Front Page Titles (by Subject) VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. III — Part II - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1)
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VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. III — Part II - 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.
Are all appearances deceitful? Have our senses been given us only to keep us in continual delusion? Is everything error? Do we live in a dream, surrounded by shadowy chimeras? We see the sun setting when he is already below the horizon; before he has yet risen we see him appear. A square tower seems to be round. A straight stick, thrust into the water, seems to be bent.
You see your face in a mirror and the image appears to be behind the glass: it is, however, neither behind nor before it. This glass, which to the sight and the touch is so smooth and even, is no other than an unequal congregation of projections and cavities. The finest and fairest skin is a kind of bristled network, the openings of which are incomparably larger than the threads, and enclose an infinite number of minute hairs. Under this network there are liquors incessantly passing, and from it there issue continual exhalations which cover the whole surface. What we call large is to an elephant very small, and what we call small is to insects a world.
The same motion which would be rapid to a snail would be very slow in the eye of an eagle. This rock, which is impenetrable by steel, is a sieve consisting of more pores than matter, and containing a thousand avenues of prodigious width leading to its centre, in which are lodged multitudes of animals, which may, for aught we know, think themselves the masters of the universe.
Nothing is either as it appears to be, or in the place where we believe it to be. Several philosophers, tired of being constantly deceived by bodies, have in their spleen pronounced that bodies do not exist, and that there is nothing real but our minds. As well might they have concluded that, all appearances being false, and the nature of the soul being as little known as that of the matter, there is no reality in either body or soul. Perhaps it is this despair of knowing anything which has caused some Chinese philosophers to say that nothing is the beginning and the end of all things. This philosophy, so destructive to being, was well known in Molière’s time. Doctor Macphurius represents the school; when teaching Sganarelle, he says, “You must not say, ‘I am come,’ but ‘it seems to me that I am come’; for it may seem to you, without such being really the case.” But at the present day a comic scene is not an argument, though it is sometimes better than an argument; and there is often as much pleasure in seeking after truth as in laughing at philosophy.
You do not see the network, the cavities, the threads, the inequalities, the exhalations of that white and delicate skin which you idolize. Animals a thousand times less than a mite discern all these objects which escape your vision; they lodge, feed, and travel about in them, as in an extensive country, and those on the right arm are perfectly ignorant that there are creatures of their own species on the left. If you were so unfortunate as to see what they see, your charming skin would strike you with horror.
The harmony of a concert, to which you listen with delight, must have on certain classes of minute animals the effect of terrible thunder; and perhaps it kills them. We see, touch, hear, feel things only in the way in which they ought to be seen, touched, heard, or felt by ourselves.
All is in due proportion. The laws of optics, which show you an object in the water where it is not, and break a right line, are in entire accordance with those which make the sun appear to you with a diameter of two feet, although it is a million times larger than the earth. To see it in its true dimensions would require an eye collecting his rays at an angle as great as his disk, which is impossible. Our senses, then, assist much more than they deceive us.
Motion, time, hardness, softness, dimensions, distance, approximation, strength, weakness, appearances, of whatever kind, all is relative. And who has created these relations?
All great successes, of whatever kind, are founded upon things done or said apropos.
Arnold of Brescia, John Huss, and Jerome of Prague did not come quite apropos; the people were not then sufficiently enlightened; the invention of printing had not then laid the abuses complained of before the eyes of every one. But when men began to read—when the populace, who were solicitous to escape purgatory, but at the same time wished not to pay too dear for indulgences, began to open their eyes, the reformers of the sixteenth century came quite apropos, and succeeded.
It has been elsewhere observed that Cromwell under Elizabeth or Charles the Second, or Cardinal de Retz when Louis XIV. governed by himself, would have been very ordinary persons.
Had Cæsar been born in the time of Scipio Africanus he would not have subjugated the Roman commonwealth; nor would Mahomet, could he rise again at the present day, be more than sheriff of Mecca. But if Archimedes and Virgil were restored, one would still be the best mathematician, the other the best poet of his country.
If any one be desirous of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the antiquities of Arabia, it may be presumed that he will gain no more information than about those of Auvergne and Poitou. It is, however, certain, that the Arabs were of some consequence long before Mahomet. The Jews themselves say that Moses married an Arabian woman, and his father-in-law Jethro seems to have been a man of great good sense.
Mecca is considered, and not without reason, as one of the most ancient cities in the world. It is, indeed, a proof of its antiquity that nothing but superstition could occasion the building of a town on such a spot, for it is in a sandy desert, where the water is brackish, so that the people die of hunger and thirst. The country a few miles to the east is the most delightful upon earth, the best watered and the most fertile. There the Arabs should have built, and not at Mecca. But it was enough for some charlatan, some false prophet, to give out his reveries, to make of Mecca a sacred spot and the resort of neighboring nations. Thus it was that the temple of Jupiter Ammon was built in the midst of sands.
Arabia extends from northeast to southwest, from the desert of Jerusalem to Aden or Eden, about the fiftieth degree of north latitude. It is an immense country, about three times as large as Germany. It is very likely that its deserts of sand were brought thither by the waters of the ocean, and that its marine gulfs were once fertile lands.
The belief in this nation’s antiquity is favored by the circumstance that no historian speaks of its having been subjugated. It was not subdued even by Alexander, nor by any king of Syria, nor by the Romans. The Arabs, on the contrary, subjugated a hundred nations, from the Indus to the Garonne; and, having afterwards lost their conquests, they retired into their own country and did not mix with any other people.
Having never been subject to nor mixed with other nations it is more than probable that they have preserved their manners and their language. Indeed, Arabic is, in some sense, the mother tongue of all Asia as far as the Indus; or rather the prevailing tongue, for mother tongues have never existed. Their genius has never changed. They still compose their “Nights’ Entertainments,” as they did when they imagined one Bac or Bacchus, who passed through the Red Sea with three millions of men, women, and children; who stopped the sun and moon, and made streams of wine issue forth with a blow of his rod, which, when he chose, he changed into a serpent.
A nation so isolated, and whose blood remains unmixed, cannot change its character. The Arabs of the desert have always been given to robbery, and those inhabiting the towns been fond of fables, poetry, and astronomy. It is said, in the historical preface to the Koran, that when any one of their tribes had a good poet the other tribes never failed to send deputies to that one on which God had vouchsafed to bestow so great a gift.
The tribes assembled every year, by representatives, in an open place named Ocad, where verses were recited, nearly in the same way as is now done at Rome in the garden of the academy of the Arcadii, and this custom continued until the time of Mahomet. In his time, each one posted his verses on the door of the temple of Mecca. Labid, son of Rabia, was regarded as the Homer of Mecca; but, having seen the second chapter of the Koran, which Mahomet had posted, he fell on his knees before him, and said, “O Mahomet, son of Abdallah, son of Motalib, son of Achem, thou art a greater poet than I—thou art doubtless the prophet of God.”
The Arabs of Maden, Naïd, and Sanaa were no less generous than those of the desert were addicted to plunder. Among them, one friend was dishonored if he had refused his assistance to another.
In their collection of verses, entitled “Tograid,” it is related that, “one day, in the temple of Mecca, three Arabs were disputing on generosity and friendship, and could not agree as to which, among those who then set the greatest examples of these virtues, deserved the preference. Some were for Abdallah, son of Giafar, uncle to Mahomet; others for Kais, son of Saad; and others for Arabad, of the tribe of As. After a long dispute they agreed to send a friend of Abdallah to him, a friend of Kais to Kais, and a friend of Arabad to Arabad, to try them all three, and to come and make their report to the assembly.
“Then the friend of Abdallah went and said to him, ‘Son of the uncle of Mahomet, I am on a journey and am destitute of everything.’ Abdallah was mounted on his camel loaded with gold and silk; he dismounted with all speed, gave him his camel, and returned home on foot.
“The second went and made application to his friend Kais, son of Saad. Kais was still asleep, and one of his domestics asked the traveller what he wanted. The traveller answered that he was the friend of Kais, and needed his assistance. The domestic said to him, ‘I will not wake my master; but here are seven thousand pieces of gold, which are all that we at present have in the house. Take also a camel from the stable, and a slave; these will, I think, be sufficient for you until you reach your own house.’ When Kais awoke, he chid the domestic for not having given more.
“The third repaired to his friend Arabad, of the tribe of As. Arabad was blind, and was coming out of his house, leaning on two slaves, to pray to God in the temple of Mecca. As soon as he heard his friend’s voice, he said to him, ‘I possess nothing but my two slaves; I beg that you will take and sell them; I will go to the temple as well as I can, with my stick.’
“The three disputants, having returned to the assembly, faithfully related what had happened. Many praises were bestowed on Abdallah, son of Giafar—on Kais, son of Saad—and on Arabad, of the tribe of As, but the preference was given to Arabad.”
The Arabs have several tales of this kind, but our western nations have none. Our romances are not in this taste. We have, indeed, several which turn upon trick alone, as those of Boccaccio, “Guzman d’Alfarache,” “Gil Blas,” etc.
On Job, the Arab.
It is clear that the Arabs at least possessed noble and exalted ideas. Those who are most conversant with the oriental languages think that the Book of Job, which is of the highest antiquity, was composed by an Arab of Idumæa. The most clear and indubitable proof is that the Hebrew translator has left in his translation more than a hundred Arabic words, which, apparently, he did not understand.
Job, the hero of the piece, could not be a Hebrew, for he says, in the forty-second chapter, that having been restored to his former circumstances, he divided his possessions equally among his sons and daughters, which is directly contrary to the Hebrew law.
It is most likely that, if this book had been composed after the period at which we place Moses, the author—who speaks of so many things and is not sparing of examples—would have mentioned some one of the astonishing prodigies worked by Moses, which were, doubtless, known to all the nations of Asia.
In the very first chapter Satan appears before God and asks permission to tempt Job. Satan was unknown in the Pentateuch; it was a Chaldæan word; a fresh proof that the Arabian author was in the neighborhood of Chaldæa.
It has been thought that he might be a Jew because the Hebrew translator has put Jehovah instead of El, or Bel, or Sadai. But what man of the least information does not know that the word Jehovah was common to the Phœnicians, the Syrians, the Egyptians, and every people of the neighboring countries?
A yet stronger proof—one to which there is no reply—is the knowledge of astronomy which appears in the Book of Job. Mention is here made of the constellations which we call Arcturus, Orion, the Pleiades, and even of those of “the chambers of the south.” Now, the Hebrews had no knowledge of the sphere; they had not even a term to express astronomy; but the Arabs, like the Chaldæans, have always been famed for their skill in this science.
It does, then, seem to be thoroughly proved that the Book of Job cannot have been written by a Jew, and that it was anterior to all the Jewish books, Philo and Josephus were too prudent to count it among those of the Hebrew canon. It is incontestably an Arabian parable or allegory.
This is not all. We derive from it some knowledge of the customs of the ancient world, and especially of Arabia. Here we read of trading with the Indies; a commerce which the Arabs have in all ages carried on, but which the Jews never even heard of.
Here, too, we see that the art of writing was in great cultivation, and that they already made great books.
It cannot be denied that the commentator Calmet, profound as he is, violates all the rules of logic in pretending that Job announces the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, when he says:
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth. And though after my skin—worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. But ye should say, Why persecute we him?—seeing the root of the matter is found in me. Be ye afraid of the sword; for wrath bringeth the punishment of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.”
Can anything be understood by those words, other than his hope of being cured? The immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body at the last day, are truths so indubitably announced in the New Testament, and so clearly proved by the fathers and the councils, that there is no need to attribute the first knowledge of them to an Arab. These great mysteries are not explained in any passage of the Hebrew Pentateuch; how then can they be explained in a single verse of Job and that in so obscure a manner? Calmet has no better reason for seeing in the words of Job the immortality of the soul, and the general resurrection, than he would have for discovering a disgraceful disease in the malady with which he was afflicted. Neither physics nor logic take the part of this commentator.
As for this allegorical Book of Job: it being manifestly Arabian, we are at liberty to say that it has neither justness, method, nor precision. Yet it is perhaps the most ancient book that has been written, and the most valuable monument that has been found on this side the Euphrates.
This is a mountain of Armenia, on which the ark rested. The question has long been agitated, whether the deluge was universal—whether it inundated the whole earth without exception, or only the portion of the earth which was then known. Those who have thought that it extended only to the tribes then existing, have founded their opinion on the inutility of flooding unpeopled lands, which reason seems very plausible. As for us, we abide by the Scripture text, without pretending to explain it. But we shall take greater liberty with Berosus, an ancient Chaldæan writer, of whom there are fragments preserved by Abydenus, quoted by Eusebius, and repeated word for word by George Syncellus. From these fragments we find that the Orientals of the borders of the Euxine, in ancient times, made Armenia the abode of their gods. In this they were imitated by the Greeks, who placed their deities on Mount Olympus. Men have always confounded human with divine things. Princes built their citadels on mountains; therefore they were also made the dwelling place of the gods, and became sacred. The summit of Mount Ararat is concealed by mists; therefore the gods hid themselves in those mists, sometimes vouchsafing to appear to mortals in fine weather.
A god of that country, believed to have been Saturn, appeared one day to Xixuter, tenth king of Chaldæa, according to the computation of Africanus, Abydenus, and Apollodorus, and said to him:
“On the fifteenth day of the month Oesi, mankind shall be destroyed by a deluge. Shut up close all your writings in Sipara, the city of the sun, that the memory of things may not be lost. Build a vessel; enter it with your relatives and friends; take with you birds and beasts; stock it with provisions, and, when you are asked, ‘Whither are you going in that vessel?’ answer, ‘To the gods, to beg their favor for mankind.’ ”
Xixuter built his vessel, which was two stadii wide, and five long; that it, its width was two hundred and fifty geometrical paces, and its length six hundred and twenty-five. This ship, which was to go upon the Black Sea, was a slow sailer. The flood came. When it had ceased Xixuter let some of his birds fly out, but, finding nothing to eat, they returned to the vessel. A few days afterwards he again set some of his birds at liberty, and they returned with mud in their claws. At last they went and returned no more. Xixuter did likewise: he quitted his ship, which had perched upon a mountain of Armenia, and he was seen no more; the gods took him away.
There is probably something historic in this fable. The Euxine overflowed its banks, and inundated some portions of territory, and the king of Chaldæa hastened to repair the damage. We have in Rabelais tales no less ridiculous, founded on some small portion of truth. The ancient historians are, for the most part, serious Rabelais.
As for Mount Ararat, it has been asserted that it was one of the mountains of Phrygia, and that it was called by a name answering that of ark, because it was enclosed by three rivers.
There are thirty opinions respecting this mountain. How shall we distinguish the true one? That which the monks now call Ararat, was, they say, one of the limits of the terrestrial paradise—a paradise of which we find but few traces. It is a collection of rocks and precipices, covered with eternal snows. Tournefort went thither by order of Louis XIV. to seek for plants. He says that the whole neighborhood is horrible, and the mountain itself still more so; that he found snow four feet thick, and quite crystallized, and that there are perpendicular precipices on every side.
The Dutch traveller, John Struys, pretends that he went thither also. He tells us that he ascended to the very top, to cure a hermit afflicted with a rupture.
“His hermitage,” says he, “was so distant from the earth that we did not reach it until the close of the seventh day, though each day we went five leagues.” If, in this journey, he was constantly ascending, this Mount Ararat must be thirty-five leagues high. In the time of the Giants’ war, a few Ararats piled one upon another would have made the ascent to the moon quite easy. John Struys, moreover, assures us that the hermit whom he cured presented him with a cross made of the wood of Noah’s ark. Tournefort had not this advantage.
The great theological disputes, for twelve hundred years, were all Greek. What would Homer, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Archimedes, have said, had they witnessed the subtle cavillings which have cost so much blood.
Arius has, even at this day, the honor of being regarded as the inventor of his opinion, as Calvin is considered to have been the founder of Calvinism. The pride in being the head of a sect is the second of this world’s vanities; for that of conquest is said to be the first. However, it is certain that neither Arius nor Calvin is entitled to the melancholy glory of invention. The quarrel about the Trinity existed long before Arius took part in it, in the disputatious town of Alexandria, where it had been beyond the power of Euclid to make men think calmly and justly. There never was a people more frivolous than the Alexandrians; in this respect they far exceeded even the Parisians.
There must already have been warm disputes about the Trinity; since the patriarch, who composed the “Alexandrian Chronicle,” preserved at Oxford, assures us that the party embraced by Arius was supported by two thousand priests.
We will here, for the reader’s convenience, give what is said of Arius in a small book which every one may not have at hand: Here is an incomprehensible question, which, for more than sixteen hundred years, has furnished exercise for curiosity, for sophistic subtlety, for animosity, for the spirit of cabal, for the fury of dominion, for the rage of persecution, for blind and sanguinary fanaticism, for barbarous credulity, and which has produced more horrors than the ambition of princes, which ambition has occasioned very many. Is Jesus the Word? If He be the Word, did He emanate from God in time or before time? If He emanated from God, is He coeternal and consubstantial with Him, or is He of a similar substance? Is He distinct from Him, or is He not? Is He made or begotten? Can He beget in his turn? Has He paternity? or productive virtue without paternity? Is the Holy Ghost made? or begotten? or produced? or proceeding from the Father? or proceeding from the Son? or proceeding from both? Can He beget? can He produce? is His hypostasis consubstantial with the hypostasis of the Father and the Son? and how is it that, having the same nature—the same essence as the Father and the Son, He cannot do the same things done by these persons who are Himself?
These questions, so far above reason, certainly needed the decision of an infallible church. The Christians sophisticated, cavilled, hated, and excommunicated one another, for some of these dogmas inaccessible to human intellect, before the time of Arius and Athanasius. The Egyptian Greeks were remarkably clever; they would split a hair into four, but on this occasion they split it only into three. Alexandros, bishop of Alexandria, thought proper to preach that God, being necessarily individual—single—a monad in the strictest sense of the word, this monad is triune.
The priest Arius, whom we call Arius, was quite scandalized by Alexandros’s monad, and explained the thing in quite a different way. He cavilled in part like the priest Sabellius, who had cavilled like the Phrygian Praxeas, who was a great caviller. Alexandros quickly assembled a small council of those of his own opinion, and excommunicated his priest. Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, took the part of Arius. Thus the whole Church was in a flame.
The Emperor Constantine was a villain; I confess it—a parricide, who had smothered his wife in a bath, cut his son’s throat, assassinated his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his nephew; I cannot deny it—a man puffed up with pride and immersed in pleasure; granted—a detestable tyrant, like his children; transeat—but he was a man of sense. He would not have obtained the empire, and subdued all his rivals, had he not reasoned justly.
When he saw the flames of civil war lighted among the scholastic brains, he sent the celebrated Bishop Osius with dissuasive letters to the two belligerent parties. “You are great fools,” he expressly tells them in this letter, “to quarrel about things which you do not understand. It is unworthy the gravity of your ministry to make so much noise about so trifling a matter.”
By “so trifling a matter,” Constantine meant not what regards the Divinity, but the incomprehensible manner in which they were striving to explain the nature of the Divinity. The Arabian patriarch, who wrote the history of the Church of Alexandria, makes Osius, on presenting the emperor’s letter, speak in nearly the following words:
“My brethren, Christianity is just beginning to enjoy the blessings of peace, and you would plunge it into eternal discord. The emperor has but too much reason to tell you that you quarrel about a very trifling matter. Certainly, had the object of the dispute been essential, Jesus Christ, whom we all acknowledge as our legislator, would have mentioned it. God would not have sent His Son on earth, to return without teaching us our catechism. Whatever He has not expressly told us is the work of men and error is their portion. Jesus has commanded you to love one another, and you begin by hating one another and stirring up discord in the empire. Pride alone has given birth to these disputes, and Jesus, your Master, has commanded you to be humble. Not one among you can know whether Jesus is made or begotten. And in what does His nature concern you, provided your own is to be just and reasonable? What has the vain science of words to do with the morality which should guide your actions? You cloud our doctrines with mysteries—you, who were designed to strengthen religion by your virtues. Would you leave the Christian religion a mass of sophistry? Did Christ come for this? Cease to dispute, humble yourselves, edify one another, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and pacify the quarrels of families, instead of giving scandal to the whole empire by your dissensions.”
But Osius addressed an obstinate audience. The Council of Nice was assembled and the Roman Empire was torn by a spiritual civil war. This war brought on others and mutual persecution has continued from age to age, unto this day.
The melancholy part of the affair was that as soon as the council was ended the persecution began; but Constantine, when he opened it, did not yet know how he should act, nor upon whom the persecution should fall. He was not a Christian, though he was at the head of the Christians. Baptism alone then constituted Christianity, and he had not been baptized; he had even rebuilt the Temple of Concord at Rome. It was, doubtless, perfectly indifferent to him whether Alexander of Alexandria, or Eusebius of Nicomedia, and the priest Arius, were right or wrong; it is quite evident, from the letter given above, that he had a profound contempt for the dispute.
But there happened that which always happens and always will happen in every court. The enemies of those who were afterwards named Arians accused Eusebius of Nicomedia of having formerly taken part with Licinius against the emperor. “I have proofs of it,” said Constantine in his letter to the Church of Nicomedia, “from the priests and deacons in his train whom I have taken,” etc.
Thus, from the time of the first great council, intrigue, cabal, and persecution were established, together with the tenets of the Church, without the power to derogate from their sanctity. Constantine gave the chapels of those who did not believe in the consubstantiality to those who did believe in it; confiscated the property of the dissenters to his own profit, and used his despotic power to exile Arius and his partisans, who were not then the strongest. It has even been said that of his own private authority he condemned to death whosoever should not burn the writings of Arius; but this is not true. Constantine, prodigal as he was of human blood, did not carry his cruelty to so mad and absurd an excess as to order his executioners to assassinate the man who should keep an heretical book, while he suffered the heresiarch to live.
At court everything soon changes. Several non-consubstantial bishops, with some of the eunuchs and the women, spoke in favor of Arius, and obtained the reversal of the lettre de cachet. The same thing has repeatedly happened in our modern courts on similar occasions.
The celebrated Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, known by his writings, which evince no great discernment, strongly accused Eustatius, bishop of Antioch, of being a Sabellian; and Eustatius accused Eusebius of being an Arian. A council was assembled at Antioch; Eusebius gained his cause; Eustatius was displaced; and the See of Antioch was offered to Eusebius, who would not accept it; the two parties armed against each other, and this was the prelude to controversial warfare. Constantine, who had banished Arius for not believing in the consubstantial Son, now banished Eustatius for believing in Him; nor are such revolutions uncommon.
St. Athanasius was then bishop of Alexandria. He would not admit Arius, whom the emperor had sent thither, into the town, saying that “Arius was excommunicated; that an excommunicated man ought no longer to have either home or country; that he could neither eat nor sleep anywhere; and that it was better to obey God than man.” A new council was forthwith held at Tyre, and new lettres de cachet were issued. Athanasius was removed by the Tyrian fathers and banished to Treves. Thus Arius, and Athanasius, his greatest enemy, were condemned in turn by a man who was not yet a Christian.
The two factions alike employed artifice, fraud, and calumny, according to the old and eternal usage. Constantine left them to dispute and cabal, for he had other occupations. It was at that time that this good prince assassinated his son, his wife, and his nephew, the young Licinius, the hope of the empire, who was not yet twelve years old.
Under Constantine, Arius’ party was constantly victorious. The opposite party has unblushingly written that one day St. Macarius, one of the most ardent followers of Athanasius, knowing that Arius was on the way to the cathedral of Constantinople, followed by several of his brethren, prayed so ardently to God to confound this heresiarch that God could not resist the prayer; and immediately all Arius’ bowels passed through his fundament—which is impossible. But at length Arius died.
Constantine followed him a year afterwards, and it is said he died of leprosy. Julian, in his “Cæsars,” says that baptism, which this emperor received a few hours before his death, cured no one of this distemper.
As his children reigned after him the flattery of the Roman people, who had long been slaves, was carried to such an excess that those of the old religion made him a god, and those of the new made him a saint. His feast was long kept, together with that of his mother.
After his death, the troubles caused by the single word “consubstantial” agitated the empire with renewed violence. Constantius, son and successor to Constantine, imitated all his father’s cruelties, and, like him, held councils—which councils anathematized one another. Athanasius went over all Europe and Asia to support his party, but the Eusebians overwhelmed him. Banishment, imprisonment, tumult, murder, and assassination signalized the close of the reign of Constantius. Julian, the Church’s mortal enemy, did his utmost to restore peace to the Church, but was unsuccessful. Jovian, and after him Valentinian, gave entire liberty of conscience, but the two parties accepted it only as the liberty to exercise their hatred and their fury.
Theodosius declared for the Council of Nice, but the Empress Justina, who reigned in Italy, Illyria, and Africa, as guardian of the young Valentinian, proscribed the great Council of Nice; and soon after the Goths, Vandals, and Burgundians, who spread themselves over so many provinces, finding Arianism established in them, embraced it in order to govern the conquered nations by the religion of those nations.
But the Nicæan faith having been received by the Gauls, their conqueror, Clovis, followed that communion for the very same reason that the other barbarians had professed the faith of Arius.
In Italy, the great Theodoric kept peace between the two parties, and at last the Nicæan formula prevailed in the east and in the west. Arianism reappeared about the middle of the sixteenth century, favored by the religious disputes which then divided Europe; and it reappeared, armed with new strength and a still greater incredulity. Forty gentlemen of Vicenza formed an academy, in which such tenets only were established as appeared necessary to make men Christians. Jesus was acknowledged as the Word, as Saviour, and as Judge; but His divinity, His consubstantiality, and even the Trinity, were denied.
Of these dogmatizers, the principal were Lælius Socinus, Ochin, Pazuta, and Gentilis, who were joined by Servetus. The unfortunate dispute of the latter with Calvin is well known; they carried on for some time an interchange of abuse by letter. Servetus was so imprudent as to pass through Geneva, on his way to Germany. Calvin was cowardly enough to have him arrested, and barbarous enough to have him condemned to be roasted by a slow fire—the same punishment which Calvin himself had narrowly escaped in France. Nearly all the theologians of that time were by turns persecuting and persecuted, executioners and victims.
The same Calvin solicited the death of Gentilis at Geneva. He found five advocates to subscribe that Gentilis deserved to perish in the flames. Such horrors were worthy of that abominable age. Gentilis was put in prison, and was on the point of being burned like Servetus, but he was better advised than the Spaniard; he retracted, bestowed the most ridiculous praises on Calvin, and was saved. But he had afterwards the ill fortune, through not having made terms with a bailiff of the canton of Berne, to be arrested as an Arian. There were witnesses who deposed that he had said that the words trinity, essence, hypostasis were not to be found in the Scriptures, and on this deposition the judges, who were as ignorant of the meaning of hypostasis as himself, condemned him, without at all arguing the question, to lose his head.
Faustus Socinus, nephew to Lælius Socinus, and his companions were more fortunate in Germany. They penetrated into Silesia and Poland, founded churches there, wrote, preached, and were successful, but at length, their religion being divested of almost every mystery, and a philosophical and peaceful, rather than a militant sect, they were abandoned; and the Jesuits, who had more influence, persecuted and dispersed them.
The remains of this sect in Poland, Germany, and Holland keep quiet and concealed; but in England the sect has reappeared with greater strength and éclat. The great Newton and Locke embraced it. Samuel Clarke, the celebrated rector of St. James, and author of an excellent book on the existence of God, openly declared himself an Arian, and his disciples are very numerous. He would never attend his parish church on the day when the Athanasian Creed was recited. In the course of this work will be seen the subtleties which all these obstinate persons, who were not so much Christians as philosophers, opposed to the purity of the Catholic faith.
Although among the theologians of London there was a large flock of Arians, the public mind there has been more occupied by the great mathematical truths discovered by Newton, and the metaphysical wisdom of Locke. Disputes on consubstantiality appear very dull to philosophers. The same thing happened to Newton in England as to Corneille in France, whose “Pertharite,” “Théodore,” and “Récueil de Vers” were forgotten, while “Cinna” was alone thought of. Newton was looked upon as God’s interpreter, in the calculation of fluxions, the laws of gravitation, and the nature of light. On his death, his pall was borne by the peers and the chancellor of the realm, and his remains were laid near the tombs of the kings—than whom he is more revered. Servetus, who is said to have discovered the circulation of the blood, was roasted by a slow fire, in a little town of the Allobroges, ruled by a theologian of Picardy.
Shall men forever be deceived in the most indifferent as well as the most serious things? A pretended Aristeas would make us believe that he had the Old Testament translated into Greek for the use of Ptolemy Philadelphus—just as the Duke de Montausier had commentaries written on the best Latin authors for the dauphin, who made no use of them.
According to this Aristeas, Ptolemy, burning with desire to be acquainted with the Jewish books, and to know those laws which the meanest Jew in Alexandria could have translated for fifty crowns, determined to send a solemn embassy to the high-priest of the Jews of Jerusalem; to deliver a hundred and twenty thousand Jewish slaves, whom his father, Ptolemy Soter, had made prisoners in Judæa, and in order to assist them in performing the journey agreeably, to give them about forty crowns each of our money—amounting in the whole to fourteen millions four hundred thousand of our livres, or about five hundred and seventy-six thousand pounds.
Ptolemy did not content himself with this unheard-of liberality. He sent to the temple a large table of massive gold, enriched all over with precious stones, and had engraved upon it a chart of the Meander, a river of Phrygia, the course of which river was marked with rubies and emeralds. It is obvious how charming such a chart of the Meander must have been to the Jews. This table was loaded with two immense golden vases, still more richly worked. He also gave thirty other golden and an infinite number of silver vases. Never was a book so dearly paid for; the whole Vatican library might be had for a less amount.
Eleazar, the pretended high-priest of Jerusalem, sent ambassadors in his turn, who presented only a letter written upon fine vellum in characters of gold. It was an act worthy of the Jews, to give a bit of parchment for about thirty millions of livres. Ptolemy was so much delighted with Eleazar’s style that he shed tears of joy.
The ambassador dined with the king and the chief priests of Egypt. When grace was to be said, the Egyptians yielded the honor to the Jews. With these ambassadors came seventy-two interpreters, six from each of the twelve tribes, who had all learned Greek perfectly at Jerusalem. It is really a pity that of these twelve tribes ten were entirely lost, and had disappeared from the face of the earth so many ages before; but Eleazar, the highpriest, found them again, on purpose to send translators to Ptolemy.
The seventy-two interpreters were shut up in the island of Pharos. Each of them completed his translation in seventy-two days, and all the translations were found to be word for word alike. This is called the Septuagint or translation of the seventy, though it should have been called the translation of the seventy-two.
As soon as the king had received these books he worshipped them—he was so good a Jew. Each interpreter received three talents of gold, and there were sent to the high-sacrificer—in return for his parchment—ten couches of silver, a crown of gold, censers and cups of gold, a vase of thirty talents of silver—that is, of the weight of about sixty thousand crowns—with ten purple robes, and a hundred pieces of the finest linen.
Nearly all this fine story is faithfully repeated by the historian Josephus, who never exaggerates anything. St. Justin improves upon Josephus. He says that Ptolemy applied to King Herod, and not to the high-priest Eleazar. He makes Ptolemy send two ambassadors to Herod—which adds much to the marvellousness of the tale, for we know that Herod was not born until long after the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus.
It is needless to point out the profusion of anachronisms in these and all such romances, or the swarm of contradictions and enormous blunders into which the Jewish author falls in every sentence; yet this fable was regarded for ages as an incontestable truth; and, the better to exercise the credulity of the human mind, every writer who repeated it added or retrenched in his own way, so that, to believe it all, it was necessary to believe it in a hundred different ways. Some smile at these absurdities which whole nations have swallowed, while others sigh over the imposture. The infinite diversity of these falsehoods multiplies the followers of Democritus and Heraclitus.
It is not to be believed that Alexander’s preceptor, chosen by Philip, was wrong-headed and pedantic. Philip was assuredly a judge, being himself well informed, and the rival of Demosthenes in eloquence.
Aristotle’s logic—his art of reasoning—is so much the more to be esteemed as he had to deal with the Greeks, who were continually holding captious arguments, from which fault his master Plato was even less exempt than others.
Take, for example, the article by which, in the “Phædon,” Plato proves the immortality of the soul:
“Do you not say that death is the opposite of life? Yes. And that they spring from each other? Yes. What, then, is it that springs from the living? The dead. And what from the dead? The living. It is, then, from the dead that all living creatures arise. Consequently, souls exist after death in the infernal regions.”
Sure and unerring rules were wanted to unravel this extraordinary nonsense, which, through Plato’s reputation, fascinated the minds of men. It was necessary to show that Plato gave a loose meaning to all his words.
Death does not spring from life, but the living man ceases to live. The living springs not from the dead, but from a living man who subsequently dies. Consequently, the conclusion that all living things spring from dead ones is ridiculous.
From this conclusion you draw another, which is no way included in the premises, that souls are in the infernal regions after death. It should first have been proved that dead bodies are in the infernal regions, and that the souls accompany them.
There is not a correct word in your argument. You should have said—That which thinks has no parts; that which has no parts is indestructible: therefore, the thinking faculty in us, having no parts, is indestructible. Or—the body dies because it is divisible; the soul is indivisible; therefore it does not die. Then you would at least have been understood.
It is the same with all the captious reasonings of the Greeks. A master taught rhetoric to his disciple on condition that he should pay him after the first cause that he gained. The disciple intended never to pay him. He commenced an action against his master, saying: “I will never pay you anything, for, if I lose my cause I was not to pay you until I had gained it, and if I gain it my demand is that I may not pay you.”
The master retorted, saying: “If you lose you must pay; if you gain you must also pay; for our bargain is that you shall pay me after the first cause that you have gained.”
It is evident that all this turns on an ambiguity. Aristotle teaches how to remove it, by putting the necessary terms in the argument:
A sum is not due until the day appointed for its payment. The day appointed is that when a cause shall have been gained. No cause has yet been gained. Therefore the day appointed has not yet arrived. Therefore the disciple does not yet owe anything.
But not yet does not mean never. So that the disciple instituted a ridiculous action. The master, too, had no right to demand anything, since the day appointed had not arrived. He must wait until the disciple had pleaded some other cause.
Suppose a conquering people were to stipulate that they would restore to the conquered only onehalf of their ships; then, having sawed them in two, and having thus given back the exact half, were to pretend that they had fulfilled the treaty. It is evident that this would be a very criminal equivocation.
Aristotle did, then, render a great service to mankind by preventing all ambiguity; for this it is which causes all misunderstandings in philosophy, in theology, and in public affairs. The pretext for the unfortunate war of 1756 was an equivocation respecting Acadia.
It is true that natural good sense, combined with the habit of reasoning, may dispense with Aristotle’s rules. A man who has a good ear and voice may sing well without musical rules, but it is better to know them.
They are but little understood, but it is more than probable that Aristotle understood himself, and was understood in his own time. We are strangers to the language of the Greeks; we do not attach to the same words the same ideas.
For instance, when he says, in his seventh chapter, that the principles of bodies are matter, privation, and form, he seems to talk egregious nonsense; but such is not the case. Matter, with him, is the first principle of everything—the subject of everything—indifferent to everything. Form is essential to its becoming any certain thing. Privation is that which distinguishes any being from all those things which are not in it. Matter may, indifferently, become a rose or an apple; but, when it is an apple or a rose it is deprived of all that would make it silver or lead. Perhaps this truth was not worth the trouble of repeating; but we have nothing here but what is quite intelligible, and nothing at all impertinent.
The “act of that which is in power” also seems a ridiculous phrase, though it is no more so than the one just noticed. Matter may become whatever you will—fire, earth, water, vapor, metal, mineral, animal, tree, flower. This is all that is meant by the expression, act in power. So that there was nothing ridiculous to the Greeks in saying that motion was an act of power, since matter may be moved; and it is very likely that Aristotle understood thereby that motion was not essential to matter.
Aristotle’s physics must necessarily have been very bad in detail. This was common to all philosophers until the time when the Galileos, the Torricellis, the Guerickes, the Drebels, and the Academy del Cimento began to make experiments. Natural philosophy is a mine which cannot be explored without instruments that were unknown to the ancients. They remained on the brink of the abyss, and reasoned upon without seeing its contents.
Aristotle’s Treatise on Animals.
His researches relative to animals formed, on the contrary, the best book of antiquity, because here Aristotle made use of his eyes. Alexander furnished him with all the rare animals of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This was one fruit of his conquests. In this way that hero spent immense sums, which at this day would terrify all the guardians of the royal treasury, and which should immortalize Alexander’s glory, of which we have already spoken.
At the present day a hero, when he has the misfortune to make war, can scarcely give any encouragement to the sciences; he must borrow money of a Jew, and consult other Jews in order to make the substance of his subjects flow into his coffer of the Danaides, whence it escapes through a thousand openings. Alexander sent to Aristotle elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, crocodiles, gazelles, eagles, ostriches, etc.; and we, when by chance a rare animal is brought to our fairs, go and admire it for sixpence, and it dies before we know anything about it.
Of the Eternal World.
Aristotle expressly maintains, in his book on heaven, chap. xi., that the world is eternal. This was the opinion of all antiquity, excepting the Epicureans. He admitted a God—a first mover—and defined Him to be “one, eternal, immovable, indivisible, without qualities.”
He must, therefore, have regarded the world as emanating from God, as the light emanates from the sun, and is co-existent with it. About the celestial spheres he was as ignorant as all the rest of the philosophers. Copernicus was not yet come.
God being the first mover, He gives motion to the soul. But what is God, and what is the soul, according to him? The soul is an entelechia. “It is,” says he, “a principle and an act—a nourishing, feeling, and reasoning power.” This can only mean that we have the faculties of nourishing ourselves, of feeling, and of reasoning. The Greeks no more knew what an entelechia was than do the South Sea islanders; nor have our doctors any more knowledge of what a soul is.
Aristotle’s morals, like all others, are good, for there are not two systems of morality. Those of Confucius, of Zoroaster, of Pythagoras, of Aristotle, of Epictetus, of Antoninus, are absolutely the same. God has placed in every breast the knowledge of good, with some inclination for evil.
Aristotle says that to be virtuous three things are necessary—nature, reason, and habit; and nothing is more true. Without a good disposition, virtue is too difficult; reason strengthens it; and habit renders good actions as familiar as a daily exercise to which one is accustomed.
He enumerates all the virtues, and does not fail to place friendship among them. He distinguishes friendship between equals, between relatives, between guests, and between lovers. Friendship springing from the rights of hospitality is no longer known among us. That which, among the ancients, was the sacred bond of society is, with us, nothing but an innkeeper’s reckoning; and as for lovers, it is very rarely nowadays that virtue has anything to do with love. We think we owe nothing to a woman to whom we have a thousand times promised everything.
It is a melancholy reflection that our first thinkers have never ranked friendship among the virtues—have rarely recommended friendship; but, on the contrary, have often seemed to breathe enmity, like tyrants, who dread all associations.
It is, moreover, with very good reason that Aristotle places all the virtues between the two extremes. He was, perhaps, the first who assigned them this place. He expressly says that piety is the medium between atheism and superstition.
It was probably his rules for rhetoric and poetry that Cicero and Quintilian had in view. Cicero, in his “Orator” says that “no one had more science, sagacity, invention, or judgment.” Quintilian goes so far as to praise, not only the extent of his knowledge, but also the suavity of his elocution—suavitatem eloquendi.
Aristotle would have an orator well informed respecting laws, finances, treaties, fortresses, garrisons, provisions, and merchandise. The orators in the parliaments of England, the diets of Poland, the states of Sweden, the pregadi of Venice, etc., would not find these lessons of Aristotle unprofitable; to other nations, perhaps, they would be so. He would have his orator know the passions and manners of men, and the humors of every condition.
I think there is not a single nicety of the art which has escaped him. He particularly commends the citing of instances where public affairs are spoken of; nothing has so great an effect on the minds of men.
What he says on this subject proves that he wrote his “Rhetoric” long before Alexander was appointed captain-general of the Greeks against the great king.
“If,” says he, “any one had to prove to the Greeks that it is to their interest to oppose the enterprises of the king of Persia, and to prevent him from making himself master of Egypt, he should first remind them that Darius Ochus would not attack Greece until Egypt was in his power; he should remark that Xerxes had pursued the same course; he should add that it was not to be doubted that Darius Codomannus would do the same; and that, therefore, they must not suffer him to take possession of Egypt.”
He even permits, in speeches delivered to great assemblies, the introduction of parables and fables; they always strike the multitude. He relates some ingenious ones, which are of the highest antiquity, as the horse that implored the assistance of man to avenge himself on the stag, and became a slave through having sought a protector.
It may be remarked that, in the second book, where he treats of arguing from the greater to the less, he gives an example which plainly shows what was the opinion of Greece, and probably of Asia, respecting the extent of the power of the gods.
“If,” says he, “it be true that the gods themselves, enlightened as they are, cannot know everything, much less can men.” This passage clearly proves that omniscience was not then attributed to the Divinity. It was conceived that the gods could not know what was not; the future was not, therefore it seemed impossible that they should know it. This is the opinion of the Socinians at the present day.
But to return to Aristotle’s “Rhetoric.” What I shall chiefly remark on in his book on elocution and diction is the good sense with which he condemns those who would be poets in prose. He would have pathos, but he banishes bombast, and proscribes useless epithets. Indeed, Demosthenes and Cicero, who followed his precepts, never affected the poetic style in their speeches. “The style,” says Aristotle, “must always be conformable to the subject.”
Nothing can be more misplaced than to speak of physics poetically, and lavish figure and ornament where there should be only method, clearness, and truth. It is the quackery of a man who would pass off false systems under cover of an empty noise of words. Weak minds are caught by the bait, and strong minds disdain it.
Among us the funeral oration has taken possession of the poetic style in prose; but this branch of oratory, consisting almost entirely of exaggeration, seems privileged to borrow the ornaments of poetry.
