked. The fox who, when questioned by the lion respecting the odor of his palace, replied that he had taken cold, was an able courtier; the fox who, to revenge himself on the wolf, recommended to the old lion the skin of a wolf newly flayed, to keep his majesty warm, was something more than able.
We shall not here discuss those points of our subject which belong more particularly to morality, as the danger of wishing to be too able, the risks which an able woman runs when she wishes to govern the affairs of her household without advice, etc. We are afraid of swelling this dictionary with useless declamations. They who preside over this great and important work must treat at length those articles relating to the arts and sciences which interest the public, while those to whom they intrust little articles of literature must have the merit of being brief.
Ability.—This word is to capacity what able is to capable—ability in a science, in an art, in conduct.
We express an acquired quality by saying, he has ability; in action, by saying, he conducts that affair with ability.
Ably has the same acceptations; he works, he plays, he teaches ably. He has ably surmounted that difficulty.
We must say nothing of what is divine in Abraham, since the Scriptures have said all. We must not even touch, except with a respectful hand, that which belongs to the profane—that which appertains to geography, the order of time, manners, and customs; for these, being connected with sacred history, are so many streams which preserve something of the divinity of their source.
Abraham, though born near the Euphrates, makes a great epoch with the Western nations, yet makes none with the Orientals, who, nevertheless, respect him as much as we do. The Mahometans have no certain chronology before their hegira. The science of time, totally lost in those countries which were the scene of great events, has reappeared in the regions of the West, where those events were unknown. We dispute about everything that was done on the banks of the Euphrates, the Jordan, and the Nile, while they who are masters of the Nile, the Jordan and the Euphrates enjoy without disputing. Although our great epoch is that of Abraham, we differ sixty years with respect to the time of his birth. The account, according to the registers, is as follows:
“And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.”
It is sufficiently evident from the text that Terah, having had Abraham at the age of seventy, died at that of two hundred and five; and Abraham, having quitted Chaldæa immediately after the death of his father, was just one hundred and thirty-five years old when he left his country. This is nearly the opinion of St. Stephen, in his discourse to the Jews.
But the Book of Genesis also says: “And Abraham was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.”
This is the principal cause (for there are several others) of the dispute on the subject of Abraham’s age. How could he be at once a hundred and thirty-five years, and only seventy-five? St. Jerome and St. Augustine say that this difficulty is inexplicable. Father Calmet, who confesses that these two saints could not solve the problem, thinks he does it by saying that Abraham was the youngest of Terah’s sons, although the Book of Genesis names him the first, and consequently as the eldest. According to Genesis, Abraham was born in his father’s seventieth year; while, according to Calmet, he was born when his father was a hundred and thirty. Such a reconciliation has only been a new cause of controversy. Considering the uncertainty in which we are left by both text and commentary, the best we can do is to adore without disputing.
There is no epoch in those ancient times which has not produced a multitude of different opinions. According to Moréri there were in his day seventy systems of chronology founded on the history dictated by God himself. There have since appeared five new methods of reconciling the various texts of Scripture. Thus there are as many disputes about Abraham as the number of his years (according to the text) when he left Haran. And of these seventy-five systems there is not one which tells us precisely what this town or village of Haran was, or where it was situated. What thread shall guide us in this labyrinth of conjectures and contradictions from the very first verse to the very last? Resignation. The Holy Spirit did not intend to teach us chronology, metaphysics or logic; but only to inspire us with the fear of God. Since we can comprehend nothing, all that we can do is to submit.
It is equally difficult to explain satisfactorily how it was that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was also his sister. Abraham says positively to Abimelech, king of Gerar, who had taken Sarah to himself on account of her great beauty, at the age of ninety, when she was pregnant of Isaac: “And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” The Old Testament does not inform us how Sarah was her husband’s sister. Calmet, whose judgment and sagacity are known to every one, says that she might be his niece. With the Chaldæans it was probably no more an incest than with their neighbors, the Persians. Manners change with times and with places. It may be supposed that Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolater, was still an idolater when he married Sarah, whether Sarah was his sister or his niece.
There are several Fathers of the Church who do not think Abraham quite so excusable for having said to Sarah, in Egypt: “It shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife, and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake.” She was then only sixty-five. Since she had, twenty-five years afterwards the king of Gerar for a lover, it is not surprising that, when twenty-five years younger, she had kindled some passion in Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, she was taken away by him in the same manner as she was afterwards taken by Abimelech, the king of Gerar, in the desert.
Abraham received presents, at the court of Pharaoh, of many “sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels.” These presents, which were considerable, prove that the Pharaohs had already become great kings; the country of Egypt must therefore have been very populous. But to make the country inhabitable, and to build towns, it must have cost immense labor. It was necessary to construct canals for the purpose of draining the waters of the Nile, which overflowed Egypt during four or five months of each year, and stagnated on the soil. It was also necessary to raise the town at least twenty feet above these canals. Works so considerable seem to have required thousands of ages.
There were only about four hundred years between the Deluge and the period at which we fix Abraham’s journey into Egypt. The Egyptians must have been very ingenious and indefatigably laborious, since, in so short a time, they invented all the arts and sciences, set bounds to the Nile, and changed the whole face of the country. Probably they had already built some of the great Pyramids, for we see that the art of embalming the dead was in a short time afterwards brought to perfection, and the Pyramids were only the tombs in which the bodies of their princes were deposited with the most august ceremonies.
This opinion of the great antiquity of the Pyramids receives additional countenance from the fact that three hundred years earlier, or but one hundred years after the Hebrew epoch of the Deluge of Noah, the Asiatics had built, in the plain of Sennaar, a tower which was to reach to heaven. St. Jerome, in his commentary on Isaiah, says that this tower was already four thousand paces high when God came down to stop the progress of the work.
Let us suppose each pace to be two feet and a half. Four thousand paces, then, are ten thousand feet; consequently the tower of Babel was twenty times as high as the Pyramids of Egypt, which are only about five hundred feet. But what a prodigious quantity of instruments must have been requisite to raise such an edifice! All the arts must have concurred in forwarding the work. Whence commentators conclude that men of those times were incomparably larger, stronger, and more industrious than those of modern nations.
So much may be remarked with respect to Abraham, as relating to the arts and sciences. With regard to his person, it is most likely that he was a man of considerable importance. The Chaldæans and the Persians each claim him as their own. The ancient religion of the magi has, from time immemorial, been called Kish Ibrahim, Milat Ibrahim, and it is agreed that the word Ibrahim is precisely the same as Abraham, nothing being more common among the Asiatics, who rarely wrote the vowels, than to change the i into a, or the a into i in pronunciation.
It has even been asserted that Abraham was the Brahma of the Indians, and that their notions were adopted by the people of the countries near the Euphrates, who traded with India from time immemorial.
The Arabs regarded him as the founder of Mecca. Mahomet, in his Koran, always viewed in him the most respectable of his predecessors. In his third sura, or chapter, he speaks of him thus: “Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian; he was an orthodox Mussulman; he was not of the number of those who imagine that God has colleagues.”
The temerity of the human understanding has even gone so far as to imagine that the Jews did not call themselves the descendants of Abraham until a very late period, when they had at last established themselves in Palestine. They were strangers, hated and despised by their neighbors. They wished, say some, to relieve themselves by passing for descendants of that Abraham who was so much reverenced in a great part of Asia. The faith which we owe to the sacred books of the Jews removes all these difficulties.
Other critics, no less hardy, start other objections relative to Abraham’s direct communication with the Almighty, his battles and his victories. The Lord appeared to him after he went out of Egypt, and said, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.”
The Lord, by a second oath, afterwards promised him all “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” The critics ask, how could God promise the Jews this immense country which they have never possessed? And how could God give to them forever that small part of Palestine out of which they have so long been driven? Again, the Lord added to these promises, that Abraham’s posterity should be as numerous as the dust of the earth—“so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.”
Our critics insist there are not now on the face of the earth four hundred thousand Jews, though they have always regarded marriage as a sacred duty and made population their greatest object. To these difficulties it is replied that the church, substituted for the synagogue, is the true race of Abraham, which is therefore very numerous.
It must be admitted that they do not possess Palestine; but they may one day possess it, as they have already conquered it once, in the first crusade, in the time of Urban II. In a word, when we view the Old Testament with the eyes of faith, as a type of the New, all either is or will be accomplished, and our weak reason must bow in silence.
Fresh difficulties are raised respecting Abraham’s victory near Sodom. It is said to be inconceivable that a stranger who drove his flocks to graze in the neighborhood of Sodom should, with three hundred and eighteen keepers of sheep and oxen, beat a king of Persia, a king of Pontus, the king of Babylon, and the king of nations, and pursue them to Damascus, which is more than a hundred miles from Sodom. Yet such a victory is not impossible, for we see other similar instances in those heroic times when the arm of God was not shortened. Think of Gideon, who, with three hundred men, armed with three hundred pitchers and three hundred lamps, defeated a whole army! Think of Samson, who slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass!
Even profane history furnishes like examples. Three hundred Spartans stopped, for a moment, the whole army of Xerxes, at the pass of Thermopylæ. It is true that, with the exception of one man who fled, they were all slain, together with their king, Leonidas, whom Xerxes had the baseness to gibbet, instead of raising to his memory the monument which it deserved. It is moreover true that these three hundred Lacedæmonians, who guarded a steep passage which would scarcely admit two men abreast, were supported by an army of ten thousand Greeks, distributed in advantageous posts among the rocks of Pelion and Ossa, four thousand of whom, be it observed, were stationed behind this very passage of Thermopylæ.
These four thousand perished after a long combat. Having been placed in a situation more exposed than that of the three hundred Spartans, they may be said to have acquired more glory in defending it against the Persian army, which cut them all in pieces. Indeed, on the monument afterwards erected on the field of battle, mention was made of these four thousand victims, whereas none are spoken of now but the three hundred.
A still more memorable, though much less celebrated, action was that of fifty Swiss, who, in 1315, routed at Morgarten the whole army of the Archduke Leopold, of Austria, consisting of twenty thousand men. They destroyed the cavalry by throwing down stones from a high rock; and gave time to fourteen hundred Helvetians to come up and finish the defeat of the army. This achievement at Morgarten is more brilliant than that of Thermopylæ, inasmuch as it is a finer thing to conquer than to be conquered. The Greeks amounted to ten thousand, well armed; and it was impossible that, in a mountainous country, they could have to encounter more than a hundred thousand Persians at once; it is more than probable that there were not thirty thousand Persians engaged. But here fourteen hundred Swiss defeat an army of twenty thousand men. The diminished proportions of the less to the greater number also increases the proportion of glory. But how far has Abraham led us? These digressions amuse him who makes and sometimes him who reads them. Besides, every one is delighted to see a great army beaten by a little one.
Abraham is one of those names which were famous in Asia Minor and Arabia, as Thaut was among the Egyptians, the first Zoroaster in Persia, Hercules in Greece, Orpheus in Thrace, Odin among the northern nations, and so many others, known more by their fame than by any authentic history. I speak here of profane history only; as for that of the Jews, our masters and our enemies, whom we at once detest and believe, their history having evidently been written by the Holy Ghost, we feel toward it as we ought to feel. We have to do here only with the Arabs. They boast of having descended from Abraham through Ishmael, believing that this patriarch built Mecca and died there. The fact is, that the race of Ishmael has been infinitely more favored by God than has that of Jacob. Both races, it is true, have produced robbers; but the Arabian robbers have been prodigiously superior to the Jewish ones; the descendants of Jacob conquered only a very small country, which they have lost, whereas the descendants of Ishmael conquered parts of Asia, of Europe, and of Africa, established an empire more extensive than that of the Romans, and drove the Jews from their caverns, which they called The Land of Promise.
Judging of things only by the examples to be found in our modern histories, it would be difficult to believe that Abraham had been the father of two nations so widely different. We are told that he was born in Chaldæa, and that he was the son of a poor potter, who earned his bread by making little earthen idols. It is hardly likely that this son of a potter should have passed through impracticable deserts and founded the city of Mecca, at the distance of four hundred leagues, under a tropical sun. If he was a conqueror, he doubtless cast his eyes on the fine country of Assyria. If he was no more than a poor man, he did not found kingdoms abroad.
The Book of Genesis relates that he was seventy-five years old when he went out of the land of Haran after the death of his father, Terah the potter; but the same book also tells us that Terah, having begotten Abraham at the age of seventy years, lived to that of two hundred and five; and, afterward, that Abraham went out of Haran, which seems to signify that it was after the death of his father.
Either the author did not know how to dispose his narration, or it is clear from the Book of Genesis itself that Abraham was one hundred and thirty-five years old when he quitted Mesopotamia. He went from a country which is called idolatrous to another idolatrous country named Sichem, in Palestine. Why did he quit the fruitful banks of the Euphrates for a spot so remote, so barren, and so stony as Sichem? It was not a place of trade, and was distant a hundred leagues from Chaldæa, and deserts lay between. But God chose that Abraham should go this journey; he chose to show him the land which his descendants were to occupy several ages after him. It is with difficulty that the human understanding comprehends the reasons for such a journey.
Scarcely had he arrived in the little mountainous country of Sichem, when famine compelled him to quit it. He went into Egypt with his wife Sarah, to seek a subsistence. The distance from Sichem to Memphis is two hundred leagues. Is it natural that a man should go so far to ask for corn in a country the language of which he did not understand? Truly these were strange journeys, undertaken at the age of nearly a hundred and forty years!
He brought with him to Memphis his wife, Sarah, who was extremely young, and almost an infant when compared with himself; for she was only sixty-five. As she was very handsome, he resolved to turn her beauty to account. “Say, I pray thee, that thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake.” He should rather have said to her, “Say, I pray thee, that thou art my daughter.” The king fell in love with the young Sarah, and gave the pretended brother abundance of sheep, oxen, he-asses, she-asses, camels, men-servants and maid-servants; which proves that Egypt was then a powerful and well-regulated, and consequently an ancient kingdom, and that those were magnificently rewarded who came and offered their sisters to the kings of Memphis. The youthful Sarah was ninety years old when God promised her that, in the course of a year, she should have a child by Abraham, who was then a hundred and sixty.
Abraham, who was fond of travelling, went into the horrible desert of Kadesh with his pregnant wife, ever young and ever pretty. A king of this desert was, of course, captivated by Sarah, as the king of Egypt had been. The father of the faithful told the same lie as in Egypt, making his wife pass for his sister; which brought him more sheep, oxen, men-servants, and maid-servants. It might be said that this Abraham became rich principally by means of his wife. Commentators have written a prodigious number of volumes to justify Abraham’s conduct, and to explain away the errors in chronology. To these commentaries we must refer the reader; they are all composed by men of nice and acute perceptions, excellent metaphysicians, and by no means pedants.
For the rest, this name of Bram, or Abram, was famous in Judæa and in Persia. Several of the learned even assert that he was the same legislator whom the Greeks called Zoroaster. Others say that he was the Brahma of the Indians, which is not demonstrated. But it appears very reasonable to many that this Abraham was a Chaldæan or a Persian, from whom the Jews afterwards boasted of having descended, as the Franks did of their descent from Hector, and the Britons from Tubal. It cannot be denied that the Jewish nation were a very modern horde; that they did not establish themselves on the borders of Phœnicia until a very late period; that they were surrounded by ancient states, whose language they adopted, receiving from them even the name of Israel, which is Chaldæan, from the testimony of the Jew Flavius Josephus himself. We know that they took the names of the angels from the Babylonians, and that they called God by the names of Eloi or Eloa, Adonaï, Jehovah or Hiao, after the Phœnicians. It is probable that they knew the name of Abraham or Ibrahim only through the Babylonians; for the ancient religion of all the countries from the Euphrates to the Oxus was called Kish Ibrahim or Milat Ibrahim. This is confirmed by all the researches made on the spot by the learned Hyde.
The Jews, then, treat their history and ancient fables as their clothesmen treat their old coats—they turn them and sell them for new at as high a price as possible. It is a singular instance of human stupidity that we have so long considered the Jews as a nation which taught all others, while their historian Josephus himself confesses the contrary.
It is difficult to penetrate the shades of antiquity; but it is evident that all the kingdoms of Asia were in a very flourishing state before the wandering horde of Arabs, called Jews, had a small spot of earth which they called their own—when they had neither a town, nor laws, nor even a fixed religion. When, therefore, we see an ancient rite or an ancient opinion established in Egypt or Asia, and also among the Jews, it is very natural to suppose that this small, newly formed, ignorant, stupid people copied, as well as they were able, the ancient, flourishing, and industrious nation.
It is on this principle that we must judge of Judæa, Biscay, Cornwall, etc. Most certainly triumphant Rome did not in anything imitate Biscay or Cornwall; and he must be either very ignorant or a great knave who would say that the Jews taught anything to the Greeks.
It must not be thought that Abraham was known only to the Jews; on the contrary, he was renowned throughout Asia. This name, which signifies father of a people in more Oriental languages than one, was given to some inhabitant of Chaldæa from whom several nations have boasted of descending. The pains which the Arabs and the Jews took to establish their descent from this patriarch render it impossible for even the greatest Pyrrhoneans to doubt of there having been an Abraham.
The Hebrew Scriptures make him the son of Terah, while the Arabs say that Terah was his grandfather and Azar his father, in which they have been followed by several Christians. The interpreters are of forty-two different opinions with respect to the year in which Abraham was brought into the world, and I shall not hazard a forty-third. It also appears, by the dates, that Abraham lived sixty years longer than the text allows him; but mistakes in chronology do not destroy the truth of a fact. Supposing even that the book which speaks of Abraham had not been so sacred as was the law, it is not therefore less certain that Abraham existed. The Jews distinguished books written by inspired men from books composed by particular inspiration. How, indeed, can it be believed that God dictated false dates?
Philo, the Jew of Suidas, relates that Terah, the father or grandfather of Abraham, who dwelt at Ur in Chaldæa, was a poor man who gained a livelihood by making little idols, and that he was himself an idolater. If so, that ancient religion of the Sabeans, who had no idols, but worshipped the heavens, had not, then, perhaps, been established in Chaldæa; or, if it prevailed in one part of the country, it is very probable that idolatry was predominant in the rest. It seems that in those times each little horde had its religion, as each family had its own peculiar customs; all were tolerated, and all were peaceably confounded. Laban, the father-in-law of Jacob, had idols. Each clan was perfectly willing that the neighboring clan should have its gods, and contented itself with believing that its own were the mightiest.
The Scripture says that the God of the Jews, who intended to give them the land of Canaan, commanded Abraham to leave the fertile country of Chaldæa and go towards Palestine, promising him that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. It is for theologians to explain, by allegory and mystical sense, how all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in a seed from which they did not descend, since this much-to-be-venerated mystical sense cannot be made the object of a research purely critical. A short time after these promises Abraham’s family was afflicted by famine, and went into Egypt for corn. It is singular that the Hebrews never went into Egypt, except when pressed by hunger; for Jacob afterwards sent his children on the same errand.
Abraham, who was then very old, went this journey with his wife Sarah, aged sixty-five: she was very handsome, and Abraham feared that the Egyptians, smitten by her charms, would kill him in order to enjoy her transcendent beauties: he proposed to her that she should pass for his sister, etc. Human nature must at that time have possessed a vigor which time and luxury have since very much weakened. This was the opinion of all the ancients; it has been asserted that Helen was seventy when she was carried off by Paris. That which Abraham had foreseen came to pass; the Egyptian youth found his wife charming, notwithstanding her sixty-five years; the king himself fell in love with her, and placed her in his seraglio, though, probably, he had younger women there; but the Lord plagued the king and his seraglio with very great sores. The text does not tell us how the king came to know that this dangerous beauty was Abraham’s wife; but it seems that he did come to know it, and restored her.
Sarah’s beauty must have been unalterable; for twenty-five years afterwards, when she was ninety years old, pregnant, and travelling with her husband through the dominions of a king of Phœnicia named Abimelech, Abraham, who had not yet corrected himself, made her a second time pass for his sister. The Phœnician king was as sensible to her attractions as the king of Egypt had been; but God appeared to this Abimelech in a dream, and threatened him with death if he touched his new mistress. It must be confessed that Sarah’s conduct was as extraordinary as the lasting nature of her charms.
The singularity of these adventures was probably the reason why the Jews had not the same sort of faith in their histories as they had in their Leviticus. There was not a single iota of their law in which they did not believe; but the historical part of their Scriptures did not demand the same respect. Their conduct in regard to their ancient books may be compared to that of the English, who received the laws of St. Edward without absolutely believing that St. Edward cured the scrofula; or to that of the Romans, who, while they obeyed their primitive laws, were not obliged to believe in the miracles of the sieve filled with water, the ship drawn to the shore by a vestal’s girdle, the stone cut with a razor, and so forth. Therefore the historian Josephus, though strongly attached to his form of worship, leaves his readers at liberty to believe just so much as they choose of the ancient prodigies which he relates. For the same reason the Sadducees were permitted not to believe in the angels, although the angels are so often spoken of in the Old Testament; but these same Sadducees were not permitted to neglect the prescribed feasts, fasts, and ceremonies. This part of Abraham’s history (the journeys into Egypt and Phœnicia) proves that great kingdoms were already established, while the Jewish nation existed in a single family; that there already were laws, since without them a great kingdom cannot exist; and consequently that the law of Moses, which was posterior, was not the first law. It is not necessary for a law to be divine, that it should be the most ancient of all. God is undoubtedly the master of time. It would, it is true, seem more conformable to the faint light of reason that God, having to give a law, should have given it at the first to all mankind; but if it be proved that He proceeds in a different way, it is not for us to question Him.
The remainder of Abraham’s history is subject to great difficulties. God, who frequently appeared to and made several treaties with him, one day sent three angels to him in the valley of Mamre. The patriarch gave them bread, veal, butter, and milk to eat. The three spirits dined, and after dinner they sent for Sarah, who had baked the bread. One of the angels, whom the text calls the Lord, the Eternal, promised Sarah that, in the course of a year, she should have a son. Sarah, who was then ninety-four, while her husband was nearly a hundred, laughed at the promise—a proof that Sarah confessed her decrepitude—a proof that, according to the Scripture itself, human nature was not then very different from what it is now. Nevertheless, the following year, as we have already seen, this aged woman, after becoming pregnant, captivated King Abimelech. Certes, to consider these stories as natural, we must either have a species of understanding quite different from that which we have at present, or regard every trait in the life of Abraham as a miracle, or believe that it is only an allegory; but whichever way we turn, we cannot escape embarrassment. For instance, what are we to make of God’s promise to Abraham that he would give to him and his posterity all the land of Canaan, which no Chaldæan ever possessed? This is one of the difficulties which it is impossible to solve.
It seems astonishing that God, after causing Isaac to be born of a centenary father and a woman of ninety-five, should afterwards have ordered that father to murder the son whom he had given him contrary to every expectation. This strange order from God seems to show that, at the time when this history was written, the sacrifice of human victims was customary amongst the Jews, as it afterwards became in other nations, as witness the vow of Jephthah. But it may be said that the obedience of Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son to the God who had given him, is an allegory of the resignation which man owes to the orders of the Supreme Being.
There is one remark which it is particularly important to make on the history of this patriarch regarded as the father of the Jews and the Arabs. His principal children were Isaac, born of his wife by a miraculous favor of Providence, and Ishmael, born of his servant. It was in Isaac that the race of the patriarch was blessed; yet Isaac was father only of an unfortunate and contemptible people, who were for a long period slaves, and have for a still longer period been dispersed. Ishmael, on the contrary, was the father of the Arabs, who, in course of time, established the empire of the caliphs, one of the most powerful and most extensive in the world.
The Mussulmans have a great reverence for Abraham, whom they call Ibrahim. Those who believe him to have been buried at Hebron, make a pilgrimage thither, while those who think that his tomb is at Mecca, go and pay their homage to him there.
Some of the ancient Persians believed that Abraham was the same as Zoroaster. It has been with him as with most of the founders of the Eastern nations, to whom various names and various adventures have been attributed; but it appears by the Scripture text that he was one of those wandering Arabs who had no fixed habitation. We see him born at Ur in Chaldæa, going first to Haran, then into Palestine, then into Egypt, then into Phœnicia, and lastly forced to buy a grave at Hebron.
One of the most remarkable circumstances of his life was, that at the age of ninety, before he had begotten Isaac, he caused himself, his son Ishmael, and all his servants to be circumcised. It seems that he had adopted this idea from the Egyptians. It is difficult to determine the origin of such an operation; but it is most likely that it was performed in order to prevent the abuses of puberty. But why should a man undergo this operation at the age of a hundred?
On the other hand it is asserted that only the priests were anciently distinguished in Egypt by this custom. It was a usage of great antiquity in Africa and part of Asia for the most holy personages to present their virile member to be kissed by the women whom they met. The organs of generation were looked upon as something noble and sacred—as a symbol of divine power: it was customary to swear by them; and, when taking an oath to another person, to lay the hand on his testicles. It was perhaps from this ancient custom that they afterwards received their name, which signifies witnesses, because they were thus made a testimony and a pledge. When Abraham sent his servant to ask Rebecca for his son Isaac, the servant placed his hand on Abraham’s genitals, which has been translated by the word thigh.
By this we see how much the manners of remote antiquity differed from ours. In the eyes of a philosopher it is no more astonishing that men should formerly have sworn by that part than by the head; nor is it astonishing that those who wished to distinguish themselves from other men should have testified by this venerated portion of the human person.
The Book of Genesis tells us that circumcision was a covenant between God and Abraham; and expressly adds, that whosoever shall not be circumcised in his house, shall be put to death. Yet we are not told that Isaac was circumcised; nor is circumcision again spoken of until the time of Moses.
We shall conclude this article with one more observation, which is, that Abraham, after having by Sarah and Hagar two sons, who became each the father of a great nation, had six sons by Keturah, who settled in Arabia; but their posterity were not famous.
A vice attached to all the customs, to all the laws, to all the institutions of man: the detail is too vast to be contained in any library.
States are governed by abuses. Maximus ille est qui minimis urgetur. It might be said to the Chinese, to the Japanese, to the English—your government swarms with abuses, which you do not correct! The Chinese will reply: We have existed as a people for five thousand years, and at this day are perhaps the most fortunate nation on earth, because we are the most tranquil. The Japanese will say nearly the same. The English will answer: We are powerful at sea, and prosperous on land; perhaps in ten thousand years we shall bring our usages to perfection. The grand secret is, to be in a better condition than others, even with enormous abuses.
ABUSE OF WORDS.
Books, like conversation, rarely give us any precise ideas: nothing is so common as to read and converse unprofitably.
We must here repeat what Locke has so strongly urged—Define your terms.
A jurisconsult, in his criminal institute, announces that the non-observance of Sundays and holidays is treason against the Divine Majesty. Treason against the Divine Majesty gives an idea of the most enormous of crimes, and the most dreadful of chastisements. But what constitutes the offence? To have missed vespers?—a thing which may happen to the best man in the world.
In all disputes on liberty, one reasoner generally understands one thing, and his adversary another. A third comes in who understands neither the one nor the other, nor is himself understood. In these disputes, one has in his head the power of acting; a second, the power of willing; a third, the desire of executing; each revolves in his own circle, and they never meet. It is the same with quarrels about grace. Who can understand its nature, its operations, the sufficiency which is not sufficient, and the efficacy which is ineffectual.
The words substantial form were pronounced for two thousand years without suggesting the least notion. For these, plastic natures have been substituted, but still without anything being gained.
A traveller, stopped on his way by a torrent, asks a villager on the opposite bank to show him the ford: “Go to the right!” shouts the countryman. He takes the right and is drowned. The other runs up crying: “Oh! how unfortunate! I did not tell him to go to his right, but to mine!”
The world is full of these misunderstandings. How will a Norwegian, when reading this formula: Servant of the servants of God; discover that it is the Bishop of Bishops, and King of Kings who speaks?
At the time when the “Fragments of Petronius” made a great noise in the literary world, Meibomius, a noted learned man of Lübeck, read in the printed letter of another learned man of Bologna: “We have here an entire Petronius, which I have seen with my own eyes and admired.” Habemus hic Petronium integrum, quem vidi meis oculis non sine admiratione. He immediately set out for Italy, hastened to Bologna, went to the librarian Capponi, and asked him if it were true that they had the entire Petronius at Bologna. Capponi answered that it was a fact which had long been public. “Can I see this Petronius? Be so good as to show him to me.” “Nothing is more easy,” said Capponi. He then took him to the church in which the body of St. Petronius was laid. Meibomius ordered horses and fled.
If the Jesuit Daniel took a warlike abbot, abbatem martialem, for the abbot Martial, a hundred historians have fallen into still greater mistakes. The Jesuit d’Orleans, in his “Revolutions of England,” wrote indifferently Northampton or Southampton, only mistaking the north for the south, or vice versa.
Metaphysical terms, taken in their proper sense, have sometimes determined the opinion of twenty nations. Every one knows the metaphor of Isaiah, How hast thou fallen from heaven, thou star which rose in the morning? This discourse was imagined to have been addressed to the devil; and as the Hebrew word answering to the planet Venus was rendered in Latin by the word Lucifer, the devil has ever since been called Lucifer.
Much ridicule has been bestowed on the “Chart of the Tender Passion” by Mdlle. Cuderi. The lovers embark on the river Tendre; they dine at Tendre sur Estime, sup at Tendre sur Inclination, sleep at Tendre sur Désir, find themselves the next morning at Tendre sur Passion, and lastly at Tendre sur Tendre. These ideas may be ridiculous, especially when Clelia, Horatius Cocles, and other rude and austere Romans set out on the voyage; but this geographical chart at least shows us that love has various lodgings, and that the same word does not always signify the same thing. There is a prodigious difference between the love of Tarquin and that of Celadon—between David’s love for Jonathan, which was stronger than that of women, and the Abbé Desfontaines’ love for little chimney-sweepers.
The most singular instance of this abuse of words—these voluntary equivoques—these misunderstandings which have caused so many quarrels—is the Chinese King-tien. The missionaries having violent disputes about the meaning of this word, the Court of Rome sent a Frenchman, named Maigrot, whom they made the imaginary bishop of a province in China, to adjust the difference. Maigrot did not know a word of Chinese; but the emperor deigned to grant that he should be told what he understood by King-tien. Maigrot would not believe what was told him, but caused the emperor of China to be condemned at Rome!
The abuse of words is an inexhaustible subject. In history, in morality, in jurisprudence, in medicine, but especially in theology, beware of ambiguity.
Academies are to universities as maturity is to childhood, oratory to grammar, or politeness to the first lessons in civility. Academies, not being stipendiary, should be entirely free; such were the academies of Italy; such is the French Academy; and such, more particularly, is the Royal Society of London.
The French Academy, which formed itself, received, it is true, letters patent from Louis XIII., but without any salary, and consequently without any subjection; hence it was that the first men in the kingdom, and even princes, sought admission into this illustrious body. The Society of London has possessed the same advantage.
The celebrated Colbert, being a member of the French Academy, employed some of his brethren to compose inscriptions and devices for the public buildings. This assembly, to which Boileau and Racine afterwards belonged, soon became an academy of itself. The establishment of this Academy of Inscriptions, now called that of the Belles-Lettres, may, indeed, be dated from the year 1661, and that of the Academy of Sciences from 1666. We are indebted for both establishments to the same minister, who contributed in so many ways to the splendor of the age of Louis XIV.
After the deaths of Jean Baptiste Colbert and the Marquis de Louvois, when Count de Pontchartrain, secretary of state, had the department of Paris, he intrusted the government of the new academies to his nephew, the Abbé Bignon. Then were first devised honorary fellowships requiring no learning, and without remuneration; places with salaries disagreeably distinguished from the former; fellowships without salaries; and scholarships, a title still more disagreeable, which has since been suppressed. The Academy of the Belles-Lettres was put on the same footing; both submitted to the immediate control of the secretary of state, and to the revolting distinction of honoraries, pensionaries, and pupils.
The Abbé Bignon ventured to propose the same regulation to the French Academy, of which he was a member; but he was heard with unanimous indignation. The least opulent in the Academy were the first to reject his offers, and to prefer liberty to pensions and honors. The Abbé Bignon, who, in the laudable intention of doing good, had dealt too freely with the noble sentiments of his brethren, never again set his foot in the French Academy.
The word Academy became so celebrated that when Lulli, who was a sort of favorite, obtained the establishment of his Opera, in 1692, he had interest enough to get inserted in the patent, that it was a Royal Academy of Music, in which Ladies and Gentlemen might sing without demeaning themselves. He did not confer the same honor on the dancers; the public, however, has always continued to go to the Opera, but never to the Academy of Music.
It is known that the word Academy, borrowed from the Greeks, originally signified a society or school of philosophy at Athens, which met in a garden bequeathed to it by Academus. The Italians were the first who instituted such societies after the revival of letters; the Academy Della Crusca is of the sixteenth century. Academies were afterwards established in every town where the sciences were cultivated. The Society of London has never taken the title of Academy.
The provincial academies have been of signal advantage. They have given birth to emulation, forced youth to labor, introduced them to a course of good reading, dissipated the ignorance and prejudices of some of our towns, fostered a spirit of politeness, and, as far as it is possible, destroyed pedantry.
Scarcely anything has been written against the French Academy, except frivolous and insipid pleasantries. St. Evremond’s comedy of “The Academicians” had some reputation in its time; but a proof of the little merit it possessed is that it is now forgotten, whereas the good satires of Boileau are immortal.
So much has been said and so much written concerning Adam, his wife, the pre-Adamites, etc., and the rabbis have put forth so many idle stories respecting Adam, and it is so dull to repeat what others have said before, that I shall here hazard an idea entirely new; one, at least, which is not to be found in any ancient author, father of the church, preacher, theologian, critic, or scholar with whom I am acquainted. I mean the profound secrecy with respect to Adam which was observed throughout the habitable earth, Palestine only excepted, until the time when the Jewish books began to be known in Alexandria, and were translated into Greek under one of the Ptolemies. Still they were very little known; for large books were very rare and very dear. Besides, the Jews of Jerusalem were so incensed against those of Alexandria, loaded them with so many reproaches for having translated their Bible into a profane tongue, called them so many ill names, and cried so loudly to the Lord, that the Alexandrian Jews concealed their translation as much as possible; it was so secret that no Greek or Roman author speaks of it before the time of the Emperor Aurefian.
The historian Josephus confesses, in his answer to Appian, that the Jews had not long had any intercourse with other nations: “We inhabit,” says he, “a country distant from the sea; we do not apply ourselves to commerce, nor have we any communication with other nations. Is it to be wondered at that our people, dwelling so far from the sea, and affecting never to write, have been so little known?”
Here it will probably be asked how Josephus could say that his nation affected never to write anything, when they had twenty-two canonical books, without reckoning the “Targum” by Onkelos. But it must be considered that twenty-two small volumes were very little when compared with the multitude of books preserved in the library of Alexandria, half of which were burned in Cæsar’s war.
It is certain that the Jews had written and read very little; that they were profoundly ignorant of astronomy, geometry, geography, and physics; that they knew nothing of the history of other nations; and that in Alexandria they first began to learn. Their language was a barbarous mixture of ancient Phœnician and corrupted Chaldee; it was so poor that several moods were wanting in the conjugation of their verbs.
Moreover, as they communicated neither their books nor the titles of them to any foreigner, no one on earth except themselves had ever heard of Adam, or Eve, or Abel, or Cain, or Noah. Abraham alone was, in course of time, known to the Oriental nations; but no ancient people admitted that Abraham was the root of the Jewish nation.
Such are the secrets of Providence, that the father and mother of the human race have ever been totally unknown to their descendants; so that the names of Adam and Eve are to be found in no ancient author, either of Greece, of Rome, of Persia, or of Syria, nor even among the Arabs, until near the time of Mahomet. It was God’s pleasure that the origin of the great family of the world should be concealed from all but the smallest and most unfortunate part of that family.
How is it that Adam and Eve have been unknown to all their children? How could it be that neither in Egypt nor in Babylon was any trace—any tradition—of our first parents to be found? Why were they not mentioned by Orpheus, by Linus, or by Thamyris? For if they had said but one word of them, it would undoubtedly have been caught by Hesiod, and especially by Homer, who speak of everything except the authors of the human race. Clement of Alexandria, who collected so many ancient testimonies, would not have failed to quote any passage in which mention had been made of Adam and Eve. Eusebius, in his “Universal History,” has examined even the most doubtful testimonies, and would assuredly have made the most of the smallest allusion, or appearance of an allusion, to our first parents. It is, then, sufficiently clear that they were always utterly unknown to the nations.
We do, it is true, find among the Brahmins, in the book entitled the “Ezourveidam,” the names of Adimo and of Procriti, his wife. But though Adimo has some little resemblance to our Adam, the Indians say: “We were a great people established on the banks of the Indus and the Ganges many ages before the Hebrew horde moved towards the Jordan. The Egyptians, the Persians, and the Arabs came to us for wisdom and spices when the Jews were unknown to the rest of mankind. We cannot have taken our Adimo from their Adam; our Procriti does not in the least resemble Eve; besides, their history and ours are entirely different.
“Moreover, the ‘Veidam,’ on which the ‘Ezourveidam’ is a commentary, is believed by us to have been composed at a more remote period of antiquity than the Jewish books; and the ‘Veidam’ itself is a newer law given to the Brahmins, fifteen hundred years after their first law, called Shasta or Shastabad.”
Such, or nearly such, are the answers which the Brahmins of the present day have often made to the chaplains of merchant vessels who have talked to them of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, when the traders of Europe have gone, with arms in their hands, to buy their spices and lay waste their country.
The Phœnician Sanchoniathon, who certainly lived before the period at which we place Moses, and who is quoted by Eusebius as an authentic writer, gives ten generations to the human race, as does Moses, down to the time of Noah; but, in these ten generations, he mentions neither Adam nor Eve, nor any of their descendants, not even Noah himself. The names, according to the Greek translation by Philo of Biblos, are Æon, Genos, Phox, Liban, Usou, Halieus, Chrisor, Tecnites, Agrove, Amine; these are the first ten generations.
We do not see the name of Noah or of Adam in any of the ancient dynasties of Egypt: they are not to be found among the Chaldæans; in a word, the whole earth has been silent respecting them. It must be owned that such a silence is unparalleled. Every people has attributed to itself some imaginary origin, yet none has approached the true one. We cannot comprehend how the father of all nations has so long been unknown, while in the natural course of things his name should have been carried from mouth to mouth to the farthest corners of the earth.
Let us humble ourselves to the decrees of that Providence which has permitted so astonishing an oblivion. All was mysterious and concealed in the nation guided by God Himself, which prepared the way for Christianity, and was the wild olive on which the fruitful one has been grafted. That the names of the authors of mankind should be unknown to mankind is a mystery of the highest order.
I will venture to affirm that it has required a miracle thus to shut the eyes and ears of all nations—to destroy every monument, every memorial of their first father. What would Cæsar, Antony, Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Marcellus, or Metellus have thought, if a poor Jew, while selling them balm, had said, “We all descend from one father, named Adam.” All the Roman senate would have cried, “Show us our genealogical tree.” Then the Jew would have displayed his ten generations, down to the time of Noah, and the secret of the universal deluge. The senate would have asked him how many persons were in the ark to feed all the animals for ten whole months, and during the following year in which no food would be produced? The peddler would have said, “We were eight—Noah and his wife, their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and their wives. All this family descended in a right line from Adam.”
