Front Page Titles (by Subject) VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. V—Part II - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3)
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VOLTAIRE A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY Vol. V—Part II - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3) 
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. V.
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A PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY.
What is called happiness is an abstract idea, composed of various ideas of pleasure; for he who has but a moment of pleasure is not a happy man, in like manner that a moment of grief constitutes not a miserable one. Pleasure is more transient than happiness, and happiness than felicity. When a person says—I am happy at this moment, he abuses the word, and only means I am pleased. When pleasure is continuous, he may then call himself happy. When this happiness lasts a little longer, it is a state of felicity. We are sometimes very far from being happy in prosperity, just as a surfeited invalid eats nothing of a great feast prepared for him.
The ancient adage, “No person should be called happy before his death,” seems to turn on very false principles, if we mean by this maxim that we should not give the name of happy to a man who had been so constantly from his birth to his last hour. This continuity of agreeable moments is rendered impossible by the constitution of our organs, by that of the elements on which we depend, and by that of mankind, on whom we depend still more. Constant happiness is the philosopher’s stone of the soul; it is a great deal for us not to be a long time unhappy. A person whom we might suppose to have always enjoyed a happy life, who perishes miserably, would certainly merit the appellation of happy until his death, and we might boldly pronounce that he had been the happiest of men. Socrates might have been the happiest of the Greeks, although superstitious, absurd, or iniquitous judges, or all together, juridically poisoned him at the age of seventy years, on the suspicion that he believed in only one God.
The philosophical maxim so much agitated, “Nemo ante obitum felix,” therefore, appears absolutely false in every sense; and if it signifies that a happy man may die an unhappy death, it signifies nothing of consequence.
The proverb of being “Happy as a king” is still more false. Everybody knows how the vulgar deceive themselves.
It is asked, if one condition is happier than another; if man in general is happier than woman. It would be necessary to have tried all conditions, to have been man and woman like Tiresias and Iphis, to decide this question; still more would it be necessary to have lived in all conditions, with a mind equally proper to each; and we must have passed through all the possible states of man and woman to judge of it.
It is further queried, if of two men one is happier than the other. It is very clear that he who has the gout and stone, who loses his fortune, his honor, his wife and children, and who is condemned to be hanged immediately after having been mangled, is less happy in this world in everything than a young, vigorous sultan, or La Fontaine’s cobbler.
But we wish to know which is the happier of two men equally healthy, equally rich, and of an equal condition. It is clear that it is their temper which decides it. The most moderate, the least anxious, and at the same time the most sensible, is the most happy; but unfortunately the most sensible is often the least moderate. It is not our condition, it is the temper of our souls which renders us happy. This disposition of our souls depends on our organs, and our organs have been arranged without our having the least part in the arrangement.
It belongs to the reader to make his reflections on the above. There are many articles on which he can say more than we ought to tell him. In matters of art, it is necessary to instruct him; in affairs of morals, he should be left to think for himself.
There are dogs whom we caress, comb, and feed with biscuits, and whom we give to pretty females: there are others which are covered with the mange, which die of hunger; others which we chase and beat, and which a young surgeon slowly dissects, after having driven four great nails into their paws. Has it depended upon these poor dogs to be happy or unhappy?
We say a happy thought, a happy feature, a happy repartee, a happy physiognomy, happy climate, etc. These thoughts, these happy traits, which strike like sudden inspirations, and which are called the happy sallies of a man of wit, strike like flashes of light across our eyes, without our seeking it. They are no more in our power than a happy physiognomy; that is to say, a sweet and noble aspect, so independent of us, and so often deceitful. The happy climate is that which nature favors: so are happy imaginations, so is happy genius, or great talent. And who can give himself genius? or who, when he has received some ray of this flame, can preserve it always brilliant?
When we speak of a happy rascal, by this word we only comprehend his success. “Felix Sulla”—the fortunate Sulla, and Alexander VI., a duke of Borgia, have happily pillaged, betrayed, poisoned, ravaged, and assassinated. But being villains, it is very likely that they were very unhappy, even when not in fear of persons resembling themselves.
It may happen to an ill-disposed person, badly educated—a Turk, for example, of whom it ought to be said, that he is permitted to doubt the Christian faith—to put a silken cord round the necks of his viziers, when they are rich; to strangle, massacre, or throw his brothers into the Black Sea, and to ravage a hundred leagues of country for his glory. It may happen, I say, that this man has no more remorse than his mufti, and is very happy—on all which the reader may duly ponder.
There were formerly happy planets, and others unhappy, or unfortunate; unhappily, they no longer exist. Some people would have deprived the public of this useful Dictionary—happily, they have not succeeded.
Ungenerous minds, and absurd fanatics, every day endeavor to prejudice the powerful and the ignorant against philosophers. If they were unhappily listened to, we should fall back into the barbarity from which philosophers alone have withdrawn us.
HEAVEN (CIEL MATÉRIEL).
The laws of optics, which are founded upon the nature of things, have ordained that, from this small globe of earth on which we live, we shall always see the material heaven as if we were the centre of it, although we are far from being that centre; that we shall always see it as a vaulted roof, hanging over a plane, although there is no other vaulted roof than that of our atmosphere, which has no such plane; that our sun and moon will always appear one-third larger at the horizon than at their zenith, although they are nearer the spectator at the zenith than at the horizon.
Such are the laws of optics, such is the structure of your eyes, that, in the first place, the material heaven, the clouds, the moon, the sun, which is at so vast a distance from you; the planets, which in their apogee are still at a greater distance from it; all the stars placed at distances yet vastly greater, comets and meteors, everything, must appear to us in that vaulted roof as consisting of our atmosphere.
The sun appears to us, when in its zenith, smaller than when at fifteen degrees below; at thirty degrees below the zenith it will appear still larger than at fifteen; and finally, at the horizon, its size will seem larger yet; so that its dimensions in the lower heaven decrease in consequence of its elevations, in the following proportions:
Its apparent magnitudes in the vaulted roof are as its apparent elevations; and it is the same with the moon, and with a comet.
It is not habit, it is not the intervention of tracts of land, it is not the refraction of the atmosphere which produces this effect. Malebranche and Régis have disputed with each other on this subject; but Robert Smith has calculated.
Observe the two stars, which, being at a prodigious distance from each other, and at very different depths, in the immensity of space, are here considered as placed in the circle which the sun appears to traverse. You perceive them distant from each other in the great circle, but approximating to each other in every circle smaller, or within that described by the path of the sun.
It is in this manner that you see the material heaven. It is by these invariable laws of optics that you perceive the planets sometimes retrograde and sometimes stationary; there is in fact nothing of the kind. Were you stationed in the sun, we should perceive all the planets and comets moving regularly round it in those elliptical orbits which God assigns. But we are upon the planet of the earth, in a corner of the universe, where it is impossible for us to enjoy the sight of everything.
Let us not then blame the errors of our senses, like Malebranche; the steady laws of nature originating in the immutable will of the Almighty, and adapted to the structure of our organs, cannot be errors.
We can see only the appearances of things, and not things themselves. We are no more deceived when the sun, the work of the divinity—that star a million times larger than our earth—appears to us quite flat and two feet in width, than when, in a convex mirror, which is the work of our own hands, we see a man only a few inches high.
If the Chaldæan magi were the first who employed the understanding which God bestowed upon them, to measure and arrange in their respective stations the heavenly bodies, other nations more gross and unintelligent made no advance towards imitating them.
These childish and savage populations imagined the earth to be flat, supported, I know not how, by its own weight in the air; the sun, moon, and stars to move continually upon a solid vaulted roof called a firmament; and this roof to sustain waters, and have flood-gates at regular distances, through which these waters issued to moisten and fertilize the earth.
But how did the sun, the moon, and all the stars reappear after their setting? Of this they know nothing at all. The heaven touched the flat earth: and there were no means by which the sun, moon, and stars could turn under the earth, and go to rise in the east after having set in the west. It is true that these children of ignorance were right by chance in not entertaining the idea that the sun and fixed stars moved round the earth. But they were far from conceiving that the sun was immovable, and the earth with its satellite revolving round him in space together with the other planets. Their fables were more distant from the true system of the world than darkness from light.
They thought that the sun and stars returned by certain unknown roads after having refreshed themselves for their course at some spot, not precisely ascertained, in the Mediterranean Sea. This was the amount of astronomy, even in the time of Homer, who is comparatively recent; for the Chaldæans kept their science to themselves, in order to obtain thereby, greater respect from other nations. Homer says, more than once, that the sun plunges into the ocean—and this ocean, be it observed, is nothing but the Nile—here, by the freshness of the waters, he repairs during the night the fatigue and exhaustion of the day, after which, he goes to the place of his regular rising by ways unknown to mortals. This idea is very like that of Baron Fœneste, who says, that the cause of our not seeing the sun when he goes back, is that he goes back by night.
As, at that time, the nations of Syria and the Greeks were somewhat acquainted with Asia and a small part of Europe, and had no notion of the countries which lie to the north of the Euxine Sea and to the south of the Nile, they laid it down as a certainty that the earth was a full third longer than it was wide; consequently the heaven, which touched the earth and embraced it, was also longer than it was wide. Hence came down to us degrees of longitude and latitude, names which we have always retained, although with far more correct ideas than those which originally suggested them.
The Book of Job, composed by an ancient Arab who possessed some knowledge of astronomy, since he speaks of the constellations, contains nevertheless the following passage: “Where wert thou, when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who hath taken the dimensions thereof? On what are its foundations fixed? Who hath laid the cornerstone thereof?”
The least informed schoolboy, at the present day, would tell him, in answer: “The earth has neither cornerstone nor foundation; and, as to its dimensions, we know them perfectly well, as from Magellan to Bougainville, various navigators have sailed round it.”
The same schoolboy would put to silence the pompous declaimer Lactantius, and all those who before and since his time have decided that the earth was fixed upon the water, and that there can be no heaven under the earth; and that, consequently, it is both ridiculous and impious to suppose the existence of antipodes.
It is curious to observe with what disdain, with what contemptuous pity, Lactantius looks down upon all the philosophers, who, from about four hundred years before his time, had begun to be acquainted with the apparent revolutions of the sun and planets, with the roundness of the earth, and the liquid and yielding nature of the heaven through which the planets revolved in their orbits, etc. He inquires, “by what degrees philosophers attained such excess of folly as to conceive the earth to be a globe, and to surround that globe with heaven.” These reasonings are upon a par with those he has adduced on the subject of the sibyls.
Our young scholar would address some such language as this to all these consequential doctors: “You are to learn that there are no such things as solid heavens placed one over another, as you have been told; that there are no real circles in which the stars move on a pretended firmament; that the sun is the centre of our planetary world; and that the earth and the planets move round it in space, in orbits not circular but elliptical. You must learn that there is, in fact, neither above nor below, but that the planets and the comets tend all towards the sun, their common centre, and that the sun tends towards them, according to an eternal law of gravitation.”
Lactantius and his gabbling associates would be perfectly astonished, were the true system of the world thus unfolded to them.
HEAVEN OF THE ANCIENTS.
Were a silkworm to denominate the small quantity of downy substance surrounding its ball, heaven, it would reason just as correctly as all the ancients, when they applied that term to the atmosphere; which, as M. de Fontenelle has well observed in his “Plurality of Worlds,” is the down of our ball.
The vapors which rise from our seas and land, and which form the clouds, meteors, and thunder, were supposed, in the early ages of the world, to be the residence of gods. Homer always makes the gods descend in clouds of gold; and hence painters still represent them seated on a cloud. How can any one be seated on water? It was perfectly correct to place the master of the gods more at ease than the rest; he had an eagle to carry him, because the eagle soars higher than the other birds.
The ancient Greeks, observing that the lords of cities resided in citadels on the tops of mountains, supposed that the gods might also have their citadel, and placed it in Thessaly, on Mount Olympus, whose summit is sometimes hidden in clouds; so that their palace was on the same floor with their heaven.
Afterwards, the stars and planets, which appear fixed to the blue vault of our atmosphere, became the abodes of gods; seven of them had each a planet, and the rest found a lodging where they could. The general council of gods was held in a spacious hall which lay beyond the Milky Way; for it was but reasonable that the gods should have a hall in the air, as men had town-halls and courts of assembly upon earth.
When the Titans, a species of animal between gods and men, declared their just and necessary war against these same gods in order to recover a part of their patrimony, by the father’s side, as they were the sons of heaven and earth; they contented themselves with piling two or three mountains upon one another, thinking that would be quite enough to make them masters of heaven, and of the castle of Olympus.
It is, however, more than six hundred leagues from these stars to Mount Olympus, and from some stars infinitely farther.
Virgil (Eclogue v, 57) does not hesitate to say: “Sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis.”
But where then could Daphnis possibly place himself?
At the opera, and in more serious productions, the gods are introduced descending in the midst of tempests, clouds, and thunder; that is, God is brought forward in the midst of the vapors of our petty globe. These notions are so suitable to our weak minds, that they appear to us grand and sublime.
This philosophy of children and old women was of prodigious antiquity; it is believed, however, that the Chaldæans entertained nearly as correct ideas as ourselves on the subject of what is called heaven. They placed the sun in the midst of our planetary system, nearly at the same distance from our globe as our calculation computes it; and they supposed the earth and some planets to revolve round that star; this we learn from Aristarchus of Samos. It is nearly the system of the world since established by Copernicus: but the philosophers kept the secret to themselves, in order to obtain greater respect both from kings and people, or rather perhaps, to avoid the danger of persecution.
The language of error is so familiar to mankind that we still apply the name of heaven to our vapors, and the space between the earth and moon. We use the expression of ascending to heaven, just as we say the sun turns round, although we well know that it does not. We are, probably, the heaven of the inhabitants of the moon; and every planet places its heaven in that planet nearest to itself.
Had Homer been asked, to what heaven the soul of Sarpedon had fled, or where that of Hercules resided, Homer would have been a good deal embarrassed, and would have answered by some harmonious verses.
What assurance could there be, that the ethereal soul of Hercules would be more at its ease in the planet Venus or in Saturn, than upon our own globe? Could its mansion be in the sun? In that flaming and consuming furnace, it would appear difficult for it to endure its station. In short, what was it that the ancients meant by heaven? They knew nothing about it; they were always exclaiming, “Heaven and earth,” thus placing completely different things in most absurd connection. It would be just as judicious to exclaim, and connect in the same manner, infinity and an atom. Properly speaking, there is no heaven. There are a prodigious number of globes revolving in the immensity of space, and our globe revolves like the rest.
The ancients thought that to go to heaven was to ascend; but there is no ascent from one globe to another. The heavenly bodies are sometimes above our horizon, and sometimes below it. Thus, let us suppose that Venus, after visiting Paphos, should return to her own planet, when that planet had set; the goddess would not in that case ascend, in reference to our horizon; she would descend, and the proper expression would be then, descended to heaven. But the ancients did not discriminate with such nicety; on every subject of natural philosophy, their notions were vague, uncertain and contradictory. Volumes have been composed in order to ascertain and point out what they thought upon many questions of this description. Six words would have been sufficient—“they did not think at all.” We must always except a small number of sages; but they appeared at too late a period, and but rarely disclosed their thoughts; and when they did so, the charlatans in power took care to send them to heaven by the shortest way.
A writer, if I am not mistaken, of the name of Pluche, has been recently exhibiting Moses as a great natural philosopher; another had previously harmonized Moses with Descartes, and published a book, which he called, “Cartesius Mosaisans”; according to him, Moses was the real inventor of “Vortices,” and the subtile matter; but we full well know, that when God made Moses a great legislator and prophet, it was no part of His scheme to make him also a professor of physics. Moses instructed the Jews in their duty, and did not teach them a single word of philosophy. Calmet, who compiled a great deal, but never reasoned at all, talks of the system of the Hebrews; but that stupid people never had any system. They had not even a school of geometry; the very name was utterly unknown to them. The whole of their science was comprised in money-changing and usury.
We find in their books ideas on the structure of heaven, confused, incoherent, and in every respect worthy of a people immersed in barbarism. Their first heaven was the air, the second the firmament in which the stars were fixed. This firmament was solid and made of glass, and supported the superior waters which issued from the vast reservoirs by flood-gates, sluices, and cataracts, at the time of the deluge.
Above the firmament or these superior waters was the third heaven, or the empyream, to which St. Paul was caught up. The firmament was a sort of demi-vault which came close down to the earth.
It is clear that, according to this opinion, there could be no antipodes. Accordingly, St. Augustine treats the idea of antipodes as an absurdity; and Lactantius, whom we have already quoted, expressly says “can there possibly be any persons so simple as to believe that there are men whose heads are lower than their feet?” etc.
St. Chrysostom exclaims, in his fourteenth homily, “Where are they who pretend that the heavens are movable, and that their form is circular?”
Lactantius, once more, says, in the third book of his “Institutions,” “I could prove to you by many arguments that it is impossible heaven should surround the earth.”
The author of the “Spectacle of Nature” may repeat to M. le Chevalier as often as he pleases, that Lactantius and St. Chrysostom are great philosophers. He will be told in reply that they were great saints; and that to be a great saint, it is not at all necessary to be a great astronomer. It will be believed that they are in heaven, although it will be admitted to be impossible to say precisely in what part of it.
Infernum, subterranean; the regions below, or the infernal regions. Nations which buried the dead placed them in the inferior or infernal regions. Their soul, then, was with them in those regions. Such were the first physics and the first metaphysics of the Egyptians and Greeks.
The Indians, who were far more ancient, who had invented the ingenious doctrine of the metempsychosis, never believed that souls existed in the infernal regions.
The Japanese, Coreans, Chinese, and the inhabitants of the vast territory of eastern and western Tartary never knew a word of the philosophy of the infernal regions.
The Greeks, in the course of time, constituted an immense kingdom of these infernal regions, which they liberally conferred on Pluto and his wife Proserpine. They assigned them three privy counsellors, three housekeepers called Furies, and three Fates to spin, wind, and cut the thread of human life. And, as in ancient times, every hero had his dog to guard his gate, so was Pluto attended and guarded by an immense dog with three heads; for everything, it seems, was to be done by threes. Of the three privy counsellors, Minos, Æacus, and Rhadamanthus, one judged Greece, another Asia Minor—for the Greeks were then unacquainted with the Greater Asia—and the third was for Europe.
The poets, having invented these infernal regions, or hell, were the first to laugh at them. Sometimes Virgil mentions hell in the “Æneid” in a style of seriousness, because that style was then suitable to his subject. Sometimes he speaks of it with contempt in his “Georgics” (ii. 490, etc.).