The writers of romances have sometimes taken this licence. La Calprenède was, I think, the first who thus transposed the limits of the arts, and abused this facility. The author of “Telemachus” was pardoned through consideration for Homer, whom he imitated, though he could not make verses, and still more in consideration of his morality, in which he infinitely surpasses Homer, who has none at all. But he owed his popularity chiefly to the criticism on the pride of Louis XIV. and the harshness of Louvois, which, it was thought, were discoverable in “Telemachus.”
Be this as it may, nothing can be a better proof of Aristotle’s good sense and good taste than his having assigned to everything its proper place.
Aristotle on Poetry.
Where, in our modern nations, shall we find a natural philosopher, a geometrician, a metaphysician, or even a moralist who has spoken well on the subject of poetry? They teem with the names of Homer, Virgil, Sophocles, Ariosto, Tasso, and so many others who have charmed the world by the harmonious productions of their genius, but they feel not their beauties; or if they feel them they would annihilate them.
How ridiculous is it in Pascal to say: “As we say poetical beauty, we should likewise say geometrical beauty, and medicinal beauty. Yet we do not say so, and the reason is that we well know what is the object of geometry, and what is the object of medicine, but we do not know in what the peculiar charm—which is the object of poetry—consists. We know not what that natural model is which must be imitated; and for want of this knowledge we have invented certain fantastic terms, as age of gold, wonder of the age, fatal wreath, fair star, etc. And this jargon we call poetic beauty.”
The pitifulness of this passage is sufficiently obvious. We know that there is nothing beautiful in a medicine, nor in the properties of a triangle; and that we apply the term “beautiful” only to that which raises admiration in our minds and gives pleasure to our senses. Thus reasons Aristotle; and Pascal here reasons very ill. Fatal wreath, fair star, have never been poetic beauties. If he wished to know what is poetic beauty, he had only to read.
Nicole wrote against the stage, about which he had not a single idea; and was seconded by one Dubois, who was as ignorant of the belles lettres as himself.
Even Montesquieu, in his amusing “Persian Letters,” has the petty vanity to think that Homer and Virgil are nothing in comparison with one who imitates with spirit and success Dufrénoy’s “Siamois,” and fills his book with bold assertions, without which it would not have been read. “What,” says he, “are epic poems? I know them not. I despise the lyric as much as I esteem the tragic poets.” He should not, however, have despised Pindar and Horace quite so much. Aristotle did not despise Pindar.
Descartes did, it is true, write for Queen Christina a little divertissement in verse, which was quite worthy of his matière cannelée.
Malebranche could not distinguish Corneille’s Qu’il mourût” from a line of Jodèle’s or Garnier’s.
What a man, then, was Aristotle, who traced the rules of tragedy with the same hand with which he had laid down those of dialectics, of morals, of politics, and lifted, as far as he found it possible, the great veil of nature!
To his fourth chapter on poetry Boileau is indebted for these fine lines:
Aristotle says: “Imitation and harmony have produced poetry. We see terrible animals, dead or dying men, in a picture, with pleasure—objects which in nature would inspire us only with fear and sorrow. The better they are imitated the more complete is our satisfaction.”
This fourth chapter of Aristotle’s reappears almost entire in Horace and Boileau. The laws which he gives in the following chapters are at this day those of our good writers, excepting only what relates to the choruses and music. His idea that tragedy was instituted to purify the passions has been warmly combated; but if he meant, as I believe he did, that an incestuous love might be subdued by witnessing the misfortune of Phædra, or anger be repressed by beholding the melancholy example of Ajax, there is no longer any difficulty.
This philosopher expressly commands that there be always the heroic in tragedy and the ridiculous in comedy. This is a rule from which it is, perhaps, now becoming too customary to depart.
It is worthy of consideration that there have been and still are, upon the earth societies without armies. The Brahmins, who long governed nearly all the great Indian Chersonesus; the primitives, called Quakers, who governed Pennsylvania; some American tribes, some in the centre of Africa, the Samoyeds, the Laplanders, the Kamchadales, have never marched with colors flying to destroy their neighbors.
The Brahmins were the most considerable of all these pacific nations; their caste, which is so ancient, which is still existing, and compared with which all other institutions are quite recent, is a prodigy which cannot be sufficiently admired. Their religion and their policy always concurred in abstaining from the shedding of blood, even of that of the meanest animal. Where such is the régime, subjugation is easy; they have been subjugated, but have not changed.
The Pennsylvanians never had an army; they always held war in abhorrence.
Several of the American tribes did not know what an army was until the Spaniards came to exterminate them all. The people on the borders of the Icy Sea are ignorant alike of armies, of the god of armies, of battalions, and of squadrons.
Besides these populations, the priests and monks do not bear arms in any country—at least when they observe the laws of their institution.
It is only among Christians that there have been religious societies established for the purpose of fighting—as the Knights Templars, the Knights of St. John, the Knights of the Teutonic Order, the Knights Swordbearers. These religious orders were instituted in imitation of the Levites, who fought like the rest of the Jewish tribes.
Neither armies nor arms were the same in antiquity as at present. The Egyptians hardly ever had cavalry. It would have been of little use in a country intersected by canals, inundated during five months of the year, and miry during five more. The inhabitants of a great part of Asia used chariots of war.
They are mentioned in the annals of China. Confucius says that in his time each governor of a province furnished to the emperor a thousand war chariots, each drawn by four horses. The Greeks and Trojans fought in chariots drawn by two horses.
Cavalry and chariots were unknown to the Jews in a mountainous tract, where their first king, when he was elected, had nothing but she-asses. Thirty sons of Jair, princes of thirty cities, according to the text (Judges, x, 4), rode each upon an ass. Saul, afterwards king of Judah, had only she-asses; and the sons of David all fled upon mules when Absalom had slain his brother Amnon. Absalom was mounted on a mule in the battle which he fought against his father’s troops; which proves, according to the Jewish historians, either that mares were beginning to be used in Palestine, or that they were already rich enough there to buy mules from the neighboring country.
The Greeks made but little use of cavalry. It was chiefly with the Macedonian phalanx that Alexander gained the battles which laid Persia at his feet. It was the Roman infantry that subjugated the greater part of the world. At the battle of Pharsalia, Cæsar had but one thousand horsemen.
It is not known at what time the Indians and the Africans first began to march elephants at the head of their armies. We cannot read without surprise of Hannibal’s elephants crossing the Alps, which were much harder to pass then than they are now.
There have long been disputes about the disposition of the Greek and Roman armies, their arms, and their evolutions. Each one has given his plan of the battles of Zama and Pharsalia.
The commentator Calmet, a Benedictine, has printed three great volumes of his “Dictionary of the Bible,” in which, the better to explain God’s commandments, are inserted a hundred engravings, where you see plans of battles and sieges in copperplate. The God of the Jews was the God of armies, but Calmet was not His secretary; he cannot have known, but by revelation, how the armies of the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Syrians, and the Philistines were arranged on the days of general murder. These plates of carnage, designed at a venture, made his book five or six louis dearer, but made it no better.
It is a great question whether the Franks, whom the Jesuit Daniel calls French by anticipation, used bows and arrows in their armies, and whether they had helmets and cuirasses.
Supposing that they went to combat almost naked, and armed, as they are said to have been, with only a small carpenter’s ax, a sword, and a knife, we must infer that the Romans, masters of Gaul, so easily conquered by Clovis, had lost all their ancient valor, and that the Gauls were as willing to be subject to a small number of Franks as to a small number of Romans. Warlike accoutrements have since changed, as everything else changes.
In the days of knights, squires, and varlets, the armed forces of Germany, France, Italy, England, and Spain consisted almost entirely of horsemen, who, as well as their horses, were covered with steel. The infantry performed the functions rather of pioneers than of soldiers. But the English always had good archers among their foot, which contributed, in a great measure, to their gaining almost every battle.
Who would believe that armies nowadays do but make experiments in natural philosophy? A soldier would be much astonished if some learned man were to say to him:
“My friend, you are a better machinist than Archimedes. Five parts of saltpetre, one of sulphur, and one of carbo ligneus have been separately prepared. Your saltpetre dissolved, well filtered, well evaporated, well crystallized, well turned, well dried, has been incorporated with the yellow purified sulphur. These two ingredients, mixed with powdered charcoal, have, by means of a little vinegar, or solution of sal-ammoniac, or urine, formed large balls, which balls have been reduced in pulverem pyrium by a mill. The effect of this mixture is a dilatation, which is nearly as four thousand to unity; and the lead in your barrel exhibits another effect, which is the product of its bulk multiplied by its velocity.
“The first who discovered a part of this mathematical secret was a Benedictine named Roger Bacon. The invention was perfected, in Germany, in the fourteenth century, by another Benedictine named Schwartz. So that you owe to two monks the art of being an excellent murderer, when you aim well, and your powder is good.
“Du Cange has in vain pretended that, in 1338, the registers of the Chambre des Comptes, at Paris, mention a bill paid for gunpowder. Do not believe it. It was artillery which is there spoken of—a name attached to ancient as well as to modern warlike machines.
“Gunpowder entirely superseded the Greek fire, of which the Moors still made use. In fine, you are the depositary of an art, which not only imitates the thunder, but is also much more terrible.”
There is, however, nothing but truth in this speech. Two monks have, in reality, changed the face of the earth.
Before cannon were known, the northern nations had subjugated nearly the whole hemisphere, and could come again, like famishing wolves, to seize upon the lands as their ancestors had done.
In all armies, the victory, and consequently the fate of kingdoms, was decided by bodily strength and agility—a sort of sanguinary fury—a desperate struggle, man to man. Intrepid men took towns by scaling their walls. During the decline of the Roman Empire there was hardly more discipline in the armies of the North than among carnivorous beasts rushing on their prey.
Now a single frontier fortress would suffice to stop the armies of Genghis or Attila. It is not long since a victorious army of Russians were unavailably consumed before Cüstrin, which is nothing more than a little fortress in a marsh.
In battle, the weakest in body may, with well-directed artillery, prevail against the stoutest. At the battle of Fontenoy a few cannon were sufficient to compel the retreat of the whole English column, though it had been master of the field.
The combatants no longer close. The soldier has no longer that ardor, that impetuosity, which is redoubled in the heat of action, when the fight is hand to hand. Strength, skill, and even the temper of the weapons, are useless. Rarely is a charge with the bayonet made in the course of a war, though the bayonet is the most terrible of weapons.
In a plain, frequently surrounded by redoubts furnished with heavy artillery, two armies advance in silence, each division taking with it flying artillery. The first lines fire at one another and after one another: they are victims presented in turn to the bullets. Squadrons at the wings are often exposed to a cannonading while waiting for the general’s orders. They who first tire of this manœuvre, which gives no scope for the display of impetuous bravery, disperse and quit the field; and are rallied, if possible, a few miles off. The victorious enemies besiege a town, which sometimes costs them more men, money, and time than they would have lost by several battles. The progress made is rarely rapid; and at the end of five or six years, both sides, being equally exhausted, are compelled to make peace.
Thus, at all events, the invention of artillery and the new mode of warfare have established among the respective powers an equality which secures mankind from devastations like those of former times, and thereby renders war less fatal in its consequences, though it is still prodigiously so.
The Greeks in all ages, the Romans in the time of Sulla, and the other nations of the west and south, had no standing army; every citizen was a soldier, and enrolled himself in time of war. It is, at this day, precisely the same in Switzerland. Go through the whole country, and you will not find a battalion, except at the time of the reviews. If it goes to war, you all at once see eighty thousand men in arms.
Those who usurped the supreme power after Sulla always had a permanent force, paid with the money of the citizens, to keep the citizens in subjection, much more than to subjugate other nations. The bishop of Rome himself keeps a small army in his pay. Who, in the time of the apostles, would have said that the servant of the servants of God should have regiments, and have them in Rome?
Nothing is so much feared in England as a great standing army. The janissaries have raised the sultans to greatness, but they have also strangled them. The sultans would have avoided the rope, if instead of these large bodies of troops, they had established small ones.
AROT AND MAROT.
This article may serve to show how much the most learned men may be deceived, and to develop some useful truths. In the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” there is the following passage concerning Arot and Marot:
“These are the names of two angels, who, the impostor Mahomet said, had been sent from God to teach man, and to order him to abstain from murder, false judgments, and excesses of every kind. This false prophet adds that a very beautiful woman, having invited these two angels to her table, made them drink wine, with which being heated, they solicited her as lovers; that she feigned to yield to their passion, provided they would first teach her the words by pronouncing which they said it was easy to ascend to heaven; that having obtained from them what she asked, she would not keep her promise; and that she was then taken up into heaven, where, having related to God what had passed, she was changed into the morning star called Lucifer or Aurora, and the angels were severely punished. Hence it was, according to Mahomet, that God took occasion to forbid wine to men.”
It would be in vain to seek in the Koran for a single word of this absurd story and pretended reason for Mahomet’s forbidding his followers the use of wine. He forbids it only in the second and fifth chapters.
“They will question thee about wine and strong liquors: thou shalt answer, that it is a great sin. The just, who believe and do good works, must not be reproached with having drunk, and played at games of chance, before games of chance were forbidden.”
It is averred by all the Mahometans that their prophet forbade wine and liquors solely to preserve their health and prevent quarrels, in the burning climate of Arabia. The use of any fermented liquor soon affects the head, and may destroy both health and reason.
The fable of Arot and Marot descending from heaven, and wanting to lie with an Arab woman, after drinking wine with her, is not in any Mahometan author. It is to be found only among the impostures which various Christian writers, more indiscreet than enlightened, have printed against the Mussulman religion, through a zeal which is not according to knowledge. The names of Arot and Marot are in no part of the Koran. It is one Sylburgius who says, in an old book which nobody reads, that he anathematizes the angels Arot, Marot, Safah, and Merwah.
Observe, kind reader, that Safah and Merwah are two little hills near Mecca; so that our learned Sylburgius has taken two hills for two angels. Thus it was with every writer on Mahometanism among us, almost without exception, until the intelligent Reland gave us clear ideas of the Mussulman belief, and the learned Sale, after living twenty-four years in and about Arabia, at length enlightened us by his faithful translation of the Koran, and his most instructive preface.
Gagnier himself, notwithstanding his Arabic professorship at Oxford, has been pleased to put forth a few falsehoods concerning Mahomet, as if we had need of lies to maintain the truth of our religion against a false prophet. He gives us at full length Mahomet’s journey through the seven heavens on the mare Alborac, and even ventures to cite the fifty-third sura or chapter; but neither in this fifty-third sura, nor in any other, is there so much as an allusion to this pretended journey through the heavens.
This strange story is related by Abulfeda, seven hundred years after Mahomet. It is taken, he says, from ancient manuscripts which were current in Mahomet’s time. But it is evident that they were not Mahomet’s; for, after his death, Abubeker gathered together all the leaves of the Koran, in the presence of all the chiefs of tribes, and nothing was inserted in the collection that did not appear to be authentic.
Besides, the chapter concerning the journey to heaven, not only is not in the Koran, but is in a very different style, and is at least four times as long as any of the received chapters. Compare all the other chapters of the Koran with this, and you will find a prodigious difference. It begins thus:
“One night, I fell asleep between the two hills of Safah and Merwah. That night was very dark, but so still that the dogs were not heard to bark, nor the cocks to crow. All at once, the angel Gabriel appeared before me in the form in which the Most High God created him. His skin was white as snow. His fair hair, admirably disposed, fell in ringlets over his shoulders; his forehead was clear, majestic, and serene, his teeth beautiful and shining, and his legs of a saffron hue; his garments were glittering with pearls, and with thread of pure gold. On his forehead was a plate of gold, on which were written two lines, brilliant and dazzling with light; in the first were these words, ‘There is no God but God’; and in the second these, ‘Mahomet is God’s Apostle.’ On beholding this, I remained the most astonished and confused of men. I observed about him seventy thousand little boxes or bags of musk and saffron. He had five hundred pairs of wings; and the distance from one wing to another was five hundred years’ journey.
“Thus did Gabriel appear before me. He touched me, and said, ‘Arise, thou sleeper!’ I was seized with fear and trembling, and starting up, said to him, ‘Who art thou?’ He answered, ‘God have mercy upon thee! I am thy brother Gabriel.’ ‘O my dearly beloved Gabriel,’ said I, ‘I ask thy pardon; is it a revelation of something new, or is it some afflicting threat that thou bringest me?’ ‘It is something new,’ returned he; ‘rise, my dearly beloved, and tie thy mantle over thy shoulders; thou wilt have need of it, for thou must this night pay a visit to thy Lord.’ So saying, Gabriel, taking my hand, raised me from the ground, and having mounted me on the mare Alborac, led her himself by the bridle.”
In fine, it is averred by the Mussulmans that this chapter, which has no authenticity, was imagined by Abu-Horaïrah, who is said to have been contemporary with the prophet. What should we say of a Turk who should come and insult our religion by telling us that we reckon among our sacred books the letters of St. Paul to Seneca, and Seneca’s letters to St. Paul; the acts of Pilate; the life of Pilate’s wife; the letters of the pretended King Abgarus to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ’s answer to the same; the story of St. Peter’s challenge to Simon the magician; the predictions of the sibyls; the testament of the twelve patriarchs; and so many other books of the same kind?
We should answer the Turk by saying that he was very ill informed and that not one of these works was regarded as authentic. The Turk will make the same answer to us, when to confound him we reproach him with Mahomet’s journey to the seven heavens. He will tell us that this is nothing more than a pious fraud of latter times, and that this journey is not in the Koran. Assuredly I am not here comparing truth with error—Christianity with Mahometanism—the Gospel with the Koran; but false tradition with false tradition—abuse with abuse—absurdity with absurdity.
This absurdity has been carried to such a length that Grotius charges Mahomet with having said that God’s hands are cold, for he has felt them; that God is carried about in a chair; and that, in Noah’s ark, the rat was produced from the elephant’s dung, and the cat from the lion’s breath.
Grotius reproaches Mahomet with having imagined that Jesus Christ was taken up into heaven instead of suffering execution. He forgets that there were entire heretical communions of primitive Christians who spread this opinion, which was preserved in Syria and Arabia until Mahomet’s time.
How many times has it been repeated that Mahomet had accustomed a pigeon to eat grain out of his ear, and made his followers believe that this pigeon brought him messages from God?
Is it not enough for us that we are persuaded of the falseness of his sect, and invincibly convinced by faith of the truth of our own, without losing our time in calumniating the Mahometans, who have established themselves from Mount Caucasus to Mount Atlas, and from the confines of Epirus to the extremities of India? We are incessantly writing bad books against them, of which they know nothing. We cry out that their religion has been embraced by so many nations only because it flatters the senses. But where is the sensuality in ordering abstinence from the wine and liquors in which we indulge to such excess; in pronouncing to every one an indispensable command to give to the poor each year two and a half per cent. of his income, to fast with the greatest rigor, to undergo a painful operation in the earliest stage of puberty, to make, over arid sands a pilgrimage of sometimes five hundred leagues, and to pray to God five times a day, even when in the field?
But, say you, they are allowed four wives in this world, and in the next they will have celestial brides. Grotius expressly says: “It must have required a great share of stupidity to admit reveries so gross and disgusting.”
We agree with Grotius that the Mahometans have been prodigal of reveries. The man who was constantly receiving the chapters of his Koran from the angel Gabriel was worse than a visionary; he was an impostor, who supported his seductions by his courage; but certainly there is nothing either stupid or sensual in reducing to four the unlimited number of wives whom the princes, the satraps, the nabobs, and the omrahs of the East kept in their seraglios. It is said that Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. The Arabs, like the Jews, were at liberty to marry two sisters; Mahomet was the first who forbade these marriages. Where, then, is the grossness?
And with regard to the celestial brides, where is the impurity? Certes, there is nothing impure in marriage, which is acknowledged to have been ordained on earth, and blessed by God Himself. The incomprehensible mystery of generation is the seal of the Eternal Being. It is the clearest mark of His power that He has created pleasure, and through that very pleasure perpetuated all sensible beings.
If we consult our reason alone it will tell us that it is very likely that the Eternal Being, who does nothing in vain, will not cause us to rise again with our organs to no purpose. It will not be unworthy of the Divine Majesty to feed us with delicious fruits if he cause us to rise again with stomachs to receive them. The Holy Scriptures inform us that, in the beginning, God placed the first man and the first woman in a paradise of delights. They were then in a state of innocence and glory, incapable of experiencing disease or death. This is nearly the state in which the just will be when, after their resurrection, they shall be for all eternity what our first parents were for a few days. Those, then, must be pardoned, who have thought that, having a body, that body will be constantly satisfied. Our fathers of the Church had no other idea of the heavenly Jerusalem. St. Irenæus says, “There each vine shall bear ten thousand branches, each branch ten thousand clusters, and each cluster ten thousand grapes.”
Several fathers of the Church have, indeed, thought that the blessed in heaven would enjoy all their senses. St. Thomas says that the sense of seeing will be infinitely perfect; that the elements will be so too; that the surface of the earth will be transparent as glass, the water like crystal, the air like the heavens, and the fire like the stars. St. Augustine, in his “Christian Doctrine,” says that the sense of hearing will enjoy the pleasures of singing and of speech.
One of our great Italian theologians, named Piazza, in his “Dissertation on Paradise,” informs us that the elect will forever sing and play the guitar: “They will have,” says he, “three nobilities—three advantages, viz.: desire without excitement, caresses without wantonness, and voluptuousness without excess”—“tres nobilitates; illecebra sine titillatione, blanditia sine mollitudine, et voluptas sine exuberantia.”
St. Thomas assures us that the smell of the glorified bodies will be perfect, and will not be diminished by perspiration. “Corporibus gloriosi serit odor ultima perfectione, nullo modo per humidum repressus.” This question has been profoundly treated by a great many other doctors.
Suarez, in his “Wisdom,” thus expresses himself concerning taste: “It is not difficult for God purposely to make some rapid humor act on the organ of taste.” “Non est Deo difficile facere ut sapidus humor sit intra organum gustus, qui sensum illum intentionaliter afficere.”
And, to conclude, St. Prosper, recapitulating the whole, pronounces that the blessed shall find gratification without satiety, and enjoy health without disease. “Saturitas sine fastidio, et tota sanitas sine morbo.”
It is not then so much to be wondered at that the Mahometans have admitted the use of the five senses in their paradise. They say that the first beatitude will be the union with God; but this does not exclude the rest. Mahomet’s paradise is a fable; but once more be it observed, there is in it neither contradiction nor impurity.
Philosophy requires clear and precise ideas, which Grotius had not. He quotes a great deal, and makes a show of reasoning which will not bear a close examination. The unjust imputations cast on the Mahometans would suffice to make a very large book. They have subjugated one of the largest and most beautiful countries upon earth; to drive them from it would have been a finer exploit than to abuse them.
The empress of Russia supplies a great example. She takes from them Azov and Tangarok, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Georgia; she pushes her conquests to the ramparts of Erzerum; she sends against them fleets from the remotest parts of the Baltic, and others covering the Euxine; but she does not say in her manifestos that a pigeon whispered in Mahomet’s ear.
ART OF POETRY.
A man of almost universal learning—a man even of genius, who joins philosophy with imagination, uses, in his excellent article “Encyclopedia,” these remarkable words: “If we except this Perrault, and some others, whose merits the versifier Boileau was not capable of appreciating.”
This philosopher is right in doing justice to Claude Perrault, the learned translator of Vitruvius, a man useful in more arts than one, and to whom we are indebted for the fine front of the Louvre and for other great monuments; but justice should also be rendered to Boileau. Had he been only a versifier, he would scarcely have been known; he would not have been one of the few great men who will hand down the age of Louis XIV. to posterity. His tart satires, his fine epistles, and above all, his art of poetry, are masterpieces of reasoning as well as poetry—“sapere est principium et fons.” The art of versifying is, indeed, prodigiously difficult, especially in our language, where alexandrines follow one another two by two; where it is rare to avoid monotony; where it is absolutely necessary to rhyme; where noble and pleasing rhymes are too limited in number; and where a word out of its place, or a harsh syllable, is sufficient to spoil a happy thought. It is like dancing in fetters on a rope; the greatest success is of itself nothing.
Boileau’s art of poetry is to be admired, because he always says true and useful things in a pleasing manner, because he always gives both precept and example, and because he is varied, passing with perfect ease, and without ever failing in purity of language, “From grave to gay, from lively to severe.”
His reputation among men of taste is proved by the fact that his verses are known by heart; and to philosophers it must be pleasing to find that he is almost always in the right.
As we have spoken of the preference which may sometimes be given to the moderns over the ancients, we will here venture to presume that Boileau’s art of poetry is superior to that of Horace. Method is certainly a beauty in a didactic poem; and Horace has no method. We do not mention this as a reproach; for his poem is a familiar epistle to the Pisos, and not a regular work like the “Georgics”: but there is this additional merit in Boileau, a merit for which philosophers should give him credit.
The Latin art of poetry does not seem nearly so finely labored as the French. Horace expresses himself, almost throughout, in the free and familiar tone of his other epistles. He displays an extreme clearness of understanding and a refined taste, in verses which are happy and spirited, but often without connection, and sometimes destitute of harmony; he has not the elegance and correctness of Virgil. His work is good, but Boileau’s appears to be still better: and, if we except the tragedies of Racine, which have the superior merit of treating the passions and surmounting all the difficulties of the stage, Despréaux’s “Art of Poetry” is, indisputably, the poem that does most honor to the French language.
It is lamentable when philosophers are enemies to poetry. Literature should be like the house of Mæcenas—“est locus unicuique suus.” The author of the “Persian Letters”—so easy to write and among which some are very pretty, others very bold, others indifferent, and others frivolous—this author, I say, though otherwise much to be recommended, yet having never been able to make verses, although he possesses imagination and often superiority of style, makes himself amends by saying that “contempt is heaped upon poetry,” that “lyric poetry is harmonious extravagance.” Thus do men often seek to depreciate the talents which they cannot attain.
“We cannot reach it,” says Montaigne; “let us revenge ourselves by speaking ill of it.” But Montaigne, Montesquieu’s predecessor and master in imagination and philosophy, thought very differently of poetry.
Had Montesquieu been as just as he was witty, he could not but have felt that several of our fine odes and good operas are worth infinitely more than the pleasantries of Rica to Usbeck, imitated from Dufrénoy’s “Siamois,” and the details of what passed in Usbeck’s seraglio at Ispahan.
We shall speak more fully of this too frequent injustice, in the article on “Criticism.”
Sire: The small society of amateurs, a part of whom are laboring at these rhapsodies at Mount Krapak, will say nothing to your majesty on the art of war. It is heroic, or—it may be—an abominable art. If there were anything fine in it, we would tell your majesty, without fear of contradiction, that you are the finest man in Europe.
You know, sire, the four ages of the arts. Almost everything sprung up and was brought to perfection under Louis XIV.; after which many of these arts, banished from France, went to embellish and enrich the rest of Europe, at the fatal period of the destruction of the celebrated edict of Henry IV.—pronounced irrevocable, yet so easily revoked. Thus, the greatest injury which Louis XIV. could do to himself did good to other princes against his will: this is proved by what you have said in your history of Brandenburg.
If that monarch were known only from his banishment of six or seven hundred thousand useful citizens—from his irruption into Holland, whence he was soon forced to retreat—from his greatness, which stayed him at the bank, while his troops were swimming across the Rhine; if there were no other monuments of his glory than the prologues to his operas, followed by the battle of Hochstet, his person and his reign would go down to posterity with but little éclat. But the encouragement of all the fine arts by his taste and munificence; the conferring of so many benefits on the literary men of other countries; the rise of his kingdom’s commerce at his voice; the establishment of so many manufactories; the building of so many fine citadels; the construction of so many admirable ports; the union of the two seas by immense labor, etc., still oblige Europe to regard Louis XIV. and his age with respect.
And, above all, those great men, unique in every branch of art and science, whom nature then produced at one time, will render his reign eternally memorable. The age was greater than Louis XIV., but it shed its glory upon him.
Emulation in art has changed the face of the continent, from the Pyrenees to the icy sea. There is hardly a prince in Germany who has not made useful and glorious establishments.
What have the Turks done for glory? Nothing. They have ravaged three empires and twenty kingdoms; but any one city of ancient Greece will always have a greater reputation than all the Ottoman cities together.
See what has been done in the course of a few years at St. Petersburg, which was a bog at the beginning of the seventeenth century. All the arts are there assembled, while in the country of Orpheus, Linus, and Homer, they are annihilated.
That the Recent Birth of the Arts does not Prove the Recent Formation of the Globe.
All philosophers have thought matter eternal; but the arts appear to be new. Even the art of making bread is of recent origin. The first Romans ate boiled grain; those conquerors of so many nations had neither windmills nor watermills. This truth seems, at first sight, to controvert the doctrine of the antiquity of the globe as it now is, or to suppose terrible revolutions in it. Irruptions of barbarians can hardly annihilate arts which have become necessary. Suppose that an army of negroes were to come upon us, like locusts, from the mountains of southern Africa, through Monomotapa, Monoëmugi, etc., traversing Abyssinia, Nubia, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and all Europe, ravaging and overturning everything in its way; there would still be a few bakers, tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters left; the necessary arts would revive; luxury alone would be annihilated. Such was the case at the fall of the Roman Empire; even the art of writing became very rare; nearly all those arts which contributed to render life agreeable were for a long time extinct. Now, we are inventing new ones every day.
From all this, no well-grounded inference can be drawn against the antiquity of the globe. For, supposing that a flood of barbarians had entirely swept away the arts of writing and making bread; supposing even that we had had bread, or pens, ink, and paper, only for ten years—the country which could exist for ten years without eating bread or writing down its thoughts could exist for an age, or a hundred thousand ages, without these helps.
It is quite clear that man and the other animals can very well subsist without bakers, without romance-writers, and without divines, as witness America, and as witness also three-fourths of our own continent. The recent birth of the arts among us does not prove the recent formation of the globe, as was pretended by Epicurus, one of our predecessors in reverie, who supposed that, by chance, the declination of atoms one day formed our earth. Pomponatius used to say: “Se il mondo non é eterno, per tutti santi é molto vecchio”—“If this world be not eternal, by all the saints, it is very old.”
Slight Inconveniences Attached to the Arts.
Those who handle lead and quicksilver are subject to dangerous colics, and very serious affections of the nerves. Those who use pen and ink are attacked by vermin, which they have continually to shake off; these vermin are some ex-Jesuits, who employ themselves in manufacturing libels. You, Sire, do not know this race of animals; they are driven from your states, as well as from those of the empress of Russia, the king of Sweden, and the king of Denmark, my other protectors. The ex-Jesuits Polian and Nonotte, who like me cultivate the fine arts, persecute me even unto Mount Krapak, crushing me under the weight of their reputation, and that of their genius, the specific gravity of which is still greater. Unless your majesty vouchsafe to assist me against these great men, I am undone.
No one at all versed in antiquity is ignorant that the Jews knew nothing of the angels but what they gleaned from the Persians and Chaldæans, during captivity. It was they, who, according to Calmet, taught them that there are seven principal angels before the throne of the Lord. They also taught them the names of the devils. He whom we call Asmodeus, was named Hashmodaï or Chammadaï. “We know,” says Calmet, “that there are various sorts of devils, some of them princes and masterdemons, the rest subalterns.”
How was it that this Hashmodaï was sufficiently powerful to twist the necks of seven young men who successively espoused the beautiful Sarah, a native of Rages, fifteen leagues from Ecbatana? The Medes must have been seven times as great as the Persians. The good principle gives a husband to this maiden; and behold! the bad principle, this king of demons, Hashmodaï, destroys the work of the beneficent principle seven times in succession.
But Sarah was a Jewess, daughter of the Jew Raguel, and a captive in the country of Ecbatana. How could a Median demon have such power over Jewish bodies? It has been thought that Asmodeus or Chammadaï was a Jew likewise; that he was the old serpent which had seduced Eve; and that he was passionately fond of women, sometimes seducing them, and sometimes killing their husbands through an excess of love and jealousy.
Indeed the Greek version of the Book of Tobit gives us to understand that Asmodeus was in love with Sarah—“oti daimonion philei autein.” It was the opinion of all the learned of antiquity that the genii, whether good or evil, had a great inclination for our virgins, and the fairies for our youths. Even the Scriptures, accommodating themselves to our weakness, and condescending to speak in the language of the vulgar, say, figuratively, that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”
But the angel Raphael, the conductor of young Tobit, gives him a reason more worthy of his ministry, and better calculated to enlighten the person whom he is guiding. He tells him that Sarah’s seven husbands were given up to the cruelty of Asmodeus, only because, like horses or mules, they had married her for their pleasure alone. “Her husband,” says the angel, “must observe continence with her for three days, during which time they must pray to God together.”
This instruction would seem to have been quite sufficient to keep off Asmodeus; but Raphael adds that it is also necessary to have the heart of a fish grilled over burning coals. Why, then, was not this infallible secret afterwards resorted to in order to drive the devil from the bodies of women? Why did the apostles, who were sent on purpose to cast out devils never lay a fish’s heart upon the gridiron? Why was not this expedient made use of in the affair of Martha Brossier; that of the nuns of Loudun; that of the mistresses of Urban Gandier; that of La Cadiére; that of Father Girard; and those of a thousand other demoniacs in the times when there were demoniacs?
The Greeks and Romans, who had so many philters wherewith to make themselves beloved, had others to cure love; they employed herbs and roots. The agnus castus had great reputation. The moderns have administered it to young nuns, on whom it has had but little effect. Apollo, long ago, complained to Daphne that, physician as he was, he had never yet met with a simple that would cure love:
The smoke of sulphur was tried; but Ovid, who was a great master, declares that this recipe was useless:
The smoke from the heart or liver of a fish was more efficacious against Asmodeus. The reverend father Calmet is consequently in great trouble, being unable to comprehend how this fumigation could act upon a pure spirit. But he might have taken courage from the recollection that all the ancients gave bodies to the angels and demons. They were very slender bodies; as light as the small particles that rise from a broiled fish; they were like smoke; and the smoke from a fried fish acted upon them by sympathy.
Not only did Asmodeus flee, but Gabriel went and chained him in Upper Egypt, where he still is. He dwells in a grotto near the city of Saata or Taata. Paul Lucas saw and spoke to him. They cut this serpent in pieces, and the pieces immediately joined again. To this fact Calmet cites the testimony of Paul Lucas, which testimony I must also cite. It is thought that Paul Lucas’s theory may be joined with that of the vampires, in the next compilation of the Abbé Guyon.
Asphaltus is a Chaldæan word, signifying a species of bitumen. There is a great deal of it in the countries watered by the Euphrates; it is also to be found in Europe, but of a bad quality. An experiment was made by covering the tops of the watch-houses on each side of one of the gates of Geneva; the covering did not last a year, and the mine has been abandoned. However, when mixed with rosin, it may be used for lining cisterns; perhaps it will some day be applied to a more useful purpose.
The real asphaltus is that which was obtained in the vicinity of Babylon, and with which it is said that the Greek fire was fed. Several lakes are full of asphaltus, or a bitumen resembling it, as others are strongly impregnated with nitre. There is a great lake of nitre in the desert of Egypt, which extends from lake Mœris to the entrance of the Delta; and it has no other name than the Nitre Lake.
The Lake Asphaltites, known by the name of Sodom, was long famed for its bitumen; but the Turks now make no use of it, either because the mine under the water is diminished, because its quality is altered, or because there is too much difficulty in drawing it from under the water. Oily particles of it, and sometimes large masses, separate and float on the surface; these are gathered together, mixed up, and sold for balm of Mecca.
Flavius Josephus, who was of that country, says that, in his time, there were no fish in the lake of Sodom, and the water was so light that the heaviest bodies would not go to the bottom. It seems that he meant to say so heavy instead of so light. It would appear that he had not made the experiment. After all, a stagnant water, impregnated with salts and compact matter, its specific matter being then greater than that of the body of a man or a beast, might force it to float. Josephus’s error consists in assigning a false cause to a phenomenon which may be perfectly true.
As for the want of fish, it is not incredible. It is, however, likely that this lake, which is fifty or sixty miles long, is not all asphaltic, and that while receiving the waters of the Jordan it also receives the fishes of that river; but perhaps the Jordan, too, is without fish, and they are to be found only in the upper lake of Tiberias.
Josephus adds, that the trees which grow on the borders of the Dead Sea bear fruits of the most beautiful appearance, but which fall into dust if you attempt to taste them. This is less probable; and disposes one to believe that Josephus either had not been on the spot, or has exaggerated according to his own and his countrymen’s custom. No soil seems more calculated to produce good as well as beautiful fruits than a salt and sulphurous one, like that of Naples, of Catania, and of Sodom.
The Holy Scriptures speak of five cities being destroyed by fire from heaven. On this occasion natural philosophy bears testimony in favor of the Old Testament, although the latter has no need of it, and they are sometimes at variance. We have instances of earthquakes, accompanied by thunder and lightning, which have destroyed much more considerable towns than Sodom and Gomorrah.
But the River Jordan necessarily discharging itself into this lake without an outlet, this Dead Sea, in the same manner as the Caspian, must have existed as long as there has been a River Jordan; therefore, these towns could never stand on the spot now occupied by the lake of Sodom. The Scripture, too, says nothing at all about this ground being changed into a lake; it says quite the contrary: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the Lord out of heaven. And Abraham got up early in the morning, and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld; and lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”
These five towns, Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboin, Adamah, and Segor, must then have been situated on the borders of the Dead Sea. How, it will be asked, in a desert so uninhabitable as it now is, where there are to be found only a few hordes of plundering Arabs, could there be five cities, so opulent as to be immersed in luxury, and even in those shameful pleasures which are the last effect of the refinement of the debauchery attached to wealth? It may be answered that the country was then much better.
Other critics will say—how could five towns exist at the extremities of a lake, the water of which, before their destruction, was not potable? The Scripture itself informs us that all this land was asphaltic before the burning of Sodom: “And the vale of Sodom was full of slime-pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled and fell there.
Another objection is also stated. Isaiah and Jeremiah say that Sodom and Gomorrah shall never be rebuilt; but Stephen, the geographer, speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah on the coast of the Dead Sea; and the “History of the Councils” mentions bishops of Sodom and Segor. To this it may be answered that God filled these towns, when rebuilt, with less guilty inhabitants; for at that time there was no bishop in partibus.
But, it will be said, with what water could these new inhabitants quench their thirst? All the wells are brackish; you find asphaltus and corrosive salt on first striking a spade into the ground.
It will be answered that some Arabs still subsist there, and may be habituated to drinking very bad water; that the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Eastern Empire were wretched hamlets, and that at that time there were many bishops whose whole diocese consisted in a poor village. It may also be said that the people who colonized these villages prepared the asphaltus, and carried on a useful trade in it.
The arid and burning desert, extending from Segor to the territory of Jerusalem, produces balm and aromatic herbs for the same reason that it supplies naphtha, corrosive salt and sulphur.
It is said that petrifaction takes place in this desert with astonishing rapidity; and this, according to some natural philosophers, makes the petrifaction of Lot’s wife Edith a very plausible story.
But it is said that this woman, “having looked back, became a pillar of salt.” This, then, was not a natural petrifaction, operated by asphaltus and salt, but an evident miracle. Flavius Josephus says that he saw this pillar. St. Justin and St. Irenæus speak of it as a prodigy, which in their time was still existing.
These testimonies have been looked upon as ridiculous fables. It would, however, be very natural for some Jews to amuse themselves with cutting a heap of asphaltus into a rude figure, and calling it Lot’s wife. I have seen cisterns of asphaltus, very well made, which may last a long time. But it must be owned that St. Irenæus goes a little too far when he says that Lot’s wife remained in the country of Sodom no longer in corruptible flesh, but as a permanent statue of salt, her feminine nature still producing the ordinary effect: “Uxor remansit in Sodomis, jam non caro corruptibilis sed statua salis semper manens, et per naturalia ea quæsunt consuetudmis hominis ostendens.”
St. Irenæus does not seem to express himself with all the precision of a good naturalist when he says Lot’s wife is no longer of corruptible flesh, but stillretains her feminine nature.
In the poem of Sodom, attributed to Tertullian, this is expressed with still greater energy:
This was translated by a poet of the time of Henry II., in his Gallic style:
The land of aromatics was also the land of fables. Into the deserts of Arabia Petræa the ancient mythologists pretend that Myrrha, the granddaughter of a statue, fled after committing incest with her father, as Lot’s daughters did with theirs, and that she was metamorphosed into the tree that bears myrrh. Other profound mythologists assure us that she fled into Arabia Felix; and this opinion is as well supported as the other.
Be this as it may, not one of our travellers has yet thought fit to examine the soil of Sodom, with its asphaltus, its salt, its trees and their fruits, to weigh the water of the lake, to analyze it, to ascertain whether bodies of greater specific gravity than common water float upon its surface, and to give us a faithful account of the natural history of the country. Our pilgrims to Jerusalem do not care to go and make these researches; this desert has become infested by wandering Arabs, who range as far as Damascus, and retire into the caverns of the mountains, the authority of the pasha of Damascus having hitherto been inadequate to repress them. Thus the curious have but little information about anything concerning the Asphaltic Lake.
As to Sodom, it is a melancholy reflection for the learned that, among so many who may be deemed natives, not one has furnished us with any notion whatever of this capital city.
We will add a little to the article “Ass” in the “Encyclopædia,” concerning Lucian’s ass, which became golden in the hands of Apuleius. The pleasantest part of the adventure, however, is in Lucian: That a lady fell in love with this gentleman while he was an ass, but would have nothing more to say to him when he was but a man. These metamorphoses were very common throughout antiquity. Silenus’s ass had spoken; and the learned had thought that he explained himself in Arabic; for he was probably a man turned into an ass by the power of Bacchus, and Bacchus, we know, was an Arab.
Virgil speaks of the transformation of Mœris into a wolf, as a thing of very ordinary occurrence:
Was this doctrine of metamorphoses derived from the old fables of Egypt, which gave out that the gods had changed themselves into animals in the war against the giants?