Cicero, would, doubtless, have inquired for the great monuments, the indisputable testimonies which Noah and his children had left of our common father. “After the deluge,” he would have said, “the whole world would have resounded with the names of Adam and Noah, one the father, the other the restorer of every race. These names would have been in every mouth as soon as men could speak, on every parchment as soon as they could write, on the door of every house as soon as they could build, on every temple, on every statue; and have you known so great a secret, yet concealed it from us?” The Jew would have answered: “It is because we are pure and you are impure.” The Roman senate would have laughed and the Jew would have been whipped; so much are men attached to their prejudices!
The pious Madame de Bourignon was sure that Adam was an hermaphrodite, like the first men of the divine Plato. God had revealed a great secret to her; but as I have not had the same revelation, I shall say nothing of the matter.
The Jewish rabbis have read Adam’s books, and know the names of his preceptor and his second wife; but as I have not read our first parent’s books, I shall remain silent. Some acute and very learned persons are quite astonished when they read the “Veidam” of the ancient Brahmins, to find that the first man was created in India, and called Adimo, which signifies the begetter, and his wife, Procriti, signifying life. They say the sect of the Brahmins is incontestably more ancient than that of the Jews; that it was not until a late period that the Jews could write in the Canaanitish language, since it was not until late that they established themselves in the little country of Canaan. They say the Indians were always inventors, and the Jews always imitators; the Indians always ingenious, and the Jews always rude. They say it is difficult to believe that Adam, who was fair and had hair on his head, was father to the negroes, who are entirely black, and have black wool. What, indeed, do they not say? As for me, I say nothing; I leave these researches to the Reverend Father Berruyer of the Society of Jesus. He is the most perfect Innocent I have ever known; the book has been burned, as that of a man who wished to turn the Bible into ridicule; but I am quite sure he had no such wicked end in view.
The age for inquiring seriously whether or not knowledge was infused into Adam had passed by; those who so long agitated the question had no knowledge, either infused or acquired. It is as difficult to know at what time the Book of Genesis, which speaks of Adam, was written, as it is to know the date of the “Veidam,” of the “Sanskrit,” or any other of the ancient Asiatic books. It is important to remark that the Jews were not permitted to read the first chapter of Genesis before they were twenty-five years old. Many rabbis have regarded the formation of Adam and Eve and their adventure as an allegory. Every celebrated nation of antiquity has imagined some similar one; and, by a singular concurrence, which marks the weakness of our nature, all have endeavored to explain the origin of moral and physical evil by ideas nearly alike. The Chaldæans, the Indians, the Persians and the Egyptians have accounted, in similar ways, for that mixture of good and evil which seems to be a necessary appendage to our globe. The Jews, who went out of Egypt, rude as they were, had heard of the allegorical philosophy of the Egyptians. With the little knowledge thus acquired, they afterwards mixed that which they received from the Phœnicians and from the Babylonians during their long slavery. But as it is natural and very common for a rude nation to imitate rudely the conceptions of a polished people, it is not surprising that the Jews imagined a woman formed from the side of a man, the spirit of life breathed from the mouth of God on the face of Adam—the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile and the Oxus, having all the same source in a garden, and the forbidden fruit, which brought death into the world, as well as physical and moral evil. Full of the idea which prevailed among the ancients, that the serpent was a very cunning animal, they had no great difficulty in endowing it with understanding and speech.
This people, who then inhabited only a small corner of the earth, which they believed to be long, narrow and flat, could easily believe that all men came from Adam. They did not even know that the negroes, with a conformation different from their own, inhabited immense regions; still less could they have any idea of America.
It is, however, very strange that the Jewish people were permitted to read the books of Exodus, where there are so many miracles that shock reason, yet were not permitted to read before the age of twenty-five the first chapter of Genesis, in which all is necessarily a miracle, since the creation is the subject. Perhaps it was because God, after creating the man and woman in the first chapter, makes them again in another, and it was thought expedient to keep this appearance of contradiction from the eyes of youth. Perhaps it is because it is said that God made man in his own image, and this expression gave the Jews too corporeal an idea of God. Perhaps it was because it is said that God took a rib from Adam’s side to form the woman, and the young and inconsiderate, feeling their sides, and finding the right number of ribs, might have suspected the author of some infidelity. Perhaps it was because God, who always took a walk at noon in the garden of Eden, laughed at Adam after his fall, and this tone of ridicule might tend to give youth too great a taste for pleasantry. In short, every line of this chapter furnishes very plausible reasons for interdicting the reading of it; but such being the case, one cannot clearly see how it was that the other chapters were permitted. It is, besides, surprising that the Jews were not to read this chapter until they were twenty-five. One would think that it should first have been proposed to childhood, which receives everything without examination, rather than to youth, whose pride is to judge and to laugh. On the other hand, the Jews of twenty-five years of age, having their judgments prepared and strengthened, might be more fitted to receive this chapter than inexperienced minds. We shall say nothing here of Adam’s second wife, named Lillah, whom the ancient rabbis have given him. It must be confessed that we know very few anecdotes of our family.
Is it not a great fault in some modern languages that the same word that is used in addressing the Supreme Being is also used in addressing a mistress? We not infrequently go from hearing a sermon, in which the preacher has talked of nothing but adoring God in spirit and in truth, to the opera, where nothing is to be heard but the charming object of my adoration, etc.
The Greeks and Romans, at least, did not fall into this extravagant profanation. Horace does not say that he adores Lalage; Tibullus does not adore Delia; nor is even the term adoration to be found in Petronius. If anything can excuse this indecency, it is the frequent mention which is made in our operas and songs of the gods of ancient fable. Poets have said that their mistresses were more adorable than these false divinities; for which no one could blame them. We have insensibly become familiarized with this mode of expression, until at last, without any perception of the folly, the God of the universe is addressed in the same terms as an opera singer.
But to return to the important part of our subject: There is no civilized nation which does not render public adoration to God. It is true that neither in Asia nor in Africa is any person forced to the mosque or temple of the place; each one goes of his own accord. This custom of assembling should tend to unite the minds of men and render them more gentle in society; yet have they been seen raging against each other, even in the consecrated abode of peace. The temple of Jerusalem was deluged with blood by zealots who murdered their brethren, and our churches have more than once been defiled by carnage.
In the article on “China” it will be seen that the emperor is the chief pontiff, and that the worship is august and simple. There are other countries in which it is simple without any magnificence, as among the reformers of Europe and in British America. In others wax tapers must be lighted at noon, although in the primitive ages they were held in abomination. A convent of nuns, if deprived of their tapers, would cry out that the light of the faith was extinguished and the world would shortly be at an end. The Church of England holds a middle course between the pompous ceremonies of the Church of Rome and the plainness of the Calvinists.
Throughout the East, songs, dances and torches formed part of the ceremonies essential in all sacred feasts. No sacerdotal institution existed among the Greeks without songs and dances. The Hebrews borrowed this custom from their neighbors; for David sang and danced before the ark.
St. Matthew speaks of a canticle sung by Jesus Christ Himself and by His apostles after their Passover. This canticle, which is not admitted into the authorized books, is to be found in fragments in the 237th letter of St. Augustine to Bishop Chretius; and, whatever disputes there may have been about its authenticity, it is certain that singing was employed in all religious ceremonies. Mahomet found this a settled mode of worship among the Arabs; it is also established in India, but does not appear to be in use among the lettered men of China. The ceremonies of all places have some resemblance and some difference; but God is worshipped throughout the earth. Woe, assuredly, unto those who do not adore Him as we do! whether erring in their tenets or in their rites. They sit in the shadow of death; but the greater their misfortune the more are they to be pitied and supported.
It is indeed a great consolation for us that the Mahometans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Tartars, all adore one only God; for so far they are our kindred. Their fatal ignorance of our sacred mysteries can only inspire us with tender compassion for our wandering brethren. Far from us be all spirit of persecution which would only serve to render them irreconcilable.
One only God being adored throughout the known world, shall those who acknowledge Him as their Father never cease to present to Him the revolting spectacle of His children detesting, anathematizing, persecuting and massacring one another by way of argument?
It is hard to determine precisely what the Greeks and Romans understood by adoring, or whether they adored fauns, sylvans, dryads and naiads as they adored the twelve superior gods. It is not likely that Adrian’s minion, Antinous, was adored by the Egyptians of later times with the same worship which they paid to Serapis; and it is sufficiently proved that the ancient Egyptians did not adore onions and crocodiles as they did Isis and Osiris. Ambiguity abounds everywhere and confounds everything; we are obliged at every word to exclaim, What do you mean? we must constantly repeat—Define your terms.
Is it quite true that Simon, called the Magician, was adored among the Romans? It is not more true that he was utterly unknown to them. St. Justin in his “Apology,” which was as little known at Rome as Simon, tells us that this God had a statue erected on the Tiber, or rather near the Tiber, between the two bridges, with this inscription: Simoni deo sancto. St. Irenæus and Tertullian attest the same thing; but to whom do they attest it? To people who had never seen Rome—to Africans, to Allobroges, to Syrians, and to some of the inhabitants of Sichem. They had certainly not seen this statue, the real inscription on which was Semo sanco deo fidio, and not Simoni deo sancto. They should at least have consulted Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who gives this inscription in his fourth book. Semo sanco was an old Sabine word, signifying half god and half man; we find in Livy, Bona Semoni sanco censuerunt consecranda. This god was one of the most ancient in Roman worship, having been consecrated by Tarquin the Proud, and was considered as the god of alliances and good faith. It was the custom to sacrifice an ox to him, and to write any treaty made with a neighboring people upon the skin. He had a temple near that of Quirinus; offerings were sometimes presented to him under the name of Semo the father, and sometimes under that of Sancus fidius, whence Ovid says in his “Fasti”:
Such was the Roman divinity which for so many ages was taken for Simon the Magician. St. Cyril of Jerusalem had no doubts on the subject, and St. Augustine in his first book of “Heresies” tells us that Simon the Magician himself procured the erection of this statue, together with that of his Helena, by order of the emperor and senate.
This strange fable, the falsehood of which might so easily have been discovered, was constantly connected with another fable, which relates that Simon and St. Peter both appeared before Nero and challenged each other which of them should soonest bring to life the corpse of a near relative of Nero’s, and also raise himself highest in the air; that Simon caused himself to be carried up by devils in a fiery chariot; that St. Peter and St. Paul brought him down by their prayers; that he broke his legs and in consequence died, and that Nero, being enraged, put both St. Peter and St. Paul to death.
Abdias, Marcellinus and Hegisippus have each related this story, with a little difference in the details. Arnobius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Sulpicius Severus, Philaster, St. Epiphanius, Isidorus of Damietta, Maximus of Turin, and several other authors successively gave currency to this error, and it was generally adopted, until at length there was found at Rome a statue of Semo sancus deus fidius, and the learned Father Mabillon dug up an ancient monument with the inscription Semoni sanco deo fidio.
It is nevertheless certain that there was a Simon, whom the Jews believed to be a magician, as it is certain that there was an Apollonius of Tyana. It is also true that this Simon, who was born in the little country of Samaria, gathered together some vagabonds, whom he persuaded that he was one sent by God; he baptized, indeed, as well as the apostles, and raised altar against altar.
The Jews of Samaria, always hostile to those of Jerusalem, ventured to oppose this Simon to Jesus Christ, acknowledged by the apostles and disciples, all of whom were of the tribe of Benjamin or that of Judah. He baptized like them, but to the baptism of water he added fire, saying that he had been foretold by John the Baptist in these words: “He that cometh after me is mightier than I; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
Simon lighted a lambent flame over the baptismal font with naphtha from the Asphaltic Lake. His party was very strong, but it is very doubtful whether his disciples adored him; St. Justin is the only one who believes it.
Menander, like Simon, said he was sent by God to be the savior of men. All the false Messiahs, Barcochebas especially, called themselves sent by God; but not even Barcochebas demanded to be adored. Men are not often erected into divinities while they live, unless, indeed, they be Alexanders or Roman emperors, who expressly order their slaves so to do. But this is not, strictly speaking, adoration; it is an extraordinary homage, an anticipated apotheosis, a flattery as ridiculous as those which are lavished on Octavius by Virgil and Horace.
We are not indebted for this expression to the Greeks; they called adultery moicheia, from which came the Latin mœchus, which we have not adopted. We owe it neither to the Syriac tongue nor to the Hebrew, a jargon of the Syriac, in which adultery is called niuph. In Latin adulteratio signified alteration—adulteration, one thing put for another—a counterfeit, as false keys, false bargains, false signatures; thus he who took possession of another’s bed was called adulter.
In a similar way, by antiphrasis, the name of coccyx, a cuckoo, was given to the poor husband into whose nest a stranger intruded. Pliny, the naturalist, says: “Coccyx ova subdit in nidis alienis; ita plerique alienas uxores faciunt matres”—“the cuckoo deposits its eggs in the nest of other birds; so the Romans not unfrequently made mothers of the wives of their friends.” The comparison is not over just. Coccyx signifying a cuckoo, we have made it cuckold. What a number of things do we owe to the Romans! But as the sense of all words is subject to change, the term applied to cuckold, which, according to good grammar, should be the gallant, is appropriated to the husband. Some of the learned assert that it is to the Greeks we owe the emblem of the horns, and that they bestowed the appellation of goat upon a husband the disposition of whose wife resembled that of a female of the same species. Indeed, they used the epithet son of a goat in the same way as the modern vulgar do an appellation which is much more literal.
These vile terms are no longer made use of in good company. Even the word adultery is never pronounced. We do not now say, “Madame la Duchesse lives in adultery with Monsieur le Chevalier—Madame la Marquise has a criminal intimacy with Monsieur l’Abbé;” but we say, “Monsieur l’Abbé is this week the lover of Madame la Marquise.” When ladies talk of their adulteries to their female friends, they say, “I confess I have some inclination for him.” They used formerly to confess that they felt some esteem, but since the time when a certain citizen’s wife accused herself to her confessor of having esteem for a counsellor, and the confessor inquired as to the number of proofs of esteem afforded, ladies of quality have esteemed no one and gone but little to confession.
The women of Lacedæmon, we are told, knew neither confession nor adultery. It is true that Menelaus had experienced the intractability of Helen, but Lycurgus set all right by making the women common, when the husbands were willing to lend them and the wives consented. Every one might dispose of his own. In this case a husband had not to apprehend that he should foster in his house the offspring of a stranger; all children belonged to the republic, and not to any particular family, so that no one was injured. Adultery is an evil only inasmuch as it is a theft; but we do not steal that which is given to us. The Lacedæmonians, therefore, had good reason for saying that adultery was impossible among them. It is otherwise in our modern nations, where every law is founded on the principle of meum and tuum.
It is the greatest wrong, the greatest injury, to give a poor fellow children which do not belong to him and lay upon him a burden which he ought not to bear. Races of heroes have thus been utterly bastardized. The wives of the Astolphos and the Jocondas, through a depraved appetite, a momentary weakness, have become pregnant by some deformed dwarf—some little page, devoid alike of heart and mind, and both the bodies and souls of the offspring have borne testimony to the fact. In some countries of Europe the heirs to the greatest names are little insignificant apes, who have in their halls the portraits of their pretended fathers, six feet high, handsome, well-made, and carrying a broadsword which their successors of the present day would scarcely be able to lift. Important offices are thus held by men who have no right to them, and whose hearts, heads, and arms are unequal to the burden.
In some provinces of Europe the girls make love, without their afterwards becoming less prudent wives. In France it is quite the contrary; the girls are shut up in convents, where, hitherto, they have received a most ridiculous education. Their mothers, in order to console them, teach them to look for liberty in marriage. Scarcely have they lived a year with their husbands when they become impatient to ascertain the force of their attractions. A young wife neither sits, nor eats, nor walks, nor goes to the play, but in company with women who have each their regular intrigue. If she has not her lover like the rest, she is to be unpaired; and ashamed of being so, she is afraid to show herself.
The Orientals proceed quite in another way. Girls are brought to them and warranted virgins on the words of a Circassian. They marry them and shut them up as a measure of precaution, as we shut up our maids. No jokes there upon ladies and their husbands! no songs!—nothing resembling our quodlibets about horns and cuckoldom! We pity the great ladies of Turkey, Persia and India; but they are a thousand times happier in their seraglios than our young women in their convents.
It sometimes happens among us that a dissatisfied husband, not choosing to institute a criminal process against his wife for adultery, which would subject him to the imputation of barbarity, contents himself with obtaining a separation of person and property. And here we must insert an abstract of a memorial, drawn up by a good man who finds himself in this situation. These are his complaints; are they just or not?—
A memorial, written by a magistrate, about the year 1764.
A principal magistrate of a town in France is so unfortunate as to have a wife who was debauched by a priest before her marriage, and has since brought herself to public shame; he has, however, contented himself with a private separation. This man, who is forty years old, healthy, and of a pleasing figure, has need of woman’s society. He is too scrupulous to seek to seduce the wife of another; he even fears to contract an illicit intimacy with a maid or a widow. In this state of sorrow and perplexity he addresses the following complaints to the Church, of which he is a member:
“My wife is criminal, and I suffer the punishment. A woman is necessary to the comfort of my life—nay, even to the preservation of my virtue; yet she is refused me by the Church, which forbids me to marry an honest woman. The civil law of the present day, which is, unhappily, founded on the canon law, deprives me of the rights of humanity. The Church compels me to seek either pleasures which it reprobates, or shameful consolations which it condemns; it forces me to be criminal.
“If I look round among the nations of the earth, I see no religion except the Roman Catholic which does not recognize divorce and second marriage as a natural right. What inversion of order, then, has made it a virtue in Catholics to suffer adultery and a duty to live without wives when their wives have thus shamefully injured them? Why is a cankered tie indissoluble, notwithstanding the great maxim adopted by the code, Quicquid ligatur dissolubile est? A separation of person and property is granted me, but not a divorce. The law takes from me my wife, and leaves me the word sacrament! I no longer enjoy matrimony, but still I am married! What contradiction! What slavery!
“Nor is it less strange that this law of the Church is directly contrary to the words which it believes to have been pronounced by Jesus Christ: ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.’
“I have no wish here to inquire whether the pontiffs of Rome have a right to violate at pleasure the law of Him whom they regard as their Master; whether when a kingdom wants an heir, it is allowable to repudiate the woman who is incapable of giving one; nor whether a turbulent wife, one attacked by lunacy, or one guilty of murder, should not be divorced as well as an adulteress; I confine myself to what concerns my own sad situation. God permits me to marry again, but the bishop of Rome forbids me.
“Divorce was customary among Catholics under all the emperors, as well as in all the disjointed members of the Roman Empire. Almost all those kings of France who are called of the first race, repudiated their wives and took fresh ones. At length came one Gregory IX., an enemy to emperors and kings, who, by a decree, made the bonds of marriage indissoluble; and his decretal became the law of Europe. Hence, when a king wished to repudiate an adulterous wife, according to the law of Jesus Christ, he could not do so without seeking some ridiculous pretext. St. Louis was obliged, in order to effect his unfortunate divorce from Eleanora of Guienne, to allege a relationship which did not exist; and Henry IV., to repudiate Margaret of Valois, brought forward a still more unfounded pretence—a want of consent. Thus a lawful divorce was to be obtained by falsehood.
“What! may a sovereign abdicate his crown, and shall he not without the pope’s permission abdicate his faithless wife? And is it possible that men, enlightened in other things, have so long submitted to this absurd and abject slavery?
“Let our priests and our monks abstain from women, if it must be so; they have my consent. It is detrimental to the progress of population and a misfortune for them; but they deserve that misfortune which they have contrived for themselves. They are the victims of the popes, who in them wish to possess slaves—soldiers without family or country, living for the Church; but I, a magistrate, who serve the state the whole day long, have occasion for a woman at night; and the Church has no right to deprive me of a possession allowed me by the Deity. The apostles were married, Joseph was married, and I wish to be married. If I, an Alsatian, am dependent on a priest who lives at Rome and has the barbarous power to deprive me of a wife, he may as well make me a eunuch to sing Miserere in his chapel.”
A Plea for Wives.
Equity requires that, after giving this memorial in favor of husbands, we should also lay before the public the plea on behalf of wives, presented to the junta of Portugal, by one Countess D’Arcira. It is in substance as follows:
“The gospel has forbidden adultery to my husband as well as to me; we shall be damned alike; nothing is more certain. Although he has been guilty of fifty infidelities—though he has given my necklace to one of my rivals, and my earrings to another, I have not called upon the judges to order his head to be shaved, himself to be shut up with monks, and his property to be given to me; yet I, for having but once imitated him—for having done that with the handsomest young man in Lisbon, which he is allowed to do every day with the homeliest and most stupid creatures of the court and the city, must be placed on a stool to answer the questions of a set of licentiates, every one of whom would be at my feet were he alone with me in my closet; must have the finest hair in the world cut from my head; be confined with nuns who have not common sense; be deprived of my portion and marriage settlement, and see my property given to my fool of a husband to assist him in seducing other women and committing fresh adulteries. I ask if the thing is just? if it is not evident that the cuckolds are the lawmakers?
“The answer to my complaint is that I am but too fortunate in not being stoned at the city gate by the canons and the people, as was the custom with the first nation of the earth—the cherished nation—the chosen people—the only one which was right when all others were wrong.
“To these barbarians I reply that when the poor woman, taken in adultery, was presented to her accusers by the Master of the Old and of the New Law, he did not order her to be stoned; on the contrary, he reproached their injustice, tracing on the sand with his finger the old Hebrew proverb: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ All then retired, the oldest being the first to depart, since the greater their age the more adulteries they had committed.
“The doctors of the canon law tell me that this story of the woman taken in adultery is related only in the Gospel of St. John, and that there it is nothing more than an interpolation; that Leontius and Maldonat affirm that it is to be found in but one ancient Greek copy; that not one of the first twenty-three commentators has spoken of it; that neither Origen nor St. Jerome, nor St. John Chrysostom, nor Theophylact, nor Nonnus, knew anything of it; and that it is not in the Syriac Bible, nor in the version of Ulphilas.
“Such are the arguments advanced by my husband’s advocates, who would not only shave my head, but stone me also. However, those who plead for me say that Ammonius, a writer of the third century, acknowledges the truth of this story, and that St. Jerome, while he rejects it in some passages, adopts it in others; in short, that it is now authenticated. Here I hold, and say to my husband: ‘If you are without sin shave my head, confine me, take my property; but if you have committed more sins than I have, it is I who must shave you, have you confined and seize your possessions. In both cases the justice is the same.’
“My husband replies that he is my superior and my head; that he is taller than I by more than an inch; that he is as rough as a bear; and that, consequently, I owe him everything and he owes me nothing. But I ask if Queen Anne, of England, is not the head of her husband? if the Prince of Denmark, who is her high admiral, does not owe her an entire obedience? and if she would not have him condemned by the House of Peers should the little man prove unfaithful? It is clear that, if women have not their husbands punished, it is when they are not the strongest.”
Conclusion of the Chapter on Adultery.
In order to obtain an equitable verdict in an action for adultery, the jury should be composed of twelve men and twelve women, with an hermaphrodite to give the casting vote in the event of necessity. But singular cases may exist wherein raillery is inapplicable, and of which it is not for us to judge. Such is the adventure related by St. Augustine in his sermon on Christ’s preaching on the Mount.
Septimius Acyndicus, proconsul of Syria, caused a Christian of Antioch who was unable to pay the treasury a pound of gold (the amount to which he was taxed), to be thrown into prison and threatened with death. A wealthy man promised the unfortunate prisoner’s wife to furnish her with the pound if she would consent to his desires. The wife hastened to inform her husband, who begged that she would save his life at the expense of his rights, which he was willing to give up. She obeyed, but the man who owed her the gold deceived her by giving her a sackful of earth. The husband, being still unable to pay the tax, was about to be led to the scaffold, but this infamous transaction having come to the ears of the proconsul he paid the pound of gold from his own coffers and gave to the Christian couple the estate from which the sackful of earth had been taken.
It is certain that far from injuring her husband the wife, in this instance, acted conformably to his will, not only obeying him, but also saving his life. St. Augustine does not venture to decide on the guilt or virtue of this action; he is afraid to condemn it.
It is, in my opinion, very singular that Bayle should pretend to be more severe than St. Augustine. He boldly condemns the poor woman. This would be inconceivable did we not know how much almost every writer has suffered his pen to belie his heart—with what facility his own feelings have been sacrificed to the fear of enraging some evil-disposed pedant—in a word, how inconsistent he has been with himself.
A Father’s Reflection.
A word on the contradictory education which we bestow upon our daughters. We inculcate an immoderate desire of pleasing; we dictate when nature does enough without us, and add to her lessons every refinement of art. When they are perfectly trained we punish them if they put in practice the very arts which we have been so anxious to teach! What should we think of a dancing master who, having taught a pupil for ten years, would break his leg because he had found him dancing with other people?
Might not this paragraph be added to the chapter of contradictions?
AFFIRMATION OR OATH.
We shall not say anything of the affirmations so frequently made use of by the learned. To affirm, to decide, is permissible only in geometry. In everything else let us imitate the Doctor Metaphrastes of Molière—it may be so; the thing is feasible; it is not impossible; we shall see. Let us adopt Rabelais’ perhaps, Montaigne’s what know I? the Roman non liquet, or the doubt of the Athenian academy: but only in profane matters, be it understood, for in sacred things, we are well aware that doubting is not permitted.
The primitives, in England called Quakers, are allowed to give testimony in a court of justice on their simple affirmation, without taking an oath. The peers of the realm have the same privilege—the lay peers affirming on their honor, and the bishops laying their hands on their hearts. The Quakers obtained it in the reign of Charles II., and are the only sect in Europe so honored.
The Lord Chancellor Cowper wished to compel the Quakers to swear like other citizens. He who was then at their head said to him gravely: “Friend Chancellor, thou oughtest to know that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ hath forbidden us to affirm otherwise than by yea or nay, he hath expressly said: I forbid thee to swear by heaven, because it is the throne of God; by the earth, because it is his footstool; by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the King of kings; or by thy head, because thou canst not change the color of a single hair. This, friend, is positive, and we will not disobey God to please thee and thy parliament.” “It is impossible to argue better,” replied the Chancellor; “but be it known to thee that Jupiter one day ordered all beasts of burden to get shod: horses, mules, and even camels, instantly obeyed, the asses alone resisted; they made so many representations, and brayed so long that Jupiter, who was good-natured, at last said to them, ‘Asses, I grant your prayer; you shall not be shod; but the first slip you make you shall have a most sound cudgelling.’ ”
It must be granted that, hitherto, the Quakers have made no slips.
AGAR, OR HAGAR.
When a man puts away his mistress—his friend—the partner of his bed, he must either make her condition tolerably comfortable or be regarded among us as a man of bad heart.
We are told that Abraham was very rich in the desert of Gerar, although he did not possess an inch of land. However, we know with the greatest certainty that he defeated the armies of four great kings with three hundred and eighteen shepherds.
He should, then, at least have given a small flock to his mistress Agar, when he sent her away in the desert. I speak always according to worldly notions, always reverencing those incomprehensible ways which are not our ways.
I would have given my old companion Agar a few sheep, a few goats, a few suits of clothes for herself and our son Ishmael, a good she-ass for the mother and a pretty foal for the child, a camel to carry their baggage, and at least two men to attend them and prevent them from being devoured by wolves.
But when the Father of the Faithful exposed his poor mistress and her child in the desert he gave them only a loaf and a pitcher of water. Some impious persons have asserted that Abraham was not a very tender father—that he wished to make his bastard son die of hunger, and to cut his legitimate son’s throat! But again let it be remembered that these ways were not our ways.
It is said that poor Agar went away into the desert of Beer-sheba. There was no desert of Beer-sheba; this name was not known until long after; but this is a mere trifle; the foundation of the story is not the less authentic. It is true that the posterity of Agar’s son Ishmael took ample revenge on the posterity of Sarah’s son Isaac, in favor of whom he had been cast out. The Saracens, descending in a right line from Ishmael, made themselves masters of Jerusalem, which belonged by right of conquest to the posterity of Isaac. I would have made the Saracens descend from Sarah; the etymology would then have been neater.
It has been asserted that the word Saracen comes from sarac, a robber. I do not believe any people have ever called themselves robbers; nearly all have been robbers, but it is not usual for them to take the title. Saracen descending from Sarah, appears to me to sound better.
The emphatic al places the alchemist as much above the ordinary chemist as the gold which he obtains is superior to other metals. Germany still swarms with people who seek the philosopher’s stone, as the water of immortality has been sought in China, and the fountain of youth in Europe. In France some have been known to ruin themselves in this pursuit.
The number of those who have believed in transmutations is prodigious, and the number of cheats has been in proportion to that of the credulous. At Paris we have seen Signor Dammi, Marquis of Conventiglio, obtain some hundred louis from several of the nobility that he might make them gold to the amount of two or three crowns. The best trick that has ever been performed in alchemy was that of a Rosicrucian, who, in 1620, went to Henry, Duke of Bouillon, of the house of Turenne, Sovereign Prince of Sedan, and addressed him as follows:
“You have not a sovereignty proportioned to your great courage, but I will make you richer than the emperor. I cannot remain for more than two days in your states, having to go to Venice to hold the grand assembly of the brethren; I only charge you to keep the secret. Send to the first apothecary of your town for some litharge; throw into it one grain of the red powder which I will give you, put the whole into a crucible and in a quarter of an hour you will have gold.”
The prince performed the operation, and repeated it three times, in presence of the virtuoso. This man had previously bought up all the litharge from the apothecaries of Sedan and got it resold after mixing it with a few ounces of gold. The adept, on taking leave, made the Duke of Bouillon a present of all his transmuting powder.
The prince, having made three ounces of gold with three grains, doubted not that with three hundred thousand grains he should make three hundred thousand ounces, and that he should in a week possess eighteen thousand, seven hundred and fifty pounds of gold, besides what he should afterwards make. It took at least three months to make this powder. The philosopher was in haste to depart; he was without anything, having given all to the prince, and wanted some ready money in order to hold the states-general of hermetic philosophy. He was a man very moderate in his desires, and asked only twenty thousand crowns for the expenses of his journey. The duke, ashamed to give so small a sum, presented him with forty thousand. When he had consumed all the litharge in Sedan he made no more gold, nor ever more saw his philosopher or his forty thousand crowns.
All pretended alchemic transmutations have been performed nearly in the same manner. To change one natural production into another, for example, iron into silver, is a rather difficult operation, since it requires two things a little above our power—the annihilation of the iron and creation of the silver.
We must not, however, reject all discoveries of secrets and all new inventions. It is with them as with theatrical pieces, there may be one good out of a thousand.
This book governs with despotic sway the whole of northern Africa, from Mount Atlas to the desert of Barca, the whole of Egypt, the coasts of the Ethiopian Sea to the extent of six hundred leagues, Syria, Asia Minor, all the countries round the Black and the Caspian seas (excepting the kingdom of Astrakhan), the whole empire of Hindostan, all Persia, a great part of Tartary; and in Europe, Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Servia, Bosnia, Greece, Epirus, and nearly all the islands as far as the little strait of Otranto, which terminates these possessions.
In this prodigious extent of country there is not a single Mahometan who has the happiness of reading our sacred books; and very few of our literati are acquainted with the Koran, of which we always form a ridiculous idea, notwithstanding the researches of our really learned men.
The first lines of this book are as follows: “Praise to God, the sovereign of all worlds, to the God of mercy, the sovereign of the day of justice? Thee we adore! to Thee only do we look for protection. Lead us in the right way—in the way of those whom Thou hast loaded with Thy graces, and not in the way of the objects of Thy wrath—of them who have gone astray.”
Such is the introduction. Then come three letters, A, L, M, which, according to the learned Sale, are not understood, for each commentator explains them in his own way; but the most common opinion is that they signify Ali, Latif, Magid—God, Grace, Glory.
God himself then speaks to Mahomet in these words: “This book admitteth not of doubt. It is for the direction of the just, who believe in the depths of the faith, who observe the times of prayer, who distribute in alms what it has pleased Me to give them, who believe in the revelation which hath descended to thee, and was delivered to the prophets before thee. Let the faithful have a firm assurance in the life to come; let them be directed by their Lord; and they shall be happy.
“As for unbelievers, it mattereth not whether thou callest them or no: they do not believe; the seal of unbelief is on their hearts and on their ears; a terrible punishment awaiteth them. There are some who say, ‘We believe in God and in the Last Day,’ but in their hearts they are unbelievers. They think to deceive the Eternal; they deceive themselves without knowing it. Infirmity is in their hearts, and God himself increaseth this infirmity,” etc.
These words are said to have incomparably more energy in Arabic. Indeed, the Koran still passes for the most elegant and most sublime book that has been written in that language. We have imputed to the Koran a great number of foolish things which it never contained. It was chiefly against the Turks, who had become Mahometans, that our monks wrote so many books, at a time when no other opposition was of much service against the conquerors of Constantinople. Our authors, much more numerous than the janissaries, had no great difficulty in ranging our women on their side; they persuaded them that Mahomet looked upon them merely as intelligent animals; that, by the laws of the Koran, they were all slaves, having no property in this world, nor any share in the paradise of the next. The falsehood of all this is evident; yet it has all been firmly believed.
It was, however, only necessary in order to discover the deception to have read the fourth sura or chapter of the Koran, in which would have been found the following laws, translated in the same manner by Du Ryer, who resided for a long time at Constantinople; by Maracci, who never went there; and by Sale, who lived twenty-five years among the Arabs:
Here, then, is sufficient to reconcile the women to Mahomet, who has not used them so hardly as he is said to have done. We do not pretend to justify either his ignorance or his imposture; but we cannot condemn his doctrine of one only God. These words of his 122d sura, “God is one, eternal, neither begetting nor begotten; no one is like to Him;” these words had more effect than even his sword in subjugating the East.
Still his Koran is a collection of ridiculous revelations and vague and incoherent predictions, combined with laws that were very good for the country in which he lived, and all which continue to be followed, without having been changed or weakened, either by Mahometan interpreters or by new decrees. The poets of Mecca were hostile to Mahomet, but above all the doctors. These raised the magistracy against him, and a warrant was issued for his apprehension as only duly accused and convicted of having said that God must be adored, and not the stars. This, it is known, was the source of his greatness. When it was seen that he could not be put down, and that his writings were becoming popular, it was given out in the city that he was not the author of them, or that at least he was assisted in their composition by a learned Jew, and sometimes by a learned Christian—supposing that there were at that time learned Jews and learned Christians.
So, in our days, more than one prelate has been reproached with having set monks to compose his sermons and funeral orations. There was one Father Hercules (Père Hercule) who made sermons for a certain bishop, and when people went to hear him preach, they used to say, “Let us go and hear the labors of Hercules.”
To this charge Mahomet gives an answer in his 16th chapter, occasioned by a gross blunder he had made in the pulpit, about which a great deal had been said. He gets out of the scrape thus: “When thou readest the Koran, address thyself to God, that He may preserve thee from the machinations of Satan. He has power only over those who have chosen Him for their Master, and who give associates unto God.
“When I substitute one verse for another in the Koran (the reason for which changes is known to God) some unbelievers cry out, ‘Thou hast forged those verses’; but they know not how to distinguish truth from falsehood. Say rather that the Holy Spirit brought those verses of truth to me from God. Others say, still more malignantly, There is a certain man who labors with him in composing the Koran. But how can this man, to whom they attribute my works, have taught me, speaking as he does, a foreign language, while the Koran is written in the purest Arabic?”
He who, it was pretended, assisted Mahomet, was a Jew named Bensalen or Bensalon. It is not very likely that a Jew should have lent his assistance to Mahomet in writing against the Jews; yet the thing is not impossible. The monk who was said to have contributed to the Koran was by some called Bohaira, by others Sergius. There is something pleasant in this monk’s having had both a Latin and an Arabic name. As for the fine theological disputes which have arisen among the Mussulmans, I have no concern with them; I leave them to the decision of the mufti.
In “The Triumph of the Cross” (“Le Triomphe de la Croix”) the Koran is said to be Arian, Sabellian, Carpocratian, Cardonician, Manichæan, Donatistic, Origenian, Macedonian, and Ebionitish. Mahomet, however, was nothing of all this; he was rather a Jansenist, for the foundation of his doctrine is the absolute degree of gratuitous predestination.
This Mahomet, son of Abdallah, was a bold and sublime charlatan. He says in his tenth chapter, “Who but God can have composed the Koran? Mahomet, you say, has forged this book. Well; try then to write one chapter resembling it and call to your aid whomsoever you please.” In the seventeenth he exclaims, “Praise be to Him who in one night transported His servant from the sacred temple of Mecca to that of Jerusalem!”
This was a very fine journey, but nothing like that which he took the very same night from planet to planet. He pretended that it was five hundred years’ journey from one to another, and that he cleft the moon in twain. His disciples who, after his death, collected, in a solemn manner, the verses of this Koran, suppressed this celestial journey, for they dreaded raillery and philosophy. After all, they had too much delicacy; they might have trusted to the commentators, who would have found no difficulty whatever in explaining the itinerary. Mahomet’s friends should have known by experience that the marvellous is the reason of the multitude; the wise contradict in silence, which the multitude prevent them from breaking. But while the itinerary of the planets was suppressed, a few words were retained about the adventure of the moon. One cannot be always on one’s guard.
The Koran is a rhapsody, without connection, without order, and without art. This tedious book is, nevertheless, said to be a very fine production, at least by the Arabs, who assert that it is written with an elegance and purity that no later work has equalled. It is a poem, or sort of rhymed prose, consisting of three thousand verses. No poem ever advanced the fortune of its author so much as the Koran. It was disputed among the Mussulmans whether it was eternal or God had created it in order to dictate it to Mahomet. The doctors decided that it was eternal, and they were right; this eternity is a much finer opinion than the other, for with the vulgar we must always adopt that which is the most incredible.
The monks who have attacked Mahomet, and said so many silly things about him, have asserted that he could not write. But how can we imagine that a man who had been a merchant, a poet, a legislator, and a sovereign, did not know how to sign his name? If his book is bad for our times and for us, it was very good for his contemporaries, and his religion was still better. It must be acknowledged that he reclaimed nearly the whole of Asia from idolatry. He taught the unity of God, and forcibly declaimed against all those who gave him associates. He forbade usury with foreigners, and commanded the giving of alms. With him prayer was a thing of absolute necessity, and resignation to the eternal decrees the primum mobile of all. A religion so simple and so wise, taught by one who was constantly victorious, could hardly fail to subjugate a portion of the earth. Indeed the Mussulmans have made as many proselytes by their creed as by their swords; they have converted the Indians and the negroes to their religion; even the Turks, who conquered them, submitted to Islamism.