The following lines from the “Troad” (chorus of act ii.), in which Pluto, Cerberus, Phlegethon, Styx, etc., are treated like dreams and childish tales, were repeated in the theatre of Rome, and applauded by forty thousand hands:
Lucretius and Horace express themselves equally strongly. Cicero and Seneca used similar language in innumerable parts of their writings. The great emperor Marcus Aurelius reasons still more philosophically than those I have mentioned. “He who fears death, fears either to be deprived of all senses, or to experience other sensations. But, if you no longer retain your own senses, you will be no longer subject to any pain or grief. If you have senses of a different nature, you will be a totally different being.”
To this reasoning, profane philosophy had nothing to reply. Yet, agreeably to that contradiction or perverseness which distinguishes the human species, and seems to constitute the very foundation of our nature, at the very time when Cicero publicly declared that “not even an old woman was to be found who believed in such absurdities,” Lucretius admitted that these ideas were powerfully impressive upon men’s minds; his object, he says, is to destroy them:
It was therefore true, that among the lowest classes of the people, some laughed at hell, and others trembled at it. Some regarded Cerberus, the Furies, and Pluto as ridiculous fables, others perpetually presented offerings to the infernal gods. It was with them just as it is now among ourselves:
Many philosophers who had no belief in the fables about hell, were yet desirous that the people should retain that belief. Such was Zimens of Locris. Such was the political historian Polybius. “Hell,” says he, “is useless to sages, but necessary to the blind and brutal populace.”
It is well known that the law of the Pentateuch never announces a hell. All mankind was involved in this chaos of contradiction and uncertainty, when Jesus Christ came into the world. He confirmed the ancient doctrine of hell, not the doctrine of the heathen poets, not that of the Egyptian priests, but that which Christianity adopted, and to which everything must yield. He announced a kingdom that was about to come, and a hell that should have no end.
He said, in express words, at Capernaum in Galilee, “Whosoever shall call his brother ‘Raca,’ shall be condemned by the sanhedrim; but whosoever shall call him ‘fool,’ shall be condemned to Gehenna Hinnom, Gehenna of fire.”
This proves two things, first, that Jesus Christ was adverse to abuse and reviling; for it belonged only to Him, as master, to call the Pharisees hypocrites, and a “generation of vipers.”
Secondly, that those who revile their neighbor deserve hell; for the Gehenna of fire was in the valley of Hinnom, where victims had formerly been burned in sacrifice to Moloch, and this Gehenna was typical of the fire of hell.
He says, in another place, “If any one shall offend one of the weak who believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea.
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than to go into the Gehenna of inextinguishable fire, where the worm dies not, and where the fire is not quenched.
“And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter lame into eternal life, than to be cast with two feet into the inextinguishable Gehenna, where the worm dies not, and where the fire is not quenched.
“And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to be cast with both eyes into the Gehenna of fire, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.
“For everyone shall be burned with fire, and every victim shall be salted with salt.
“Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its savor, with what will you salt?
“You have salt in yourselves, preserve peace one with another.”
He said on another occasion, on His journey to Jerusalem, “When the master of the house shall have entered and shut the door, you will remain without, and knock, saying, ‘Lord, open unto us;’ and he will answer and say unto you, ‘Nescio vos,’ I know you not; whence are you? And then ye shall begin to say, we have eaten and drunk with thee, and thou hast taught in our public places; and he will reply, ‘Nescio vos,’ whence are you, workers of iniquity? And there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see there Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and yourselves cast out.”
Notwithstanding the other positive declarations made by the Saviour of mankind, which assert the eternal damnation of all who do not belong to our church, Origen and some others were not believers in the eternity of punishments.
The Socinians reject such punishments; but they are without the pale. The Lutherans and Calvinists, although they have strayed beyond the pale, yet admit the doctrine of a hell without end.
When men came to live in society, they must have perceived that a great number of criminals eluded the severity of the laws; the laws punished public crimes; it was necessary to establish a check upon secret crimes; this check was to be found only in religion. The Persians, Chaldæans, Egyptians, and Greeks, entertained the idea of punishments after the present life, and of all the nations of antiquity that we are acquainted with, the Jews, as we have already remarked, were the only one who admitted solely temporal punishments. It is ridiculous to believe, or pretend to believe, from some excessively obscure passages, that hell was recognized by the ancient laws of the Jews, by their Leviticus, or by their Decalogue, when the author of those laws says not a single word which can bear the slightest relation to the chastisements of a future life. We might have some right to address the compiler of the Pentateuch in such language as the following: “You are a man of no consistency, as destitute of probity as understanding, and totally unworthy of the name which you arrogate to yourself of legislator. What! you are perfectly acquainted, it seems, with that doctrine so eminently repressive of human vice, so necessary to the virtue and happiness of mankind—the doctrine of hell; and yet you do not explicitly announce it; and, while it is admitted by all the nations which surround you, you are content to leave it for some commentators, after four thousand years have passed away, to suspect that this doctrine might possibly have been entertained by you, and to twist and torture your expressions, in order to find that in them which you have never said. Either you are grossly ignorant not to know that this belief was universal in Egypt, Chaldæa, and Persia; or you have committed the most disgraceful error in judgment, in not having made it the foundation-stone of your religion.”
The authors of the Jewish laws could at most only answer: “We confess that we are excessively ignorant; that we did not learn the art of writing until a late period; that our people were a wild and barbarous horde, that wandered, as our own records admit, for nearly half a century in impracticable deserts, and at length obtained possession of a petty territory by the most odious rapine and detestable cruelty ever mentioned in the records of history. We had no commerce with civilized nations, and how could you suppose that, so grossly mean and grovelling as we are in all our ideas and usages, we should have invented a system so refined and spiritual as that in question?”
We employed the word which most nearly corresponds with soul, merely to signify life; we know our God and His ministers, His angels, only as corporeal beings; the distinction of soul and body, the idea of a life beyond death, can be the fruit only of long meditation and refined philosophy. Ask the Hottentots and negroes, who inhabit a country a hundred times larger than ours, whether they know anything of a life to come? We thought we had done enough in persuading the people under our influence that God punished offenders to the fourth generation, either by leprosy, by sudden death, or by the loss of the little property of which the criminal might be possessed.
To this apology it might be replied: “You have invented a system, the ridicule and absurdity of which are as clear as the sun at noon-day; for the offender who enjoyed good health, and whose family were in prosperous circumstances, must absolutely have laughed you to scorn.”
The apologist for the Jewish law would here rejoin: “You are much mistaken; since for one criminal who reasoned correctly, there were a hundred who never reasoned at all. The man who, after he had committed a crime, found no punishment of it attached to himself or his son, would yet tremble for his grandson. Besides, if after the time of committing his offence he was not speedily seized with some festering sore, such as our nation was extremely subject to, he would experience it in the course of years. Calamities are always occurring in a family, and we, without difficulty, instilled the belief that these calamities were inflicted by the hand of God taking vengeance for secret offences.”
It would be easy to reply to this answer by saying: “Your apology is worth nothing; for it happens every day that very worthy and excellent persons lose their health and their property; and, if there were no family that did not experience calamity, and that calamity at the same time was a chastisement from God, all the families of your community must have been made up of scoundrels.”
The Jewish priest might again answer and say that there are some calamities inseparable from human nature, and others expressly inflicted by the hand of God. But, in return, we should point out to such a reasoner the absurdity of considering fever and hail-stones in some cases as divine punishments; in others as mere natural effects.
In short, the Pharisees and the Essenians among the Jews did admit, according to certain notions of their own, the belief of a hell. This dogma had passed from the Greeks to the Romans, and was adopted by the Christians.
Many of the fathers of the church rejected the doctrine of eternal punishments. It appeared to them absurd to burn to all eternity an unfortunate man for stealing a goat. Virgil has finely said:
But it is vain for him to maintain or imply that Theseus is forever fixed to his chair, and that this position constitutes his punishment. Others have imagined Theseus to be a hero who could never be seen on any seat in hell, and who was to be found in the Elysian Fields.
A Calvinistical divine, of the name of Petit Pierre, not long since preached and published the doctrine that the damned would at some future period be pardoned. The rest of the ministers of his association told him that they wished for no such thing. The dispute grew warm. It was said that the king, whose subjects they were, wrote to him, that since they were desirous of being damned without redemption, he could have no reasonable objection, and freely gave his consent. The damned majority of the church of Neufchâtel ejected poor Petit Pierre, who had thus converted hell into a mere purgatory. It is stated that one of them said to him: “My good friend, I no more believe in the eternity of hell than yourself; but recollect that it may be no bad thing, perhaps, for your servant, your tailor, and your lawyer to believe in it.”
I will add, as an illustration of this passage, a short address of exhortation to those philosophers who in their writings deny a hell; I will say to them: “Gentlemen, we do not pass our days with Cicero, Atticus, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, the Chancellor de l’Hôpital, La Mothe le Vayer, Desyveteaux, René Descartes, Newton, or Locke, nor with the respectable Bayle, who was so superior to the power and frown of fortune, nor with the too scrupulously virtuous infidel Spinoza, who, although laboring under poverty and destitution, gave back to the children of the grand pensionary De Witt an allowance of three hundred florins, which had been granted him by that great statesman, whose heart, it may be remembered, the Hollanders actually devoured, although there was nothing to be gained by it. Every man with whom we intermingle in life is not a des Barreaux, who paid the pleaders their fees for a cause which he had forgotten to bring into court. Every woman is not a Ninon de L’Enclos, who guarded deposits in trust with religious fidelity, while the gravest personages in the state were violating them. In a word, gentlemen, all the world are not philosophers.
“We are obliged to hold intercourse and transact business, and mix up in life with knaves possessing little or no reflection—with vast numbers of persons addicted to brutality, intoxication, and rapine. You may, if you please, preach to them that there is no hell, and that the soul of man is mortal. As for myself, I will be sure to thunder in their ears that if they rob me they will inevitably be damned. I will imitate the country clergyman, who, having had a great number of sheep stolen from him, at length said to his hearers, in the course of one of his sermons: ‘I cannot conceive what Jesus Christ was thinking about when he died for such a set of scoundrels as you are.’ ”
There is an excellent book for fools called “The Christian Pedagogue,” composed by the reverend father d’Outreman, of the Society of Jesus, and enlarged by Coulon, curé of Ville-Juif-les-Paris. This book has passed, thank God, through fifty-one editions, although not a single page in it exhibits a gleam of common sense.
Friar Outreman asserts—in the hundred and fifty-seventh page of the second edition in quarto—that one of Queen Elizabeth’s ministers, Baron Hunsdon, predicted to Cecil, secretary of state, and to six other members of the cabinet council, that they as well as he would be damned; which, he says, was actually the case, and is the case with all heretics. It is most likely that Cecil and the other members of the council gave no credit to the said Baron Hunsdon; but if the fictitious baron had said the same to six common citizens, they would probably have believed him.
Were the time ever to arrive in which no citizen of London believed in a hell, what course of conduct would be adopted? What restraint upon wickedness would exist? There would exist the feeling of honor, the restraint of the laws, that of the Deity Himself, whose will it is that mankind shall be just, whether there be a hell or not.
HELL (DESCENT INTO).
Our colleague who wrote the article on “Hell” has made no mention of the descent of Jesus Christ into hell. This is an article of faith of high importance; it is expressly particularized in the creed of which we have already spoken. It is asked whence this article of faith is derived; for it is not to be found in either of our four gospels, and the creed called the Apostles’ Creed is not older than the age of those learned priests, Jerome, Augustine, and Rufinus.
It is thought that this descent of our Lord into hell is taken originally from the gospel of Nicodemus, one of the oldest.
In that gospel the prince of Tartarus and Satan, after a long conversation with Adam, Enoch, Elias the Tishbite, and David, hears a voice like the thunder, and a voice like a tempest. David says to the prince of Tartarus, “Now, thou foul and miscreant prince of hell, open thy gates and let the King of Glory enter,” etc. While he was thus addressing the prince, the Lord of Majesty appeared suddenly in the form of man, and He lighted up the eternal darkness, and broke asunder the indissoluble bars, and by an invincible virtue He visited those who lay in the depth of the darkness of guilt, in the shadow of the depth of sin.
Jesus Christ appeared with St. Michael; He overcame death; He took Adam by the hand; and the good thief followed Him, bearing the cross. All this took place in hell, in the presence of Carinus and Lenthius, who were resuscitated for the express purpose of giving evidence of the fact to the priests Ananias and Caiaphas, and to Doctor Gamaliel, at that time St. Paul’s master.
This gospel of Nicodemus has long been considered as of no authority. But a confirmation of this descent into hell is found in the First Epistle of St. Peter, at the close of the third chapter: “Because Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust, that He might offer us to God; dead indeed in the flesh, but resuscitated in spirit, by which He went to preach to the spirits that were in prison.”
Many of the fathers interpreted this passage very differently, but all were agreed as to the fact of the descent of Jesus into hell after His death. A frivolous difficulty was started upon the subject. He had, while upon the cross, said to the good thief: “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” By going to hell, therefore, He failed to perform His promise. This objection is easily answered by saying that He took him first to hell and afterwards to paradise; but, then, what becomes of the stay of three days?
Eusebius of Cæsarea says that Jesus left His body, without waiting for Death to come and seize it; and that, on the contrary, He seized Death, who, in terror and agony, embraced His feet, and afterwards attempted to escape by flight, but was prevented by Jesus, who broke down the gates of the dungeons which enclosed the souls of the saints, drew them forth from their confinement, resuscitated them, then resuscitated Himself, and conducted them in triumph to that heavenly Jerusalem which descended from heaven every night, and was actually seen by the astonished eyes of St. Justin.
It was a question much disputed whether all those who were resuscitated died again before they ascended into heaven. St. Thomas, in his “Summary,” asserts that they died again. This also is the opinion of the discriminating and judicious Calmet. “We maintain,” says he, in his dissertation on this great question, “that the saints who were resuscitated, after the death of the Saviour died again, in order to revive hereafter.”
God had permitted, ages before, that the profane Gentiles should imitate in anticipation these sacred truths. The ancients imagined that the gods resuscitated Pelops; that Orpheus extricated Eurydice from hell, at least for a moment; that Hercules delivered Alcestis from it; that Æsculapius resuscitated Hippolytus, etc. Let us ever discriminate between fable and truth, and keep our minds in the same subjection with respect to whatever surprises and astonishes us, as with respect to whatever appears perfectly conformable to their circumscribed and narrow views.
A Greek word, signifying “belief, or elected opinion.” It is not greatly to the honor of human reason that men should be hated, persecuted, massacred, or burned at the stake, on account of their chosen opinions; but what is exceedingly little to our honor is that this mischievous and destructive madness has been as peculiar to us as leprosy was to the Hebrews, or lues formerly to the Caribs.
We well know, theologically speaking, that heresy having become a crime, as even the word itself is a reproach; we well know, I say, that the Latin church, which alone can possess reason, has also possessed the right of reproving all who were of a different opinion from her own.
On the other side, the Greek church had the same right; accordingly, it reproved the Romans when they chose a different opinion from the Greeks on the procession of the Holy Spirit, the viands which might be taken in Lent, the authority of the pope, etc.
But upon what ground did any arrive finally at the conclusion that, when they were the strongest, they might burn those who entertained chosen opinions of their own? Those who had such opinions were undoubtedly criminal in the sight of God, since they were obstinate. They will, therefore, as no one can possibly doubt, be burned to all eternity in another world; but why burn them by a slow fire in this? The sufferers have represented that such conduct is a usurpation of the jurisdiction of God; that this punishment is very hard and severe, considered as an infliction by men; and that it is, moreover, of no utility, since one hour of suffering added to eternity is an absolute cipher.
The pious inflicters, however, replied to these reproaches that nothing was more just than to put upon burning coals whoever had a self-formed opinion; that to burn those whom God Himself would burn, was in fact a holy conformity to God; and finally, that since, by admission, the burning for an hour or two was a mere cipher in comparison with eternity, the burning of five or six provinces for chosen opinions—for heresies—was a matter in reality of very little consequence.
In the present day it is asked, “Among what cannibals have these questions been agitated, and their solutions proved by facts?” We must admit with sorrow and humiliation that it was asked even among ourselves, and in the very same cities where nothing is minded but operas, comedies, balls, fashions, and intrigue.
Unfortunately, it was a tyrant who introduced the practice of destroying heretics—not one of those equivocal tyrants who are regarded as saints by one party, and monsters by another, but one Maximus, competitor of Theodosius I., a decided tyrant, in the strictest meaning of the term, over the whole empire.
He destroyed at Trier, by the hands of the executioner, the Spaniard Priscillian and his adherents, whose opinions were pronounced erroneous by some bishops of Spain. These prelates solicited the capital punishment of the Priscillianists with a charity so ardent that Maximus could refuse them nothing. It was by no means owing to them that St. Martin was not beheaded as a heretic. He was fortunate enough to quit Trier and escape back to Tours.
A single example is sufficient to establish a usage. The first Scythian who scooped out the brains of his enemy and made a drinking-cup of his skull, was allowed all the rank and consequence in Scythia. Thus was consecrated the practice of employing the executioner to cut off “opinions.”
No such thing as heresy existed among the religions of antiquity, because they had reference only to moral conduct and public worship. When metaphysics became connected with Christianity, controversy prevailed; and from controversy arose different parties, as in the schools of philosophy. It was impossible that metaphysics should not mingle the uncertainties essential to their nature with the faith due to Jesus Christ. He had Himself written nothing; and His incarnation was a problem which the new Christians, whom He had not Himself inspired, solved in many different ways. “Each,” as St. Paul expressly observes, “had his peculiar party; some were for Apollos, others for Cephas.”
Christians in general, for a long time, assumed the name of Nazarenes, and even the Gentiles gave them no other appellations during the two first centuries. But there soon arose a particular school of Nazarenes, who believed a gospel different from the four canonical ones. It has even been pretended that this gospel differed only very slightly from that of St. Matthew, and was in fact anterior to it. St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome place the Nazarenes in the cradle of Christianity.
Those who considered themselves as knowing more than the rest, took the denomination of gnostics, “knowers”; and this denomination was for a long time so honorable that St. Clement of Alexandria, in his “Stromata,” always calls the good Christians true gnostics. “Happy are they who have entered into the gnostic holiness! He who deserves the name of gnostic resists seducers and gives to every one that asks.” The fifth and sixth books of the “Stromata” turn entirely upon the perfection of gnosticism.
The Ebionites existed incontestably in the time of the apostles. That name, which signifies “poor,” was intended to express how dear to them was the poverty in which Jesus was born.
Cerinthus was equally ancient. The “Apocalypse” of St. John was attributed to him. It is even thought that St. Paul and he had violent disputes with each other.