The Greeks, great imitators and improvers of the Oriental fables, metamorphosed almost all the gods into men or into beasts, to make them succeed the better in their amorous designs. If the gods changed themselves into bulls, horses, swans, doves, etc., why should not men have undergone the same operation?
Several commentators, forgetting the respect due to the Holy Scriptures, have cited the example of Nebuchadnezzar changed into an ox; but this was a miracle—a divine vengeance—a thing quite out of the course of nature, which ought not to be examined with profane eyes, and cannot become an object of our researches.
Others of the learned, perhaps with equal indiscretion, avail themselves of what is related in the Gospel of the Infancy. An Egyptian maiden having entered the chamber of some women, saw there a mule with a silken cloth over his back, and an ebony pendant at his neck.
These women were in tears, kissing him and giving him to eat. The mule was their own brother. Some sorceresses had deprived him of the human figure; but the Master of Nature soon restored it.
Although this gospel is apocryphal, the very name that it bears prevents us from examining this adventure in detail; only it may serve to show how much metamorphoses were in vogue almost throughout the earth. The Christians who composed their gospel were undoubtedly honest men. They did not seek to fabricate a romance; they related with simplicity what they had heard. The church, which afterwards rejected their gospel, together with forty-nine others, did not accuse its authority of impiety and prevarication; those obscure individuals addressed the populace in language comformable with the prejudices of the age in which they lived. China was perhaps the only country exempt from these superstitions.
The adventure of the companions of Ulysses, changed into beasts by Circe, was much more ancient than the dogma of the metempsychosis, broached in Greece and Italy by Pythagoras.
On what can the assertion be founded that there is no universal error which is not the abuse of some truth; that there have been quacks only because there have been true physicians; and that false prodigies have been believed only because there have been true ones?
Were there any certain testimonies that men had become wolves, oxen, horses, or asses? This universal error had for its principle only the love of the marvellous and the natural inclination to superstition.
One erroneous opinion is enough to fill the whole world with fables. An Indian doctor sees that animals have feeling and memory. He concludes that they have a soul. Men have one likewise. What becomes of the soul of man after death? What becomes of that of the beast? They must go somewhere. They go into the nearest body that is beginning to be formed. The soul of a Brahmin takes up its abode in the body of an elephant, the soul of an ass is that of a little Brahmin. Such is the dogma of the metempsychosis, which was built upon simple deduction.
But it is a wide step from this dogma to that of metamorphosis. We have no longer a soul without a tenement, seeking a lodging; but one body changed into another, the soul remaining as before. Now, we certainly have not in nature any example of such legerdemain.
Let us then inquire into the origin of so extravagant yet so general an opinion. If some father had characterized his son, sunk in ignorance and filthy debauchery, as a hog, a horse, or an ass, and afterwards made him do penance with an ass’s cap on his head, and some servant girl of the neighborhood gave it out that this young man had been turned into an ass as a punishment for his faults, her neighbors would repeat it to other neighbors, and from mouth to mouth this story, with a thousand embellishments, would make the tour of the world. An ambiguous expression would suffice to deceive the whole earth.
Here then let us confess, with Boileau, that ambiguity has been the parent of most of our ridiculous follies. Add to this the power of magic, which has been acknowledged as indisputable in all nations, and you will no longer be astonished at anything.
One word more on asses. It is said that in Mesopotamia they are warlike and that Mervan, the twenty-first caliph, was surnamed “the Ass,” for his valor.
The patriarch Photius relates, in the extract from the Life of Isidorus, that Ammonius had an ass which had a great taste for poetry, and would leave his manger to go and hear verses. The fable of Midas is better than the tale of Photius.
Machiavelli’s Golden Ass.
Machiavelli’s ass is but little known. The dictionaries which speak of it say that it was a production of his youth; it would seem, however, that he was of mature age; for he speaks in it of the misfortunes which he had formerly and for a long time experienced. The work is a satire on his contemporaries. The author sees a number of Florentines, of whom one is changed into a cat, another into a dragon, a third into a dog that bays the moon, a fourth into a fox who does not suffer himself to be caught; each character is drawn under the name of an animal. The factions of the house of Medicis and their enemies are doubtless figured therein; and the key to this comic apocalypse would admit us to the secrets of Pope Leo and the troubles of Florence. This poem is full of morality and philosophy. It ends with the very rational reflections of a large hog, which addresses man in nearly the following terms:
This is the original of Boileau’s “Satire on Man,” and La Fontaine’s fable of the “Companions of Ulysses”; but it is quite likely that neither La Fontaine nor Boileau had ever heard of Machiavelli’s ass.
The Ass of Verona.
I must speak the truth, and not deceive my readers. I do not very clearly know whether the Ass of Verona still exists in all his splendor; but the travellers who saw him forty or fifty years ago agree in saying that the relics were enclosed in the body of an artificial ass made on purpose, which was in the keeping of forty monks of Our Lady of the Organ, at Verona, and was carried in procession twice a year. This was one of the most ancient relics of the town. According to the tradition, this ass, having carried our Lord in his entry into Jerusalem, did not choose to abide any longer in that city, but trotted over the sea—which for that purpose became as hard as his hoof—by way of Cyprus, Rhodes, Candia, Malta, and Sicily. There he went to sojourn at Aquilea; and at last he settled at Verona, where he lived a long while.
This fable originated in the circumstance that most asses have a sort of black cross on their backs. There possibly might be an old ass in the neighborhood of Verona, on whose back the populace remarked a finer cross than his brethren could boast of; some good old woman would be at hand to say that this was the ass on which Christ rode into Jerusalem; and the ass would be honored with a magnificent funeral. The feast established at Verona passed into other countries, and was especially celebrated in France. In the mass was sung:
There was a long procession, headed by a young woman with a child in her arms, mounted on an ass, representing the Virgin Mary going into Egypt. At the end of the mass the priest, instead of saying Ite missa est, brayed three times with all his might, and the people answered in chorus.
We have books on the feast of the ass, and the feast of fools; they furnish material towards a universal history of the human mind.
A name corrupted from the word Ehissessin. Nothing is more common to those who go into a distant country than to write, repeat, and understand incorrectly in their own language what they have misunderstood in a language entirely foreign to them, and afterwards to deceive their countrymen as well as themselves. Error flies from mouth to mouth, from pen to pen, and to destroy it requires ages.
In the time of the Crusades there was a wretched little people of mountaineers inhabiting the caverns near the road to Damascus. These brigands elected a chief, whom they named Cheik Elchassissin. It is said that this honorific title of cheik originally signified old, as with us the title of seigneur comes from senior, elder, and the word graf, a count, signifies old among the Germans; for, in ancient times almost every people conferred the civil command upon the old men. Afterwards, the command having become hereditary, the title of cheik, graf, seigneur, or count has been given to children; and the Germans call a little master of four years old, the count—that is, the old gentleman.
The Crusaders named the old man of the Arabian mountains, the Old Man of the Hill, and imagined him to be a great prince, because he had caused a count of Montserrat and some other crusading nobles to be robbed and murdered on the highway. These people were called the assassins, and their cheik the king of the vast country of the assassins. This vast territory is five or six leagues long by two or three broad, being part of Anti-Libanus, a horrible country, full of rocks, like almost all Palestine, but intersected by pleasant meadow-lands, which feed numerous flocks, as is attested by all who have made the journey from Aleppo to Damascus.
The cheik or senior of these assassins could be nothing more than a chief of banditti; for there was at that time a sultan of Damascus who was very powerful.
Our romance-writers of that day, as fond of chimeras as the Crusaders, thought proper to relate that in 1236 this great prince of the assassins, fearing that Louis IX., of whom he had never heard, would put himself at the head of a crusade, and come and take from him his territory, sent two great men of his court from the caverns of Anti-Libanus to Paris to assassinate that king; but that having the next day heard how generous and amiable a prince Louis was, he immediately sent out to sea two more great men to countermand the assassination. I say out to sea, for neither the two emissaries sent to kill Louis, nor the two others sent to save him, could make the voyage without embarking at Joppa, which was then in the power of the Crusaders, which rendered the enterprise doubly marvellous. The two first must have found a Crusaders’ vessel ready to convey them in an amicable manner, and the two last must have found another.
However, a hundred authors, one after another, have related this adventure, though Joinville, a contemporary, who was on the spot, says nothing about it—“Et voilà justement comme on écrit l’ histoire.”
The Jesuit Maimbourg, the Jesuit Daniel, twenty other Jesuits, and Mézerai—though he was not a Jesuit—have repeated this absurdity. The Abbé Véli, in his history of France, tells it over again with perfect complaisance, without any discussion, without any examination, and on the word of one William of Nangis, who wrote about sixty years after this fine affair is said to have happened at a time when history was composed from nothing but town talk.
If none but true and useful things were recorded, our immense historical libraries would be reduced to a very narrow compass; but we should know more, and know it better.
For six hundred years the story has been told over and over again, of the Old Man of the Hill—le vieux de la montagne—who, in his delightful gardens, intoxicated his young elect with voluptuous pleasures, made them believe that they were in paradise, and sent them to the ends of the earth to assassinate kings in order to merit an eternal paradise.
All this might be very well in one of La Fontaine’s tales—setting apart the weakness of the verse; and there are a hundred historical anecdotes which could be tolerated there only.
Assassination being, next to poisoning, the crime most cowardly and most deserving of punishment, it is not astonishing that it has found an apologist in a man whose singular reasoning is, in some things, at variance with the reason of the rest of mankind.
In a romance entitled “Emilius,” he imagines that he is the guardian of a young man, to whom he is very careful to give an education such as is received in the military school—teaching him languages, geometry, tactics, fortification, and the history of his country. He does not seek to inspire him with love for his king and his country, but contents himself with making him a joiner. He would have this gentleman-joiner, when he has received a blow or a challenge, instead of returning it and fighting, “prudently assassinate the man.” Molière does, it is true, say jestingly, in “L’Amour Peintre,” “assassination is the safest”; but the author of this romance asserts that it is the most just and reasonable. He says this very seriously, and, in the immensity of his paradoxes, this is one of the three or four things which he first says. The same spirit of wisdom and decency which makes him declare that a preceptor should often accompany his pupil to a place of prostitution, makes him decide that this disciple should be an assassin. So that the education which Jean Jacques would give to a young man consists in teaching him how to handle the plane, and in fitting him for salivation and the rope.
We doubt whether fathers of families will be eager to give such preceptors to their children. It seems to us that the romance of Emilius departs rather too much from the maxims of Mentor in “Telemachus”; but it must also be acknowledged that our age has in all things very much varied from the great age of Louis XIV.
Happily, none of these horrible infatuations are to be found in the “Encyclopædia.” It often displays a philosophy seemingly bold, but never that atrocious and extravagant babbling which two or three fools have called philosophy, and two or three ladies, eloquence.
Astrology might rest on a better foundation than magic. For if no one has seen farfadets, or lemures, or dives, or peris, or demons, or cacodemons, the predictions of astrologers have often been found true. Let two astrologers be consulted on the life of an infant, and on the weather; if one of them say that the child shall live to the age of man, the other that he shall not; if one foretell rain and the other fair weather, it is quite clear that there will be a prophet.
The great misfortune of astrologers is that the heavens have changed since the rules of the art were laid down. The sun, which at the equinox was in the Ram in the time of the Argonauts, is now in the Bull; and astrologers, most unfortunately for their art, now attribute to one house of the sun that which visibly belongs to another. Still, this is not a demonstrative argument against astrology. The masters of the art are mistaken; but it is not proved that the art cannot exist.
There would be no absurdity in saying, “Such a child was born during the moon’s increase, in a stormy season, at the rising of a certain star; its constitution was bad, and its life short and miserable, which is the ordinary lot of weak temperaments; another, on the contrary, was born when the moon was at the full, and the sun in all his power, in calm weather, at the rising of another particular star; his constitution was good, and his life long and happy.” If such observations had been frequently repeated, and found just, experience might, at the end of a few thousand centuries, have formed an art which it would have been difficult to call in question; it would have been thought, not without some appearance of truth, that men are like trees and vegetables, which must be planted only in certain seasons. It would have been of no service against the astrologers to say, “My son was born in fine weather, yet he died in his cradle.” The astrologer would have answered, “It often happens that trees planted in the proper season perish prematurely; I will answer for the stars, but not for the particular conformation which you communicated to your child; astrology operates only when there is no cause opposed to the good which they have power to work.”
Nor would astrology have suffered any more discredit from it being said: “Of two children who were born in the same minute, one became a king, the other nothing more than churchwarden of his parish;” for a defence would easily have been made by showing that the peasant made his fortune in becoming churchwarden, just as much as the prince did in becoming king.
And if it were alleged that a bandit, hung up by order of Sixtus the Fifth, was born at the same time as Sixtus, who, from being a swineherd, became pope, the astrologers would say that there was a mistake of a few seconds, and that, according to the rules, the same star could not bestow the tiara and the gallows. It was, then, only because long-accumulated experience gave the lie to the predictions that men at length perceived that the art was illusory; but their credulity was of long duration.
One of the most famous mathematicians of Europe, named Stöffler, who flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, foretold a universal deluge for the year 1524. This deluge was to happen in the month of February, and nothing can be more plausible, for Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars were then in conjunction in the sign of the Fishes. Every nation in Europe, Asia, and Africa that heard of the prediction was in consternation. The whole world expected the deluge, in spite of the rainbow. Several contemporary authors relate that the inhabitants of the maritime provinces of Germany hastened to sell their lands, at any price, to such as had more money and less credulity than themselves. Each one provided himself with a boat to serve as an ark. A doctor of Toulouse, in particular, named Auriol, had an ark built for himself, his family, and friends; and the same precautions were taken in a great part of Italy. At last the month of February arrived, and not a drop of rain fell, never was a month more dry, never were the astrologers more embarrassed. However, we neither discouraged nor neglected them; almost all our princes continued to consult them.
I have not the honor to be a prince; nevertheless, the celebrated Count de Boulainvilliers and an Italian, named Colonna, who had great reputation at Paris, both foretold to me that I should assuredly die at the age of thirty-two. I have already been so malicious as to deceive them thirty years in their calculation—for which I most humbly ask their pardon.
M. Duval, who, if I mistake not, was librarian to the Emperor Francis I., gives us an account of the manner in which, in his childhood, pure instinct gave him the first ideas of astronomy. He was contemplating the moon which, as it declined towards the west, seemed to touch the trees of a wood. He doubted not that he should find it behind the trees, and, on running thither, was astonished to see it at the extremity of the horizon.
The following days his curiosity prompted him to watch the course of this luminary, and he was still more surprised to find that it rose and set at various hours. The different forms which it took from week to week, and its total disappearance for some nights, also contributed to fix his attention. All that a child could do was to observe and to admire, and this was doing much; not one in ten thousand has this curiosity and perseverance.
He studied, as he could, for three years, with no other book than the heavens, no other master than his eyes. He observed that the stars did not change their relative positions; but the brilliancy of the planet Venus having caught his attention, it seemed to him to have a particular course, like that of the moon. He watched it every night; it disappeared for a long time; and at length he saw it become the morning instead of the evening star. The course of the sun, which from month to month, rose and set in different parts of the heavens, did not escape him. He marked the solstices with two staves, without knowing what the solstices were.
It appears to me that some profit might be derived from this example, in teaching astronomy to a child of ten or twelve years of age, and with much greater facility than this extraordinary child, of whom I have spoken, taught himself its first elements.
It is a very attractive spectacle for a mind disposed to the contemplation of nature to see that the different phases of the moon are precisely the same as those of a globe round which a lighted candle is moved, showing here a quarter, here the half of its surface, and becoming invisible when an opaque body is interposed between it and the candle. In this manner it was that Galileo explained the true principles of astronomy before the doge and senators of Venice on St. Mark’s tower; he demonstrated everything to the eyes.
Indeed, not only a child, but even a man of mature age, who has seen the constellations only on maps or globes, finds it difficult to recognize them in the heavens. In a little time the child will quite well comprehend the causes of the sun’s apparent course, and the daily revolutions of the fixed stars.
He will, in particular, discover the constellations with the aid of these four Latin lines, made by an astronomer about fifty years ago, and which are not sufficiently known:
Nothing should be said to him about the systems of Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe, because they are false; they can never be of any other service than to explain some passages in ancient authors, relating to the errors of antiquity. For instance, in the second book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the sun says to Phaëton:
This idea of a first mover turning the heavens round in twenty-four hours with an impossible motion, and of the sun, though acted upon by this first motion, yet imperceptibly advancing from west to east by a motion peculiar to itself, and without a cause, would but embarrass a young beginner.
It is sufficient for him to know that, whether the earth revolves on its own axis and round the sun, or the sun completes his revolution in a year, appearances are nearly the same, and that, in astronomy, we are obliged to judge of things by our eyes before we examine them as natural philosophers.
He will soon know the cause of the eclipses of the sun and the moon, and why they do not occur every night. It will at first appear to him that, the moon being every month in opposition to and in conjunction with the sun, we should have an eclipse of the sun and one of the moon every month. But when he finds that these two luminaries are not in the same plane and are seldom in the same line with the earth, he will no longer be surprised.
He will easily be made to understand how it is that eclipses have been foretold, by knowing the exact circle in which the apparent motion of the sun and the real motion of the moon are accomplished. He will be told that observers found by experience and calculation the number of times that these two bodies are precisely in the same line with the earth in the space of nineteen years and a few hours, after which they seem to recommence the same course; so that, making the necessary allowances for the little inequalities that occurred during those nineteen years, the exact day, hour, and minute of an eclipse of the sun or moon were foretold. These first elements are soon acquired by a child of clear conceptions.
Not even the precession of the equinoxes will terrify him. It will be enough to tell him that the sun has constantly appeared to advance in his annual course, one degree in seventy-two years, towards the east; and this is what Ovid meant to express: “Contrarius evehor orbi;”—“Marching secure in my opposing path.”
Thus the Ram, which the sun formerly entered at the beginning of spring, is now in the place where the Bull was then. This change which has taken place in the heavens, and the entrance of the sun into other constellations than those which he formerly occupied, were the strongest arguments against the pretended rules of judicial astrology. It does not, however, appear that this proof was employed before the present century to destroy this universal extravagance which so long infected all mankind, and is still in great vogue in Persia.
A man born, according to the almanac, when the sun was in the sign of the Lion, was necessarily to be courageous; but, unfortunately, he was in reality born under the sign of the Virgin. So that Gauric and Michael Morin should have changed all the rules of their art.
It is indeed odd that all the laws of astrology were contrary to those of astronomy. The wretched charlatans of antiquity and their stupid disciples, who have been so well received and so well paid by all the princes of Europe, talked of nothing but Mars and Venus, stationary and retrograde. Such as had Mars stationary were always to conquer. Venus stationary made all lovers happy. Nothing was worse than to be born under Venus retrograde. But the fact is that these planets have never been either retrograde or stationary, which a very slight knowledge of optics would have sufficed to show.
How, then, can it have been that, in spite of physics and geometry, the ridiculous chimera of astrology is entertained even to this day, so that we have seen men distinguished for their general knowledge, and especially profound in history, who have all their lives been infatuated by so despicable an error? But the error was ancient, and that was enough.
The Egyptians, the Chaldæans, the Jews, foretold the future; therefore, it may be foretold now. Serpents were charmed and spirits were raised in those days; therefore, spirits may be raised and serpents charmed now. It is only necessary to know the precise formula made use of for the purpose. If predictions are at an end, it is the fault, not of the art, but of the artist. Michael Morin and his secret died together. It is thus that the alchemists speak of the philosopher’s stone; if, say they, we do not now find it, it is because we do not yet know precisely how to seek it; but it is certainly in Solomon’s collar-bone. And, with this glorious certainty, more than two hundred families in France and Germany have ruined themselves.
It is not then to be wondered at that the whole world has been duped by astrology. The wretched argument, “there are false prodigies, therefore there are true ones,” is neither that of a philosopher, nor of a man acquainted with the world. “That is false and absurd, therefore it will be believed by the multitude,” is a much truer maxim.
It is still less astonishing that so many men, raised in other things so far above the vulgar; so many princes, so many popes, whom it would have been impossible to mislead in the smallest affair of interest, have been so ridiculously seduced by this astrological nonsense. They were very proud and very ignorant. The stars were for them alone; the rest of the world a rabble, with whom the stars had nothing to do. They were like the prince who trembled at the sight of a comet, and said gravely to those who did not fear it, “You may behold it without concern; you are not princes.”
The famous German leader, Wallenstein, was one of those infatuated by this chimera; he called himself a prince, and consequently thought that the zodiac had been made on purpose for him. He never besieged a town, nor fought a battle, until he had held a council with the heavens; but, as this great man was very ignorant, he placed at the head of this council a rogue of an Italian, named Seni, keeping him a coach and six, and giving him a pension of twenty thousand livres. Seni, however, never foresaw that Wallenstein would be assassinated by order of his most gracious sovereign, and that he himself would return to Italy on foot.
It is quite evident that nothing can be known of the future, otherwise than by conjectures. These conjectures may be so well-founded as to approach certainty. You see a shark swallow a little boy; you may wager ten thousand to one that he will be devoured; but you cannot be absolutely sure of it, after the adventures of Hercules, Jonas, and Orlando Furioso, who each lived so long in a fish’s belly.
It cannot be too often repeated that Albertus Magnus and Cardinal d’Ailli both made the horoscope of Jesus Christ. It would appear that they read in the stars how many devils he would cast out of the bodies of the possessed, and what sort of death he was to die. But it was unfortunate that these learned astrologers foretold all these things so long after they happened.
We shall elsewhere see that in a sect which passes for Christian, it is believed to be impossible for the Supreme Intelligence to see the future otherwise than by supreme conjecture; for, as the future does not exist, it is, say they, a contradiction in terms to talk of seeing at the present time that which is not.
It seems to me that, in the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” a more powerful refutation might have been brought against the Jesuit Richeome’s opinion concerning atheists and idolaters—an opinion formerly maintained by St. Thomas, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Cyprian, and Tertullian—an opinion which Arnobius placed in a strong light when he said to the pagans, “Do you not blush to reproach us with contempt for your gods? Is it not better to believe in no god than to impute to them infamous actions?”—an opinion long before established by Plutarch, who stated that he would rather have it said that there was no Plutarch than that there was a Plutarch, inconstant, choleric, and vindictive—an opinion, too, fortified by all the dialectical efforts of Bayle.
Such is the ground of dispute, placed in a very striking point of view by the Jesuit Richeome, and made still more specious by the way in which Bayle sets it off:
“There are two porters at the door of a house. You ask to speak to the master. He is not at home, answers one. He is at home, answers the other, but is busied in making false money, false contracts, daggers, and poisons, to destroy those who have only accomplished his designs. The atheist resembles the former of these porters, the pagan the latter. It is then evident that the pagan offends the Divinity more grievously than the atheist.
With the permission of Father Richeome, and that of Bayle himself, this is not at all the state of the question. For the first porter to be like the atheist, he must say, not “My master is not here,” but “I have no master; he who you pretend is my master does not exist. My comrade is a blockhead to tell you that the gentleman is engaged in mixing poisons and wetting poniards to assassinate those who have executed his will. There is no such being in the world.”
Richeome, therefore, has reasoned very ill; and Bayle, in his rather diffuse discourses, has so far forgotten himself as to do Richeome the honor of making a very lame comment upon him.
Plutarch seems to express himself much better, in declaring that he prefers those who say there is no Plutarch to those who assert that Plutarch is unfit for society. Indeed, of what consequence to him was its being said that he was not in the world? But it was of great consequence that his reputation should not be injured. With the Supreme Being it is otherwise.
Still Plutarch does not come to the real point in discussion. It is only asked who most offends the Supreme Being—he who denies Him, or he who disfigures Him? It is impossible to know, otherwise than by revelation, whether God is offended at the vain discourses which men hold about Him.
Philosophers almost always fall unconsciously into the ideas of the vulgar, in supposing that God is jealous of His glory, wrathful, and given to revenge, and in taking rhetorical figures for real ideas. That which interests the whole world is to know whether it is not better to admit a rewarding and avenging God, recompensing hidden good actions, and punishing secret crimes, than to admit no God at all.
Bayle exhausts himself in repeating all the infamous things imputed to the gods of antiquity. His adversaries answer him by unmeaning commonplaces. The partisans and the enemies of Bayle have almost always fought without coming to close quarters. They all agree that Jupiter was an adulterer, Venus a wanton, Mercury a rogue. But this, I conceive, ought not to be considered; the religion of the ancient Romans should be distinguished from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” It is quite certain that neither they nor even the Greeks ever had a temple dedicated to Mercury the Rogue, Venus the Wanton, or Jupiter the Adulterer.
The god whom the Romans called “Deus optimus maximus”—most good, most great—was not believed to have encouraged Clodius to lie with Cæsar’s wife, nor Cæsar to become the minion of King Nicomedes.
Cicero does not say that Mercury incited Verres to rob Sicily, though, in the fable, Mercury had stolen Apollo’s cows. The real religion of the ancients was that Jupiter, most good and just, with the secondary divinities, punished perjury in the infernal regions. Thus, the Romans were long the most religious observers of their oaths. It was in no wise ordained that they should believe in Leda’s two eggs, in the transformation of Inachus’s daughter into a cow, or in Apollo’s love for Hyacinthus. Therefore it must not be said that the religion of Numa was dishonoring to the Divinity. So that, as but too often happens, there has been a long dispute about a chimera.
Then, it is asked, can a people of atheists exist? I consider that a distinction must be made between the people, properly so called, and a society of philosophers above the people. It is true that, in every country, the populace require the strongest curb; and that if Bayle had had but five or six hundred peasants to govern, he would not have failed to announce to them a rewarding and avenging God. But Bayle would have said nothing about them to the Epicureans, who were people of wealth, fond of quiet, cultivating all the social virtues, and friendship in particular, shunning the dangers and embarrassments of public affairs—leading, in short, a life of ease and innocence. The dispute, so far as it regards policy and society, seems to me to end here.
As for people entirely savage, they can be counted neither among the theists nor among the atheists. To ask them what is their creed would be like asking them if they are for Aristotle or Democritus. They know nothing; they are no more atheists than they are peripatetics.
But, it may be insisted, that they live in society, though they have no God, and that, therefore, society may subsist without religion.
In this case I shall reply that wolves live so; and that an assemblage of barbarous cannibals, as you suppose them to be, is not a society. And, further, I will ask you if, when you have lent your money to any one of your society, you would have neither your debtor, nor your attorney, nor your notary, nor your judge, believe in a God?
Modern Atheists.—Arguments of the Worshippers of God.
We are intelligent beings, and intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a blind, brute, insensible being; there is certainly some difference between a clod and the ideas of Newton. Newton’s intelligence, then, came from some other intelligence.
When we see a fine machine, we say there is a good machinist, and that he has an excellent understanding. The world is assuredly an admirable machine; therefore there is in the world, somewhere or other, an admirable intelligence. This argument is old, but is not therefore the worse.
All animated bodies are composed of levers and pulleys, which act according to the laws of mechanics; of liquors, which are kept in perpetual circulation by the laws of hydrostatics; and the reflection that all these beings have sentiment which has no relation to their organization, fills us with wonder.
The motions of the stars, that of our little earth round the sun—all are operated according to the laws of the profoundest mathematics. How could it be that Plato, who knew not one of these laws—the eloquent but chimerical Plato, who said that the foundation of the earth was an equilateral triangle, and that of water a right-angled triangle—the strange Plato, who said there could be but five worlds, because there were but five regular bodies—how, I say, was it that Plato, who was not even acquainted with spherical trigonometry, had nevertheless so fine a genius, so happy an instinct, as to call God the Eternal Geometrician—to feel that there exists a forming Intelligence? Spinoza himself confesses it. It is impossible to controvert this truth, which surrounds us and presses us on all sides.
Argument of the Atheists.
I have, however, known refractory individuals, who have said that there is no forming intelligence, and that motion alone has formed all that we see and all that we are. They say boldly that the combination of this universe was possible because it exists; therefore it was possible for motion of itself to arrange it. Take four planets only—Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the Earth; let us consider them solely in the situations in which they now are; and let us see how many probabilities we have that motion will bring them again to those respective places. There are but twenty-four chances in this combination; that is, it is only twenty-four to one that these planets will not be found in the same situations with respect to one another. To these four globes add that of Jupiter; and it is then only a hundred and twenty to one that Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and our globe will not be placed in the same positions in which we now see them.
Lastly, add Saturn; and there will then be only seven hundred and twenty chances to one against putting these planets in their present arrangement, according to their given distances. It is, then, demonstrated that once, at least, in seven hundred and twenty cases, chance might place these planets in their present order.
Then take all the secondary planets, all their motions, all the beings that vegetate, live, feel, think, act, on all these globes; you have only to increase the number of chances; multiply this number to all eternity—to what our weakness calls infinity—there will still be an unit in favor of the formation of the world, such as it is, by motion alone; therefore it is possible that, in all eternity, the motion of matter alone has produced the universe as it exists. Nay, this combination must, in eternity, of necessity happen. Thus, say they, not only it is possible that the world is as it is by motion alone, but it was impossible that it should not be so after infinite combinations.
All this supposition seems to me to be prodigiously chimerical, for two reasons: the first is, that in this universe there are intelligent beings, and you cannot prove it possible for motion alone to produce understanding. The second is, that, by your own confession, the chances are infinity to unity, that an intelligent forming cause produced the universe. Standing alone against infinity, a unit makes but a poor figure.
Again Spinoza himself admits this intelligence; it is the basis of his system. You have not read him, but you must read him. Why would you go further than he, and, through a foolish pride, plunge into the abyss where Spinoza dared not to descend? Are you not aware of the extreme folly of saying that it is owing to a blind cause that the square of the revolution of one planet is always to the squares of the others as the cube of its distance is to the cubes of the distances of the others from the common centre? Either the planets are great geometricians, or the Eternal Geometrician has arranged the planets.
But where is the Eternal Geometrician? Is He in one place, or in all places, without occupying space? I know not. Has He arranged all things of His own substance? I know not. Is He immense, without quantity and without quality? I know not. All I know is, that we must adore Him and be just.
New Objection of a Modern Atheist.
Can it be said that the conformation of animals is according to their necessities? What are those necessities? Self-preservation and propagation. Now, is it astonishing that, of the infinite combinations produced by chance, those only have survived which had organs adapted for their nourishment and the continuation of their species? Must not all others necessarily have perished?
This argument, taken from Lucretius, is sufficiently refuted by the sensation given to animals and the intelligence given to man. How, as has just been said in the preceding paragraph, should combinations produced by chance produce this sensation and this intelligence? Yes, doubtless, the members of animals are made for all their necessities with an incomprehensible art, and you have not the boldness to deny it. You do not mention it. You feel that you can say nothing in answer to this great argument which Nature brings against you. The disposition of the wing of a fly, or of the feelers of a snail, is sufficient to confound you.
An Objection of Maupertuis.
The natural philosophers of modern times have done nothing more than extend these pretended arguments; this they have sometimes done even to minuteness and indecency. They have found God in the folds of a rhinoceros’s hide; they might, with equal reason, have denied His existence on account of the tortoise’s shell.
What reasoning! The tortoise and the rhinoceros, and all the different species, prove alike in their infinite varieties the same cause, the same design, the same end, which are preservation, generation, and death. Unity is found in this immense variety; the hide and the shell bear equal testimony. What! deny God, because a shell is not like a skin! And journalists have lavished upon this coxcombry praises which they have withheld from Newton and Locke, both worshippers of the Divinity from thorough examination and conviction!
Another of Maupertuis’s Objections.
Of what service are beauty and fitness in the construction of a serpent? Perhaps, you say, it has uses of which we are ignorant. Let us then, at least, be silent, and not admire an animal which we know only by the mischief it does.
Be you silent, also, since you know no more of its utility than myself; or acknowledge that, in reptiles, everything is admirably proportioned. Some of them are venomous; you have been so too. The only subject at present under consideration is the prodigious art which has formed serpents, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and bipeds. This art is evident enough. You ask, Why is not the serpent harmless? And why have you not been harmless? Why have you been a persecutor? which, in a philosopher, is the greatest of crimes. This is quite another question; it is that of physical and moral evil. It has long been asked, Why are there so many serpents, and so many wicked men worse than serpents? If flies could reason, they would complain to God of the existence of spiders; but they would, at the same time, acknowledge what Minerva confessed to Arachne in the fable, that they arrange their webs in a wonderful manner.
We cannot, then, do otherwise than acknowledge an ineffable Intelligence, which Spinoza himself admitted. We must own that it is displayed as much in the meanest insect as in the planets. And with regard to moral and physical evil, what can be done or said? Let us console ourselves by the enjoyment of physical and moral good, and adore the Eternal Being, who has ordained the one and permitted the other.
One word more on this topic. Atheism is the vice of some intelligent men, and superstition is the vice of fools. And what is the vice of knaves?—Hypocrisy.
Formerly, whoever was possessed of a secret in any art was in danger of passing for a sorcerer; every new sect was charged with murdering infants in its mysteries; and every philosopher who departed from the jargon of the schools was accused of atheism by knaves and fanatics, and condemned by blockheads.
Anaxagorus dares to assert that the sun is not conducted by Apollo, mounted in a chariot and four; he is condemned as an atheist, and compelled to fly.
Aristotle is accused of atheism by a priest, and not being powerful enough to punish his accuser, he retires to Chalcis. But the death of Socrates is the greatest blot on the page of Grecian history.
Aristophanes—he whom commentators admire because he was a Greek, forgetting that Socrates was also a Greek—Aristophanes was the first who accustomed the Athenians to regard Socrates as an atheist.
This comic poet, who is neither comic nor poetical, would not, among us, have been permitted to exhibit his farces at the fair of St. Lawrence. He appears to me to be much lower and more despicable than Plutarch represents him. Let us see what the wise Plutarch says of this buffoon: “The language of Aristophanes bespeaks his miserable quackery; it is made up of the lowest and most disgusting puns; he is not even pleasing to the people; and to men of judgment and honor he is insupportable; his arrogance is intolerable, and all good men detest his malignity.”
This, then, is the jack-pudding whom Madame Dacier, an admirer of Socrates, ventures to admire! Such was the man who, indirectly, prepared the poison by which infamous judges put to death the most virtuous man in Greece.
The tanners, cobblers, and seamstresses of Athens applauded a farce in which Socrates was represented lifted in the air in a hamper, announcing that there was no God, and boasting of having stolen a cloak while he was teaching philosophy. A whole people, whose government sanctioned such infamous licences, well deserved what has happened to them, to become slaves to the Romans, and, subsequently, to the Turks. The Russians, whom the Greeks of old would have called barbarians, would neither have poisoned Socrates, nor have condemned Alcibiades to death.
We pass over the ages between the Roman commonwealth and our own times. The Romans, much more wise than the Greeks, never persecuted a philosopher for his opinions. Not so the barbarous nations which succeeded the Roman Empire. No sooner did the Emperor Frederick II. begin to quarrel with the popes, than he was accused of being an atheist, and being the author of the book of “The Three Impostors,” conjointly with his chancellor De Vincis.
Does our high-chancellor, de l’Hôpital, declare against persecution? He is immediately charged with atheism—“Homo doctus, sed vetus atheus.” There was a Jesuit, as much beneath Aristophanes as Aristophanes is beneath Homer—a wretch, whose name has become ridiculous even among fanatics—the Jesuit Garasse, who found atheists everywhere. He bestows the name upon all who are the objects of his virulence. He calls Theodore Beza an atheist. It was he, too, that led the public into error concerning Vanini.
The unfortunate end of Vanini does not excite our pity and indignation like that of Socrates, because Vanini was only a foreign pedant, without merit; however, Vanini was not, as was pretended, an atheist; he was quite the contrary.
He was a poor Neapolitan priest, a theologian and preacher by trade, an outrageous disputer on quiddities and universals, and “utrum chimæra bombinans in vacuo possit comedere secundas intentiones.” But there was nothing in him tending to atheism. His notion of God is that of the soundest and most approved theology: “God is the beginning and the end, the father of both, without need of either, eternal without time, in no one place, yet present everywhere. To him there is neither past nor future; he is within and without everything; he has created all, and governs all; he is immutable, infinite without parts; his power is his will.” This is not very philosophical, but it is the most approved theology.
Vanini prided himself on reviving Plato’s fine idea, adopted by Averroës, that God had created a chain of beings from the smallest to the greatest, the last link of which was attached to his eternal throne; an idea more sublime than true, but as distant from atheism as being from nothing.
He travelled to seek his fortune and to dispute; but, unfortunately, disputation leads not to fortune; a man makes himself as many irreconcilable enemies as he finds men of learning or of pedantry to argue against. Vanini’s ill-fortune had no other source. His heat and rudeness in disputation procured him the hatred of some theologians; and having quarrelled with one Franconi, this Franconi, the friend of his enemies, charged him with being an atheist and teaching atheism.
Franconi, aided by some witnesses, had the barbarity, when confronted with the accused, to maintain what he had advanced. Vanini, on the stool, being asked what he thought of the existence of a God, answered that he, with the Church, adored a God in three persons. Taking a straw from the ground, “This,” said he, “is sufficient to prove that there is a creator.” He then delivered a very fine discourse on vegetation and motion, and the necessity of a Supreme Being, without whom there could be neither motion nor vegetation.
The president Grammont, who was then at Toulouse, repeats this discourse in his history of France, now so little known; and the same Grammont, through some unaccountable prejudice, asserts that Vanini said all this “through vanity, or through fear, rather than from inward conviction.”
On what could this atrocious, rash judgment of the president be founded? It is evident, from Vanini’s answer, that he could not but be acquitted of the charge of atheism. But what followed? This unfortunate foreign priest also dabbled in medicine. There was found in his house a large live toad, which he kept in a vessel of water; he was forthwith accused of being a sorcerer. It was maintained that this toad was the god which he adored. An impious meaning was attributed to several passages of his books, a thing which is both common and easy, by taking objections for answers, giving some bad sense to a loose phrase, and perverting an innocent expression. At last, the faction which oppressed him forced from his judges the sentence which condemned him to die.
In order to justify this execution it was necessary to charge the unfortunate man with the most enormous of crimes. The grey friar—the very grey friar Marsenne, was so besotted as to publish that “Vanini set out from Naples, with twelve of his apostles, to convert the whole world to atheism.” What a pitiful tale! How should a poor priest have twelve men in his pay? How should he persuade twelve Neapolitans to travel at great expense, in order to spread this revolting doctrine at the peril of their lives? Would a king himself have it in his power to pay twelve preachers of atheism? No one before Father Marsenne had advanced so enormous an absurdity. But after him it was repeated; the journals and historical dictionaries caught it, and the world, which loves the extraordinary, has believed the fable without examination.
Even Bayle, in his miscellaneous thoughts (Pensées Diverses), speaks of Vanini as of an atheist. He cites his example in support of his paradox, that “a society of atheists might exist.” He assures us that Vanini was a man of very regular morals, and that he was a martyr to his philosophical opinions. On both these points he is equally mistaken. Vanini informs us in his “Dialogues,” written in imitation of Erasmus, that he had a mistress named Isabel. He was as free in his writings as in his conduct; but he was not an atheist.
A century after his death, the learned Lacroze, and he who took the name of Philaletes, endeavored to justify him. But as no one cares anything about the memory of an unfortunate Neapolitan, scarcely any one has read these apologies.
The Jesuit Hardouin, more learned and no less rash than Garasse, in his book entitled “Athei Detecti,” charges the Descartes, the Arnaulds, the Pascals, the Malebranches, with atheism. Happily, Vanini’s fate was not theirs.
A word on the question in morals, agitated by Bayle, “Whether a society of atheists can exist.” Here let us first observe the enormous self-contradictions of men in disputation. Those who have been most violent in opposing the opinion of Bayle, those who have denied with the greatest virulence the possibility of a society of atheists, are the very men who have since maintained with equal ardor that atheism is the religion of the Chinese government.
They have most assuredly been mistaken concerning the government of China; they had only to read the edicts of the emperors of that vast country, and they would have seen that those edicts are sermons, in which a Supreme Being—governing, avenging, and rewarding—is continually spoken of.
But, at the same time, they are no less deceived respecting the impossibility of a society of atheists; nor can I conceive how Bayle could forget a striking instance which might have rendered his cause victorious.
In what does the apparent impossibility of a society of atheists consist? In this: It is judged that men without some restraint could not live together; that laws have no power against secret crimes; and that it is necessary to have an avenging God—punishing, in this world or in the next, such as escape human justice.
The laws of Moses, it is true, did not teach the doctrine of a life to come, did not threaten with chastisements after death, nor even teach the primitive Jews the immortality of the soul; but the Jews, far from being atheists, far from believing that they could elude the divine vengeance, were the most religious of men. They believed not only in the existence of an eternal God, but that He was always present among them; they trembled lest they should be punished in themselves, their wives, their children, their posterity to the fourth generation. This was a very powerful check.
But among the Gentiles various sects had no restraint; the Skeptics doubted of everything; the Academics suspended their judgment on everything; the Epicureans were persuaded that the Divinity could not meddle in human affairs, and in their hearts admitted no Divinity. They were convinced that the soul is not a substance, but a faculty which is born and perishes with the body; consequently, they had no restraint but that of morality and honor. The Roman senators and knights were in reality atheists; for to men who neither feared nor hoped anything from them, the gods could not exist. The Roman senate, then, in the time of Cæsar and Cicero, was in fact an assembly of atheists.
That great orator, in his oration for Cluentius, says to the whole assembled senate: “What does he lose by death? We reject all the silly fables about the infernal regions. What, then, can death take from him? Nothing but the susceptibility of sorrow.”
Does not Cæsar, wishing to save the life of his friend Catiline, threatened by the same Cicero, object that to put a criminal to death is not to punish him—that death is nothing—that it is but the termination of our ills—a moment rather fortunate than calamitous? Did not Cicero and the whole senate yield to this reasoning? The conquerors and legislators of all the known world then, evidently, formed a society of men who feared nothing from the gods, but were real atheists.