Mahomet allowed many things to remain in his law which he had found established among the Arabs—as circumcision, fasting, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which was instituted four thousand years before his time; ablutions, so necessary to health and cleanliness in a burning country, where linen was unknown; and the idea of a last judgment, which the magi had always inculcated, and which had reached the inhabitants of Arabia. It is said that on his announcing that we should rise again quite naked, his wife, Aishca, expressed her opinion that the thing would be immodest and dangerous. “Do not be alarmed, my dear,” said he, “no one will then feel any inclination to laugh.” According to the Koran, an angel will weigh both men and women in a great balance; this idea, too, is taken from the magi. He also stole from them their narrow bridge which must be passed over after death; and their elysium, where the Mussulmans elect will find baths, well-furnished apartments good beds, and houris with great black eyes. He does, it is true, say that all these pleasures of the senses, so necessary to those that are to rise again with senses, will be nothing in comparison with the pleasure of contemplating the Supreme Being. He has the humility to confess that he himself will not enter paradise through his own merits, but purely by the will of God. Through this same pure Divine will he orders that a fifth part of the spoil shall always be reserved for the prophet.
It is not true that he excludes women from paradise. It is hardly likely that so able a man should have chosen to embroil himself with that half of the human race by which the other half is led. Abulfeda relates that an old lady one day importuned him to tell her what she must do to get into paradise. “My good lady,” said he, “paradise is not for old women.” The good woman began to weep, but the prophet consoled her by saying, “There will be no old women because they will become young again.” This consolatory doctrine is confirmed in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Koran.
He forbade wine because some of his followers once went intoxicated to prayers. He permitted a plurality of wives, conforming in this point to the immemorial usage of the orientals.
In short, his civil laws are good; his doctrine is admirable in all which it has in common with ours; but his means are shocking—villainy and murder!
He is excused by some, on the first of these charges, because, say they, the Arabs had a hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets before him, and there could be no great harm in the appearance of one more; men, it is added, require to be deceived. But how are we to justify a man who says, “Believe that I have conversed with the angel Gabriel, or pay me tribute!”
How superior is Confucius—the first of mortals who have not been favored with revelations! He employs neither falsehood nor the sword, but only reason. The viceroy of a great province, he causes the laws to be observed and morality to flourish; disgraced and poor, he teaches them. He practises them alike in greatness and in humiliation; he renders virtue amiable; and has for his disciples the most ancient and wisest people on the earth.
In vain does Count de Boulainvilliers, who had some respect for Mahomet, extol the Arabs. Notwithstanding all his boastings, they were a nation of banditti. They robbed before Mahomet, when they adored the stars; they robbed under Mahomet in the name of God. They had, say you, the simplicity of the heroic ages; but what were these heroic ages?—times when men cut one another’s throats for a well or a cistern, as they now do for a province?
The first Mussulmans were animated by Mahomet with the rage of enthusiasm. Nothing is more terrible than a people who, having nothing to lose, fight in the united spirit of rapine and of religion.
It is true there was not much art in their proceedings. The contract of marriage between Mahomet and his first wife expresses that, while Cadisha loves him, and he in like manner loves Cadisha, it is thought meet to join them. But is there the same simplicity in having composed a genealogy which makes him descend in a right line from Adam, as several Spanish and Scotch families have been made to descend?
The great prophet experienced the disgrace common to so many husbands, after which no one should complain. The name of him who received the favors of his second wife was Assam. The behavior of Mahomet, on this occasion, was even more lofty than that of Cæsar, who put away his wife, saying, “The wife of Cæsar ought not to be suspected.” The prophet would not suspect his. He sent to heaven for a chapter of the Koran, affirming that his wife was faithful. This chapter, like all the others, had been written from all eternity.
He is admired for having raised himself from being a camel-driver to be a pontiff, a legislator, and a monarch; for having subdued Arabia, which had never before been subjugated; for having given the first shock to the Roman Empire in the East, and to that of the Persians; and I admire him still more for having kept peace in his house among his wives. He changed the face of part of Europe, one half of Asia, and nearly all Africa; nor was his religion unlikely, at one time, to subjugate the whole earth. On how trivial a circumstance will revolutions sometimes depend! A blow from a stone, a little harder than that which he received in his first battle, might have changed the destiny of the world!
His son-in-law Ali asserted that when the prophet was about to be inhumed, he was found in a situation not very common to the dead. The words of the Roman sovereign might be well applied in this case: “Decet imperatorem stantem mori.”
Never was the life of a man written more in detail than his; the most minute particulars were regarded as sacred. We have the name and the numbers of all that belonged to him—nine swords, three lances, three bows, seven cuirasses, three bucklers, twelve wives, one white cock, seven horses, two mules, and four camels, besides the mare Borac, on which he went to heaven. But this last he had only borrowed; it was the property of the angel Gabriel.
All his sayings have been preserved. One was that the enjoyment of women made him more fervent in prayer. Besides all his other knowledge he is said to have been a great physician; so that he wanted none of the qualifications for deceiving mankind.
It is no longer allowable to speak of Alexander, except in order to say something new of him, or to destroy the fables, historical, physical, and moral, which have disfigured the history of the only great man to be found among the conquerors of Asia.
After reflecting a little on the life of Alexander, who, amid the intoxications of pleasure and conquest, built more towns than all the other conquerors of Asia destroyed—after calling to mind that, young as he was, he turned the commerce of the world into a new channel, it appears very strange that Boileau should have spoken of him as a robber and a madman. Alexander, having been elected at Corinth captain-general of Greece, and commissioned as such to avenge the invasions of the Persians, did no more than his duty in destroying their empire; and, having always united the greatest magnanimity with the greatest courage—having respected the wife and daughters of Darius when in his power, he did not in any way deserve either to be confined as a madman or hanged as a robber.
Rollin asserts that Alexander took the famous city of Tyre only to oblige the Jews, who hated the Tyrians; it is, however, quite as likely that Alexander had other reasons; for a naval commander would not leave Tyre mistress of the sea, when he was going to attack Egypt. Alexander’s friendship and respect for Jerusalem were undoubtedly great; but it should hardly be said that the Jews set a rare example of fidelity—an example worthy of the only people who, at that time, had the knowledge of the true God, in refusing to furnish Alexander with provisions because they had sworn fidelity to Darius. It is well known that the Jews took every opportunity of revolting against their sovereigns; for a Jew was not to serve a profane king. If they imprudently refused contributions to the conqueror, it was not with a view to prove themselves the faithful slaves of Darius, since their law expressly ordered them to hold all idolatrous nations in abhorrence; their books are full of execrations pronounced against them, and of reiterated attempts to throw off their yoke. If, therefore, they at first refused the contributions, it was because their rivals, the Samaritans, had paid them without hesitation, and they believed that Darius, though vanquished, was still powerful enough to support Jerusalem against Samaria.
It is wholly false that the Jews were then the only people who had the knowledge of the true God, as Rollin tells us. The Samaritans worshipped the same God, though in another temple; they had the same Pentateuch as the Jews, and they had it in Tyrian characters, which the Jews had lost. The schism between Samaria and Jerusalem was, on a small scale, what the schism between the Greek and Latin churches is on a large one. The hatred was equal on both sides, having the same foundation—religion.
Alexander, having possessed himself of Tyre by means of that famous causeway which is still the admiration of all generals, went to punish Jerusalem, which lay not far out of his way. The Jews, headed by their high priest, came and humbled themselves before him, offering him money—for angry conquerors are not to be appeased without money. Alexander was appeased, and they remained subject to Alexander and to his successors. Such is the true, as well as the only probable, history of the affair.
Rollin repeats a story told about four hundred years after Alexander’s expedition, by that romancing, exaggerating historian, Flavius Josephus, who may be pardoned for having taken every opportunity of setting off his wretched country to the best advantage. Rollin repeats, after Josephus, that Jaddus, the high-priest, having prostrated himself before Alexander, the prince, seeing the name of Jehovah engraved on a plate of gold attached to Jaddus’ cap, and understanding Hebrew perfectly, fell prostrate in his turn, and paid homage to Jaddus. This excess of civility having astonished Parmenio, Alexander told him that he had known Jaddus a long time; that he had appeared to him, in the same habit and the same cap, ten years before, when he was meditating the conquest of Asia (a conquest which he had not then even thought of); that this same Jaddus had exhorted him to cross the Hellespont, assuring him that God would march at the head of the Greeks, and that the God of the Jews would give him the victory over the Persians. This old woman’s tale makes but a sorry figure in the history of such a man as Alexander.
An ancient history well digested was an undertaking calculated to be of great service to youth; it is to be wished that it had not been in some degree marred by the adoption of some absurdities. The story of Jaddus would be entitled to our respect—it would be beyond the reach of animadversion—were even any shadow of it to be found in the sacred writings; but as they do not make the slightest mention of it, we are quite at liberty to see that it is ridiculous.
There can be no doubt that Alexander subdued that part of India which lies on this side the Ganges and was tributary to the Persians. Mr. Holwell, who lived for thirty years among the Brahmins of Benares and the neighboring countries, and who learned not only their modern language but also their ancient sacred tongue, assures us that their annals attest the invasion by Alexander, whom they call Mahadukoit Kounha—great robber, great murderer. These peaceful people could not call him otherwise; indeed, it is hardly to be supposed that they gave any other name to the kings of Persia. The same annals say that Alexander entered by the province now called Candahar, and it is probable that there were always some fortresses on that frontier.
Alexander afterwards descended the river Zombodipo, which the Greeks called Sind. In the history of Alexander there is not a single Indian name to be found. The Greeks never called an Asiatic town or province by their own name. They dealt in the same manner with the Egyptians. They would have thought it a dishonor to the Greek tongue had they introduced into it a pronunciation which they thought barbarous; if, for instance, they had not called the city of Moph Memphis.
Mr. Holwell says that the Indians never knew either Porus or Taxiles; indeed these are not Indian words. Nevertheless, if we may believe our missionaries, there are still some Indian lords who pretend to have descended from Porus. Perhaps the missionaries have flattered them with this origin until they have adopted it. There is, at least, no country in Europe in which servility has not invented and vanity received genealogies yet more chimerical.
If Flavius Josephus has related a ridiculous fable about Alexander and a Jewish pontiff, Plutarch, who wrote long after Josephus, in his turn seems not to have been sparing in fables concerning this hero. He has even outdone Quintus Curtius. Both assert that Alexander, when marching towards India, wished to have himself adored, not only by the Persians but also by the Greeks. The question is, what did Alexander, the Persians, the Greeks, Quintus Curtius, and Plutarch understand by adoring? We must never lose sight of the great rule—Define your terms.
If by adoring he meant invoking a man as a divinity—offering to him incense and sacrifices—raising to him altars and temples, it is clear that Alexander required nothing of all this. If, being the conqueror and master of the Persians, he chose that they should salute him after the Persian manner, prostrating themselves on certain occasions, treating him, in short, like what he was, a sovereign of Persia, there is nothing in this but what is very reasonable and very common. The members of the French parliament, in their beds of justice, address the king kneeling; the third estate addresses the states-general kneeling, a cup of wine is presented kneeling, to the king of England; several European sovereigns are served kneeling at their consecration. The great mogul, the emperor of China, and the emperor of Japan are always addressed kneeling. The Chinese colaos of an inferior order bend the knee before the colaos of a superior order. We adore the pope, and kiss the toe of his right foot. None of these ceremonies have ever been regarded as adoration in the strict sense of the word, or as a worship like that due to the Divinity.
Thus, all that has been said of the pretended adoration exacted by Alexander is founded on ambiguity.
Octavius, surnamed Augustus, really caused himself to be adored in the strictest sense of the word. Temples and altars were raised to him. There were priests of Augustus. Horace positively tells him:
“Jurandisque tuum par nomen ponimus aras.”
Here was truly a sacrilegious adoration; yet we are not told that it excited discontent.
The contradictions in the character of Alexander would be more difficult to reconcile did we not know that men, especially men called heroes, are often very inconsistent with themselves, and that the life or death of the best citizens, or the fate of a province, has more than once depended on the good or bad digestion of a well or ill advised sovereign.
But how are we to reconcile improbable facts related in a contradictory manner? Some say that Callisthenes was crucified by order of Alexander for not having acknowledged him to be the son of Jupiter. But the cross was not a mode of execution among the Greeks. Others say that he died long afterwards, of too great corpulency. Athenæus assures us that he was carried, like a bird, in an iron cage until he was devoured by vermin. Among all these different stories distinguish the true one if you can. Some adventures are supposed by Quintus Curtius to have happened in one town, and by Plutarch in another, the two places being five hundred leagues apart. Alexander, armed and alone, leaped from the top of a wall into a town he was besieging; according to Plutarch near the mouth of the Indus. When he arrived on the Malabar coast, or near the Ganges—no matter which, it is only nine hundred miles from the one to the other—he gave orders to seize ten of the Indian philosophers, called by the Greeks gymnosophists, who went about as naked as apes; to those he proposed ridiculous questions, promising them very seriously that he who gave the worst answers should be hanged the first, and the rest in due order. This reminds us of Nebuchadonosor, who would absolutely put his magi to death if they did not divine one of his dreams which he had forgotten; and of the Caliph of the “Thousand and One Nights,” who was to strangle his wife as soon as she had finished her story. But it is Plutarch who relates this nonsense; therefore it must be respected, for he was a Greek.
This latter story is entitled to the same credit as that of the poisoning of Alexander by Aristotle; for Plutarch tells us that somebody had heard one Agnotemis say, that he had heard Antigonus say, that Aristotle sent a bottle of water from Nonacris, a town in Arcadia, which water was so extremely cold that they who drank it instantly died; that Antipater sent this water in a horn; that it arrived at Babylon quite fresh; that Alexander drank of it; and that, at the end of six days, he died of a continued fever.
Plutarch has, it is true, some doubts respecting this anecdote. All that we can be quite certain of is that Alexander, at the age of twenty-four, had conquered Persia by three battles; that his genius was as great as his valor; that he changed the face of Asia, Greece, and Egypt, and gave a new direction to the commerce of the world; and that Boileau should have been more sparing of his ridicule, since it is not very likely that Boileau would have done more in as short a time.
More than twenty towns have borne the name of Alexandria, all built by Alexander and his captains, who became so many kings. These towns are so many monuments of glory, far superior to the statues which servility afterwards erected to power; but the only one of them which attracted the attention of the world by its greatness and its wealth was that which became the capital of Egypt. This is now but a heap of ruins; for it is well known that one half of the city has been rebuilt on another site, near the sea. The lighthouse, formerly one of the wonders of the world, has also ceased to exist.
The city was always flourishing under the Ptolemies and the Romans. It did not decline under the Arabs, nor did the Mamelukes or the Turks, who successively conquered it, together with the rest of Egypt, suffer it to go to decay. It preserved some portion of its greatness until the passage of the Cape of Good Hope opened a new route to the Indies, and once more gave a new direction to the commerce of the world, which Alexander had previously changed, and which had been changed several times before Alexander.
The Alexandrians were remarkable, under all their successive dominations, for industry united with levity; for love of novelty, accompanied by a close application to commerce, and to all the arts that make commerce flourish; and for a contentious and quarrelsome spirit, joined to cowardice, superstition, and debauchery—all which never changed. The city was peopled with Egyptians, Jews, and Turks, all of whom, though poor at first, enriched themselves by traffic. Opulence introduced the cultivation of the fine arts, with a taste for literature, and consequently for disputation.
The Jews built a magnificent temple, and translated their books into Greek, which had become the language of the country. So great were the animosities among the native Egyptians, the Greeks, the Jews, and the Christians, that they were continually accusing one another to the governor, to the no small advantage of his revenue. There were even frequent and bloody seditions, in one of which, in the reign of Caligula, the Jews, who exaggerate everything, assert that religious and commercial jealousy, united, cost them fifty thousand men, whom the Alexandrians murdered.
Christianity, which the Origens, Clements, and others had established and rendered admirable by their lives, degenerated into a mere spirit of party. The Christians adopted the manners of the Egyptians; religion yielded to the desire of gain; and all the inhabitants, divided in everything else, were unanimous only in the love of money. This it was which produced that famous letter from the Emperor Adrian to the Consul Servianus, which Vopiscus gives us as follows:
Adriani Epistola, ex Libris Phlegontis ejus prodita.
Adrianus Augustus Serviano Cos. Vo.
Ægyptum, quam mihi laudabas, Serviane carissime, totam didici, levem, pendulam, et ad omnia famæ monumenta volitantem. Illi qui Serapin colunt Christiani sunt, et devoti sunt Serapi qui se Christi episcopus dicunt. Nemo illic Archisynagogus Judæorum, nemo Semarites, nemo Christianorum presbyter, non mathematicus, non aruspex, non aliptes. Ipse ille Patriarcha, quum Ægyptum venerit, ab aliis Serapidem adorare, ab aliis cogitur Christum. Genus hominis seditiosissimum, injuriosissimum. Civitas opulenta, dives, fecunda, in qua nemo vivat otiosus. Alii vitrum constant, ab aliis charta conficitur; omnes certe lymphiones cujuscunque artis et videntur et habentur. Podagrosi quod agant habent, cæci quod faciant; ne chiragri quidem apud cos otiosi vivunt. Unus illis deus est; hunc Christiani, hunc Judæi, hunc homnes venerantur et gentes.
Which may be rendered thus:
“My dear Servian: I have seen that Egypt of which you have spoken so highly; I know it thoroughly. It is a light, uncertain, fickle nation. The worshippers of Serapis turn Christians, and they who are at the head of the religion of Christ devote themselves to Serapis. There is no chief of the rabbis, no Samaritan, no Christian priest who is not an astrologer, a diviner, a pander. When the Greek patriarch comes into Egypt, some press him to worship Serapis, others to adore Christ. They are very seditious, very vain, and very quarrelsome. The city is commercial, opulent, and populous. No one is idle. Some make glass; others manufacture paper; they seem to be, and indeed are, of all trades; not even the gout in their feet and hands can reduce them to entire inactivity; even the blind work. Money is a god which the Christians, Jews, and all men adore alike.”
This letter of an emperor, whose discernment was as great as his valor, sufficiently proves that the Christians, as well as others, had become corrupted in this abode of luxury and controversy; but the manners of the primitive Christians had not degenerated everywhere; and although they had the misfortune to be for a long time divided into different sects, which detested and accused one another, the most violent enemies of Christianity were obliged to acknowledge that the purest and the greatest souls were to be found among its proselytes. Such is the case even at the present day in cities wherein the degree of folly and frenzy exceeds that of ancient Alexandria.
The principal object of this dictionary is philosophy. It is not, therefore, as geographers that we speak of Algiers, but for the purpose of remarking that the first design of Louis XIV., when he took the reigns of government, was to deliver Christian Europe from the continual depredations of the Barbary corsairs. This project was an indication of a great mind. He wished to pursue every road to glory. It is somewhat astonishing that, with the spirit of order which he showed in his court, in his finances, and in the conduct of state affairs, he had a sort of relish for ancient chivalry, which led him to the performance of generous and brilliant actions, even approaching the romantic. It is certain that Louis inherited from his mother a deal of that Spanish gallantry, at once noble and delicate, with much of that greatness of soul—that passion for glory—that lofty pride, so conspicuous in old romances. He talked of fighting the emperor Leopold, like a knight seeking adventures. The erection of the pyramid at Rome, the assertion of his right of precedence, and the idea of having a port near Algiers to curb the pirates, were likewise of this class. To this latter attempt he was moreover excited by Pope Alexander VII., and by Cardinal Mazarin before his death. He had for some time debated with himself whether he should go on this expedition in person, like Charles the Fifth; but he had not vessels to execute so great an enterprise, whether in person or by his generals. The attempt was therefore fruitless, and it could not be otherwise.
It was, however, of service in exercising the French marine, and prepared the world to expect some of those noble and heroic actions which are out of the ordinary line of policy, such as the disinterested aid lent to the Venetians besieged in Candia, and to the Germans pressed by the Ottoman arms at St. Gothard.
The details of the African expedition are lost in the number of successful or unsuccessful wars, waged justly or unjustly, with good or bad policy. We shall merely give the following letter, which was written some years ago on the subject of the Algerine piracies:
“It is to be lamented, sire, that the proposals of the order of Malta were not acceded to, when they offered, on consideration of a moderate subsidy from each Christian power, to free the seas from the pirates of Algiers, Morocco, and Tunis. The knights of Malta would then have been truly the defenders of Christianity. The actual force of the Algerines is but two fifty-gun ships, five of about forty, and four of thirty guns; the rest are not worth mentioning.
“It is shameful to see their little barks seizing our merchant vessels every day throughout the Mediterranean. They even cruise as far as the Canaries and the Azores.
“Their soldiery, composed of a variety of nations—ancient Mauritanians, ancient Numidians, Arabs, Turks, and even negroes, set sail, almost without provisions, in tight vessels carrying from eighteen to twenty guns, and infest all our seas like vultures seeking their prey. When they see a man of war, they fly; when they see a merchant vessel they seize it. Our friends and our relatives, men and women, are made slaves; and we must humbly supplicate the barbarians to deign to receive our money for restoring to us their captives.
“Some Christian states have had the shameful prudence to treat with them, and send them arms wherewith to attack others, bargaining with them as merchants, while they negotiate as warriors.
“Nothing would be more easy than to put down these marauders; yet it is not done. But how many other useful and easy things are entirely neglected! The necessity of reducing these pirates is acknowledged in every prince’s cabinet; yet no one undertakes their reduction. When the ministers of different courts accidently talk the matter over, they do but illustrate the fable of tying the bell round the cat’s neck.
“The order of the Redemption of Captives is the finest of all monastic institutions, but it is a sad reproach to us. The kingdoms of Fez, Algiers, and Tunis have no marabous of the Redemption of Captives; because, though they take many Christians from us, we take scarcely any Mussulmans from them.
“Nevertheless, they are more attached to their religion than we are to ours; for no Turk or Arab ever turns Christian, while they have hundreds of renegadoes among them, who even serve in their expeditions. An Italian named Pelegini, was, in 1712, captain-general of the Algerine galleys. The miramolin, the bey, the dey, all have Christian females in their seraglios, but there are only two Turkish girls who have found lovers in Paris.
“The Algerine land force consists of twelve thousand regular soldiers only; but all the rest of the men are trained to arms; and it is this that renders the conquest of the country so difficult. The Vandals, however, easily subdued it; yet we dare not attack it.”
Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, travelling one day in Thrace, called on a certain king named Hyreus, who entertained them very handsomely. After eating a good dinner, they asked him if they could render him any service. The good man, who was past the age at which it is usual for men to have children, told them he should be very much obliged to them if they would make him a boy. The three gods then urinated on the skin of a new flayed ox; and from these sprang Orion, who became one of the constellations known to the most remote antiquity. This constellation was named Orion by the ancient Chaldæans; it is spoken of in the Book of Job. It would be hard to discover a rational allegory in this pretty story, unless we are to infer from it that nothing was impossible to the gods.
There were in Greece two young rakes, who were told by the oracle to beware of the melampygos or sable posteriors. One day Hercules took them and tied them by the feet to the end of his club, so that they hung down his back with their heads downward, like a couple of rabbits, having a full view of his person. “Ah!” said they; “the oracle is accomplished; this is the melampygos.” Hercules fell alaughing, and let them go. Here again it would be rather difficult to divine the moral sense.
Among the fathers of mythology there were some who had only imagination; but the greater part of them possessed understandings of no mean order. Not all our academies, not all our makers of devices, not even they who compose the legends for the counters of the royal treasury, will ever invent allegories more true, more pleasing, or more ingenious, than those of the Nine Muses, of Venus, the Graces, the God of Love, and so many others, which will be the delight and instruction of all ages.
The ancients, it must be confessed, almost always spoke in allegories. The earlier fathers of the church, the greater part of whom were Platonists, imitated this method of Plato’s. They have, indeed, been reproached with having carried this taste for allegories and allusions a little too far.
St. Justin, in his “Apology,” says that the sign of the cross is marked in the limbs and features of man; that when he extends his arms there is a perfect cross; and that his nose and eyes form a cross upon his face.
According to Origen’s explanation of Leviticus, the fat of the victims signifies the Church, and the tail is a symbol of perseverance.
St. Augustine, in his sermon on the difference and agreement of the two genealogies of Christ, explains to his auditors why St. Matthew, although he reckons forty-two generations, enumerates only forty-one. It is, says he, because Jechonias must be reckoned twice, Jechonias having gone from Jerusalem to Babylon. This journey is to be considered as the corner-stone; and if the corner-stone is the first of one side of a building, it is also the first of the other side; consequently this stone must be reckoned twice; and therefore Jechonias must be reckoned twice. He adds that, in the forty-two generations, we must dwell on the number forty, because that number signifies life. The number ten denotes blessedness, and ten multiplied by four, which represents the four elements and the four seasons, produces forty.
In his fifty-third sermon, the dimensions of matter have astonishing properties. Breadth is the dilation of the heart, length is long-suffering, height is hope, and depth is faith. So that, besides the allegory, we have four dimensions of matter instead of three.
It is clear and indubitable (says he in his sermon on the 6th psalm) that the number four denotes the human body, because of the four elements, and the four qualities of hot, cold, moist, and dry; and as four relates to the body, so three relates to the soul; for we must love God with a triple love—with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds. Four also relates to the Old Testament, and three to the New. Four and three make up the number of seven days, and the eight is the day of judgment.
One cannot but feel that there is in these allegories an affectation but little compatible with true eloquence. The fathers, who sometimes made use of these figures, wrote in times and countries in which nearly all the arts were degenerating. Their learning and fine genius were warped by the imperfections of the age in which they lived. St. Augustine is not to be respected the less for having paid this tribute to the bad taste of Africa and the fourth century.
The discourses of our modern preachers are not disfigured by similar faults. Not that we dare prefer them to the fathers; but the present age is to be preferred to the ages in which they wrote. Eloquence, which became more and more corrupted, and was not revived until later times, fell, after them, into still greater extravagances; and the languages of all barbarous nations were alike ridiculous until the age of Louis XIV. Look at all the old collections of sermons; they are far below the dramatic pieces of the Passion, which used to be played at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. But the spirit of allegory, which has never been lost, may be traced throughout these barbarous discourses. The celebrated Ménot, who lived in the reign of Francis I., did more honor, perhaps, than any other to the allegorical style. “The worthy administrators of justice,” said he, “are like a cat set to take care of a cheese, lest it should be gnawed by the mice. One bite of the cat does more damage to the cheese than twenty mice can do.”
Here is another very curious passage: “The woodmen, in a forest, cut large and small branches, and bind them in faggots; just so do our ecclesiastics, with dispensations from Rome, heap together great and small benefices. The cardinal’s hat is garnished with bishoprics, the bishoprics are garnished with abbeys and priories, and the whole is garnished with devils. All these church possessions must pass through the three links of the Ave Maria; for benedicta tu stands for fat abbeys of Benedictines, in mulieribus for monsieur and madame, and fructus ventris for banquets and gormandizers.”
The sermons of Barlet and Maillard are all framed after this model, and were delivered half in bad Latin, and half in bad French. The Italian sermons were in the same taste; and the German were still worse. This monstrous medley gave birth to the macaroni style, the very climax of barbarism. The species of oratory, worthy only of the Indians on the banks of the Missouri, prevailed even so lately as the reign of Louis XIII. The Jesuit Garasse, one of the most distinguished enemies of common sense, never preached in any other style. He likened the celebrated Theophile to a calf, because Theophile’s family name was Viaud, something resembling veau (a calf). “But,” said he, “the flesh of a calf is good to roast and to boil, whereas thine is good for nothing but to burn.”
All these allegories, used by our barbarians, fall infinitely short of those employed by Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, which proves that if there be still some Goths and Vandals who despise ancient fable they are not altogether in the right.
It is of little moment to know whether we have the word almanac from the ancient Saxons, who could not write, or from the Arabs, who are known to have been astronomers, and to have had some acquaintance with the courses of the planets, while the western nations were still wrapped in an ignorance as great as their barbarism. I shall here confine myself to one short observation.
Let an Indian philosopher, who has embarked at Meliapour, come to Bayonne. I shall suppose this philosopher to be a man of sense, which, you will say, is rare among the learned of India; to be divested of all scholastic prejudices—a thing that was rare everywhere not long ago—and I shall suppose him to meet with a blockhead in our part of the world—which is not quite so great a rarity.
Our blockhead, in order to make him conversant with our arts and sciences, presents him with a Liège almanac, composed by Matthew Lansberg, and the Lame Messenger (Messager boiteux) by Anthony Souci, astrologer and historian, printed every year at Basle, and sold to the number of 20,000 copies in eight days. There you behold the fine figure of a man, surrounded by the signs of the Zodiac, with certain indications most clearly demonstrating that the scales preside over the posteriors, the ram over the head, the fishes over the feet, etc.
Each day of the moon informs you when you must take Le Lievre’s balm of life, or Keiser’s pills; when you must be bled, have your nails cut, wean your children, plant, sow, go a journey, or put on a pair of new shoes. The Indian, when he hears these lessons, will do well to say to his guide that he will have none of his almanac.
So soon as our simpleton shall have shown the philosopher a few of our ceremonies, which every wise man disapproves, but which are tolerated in order to amuse the populace, through pure contempt for that populace, the traveller, seeing these mummeries, followed by a tambourine dance, will not fail to pity and take us for madmen, who are, nevertheless, very amusing and not absolutely cruel. He will write home to the president of the Grand College of Benares that we have not common sense; but that if His Paternity will send enlightened and discreet persons among us, something may, with the blessing of God, be made of us.
It was precisely in this way that our first missionaries, especially St. Francis Xavier, spoke of the people inhabiting the peninsula of India. They even fell into still grosser mistakes respecting the customs of the Indians, their sciences, their opinions, their manners, and their worship. The accounts which they sent to Europe were extremely curious. Every statue was a devil; every assembly a sabbath; every symbolical figure a talisman; every Brahmin a sorcerer; and these are made the subject of neverending lamentations. They hope that the harvest will be abundant; and add, by a rather incongruous metaphor, that they will labor effectually in the vineyard of the Lord, in a country where wine has always been unknown. Thus, or nearly thus, have every people judged, not only of distant nations, but of their neighbors.
The Chinese are said to be the most ancient almanac-makers. The finest of their emperor’s privileges is that of sending his calendar to his vassals and neighbors; their refusal of which would be considered as a bravado, and war would forthwith be made upon them, as it used to be in Europe on feudal lords who refused their homage.
If we have only twelve constellations, the Chinese have twenty-eight, the names of which have not the least affinity with ours—a sufficient proof that they have taken nothing from the Chaldæan Zodiac, that we have adopted. But though they have had a complete system of astrology for more than four thousand years, they resemble Matthew Lansberg and Anthony Souci in the fine predictions and secrets of health with which they stuff their Imperial Almanac. They divide the day into ten thousand minutes, and know, with the greatest precision, what minute is favorable or otherwise. When the Emperor Kamhi wished to employ the Jesuit missionaries in making the almanac, they are said to have excused themselves, at first, on account of the extravagant superstitions with which it must be filled. “I have much less faith than you in the superstitions,” replied the emperor; “only make me a good calendar, and leave it for my learned men to fill up the book with their foolery.”
The ingenious author of the “Plurality of Worlds” ridicules the Chinese, because, says he, they see a thousand stars fall at once into the sea. It is very likely that the Emperor Kamhi ridiculed this notion as well as Fontenelle. Some Chinese almanacmaker had, it would seem, been good-natured enough to speak of these meteors after the manner of the people, and to take them for stars. Every country has its foolish notions. All the nations of antiquity made the sun lie down in the sea, where for a long time we sent the stars. We have believed that the clouds touched the firmament, that the firmament was a hard substance, and that it supported a reservoir of water. It has not long been known in our towns that the Virgin-thread (fil de la vierge) so often found in the country, is nothing more than the thread spun by a spider. Let us not laugh at any people. Let us reflect that the Chinese had astrolabes and spheres before we could read, and that if they have made no great progress in astronomy, it is through that same respect for the ancients which we have had for Aristotle.
It is consoling to know that the Roman people, populus late rex, were, in this particular, far behind Matthew Lansberg, and the Lame Messenger, and the astrologers of China, until the period when Julius Cæsar reformed the Roman year, which we have received from him and still call by his name—the Julian Calendar, although we have no calends, and he was obliged to reform it himself.
The primitive Romans had, at first, a year of ten months, making three hundred and four days; this was neither solar nor lunar, nor anything except barbarous. The Roman year was afterwards composed of three hundred and fifty-five days—another mistake, which was corrected so imperfectly that, in Cæsar’s time, the summer festivals were held in winter. The Roman generals always triumphed, but never knew on what day they triumphed.
Cæsar reformed everything; he seemed to rule both heaven and earth. I know not through what complaisance for the Roman customs it was that he began the year at a time when it does not begin—that is, eight days after the winter solstice. All the nations composing the Roman Empire submitted to this innovation; even the Egyptians, who had until then given the law in all that related to almanacs, received it; but none of these different nations altered anything in the distribution of their feasts. The Jews, like the rest, celebrated their new moons; their phase or pascha, the fourteenth day of the moon of March, called the red-haired moon, which day often fell in April; their Pentecost, fifty days after the pascha; the feast of horns or trumpets, the first day of July; that of tabernacles on the fifteenth of the same month, and that of the great sabbath, seven days afterwards.
The first Christians followed the computations of the empire, and reckoned by calends, nones, and ides, like their masters; they likewise received the Bissextile, which we have still, although it was found necessary to correct it in the fifteenth century, and it must some day be corrected again; but they conformed to the Jewish methods in the celebration of their great feasts. They fixed their Easter for the fourteenth day of the red moon, until the Council of Nice determined that it should be the Sunday following. Those who celebrated it on the fourteenth were declared heretics; and both were mistaken in their calculation.
The feasts of the Blessed Virgin were, as far as possible, substituted for the new moons. The author of the “Roman Calendar” (Le Calendrier Romain) says the reason of this is drawn from the verse of the Canticle, pulchra ut luna, “fair as the moon”; but, by the same rule, these feasts should be held on a Sunday, for in the same verse we find electa ut sol, “chosen like the sun.” The Christians also kept the feast of Pentecost; it was fixed, like that of the Jews, precisely fifty days after Easter. The same author asserts that saint-days took the place of the feasts of tabernacles. He adds that St. John’s day was fixed for the 24th of June, only because the days then begin to shorten, and St. John had said, when speaking of Jesus Christ, “He must grow, and I must become less”—Oportet illum crescere, me autem minui. There is something very singular in the ancient ceremony of lighting a great fire on St. John’s day, in the hottest period of the year. It has been said to be a very old custom, originally designed to commemorate the ancient burning of the world, which awaited a second conflagration. The same writer assures us that the feast of the Assumption is kept on the 15th of August because the sun is then in the sign of the Virgin. He also certifies that St. Mathias’ day is in the month of February, because he was, as it were, intercalated among the twelve apostles, as a day is added to February every leap-year. There would, perhaps, be something in these astronomical imaginings to make our Indian philosopher smile; nevertheless, the author of them was mathematical master to the Dauphin, son of Louis XIV., and moreover, an engineer and a very worthy officer.
ALTARS, TEMPLES, RITES, SACRIFICES, ETC.
It is universally acknowledged that the first Christians had neither temples, nor altars, nor tapers, nor incense, nor holy water, nor any of those rites which the prudence of pastors afterwards instituted, in conformity with times and places, but more especially with the various wants of the faithful.
We have ample testimony in Origen, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Justin, and Tertullian, that the primitive Christians held temples and altars in abomination; and that not merely because they could not in the beginning obtain permission from the government to build temples, but because they had a real aversion for everything that seemed to apply any affinity with other religions. This abhorrence existed among them for two hundred and fifty years, as is proved by the following passage of Minutius Felix, who lived in the third century. Addressing the Romans, he says:
“Putatis autem nos occultare quod colimus, si delubra et aras non habemus. Quod enim simulacrum Deo fingam, quum, si recte existimes, sit Dei homo ipse simulacrum? quod templum ei exstruam, quum totus hic mundus, ejus opere fabricatus, eum capere non possit? et quum homo latius maneam, intra unam ædiculum vim tantæ majestatis includam? nonne melius in nostra dedicandus est mente, in nostro imo consecrandus est pectore?”
“You think that we conceal what we adore, because we have neither temples nor altars. But what shall we erect like to God, since man himself is God’s image? What temple shall we build for Him, when the whole world, which is the work of His hands, cannot contain Him? How shall we enclose the power of such majesty in one dwelling-place? Is it not better to consecrate a temple to Him in our minds and in our hearts?”
The Christians, then, had no temples until about the beginning of the reign of Diocletian. The Church had then become very numerous; and it was found necessary to introduce those decorations and rites which, at an earlier period, would have been useless and even dangerous to a slender flock, long despised, and considered as nothing more than a small sect of dissenting Jews.
It is manifest that, while they were confounded with the Jews, they could not obtain permission to erect temples. The Jews, who paid very dear for their synagogues, would themselves have opposed it; for they were mortal enemies to the Christians, and they were rich. We must not say, with Toland, that the Christians, who at that time made a show of despising temples and altars, were like the fox that said the grapes were sour. This comparison appears as unjust as it is impious, since all the primitive Christians in so many different countries, agreed in maintaining that there was no need of raising temples or altars to the true God.
Providence, acting by second causes, willed that they should erect a splendid temple at Nicomedia, the residence of the Emperor Diocletian, as soon as they had obtained that sovereign’s protection. They built others in other cities; but still they had a horror of tapers, lustral water, pontifical habits, etc. All this pomp and circumstance was in their eyes no other than a distinctive mark of paganism. These customs were adopted under Constantine and his successors, and have frequently changed.
Our good women of the present day, who every Sunday hear a Latin mass, at which a little boy attends, imagine that this rite has been observed from the earliest ages, that there never was any other, and that the custom in other countries of assembling to offer up prayers to God in common is diabolical and quite of recent origin. There is, undeniably, something very respectable in a mass, since it has been authorized by the Church; it is not at all an ancient usage, but is not the less entitled to our veneration.
There is not, perhaps, a single ceremony of this day which was in use in the time of the apostles. The Holy Spirit has always conformed himself to the times. He inspired the first disciples in a mean apartment; He now communicates His inspirations in St. Peter’s at Rome, which cost several millions—equally divine, however, in the wretched room, and in the superb edifice of Julius II., Leo X., Paul III., and Sixtus V.
Bold and vigorous women have been often seen to fight like men. History makes mention of such; for, without reckoning Semiramis, Tomyris, or Penthesilea—who, perhaps, existed only in fable—it is certain that there were many women in the armies of the first caliphs. In the tribe of the Homerites, especially, it was a sort of law, dictated by love and courage, that in battle wives should succor and avenge their husbands, and mothers their children.