It seems to our weak understandings very natural to expect from the first disciples a solemn declaration, a complete and unalterable profession of faith, which might terminate all past, and preclude any future quarrels; but God permitted it not so to be. The creed called the “Apostles’ Creed,” which is short, and in which are not to be found the consubstantiality, the word trinity, or the seven sacraments, did not make its appearance before the time of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and the celebrated priest Rufinus. It was by this priest, the enemy of St. Jerome, that we are told it was compiled. Heresies had had time to multiply, and more than fifty were enumerated as existing in the fifth century.
Without daring to scrutinize the ways of Providence, which are impenetrable by the human mind, and merely consulting, as far as we are permitted, our feeble reason, it would seem that of so many opinions on so many articles, there would always exist one which must prevail, which was the orthodox, “the right of teaching.” The other societies, besides the really orthodox, soon assumed that title also; but being the weaker parties, they had given to them the designation of “heretics.”
When, in the progress of time, the Christian church in the East, which was the mother of that in the West, had irreparably broken with her daughter, each remained sovereign in her distinct sphere, and each had her particular heresies, arising out of the dominant opinion.
The barbarians of the North, having but recently become Christians, could not entertain the same opinions as Southern countries, because they could not adopt the same usages. They could not, for example, for a long time adore images, as they had neither painters nor sculptors. It also was somewhat dangerous to baptize an infant in winter, in the Danube, the Weser, or the Elbe.
It was no easy matter for the inhabitants of the shores of the Baltic to know precisely the opinions held in the Milanese and the march of Ancona. The people of the South and of the North of Europe had therefore chosen opinions different from each other. This seems to me to be the reason why Claude, bishop of Turin, preserved in the ninth century all the usages and dogmas received in the seventh and eighth, from the country of the Allobroges, as far as the Elbe and the Danube.
These dogmas and usages became fixed and permanent among the inhabitants of valleys and mountainous recesses, and near the banks of the Rhone, among a sequestered and almost unknown people, whom the general desolation left untouched in their seclusion and poverty, until they at length became known, under the name of the Vaudois in the twelfth, and that of the Albigenses in the thirteenth century. It is known how their chosen opinions were treated; what crusades were preached against them; what carnage was made among them; and that, from that period to the present day, Europe has not enjoyed a single year of tranquillity and toleration.
It is a great evil to be a heretic; but is it a great good to maintain orthodoxy by soldiers and executioners? Would it not be better that every man should eat his bread in peace under the shade of his own fig-tree? I suggest so bold a proposition with fear and trembling.
It appears to me that, in relation to heresies, we ought to distinguish between opinion and faction. From the earliest times of Christianity opinions were divided, as we have already seen. The Christians of Alexandria did not think, on many points, like those of Antioch. The Achaians were opposed to the Asiatics. This difference has existed through all past periods of our religion, and probably will always continue. Jesus Christ, who might have united all believers in the same sentiment, has not, in fact, done so; we must, therefore, presume that He did not desire it, and that it was His design to exercise in all churches the spirit of indulgence and charity, by permitting the existence of different systems of faith, while all should be united in acknowledging Him for their chief and master. All the varying sects, a long while tolerated by the emperors, or concealed from their observation, had no power to persecute and proscribe one another, as they were all equally subject to the Roman magistrates. They possessed only the power of disputing with each other. When the magistrates prosecuted them, they all claimed the rights of nature. They said: “Permit us to worship God in peace; do not deprive us of the liberty you allow to the Jews.”
All the different sects existing at present may hold the same language to those who oppress them. They may say to the nations who have granted privileges to the Jews: Treat us as you treat these sons of Jacob; let us, like them, worship God according to the dictates of conscience. Our opinion is not more injurious to your state or realm than Judaism. You tolerate the enemies of Jesus Christ; tolerate us, therefore, who adore Jesus Christ, and differ from yourselves only upon subtle points of theology; do not deprive yourselves of the services of useful subjects. It is of consequence to you to obtain their labor and skill in your manufactures, your marine, and your agriculture, and it is of no consequence at all to you that they hold a few articles of faith different from your own. What you want is their work, and not their catechism.
Faction is a thing perfectly different. It always happens, as a matter of necessity, that a persecuted sect degenerates into a faction. The oppressed unite, and console and encourage one another. They have more industry to strengthen their party than the dominant sect has for their extermination. To crush them or be crushed by them is the inevitable alternative. Such was the case after the persecution raised in 303 by the Cæsar, Galerius, during the last two years of the reign of Diocletian. The Christians, after having been favored by Diocletian for the long period of eighteen years, had become too numerous and wealthy to be extirpated. They joined the party of Constantius Chlorus; they fought for Constantine his son; and a complete revolution took place in the empire.
We may compare small things to great, when both are under the direction of the same principle or spirit. A similar revolution happened in Holland, in Scotland, and in Switzerland. When Ferdinand and Isabella expelled from Spain the Jews,—who were settled there not merely before the reigning dynasty, but before the Moors and Goths, and even the Carthaginians—the Jews would have effected a revolution in that country if they had been as warlike as they were opulent, and if they could have come to an understanding with the Arabs.
In a word, no sect has ever changed the government of a country but when it was furnished with arms by despair. Mahomet himself would not have succeeded had he not been expelled from Mecca and a price set upon his head.
If you are desirous, therefore, to prevent the overflow of a state by any sect, show it toleration. Imitate the wise conduct exhibited at the present day by Germany, England, Holland, Denmark, and Russia. There is no other policy to be adopted with respect to a new sect than to destroy, without remorse, both leaders and followers, men, women, and children, without a single exception, or to tolerate them when they are numerous. The first method is that of a monster, the second that of a sage.
Bind to the state all the subjects of that state by their interest; let the Quaker and the Turk find their advantage in living under your laws. Religion is between God and man; civil law is between you and your people.
It is impossible not to regret the loss of a “History of Heresies,” which Strategius wrote by order of Constantine. Ammianus Marcellinus informs us that the emperor, wishing to ascertain the opinions of the different sects, and not finding any other person who could give correct ideas on the subject, imposed the office of drawing up a report or narrative upon it on that officer, who acquitted himself so well, that Constantine was desirous of his being honored in consequence with the name of Musonianus. M. de Valois, in his notes upon Ammianus, observes that Strategius, who was appointed prefect of the East, possessed as much knowledge and eloquence, as moderation and mildness; such, at least, is the eulogium passed upon him by Libanius.
The choice of a layman by the emperor shows that an ecclesiastic at that time had not the qualities indispensable for a task so delicate. In fact, St. Augustine remarks that a bishop of Bresse, called Philastrius, whose work is to be found in the collection of the fathers, having collected all the heresies, even including those which existed among the Jews before the coming of Jesus Christ, reckons twenty-eight of the latter and one hundred and twenty-eight from the coming of Christ; while St. Epiphanius, comprising both together, makes the whole number but eighty. The reason assigned by St. Augustine for this difference is, that what appears heresy to the one, does not appear so to the other. Accordingly this father tells the Manichæans: “We take the greatest care not to treat you with rigor; such conduct we leave to those who know not what pains are necessary for the discovery of truth, and how difficult it is to avoid falling into errors; we leave it to those who know not with what sighs and groans even a very slight knowledge of the divine nature is alone to be acquired. For my own part, I consider it my duty to bear with you as I was borne with formerly myself, and to show you the same tolerance which I experienced when I was in error.”
If, however, any one considers the infamous imputations, which we have noticed under the article on “Genealogy,” and the abominations of which this professedly indulgent and candid father accused the Manichæans in the celebration of their mysteries—as we shall see under the article on “Zeal”—we shall be convinced that toleration was never the virtue of the clergy. We have already seen, under the article on “Council,” what seditions were excited by the ecclesiastics in relation to Arianism. Eusebius informs us that in some places the statues of Constantine were thrown down because he wished the Arians to be tolerated; and Sozomen says that on the death of Eusebius of Nicomedia, when Macedonius, an Arian, contested the see of Constantinople with Paul, a Catholic, the disturbance and confusion became so dreadful in the church, from which each endeavored to expel the other, that the soldiers, thinking the people in a state of insurrection, actually charged upon them; a fierce and sanguinary conflict ensued, and more than three thousand persons were slain or suffocated. Macedonius ascended the episcopal throne, took speedy possession of all the churches, and persecuted with great cruelty the Novatians and Catholics. It was in revenge against the latter of these that he denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, just as he recognized the divinity of the Word, which was denied by the Arians out of mere defiance to their protector Constantius, who had deposed him.
The same historian adds that on the death of Athanasius, the Arians, supported by Valens, apprehended, bound in chains, and put to death those who remained attached to Peter, whom Athanasius had pointed out as his successor. Alexandria resembled a city taken by assault. The Arians soon possessed themselves of the churches, and the bishop, installed by them, obtained the power of banishing from Egypt all who remained attached to the Nicean creed.
We read in Socrates that, after the death of Sisinnius, the church of Constantinople became again divided on the choice of a successor, and Theodosius the Younger placed in the patriarchal see the violent and fiery Nestorius. In his first sermon he addresses the following language to the emperor: “Give me the land purged of heretics, and I will give you the kingdom of Heaven; second me in the extermination of heretics, and I engage to furnish you with effectual assistance against the Persians.” He afterwards expelled the Arians from the capital, armed the people against them, pulled down their churches, and obtained from the emperor rigorous and persecuting edicts to effect their extirpation. He employed his powerful influence subsequently in procuring the arrest, imprisonment, and even whipping of the principal persons among the people who had interrupted him in the middle of a discourse, in which he was delivering his distinguishing system of doctrine, which was soon condemned at the Council of Ephesus.
Photius relates that when the priest reached the altar, it was customary in the church of Constantinople for the people to chant: “Holy God, powerful God, immortal God”; and the name given to this part of the service was “the trisagion.” The priest, Peter had added: “Who hast been crucified for us, have mercy upon us.” The Catholics considered this addition as containing the error of the Eutychian Theopathists, who maintained that the divinity had suffered; they, however, chanted the trisagion with the addition, to avoid irritating the emperor Anastasius, who had just deposed another Macedonius, and placed in his stead Timotheus, by whose order this addition was ordered to be chanted. But on a particular day the monks entered the church, and, instead of the addition in question, chanted a verse from one of the Psalms: the people instantly exclaimed: “The orthodox have arrived very seasonably!” All the partisans of the Council of Chalcedon chanted, in union with the monks, the verse from the Psalm; the Eutychians were offended; the service was interrupted; a battle commenced in the church; the people rushed out, obtained arms as speedily as possible, spread carnage and conflagration through the city, and were pacified only by the destruction of ten thousand lives.
The imperial power at length established through all Egypt the authority of this Council of Chalcedon; but the massacre of more than a hundred thousand Egyptians, on different occasions, for having refused to acknowledge the council, had planted in the hearts of the whole population an implacable hatred against the emperors. A part of those who were hostile to the council withdrew to Upper Egypt, others quitted altogether the dominions of the empire and passed over to Africa and among the Arabs, where all religions were tolerated.
We have already observed that under the reign of the empress Irene the worship of images was reestablished and confirmed by the second Council of Nice. Leo the Armenian, Michael the Stammerer, and Theophilus, neglected nothing to effect its abolition; and this opposition caused further disturbance in the empire of Constantinople, till the reign of the empress Theodora, who gave the force of law to the second Council of Nice, extinguished the party of Iconoclasts, or image-breakers, and exerted the utmost extent of her authority against the Manichæans. She despatched orders throughout the empire to seek for them everywhere, and put all those to death who would not recant. More than a hundred thousand perished by different modes of execution. Four thousand, who escaped from this severe scrutiny and extensive punishment, took refuge among the Saracens, united their own strength with theirs, ravaged the territories of the empire, and erected fortresses in which the Manichæans, who had remained concealed through terror of capital punishment, found an asylum, and constituted a hostile force, formidable from their numbers, and from their burning hatred both of the emperors and Catholics. They frequently inflicted on the territories of the empire dread and devastation, and cut to pieces its disciplined armies.
We abridge the details of these dreadful massacres; those of Ireland, those of the valleys of Piedmont, those which we shall speak of in the article on “Inquisition,” and lastly, the massacre of St. Bartholomew, displayed in the West the same spirit of intolerance, against which nothing more pertinent and sensible has been written than what we find in the works of Salvian.
The following is the language employed respecting the followers of one of the principal heresies by this excellent priest of Marseilles, who was surnamed the master of bishops, who deplored with bitterness the violence and vices of his age, and who was called the Jeremiah of the fifth century. “The Arians,” says he, “are heretics; but they do not know it; they are heretics among us, but they are not so among themselves; for they consider themselves so perfectly and completely Catholic, that they treat us as heretics. We are convinced that they entertain an opinion injurious to the divine generation, inasmuch as they say that the Son is less than the Father. They, on the other hand, think that we hold an opinion injurious to the Father, because we regard the Father and the Son equal. The truth is with us, but they consider it as favoring them. We give to God the honor which is due to Him, but they, according to their peculiar way of thinking, maintain that they do the same. They do not acquit themselves of their duty; but in the very point where they fail in doing so, they make the greatest duty of religion consist. They are impious, but even in being so they consider themselves as following, and as practising, genuine piety. They are then mistaken, but from a principle of love to God; and, although they have not the true faith, they regard that which they have actually embraced as the perfect love of God.
“The sovereign judge of the universe alone knows how they will be punished for their errors in the day of judgment. In the meantime he patiently bears with them, because he sees that if they are in error, they err from pure motives of piety.”
We neglect reading the ancient book of Mercury Trismegistus, and we are not wrong in so doing. To philosophers it has appeared a sublime piece of jargon, and it is perhaps for this reason that they believed it the work of a great Platonist.
Nevertheless, in this theological chaos, how many things there are to astonish and subdue the human mind! God, whose triple essence is wisdom, power and bounty; God, forming the world by His thought, His word; God creating subaltern gods; God commanding these gods to direct the celestial orbs, and to preside over the world; the sun; the Son of God; man His image in thought; light, His principal work a divine essence—all these grand and lively images dazzle a subdued imagination.
It remains to be known whether this work, as much celebrated as little read, was the work of a Greek or of an Egyptian. St. Augustine hesitates not in believing that it is the work of an Egyptian, who pretended to be descended from the ancient Mercury, from the ancient Thaut, the first legislator of Egypt. It is true that St. Augustine knew no more of the Egyptian than of the Greek; but in his time it was necessary that we should not doubt that Hermes, from whom we received theology, was an Egyptian sage, probably anterior to the time of Alexander, and one of the priests whom Plato consulted.
It has always appeared to me that the theology of Plato in nothing resembled that of other Greeks, with the exception of Timæus, who had travelled in Egypt, as well as Pythagoras.
The Hermes Trismegistus that we possess is written in barbarous Greek, and in a foreign idiom. This is a proof that it is a translation in which the words have been followed more than the sense.
Joseph Scaliger, who assisted the lord of Candale, bishop of Aire, to translate the Hermes, or Mercury Trismegistus, doubts not that the original was Egyptian. Add to these reasons that it is not very probable that a Greek would have addressed himself so often to Thaut. It is not natural for us to address ourselves to strangers with so much warm-heartedness; at least, we see no example of it in antiquity.
The Egyptian Æsculpaius, who is made to speak in this book, and who is perhaps the author of it, wrote to Ammon, king of Egypt: “Take great care how you suffer the Greeks to translate the books of our Mercury, our Thaut, because they would disfigure them.” Certainly a Greek would not have spoken thus; there is therefore every appearance of this book being Egyptian.
There is another reflection to be made, which is, that the systems of Hermes and Plato were equally formed to extend themselves through all the Jewish schools, from the time of the Ptolemies. This doctrine made great progress in them; you see it completely displayed by the Jew Philo, a learned man after the manner of those times.
He copies entire passages from Mercury Trismegistus in his chapter on the formation of the world. “Firstly,” says he, “God made the world intelligible, the Heavens incorporeal, and the earth invisible; he afterwards created the incorporeal essence of water and spirit; and finally the essence of incorporeal light, the origin of the sun and of the stars.”
Such is the pure doctrine of Hermes. He adds that the word, or invisible and intellectual thought, is the image of God. Here is the creation of the world by the word, by thought, by the logos, very strongly expressed.
Afterwards follows the doctrine of Numbers, which descended from the Egyptians to the Jews. He calls reason the relation of God. The number of seven is the accomplishment of all things, “which is the reason,” says he, “that the lyre has only seven strings.”
In a word Philo possessed all the philosophy of his time.
We are therefore deceived, when we believe that the Jews, under the reign of Herod, were plunged in the same state of ignorance in which they were previously immersed. It is evident that St. Paul was well informed. It is only necessary to read the first chapter of St. John, which is so different from those of the others, to perceive that the author wrote precisely like Hermes and Plato. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of man.” It is thus that St. Paul says: “God made the worlds by His Son.”
In the time of the apostles were seen whole societies of Christians who were only too learned, and thence substituted a fantastic philosophy for simplicity of faith. The Simons, Menanders, and Cerinthuses, taught precisely the doctrines of Hermes. Their Æons were only the subaltern gods, created by the great Being. All the first Christians, therefore, were not ignorant men, as it always has been asserted; since there were several of them who abused their literature; even in the Acts the governor Festus says to St. Paul: “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”
Cerinthus dogmatized in the time of St. John the Evangelist. His errors were of a profound, refined, and metaphysical cast. The faults which he remarked in the construction of the world made him think—at least so says Dr. Dupin—that it was not the sovereign God who created it, but a virtue inferior to this first principle, which had not the knowledge of the sovereign God. This was wishing to correct even the system of Plato, and deceiving himself, both as a Christian and a philosopher; but at the same time it displayed a refined and well-exercised mind.
It is the same with the primitives called Quakers, of whom we have so much spoken. They have been taken for men who cannot see beyond their noses, and who make no use of their reason. However, there have been among them several who employed all the subtleties of logic. Enthusiasm is not always the companion of total ignorance, it is often that of erroneous information.
This is a title very different from that of historian. In France we commonly see men of letters pensioned, and, as it was said formerly, appointed to write history. Alain Chartier was the historiographer of Charles VII.; he says that he interrogated the domestics of this prince, and put them on their oaths, according to the duty of his charge, to ascertain whether Charles really had Agnes Sorel for his mistress. He concludes that nothing improper ever passed between these lovers; and that all was reduced to a few honest caresses, to which these domestics had been the innocent witnesses. However, it is proved, not by historiographers, but by historians supported by family titles, that Charles VII. had three daughters by Agnes Sorel, the eldest of whom, married to one Breze, was stabbed by her husband. From this time there were often titled historiographers in France, and it was the custom to give them commissions of councillors of state, with the provisions of their charge. They were commensal officers of the king’s house. Matthieu had these privileges under Henry IV., but did not therefore write a better history.