Bayle next examines whether idolatry is more dangerous than atheism—whether it is a greater crime not to believe in the Divinity than to have unworthy notions of it; in this he thinks with Plutarch—that it is better to have no opinion than a bad opinion; but, without offence to Plutarch, it was infinitely better that the Greeks should fear Ceres, Neptune, and Jupiter than that they should fear nothing at all. It is clear that the sanctity of oaths is necessary; and that those are more to be trusted who think a false oath will be punished, than those who think they may take a false oath with impunity. It cannot be doubted that, in an organized society, it is better to have even a bad religion than no religion at all.
It appears then that Bayle should rather have examined whether atheism or fanaticism is the most dangerous. Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times the most to be dreaded; for atheism inspires no sanguinary passion, but fanaticism does; atheism does not oppose crime, but fanaticism prompts to its commission. Let us suppose, with the author of the “Commentarium Rerum Gallicarum,” that the High-Chancellor de l’Hôpital was an atheist; he made none but wise laws; he recommended only moderation and concord. The massacres of St. Bartholomew were committed by fanatics. Hobbes passed for an atheist; yet he led a life of innocence and quiet, while the fanatics of his time deluged England, Scotland, and Ireland with blood. Spinoza was not only an atheist—he taught atheism; but assuredly he had no part in the judicial assassination of Barneveldt; nor was it he who tore in pieces the two brothers De Witt, and ate them off the gridiron.
Atheists are, for the most part, men of learning, bold but bewildered, who reason ill and, unable to comprehend the creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis of the eternity of things and of necessity.
The ambitious and the voluptuous have but little time to reason; they have other occupations than that of comparing Lucretius with Socrates. Such is the case with us and our time.
It was otherwise with the Roman senate, which was composed almost entirely of theoretical and practical atheists, that is, believing neither in Providence nor in a future state; this senate was an assembly of philosophers, men of pleasure, and ambitious men, who were all very dangerous, and who ruined the commonwealth. Under the emperors, Epicureanism prevailed. The atheists of the senate had been factious in the times of Sulla and of Cæsar; in those of Augustus and Tiberius, they were atheistical slaves.
I should not wish to come in the way of an atheistical prince, whose interest it should be to have me pounded in a mortar; I am quite sure that I should be so pounded. Were I a sovereign, I would not have to do with atheistical courtiers, whose interest it was to poison me; I should be under the necessity of taking an antidote every day. It is then absolutely necessary for princes and people that the idea of a Supreme Being—creating, governing, rewarding, and punishing—be profoundly engraved on their minds.
There are nations of atheists, says Bayle in his “Thoughts on Comets.” The Kaffirs, the Hottentots, and many other small populations, have no god; they neither affirm nor deny that there is one; they have never heard of Him; tell them that there is one, and they will easily believe it; tell them that all is done by the nature of things, and they will believe you just the same. To pretend that they are atheists would be like saying they are anti-Cartesians. They are neither for Descartes nor against him; they are no more than children; a child is neither atheist nor deist; he is nothing.
From all this, what conclusion is to be drawn? That atheism is a most pernicious monster in those who govern; that it is the same in the men of their cabinet, since it may extend itself from the cabinet to those in office; that, although less to be dreaded than fanaticism, it is almost always fatal to virtue. And especially, let it be added, that there are fewer atheists now than ever—since philosophers have become persuaded that there is no vegetative being without a germ, no germ without a design, etc., and that the corn in our fields does not spring from rottenness.
Unphilosophical geometricians have rejected final causes, but true philosophers admit them; and, as it is elsewhere observed, a catechist announces God to children, and Newton demonstrates Him to the wise.
If there be atheists, who are to blame? Who but the mercenary tyrants of our souls, who, while disgusting us with their knavery, urge some weak spirits to deny the God whom such monsters dishonor? How often have the people’s bloodsuckers forced overburdened citizens to revolt against the king!
Men who have fattened on our substance, cry out to us: “Be persuaded that an ass spoke; believe that a fish swallowed a man, and threw him up three days after, safe and sound, on the shore; doubt not that the God of the universe ordered one Jewish prophet to eat excrement, and another to buy two prostitutes, and have bastards by them;” such are the words put into the mouth of the God of purity and truth! Believe a hundred things either visibly abominable or mathematically impossible; otherwise the God of Mercy will burn you in hell-fire, not only for millions of millions of ages, but for all eternity, whether you have a body or have not a body.
These brutal absurdities are revolting to rash and weak minds, as well as to firm and wise ones. They say: “Our teachers represent God to us as the most insensate and barbarous of all beings; therefore, there is no God.” But they ought to say, “Our teachers represent God as furious and ridiculous, therefore God is the reverse of what they describe Him; He is as wise and good as they say He is foolish and wicked.” Thus do the wise decide. But, if a fanatic hears them, he denounces them to a magistrate—a sort of priest’s officer, which officer has them burned alive, thinking that he is therein imitating and avenging the Divine Majesty which he insults.
There were once many atheists among the Christians; they are now much fewer. It at first appears to be a paradox, but examination proves it to be a truth, that theology often threw men’s minds into atheism, until philosophy at length drew them out of it. It must indeed have been pardonable to doubt of the Divinity, when His only announcers disputed on His nature. Nearly all the first Fathers of the Church made God corporeal, and others, after them, giving Him no extent, lodged Him in a part of heaven. According to some, He had created the world in Time; while, according to others, He had created Time itself. Some gave Him a Son like to Himself; others would not grant that the Son was like to the Father. It was also disputed in what way a third person proceeded from the other two.
It was agitated whether the Son had been, while on earth, composed of two persons. So that the question undesignedly became, whether there were five persons in the Divinity—three in heaven and two for Jesus Christ upon earth; or four persons, reckoning Christ upon earth as only one; or three persons, considering Christ only as God. There were disputes about His mother, His descent into hell and into limbo; the manner in which the body of the God-man was eaten, and the blood of the God-man was drunk; on grace; on the saints, and a thousand other matters. When the confidants of the Divinity were seen so much at variance among themselves anathematizing one another from age to age, but all agreeing in an immoderate thirst for riches and grandeur—while, on the other hand, were beheld the prodigious number of crimes and miseries which afflicted the earth, and of which many were caused by the very disputes of these teachers of souls—it must be confessed that it was allowable for rational men to doubt the existence of a being so strangely announced, and for men of sense to imagine that a God, who could of His own free will make so many beings miserable, did not exist.
Suppose, for example, a natural philosopher of the fifteenth century reading these words in “St. Thomas’s Dream”: “Virtus cœli, loco spermatis, sufficit cum elementis et putrefactione ad generationem animalium imperfectorum.” “The virtue of heaven instead of seed is sufficient, with the elements and putrefaction, for the generation of imperfect animals.” Our philosopher would reason thus: “If corruption suffices with the elements to produce unformed animals, it would appear that a little more corruption, with a little more heat, would also produce animals more complete. The virtue of heaven is here no other than the virtue of nature. I shall then think, with Epicurus and St. Thomas, that men may have sprung from the slime of the earth and the rays of the sun—a noble origin, too, for beings so wretched and so wicked. Why should I admit a creating God, presented to me under so many contradictory and revolting aspects?” But at length physics arose, and with them philosophy. Then it was clearly discovered that the mud of the Nile produced not a single insect, nor a single ear of corn, and men were found to acknowledge throughout, germs, relations, means, and an astonishing correspondence among all beings. The particles of light have been followed, which go from the sun to enlighten the globe and the ring of Saturn, at the distance of three hundred millions of leagues; then, coming to the earth, form two opposite angles in the eye of the minutest insect, and paint all nature on its retina. A philosopher was given to the world who discovered the simple and sublime laws by which the celestial globes move in the immensity of space. Thus the work of the universe, now that it is better known, bespeaks a workman, and so many never-varying laws announce a law-giver. Sound philosophy, therefore, has destroyed atheism, to which obscure theology furnished weapons of defence.
But one resource was left for the small number of difficult minds, which, being more forcibly struck by the pretended injustices of a Supreme Being than by his wisdom, were obstinate in denying this first mover. Nature has existed from all eternity; everything in nature is in motion, therefore everything in it continually changes. And if everything is forever changing, all possible combinations must take place; therefore the present combinations of all things may have been the effect of this eternal motion and change alone. Take six dice, and it is 46,655 to one that you do not throw six times six. But still there is that one chance in 46,656. So, in the infinity of ages, any one of the infinite number of combinations, as that of the present arrangement of the universe, is not impossible.
Minds, otherwise rational, have been misled by these arguments; but they have not considered that there is infinity against them, and that there certainly is not infinity against the existence of God. They should, moreover, consider that if everything were changing, the smallest things could not remain unchanged, as they have so long done. They have at least no reason to advance why new species are not formed every day. On the contrary, it is very probable that a powerful hand, superior to these continual changes, keeps all species within the bounds it has prescribed them. Thus the philosopher, who acknowledges a God, has a number of probabilities on his side, while the atheist has only doubts.
It is evident that in morals it is much better to acknowledge a God than not to admit one. It is certainly to the interest of all men that there should be a Divinity to punish what human justice cannot repress; but it is also clear that it were better to acknowledge no God than to worship a barbarous one, and offer Him human victims, as so many nations have done.
We have one striking example, which places this truth beyond a doubt. The Jews, under Moses, had no idea of the immortality of the soul, nor of a future state. Their lawgiver announced to them, from God, only rewards and punishments purely temporal; they, therefore, had only this life to provide for. Moses commands the Levites to kill twenty-three thousand of their brethren for having had a golden or gilded calf. On another occasion twenty-four thousand of them are massacred for having had commerce with the young women of the country; and twelve thousand are struck dead because some few of them had wished to support the ark, which was near falling. It may, with perfect reverence for the decrees of Providence, be affirmed, humanly speaking, that it would have been much better for these fifty-nine thousand men, who believed in no future state, to have been absolute atheists and have lived, than to have been massacred in the name of the God whom they acknowledged.
It is quite certain that atheism is not taught in the schools of the learned of China, but many of those learned men are atheists, for they are indifferent philosophers. Now it would undoubtedly be better to live with them at Pekin, enjoying the mildness of their manners and their laws, than to be at Goa, liable to groan in irons, in the prisons of the inquisition, until brought out in a brimstone-colored garment, variegated with devils, to perish in the flames.
They who have maintained that a society of atheists may exist have then been right, for it is laws that form society, and these atheists, being moreover philosophers, may lead a very wise and happy life under the shade of those laws. They will certainly live in society more easily than superstitious fanatics. People one town with Epicureans such as Simonides, Protagoras, Des Barreux, Spinoza; and another with Jansenists and Molinists. In which do you think there will be the most quarrels and tumults? Atheism, considering it only with relation to this life, would be very dangerous among a ferocious people, and false ideas of the Divinity would be no less pernicious. Most of the great men of this world live as if they were atheists. Every man who has lived with his eyes open knows that the knowledge of a God, His presence, and His justice, has not the slightest influence over the wars, the treaties, the objects of ambition, interest or pleasure, in the pursuit of which they are wholly occupied. Yet we do not see that they grossly violate the rules established in society. It is much more agreeable to pass our lives among them than among the superstitious and fanatical. I do, it is true, expect more justice from one who believes in a God than from one who has no such belief; but from the superstitious I look only for bitterness and persecution. Atheism and fanaticism are two monsters which may tear society in pieces; but the atheist preserves his reason, which checks his propensity to mischief, while the fanatic is under the influence of a madness which is constantly urging him on.
In England, as everywhere else, there have been, and there still are, many atheists by principle; for there are none but young, inexperienced preachers, very ill-informed of what passes in the world, who affirm that there cannot be atheists. I have known some in France, who were quite good natural philosophers; and have, I own, been very much surprised that men who could so ably develop the secret springs of nature should obstinately refuse to acknowledge the hand which so evidently puts those springs in action.
It appears to me that one of the principles which leads them to materialism is that they believe in the plentitude and infinity of the universe, and the eternity of matter. It must be this which misleads them, for almost all the Newtonians whom I have met admit the void and the termination of matter, and consequently admit a God.
Indeed, if matter be infinite, as so many philosophers, even including Descartes, pretend, it has of itself one of the attributes of the Supreme Being: if a void be impossible, matter exists of necessity; it has existed from all eternity. With these principles, therefore, we may dispense with God, creating, modifying, and preserving matter.
I am aware that Descartes, and most of the schools which have believed in the plenum, and the infinity of matter, have nevertheless admitted a God; but this is only because men scarcely ever reason or act upon their principles.
Had men reasoned, consequently, Epicurus and his apostle Lucretius must have been the most religious assertors of the Providence which they combated; for when they admitted the void and the termination of matter, a truth of which they had only an imperfect glimpse, it necessarily followed that matter was the being of necessity, existing by itself, since it was not indefinite. They had, therefore, in their own philosophy, and in their own despite, a demonstration that there is a Supreme Being, necessary, infinite, the fabricator of the universe. Newton’s philosophy, which admits and proves the void and finite matter, also demonstratively proves the existence of a God.
Thus I regard true philosophers as the apostles of the Divinity. Each class of men requires its particular ones; a parish catechist tells children that there is a God, but Newton proves it to the wise.
In London, under Charles II. after Cromwell’s wars, as at Paris under Henry IV. after the war of the Guises, people took great pride in being atheists; having passed from the excess of cruelty to that of pleasure, and corrupted their minds successively by war and by voluptuousness, they reasoned very indifferently. Since then the more nature has been studied the better its Author has been known.
One thing I will venture to believe, which is, that of all religions, theism is the most widely spread in the world. It is the prevailing religion of China; it is that of the wise among the Mahometans; and, among Christian philosophers, eight out of ten are of the same opinion. It has penetrated even into the schools of theology, into the cloisters, into the conclave; it is a sort of sect without association, without worship, without ceremonies, without disputes, and without zeal, spread through the world without having been preached. Theism, like Judaism, is to be found amidst all religions; but it is singular that the latter, which is the extreme of superstition, abhorred by the people and contemned by the wise, is everywhere tolerated for money; while the former, which is the opposite of superstition, unknown to the people, and embraced by philosophers alone, is publicly exercised nowhere but in China. There is no country in Europe where there are more theists than in England. Some persons ask whether they have a religion or not.
There are two sorts of theists. The one sort think that God made the world without giving man rules for good and evil. It is clear that these should have no other name than that of philosophers.
The others believe that God gave to man a natural law. These, it is certain, have a religion, though they have no external worship. They are, with reference to the Christian religion, peaceful enemies, which she carries in her bosom; they renounce without any design of destroying her. All other sects desire to predominate, like political bodies, which seek to feed on the substance of others, and rise upon their ruin; theism has always lain quiet. Theists have never been found caballing in any state.
There was in London a society of theists, who for some time continued to meet together. They had a small book of their laws, in which religion, on which so many ponderous volumes have been written, occupied only two pages. Their principal axiom was this: “Morality is the same among all men; therefore it comes from God. Worship is various; therefore it is the work of man.”
The second axiom was: “Men, being all brethren, and acknowledging the same God, it is execrable that brethren should persecute brethren, because they testify their love for the common father in a different manner. Indeed,” said they, “what upright man would kill his elder brother because one of them had saluted their father after the Chinese and the other after the Dutch fashion, especially while it was undecided in what way the father wished their reverence to be made to him? Surely he who should act thus would be a bad brother rather than a good son.”
I am well aware that these maxims lead directly to “the abominable and execrable dogma of toleration”; but I do no more than simply relate the fact. I am very careful not to become a controversialist. It must, however, be admitted that if the different sects into which Christians have been divided had possessed this moderation, Christianity would have been disturbed by fewer disorders, shaken by fewer revolutions, and stained with less blood.
Let us pity the theists for combating our holy revelation. But whence comes it that so many Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Nestorians, Arians, partisans of Rome, and enemies of Rome, have been so sanguinary, so barbarous, and so miserable, now persecuting, now persecuted? It is because they have been the multitude. Whence is it that theists, though in error, have never done harm to mankind? Because they have been philosophers. The Christian religion has cost the human species seventeen millions of men, reckoning only one million per century, who have perished either by the hands of the ordinary executioner, or by those of executioners paid and led to battle—all for the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God.
I have heard men express astonishment that a religion so moderate, and so apparently conformable to reason, as theism, has not been spread among the people. Among the great and little vulgar may be found pious herb-women, Molinist duchesses, scrupulous seamstresses who would go to the stake for anabaptism, devout hackney-coachmen, most determined in the cause of Luther or of Arius, but no theists; for theism cannot so much be called a religion as a system of philosophy, and the vulgar, whether great or little, are not philosophers.
Locke was a declared theist. I was astonished to find, in that great philosopher’s chapter on innate ideas, that men have all different ideas of justice. Were such the case, morality would no longer be the same; the voice of God would not be heard by man; natural religion would be at an end. I am willing to believe, with him, that there are nations in which men eat their fathers, and where to lie with a neighbor’s wife is to do him a friendly office; but if this be true it does not prove that the law, “Do not unto others that which you would not have others do unto you,” is not general. For if a father be eaten, it is when he has grown old, is too feeble to crawl along, and would otherwise be eaten by the enemy. And, I ask, what father would not furnish a good meal to his son rather than to the enemies of his nation? Besides, he who eats his father hopes that he in turn shall be eaten by his children.
If a service be rendered to a neighbor by lying with his wife, it is when he cannot himself have a child, and is desirous of having one; otherwise he would be very angry. In both these cases, and in all others, the natural law, “Do not to another that which you would not have another do to you,” remains unbroken. All the other rules, so different and so varied, may be referred to this. When, therefore, the wise metaphysician, Locke, says that men have no innate ideas, that they have different ideas of justice and injustice, he assuredly does not mean to assert that God has not given to all men that instinctive self-love by which they are of necessity guided.
Epicurus, equally great as a genius, and respectable in his morals; and after him Lucretius, who forced the Latin language to express philosophical ideas, and—to the great admiration of Rome—to express them in verse—Epicurus and Lucretius, I say, admitted atoms and the void. Gassendi supported this doctrine, and Newton demonstrated it. In vain did a remnant of Cartesianism still combat for the plenum; in vain did Leibnitz, who had at first adopted the rational system of Epicurus, Lucretius, Gassendi, and Newton, change his opinion respecting the void after he had embroiled himself with his master Newton. The plenum is now regarded as a chimera.
In this Epicurus and Lucretius appear to have been true philosophers, and their intermediaries, who have been so much ridiculed, were no other than the unresisting space in which Newton has demonstrated that the planets move round their orbits in times proportioned to their areas. Thus it was not Epicurus’ intermediaries, but his opponents, that were ridiculous. But when Epicurus afterwards tells us that his atoms declined in the void by chance; that this declination formed men and animals by chance; that the eyes were placed in the upper part of the head and the feet at the end of the legs by chance; that ears were not given to hear, but that the declination of atoms having fortuitously composed ears, men fortuitously made use of them to hear with—this madness, called physics, has been very justly turned into ridicule.
Sound philosophy, then, has long distinguished what is good in Epicurus and Lucretius, from their chimeras, founded on imagination and ignorance. The most submissive minds have adopted the doctrine of creation in time, and the most daring have admitted that of creation before all time. Some have received with faith a universe produced from nothing; others, unable to comprehend this doctrine in physics, have believed that all beings were emanations from the Great—the Supreme and Universal Being; but all have rejected the fortuitous concurrence of atoms; all have acknowledged that chance is a word without meaning. What we call chance can be no other than the unknown cause of a known effect. Whence comes it then, that philosophers are still accused of thinking that the stupendous and indescribable arrangement of the universe is a production of the fortuitous concurrence of atoms—an effect of chance? Neither Spinoza nor any one else has advanced this absurdity.
Yet the son of the great Racine says, in his poem on Religion:
These lines are assuredly thrown away. No one makes chance his God; no one has said that while a swallow “tempers his clay, it takes the form of his abode by chance.” On the contrary, it is said that “he makes his nest by the laws of necessity,” which is the opposite of chance.
The only question now agitated is, whether the author of nature has formed primordial parts unsusceptible of division, or if all is continually dividing and changing into other elements. The first system seems to account for everything, and the second, hitherto at least, for nothing.
If the first elements of things were not indestructible one element might at last swallow up all the rest, and change them into its own substance. Hence, perhaps it was that Empedocles imagined that everything came from fire, and would be destroyed by fire.
This question of atoms involves another, that of the divisibility of matter ad infinitum. The word atom signifies without parts—not to be divided. You divide it in thought, for if you were to divide it in reality it would no longer be an atom.
You may divide a grain of gold into eighteen millions of visible parts; a grain of copper dissolved in spirit of sal ammoniac has exhibited upwards of twenty-two thousand parts; but when you have arrived at the last element the atom escapes the microscope, and you can divide no further except in imagination.
The infinite divisibility of atoms is like some propositions in geometry. You may pass an infinity of curves between a circle and its tangent, supposing the circle and the tangent to be lines without breadth; but there are no such lines in nature.
You likewise establish that asymptotes will approach one another without ever meeting; but it is under the supposition that they are lines having length without breadth—things which have only a speculative existence.
So, also, we represent unity by a line, and divide this line and this unity into as many fractions as you please; but this infinity of fractions will never be any other than our unity and our line.
It is not strictly demonstrated that atoms are indivisible, but it appears that they are not divided by the laws of nature.
Avarities,amor habendi—desire of having, avidity, covetousness. Properly speaking, avarice is the desire of accumulating, whether in grain, movables, money, or curiosities. There were avaricious men long before coin was invented.
We do not call a man avaricious who has four and twenty coach horses, yet will not lend one to his friend: or who, having two thousand bottles of Burgundy in his cellar, will not send you half a dozen, when he knows you to be in want of them. If he show you a hundred thousand crowns’ worth of diamonds you do not think of asking him to present you with one worth twenty livres; you consider him as a man of great magnificence, but not at all avaricious.
He who in finance, in army contracts, and great undertakings gained two millions each year, and who, when possessed of forty-three millions, besides his houses at Paris and his movables, expended fifty thousand crowns per annum for his table, and sometimes lent money to noblemen at five per cent. interest, did not pass, in the minds of the people, for an avaricious man. He had, however, all his life burned with the thirst of gain; the demon of covetousness was perpetually tormenting him; he continued to accumulate to the last day of his life. This passion, which was constantly gratified, has never been called avarice. He did not expend a tenth part of his income, yet he had the reputation of a generous man, too fond of splendor.
A father of a family who, with an income of twenty thousand livres, expends only five or six, and accumulates his savings to portion his children, has the reputation among his neighbors of being avaricious, mean, stingy, a niggard, a miser, a gripfarthing; and every abusive epithet that can be thought of is bestowed upon him.
Nevertheless this good citizen is much more to be honored than the Crœsus I have just mentioned; he expends three times as much in proportion. But the cause of the great difference between their reputations is this:
Men hate the individual whom they call avaricious only because there is nothing to be gained by him. The physician, the apothecary, the wine-merchant, the draper, the grocer, the saddler, and a few girls gain a good deal by our Crœsus, who is truly avaricious. But with our close and economical citizen there is nothing to be done. Therefore he is loaded with maledictions.
As for those among the avaricious who deprive themselves of the necessaries of life, we leave them to Plautus and Molière.
Must not a man be very thoroughly possessed by the demon of etymology to say, with Pezron and others, that the Roman word augurium came from the Celtic words au and gur? According to these learned men au must, among the Basques and Bas-Bretons, have signified the liver, because asu, which (say they) signified left, doubtless stood for the liver, which is on the right side; and gur meant man, or yellow, or red, in that Celtic tongue of which we have not one memorial. Truly this is powerful reasoning.
Absurd curiosity (for we must call things by their right names) has been carried so far as to seek Hebrew and Chaldee derivations from certain Teutonic and Celtic words. This, Bochart never fails to do. It is astonishing with what confidence these men of genius have proved that expressions used on the banks of the Tiber were borrowed from the patois of the savages of Biscay. Nay, they even assert that this patois was one of the first idioms of the primitive language—the parent of all other languages throughout the world. They have only to proceed, and say that all the various notes of birds come from the cry of the two first parrots, from which every other species of birds has been produced.
The religious folly of auguries was originally founded on very sound and natural observations. The birds of passage have always marked the progress of the seasons. We see them come in flocks in the spring, and return in the autumn. The cuckoo is heard only in fine weather, which his note seems to invite. The swallows, skimming along the ground, announce rain. Each climate has its bird, which is in effect its augury.
Among the observing part of mankind there were, no doubt, knaves who persuaded fools that there was something divine in these animals, and that their flight presaged our destinies, which were written on the wings of a sparrow just as clearly as in the stars.
The commentators on the allegorical and interesting story of Joseph sold by his brethren, and made Pharaoh’s prime minister for having explained his dreams, infer that Joseph was skilled in the science of auguries, from the circumstance that Joseph’s steward is commanded to say to his brethren, “Is not this it (the silver cup) in which my lord drinketh? and whereby indeed he divineth?” Joseph, having caused his brethren to be brought back before him, says to them: “What deed is this that ye have done? Wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?”
Judah acknowledges, in the name of his brethren, that Joseph is a great diviner, and that God has inspired him: “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” At that time they took Joseph for an Egyptian lord. It is evident from the text that they believe the God of the Egyptians and of the Jews had discovered to this minister the theft of his cup.
Here, then, we have auguries or divination clearly established in the Book of Genesis; so clearly that it is afterwards forbidden in Leviticus: “Ye shall not eat anything with the blood; neither shall ye use enchantment nor observe times. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.”
As for the superstition of seeing the future in a cup, it still exists, and is called seeing in a glass. The individual must never have known pollution; he must turn towards the east, and pronounce the words, Abraxa per dominum nostrum, after which he will see in a glass of water whatever he pleases. Children were usually chosen for this operation. They must retain their hair; a shaven head, or one wearing a wig, can see nothing in a glass. This pastime was much in vogue in France during the regency of the duke of Orleans, and still more so in the times preceding.
As for auguries, they perished with the Roman Empire. Only the bishops have retained the augurial staff, called the crosier; which was the distinctive mark of the dignity of augur; so that the symbol of falsehood has become the symbol of truth.
There were innumerable kinds of divinations, of which several have reached our latter ages. This curiosity to read the future is a malady which only philosophy can cure, for the weak minds that still practise these pretended arts of divination—even the fools who give themselves to the devil—all make religion subservient to these profanations, by which it is outraged.
It is an observation worthy of the wise, that Cicero, who was one of the college of augurs, wrote a book for the sole purpose of turning auguries into ridicule; but they have likewise remarked that Cicero, at the end of his book, says that “superstition should be destroyed, but not religion. For,” he adds, “the beauty of the universe, and the order of the heavenly bodies force us to acknowledge an eternal and powerful nature. We must maintain the religion which is joined with the knowledge of this nature, by utterly extirpating superstition, for it is a monster which pursues and presses us on every side. The meeting with a pretended diviner, a presage, an immolated victim, a bird, a Chaldæan, an aruspice, a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, an event accidentally corresponding with what has been foretold to us, everything disturbs and makes us uneasy; sleep itself, which should make us forget all these pains and fears, serves but to redouble them by frightful images.”
Cicero thought he was addressing only a few Romans, but he was speaking to all men and all ages.
Most of the great men of Rome no more believed in auguries than Alexander VI., Julius II., and Leo X., believed in Our Lady of Loretto and the blood of St. Januarius. However, Suetonius relates that Octavius, surnamed Augustus, was so weak as to believe that a fish, which leaped from the sea upon the shore at Actium, foreboded that he should gain the battle. He adds that, having afterwards met an ass-driver, he asked him the name of his ass; and the man having answered that his ass was named Nicholas, which signifies conqueror of nations, he had no longer any doubts about the victory; and that he afterwards had brazen statues erected to the ass-driver, the ass, and the jumping fish. He further assures us that these statues were placed in the Capitol.
It is very likely that this able tyrant laughed at the superstitions of the Romans, and that his ass, the driver, and the fish, were nothing more than a joke. But it is no less likely that, while he despised all the follies of the vulgar, he had a few of his own. The barbarous and dissimulating Louis XI. had a firm faith in the cross of St. Louis. Almost all princes, excepting such as have had time to read, and read to advantage, are in some degree infected with superstition.
Augustine, a native of Tagaste, is here to be considered, not as a bishop, a doctor, a father of the Church, but simply as a man. This is a question in physics, respecting the climate of Africa.
When a youth, Augustine was a great libertine, and the spirit was no less quick in him than the flesh. He says that before he was twenty years old he had learned arithmetic, geometry and music without a master.
Does not this prove that, in Africa, which we now call Barbary, both minds and bodies advance to maturity more rapidly than among us?
These valuable advantages of St. Augustine would lead one to believe that Empedocles was not altogether in the wrong when he regarded fire as the principle of nature. It is assisted, but by subordinate agents. It is like a king governing the actions of all his subjects, and sometimes inflaming the imaginations of his people rather too much. It is not without reason that Syphax says to Juba, in the Cato of Addison, that the sun which rolls its fiery car over African heads places a deeper tinge upon the cheeks, and a fiercer flame within their hearts. That the dames of Zama are vastly superior to the pale beauties of the north:
Where shall we find in Paris, Strasburg, Ratisbon, or Vienna young men who have learned arithmetic, the mathematics and music without assistance, and who have been fathers at fourteen?
Doubtless it is no fable that Atlas, prince of Mauritania, called by the Greeks the son of heaven, was a celebrated astronomer, and constructed a celestial sphere such as the Chinese have had for so many ages. The ancients, who expressed everything in allegory, likened this prince to the mountain which bears his name, because it lifts its head above the clouds, which have been called the heavens by all mankind who have judged of things only from the testimony of their eyes.
These Moors cultivated the sciences with success, and taught Spain and Italy for five centuries. Things are greatly altered. The country of Augustine is now but a den of pirates, while England, Italy, Germany, and France, which were involved in barbarism, are greater cultivators of the arts than ever the Arabians were.
Our only object, then, in this article is to show how changeable a scene this world is. Augustine, from a debauchee, becomes an orator and a philosopher; he puts himself forward in the world; he teaches rhetoric; he turns Manichæan, and from Manichæanism passes to Christianity. He causes himself to be baptized, together with one of his bastards, named Deodatus; he becomes a bishop, and a father of the Church. His system of grace has been reverenced for eleven hundred years as an article of faith. At the end of eleven hundred years some Jesuits find means to procure an anathema against Augustine’s system, word for word, under the names of Jansenius, St. Cyril, Arnaud, and Quesnel. We ask if this revolution is not, in its kind, as great as that of Africa, and if there be anything permanent upon earth?
The Morals of Augustus.
Manners can be known only from facts, which facts must be incontestable. It is beyond doubt that this man, so immoderately praised as the restorer of morals and of laws, was long one of the most infamous debauchees in the Roman commonwealth. His epigram on Fulvia, written after the horrors of the proscriptions, proves that he was no less a despiser of decency in his language than he was a barbarian in his conduct. This abominable epigram is one of the strongest testimonies to Augustus’ infamous immorality. Sextus Pompeius also reproached him with shameful weaknesses: “Effeminatum infectatus est.” Antony, before the triumvirate, declared that Cæsar, great-uncle to Augustus, had adopted him as his son only because he had been subservient to his pleasures: “Adoptionem avunculi stupro meritum.”
Lucius Cæsar charged him with the same crime, and even asserted that he had been base enough to sell himself to Hirtius for a very considerable sum. He was so shameless as to take the wife of a consul from her husband in the midst of a supper; he took her to a neighboring closet, staid with her there for some time, and brought her back to table without himself, the woman, or her husband blushing at all at the proceeding.
We have also a letter from Antony to Augustus, couched in these terms: “Ita valeas ut hanc epistolam cum leges, non inieris Testullam, aut Terentillam, aut Russillam, aut Salviam, aut omnes. Anne refert ubi et in quam arrigas?” We are afraid to translate this licentious letter.
Nothing is better known than the scandalous feast of five of the companions of his pleasures with five of the principal women of Rome. They were dressed up as gods and goddesses, and imitated all the immodesties invented in fable—“Dum nova Divorum cœnat adulteria.” And on the stage he was publicly designated by this famous line:
Videsne ut cinaedus orbem digito temperet?
Almost every Latin author that speaks of Ovid asserts that Augustus had the insolence to banish that Roman knight, who was a much better man than himself, merely because the other had surprised him in an incest with his own daughter Julia; and that he sent his daughter into exile only through jealousy. This is the more likely, as Caligula published aloud that his mother was born from the incest of Augustus with Julia. So says Suetonius, in his life of Caligula.
We know that Augustus repudiated the mother of Julia the very day she was brought to bed of her, and on the same day took Livia from her husband when she was pregnant of Tiberius—another monster, who succeeded him. Such was the man to whom Horace said: “Res Italas armis tuteris, moribus ornes, Legibus emendes. . . . ”
It is hard to repress our indignation at reading at the commencement of the Georgics that Augustus is one of the greatest of divinities; and that it is not known what place he will one day deign to occupy in heaven; whether he will reign in the air, or become the protector of cities, or vouchsafe to accept the empire of the seas:
Ariosto speaks with much more sense as well as grace, when he says in his fine thirty-fifth canto:
The Cruelties of Augustus.
If Augustus was long abandoned to the most shameful and frantic dissipation, his cruelty was no less uniform and deliberate. His proscriptions were published in the midst of feasting and revelry; he proscribed more than three hundred senators, two thousand knights, and one hundred obscure but wealthy heads of families, whose only crime was their being rich. Antony and Octavius had them killed, solely that they might get possession of their money; in which they differed not the least from highway robbers, who are condemned to the wheel.
Octavius, immediately after the Persian war, gave his veterans all the lands belonging to the citizens of Mantua and Cremona, thus recompensing murder by depredation.
It is but too certain that the world was ravaged, from the Euphrates to the extremities of Spain, by this man without shame, without faith, honor, or probity, knavish, ungrateful, avaricious, bloodthirsty, cool in the commission of crime, who, in any well-regulated republic, would have been condemned to the greatest of punishments for the first of his offences.
Nevertheless, the government of Augustus is still admired, because under him Rome tasted peace, pleasure and abundance. Seneca says of him: “Clementiam non voco lassam crudelitatem”—“I do not call exhausted cruelty clemency.”
It is thought that Augustus became milder when crime was no longer necessary to him; and that, being absolute master, he saw that he had no other interest than to appear just. But it appears to me that he still was pitiless rather than clement; for, after the battle of Actium, he had Antony’s son murdered at the feet of Cæsar’s statue; and he was so barbarous as to have young Cæsarion, the son of Cæsar and Cleopatra, beheaded, though he had recognized him as king of Egypt.
Suspecting one day that the prætor Quintus Gallius had come to an audience with a poinard under his robe, he had him put to the torture in his presence; and, in his indignation at hearing that senator call him a tyrant, he tore out his eyes with his own hands; at least, so says Suetonius.
We know that Cæsar, his adopted father, was great enough to pardon almost all his enemies; but I do not find that Augustus pardoned one of his. I have great doubts of his pretended clemency to Cinna. This affair is mentioned neither by Suetonius nor by Tacitus. Suetonius, who speaks of all the conspiracies against Augustus, would not have failed to mention the most memorable. The singularity of giving a consulship to Cinna in return for the blackest perfidy would not have escaped every contemporary historian. Dion Cassius speaks of it only after Seneca; and this passage in Seneca has the appearance rather of declamation than of historical truth. Besides, Seneca lays the scene in Gaul, and Dion at Rome; this contradiction deprives the occurrence of all remaining verisimilitude. Not one of our Roman histories, compiled in haste and without selection, has discussed this interesting fact. Lawrence Echard’s History has appeared to enlightened men to be as faulty as it is mutilated; writers have rarely been guided by the spirit of examination.
Cinna might be suspected, or convicted, by Augustus of some infidelity; and, when the affair had been cleared up, he might honor him with the vain title of consul; but it is not at all probable that Cinna sought by a conspiracy to seize the supreme authority—he, who had never commanded an army, was supported by no party, and was a man of no consideration in the empire. It is not very likely that a mere subordinate courtier would think of succeeding a sovereign who had been twenty years firmly established on his throne, and had heirs; nor is it more likely that Augustus would make him consul immediately after the conspiracy.
If Cinna’s adventure be true, Augustus pardoned him only because he could not do otherwise, being overcome by the reasoning or the importunities of Livia, who had acquired great influence over him, and persuaded him, says Seneca, that pardon would do him more service than chastisement. It was then only through policy that he, for once, was merciful; it certainly was not through generosity.
Shall we give a robber credit for clemency, because, being enriched and secure, enjoying in peace the fruits of his rapine, he is not every day assassinating the sons and grandsons of the proscribed, while they are kneeling to and worshipping him? After being a barbarian he was a prudent politician. It is worthy of remark that posterity never gave him the title of virtuous, which was bestowed on Titus, on Trajan, and the Antonines. It even became customary in the compliments paid to emperors on their accession, to wish that they might be more fortunate than Augustus, and more virtuous than Trajan. It is now, therefore, allowable to consider Augustus as a clever and fortunate monster.
Louis Racine, son of the great Racine, and heir to a part of his talents, seems to forget himself when he says, in his “Reflections on Poetry,” that “Horace and Virgil spoiled Augustus; they exhausted their art in poisoning the mind of Augustus by their praises.” These expressions would lead one to believe that the eulogies so meanly lavished by these two great poets, corrupted this emperor’s fine disposition. But Louis Racine very well knew that Augustus was an exceedingly bad man, regarding crime and virtue with indifference, availing himself alike of the horrors of the one and the appearances of the other, attentive solely to his own interest, employing bloodshed and peace, arms and laws, religion and pleasure, only to make himself master of the earth, and sacrificing everything to himself. Louis Racine only shows us that Virgil and Horace had servile souls.
He is, unfortunately, too much in the right when he reproaches Corneille with having dedicated “Cinna” to the financier Montoron, and said to that receiver, “What you most especially have in common with Augustus is the generosity with which,” etc., for, though Augustus was the most wicked of Roman citizens, it must be confessed that the first of the emperors, the master, the pacificator, the legislator of the then known world, should not be placed absolutely on a level with a clerk to a comptroller-general in Gaul.
The same Louis Racine, in justly condemning the mean adulation of Corneille, and the baseness of the aged Horace and Virgil, marvellously lays hold of this passage in Massillon’s “Petit Carême.” “It is no less culpable to fail in truth towards monarchs than to be wanting in fidelity; the same penalty should be imposed on adulation as on revolt.”
I ask your pardon, Father Massillon; but this stroke of yours is very oratorical, very preacher-like, very exaggerated. The League and the Fronde have, if I am not deceived, done more harm than Quinault’s prologues. There is no way of condemning Quinault as a rebel. “Est modus in rebus,” Father Massillon, which is wanting in all manufacturers of sermons.
Avignon and its country are monuments of what the abuse of religion, ambition, knavery, and fanaticism united can effect. This little country, after a thousand vicissitudes, had, in the twelfth century, passed into the hands of the counts of Toulouse, descended from Charlemagne by the female side.
Raymond VI., count of Toulouse, whose forefathers had been the principal heroes in the crusades, was stripped of his states by a crusade which the pope stirred up against him. The cause of the crusade was the desire of having his spoils; the pretext was that in several of his towns the citizens thought nearly as has been thought for upwards of two hundred years in England, Sweden, Denmark, three-fourths of Switzerland, Holland, and half of Germany.
This was hardly a sufficient reason for giving, in the name of God, the states of the count of Toulouse to the first occupant, and for devoting to slaughter and fire his subjects, crucifix in hand, and white cross on shoulder. All that is related of the most savage people falls far short of the barbarities committed in this war, called holy. The ridiculous atrocity of some religious ceremonies always accompanied these horrid excesses. It is known that Raymond VI. was dragged to a church of St. Giles’s, before a legate, naked to the waist, without hose or sandals, with a rope about his neck, which was held by a deacon, while another deacon flogged him, and a third sung miserere with some monks—and all the while the legate was at dinner. Such was the origin of the right of the popes over Avignon.
Count Raymond, who had submitted to the flagellation in order to preserve his states, underwent this ignominy to no purpose whatever. He had to defend by arms what he had thought to preserve by suffering a few stripes; he saw his towns laid in ashes, and died in 1213 amid the vicissitudes of the most sanguinary war.
His son, Raymond VII., was not, like his father, suspected of heresy; but he was the son of a heretic, and was to be stripped of all his possessions, by virtue of the Decretals; such was the law. The crusade, therefore, was continued against him; he was excommunicated in the churches, on Sundays and holidays, to the sound of bells and with tapers extinguished.
A legate who was in France during the minority of St. Louis raised tenths there to maintain this war in Languedoc and Provence. Raymond defended himself with courage; but the heads of the hydra of fanaticism were incessantly reappearing to devour him.
The pope at last made peace because all his money had been expended in war. Raymond VII. came and signed the treaty before the portal of the cathedral of Paris. He was forced to pay ten thousand marks of silver to the legate, two thousand to the abbey of Citeaux, five hundred to the abbey of Clairvaux, a thousand to that of Grand-Selve, and three hundred to that of Belleperche—all for the salvation of his soul, as is specified in the treaty So it was that the Church always negotiated.
It is very remarkable that in this document the count of Toulouse constantly puts the legate before the king: “I swear and promise to the legate and to the king faithfully to observe all these things, and to cause them to be observed by my vassals and subjects,” etc.
This was not all. He ceded to Pope Gregory IX. the country of Venaissin beyond the Rhone, and the sovereignty of seventy-three castles on this side the same river. The pope adjudged this fine to himself by a particular act, desirous that, in a public instrument, the acknowledgment of having exterminated so many Christians for the purpose of seizing upon his neighbor’s goods, should not appear in so glaring a light. Besides, he demanded what Raymond could not grant, without the consent of the Emperor Frederick II. The count’s lands, on the left bank of the Rhone, were an imperial fief, and Frederick II. never sanctioned this exaction.