When the famous chief Derar was fighting in Syria against the generals of the Emperor Heraclius, in the time of the caliph Abubeker, successor to Mahomet, Peter, who commanded at Damascus, took thither several women, whom he had captured, together with some booty, in one of his excursions; among the prisoners was the sister of Derar. Alvakedi’s “Arabian History,” translated by Ockley, says that she was a perfect beauty, and that Peter became enamored of her, paid great attention to her on the way, and indulged her and her fellow-prisoners with short marches. They encamped in an extensive plain, under tents, guarded by troops posted at a short distance. Caulah (so this sister of Derar’s was named) proposed to one of her companions, called Oserra, that they should endeavor to escape from captivity, and persuaded her rather to die than be a victim to the lewd desires of the Christians. The same Mahometan enthusiasm seized all the women; they armed themselves with the iron-pointed staves that supported their tents, and with a sort of dagger which they wore in their girdles; they then formed a circle, as the cows do when they present their horns to attacking wolves. Peter only laughed at first; he advanced toward the women, who gave him hard blows with the staves; after hesitating for some time, he at length resolved to use force; the sabres of his men were already drawn, when Derar arrived, put the Greeks to flight, and delivered his sister and the other captives.
Nothing can more strongly resemble those times called heroic, sung by Homer. Here are the same single combats at the head of armies, the combatants frequently holding a long conversation before they commerce fighting; and this, no doubt, justifies Homer.
Thomas, governor of Syria, Heraclius’s son-in-law, made a sally from Damascus, and attacked Sergiabil, having first prayed to Jesus Christ. “Unjust aggressor,” said he to Sergiabil, “thou canst not resist Jesus, my God, who will fight for the champions of His religion.” “Thou tellest an impious lie,” answered Sergiabil; “Jesus is not greater before God than Adam. God raised Him from the dust; He gave life to Him as to another man, and, after leaving Him for some time on earth, took Him up into heaven.” After some more verbal skirmishing the fight began. Thomas discharged an arrow, which wounded young Aban, the son of Saib, by the side of the valiant Sergiabil; Aban fell and expired; the news of his death reached his young wife, to whom he had been united but a few days before; she neither wept nor complained, but ran to the field of battle, with a quiver at her back, and a couple of arrows in her hand; with the first of these she killed the Christian standard-bearer, and the Arabs seized the trophy, crying, Allah achar! With the other she shot Thomas in the eye, and he retired, bleeding, into the town.
Arabian history is full of similar examples, but they do not tell us that these warlike women burned their right breast, that they might draw the bow better, nor that they lived without men; on the contrary, they exposed themselves in battle for their husbands or their lovers; from which very circumstance we must conclude that, so far from reproaching Ariosto and Tasso for having introduced so many enamored warriors into their poems, we should praise them for having delineated real and interesting manners.
When the crusading mania was at its height there were some Christian women who shared the fatigues and dangers of their husbands. To such a pitch, indeed, was this enthusiasm carried that the Genoese women undertook a crusade of their own, and were on the point of setting out for Palestine to form petticoat battalions; they had made a vow so to do, but were absolved from it by a pope, who was a little wiser than themselves.
Margaret of Anjou, wife of the unfortunate Henry VI. of England, evinced, in a juster war, a valor truly heroic; she fought in ten battles to deliver her husband. History affords no authenticated example of greater or more persevering courage in a woman. She had been preceded by the celebrated Countess de Montfort, in Brittany. “This princess,” says d’Argentré, “was virtuous beyond the nature of her sex, and valiant beyond all men; she mounted her horse, and managed him better than any esquire; she fought hand to hand, or charged a troop of armed men like the most valiant captain; she fought on sea and land with equal bravery,” etc. She went, sword in hand, through her states, which were invaded by her competitor, Charles de Blois. She not only sustained two assaults, armed cap-à-pie, in the breach of Hennebon, but she made a sortie with five hundred men, attacked the enemy’s camp, set fire to it, and reduced it to ashes.
The exploits of Joan of Arc, better known as the Maid of Orleans, are less astonishing than those of Margaret of Anjou and the Countess de Montfort. These two princesses having been brought up in the luxury of courts, and Joan of Arc in the rude exercises of country life, it was more singular, as well as more noble, to quit a palace for the field than a cottage.
The heroine who defended Beauvais was, perhaps, superior to her who raised the siege of Orleans, for she fought quite as well, and neither boasted of being a maid, nor of being inspired. It was in 1472, when the Burgundian army was besieging Beauvais, that Jeanne Hachette, at the head of a number of women, sustained an assault for a considerable time, wrested the standard from one of the enemy who was about to plant it on the breach, threw the bearer into the trench, and gave time for the king’s troops to arrive and relieve the town. Her descendants have been exempted from the taille (poll tax)—a mean and shameful recompense! The women and girls of Beauvais are more flattered by their walking before the men in the procession on the anniversary day. Every public mark of honor is an encouragement of merit; but the exemption from the taille is but a proof that the persons so exempted were subjected to this servitude by the misfortune of their birth.
There is hardly any nation which does not boast of having produced such heroines; the number of these, however, is not great; nature seems to have designed women for other purposes. Women have been known but rarely to exhibit themselves as soldiers. In short, every people have had their female warriors; but the kingdom of the Amazons, on the banks of the Thermodon, is, like most other ancient stories, nothing more than a poetic fiction.
For want of defining terms, and especially for want of a clear understanding, almost all laws, that should be as plain as arithmetic and geometry, are as obscure as logogriphs. The melancholy proof of this is that nearly all processes are founded on the sense of the laws, always differently understood by the pleaders, the advocates, and the judges.
The whole public law of Europe had its origin in equivocal expressions, beginning with the Salique law. She shall not inherit Salique land. But what is Salique land? And shall not a girl inherit money, or a necklace, left to her, which may be worth more than the land?
The citizens of Rome saluted Karl, son of the Austrasian Pepin le Bref, by the name of imperator. Did they understand thereby: We confer on you all the prerogatives of Octavius, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius? We give you all the country which they possessed? However, they could not give it; for so far were they from being masters of it that they were scarcely masters of their own city. There never was a more equivocal expression; and such as it was then it still is.
Did Leo III., the bishop of Rome who is said to have saluted Charlemagne emperor, comprehend the meaning of the words which he pronounced? The Germans assert that he understood by them that Charles should be his master. The Datary has asserted that he meant he should be master over Charlemagne.
Have not things the most venerable, the most sacred, the most divine, been obscured by the ambiguities of language? Ask two Christians of what religion they are. Each will answer, I am a Catholic. You think they are both of the same communion; yet one is of the Greek, the other of the Latin church; and they are irreconciable. If you seek to be further informed, you will find that by the word Catholic each of them understands universal, in which case universal signifies a part.
The soul of St. Francis is in heaven—is in paradise. One of these words signifies the air; the other means a garden. The word spirit is used alike to express extract, thought, distilled liquor, apparition. Ambiguity has been so necessary a vice in all languages, formed by what is called chance and by custom, that the author of all clearness and truth Himself condescended to speak after the manner of His people; whence is it that Elohim signifies in some places judges, at other times gods, and at others angels. “Tu es Petrus, et super hunc petrum ædificabo ecclesiam meam,” would be equivocal in a profane tongue, and on profane subject; but these words receive a divine sense from the mouth which utters them, and the subject to which they are applied.
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; now God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In the ordinary sense these words might signify: “I am the same God that was worshipped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as the earth, which bore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, likewise bears their descendants; the sun which shines to-day is the sun that shone on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the law of their children was their law.” This does not, however, signify that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living. But when the Messiah speaks, there is no longer any ambiguity; the sense is as clear as it is divine. It is evident that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not among the dead, but live in glory, since this oracle is pronounced by the Messiah; but it was necessary that He and no one else should utter it.
The discourses of the Jewish prophets might seem equivocal to men of gross intellects, who could not perceive their meaning; but they were not so to minds illumined by the light of faith.
All the oracles of antiquity were equivocal. It was foretold to Crœsus that a powerful empire was to fall; but was it to be his own? or that of Cyrus? It was also foretold to Pyrrhus that the Romans might conquer him, and that he might conquer the Romans. It was impossible that this oracle should lie.
When Septimius Severus, Pescennius Niger, and Clodius Albinus were contending for the empire, the oracle of Delphos, being consulted (notwithstanding the assertion of the Jesuit Baltus that oracles had ceased), answered that the brown was very good, the white good for nothing, and the African tolerable. It is plain that there are more ways than one of explaining such an oracle.
When Aurelian consulted the god of Palmyra (still in spite of Baltus), the god said that the doves fear the falcon. Whatever might happen, the god would not be embarrassed; the falcon would be the conqueror, and the doves the conquered.
Sovereigns, as well as gods, have sometimes made use of equivocation. Some tyrant, whose name I forget, having sworn to one of his captives that he would not kill him, ordered that he should have nothing to eat, saying that he had promised not to put him to death, but he had not promised to keep him alive.
Since framers of systems are continually conjecturing on the manner in which America can have been peopled, we will be equally consistent in saying that He who caused flies to exist in those regions caused men to exist there also. However pleasant it may be to dispute, it cannot be denied that the Supreme Being, who lives in all nature, has created, about the forty-eighth degree, two-legged animals without feathers, the color of whose skin is a mixture of white and carnation, with long beards approaching to red; about the line, in Africa and its islands, negroes without beards; and in the same latitude, other negroes with beards, some of them having wool, and some hair, on their heads; and among them other animals quite white, having neither hair nor wool, but a kind of white silk. It does not very clearly appear what should have prevented God from placing on another continent animals of the same species, of a copper color, in the same latitude in which, in Africa and Asia, they are found black; or even from making them without beards in the very same latitude in which others possess them.
To what lengths are we carried by the rage for systems joined with the tyranny of prejudice! We see these animals; it is agreed that God has had the power to place them where they are; yet it is not agreed that he has so placed them. The same persons who readily admit that the beavers of Canada are of Canadian origin, assert that the men must have come there in boats, and that Mexico must have been peopled by some of the descendants of Magog. As well might be said that if there be men in the moon they must have been taken thither by Astolpho on his hippogriff, when he went to fetch Roland’s senses, which were corked up in a bottle. If America had been discovered in his time, and there had then been men in Europe systematic enough to have advanced, with the Jesuit Lafitau, that the Caribbees descended from the inhabitants of Caria, and the Hurons from the Jews, he would have done well to have brought back the bottle containing the wits of these reasoners, which he would doubtless have found in the moon, along with those of Angelica’s lover.
The first thing done when an inhabited island is discovered in the Indian Ocean, or in the South Seas, is to inquire whence came these people? But as for the trees and the tortoises, they are, without any hesitation, pronounced to be indigenous; as if it was more difficult for Nature to make men than to make tortoises. One thing, however, which tends to countenance this system is that there is scarcely an island in the Eastern or in the Western Ocean which does not contain jugglers, quacks, knaves and fools. This, it is probable, gave rise to the opinion that these animals are of the same race with ourselves.
It is pretended that amplification is a fine figure of rhetoric; perhaps, however, it would be more reasonable to call it a defect. In saying all that we should say, we do not amplify; and if after saying this we amplify, we say too much. To place a good or bad action in every light is not to amplify; but to go farther than this is to exaggerate and become wearisome.
Prizes were formerly given in colleges for amplification. This was indeed teaching the art of being diffuse. It would, perhaps, have been better to have given the fewest words, and thus teach the art of speaking with greater force and energy. But while we avoid amplification, let us beware of dryness.
I have heard professors teach that certain passages in “Virgil” are amplifications, as, for instance, the following:
If the long description of the reign of sleep throughout all nature did not form an admirable contrast with the cruel inquietude of Dido, these lines would be no other than a puerile amplification; it is the words At non infelix animi Phænissa—“Unhappy Dido,” etc., which give them their charm.
That beautiful ode of Sappho’s which paints all the symptoms of love, and which has been happily translated into every cultivated language, would doubtless have been less touching had Sappho been speaking of any other than herself; it might then have been considered as an amplification.
The description of the tempest in the first book of the “Æneid” is not an amplification; it is a true picture of all that happens in a tempest; there is no idea repeated, and repetition is the vice of all which is merely amplification.
The finest part on the stage in any language is that of Phèdre (Phædra). Nearly all that she says would be tiresome amplification if any other was speaking of Phædra’s passion.
It is quite clear that since Athens showed her her proud enemy Hippolytus, she saw Hippolytus; if she blushed and turned pale, she was doubtless troubled. It would have been a pleonasm, a redundancy, if a stranger had been made to relate the loves of Phædra; but it is Phædra, enamored and ashamed of her passion—her heart is full—everything escapes her:
What can be a better imitation of Virgil?
What can be a finer imitation of Sappho?
These lines, though imitated, flow as from their first source; each word moves and penetrates the feeling heart; this is not amplification; it is the perfection of nature and of art.
The following is, in my opinion, an instance of amplification, in a modern tragedy, which nevertheless has great beauties. Tydeus is at the court of Argos; he is in love with a sister of Electra; he laments the fall of his friend Orestes and of his father; he is divided betwixt his passion for Electra and his desire of vengeance; while in this state of care and perplexity he gives one of his followers a long description of a tempest, in which he had been shipwrecked some time before.
In this description we see the poet wishing to surprise his readers with the relation of a shipwreck, rather than the man who seeks to avenge his father and his friend—to kill the tyrant of Argos, but who is at the same time divided between love and vengeance.
Several men of taste, and among others the author of “Telemachus,” have considered the relation of the death of Hippolytus, in Racine, as an amplification; long recitals were the fashion at that time. The vanity of actors make them wish to be listened to, and it was then the custom to indulge them in this way. The archbishop of Cambray says that Theramenes should not, after Hippolytus’ catastrophe, have strength to speak so long; that he gives too ample a description of the monster’s threatening horns, his saffron scales, etc.; that he should say in broken accents, Hippolytus is dead—a monster has destroyed him—I beheld it.
I shall not enter on a defence of the threatening horns, etc.; yet this piece of criticism, which has been so often repeated, appears to me to be unjust. You would have Theramenes say nothing more than Hippolytus is killed—I saw him die—all is over. This is precisely what he does say; Hippolyte n’est plus! (Hippolytus is no more!) His father exclaims aloud; and Theramenes, on recovering his senses, says:
and adds this line, so necessary and so affecting yet so agonizing for Theseus:
The gradations are fully observed; each shade is accurately distinguished. The wretched father asks what God—what sudden thunder-stroke has deprived him of his son. He has not courage to proceed; he is mute with grief; he awaits the dreadful recital, and the audience awaits it also. Theramenes must answer; he is asked for particulars; he must give them.
Was it for him who had made Mentor and all the rest of his personages discourse at such length, sometimes even tediously; was it for him to shut the mouth of Theramenes? Who among the spectators would not listen to him? Who would not enjoy the melancholy pleasure of hearing the circumstance of Hippolytus’ death? Who would have so much as three lines struck out? This is no vain description of a storm unconnected with the piece; no ill-written amplification; it is the purest diction, the most affecting language; in short, it is Racine. Amplification, declamation, and exaggeration were at all times the faults of the Greeks, excepting Demosthenes and Aristotle.
There have been absurd pieces of poetry on which time has set the stamp of almost universal approbation, because they were mixed with brilliant flashes which threw a glare over their imperfections, or because the poets who came afterward did nothing better. The rude beginnings of every art acquire a greater celebrity than the art in perfection; he who first played the fiddle was looked upon as a demigod, while Rameau had only enemies. In fine, men, generally going with the stream, seldom judge for themselves, and purity of taste is almost as rare as talent.
At the present day, most of our sermons, funeral orations, set discourses, and harangues in certain ceremonies, are tedious amplifications—strings of commonplace expressions repeated again and again a thousand times. These discourses are only supportable when rarely heard. Why speak when you have nothing new to say? It is high time to put a stop to this excessive waste of words, and therefore we conclude our article.
ANCIENTS AND MODERNS.
The great cause of the ancients versus the moderns is not yet disposed of; it has been at issue ever since the silver age, which succeeded the golden one. Men have always pretended that the good old times were much better than the present. Nestor, in the “Iliad,” wishing to insinuate himself, like a wise mediator, into the good opinion of Achilles and Agamemnon, begins with saying: “I have lived with better men than you; never have I seen, nor shall I ever see again, such great personages as Dryas, Cæneus, Exadius, Polyphemus equal to the gods,” etc. Posterity has made ample amends to Achilles for Nestor’s bad compliment, so vainly admired by those who admire nothing but what is ancient. Who knows anything about Dryas? We have scarcely heard of Exadius or of Cæneus; and as for Polyphemus equal to the gods, he has no very high reputation, unless, indeed, there was something divine in his having a great eye in the middle of his forehead, and eating the raw carcasses of mankind.
Lucretius does not hesitate to say that nature has degenerated:
Antiquity is full of the praises of another antiquity still more remote:
Horace combats this prejudice with equal force and address in his fine epistle to Augustus. “Must our poems, then,” says he, “be like our wines, of which the oldest are always preferred?” He afterward says:
On this subject the learned and ingenious Fontenelle expresses himself thus:
“The whole of the question of pre-eminence between the ancients and moderns, being once well understood, reduces itself to this: Were the trees which formerly grew in the country larger than those of the present day? If they were, Homer, Plato, and Demosthenes cannot be equalled in these latter ages; but if our trees are as large as those of former times, then can we equal Homer, Plato, and Demosthenes.
“But to clear up the paradox: If the ancients had stronger minds than ourselves, it must have been that the brains of those times were better disposed, were formed of firmer or more delicate fibres, or contained a larger portion of animal spirits. But how should the brains of those times have been better disposed? Had such been the case, the leaves would likewise have been larger and more beautiful; for if nature was then more youthful and vigorous, the trees, as well as the brains of men, would have borne testimony to that youth and vigor.”
With our illustrious academician’s leave, this is by no means the state of the question. It is not asked whether nature can at the present day produce as great geniuses, and as good works, as those of Greek and Latin antiquity, but whether we really have such. It is doubtless possible that there are oaks in the forest of Chantilly as large as those of Dodona; but supposing that the oaks of Dodona could talk, it is quite clear that they had a great advantage over ours, which, it is probable, will never talk.
La Motte, a man of wit and talent, who has merited applause in more than one kind of writing, has, in an ode full of happy lines, taken the part of the moderns. We give one of his stanzas:
He might be answered thus: Esteem your ancestors, without adoring them. You have intelligence and powers of invention, as Virgil and Horace had; but perhaps it is not absolutely the same intelligence. Perhaps their talents were superior to—yours; they exercised them, too, in a language richer and more harmonious than our modern tongues, which are a mixture of corrupted Latin, with the horrible jargon of the Celts.
Nature is not capricious; but it is possible that she had given the Athenians a soil and sky better adapted than Westphalia and the Limousin to the formation of geniuses of a certain order. It is also likely that the government of Athens, seconding the favorable climate, put ideas into the head of Demosthenes which the air of Clamar and La Grenouillere combined with the government of Cardinal de Richelieu, did not put into the heads of Omer Talon and Jerome Bignon.
Some one answered La Motte’s lines by the following:
This dispute, then, resolves itself into a question of fact. Was antiquity more fertile in great monuments of genius of every kind, down to the time of Plutarch, than modern ages have been, from that of the house of Medicis to that of Louis XIV., inclusively?
The Chinese, more than two hundred years before our Christian era, built their great wall, which could not save them from invasion by the Tartars. The Egyptians had, four thousand years before, burdened the earth with their astonishing pyramids, the bases of which covered ninety thousand square feet. No one doubts that, if it were thought advisable to undertake such useless works at the present day, they might be accomplished by lavishing plenty of money. The great wall of China is a monument of fear; the pyramids of Egypt are monuments of vanity and superstition; both testify the great patience of the two people, but no superior genius. Neither the Chinese nor the Egyptians could have made a single statue like those formed by our living sculptors.
Sir William Temple, who made a point of degrading the moderns, asserts that they have nothing in architecture that can be compared to the temples of Greece and Rome; but, Englishman as he was, he should have admitted that St. Peter’s at Rome is incomparably more beautiful than the capitol.
There is something curious in the assurance with which he asserts that there is nothing new in our astronomy, nor in our knowledge of the human body, except, says he, it be the circulation of the blood. The love of his opinion, founded on his extreme self-love, makes him forget the discovery of Jupiter’s satellites, of Saturn’s five moons and ring, of the sun’s rotation on his axis, the calculation of the positions of three thousand stars, the development by Kepler and Newton of the law by which the heavenly bodies are governed, and the knowledge of a thousand other things of which the ancients did not even suspect the possibility. The discoveries in anatomy have been no less numerous. A new universe in miniature, discovered by the microscope, went as nothing with Sir William Temple; he closed his eyes to the wonders of his contemporaries, and opened them only to admire ancient ignorance.
He even goes so far as to regret that we have nothing left of the magic of the Indians, Chaldæans, and Egyptians. By this magic, he understands a profound knowledge of nature, which enabled them to work miracles—of which, however, he does not mention one, because the truth is that they never worked any. “What,” says he, “has become of the charms of that music which so often enchanted men and beasts, fishes, birds, and serpents, and even changed their nature?” This enemy to his own times believed implicitly in the fable of “Orpheus,” and, it should seem, had never heard of the fine music of Italy, nor even of that of France, which do not charm serpents, it is true, but which do charm the ears of the connoisseur.
It is still more strange that, having all his life cultivated the belles-lettres, he reasons no better on our good authors than on our philosophers. He considers Rabelais a great man, and speaks of “les Amours des Gaules” (“The Loves of the Gauls”), as one of his best works. He was, nevertheless, a learned man, a courtier, a man of considerable wit, and an ambassador, who had made profound reflections on all that he had seen; he possessed great knowledge; one prejudice sufficed to render all this merit unavailing.
Boileau and Racine, when writing in favor of the ancients against Perrault, showed more address than Sir William Temple. They knew better than to touch on astronomy and physical science. Boileau seeks only to vindicate Homer against Perrault, at the same time gliding adroitly over the faults of the Greek poet, and the slumber with which Horace reproaches him. He strove to turn Perrault, the enemy of Homer, into ridicule. Wherever Perrault misunderstands a passage, or renders inaccurately a passage which he understands, Boileau, seizing this little advantage, falls upon him like a redoubtable enemy, and beats him as an ignoramus—a dull writer. But it is not at all improbable that Perrault, though often mistaken, was frequently right in his remarks on the contradictions, the repetitions, the uniformity of the combats, the long harangues in the midst of them, the indecent and inconsistent conduct of the gods in the poem—in short, on all the errors into which this great poet is asserted to have fallen. In a word, Boileau ridicules Perrault much more than he justifies Homer.
Racine used the same artifice, for he was at least as malignant as Boileau. Although he did not, like the latter, make his fortune by satire, he enjoyed the pleasure of confounding his enemies on the occasion of a small and very pardonable mistake into which they had fallen respecting Euripides, and, at the same time, of feeling much superior to Euripides himself. He rallies the same Perrault and his partisans upon their critique on the Alceste of Euripides, because these gentlemen had unfortunately been deceived by a faulty edition of Euripides, and had taken some replies of Admetus for those of Alceste; but Euripides does not the less appear in all countries to have done very wrong in making Admetus use such extraordinary language to his father, whom he violently reproaches for not having died for him:
“How!” replies the king, his father; “whom, pray, are you addressing so haughtily? Some Lydian or Phrygian slave? Know you not that I am free, and a Thessalian? (Fine language, truly, for a king and a father!) You insult me as if I were the meanest of men. Where is the law which says fathers must die for their children? Each for himself here below. I have fulfilled all my obligations toward you. In what, then, do I wrong you? Do I ask you to die for me? The light is dear to you; is it less so to me? You accuse me of cowardice! Coward that you yourself are! You were not ashamed to urge your wife to save you, by dying for you. After this, does it become you to treat as cowards those who refuse to do for you what you have not the courage to do yourself? Believe me, you ought rather to be silent. You love life; others love it no less. Be assured that if you continue to abuse me, you shall have reproaches, and not false ones, in return.”
He is here interrupted by the chorus, with: “Enough! Too much on both sides! Old man, cease this ill language toward your son.”
One would think that the chorus should rather give the son a severe reprimand for speaking in so brutal a manner to his father.
All the rest of the scene is in the same style:
Pheres (to his son).
—Thou speakest against thy father, without his having injured thee.
—Oh! I am well aware that you wish to live as long as possible.
—And art thou not carrying to the tomb her who died for thee?
—Ah! most infamous of men! ‘Tis the proof of thy cowardice!
—At least, thou canst not say she died for me.
—Would to heaven that thou wert in a situation to need my assistance!
—Thou wouldst do better to think of marrying several wives, who may die that thy life may be lengthened.
After this scene a domestic comes and talks to himself about the arrival of Hercules.
“A stranger,” says he, “opens the door of his own accord; places himself without more ado at table; is angry because he is not served quick enough; fills his cup every moment with wine, and drinks long draughts of red and of white; constantly singing, or rather howling, bad songs, without giving himself any concern about the king and his wife, for whom we are mourning. He is, doubtless, some cunning rogue, some vagabond, or assassin.”
It seems somewhat strange that Hercules should be taken for a cunning rogue, and no less so that Hercules, the friend of Admetus, should be unknown to the household. It is still more extraordinary that Hercules should be ignorant of Alceste’s death, at the very time when they were carrying her to her tomb.
Tastes must not be disputed, but such scenes as these would, assuredly, not be tolerated at one of our country fairs.
Brumoy, who has given us the Théâtre des Grecs (Greek Theatre), but has not translated Euripides with scrupulous fidelity, does all he can to justify the scene of Admetus and his father: the argument he makes use of is rather singular.
First, he says, that “there was nothing offensive to the Greeks in these things which we regard as horrible and indecent, therefore it must be admitted that they were not exactly what we take them to have been, in short, ideas have changed.” To this it may be answered that the ideas of polished nations on the respect due from children to their fathers have never changed. He adds, “Who can doubt that in different ages ideas have changed relative to points of morality of still greater importance?” We answer, that there are scarcely any points of greater importance.
“A Frenchman,” continues he, “is insulted; the pretended good sense of the French obliges him to run the risk of a duel, and to kill or be killed, in order to recover his honor.” We answer, that it is not the pretended good sense of the French alone, but of all the nations of Europe without exception. He proceeds:
“The world in general cannot be fully sensible how ridiculous this maxim will appear two thousand years hence, nor how it would have been scoffed at in the time of Euripides.” This maxim is cruel and fatal, but it is not ridiculous; nor would it have been in any way scoffed at in the time of Euripides. There were many instances of duels among the Asiatics. In the very commencement of the first book of the “Iliad,” we see Achilles half unsheathing his sword, and ready to fight Agamemnon, had not Minerva taken him by the hair and made him desist.
Plutarch relates that Hephæstion and Craterus were fighting a duel, but were separated by Alexander. Quintus Curtius tells us that two other of Alexander’s officers fought a duel in the presence of Alexander, one of them armed at all points, the other, who was a wrestler, supplied only with a staff, and that the latter overcame his adversary. Besides, what has duelling to do with Admetus and his father Pheres, reproaching each other by turns, with having too great a love for life, and with being cowards?
I shall give only this one instance of the blindness of translators and commentators; for if Brumoy, the most impartial of all, has fallen into such errors, what are we to expect from others? I would, however, ask the Brumoys and the Daciers, if they find much salt in the language which Euripides puts into the mouth of Polyphemus: “I fear not the thunder of Jupiter; I know not that Jupiter is a prouder or a stronger god than myself; I care very little about him. If he sends down rain, I shut myself up in my cavern; there I eat a roasted calf or some wild animal, after which I lie down all my length, drink off a great potful of milk, and send forth a certain noise, which is as good as his thunder.”
The schoolmen cannot have very fine noses if they are not disgusted with the noise which Polyphemus makes when he has eaten heartily.
They say that the Athenian pit laughed at this pleasantry, and that the Athenians never laughed at anything stupid. So the whole populace of Athens had more wit than the court of Louis XIV., and the populace are not the same everywhere!
Nevertheless, Euripides has beauties, and Sophocles still more; but they have much greater defects. We may venture to say that the fine scenes of Corneille and the affecting tragedies of Racine are as much superior to the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, as these two Greeks were to Thespis. Racine was quite sensible of his great superiority over Euripides, but he praised the Greek poet for the sake of humbling Perrault.
Molière, in his best pieces, is as superior to the pure but cold Terence, and to the buffoon Aristophanes, as to the merry-andrew Dancourt.
Thus there are things in which the moderns are superior to the ancients; and others, though very few, in which we are their inferiors. The whole of the dispute reduces itself to this fact.
Certain Comparisons between Celebrated Works.
Both taste and reason seem to require that we should, in an ancient as well as in a modern, discriminate between the good and the bad that are often to be found in contact with each other.
The warmest admiration must be excited by that line of Corneille’s, unequalled by any in Homer, in Sophocles, or in Euripides:
And, with equal justice, the line that follows will be condemned.
The man of taste, while he admires the sublime picture, the striking contrasts of character and strong coloring in the last scene of Rodogyne, will perceive how many faults, how many improbabilities, have prepared the way for this terrible situation—how much Rodogyne has belied her character, and by what crooked ways it is necessary to pass to this great and tragical catastrophe.
The same equitable judge will not fail to do justice to the fine and artful contexture of Racine’s tragedies, the only ones, perhaps, that have been well wrought from the time of Æschylus down to the age of Louis XIV. He will be touched by that continued elegance, that purity of language, that truth of character, to be found in him only; by that grandeur without bombast, that fidelity to nature which never wanders in vain declamations, sophistical disputes, false and far-fetched images, often expressed in solecisms or rhetorical pleadings, fitter for provincial schools than for a tragedy. The same person will discover weakness and uniformity in some of Racine’s characters; and in others, gallantry and sometimes even coquetry; he will find declarations of love breathing more of the idyl and the elegy, than of a great dramatic passion; and will complain that more than one well-written piece has elegance to please, but not eloquence to move him. Just so will he judge of the ancients; not by their names—not by the age in which they lived—but by their works themselves.
Suppose Timanthes the painter were at this day to come and present to us, by the side of the paintings in the Palais Royal, his picture in four colors of the “Sacrifice of Iphigenia,” telling us that men of judgment in Greece had assured him that it was an admirable artifice to veil the face of Agamemnon, lest his grief should appear to equal that of Clytemnestra, and the tears of the father dishonor the majesty of the monarch. He would find connoisseurs who would reply—it is a stroke of ingenuity, but not of painting; a veil on the head of your principal personage has a frightful effect; your art has failed you. Behold the masterpiece of Rubens, who has succeeded in expressing in the countenance of Mary of Medicis the pain attendant on childbirth—the joy, the smile, the tenderness—not with four colors, but with every tint of nature. If you wished that Agamemnon should partly conceal his face, you should have made him hide a portion of it by placing his hands over his eyes and forehead; and not with a veil, which is as disagreeable to the eye, and as unpicturesque, as it is contrary to all costume. You should then have shown some falling tears that the hero would conceal, and have expressed in his muscles the convulsions of a grief which he struggles to suppress; you should have painted in this attitude majesty and despair. You are a Greek, and Rubens is a Belgian; but the Belgian bears away the palm.
On a Passage in Homer.
A Florentine, a man of letters, of clear understanding and cultivated taste, was one day in Lord Chesterfield’s library, together with an Oxford professor and a Scotchman, who was boasting of the poem of Fingal, composed, said he, in the Gaelic tongue, which is still partly that of Lower Brittany. “Ah!” exclaimed he, “how fine is antiquity; the poem of Fingal has passed from mouth to mouth for nearly two thousand years, down to us, without any alteration. Such power has real beauty over the minds of men!” He then read to the company the commencement of Fingal:
“Cuthullin sat by Tara’s wall; by the tree of the rustling sound. His spear leaned against a rock. His shield lay on the grass by his side. Amid his thoughts of mighty Carbar, a hero slain by the chief in war, the scout of ocean comes, Moran, the son of Fithil!
“ ‘Arise,’ says the youth, ‘Cuthullin, arise! I see the ships of the north! many, chief of men, are the foe; many the heroes of the sea-born Swaran!’ ‘Moran,’ replied the blue-eyed chief, ‘thou ever tremblest, son of Fithil! thy fears have increased the foe. It is Fingal, king of deserts, with aid to green Erin of streams.’ ‘I beheld their chief,’ says Moran, ‘tall as a glittering rock. His spear is a blasted pine. His shield the rising moon! He sat on the shore, like a cloud of mist on the silent hill!’ ” etc.
“That,” said the Oxford professor, “is the true style of Homer; but what pleases me still more is that I find in it the sublime eloquence of the Hebrews. I could fancy myself to be reading passages such as these from those fine canticles:
“ ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundation also of the hills moved and were shaken because he was wroth. The Lord also thundered in the heavens; and the Highest gave His voice hailstones and coals of fire. In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun. Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber.
“ ‘Break their teeth in their mouth, O God; break the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord. Let them pass away as waters that run continually; when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces. As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away, like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as in a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.
“ ‘They return at evening; they make a noise like a dog. But Thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; Thou shalt have all the heathen in derision. Consume them in wrath; consume them that they may not be.
“ ‘The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan, a high hill as the hill of Bashan. Why leap ye, ye high hills? The Lord said I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring up my people again from the depths of the sea; that thy feet may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same.
“ ‘Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth the wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; so persecute them with Thy tempest and make them afraid with Thy storm.
“ ‘He shall judge among the heathen; he shall fill the places with dead bodies; He shall wound the heads over many countries. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones,’ ” etc.
The Florentine, having listened with great attention to the verses of the canticles recited by the doctor, as well as to the first lines of Fingal bellowed forth by the Scotchman, confessed that he was not greatly moved by all these Eastern figures, and that he liked the noble simplicity of Virgil’s style much better.
At these words the Scotchman turned pale with wrath, the Oxonian shrugged his shoulders with pity, but Lord Chesterfield encouraged the Florentine by a smile of approbation.
The Florentine, becoming warm and finding himself supported, said to them: “Gentlemen, nothing is more easy than to do violence to nature; nothing more difficult than to imitate her. I know something of those whom we in Italy call improvisatori; and I could speak in this oriental style for eight hours together without the least effort, for it requires none to be bombastic in negligent verse, overloaded with epithets almost continually repeated, to heap combat upon combat, and to describe chimeras.”
“What!” said the professor, “you make an epic poem impromptu!” “Not a rational epic poem in correct verse, like Virgil,” replied the Italian, “but a poem in which I would abandon myself to the current of my ideas, and not take the trouble to arrange them.”
“I defy you to do it,” said the Scotchman and the Oxford graduate at once. “Well,” returned the Florentine, “give me a subject.” Lord Chesterfield gave him as a subject the Black Prince, the conqueror of Poictiers, granting peace after the victory.
The Italian collected himself and thus began:
“Muse of Albion, genius that presidest over heroes, come sing with me—not the idle rage of men implacable alike to friends and foes—not the deeds of heroes whom the gods have favored in turn, without any reason for so favoring them—not the siege of a town which is not taken—not the extravagant exploits of the fabulous Fingal, but the real victories of a hero modest as brave, who led kings captive and respected his vanquished enemies.
“George, the Mars of England, had descended from on high on that immortal charger before which the proudest coursers of Limousin flee as the bleating sheep and the tender lambs crowd into the fold at the sight of a terrible wolf issuing from the forest with fiery eyes, with hair erect and foaming mouth, threatening the flock and the shepherd with the fury of his murderous jaws.
“Martin, the famed protector of them who dwell in fruitful Touraine, Genevieve, the mild divinity of them who drink the waters of the Seine and the Marne, Denis, who bore his head under his arm in the sight of man and of immortals, trembled as they saw George proudly traversing the vast fields of air. On his head was a golden helmet, glittering with diamonds that once paved the squares of the heavenly Jerusalem, when it appeared to mortals during forty diurnal revolutions of the great luminary and his inconstant sister, who with her mild radiance enlightens the darkness of night.
“In his hand is the terrible and sacred lance with which, in the first days of the world, the demi-god Michael, who executes the vengeance of the Most High, overthrew the eternal enemy of the world and the Creator. The most beautiful of the plumage of the angels that stand about the throne, plucked from their immortal backs, waved over his casque; and around it hovered Terror, destroying War, unpitying Revenge, and Death, the terminator of man’s calamities. He came like a comet in its rapid course, darting through the orbits of the wondering planets, and leaving far behind its rays, pale and terrible, announcing to weak mortals the fall of kings and nations.
“He alighted on the banks of the Charente, and the sound of his immortal arms was echoed from the spheres of Jupiter and Saturn. Two strides brought him to the spot where the son of the magnanimous Edward waited for the son of the intrepid de Valois,” etc.
The Florentine continued in this strain for more than a quarter of an hour. The words fell from his lips, as Homer says, more thickly and abundantly than the snows descend in winter; but his words were not cold; they were rather like the rapid sparks escaping from the furnace when the Cyclops forge the bolts of Jove on resounding anvil.
His two antagonists were at last obliged to silence him, by acknowledging that it was easier than they had thought it was, to string together gigantic images, and call in the aid of heaven, earth and hell; but they maintained that to unite the tender and moving with the sublime was the perfection of the art.
“For example,” said the Oxonian, “can anything be more moral, and at the same time more voluptuous, than to see Jupiter reposing with his wife on Mount Ida?”
His lordship then spoke: “Gentlemen,” said he, “I ask your pardon for meddling in the dispute. Perhaps to the Greeks there was something very interesting in a god’s lying with his wife upon a mountain; for my own part, I see nothing in it refined or attractive. I will agree with you that the handkerchief, which commentators and imitators have been pleased to call the girdle of Venus, is a charming figure; but I never understood that it was a soporific, nor how Juno could receive the caresses of the master of the gods for the purpose of putting him to sleep. A queer god, truly, to fall asleep so soon! I can swear that, when I was young, I was not so drowsy. It may, for aught I know, be noble, pleasing, interesting, witty, and decorous to make Juno say to Jupiter, ‘If you are determined to embrace me, let us go to your apartment in heaven, which is the work of Vulcan, and the door of which closes so well that none of the gods can enter.’
“I am equally at a loss to understand how the god of sleep, whom Juno prays to close the eyes of Jupiter, can be so brisk a divinity. He arrives in a moment from the isles of Lemnos and Imbros; there is something fine in coming from two islands at once. He then mounts a pine and is instantly among the Greek ships; he seeks Neptune, finds him, conjures him to give the victory to the Greeks, and returns with a rapid flight to Lemnos. I know of nothing so nimble as this god of sleep.
“In short, if in an epic poem there must be amorous matters, I own that I incomparably prefer the assignations of Alcina with Rogero, and of Armida with Rinaldo. Come, my dear Florentine, read me those two admirable cantos of Ariosto and Tasso.”
The Florentine readily obeyed, and his lordship was enchanted; during which time the Scotchman reperused Fingal, the Oxford professor re-perused Homer; and every one was content. It was at last agreed that happy is he who is sensible to the merits of the ancients and the moderns, appreciates their beauties, knows their faults and pardons them.
If Suetonius could be confronted with the valets-de-chambre of the twelve Cæsars, think you that they would in every instance corroborate his testimony? And in case of dispute, who would not back the valets-de-chambre against the historian?
In our own times, how many books are founded on nothing more than the talk of the town?—just as the science of physics was founded on chimeras which have been repeated from age to age to the present time. Those who take the trouble of noting down at night what they have heard in the day, should, like St. Augustine, write a book of retractions at the end of the year.