At Venice it is always a noble of the senate who possesses this title and function, and the celebrated Nani has filled them with general approbation. It is very difficult for the historiographer of a prince not to be a liar; that of a republic flatters less; but he does not tell all the truth. In China historiographers are charged with collecting all the events and original titles under a dynasty. They throw the leaves numbered into a vast hall, through an orifice resembling the lion’s mouth at Venice, into which is cast all secret intelligence. When the dynasty is extinct the hall is opened and the materials digested, of which an authentic history is composed. The general journal of the empire also serves to form the body of history; this journal is superior to our newspapers, being made under the superintendence of the mandarins of each province, revised by a supreme tribunal, and every piece bearing an authenticity which is decisive in contentious matters.
Every sovereign chose his own historiographer. Vittorio Siri was one; Pelisson was first chosen by Louis XIV. to write the events of his reign, and acquitted himself of his task with eloquence in the history of Franche-Comté. Racine, the most elegant of poets, and Boileau, the most correct, were afterwards substituted for Pelisson. Some curious persons have collected “Memoirs of the Passage of the Rhine,” written by Racine. We cannot judge by these memoirs whether Louis XIV. passed the Rhine or not with his troops, who swam across the river. This example sufficiently demonstrates how rarely it happens that an historiographer dare tell the truth. Several also, who have possessed this title, have taken good care of writing history; they have followed the example of Amyot, who said that he was too much attached to his masters to write their lives. Father Daniel had the patent of historiographer, after having given his “History of France”; he had a pension of 600 livres, regarded merely as a suitable stipend for a monk.
It is very difficult to assign true bounds to the arts, sciences, and literary labor. Perhaps it is the proper duty of an historiographer to collect materials, and that of an historian to put them in order. The first can amass everything, the second arrange and select. The historiographer is more of the simple annalist, while the historian seems to have a more open field for reflection and eloquence.
We need scarcely say here that both should equally tell the truth, but we can examine this great law of Cicero: “Ne quid veri tacere non audeat.”—“That we ought not to dare to conceal any truth.” This rule is of the number of those that want illustration. Suppose a prince confides to his historiographer an important secret to which his honor is attached, or that the good of the state requires should not be revealed—should the historiographer or historian break his word with the prince, or betray his country to obey Cicero? The curiosity of the public seems to exact it; honor and duty forbid it. Perhaps in this case he should renounce writing history.
If a truth dishonors a family, ought the historiographer or historian to inform the public of it? No; doubtless he is not bound to reveal the shame of individuals; history is no satire.
But if this scandalous truth belongs to public events, if it enters into the interests of the state—if it has produced evils of which it imports to know the cause, it is then that the maxims of Cicero should be observed; for this law is like all others which must be executed, tempered, or neglected, according to circumstances.
Let us beware of this humane respect when treating of acknowledged public faults, prevarications, and injustices, into which the misfortunes of the times have betrayed respectable bodies. They cannot be too much exposed; they are beacons which warn these always-existing bodies against splitting again on similar rocks. If an English parliament has condemned a man of fortune to the torture—if an assembly of theologians had demanded the blood of an unfortunate who differed in opinion from themselves, it should be the duty of an historian to inspire all ages with horror for these juridical assassins. We should always make the Athenians blush for the death of Socrates.
Happily, even an entire people always find it good to have the crimes of their ancestors placed before them; they like to condemn them, and to believe themselves superior. The historiographer or historian encourages them in these sentiments, and, in retracing the wars of government and religion, prevents their repetition.
Definition of History.
History is the recital of facts represented as true. Fable, on the contrary, is the recital of facts represented as fiction. There is the history of human opinions, which is scarcely anything more than the history of human errors.
The history of the arts may be made the most useful of all, when to a knowledge of their invention and progress it adds a description of their mechanical means and processes.
Natural history, improperly designated “history,” is an essential part of natural philosophy. The history of events has been divided into sacred and profane. Sacred history is a series of divine and miraculous operations, by which it has pleased God formerly to direct and govern the Jewish nation, and, in the present day, to try our faith. “To learn Hebrew, the sciences, and history,” says La Fontaine, “is to drink up the sea.”
The Foundations of History.
The foundations of all history are the recitals of events, made by fathers to their children, and afterwards transmitted from one generation to another. They are, at most, only probable in their origin when they do not shock common sense, and they lose a degree of probability at every successive transmission. With time the fabulous increases and the true disappears; hence it arises that the original traditions and records of all nations are absurd. Thus the Egyptians had been governed for many ages by the gods. They had next been under the government of demi-gods; and, finally, they had kings for eleven thousand three hundred and forty years, and during that period the sun had changed four times from east and west.
The Phœnicians, in the time of Alexander, pretended that they had been settled in their own country for thirty thousand years; and those thirty thousand years were as full of prodigies as the Egyptian chronology. I admit it to be perfectly consistent with physical possibility that Phœnicia may have existed, not merely for thirty thousand years, but thirty thousand millions of ages, and that it may have endured, as well as the other portions of the globe, thirty millions of revolutions. But of all this we possess no knowledge.
The ridiculous miracles which abound in the ancient history of Greece are universally known.
The Romans, although a serious and grave people, have, nevertheless, equally involved in fables the early periods of their history. That nation, so recent in comparison with those of Asia, was five hundred years without historians. It is impossible, therefore, to be surprised on finding that Romulus was the son of Mars; that a she-wolf was his nurse; that he marched with a thousand men from his own village, Rome, against twenty thousand warriors belonging to the city of the Sabines; that he afterwards became a god; that the elder Tarquin cut through a stone with a razor, and that a vestal drew a ship to land with her girdle, etc.
The first annals of modern nations are no less fabulous; things prodigious and improbable ought sometimes, undoubtedly, to be related, but only as proofs of human credulity. They constitute part of the history of human opinion and absurdities; but the field is too immense.
Of Monuments or Memorials.
The only proper method of endeavoring to acquire some knowledge of ancient history is to ascertain whether there remain any incontestable public monuments. We possess only three such, in the way of writing or inscription. The first is the collection of astronomical observations made during nineteen hundred successive years at Babylon, and transferred by Alexander to Greece. This series of observations, which goes back two thousand two hundred and thirty-four years beyond our vulgar era, decidedly proves that the Babylonians existed as an associated and incorporated people many ages before; for the arts are struck out and elaborated only in the slow course of time, and the indolence natural to mankind permits thousands of years to roll away without their acquiring any other knowledge or talents than what are required for food, clothing, shelter, and mutual destruction. Let the truth of these remarks be judged of from the state of the Germans and the English in the time of Cæsar, from that of the Tartars at the present day, from that of two-thirds of Africa, and from that of all the various nations found in the vast continent of America, excepting, in some respects, the kingdoms of Peru and Mexico, and the republic of Tlascala. Let it be recollected that in the whole of the new world not a single individual could write or read.
The second monument is the central eclipse of the sun, calculated in China two thousand one hundred and fifty-five years before our vulgar era, and admitted by all our astronomers to have actually occurred. We must apply the same remark to the Chinese as to the people of Babylon. They had undoubtedly, long before this period, constituted a vast empire and social polity. But what places the Chinese above all the other nations of the world is that neither their laws, nor manners, nor the language exclusively spoken by their men of learning, have experienced any change in the course of about four thousand years. Yet this nation and that of India, the most ancient of all that are now subsisting, those which possess the largest and most fertile tracts of territory, those which had invented nearly all the arts almost before we were in possession even of any of them, have been always omitted, down to our time, in our pretended universal histories. And whenever a Spaniard or a Frenchman enumerated the various nations of the globe, neither of them failed to represent his own country as the first monarchy on earth, and his king as the greatest sovereign, under the flattering hope, no doubt, that that greatest of sovereigns, after having read his book, would confer upon him a pension.
The third monument, but very inferior to the two others, is the Arundel Marbles. The chronicle of Athens was inscribed on these marbles two hundred and sixty-three years before our era, but it goes no further back than the time of Cecrops, thirteen hundred and nineteen years beyond the time of its inscription. In the history of all antiquity these are the only incontestable epochs that we possess.
Let us attend a little particularly to these marbles, which were brought from Greece by Lord Arundel. The chronicle contained in them commences fifteen hundred and seventy-seven years before our era. This, at the present time, makes an antiquity of 3,348 years, and in the course of that period you do not find a single miraculous or prodigious event on record. It is the same with the Olympiads. It must not be in reference to these that the expression can be applied of “Græcia mendax” (lying Greece). The Greeks well knew how to distinguish history from fable, and real facts from the tales of Herodotus; just as in relation to important public affairs, their orators borrowed nothing from the discourses of the sophists or the imagery of the poets.
The date of the taking of Troy is specified in these marbles, but there is no mention made of Apollo’s arrows, or the sacrifice of Iphigenia, or the ridiculous battles of the gods. The date of the inventions of Triptolemus and Ceres is given; but Ceres is not called goddess. Notice is taken of a poem upon the rape of Proserpine; but it is not said that she is the daughter of Jupiter and a goddess, and the wife of the god of hell.
Hercules is initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, but not a single word is mentioned of the twelve labors, nor of his passage to Africa in his cup, nor of his divinity, nor of the great fish by which he was swallowed, and which, according to Lycophron, kept him in its belly three days and three nights.
Among us, on the contrary, a standard is brought by an angel from heaven to the monks of St. Denis; a pigeon brings a bottle of oil to the church of Rheims; two armies of serpents engage in pitched battle in Germany; an archbishop of Mentz is besieged and devoured by rats; and to complete and crown the whole, the year in which these adventures occurred, is given with the most particular precision. The abbé Langlet, also condescending to compile, compiles these contemptible fooleries, while the almanacs, for the hundredth time, repeat them. In this manner are our youth instructed and enlightened; and all these trumpery fables are put in requisition even for the education of princes!
All history is comparatively recent. It is by no means astonishing to find that we have, in fact, no profane history that goes back beyond about four thousand years. The cause of this is to be found in the revolutions of the globe, and the long and universal ignorance of the art which transmits events by writing. There are still many nations totally unacquainted with the practice of this art. It existed only in a small number of civilized states, and even in them was confined to comparatively few hands. Nothing was more rare among the French and Germans than knowing how to write; down to the fourteenth century of our era, scarcely any public acts were attested by witnesses. It was not till the reign of Charles VII. in France, in 1454, that an attempt was made to reduce to writing some of the customs of France. The art was still more uncommon among the Spaniards, and hence it arises that their history is so dry and doubtful till the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. We perceive, from what has been said, with what facility the very small number of persons who possessed the art of writing might impose by means of it, and how easy it has been to produce a belief in the most enormous absurdities.
There have been nations who have subjugated a considerable part of the world, and who yet have not been acquainted with the use of characters. We know that Genghis Khan conquered a part of Asia in the beginning of the thirteenth century; but it is not from him, nor from the Tartars, that we have derived that knowledge. Their history, written by the Chinese, and translated by Father Gaubil, states that these Tartars were at that time unacquainted with the art of writing.
This art was, unquestionably, not likely to be less unknown to the Scythian Ogus-kan, called by the Persians and Greeks Madies, who conquered a part of Europe and Asia long before the reign of Cyrus. It is almost a certainty that at that time, out of a hundred nations, there were only two or three that employed characters. It is undoubtedly possible, that in an ancient world destroyed, mankind were acquainted with the art of writing and the other arts, but in our world they are all of recent date.
There remain monuments of another kind, which serve to prove merely the remote antiquity of certain nations, an antiquity preceding all known epochs, and all books; these are the prodigies of architecture, such as the pyramids and palaces of Egypt, which have resisted and wearied the power of time. Herodotus, who lived two thousand two hundred years ago, and who had seen them, was unable to learn from the Egyptian priests at what periods these structures were raised.
It is difficult to ascribe to the oldest of the pyramids an antiquity of less than four thousand years, and, it is necessary to consider, that those ostentatious piles, erected by monarchs, could not have been commenced till long after the establishment of cities. But, in order to build cities in a country every year inundated, it must always be recollected that it would have been previously necessary in this land of slime and mud, to lay the foundation upon piles, that they might thus be inaccessible to the inundation; it would have been necessary, even before taking this indispensable measure of precaution, and before the inhabitants could be in a state to engage in such important and even dangerous labors, that the people should have contrived retreats, during the swelling of the Nile, between the two chains of rocks which exist on the right and left banks of the river. It would have been necessary that these collected multitudes should have instruments of tillage, and of architecture, a knowledge of architecture and surveying, regular laws, and an active police. All these things require a space of time absolutely prodigious. We see, every day, by the long details which relate even to those of our undertakings, which are most necessary and most diminutive, how difficult it is to execute works of magnitude, and that they not only require unwearied perseverance, but many generations animated by the same spirit.
However, whether we admit that one or two of those immense masses were erected by Menes, or Thaut, or Cheops, or Rameses, we shall not, in consequence, have the slightest further insight into the ancient history of Egypt. The language of that people is lost; and all we know in reference to the subject is that before the most ancient historians existed, there existed materials for writing ancient history.
As we already possess, I had almost said, twenty thousand works, the greater number of them extending to many volumes, on the subject, exclusively, of the history of France; and as, even a studious man, were he to live a hundred years, would find it impossible to read them, I think it a good thing to know where to stop. We are obliged to connect with the knowledge of our own country the history of our neighbors. We are still less permitted to remain ignorant of the Greeks and Romans, and their laws which are become ours; but, if to this laborious study we should resolve to add that of more remote antiquity, we should resemble the man who deserted Tacitus and Livy to study seriously the “Thousand and One Nights.” All the origins of nations are evidently fables. The reason is that men must have lived long in society, and have learned to make bread and clothing (which would be matters of some difficulty) before they acquired the art of transmitting all their thoughts to posterity (a matter of greater difficulty still). The art of writing is certainly not more than six thousand years old, even among the Chinese; and, whatever may be the boast of the Chaldæans and Egyptians, it appears not at all likely that they were able to read and write earlier.
The history, therefore, of preceding periods, could be transmitted by memory alone; and we well know how the memory of past events changes from one generation to another. The first histories were written only from the imagination. Not only did every people invent its own origin, but it invented also the origin of the whole world.
If we may believe Sanchoniathon, the origin of things was a thick air, which was rarified by the wind; hence sprang desire and love, and from the union of desire and love were formed animals. The stars were later productions, and intended merely to adorn the heavens, and to rejoice the sight of the animals upon earth.
The Knef of the Egyptians, their Oshiret and Ishet, which we call Osiris and Isis, are neither less ingenious nor ridiculous. The Greeks embellished all these fictions. Ovid collected them and ornamented them with the charms of the most beautiful poetry. What he says of a god who develops or disembroils chaos, and of the formation of man, is sublime.
Hesiod, and other writers who lived so long before, would have been very far from expressing themselves with this elegant sublimity. But, from the interesting moment of man’s formation down to the era of the Olympiads, everything is plunged in profound obscurity.
Herodotus is present at the Olympic games, and, like an old woman to children, recites his narratives, or rather tales, to the assembled Greeks. He begins by saying that the Phœnicians sailed from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean; which, if true, must necessarily imply that they had doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and made the circuit of Africa.
Then comes the rape of Io; then the fable of Gyges and Candaules; then the wondrous stories of banditti, and that of the daughter of Cheops, king of Egypt, having required a hewn stone from each of her many lovers, and obtained, in consequence, a number large enough to build one of the pyramids.
To this, add the oracles, prodigies, and frauds of priests, and you have the history of the human race.
The first periods of the Roman history appear to have been written by Herodotus; our conquerors and legislators knew no other way of counting their years as they passed away, than by driving nails into a wall by the hand of the sacred pontiff.
The great Romulus, the king of a village, is the son of the god Mars, and a recluse, who was proceeding to a well to draw water in a pitcher. He has a god for his father, a woman of loose manners for his mother, and a she-wolf for his nurse. A buckler falls from heaven expressly for Numa. The invaluable books of the Sibyls are found by accident. An augur, by divine permission, divides a large flintstone with a razor. A vestal, with her mere girdle, draws into the water a large vessel that has been stranded. Castor and Pollux come down to fight for the Romans, and the marks of their horses’ feet are imprinted on the stones. The transalpine Gauls advanced to pillage Rome; some relate that they were driven away by geese, others that they carried away with them much gold and silver; but it is probable that, at that time in Italy, geese were far more abundant than silver. We have imitated the first Roman historians, at least in their taste for fables. We have our oriflamme, our great standard, brought from heaven by an angel, and the holy phial by a pigeon; and, when to these we add the mantle of St. Martin, we feel not a little formidable.
What would constitute useful history? That which should teach us our duties and our rights, without appearing to teach them.
It is often asked whether the fable of the sacrifice of Iphigenia is taken from the history of Jephthah; whether the deluge of Deucalion is invented in imitation of that of Noah; whether the adventure of Philemon and Baucis is copied from that of Lot and his wife. The Jews admit that they had no communication with strangers, that their books were unknown to the Greeks till the translation made by the order of Ptolemy. The Jews were, long before that period, money-brokers and usurers among the Greeks at Alexandria; but the Greeks never went to sell old clothes at Jerusalem. It is evident that no people imitated the Jews, and also that the Jews imitated or adopted many things from the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.
All Jewish antiquities are sacred in our estimation, notwithstanding the hatred and contempt in which we hold that people. We cannot, indeed, believe them by reason, but we bring ourselves under subjection to the Jews by faith. There are about fourscore systems in existence on the subject of their chronology, and a far greater number of ways of explaining the events recorded in their histories; we know not which is the true one, but we reserve our faith for it in store against the time when that true one shall be discovered.
We have so many things to believe in this sensible and magnanimous people, that all our faith is exhausted by them, and we have none left for the prodigies with which the other nations abound. Rollin may go on repeating to us the oracles of Apollo, and the miraculous achievements of Semiramis; he may continue to transcribe all that has been narrated of the justice of those ancient Scythians who so frequently pillaged Africa, and occasionally ate men for their breakfast; yet sensible and well-educated people will still feel and express some degree of incredulity.
What I most admire in our modern compilers is the judgment and zeal with which they prove to us that whatever happened in former ages, in the most extensive and powerful empires of the world, took place solely for the instruction of the inhabitants of Palestine. If the kings of Babylon, in the course of their conquests, overrun the territories of the Hebrew people, it is only to correct that people for their sins. If the monarch, who has been commonly named Cyrus, becomes master of Babylon, it is that he may grant permission to some captive Jews to return home. If Alexander conquers Darius, it is for the settlement of some Jew old-clothesmen at Alexandria. When the Romans join Syria to their vast dominions, and round their empire with the little district of Judæa, this is still with a view to teach a moral lesson to the Jews. The Arabs and the Turks appear upon the stage of the world solely for the correction of this amiable people. We must acknowledge that they have had an excellent education; never had any pupil so many preceptors. Such is the utility of history.