Alphonso, brother of St. Louis, having married this unfortunate prince’s daughter, by whom he had no children, all the states of Raymond VII. in Languedoc, devolved to the crown of France, as had been stipulated in the marriage contract.
The country of Venaissin, which is in Provence, had been magnanimously given up by the Emperor Frederick II. to the count of Toulouse. His daughter Joan, before her death, had disposed of them by will in favor of Charles of Anjou, count of Provence, and king of Naples.
Philip the Bold, son of St. Louis, being pressed by Pope Gregory IX., gave the country of Venaissin to the Roman church in 1274. It must be confessed that Philip the Bold gave what in no way belonged to him; that this cession was absolutely null and void, and that no act ever was more contrary to all law.
It is the same with the town of Avignon. Joan of France, queen of Naples, descended from the brother of St. Louis, having been, with but too great an appearance of justice, accused of causing her husband to be strangled, desired the protection of Pope Clement VI., whose see was then the town of Avignon, in Joan’s domains. She was countess of Provence. In 1347 the Provençals made her swear, on the gospel, that she would sell none of her sovereignties. She had scarcely taken this oath before she went and sold Avignon to the pope. The authentic act was not signed until June 14, 1348; the sum stipulated for was eighty thousand florins of gold. The pope declared her innocent of her husband’s murder, but never paid her. Joan’s receipt has never been produced. She protested juridically four several times against this deceitful purchase.
So that Avignon and its country were never considered to have been dismembered from Provence, otherwise than by a rapine, which was the more manifest, as it had been sought to cover it with the cloak of religion.
When Louis XI. acquired Provence he acquired it with all the rights appertaining thereto; and, as appears by a letter from John of Foix to that monarch, had in 1464 resolved to enforce them. But the intrigues of the court of Rome were always so powerful that the kings of France condescended to allow it the enjoyment of this small province. They never acknowledged in the popes a lawful possession, but only a simple enjoyment.
In the treaty of Pisa, made by Louis XIV. with Alexander VII., in 1664, it is said that, “every obstacle shall be removed, in order that the pope may enjoy Avignon as before.” The pope, then, had this province only as cardinals have pensions from the king, which pensions are discretional.
Avignon and its country were a constant source of embarrassment to the French government; they afforded a refuge to all the bankrupts and smugglers, though very little profit thence accrued to the pope.
Louis XIV. twice resumed his rights; but it was rather to chastise the pope than to reunite Avignon and its country with his crown. At length Louis XV. did justice to his dignity and to his subjects. The gross and indecent conduct of Pope Rezzonico (Clement XIII.) forced him in 1768 to revive the rights of his crown. This pope had acted as if he belonged to the fourteenth century. He was, however, with the applause of all Europe, convinced that he lived in the eighteenth.
When the officer bearing the king’s orders entered Avignon, he went straight to the legate’s apartment, without being announced, and said to him, “Sir, the king takes possession of his town.”
There is some difference between this proceeding and a count of Toulouse being flogged by a deacon, while a legate is at dinner. Things, we see, change with times.
Suppose that some chosen individuals, lovers of study, united together after a thousand catastrophes had happened to the world, and employed themselves in worshipping God and regulating the time of the year, as is said of the ancient Brahmins and Magi; all this is perfectly good and honest. They might, by their frugal life, set an example to the rest of the world; they might abstain, during the celebration of their feasts, from all intoxicating liquors, and all commerce with their wives; they might be clothed modestly and decently; if they were wise, other men consulted them; if they were just, they were loved and reverenced. But did not superstition, brawling, and vanity soon take the place of the virtues?
Was not the first madman that flogged himself publicly to appease the gods the original of the priests of the Syrian goddess, who flogged themselves in her honor; of the priests of Isis, who did the same on certain days; of the priests of Dodona, named Salii, who inflicted wounds on themselves; of the priests of Bellona, who struck themselves with sabres; of the priests of Diana, who drew blood from their backs with rods; of the priests of Cybele, who made themselves eunuchs; of the fakirs of India, who loaded themselves with chains? Has the hope of obtaining abundant alms nothing at all to do with the practice of these austerities?
Is there not some similarity between the beggars, who make their legs swell by a certain application and cover their bodies with sores, in order to force a few pence from the passengers, and the impostors of antiquity, who seated themselves upon nails, and sold the holy nails to the devout of their country?
And had vanity never any share in promoting these public mortifications, which attracted the eyes of the multitude? “I scourge myself, but it is to expiate your faults; I go naked, but it is to reproach you with the richness of your garments; I feed on herbs and snails, but it is to correct in you the vice of gluttony; I wear an iron ring to make you blush at your lewdness. Reverence me as one cherished by the gods, and who will bring down their favors upon you. When you shall be accustomed to reverence me, you will not find it hard to obey me; I will be your master, in the name of the gods; and then, if any one of you disobey my will in the smallest particular, I will have you impaled to appease the wrath of heaven.”
If the first fakirs did not pronounce these words, it is very probable that they had them engraved at the bottom of their hearts.
Human sacrifices, perhaps, had their origin in these frantic austerities. Men who drew their blood in public with rods, and mangled their arms and thighs to gain consideration, would easily make imbecile savages believe that they must sacrifice to the gods whatever was dearest to them; that to have a fair wind, they must immolate a daughter; to avert pestilence, precipitate a son from a rock; to have infallibly a good harvest, throw a daughter into the Nile.
These Asiatic superstitions gave rise to the flagellations which we have imitated from the Jews. Their devotees still flog themselves, and flog one another, as the priests of Egypt and Syria did of old. Among us the abbots flogged their monks, and the confessors their penitents—of both sexes. St. Augustine wrote to Marcellinus, the tribune, that “the Donatists must be whipped as schoolmasters whip their scholars.”
It is said that it was not until the tenth century that monks and nuns began to scourge themselves on certain days of the year. The custom of scourging sinners as a penance was so well established that St. Louis’s confessor often gave him the whip. Henry II. was flogged by the monks of Canterbury (in 1207). Raymond, count of Toulouse, with a rope round his neck, was flogged by a deacon, at the door of St. Giles’s church, as has before been said.
The chaplains to Louis VIII., king of France, were condemned by the pope’s legate to go at the four great feasts to the door of the cathedral of Paris, and present rods to the canons, that they might flog them in expiation for the crime of the king, their master, who had accepted the crown of England, which the pope had taken from him by virtue of the plenitude of his power. Indeed, the pope showed great indulgence in not having the king himself whipped, but contenting himself with commanding him, on pain of damnation, to pay to the apostolic chamber the amount of two years’ revenue.
From this custom is derived that which still exists, of arming all the grand-penitentiaries in St. Peter’s at Rome with long wands instead of rods, with which they give gentle taps to the penitents, lying all their length on the floor. In this manner it was that Henry IV., of France, had his posteriors flogged by Cardinal Ossat and Duperron. So true is it that we have scarcely yet emerged from barbarism.
At the commencement of the thirteenth century fraternities of penitents were formed at Perosia and Bologna. Young men almost naked, with a rod in one hand and a small crucifix in the other, flogged themselves in the streets; while the women peeped through the window-blinds and whipped themselves in their chambers.
These flagellators inundated Europe; there are many of them still to be found in Italy, in Spain, and even in France, at Perpignan. At the beginning of the sixteenth century it was very common for confessors to whip the posteriors of their penitents. A history of the Low Countries, composed by Meteren, relates that a cordelier named Adriacem, a great preacher at Bruges, used to whip his female penitents quite naked.
The Jesuit Edmund Auger, confessor to Henry III., persuaded that unfortunate prince to put himself at the head of the flagellators.
Flogging the posteriors is practised in various convents of monks and nuns; from which custom there have sometimes resulted strange immodesties, over which we must throw a veil, in order to spare the blushes of such as wear the sacred veil, and whose sex and profession are worthy of our highest regard.
Author is a generic term, which, like the names of all other professions, may signify author of the good, or of the bad; of the respectable, or of the ridiculous; of the useful, or the agreeable; or lastly, the producer of disgusting trash.
This name is also common to different things. We say equally the author of nature and the author of the songs of the Pont Neuf, or of the literary age. The author of a good work should beware of three things—title, dedication, and preface. Others should take care of the fourth, which is writing at all.
As to the title, if the author has the wish to put his name to it, which is often very dangerous, it should at least be under a modest form; it is not pleasant to see a pious work, full of lessons of humanity, by Sir or My Lord. The reader, who is always malicious, and who often is wearied, usually turns into ridicule a book that is announced with so much ostentation. The author of the “Imitation of Jesus Christ” did not put his name to it.
But the apostles, you will say, put their names to their works; that is not true, they were too modest. The apostle Matthew never entitled his book the Gospel of St. Matthew; it is a homage that has been paid to him since. St. Luke himself, who collected all that he had heard said, and who dedicated his book to Theophilus, did not call it the Gospel of St. Luke. St. John alone mentions himself in the Apocalypse; and it is supposed that this book was written by Cerinthus, who took the name of John to give authority to his production.
However it may have been in past ages, it appears to me very bold in authors now to put names and titles at the head of their works. The bishops never fail to do so, and the thick quartos which they give us under the title of mandaments are decorated with armorial bearings and the insignia of their station; a word, no doubt, is said about Christian humility, but this word is often followed by atrocious calumnies against those who are of another communion or party. We only speak here, however, of poor profane authors. The duke de la Rochefoucauld did not announce his thoughts as the production of Monseigneur le duc de la Rochefoucauld, pair de France. Some persons who only make compilations in which there may be fine things, will find it injudicious to announce them as the work of A. B., professor of the university of —, doctor of divinity, member of this or of that academy, and so on. So many dignities do not render the book better. It will still be wished that it was shorter, more philosophical, less filled with old stories. With respect to titles and quality, nobody cares about them.
Dedications are often only offerings from interested baseness to disdainful vanity. Who would believe that Rohaut, soi-disant physician, in his dedication to the duke of Guise, told him that his ancestors had maintained, at the expense of their blood, political truth, the fundamental laws of the state, and the rights of sovereigns? Le Balafré and the duke of Mayenne would be a little surprised if this epistle were read to them in the other world. And what would Henry IV. say? Most of the dedications in England are made for money, just as the capuchins present us with salad on condition of our giving them drink.
Men of letters in France are ignorant of this shameful abasement, and have never exhibited so much meanness, except some unfortunates, who call themselves men of letters in the same sense that sign-daubers boast of being of the profession of Raphael, and that the coachman of Vertamont was a poet.
Prefaces are another rock. “The I is hateful,” says Pascal. Speak of yourself as little as you can, for you ought to be aware that the self-love of the reader is as great as your own. He will never pardon you for wishing to oblige him to esteem you. It is for your book to speak to him, should it happen to be read among the crowd.
“The illustrious suffrages with which my piece has been honored will make me dispense with answering my adversaries—the applauses of the public.” Erase all that, sir; believe me you have had no illustrious suffrages; your piece is eternally forgotten.
“Some censors have pretended that there are too many events in the third act; and that in the fourth the princess is too late in discovering the tender sentiments of her heart for her lover. To that I answer—” Answer nothing, my friend, for nobody has spoken, or will speak of thy princess. Thy piece has fallen because it is tiresome, and written in flat and barbarous verse; thy preface is a prayer for the dead, but it will not revive them.
Others attest that all Europe has not understood their treatises on compatibility—on the Supralapsarians—on the difference which should be made between the Macedonian and Valentinian heresies, etc. Truly, I believe that nobody understands them, since nobody reads them.
We are inundated with this trash and with continual repetition; with insipid romances which copy their predecessors; with new systems founded on ancient reveries; and little histories taken from larger ones.
Do you wish to be an author? Do you wish to make a book? Recollect that it must be new and useful, or at least agreeable. Why from your provincial retreat would you assassinate me with another quarto, to teach me that a king ought to be just, and that Trajan was more virtuous than Caligula? You insist upon printing the sermons which have lulled your little obscure town to repose, and will put all our histories under contributions to extract from them the life of a prince of whom you can say nothing new.
If you have written a history of your own time, doubt not but you will find some learned chronologist, or newspaper commentator, who will relieve you as to a date, a Christian name, or a squadron which you have wrongly placed at the distance of three hundred paces from the place where it really stood. Be grateful, and correct these important errors forthwith.
If an ignoramus, or an empty fool, pretend to criticise this thing or the other, you may properly confute him; but name him rarely, for fear of soiling your writings. If you are attacked on your style, never answer; your work alone should reply.
If you are said to be sick, content yourself that you are well, without wishing to prove to the people that you are in perfect health; and, above all, remember that the world cares very little whether you are well or ill.
A hundred authors compile to get their bread, and twenty fools extract, criticise, apologize, and satirize these compilations to get bread also, because they have no profession. All these people repair on Fridays to the lieutenant of the police at Paris to demand permission to sell their drugs. They have audience immediately after the courtesans, who do not regard them, because they know that they are poor customers.
They return with a tacit permission to sell and distribute throughout the kingdom their stories; their collection of bon-mots; the life of the unfortunate Régis; the translation of a German poem; new discoveries on eels; a new copy of verses; a treatise on the origin of bells, or on the loves of the toads. A bookseller buys their productions for ten crowns; they give five of them to the journalist, on condition that he will speak well of them in his newspaper. The critic takes their money, and says all the ill he can of their books. The aggrieved parties go to complain to the Jew, who protects the wife of the journalist, and the scene closes by the critic being carried to Fort Evêque; and these are they who call themselves authors!
These poor people are divided into two or three bands, and go begging like mendicant friars; but not having taken vows their society lasts only for a few days, for they betray one another like priests who run after the same benefice, though they have no benefice to hope for. But they still call themselves authors!
The misfortune of these men is that their fathers did not make them learn a trade, which is a great defect in modern policy. Every man of the people who can bring up his son in a useful art, and does not, merits punishment. The son of a mason becomes a Jesuit at seventeen; he is chased from society at four and twenty, because the levity of his manners is too glaring. Behold him without bread! He turns journalist, he cultivates the lowest kind of literature, and becomes the contempt and horror of even the mob. And such as these, again, call themselves authors!
The only authors are they who have succeeded in a genuine art, be it epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, history, or philosophy, and who teach or delight mankind. The others, of whom we have spoken, are, among men of letters, like bats among the birds. We cite, comment, criticise, neglect, forget, and, above all, despise an author who is an author only.
Apropos of citing an author, I must amuse myself with relating a singular mistake of the reverend Father Viret, cordelier and professor of theology. He read in the “Philosophy of History” of the good Abbé Bazin that no author ever cited a passage of Moses before Longinus, who lived and died in the time of the Emperor Aurelian. Forthwith the zeal of St. Francis was kindled in him. Viret cries out that it is not true; that several writers have said that there had been a Moses, that even Josephus had spoken at length upon him, and that the Abbé Bazin is a wretch who would destroy the seven sacraments. But, dear Father Viret, you ought to inform yourself of the meaning of the word, to cite. There is a great deal of difference between mentioning an author and citing him. To speak, to make mention of an author, is to say that he has lived—that he has written in such a time; to cite is to give one of his passages—as Moses says in his Exodus—as Moses has written in his Genesis. Now the Abbé Brazin affirms that no foreign writers—that none even of the Jewish prophets have ever quoted a single passage of Moses, though he was a divine author. Truly, Father Viret, you are very malicious, but we shall know at least, by this little paragraph, that you have been an author.
The most voluminous authors that we have had in France are the comptrollers-general of the finances. Ten great volumes might be made of their declarations, since the reign of Louis XIV. Parliaments have been sometimes the critics of these works, and have found erroneous propositions and contradictions in them. But where are the good authors who have not been censured?
Miserable human beings, whether in green robes or in turbans, whether in black gowns or in surplices, or in mantles and bands, never seek to employ authority where nothing is concerned but reason, or consent to be reviled in all ages as the most impertinent of men, as well as to endure public hatred as the most unjust.
You have been told a hundred times of the insolent absurdity with which you condemned Galileo, and I speak to you of it for the hundred and first. I would have it inscribed over the door of your holy office.
Seven cardinals, assisted by certain minorite friars, threw into prison the master of thinking in Italy, at the age of seventy; and made him live upon bread and water because he instructed mankind in that of which they were ignorant.
Having passed a decree in favor of the categories of Aristotle, the above junta learnedly and equitably doomed to the penalty of the galleys whoever should dare to be of another opinion from the Stagyrite, of whom two councils had burned the books.
Further, a Faculty, which possessed very small faculties, made a decree against innate ideas, and afterwards another for them, without the said Faculty being informed, except by its beadles, of what an idea was.
In neighboring schools legal proceedings were commenced against the circulation of the blood. A process was issued against inoculation, and the parties cited by summons.
One and twenty volumes of thoughts in folio have been seized, in which it was wickedly and falsely said that triangles have always three angles; that a father was older than his son; that Rhea Silvia lost her virginity before her accouchement; and that farina differs from oak leaves.
In another year the following question was decided: “Utrum chimæra bombinans in vacuo possit comedere secundas intentiones?” and decided in the affirmative. These judges, of course, considered themselves much superior to Archimedes, Euclid, Cicero, or Pliny, and strutted about the Universities accordingly.
How is it that the axis of the earth is not perpendicular to the equator? Why is it raised toward the north and inclined towards the south pole, in a position which does not appear natural, and which seems the consequence of some derangement, or the result of a period of a prodigious number of years?
Is it true that the ecliptic continually inclines by an insensible movement towards the equator and that the angle formed by these two lines has a little diminished in two thousand years?
Is it true that the ecliptic has been formerly perpendicular to the equator, that the Egyptians have said so, and that Herodotus has related it? This motion of the ecliptic would form a period of about two millions of years. It is not that which astounds us, for the axis of the earth has an imperceptible movement in about twenty-six thousand years which occasions the precession of the equinoxes. It is as easy for nature to produce a rotation of twenty thousand as of two hundred and sixty ages.
We are deceived when we are told that the Egyptians had, according to Herodotus, a tradition that the ecliptic had been formerly perpendicular to the equator. The tradition of which Herodotus speaks has no relation to the coincidence of the equinoctial and ecliptic lines; that is quite another affair.
The pretended scholars of Egypt said that the sun in the space of eleven thousand years had set twice in the east and risen twice in the west. When the equator and the ecliptic coincided, and when the days were everywhere equal to the nights the sun did not on that account change its setting and rising, but the earth turned on its axis from west to east, as at this day. This idea of making the sun set in the east is a chimera only worthy of the brains of the priests of Egypt and shows the profound ignorance of those jugglers who have had so much reputation. The tale should be classed with those of the satyrs who sang and danced in the train of Osiris; with the little boys whom they would not feed till after they had run eight leagues, to teach them to conquer the world; with the two children who cried bec in asking for bread and who by that means discovered that the Phrygian was the original language; with King Psammeticus, who gave his daughter to a thief who had dexterously stolen his money, etc.
Ancient history, ancient astronomy, ancient physics, ancient medicine (up to Hippocrates), ancient geography, ancient metaphysics, all are nothing but ancient absurdities which ought to make us feel the happiness of being born in later times.
There is, no doubt, more truth in two pages of the French Encyclopædia in relation to physics than in all the library of Alexandria, the loss of which is so much regretted.
Babel signifies among the Orientals, God the Father, the power of God, the gate of God, according to the way in which the word is pronounced. It appears, therefore, that Babylon was the city of God, the holy city. Every capital of a state was a city of God, the sacred city. The Greeks called them all Hieropolis, and there were more than thirty of this name. The tower of Babel, then, signifies the tower of God the Father.
Josephus says truly that Babel signifies confusion; Calmet says, with others, that Bilba, in Chaldæan, signifies confounded, but all the Orientals have been of a contrary opinion. The word confusion would be a strange etymon for the capital of a vast empire. I very much like the opinion of Rabelais, who pretends that Paris was formerly called Lutetia on account of the ladies’ white legs.
Be that as it may, commentators have tormented themselves to know to what height men had raised this famous tower of Babel. St. Jerome gives it twenty thousand feet. The ancient Jewish book entitled “Jacult,” gave it eighty-one thousand. Paul Lucas has seen the remains of it and it is a fine thing to be as keen-sighted as Paul Lucas, but these dimensions are not the only difficulties which have exercised the learned.
People have wished to know how the children of Noah, after having divided among themselves the islands of the nations and established themselves in various lands, with each one his particular language, families, and people, should all find themselves in the plain of Shinaar, to build there a tower saying, “Let us make us a name lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The Book of Genesis speaks of the states which the sons of Noah founded. It has related how the people of Europe, Africa, and Asia, all came to Shinaar speaking one language only, and purposing the same thing.
The Vulgate places the Deluge in the year of the world 1656, and the construction of the tower of Babel 1771, that is to say, one hundred and fifteen years after the destruction of mankind, and even during the life of Noah.
Men then must have multiplied with prodigious celerity; all the arts revived in a very little time. When we reflect on the great number of trades which must have been employed to raise a tower so high we are amazed at so stupendous a work.
The patriarch Abraham was born, according to the Bible, about four hundred years after the deluge, and already we see a line of powerful kings in Egypt and in Asia. Bochart and other sages have pleasantly filled their great books with Phœnician and Chaldæan words and systems which they do not understand. They have learnedly taken Thrace for Cappadocia, Greece for Crete, and the island of Cyprus for Tyre; they sport in an ocean of ignorance which has neither bottom nor shore. It would have been shorter for them to have avowed that God, after several ages, has given us sacred books to render us better men and not to make us geographers, chronologists, or etymologists.
Babel is Babylon. It was founded, according to the Persian historians, by a prince named Tamurath. The only knowledge we have of its antiquities consists in the astronomical observations of nineteen hundred and three years, sent by Callisthenes by order of Alexander, to his preceptor Aristotle. To this certainty is joined the extreme probability that a nation which had made a series of celestial observations for nearly two thousand years had congregated and formed a considerable power several ages before the first of these observations.
It is a pity that none of the calculations of the ancient profane authors agree with our sacred ones, and that none of the names of the princes who reigned after the different epochs assigned to the Deluge have been known by either Egyptians, Syrians, Babylonians, or Greeks.
It is no less a pity that there remains not on the earth among the profane authors one vestige of the famous tower of Babel; nothing of this story of the confusion of tongues is found in any book. This memorable adventure was as unknown to the whole universe as the names of Noah, Methuselah, Cain, and Adam and Eve.
This difficulty tantalizes our curiosity. Herodotus, who travelled so much, speaks neither of Noah, or Shem, Reu, Salah, or Nimrod. The name of Nimrod is unknown to all profane antiquity; there are only a few Arabs and some modern Persians who have made mention of Nimrod in falsifying the books of the Jews.
Nothing remains to conduct us through these ancient ruins, unknown to all the nations of the universe during so many ages, but faith in the Bible, and happily that is an infallible guide.
Herodotus, who has mingled many fables with some truths, pretends that in his time, which was that of greatest power of the Persian sovereigns of Babylon, all the women of the immense city were obliged to go once in their lives to the temple of Mylitta, a goddess who was thought to be the same as Aphrodite, or Venus, in order to prostitute themselves to strangers, and that the law commanded them to receive money as a sacred tribute, which was paid over to the priesthood of the goddess.
But even this Arabian tale is more likely than that which the same author tells of Cyrus dividing the Indus into three hundred and sixty canals, which all discharged themselves into the Caspian Sea! What should we say of Mezeray if he had told us that Charlemagne divided the Rhine into three hundred and sixty canals, which fell into the Mediterranean, and that all the ladies of his court were obliged once in their lives to present themselves at the church of St. Genevieve to prostitute themselves to all comers for money?
It must be remarked that such a fable is still more absurd in relation to the time of Xerxes, in which Herodotus lived, than it would be in that of Charlemagne. The Orientals were a thousand times more jealous than the Franks and Gauls. The wives of all the great lords were carefully guarded by eunuchs. This custom existed from time immemorial. It is seen even in the Jewish history that when that little nation wished like the others to have a king, Samuel, to dissuade them from it and to retain his authority, said “that a king would tyrannize over them and that he would take the tenths of their vines and corn to give to his eunuchs.” The kings accomplished this prediction, for it is written in the First Book of Kings that King Ahab had eunuchs, and in the Second that Joram, Jehu, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah had them also.
The eunuchs of Pharaoh are spoken of a long time previously in the Book of Genesis, and it is said that Potiphar, to whom Joseph was sold, was one of the king’s eunuchs. It is clear, therefore, that there were great numbers of eunuchs at Babylon to guard the women. It was not then a duty for them to prostitute themselves to the first comer, nor was Babylon, the city of God, a vast brothel as it has been pretended.
These tales of Herodotus, as well as all others in the same taste, are now so decried by all people of sense—reason has made so great progress that even old women and children will no longer believe such extravagances—“Non est vetula quæ credat nec pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum ære lavantur.”
There is in our days only one man who, not partaking of the spirit of the age in which he lives, would justify the fable of Herodotus. The infamy appears to him a very simple affair. He would prove that the Babylonian princesses prostituted themselves through piety, to the first passengers, because it is said in the holy writings that the Ammonites made their children pass through the fire in presenting them to Moloch. But what relation has this custom of some barbarous hordes—this superstition of passing their children through the flames, or even of burning them on piles, in honor of I know not whom—of Moloch; these Iroquois horrors of a petty, infamous people to a prostitution so incredible in a nation known to be the most jealous and orderly of the East? Would what passes among the Iroquois be among us a proof of the customs of the courts of France and of Spain?
He also brings, in further proof, the Lupercal feast among the Romans during which he says the young people of quality and respectable magistrates ran naked through the city with whips in their hands, with which they struck the pregnant women of quality, who unblushingly presented themselves to them in the hope of thereby obtaining a happy deliverance.
Now, in the first place, it is not said that these Romans of quality ran quite naked, on the contrary, Plutarch expressly observes, in his remarks on the custom, that they were covered from the waist downwards.
Secondly, it seems by the manner in which this defender of infamous customs expresses himself that the Roman ladies stripped naked to receive these blows of the whip, which is absolutely false.
Thirdly, the Lupercal feast has no relation whatever to the pretended law of Babylon, which commands the wives and daughters of the king, the satraps, and the magi to sell and prostitute themselves to strangers out of pure devotion.
When an author, without knowing either the human mind or the manners of nations, has the misfortune to be obliged to compile from passages of old authors, who are almost all contradictory, he should advance his opinions with modesty and know how to doubt, and to shake off the dust of the college. Above all he should never express himself with outrageous insolence.
Herodotus, or Ctesias, or Diodorus of Sicily, relate a fact: you have read it in Greek, therefore this fact is true. This manner of reasoning, which is not that of Euclid, is surprising enough in the time in which we live; but all minds will not be instructed with equal facility; and there are always more persons who compile than people who think.
We will say nothing here of the confusion of tongues which took place during the construction of the tower of Babel. It is a miracle, related in the Holy Scriptures. We neither explain, nor even examine any miracles, and as the authors of that great work, the Encyclopædia, believed them, we also believe them with a lively and sincere faith.
We will simply affirm that the fall of the Roman Empire has produced more confusion and a greater number of new languages than that of the tower of Babel. From the reign of Augustus till the time of the Attilas, the Clovises, and the Gondiberts, during six ages, “terra erat unius labii,”—“the known earth was of one language.” They spoke the same Latin at the Euphrates as at Mount Atlas. The laws which governed a hundred nations were written in Latin and the Greek served for amusement, whilst the barbarous jargon of each province was only for the populace. They pleaded in Latin at once in the tribunals of Africa and of Rome. An inhabitant of Cornwall departed for Asia Minor sure of being understood everywhere in his route. It was at least one good effected by the rapacity of the Romans that people found themselves as well understood on the Danube as on the Guadalquiver. At the present time a Bergamask who travels into the small Swiss cantons, from which he is only separated by a mountain, has the same need of an interpreter as if he were in China. This is one of the greatest plagues of modern life.
Vanity has always raised stately monuments. It was through vanity that men built the lofty tower of Babel. “Let us go and raise a tower, the summit of which shall touch the skies, and render our name celebrated before we are scattered upon the face of the earth.” The enterprise was undertaken in the time of a patriarch named Phaleg, who counted the good man Noah for his fifth ancestor. It will be seen that architecture, and all the arts which accompany it, had made great progress in five generations. St. Jerome, the same who has seen fauns and satyrs, has not seen the tower of Babel any more than I have, but he assures us that it was twenty thousand feet high. This is a trifle. The ancient book, “Jacult,” written by one of the most learned Jews, demonstrates the height to be eighty-one thousand Jewish feet, and every one knows that the Jewish foot was nearly as long as the Greek. These dimensions are still more likely than those of Jerome. This tower remains, but it is no longer quite so high; several quite veracious travellers have seen it. I, who have not seen it, will talk as little of it as of my grandfather Adam, with whom I never had the honor of conversing. But consult the reverend father Calmet; he is a man of fine wit and a profound philosopher and will explain the thing to you. I do not know why it is said, in Genesis, that Babel signifies confusion, for, as I have already observed, ba answers to father in the eastern languages, and bel signifies God. Babel means the city of God, the holy city. But it is incontestable that Babel means confusion, possibly because the architects were confounded after having raised their work to eighty-one thousand feet, perhaps, because the languages were then confounded, as from that time the Germans no longer understood the Chinese, although, according to the learned Bochart, it is clear that the Chinese is originally the same language as the High German.
Of all the true or fabulous personages of profane antiquity Bacchus is to us the most important. I do not mean for the fine invention which is attributed to him by all the world except the Jews, but for the prodigious resemblance of his fabulous history to the true adventures of Moses.
The ancient poets have placed the birth of Bacchus in Egypt; he is exposed on the Nile and it is from that event that he is named Mises by the first Orpheus, which, in Egyptian, signifies “saved from the waters,” according to those who pretend to understand the ancient Egyptian tongue, which is no longer known. He is brought up near a mountain of Arabia called Nisa, which is believed to be Mount Sinai. It is pretended that a goddess ordered him to go and destroy a barbarous nation and that he passed through the Red Sea on foot, with a multitude of men, women, and children. Another time the river Orontes suspended its waters right and left to let him pass, and the Hydaspes did the same. He commanded the sun to stand still; two luminous rays proceeded from his head. He made a fountain of wine spout up by striking the ground with his thyrsis, and engraved his laws on two tables of marble. He wanted only to have afflicted Egypt with ten plagues, to be the perfect copy of Moses.
Vossius is, I think, the first who has extended this parallel. The bishop of Avranches, Huet, has pushed it quite as far, but he adds, in his “Evangelical Demonstrations,” that Moses is not only Bacchus, but that he is also Osiris and Typhon. He does not halt in this fine path. Moses, according to him, is Æsculapius, Amphion, Apollo, Adonis, and even Priapus. It is pleasant enough that Huet founds his proof that Moses is Adonis in their both keeping sheep: “Et formosus oves, ad flumina pavit Adonis.”
He contends that he is Priapus because Priapus is sometimes painted with an ass, and the Jews were supposed, among the Gentiles, to adore an ass. He gives another proof, not very canonical, which is that the rod of Moses might be compared to the sceptre of Priapus. “Sceptrum tribuitur Priapo, virga Mosi.” Neither is this demonstration in the manner of Euclid.
We will not here speak of the more modern Bacchuses, such as he who lived two hundred years before the Trojan war, and whom the Greeks celebrated as a son of Jupiter, shut up in his thigh. We will pause at him who was supposed to be born on the confines of Egypt and to have performed so many prodigies. Our respect for the sacred Jewish books will not permit us to doubt that the Egyptians, the Arabs, and even the Greeks, have imitated the history of Moses. The difficulty consists solely in not knowing how they could be instructed in this incontrovertible history. With respect to the Egyptians, it is very likely that they never recorded these miracles of Moses, which would have covered them with shame. If they had said a word of it the historians, Josephus and Philo, would not have failed to have taken advantage of it. Josephus, in his answer to Appion, made a point of citing all the Egyptian authors who have mentioned Moses, and he finds none who relate one of these miracles. No Jew has ever quoted any Egyptian author who has said a word of the ten plagues of Egypt, of the miraculous passage through the Red Sea, etc. It could not be among the Egyptians, therefore, that this scandalous parallel was formed between the divine Moses and the profane Bacchus.
It is very clear that if a single Egyptian author had said a word of the great miracles of Moses all the synagogue of Alexandria, all the disputatious church of that famous town would have quoted such word, and have triumphed at it, every one after his manner. Athenagorus, Clement, Origen, who have said so many useless things, would have related this important passage a thousand times and it would have been the strongest argument of all the fathers. The whole have kept a profound silence; they had, therefore, nothing to say. But how was it possible for any Egyptian to speak of the exploits of a man who caused all the first born of the families of Egypt to be killed; who turned the Nile to blood, and who drowned in the Red Sea their king and all his army?
All our historians agree that one Clodowick, a Sicambrian, subjugated Gaul with a handful of barbarians. The English are the first to say that the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans came by turns to exterminate a part of their nation. If they had not avowed this truth all Europe would have exclaimed against its concealment. The universe should exclaim in the same manner at the amazing prodigies of Moses, of Joshua, of Gideon, Samson, and of so many leaders and prophets. The universe is silent notwithstanding. Amazing mystery! On one side it is palpable that all is true, since it is found in the holy writings, which are approved by the Church; on the other it is evident that no people have ever mentioned it. Let us worship Providence, and submit ourselves in all things.
The Arabs, who have always loved the marvellous, were probably the first authors of the fables invented of Bacchus, afterwards adopted and embellished by the Greeks. But how came the stories of the Arabs and Greeks to agree so well with those of the Jews? It is known that the Hebrews never communicated their books to any one till the time of the Ptolemies; they regarded such communication as a sacrilege, and Josephus, to justify their obstinacy in concealing the Pentateuch from the rest of the world, says that God punished all foreigners who dared to speak of the Jewish histories. If we are to believe him, the historian Theopompus, for only designing to mention them in his work, became deranged for thirty days, and the tragic poet Theodectes was struck blind for having introduced the name of the Jews into one of his tragedies. Such are the excuses that Flavius Josephus gives in his answer to Appion for the history of the Jews being so long unknown.
These books were of such prodigious scarcity that we only hear of one copy under King Josiah, and this copy had been lost for a long time and was found in the bottom of a chest on the report of Shaphan, scribe to the Pontiff Hilkiah, who carried it to the king.
This circumstance happened, according to the Second Book of Kings, six hundred and twenty-four years before our vulgar era, four hundred years after Homer, and in the most flourishing times of Greece. The Greeks then scarcely knew that there were any Hebrews in the world. The captivity of the Jews at Babylon still more augmented their ignorance of their own books. Esdras must have restored them at the end of seventy years and for already more than five hundred years the fable of Bacchus had been current among the Greeks.
If the Greeks had founded their fables on the Jewish history they would have chosen facts more interesting to mankind, such as the adventures of Abraham, those of Noah, of Methuselah, of Seth, Enoch, Cain, and Eve; of the fatal serpent and of the tree of knowledge, all which names have ever been unknown to them. There was only a slight knowledge of the Jewish people until a long time after the revolution that Alexander produced in Asia and in Europe; the historian Josephus avows it in formal terms. This is the manner in which he expresses himself in the commencement of his reply to Appion, who (by way of parenthesis) was dead when he answered him, for Appion died under the Emperor Claudius, and Josephus wrote under Vespasian.
“As the country we inhabit is distant from the sea we do not apply ourselves to commerce and have no communication with other nations. We content ourselves with cultivating our lands, which are very fertile, and we labor chiefly to bring up our children properly, because nothing appears to us so necessary as to instruct them in the knowledge of our holy laws and in true piety, which inspires them with the desire of observing them. The above reasons, added to others already mentioned, and this manner of life which is peculiar to us, show why we have had no communication with the Greeks, like the Egyptians and Phœnicians. Is it astonishing that our nation, so distant from the sea, not affecting to write anything, and living in the way which I have related, has been little known?”
After such an authentic avowal from a Jew, the most tenacious of the honor of his nation that has ever written, it will be seen that it is impossible for the ancient Greeks to have taken the fable of Bacchus from the holy books of the Hebrews, any more than the sacrifice of Iphigenia, that of the son of Idomeneus, the labors of Hercules, the adventure of Eurydice, and others. The quantity of ancient tales which resemble one another is prodigious. How is it that the Greeks have put into fables what the Hebrews have put into histories? Was it by the gift of invention; was it by a facility of imitation, or in consequence of the accordance of fine minds? To conclude: God has permitted it—a truth which ought to suffice.
Of what consequence is it that the Arabs and Greeks have said the same things as the Jews? We read the Old Testament only to prepare ourselves for the New, and in neither the one nor the other do we seek anything but lessons of benevolence, moderation, gentleness, and true charity.
It is generally thought that Roger Bacon, the famous monk of the thirteenth century, was a very great man and that he possessed true knowledge, because he was persecuted and condemned to prison by a set of ignoramuses. It is a great prejudice in his favor, I own. But does it not happen every day that quacks gravely condemn other quacks, and that fools make other fools pay the penalty of folly? This, our world, has for a long time resembled the compact edifices in which he who believes in the eternal Father anathematizes him who believes in the Holy Ghost; circumstances which are not very rare even in these days. Among the things which render Friar Bacon commendable we must first reckon his imprisonment, and then the noble boldness with which he declared that all the books of Aristotle were fit only to be burned and that at a time when the learned respected Aristotle much more than the Jansenists respect St. Augustine. Has Roger Bacon, however, done anything better than the Poetics, the Rhetoric, and the Logic of Aristotle? These three immortal works clearly prove that Aristotle was a very great and fine genius—penetrating, profound, and methodical; and that he was only a bad natural philosopher because it was impossible to penetrate into the depths of physical science without the aid of instruments.
Does Roger Bacon, in his best work, in which he treats of light and vision, express himself much more clearly than Aristotle when he says light is created by means of multiplying its luminous species, which action is called univocal and conformable to the agent? He also mentions another equivocal multiplication, by which light engenders heat and heat putrefaction.
Roger Bacon likewise tells us that life may be prolonged by means of spermaceti, aloes, and dragons’ flesh, and that the philosopher’s stone would render us immortal. It is thought that besides these fine secrets he possessed all those of judicial astrology, without exception, as he affirms very positively in his “Opus Majus,” that the head of man is subject to the influences of the ram, his neck to those of the bull, and his arms to the power of the twins. He even demonstrates these fine things from experience, and highly praises a great astrologer at Paris who says that he hindered a surgeon from putting a plaster on the leg of an invalid, because the sun was then in the sign of Aquarius, and Aquarius is fatal to legs to which plasters are applied.
It is an opinion quite generally received that Roger was the inventor of gunpowder. It is certain that it was in his time that important discovery was made, for I always remark that the spirit of invention is of all times and that the doctors, or sages, who govern both mind and body are generally profoundly ignorant, foolishly prejudiced, or at war with common sense. It is usually among obscure men that artists are found animated with a superior instinct, who invent admirable things on which the learned afterwards reason.
One thing that surprises me much is that Friar Bacon knew not the direction of the magnetic needle, which, in his time, began to be understood in Italy, but in lieu thereof he was acquainted with the secret of the hazel rod and many such things of which he treats in his “Dignity of the Experimental Art.”
Yet, notwithstanding this pitiable number of absurdities and chimeras, it must be confessed that Roger Bacon was an admirable man for his age. What age? you will ask—that of feudal government and of the schoolmen. Figure to yourself Samoyedes and Ostiacs who read Aristotle. Such were we at that time.
Roger Bacon knew a little of geometry and optics, which made him pass for a sorcerer at Rome and Paris. He was, however, really acquainted with the matter contained in the Arabian “Alhazen,” for in those days little was known except through the Arabs. They were the physicians and astrologers of all the Christian kings. The king’s fool was always a native; his doctor an Arab or a Jew.
Transport this Bacon to the times in which we live and he would be, no doubt, a great man. He was gold, encrusted with the rust of the times in which he lived, this gold would now be quickly purified. Poor creatures that we are! How many ages have passed away in acquiring a little reason!
Banishment for a term of years, or for life: a penalty inflicted on delinquents, or on individuals who are wished to be considered as such.
Not long ago it was the custom to banish from within the limits of the jurisdiction, for petty thefts, forgeries, and assaults, the result of which was that the offender became a great robber, forger, or murderer in some other jurisdiction. This is like throwing into a neighbor’s field the stones that incommode us in our own.
Those who have written on the laws of nations have tormented themselves greatly to determine whether a man who has been banished from his country can justly be said still to belong to that country. It might almost as well be asked whether a gambler, who has been driven away from the gaming-table, is still one of the players at that table.
If by the law of nature a man is permitted to choose his country, still more is the man who has lost the rights of a citizen at liberty to choose himself a new country. May he bear arms against his former fellow-citizens? Of this we have a thousand examples. How many French Protestants, naturalized in England, Holland, or Germany, have served, not only against France, but against armies in which their relatives, their own brothers, have fought? The Greeks in the armies of the king of Persia fought against the Greeks, their old fellow-countrymen. The Swiss in the service of Holland have fired upon the Swiss in the service of France. This is even worse than fighting against those who have banished you, for, after all, drawing the sword in revenge does not seem so bad as drawing it for hire.
A Greek Word, Signifying Immersion.
We do not speak of baptism as theologians; we are but poor men of letters, who shall never enter the sanctuary. The Indians plunge, and have from time immemorial plunged, into the Ganges. Mankind, always guided by their senses, easily imagined that what purified the body likewise purified the soul. In the subterranean apartments under the Egyptian temples there were large tubs for the priests and the initiated.
Old Baudier, when he was eighty, made the following comic translation of these lines:
Every sign being of itself indifferent, God vouch-safed to consecrate this custom amongst the Hebrew people. All foreigners that came to settle in Palestine were baptized; they were called domiciliary proselytes.
They were not forced to receive circumcision, but only to embrace the seven precepts of the Noachides, and to sacrifice to no strange god. The proselytes of justice were circumcised and baptized; the female proselytes were also baptized, quite naked, in the presence of three men. The most devout among the Jews went and received baptism from the hands of the prophets most venerated by the people. Hence it was that they flocked to St. John, who baptized in the Jordan.