Some one related to the grand-audiencier l’Étoile that Henry IV., hunting near Creteil, went alone into an inn where some Parisian lawyers were dining in an upper room. The king, without making himself known, sent the hostess to ask them if they would admit him at their table or sell him a part of their dinner. They sent him for answer that they had private business to talk of and had but a short dinner; they therefore begged that the stranger would excuse them.
Henry called his guards and had the guests outrageously beaten, to teach them, says de l’Étoile, to show more courtesy to gentlemen. Some authors of the present day, who have taken upon them to write the life of Henry IV., copy this anecdote from de l’Étoile without examination, and, which is worse, fail not to praise it as a fine action in Henry. The thing is, however, neither true nor likely; and were it true, Henry would have been guilty of an act at once the most ridiculous, the most cowardly, the most tyrannical, and the most imprudent.
First, it is not likely that, in 1502, Henry IV., whose physiognomy was so remarkable, and who showed himself to everybody with so much affability, was unknown at Creteil near Paris. Secondly, de l’Étoile, far from verifying his impertinent story, says he had it from a man who had it from M. de Vitri; so that it is nothing more than an idle rumor. Thirdly, it would have been cowardly and hateful to inflict a shameful punishment on citizens assembled together on business, who certainly committed no crime in refusing to share their dinner with a stranger (and, it must be admitted, with an indiscreet one) who could easily find something to eat in the same house. Fourthly, this action, so tyrannical, so unworthy not only of a king but of a man, so liable to punishment by the laws of every country, would have been as imprudent as ridiculous and criminal; it would have drawn upon Henry IV. the execrations of the whole commonalty of Paris, whose good opinion was then of so much importance to him.
History, then, should not have been disfigured by so stupid a story, nor should the character of Henry IV. have been dishonored by so impertinent an anecdote.
In a book entitled “Anecdotes Littéraires,” printed by Durand in 1752, avec privilége, there appears the following passage (vol. iii, page 183): “The Amours of Louis XIV., having been dramatized in England, that prince wished to have those of King William performed in France. The Abbé Brueys was directed by M. de Torcy to compose the piece; but though applauded, it was never played, for the subject of it died in the meantime.”
There are almost as many absurd lies as there are words in these few lines. The Amours of Louis XIV. were never played on the London stage. Louis XIV. never lowered himself so far as to order a farce to be written on the amours of King William. King William never had a mistress; no one accused him of weakness of that sort. The Marquis de Torcy never spoke to the Abbé Brueys; he was incapable of making to the abbé, or any one else, so indiscreet and childish a proposal. The Abbé Brueys never wrote the piece in question. So much for the faith to be placed in anecdotes.
The same book says that “Louis XIV. was so much pleased with the opera of Isis that he ordered a decree to be passed in council by which men of rank were permitted to sing at the opera, and receive a salary for so doing, without demeaning themselves. This decree was registered in the Parliament of Paris.”
No such declaration was ever registered in the Parliament of Paris. It is true that Lulli obtained in 1672, long before the opera of Isis was performed, letters permitting him to establish his opera, in which letters he got it inserted that “ladies and gentlemen might sing in this theatre without degradation.” But no declaration was ever registered.
Of all the anas, that which deserves to stand foremost in the ranks of printed falsehood is the Segraisiana: It was compiled by the amanuensis of Segrais, one of his domestics, and was printed long after the master’s death. The Menagiana, revised by La Monnoye, is the only one that contains anything instructive. Nothing is more common than to find in our new miscellanies old bons mots attributed to our contemporaries, or inscriptions and epigrams written on certain princes, applied to others.
We are told in the “Histoire Philosophique et Politique du Commerce dans les deux Indes” (the Philosophical and Political History of the Commerce of the two Indies), that the Dutch, having driven the Portuguese from Malacca, the Dutch captain asked the Portuguese commander when he should return; to which he replied: “When your sins are greater than ours.” This answer had before been attributed to an Englishman in the time of Charles VII. of France, and before them to a Saracen emir in Sicily; after all, it is the answer rather of a Capuchin than of a politician; it was not because the French were greater sinners than the English that the latter deprived them of Canada.
The author of this same history relates, in a serious manner, a little story invented by Steele, and inserted in the Spectator; and would make it pass for one of the real causes of war between the English and the savages. The tale which Steele opposes to the much pleasanter story of the widow of Ephesus, is as follows and is designed to prove that men are not more constant than women; but in Petronius the Ephesian matron exhibits only an amusing and pardonable weakness; while the merchant Inkle, in the Spectator, is guilty of the most frightful ingratitude: “This young traveller Inkle is on the point of being taken by the Caribbees on the continent of America, without it being said at what place or on what occasion. Yarico, a pretty Caribbee, saves his life, and at length flies with him to Barbadoes. As soon as they arrive, Inkle goes and sells his benefactress in the slave market. ‘Ungrateful and barbarous man!’ says Yarico, ‘wilt thou sell me, when I am with child by thee?’ ‘With child!’ replied the English merchant, ‘so much the better; I shall get more for thee!’ ” And this is given us as a true story and as the origin of a long war.
The speech of a woman of Boston to her judges, who condemned her to the house of correction for the fifth time for having brought to bed a fifth child, was a pleasantry of the illustrious Franklin; yet it is related in the same work as an authentic occurrence. How many tales have embellished and disfigured every history?
An author, who has thought more correctly than he has quoted, asserts that the following epitaph was made for Cromwell:
These verses were never made for Cromwell, but for King William. They are not an epitaph, but were written under a portrait of that monarch. Instead of Ci-gît (Here lies) it was:
No one in France was ever so stupid as to say that Cromwell had ever set an example of virtue. It is granted that he had valor and genius; but the title of virtuous was not his due. A thousand stories—a thousand facetiæ—have been travelling about the world for the last thirty centuries. Our books are stuffed with maxims which come forth as new, but are to be found in Plutarch, in Athenæus, in Seneca, in Plautus, in all the ancients.
These are only mistakes, as innocent as they are common; but wilful falsehoods—historical lies which attack the glory of princes and the reputation of private individuals—are serious offences. Of all the books that are swelled with false anecdotes, that in which the most absurd and impudent lies are crowded together, is the pretended “Mémoires de Madame de Maintenon.” The foundation of it was true: the author had several of that lady’s letters, which had been communicated to him by a person of consequence at St. Cyr; but this small quantity of truth is lost in a romance of seven volumes.
In this work the author shows us Louis XIV. supplanted by one of his valets-de-chambre. It supposes letters from Mdlle. Mancini (afterwards Madame Colonne) to Louis XIV., in one of which he makes this niece of Cardinal Mazarin say to the king: “You obey a priest—you are unworthy of me if you submit to serve another. I love you as I love the light of heaven, but I love your glory still better.” Most certainly the author had not the original of this letter.
“Mdlle. de la Vallière,” he says, in another place, “had thrown herself on a sofa in a light dishabille, her thoughts employed on her lover. Often did the dawn of day find her still seated in a chair, her arm resting on a table, her eye fixed, her soul constantly attached to the same object, in the ecstasy of love. The king alone occupied her mind; perhaps at that moment she was inwardly complaining of the vigilance of the spies of Henriette, or the severity of the queen-mother. A slight noise aroused her from her reverie—she shrunk back with surprise and dread; Louis was at her feet—she would have fled—he stopped her; she threatened—he pacified; she wept—he wiped away her tears.” Such a description would not now be tolerated in one of our most insipid novels.
Du Haillan asserts, in one of his small works, that Charles VIII. was not the son of Louis XI. This would account for Louis having neglected his education and always keeping him at a distance. Charles VIII. did not resemble Louis XI. either in body or in mind; but dissimilarity between fathers and their children is still less a proof of illegitimacy than resemblance is a proof of the contrary. That Louis XI. hated Charles VIII. brings us to no conclusion; so bad a son might well be a bad father. Though ten Du Haillans should tell me that Charles VIII. sprung from some other than Louis XI., I should not believe him implicitly. I think a prudent reader should pronounce as the judges do—Pater est is quem nuptiæ demonstrant.
Did Charles V. intrigue with his sister Margaret, who governed the Low Countries? Was it by her that he had Don John of Austria, the intrepid brother of the prudent Philip II.? We have no more proof of this than we have of the secrets of Charlemagne’s bed, who is said to have made free with all his daughters. If the Holy Scriptures did not assure me that Lot’s daughters had children by their own father, and Tamar by her father-in-law, I should hesitate to accuse them of it; one cannot be too discreet.
It has been written that the Duchess de Montpensier bestowed her favors on the monk Jacques Clement, in order to encourage him to assassinate his sovereign. It would have been more politic to have promised them than to have given them. But a fanatical or parricide priest is not incited in this way; heaven is held out to him, and not a woman. His Prior Bourgoing had much greater power in determining him to any act than the greatest beauty upon earth. When he killed the king he had in his pocket no love-letters, but the stories of Judith and Ehud, quite dog-eared and worn out with thumbing.
Jean Châtel and Ravaillac had no accomplices; their crime was that of the age; their only accomplice was the cry of religion. It has been repeatedly asserted that Ravaillac had taken a journey to Naples and that the Jesuit Alagona had, in Naples, predicted the death of the king. The Jesuits never were prophets; had they been so, they would have foretold their own destination; but, on the contrary, they, poor men, always positively declared that they should endure to the end of time. We should never be too sure of anything.
It is in vain that the Jesuit Daniel tells me, in his very dry and very defective “History of France,” that Henry IV. was a Catholic long before his abjuration. I will rather believe Henry IV. himself than the Jesuit Daniel. His letter to La Belle Gabrielle: “C’est demain que je fais le saut périlleux” (To-morrow I take the fatal leap) proves, at least, that something different from Catholicism was still in his heart. Had his great soul been long penetrated by the efficacy of grace, he would perhaps have said to his mistress: “These bishops edify me;” but he says: “Ces genslà m’ennuient.” (These people weary me.) Are these the words of a great catechumen?
This great man’s letters to Corisande d’Andouin, Countess of Grammont, are not a matter of doubt; they still exist in the originals. The author of the “Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit des Nations” (Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations) gives several of these interesting letters, in which there are the following curious passages: “Tous ces empoisonneurs sont tous Papistes. J’ai découvert un tueur pour moi. Les prêcheurs Romains prêchent touthaut qu’il n’y a plus qu’une mort à voir; ils admonestent tout bon Catholique de prendre exemple.—Et vous êtes de cette religion! Si je n’étais Huguenot, je me ferais Turc.” [These poisoners are all Papists. I have discovered an executioner for myself. The Roman preachers exclaim aloud that there is only one more death to be looked for; they admonish all good Catholics to profit by the example (of the poisoning of the prince of Condé).—And you are of this religion! If I were not a Huguenot, I would turn Turk.] It is difficult, after seeing these testimonials in Henry IV.’s own hand, to become firmly persuaded that he was a Catholic in his heart.
Another modern historian accuses the duke of Lerma of the murder of Henry IV. “This,” says he, “is the best established opinion.” This opinion is evidently the worst established. It has never been heard of in Spain; and in France, the continuator of de Thou is the only one who has given any credit to these vague and ridiculous suspicions. If the duke of Lerma, prime minister, employed Ravaillac, he paid him very ill; for when the unfortunate man was seized, he was almost without money. If the duke of Lerma either prompted him or caused him to be prompted to the commission of the act, by the promise of a reward proportioned to the attempt, Ravaillac would assuredly have named both him and his emissaries, if only to revenge himself. He named the Jesuit d’Aubigny, to whom he had only shown a knife—why, then, should he spare the duke of Lerma? It is very strange obstinacy not to believe what Ravaillac himself declared when put to the torture. Is a great Spanish family to be insulted without the least shadow of proof?
Et voilà justement comme on ècrit l’histoire. (Yet this is how history is written.) The Spanish nation is not accustomed to resort to shameful crimes; and the Spanish grandees have always possessed a generous pride which has prevented them from acting so basely. If Philip II. set a price on the head of the prince of Orange, he had, at least, the pretext of punishing a rebellious subject, as the Parliament of Paris had when they set fifty thousand crowns on the head of Admiral Coligni, and afterwards on that of Cardinal Mazarin. These political proscriptions partook of the horror of the civil wars; but how can it be supposed that the duke of Lerma had secret communications with a poor wretch like Ravaillac?
The same author says that Marshal D’Ancre and his wife were struck, as it were, by a thunderbolt. The truth is, that the one was struck by pistol-balls, and the other burned as a witch. An assassination and a sentence of death passed on the wife of a marshal of France, an attendant on the queen, as a reputed sorceress, do very little honor either to the chivalry or to the jurisprudence of that day. But I know not why the historian makes use of these words: “If these two wretches were not accomplices in the king’s death, they at least deserved the most rigorous chastisement; it is certain that, even during the king’s life, Concini and his wife had connections with Spain in opposition to the king’s designs.”
This is not at all certain, nor is it even likely. They were Florentines. The grand duke of Florence was the first to acknowledge Henry IV., and feared nothing so much as the power of Spain in Italy. Concini and his wife had no influence in the time of Henry IV. If they intrigued with the court of Madrid it could only be through the queen, who must, therefore, have betrayed her husband. Besides, let it once more be observed that we are not at liberty to bring forward such accusations without proofs. What! shall a writer pronounce a defamation from his garret, which the most enlightened judges in the kingdom would tremble to hear in a court of justice? Why are a marshal of France and his wife, one of the queen’s attendants, to be called two wretches? Does Marshal d’Ancre, who raised an army against the rebels at his own expense, merit an epithet suitable only to Ravaillac or Cartouche—to public robbers, or public calumniators?
It is but too true that one fanatic is sufficient for the commission of a parricide, without any accomplice. Damiens had none; he repeated four times, in the course of his interrogatory, that he committed his crime solely through a principle of religion. Having been in the way of knowing the convulsionaries, I may say that I have seen twenty of them capable of any act equally horrid, so excessive has been their infatuation. Religion, ill-understood, is a fever which the smallest occurrence raises to frenzy. It is the property of fanaticism to heat the imagination. When a few sparks from the fire that keeps their superstitious heads a-boiling, fall on some violent and wicked spirit—when some ignorant and furious man thinks he is imitating Phineas, Ehud, Judith, and other such personages, he has more accomplices than he is aware of. Many incite to murder without knowing it. Some persons drop a few indiscreet and violent words; a servant repeats them, with additions and embellishments; a Châtel, a Ravaillac, or a Damiens listens to them, while they who pronounced them little think what mischief they have done; they are involuntary accomplices, without there having been either plot or instigation. In short, he knows little of the human mind who does not know that fanaticism renders the populace capable of anything.
The author of the “Siècle de Louis XIV” (“Age of Louis the Fourteenth”) is the first who has spoken of the Man in the Iron Mask in any authentic history. He was well acquainted with this circumstance, which is the astonishment of the present age, and will be that of posterity, but which is only too true. He had been deceived respecting the time of the death of this unknown and singularly unfortunate person, who was interred at the church of St. Paul March 3, 1703, and not in 1704.
He was first confined at Pignerol, before he was sent to the Isles of Ste. Marguerite, and afterwards to the Bastille, always under the care of the same man, that St. Marc, who saw him die. Father Griffet, a Jesuit, has communicated to the public the journal of the Bastille, which certifies the dates. He had no difficulty in obtaining this journal, since he exercised the delicate office of confessor to the prisoners confined in the Bastille.
The Man in the Iron Mask is an enigma which each one attempts to solve. Some have said that he was the duke of Beaufort, but the duke of Beaufort was killed by the Turks in the defence of Candia, in 1669, and the Man in the Iron Mask was at Pignerol in 1672. Besides, how should the duke of Beaufort have been arrested in the midst of his army? How could he have been transferred to France without some one’s knowing something about it? and why should he have been imprisoned? and why masked?
Others have imagined that he was Count Vermandois, natural son to Louis XIV., who, it is well known, died of smallpox when with the army, in 1683, and was buried in the town of Arras.
It has since been supposed that the duke of Monmouth, who was publicly beheaded by order of King James, in 1685, was the Man in the Iron Mask. But either the duke must have come to life again, and afterwards changed the order of time, putting the year 1662 for the year 1685, or King James, who never pardoned any one, and therefore merited all his misfortunes, must have pardoned the duke of Monmouth, and put to death in his stead some one who perfectly resembled him. In the latter case, a person must have been found kind enough to have his head publicly cut off to save the duke of Monmouth. All England must have been deceived in the person; then King James must have begged of Louis XIV. that he would be so good as to become his jailer. Louis XIV., having granted King James this small favor, could not have refused to show the same regard for King William and Queen Anne, with whom he was at war; but would have been careful to maintain the dignity of jailer—with which King James had honored him—to the end of the chapter.
All these illusions being dissipated, it remains to be known who this constantly-masked prisoner was, at what age he died, and under what name he was buried. It is clear that, if he was not permitted to walk in the court of the Bastille, nor to see his physician—except in a mask—it was for fear that some very striking resemblance would be discovered in his features. He was permitted to show his tongue, but never his face. As for his age, he himself told the apothecary of the Bastille, a little before his death, that he believed he was about sixty. The apothecary’s son-in-law, Marsolam, surgeon to Marshal de Richelieu, and afterwards to the duke of Orleans the regent, has repeated this to me several times. To conclude: Why was an Italian name given to him? He was always called Marchiali. The writer of this article, perhaps, knows more on the subject than Father Griffet, though he will not say more.
It is true that Nicholas Fouquet, superintendent of the finances, had many friends in his disgrace, and that they persevered even until judgment was passed on him. It is true that the chancellor, who presided at that judgment, treated the illustrious captive with too much rigor. But it was not Michel Letellier, as stated in some editions of the “Siècle de Louis XIV.;” it was Pierre Seguier. This inadvertency of having placed one for the other is a fault which must be corrected.
It is very remarkable that no one knows where this celebrated minister died. Not that it is of any importance to know it, for his death not having led to any event whatever, is like all other indifferent occurrences; but this serves to prove how completely he was forgotten towards the close of life, how worthless that worldly consideration is which is so anxiously sought for, and how happy they are who have no higher ambition than to live and die unknown. This knowledge is far more useful than that of dates.
Father Griffet does his utmost to persuade us that Cardinal Richelieu wrote a bad book. Well, many statesmen have done the same. But it is very fine to see him strive so hard to prove that, according to Cardinal Richelieu, “our allies, the Spaniards,” so happily governed by a Bourbon, “are tributary to hell, and make the Indies tributary to hell!” Cardinal Richelieu’s “Political Testament” is not that of a polite man. He alleges:
That France had more good ports on the Mediterranean than the whole Spanish monarchy (this is an exaggeration); that to keep up an army of fifty thousand men it is best to raise a hundred thousand (this throws money away); that when a new tax is imposed the pay of the soldiers is increased (which has never been done either in France or elsewhere); that the parliaments and other superior courts should be made to pay the taille (an infallible means of gaining their hearts and making the magistracy respectable); that the noblesse should be forced to serve and to enroll themselves in the cavalry (the better to preserve their privileges); that Genoa was the richest city in Italy (which I wish it were); that we must be very chaste (the testator might add—like certain preachers—“Do what I say, not what I do”); that an abbey should be given to the holy chapel at Paris (a thing of great importance at the crisis in which your friend stood); that Pope Benedict XI. gave a great deal of trouble to the cordeliers, who were piqued on the subject of poverty (that is to say, the revenues of the order of St. Francis); that they were exasperated against him to such a degree that they made war upon him by their writings (more important still and more learned!—especially when John XXII. is taken for Benedict XI. and when in a “Political Testament” nothing is said of the manner in which the war against Spain and the empire was to be conducted, nor of the means of making peace, nor of present dangers, nor of resources, nor of alliances, nor of the generals and ministers who were to be employed, nor even of the dauphin, whose education was of so much importance to the State, nor, in short, of any one object of the ministry).
I consent with all my heart, since it must be so, that Cardinal Richelieu’s memory shall be reproached with this unfortunate work, full of anachronisms, ignorance, ridiculous calculations, and acknowledged falsities. Let people strive as hard as they please to persuade themselves that the greatest minister was the most ignorant and tedious, as well as the most extravagant of writers; it may afford some gratification to those who detest his tyranny. It is also a fact worth preserving in the history of the human mind that this despicable work was praised for more than thirty years, while it was believed to be that great minister’s, and quite as true that the pretended “Testament” made no noise in the world until thirty years after the Cardinal’s death; that it was not printed until forty-two years after that event; that the original, signed by him, has never been seen; that the book is very bad; and that it scarcely deserves to be mentioned.
Did Count de Moret, son of Henry IV., who was wounded in the little skirmish at Castelnaudari, live until the year 1693 under the name of the hermit Jean Baptiste? What proof have we that this hermit was the son of Henry IV.? None.
Did Jeanne d’Albret de Navarre, mother of Henry IV., after the death of Antoine, marry a gentleman named Guyon, who was killed in the massacre of St. Bartholomew? Had she a son by him, who preached at Bordeaux? These facts are detailed at great length in the “Remarks on Bayle’s Answers to the Questions of a Provincial,” folio, page 689. Was Margaret of Valois, wife to Henry IV., brought to bed of two children secretly after her marriage?
We might fill volumes with inquiries like these. But how much pains should we be taking to discover things of no use to mankind! Let us rather seek cures for the scrofula, the gout, the stone, the gravel, and a thousand other chronic or acute diseases. Let us seek remedies for the distempers of the mind, no less terrible and no less mortal. Let us labor to bring the arts to perfection, and to lessen the miseries of the human race; and let us not waste our time over the anas, the anecdotes, and curious stories of our day, the collections of pretended bons mots, etc.
I read in a book lately published that Louis XIV. exempted all new-married men from the taille for five years. I have not found this fact in any collection of edicts, nor in any memoir of that time. I read in the same book that the king of Prussia has fifty livres given to every girl with child. There is, in truth, no better way of laying out money, nor of encouraging propagation, but I do not believe that this royal munificence is true; at least I have never witnessed it.
An anecdote of greater antiquity has just fallen under my eye, and appears to me to be a very strange one. It is said in a chronological history of Italy that the great Arian, Theodoric—he who is represented to have been so wise—had amongst his ministers a Catholic, for whom he had a great liking, and who proved worthy of all his confidence. This minister thought he should rise still higher in his master’s favor by embracing Arianism; but Theodoric had him immediately beheaded, saying: “If a man is not faithful to God, how can he be faithful to me, who am but a man?” The compiler remarks that “this trait does great honor to Theodoric’s manner of thinking with respect to religion.”
I pique myself on thinking, in matters of religion, better than Ostrogoth, Theodoric, the assassin of Symmachus, and Boëtius, because I am a good Catholic, and he was an Arian. But I declare this king worthy of being confined as a madman if he were so atrociously besotted. What! he immediately cut off his minister’s head because that minister had at last come over to his own way of thinking. How was a worshipper of God, who passed from the opinion of Athanasius to that of Arius and Eusebius, unfaithful to God? He was at most unfaithful only to Athanasius and his party, at a time when the world was divided between the Athanasians and the Eusebians; but Theodoric could not regard him as a man unfaithful to God, because he had rejected the term consubstantial, after admitting it at first. To cut off his favorite’s head for such a reason could certainly be the act of none but the wickedest fool and most barbarous blockhead that ever existed. What would you say of Louis XIV. if he had beheaded the duke de la Force because the duke de la Force had quitted Calvinism for the religion of Louis XIV.?
I have just opened a history of Holland, in which I find that, in 1672, Marshal de Luxembourg harangued his troops in the following manner: “Go, my children, plunder, rob, kill, ravish; and if there be anything more abominable fail not to do it, that I may find I have not been mistaken in selecting you as the bravest of men.” This is certainly a very pretty harangue. It is as true as those given us by Livy, but it is not in his style. To complete the dishonor of typography, this fine piece is inserted in several new dictionaries, which are no other than impostures in alphabetical order.
It is a trifling error in the “Abrégé Chronologique de l’Histoire de France” (“Chronological Abridgment of the History of France”) to suppose that Louis XIV., after the Peace of Utrecht, for which he was indebted to the English, after nine years of misfortune, and after the many great victories which the English had gained, said to the English ambassador: “I have always been master at home, and sometimes abroad; do not remind me of it.” This speech would have been very ill-timed, very false as it regarded the English, and would have exposed the king to a most galling reply.
The author himself confessed to me that the Marquis de Torcy, who was present at all the earl of Stair’s audiences, had always given the lie to this anecdote. It is assuredly neither true nor likely, and has remained in the later editions of this book only because it was put in the first. This error, however, does not at all disparage this very useful work, in which all the great events, arranged in the most convenient order, are perfectly authenticated.
All these little tales, designed to embellish history, do but dishonor it, and unfortunately almost all ancient histories are little else than tales. Malebranche was right when, speaking on this subject, he said: “I think no more of history than I do of the news of my parish.”
In 1723, Father Fouquet, a Jesuit, returned to France from China, where he had passed twentyfive years. Religious disputes had embroiled him with his brethren. He had carried with him to China a gospel different from theirs, and now brought back to France memorials against them. Two Chinese literati made the voyage with him; one of them died on the way, the other came with Father Fouquet to Paris. The Jesuit was to take the Chinese to Rome secretly, as a witness of the conduct of the good fathers in China, and in the meantime Fouquet and his companion lodged at the house of the Professed, Rue St. Antoine.
The reverend fathers received advice of their reverend brother’s intentions. Fouquet was no less quickly informed of the designs of the reverend fathers. He lost not a moment, but set off the same night for Rome. The reverend fathers had interest enough to get him pursued, but the Chinese only was taken. This poor fellow did not understand a word of French. The good fathers went to Cardinal Dubois, who at that time needed their support, and told him that they had among them a young man who had gone mad, and whom it was necessary to confine. The cardinal immediately granted a lettre de cachet, than which there is sometimes nothing which a minister is more ready to grant. The lieutenant of police went to take this madman, who was pointed out to him. He found a man making reverences in a way different from the French, speaking in a singing tone, and looking quite astonished. He expressed great pity for his derangement, ordered his hands to be tied behind him, and sent him to Charenton, where, like the Abbé Desfontaines, he was flogged twice a week. The Chinese did not at all understand this method of receiving strangers. He had passed only two or three days in Paris, and had found the manners of the French very odd. He had lived two years on bread and water, amongst madmen and keepers, and believed that the French nation consisted of these two species, the one part dancing while the other flogged them.
At length, when two years had elapsed, the ministry changed and a new lieutenant of police was appointed. This magistrate commenced his administration by visiting the prisons. He also saw the lunatics at Charenton. After conversing with them he asked if there were no other persons for him to see. He was told that there was one more unfortunate man, but that he spoke a language which nobody understood. A Jesuit, who accompanied the magistrate, said it was the peculiarity of this man’s madness that he never gave an answer in French; nothing would be gotten from him, and he thought it would be better not to take the trouble of calling him. The minister insisted. The unfortunate man was brought, and threw himself at his feet. The lieutenant sent for the king’s interpreters, who spoke to him in Spanish, Latin, Greek, and English, but he constantly said Kanton, Kanton, and nothing else. The Jesuit assured them he was possessed. The magistrate, having at some time heard it said that there was a province in China called Kanton, thought this man might perhaps have come from thence. An interpreter to the foreign missions was sent for, who could murder Chinese. All was discovered. The magistrate knew not what to do, nor the Jesuit what to say. The Duke de Bourbon was then prime minister. The circumstance having been related to him, he ordered money and clothes to be given to the Chinese, and sent him back to his own country, whence it is not thought that many literati will come and see us in the future. It would have been more politic to have kept this man and treated him well, than to have sent him to give his countrymen the very worst opinion of the French.
About thirty years ago the French Jesuits sent secret missionaries to China, who enticed a child from his parents in Canton, and brought him to Paris, where they educated him in their convent of La Rue St. Antoine. This boy became a Jesuit at the age of fifteen, after which he remained ten years in France. He knows both French and Chinese perfectly, and is very learned. M. Bertin, comptroller-general, and afterwards secretary of state, sent him back to China in 1763, after the abolition of the Jesuits. He calls himself Ko, and signs himself Ko, Jesuit.
In 1772 there were fourteen Jesuits in Pekin, amongst whom was Brother Ko, who still lives in their house. The Emperor Kien-Long has kept these monks of Europe about him in the positions of painters, engravers, watch-makers, and mechanics, with an express prohibition from ever disputing on religion, or causing the least trouble in the empire.
The Jesuit Ko has sent manuscripts of his own composition from Pekin to Paris entitled: “Memoirs Relative to the History, Arts and Sciences of the Chinese by the Missionaries at Pekin.” This book is printed, and is now selling at Paris by Nyon, the bookseller. The author attacks all the philosophers of Europe. He calls a prince of the Tartar race, whom the Jesuits had seduced, and the late emperor, Yong-Chin, had banished, an illustrious martyr to Jesus Christ. This Ko boasts of making many neophytes, who are ardent spirits, capable of troubling China even more than the Jesuits formerly troubled Japan. It is said that a Russian nobleman, indignant at this Jesuitical insolence, which reaches the farthest corners of the earth even after the extinction of the order—has resolved to find some means of sending to the president of the tribunal of rites at Pekin an extract in Chinese from these memoirs, which may serve to make the aforesaid Ko, and the Jesuits who labor with him, better known.
Angels of the Indians, Persians, etc.
The author of the article “Angel” in the Encyclopædia says that all religions have admitted the existence of angels, although it is not demonstrated by natural reason.
We understand by this word, ministers of God, supernatural is beyond reason. If I mistake not it should have been several religions (and not all) have acknowledged the existence of angels. That of Numa, that of Sabaism, that of the Druids, that of the Scythians, and that of the Phœnicians and ancient Egyptians did not admit their existence.
We understand by this word, ministers of God, deputies, beings of a middle order between God and man, sent to make known to us His orders.
At the present time—in 1772—the Brahmins boast of having possessed in writing, for just four thousand eight hundred and seventy-eight years, their first sacred law, entitled the Shastah, fifteen hundred years before their second law, called Veidam, signifying the word of God. The Shastah contains five chapters; the first, of God and His attributes; the second, of the creation of the angels; the third, of the fall of the angels; the fourth, of their punishment; the fifth, of their pardon, and the creation of man.
It is good, in the first place, to observe the manner in which this book speaks of God.
First Chapter of the Shastah.
God is one; He has created all; it is a perfect sphere, without beginning or end. God conducts the whole creation by a general providence, resulting from a determined principle. Thou shalt not seek to discover the nature and essence of the Eternal, nor by what laws He governs; such an undertaking would be vain and criminal. It is enough for thee to contemplate day and night in His works, His wisdom, His power, and His goodness.
After paying to this opening of the Shastah the tribute of admiration which is due to it, let us pass to the creation of the angels.
Second Chapter of the Shastah.
The Eternal, absorbed in the contemplation of His own existence, resolved, in the fulness of time, to communicate His glory and His essence to beings capable of feeling and partaking His beatitude as well as of contributing to His glory. The Eternal willed it, and they were. He formed them partly of His own essence, capable of perfection or imperfection, according to their will.
The Eternal first created Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, then Mozazor, and all the multitude of the angels. The Eternal gave the pre-eminence to Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Brahma was the prince of the angelic army; Vishnu and Siva were His coadjutors. The Eternal divided the angelic army into several bands, and gave to each a chief. They adored the Eternal, ranged around His throne, each in the degree assigned him. There was harmony in heaven. Mozazor, chief of the first band, led the canticle of praise and adoration to the Creator, and the song of obedience to Brahma, his first creature; and the Eternal rejoiced in His new creation.
Chapter III.—The Fall of a Part of the Angels.
From the creation of the celestial army, joy and harmony surrounded the throne of the Eternal for a thousand years multiplied by a thousand, and would have lasted until the end of time had not envy seized Mozazor and other princes of the angelic bands, among whom was Raabon, the next in dignity to Mozazor. Forgetful of the blessing of their creation, and of their duty, they rejected the power of perfection, and exercised the power of imperfection. They did evil in the sight of the Eternal; they disobeyed Him; they refused to submit to God’s lieutenant and his coadjutors Vishnu and Siva, saying: “We will govern,” and, without fearing the power and the anger of their Creator, disseminated their seditious principles in the celestial army. They seduced the angels, and persuaded a great multitude of them to rebel; and they forsook the throne of the Eternal; and sorrow came upon the faithful angelic spirits; and for the first time grief was known in heaven.
Chapter IV.—Punishment of the Guilty Angels.
The Eternal, whose omniscience, prescience, and influence extend over all things except the action of the beings whom He has created free, beheld with grief and anger the defection of Mozazor, Raabon, and the other chiefs of the angels.
Merciful in his wrath, he sent Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva to reproach them with their crime, and bring them back to their duty; but, confirmed in their spirit of independence, they persisted in their revolt. The Eternal then commanded Siva to march against them, armed with almighty power, and hurl them down from the high place to the place of darkness, into the Ondera, there to be punished for a thousand years multiplied by a thousand.
Abstract of the Fifth Chapter.
At the end of a thousand years Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva implored the clemency of the Eternal in favor of the delinquents. The Eternal vouchsafed to deliver them from the prison of the Ondera, and place them in a state of probation during a great number of solar revolutions. There were other rebellions against God during this time of penitence.
It was at one of these periods that God created the earth, where the penitent angels underwent several metempsychoses, one of the last of which was their transformation into cows. Hence it was that cows became sacred in India. Lastly, they were metamorphosed into men.
So that the Indian system of angels is precisely that of the Jesuit Bougeant, who asserts that the bodies of beasts are inhabited by sinful angels. What the Brahmins had invented seriously, Bougeant, more than four thousand years after, imagined in jest—if, indeed, this pleasantry of his was not a remnant of superstition, combined with the spirit of system-making, as is often the case.
Such is the history of the angels among the ancient Brahmins, which, after the lapse of about fifty centuries, they still continue to teach. Neither our merchants who have traded in India, nor our missionaries, have ever been informed of it; for the Brahmins, having never been edified by their science or their manners, have not communicated to them their secrets. It was left for an Englishman, named Holwell, to reside for thirty years at Benares, on the Ganges, an ancient school of the Brahmins, to learn the ancient Sanscrit tongue, in order at length to enrich our Europe with this singular knowledge; just as Mr. Sale lived a long time in Arabia to give us a faithful translation of the Koran and information relative to ancient Sabaism, which has been succeeded by the Mussulman religion; and as Dr. Hyde continued for twenty years his researches into everything concerning the religion of the Magi.
Angels of the Persians.
The Persians had thirty-one angels. The first of all, who is served by four other angels, is named Bahaman. He has the inspection of all animals except man, over whom God has reserved to himself an immediate jurisdiction.
God presides over the day on which the sun enters the Ram, and this day is a Sabbath, which proves that the feast of the Sabbath was observed among the Persians in the ancient times. The second angel presides over the seventh day, and is called Debadur. The third is Kur, which probably was afterwards converted into Cyrus. He is the angel of the sun. The fourth is called Mah, and presides over the moon. Thus each angel has his province. It was among the Persians that the doctrine of the guardian angel and the evil angel was first adopted. It is believed that Raphael was the guardian angel of the Persian Empire.
Angels of the Hebrews.
The Hebrews knew nothing of the fall of the angels until the commencement of the Christian era. This secret doctrine of the ancient Brahmins must have reached them at that time, for it was then that the book attributed to Enoch, relative to the sinful angels driven from heaven, was fabricated.
Enoch must have been a very ancient writer, since, according to the Jews, he lived in the seventh generation before the deluge. But as Seth, still more ancient than he, had left books to the Hebrews, they might boast of having some from Enoch also. According to them Enoch wrote as follows:
“It happened, after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them they became enamored of them, saying to each other: ‘Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.’ Then their leader, Samyaza, said to them: ‘I fear that you may perhaps be indisposed to the performance of this enterprise, and that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.’ But they answered him and said: ‘We all swear, and bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our intention, but execute our projected undertaking.’
“Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon Ardis, which is the top of Mount Armon. That mountain, therefore, was called Armon, because they had sworn upon it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations. These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader; Urakabarameel, Akabeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Sarakuyal, Asael, Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael, Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the remainder were all with them.
“Then they took wives, each choosing for himself, whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited, teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees. And the women, conceiving, brought forth giants, whose stature was each three hundred cubits,” etc.
The author of this fragment writes in the style which seems to belong to the primitive ages. He has the same simplicity. He does not fail to name the persons, nor does he forget the dates; here are no reflections, no maxims. It is the ancient Oriental manner.
It is evident that this story is founded on the sixth chapter of Genesis: “There were giants in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis and the Book of Enoch perfectly agree respecting the coupling of the angels with the daughters of men, and the race of giants which sprung from this union; but neither this Enoch, nor any book of the Old Testament, speaks of the war of the angels against God, or of their defeat, or of their fall into hell, or of their hatred to mankind.
Nearly all the commentators on the Old Testament unanimously say that before the Babylonian captivity, the Jews knew not the name of any angel. The one that appeared to Manoah, father of Samson, would not tell his name.
When the three angels appeared to Abraham, and he had a whole calf dressed to regale them, they did not tell him their names. One of them said: “I will come to see thee next year, if God grant me life; and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.”
Calmet discovers a great affinity between this story and the fable which Ovid relates in his “Fasti,” of Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, who, having supped with old Hyreus, and finding that he was afflicted with impotence, urinated upon the skin of a calf which he had served up to them, and ordered him to bury this hide watered with celestial urine in the ground, and leave it there for nine months. At the end of the nine months, Hyreus uncovered his hide, and found in it a child, which was named Orion, and is now in the heavens. Calmet moreover says that the words which the angels used to Abraham may be rendered thus: A child shall be born of your calf.
Be this as it may, the angels did not tell Abraham their names; they did not even tell them to Moses; and we find the name of Raphael only in Tobit, at the time of the captivity. The other names of angels are evidently taken from the Chaldæans and the Persians. Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel, are Persian or Babylonian. The name of Israel itself is Chaldæan, as the learned Jew Philo expressly says, in the account of his deputation to Caligula.
We shall not here repeat what has been elsewhere said of angels.
Whether the Greeks and the Romans admitted the Existence of Angels.
They had gods and demi-gods enough to dispense with all other subaltern beings. Mercury executed the commissions of Jupiter, and Iris those of Juno; nevertheless, they admitted genii and demons. The doctrine of guardian angels was versified by Hesiod, who was contemporary with Homer. In his poem of “The Works and Days” he thus explains it:
The farther we search into antiquity, the more we see how modern nations have by turns explored these now almost abandoned mines. The Greeks, who so long passed for inventors, imitated Egypt, which had copied from the Chaldæans, who owed almost everything to the Indians. The doctrine of the guardian angels, so well sung by Hesiod, was afterwards sophisticated in the schools: it was all that they were capable of doing. Every man had his good and his evil genius, as each one had his particular star—
Est genius natale comes qui temperat astrum.
Socrates, we know, had his good angel; but his bad angel must have governed him. No angel but an evil one could prompt a philosopher to run from house to house, to tell people, by question and answer, that father and mother, preceptor and pupil, were all ignorant and imbecile. A guardian angel in that event will find it very difficult to save his protégé from the hemlock.