But what is still more instructive is the exact justice which the clergy have dealt out to all those sovereigns with whom they were dissatisfied. Observe with what impartial candor St. Gregory of Nazianzen judges the emperor Julian, the philosopher. He declares that that prince, who did not believe in the existence of the devil, held secret communication with that personage, and that, on a particular occasion, when the demons appeared to him under the most hideous forms, and in the midst of the most raging flames, he drove them away by making inadvertently the sign of the cross.
He denominates him madman and wretch; he asserts that Julian immolated young men and women every night in caves. Such is the description he gives of the most candid and clement of men, and who never exercised the slightest revenge against this same Gregory, notwithstanding the abuse and invectives with which he pursued him throughout his reign.
To apologize for the guilty is a happy way of justifying calumny against the innocent. Compensation is thus effected; and such compensation was amply afforded by St. Gregory. The emperor Constantius, Julian’s uncle and predecessor, upon his accession to the throne, had massacred Julius, his mother’s brother, and his two sons, all three of whom had been declared august; this was a system which he had adopted from his father. He afterwards procured the assassination of Gallus, Julian’s brother. The cruelty which he thus displayed to his own family, he extended to the empire at large; but he was a man of prayer, and, even at the decisive battle with Maxentius, he was praying to God in a neighboring church during the whole time in which the armies were engaged. Such was the man who was eulogized by Gregory; and, if such is the way in which the saints make us acquainted with the truth, what may we not expect from the profane, particularly when they are ignorant, superstitious, and irritable?
At the present day the study of history is occasionally applied to a purpose somewhat whimsical and absurd. Certain charters of the time of Dagobert are discovered and brought forward, the greater part of them of a somewhat suspicious character in point of genuineness, and ill-understood; and from these it is inferred, that customs, rights, and prerogatives, which subsisted then, should be revived now. I would recommend it to those who adopt this method of study and reasoning, to say to the ocean, “You formerly extended to Aigues-Mortes, Fréjus, Ravenna, and Ferrara. Return to them immediately.”
Of the Certainty of History.
All certainty which does not consist in mathematical demonstration is nothing more than the highest probability; there is no other historical certainty.
When Marco Polo described the greatness and population of China, being the first, and for a time the only writer who had described them, he could not obtain credit. The Portuguese, who for ages afterwards had communication and commerce with that vast empire, began to render the description probable. It is now a matter of absolute certainty; of that certainty which arises from the unanimous deposition of a thousand witnesses or different nations, unopposed by the testimony of a single individual.
If merely two or three historians had described the adventure of King Charles XII. when he persisted in remaining in the territories of his benefactor, the sultan, in opposition to the orders of that monarch, and absolutely fought, with the few domestics that attended his person, against an army of janissaries and Tartars, I should have suspended my judgment about its truth; but, having spoken to many who actually witnessed the fact, and having never heard it called in question, I cannot possibly do otherwise than believe it; because, after all, although such conduct is neither wise nor common, there is nothing in it contradictory to the laws of nature, or the character of the hero.
That which is in opposition to the ordinary course of nature ought not to be believed, unless it is attested by persons evidently inspired by the divine mind, and whose inspiration, indeed, it is impossible to doubt. Hence we are justified in considering as a paradox the assertion made under the article on “Certainty,” in the great “Encyclopædia,” that we are as much bound to believe in the resuscitation of a dead man, if all Paris were to affirm it, as to believe all Paris when it states that we gained the battle of Fontenoy. It is clear that the evidence of all Paris to a thing improbable can never be equal to that evidence in favor of a probable one. These are the first principles of genuine logic. Such a dictionary as the one in question should be consecrated only to truth.
Uncertainty of History.
Periods of time are distinguished as fabulous and historical. But even in the historical times themselves it is necessary to distinguish truths from fables. I am not here speaking of fables, now universally admitted to be such. There is no question, for example, respecting the prodigies with which Livy has embellished, or rather defaced, his history. But with respect to events generally admitted, how many reasons exist for doubt!
Let it be recollected that the Roman republic was five hundred years without historians; that Livy himself deplores the loss of various public monuments or records, as almost all, he says, were destroyed in the burning of Rome: “Pleraque interiere.” Let it be considered that, in the first three hundred years, the art of writing was very uncommon: “Raræ per eadem tempora literæ.” Reason will be then seen for entertaining doubt on all those events which do not correspond with the usual order of human affairs.
Can it be considered very likely that Romulus, the grandson of the king of the Sabines, was compelled to carry off the Sabine women in order to obtain for his people wives? Is the history of Lucretia highly probable; can we easily believe, on the credit of Livy, that the king Porsenna betook himself to flight, full of admiration for the Romans, because a fanatic had pledged himself to assassinate him? Should we not rather be inclined to rely upon Polybius, who was two hundred years earlier than Livy? Polybius informs us that Porsenna subjugated the Romans. This is far more probable than the adventure of Scævola’s burning off his hand for failing in the attempt to assassinate him. I would have defied Poltrot to do as much.
Does the adventure of Regulus, inclosed within a hogshead or tub stuck round with iron spikes, deserve belief? Would not Polybius, a contemporary, have recorded it had it been true? He says not a single word upon the subject. Is not this a striking presumption that the story was trumped up long afterwards to gratify the popular hatred against the Carthaginians?
Open “Moréri’s Dictionary,” at the article on “Regulus.” He informs you that the torments inflicted on that Roman are recorded in Livy. The particular decade, however, in which Livy would have recorded it, if at all, is lost; and in lieu of it, we have only the supplement of Freinsheim; and thus it appears that Dictionary has merely cited a German writer of the seventeenth century, under the idea of citing a Roman of the Augustan age. Volumes might be composed out of all the celebrated events which have been generally admitted, but which may be more fairly doubted. But the limits allowed for this article will not permit us to enlarge.
Whether Temples, Festivals, Annual Ceremonies, and even Medals, are Historic Proofs.
We might be naturally led to imagine that a monument raised by any nation in celebration of a particular event, would attest the certainty of that event; if, however, these monuments were not erected by contemporaries, or if they celebrate events that carry with them but little probability, they may often be regarded as proving nothing more than a wish to consecrate a popular opinion.
The rostral column, erected in Rome by the contemporaries of Duilius, is undoubtedly a proof of the naval victory obtained by Duilius; but does the statue of the augur Nævius, who is said to have divided a large flint with a razor, prove that Nævius in reality performed that prodigy? Were the statues of Ceres and Triptolemus, at Athens, decisive evidences that Ceres came down from I know not what particular planet, to instruct the Athenians in agriculture? Or does the famous Laocoon, which exists perfect to the present day, furnish incontestable evidence of the truth of the story of the Trojan horse?
Ceremonies and annual festivals observed universally throughout any nation, are, in like manner, no better proofs of the reality of the events to which they are attributed. The festival of Orion, carried on the back of a dolphin, was celebrated among the Romans as well as the Greeks. That of Faunus was in celebration of his adventure with Hercules and Omphale, when that god, being enamored of Omphale, mistook the bed of Hercules for that of his mistress.
The famous feast of the Lupercals was instituted in honor of the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus.
What was the origin of the feast of Orion, which was observed on the fifth of the ides of May? It was neither more nor less than the following adventure: Hyreus once entertained at his house the gods Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, and when his high and mighty guests were about to depart, the worthy host, who had no wife, and was very desirous of having a son, lamented his unfortunate fate, and expressed his anxious desire to the three divinities. We dare not exactly detail what they did to the hide of an ox which Hyreus had killed for their entertainment; however, they afterwards covered the well-soaked hide with a little earth; and thence, at the end of nine months, was born Orion.
Almost all the Roman, Syrian, Grecian, and Egyptian festivals, were founded on similar legends, as well as the temples and statues of ancient heroes. They were monuments consecrated by credulity to error.
One of our most ancient monuments is the statue of St. Denis carrying his head in his arms.
Even a medal, and a contemporary medal, is sometimes no proof. How many medals has flattery struck in celebration of battles very indecisive in themselves, but thus exalted into victories; and of enterprises, in fact, baffled and abortive, and completed only in the inscription on the medal? Finally, during the war in 1740, between the Spaniards and the English, was there not a medal struck, attesting the capture of Carthagena by Admiral Vernon, although that admiral was obliged to raise the siege?
Medals are then unexceptionable testimonies only when the event they celebrate is attested by contemporary authors; these evidences thus corroborating each other, verify the event described.
Should an Historian ascribe Fictitious Speeches to his Characters, and sketch Portraits of them?
If on any particular occasion the commander of an army, or a public minister, has spoken in a powerful and impressive manner, characteristic of his genius and his age, his discourse should unquestionably be given with the most literal exactness. Speeches of this description are perhaps the most valuable part of history. But for what purpose represent a man as saying what he never did say? It would be just as correct to attribute to him acts which he never performed. It is a fiction imitated from Homer; but that which is fiction in a poem, in strict language, is a lie in the historian. Many of the ancients adopted the method in question, which merely proves that many of the ancients were fond of parading their eloquence at the expense of truth.
Of Historical Portraiture.
Portraits, also, frequently manifest a stronger desire for display, than to communicate information. Contemporaries are justifiable in drawing the portraits of statesmen with whom they have negotiated, or of generals under whom they have fought. But how much is it to be apprehended that the pencil will in many cases be guided by the feelings? The portraits given by Lord Clarendon appear to be drawn with more impartiality, gravity, and judgment, than those which we peruse with so much delight in Cardinal de Retz.
But to attempt to paint the ancients; to elaborate in this way the development of their minds; to regard events as characters in which we may accurately read the most sacred feelings and intents of their hearts—this is an undertaking of no ordinary difficulty and discrimination, although as frequently conducted, both childish and trifling.
Of Cicero’s Maxim Concerning History, that an Historian should never dare to relate a Falsehood or to Conceal a Truth.
The first part of this precept is incontestable; we must stop for a moment to examine the other. If a particular truth may be of any service to the state, your silence is censurable. But I will suppose you to write the history of a prince who had reposed in you a secret—ought you to reveal that secret? Ought you to say to all posterity what you would be criminal in disclosing to a single individual? Should the duty of an historian prevail over the higher and more imperative duty of a man?
I will suppose again, that you have witnessed a failing or weakness which has not had the slightest influence on public affairs—ought you to publish such weakness? In such a case history becomes satire.
It must be allowed, indeed, that the greater part of anecdote writers are more indiscreet than they are useful. But what opinion must we entertain of those impudent compilers who appear to glory in scattering about them calumny and slander, and print and sell scandals as Voisin sold poisons?
Of Satirical History.
If Plutarch censured Herodotus for not having sufficiently extolled the fame of some of the Grecian cities, and for omitting many known facts worthy of being recorded, how much more censurable are certain of our modern writers, who, without any of the merits of Herodotus, impute both to princes and to nations acts of the most odious character, without the slightest proof or evidence? The history of the war in 1741 has been written in England; and it relates, “that at the battle of Fontenoy the French fired at the English balls and pieces of glass which had been prepared with poison; and that the duke of Cumberland sent to the king of France a box full of those alleged poisonous articles, which had been found in the bodies of the wounded English.” The same author adds, that the French having lost in that battle forty thousand men, the parliament issued an order to prevent people from talking on the subject, under pain of corporal punishment.
The fraudulent memoirs published not long since under the name of Madame de Maintenon, abound with similar absurdities. We are told in them, that at the siege of Lille the allies threw placards into the city, containing these words: “Frenchmen, be comforted—Maintenon shall never be your queen.”
Almost every page is polluted by false statements and abuse of the royal family and other leading families in the kingdom, without the author’s making out the smallest probability to give a color to his calumnies. This is not writing history; it is writing slanders which deserve the pillory.
A vast number of works have been printed in Holland, under the name of history, of which the style is as vulgar and coarse as the abuse, and the facts as false as they are ill-narrated. This, it has been observed, is a bad fruit of the noble tree of liberty. But if the contemptible authors of this trash have the liberty thus to deceive their readers, it becomes us here to take the liberty to undeceive them.
A thirst for despicable gain, and the insolence of vulgar and grovelling manners, were the only motives which led that Protestant refugee from Languedoc, of the name of Langlevieux, but commonly called La Beaumelle, to attempt the most infamous trick that ever disgraced literature. He sold to Eslinger, the bookseller of Frankfort, in 1751, for seventeen louis d’or, the “History of the Age of Louis XIV.,” which is not his; and, either to make it believed that he was the proprietor, or to earn his money, he loaded it with abusive and abominable notes against Louis XIV., his son, and his grandson, the duke of Burgundy, whom he abuses in the most unmeasured terms, and calls a traitor to his grandfather and his country. He pours upon the duke of Orleans, the regent, calumnies at once the most horrible and the most absurd; no person of consequence is spared, and yet no person of consequence did he ever know. He retails against the marshals Villars and Villeroi, against ministers, and even against ladies, all the petty, dirty, and scandalous tales that could be collected from the lowest taverns and wine-houses; and he speaks of the greatest princes as if they were amenable to himself, and under his own personal jurisdiction. He expresses himself, indeed, as if he were a formal and authorized judge of kings: “Give me,” says he, “a Stuart, and I will make him king of England.”
This most ridiculous and abominable conduct, proceeding from an author obscure and unknown, has incurred no prosecution; it would have been severely punished in a man whose words would have carried any weight. But we must here observe, that these works of darkness frequently circulate through all Europe; they are sold at the fairs of Frankfort and Leipsic, and the whole of the North is overrun with them. Foreigners, who are not well informed, derive from books of this description their knowledge of modern history. German authors are not always sufficiently on their guard against memoirs of this character, but employ them as materials; which has been the case with the memoirs of Pontis, Montbrun, Rochefort, and Pordac; with all the pretended political testaments of ministers of state, which have proceeded from the pen of forgery; with the “Royal Tenth” of Boisguillebert, impudently published under the name of Marshal Vauban; and with innumerable compilations of anas and anecdotes.
History is sometimes even still more shamefully abused in England. As there are always two parties in furious hostility against each other, until some common danger for a season unites them, the writers of one faction condemn everything that the others approve. The same individual is represented as a Cato and a Catiline. How is truth to be extricated from this adulation and satire? Perhaps there is only one rule to be depended upon, which is, to believe all the good which the historian of a party ventures to allow to the leaders of the opposite faction; and all the ills which he ventures to impute to the chiefs of his own—a rule, of which neither party can severely complain.
With regard to memoirs actually written by agents in the events recorded, as those of Clarendon, Ludlow, and Burnet, in England, and de la Rochefoucauld and de Retz in France, if they agree, they are true; if they contradict each other, doubt them.
With respect to anas and anecdotes, there may perhaps be one in a hundred of them that contain some shadow of truth.
We have said so much upon this subject, that we must here say very little. It is sufficiently known and fully admitted, that the method and style of Livy—his gravity, and instructive eloquence, are suitable to the majesty of the Roman republic; that Tacitus is more calculated to portray tyrants, Polybius to give lessons on war, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus to investigate antiquities.
But, while he forms himself on the general model of these great masters, a weighty responsibility is attached to the modern historian from which they were exempt. He is required to give more minute details, facts more completely authenticated, correct dates, precise authorities, more attention to customs, laws, manners, commerce, finance, agriculture, and population. It is with history, as it is with mathematics and natural philosophy; the field of it is immensely enlarged. The more easy it is to compile newspapers, the more difficult it is at the present day to write history.
Daniel thought himself a historian, because he transcribed dates and narratives of battles, of which I can understand nothing. He should have informed me of the rights of the nation, the rights of the chief corporate establishments in it; its laws, usages, manners, with the alterations by which they have been affected in the progress of time. This nation might not improperly address him in some such language as the following:—I want from you my own history rather than that of Louis le Gros and Louis Hutin; you tell me, copying from some old, unauthenticated, and carelessly-written chronicle, that when Louis VIII. was attacked by a mortal disease, and lay languishing and powerless, the physicians ordered the more than half-dead monarch to take to his bed a blooming damsel, who might cherish the few sparks of remaining life; and that the pious king rejected the unholy advice with indignation. Alas! Daniel, you are unacquainted, it seems, with the Italian proverb—“Donna ignuda manda l’uomo sotto la terra.” You ought to possess a little stronger tincture of political and natural history.
The history of a foreign country should be formed on a different model to that of our own.
If we compose a history of France, we are under no necessity to describe the course of the Seine and the Loire; but if we publish a history of the conquests of the Portuguese in Asia, a topographical description of the recently explored country is required. It is desirable that we should, as it were, conduct the reader by the hand round Africa, and along the coasts of Persia and India; and it is expected that we should treat with information and judgment, of manners, laws, and customs so new to Europe.
We have a great variety of histories of the establishment of the Portuguese in India, written by our countrymen, but not one of them has made us acquainted with the different governments of that country, with its religious antiquities, Brahmins, disciples of St. John, Guebers, and Banians. Some letters of Xavier and his successors have, it is true, been preserved to us. We have had histories of the Indies composed at Paris, from the accounts of those missionaries who were unacquainted with the language of the Brahmins. We have it repeated, in a hundred works, that the Indians worship the devil. The chaplains of a company of merchants quit our country under these impressions, and, as soon as they perceive on the coast some symbolical figures, they fail not to write home that they are the portraits and likenesses of the devil, that they are in the devil’s empire, and that they are going to engage in battle with him. They do not reflect that we are the real worshippers of the devil Mammon, and that we travel six thousand leagues from our native land to offer our vows at his shrine, and to obtain the grant of some portion of his treasures.
As to those who hire themselves out at Paris to some bookseller in the Rue de St. Jacques, and at so much per job, and who are ordered to write a history of Japan, Canada, or the Canaries, as the case requires and opportunity suggests, from the memoirs of a few Capuchin friars—to such I have nothing to say.
It is sufficient, if it be clearly understood, that the method which would be proper in writing a history of our own country is not suitable in describing the discoveries of the new world; that we should not write on a small city as on a great empire; and that the private history of a prince should be composed in a very different manner from the history of France and England.
If you have nothing to tell us, but that on the banks of the Oxus and the Jaxartes, one barbarian has been succeeded by another barbarian, in what respect do you benefit the public?
These rules are well known; but the art of writing history well will always be very uncommon. It obviously requires a style grave, pure, varied, and smooth. But we may say with respect to rules for writing history, as in reference to those for all the intellectual arts—there are many precepts, but few masters.
Every nation, as soon as it was able to write, has written its own history, and the Jews have accordingly written theirs. Before they had kings, they lived under a theocracy; it was their destiny to be governed by God himself.
When the Jews were desirous of having a king, like the adjoining nations, the prophet Samuel, who was exceedingly interested in preventing it, declared to them, on the part of God, that they were rejecting God himself. Thus the Jewish theocracy ceased when the monarchy commenced.
We may therefore remark, without the imputation of blasphemy, that the history of the Jewish kings was written like that of other nations, and that God did not take the pains Himself to dictate the history of a people whom He no longer governed.