Jesus Christ Himself, who never baptized any one, deigned to receive baptism from St. John. This custom, which had long been an accessory of the Jewish religion, received new dignity, new value from our Saviour, and became the chief rite, the principal seal of Christianity. However, the first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were Jews. The Christians of Palestine long continued to circumcise. St. John’s Christians never received baptism from Christ.
Several other Christian societies applied a cautery to the baptized, with a red-hot iron, being determined to the performance of this extraordinary operation by the words of St. John the Baptist, related by St. Luke: “I baptize you with water, but He that cometh after me shall baptize you with fire.”
This was practised by the Seleucians, the Herminians, and some others. The words, “He shall baptize you with fire,” have never been explained. There are several opinions concerning the baptism by fire which is mentioned by St. Luke and St. Matthew. Perhaps the most likely opinion is that it was an allusion to the ancient custom of the devotees to the Syrian goddess, who, after plunging into water, imprinted characters on their bodies with a hot iron. With miserable man all was superstition, but Jesus substituted for these ridiculous superstitions a sacred ceremony—a divine and efficacious symbol.
In the first ages of Christianity nothing was more common than to postpone the receiving of baptism until the last agony. Of this the example of the Emperor Constantine is a very strong proof. St. Andrew had not been baptized when he was made bishop of Milan. The custom of deferring the use of the sacred bath until the hour of death was soon abolished.
Baptism of the Dead.
The dead also were baptized. This is established by the passage of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “If we rise not again what shall they do that receive baptism from the dead?” Here is a point of fact. Either the dead themselves were baptized, or baptism was received in their names, as indulgences have since been received for the deliverance of the souls of friends and relatives out of purgatory.
St. Epiphanius and St. Chrysostom inform us that it was a custom in some Christian societies, and principally among the Marcionites, to put a living man under the dead man’s bed; he was then asked if he would be baptized; the living man answered yes, and the corpse was taken and plunged into a tub of water. This custom was soon condemned. St. Paul mentions it but he does not condemn it; on the contrary he cites it as an invincible argument to prove resurrection.
Baptism by Aspersion.
The Greeks always retained baptism by immersion. The Latins, about the close of the eighth century, having extended their religion into Gaul and Germany and seeing that immersion might be fatal to infants in cold countries, substituted simple aspersion and thus drew upon themselves frequent anathemas from the Greek Church.
St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was asked if those were really baptized who had only had their bodies sprinkled all over. He answers, in his seventy-sixth letter, that several churches did not believe the sprinkled to be Christians; that, for his own part, he believes that they are so, but that they have infinitely less grace than those who have been thrice dipped, according to custom.
A person was initiated among the Christians as soon as he was dipped; until then he was only a catechumen. To be initiated it was necessary to have sponsors to answer to the Church for the fidelity of the new Christians and that the mysteries should not be divulged. Hence it was that in the first ages the Gentiles had, in general, as little knowledge of the Christian mysteries as the Christians had of the mysteries of Isis and the Eleusinian Ceres.
Cyril of Alexandria, in his writing against the Emperor Julian, expresses himself thus: “I would speak of baptism but that I fear my words would reach them who are not initiated.” At that time there was no worship without its mysteries, its associations, its catechumens, its initiated, and its professed. Each sect required new virtues and recommended to its penitents a new life—“initium novæ vitæ”—whence the word initiation. The initiation of Christians, whether male or female, consisted in their being plunged quite naked into a tub of cold water, to which sign was attached the remission of all their sins. But the difference between Christian baptism and the Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, and Roman ceremonies was the difference between truth and falsehood. Jesus Christ was the High Priest of the new law.
In the second century infants began to be baptized; it was natural that the Christians should desire their children, who would have been damned without this sacrament, to be provided with it. It was at length concluded that they must receive it at the expiration of eight days, because that was the period at which, among the Jews, they were circumcised. In the Greek Church this is still the custom.
Such as died in the first week were damned, according to the most rigorous fathers of the Church. But Peter Chrysologos, in the fifth century, imagined limbo, a sort of mitigated hell, or properly, the border, the outskirt of hell, whither all infants dying without baptism go and where the patriarchs remained until Jesus Christ’s descent into hell. So that the opinion that Jesus Christ descended into limbo, and not into hell, has since then prevailed.
It was agitated whether a Christian in the deserts of Arabia might be baptized with sand, this was answered in the negative. It was asked if rosewater might be used, it was decided that pure water would be necessary but that muddy water might be made use of. It is evident that all this discipline depended on the discretion of the first pastors who established it.
The Anabaptists and some other communions out of the pale have thought that no one should be baptized without a thorough knowledge of the merits of the case. You require, say they, a promise to be of the Christian society, but a child can make no engagement. You give it a sponsor, but this is an abuse of an ancient custom. The precaution was requisite in the first establishment. When strangers, adult men and women, came and presented themselves to be received into the society and share in the alms there was needed a guarantee to answer for their fidelity; it was necessary to make sure of them; they swore they would be Jews, but an infant is in a diametrically opposite case. It has often happened that a child baptized by Greeks at Constantinople has afterwards been circumcised by Turks, a Christian at eight days old and a Mussulman at thirty years, he has betrayed the oaths of his godfather.
This is one reason which the Anabaptists might allege; it would hold good in Turkey, but it has never been admitted in Christian countries where baptism insures a citizen’s condition. We must conform to the rights and laws of our country.
The Greeks re-baptize such of the Latins as pass from one of our Latin communions to the Greek communion. In the last century it was the custom for these catechumens to pronounce the following words: “I spit upon my father and my mother who had me ill baptized.” This custom still exists, and will, perhaps, long continue to exist in the provinces.
Notions of Rigid Unitarians Concerning Baptism.
It is evident to whosoever is willing to reason without prejudice that baptism is neither a mark of grace conferred nor a seal of alliance, but simply a mark of profession.
That baptism is not necessary, neither by necessity of precept, nor by necessity of means.
That it was not instituted by Christ and that it may be omitted by the Christian without his suffering any inconvenience therefrom.
That baptism should be administered neither to children, nor to adults, nor, in general, to any individual whatsoever.
That baptism might be of service in the early infancy of Christianity to those who quitted paganism in order to make their profession of faith public and give an authentic mark of it, but that now it is absolutely useless and altogether indifferent.
Baptism, immersion in water, abstersion, purification by water, is of the highest antiquity. To be cleanly was to be pure before the gods. No priest ever dared to approach the altar with a soil upon his body. The natural inclination to transfer to the soul that which appertains to the body led to the belief that lustrations and ablutions took away the stains of the soul as they removed those of the garments and that washing the body washed the soul also. Hence the ancient custom of bathing in the Ganges, the waters of which were thought to be sacred; hence the lustrations so frequent among every people. The Oriental nations, inhabiting hot countries, were the most religiously attached to these customs.
The Jews were obliged to bathe after any pollution—after touching an unclean animal, touching a corpse, and on many other occasions.
When the Jews received among them a stranger converted to their religion they baptized, after circumcising him, and if it was a woman she was simply baptized—that is, dipped in water in the presence of three witnesses. This immersion was reputed to give the persons baptized a new birth, a new life; they became at once Jewish and pure. Children born before this baptism had no share in the inheritance of their brethren, born after them of a regenerated father and mother. So that, with the Jews, to be baptized and to be born again were the same thing, and this idea has remained attached to baptism down to the present day. Thus, when John, the forerunner, began to baptize in the Jordan he did but follow an immemorial usage. The priests of the law did not call him to account for this baptizing as for anything new, but they accused him of arrogating to himself a right which belonged exclusively to them—as Roman Catholic priests would have a right to complain if a layman took upon himself to say mass. John was doing a lawful thing but was doing it unlawfully.
John wished to have disciples, and he had them. He was chief of a sect among the lower orders of the people and it cost him his life. It even appears that Jesus was at first among his disciples, since he was baptized by him in the Jordan, and John sent some of his own party to Him a short time before His death.
The historian Josephus speaks of John but not of Jesus—an incontestable proof that in his time John the Baptist had a greater reputation than He whom he baptized. A great multitude followed him, says that celebrated historian, and the Jews seemed disposed to undertake whatever he should command them.
From this passage it appears that John was not only the chief of a sect, but the chief of a party. Josephus adds that he caused Herod some uneasiness. He did indeed make himself formidable to Herod, who, at length, put him to death, but Jesus meddled with none but the Pharisees. Josephus, therefore, mentions John as a man who had stirred up the Jews against King Herod; as one whose zeal had made him a state criminal, but Jesus, not having approached the court, was unknown to the historian Josephus.
The sect of John the Baptist differed widely in discipline from that of Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles we see that twenty years after the execution of Jesus, Apollos of Alexandria, though become a Christian, knew no baptism but that of John, nor had any idea of the Holy Ghost. Several travellers, and among others Chardin, the most accredited of all, say that in Persia there still are disciples of John, called Sabis, who baptize in his name and acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, but not as a god.
As for Jesus Christ Himself He received baptism but conferred it on no one; His apostles baptized the catechumens, or circumcised them as occasion required; this is evident from the operation of circumcision performed by Paul on his disciple Timothy.
It also appears that when the apostles baptized it was always in the name of Jesus Christ alone. The Acts of the Apostles do not mention any one baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—whence it may be concluded that the author of the Acts of the Apostles knew nothing of Matthew’s gospel, in which it is said: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The Christian religion had not yet received its form. Even the Symbol, which was called the Symbol of the Apostles, was not made until after their time, of this no one has any doubt. In Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians we find a very singular custom which was then introduced—that of baptizing the dead, but the rising Church soon reserved baptism for the living alone; at first none were baptized but adults, and the ceremony was often deferred until the age of fifty, or the last sickness, that the individual might carry with him into the other world the unimpaired virtue of a baptism recently performed.
Now, all children are baptized: none but the Anabaptists reserve this ceremony for the mature age; they plunge their whole bodies into the water. The Quakers, who compose a very numerous society in England and in America, do not use baptism: the reason is that Jesus Christ did not baptize any of His disciples, and their aim is to be Christians only as His disciples were—which occasions a very wide difference between them and other communions.
Addition to the Article “Baptism” by Abbé Nicaise.
The Emperor Julian, the philosopher, in his immortal “Satire on the Cæsars,” puts these words into the mouth of Constantius, son of Constantine: “Whosoever feels himself guilty of rape, murder, plunder, sacrilege, and every most abominable crime, so soon as I have washed him with this water, he shall be clean and pure.”
It was, indeed, this fatal doctrine that occasioned the Christian emperors, and the great men of the empire, to defer their baptism until death. They thought they had found the secret of living criminal and dying virtuous.
How strange an idea—that a pot of water should wash away every crime! Now, all children are baptized because an idea no less absurd supposes them all criminal; they are all saved until they have the use of reason and the power to become guilty! Cut their throats, then, as quickly as possible, to insure their entrance into paradise. This is so just a consequence that there was once a devout sect that went about poisoning and killing all newly-baptized infants. These devout persons reasoned with perfect correctness, saying: “We do these little innocents the greatest possible good; we prevent them from being wicked and unhappy in this life and we give them life eternal.”
BARUCH, OR BARAK, AND DEBORAH;
We have no intention here to inquire at what time Baruch was chief of the Jewish people; why, being chief, he allowed his army to be commanded by a woman; whether this woman, named Deborah, had married Lapidoth; whether she was the friend or relative of Baruch, or perhaps his daughter or his mother; nor on what day the battle of Tabor, in Galilee, was fought between this Deborah and Sisera, captain-general of the armies of King Jabin—which Sisera commanded in Galilee an army of three hundred thousand foot, ten thousand horse, and three thousand chariots of war, according to the historian Josephus.
We shall at present leave out of the question this Jabin, king of a village called Azor, who had more troops than the Grand Turk. We very much pity the fate of his grand-vizier Sisera, who, having lost the battle in Galilee, leaped from his chariot and four that he might fly more swiftly on foot. He went and begged the hospitality of a holy Jewish woman, who gave him some milk and drove a great cart-nail through his head while he was asleep. We are very sorry for it, but this is not the matter to be discussed. We wish to speak of chariots of war.
The battle was fought at the foot of Mount Tabor, near the river Kishon. Mount Tabor is a steep mountain, the branches of which, somewhat less in height, extend over a great part of Galilee. Between this mountain and the neighboring rocks there is a small plain, covered with great flint-stones and impracticable for cavalry. The extent of this plain is four or five hundred paces. We may venture to believe that Sisera did not here draw up his three hundred thousand men in order of battle; his three thousand chariots would have found it difficult to manœuvre on such a field.
We may believe that the Hebrews had no chariots of war in a country renowned only for asses, but the Asiatics made use of them in the great plains. Confucius, or rather Confutze, says positively that, from time immemorial, each of the viceroys of the provinces was expected to furnish to the emperor a thousand war-chariots, each drawn by four horses.
Chariots must have been in use long before the Trojan war, for Homer does not speak of them as a new invention, but these chariots were not armed like those of Babylon, neither the wheels nor the axles were furnished with steel blades.
At first this invention must have been very formidable on large plains, especially when the chariots were numerous, driven with impetuosity, and armed with long pikes and scythes, but when they became familiar it seemed so easy to avoid their shock that they fell into general disuse.
In the war of 1741 it was proposed to renew and reform this ancient invention. A minister of state had one of these chariots constructed and it was tried. It was asserted that in large plains, like that of Lützen, they might be used with advantage by concealing them behind the cavalry, the squadrons of which would open to let them pass and then follow them, but the generals judged that this manœuvre would be useless, and even dangerous, now that battles are gained by cannon only. It was replied that there would be as many cannon in the army using the chariots of war to defend them as in the enemy’s army to destroy them. It was added that these chariots would, in the first instance, be sheltered from the cannon behind the battalions or squadrons, that the latter would open and let the chariots run with impetuosity and that this unexpected attack might have a prodigious effect. The generals advanced nothing in opposition to these arguments, but they would not revive this game of the ancient Persians.
Let us observe that the arrangements, the marching, and the evolutions of battalions, nearly as they are now practised, were revived in Europe by one who was not a military man—by Machiavelli, a secretary at Florence. Battalions three, four, and five deep; battalions advancing upon the enemy; battalions in square to avoid being cut off in a rout; battalions four deep sustained by others in column; battalions flanked by cavalry—all are his. He taught Europe the art of war; it had long been practised without being known.
The grand duke would have had his secretary teach his troops their exercises according to his new method. But Machiavelli was too prudent to do so; he had no wish to see the officers and soldiers laugh at a general in a black cloak; he reserved himself for the council.
There is something singular in the qualities which he requires in a soldier. He must first have gagliardia, which signifies alert vigor; he must have a quick and sure eye—in which there must also be a little gayety; a strong neck, a wide breast, a muscular arm, round loins, but little belly, with spare legs and feet—all indicating strength and agility.
But above all the soldier must have honor, and must be led by honor alone. “War,” says he, “is but too great a corrupter of morals,” and he reminds us of the Italian proverb: War makes thieves, and peace finds them gibbets.
Machiavelli had but a poor opinion of the French infantry, and until the battle of Rocroi it must be confessed that it was very bad. A strange man this Machiavelli! He amused himself with making verses, writing plays, showing his cabinet the art of killing with regularity, and teaching princes the art of perjuring themselves, assassinating, and poisoning as occasion required—a great art which Pope Alexander VI., and his bastard Cæsar Borgia, practised in wonderful perfection without the aid of his lessons.
Be it observed that in all Machiavelli’s works on so many different subjects there is not one word which renders virtue amiable—not one word proceeding from the heart. The same remark has been made on Boileau. He does not, it is true, make virtue lovely, but he represents it as necessary.
Why has Louis Racine treated Bayle like a dangerous man, with a cruel heart, in an epistle to Jean Baptiste Rousseau, which, although printed, is but little known?
He compares Bayle, whose logical acuteness detected the errors of opposing systems, to Marius sitting upon the ruins of Carthage:
Here is a simile which exhibits very little resemblance, or, as Pope says, a simile dissimilar. Marius had not destroyed reason and arguments, nor did he contentedly view its ruins, but, on the contrary, he was penetrated with an elevated sentiment of melancholy on contemplating the vicissitudes of human affairs, when he made the celebrated answer: “Say to the proconsul of Africa that thou hast seen Marius seated on the ruins of Carthage.”
We ask in what Marius resembled Bayle? Louis Racine, if he thinks fit, may apply the epithets “hardhearted” and “cruel” to Marius, to Sulla, to the triumvirs, but, in reference to Bayle the phrases “detestable pleasure,” “cruel heart,” “terrible man,” should not be put in a sentence written by Louis Racine against one who is only proved to have weighed the arguments of the Manichæans, the Paulicians, the Arians, the Eutychians, against those of their adversaries. Louis Racine proportions not the punishment to the offence. He should remember that Bayle combated Spinoza, who was too much of a philosopher, and Jurieu, who was none at all. He should respect the good manners of Bayle and learn to reason from him. But he was a Jansenist, that is to say, he knew the words of the language of Jansenism and employed them at random. You may properly call cruel and terrible a powerful man who commands his slaves, on pain of death, to go and reap corn where he has sown thistles; who gives to some of them too much food, and suffers others to die of hunger; who kills his eldest son to leave a large fortune to the younger. All that is frightful and cruel, Louis Racine! It is said that such is the god of thy Jansenists, but I do not believe it. Oh slaves of party, people attacked with the jaundice, you constantly see everything yellow!
And to whom has the unthinking heir of a father who had a hundred times more taste than he has philosophy, addressed this miserable epistle against the virtuous Bayle? To Rousseau—to a poet who thinks still less; to a man whose principal merit has consisted in epigrams which are revolting to the most indulgent reader; to a man to whom it was alike whether he sang Jesus Christ or Giton. Such was the apostle to whom Louis Racine denounced Bayle as a miscreant. What motive could the author of “Phædra” and “Iphigenia” have for falling into such a prodigious error? Simply this, that Rousseau had made verses for the Jansenists, whom he then believed to be in high credit.
Such is the rage of faction let loose upon Bayle, but you do not hear any of the dogs who have howled against him bark against Lucretius, Cicero, Seneca, Epicurus, nor against the numerous philosophers of antiquity. It is all reserved for Bayle; he is their fellow citizen—he is of their time—his glory irritates them. Bayle is read and Nicole is not read; behold the source of the Jansenist hatred! Bayle is studied, but neither the reverend Father Croiset, nor the reverend Father Caussin; hence Jesuitical denouncement!
In vain has a Parliament of France done him the greatest honor in rendering his will valid, notwithstanding the severity of the law. The madness of party knows neither honor nor justice. I have not inserted this article to make the eulogy of the best of dictionaries, which would not be becoming here, and of which Bayle is not in need; I have written it to render, if I can, the spirit of party odious and ridiculous.
We are very much puzzled to know what this Bdellium is which is found near the shores of the Pison, a river of the terrestrial paradise which turns into the country of the Havilah, where there is gold. Calmet relates that, according to several commentators, Bdellium is the carbuncle, but that it may also be crystal. Then it is the gum of an Arabian tree and afterwards we are told that capers are intended. Many others affirm that it signifies pearls. Nothing but the etymologies of Bochart can throw a light on this question. I wish that all these commentators had been upon the spot.
The excellent gold which is obtained in this country, says Calmet, shows evidently that this is the country of Colchis and the golden fleece is a proof of it. It is a pity that things have changed so much for Mingrelia; that beautiful country, so famous for the loves of Medea and Jason, now produces gold and Bdellium no more than bulls which vomit fire and flame, and dragons which guard the fleece. Everything changes in this world; and if we do not skilfully cultivate our lands, and if the state remain always in debt, we shall become a second Mingrelia.
Certain naturalists assure us that the secretion which produces the beard is the same as that which perpetuates mankind. An entire hemisphere testifies against this fraternal union. The Americans, of whatever country, color, or stature they may be, have neither beards on their chins, nor any hair on their bodies, except their eyebrows and the hair of their heads. I have legal attestations of official men who have lived, conversed, and combated with thirty nations of South America, and they attest that they have never seen a hair on their bodies; and they laugh, as they well may, at writers who, copying one another, say that the Americans are only without hair because they pull it out with pincers; as if Christopher Columbus, Fernando Cortes, and the other adventurers had loaded themselves with the little tweezers with which our ladies remove their superfluous hairs, and had distributed them in all the countries of America.
I believed for a long time that the Esquimaux were excepted from the general laws of the new world; but I am assured that they are as free from hair as the others. However, they have children in Chile, Peru, and Canada, as well as in our bearded continent. There is, then, a specific difference between these bipeds and ourselves, in the same way as their lions, which are divested of the mane, and in other respects differ from the lions of Africa.
It is to be remarked that the Orientals have never varied in their consideration for the beard. Marriage among them has always existed, and that period is still the epoch of life from which they no longer shave the beard. The long dress and the beard impose respect. The Westerns have always been changing the fashion of the chin. Mustaches were worn under Louis XIV. towards the year 1672. Under Louis XIII. a little pointed beard prevailed. In the time of Henry IV. it was square. Charles V., Julius II., and Francis I. restored the large beard to honor in their courts, which had been a long time in fashion. Gownsmen, through gravity and respect for the customs of their fathers, shaved themselves; while the courtiers, in doublets and little mantles, wore their beards as long as they could. When a king in those days sent a lawyer as an ambassador, his comrades would laugh at him if he suffered his beard to grow, besides mocking him in the chamber of accounts or of requests.—But quite enough upon beards.
What a pity and what a poverty of spirit to assert that beasts are machines deprived of knowledge and sentiment, which effect all their operations in the same manner, which learn nothing, never improve, etc.
What! this bird, who makes its nest in a semicircle when he attaches it to a wall; and in a circle on a tree—this bird does all in the same blind manner! The hound, which you have disciplined for three months, does he not know more at the end of this time than he did before? Does the canary, to which you play an air, repeat it directly? Do you not employ a considerable time in teaching it? Have you not seen that he sometimes mistakes it, and that he corrects himself?
Is it because I speak to you that you judge I have sentiment, memory, and ideas? Well, suppose I do not speak to you; you see me enter my room with an afflicted air, I seek a paper with disquietude, I open the bureau in which I recollect to have shut it, I find it and read it with joy. You pronounce that I have felt the sentiment of affliction and of joy; that I have memory and knowledge.
Extend the same judgment to the dog who has lost his master, who has sought him everywhere with grievous cries, and who enters the house agitated and restless, goes upstairs and down, from room to room, and at last finds in the closet the master whom he loves, and testifies his joy by the gentleness of his cries, by his leaps and his caresses.
Some barbarians seize this dog, who so prodigiously excels man in friendship, they nail him to a table and dissect him living to show the mesenteric veins. You discover in him the same organs of sentiment which are in yourself. Answer me, machinist, has nature arranged all the springs of sentiment in this animal that he should not feel? Has he nerves, and is he incapable of suffering? Do not suppose this impertinent contradiction in nature.
But the masters of this school ask, what is the soul of beasts? I do not understand this question. A tree has the faculty of receiving in its fibres the sap which circulates, of evolving its buds, its leaves, and its fruits. You will ask me what is the soul of this tree? It has received these gifts. The animal has received those of sentiment, memory, and a certain number of ideas. Who has bestowed these gifts; who has given these faculties? He who has made the herb of the field to grow, and who makes the earth gravitate towards the sun.
The souls of beasts are substantial forms, says Aristotle; and after Aristotle, the Arabian school; and after the Arabian school, the Angelical school; and after the Angelical school, the Sorbonne; and after the Sorbonne, every one in the world.
The souls of beasts are material, exclaim other philosophers. These have not been more fortunate than the former. They are in vain asked what is a material soul? They say that it is a matter which has sensation; but who has given it this sensation? It is a material soul, that is to say, it is composed of a matter which gives sensation to matter. They cannot get out of this circle.
Listen to one kind of beasts reasoning upon another; their soul is a spiritual being, which dies with the body; but what proof have you of it? What idea have you of this spiritual being, which has sentiment, memory, and its share of ideas and combinations, but which can never tell what made a child of six years old? On what ground do you imagine that this being, which is not corporeal, perishes with the body? The greatest beasts are those who have suggested that this soul is neither body nor spirit— an excellent system! We can only understand by spirit something unknown, which is not body. Thus the system of these gentlemen amounts to this, that the soul of beasts is a substance which is neither body, nor something which is not body. Whence can proceed so many contradictory errors? From the custom which men have of examining what a thing is before they know whether it exists. They call the speech the effect of a breath of mind, the soul of a sigh. What is the soul? It is a name which I have given to this valve which rises and falls, which lets the air in, relieves itself, and sends it through a pipe when I move the lungs.
There is not, then, a soul distinct from the machine. But what moves the lungs of animals? I have already said, the power that moves the stars. The philosopher who said, “Deus est anima brutorum,”—God is the soul of the brutes—is right; but he should have gone much further.
Since we have quoted Plato on love, why should we not quote him on “the beautiful,” since beauty causes love. It is curious to know how a Greek spoke of the beautiful more than two thousand years since.
“The man initiated into the sacred mysteries, when he sees a beautiful face accompanied by a divine form, a something more than mortal, feels a secret emotion, and I know not what respectful fear. He regards this figure as a divinity. . . . . When the influence of beauty enters into his soul by his eyes he burns; the wings of his soul are bedewed; they lose the hardness which retains their germs and liquefy themselves; these germs, swelling beneath the roots of its wings, they expand from every part of the soul (for soul had wings formerly),” etc.
I am willing to believe that nothing is finer than this discourse of the divine Plato; but it does not give us very clear ideas of the nature of the beautiful.
Ask a toad what is beauty—the great beauty To Kalon; he will answer that it is the female with two great round eyes coming out of her little head, her large flat mouth, her yellow belly, and brown back. Ask a negro of Guinea; beauty is to him a black, oily skin, sunken eyes, and a flat nose. Ask the devil; he will tell you that the beautiful consists in a pair of horns, four claws, and a tail. Then consult the philosophers; they will answer you with jargon; they must have something conformable to the archetype of the essence of the beautiful—to the To Kalon.
I was once attending a tragedy near a philosopher. “How beautiful that is,” said he. “What do you find beautiful?” asked I. “It is,” said he, “that the author has attained his object.” The next day he took his medicine, which did him some good. “It has attained its object,” cried I to him; “it is a beautiful medicine.” He comprehended that it could not be said that a medicine is beautiful, and that to apply to anything the epithet beautiful it must cause admiration and pleasure. He admitted that the tragedy had inspired him with these two sentiments, and that it was the To Kalon, the beautiful.
We made a journey to England. The same piece was played, and, although ably translated, it made all the spectators yawn. “Oh, oh!” said he, “the To Kalon is not the same with the English as with the French.” He concluded after many reflections that “the beautiful” is often merely relative, as that which is decent at Japan is indecent at Rome; and that which is the fashion at Paris is not so at Pekin; and he was thereby spared the trouble of composing a long treatise on the beautiful.
There are actions which the whole world considers fine. A challenge passed between two of Cæsar’s officers, mortal enemies, not to shed each other’s blood behind a thicket by tierce and quarte, as among us, but to decide which of them would best defend the camp of the Romans, about to be attacked by the barbarians. One of the two, after having repulsed the enemy, was near falling; the other flew to his assistance, saved his life, and gained the victory.
A friend devotes himself to death for his friend, a son for his father. The Algonquin, the French, the Chinese, will mutually say that all this is very beautiful, that such actions give them pleasure, and that they admire them.
They will say the same of great moral maxims; of that of Zoroaster: “If in doubt that an action be just, desist;” of that of Confucius: “Forget injuries; never forget benefits.”
The negro, with round eyes and flattened nose, who would not give the ladies of our court the name of beautiful, would give it without hesitation to these actions and these maxims. Even the wicked man recognizes the beauty of the virtues which he cannot imitate. The beautiful, which only strikes the senses, the imagination, and what is called the spirit, is then often uncertain; the beauty which strikes the heart is not. You will find a number of people who will tell you they have found nothing beautiful in three-fourths of the “Iliad”; but nobody will deny that the devotion of Codrus for his people was fine, supposing it was true.
Brother Attinet, a Jesuit, a native of Dijon, was employed as designer in the country house of the Emperor Camhi, at the distance of some leagues from Pekin.
“This country house,” says he, in one of his letters to M. Dupont, “is larger than the town of Dijon. It is divided into a thousand habitations on one line; each one has its courts, its parterres, its gardens, and its waters; the front of each is ornamented with gold varnish and paintings. In the vast enclosures of the park, hills have been raised by hand from twenty to sixty feet high. The valleys are watered by an infinite number of canals, which run a considerable distance to join and form lakes and seas. We float on these seas in boats varnished and gilt, from twelve to thirteen fathoms long and four wide. These barks have magnificent saloons, and the borders of the canals are covered with houses, all in different tastes. Every house has its gardens and cascades. You go from one valley to another by alleys, alternately ornamented with pavilions and grottoes. No two valleys are alike; the largest of all is surrounded by a colonnade, behind which are gilded buildings. All the apartments of these houses correspond in magnificence with the outside. All the canals have bridges at stated distances; these bridges are bordered with balustrades of white marble sculptured in basso-relievo.
“In the middle of the great sea is raised a rock, and on this rock is a square pavilion, in which are more than a hundred apartments. From this square pavilion there is a view of all the palaces, all the houses, and all the gardens of this immense enclosure, and there are more than four hundred of them.
“When the emperor gives a fête all these buildings are illuminated in an instant, and from every house there are fireworks.
“This is not all; at the end of what they call the sea is a great fair, held by the emperor’s officers. Vessels come from the great sea to arrive at this fair. The courtiers disguise themselves as merchants and artificers of all sorts; one keeps a coffee house, another a tavern; one takes the profession of a thief, another that of the officer who pursues him. The emperor and all the ladies of the court come to buy stuffs, the false merchants cheat them as much as they can; they tell them that it is shameful to dispute so much about the price, and that they are poor customers. Their majesties reply that the merchants are knaves; the latter are angry and affect to depart; they are appeased; the emperor buys all and makes lotteries of it for all his court. Farther on are spectacles of all sorts.”
When brother Attinet came from China to Versailles he found it small and dull. The Germans, who were delighted to stroll about its groves, were astonished that brother Attinet was so difficult. This is another reason which determines me not to write a treatise on the beautiful.
The bees may be regarded as superior to the human race in this, that from their own substance they produce another which is useful; while, of all our secretions, there is not one good for anything; nay, there is not one which does not render mankind disagreeable.
I have been charmed to find that the swarms which turn out of the hive are much milder than our sons when they leave college. The young bees then sting no one; or at least but rarely and in extraordinary cases. They suffer themselves to be carried quietly in the bare hand to the hive which is destined for them. But no sooner have they learned in their new habitation to know their interests than they become like us and make war. I have seen very peaceable bees go for six months to labor in a neighboring meadow covered with flowers which secreted them. When the mowers came they rushed furiously from their hive upon those who were about to steal their property and put them to flight.
We find in the Proverbs attributed to Solomon that “there are four things, the least upon earth, but which are wiser than the wise men—the ants, a little people who lay up food during the harvest; the hares, a weak people who lie on stones; the grasshoppers, who have no kings and who journey in flocks; and the lizards, which work with their hands and dwell in the palaces of kings.” I know not how Solomon forgot the bees, whose instinct seems very superior to that of hares, which do not lie on stone; or of lizards, with whose genius I am not acquainted. Moreover, I shall always prefer a bee to a grasshopper.
The bees have, in all ages, furnished the poet with descriptions, comparisons, allegories, and fables. Mandeville’s celebrated “Fable of the Bees” made a great noise in England. Here is a short sketch of it:
Mandeville goes much further; he asserts that bees cannot live at their ease in a great and powerful hive without many vices. “No kingdom, no state,” says he, “can flourish without vices. Take away the vanity of ladies of quality, and there will be no more fine manufactures of silk, no more employment for men and women in a thousand different branches; a great part of the nation will be reduced to beggary. Take away the avarice of our merchants, and the fleets of England will be annihilated. Deprive artists of envy, and emulation will cease; we shall sink back into primitive rudeness and ignorance.”
It is quite true that a well-governed society turns every vice to account; but it is not true that these vices are necessary to the well-being of the world. Very good remedies may be made from poisons, but poisons do not contribute to the support of life. By thus reducing the “Fable of the Bees” to its just value, it might be made a work of moral utility.”
Every country where begging, where mendicity, is a profession, is ill governed. Beggary, as I have elsewhere said, is a vermin that clings to opulence. Yes; but let it be shaken off; let the hospitals be for sickness and age alone, and let the shops be for the young and vigorous.
The following is an extract from a sermon composed by a preacher ten years ago for the parish of St. Leu and St. Giles, which is the parish of the beggars and the convulsionaries: “Pauperes evangelicantur”—“the gospel is preached to the poor.”
“My dear brethren the beggars, what is meant by the word gospel? It signifies good news. It is, then, good news that I come to tell you; and what is it? It is that if you are idlers you will die on a dunghill. Know that there have been idle kings, so at least we are told, and they at last had not where to lay their heads. If you work, you will be as happy as other men.
“The preachers at St. Eustache and St. Roche may deliver to the rich very fine sermons in a flowery style, which procure for the auditors a light slumber with an easy digestion, and for the orator a thousand crowns; but I address those whom hunger keeps awake. Work for your bread, I say; for the Scripture says that he who does not work deserves not to eat. Our brother in adversity, Job, who was for some time in your condition, says that man is born to labor as the bird is to fly. Look at this immense city; every one is busy; the judges rise at four in the morning to administer justice to you and send you to the galleys when your idleness has caused you to thieve rather awkwardly.
“The king works; he attends his council every day; and he has made campaigns. Perhaps you will say he is none the richer. Granted; but that is not his fault. The financiers know, better than you or I do, that not one-half his revenue ever enters his coffers. He has been obliged to sell his plate in order to defend us against our enemies. We should aid him in our turn. The Friend of Man (l’Ami des Hommes) allows him only seventy-five millions per annum. Another friend all at once gives him seven hundred and forty. But of all these Job’s comforters, not one will advance him a single crown. It is necessary to invent a thousand ingenious ways of drawing this crown from our pockets, which, before it reaches his own, is diminished by at least one-half.
“Work, then, my dear brethren; act for yourselves, for I forewarn you that if you do not take care of yourselves, no one will take care of you; you will be treated as the king has been in several grave remonstrances; people will say, ‘God help you.’
“We will go into the provinces, you will answer; we shall be fed by the lords of the land, by the farmers, by the curates. Do not flatter yourselves, my dear brethren, that you shall eat at their tables; they have for the most part enough to do to feed themselves, notwithstanding the ‘Method of Rapidly Getting Rich by Agriculture,’ and fifty other works of the same kind, published every day at Paris for the use of the people in the country, with the cultivation of which the authors never had anything to do.
“I behold among you young men of some talent, who say that they will make verses, that they will write pamphlets, like Chisiac, Nonnotte, or Patouillet; that they will work for the ‘Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques,’ that they will write sheets for Fréron, funeral orations for bishops, songs for the comic opera. Any of these would at least be an occupation. When a man is writing for the ‘Année Littéraire,’ he is not robbing on the highway, he is only robbing his creditors. But do better, my dear brethren in Jesus Christ—my dear beggars, who, by passing your lives in asking charity, run the risk of the galleys; do better; enter one of the four mendicant orders; you will then be not only rich, but honored also.”
This Balthazar Bekker, a very good man, a great enemy of the everlasting hell and the devil, and a still greater of precision, made a great deal of noise in his time by his great book, “The World Bewitched.”
One Jacques-George de Chaufepied, a pretended continuator of Bayle, assures us that Bekker learned Greek at Gascoigne. Niceron has good reasons for believing that it was at Franeker. This historical point has occasioned much doubt and trouble at court.
The fact is that in the time of Bekker, a minister of the Holy Gospel—as they say in Holland—the devil was still in prodigious credit among divines of all sorts in the middle of the seventeenth century, in spite of the good spirits which were beginning to enlighten the world. Witchcraft, possessions, and everything else attached to that fine divinity, were in vogue throughout Europe and frequently had fatal results.
A century had scarcely elapsed since King James himself—called by Henry IV. Master James—that great enemy of the Roman communion and the papal power, had published his “Demonology” (what a book for a king!) and in it had admitted sorceries, incubuses, and succubuses, and acknowledged the power of the devil, and of the pope, who, according to him, had just as good a right to drive Satan from the bodies of the possessed as any other priest. And we, miserable Frenchmen, who boast of having recovered some small part of our senses, in what a horrid sink of stupid barbarism were we then immersed! Not a parliament, not a presidential court, but was occupied in trying sorcerers; not a great jurisconsult who did not write memorials on possessions by the devil. France resounded with the cries of poor imbecile creatures whom the judges, after making them believe that they had danced round a cauldron, tortured and put to death without pity, in horrible torments. Catholics and Protestants were alike infected with this absurd and frightful superstition; the pretext being that in one of the Christian gospels it is said that disciples were sent to cast out devils. It was a sacred duty to put girls to the torture in order to make them confess that they had lain with Satan, and that they had fallen in love with him in the form of a goat. All the particulars of the meetings of the girls with this goat were detailed in the trials of the unfortunate individuals. They were burned at last, whether they confessed or denied; and France was one vast theatre of judicial carnage.
I have before me a collection of these infernal proceedings, made by a counsellor of the Parliament of Bordeaux, named De Langre, and addressed to Monseigneur Silleri, chancellor of France, without Monseigneur Silleri’s having ever thought of enlightening those infamous magistrates. But, indeed, it would have been necessary to begin by enlightening the chancellor himself. What was France at that time? A continual St. Bartholomew—from the massacre of Vassy to the assassination of Marshal d’Ancre and his innocent wife.
Will it be believed that in the time of this very Bekker, a poor girl named Magdalen Chaudron, who had been persuaded that she was a witch, was burned at Geneva?
The following is a very exact summary of the procés-verbal of this absurd and horrid act, which is not the last monument of the kind:
“Michelle, having met the devil as she was going out of the town, the devil gave her a kiss, received her homage, and imprinted on her upper lip and her right breast the mark which it is his custom to affix on all persons whom he recognizes as his favorites. This seal of the devil is a small sign-manual, which, as demonological jurisconsults affirm, renders the skin insensible.
“The devil ordered Michelle Chaudron to bewitch two girls; and she immediately obeyed her lord. The relatives of the young women judicially charged her with devilish practices, and the girls themselves were interrogated and confronted with the accused. They testified that they constantly felt a swarming of ants in certain parts of their bodies, and that they were possessed. The physicians were then called in, or at least those who then passed as physicians. They visited the girls and sought on Michelle’s body for the devil’s seal, which the procés-verbal calls the satanic marks. They thrust a large needle into the spot, and this of itself was a grievous torture. Blood flowed from the puncture; and Michelle made known by her cries that satanic marks do not produce insensibility. The judges, seeing no satisfactory evidence that Michelle Chaudron was a witch, had her put to the torture, which never fails to bring forth proofs. The unfortunate girl, yielding at length to the violence of her tortures, confessed whatever was required of her.
“The physicians again sought for the satanic mark. They found it in a small dark spot on one of her thighs. They applied the needle; but the torture had been so excessive that the poor, expiring creature scarcely felt the wound; she did not cry out; therefore the crime was satisfactorily proved. But, as manners were becoming less rude, she was not burned until she had been hanged.”
Every tribunal in Christian Europe still rings with similar condemnations; so long did this barbarous imbecility endure, that even in our own day, at Würzburg, in Franconia, there was a witch burned in 1750. And what a witch! A young woman of quality, the abbess of a convent! and in our own times, under the empire of Maria Theresa of Austria!
These horrors, by which Europe was so long filled, determined Bekker to fight against the devil. In vain was he told, in prose and verse, that he was doing wrong to attack him, seeing that he was extremely like him, being horribly ugly; nothing could stop him. He began with absolutely denying the power of Satan; and even grew so bold as to maintain that he does not exist. “If,” said he, “there were a devil, he would revenge the war which I make upon him.”
Bekker reasoned but too well in saying that if the devil existed he would punish him. His brother ministers took Satan’s part and suspended Bekker; for heretics will also excommunicate; and in the article of cursing, Geneva mimics Rome.
Bekker enters on his subject in the second volume. According to him, the serpent which seduced our first parents was not a devil, but a real serpent; as Balaam’s ass was a real ass, and as the whale that swallowed Jonah was a real whale. It was so decidedly a real serpent, that all its species, which had before walked on their feet, were condemned to crawl on their bellies. No serpent, no animal of any kind, is called Satan, or Beelzebub, or devil, in the Pentateuch. There is not so much as an allusion to Satan. The Dutch destroyer of Satan does, indeed, admit the existence of angels; but at the same time he assures us that it cannot be proved by reasoning. “And if there are any,” says he, in the eighth chapter of his second volume, “it is hard to say what they are. The Scripture tells us nothing about their nature, nor in what the nature of a spirit consists. The Bible was made, not for angels, but for men; Jesus was made a man for us, not an angel.”
If Bekker has so many scruples concerning angels, it is not to be wondered at that he has some concerning devils; and it is very amusing to see into what contortions he puts his mind in order to avail himself of such texts as appear to be in his favor and to evade such as are against him.
He does his utmost to prove that the devil had nothing to do with the afflictions of Job; and here he is even more prolix than the friends of that holy man.
There is great probability that he was condemned only through the ill-humor of his judges at having lost so much time in reading his work. If the devil himself had been forced to read Bekker’s “World Bewitched” he could never have forgiven the fault of having so prodigiously wearied him.
One of our Dutch divine’s greatest difficulties is to explain these words: “Jesus was transported by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” No text can be clearer. A divine may write against Beelzebub as much as he pleases, but he must of necessity admit his existence; he may then explain the difficult texts if he can.
Whoever desires to know precisely what the devil is may be informed by referring to the Jesuit Scott; no one has spoken of him more at length; he is much worse than Bekker.