We are acquainted only with the evil angel of Marcus Brutus, which appeared to him before the battle of Philippi.
The doctrine of angels is one of the oldest in the world. It preceded that of the immortality of the soul. This is not surprising; philosophy is necessary to the belief that the soul of mortal man is immortal; but imagination and weakness are sufficient for the invention of beings superior to ourselves, protecting or persecuting us. Yet it does not appear that the ancient Egyptians had any notion of these celestial beings, clothed with an ethereal body and administering to the orders of a God. The ancient Babylonians were the first who admitted this theology. The Hebrew books employ the angels from the first book of Genesis downwards: but the Book of Genesis was not written before the Chaldæans had become a powerful nation: nor was it until the captivity of Babylon that the Jews learned the names of Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel, etc., which were given to the angels. The Jewish and Christian religions being founded on the fall of Adam, and this fall being founded on the temptation by the evil angel, the devil, it is very singular that not a word is said in the Pentateuch of the existence of the bad angels, still less of their punishment and abode in hell.
The reason of this omission is evident: the evil angels were unknown to the Jews until the Babylonian captivity; then it is that Asmodeus begins to be talked of, whom Raphael went to bind in Upper Egypt; there it is that the Jews first hear of Satan. This word Satan was Chaldæan; and the Book of Job, an inhabitant of Chaldæa, is the first that makes mention of him.
The ancient Persians said Satan was an angel or genius who had made war upon the Dives and the Peris, that is, the fairest of the East.
Thus, according to the ordinary rules of probability, those who are guided by reason alone might be permitted to think that, from this theology, the Jews and Christians at length took the idea that the evil angels had been driven out of heaven, and that their prince had tempted Eve, in the form of a serpent.
It has been pretended that Isaiah, in his fourteenth chapter, had this allegory in view when he said: “Quomodo occidisti de cœlo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris?” “How hast thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?”
It was this same Latin verse, translated from Isaiah, which procured for the devil the name of Lucifer. It was forgotten that Lucifer signifies “that which sheds light.” The words of Isaiah, too, have received a little attention; he is speaking of the dethroned king of Babylon; and by a common figure of speech, he says to him: “How hast thou fallen from heaven, thou brilliant star?”
It does not at all appear that Isaiah sought, by this stroke of rhetoric, to establish the doctrine of the angels precipitated into hell. It was scarcely before the time of the primitive Christian church that the fathers and the rabbis exerted themselves to encourage this doctrine, in order to save the incredibility of the story of a serpent which seduced the mother of men, and which, condemned for this bad action to crawl on its belly, has ever since been an enemy to man, who is always striving to crush it, while it is always endeavoring to bite him. There seemed to be somewhat more of sublimity in celestial substances precipitated into the abyss, and issuing from it to persecute mankind.
It cannot be proved by any reasoning that these celestial and infernal powers exist; neither can it be proved that they do not exist. There is certainly no contradiction in acknowledging the existence of beneficent and malignant substances which are neither of the nature of God nor of the nature of man: but a thing, to be believed, must be more than possible.
The angels who, according to the Babylonians and the Jews, presided over nations, were precisely what the gods of Homer were—celestial beings, subordinate to a supreme being. The imagination which produced the one probably produced the other. The number of the inferior gods increased with the religion of Homer. Among the Christians, the number of the angels was augmented in the course of time.
The writers known by the names of Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory I. fixed the number of angels in nine choirs, forming three hierarchies; the first consisting of the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; the second of the dominations, virtues and powers; and the third of the principalities, archangels, and, lastly, the angels, who give their domination to all the rest. It is hardly permissible for any one but a pope thus to settle the different ranks in heaven.
Angel, in Greek, is envoy. The reader will hardly be the wiser for being told that the Persians had their peris, the Hebrews their malakim, and the Greeks their demonoi.
But it is perhaps better worth knowing that one of the first of man’s ideas has always been to place intermediate beings between the Divinity and himself; such were those demons, those genii, invented in the ages of antiquity. Man always made the gods after his own image; princes were seen to communicate their orders by messengers; therefore, the Divinity had also his couriers. Mercury, Iris, were couriers or messengers.
The Jews, the only people under the conduct of the Divinity Himself, did not at first give names to the angels whom God vouchsafed to send them; they borrowed the names given them by the Chaldæans when the Jewish nation was captive in Babylon; Michael and Gabriel are named for the first time by Daniel, a slave among those people. The Jew Tobit, who lived at Ninevah, knew the angel Raphael, who travelled with his son to assist him in recovering the money due to him from the Jew Gabaël.
In the laws of the Jews, that is, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not the least mention is made of the existence of the angels—much less of the worship of them. Neither did the Sadducees believe in the angels.
But in the histories of the Jews, they are much spoken of. The angels were corporeal; they had wings at their backs, as the Gentiles feigned that Mercury had at his heels; sometimes they concealed their wings under their clothing. How could they be without bodies, since they all ate and drank, and the inhabitants of Sodom wanted to commit the sin of pederasty with the angels who went to Lot’s house?
The ancient Jewish tradition, according to Ben Maimon, admits ten degrees, ten orders of angels:
1. The chaios ecodesh, pure, holy. 2. The ofamin, swift. 3. The oralim, strong. 4. The chasmalim, flames. 5. The seraphim, sparks. 6. The malakim, angels, messengers, deputies. 7. The elohim, gods or judges. 8. The ben elohim, sons of the gods. 9. The cherubim, images. 10. The ychim, animated.
The story of the fall of the angels is not to be found in the books of Moses. The first testimony respecting it is that of Isaiah, who, apostrophizing the king of Babylon, exclaims, “Where is now the exacter of tributes? The pines and the cedars rejoice in his fall. How hast thou fallen from heaven, O Hellel, star of the morning?” It has been already observed that the word Hellel has been rendered by the Latin word Lucifer; that afterwards, in an allegorical sense, the name of Lucifer was given to the prince of the angels, who made war in heaven; and that, at last, this word, signifying Phosphorus and Aurora, has become the name of the devil.
The Christian religion is founded on the fall of the angels. Those who revolted were precipitated from the spheres which they inhabited into hell, in the centre of the earth, and became devils. A devil, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve, and damned mankind. Jesus came to redeem mankind, and to triumph over the devil, who tempts us still. Yet this fundamental tradition is to be found nowhere but in the apocryphal book of Enoch; and there it is in a form quite different from that of the received tradition.
St. Augustine, in his 109th letter, does not hesitate to give slender and agile bodies to the good and bad angels. Pope Gregory I. has reduced to nine choirs—to nine hierarchies or orders—the ten choirs of angels acknowledged by the Jews.
The Jews had in their temple two cherubs, each with two heads—the one that of an ox, the other that of an eagle, with six wings. We paint them now in the form of a flying head, with two small wings below the ears. We paint the angels and archangels in the form of young men, with two wings at the back. As for the thrones and dominations, no one has yet thought of painting them.
St. Thomas, at question cviii. article 2, says that the thrones are as near to God as the cherubim and the seraphim, because it is upon them that God sits. Scot has counted a thousand million of angels. The ancient mythology of the good and bad genii, having passed from the East to Greece and Rome, we consecrated this opinion, for admitting for each individual a good and an evil angel, of whom one assists him and the other torments him, from his birth to his death; but it is not yet known whether these good and bad angels are continually passing from one to another, or are relieved by others. On this point, consult “St. Thomas’s Dream.”
It is not known precisely where the angels dwell—whether in the air, in the void, or in the planets. It has not been God’s pleasure that we should be informed of their abode.
How many nations have long existed, and still exist, without annals. There were none in all America, that is, in one-half of our globe, excepting those of Mexico and Peru, which are not very ancient. Besides, knotted cords are a sort of books which cannot enter into very minute details. Three-fourths of Africa never had annals; and, at the present day, in the most learned nations, in those which have even used and abused the art of writing the most, ninety-nine out of a hundred persons may be regarded as not knowing anything that happened there farther back than four generations, and as ignorant almost of the names of their great-grandfathers. Such is the case with nearly all the inhabitants of towns and villages, very few families holding titles of their possessions. When a litigation arises respecting the limits of a field or a meadow, the judges decide according to the testimony of the old men; and possession constitutes the title. Some great events are transmitted from father to son, and are entirely altered in passing from mouth to mouth. They have no other annals.
Look at all the villages of our Europe, so polished, so enlightened, so full of immense libraries, and which now seem to groan under the enormous mass of books. In each village two men at most, on an average, can read and write. Society loses nothing in consequence. All works are performed—building, planting, sowing, reaping, as they were in the remotest times. The laborer has not even leisure to regret that he has not been taught to consume some hours of the day in reading. This proves that mankind had no need of historical monuments to cultivate the arts really necessary to life.
It is astonishing, not that so many tribes of people are without annals, but that three or four nations have preserved them for five thousand years or thereabouts, through so many violent revolutions which the earth has undergone. Not a line remains of the ancient Egyptian, Chaldæan, or Persian annals, nor of those of the Latins and Etruscans. The only annals that can boast of a little antiquity are the Indian, the Chinese, and the Hebrew.
We cannot give the name of annals to vague and rude fragments of history without date, order, or connection. They are riddles proposed by antiquity to posterity, who understand nothing at all of them. We venture to affirm that Sanchoniathon, who is said to have lived before the time of Moses, composed annals. He probably limited his researches to cosmogony, as Hesiod afterwards did in Greece. We advance this latter opinion only as a doubt; for we write only to be informed, and not to teach.
But what deserves the greatest attention is that Sanchoniathon quotes the books of the Egyptian Thoth, who, he tells us, lived eight hundred years before him. Now Sanchoniathon probably wrote in the age in which we place Joseph’s adventure in Egypt. We commonly place the epoch of the promotion of the Jew Joseph to the prime-ministry of Egypt at the year of the creation 2300.
If, then, the books of Thoth were written eight hundred years before, they were written in the year 1500 of the creation. Therefore, their date was a hundred and fifty-six years before the deluge. They must, then, have been engraved on stone, and preserved in the universal inundation. Another difficulty is that Sanchoniathon does not speak of the deluge, and that no Egyptian writer has ever been quoted who does speak of it. But these difficulties vanish before the Book of Genesis, inspired by the Holy Ghost.
We have no intention here to plunge into the chaos which eighty writers have sought to clear up, by inventing different chronologies; we always keep to the Old Testament. We only ask whether in the time of Thoth they wrote in hieroglyphics, or in alphabetical characters? whether stone and brick had yet been laid aside for vellum, or any other material? whether Thoth wrote annals, or only a cosmogony? whether there were some pyramids already built in the time of Thoth? whether Lower Egypt was already inhabited? whether canals had been constructed to receive the waters of the Nile? whether the Chaldæans had already taught the arts of the Egyptians, and whether the Chaldæans had received them from the Brahmins? There are persons who have resolved all these questions; which once occasioned a man of sense and wit to say of a grave doctor, “That man must be very ignorant, for he answers every question that is asked him.”
The epoch of the establishment of annats is uncertain, which is a proof that the exaction of them is a usurpation—an extortionary custom. Whatever is not founded on an authentic law is an abuse. Every abuse ought to be reformed, unless the reform is more dangerous than the abuse itself. Usurpation begins by small and successive encroachments; equity and the public interest at length exclaim and protest; then comes policy, which does its best to reconcile usurpation with equity, and the abuse remains.
In several dioceses the bishops, chapters, and archdeacons, after the example of the popes, imposed annats upon the curés. In Normandy this exaction is called droit de déport. Policy having no interest in maintaining this pillage, it was abolished in several places; it still exists in others; so true is it that money is the first object of worship!
In 1409, at the Council of Pisa, Pope Alexander V. expressly renounced annats; Charles VII. condemned them by an edict of April, 1418; the Council of Basel declared that they came under the domination of simony, and the Pragmatic Sanction abolished them again.
Francis I., by a private treaty which he made with Leo X., and which was not inserted in the concordat, allowed the pope to raise this tribute, which produced him annually, during that prince’s reign, a hundred thousand crowns of that day, according to the calculation then made by Jacques Capelle, advocate-general to the Parliament of Paris.
The parliament, the universities, the clergy, the whole nation, protested against this exaction, and Henry II., yielding at length to the cries of his people, renewed the law of Charles VII., by an edict of the 3d of September, 1551.
The paying of annats was again forbidden by Charles IX., at the States of Orleans, in 1560: “By the advice of our council, and in pursuance of the decrees of the Holy Councils, the ancient ordinances of the kings, our predecessors, and the decisions of our courts of parliament, we order that all conveying of gold and silver out of our kingdom, and paying of money under the name of annats, vacant or otherwise, shall cease, on pain of a four-fold penalty on the offenders.”
This law, promulgated in the general assembly of the nation, must have seemed irrevocable, but two years afterwards the same prince, subdued by the court of Rome, at that time powerful, re-established what the whole nation and himself had abrogated.
Henry IV., who feared no danger, but feared Rome, confirmed the annats by an edict of the 22d of January, 1596.
Three celebrated jurisconsults, Dumoulin, Lannoy, and Duaren, have written strongly against annats, which they call a real simony. If, in default of their payment the pope refuses his bulls, Duaren advises the Gallican Church to imitate that of Spain, which, in the twelfth Council of Toledo, charged the archbishop of that city, on the pope’s refusal, to provide for the prelates appointed by the king.
It is one of the most certain maxims of French law, consecrated by article fourteen of our liberties, that the bishop of Rome has no power over the temporalities of benefices, but enjoys the revenues of annats only by the king’s permission. But ought there not to be a term to this permission? What avails our enlightenment if we are always to retain our abuses?
The amount of the sums which have been and still are paid to the pope is truly frightful. The attorney-general, Jean de St. Romain, has remarked that in the time of Pius II. twenty-two bishoprics having become vacant in France in the space of three years, it was necessary to carry to Rome a hundred and twenty thousand crowns; that sixty-one abbeys having also become vacant, the like sum had been paid to the court of Rome; that about the same time there had been paid to this court for provisions for the priorships, deaneries, and other inferior dignities, a thousand crowns; that for each curate there was at least a grâce expectative, which was sold for twenty-five crowns, besides an infinite number of dispensations, amounting to two millions of crowns. St. Romain lived in the time of Louis XI. Judge then, what these sums would now amount to. Judge how much other states have given. Judge whether the Roman commonwealth in the time of Lucullus drew more gold and silver from the nations conquered by its sword than the popes, the fathers of those same nations, have drawn from them by their pens.
Supposing that St. Romain’s calculation is too high by half, which is very unlikely, does there not still remain a sum sufficiently considerable to entitle us to call the apostolical chamber to an account and demand restitution, seeing that there is nothing at all apostolical in such an amount of money?
They are said to have been a small sect of the fourth century, but they were rather the sect of every people that had painters and sculptors. As soon as they could draw a little, or shape a figure, they made an image of the Divinity. If the Egyptians consecrated cats and gnats they also sculptured Isis and Osiris. Bel was carved at Babylon, Hercules at Tyre, Brahma in India.
The Mussulmans did not paint God as a man. The Guebres had no image of the Great Being. The Sabean Arabs did not give the human figure to the stars. The Jews did not give it to God in their temple. None of these nations cultivated the art of design, and if Solomon placed figures of animals in his temple it is likely that he had them carved at Tyre; but all the Jews have spoken of God as of a man.
Although they had no images they seem to have made God a man on all occasions. He comes down into the garden; He walks there every day at noon; He talks to His creatures; He talks to the serpent; He makes Himself heard by Moses in the bush; He shows him only His back parts on the mountain; He nevertheless talks to him, face to face, like one friend to another.
In the Koran, too, God is always looked up to as a king. In the twelfth chapter, a throne is given Him above the waters. He had this Koran written by a secretary, as kings have their orders. He sent this same Koran to Mahomet by the angel Gabriel, as kings communicate their orders through the great officers of the crown. In short, although God is declared in the Koran to be neither begetting nor begotten, there is, nevertheless a morsel of anthropomorphism. In the Greek and Latin Churches, God has always been painted with a great beard.
The reading of the whole poem of the late Cardinal Polignac has confirmed me in the idea which I formed of it when he read to me the first book. I am moreover astonished that amidst the dissipations of the world and the troubles in public life, he should have been able to write a long work in verse, in a foreign language; he, who could hardly have made four good lines in his own tongue. It seems to me that he often united the strength of Lucretius and the elegance of Virgil. I admire him, above all, for that facility with which he expresses such difficult things.
Perhaps, indeed, his “Anti-Lucretius” is too diffuse, and too little diversified, but he is here to be examined as a philosopher, not as a poet. It appears to me that so fine a mind as his should have done more justice to the morals of Epicurus, who, though he was a very bad natural philosopher, was, nevertheless, a very worthy man and always taught mildness, temperance, moderation, and justice, virtues which his example inculcated still more forcibly.
In the “Anti-Lucretius,” this great man is thus apostrophized:
But Epicurus might reply to the cardinal: “If I had had the happiness of knowing, like you, the true God, of being born, like you, in a pure and holy religion, I should certainly not have rejected that revealed God, whose tenets were necessarily unknown to my mind, but whose morality was in my heart. I could not admit the existence of such gods as were announced to me by paganism. I was too rational to adore divinities, made to spring from a father and a mother, like mortals, and like them, to make war upon one another. I was too great a friend to virtue not to hate a religion which now invited to crime by the example of those gods themselves, and now sold for money the remission of the most horrible enormities. I beheld, on one hand, infatuated men, stained with vices, and seeking to purify themselves before impure gods; and on the other, knaves who boasted that they could justify the most perverse by initiating them in mysteries, by dropping bullock’s blood on their heads, or by dipping them in the waters of the Ganges. I beheld the most unjust wars undertaken with perfect sanctity, so soon as a ram’s liver was found unspotted, or a woman, with hair dishevelled and rolling eyes, uttered words of which neither she nor any one else knew the meaning. In short, I beheld all the countries of the earth stained with the blood of human victims, sacrificed by barbarous pontiffs to barbarous gods. I consider that I did well to detest such religions. Mine is virtue. I exhorted my disciples not to meddle with the affairs of this world, because they were horribly governed. A true Epicurean was mild, moderate, just, amiable—a man of whom no society had to complain—one who did not pay executioners to assassinate in public those who thought differently from himself. From hence to the holy religion in which you have been bred there is but one step. I destroyed the false gods, and, had I lived in your day, I would have recognized the true ones.”
Thus might Epicurus justify himself concerning his error. He might even entitle himself to pardon respecting the dogma of the immortality of the soul, by saying: “Pity me for having combated a truth which God revealed five hundred years after my birth. I thought like all the first Pagan legislators of the world; and they were all ignorant of this truth.”
I wish, then, that Cardinal Polignac had pitied while he condemned Epicurus; it would have been no detriment to fine poetry. With regard to physics it appears to me that the author has lost much time and many verses in refuting the declination of atoms and the other absurdities which swarm in the poem of Lucretius. This is employing artillery to destroy a cottage. Besides, why remove Lucretius’ reveries to substitute those of Descartes?
Cardinal Polignac has inserted in his poem some very fine lines on the discoveries of Newton; but in these, unfortunately for himself, he combats demonstrated truths. The philosophy of Newton is not to be discussed in verse; it is scarcely to be approached in prose. Founded altogether on geometry, the genius of poetry is not fit to assail it. The surface of these truths may be decorated with fine verses but to fathom them, calculation is requisite, and not verse.
Have you not sometimes seen, in a village, Pierre Aoudri and his wife Peronelle striving to go before their neighbors in a procession? “Our grandfathers,” say they, “rung the bells before those who elbow us now had so much as a stable of their own.”
The vanity of Pierre Aoudri, his wife, and his neighbors knows no better. They grow warm. The quarrel is an important one, for honor is in question. Proofs must now be found. Some learned churchsinger discovers an old rusty iron pot, marked with an A, the initial of the brazier’s name who made the pot. Pierre Aoudri persuades himself that it was the helmet of one of his ancestors. So Cæsar descended from a hero and from the goddess Venus. Such is the history of nations; such is, very nearly, the knowledge of early antiquity.
The learned of Armenia demonstrate that the terrestrial paradise was in their country. Some profound Swedes demonstrate that it was somewhere about Lake Wenner, which exhibits visible remains of it. Some Spaniards, too, demonstrate that it was in Castile. While the Japanese, the Chinese, the Tartars, the Indians, the Africans, and the Americans, are so unfortunate as not even to know that a terrestrial paradise once existed at the sources of the Pison, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, or, which is the same thing, at the sources of the Guadalquivir, the Guadiana, the Douro, and the Ebro. For of Pison we easily make Phæris, and of Phæris we easily make the Bætis, which is the Guadalquivir. The Gihon, it is plain, is the Guadiana, for they both begin with a G. And the Ebro, which is in Catalonia, is unquestionably the Euphrates, both beginning with an E.
But a Scotchman comes, and in his turn demonstrates that the garden of Eden was at Edinburgh, which has retained its name; and it is not unlikely that, in a few centuries, this opinion will prevail.
The whole globe was once burned, says a man conversant with ancient and modern history; for I have read in a journal that charcoal quite black has been found a hundred feet deep, among mountains covered with wood. And it is also suspected that there were charcoal-burners in this place.
Phaeton’s adventure sufficiently shows that everything has been boiled, even to the bottom of the sea. The sulphur of Mount Vesuvius incontrovertibly proves that the banks of the Rhine, the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Great Yellow River, are nothing but sulphur, nitre, and oil of guiacum, which only wait for the moment of explosion to reduce the earth to ashes, as it has already once been. The sand on which we walk is an evident proof that the universe has vitrified, and that our globe is nothing but a ball of glass—like our ideas.
But if fire has changed our globe, water has produced still more wonderful revolutions. For it is plain that the sea, the tides of which in our latitudes rise eight feet, has produced the mountains, which are sixteen to seventeen thousand feet high. This is so true that some learned men, who never were in Switzerland, found a large vessel there, with all its rigging, petrified, either on Mount St. Gothard or at the bottom of a precipice—it is not positively known which; but it is quite certain that it was there. Therefore, men were originally fishes—Q. E. D.
Coming down to antiquity less ancient let us speak of the times when most barbarous nations quitted their own countries to seek others which were not much better. It is true, if there be anything true in ancient history, that there were Gaulish robbers who went to plunder Rome in the time of Camillus. Other robbers from Gaul had, it is said, passed through Illyria to sell their services as murderers to other murderers in the neighborhood of Thrace: they bartered their blood for bread, and at length settled in Galatia. But who were these Gauls? Were they natives of Berry and Anjou? They were, doubtless, some of those Gauls whom the Romans called Cisalpine, and whom we call Transalpine—famishing mountaineers, inhabiting the Alps and the Apennines. The Gauls of the Seine and the Marne did not then know that Rome existed, and could not resolve to cross Mont Cenis, as was afterwards done by Hannibal, to steal the wardrobes of the Roman senators, whose only movables were a gown of bad grey cloth, decorated with a band, the color of bull’s blood, two small knobs of ivory, or rather dog’s bone, fixed to the arms of a wooden chair, and a piece of rancid bacon in their kitchens.
The Gauls, who were dying of hunger, finding nothing to eat at home, went to try their fortune farther off; as the Romans afterwards did when they ravaged so many countries, and as the people of the North did at a later period when they destroyed the Roman Empire.
And whence have we received our vague information respecting these emigrations? From some lines written at a venture by the Romans; for, as for the Celts, Welsh, or Gauls, whom some would have us believe to have been eloquent, neither they nor their bards could at that time read or write.
But, to infer from these that the Gauls or Celts, afterwards conquered by a few of Cæsar’s legions, then by a horde of Goths, then by a horde of Burgundians, and lastly by a horde of Sicambri, under one Clodovic, had before subjugated the whole earth, and given their names and their laws to Asia, seems to me to be inferring a great deal. The thing, however, is not mathematically impossible; and if it be demonstrated, I assent: it would be very uncivil to refuse to the Welsh what is granted to the Tartars.
Who have been the greatest fools, and who the most ancient fools? Ourselves or the Egyptians, or the Syrians or some other people? What was signified by our misletoe? Who first consecrated a cat? It must have been he who was the most troubled with mice. In what nation did they first dance under the boughs of trees in honor of the gods? Who first made processions, and placed fools, with caps and bells, at the head of them? Who first carried a priapus through the streets, and fixed one like a knocker at the door? What Arab first took it into his head to hang his wife’s drawers out at the window, the day after his marriage?
All nations have formerly danced at the time of the new moon. Did they then give one another the word? No; no more than they did to rejoice at the birth of a son, or to mourn, or seem to mourn, at the death of a father. Every one is very glad to see the moon again, after having lost her for several nights. There are a hundred usages so natural to all men, that it cannot be said the Biscayans taught them to the Phrygians, or the Phrygians to the Biscayans.
Fire and water have been used in temples. This custom needed no introduction. A priest did not choose always to have his hands dirty. Fire was necessary to cook the immolated carcasses, and to burn slips of resinous wood and spices, in order to combat the odor of the sacerdotal shambles.
But the mysterious ceremonies which it is so difficult to understand, the usages which nature does not teach—in what place, when, where, how, why, were they invented? Who communicated them to other nations? It is not likely that it should, at the same time, have entered the head of an Arab and of an Egyptian to cut off one end of his son’s prepuce; nor that a Chinese and a Persian should, both at once, have resolved to castrate little boys.
It can never have been that two fathers, in different countries, have, at the same moment, formed the idea of cutting their sons’ throats to please God. Some nations must have communicated to others their follies, serious, ridiculous, or barbarous. In this antiquity men love to search, to discover, if possible, the first madman and the first scoundrel who perverted human nature.
But how are we to know whether Jehu, in Phœnicia, by immolating his son, was the inventor of sacrifices of human blood? How can we be assured that Lycaon was the first who ate human flesh, when we do not know who first began to eat fowls?
We seek to know the origin of ancient feasts. The most ancient and the finest is that of the emperors of China tilling and sowing the ground, together with their first mandarins. The second is that of the Thesmophoria at Athens. To celebrate at once agriculture and justice, to show men how necessary they both are, to unite the curb of law with the art which is the source of all wealth—nothing is more wise, more pious, or more useful.
There are old allegorical feasts to be found everywhere, as those of the return of the seasons. It was not necessary that one nation should come from afar off to teach another that marks of joy and friendship for one’s neighbors may be given on the first day of the year. This custom has been that of every people. The Saturnalia of the Romans are better known than those of the Allobroges and the Picts; because there are many Roman writings and monuments remaining, but there are none of the other nations of western Europe.
The feast of Saturn was the feast of Time. He had four wings; time flies quickly—his two faces evidently signifying the concluded and the commencing year. The Greeks said that he had devoured his father and that he devoured his children. No allegory is more reasonable. Time devours the past and the present, and will devour the future.
Why seek for vain and gloomy explanations of a feast so universal, so gay, and so well known? When I look well into antiquity, I do not find a single annual festival of a melancholy character; or, at least, if they begin with lamentations, they end in dancing and revelry. If tears are shed for Adoni or Adonai, whom we call Adonis, he is soon resuscitated, and rejoicing takes place. It is the same with the feasts of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. The Greeks, too, did as much for Ceres as for Prosperine. The death of the serpent Python was celebrated with gayety. A feast day and a day of joy were one and the same thing. At the feasts of Bacchus this joy was only carried too far.
I do not find one general commemoration of an unfortunate event. The institutors of the feasts would have shown themselves to be devoid of common sense if they had established at Athens a celebration of the battle lost at Chæronea, and at Rome another of the battle of Cannæ.
They perpetuated the remembrance of what might encourage men, and not of that which might fill them with cowardice or despair. This is so true that fables were invented for the purpose of instituting feasts. Castor and Pollux did not fight for the Romans near Lake Regillus; but, at the end of three or four hundred years, some priests said so, and all the people danced. Hercules did not deliver Greece from a hydra with seven heads; but Hercules and his hydra were sung.
I do not know that there was, in all antiquity, a single festival founded on an established fact. It has been elsewhere remarked how extremely ridiculous those schoolmen appear who say to you, with a magisterial air: “Here is an ancient hymn in honor of Apollo, who visited Claros; therefore Apollo went to Claros; a chapel was erected to Perseus; therefore he delivered Andromeda.” Poor men! You should rather say, therefore there was no Andromeda.
But what, then, will become of that learned antiquity which preceded the olympiads? It will become what it is—an unknown time, a time lost, a time of allegories and lies, a time regarded with contempt by the wise, and profoundly discussed by blockheads, who like to float in a void, like Epicurus’ atoms.
There were everywhere days of penance, days of expiation in the temples; but these days were never called by a name answering to that of feasts. Every feast-day was sacred to diversion; so true is this that the Egyptian priests fasted on the eve in order to eat the more on the morrow—a custom which our monks have preserved. There were, no doubt, mournful ceremonies. It was not customary to dance the Greek brawl while interring or carrying to the funeral pile a son or a daughter; this was a public ceremony, but certainly not a feast.
Men of ingenuity, profound searchers into antiquity, who would know how the earth was made a hundred thousand years ago, if genius could discover it, have asserted that mankind, reduced to a very small number in both continents, and still terrified at the innumerable revolutions which this sad globe had undergone, perpetuated the remembrance of their calamities by dismal and mournful commemorations.
“Every feast,” say they, “was a day of horror, instituted to remind men that their fathers had been destroyed by the fires of the volcanoes, by rocks falling from the mountains, by eruptions of the sea, by the teeth and claws of wild beasts, by war, pestilence and famine.”
Then we are not made as men were then. There was never so much rejoicing in London as after the plague and the burning of the whole city in the reign of Charles II. We made songs while the massacres of Bartholomew were still going on. Some pasquinades have been preserved which were made the day after the assassination of Coligni; there was printed in Paris, Passio Domini nostri Gaspardi Colignii secundum Bartholomæum.
It has a thousand times happened that the sultan who reigns in Constantinople has made his eunuchs and odalisks dance in apartments stained with the blood of his brothers and his viziers. What do the people of Paris do on the very day that they are apprised of the loss of a battle and the death of a hundred brave officers? They run to the play and the opera.
What did they when the wife of Marshal d’Ancre was given up in the Grève to the barbarity of her persecutors? When Marshal de Marillac was dragged to execution in a wagon, by virtue of a paper signed by robed lackeys in Cardinal de Richelieu’s ante-chamber? When a lieutenant-general of the army, a foreigner, who had shed his blood for the state, condemned by the cries of his infuriated enemies, was led to the scaffold in a dung-cart, with a gag in his mouth? When a young man of nineteen, full of candor, courage and modesty, but very imprudent, was carried to the most dreadful of punishments? They sang vaudevilles. Such is man, at least man on the banks of the Seine. Such has he been at all times, for the same reason that rabbits have always had hair, and larks feathers.
What! we would know the precise theology of Thoth, Zerdusht, or Sanchoniathon, although we know not who invented the shuttle. The first weaver, the first mason, the first smith were undoubtedly great geniuses; yet no account has been made of them. And why? Because not one of them invented a perfect art. He who first hollowed the trunk of an oak for the purpose of crossing a river did not build galleys; nor did they who piled up unhewn stones, and laid pieces of wood across them, dream of the pyramids. Everything is done by degrees, and the glory belongs to no one.
All was done in the dark, until philosophers, aided by geometry, taught men to proceed with accuracy and safety.
It was left for Pythagoras, on his return from his travels, to show workmen the way to make an exact square. He took three rules: one three, one four, and one five feet long, and with these he made a right-angled triangle. Moreover, it was found that the side 5 furnished a square just equal to the two squares produced by the sides 4 and 3; a method of importance in all regular works.
This is the famous theorem which he had brought from India, and which we have elsewhere said was known in China long before, according to the relation of the Emperor Cam-hi. Long before Plato, the Greeks made use of a single geometrical figure to double the square.
Archytas and Erastothenes invented a method of doubling the cube, which was impracticable by ordinary geometry, and which would have done honor to Archimedes.
This Archimedes found the method of calculating exactly the quantity of alloy mixed with gold; for gold had been worked for ages before the fraud of the workers could be discovered. Knavery existed long before mathematics. The pyramids, built with the square, and corresponding exactly with the four cardinal points, sufficiently show that geometry was known in Egypt from time immemorial; and yet it is proved that Egypt is quite a new country.
Without philosophy we should be little above the animals that dig or erect their habitations, prepare their food in them, take care of their little ones in their dwellings, and have besides the good fortune, which we have not, of being born ready clothed. Vitruvius, who had travelled in Gaul and Spain, tells us that in his time the houses were built of a sort of mortar, covered with thatch or oak shingles, and that the people did not make use of tiles. What was the time of Vitruvius? It was that of Augustus. The arts had scarcely yet reached the Spaniards, who had mines of gold and silver; or the Gauls, who had fought for ten years against Cæsar.
The same Vitruvius informs us that in the opulent and ingenious town of Marseilles, which traded with so many nations, the roofs were only of a kind of clay mixed with straw.
He says that the Phrygians dug themselves habitations in the ground; they stuck poles round the hollow, brought them together at the top, and laid earth over them. The Hurons and the Algonquins are better lodged. This gives us no very lofty idea of Troy, built by the gods, and the palace of Priam:
To be sure, the people are not lodged like kings; huts are to be seen near the Vatican and near Versailles. Besides, industry rises and falls among nations by a thousand revolutions:
We have our arts, the ancients had theirs. We could not make a galley with three benches of oars, but we can build ships with a hundred pieces of cannon. We cannot raise obelisks a hundred feet high in a single piece, but our meridians are more exact. The byssus is unknown to us, but the stuffs of Lyons are more valuable. The Capitol was worthy of admiration, the church of St. Peter is larger and more beautiful. The Louvre is a masterpiece when compared with the palace of Persepolis, the situation and ruins of which do but tell of a vast monument to barbaric wealth. Rameau’s music is probably better than that of Timotheus; and there is not a picture presented at Paris in the Hall of Apollo (salon d’Apollon) which does not excel the paintings dug out of Herculaneum.
Was the ox Apis worshipped at Memphis as a god, as a symbol, or as an ox? It is likely that the fanatics regarded him as a god, the wise as merely a symbol, and that the more stupid part of the people worshipped the ox. Did Cambyses do right in killing this ox with his own hand? Why not? He showed to the imbecile that their god might be put on the spit without nature’s arming herself to avenge the sacrilege. The Egyptians have been much extolled. I have not heard of a more miserable people. There must always have been in their character, and in their government, some radical vice which has constantly made vile slaves of them. Let it be granted that in times almost unknown they conquered the earth; but in historical times they have been subjugated by all who have chosen to take the trouble—by the Assyrians, by the Greeks, by the Romans, by the Arabs, by the Mamelukes, by the Turks, by all, in short, but our crusaders, who were even more ill-advised than the Egyptians were cowardly. It was the Mameluke militia that beat the French under St. Louis. There are, perhaps, but two things tolerable in this nation; the first is, that those who worshipped an ox never sought to compel those who adored an ape to change their religion; the second, that they have always hatched chickens in ovens.
We are told of their pyramids; but they are monuments of an enslaved people. The whole nation must have been set to work on them, or those unsightly masses could never have been raised. And for what use were they? To preserve in a small chamber the mummy of some prince, or governor, or intendant, which his soul was to reanimate at the end of a thousand years. But if they looked forward to this resurrection of the body, why did they take out the brains before embalming them? Were the Egyptians to be resuscitated without brains?
Justin the Martyr, who wrote about the year 270 of the Christian era, was the first who spoke of the Apocalypse; he attributes it to the apostle John the Evangelist. In his dialogue with Tryphon, that Jew asks him if he does not believe that Jerusalem is one day to be re-established? Justin answers that he believes it, as all Christians do who think aright. “There was among us,” says he, “a certain person named John, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus; he foretold that the faithful shall pass a thousand years in Jerusalem.”
The belief in this reign of a thousand years was long prevalent among the Christians. This period was also in great credit among the Gentiles. The souls of the Egyptians returned to their bodies at the end of a thousand years; and, according to Virgil, the souls in purgatory were exorcised for the same space of time—et mille per annos. The New Jerusalem of a thousand years was to have twelve gates, in memory of the twelve apostles; its form was to be square; its length, breadth, and height were each to be a thousand stadii—i. e., five hundred leagues; so that the houses were to be five hundred leagues high. It would be rather disagreeable to live in the upper story; but we find all this in the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse.
If Justin was the first who attributed the Apocalypse to St. John, some persons have rejected his testimony; because in the same dialogue with the Jew Tryphon he says that, according to the relation of the apostles, Jesus Christ, when he went into the Jordan, made the water boil, which, however, is not to be found in any writing of the apostles.
The same St. Justin confidently cites the oracles of Sibyls; he moreover pretends to have seen the remains of the places in which the seventy-two interpreters were confined in the Egyptian pharos, in Herod’s time. The testimony of a man who had had the misfortune to see these places seems to indicate that he might possibly have been confined there himself.
St. Irenæus, who comes afterwards, and who also believed in the reign of a thousand years, tells us that he learned from an old man that St. John wrote the Apocalypse. But St. Irenæus is reproached with having written that there should be but four gospels, because there are but four quarters of the world, and four cardinal points, and Ezekiel saw but four animals. He calls this reasoning a demonstration. It must be confessed that Irenæus’s method of demonstrating is quite worthy of Justin’s power of sight.
Clement of Alexandria, in his “Electa,” mentions only an Apocalypse of St. Peter, to which great importance was attached. Tertullian, a great partisan of the thousand years’ reign, not only assures us that St. John foretold this resurrection and reign of a thousand years in the city of Jerusalem, but also asserts that this Jerusalem was already beginning to form itself in the air, where it had been seen by all the Christians of Palestine, and even by the Pagans, at the latter end of the night, for forty nights successively; but, unfortunately, the city always disappeared as soon as it was daylight.
Origen, in his preface to St. John’s Gospel, and in his homilies, quotes the oracles of the Apocalypse, but he likewise quotes the oracles of Sibyls. And St. Dionysius of Alexandria, who wrote about the middle of the third century, says, in one of his fragments preserved by Eusebius, that nearly all the doctors rejected the Apocalypse as a book devoid of reason, and that this book was composed, not by St. John, but by one Cerinthus, who made use of a great name to give more weight to his reveries.
The Council of Laodicea, held in 360, did not reckon the Apocalypse among the canonical books. It is very singular that Laodicea, one of the churches to which the Apocalypse was addressed, should have rejected a treasure designed for itself, and that the bishop of Ephesus, who attended the council, should also have rejected this book of St. John, who was buried at Ephesus.
It was visible to all eyes that St. John was continually turning about in his grave, causing a constant rising and falling of the earth. Yet the same persons who were sure that St. John was not quite dead were also sure that he had not written the Apocalypse. But those who were for the thousand years’ reign were unshaken in their opinion. Sulpicius Severus, in his “Sacred History,” book xi., treats as mad and impious those who did not receive the Apocalypse. At length, after numerous oppositions of council to council, the opinion of Sulpicius Severus prevailed. The matter having been thus cleared up, the Church came to the decision, from which there is no appeal, that the Apocalypse is incontestably St. John’s.