We advance this opinion with the greatest diffidence. What may perhaps be considered as confirming it, is, that the “Paralipomena” very frequently contradict the Book of Kings, both with respect to chronology and facts, just as profane historians sometimes contradict one another. Moreover, if God always wrote the history of the Jews, it seems only consistent and natural to think that He writes it still; for the Jews are always His cherished people. They are on some future day to be converted, and it seems that whenever that event happens, they will have as complete a right to consider the history of their dispersion as sacred, as they have now to say, that God wrote the history of their kings.
We may be allowed here to make one reflection; which is, that as God was for a very long period their king, and afterwards became their historian, we are bound to entertain for all Jews the most profound respect. There is not a single Jew broker, or slop-man, who is not infinitely superior to Cæsar and Alexander. How can we avoid bending in prostration before an old-clothes man, who proves to us that his history has been written by God Himself, while the histories of Greece and Rome have been transmitted to us merely by the profane hand of man?
If the style of the history of the kings, and of the “Paralipomena,” is divine, it may nevertheless be true that the acts recorded in these histories are not divine. David murders Uriah; Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth are murdered; Absalom murders Ammon; Joab murders Absalom; Solomon murders his brother Adonijah; Baasha murders Nadab; Zimri murders Ela; Omri murders Zimri; Ahab murders Naboth; Jehu murders Ahab and Joram; the inhabitants of Jerusalem murder Amaziah, son of Joash; Shallum, son of Jabesh, murders Zachariah, son of Jeroboam; Menahhem murders Shallum, son of Jabesh; Pekah, son of Remaliah, murders Pekahiah, son of Manehem; and Hoshea, son of Elah, murders Pekah, son of Remaliah. We pass over, in silence, many other minor murders. It must be acknowledged, that, if the Holy Spirit did write this history, He did not choose a subject particularly edifying.
It is but too common for historians to praise very depraved and abandoned characters, who have done service either to a dominant sect, or to their nation at large. The praises thus bestowed, come perhaps from a loyal and zealous citizen; but zeal of this description is injurious to the great society of mankind. Romulus murders his brother, and he is made a god. Constantine cuts the throat of his son, strangles his wife, and murders almost all his family: he has been eulogized in general councils, but history should ever hold up such barbarities to detestation. It is undoubtedly fortunate for us that Clovis was a Catholic. It is fortunate for the Anglican church that Henry VIII. abolished monks, but we must at the same time admit that Clovis and Henry VIII. were monsters of cruelty.
When first the Jesuit Berruyer, who although a Jesuit, was a fool, undertook to paraphrase the Old and New Testaments in the style of the lowest populace, with no other intention than that of having them read; he scattered some flowers of rhetoric over the two-edged knife which the Jew Ehud thrust up to the hilt in the stomach of the king Eglon; and over the sabre with which Judith cut off the head of Holofernes after having prostituted herself to his pleasures; and also over many other acts recorded, of a similar description. The parliament, respecting the Bible which narrates these histories, nevertheless condemned the Jesuit who extolled them, and ordered the Old and New Testaments to be burned:—I mean merely those of the Jesuit.
But as the judgments of mankind are ever different in similar cases, the same thing happened to Bayle in circumstances totally different. He was condemned for not praising all the actions of David, king of the province of Judæa. A man of the name of Jurieu, a refugee preacher in Holland, associated with some other refugee preachers, were desirous of obliging him to recant. But how could he recant with reference to facts delivered in the scripture? Had not Bayle some reason to conclude that all the facts recorded in the Jewish books are not the actions of saints; that David, like other men, had committed some criminal acts; and that if he is called a man after God’s own heart, he is called so in consequence of his penitence, and not of his crimes?
Let us disregard names and confine our consideration to things only. Let us suppose, that during the reign of Henry IV. a clergyman of the League party secretly poured out a phial of oil on the head of a shepherd of Brie; that the shepherd comes to court; that the clergyman presents him to Henry IV. as an excellent violin player who can completely drive away all care and melancholy; that the king makes him his equerry, and bestows on him one of his daughters in marriage; that afterwards, the king having quarrelled with the shepherd, the latter takes refuge with one of the princes of Germany, his father-in-law’s enemy; that he enlists and arms six hundred banditti overwhelmed by debt and debauchery; that with this regiment of brigands he rushes to the field, slays friends as well as enemies, exterminating all, even to women with children at the breast, in order to prevent a single individual’s remaining to give intelligence of the horrid butchery. I farther suppose this same shepherd of Brie to become king of France after the death of Henry IV.; that he procures the murder of that king’s grandson, after having invited him to sit at meat at his own table, and delivers over to death seven other younger children of his king and benefactor. Who is the man that will not conceive the shepherd of Brie to act rather harshly?
Commentators are agreed that the adultery of David, and his murder of Uriah, are faults which God pardoned. We may therefore conclude that the massacres above mentioned are faults which God also pardoned.
However, Bayle had no quarter given him; but at length some preachers at London having compared George II. to David, one of that monarch’s servants prints and publishes a small book, in which he censures the comparison. He examines the whole conduct of David; he goes infinitely farther than Bayle, and treats David with more severity than Tacitus applies to Domitian. This book did not raise in England the slightest murmur; every reader felt that bad actions are always bad; that God may pardon them when repentance is proportioned to guilt, but that certainly no man can ever approve of them.
There was more reason, therefore, prevailing in England than there was in Holland in the time of Bayle. We now perceive clearly and without difficulty, that we ought not to hold up as a model of sanctity what, in fact, deserves the severest punishment; and we see with equal clearness that, as we ought not to consecrate guilt, so we ought not to believe absurdity.
The author of the “Spirit of Laws” has founded his system on the idea that virtue is the principle of a republican government, and honor that of monarchism. Is there virtue then without honor, and how is a republic established in virtue?
Let us place before the reader’s eyes that which has been said in an able little book upon this subject. Pamphlets soon sink into oblivion. Truth ought not to be lost; it should be consigned to works possessing durability.
“Assuredly republics have never been formed on a theoretical principle of virtue. The public interest being opposed to the domination of an individual, the spirit of self-importance, and the ambition of every person, serve to curb ambition and the inclination to rapacity, wherever they may appear. The pride of each citizen watches over that of his neighbor, and no person would willingly be the slave of another’s caprice. Such are the feelings which establish republics, and which preserve them. It is ridiculous to imagine that there must be more virtue in a Grison than in a Spaniard.”
That honor can be the sole principle of monarchies is a no less chimerical idea, and the author shows it to be so himself, without being aware of it. “The nature of honor,” says he, in chapter vii. of book iii., “is to demand preferences and distinctions. It, therefore, naturally suits a monarchical government.”
Was it not on this same principle, that the Romans demanded the prætorship, consulship, ovation, and triumph in their republic? These were preferences and distinctions well worth the titles and preferences purchased in monarchies, and for which there is often a regular fixed price.
This remark proves, in our opinion, that the “Spirit of Laws,” although sparkling with wit, and commendable by its respect for the laws and hatred of superstition and rapine, is founded entirely upon false views.
Let us add, that it is precisely in courts that there is always least honor:
Indeed, it is in courts, that men devoid of honor often attain to the highest dignities; and it is in republics that a known dishonorable citizen is seldom trusted by the people with public concerns.
The celebrated saying of the regent, duke of Orleans, is sufficient to destroy the foundation of the “Spirit of Laws”: “This is a perfect courtier—he has neither temper nor honor.”
Philosophers have inquired, whether humility is a virtue; but virtue or not, every one must agree that nothing is more rare. The Greeks called it “tapeinosis” or “tapeineia.” It is strongly recommended in the fourth book of the “Laws of Plato”: he rejects the proud and would multiply the humble.
Epictetus, in five places, preaches humility: “If thou passest for a person of consequence in the opinion of some people, distrust thyself. No lifting up of thy eye-brows. Be nothing in thine own eyes—if thou seekest to please, thou art lost. Give place to all men; prefer them to thyself; assist them all.” We see by these maxims that never Capuchin went so far as Epictetus.
Some theologians, who had the misfortune to be proud, have pretended that humility cost nothing to Epictetus, who was a slave; and that he was humble by station, as a doctor or a Jesuit may be proud by station.
But what will they say of Marcus Antoninus, who on the throne recommended humility? He places Alexander and his muleteer on the same line. He said that the vanity of pomp is only a bone thrown in the midst of dogs; that to do good, and to patiently hear himself calumniated, constitute the virtue of a king.
Thus the master of the known world recommended humility; but propose humility to a musician, and see how he will laugh at Marcus Aurelius.
Descartes, in his treatise on the “Passions of the Soul,” places humility among their number, who—if we may personify this quality—did not expect to be regarded as a passion. He also distinguishes between virtuous and vicious humility.
But we leave to philosophers more enlightened than ourselves the care of explaining this doctrine, and will confine ourselves to saying, that humility is “the modesty of the soul.”
It is the antidote to pride. Humility could not prevent Rousseau from believing that he knew more of music than those to whom he taught it; but it could induce him to believe that he was not superior to Lulli in recitative.
The reverend father Viret, cordelier, theologian, and preacher, all humble as he is, will always firmly believe that he knows more than those who learn to read and write; but his Christian humility, his modesty of soul, will oblige him to confess in the bottom of his heart that he has written nothing but nonsense. Oh, brothers Nonnotte, Guyon, Pantouillet, vulgar scribblers! be more humble, and always bear in recollection “the modesty of the soul.”
I will suppose that Madame Dacier had been the finest woman in Paris; and that in the quarrel on the comparative merits of the ancients and moderns, the Carmelites pretended that the poem of the Magdalen, written by a Carmelite, was infinitely superior to Homer, and that it was an atrocious impiety to prefer the “Iliad” to the verses of a monk. I will take the additional liberty of supposing that the archbishop of Paris took the part of the Carmelites against the governor of the city, a partisan of the beautiful Madame Dacier, and that he excited the Carmelites to massacre this fine woman in the church of Notre Dame, and to drag her, naked and bloody, to the Place Maubert—would not everybody say that the archbishop of Paris had done a very wicked action, for which he ought to do penance?
This is precisely the history of Hypatia. She taught Homer and Plato, in Alexandria, in the time of Theodosius II. St. Cyril incensed the Christian populace against her, as it is related by Damasius and Suidas, and clearly proved by the most learned men of the age, such as Bruker, La Croze, and Basnage, as is very judiciously exposed in the great “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” in the article on “Éclectisme.”
A man whose intentions are no doubt very good, has printed two volumes against this article of the “Encyclopædia.” Two volumes against two pages, my friends, are too much. I have told you a hundred times you multiply being without necessity. Two lines against two volumes would be quite sufficient; but write not even these two lines.
I am content with remarking, that St. Cyril was a man of parts; that he suffered his zeal to carry him too far; that when we strip beautiful women, it is not to massacre them; that St. Cyril, no doubt, asked pardon of God for this abominable action; and that I pray the father of mercies to have pity on his soul. He wrote the two volumes against “Éclectisme,” also inspires me with infinite commiseration.
What is an idea?
It is an image painted upon my brain.
Are all your thoughts, then, images?
Certainly; for the most abstract thoughts are only the consequences of all the objects that I have perceived. I utter the word “being” in general, only because I have known particular beings; I utter the word “infinity,” only because I have seen certain limits, and because I push back those limits in my mind to a greater and still greater distance, as far as I am able. I have ideas in my head only because I have images.
And who is the painter of this picture?
It is not myself; I cannot draw with sufficient skill; the being that made me, makes my ideas.
And how do you know that the ideas are not made by yourself?
Because they frequently come to me involuntarily when I am awake, and always without my consent when I dream.
You are persuaded, then, that your ideas belong to you only in the same manner as your hairs, which grow and become white, and fall off, without your having anything at all to do with the matter?
Nothing can possibly be clearer; all that I can do is to frizzle, cut, and powder them; but I have nothing to do with producing them.
You must, then, I imagine, be of Malebranche’s opinion, that we see all in God?
I am at least certain of this, that if we do not see things in the Great Being, we see them in consequence of His powerful and immediate action.
And what was the nature or process of this action?
I have already told you repeatedly, in the course of our conversation, that I do not know a single syllable about the subject, and that God has not communicated His secret to any one. I am completely ignorant of that which makes my heart beat, and my blood flow through my veins; I am ignorant of the principle of all my movements, and yet you seem to expect how I should explain how I feel and how I think. Such an expectation is unreasonable.
But you at least know whether your faculty of having ideas is joined to extension?
Not in the least. It is true that Tatian, in his discourse to the Greeks, says the soul is evidently composed of a body. Irenæus, in the twenty-sixth chapter of his second book, says, “The Lord has taught that our souls preserve the figure of our body in order to retain the memory of it.” Tertullian asserts, in his second book on the soul, that it is a body. Arnobius, Lactantius, Hilary, Gregory of Nyssa, and Ambrose, are precisely of the same opinion. It is pretended that other fathers of the Church assert that the soul is without extension, and that in this respect they adopt the opinion of Plato; this, however, may well be doubted. With respect to myself, I dare not venture to form an opinion; I see nothing but obscurity and incomprehensibility in either system; and, after a whole life’s meditation on the subject, I am not advanced a single step beyond where I was on the first day.
The subject, then, was not worth thinking about?
That is true; the man who enjoys knows more of it, or at least knows it better, than he who reflects; he is more happy. But what is it that you would have? It depended not, I repeat, upon myself whether I should admit or reject all those ideas which have crowded into my brain in conflict with each other, and actually converted my medullary magazine into their field of battle. After a hard-fought contest between them, I have obtained nothing but uncertainty from the spoils.
It is a melancholy thing to possess so many ideas, and yet to have no precise knowledge of the nature of ideas?
It is, I admit; but it is much more melancholy, and inexpressibly more foolish, for a man to believe he knows what in fact he does not.
But, if you do not positively know what an idea is, if you are ignorant whence ideas come, you at least know by what they come?
Yes; just in the same way as the ancient Egyptians, who, without knowing the source of the Nile, knew perfectly well that its waters reached them by its bed. We know perfectly that ideas come to us by the senses; but we never know whence they come. The source of this Nile will never be discovered.
If it is certain that all ideas are given by means of the senses, why does the Sorbonne, which has so long adopted this doctrine from Aristotle, condemn it with so much virulence in Helvetius?
Because the Sorbonne is composed of theologians.
All in God.
In God we live and move and have our being.St. Paul,
Aratus, who is thus quoted and approved by St. Paul, made this confession of faith, we perceive among the Greeks.
The virtuous Cato says the same thing: “Jupiter est quodcumque vides quocumque moveris.”—Lucan’s “Pharsalia,” ix, 580. “Whate’er we see, whate’er we feel, is Jove.”
Malebranche is the commentator on Aratus, St. Paul, and Cato. He succeeded, in the first instance, in showing the errors of the senses and imagination; but when he attempted to develop the grand system, that all is in God, all his readers declared the commentary to be more obscure than the text. In short, having plunged into this abyss, his head became bewildered; he held conversations with the Word; he was made acquainted with what the Word had done in other planets; he became, in truth, absolutely mad; a circumstance well calculated to excite apprehension in our own minds, apt as we some of us are to attempt soaring, upon our weak and puny opinions, very far beyond our reach.
In order to comprehend the notion of Malebranche, such as he held it while he retained his faculties, we must admit nothing that we do not clearly conceive, and reject what we do not understand. Attempting to explain an obscurity by obscurities, is to act like an idiot.
I feel decidedly that my first ideas and my sensations have come to me without any co-operation or volition on my part. I clearly see that I cannot give myself a single idea. I cannot give myself anything. I have received everything. The objects which surround me cannot, of themselves, give me either idea or sensation; for how is it possible for a little particle of matter to possess the faculty of producing a thought?
I am therefore irresistibly led to conclude that the Eternal Being, who bestows everything, gives me my ideas, in whatever manner this may be done. But what is an idea, what is a sensation, a volition, etc.? It is myself perceiving, myself feeling, myself willing.
We see, in short, that what is called an idea is no more a real being than there is a real being called motion, although there are bodies moved. In the same manner there is not any particular being called memory, imagination, judgment; but we ourselves remember, imagine, and judge.
The truth of all this, it must be allowed, is sufficiently plain and trite; but it is necessary to repeat and inculcate such truth, as the opposite errors are more trite still.
Laws of Nature.
How, let us now ask, would the Eternal Being, who formed all, produce all those various modes or qualities which we perceive in organized bodies?
Did He introduce two beings in a grain of wheat, one of which should produce germination in the other? Did He introduce two beings in the composition of a stag, one of which should produce swiftness in the other? Certainly not. All that we know on the subject is that the grain is endowed with the faculty of vegetating, and the stag with that of speed.
There is evidently a grand mathematical principle directing all nature, and affecting everything produced. The flying of birds, the swimming of fishes, the walking or running of quadrupeds, are visible effects of known laws of motion. “Mens agitat molem.” Can the sensations and ideas of those animals, then, be anything more than the admirable effects or mathematical laws more refined and less obvious?
Organization of the Senses and Ideas.
It is by these general and comprehensive laws that every animal is impelled to seek its appropriate food. We are naturally, therefore, led to conjecture that there is a law by which it has the idea of this food, and without which it would not go in search of it.
The eternal intelligence has made all the actions of an animal depend upon a certain principle; the eternal intelligence, therefore, has made the sensations which cause those actions depend on the same principle.
Would the author of nature have disposed and adjusted those admirable instruments, the senses, with so divine a skill; would he have exhibited such astonishing adaptation between the eyes and light; between the atmosphere and the ears, had it, after all, been necessary to call in the assistance of other agency to complete his work? Nature always acts by the shortest ways. Protracted processes indicate want of skill; multiplicity of springs, and complexity of co-operation are the result of weakness. We cannot but believe, therefore, that one main spring regulates the whole system.
The Great Being Does Everything.
Not merely are we unable to give ourselves sensations, we cannot even imagine any beyond those which we have actually experienced. Let all the academies of Europe propose a premium for him who shall imagine a new sense; no one will ever gain that premium. We can do nothing, then, of our mere selves, whether there be an invisible and intangible being enclosed in our brain or diffused throughout our body, or whether there be not; and it must be admitted, upon every system, that the author of nature has given us all that we possess—organs, sensations, and the ideas which proceed from them.
As we are thus secured under His forming hand, Malebranche, notwithstanding all his errors, had reason to say philosophically, that we are in God and that we see all in God; as St. Paul used the same language in a theological sense, and Aratus and Cato in a moral one.
What then are we to understand by the words seeing all in God? They are either words destitute of meaning, or they mean that God gives us all our ideas.
What is the meaning of receiving an idea? We do not create it when we receive it; it is not, therefore, so unphilosophical as has been thought, to say it is God who produces the ideas in my head, as it is He who produces motion in my whole body. Everything is an operation of God upon His creatures.
How is Everything an Action of God?