Consulting history, where the ancient origin of the devil is to be found in the doctrine of the Persians, Ahrimanes, the bad principle, corrupts all that the good principle had made salutary. Among the Egyptians, Typhon does all the harm he can; while Oshireth, whom we call Osiris, does, together with Isheth, or Isis, all the good of which he is capable.
Before the Egyptians and Persians, Mozazor, among the Indians, had revolted against God and become the devil, but God had at last pardoned him. If Bekker and the Socinians had known this anecdote of the fall of the Indian angels and their restoration, they would have availed themselves of it to support their opinion that hell is not perpetual, and to give hopes of salvation to such of the damned as read their books.
The Jews, as has already been observed, never spoke of the fall of the angels in the Old Testament; but it is mentioned in the New.
About the period of the establishment of Christianity a book was attributed to “Enoch, the seventh man after Adam,” concerning the devil and his associates. Enoch gives us the names of the leaders of the rebellious and the faithful angels, but he does not say that war was in heaven; on the contrary, the fight was upon a mountain of the earth, and it was for the possession of young women.
St. Jude cites this book in his Epistle: “And the angels, which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day . . . . Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain. . . . And Enoch, also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these. . . . .”
St. Peter in his second Epistle alludes to the Book of Enoch when he says: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness . . . .”
Bekker must have found it difficult to resist passages so formal. However, he was even more inflexible on the subject of devils than on that of angels; he would not be subdued by the Book of Enoch, the seventh man from Adam; he maintained that there was no more a devil than there was a book of Enoch. He said that the devil was imitated from ancient mythology, that it was an old story revived, and that we are nothing more than plagiarists.
We may at the present day be asked why we call that Lucifer the evil spirit, whom the Hebrew version, and the book attributed to Enoch, named Samyaza. It is because we understand Latin better than Hebrew.
But whether Lucifer be the planet Venus, or the Samyaza of Enoch, or the Satan of the Babylonians, or the Mozazor of the Indians, or the Typhon of the Egyptians, Bekker was right in saying that so enormous a power ought not to be attributed to him as that with which, even down to our own times, he has been believed to be invested. It is too much to have immolated to him a woman of quality of Würzburg, Magdalen Chaudron, the curate of Gaupidi, the wife of Marshal d’Ancre, and more than a hundred thousand other wizards and witches, in the space of thirteen hundred years, in Christian states. Had Belthazar Bekker been content with paring the devil’s nails, he would have been very well received; but when a curate would annihilate the devil he loses his cure.
We shall see at the article “Certainty” that we ought often to be very uncertain of what we are certain of; and that we may fail in good sense when deciding according to what is called common sense. But what is it that we call believing?
A Turk comes and says to me, “I believe that the angel Gabriel often descended from the empyrean, to bring Mahomet leaves of the Koran, written on blue vellum.”
Well, Mustapha, and on what does thy shaven head found its belief of this incredible thing?
“On this: That there are the greatest probabilities that I have not been deceived in the relation of these improbable prodigies; that Abubeker, the father-in-law, Ali, the son-in-law, Aisha, or Aisse, the daughter, Omar, and Osman, certified the truth of the fact in the presence of fifty thousand men—gathered together all the leaves, read them to the faithful, and attested that not a word had been altered.
“That we have never had but one Koran, which has never been contradicted by another Koran. That God has never permitted the least alteration to be made in this book.
“That its doctrine and precepts are the perfection of reason. Its doctrine consists in the unity of God, for Whom we must live and die; in the immortality of the soul; the eternal rewards of the just and punishments of the wicked; and the mission of our great prophet Mahomet, proved by victories.
“Its precepts are: To be just and valiant; to give alms to the poor; to abstain from that enormous number of women whom the Eastern princes, and in particular the petty Jewish kings, took to themselves without scruple; to renounce the good wines of Engaddi and Tadmor, which those drunken Hebrews have so praised in their books; to pray to God five times a day, etc.
“This sublime religion has been confirmed by the miracle of all others the finest, the most constant, and best verified in the history of the world; that Mahomet, persecuted by the gross and absurd scholastic magistrates who decreed his arrest, and obliged to quit his country, returned victorious; that he made his imbecile and sanguinary enemies his footstool; that he all his life fought the battles of the Lord; that with a small number he always triumphed over the greater number; that he and his successors have converted one-half of the earth; and that, with God’s help, we shall one day convert the other half.”
Nothing can be arrayed in more dazzling colors. Yet Mustapha, while believing so firmly, always feels some small shadows of doubt arising in his soul when he hears any difficulties started respecting the visits of the angel Gabriel; the sura or chapter brought from heaven to declare that the great prophet was not a cuckold; or the mare Borak, which carried him in one night from Mecca to Jerusalem. Mustapha stammers; he makes very bad answers, at which he blushes; yet he not only tells you that he believes, but would also persuade you to believe. You press Mustapha; he still gapes and stares, and at last goes away to wash himself in honor of Allah, beginning his ablution at the elbow and ending with the forefinger.
Is Mustapha really persuaded—convinced of all that he has told us? Is he perfectly sure that Mahomet was sent by God, as he is sure that the city of Stamboul exists? as he is sure that the Empress Catherine II. sent a fleet from the remotest seas of the North to land troops in Peloponnesus—a thing as astonishing as the journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in one night—and that this fleet destroyed that of the Ottomans in the Dardanelles?
The truth is that Mustapha believes what he does not believe. He has been accustomed to pronounce, with his mollah, certain words which he takes for ideas. To believe is very often to doubt.
“Why do you believe that?” says Harpagon. “I believe it because I believe it,” answers Master Jacques; and most men might return the same answer.
Believe me fully, my dear reader, when I say one must not believe too easily. But what shall we say of those who would persuade others of what they themselves do not believe? and what of the monsters who persecute their brethren in the humble and rational doctrine of doubt and self-distrust?
Of the Fifty Thousand and Seventy Jews Struck with Sudden Death for Having Looked Upon the Ark; of the Five Golden Emeroids Paid by the Philistines; and of Dr. Kennicott’s Incredulity.
Men of the world will perhaps be astonished to find this word the subject of an article; but we here address only the learned and ask their instruction.
Bethshemesh was a village belonging to God’s people, situated, according to commentators, two miles north of Jerusalem. The Phœnicians having, in Samuel’s time, beaten the Jews, and taken from them their Ark of alliance in the battle, in which they killed thirty thousand of their men, were severely punished for it by the Lord:
“Percussit eos in secretiori parte natium, et ebullierunt villæ et agri. . . . et nati sunt mures, et facta est confusio mortis magna in civitate.” Literally: “He struck them in the most secret part of the buttocks; and the fields and the farmhouses were troubled . . . . and there sprung up mice; and there was a great confusion of death in the city.”
The prophets of the Phœnicians, or Philistines, having informed them that they could deliver themselves from the scourge only by giving to the Lord five golden mice and five golden emeroids, and sending him back the Jewish Ark, they fulfilled this order, and, according to the express command of their prophets sent back the Ark with the mice and emeroids on a wagon drawn by two cows, with each a sucking calf and without a driver.
These two cows of themselves took the Ark straight to Bethshemesh. The men of Bethshemesh approached the Ark in order to look at it, which liberty was punished yet more severely than the profanation by the Phœnicians had been. The Lord struck with sudden death seventy men of the people, and fifty thousand of the populace.
The reverend Doctor Kennicott, an Irishman, printed in 1768 a French commentary on this occurrence and dedicated it to the bishop of Oxford. At the head of this commentary he entitles himself Doctor of Divinity, member of the Royal Society of London, of the Palatine Academy, of the Academy of Göttingen, and of the Academy of Inscriptions at Paris. All that I know of the matter is that he is not of the Academy of Inscriptions at Paris. Perhaps he is one of its correspondents. His vast erudition may have deceived him, but titles are distinct from things.
He informs the public that his pamphlet is sold at Paris by Saillant and Molini, at Rome by Monaldini, at Venice by Pasquali, at Florence by Cambiagi, at Amsterdam by Marc-Michel Rey, at The Hague by Gosse, at Leyden by Jaquau, and in London by Beckett, who receives subscriptions.
In this pamphlet he pretends to prove that the Scripture text has been corrupted. Here we must be permitted to differ with him. Nearly all Bibles agree in these expressions: seventy men of the people and fifty thousand of the populace—“De populo septuaginta viros, et quinquaginta millia plebis.” The reverend Doctor Kennicott says to the right reverend the lord bishop of Oxford that formerly there were strong prejudices in favor of the Hebrew text, but that for seventeen years his lordship and himself have been freed from their prejudices, after the deliberate and attentive perusal of this chapter.
In this we differ from Dr. Kennicott, and the more we read this chapter the more we reverence the ways of the Lord, which are not our ways. It is impossible, says Kennicott, for the candid reader not to feel astonished and affected at the contemplation of fifty thousand men destroyed in one village—men, too, employed in gathering the harvest.
This does, it is true, suppose a hundred thousand persons, at least, in that village, but should the doctor forget that the Lord had promised Abraham that his posterity should be as numerous as the sands of the sea?
The Jews and the Christians, adds he, have not scrupled to express their repugnance to attach faith to this destruction of fifty thousand and seventy men.
We answer that we are Christians and have no repugnance to attach faith to whatever is in the Holy Scriptures. We answer, with the reverend Father Calmet, that “if we were to reject whatever is extraordinary and beyond the reach of our conception we must reject the whole Bible.” We are persuaded that the Jews, being under the guidance of God himself, could experience no events but such as were stamped with the seal of the Divinity and quite different from what happened to other men. We will even venture to advance that the death of these fifty thousand and seventy men is one of the least surprising things in the Old Testament.
We are struck with astonishment still more reverential when Eve’s serpent and Balaam’s ass talk; when the waters of the cataracts are swelled by rain fifteen cubits above all the mountains; when we behold the plagues of Egypt, and the six hundred and thirty thousand fighting Jews flying on foot through the divided and suspended sea; when Joshua stops the sun and moon at noonday; when Samson slays a thousand Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass. . . . . In those divine times all was miracle, without exception, and we have the profoundest reverence for all these miracles—for that ancient world which was not our world; for that nature which was not our nature; for a divine book, in which there can be nothing human.
But we are astonished at the liberty which Dr. Kennicott takes of calling those deists and atheists, who, while they revere the Bible more than he does, differ from him in opinion. Never will it be believed that a man with such ideas is of the Academy of Medals and Inscriptions. He is, perhaps, of the Academy of Bedlam, the most ancient of all, and whose colonies extend throughout the earth.
Bilhah, servant to Rachel, and Zilpah, servant to Leah, each bore the patriarch Jacob two children, and, be it observed, that they inherited like legitimate sons, as well as the eight other male children whom Jacob had by the two sisters Leah and Rachel. It is true that all their inheritance consisted in a blessing; whereas, William the Bastard inherited Normandy.
Thierri, a bastard of Clovis, inherited the best part of Gaul, invaded by his father. Several kings of Spain and Naples have been bastards. In Spain bastards have always inherited. King Henry of Transtamare was not considered as an illegitimate king, though he was an illegitimate child, and this race of bastards, founded in the house of Austria, reigned in Spain until Philip V.
The line of Aragon, who reigned in Naples in the time of Louis XII., were bastards. Count de Dunois signed himself “the bastard of Orleans,” and letters were long preserved of the duke of Normandy, king of England, which were signed “William the Bastard.”
In Germany it is otherwise; the descent must be pure; bastards never inherit fiefs, nor have any estate. In France, as has long been the case, a king’s bastard cannot be a priest without a dispensation from Rome, but he becomes a prince without any difficulty as soon as the king acknowledges him to be the offspring of his sire, even though he be the bastard of an adulterous father and mother. It is the same in Spain. The bastard of a king of England may be a duke but not a prince. Jacob’s bastards were neither princes nor dukes; they had no lands, the reason being that their father had none, but they were afterwards called patriarchs, which may be rendered arch-fathers.
It has been asked whether the bastards of the popes might be popes in turn. Pope John XI. was, it is true, a bastard of Pope Sergius III., and of the famous Marozia; but an instance is not a law.
Samuel Ornik, a native of Basle, was, as is well known, a very amiable young man, who, moreover, knew his German and Greek New Testament by heart. At the age of twenty his parents sent him to travel. He was commissioned to carry books to the coadjutor at Paris in the time of the Fronde. He arrived at the archbishop’s gate and was told by the Swiss that monseigneur saw no one. “My dear fellow,” said Ornik, “you are very rude to your countrymen; the apostles allowed every one to approach, and Jesus Christ desired that little children should come unto him. I have nothing to ask of your master; on the contrary, I bring him something.” “Enter, then,” said the Swiss.
He waited an hour in the first ante-chamber. Being quite artless he attacked with questions a domestic who was very fond of telling all he knew about his master. “He must be pretty rich,” said Ornik, “to have such a swarm of pages and footmen running in and out of the house.” “I don’t know,” answered the other, “what his income is, but I hear Joli and the Abbé Charier say that he is two millions in debt.” “But who is that lady who came out of a cabinet and is passing by?” “That is Madame de Pomèreu, one of his mistresses.” “She is really very pretty, but I have not read that the apostles had such company in their bedchambers in a morning.” “Ah! that, I believe, is monsieur, about to give audience.” “Say sa grandeur, monseigneur.” “Well, with all my heart. . . . .” Ornik saluted sa grandeur, presented his books, and was received with a most gracious smile. Sa grandeur said three words to him, and stepped into his carriage, escorted by fifty horsemen. In stepping in, monseigneur dropped a sheath and Ornik was astonished that monseigneur should carry so large an inkhorn. “Do you not see,” said the talker, “that it is his dagger? every one that goes to parliament wears his dagger?” Ornik uttered an exclamation of astonishment, and departed.
He went through France and was edified by town after town. From thence he passed into Italy. In the papal territories he met a bishop with an income of only a thousand crowns, who went on foot. Ornik, being naturally kind, offered him a place in his cambiatura. “Signor, you are no doubt going to comfort the sick?” “Sir, I am going to my master.” “Your master? He, no doubt, is Jesus Christ.” “Sir, he is Cardinal Azolino; I am his almoner. He gives me a very poor salary, but he has promised to place me with Donna Olimpia, the favorite sister-in-law of nostro signore.” “What! are you in the pay of a cardinal? But do you not know that there were no cardinals in the time of Jesus Christ and St. John?” “Is it possible!” exclaimed the Italian prelate. “Nothing is more true; you have read it in the Gospel.” “I have never read it,” replied the bishop; “I know only the office of Our Lady.” “I tell you there were neither cardinals nor bishops, and when there were bishops the priests were almost their equals, as St. Jerome, in several places, assures us.” “Holy Virgin!” said the Italian, “I knew nothing about it; and what of the popes?” “There were no popes either.” The good bishop crossed himself, thinking he was with the evil one, and leaped from the side of his companion.
This is a Greek word signifying an attack on reputation. We find blasphemia in Demosthenes. In the Greek Church it was used only to express an injury done to God. The Romans never made use of this expression, apparently not thinking that God’s honor could be offended like that of men.
There scarcely exists one synonym. Blasphemy does not altogether convey the idea of sacrilege. We say of a man who has taken God’s name in vain, who, in the violence of anger, has sworn—as it is expressed—by the name of God, that he has blasphemed; but we do not say that he has committed sacrilege. The sacrilegious man is he who perjures himself on the gospel, who extends his rapacity to sacred things, who imbrues his hands in the blood of priests.
Great sacrileges have always been punished with death in all nations, especially those accompanied by bloodshed. The author of the “Institutes au Droit Criminel,” reckons among divine high treasons in the second degree, the non-observance of Sundays and holidays. He should have said the non-observance attended with marked contempt, for simple negligence is a sin, but not, as he calls it, a sacrilege. It is absurd to class together, as this author does, simony, the carrying off of a nun, and the forgetting to go to vespers on a holiday. It is one great instance of the errors committed by writers on jurisprudence, who, not having been called upon to make laws, take upon themselves to interpret those of the state.
Blasphemies uttered in intoxication, in anger, in the excess of debauchery, or in the heat of unguarded conversation have been subjected by legislators to much lighter penalties. For instance, the advocate whom we have already cited says that the laws of France condemn simple blasphemers to a fine for the first offence, which is doubled for the second, tripled for the third, and quadrupled for the fourth offence; for the fifth relapse the culprit is set in the pillory, for the sixth relapse he is pilloried, and has his upper lip burned off with a hot iron, and for the seventh he loses his tongue. He should have added that this was an ordinance of the year 1666.
Punishments are almost always arbitrary, which is a great defect in jurisprudence. But this defect opens the way for clemency and compassion, and this compassion is no other than the strictest justice, for it would be horrible to punish a youthful indiscretion as poisoners and parricides are punished. A sentence of death for an offence which deserves nothing more than correction is no other than an assassination committed with the sword of justice.
Is it not to the purpose here to remark that what has been blasphemy in one country has often been piety in another?
Suppose a Tyrian merchant landed at the port of Canope: he might be scandalized on seeing an onion, a cat, or a goat carried in procession; he might speak indecorously of Isheth, Oshireth, and Horeth, or might turn aside his head and not fall on his knees at the sight of a procession with the parts of human generation larger than life; he might express his opinion at supper, or even sing some song in which the Tyrian sailors made a jest of the Egyptian absurdities. He might be overheard by the maid of the inn, whose conscience would not suffer her to conceal so enormous a crime; she would run and denounce the offender to the nearest shoen that bore the image of the truth on his breast, and it is known how this image of truth was made. The tribunal of the shoens or shotim, would condemn the Tyrian blasphemer to a dreadful death, and confiscate his vessel. Yet this merchant might be considered at Tyre as one of the most pious persons in Phœnicia.
Numa sees that his little horde of Romans is a collection of Latin freebooters who steal right and left all they can find—oxen, sheep, fowls, and girls. He tells them that he has spoken with the nymph Egeria in a cavern, and that the nymph has been employed by Jupiter to give him laws. The senators treat him at first as a blasphemer and threaten to throw him headlong from the Tarpeian rock. Numa makes himself a powerful party; he gains over some senators who go with him into Egeria’s grotto. She talks to them and converts them; they convert the senate and the people. In a little time Numa is no longer a blasphemer, the name is given only to such as doubt the existence of the nymph.
In our own times it is unfortunate that what is blasphemy at Rome, at our Lady of Loretto, and within the walls of San Gennaro, is piety in London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, Copenhagen, Berne, Basel, and Hamburg. It is yet more unfortunate that even in the same country, in the same town, in the same street, people treat one another as blasphemers.
Nay, of the ten thousand Jews living at Rome there is not one who does not regard the pope as the chief of the blasphemers, while the hundred thousand Christians who inhabit Rome, in place of two millions of Jovians who filled it in Trajan’s time, firmly believe that the Jews meet in their synagogues on Saturday for the purpose of blaspheming.
A Cordelier has no hesitation in applying the epithet of blasphemer to a Dominican who says that the Holy Virgin was born in original sin, notwithstanding that the Dominicans have a bull from the pope which permits them to teach the maculate conception in their convents, and that, besides this bull, they have in their forum the express declaration of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The first origin of the schism of three-fourths of Switzerland and a part of Lower Germany was a quarrel in the cathedral church of Frankfort between a Cordelier, whose name I forget, and a Dominican named Vigand.
Both were drunk, according to the custom of that day. The drunken Cordelier, who was preaching, thanked God that he was not a Jacobin, swearing that it was necessary to exterminate the blaspheming Jacobins who believed that the Holy Virgin had been born in mortal sin, and delivered from sin only by the merits of her son. The drunken Jacobin cried out: “Thou hast lied; thou thyself art a blasphemer.” The Cordelier descended from the pulpit with a great iron crucifix in his hand, laid it about his adversary, and left him almost dead on the spot.
To revenge this outrage the Dominicans worked many miracles in Germany and Switzerland; these miracles were designed to prove their faith. They at length found means to imprint the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ on one of their lay brethren named Jetzer. This operation was performed at Berne by the Holy Virgin herself, but she borrowed the hand of the sub-prior, who dressed himself in female attire and put a glory round his head. The poor little lay brother, exposed all bloody to the veneration of the people on the altar of the Dominicans at Berne, at last cried out murder! sacrilege! The monks, in order to quiet him as quickly as possible administered to him a host sprinkled with corrosive sublimate, but the excess of the dose made him discharge the host from his stomach.
The monks then accused him to the bishop of Lausanne of horrible sacrilege. The indignant people of Berne in their turn accused the monks, and four of them were burned at Berne on the 13th of May, 1509, at the Marsilly gate. Such was the termination of this abominable affair, which determined the people of Berne to choose a religion, bad indeed in Catholic eyes, but which delivered them from the Cordeliers and the Jacobins. The number of similar sacrileges is incredible. Such are the effects of party spirit.
The Jesuits maintained for a hundred years that the Jansenists were blasphemers, and proved it by a thousand lettres-de-cachet; the Jansenists by upwards of four thousand volumes demonstrated that it was the Jesuits who blasphemed. The writer of the “Gazettes Ecclésiastiques,” pretends that all honest men blaspheme against him, while he himself blasphemes from his garret on high against every honest man in the kingdom. The gazette-writer’s publisher blasphemes in return and complains that he is starving. He would find it better to be honest and polite.
One thing equally remarkable and consoling is that never in any country of the earth, among the wildest idolaters, has any man been considered as a blasphemer for acknowledging one supreme, eternal, and all-powerful God. It certainly was not for having acknowledged this truth that Socrates was condemned to the hemlock, for the doctrine of a Supreme God was announced in all the Grecian mysteries. It was a faction that destroyed Socrates; he was accused, at a venture, of not recognizing the secondary gods, and on this point it was that he was accused as a blasphemer.
The first Christians were accused of blasphemy for the same reason, but the partisans of the ancient religion of the empire, the Jovians, who reproached the primitive Christians with blasphemy, were at length condemned as blasphemers themselves, under Theodosius II. Dryden says:
Body and matter are here the same thing although there is hardly any such thing as synonym in the most rigorous sense of the word. There have been persons who by this word “body” have understood “spirit” also. They have said spirit originally signifies breath; only a body can breathe, therefore body and spirit may, after all, be the same thing. In this sense La Fontaine said to the celebrated Duke de la Rochefoucauld: “J’entens les esprits corps et pétris de matière.” In the same sense he says to Madame Sablière:
No one thought of harassing good Monsieur La Fontaine, or bringing him to trial for his expressions. Were a poor philosopher, or even a poet, to say as much nowadays, how many would there be to fall on him! How many scribblers to sell their extracts for sixpence! How many knaves, for the sole purpose of making mischief, to cry philosopher! peripatetic! disciple of Gassendi! pupil of Locke, and the primitive fathers! damnable!
As we know not what a spirit is, so also we are ignorant of what a body is; we see various properties, but what is the subject in which those properties reside? “There is nothing but body,” said Democritus and Epicurus; “there is no such thing as body,” said the disciples of Zeno, of Elia.
Berkeley, bishop of Cloyne, is the last who, by a hundred captious sophisms, has pretended to prove that bodies do not exist. They have, says he, neither color, nor smell, nor heat; all these modalities are in your sensations, not in the objects. He might have spared himself the trouble of proving this truth for it was already sufficiently known. But thence he passed to extent and solidity, which are essential to body, and thinks he proves that there is no extent in a piece of green cloth because the cloth is not in reality green, the sensation of green being in ourselves only, therefore the sensation of extent is likewise in ourselves only. Having thus destroyed extent he concludes that solidity, which is attached to it, falls of itself, and therefore that there is nothing in the world but our ideas. So that, according to this doctor, ten thousand men killed by ten thousand cannon shots are in reality nothing more than ten thousand apprehensions of our understanding, and when a female becomes pregnant it is only one idea lodged in another idea from which a third idea will be produced.
Surely, the bishop of Cloyne might have saved himself from falling into this excessive absurdity. He thinks he shows that there is no extent because a body has appeared to him four times as large through a glass as to his naked eye, and four times as small through another glass. Hence he concludes, that, since a body cannot be at the same time four feet, sixteen feet, and but one foot in extent, there is no extent, therefore there is nothing. He had only to take any measure and say: of whatever extent this body may appear to me to be, it extends to so many of these measures.
He might very easily see that extent and solidity were quite different from sound, color, taste, smell. It is quite clear that these are sensations excited in us by the configuration of parts, but extent is not a sensation. When this lighted coal goes out, I am no longer warm; when the air is no longer struck, I cease to hear; when this rose withers, I no longer smell it: but the coal, the air, and the rose have extent without me. Berkeley’s paradox is not worth refuting.
Thus argued Zeno and Parmenides of old, and very clever they were; they would prove to you that a tortoise went along as swiftly as Achilles, for there was no such thing as motion; they discussed a hundred other questions equally important. Most of the Greeks made philosophy a juggle, and they transmitted their art to our schoolmen. Bayle himself was occasionally one of the set and embroidered cobwebs like the rest. In his article, “Zeno,” against the divisible extent of matter and the contiguity of bodies he ventures to say what would not be tolerated in any six-months geometrician.
It is worth knowing how Berkeley was drawn into this paradox. A long while ago I had some conversation with him, and he told me that his opinion originated in our being unable to conceive what the subject of this extension is, and certainly, in his book, he triumphs when he asks Hylas what this subject, this substratum, this substance is? It is the extended body, answers Hylas. Then the bishop, under the name of Philonous, laughs at him, and poor Hylas, finding that he has said that extension is the subject of extension, and has therefore talked nonsense, remains quite confused, acknowledges that he understands nothing at all of the matter; that there is no such thing as body; that the natural world does not exist, and that there is none but an intellectual world.
Hylas should only have said to Philonous: We know nothing of the subject of this extension, solidity, divisibility, mobility, figure, etc.; I know no more of it than I do of the subject of thought, feeling, and will, but the subject does not the less exist for it has essential properties of which it cannot be deprived.
We all resemble the greater part of the Parisian ladies who live well without knowing what is put in their ragoûts; just so do we enjoy bodies without knowing of what they are composed. Of what does a body consist? Of parts, and these parts resolve themselves into other parts. What are these last parts? They, too, are bodies; you divide incessantly without making any progress.
In short, a subtle philosopher, observing that a picture was made of ingredients of which no single ingredient was a picture, and a house of materials of which no one material was a house, imagined that bodies are composed of an infinity of small things which are not bodies, and these are called monads. This system is not without its merits, and, were it revealed, I should think it very possible. These little beings would be so many mathematical points, a sort of souls, waiting only for a tenement: here would be a continual metempsychosis. This system is as good as another; I like it quite as well as the declination of atoms, the substantial forms, the versatile grace, or the vampires.
You despise books; you, whose lives are absorbed in the vanities of ambition, the pursuit of pleasure, or in indolence, but remember that all the known world, excepting only savage nations, is governed by books. All Africa, to the limits of Ethiopia and Nigritia obeys the book of the Koran after bowing to the book of the Gospel. China is ruled by the moral book of Confucius, and a great part of India by the Veda. Persia was governed for ages by the books of one of the Zoroasters.
In a lawsuit or criminal process, your property, your honor, perhaps your life, depends on the interpretation of a book which you never read. It is, however, with books as with men, a very small number play a great part, the rest are confounded with the multitude.
By whom are mankind led in all civilized countries? By those who can read and write. You are acquainted with neither Hippocrates, nor Boerhaave, nor Sydenham, but you place your body in the hands of those who can read them. You leave your soul entirely to the care of those who are paid for reading the Bible, although there are not fifty of them who have read it through with attention.
The world is now so entirely governed by books that they who command in the city of the Scipios and the Catos have resolved that the books of their law shall be for themselves alone; they are their sceptre, which they have made it high treason in their subjects to touch without an express permission. In other countries it has been forbidden to think in print without letters-patent.
There are nations in which thought is considered merely as an article of commerce, the operations of the human understanding being valued only at so much per sheet. If the bookseller happens to desire a privilege for his merchandise whether he is selling “Rabelais,” or the “Fathers of the Church,” the magistrate grants the privilege without answering for the contents of the book.
In another country the liberty of explaining yourself by books is one of the most inviolable prerogatives. There you may print whatever you please, on pain of being tiresome, and of being punished if you have too much abused your natural right.
Before the admirable invention of printing, books were scarcer and dearer than jewels. There were scarcely any books in our barbarous nations, either before Charlemagne or after him, until the time of Charles V., king of France, called the Wise, and from this time to Francis I. the scarcity was extreme. The Arabs alone had them from the eighth to the thirteenth century of our era. China was full of them when we could neither read nor write.
Copyists were much employed in the Roman Empire from the time of the Scipios until the irruption of the barbarians. This was a very ungrateful employment. The dealers always paid authors and copyists very ill. It required two years of assiduous labor for a copyist to transcribe the whole Bible well on vellum, and what time and trouble to copy correctly in Greek and Latin the works of Origen, Clement of Alexandria and all the others writers called Fathers!
St. Hieronymos, or Hieronymus, whom we call Jerome, says, in one of his satirical letters against Rufinus that he has ruined himself with buying the works of Origen, against whom he wrote with so much bitterness and violence. “Yes,” says he, “I have read Origen, if it be a crime I confess that I am guilty and that I exhausted my purse in buying his works at Alexandria.”
The Christian societies of the three first centuries had fifty-four gospels, of which, until Diocletian’s time scarcely two or three copies found their way among the Romans of the old religion.
Among the Christians it was an unpardonable crime to show the gospels to the Gentiles; they did not even lend them to the catechumens.
When Lucian (insulting our religion of which he knew very little) relates that “a troop of beggars took him up into a fourth story where they were invoking the Father through the Son, and foretelling misfortunes to the emperor and the empire,” he does not say that they showed him a single book. No Roman historian, no Roman author whomsoever makes mention of the gospels.
When a Christian, who was unfortunately rash and unworthy of his holy religion had publicly torn in pieces and trampled under foot an edict of the Emperor Diocletian, and had thus drawn down upon Christianity that persecution which succeeded the greatest toleration, the Christians were then obliged to give up their gospels and written authors to the magistrates, which before then had never been done. Those who gave up their books through fear of imprisonment, or even of death, were held by the rest of the Christians to be sacrilegious apostates, they received the surname of traditores, whence we have the word “traitor,” and several bishops asserted that they should be rebaptized, which occasioned a dreadful schism.
The poems of Homer were long so little known that Pisistratus was the first who put them in order and had them transcribed at Athens about five hundred years before the Christian era.
Perhaps there was not at this time in all the East a dozen copies of the Veda and the Zend-Avesta.
In 1700 you would not have found a single book in all Rome, excepting the missals and a few Bibles in the hands of papas drunk with brandy.
The complaint now is of their too great abundance. But it is not for readers to complain, the remedy is in their own hands; nothing forces them to read. Nor for authors, they who make the multitude of books have not to complain of being pressed. Notwithstanding this enormous quantity how few people read! But if they read, and read with advantage, should we have to witness the deplorable infatuations to which the vulgar are still every day a prey?
The reason that books are multiplied in spite of the general law that beings shall not be multiplied without necessity, is that books are made from books. A new history of France or Spain is manufactured from several volumes already printed, without adding anything new. All dictionaries are made from dictionaries; almost all new geographical books are made from other books of geography; St. Thomas’s Dream has brought forth two thousand large volumes of divinity, and the same race of little worms that have devoured the parent are now gnawing the children.
It is sometimes very dangerous to make a book. Silhouète, before he could suspect that he should one day be comptroller-general of the finances, published a translation of Warburton’s “Alliance of Church and State,” and his father-in-law, Astuce the physician, gave to the public the “Memoirs,” in which the author of the Pentateuch might have found all the astonishing things which happened so long before his time.
The very day that Silhouète came into office, some good friend of his sought out a copy of each of these books by the father-in-law and son-in-law, in order to denounce them to the parliament and have them condemned to the flames, according to custom. They immediately bought up all the copies in the kingdom, whence it is that they are now extremely rare.
There is hardly a single philosophical or theological book in which heresies and impieties may not be found by misinterpreting, or adding to, or subtracting from, the sense.
Theodore of Mopsuestes ventured to call the “Canticle of Canticles,” “a collection of impurities.” Grotius pulls it in pieces and represents it as horrid, and Chatillon speaks of it as “a scandalous production.”
Perhaps it will hardly be believed that Dr. Tamponet one day said to several others: “I would engage to find a multitude of heresies in the Lord’s Prayer if this prayer, which we know to have come from the Divine mouth, were now for the first time published by a Jesuit.”
I would proceed thus: “Our Father, who art in heaven—” a proposition inclining to heresy, since God is everywhere. Nay, we find in this expression the leaven of Socinianism, for here is nothing at all said of the Trinity.
“Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven—” another proposition tainted with heresy, for it said again and again in the Scriptures that God reigns eternally. Moreover it is very rash to ask that His will may be done, since nothing is or can be done but by the will of God.
“Give us this day our daily bread—” a proposition directly contrary to what Jesus Christ uttered on another occasion: “Take no thought, saying what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? . . . . for after all these things do the Gentiles seek. . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors—” a rash proposition, which compares man to God, destroys gratuitous predestination, and teaches that God is bound to do to us as we do to others. Besides, how can the author say that we forgive our debtors? We have never forgiven them a single crown. No convent in Europe ever remitted to its farmers the payment of a sou. To dare to say the contrary is a formal heresy.
“Lead us not into temptation—” a proposition scandalous and manifestly heretical, for there is no tempter but the devil, and it is expressly said in St. James’ Epistle: “God is no tempter of the wicked; He tempts no man.”—“Deus enim intentator malorum est; ipse autem neminem tentat.”
You see, then, said Doctor Tamponet, that there is nothing, though ever so venerable, to which a bad sense may not be given. What book, then, shall not be liable to human censure when even the Lord’s Prayer may be attacked, by giving a diabolical interpretation to all the divine words that compose it? As for me, I tremble at the thought of making a book. Thank God, I have never published anything; I have not even—like brothers La Rue, Du Ceveau, and Folard—had any of my theatrical pieces played, it would be too dangerous.
If you publish, a parish curate accuses you of heresy; a stupid collegian denounces you; a fellow that cannot read condemns you; the public laugh at you; your bookseller abandons you, and your wine merchant gives you no more credit. I always add to my paternoster, “Deliver me, O God, from the itch of bookmaking.”
O ye who, like myself, lay black on white and make clean paper dirty! call to mind the following verses which I remember to have read, and by which we should have been corrected:
Books are now multiplied to such a degree that it is impossible not only to read them all but even to know their number and their titles. Happily, one is not obliged to read all that is published, and Caramuel’s plan for writing a hundred folio volumes and employing the spiritual and temporal power of princes to compel their subjects to read them, has not been put in execution. Ringelburg, too, had formed the design of composing about a thousand different volumes, but, even had he lived long enough to publish them he would have fallen far short of Hermes Trismegistus, who, according to Jamblicus, composed thirty-six thousand five hundred and twenty-five books. Supposing the truth of this fact, the ancients had no less reason than the moderns to complain of the multitude of books.
It is, indeed, generally agreed that a small number of choice books is sufficient. Some propose that we should confine ourselves to the Bible or Holy Scriptures, as the Turks limit themselves to the Koran. But there is a great difference between the feelings of reverence entertained by the Mahometans for their Koran and those of the Christians for the Scriptures. The veneration testified by the former when speaking of the Koran cannot be exceeded. It is, say they, the greatest of all miracles; nor are all the men in existence put together capable of anything at all approaching it; it is still more wonderful that the author had never studied, nor read any book. The Koran alone is worth sixty thousand miracles (the number of its verses, or thereabouts); one rising from the dead would not be a stronger proof of the truth of a religion than the composition of the Koran. It is so perfect that it ought not to be regarded as a work of creation.
The Christians do indeed say that their Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Ghost, yet not only is it acknowledged by Cardinal Cajetan and Bellarmine that errors have found their way into them through the negligence and ignorance of the booksellers and the rabbis, who added the points, but they are considered as a book too dangerous for the hands of the majority of the faithful. This is expressed by the fifth rule of the Index, a congregation at Rome, whose office it is to examine what books are to be forbidden. It is as follows:
“Since it is evident that if the reading of the Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, were permitted to every one indiscriminately the temerity of mankind would cause more evil than good to arise therefrom—we will that it be referred to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who, with the advice of the curate or confessor, shall have power to grant permission to read the Bible rendered in the vulgar tongue by Catholic writers, to those to whom they shall judge that such reading will do no harm; they must have this permission in writing and shall not be absolved until they have returned their Bible into the hands of the ordinary. As for such booksellers as shall sell Bibles in the vulgar tongue to those who have not this written permission, or in any other way put them into their hands, they shall lose the price of the books (which the bishop shall employ for pious purposes), and shall moreover be punished by arbitrary penalties. Nor shall regulars read or buy these books without the permission of their superiors.”
Cardinal Duperron also asserted that the Scriptures, in the hands of the unlearned, were a two-edged knife which might wound them, to avoid which it was better that they should hear them from the mouth of the Church, with the solutions and interpretations of such passages as appear to the senses to be full of absurdity and contradiction, than that they should read them by themselves without any solution or interpretation. He afterwards made a long enumeration of these absurdities in terms so unqualified that Jurieu was not afraid to declare that he did not remember to have read anything so frightful or so scandalous in any Christian author.
Jurieu, who was so violent in his invectives against Cardinal Duperron, had himself to sustain similar reproaches from the Catholics. “I heard that minister,” says Pap, in speaking of him, “teaching the public that all the characteristics of the Holy Scriptures on which those pretended reformers had founded their persuasion of their divinity, did not appear to him to be sufficient. ‘Let it not be inferred,’ said Jurieu, ‘that I wish to take from the light and strength of the characteristics of Scripture, but I will venture to affirm that there is not one of them which may not be eluded by the profane. There is not one of them that amounts to a proof; not one to which something may not be said in answer, and, considered altogether, although they have greater power than separately to work a moral conviction—that is, a proof on which to found a certainty excluding every doubt—I own that nothing seems to me to be more opposed to reason than to say that these characteristics are of themselves capable of producing such a certainty.’ ”
It is not then astonishing that the Jews and the first Christians, who, we find in the Acts of the Apostles, confined themselves in their meetings to the reading of the Bible, were, as will be seen in the article “Heresy,” divided into different sects. For this reading was afterwards substituted that of various apocryphal works, or at least of extracts from them. The author of the “Synopsis of Scripture,” which we find among the works of St. Athanasius, expressly avows that there are in the apocryphal books things most true and inspired by God which have been selected and extracted for the perusal of the faithful.
Our questions have but little to do with geography, but we shall, perhaps, be permitted to express in a few words our astonishment respecting the town of Bourges. The Trévoux Dictionary asserts that “it is one of the most ancient in Europe; that it was the seat of empire of the Gauls, and gave laws to the Celts.”
I will not combat the antiquity of any town or of any family. But was there ever an empire of Gaul? had the Celts kings? This rage for antiquity is a malady which is not easily cured. In Gaul, in Germany, and in the North there is nothing ancient but the soil, the trees, and the animals. If you will have antiquities go to Asia, and even there they are hardly to be found. Man is ancient, but monuments are new; this has already been said in more articles than one.
If to be born within a certain stone or wooden limit more ancient than another were a real good it would be no more than reasonable to date the foundation of the town from the giants’ war, but since this vanity is in no wise advantageous let it be renounced. This is all I have to say about Bourges.
Courteous reader, observe, in the first place, that Father Thomassin, one of the most learned men of modern Europe, derives the Brachmans from the Jewish word barac, by a c—supposing, of course, that the Jews had a c. This barac, says he, signified to fly; and the Brachmans fled from the towns—supposing that there were any towns.
Or, if you like it better, Brachmans comes from barak by a k, meaning to bless or to pray. But why might not the Biscayans name the Brahmins from the word bran? which expresses—I will not say what. They had as good a right as the Hebrews. Really, this is a strange sort of erudition. By rejecting it entirely, we should know less, but we should know it better.
Is it not likely that the Brahmins were the first legislators, the first philosophers, the first divines, of the earth? Do not the few remaining monuments of ancient history form a great presumption in their favor? since the first Greek philosophers went to them to learn mathematics; and the most ancient curiosities, those collected by the emperors of China, are all Indian, as is attested by the relations in Du Halde’s collection.
Of the Shastah, we shall speak elsewhere. It is the first theological book of the Brahmins, written about fifteen hundred years before the Vedah, and anterior to all other books.
Their annals make no mention of any war undertaken by them at any time. The words “arms,” “killing,” “maiming,” are to be found neither in the fragments of the Shastah that have reached us, nor in the Yajurvedah, nor in the Kormovedah. At least, I can affirm that I have not seen them in either of these two latter collections; and it is most singular that the Shastah, which speaks of a conspiracy in heaven, makes no mention of any war in the great peninsula between the Indus and Ganges.
The Hebrews, who were unknown until so late a period, never name the Brahmins; they knew nothing of India till after Alexander’s conquests and their own settling in that Egypt of which they had spoken so ill. The name of India is to be found only in the book of Esther, and in that of Job, who was not a Hebrew. We find a singular contrast between the sacred books of the Hebrews and those of the Indians. The Indian books announce only peace and mildness; they forbid the killing of animals: but the Hebrew books speak of nothing but the slaughter and massacre of men and beasts; all are butchered in the name of the Lord; it is quite another order of things.
We are incontestably indebted to the Brahmins for the idea of the fall of celestial beings revolting against the Sovereign of Nature; and it was probably from them that the Greeks took the fable of the Titans; and lastly, from them it was that the Jews, in the first century of our era, took the idea of Lucifer’s revolt.
How could these Indians suppose a rebellion in heaven without having seen one on earth? Such a leap from the human to the divine nature is difficult of comprehension. We usually step from what is known to what is unknown.
A war of giants would not be imagined, until some men more robust than the rest had been seen to tyrannize over their fellow-men. To imagine the like in heaven, the Brahmins must either have experienced violent discords among themselves, or at least have witnessed them among their neighbors.