Every Christian communion has applied to itself the prophecies contained in this book. The English have found in it the revolutions of Great Britain; the Lutherans, the troubles of Germany; the French reformers, the reign of Charles IX., and the regency of Catherine de Medici, and they are all equally right. Bossuet and Newton have both commented on the Apocalypse, yet, after all, the eloquent declamations of the one, and the sublime discoveries of the other, have done them greater honor than their commentaries.
Two great men, but very different in their greatness, have commented on the Apocalypse in the seventeenth century: Newton, to whom such a study was very ill suited, and Bossuet, who was better fitted for the undertaking. Both gave additional weapons to their enemies, by their commentaries, and, as has elsewhere been said, the former consoled mankind for his superiority over them, while the latter made his enemies rejoice.
The Catholics and the Protestants have both explained the Apocalypse in their favor, and have each found in it exactly what has accorded with their interests. They have made wonderful commentaries on the great beast with seven heads and ten horns, with the hair of a leopard, the feet of a bear, the throat of a lion, the strength of a dragon, and to buy and sell it was necessary to have the character and number of the beast, which number was 666.
Bossuet finds that this beast was evidently the Emperor Diocletian, by making an acrostic of his name. Grotius believed that it was Trajan. A curate of St. Sulpice, named La Chétardie, known from some strange adventures, proves that the beast was Julian. Jurieu proves that the beast is the pope. One preacher has demonstrated that it was Louis XIV. A good Catholic has demonstrated that it was William, king of England. It is not easy to make them all agree.
There have been warm disputes concerning the stars which fell from heaven to earth, and the sun and moon, which were struck with darkness in their third parts.
There are several opinions respecting the book that the angel made the author of the Apocalypse eat, which book was sweet to the mouth and bitter to the stomach. Jurieu asserted that the books of his adversary were designated thereby, and his argument was retorted upon himself.
There have been disputes about this verse: “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder; and I heard the voice of harpers harping on their harps.”
It is quite clear that it would have been better to have respected the Apocalypse than to have commented upon it.
Camus, bishop of Bellay, printed in the last century a large book against the monks, which an unfrocked monk abridged. It was entitled “Apocalypse,” because in it he exposed the dangers and defects of the monastic life; and “Melito’s Apocalypse” (“Apocalypse de Méliton”), because Melito, bishop of Sardis, in the second century, had passed for a prophet. This bishop’s work has none of the obscurities of St. John’s Apocalypse. Nothing was ever clearer. The bishop is like a magistrate saying to an attorney, “You are a forger and a cheat—do you comprehend me?”
The bishop of Bellay computes, in his Apocalypse or Revelations, that there were in his time ninety-eight orders of monks endowed or mendicant, living at the expense of the people, without employing themselves in the smallest labor. He reckoned six hundred thousand monks in Europe. The calculation was a little strained; but it is certain that the real number of the monks was rather too large.
He assures us that the monks are enemies to the bishops, curates, and magistrates; that, among the privileges granted to the Cordeliers, the sixth privilege is the certainty of being saved, whatever horrible crime you may have committed, provided you belong to the Order of St. Francis; that the monks are like apes; the higher they climb, the plainer you see their posteriors; that the name of monk has become so infamous and execrable that it is regarded by the monks themselves as a foul reproach and the most violent insult that can be offered them.
My dear reader, whoever you are, minister or magistrate, consider attentively the following short extract from our bishop’s book:
“Figure to yourself the convent of the Escorial or of Monte Cassino, where the cœnobites have everything necessary, useful, delightful, superfluous and superabundant—since they have their yearly revenue of a hundred and fifty thousand, four hundred thousand, or five hundred thousand crowns; and judge whether Monsieur l’Abbé has wherewithal to allow himself and those under him to sleep after dinner.
“Then imagine an artisan or laborer, with no dependence except on the work of his hands, and burdened with a large family, toiling like a slave every day and at all seasons, to feed them with the bread of sorrow and the water of tears; and say, which of the two conditions is pre-eminent in poverty.”
This is a passage from the “Episcopal Apocalypse” which needs no commentary. All that is wanted is an angel to come and fill his cup with the wine of the monks, to slake the thirst of the laborers who plow, sow, and reap, for the monasteries.
But this prelate, instead of writing a useful book, only composed a satire. Consistently with his dignity, he should have stated the good as well as evil. He should have acknowledged that the Benedictines have produced many good works, and that the Jesuits have rendered great services to literature. He might have blessed the brethren of La Charité, and those of the Redemption of the Captives. Our first duty is to be just. Camus gave too much scope to his imagination. St. François de Sales advised him to write moral romances; but he abused the advice.
These are heretics who might pass for other than Christians. However, they acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Mediator; but they dare to maintain that nothing is more contrary to right reason than what is taught among Christians concerning the Trinity of persons in one only divine essence, of whom the second is begotten by the first, and the third proceeds from the other two; that this unintelligible doctrine is not to be found in any part of Scripture; that no passage can be produced which authorizes it; or to which, without in any wise departing from the spirit of the text, a sense cannot be given more clear, more natural, or more conformable to common notions, and to primitive and immutable truths; that to maintain, as the orthodox do, that in the divine essence there are several distinct persons, and that the Eternal is not the only true God, but that the Son and the Holy Ghost must be joined with Him, is to introduce into the Church of Christ an error the most gross and dangerous, since it is openly to favor polytheism; that it implies a contradiction, to say that there is but one God, and that, nevertheless, there are three persons, each of which is truly God; that this distinction, of one in essence, and three in person, was never in Scripture; that it is manifestly false, since it is certain that there are no fewer essences than persons, nor persons than essences; that the three persons of the Trinity are either three different substances, or accidents of the divine essence, or that essence itself without distinction; that, in the first place, you make three Gods; that, in the second, God is composed of accidents; you adore accidents, and metamorphose accidents into persons; that, in the third, you unfoundedly and to no purpose divide an indivisible subject, and distinguish into three that which within itself has no distinction; that if it be said that the three personalities are neither different substances in the divine essence, nor accidents of that essence, it will be difficult to persuade ourselves that they are anything at all; that it must not be believed that the most rigid and decided Trinitarians have themselves any clear idea of the way in which the three hypostases subsist in God, without dividing His substance, and consequently without multiplying it; that St. Augustine himself, after advancing on this subject a thousand reasonings alike dark and false, was forced to confess that nothing intelligible could be said about the matter; they then repeat the passage by this father, which is, indeed, a very singular one: “When,” says he, “it is asked what are the three, the language of man fails and terms are wanting to express them.” “Three persons, has, however, been said—not for the purpose of expressing anything, but in order to say something and not remain mute.” “Dictum est tres personæ, non ut aliquid diceretur, sed ne taceretur.”—De Trinit. lib. v. cap. 9; that modern theologians have cleared up this matter no better; that, when they are asked what they understand by the word person, they explain themselves only by saying that it is a certain incomprehensible distinction by which are distinguished in one nature only, a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost; that the explanation which they give of the terms begetting and proceeding, is no more satisfactory, since it reduces itself to saying that these terms indicate certain incomprehensible relations existing among the three persons of the Trinity; that it may be hence gathered that the state of the question between them and the orthodox is to know whether there are in God three distinctions, of which no one has any definite idea, and among which there are certain relations of which no one has any more idea.
From all this they conclude that it would be wiser to abide by the testimony of the apostles, who never spoke of the Trinity, and to banish from religion forever all terms which are not in the scriptures—as trinity, person, essence, hypostasis, hypostatic and personal union, incarnation, generation, proceeding, and many others of the same kind; which being absolutely devoid of meaning, since they are represented by no real existence in nature, can excite in the understanding none but false, vague, obscure, and undefinable notions.
To this article let us add what Calmet says in his dissertation on the following passage of the Epistle of John the Evangelist: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, the water and the blood; and these three are one.” Calmet acknowledges that these two verses are not in any ancient bible; indeed, it would be very strange if St. John had spoken of the Trinity in a letter, and said not a word about it in his Gospel. We find no trace of this dogma, either in the canonical or in the apocryphal gospels. All these reasons and many others might excuse the anti-trinitarians, if the councils had not decided. But as the heretics pay no regard to councils, we know not what measures to take to confound them. Let us content ourselves with believing and wishing them to believe.
It has been very well remarked that the divine writings might, at one and the same time, be sacred and apocryphal; sacred, because they had undoubtedly been dictated by God Himself; apocryphal, because they were hidden from the nations, and even from the Jewish people.
That they were hidden from the nations before the translation executed at Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, is an acknowledged truth. Josephus declares it in the answer to Appian, which he wrote after Appian’s death; and his declaration has not less strength because he seeks to strengthen it by a fable. He says in his history that the Jewish books being all-divine, no foreign historian or poet had ever dared to speak of them. And, immediately after assuring us that no one had ever dared to mention the Jewish laws, he adds that the historian Theopompus, having only intended to insert something concerning them in his history, God struck him with madness for thirty days; but that, having been informed in a dream that he was mad only because he had wished to know divine things and make them known to the profane, he asked pardon of God, who restored him to his senses.
Josephus in the same passage also relates that a poet named Theodectes, having said a few words about the Jews in his tragedies, became blind, and that God did not restore his sight until he had done penance.
As for the Jewish people, it is certain that there was a time when they could not read the divine writings; for it is said in the Second Book of Kings (chap. xxii., ver. 8, and in the Second Book of Chronicles (chap. xxxiv., ver. 14), that in the reign of Josias they were unknown, and that a single copy was accidentally found in the house of the high priest Hilkiah.
The twelve tribes which were dispersed by Shalmaneser have never re-appeared; and their books, if they had any, have been lost with them. The two tribes which were in slavery at Babylon and allowed to return at the end of seventy years, returned without their books, or at least they were very scarce and very defective, since Esdras was obliged to restore them. But although during the Babylonian captivity these books were apocryphal, that is, hidden or unknown to the people, they were constantly sacred—they bore the stamp of divinity—they were, as all the world agrees, the only monument of truth upon earth.
We now give the name of apocrypha to those books which are not worthy of belief; so subject are languages to change! Catholics and Protestants agree in regarding as apocryphal in this sense, and in rejecting, the prayer of Manasseh, king of Judah, contained in the Second Book of Kings; the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees; the Fourth Book of Esdras; although these books were incontestably written by Jews. But it is denied that the authors were inspired by God, like the Jews.
The other books, rejected by the Protestants only, and consequently considered by them as not inspired by God Himself, are the Book of Wisdom, though it is written in the same style as the Proverbs; Ecclesiasticus, though the style is still the same; the first two books of Maccabees, though written by a Jew, But they do not believe this Jew to have been inspired by God—Tobit—although the story is edifying. The judicious and profound Calmet affirms that a part of this book was written by Tobit the father, and a part by Tobit the son; and that a third author added the conclusion of the last chapter, which says that Tobit the younger expired at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years, and that he died rejoicing over the destruction of Nineveh.
The same Calmet, at the end of his preface, has these words: “Neither the story itself, nor the manner in which it is told, bears any fabulous or fictitious character. If all Scripture histories, containing anything of the marvellous or extraordinary, were to be rejected, where is the sacred book which is to be preserved?”
Judith is another book rejected by the Protestants, although Luther himself declares that “this book is beautiful, good, holy, useful, the language of a holy poet and a prophet animated by the Holy Spirit, that had been his instructor,” etc.
It is indeed hard to discover at what time Judith’s adventure happened, or where the town of Bethulia was. The degree of sanctity in Judith’s action has also been disputed; but the book having been declared canonical by the Council of Trent, all disputes are at an end.
Other books are Baruch, although it is written in the style of all the other prophets; Esther, of which the Protestants reject only some additions after the tenth chapter. They admit all the rest of the book; yet no one knows who King Ahasuerus was, although he is the principal person in the story; Daniel, in which the Protestants retrench Susannah’s adventure and that of the children in the furnace; but they retain Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and his grazing with the beasts.
On the Life of Moses, an Apocryphal Book of the Highest Antiquity.
The ancient book which contains the life and death of Moses seems to have been written at the time of the Babylonian captivity. It was then that the Jews began to know the names given to the angels by the Chaldæans and Persians.
Here we see the names of Zinguiel, Samael, Tsakon, Lakah, and many others of which the Jews had made no mention.
The book of the death of Moses seems to have been written later. It is known that the Jews had several very ancient lives of Moses and other books, independently of the Pentateuch. In them he was called Moni, not Moses; and it is asserted that mo signified water, and ni the particle of. He was called by the general name of Melk. He received those of Joakim, Adamosi, Thetmosi; and it has been thought that he was the same person whom Manethon calls Ozarziph.
Some of these old Hebrew manuscripts were withdrawn from their covering of dust in the cabinets of the Jews about the year 1517. The learned Gilbert Gaumin, who was a perfect master of their language, translated them into Latin about the year 1535. They were afterwards printed and dedicated to Cardinal Bérule. The copies have become extremely scarce.
Never were rabbinism, the taste for the marvellous and the imagination of the orientals displayed to greater excess.
Fragment of the Life of Moses.
A hundred and thirty years after the settling of the Jews in Egypt, and sixty years after the death of the patriarch Joseph, Pharaoh, while sleeping, had a dream. He saw an old man holding a balance; in one scale were all the inhabitants of Egypt; in the other was an infant, and this infant weighed more than all the Egyptians together. Pharaoh forthwith called together his shotim, or sages. One of the wise men said: “O king, this infant is a Jew who will one day do great evil to your kingdom. Cause all the children of the Jews to be slain; thus shalt thou save thy empire, if, indeed, the decrees of fate can be opposed.”
Pharaoh was pleased with this advice. He sent for the midwives and ordered them to strangle all the male children of which the Jewesses were delivered. There was in Egypt a man named Abraham, son of Keath, husband to Jocabed, sister to his brother. This Jocabed bore him a daughter named Mary, signifying “persecuted,” because the Egyptians, being descended from Ham, persecuted the Israelites, who were evidently descended from Shem. Jocabed afterwards brought forth Aaron, signifying “condemned to death,” because Pharaoh had condemned all the Jewish infants to death. Aaron and Mary were preserved by the angels of the Lord, who nursed them in the fields and restored them to their parents when they had reached the period of adolescence.
At length Jocabed had a third child; this was Moses, who, consequently, was fifteen years younger than his brother. He was exposed on the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found him while bathing, had him nursed and adopted him as her son, although she was not married.
Three years after, her father, Pharaoh, took a fresh wife, on which occasion he held a great feast. His wife was at his right hand, and at his left was his daughter, with little Moses. The child, in sport, took the crown and put it on his head. Balaam, the magician, the king’s eunuch, then recalled his majesty’s dream. “Behold,” said he, “the child who is one day to do so much mischief! The spirit of God is in him. What he has just now done is a proof that he has already formed the design of dethroning you. He must instantly be put to death.” This idea pleased Pharaoh much.
They were about to kill little Moses when the Lord sent his angel Gabriel, disguised as one of Pharaoh’s officers, to say to him: “My lord, we should not put to death an innocent child, which is not yet come to years of discretion; he put on your crown only because he wants judgment. You have only to let a ruby and a burning coal be presented to him; if he choose the coal, it is clear that he is a blockhead who will never do any harm; but if he take the ruby it will be a sign that he has too much sense to burn his fingers; then let him be slain.”
A ruby and a coal were immediately brought. Moses did not fail to take the ruby; but the angel Gabriel, by a sort of legerdemain, slipped the coal into the place of the precious stone. Moses put the coal into his mouth and burned his tongue so horribly that he stammered ever after; and this was the reason that the Jewish lawgiver could never articulate.
Moses was fifteen years old and a favorite with Pharaoh. A Hebrew came to complain to him that an Egyptian had beaten him after lying with his wife. Moses killed the Egyptian. Pharaoh ordered Moses’ head to be cut off. The executioner struck him, but God instantly changed Moses’ neck into a marble column, and sent the angel Michael, who in three days conducted Moses beyond the frontiers.
The young Hebrew fled to Mecano, king of Ethiopia, who was at war with the Arabs. Mecano made him his general-in-chief; and, after Mecano’s death, Moses was chosen king and married the widow. But Moses, ashamed to have married the wife of his lord, dared not to enjoy her, but placed a sword in the bed between himself and the queen. He lived with her forty years without touching her. The angry queen at length called together the states of the kingdom of Ethiopia, complained that Moses was of no service to her, and concluded by driving him away and placing on the throne the son of the late king.
Moses fled into the country of Midian, to the priest Jethro. This priest thought his fortune would be made if he could put Moses into the hands of Pharaoh of Egypt, and began by confining him in a low cell and allowing him only bread and water. Moses grew fat in his dungeon, at which Jethro was quite astonished. He was not aware that his daughter Sephora had fallen in love with the prisoner, and every day, with her own hands, carried him partridges and quails, with excellent wine. He concluded that Moses was protected by God and did not give him up to Pharaoh.
However, Jethro the priest wished to have his daughter married. He had in his garden a tree of sapphire, on which was engraven the word Jaho or Jehovah. He caused it to be published throughout the country that he would give his daughter to him who could tear up the sapphire tree. Sephora’s lovers presented themselves, but none of them could so much as bend the tree. Moses, who was only seventy-seven years old, tore it up at once without an effort. He married Sephora, by whom he soon had a fine boy named Gerson.
As he was one day walking in a small wood, he met God (who had formerly called Himself Sadai, and then called Himself Jehovah), and God ordered him to go and work miracles at Pharaoh’s court. He set out with his wife and son. On the way they met an angel (to whom no name is given), who ordered Sephora to circumcise little Gerson with a knife made of stone. God sent Aaron on the same errand, but Aaron thought his brother had done wrong in marrying a Midianite; he called her a very coarse name, and little Gerson a bastard, and sent them the shortest way back to their own country.
Aaron and Moses then went to Pharaoh’s palace by themselves. The gate of the palace was guarded by two lions of an enormous size. Balaam, one of the king’s magicians, seeing the two brothers come, set the lions upon them; but Moses touched them with his rod, and the lions, humbly prostrating themselves, licked the feet of Aaron and Moses. The king, in astonishment, had the two pilgrims brought into the presence of all his magicians, that they might strive which could work the most miracles.
The author here relates the ten plagues of Egypt, nearly as they are related in Exodus. He only adds that Moses covered all Egypt with lice, to the depth of a cubit; and that he sent among all the Egyptians lions, wolves, bears, and tigers, which ran into all the houses, notwithstanding that the doors were bolted, and devoured all the little children.
According to this writer, it was not the Jews who fled through the Red Sea; it was Pharaoh, who fled that way with his army: the Jews ran after him; the waters separated right and left to see them fight; and all the Egyptians, except the king, were slain upon the sand. Then the king, finding that his own was the weaker side, asked pardon of God. Michael and Gabriel were sent to him and conveyed him to the city of Nineveh, where he reigned four hundred years.
The Death of Moses.
God had declared to the people of Israel that they should not go out of Egypt until they had once more found the tomb of Joseph. Moses found it and carried it on his shoulders through the Red Sea. God told him that He would bear in mind this good action and would assist him at the time of his death. When Moses had lived six score years, God came to announce to him that he must die and had but three hours more to live. The bad angel Samael was present at the conversation. As soon as the first hour had passed he began to laugh for joy that he should so soon carry off the soul of Moses; and Michael began to weep. “Be not rejoiced, thou wicked beast,” said the good to the bad angel; “Moses is going to die, but we have Joshua in his stead.”
When the three hours had elapsed God commanded Gabriel to take the dying man’s soul. Gabriel begged to be excused. Michael did the same. These two angels having refused, God addressed Himself to Zinguiel. But this angel was no more willing to obey than the others. “I,” said he, “was formerly his preceptor, and I will not kill my disciple.” Then God, being angry, said to the bad angel Samael, “Well, then, wicked one, thou must take his soul.” Samael joyfully drew his sword and ran up to Moses. The dying man rose up in wrath, his eyes sparkling with fire. “What! thou villain,” said Moses, “wouldst thou dare to kill me?—me, who when a child, put on my head the crown of a Pharaoh; who have worked miracles at the age of eighty years; who have led sixty millions of men out of Egypt; who have cut the Red Sea in two; who have conquered two kings so tall that at the time of the flood they were not kneedeep in water? Begone, you rascal; leave my presence instantly.”
This altercation lasted a few moments longer, during which time Gabriel prepared a litter to convey the soul of Moses, Michael a purple mantle, and Zinguiel a cassock. God then laid His hands on Moses’ breast and took away his soul.
It is to this history that St. Jude the apostle alludes in his epistle when he says that the archangel Michael contended with the devil for the body of Moses. As this fact is to be found only in the book which I have just quoted, it is evident that St. Jude had read it, and that he considered it as a canonical book.
The second history of the death of Moses is likewise a conversation with God. It is no less pleasant and curious than the first. A part of this dialogue is as follows:
—I pray Thee, O Lord, let me enter the land of promise, at least for two or three years.
—No; My decree expressly saith that thou shalt not enter it.
—Grant, at least, that I may be carried thither after my death.
—No; neither dead nor alive.
—Alas! but, good Lord, thou showest such clemency to Thy creatures; Thou pardonest them twice or three times; I have sinned but once, and am not to be forgiven!
—Thou knowest not what thou sayest; thou hast committed six sins. I remember to have sworn thy death, or the destruction of Israel; one of the two must be accomplished. If thou wilt live Israel must perish.
—O Lord, be not so hasty. All is in Thy hands. Let Moses perish, rather than one soul in Israel.
After several discourses of this sort, the echo of the mountain says to Moses, “Thou hast but five hours to live.” At the end of five hours God sends for Gabriel, Zinguiel and Samael. He promises Moses that he shall be buried and carries away his soul.
When we reflect that nearly the whole earth has been infatuated by similar stories, and that they have formed the education of mankind, the fables of Pilpay, Lokman, or Æsop appear quite reasonable.
Apocryphal Books of the New Law.
There were fifty gospels, all very different from one another, of which there remain only four entire—that of James, that of Nicodemus, that of the infancy of Jesus, and that of the birth of Mary. Of the rest we have nothing more than fragments and slight notices.
The traveller Tournefort, sent into Asia by Louis XIV., informs us that the Georgians have preserved the gospel of the Infancy, which was probably communicated to them by the Azmenians.
In the beginning, several of these gospels, now regarded as apocryphal, were cited as authentic, and were even the only gospels that were cited. In the Acts of the Apostles we find these words uttered by St. Paul (chap. xx., ver. 35), “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
St. Barnabas, in his Catholic Epistle (Nos. 4 and 7), makes Jesus Christ speak thus: “Let us resist all iniquity; let us hate it. Such as would see Me enter into My kingdom must follow Me through pain and sorrow.”
St. Clement, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus Christ: “If you are assembled in My bosom and do not follow My commandments, I shall reject you and say to you, ‘Depart from Me; I know you not; depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity.’ ”
He afterwards attributes to Jesus Christ these words: “Keep your flesh chaste and the seal unspotted, in order that you may receive eternal life.”
In the Apostolical Constitutions, composed in the second century, we find these words: “Jesus Christ has said, ‘Be ye honest exchange brokers.’ ”
We find many similar quotations, not one of which is taken from the four gospels recognized by the Church as the only canonical ones. They are, for the most part, taken from the gospel according to the Hebrews, a gospel which was translated by St. Jerome, and is now considered as apocryphal.
St. Clement the Roman says, in his second Epistle: “The Lord, being asked when his reign should come, answered: ‘When two shall make one, when that which is without shall be within, when the male shall be female, and when there shall be neither female nor male.’ ”
These words are taken from the gospel according to the Egyptians; and the text is repeated entire by St. Clement of Alexandria. But what could the author of the Egyptian gospels, and what could St. Clement himself be thinking of? The words which he quotes are injurious to Jesus Christ; they give us to understand that He did not believe that His reign would come at all. To say that a thing will take place when two shall make one, when the male shall be female, is to say that it will never take place. A passage like this is rabbinical, much rather than evangelical.
There were also two apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. They are quoted by St. Epiphanius. In these Acts it is related that St. Paul was the son of an idolatrous father and mother, and turned Jew in order to marry the daughter of Gamaliel; and that either being refused, or not finding her a virgin, he took part with the disciples of Jesus. This is nothing less than blasphemy against St. Paul.
The Other Apocryphal Books of the First and Second Centuries.
The Book of Enoch, the seventh man after Adam, which mentions the war of the rebellious angels, under their captain, Samasia, against the faithful angels led by Michael. The object of the war was to enjoy the daughters of men, as has been said in the article on “Angel.”
The Acts of St. Thecla and St. Paul, written by a disciple named John, attached to St. Paul. In this history Thecla escapes from her persecutors to go to St. Paul, disguised as a man. She also baptizes a lion; but this adventure was afterwards suppressed. Here, too, we have the portrait of Paul: Statura brevi, calvastrum, cruribus curvis, sorosum, superciliis junctis, naso aquilino, plenum gratia Dei.
Although this story was recommended by St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, and others, it had no reputation among the other doctors of the Church.
The Preaching of Peter. This writing is also called the Gospel or Revelation of Peter. St. Clement of Alexandria speaks of it with great praise; but it is easy to perceive that some impostor had taken that apostle’s name.
The Acts of Peter, a work equally supposititious.
The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. It is doubted whether this book is by a Jew or a Christian of the primitive ages; for it is said in the Testament of Levi that at the end of the seventh week there shall come priests given to idolatry—bellatores, avari, scribæ iniqui, impudici, puerorum corruptores et pecorum; that there shall then be a new priesthood; that the heavens shall be opened; and that the glory of the Most High, and the spirit of intelligence and sanctification, shall descend upon this new priest; which seems to foretell Jesus Christ.
The Letter of Abgarus, a pretended king of Edessa, to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ’s answer to King Abgarus. It is, indeed, believed that, in the time of Tiberius, there was a toparch of Edessa who had passed from the service of the Persians into that of the Romans, but his epistolary correspondence has been considered by all good critics as a chimera.
The Acts of Pilate. Pilate’s letter to Tiberius on the death of Jesus Christ. The life of Procula, Pilate’s wife.
The Acts of Peter and Paul, in which is the history of St. Peter’s quarrel with Simon the magician. Abdias, Marcellus, and Hegesippus have all three written this story. St. Peter first disputed with Simon which should resuscitate one of the Emperor Nero’s relatives, who had just died; Simon half restored him, and St. Peter finished the resurrection. Simon next flew up in the air, but Peter brought him down again, and the magician broke his legs. The Emperor Nero, incensed at the death of his magician, had St. Peter crucified with his head downwards, and St. Paul decapitated, as one of St. Peter’s party.
The Acts of Blessed Paul the Apostle and Teacher of the Nations. In this book St. Paul is made to live at Rome for two years after St. Peter’s death. The author says that when St. Paul’s head was cut off there issued forth milk instead of blood, and that Lucina, a devout woman, had him buried twenty miles from Rome, on the way to Ostia, at her country house.
The Acts of the Blessed Apostle Andrew. The author relates that St. Andrew went to the city of the Myrmidons and that he baptized all the citizens. A young man named Sostratus, of the town of Amarea, which is at least better known than that of the Myrmidons, came and said to the blessed Andrew: “I am so handsome that my mother has conceived a passion for me. I abhorred so execrable a crime, and have fled. My mother, in her fury, accuses me to the proconsul of the province of having attempted to violate her. I can make no answer, for I would rather die than accuse my mother.” While he was yet speaking, the guards of the proconsul came and seized him. St. Andrew accompanied the son before the judge, and pleaded his cause. The mother, not at all disconcerted, accused St. Andrew himself of having instigated her son to the crime. The proconsul immediately ordered St. Andrew to be thrown into the river; but, the apostle having prayed to God, there came a great earthquake, and the mother was struck by a thunderbolt.
After several adventures of the same sort the author has St. Andrew crucified at Patras.
The Acts of St. James the Greater. The author has him condemned to death at Jerusalem by the pontiff, and, before his crucifixion, he baptizes the registrar.
The Acts of St. John the Evangelist. The author relates that, at Ephesus—of which place St. John was bishop—Drusilla, being converted by him, desired no more of her husband Andronicus’s company, but retired into a tomb. A young man named Callimachus, in love with her, repeatedly pressed her, even in her tomb, to consent to the gratification of his passion. Drusilla, being urged both by her husband and her lover, wished for death, and obtained it. Callimachus, when informed of her loss, was still more furious with love; he bribed one of Andronicus’s domestics, who had the keys of the tomb; he ran to it, stripped his mistress of her shroud, and exclaimed, “What thou wouldst not grant me living, thou shalt grant me dead.” A serpent instantly issued from the tomb; the young man fainted; the serpent killed him, as also the domestic who was his accomplice, and coiled itself round his body. St. John arrives with the husband, and, to their astonishment, they find Callimachus alive. St. John orders the serpent to depart, and the serpent obeys. He asks the young man how he has been resuscitated. Callimachus answered that an angel had appeared to him, saying, “It was necessary that thou shouldst die in order to revive a Christian.” He immediately asked to be baptized, and begged that John would resuscitate Drusilla. The apostle having instantly worked this miracle, Callimachus and Drusilla prayed that he would also be so good as to resuscitate the domestic. The latter, who was an obstinate pagan, being restored to life, declared that he would rather die than be a Christian, and, accordingly, he incontinently died again; on which St. John said that a bad tree always bears bad fruit.
Aristodemus, high-priest of Ephesus, though struck by such a prodigy, would not be converted; he said to St. John: “Permit me to poison you; and, if you do not die, I will be converted.” The apostle accepted the proposal; but he chose that Aristodemus should first poison two Ephesians condemned to death. Aristodemus immediately presented to them the poison, and they instantly expired. St. John took the same poison, which did him no harm. He resuscitated the two dead men, and the high-priest was converted.
St. John having attained the age of ninety-seven years, Jesus Christ appeared to him, and said, “It is time for thee to come to My table, and feast with thy brethren”; and soon after the apostle slept in peace.
The History of the Blessed James the Less, and the brothers Simon and Jude. These apostles went into Persia, and performed things as incredible as those related of St. Andrew.
The Acts of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist. St. Matthew goes into Ethiopia, to the great town of Nadaver, where he restores to life the son of Queen Candace, and founds Christian churches.
The Acts of the Blessed Bartholomew in India. Bartholomew went first to the temple of Astaroth. This goddess delivered oracles, and cured all diseases. Bartholomew silenced her, and made sick all those whom she had cured. King Polimius disputed with him; the devil declared, before the king, that he was conquered, and St. Bartholomew consecrated King Polimius bishop of the Indies.
The Acts of the Blessed Thomas, apostle of India. St. Thomas entered India by another road, and worked more miracles than St. Bartholomew. He at last suffered martyrdom, and appeared to Xiphoro and Susani.
The Acts of the Blessed Philip. He went to preach in Scythia. They wished to make him a sacrifice to Mars, but he caused a dragon to issue from the altar and devour the children of the priests. He died at Hierapolis, at the age of eighty-seven. It is not known what town this was, for there were several of the name.
All these histories are supposed to have been written by Abdias, bishop of Babylon, and were translated by Julius Africanus.
To these abuses of the Holy Scriptures was added one less revolting—one which did not fail in respect for Christianity, like those which have just been laid before the reader, viz., the Liturgies attributed to St. James, St. Peter, and St. Mark, the falsehood of which has been shown by the learned Tillemont.
Fabricius places among the apocryphal writings the Homily (attributed to St. Augustine) on the manner in which the Symbol was formed. But he certainly does not mean to insinuate that this Symbol or Creed, which we call the Apostles’, is the less true and sacred. It is said in this Homily, in Rufinus, and afterwards in Isidorus, that ten days after the ascension, the apostles, being shut up together for fear of the Jews, Peter said, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty;” Andrew, “and in Jesus Christ, His only son;” James, “who was conceived by the Holy Ghost;” and that thus, each apostle having repeated an article, the Creed was completed.
This story not being in the Acts of the Apostles, our belief in it is dispensed with—but not our belief in the Creed, of which the apostles taught the substance. Truth must not suffer from the false ornaments in which it has been sought to array her.
The Apostolical Constitutions. The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, which were formerly supposed to have been digested by St. Clement the Roman, are now ranked among the apocryphal writings. The reading of a few chapters is sufficient to show that the apostles had no share in this work. In the eleventh chapter, women are ordered not to rise before the ninth hour. In the first chapter of the second book it is desired that bishops should be learned, but in the time of the apostles there was no hierarchy—no bishop attached to a single church. They went about teaching from town to town, from village to village; they were called apostles, not bishops; and, above all things, they did not pride themseves on being learned.
In the second chapter of the second book it is said that a bishop should have but one wife, to take great care of his household; which only goes to prove that at the close of the first and the commencement of the second century, when the hierarchy was beginning to be established, the priests were married.
Through almost the whole book the bishops are regarded as the judges of the faithful; but it is well known that the apostles had no jurisdiction.
It is said, in chapter xxi., that both parties must be heard; which supposes an established jurisdiction. In chapter xxvi. it is said, “The bishop is your prince, your king, your emperor, your God upon earth.” These expressions are somewhat at variance with the humility of the apostles.
In chapter xxviii., “At the feasts of the Agapæ, there must be given to the deacon double that which is given to an old woman, and to the priest double the gift to the deacon, because the priests are the counsellors of the bishops and the crown of the Church. The reader shall have a portion, in honor of the prophets, as also the chanter and the doorkeeper. Such of the laity as wish to receive anything shall apply to the bishop through the deacon.” The apostles never used any term answering to laity, or marking the difference between the profane and the priesthood.
In chapter xxxiv., “You must reverence the bishop as a king, honor him as a master, and give him your fruits, the works of your hands, your first fruits, your tenths, your savings, the presents that are made to you, your corn, your wine, your oil, your wool,” etc. This is a strong article.
In chapter lvii., “Let the church be long; let it look towards the East; let it resemble a ship; let the bishop’s throne be in the middle; let the reader read the books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Job,” etc.
In chapter xvii. of the third book, “Baptism is administered for the death of Jesus; oil for the Holy Ghost. When we are plunged into the water, we die; when we come out of it, we revive. The Father is the God of all. Christ is the only Son of God, his beloved Son, and the Lord of glory. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, sent by Christ the teacher, preaching Christ Jesus.” This doctrine would now be explained in more canonical terms.
In chapter vii. of the fifth book are quoted some verses of the Sibyls on the coming of Jesus and the resurrection. This was the first time that the Christians admitted the verses of the Sibyls, which they continued to do for more than three hundred years. In chapter v. of the eighth book are these words: “O God Almighty, give to the bishop, through Christ, the participation of the Holy Spirit.” In chapter iv., “Commend yourself to God alone, through Jesus Christ”; which does not sufficiently express the divinity of our Lord. In chapter xii. is the Constitution of James, the brother of Zebedee.
In chapter xv. the deacon is to say aloud, “Incline yourselves before God through Christ.” At the present day these expressions are not very correct.
The Apostolical Canons. The sixth canon ordains that no bishop or priest shall separate himself from his wife on pretence of religion; if he do so, he is to be excommunicated, and if he persist he is to be driven away. The seventh—that no priest shall ever meddle with secular affairs. The nineteenth—that he who has married two sisters shall not be admitted into the clergy. The twenty-first and twenty-second—that eunuchs shall be admitted into the priesthood excepting such as have castrated themselves. Yet Origen was a priest, notwithstanding this law. The fifty-fifth—that if a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or a clerk eat flesh which is not clear of blood, he shall be displaced. It is quite evident that these canons could not be promulgated by the apostles.
The Confessions of St. Clement to James, brother of the Lord, in ten books, translated from Greek into Latin by Rufinus. This book commences with a doubt respecting the immortality of the soul: “Utrumne sit mihi aliqua vita post mortem, an nihil omnino postea sim futurus.” St. Clement, disturbed by this doubt and wishing to know whether the world was eternal or had been created—whether there were a Tartarus and a Phlegethon, an Ixion and a Tantalus, etc., resolved to go into Egypt to learn necromancy, but having heard of St. Bartholomew, who was preaching Christianity, he went to him in the East, at the time when Barnabas was celebrating a Jewish feast. He afterwards met St. Peter at Cæsarea, with Simon the magician and Zacchæus. They disputed together, and St. Peter related to them all that had passed since the death of Jesus. Clement turned Christian, but Simon remained a magician.
Simon fell in love with a woman named Luna, and, while waiting to marry her, he proposed to St. Peter, to Zacchæus, to Lazarus, to Nicodemus, to Dositheus, and to several others, that they should become his disciples. Dositheus answered him at once with a blow from a stick; but the stick having passed through Simon’s body as if it had been smoke, Dositheus worshipped him and became his lieutenant, after which Simon married his mistress and declared that she was Luna herself, descended from heaven to marry him.
But enough of the Confessions of St. Clement. It must, however, be remarked that in the ninth book the Chinese are spoken of under the name of Seres as the justest and wisest of mankind. After them come the Brahmins, to whom the author does the justice that was rendered them by all antiquity. He cites them as models of soberness, mildness, and justice.
St. Peter’s Letter to St. James, and St. Clement’s Letter to the same St. James, brother of the Lord, governor of the Holy Church of the Hebrews at Jerusalem, and of all churches. St. Peter’s Letter contains nothing curious, but St. Clement’s is very remarkable. He asserts that Peter declared him bishop of Rome before his death, and his coadjutor; that he laid his hands upon his head, and made him sit in the episcopal chair in the presence of all the faithful; and that he said to him, “Fail not to write to my brother James as soon as I am dead.”
This letter seems to prove that it was not then believed that St. Peter had suffered martyrdom, since it is probable that this letter, attributed to St. Clement, would have mentioned the circumstance. It also proves that Cletus and Anacletus were not reckoned among the bishops of Rome.
St. Clement’s Homilies, to the number of nineteen. He says in his first homily what he had already said in his confessions—that he went to St. Peter and St. Barnabas at Cæsarea, to know whether the soul was immortal, and the world eternal.
In the second homily, No. xxxviii., we find a much more extraordinary passage. St. Peter himself, speaking of the Old Testament, expresses himself thus: “The written law contains certain false things against the law of God, the Creator of heaven and earth; the devil has done this, for good reasons; it has also come to pass through the judgments of God, in order to discover such as would listen with pleasure to what is written against Him,” etc.
In the sixth homily St. Clement meets with Appian, the same who had written against the Jews in the time of Tiberius. He tells Appian that he is in love with an Egyptian woman and begs that he will write a letter in his name to his pretended mistress to convince her, by the example of all the gods, that love is a duty. Appian writes a letter and St. Clement answers it in the name of his pretended mistress, after which they dispute on the nature of the gods.
Two Epistles of St. Clement to the Corinthians. It hardly seems just to have ranked these epistles among the apocryphal writings. Some of the learned may have declined to recognize them because they speak of “the phœnix of Arabia, which lives five hundred years, and burns itself in Egypt in the city of Heliopolis.” But there is nothing extraordinary in St. Clement’s having believed this fable which so many others believed, nor in his having written letters to the Corinthians.
It is known that there was at that time a great dispute between the church of Corinth and that of Rome. The church of Corinth, which declared itself to have been founded first, was governed in common; there was scarcely any distinction between the priests and the seculars, still less between the priests and the bishop; all alike had a deliberative voice, so, at least, several of the learned assert. St. Clement says to the Corinthians in his first epistle: “You have laid the first foundations of sedition; be subject to your priests, correct yourselves by penance, bend the knees of your hearts, learn to obey.” It is not at all astonishing that a bishop of Rome should use these expressions.