There is in nature only one universal, eternal, and active principle. There cannot be two such principles; for they would either be alike or different. If they are different, they destroy one another; if they are alike, it is the same as if they were only one. The unity of design, visible through the grand whole in all its infinite variety, announces one single principle, and that principle must act upon all being, or it ceases to be a universal opinion.
If it acts upon all being, it acts upon all the modes of all being. There is not, therefore, a single remnant, a single mode, a single idea, which is not the immediate effect of a universal cause perpetually present.
The matter of the universe, therefore, belongs to God, as much as the ideas and the ideas as much as the matter. To say that anything is out of Him would be saying that there is something out of the vast whole. God being the universal principle of all things, all, therefore, exists in Him, and by Him.
The system includes that of “physical premotion,” but in the same manner as an immense wheel includes a small one that endeavors to fly off from it. The principle which we have just been unfolding is too vast to admit of any particular and detailed view.
Physical premotion occupies the great supreme with all the changing vagaries which take place in the head of an individual Jansenist or Molinist; we, on the contrary, occupy the Being of Beings only with the grand and general laws of the universe. Physical premotion makes five propositions a matter of attention and occupation to God, which interest only some lay-sister, the sweeper of a convent; while we attribute to Him employment of the most simple and important description—the arrangement of the whole system of the universe.
Physical premotion is founded upon that subtle and truly Grecian principle, that if a thinking being can give himself an idea, he would augment his existence; but we do not, for our parts, know what is meant by augmenting our being. We comprehend nothing about the matter. We say that a thinking being might give himself new modes without adding to his existence; just in the same manner as when we dance, our sliding steps and crossings and attitudes give us no new existence; and to suppose they do so would appear completely absurd. We agree only so far in the system of physical premotion, that we are convinced we give ourselves nothing.
Both the system of premotion and our own are abused, as depriving men of their liberty. God forbid we should advocate such deprivation. To do away with this imputation, it is only necessary to understand the meaning of the word liberty. We shall speak of it in its proper place; and in the meantime the world will go on as it has gone on hitherto, without the Thomists or their opponents, or all the disputants in the world, having any power to change it. In the same manner we shall always have ideas, without precisely knowing what an idea is.
This scientific term signifies no more than “the same thing.” It might be correctly, translated by “sameness.” This subject is of considerably more interest than may be imagined. All agree that the guilty person only ought to be punished—the individual perpetrator, and no other. But a man fifty years of age is not in reality the same individual as the man of twenty; he retains no longer any of the parts which then formed his body; and if he has lost the memory of past events, it is certain that there is nothing left to unite his actual existence to an existence which to him is lost.
I am the same person only by the consciousness of what I have been combined with that of what I am; I have no consciousness of my past being but through memory; memory alone, therefore, establishes the identity, the sameness of my person.
We may, in truth, be naturally and aptly resembled to a river, all whose waters pass away in perpetual change and flow. It is the same river as to its bed, its banks, its source, its mouth, everything, in short, that is not itself; but changing every moment its waters, which constitute its very being, it has no identity; there is no sameness belonging to the river.
Were there another Xerxes like him who lashed the Hellespont for disobedience, and ordered for it a pair of handcuffs; and were the son of this Xerxes to be drowned in the Euphrates, and the father desirous of punishing that river for the death of his son, the Euphrates might very reasonably say in its vindication: “Blame the waves that were rolling on at the time your son was bathing; those waves belong not to me, and form no part of me; they have passed on to the Persian Gulf; a part is mixed with the salt water of that sea, and another part, exhaled in vapor, has been impelled by a south-east wind to Gaul, and been incorporated with endives and lettuces, which the Gauls have since used in their salads; seize the culprit where you can find him.”
It is the same with a tree, a branch of which broken by the wind might have fractured the skull of your great grandfather. It is no longer the same tree; all its parts have given way to others. The branch which killed your great grandfather is no part of this tree; it exists no longer.
It has been asked, then, how a man, who has totally lost his memory before his death, and whose members have been changed into other substances, can be punished for his faults or rewarded for his virtues when he is no longer himself? I have read in a well known book the following question and answer:
“Question. How can I be either rewarded or punished when I shall no longer exist; when there will be nothing remaining of that which constituted my person? It is only by means of memory that I am always myself; after my death, a miracle will be necessary to restore it to me—to enable me to re-enter upon my lost existence.
“Answer. That is just as much as to say that if a prince had put to death his whole family, in order to reign himself, and if he had tyrannized over his subjects with the most wanton cruelty, he would be exempted from punishment on pleading before God, ‘I am not the offender; I have lost my memory; you are under a mistake; I am no longer the same person.’ Do you think this sophism would pass with God?”
This answer is a highly commendable one; but it does not completely solve the difficulty.
It would be necessary for this purpose, in the first place, to know whether understanding and sensation are a faculty given by God to man, or a created substance; a question which philosophy is too weak and uncertain to decide.
It is necessary in the next place to know whether, if the soul be a substance and has lost all knowledge of the evil it has committed, and be, moreover, as perfect a stranger to what it has done with its own body, as to all the other bodies of our universe—whether, in these circumstances, it can or should, according to our manner of reasoning, answer in another universe for actions of which it has not the slightest knowledge; whether, in fact, a miracle would not be necessary to impart to this soul the recollection it no longer possesses, to render it consciously present to the crimes which have become obliterated and annihilated in its mind, and make it the same person that it was on earth; or whether God will judge it nearly in the same way in which the presidents of human tribunals proceed, condemning a criminal, although he may have completely forgotten the crimes he has actually committed. He remembers them no longer; but they are remembered for him; he is punished for the sake of the example. But God cannot punish a man after his death with a view to his being an example to the living. No living man knows whether the deceased is condemned or absolved. God, therefore, can punish him only because he cherished and accomplished evil desires; but if, when after death he presents himself before the tribunal of God, he no longer entertains any such desire; if for a period of twenty years he has totally forgotten that he did entertain such; if he is no longer in any respect the same person; what is it that God will punish in him?
These are questions which appear beyond the compass of the human understanding, and there seems to exist a necessity, in these intricacies and labyrinths, of recurring to faith alone, which is always our last asylum.
Lucretius had partly felt these difficulties, when in his third book (verses 890-91) he describes a man trembling at the idea of what will happen to him when he will no longer be the same man:
But Lucretius is not the oracle to be addressed, in order to obtain any discoveries of the future.
The celebrated Toland, who wrote his own epitaph, concluded it with these words: “Idem futurus Tolandus nunquam”—“He will never again be the same Toland.”
However, it may be presumed that God would have well known how to find and restore him, had such been his good pleasure; and it is to be presumed, also, that the being who necessarily exists, is necessarily good.
Idol is derived from the Greek word “eidos,” figure; “eidolos,” the representation of a figure, and “latreuein,” to serve, revere, or adore.
It does not appear that there was ever any people on earth who took the name of idolaters. This word is an offence, an insulting term, like that of “gavache,” which the Spaniards formerly gave to the French; and that of “maranes,” which the French gave to the Spaniards in return. If we had demanded of the senate of the Areopagus of Athens, or at the court of the kings of Persia: “Are you idolaters?” they would scarcely have understood the question. None would have answered: “We adore images and idols.” This word, idolater, idolatry, is found neither in Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, nor any other author of the religion of the Gentiles. There was never any edict, any law, which commanded that idols should be adored; that they should be treated as gods and regarded as gods.
When the Roman and Carthaginian captains made a treaty, they called all their gods to witness. “It is in their presence,” said they, “that we swear peace.” Yet the statues of these gods, whose number was very great, were not in the tents of the generals. They regarded, or pretended to regard, the gods as present at the actions of men as witnesses and judges. And assuredly it was not the image which constituted the divinity.
In what view, therefore, did they see the statues of their false gods in the temples? With the same view, if we may so express ourselves, that the Catholics see the images, the object of their veneration. The error was not in adoring a piece of wood or marble, but in adoring a false divinity, represented by this wood and marble. The difference between them and the Catholics is, not that they had images, and the Catholics had none; the difference is, that their images represented the fantastic beings of a false religion, and that the Christian images represent real beings in a true religion. The Greeks had the statue of Hercules, and we have that of St. Christopher; they had Æsculpius and his goat, we have St. Roch and his dog; they had Mars and his lance, and we have St. Anthony of Padua and St. James of Compostella.
When the consul Pliny addresses prayers to the immortal gods in the exordium of the panegyric of Trajan, it is not to images that he addresses them. These images were not immortal.
Neither the latest nor the most remote times of paganism offer a single fact which can lead to the conclusion that they adored idols. Homer speaks only of the gods who inhabited the high Olympus. The palladium, although fallen from heaven, was only a sacred token of the protection of Pallas; it was herself that was venerated in the palladium. It was our ampoule, or holy oil.
But the Romans and Greeks knelt before their statues, gave them crowns, incense, and flowers, and carried them in triumph in the public places. The Catholics have sanctified these customs, and yet are not called idolaters.
The women in times of drouth carried the statues of the Gods after having fasted. They walked barefooted with dishevelled hair, and it quickly rained bucketfuls, says Pretonius: “Et statim urceatim pluebat.” Has not this custom been consecrated; illegitimate indeed among the Gentiles, but legitimate among the Catholics? In how many towns are not images carried to obtain the blessings of heaven through their intercession? If a Turk, or a learned Chinese, were a witness of these ceremonies, he would, through ignorance, accuse the Italians of putting their trust in the figures which they thus promenade in possession.
From the time of Charles I., the Catholic religion was declared idolatrous in England. All the Presbyterians are persuaded that the Catholics adore bread, which they eat, and figures, which are the work of their sculptors and painters. With that which one part of Europe reproaches the Catholics, they themselves reproach the Gentiles.
We are surprised at the prodigious number of declamations uttered in all times against the idolatry of the Romans and Greeks; and we are afterwards still more surprised when we see that they were not idolaters.
They had some temples more privileged than others. The great Diana of Ephesus had more reputation than a village Diana. There were more miracles performed in the temple of Æsculapius at Epidaurus, than in any other of his temples. The statue of the Olympian Jupiter attracted more offerings than that of the Paphlagonian Jupiter. But to oppose the customs of a true religion to those of a false one, have we not for several ages had more devotion to certain altars than to others?
Has not Our Lady of Loretto been preferred to Our Lady of Neiges, to that of Ardens, of Hall, etc.? That is not saying there is more virtue in a statue at Loretto than in a statue of the village of Hall, but we have felt more devotion to the one than to the other; we have believed that she whom we invoked, at the feet of her statues, would condescend, from the height of heaven, to diffuse more favors and to work more miracles in Loretto than in Hall. This multiplicity of images of the same person also proves that it is the images that we revere, and that the worship relates to the person who is represented; for it is not possible that every image can be the same thing. There are a thousand images of St. Francis, which have no resemblance to him, and which do not resemble one another; and all indicate a single Saint Francis, invoked, on the day of his feast, by those who are devoted to this saint.
It was precisely the same with the pagans, who supposed the existence only of a single divinity, a single Apollo, and not as many Apollos and Dianas as they had temples and statues. It is therefore proved, as much as history can prove anything, that the ancients believed not the statue to be a divinity; that worship was not paid to this statue or image, and consequently that they were not idolaters. It is for us to ascertain how far the imputation has been a mere pretext to accuse them of idolatry.
A gross and superstitious populace who reason not, and who know neither how to doubt, deny, or believe; who visit the temples out of idleness, and because the lowly are there equal to the great; who make their contributions because it is the custom; who speak continually of miracles without examining any of them; and who are very little in point of intellect beyond the brutes whom they sacrifice—such a people, I repeat, in the sight of the great Diana, or of Jupiter the Thunderer, may well be seized with a religious horror, and adore, without consciousness, the statue itself. This is what happens now and then, in our own churches, to our ignorant peasantry, who, however, are informed that it is the blessed mortals received into heaven whose intercession they solicit, and not that of images of wood and stone.
The Greeks and Romans augment the number of their gods by their apotheoses. The Greeks deified conquerors like Bacchus, Hercules, and Perseus. Rome devoted altars to her emperors. Our apotheoses are of a different kind; we have infinitely more saints than they have secondary gods, but we pay respect neither to rank nor to conquest. We consecrate temples to the simply virtuous, who would have been unknown on earth if they had not been placed in heaven. The apotheoses of the ancients were the effect of flattery, ours are produced by a respect for virtue.
Cicero, in his philosophical works, only allows of a suspicion that the people may mistake the statues of the gods and confound them with the gods themselves. His interlocutors attack the established religion, but none of them think of accusing the Romans of taking marble and brass for divinities. Lucretius accuses no person of this stupidity, although he reproaches the superstitious of every class. This opinion, therefore, has never existed; there never have been idolaters.
Horace causes an image of Priapus to speak, and makes him say: “I was once the trunk of a fig tree, and a carpenter being doubtful whether he should make of me a god or a bench, at length determined to make me a divinity.” What are we to gather from this pleasantry? Priapus was one of the subaltern divinities, and a subject of raillery for the wits, and this pleasantry is a tolerable proof that a figure placed in the garden to frighten away the birds could not be very profoundly worshipped.
Dacier, giving way to the spirit of a commentator, observes that Baruch predicted this adventure. “They became what the workmen chose to make them:” but might not this be observed of all statues? Had Baruch a visionary anticipation of the “Satires of Horace”?
A block of marble may as well be hewn into a cistern, as into a figure of Alexander, Jupiter, or any being still more respectable. The matter which composed the cherubim of the Holy of Holies might have been equally appropriated to the vilest functions. Is a throne or altar the less revered because it might have been formed into a kitchen table?
Dacier, instead of concluding that the Romans adored the statue of Priapus, and that Baruch predicted it, should have perceived that the Romans laughed at it. Consult all the authors who speak of the statues of the gods, you will not find one of them allude to idolatry; their testimony amounts to the express contrary. “It is not the workman,” says Martial, “who makes the gods, but he who prays to them.”
“It is Jove whom we adore in the image of Jove,” writes Ovid: “Colitur pro Jove, forma Jovis.”
“The gods inhabit our minds and bosoms,” observes Statius, “and not images in the form of them:”
Lucan, too, calls the universe the abode and empire of God: “Estne Dei, sedes, nisi terra, et pontus, et aer?” A volume might be filled with passages asserting idols to be images alone.
There remains but the case in which statues became oracles; notions that might have led to an opinion that there was something divine about them. The predominant sentiment, however, was that the gods had chosen to visit certain altars and images, in order to give audience to mortals, and to reply to them. We read in Homer and in the chorus of the Greek tragedies, of prayers to Apollo, who delivered his responses on the mountains in such a temple, or such a town. There is not, in all antiquity, the least trace of a prayer addressed to a statue; and if it was believed that the divine spirit preferred certain temples and images, as he preferred certain men, it was simply an error in application. How many miraculous images have we? The ancients only boasted of possessing what we possess, and if we are not idolaters for using images, by what correct principle can we term them so?
Those who profess magic, and who either believe, or affect to believe it, a science, pretend to possess the secret of making the gods descend into their statues, not indeed, the superior gods, but the secondary gods or genii. This is what Hermes Trismegistus calls “making” gods—a doctrine which is controverted by St. Augustine in his “City of God.” But even this clearly shows that the images were not thought to possess anything divine, since it required a magician to animate them, and it happened very rarely that a magician was successful in these sublime endeavors.
In a word, the images of the gods were not gods. Jupiter, and not his statue, launched his thunderbolts; it was not the statue of Neptune which stirred up tempests, nor that of Apollo which bestowed light. The Greeks and the Romans were Gentiles and Polytheists, but not idolaters.
We lavished this reproach upon them when we had neither statues nor temples, and have continued the injustice even after having employed painting and sculpture to honor and represent our truths, precisely in the same manner in which those we reproach employed them to honor and personify their fiction.
It is a great error to denominate those idolaters who worship the sun and the stars. These nations for a long time had neither images nor temples. If they were wrong, it was in rendering to the stars that which belonged only to the creator of the stars. Moreover, the dogma of Zoroaster, or Zerdusht, teaches a Supreme Being, an avenger and rewarder, which opinion is very distant from idolatry. The government of China possesses no idol, but has always preserved the simple worship of the master of heaven, Kien-tien.
Genghis Khan, among the Tartars, was not an idolater, and used no images. The Mahometans, who inhabit Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, India, and Africa, call the Christians idolaters and giaours, because they imagine that Christians worship images. They break the statues which they find in Sancta Sophia, the church of the Holy Apostles; and others they convert into mosques. Appearances have deceived them, as they are eternally deceiving man, and have led them to believe that churches dedicated to saints who were formerly men, images of saints worshipped kneeling, and miracles worked in these churches, are invincible proofs of absolute idolatry; although all amount to nothing. Christians, in fact, adore one God only, and even in the blessed, only revere the virtues of God manifested in them. The image-breakers (iconoclasts), and the Protestants, who reproach the Catholic Church with idolatry, claim the same answer.
As men rarely form precise ideas, and still less express them with precision, we call the Gentiles, and still more the Polytheists, idolaters. An immense number of volumes have been written in order to develop the various opinions upon the origin of the worship rendered to the deity. This multitude of books and opinions proves nothing, except ignorance.
It is not known who invented coats, shoes, and stockings, and yet we would know who invented idols. What signifies a passage of Sanchoniathon, who lived before the battle of Troy? What does he teach us when he says that Chaos—the spirit, that is to say, the breath—in love with his principles, draws the veil from it, which renders the air luminous; that the wind Colp, and his wife Bau, engendered Eon; that Eon engendered Genos, that Chronos, their descendant, had two eyes behind as well as before; that he became a god, and that he gave Egypt to his son Thaut? Such is one of the most respectable monuments of antiquity.
Orpheus will teach us no more in his “Theogony,” than Damasius has preserved to us. He represents the principles of the world under the figure of a dragon with two heads, the one of a bull, the other of a lion; a face in the middle, which he calls the face of God, and golden wings to his shoulders.
But, from these fantastic ideas may be drawn two great truths—the one that sensible images and hieroglyphics are of the remotest antiquity; the other that all the ancient philosophers have recognized a First Principle.
As to polytheism, good sense will tell you that as long as men have existed—that is to say, weak animals capable of reason and folly, subject to all accidents, sickness and death—these men have felt their weakness and dependence. Obliged to acknowledge that there is something more powerful than themselves; having discovered a principle in the earth which furnishes their aliment; one in the air which often destroys them; one in fire which consumes; and in water which drowns them—what is more natural than for ignorant men to imagine beings which preside over these elements? What is more natural than to revere the invisible power which makes the sun and stars shine to our eyes? and, since they would form an idea of powers superior to man, what more natural than to figure them in a sensible manner? Could they think otherwise? The Jewish religion, which preceded ours, and which was given by God himself, was filled with these images, under which God is represented. He deigns to speak the human language in a bush; He appeared once on a mountain; the celestial spirits which he sends all come with a human form: finally, the sanctuary is covered with cherubs, which are the bodies of men with the wings and heads of animals. It is this which has given rise to the error of Plutarch, Tacitus, Appian, and so many others, of reproaching the Jews with adoring an ass’s head. God, in spite of his prohibition to paint or form likenesses, has, therefore, deigned to adapt himself to human weakness, which required the senses to be addressed by sensible beings.