Be that as it may, it is an astonishing phenomenon that a society of men who had never made war should have invented a sort of war carried on in imaginary space, or in a globe distant from our own, or in what is called the firmament—the empyrean. But let it be carefully observed, that in this revolt of the celestial beings against their Sovereign, there were no blows given, no celestial blood spilled, no mountains thrown at one another’s heads, no angels cleft in twain, as in Milton’s sublime and grotesque poem.
According to the Shastah, it was only a formal disobedience of the orders of the Most High, which God punished by relegating the rebellious angels to a vast place of darkness called Onderah, for the term of a whole mononthour. A mononthour is a hundred and twenty-six millions of our years. But God vouchsafed to pardon the guilty at the end of five thousand years, and their Onderah was nothing more than a purgatory.
He turned them into Mhurd, or men, and placed them on our globe, on condition that they should not eat animals, nor cohabit with the males of their new species, on pain of returning to the Onderah.
These are the principal articles of the Brahmin faith, which has endured without intermission from time immemorial to the present day.
This is but a small part of the ancient cosmogony of the Brahmins. Their rites, their pagods, prove that among them all was allegorical. They still represent Virtue in the form of a woman with ten arms, combating ten mortal sins typified by monsters. Our missionaries were acute enough to take this image of Virtue for that of the devil, and affirm that the devil is worshipped in India. We have never visited that people but to enrich ourselves and calumniate them.
The Metempsychosis of the Brahmins.
The doctrine of the metempsychosis comes from an ancient law of feeding on cow’s milk as well as on vegetables, fruits, and rice. It seemed horrible to the Brahmins to kill and eat their feeder; and they had soon the same respect for goats, sheep, and all other animals: they believed them to be animated by the rebellious angels, who were completing their purification in the bodies of beasts as well as in those of men. The nature of the climate seconded, or rather originated this law. A burning atmosphere creates a necessity for refreshing food, and inspires horror for our custom of stowing carcasses in our stomachs.
The opinion that beasts have souls was general throughout the East, and we find vestiges of it in the ancient sacred writings. In the book of Genesis, God forbids men to eat “their flesh with their blood and their soul.” Such is the import of the Hebrew text. “I will avenge,” says he, “the blood of your souls on the claws of beasts and the hands of men.” In Leviticus he says, “The soul of the flesh is in the blood.” He does more; he makes a solemn compact with man and with all animals, which supposes an intelligence in the latter.
In much later times, Ecclesiasticus formally says, “God shows that man is like to the beasts; for men die like beasts; their condition is equal: as man dies, so also dies the beast. They breathe alike. There is nothing in man more than in the beast.” Jonah, when he went to preach at Nineveh, made both men and beasts fast.
All ancient authors, sacred books as well as profane, attribute knowledge to the beasts; and several make them speak. It is not then to be wondered at that the Brahmins, and after them the Pythagoreans, believed that souls passed successively into the bodies of beasts and of men; consequently they persuaded themselves, or at least they said, that the souls of the guilty angels, in order to finish their purgation, belonged sometimes to beasts, sometimes to men. This is a part of the romance of the Jesuit Bougeant, who imagined that the devils are spirits sent into the bodies of animals. Thus, in our day, and at the extremity of the west, a Jesuit unconsciously revives an article of the faith of the most ancient Oriental priests.
The Self-burning of Men and Women among the Brahmins.
The Brahmins of the present day, who do all that the ancient Brahmins did, have, we know, retained this horrible custom. Whence is it that, among a people who have never shed the blood of men or of animals, the finest act of devotion is a public self-burning? Superstition, the great uniter of contraries, is the only source of these frightful sacrifices, the custom of which is much more ancient than the laws of any known people.
The Brahmins assert that their great prophet Brahma, the son of God, descended among men, and had several wives; and that after his death, the wife who loved him the most burned herself on his funeral pile, that she might join him in heaven. Did this woman really burn herself, as it is said that Portia, the wife of Brutus, swallowed burning coals, in order to be reunited to her husband? or is this a fable invented by the priests? Was there a Brahma, who really gave himself out as a prophet and son of God? It is likely that there was a Brahma, as there afterwards were a Zoroaster and a Bacchus. Fable seized upon their history, as she has everywhere constantly done.
No sooner does the wife of the son of God burn herself, than ladies of meaner condition must burn themselves likewise. But how are they to find their husbands again, who are become horses, elephants, hawks, etc.? How are they to distinguish the precise beast, which the defunct animates? how recognize him and be still his wife? This difficulty does not in the least embarrass the Hindoo theologians; they easily find a distinguo—a solution in sensu composito—in sensu diviso. The metempsychosis is only for common people; for other souls they have a sublimer doctrine. These souls, being those of the once rebel angels, go about purifying themselves; those of the women who immolate themselves are beatified, and find their husbands ready-purified. In short, the priests are right, and the women burn themselves.
This dreadful fanaticism has existed for more than four thousand years, amongst a mild people, who would fear to kill a grasshopper. The priests cannot force a widow to burn herself; for the invariable law is, that the self-devotion must be absolutely voluntary. The longest married of the wives of the deceased has the first refusal of the honor of mounting the funeral-pile; if she is not inclined, the second presents herself; and so of the rest. It is said, that on one occasion seventeen burned themselves at once on the pile of a rajah: but these sacrifices are now very rare; the faith has become weaker since the Mahometans have governed a great part of the country, and the Europeans traded with the rest.
Still, there is scarcely a governor of Madras or Pondicherry who has not seen some Indian woman voluntarily perish in the flames. Mr. Holwell relates that a young widow of nineteen, of singular beauty, and the mother of three children, burned herself in the presence of Mrs. Russell, wife of the admiral then in the Madras roads. She resisted the tears and the prayers of all present; Mrs. Russell conjured her, in the name of her children, not to leave them orphans. The Indian woman answered, “God, who has given them birth, will take care of them.” She then arranged everything herself, set fire to the pile with her own hand, and consummated her sacrifice with as much serenity as one of our nuns lights the tapers.
Mr. Charnock, an English merchant, one day seeing one of these astonishing victims, young and lovely, on her way to the funeral-pile, dragged her away by force when she was about to set fire to it, and, with the assistance of some of his countrymen, carried her off and married her. The people regarded this act as the most horrible sacrilege.
Why do husbands never burn themselves, that they may join their wives? Why has a sex, naturally weak and timid, always had this frantic resolution? Is it because tradition does not say that a man ever married a daughter of Brahma, while it does affirm that an Indian woman was married to a son of that divinity? Is it because women are more superstitious than men? Or is it because their imaginations are weaker, more tender, and more easily governed?
The ancient Brahmins sometimes burned themselves to prevent the pains and the languor of old age; but, above all, to make themselves admired. Calanus would not, perhaps, have placed himself on the pile, but for the purpose of being gazed at by Alexander. The Christian renegade Peregrinus burned himself in public, for the same reason that a madman goes about the streets dressed like an Armenian, to attract the notice of the populace.
Is there not also an unfortunate mixture of vanity in this terrible sacrifice of the Indian women? Perhaps, if a law were passed that the burning should take place in the presence of one waiting woman only, this abominable custom would be forever destroyed.
One word more: A few hundreds of Indian women, at most, have furnished this horrid spectacle; but our inquisitions, our atrocious madmen calling themselves judges, have put to death in the flames more than a hundred thousand of our brethren—men, women, and children—for things which no one has understood. Let us pity and condemn the Brahmins; but let us not forget our miserable selves!
Truly, we have forgotten one very essential point in this short article on the Brahmins, which is, that their sacred books are full of contradictions; but the people know nothing of them, and the doctors have solutions ready—senses figured and figurative, allegories, types, express declarations of Birma, Brahma, and Vishnu, sufficient to shut the mouth of any reasoner.
The bread-tree grows in the Philippine islands, and principally in those of Guam and Tinian, as the cocoa-tree grows in the Indies. These two trees, alone, if they could be multiplied in our climate, would furnish food and drink sufficient for all mankind.
The bread-tree is taller and more bulky than our common apple-trees; its leaves are black, its fruit is yellow, and equal in dimensions to the largest apple. The rind is hard; and the cuticle is a sort of soft, white paste, which has the taste of the best French rolls; but it must be eaten fresh, as it keeps only twenty-four hours, after which it becomes dry, sour and disagreeable; but, as a compensation, the trees are loaded with them eight months of the year. The natives of the islands have no other food; they are all tall, stout, well made, sufficiently fleshy, and in the vigorous health which is necessarily produced by the use of one wholesome aliment alone: and it is to negroes that nature has made this present.
Corn is assuredly not the food of the greater part of the world. Maize and cassava are the food of all America. We have whole provinces in which the peasants eat none but chestnut bread, which is more nourishing and of better flavor than the rye or barley bread on which so many feed, and is much better than the rations given to the soldiers. Bread is unknown in all southern Africa. The immense Indian Archipelago, Siam, Laos, Pegu, Cochin-China, Tonquin, part of China, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, and the banks of the Ganges, produce rice, which is easier of cultivation, and for which wheat is neglected. Corn is absolutely unknown for the space of five hundred leagues on the coast of the Icy Sea.
The missionaries have sometimes been in great tribulation, in countries where neither bread nor wine is to be found. The inhabitants told them by interpreters: “You would baptize us with a few drops of water, in a burning climate, where we are obliged to plunge every day into the rivers; you would confess us, yet you understand not our language; you would have us communicate, yet you want the two necessary ingredients, bread and wine. It is therefore evident that your universal religion cannot have been made for us.” The missionaries replied, very justly, that good will is the one thing needful; that they should be plunged into the water without any scruple; that bread and wine should be brought from Goa; and that, as for the language, the missionaries would learn it in a few years.
He was a very subtle schoolman, who first said that we owe the origin of the word “buffoon” to a little Athenian sacrificer called Bupho, who, being tired of his employment, absconded, and never returned. The Areopagus, as they could not punish the priest, proceeded against his hatchet. This farce, which was played every year in the temple of Jupiter, is said to have been called “buffoonery.” This story is not entitled to much credit. Buffoon was not a proper name; bouphonos signifies an immolator of oxen. The Greeks never called any jest bouphonia. This ceremony, frivolous as it appears, might have an origin wise and humane, worthy of true Athenians.
Once a year, the subaltern sacrificer, or more properly the holy butcher, when on the point of immolating an ox, fled as if struck with horror, to put men in mind that in wiser and happier times only flowers and fruits were offered to the gods, and that the barbarity of immolating innocent and useful animals was not introduced until there were priests desirous of fattening on their blood and living at the expense of the people. In this idea there is no buffoonery.
This word “buffoon” has long been received among the Italians and the Spaniards, signifying mimus, scurra, joculator—a mimic, a jester, a player of tricks. Ménage, after Salmasius, derives it from bocca infiata—a bloated face; and it is true that a round face and swollen cheeks are requisite in a buffoon. The Italians say bufo magro—a meagre buffoon, to express a poor jester who cannot make you laugh.
Buffoon and buffoonery appertain to low comedy, to mountebanking, to all that can amuse the populace. In this it was—to the shame of the human mind be it spoken—that tragedy had its beginning: Thespis was a buffoon before Sophocles was a great man.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Spanish and English tragedies were all degraded by disgusting buffooneries. The courts were still more disgraced by buffoons than the stage. So strong was the rust of barbarism, that men had no taste for more refined pleasures. Boileau says of Molière:
But it must be considered that Raphael condescended to paint grotesque figures. Molière would not have descended so low, if all his spectators had been such men as Louis XIV., Condé, Turenne, La Rochefoucauld, Montausier, Beauvilliers, and such women as Montespan and Thianges; but he had also to please the whole people of Paris, who were yet quite unpolished. The citizen liked broad farce, and he paid for it. Scarron’s “Jodelets” were all the rage. We are obliged to place ourselves on the level of our age, before we can rise above it; and, after all, we like to laugh now and then. What is Homer’s “Battle of the Frogs and Mice,” but a piece of buffoonery—a burlesque poem?
Works of this kind give no reputation, but they may take from that which we already enjoy.
Buffoonery is not always in the burlesque style. “The Physician in Spite of Himself,” and the “Rogueries of Scapin,” are not in the style of Scarron’s “Jodelets.” Molière does not, like Scarron, go in search of slang terms; his lowest characters do not play the mountebank. Buffoonery is in the thing, not in the expression.
Boileau’s “Lutrin” was at first called a burlesque poem, but it was the subject that was burlesque; the style was pleasing and refined, and sometimes even heroic.
The Italians had another kind of burlesque, much superior to ours—that of Aretin, of Archbishop La Caza, of Berni, Mauro, and Dolce. It often sacrifices decorum to pleasantry, but obscene words are wholly banished from it. The subject of Archbishop La Caza’s “Capitolo del Forno” is, indeed, that which sends the Desfontaines to the Bicêtre, and the Deschaufours to the Place de Grève: but there is not one word offensive to the ear of chastity; you have to divine the meaning.
Three or four Englishmen have excelled in this way: Butler, in his “Hudibras,” which was the civil war excited by the Puritans turned into ridicule; Dr. Garth, in his “Dispensary”; Prior, in his “Alma,” in which he very pleasantly makes a jest of his subject; and Phillips, in his “Splendid Shilling.”
Butler is as much above Scarron as a man accustomed to good company is above a singer at a pothouse. The hero of “Hudibras” was a real personage, one Sir Samuel Luke, who had been a captain in the armies of Fairfax and Cromwell. See the commencement of the poem, in the article “Prior,” “Butler,” and “Swift.”
Garth’s poem on the physicians and apothecaries is not so much in the burlesque style as Boileau’s “Lutrin”: it has more imagination, variety, and naïveté than the “Lutrin”; and, which is rather astonishing, it displays profound erudition, embellished with all the graces of refinement. It begins thus:
Prior, whom we have seen a plenipotentiary in France before the Peace of Utrecht, assumed the office of mediator between the philosophers who dispute about the soul. This poem is in the style of “Hudibras,” called doggerel rhyme, which is the stilo Berniesco of the Italians.
The great first question is, whether the soul is all in all, or is lodged behind the nose and eyes in a corner which it never quits. According to the latter system, Prior compares it to the pope, who constantly remains at Rome, whence he sends his nuncios and spies to learn all that is doing in Christendom.
Prior, after making a jest of several systems, proposes his own. He remarks that the two-legged animal, new-born, throws its feet about as much as possible, when its nurse is so stupid as to swaddle it: thence he judges that the soul enters it by the feet; that about fifteen it reaches the middle; then it ascends to the heart; then to the head, which it quits altogether when the animal ceases to live.
At the end of this singular poem, full of ingenious versification, and of ideas alike subtle and pleasing, we find this charming line of Fontenelle: “Il est des hochets pour tout âge.” Prior begs of fortune to “Give us play-things for old age.”
Yet it is quite certain that Fontenelle did not take this line from Prior, nor Prior from Fontenelle. Prior’s work is twenty years anterior, and Fontenelle did not understand English. The poem terminates with this conclusion:
In all these poems, let us distinguish the pleasant, the lively, the natural, the familiar—from the grotesque, the farcical, the low, and, above all, the stiff and forced. These various shades are discriminated by the connoisseurs, who alone, in the end, decide the fate of every work.
La Fontaine would sometimes descend to the burlesque style—Phædrus never; but the latter has not the grace and unaffected softness of La Fontaine, though he has greater precision and purity.
These people were originally Huns, who settled near the Volga; and Volgarians was easily changed into Bulgarians.
About the end of the seventh century, they, like all the other nations inhabiting Sarmatia, made irruptions towards the Danube, and inundated the Roman Empire. They passed through Moldavia and Wallachia, whither their old fellow-countrymen, the Russians, carried their victorious arms in 1769, under the Empress Catherine II.
Having crossed the Danube, they settled in part of Dacia and Mœsia, giving their name to the countries which are still called Bulgaria. Their dominion extended to Mount Hæmus and the Euxine Sea.
In Charlemagne’s time, the Emperor Nicephorus, successor to Irene, was so imprudent as to march against them after being vanquished by the Saracens; and he was in like manner defeated by the Bulgarians. Their king, named Krom, cut off his head, and made use of his skull as a drinking-cup at his table, according to the custom of that people in common with all the northern nations.
It is related that, in the ninth century, one Bogoris, who was making war upon the Princess Theodora, mother and guardian to the Emperor Michael, was so charmed with that empress’s noble answer to his declaration of war, that he turned Christian.
The Bulgarians, who were less complaisant, revolted against him; but Bogoris, having shown them a crucifix, they all immediately received baptism. So say the Greek writers of the lower empire, and so say our compilers after them: “Et voilà justement comme on écrit l’histoire.”
Theodora, say they, was a very religious princess, even passing her latter years in a convent. Such was her love for the Greek Catholic religion that she put to death in various ways a hundred thousand men accused of Manichæism—“this being,” says the modest continuator of Echard, “the most impious, the most detestable, the most dangerous, the most abominable of all heresies, for ecclesiastical censures were weapons of no avail against men who acknowledged not the church.”
It is said that the Bulgarians, seeing that all the Manichæans suffered death, immediately conceived an inclination for their religion, and thought it the best, since it was the most persecuted one: but this, for Bulgarians, would be extraordinarily acute.
At that time, the great schism broke out more violently than ever between the Greek church, under the Patriarch Photius, and the Latin church, under Pope Nicholas I. The Bulgarians took part with the Greek church; and from that time, probably, it was that they were treated in the west as heretics, with the addition of that fine epithet, which has clung to them to the present day.
In 871, the Emperor Basil sent them a preacher, named Peter of Sicily, to save them from the heresy of Manichæism; and it is added, that they no sooner heard him than they turned Manichæans. It is not very surprising that the Bulgarians, who drank out of the skulls of their enemies, were not extraordinary theologians any more than Peter of Sicily.
It is singular that these barbarians, who could neither write nor read, should have been regarded as very knowing heretics, with whom it was dangerous to dispute. They certainly had other things to think of than controversy, since they carried on a sanguinary war against the emperors of Constantinople for four successive centuries, and even besieged the capital of the empire.
At the commencement of the thirteenth century, the Emperor Alexis, wishing to make himself recognized by the Bulgarians, their king, Joannic, replied, that he would never be his vassal. Pope Innocent III. was careful to seize this opportunity of attaching the kingdom of Bulgaria to himself: he sent a legate to Joannic, to anoint him king; and pretended that he had conferred the kingdom upon him, and that he could never more hold it but from the holy see.
This was the most violent period of the crusades. The indignant Bulgarians entered into an alliance with the Turks, declared war against the pope and his crusaders, took the pretended Emperor Baldwin prisoner, had his head cut off, and made a bowl of his skull, after the manner of Krom. This was quite enough to make the Bulgarians abhorred by all Europe. It was no longer necessary to call them Manichæans, a name which was at that time given to every class of heretics: for Manichæan, Patarin, and Vaudois were the same thing. These terms were lavished upon whosoever would not submit to the Roman church.
A quadruped, armed with horns, having cloven feet, strong legs, a slow pace, a thick body, a hard skin, a tail not quite so long as that of the horse, with some long hairs at the end. Its blood has been looked upon as a poison, but it is no more so than that of other animals; and the ancients, who wrote that Themistocles and others poisoned themselves with bull’s blood, were false both to nature and to history. Lucian, who reproaches Jupiter with having placed the bull’s horns above his eyes, reproaches him unjustly; for the eye of a bull being large, round, and open, he sees very well where he strikes; and if his eyes had been placed higher than his horns, he could not have seen the grass which he crops.
Phalaris’s bull, or the Brazen Bull, was a bull of cast metal, found in Sicily, and supposed to have been used by Phalaris to enclose and burn such as he chose to punish—a very unlikely species of cruelty. The bulls of Medea guarded the Golden Fleece. The bull of Marathon was tamed by Hercules.
Then there were the bull which carried off Europa, the bull of Mithras, and the bull of Osiris; there are the Bull, a sign of the zodiac, and the Bull’s Eye, a star of the first magnitude, and lastly, there are bull-fights, common in Spain.
This word designates the bull, or seal of gold, silver, wax, or lead, attached to any instrument or charter. The lead hanging to the rescripts despatched in the Roman court bears on one side the head of St. Peter on the right, and that of St. Paul on the left; and, on the reverse, the name of the reigning pope, with the year of his pontificate. The bull is written on parchment. In the greeting, the pope takes no title but that of “Servant of the Servants of God,” according to the holy words of Jesus to His Disciples—“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”
Some heretics assert that, by this formula, humble in appearance, the popes mean to express a sort of feudal system, of which God is chief; whose high vassals, Peter and Paul, are represented by their servant the pontiff; while the lesser vassals are all secular princes, whether emperors, kings, or dukes.
They doubtless found this assertion on the famous bull In cœna Domini, which is publicly read at Rome by a cardinal-deacon every year, on Holy Thursday, in the presence of the pope, attended by the rest of the cardinals and bishops. After the ceremony, his holiness casts a lighted torch into the public square in token of anathema.
This bull is to be found in Tome i., p. 714 of the Bullaire, published at Lyons in 1673, and at page 118 of the edition of 1727. The oldest is dated 1536. Paul III., without noticing the origin of the ceremony, here says that it is an ancient custom of the sovereign pontiffs to publish this excommunication on Holy Thursday, in order to preserve the purity of the Christian religion, and maintain union among the faithful. It contains twenty-four paragraphs, in which the pope excommunicates:
1. Heretics, all who favor them, and all who read their books.
2. Pirates, especially such as dare to cruise on the seas belonging to the sovereign pontiff.
3. Those who impose fresh tolls on their lands.
10. Those who, in any way whatsoever, prevent the execution of the apostolical letters, whether they grant pardons or inflict penalties.
11. All lay judges who judge ecclesiastics, and bring them before their tribunal, whether that tribunal is called an audience, a chancery, a council, or a parliament.
12. All chancellors, counsellors, ordinary or extraordinary, of any king or prince whatsoever, all presidents of chanceries, councils, or parliaments, as also all attorneys-general, who call ecclesiastical causes before them, or prevent the execution of the apostolical letters, even though it be on pretext of preventing some violence.
In the same paragraph, the pope reserves to himself alone the power of absolving the said chancellors, counsellors, attorneys-general, and the rest of the excommunicated; who cannot receive absolution until they have publicly revoked their acts, and have erased them from the records.
20. Lastly, the pope excommunicates all such as shall presume to give absolution to the excommunicated as aforesaid: and, in order that no one may plead ignorance, he orders:
21. That this bull be published, and posted on the gate of the basilic of the Prince of the Apostles, and on that of St. John of Lateran.
22. That all patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops, by virtue of their holy obedience, shall have this bull solemnly published at least once a year.
24. He declares that whosoever dares to go against the provisions of this bull, must know that he is incurring the displeasure of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.
The other subsequent bulls, called also In cœna Domini, are only duplicates of the first. For instance, the article 21 of that of Pius V., dated 1567, adds to the paragraph 3 of the one that we have quoted, that all princes who lay new impositions on their states, of what nature soever, or increase the old ones, without obtaining permission from the Holy See, are excommunicated ipso facto. The third bull In cœna Domini of 1610, contains thirty paragraphs, in which Paul V. renews the provisions of the two preceding.
The fourth and last bull In cœna Domini which we find in the Bullaire, is dated April 1, 1672. In it Urban VIII. announces that, after the example of his predecessors, in order inviolably to maintain the integrity of the faith, and public justice and tranquillity, he wields the spiritual sword of ecclesiastical discipline to excommunicate, on the day which is the anniversary of the Supper of our Lord:
2. Such as appeal from the pope to a future council; and the rest as in the three former.
It is said that the one which is read now, is of a more recent date, and contains some additions.
The History of Naples, by Giannone, shows us what disorders the ecclesiastics stirred up in that kingdom, and what vexations they exercised against the king’s subjects, even refusing them absolution and the sacraments, in order to effect the reception of this bull, which has at last been solemnly proscribed there, as well as in Austrian Lombardy, in the states of the empress-queen, in those of the Duke of Parma, and elsewhere.
In 1580, the French clergy chose the time between the sessions of the parliament of Paris, to have the same bull In cœna Domini published. But it was opposed by the procureur-general; and the Chambre des Vacations, under the presidency of the celebrated and unfortunate Brisson, on October 4, passed a decree, enjoining all governors to inform themselves, if possible, what archbishops, bishops, or grand-vicars, had received either this bull or a copy of it entitled Litteræ processus, and who had sent it to them to be published; to prevent the publication, if it had not yet taken place; to obtain the copies and send them to the chamber; or, if they had been published, to summon the archbishops, the bishops, or their grandvicars, to appear on a certain day before the chamber, to answer to the suit of the procureur-general; and, in the meantime, to seize their temporal possessions and place them in the hands of the king; to forbid all persons obstructing the execution of this decree, on pain of punishment as traitors and enemies to the state; with orders that the decree be printed and that the copies, collated by notaries, have the full force of the original.
In doing this, the parliament did but feebly imitate Philip the Fair. The bull Ausculta Fili, of Dec. 5, 1301, was addressed to him by Boniface VIII., who, after exhorting the king to listen with docility, says to him: “God has established us over all kings and all kingdoms, to root up, and destroy, and throw down, to build, and to plant, in His name and by His doctrine. Do not, then, suffer yourself to be persuaded that you have no superior, and that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Whosoever thinks this, is a madman; and whosoever obstinately maintains it, is an infidel, separated from the flock of the Good Shepherd.” The pope then enters into long details respecting the government of France, even reproaching the king for having altered the coin.
Philip the Fair had this bull burned at Paris, and its execution published on sound of trumpet throughout the city, by Sunday, Feb. 11, 1302. The pope, in a council which he held at Rome the same year, made a great noise, and broke out into threats against Philip the Fair; but he did no more than threaten. The famous decretal, Unam Sanctam, is, however, considered as the work of his council; it is, in substance, as follows:
“We believe and confess a holy, catholic, and apostolic church, out of which there is no salvation; we also acknowledge its unity, that it is one only body, with one only head, and not with two, like a monster. This only head is Jesus Christ, and St. Peter his vicar, and the successor of St. Peter. Therefore, the Greeks, or others, who say that they are not subject to that successor, must acknowledge that they are not of the flock of Christ, since He himself has said (John, x, 16) ‘that there is but one fold and one shepherd.’
“We learn that in this church, and under its power, are two swords, the spiritual and the temporal: of these, one is to be used by the church and by the hand of the pontiff; the other, by the church and by the hand of kings and warriors, in pursuance of the orders or with the permission of the pontiff. Now, one of these swords must be subject to the other, temporal to spiritual power; otherwise, they would not be ordinate, and the apostles say they must be so. (Rom. xiii, 1.) According to the testimony of truth, spiritual power must institute and judge temporal power; and thus is verified with regard to the church, the prophecy of Jeremiah (i. 10): ‘I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms.’ ”
On the other hand, Philip the Fair assembled the states-general; and the commons, in the petition which they presented to that monarch, said, in so many words: “It is a great abomination for us to hear that this Boniface stoutly interprets like a Boulgare (dropping the l and the a) these words of spirituality (Matt., xvi. 19): ‘Whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven;’ as if this signified that if a man be put into a temporal prison, God will imprison him in heaven.”
Clement V., successor to Boniface VIII., revoked and annulled the odious decision of the bull Unam Sanctam, which extends the power of the popes to the temporalities of kings, and condemns as heretics all who do not acknowledge this chimerical power. Boniface’s pretension, indeed, ought to be condemned as heresy, according to this maxim of theologians: “Not only is it a sin against the rules of the faith, and a heresy, to deny what the faith teaches us, but also to set up as part of the faith that which is no part of it.” (Joan. Maj. m. 3 sent. dist. 37. q. 26.)
Other popes, before Boniface VIII., had arrogated to themselves the right of property over different kingdoms. The bull is well known, in which Gregory VII. says to the King of Spain: “I would have you to know, that the kingdom of Spain, by ancient ecclesiastical ordinances, was given in property to St. Peter and the holy Roman church.”
Henry II. of England asked permission of Pope Adrian IV. to invade Ireland. The pontiff gave him leave, on condition that he imposed on every Irish family a tax of one carolus for the Holy See, and held that kingdom as a fief of the Roman church. “For,” wrote Adrian, “it cannot be doubted that every island upon which Jesus Christ, the sun of justice, has arisen, and which has received the lessons of the Christian faith, belongs of right to St. Peter and to the holy and sacred Roman church.”
Bulls of the Crusade and of Composition.
If an African or an Asiatic of sense were told that in that part of Europe where some men have forbidden others to eat flesh on Saturdays, the pope gives them leave to eat it, by a bull, for the sum of two rials, and that another bull grants permission to keep stolen money, what would this African or Asiatic say? He would, at least, agree with us, that every country has its customs; and that in this world, by whatever names things may be called, or however they may be disguised, all is done for money.
There are two bulls under the name of La Cruzada—the Crusade; one of the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, the other of that of Philip V. The first of these sells permission to eat what is called the grossura, viz., tripes, livers, kidneys, gizzards, sweet-breads, lights, plucks, cauls, heads, necks, and feet.
The second bull, granted by Pope Urban VIII., gives leave to eat meat throughout Lent, and absolves from every crime except heresy.
Not only are these bulls sold, but people are ordered to buy them; and, as is but right, they cost more in Peru and Mexico than in Spain; they are there sold for a piastre. It is reasonable that the countries which produce gold and silver should pay more than others.
The pretext for these bulls is, making war upon the Moors. There are persons, difficult of conviction, who cannot see what livers and kidneys have to do with a war against the Africans; and they add, that Jesus Christ never ordered war to be made on the Mahometans on pain of excommunication.
The bull giving permission to keep another’s goods is called the bull of Composition. It is farmed; and has long brought considerable sums throughout Spain, the Milanese, Naples, and Sicily. The highest bidders employ the most eloquent of the monks to preach this bull. Sinners who have robbed the king, the state, or private individuals, go to these preachers, confess to them, and show them what a sad thing it would be to make restitution of the whole. They offer the monks five, six, and sometimes seven per cent., in order to keep the rest with a safe conscience; and, as soon as the composition is made, they receive absolution.
The preaching brother who wrote the “Travels through Spain and Italy” (Voyage d’Espagne et d’Italie), published at Paris, avec privilège by Jean-Baptiste de l’Épine, speaking of this bull, thus expresses himself: “Is it not very gracious to come off at so little cost, and be at liberty to steal more, when one has occasion for a larger sum?”
The bull In cœna Domini was an indignity offered to all Catholic sovereigns, and they at length proscribed it in their states; but the bull Unigenitus was a trouble to France alone. The former attacked the rights of the princes and magistrates of Europe, and they maintained those rights; the latter proscribed only some maxims of piety and morals, which gave no concern to any except the parties interested in the transient affair; but these interested parties soon filled all France. It was at first a quarrel between the all-powerful Jesuits and the remains of the crushed Port-Royal.
Quesnel, a preacher of the Oratory, refugee in Holland, had dedicated a commentary on the New Testament to Cardinal de Noailles, then bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne. It met the bishop’s approbation and was well received by all readers of that sort of books.
One Letellier, a Jesuit, a confessor to Louis XIV. and an enemy to Cardinal de Noailles, resolved to mortify him by having the book, which was dedicated to him, and of which he had a very high opinion, condemned at Rome.
This Jesuit, the son of an attorney at Vire in Lower Normandy, had all that fertility of expedient for which his father’s profession is remarkable. Not content with embroiling Cardinal de Noailles with the pope, he determined to have him disgraced by the king his master. To ensure the success of this design, he had mandaments composed against him by his emissaries, and got them signed by four bishops; he also indited letters to the king, which he made them sign.
These manœuvres, which would have been punished in any of the tribunals, succeeded at court: the king was soured against the cardinal, and Madame de Maintenon abandoned him.
Here was a series of intrigues, in which, from one end of the kingdom to the other, every one took a part. The more unfortunate France at that time became in a disastrous war, the more the public mind was heated by a theological quarrel.
During these movements, Letellier had the condemnation of Quesnel’s book, of which the monarch had never read a page, demanded from Rome by Louis XIV. himself. Letellier and two other Jesuits, named Doucin and Lallemant, extracted one hundred and three propositions, which Pope Clement XI. was to condemn. The court of Rome struck out two of them, that it might, at least, have the honor of appearing to judge for itself.
Cardinal Fabroni, in whose hands the affair was placed, and who was devoted to the Jesuits, had the bull drawn up by a Cordelier named Father Palerno, Elio a Capuchin, Terrovi a Barnabite, and Castelli a Servite, to whom was added a Jesuit named Alfaro.
Clement XI. let them proceed in their own way. His only object was to please the king of France, who had long been displeased with him, on account of his recognizing the Archduke Charles, afterwards emperor, as King of Spain. To make his peace with the king, it cost him only a piece of parchment sealed with lead, concerning a question which he himself despised.
Clement XI. did not wait to be solicited; he sent the bull, and was quite astonished to learn that it was received throughout France with hisses and groans. “What!” said he to Cardinal Carpegno, “a bull is earnestly asked of me; I give it freely, and every one makes a jest of it!”
Every one was indeed surprised to see a pope, in the name of Jesus Christ, condemning as heretical, tainted with heresy, and offensive to pious ears, this proposition: “It is good to read books of piety on Sundays, especially the Holy Scriptures;” and this: “The fear of an unjust excommunication should not prevent us from doing our duty.”
The partisans of the Jesuits were themselves alarmed at these censures, but they dared not speak. The wise and disinterested exclaimed against the scandal, and the rest of the nation against the absurdity.
Nevertheless, Letellier still triumphed, until the death of Louis XIV.; he was held in abhorrence, but he governed. This wretch tried every means to procure the suspension of Cardinal de Noailles; but after the death of his penitent, the incendiary was banished. The duke of Orleans, during his regency, extinguished these quarrels by making a jest of them. They have since thrown out a few sparks; but they are at last forgotten, probably forever. Their duration, for more than half a century, was quite long enough. Yet, happy indeed would mankind be, if they were divided only by foolish questions unproductive of bloodshed!
It is not as the husband of so many women and the wife of so many men; as the conqueror of Pompey and the Scipios; as the satirist who turned Cato into ridicule; as the robber of the public treasury, who employed the money of the Romans to reduce the Romans to subjection; as he who, clement in his triumphs, pardoned the vanquished; as the man of learning, who reformed the calendar; as the tyrant and the father of his country, assassinated by his friends and his bastard son; that I shall here speak of Cæsar. I shall consider this extraordinary man only in my quality of descendant from the poor barbarians whom he subjugated.
You will not pass through a town in France, in Spain, on the banks of the Rhine, or on the English coast opposite to Calais, in which you will not find good people who boast of having had Cæsar there. Some of the townspeople of Dover are persuaded that Cæsar built their castle; and there are citizens of Paris who believe that the great châtelet is one of his fine works. Many a country squire in France shows you an old turret which serves him for a dovecote, and tells you that Cæsar provided a lodging for his pigeons. Each province disputes with its neighbor the honor of having been the first to which Cæsar applied the lash; it was not by that road, but by this, that he came to cut our throats, embrace our wives and daughters, impose laws upon us by interpreters, and take from us what little money we had.
The Indians are wiser. We have already seen that they have a confused knowledge that a great robber, named Alexander, came among them with other robbers; but they scarcely ever speak of him.
An Italian antiquarian, passing a few years ago through Vannes in Brittany, was quite astonished to hear the learned men of Vannes boast of Cæsar’s stay in their town. “No doubt,” said he, “you have monuments of that great man?” “Yes,” answered the most notable among them, “we will show you the place where that hero had the whole senate of our province hanged, to the number of six hundred.”
“Some ignorant fellows, who had found a hundred beams under ground, advanced in the journals in 1755 that they were the remains of a bridge built by Cæsar; but I proved to them in my dissertation of 1756 that they were the gallows on which that hero had our parliament tied up. What other town in Gaul can say as much? We have the testimony of the great Cæsar himself. He says in his ‘Commentaries’ that we ‘are fickle and prefer liberty to slavery.’ He charges us with having been so insolent as to take hostages of the Romans, to whom we had given hostages, and to be unwilling to return them unless our own were given up. He taught us good behavior.”
“He did well,” replied the virtuoso, “his right was incontestable. It was, however, disputed; for you know that when he vanquished the emigrant Swiss, to the number of three hundred and sixty-eight thousand, and there were not more than a hundred and ten thousand left, he had a conference in Alsace with a German king named Ariovistus, and Ariovistus said to him: ‘I come to plunder Gaul, and I will not suffer any one to plunder it but myself;’ after which these good Germans, who were come to lay waste the country, put into the hands of their witches two Roman knights, ambassadors from Cæsar; and these witches were on the point of burning them and offering them to their gods, when Cæsar came and delivered them by a victory. We must confess that the right on both sides was equal, and that Tacitus had good reason for bestowing so many praises on the manners of the ancient Germans.”
This conversation gave rise to a very warm dispute between the learned men of Vannes and the antiquarian. Several of the Bretons could not conceive what was the virtue of the Romans in deceiving one after another all the nations of Gaul, in making them by turns the instruments of their own ruin, in butchering one-fourth of the people, and reducing the other three-fourths to slavery.
“Oh! nothing can be finer,” returned the antiquarian. “I have in my pocket a medal representing Cæsar’s triumph at the Capitol; it is in the best preservation.” He showed the medal. A Breton, a little rude, took it and threw it into the river, exclaiming: “Oh! that I could so serve all who use their power and their skill to oppress their fellowmen! Rome deceived us, disunited us, butchered us, chained us; and at this day Rome still disposes of many of our benefices; and is it possible that we have so long and in so many ways been a country of slaves?”
To the conversation between the Italian antiquarian and the Breton I shall only add that Perrot d’Ablancourt, the translator of Cæsar’s “Commentaries,” in his dedication to the great Condé, makes use of these words: “Does it not seem to you, sir, as if you were reading the life of some Christian philosopher?” Cæsar a Christian philosopher! I wonder he has not been made a saint. Writers of dedications are remarkable for saying fine things and much to the purpose.
The feast of the Circumcision, which the church celebrates on the first of January, has taken the place of another called the Feast of the Calends, of Asses, of Fools, or of Innocents, according to the different places where, and the different days on which, it was held. It was most commonly at Christmas, the Circumcision, or the Epiphany.
In the cathedral of Rouen there was on Christmas day a procession, in which ecclesiastics, chosen for the purpose, represented the prophets of the Old Testament, who foretold the birth of the Messiah, and—which may have given the feast its name—Balaam appeared, mounted on a she-ass; but as Lactantius’ poem, and the “Book of Promises,” under the name of St. Prosper, say that Jesus in the manger was recognized by the ox and the ass, according to the passage Isaiah: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib” (a circumstance, however, which neither the gospel nor the ancient fathers have remarked), it is more likely that, from this opinion, the Feast of the Ass took its name.
Indeed, the Jesuit, Theophilus Raynaud, testifies that on St. Stephen’s day there was sung a hymn of the ass, which was also called the Prose of Fools; and that on St. John’s day another was sung, called the Prose of the Ox. In the library of the chapter of Sens there is preserved a manuscript of vellum with miniature figures representing the ceremonies of the Feast of Fools. The text contains a description of it, including this Prose of the Ass; it was sung by two choirs, who imitated at intervals and as the burden of the song, the braying of that animal.
There was elected in the cathedral churches a bishop or archbishop of the Fools, which election was confirmed by all sorts of buffooneries, played off by way of consecration. This bishop officiated pontifically and gave his blessing to the people, before whom he appeared bearing the mitre, the crosier, and even the archiepiscopal cross. In those churches which held immediately from the Holy See, a pope of the Fools was elected, who officiated in all the decorations of papacy. All the clergy assisted in the mass, some dressed in women’s apparel, others as buffoons, or masked in a grotesque and ridiculous manner. Not content with singing licentious songs in the choir, they sat and played at dice on the altar, at the side of the officiator. When the mass was over they ran, leaped, and danced about the church, uttering obscene words, singing immodest songs, and putting themselves in a thousand indecent postures, sometimes exposing themselves almost naked. They then had themselves drawn about the streets in tumbrels full of filth, that they might throw it at the mob which gathered round them. The looser part of the seculars would mix among the clergy, that they might play some fool’s part in the ecclesiastical habit.
This feast was held in the same manner in the convents of monks and nuns, as Naudé testifies in his complaint to Gassendi, in 1645, in which he relates that at Antibes, in the Franciscan monastery, neither the officiating monks nor the guardian went to the choir on the day of the Innocents. The lay brethren occupied their places on that day, and, clothed in sacerdotal decorations, torn and turned inside out, made a sort of office. They held books turned upside down, which they seemed to be reading through spectacles, the glasses of which were made of orange peel; and muttered confused words, or uttered strange cries, accompanied by extravagant contortions.
The second register of the church of Autun, by the secretary Rotarii, which ends with 1416, says, without specifying the day, that at the Feast of Fools an ass was led along with a clergyman’s cape on his back, the attendants singing: “He haw! Mr. Ass, he haw!”
Ducange relates a sentence of the officialty of Viviers, upon one William, who having been elected fool-bishop in 1400, had refused to perform the solemnities and to defray the expenses customary on such occasions.
And, to conclude, the registers of St. Stephen, at Dijon, in 1521, without mentioning the day, that the vicars ran about the streets with drums, fifes, and other instruments, and carried lamps before the préchantre of the Fools, to whom the honor of the feast principally belonged. But the parliament of that city, by a decree of January 19, 1552, forbade the celebration of this feast, which had already been condemned by several councils, and especially by a circular of March 11, 1444, sent to all the clergy in the kingdom by the Paris university. This letter, which we find at the end of the works of Peter of Blois, says that this feast was, in the eyes of the clergy, so well imagined and so Christian, that those who sought to suppress it were looked on as excommunicated; and the Sorbonne doctor, John des Lyons, in his discourse against the paganism of the Roiboit, informs us that a doctor of divinity publicly maintained at Auxerre, about the close of the fifteenth century, that “the feast of Fools was no less pleasing to God than the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; besides, that it was of much higher antiquity in the church.”