In the second epistle we again find that answer of Jesus Christ, on being asked when His kingdom of heaven should come: “When two shall make one, when that which is without shall be within, when the male shall be female, when there shall be neither male nor female.”
Letter from St. Ignatius the martyr to the Virgin Mary, and the Virgin’s answer to St. Ignatius:
“To Mary the Mother of Christ, from her devoted Ignatius: You should console me, a neophyte, and a disciple of your John. I have heard several wonderful things of your Jesus, at which I have been much astonished. I desire with all my heart to be informed of them by you, who always lived in familiarity with Him and knew all His secrets. Fare you well. Comfort the neophytes, who are with me from you and through you. Amen.”
“The Holy Virgin’s Answer to Her Dear Disciple Ignatius:
“The Humble Servant of Jesus Christ: All the things which you have learned from John are true; believe in them; persevere in your belief; keep your vow of Christianity. I will come and see you with John, you and those who are with you. Be firm in the faith; act like a man; let not severity and persecution disturb you, but let your spirit be strengthened and exalted in God your Saviour. Amen.”
It is asserted that these letters were written in the year 116 of the Christian era, but they are not therefore the less false and absurd. They would even have been an insult to our holy religion had they not been written in a spirit of simplicity, which renders everything pardonable.
Fragments of the Apostles. We find in them this passage: “Paul, a man of short stature, with an aquiline nose and an angelic face, instructed in heaven, said to Plantilla, of Rome, before he died: ‘Adieu, Plantilla, thou little plant of eternal salvation; know thy own nobility; thou art whiter than snow; thou art registered among the soldiers of Christ; thou art an heiress to the kingdom of heaven.’” This was not worthy to be refuted.
There are eleven Apocalypses, which are attributed to the patriarchs and prophets, to St. Peter, Cerinthus, St. Thomas, St. Stephen the first martyr, two to St. John, differing from the canonical one, and three to St. Paul. All these Apocalypses have been eclipsed by that of St. John.
The Visions, Precepts, and Similitudes of Hermas. Hermas seems to have lived about the close of the first century. They who regard his book as apocryphal are nevertheless obliged to do justice to his morality. He begins by saying that his foster-father had sold a young woman at Rome. Hermas recognized this young woman after the lapse of several years, and loved her, he says, as if she had been his sister. He one day saw her bathing in the Tiber; he stretched forth his hand, drew her out of the river and said in his heart, “How happy should I be if I had a wife like her in beauty and in manners.” Immediately the heavens opened, and he all at once beheld this same wife, who made him a courtesy from above, and said, “Good morning, Hermas.” This wife was the Christian Church; she gave him much good advice.
A year after, the spirit transported him to the same place where he had seen this beauty, who nevertheless was old; but she was fresh in her age, and was old only because she had been created from the beginning of the world, and the world had been made for her.
The Book of Precepts contains fewer allegories, but that of Similitudes contains many. “One day,” says Hermas, “when I was fasting and was seated on a hill, giving thanks to God for all that he had done for me, a shepherd came, sat down beside me, and said, ‘Why have you come here so early?’ ‘Because I am going through the stations,’ answered I. ‘What is a station?’ asked the shepherd. ‘It is a fast.’ ‘And what is this fast?’ ‘It is my custom.’ ‘Ah!’ replied the shepherd, ‘you know not what it is to fast; all this is of no avail before God. I will teach you that which is true fasting and pleasing to the Divinity. Your fasting has nothing to do with justice and virtue. Serve God with a pure heart; keep His commandments; admit into your heart no guilty designs. If you have always the fear of God before your eyes—if you abstain from all evil, that will be true fasting, that will be the great fast which is acceptable to God.’ ”
This philosophical and sublime piety is one of the most singular monuments of the first century. But it is somewhat strange that, at the end of the Similitudes, the shepherd gives him very good-natured maidens—valde affabiles—to take care of his house and declares to him that he cannot fulfil God’s commandments without these maidens, who, it is plain, typify the virtues.
This list would become immense if we were to enter into every detail. We will carry it no further, but conclude with the Sibyls.
The Sibyls.—What is most apocryphal in the primitive church is the prodigious number of verses in favor of the Christian religion attributed to the ancient sibyls. Diodorus Siculus knew of only one, who was taken at Thebes by the Epigoni, and placed at Delphos before the Trojan war. Ten sibyls—that is, ten prophetesses, were soon made from this one. She of Cuma had most credit among the Romans, and the sibyl Erythrea among the Greeks.
As all oracles were delivered in verse, none of the sibyls could fail to make verses; and to give them greater authority they sometimes made them in acrostics also. Several Christians who had not a zeal according to knowledge not only misinterpreted the ancient verses supposed to have been written by the sibyls, but also made some themselves, and which is worse, in acrostics, not dreaming that this difficult artifice of acrosticizing had no resemblance whatever to the inspiration and enthusiasm of a prophetess. They resolved to support the best of causes by the most awkward fraud. They accordingly made bad Greek verses, the initials of which signified in Greek—Jesus, Christ, Son, Saviour, and these verses said that with five loaves and two fishes He should feed five thousand men in the desert and that with the fragments that remained He should fill twelve baskets.
The millennium and the New Jerusalem, which Justin had seen in the air for forty nights, were, of course, foretold by the sibyls. In the fourth century Lactantius collected almost all the verses attributed to the sibyls and considered them as convincing proofs. The opinion was so well authorized and so long held that we still sing hymns in which the testimony of the sibyls is joined with the predictions of David:
This catalogue of errors and frauds has been carried quite far enough. A hundred might be repeated, so constantly has the world been composed of deceivers and of people fond of being deceived.
But let us pursue no further so dangerous a research. The elucidation of one great truth is worth more than the discovery of a thousand falsehoods. Not all these errors, not all the crowd of apocryphal books have been sufficient to injure the Christian religion, because, as we all know, it is founded upon immutable truths. These truths are supported by a church militant and triumphant, to which God has given the power of teaching and of repressing. In several countries it unites temporal with spiritual authority. Prudence, strength, wealth are its attributes, and although it is divided, and its divisions have sometimes stained it with blood, it may be compared to the Roman commonwealth—constantly torn by internal dissensions, but constantly triumphant.
It is still a question among the learned whether the Emperor Julian was really an apostate and whether he was ever truly a Christian. He was not six years old when the Emperor Constantius, still more barbarous than Constantine, had his father, his brother, and seven of his cousins murdered. He and his brother Gallus with difficulty escaped from this carnage, but he was always very harshly treated by Constantius. His life was for a long time threatened, and he soon beheld his only remaining brother assassinated by the tyrant’s order. The most barbarous of the Turkish sultans have never, I am sorry to say it, surpassed in cruelty or in villainy the Constantine family. From his tenderest years study was Julian’s only consolation. He communicated in secret with the most illustrious of the philosophers, who were of the ancient religion of Rome. It is very probable that he professed that of his uncle Constantius only to avoid assassination. Julian was obliged to conceal his mental powers, as Brutus had done under Tarquin. He was less likely to be a Christian, as his uncle had forced him to be a monk and to perform the office of reader in the church. A man is rarely of the religion of his persecutor, especially when the latter wishes to be ruler of his conscience.
Another circumstance which renders this probable is that he does not say in any of his works that he had been a Christian. He never asks pardon for it of the pontiffs of the ancient religion. He addresses them in his letters as if he had always been attached to the worship of the senate. It is not even proved that he practised the ceremonies of the Taurobolium, which might be regarded as a sort of expiation, and that he desired to wash out with bull’s blood that which he so unfortunately called the stain of his baptism. However, this was a pagan form of devotion, which is no more a proof than the assembling at the mysteries of Ceres. In short, neither his friends nor his enemies relate any fact, any words which can prove that he ever believed in Christianity, and that he passed from that sincere belief to the worship of the gods of the empire. If such be the case they who do not speak of him as an apostate appear very excusable.
Sound criticism being brought to perfection, all the world now acknowledges that the Emperor Julian was a hero and a wise man—a stoic, equal to Marcus Aurelius. His errors are condemned, but his virtues are admitted. He is now regarded, as he was by his contemporary, Prudentius, author of the hymn “Salvete flores martyrum.” He says of Julian:
His detractors are reduced to the miserable expedient of striving to make him appear ridiculous. One historian, on the authority of St. Gregory Nazianzen, reproaches him with having worn too large a beard. But, my friend, if nature gave him a long beard why should he wear it short? He used to shake his head. Carry thy own better. His step was hurried. Bear in mind that the Abbé d’Aubignac, the king’s preacher, having been hissed at the play, laughs at the air and gait of the great Corneille. Could you hope to turn Marshal de Luxembourg into ridicule because he walked ill and his figure was singular? He could march very well against the enemy. Let us leave it to the ex-Jesuit Patouillet, the ex-Jesuit Nonotte, etc., to call the Emperor Julian—the Apostate. Poor creatures! His Christian successor, Jovian, called him Divus Julianus.
Let us treat this mistaken emperor as he himself treated us. He said, “We should pity and not hate them; they are already sufficiently unfortunate in erring on the most important of questions.” Let us have the same compassion for him, since we are sure that the truth is on our side. He rendered strict justice to his subjects, let us then render it to his memory. Some Alexandrians were incensed against a bishop, who, it is true, was a wicked man, chosen by a worthless cabal. His name was George Biordos, and he was the son of a mason. His manners were lower than his birth. He united the basest perfidy with the most brutal ferocity, and superstition with every vice. A calumniator, a persecutor, and an impostor—avaricious, sanguinary, and seditious, he was detested by every party and at last the people cudgelled him to death. The following is the letter which the Emperor Julian wrote to the Alexandrians on the subject of this popular commotion. Mark how he addresses them, like a father and a judge:
“What!” said he, “instead of reserving for me the knowledge of your wrongs you have suffered yourselves to be transported with anger! You have been guilty of the same excesses with which you reproach your enemies! George deserved to be so treated, but it was not for you to be his executioners. You have laws; you should have demanded justice,” etc.
Some have dared to brand Julian with the epithets intolerant and persecuting—the man who sought to extirpate persecution and intolerance! Peruse his fifty-second letter, and respect his memory. Is he not sufficiently unfortunate in not having been a Catholic, and consequently in being burned in hell, together with the innumerable multitude of those who have not been Catholics, without our insulting him so far as to accuse him of intolerance?
On the Globes of Fire said to have issued from the Earth to prevent the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem under the Emperor Julian.
It is very likely that when Julian resolved to carry the war into Persia he wanted money. It is also very likely that the Jews gave him some for permission to rebuild their temple, which Titus had partly destroyed, but of which there still remained the foundations, an entire wall, and the Antonine tower. But is it as likely that globes of fire burst upon the works and the workmen and caused the undertaking to be relinquished? Is there not a palpable contradiction in what the historians relate?
1. How could it be that the Jews began by destroying (as they are said to have done) the foundations of the temple which it was their wish and their duty to rebuild on the same spot? The temple was necessarily to be on Mount Moriah. There it was that Solomon had built it. There it was that Herod had rebuilt it with greater solidity and magnificence, having previously erected a fine theatre at Jerusalem, and a temple to Augustus at Cæsarea. The foundations of this temple, enlarged by Herod, were, according to Josephus, as much as twenty-five feet broad. Could the Jews, in Julian’s time, possibly be mad enough to wish to disarrange these stones which were so well prepared to receive the rest of the edifice, and upon which the Mahometans afterwards built their mosque? What man was ever foolish and stupid enough thus to deprive himself at great cost and excessive labor of the greatest advantage that could present itself to his hands and eyes? Nothing is more incredible.
2. How could eruptions of flame burst forth from the interior of these stones? There might be an earthquake in the neighborhood, for they are frequent in Syria, but that great blocks of stone should have vomited clouds of fire! Is not this story entitled to just as much credit as all those of antiquity?
3. If this prodigy, or if an earthquake, which is not a prodigy, had really happened would not the Emperor Julian have spoken of it in the letter in which he says that he had intended to rebuild this temple? Would not his testimony have been triumphantly adduced? Is it not infinitely more probable that he changed his mind? Does not this letter contain these words:
“Quid de templo suo dicent, quod, quum tertio sit eversum, nondum hodiernam usque diem instauratur? Hæc ego, non ut illis exprobarem, in medium adduxi, utpote qui templum illud tanto intervallo a ruinis excitare voluerim; sed ideo commemoravi, ut ostenderem delirasse prophetas istos, quibus cum stolidis aniculis negotium erat.”
“What will they (the Jews) say of their temple which has been destroyed for the third time and is not yet restored? I speak of this, not for the purpose of reproaching them, for I myself had intended to raise it once more from its ruins, but to show the extravagance of their prophets who had none but old women to deal with.”
Is it not evident that the emperor having paid attention to the Jewish prophecies, that the temple should be rebuilt more beautiful than ever and that all the nations of the earth should come and worship in it, thought fit to revoke the permission to raise the edifice? The historical probability, then, from the emperor’s own words, is, that unfortunately holding the Jewish books, as well as our own, in abhorrence, he at length resolved to make the Jewish prophets lie.
The Abbé de la Blétrie, the historian of the Emperor Julian, does not understand how the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed three times. He says that apparently Julian reckoned as a third destruction the catastrophe which happened during his reign. A curious destruction this! the non-removal of the stones of an old foundation. What could prevent this writer from seeing that the temple, having been built by Solomon, reconstructed by Zorobabel, entirely destroyed by Herod, rebuilt by Herod himself with so much magnificence, and at last laid in ruins by Titus, manifestly made three destructions of the temple? The reckoning is correct. Julian should surely have escaped calumny on this point.
The Abbé de la Blétrie calumniates him sufficiently by saying that all his virtues were only seeming, while all his vices were real. But Julian was not hypocritical, nor avaricious, nor fraudulent, nor lying, nor ungrateful, nor cowardly, nor drunken, nor debauched, nor idle, nor vindictive. What then were his vices?
4. Let us now examine the redoubtable argument made use of to persuade us that globes of fire issued from stones. Ammianus Marcellinus a pagan writer, free from all suspicion, has said it. Be it so: but this Ammianus has also said that when the emperor was about to sacrifice ten oxen to his gods for his first victory over the Persians, nine of them fell to the earth before they were presented to the altar. He relates a hundred predictions—a hundred prodigies. Are we to believe in them? Are we to believe in all the ridiculous miracles related by Livy?
Besides, who can say that the text of Ammianus Marcellinus has not been falsified? Would it be the only instance in which this artifice has been employed?
I wonder that no mention is made of the little fiery crosses which all the workmen found on their bodies when they went to bed. They would have made an admirable figure along with the globes.
The fact is that the temple of the Jews was not rebuilt, and it may be presumed never will be so. Here let us hold, and not seek useless prodigies. Globi flammarum—globes of fire, issue neither from stones nor from earth. Ammianus, and those who have quoted him, were not natural philosophers. Let the Abbé de la Blétrie only look at the fire on St. John’s day, and he will see that flame always ascends with a point, or in a cloud, and never in a globe. This alone is sufficient to overturn the nonsense which he comes forward to defend with injudicious criticism and revolting pride.
After all, the thing is of very little importance. There is nothing in it that affects either faith or morals; and historical truth is all that is here sought for.
Their Lives, their Wives, their Children.
After the article “Apostle” in the Encyclopædia, which is as learned as it is orthodox, very little remains to be said. But we often hear it asked—Were the apostles married? Had they any children? if they had, what became of those children? Where did the apostles live? Where did they write? Where did they die? Had they any appropriated districts? Did they exercise any civil ministry? Had they any jurisdiction over the faithful? Were they bishops? Had they a hierarchy, rites, or ceremonies?
There is extant a letter attributed to St. Ignatius the Martyr, in which are these decisive words: “I call to mind your sanctity as I do that of Elias, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and the chosen disciples Timothy, Titus, Evadius, and Clement; yet I do not blame such other of the blessed as were bound in the bonds of marriage, but hope to be found worthy of God in following their footsteps in his kingdom, after the example of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Isaiah, and the other prophets—of Peter and Paul, and the apostles who were married.”
Some of the learned assert that the name of St. Paul has been interpolated in this famous letter: however, Turrian and all who have seen the letters of Ignatius in the library of the Vatican acknowledge that St. Paul’s name appears there. And Baronius does not deny that this passage is to be found in some Greek manuscripts: Non negamus in quibusdam græcis codicibus. But he asserts that these words have been added by modern Greeks.
In the old Oxford library there was a manuscript of St. Ignatius’s letters in Greek, which contained the above words; but it was, I believe, burned with many other books at the taking of Oxford by Cromwell. There is still one in Latin in the same library, in which the words Pauli et apostolorum have been effaced, but in such a manner that the old characters may be easily distinguished.
It is however certain that this passage exists in several editions of these letters. This dispute about St. Paul’s marriage is, after all, a very frivolous one. What matters it whether he was married or not, if the other apostles were married? His first Epistle to the Corinthians is quite sufficient to prove that he might be married, as well as the rest:
“Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?”
It is clear from this passage that all the apostles were married, as well as St. Peter. And St. Clement of Alexandria positively declares that St. Paul had a wife. The Roman discipline has changed, which is no proof that the usage of the primitive ages was not different.
Very little is known of their families. St. Clement of Alexandria says that Peter had children, that Philip had daughters, and that he gave them in marriage. The Acts of the Apostles specify St. Philip, whose four daughters prophesied, of whom it is believed that one was married, and that this one was St. Hermione.
Eusebius relates that Nicholas, chosen by the apostles to co-operate in the sacred ministry with St. Stephen, had a very handsome wife, of whom he was jealous. The apostles having reproached him with his jealousy, he corrected himself of it, brought his wife to them and said, “I am ready to yield her up; let him marry her who will.” The apostles, however, did not accept his proposal. He had by his wife a son and several daughters.
Cleophas, according to Eusebius and St. Epiphanius, was brother to St. Joseph, and father of St. James the Less, and of St. Jude, whom he had by Mary, sister to the Blessed Virgin. So that St. Jude the apostle was first cousin to Jesus Christ.
Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, tells us that two grandsons of St. Jude were informed against to the Emperor Domitian as being descendants of David and having an incontestable right to the throne of Jerusalem. Domitian, fearing that they might avail themselves of this right, put questions to them himself, and they acquainted him with their genealogy. The emperor asked them what fortune they had. They answered that they had thirty-nine acres of land, which paid tribute, and that they worked for their livelihood. He then asked them when Jesus Christ’s kingdom was to come, and they told him “At the end of the world.” After which Domitian permitted them to depart in peace; which goes far to prove that he was not a persecutor. This, if I mistake not, is all that is known about the children of the apostles.
According to Eusebius, James, surnamed the Just, brother to Jesus Christ, was in the beginning placed first on the episcopal throne of the city of Jerusalem; these are his own words. So that, according to him, the first bishopric was that of Jerusalem—supposing that the Jews knew even the name of bishop. It does, indeed, appear very likely that the brother of Jesus Christ should have been the first after him, and that the very city in which the miracle of our salvation was worked should have become the metropolis of the Christian world. As for the episcopal throne, that is a term which Eusebius uses by anticipation. We all know that there was then neither throne nor see.
Eusebius adds, after St. Clement, that the other apostles did not contend with St. James for this dignity. They elected him immediately after the Ascension. “Our Lord,” says he, “after His resurrection, had given to James, surnamed the Just, to John and to Peter the gift of knowledge”—very remarkable words. Eusebius mentions James first, then John, and Peter comes last. It seems but just that the brother and the beloved disciple of Jesus should come before the man who had denied Him. Nearly the whole Greek Church and all the reformers ask, Where is Peter’s primacy? The Catholics answer—If he is not placed first by the fathers of the church, he is in the Acts of the Apostles. The Greeks and the rest reply that he was not the first bishop; and the dispute will endure as long as the churches.
St. James, this first bishop of Jerusalem, always continued to observe the Mosaic law. He was a Rechabite; he walked barefoot, and never shaved; went and prostrated himself in the Jewish temple twice a day, and was surnamed by the Jews Oblia, signifying the just. They at length applied to him to know who Jesus Christ was, and having answered that Jesus was the son of man, who sat on the right hand of God, and that He should come in the clouds, he was beaten to death. This was St. James the Less.
St. James the Greater was his uncle, brother to St. John the Evangelist, and son of Zebedee and Salome. It is asserted that Agrippa, king of the Jews, had him beheaded at Jerusalem. St. John remained in Asia and governed the church of Ephesus, where, it is said, he was buried. St. Andrew, brother to St. Peter, quitted the school of St. John for that of Jesus Christ. It is not agreed whether he preached among the Tartars or in Argos; but, to get rid of the difficulty, we are told that it was in Epirus. No one knows where he suffered martyrdom, nor even whether he suffered it at all. The Acts of his martyrdom are more than suspected by the learned. Painters have always represented him on a saltier-cross, to which his name has been given. This custom has prevailed without its origin being known.
St. Peter preached to the Jews dispersed in Pontus, Bithynia, Cappadocia, at Antioch, and at Babylon. The Acts of the Apostles do not speak of his journey to Rome, nor does St. Paul himself make any mention of it in the letters which he wrote from that capital. St. Justin is the first accredited author who speaks of this journey, about which the learned are not agreed. St. Irenæus, after St. Justin, expressly says that St. Peter and St. Paul came to Rome, and that they entrusted its government to St. Linus. But here is another difficulty: if they made St. Linus inspector of the rising Christian society at Rome, it must be inferred that they themselves did not superintend it nor remain in that city.
Criticism has cast upon this matter a thousand uncertainties. The opinion that St. Peter came to Rome in Nero’s reign and filled the pontifical chair there for twenty-five years, is untenable, for Nero reigned only thirteen years. The wooden chair, so splendidly inlaid in the church at Rome, can hardly have belonged to St. Peter: wood does not last so long; nor is it likely that St. Peter delivered his lessons from this chair as in a school thoroughly formed, since it is averred that the Jews of Rome were violent enemies to the disciples of Jesus Christ.
The greatest difficulty perhaps is that St. Paul, in his epistle written to the Colossians from Rome, positively says that he was assisted only by Aristarchus, Marcus, and another bearing the name of Jesus. This objection has, to men of the greatest learning, appeared to be insurmountable.
In his letter to the Galatians he says that he obliged James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, to acknowledge himself and Barnabas as pillars also. If he placed James before Cephas, then Cephas was not the chief. Happily, these disputes affect not the foundation of our holy religion. Whether St. Peter ever was at Rome or not, Jesus Christ is no less the Son of God and the Virgin Mary; He did not the less rise again; nor did He the less recommend humility and poverty; which are neglected, it is true, but about which there is no dispute.
Callistus Nicephorus, a writer of the fourteenth century, says that “Peter was tall, straight and slender, his face long and pale, his beard and hair short, curly, and neglected—his eyes black, his nose long, and rather flat than pointed.” So Calmet translates the passage.
St. Bartholomew is a word corrupted from Bar. Ptolomaios, son of Ptolemy. The Acts of the Apostles inform us that he was a Galilean. Eusebius asserts that he went to preach in India, Arabia Felix, Persia, and Abyssinia. He is believed to have been the same as Nathanael. There is a gospel attributed to him; but all that has been said of his life and of his death is very uncertain. It has been asserted that Astyages, brother to Polemon, king of Armenia, had him flayed alive; but all good writers regard this story as fabulous.
St. Philip.—According to the apocryphal legends he lived eighty-seven years, and died in peace in the reign of Trajan.
St. Thomas Didymus.—Origen, quoted by Eusebius, says that he went and preached to the Medes, the Persians, the Caramanians, the Baskerians, and the magi—as if the magi had been a people. It is added that he baptized one of the magi, who had come to Bethlehem. The Manichæans assert that a man who had stricken Thomas was devoured by a lion. Some Portuguese writers assure us that he suffered martyrdom at Meliapour, in the peninsula of India. The Greek Church believes that he preached in India, and that from thence his body was carried to Edessa. Some monks are further induced to believe that he went to India, by the circumstance that, about the end of the fifteenth century, there were found, near the coast of Ormuz, some families of Nestorians, who had been established there by a merchant of Moussoul, named Thomas. The legend sets forth that he built a magnificent palace for an Indian king named Gondaser: but all these stories are rejected by the learned.
St. Matthias.—No particulars are known of him. His life was not found until the twelfth century by a monk of the abbey of St. Matthias of Treves. He said he had it from a Jew, who translated it for him from Hebrew into Latin.
St. Matthew.—According to Rufinus, Socrates, and Abdias, he preached and died in Ethiopia. Heracleon makes him live a long time and die a natural death. But Abdias says that Hyrtacus, king of Ethiopia, brother to Eglypus, wishing to marry his niece Iphigenia, and finding that he could not obtain St. Matthew’s permission, had his head struck off and set fire to Iphigenia’s house. He to whom we owe the most circumstantial gospel that we possess deserved a better historian than Abdias.
St. Simon the Canaanite, whose feast is commonly joined with that of St. Jude.—Of his life nothing is known. The modern Greeks say that he went to preach in Libya, and thence into England. Others make him suffer martyrdom in Persia.
St. Thaddæus or Lebbæus.—The same as St. Jude, whom the Jews in St. Matthew call brother to Jesus Christ, and who, according to Eusebius, was his first cousin. All these relations, for the most part vague and uncertain, throw no light on the lives of the apostles. But if there is little to gratify our curiosity, there is much from which we may derive instruction. Two of the four gospels, chosen from among the fifty-four composed by the first Christians, were not written by apostles.
St. Paul was not one of the twelve apostles, yet he contributed more than any other to the establishment of Christianity. He was the only man of letters among them. He had studied under Gamaliel. Festus himself, the governor of Judæa, reproaches him with being too learned; and, unable to comprehend the sublimities of his doctrine, he says to him, “Insanis, Paule, multæ te litteræ ad insaniam convertunt.” “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”
In his first epistle to the Corinthians he calls himself sent. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are ye not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle unto others, yet, doubtless, I am unto you,” etc.
He might, indeed, have seen Jesus while he was studying at Jerusalem under Gamaliel. Yet it may be said that this was not a reason which could authorize his apostleship. He had not been one of the disciples of Jesus; on the contrary, he had persecuted them, and had been an accomplice in the death of St. Stephen. It is astonishing that he does not rather justify his voluntary apostleship by the miracle which Jesus Christ afterwards worked in his favor—by the light from heaven which appeared to him at midday and threw him from his horse, and by his being carried up to the third heaven.
St. Epiphanius quotes Acts of the Apostles, believed to have been composed by those Christians called Ebionites, or poor, and which were rejected by the Church—acts very ancient, it is true, but full of abuse of St. Paul. In them it is said that St. Paul was born at Tarsus of idolatrous parents—utroque parente gentili procreatus—that, having come to Jerusalem, where he remained some time, he wished to marry the daughter of Gamaliel; that, with this design, he became a Jewish proselyte and got himself circumcised; but that, not obtaining this virgin (or not finding her a virgin), his vexation made him write against circumcision, against the Sabbath, and against the whole law.
“Quumque Hierosolymam accessisset, et ibidem aliquandiu mansisset, pontificis filiam ducere in animum induxisse, et eam ob rem proselytum factum, atque circumcisum esse; postea quod virginem eam non accepisset, succensuisse, et adversus circumcisionem, ac sabbathum totamque legem scripsisse.”
These injurious words show that these primitive Christians, under the name of the poor, were still attached to the Sabbath and to circumcision, resting this attachment on the circumcision of Jesus Christ and his observance of the Sabbath; and that they were enemies to St. Paul, regarding him as an intruder who sought to overturn everything. In short, they were heretics; consequently they strove to defame their enemies, an excess of which party spirit and superstition are too often guilty. St. Paul, too, calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers,” and loads them with abuse. In his letter to the Philippians he calls them dogs.
St. Jerome asserts that he was born at Gisceala, a town of Galilee, and not at Tarsus. Others dispute his having been a Roman citizen, because at that time there were no Roman citizens at Tarsus, nor at Galgala, and Tarsus was not a Roman colony until about a hundred years after. But we must believe the Acts of the Apostles, which were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and therefore outweigh the testimony of St. Jerome, learned as he might be.
Every particular relative to St. Peter and St. Paul is interesting. If Nicephorus has given us a portrait of the one, the Acts of St. Thecla, which, though not canonical, are of the first century, have furnished us with a portrait of the other. He was, say these acts, short in stature, his head was bald, his thighs were crooked, his legs thick, his nose aquiline, his eyebrows joined, and he was full of the grace of God.—Statura brevi, etc.
These Acts of St. Paul and St. Thecla were, according to Tertullian, composed by an Asiatic, one of Paul’s own disciples, who at first put them forth under the apostle’s name; for which he was called to account and displaced—that is, excluded from the assembly; for the hierarchy, not being then established, no one could, properly speaking, be displaced.
It appears that they were all equal. Equality was the great principle of the Essenians, the Rechabites, the Theraputæ, the disciples of John, and especially those of Jesus Christ, who inculcated it more than once.
St. Barnabas, who was not one of the twelve apostles, gave his voice along with theirs. St. Paul, who was still less a chosen apostle during the life of Jesus, not only was equal to them, but had a sort of ascendancy; he rudely rebukes St. Peter.
When they are together we find among them no superior. There was no presiding, not even in turn. They did not at first call themselves bishops. St. Peter gives the name of bishop, or the equivalent epithet, only to Jesus Christ, whom he calls the inspector of souls. This name of inspector or bishop was afterwards given to the ancients, whom we call priests; but with no ceremony, no dignity, no distinctive mark of pre-eminence. It was the office of the ancients or elders to distribute the alms. The younger of them were chosen by a plurality of voices to serve the tables, and were seven in number; all which clearly verifies the reports in common. Of jurisdiction, of power, of command, not the least trace is to be found.
It is true that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for not giving all their money to St. Peter, but retaining a small part for their own immediate wants without confessing it—for corrupting, by a trifling falsehood, the sanctity of their gifts; but it is not St. Peter who condemns them. It is true that he divines Ananias’ fault; he reproaches him with it and tells him that he has lied to the Holy Ghost; after which Ananias falls down dead. Then comes Sapphira; and Peter, instead of warning, interrogates her, which seems to be the action of a judge. He makes her fall into the snare by saying, “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much.” The wife made the same answer as her husband. It is astonishing that she did not, on reaching the place, learn of her husband’s death—that no one had informed her of it—that she did not observe the terror and tumult which such a death must have occasioned, and above all, the mortal fear lest the officers of justice should take cognizance of it as of a murder. It is strange that this woman should not have filled the house with her cries, but have been quietly interrogated, as in a court of justice, where silence is rigidly enforced. It is still more extraordinary that Peter should have said to her, “Behold the feet of them which have carried thy husband out at the door, and shall carry thee out”—on which the sentence was instantly executed. Nothing can more resemble a criminal hearing before a despotic judge.
But it must be considered that St. Peter is here only the organ of Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; that it is to them that Ananias and his wife have lied, and it is they who punish them with sudden death; that, indeed, this miracle was worked for the purpose of terrifying all such as, while giving their goods to the Church, and saying that they have given all, keep something back for profane uses. The judicious Calmet shows us how the fathers and the commentators differ about the salvation of these two primitive Christians, whose sin consisted in simple though culpable reticence.
Be this as it may, it is certain that the apostles had no jurisdiction, no power, no authority, but that of persuasion, which is the first of all, and upon which every other is founded. Besides, it appears from this very story that the Christians lived in common. When two or three of them were gathered together, Jesus Christ was in the midst of them. They could all alike receive the Spirit. Jesus was their true, their only superior; He had said to them:
“Be not ye called rabbi; for one is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon earth; for one is your father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even Christ.”
In the time of the apostles there was no ritual, no liturgy; there were no fixed hours for assembling, no ceremonies. The disciples baptized the catechumens, and breathed the Holy Ghost into their mouths, as Jesus Christ had breathed on the apostles; and as, in many churches, it is still the custom to breathe into the mouth of a child when administering baptism. Such were the beginnings of Christianity. All was done by inspiration—by enthusiasm, as among the Therapeutæ and the Judaïtes, if we may for a moment be permitted to compare Jewish societies, now become reprobate, with societies conducted by Jesus Christ Himself from the highest heaven, where He sat at the right hand of His Father. Time brought necessary changes; the Church being extended, strengthened, and enriched, had occasion for new laws.
It is not at all uncommon for a person under strong emotion to see that which is not. In 1726 a woman in London, accused of being an accomplice in her husband’s murder, denied the fact; the dead man’s coat was held up and shaken before her, her terrified imagination presented the husband himself to her view; she fell at his feet and would have embraced him. She told the jury that she had seen her husband. It is not wonderful that Theodoric saw in the head of a fish, which was served up to him, that of Symmachus, whom he had assassinated—or unjustly executed; for it is precisely the same thing.
Charles IX., after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, saw dead bodies and blood; not in his dreams, but in the convulsions of a troubled mind seeking for sleep in vain. His physician and his nurse bore witness to it. Fantastic visions are very frequent in hot fevers. This is not seeing in imagination; it is seeing in reality. The phantom exists to him who has the perception of it. If the gift of reason vouchsafed to the human machine were not at hand to correct these illusions, all heated imaginations would be in an almost continual transport, and it would be impossible to cure them.
It is especially in that middle state between sleeping and waking that an inflamed brain sees imaginary objects and hears sounds which nobody utters. Fear, love, grief, remorse are the painters who trace the pictures before unsettled imaginations. The eye which sees sparks in the night, when accidentally pressed in a certain direction, is but a faint image of the disorders of the brain.
No theologian doubts that with these natural causes the Master of nature has sometimes united His divine influence. To this the Old and the New Testament bear ample testimony. Providence has deigned to employ these apparitions—these visions—in favor of the Jews, who were then its cherished people.
It may be that, in the course of time, some really pious souls, deceived by their enthusiasm, have believed that they had received from an intimate communication with God that which they owed only to their inflamed imaginations. In such cases there is need of the advice of an honest man, and especially of a good physician.
The stories of apparitions are innumerable. It is said to have been in consequence of an apparition that St. Theodore, in the beginning of the fourth century, went and set fire to the temple of Amasia and reduced it to ashes. It is very likely that God did not command this action, in itself so criminal, by which several citizens perished, and which exposed all the Christians to a just revenge.
God might permit St. Potamienne to appear to St. Basilides; for there resulted no disturbance to the state. We will not deny that Jesus Christ might appear to St. Victor. But that St. Benedict saw the soul of St. Germanus of Capua carried up to heaven by angels; and that two monks afterwards saw the soul of St. Benedict walking on a carpet extended from heaven to Mount Cassino—this is not quite so easy to believe.
It may likewise, without any offence to our august religion, be doubted whether St. Eucherius was conducted by an angel into hell, where he saw Charles Martel’s soul; and whether a holy hermit of Italy saw the soul of Dagobert chained in a boat by devils, who were flogging it without mercy; for, after all, it is rather difficult to explain satisfactorily how a soul can walk upon a carpet, how it can be chained in a boat, or how it can be flogged.
But, it may very well be that heated brains have had such visions; from age to age we have a thousand instances of them. One must be very enlightened to distinguish, in this prodigious number of visions, those which came from God Himself from those which were purely the offspring of imagination.
The illustrious Bossuet relates, in his funeral oration over the Princess Palatine, two visions which acted powerfully on that princess, and determined the whole conduct of her latter years. These heavenly visions must be believed since they are regarded as such by the discreet and learned bishop of Meaux, who penetrated into all the depths of theology and even undertook to lift the veil which covers the Apocalypse.
He says, then, that the Princess Palatine, having lent a hundred thousand francs to her sister, the queen of Poland, sold the duchy of Rételois for a million, and married her daughters advantageously. Happy according to the world, but unfortunately doubting the truths of the Christian religion, she was brought back to her conviction, and to the love of these ineffable truths by two visions. The first was a dream in which a man born blind told her that he had no idea of light, and that we must believe the word of others in things of which we cannot ourselves conceive. The second arose from a violent shock of the membranes and fibres of the brain in an attack of fever. She saw a hen running after one of her chickens, which a dog held in his mouth. The Princess Palatine snatched the chick from the dog, on which a voice cried out: “Give him back his chicken; if you deprive him of his food he will not watch as he ought.” But the princess exclaimed, “No, I will never give it back.”
The chicken was the soul of Anne of Gonzaga, Princess Palatine; the hen was the Church, and the dog was the devil. Anne of Gonzaga, who was never to give back the chicken to the dog, was efficacious grace.
Bossuet preached this funeral oration to the Carmelite nuns of the Faubourg St. Jacques, at Paris, before the whole house of Condé; he used these remarkable words: “Hearken, and be especially careful not to hear with contempt the order of the Divine warnings, and the conduct of Divine grace.”
The reader, then, must peruse this story with the same reverence with which its hearers listened to it. These extraordinary workings of Providence are like the miracles of canonized saints, which must be attested by irreproachable witnesses. And what more lawful deponent can we have to the apparitions and visions of the Princess Palatine than the man who employed his life in distinguishing truth from appearance? who combated vigorously against the nuns of Port Royal on the formulary; against Paul Ferri on the catechism; against the minister Claude on the variations of the Church; against Doctor Dupin on China; against Father Simon on the understanding of the sacred text; against Cardinal Sfondrati on predestination; against the pope on the rights of the Gallican Church; against the archbishop of Cambray on pure and disinterested love. He was not to be seduced by the names, nor the titles, nor the reputation, nor the dialectics of his adversaries. He related this fact; therefore he believed it. Let us join him in his belief, in spite of the raillery which it has occasioned. Let us adore the secrets of Providence, but let us distrust the wanderings of the imagination, which Malebranche called la folle du logis. For these two visions accorded to the Princess Palatine are not vouchsafed to every one.
Jesus Christ appeared to St. Catharine of Sienna; he espoused her and gave her a ring. This mystical apparition is to be venerated, for it is attested by Raymond of Capua, general of the Dominicans, who confessed her, as also by Pope Urban VI. But it is rejected by the learned Fleury, author of the “Ecclesiastical History.” And a young woman who should now boast of having contracted such a marriage might receive as a nuptial present a place in a lunatic asylum.
The appearance of Mother Angelica, abbess of Port Royal, to Sister Dorothy is related by a man of very great weight among the Jansenists, the Sieur Dufossé, author of the “Memoirs de Pontis.” Mother Angelica, long after her death, came and seated herself in the church of Port Royal, in her old place, with her crosier in her hand. She commanded that Sister Dorothy should be sent for and to her she told terrible secrets. But the testimony of this Dufossé is of less weight than that of Raymond of Capua, and Pope Urban VI., which, however, have not been formally received.
The writer of the above paragraphs has since read the Abbé Langlet’s four volumes on “Apparitions,” and thinks he ought not to take anything from them. He is convinced of all the apparitions verified by the Church, but he has some doubts about the others, until they are authentically recognized. The Cordeliers and the Jacobins, the Jansenists and the Molinists have all had their apparitions and their miracles. “Iliacos inter muros peccatur et extra.”