Isaiah, in chapter vi., sees the Lord seated on a throne, and His train filled the temple. The Lord extends His hand, and touches the mouth of Jeremiah, in chap. i. of that prophet. Ezekiel, in chap. i., sees a throne of sapphire, and God appeared to him like a man seated on this throne. These images alter not the purity of the Jewish religion, which never employed pictures, statues, or idols, to represent God to the eyes of the people.
The learned Chinese, the Parsees, and the ancient Egyptians, had no idols; but Isis and Osiris were soon represented. Bel, at Babylon, was a great colossus. Brahma was a fantastic monster in the peninsula of India. Above all, the Greeks multiplied the names of the gods, statues, and temples, but always attributed the supreme power to their Zeus, called Jupiter by the Latins, the sovereign of gods and men. The Romans imitated the Greeks. These people always placed all the gods in heaven, without knowing what they understood by heaven.
The Romans had their twelve great gods, six male and six female, whom they called “Dii majorum gentium”; Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Vulcar., Mars, Mercury, Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Venus, and Diana; Pluto was therefore forgotten: Vesta took his place.
Afterwards, came the gods “minorum gentium,” the gods of mortal origin; the heroes, as Bacchus, Hercules, and Æsculapius: the infernal gods, Pluto and Proserpine: those of the sea, as Tethys, Amphitrite, the Nereids, and Glaucus. The Dryads, Naiads, gods of gardens; those of shepherds, etc. They had them, indeed, for every profession, for every action of life, for children, marriageable girls, married, and lying-in women: they had even the god Peditum; and finally, they idolized their emperors. Neither these emperors nor the god Peditum, the goddess Pertunda, nor Priapus, nor Rumilia, the goddess of nipples; nor Stercutius, the god of the privy, were, in truth, regarded as the masters of heaven and earth. The emperors had sometimes temples, the petty gods—the penates—had none; but all had their representations, their images.
There were little images with which they ornamented their closets, the amusements of old women and children, which were not authorized by any public worship. The superstition of every individual was left to act according to his own taste. These small idols are still found in the ruins of ancient towns.
If no person knows when men began to make these images, they must know that they are of the greatest antiquity. Terah, the father of Abraham, made them at Ur in Chaldæa. Rachel stole and carried off the images of Laban, her father. We cannot go back further.
But what precise notion had the ancient nations of all these representations? What virtue, what power, was attributed to them? Believed they that the gods descended from heaven to conceal themselves in these statues; or that they communicated to them a part of the divine spirit; or that they communicated to them nothing at all? There has been much very uselessly written on this subject; it is clear that every man judged of it according to the degree of his reason, credulity, or fanaticism. It is evident that the priests attached as much divinity to their statues as they possibly could, to attract more offerings. We know that the philosophers reproved these superstitions, that warriors laughed at them, that the magistrates tolerated them, and that the people, always absurd, knew not what they did. In a word, this is the history of all nations to which God has not made himself known.
The same idea may be formed of the worship which all Egypt rendered to the cow, and that several towns paid to a dog, an ape, a cat, and to onions. It appears that these were first emblems. Afterwards, a certain ox Apis, and a certain dog Anubis, were adored; they always ate beef and onions; but it is difficult to know what the old women of Egypt thought of the holy cows and onions.
Idols also often spoke. On the day of the feast of Cybele at Rome, those fine words were commemorated which the statue pronounced when it was translated from the palace of King Attilus: “I wish to depart; take me away quickly; Rome is worthy the residence of every god.”
The statue of Fortune spoke; the Scipios, the Ciceros, and the Cæsars, indeed, believed nothing of it; but the old woman, to whom Encolpus gave a crown to buy geese and gods, might credit it.
Idols also gave oracles, and priests hidden in the hollow of the statues spoke in the name of the divinity.
How happens it, in the midst of so many gods and different theogonies and particular worships, that there was never any religious war among the people called idolaters? This peace was a good produced from an evil, even from error; for each nation, acknowledging several inferior gods, found it good for his neighbors also to have theirs. If you except Cambyses, who is reproached with having killed the ox Apis, you will not see any conqueror in profane history who ill-treated the gods of a vanquished people. The heathens had no exclusive religion, and the priests thought only of multiplying the offerings and sacrifices.
The first offerings were fruits. Soon after, animals were required for the table of the priests; they killed them themselves, and became cruel butchers; finally, they introduced the horrible custom of sacrificing human victims, and above all, children and young girls. The Chinese, Parsees, and Indians, were never guilty of these abominations; but at Hieropolis, in Egypt, according to Porphyrius, they immolated men.
Strangers were sacrificed at Taurida: happily, the priests of Taurida had not much practice. The first Greeks, the Cypriots, Phœnicians, Tyrians, and Carthaginians, possessed this abominable superstition. The Romans themselves fell into this religious crime; and Plutarch relates, that they immolated two Greeks and two Gauls to expiate the gallantries of three vestals. Procopius, contemporary with the king of the Franks, Theodobert, says that the Franks sacrificed men when they entered Italy with that prince. The Gauls and Germans commonly made these frightful sacrifices. We can scarcely read history without conceiving horror at mankind.
It is true that among the Jews, Jeptha sacrificed his daughter, and Saul was ready to immolate his son; it is also true that those who were devoted to the Lord by anathema could not be redeemed, as other beasts were, but were doomed to perish.
We will now speak of the human victims sacrificed in all religions.
To console mankind for the horrible picture of these pious sacrifices, it is important to know, that amongst almost all nations called idolatrous, there have been holy theologies and popular error, secret worship and public ceremonies; the religion of sages, and that of the vulgar. To know that one God alone was taught to those initiated into the mysteries, it is only necessary to look at the hymn attributed to the ancient Orpheus, which was sung in the mysteries of the Eleusinian Ceres, so celebrated in Europe and Asia: “Contemplate divine nature; illuminate thy mind; govern thy heart; walk in the path of justice, that the God of heaven and earth may be always present to thy eyes: He only self-exists, all beings derive their existence from Him; He sustains them all; He has never been seen by mortals, and He sees all things.”
We may also read the passage of the philosopher Maximus, whom we have already quoted: “What man is so gross and stupid as to doubt that there is a supreme, eternal, and infinite God, who has engendered nothing like Himself, and who is the common father of all things?”
There are a thousand proofs that the ancient sages not only abhorred idolatry, but polytheism.
Epictetus, that model of resignation and patience, that man so great in a humble condition, never speaks of but one God. Read over these maxims: “God has created me; God is within me; I carry Him everywhere. Can I defile Him by obscene thoughts, unjust actions, or infamous desires? My duty is to thank God for all, to praise Him for all; and only to cease blessing Him in ceasing to live.” All the ideas of Epictetus turn on this principle. Is this an idolater?
Marcus Aurelius, perhaps as great on the throne of the Roman Empire as Epictetus was in slavery, often speaks, indeed, of the gods, either to conform himself to the received language, or to express intermediate beings between the Supreme Being and men; but in how many places does he show that he recognizes one eternal, infinite God alone? “Our soul,” says he, “is an emanation from the divinity. My children, my body, my mind, are derived from God.”
The Stoics and Platonics admitted a divine and universal nature; the Epicureans denied it. The pontiffs spoke only of a single God in their mysteries. Where then were the idolaters? All our declaimers exclaim against idolatry like little dogs, that yelp when they hear a great one bark.
As to the rest, it is one of the greatest errors of the “Dictionary” of Moreri to say, that in the time of Theodosius the younger, there remained no idolaters except in the retired countries of Asia and Africa. Even in the seventh century there were many people still heathen in Italy. The north of Germany, from the Weser, was not Christian in the time of Charlemagne. Poland and all the south remained a long time after him in what was called idolatry; the half of Africa, all the kingdoms beyond the Ganges, Japan, the populace of China, and a hundred hordes of Tartars, have preserved their ancient religion. In Europe there are only a few Laplanders, Samoyedes, and Tartars, who have persevered in the religion of their ancestors.
Let us conclude with remarking, that in the time which we call the middle ages, we dominated the country of the Mahometans pagan; we treated as idolaters and adorers of images, a people who hold all images in abhorrence. Let us once more avow, that the Turks are more excusable in believing us idolaters, when they see our altars loaded with images and statues.
A gentleman belonging to Prince Ragotski assured me upon his honor, that being in a coffee-house at Constantinople, the mistress ordered that he should not be served because he was an idolater. He was a Protestant, and swore to her that he adored neither host nor images. “Ah! if that is the case,” said the woman, “come to me every day, and you shall be served for nothing.”
If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances; and forget not to be excessively opinionated and obstinate. It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you.
In real truth, was there ever a fitter subject for the Petites-Maisons, or Bedlam, than Ignatius, or St. Inigo the Biscayan, for that was his true name? His head became deranged in consequence of his reading the “Golden Legend”; as Don Quixote’s was, afterwards, by reading the romances of chivalry. Our Biscayan hero, in the first place, dubs himself a knight of the Holy Virgin, and performs the Watch of Arms in honor of his lady. The virgin appears to him and accepts his services; she often repeats her visit, and introduces to him her son. The devil, who watches his opportunity, and clearly foresees the injury he must in the course of time suffer from the Jesuits, comes and makes a tremendous noise in the house, and breaks all the windows; the Biscayan drives him away with the sign of the cross; and the devil flies through the wall, leaving in it a large opening, which was shown to the curious fifty years after the happy event.
His family, seeing the very disordered state of his mind, is desirous of his being confined and put under a course of regimen and medicine. He extricates himself from his family as easily as he did from the devil, and escapes without knowing where to go. He meets with a Moor, and disputes with him about the immaculate conception. The Moor, who takes him exactly for what he is, quits him as speedily as possible. The Biscayan hesitates whether he shall kill the Moor or pray to God for his conversion; he leaves the decision to his horse, and the animal, rather wiser than its master, takes the road leading to the stable.
Our hero, after this adventure, undertakes a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, begging his bread on the way: his madness increases as he proceeds; the Dominicans take pity on him at Manrosa, and keep him in their establishment for some days, and then dismiss him uncured.
He embarks at Barcelona, and goes to Venice; he returns to Barcelona, still travelling as a mendicant, always experiencing trances and ecstacies, and frequently visited by the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ.
At length, he was given to understand that, in order to go to the Holy Land with any fair view of converting the Turks, the Christians of the Greek church, the Armenians, and the Jews, it was necessary to begin with a little study of theology. Our hero desires nothing better; but, to become a theologian, it was requisite to know something of grammar and a little Latin; this gives him no embarrassment whatever: he goes to college at the age of thirty-three; he is there laughed at, and learns nothing.
He was almost broken-hearted at the idea of not being able to go and convert the infidels. The devil, for this once, took pity on him. He appeared to him, and swore to him, on the faith of a Christian, that, if he would deliver himself over to him, he would make him the most learned and able man in the church of God. Ignatius, however, was not to be cajoled to place himself under the discipline of such a master; he went back to his class; he occasionally experienced the rod, but his learning made no progress.
Expelled from the college of Barcelona, persecuted by the devil, who punished him for refusing to submit to his instructions, and abandoned by the Virgin Mary, who took no pains about assisting her devoted knight, he, nevertheless, does not give way to despair. He joins the pilgrims of St. James in their wanderings over the country. He preaches in the streets and public places, from city to city, and is shut up in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Delivered from the Inquisition, he is put in prison at Alcala. He escapes thence to Salamanca, and is there again imprisoned. At length, perceiving that he is no prophet in his own country, he forms a resolution to go to Paris. He travels thither on foot, driving before him an ass which carried his baggage, money, and manuscripts. Don Quixote had a horse and an esquire, but Ignatius was not provided with either.
He experiences at Paris the same insults and injuries as he had endured in Spain. He is absolutely flogged, in all the regular form and ceremony of scholastic discipline, at the college of St. Barbe. His vocation, at length, calls him to Rome.
How could it possibly come to pass, that a man of such extravagant character and manners, should at length obtain consideration at the court of Rome, gain over a number of disciples, and become the founder of a powerful order, among whom are to be found men of unquestionable worth and learning? The reason is, that he was opinionated, obstinate, and enthusiastic; and found enthusiasts like himself, with whom he associated. These, having rather a greater share of reason than himself, were instrumental in somewhat restoring and re-establishing his own; he became more prudent and regular towards the close of his life, and occasionally even displayed in his conduct proofs of ability.
Perhaps Mahomet, in his first conversations with the angel Gabriel, began his career with being as much deranged as Ignatius; and perhaps Ignatius, in Mahomet’s circumstances, would have performed as great achievements as the prophet; for he was equally ignorant, and quite as visionary and intrepid.
It is a common observation, that such cases occur only once: however, it is not long since an English rustic, more ignorant than the Spaniard Ignatius, formed the society of people called “Quakers”; a society far superior to that of Ignatius. Count Zinzendorf has, in our own time, formed the sect of Moravians; and the Convulsionaries of Paris were very nearly upon the point of effecting a revolution. They were quite mad enough, but they were not sufficiently persevering and obstinate.
There are many kinds of ignorance; but the worst of all is that of critics, who, it is well known, are doubly bound to possess information and judgment as persons who undertake to affirm and to censure. When they pronounce erroneously, therefore, they are doubly culpable.
A man, for example, composes two large volumes upon a few pages of a valuable book which he has not understood, and in the first place examines the following words:
“The sea has covered immense tracts. . . . . The deep beds of shells which are found in Touraine and elsewhere, could have been deposited there only by the sea.”
True, if those beds of shells exist in fact; but the critic ought to be aware that the author himself discovered, or thought he had discovered, that those regular beds of shells have no existence.
He ought to have said:
“The universal Deluge is related by Moses with the agreement of all nations.”
1. Because the Pentateuch was long unknown, not only to the other nations of the world, but to the Jews themselves.
2. Because only a single copy of the law was found at the bottom of an old chest in the time of King Josiah.
3. Because that book was lost during the captivity.
4. Because it was restored by Esdras.
5. Because it was always unknown to every other nation till the time of its being translated by the Seventy.
6. Because, even after the translation ascribed to the Seventy, we have not a single author among the Gentiles who quotes a single passage from this book, down to the time of Longinus, who lived under the Emperor Aurelian.
7. Because no other nation ever admitted a universal deluge before Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”; and even Ovid himself does not make his deluge extend beyond the Mediterranean.
8. Because St. Augustine expressly acknowledges that the universal deluge was unknown to all antiquity.
9. Because the first deluge of which any notice is taken by the Gentiles, is that mentioned by Berosus, and which he fixes at about four thousand four hundred years before our vulgar era; which deluge did not extend beyond the Euxine Sea.
10. Finally, because no monument of a universal deluge remains in any nation in the world.
In addition to all these reasons, it must be observed, that the critic did not even understand the simple state of the question. The only inquiry is, whether we have any natural proof that the sea has successively abandoned many tracts of territory? and upon this plain and mere matter-of-fact subject, M. Abbé François has taken occasion to abuse men whom he certainly neither knows nor understands. It is far better to be silent, than merely to increase the quantity of bad books.
The same critic, in order to prop up old ideas, now almost universally despised and derided, and which have not the slightest relation to Moses, thinks proper to say: “Berosus perfectly agrees with Moses in the number of generations before the Deluge.”
Be it known to you, my dear reader, that this same Berosus is the writer who informs us that the fish Oannes came out to the river Euphrates every day, to go and preach to the Chaldæans; and that the same fish wrote with one of its bones a capital book about the origin of things. Such is the writer whom the ingenious abbé brings forward as a voucher for Moses.
“Is it not evident,” he says, “that a great number of European families, transplanted to the coasts of Africa, have become, without any mixture of African blood, as black as any of the natives of the country?”
It is just the contrary of this, M. l’Abbé, that is evident. You are ignorant that the reticulum mucosum” of the negroes is black, although I have mentioned the fact times innumerable. Were you to have ever so large a number of children born to you in Guinea, of a European wife, they would not one of them have that black unctuous skin, those dark and thick lips, those round eyes, or that woolly hair, which form the specific differences of the negro race. In the same manner, were your family established in America, they would have beards, while a native American will have none. Now extricate yourself from the difficulty, with Adam and Eve only, if you can.
“Who was this ‘Melchom,’ you ask, who had taken possession of the country of God? A pleasant sort of god, certainly, whom the God of Jeremiah would carry off to be dragged into captivity.”
Ah, M. l’Abbé! you are quite smart and lively. You ask, who is this Melchom? I will immediately inform you. Melek or Melkom signified the Lord, as did Adoni or Adonai, Baal or Bel, Adad or Shadai, Eloi or Eloa. Almost all the nations of Syria gave such names to their gods; each had its lord, its protector, its god. Even the name of Jehovah was a Phœnician and proper name; this we learn from Sanchoniathon, who was certainly anterior to Moses; and also from Diodorus.
We well know that God is equally the God, the absolute master, of Egyptians and Jews, of all men and all worlds; but it is not in this light that he is represented when Moses appears before Pharaoh. He never speaks to that monarch but in the name of the God of the Hebrews, as an ambassador delivers the orders of the king his master. He speaks so little in the name of the Master of all Nature, that Pharaoh replies to him, “I do not know him.” Moses performs prodigies in the name of this God; but the magicians of Pharaoh perform precisely the same prodigies in the name of their own. Hitherto both sides are equal; the contest is, who shall be deemed most powerful, not who shall be deemed alone powerful. At length, the God of the Hebrews decidedly carries the day; he manifests a power by far the greater; but not the only power. Thus, speaking after the manner of men, Pharaoh’s incredulity is very excusable. It is the same incredulity as Montezuma exhibited before Cortes, and Atahualpa before the Pizarros.
When Joshua called together the Jews, he said to them: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your father served, that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The people, therefore, had already given themselves up to other gods, and might serve whom they pleased.
When the family of Micah, in Ephraim, hire a Levitical priest to conduct the service of a strange god, when the whole tribe of Dan serve the same god as the family of Micah; when a grandson of Moses himself becomes a hired priest of the same god—no one murmurs; every one has his own god, undisturbed; and the grandson of Moses becomes an idolater without any one’s reviling or accusing him. At that time, therefore, every one chose his own local god, his own protector.
The same Jews, after the death of Gideon, adore Baal-berith, which means precisely the same as Adonai—the lord, the protector; they change their protector.
Adonai, in the time of Joshua, becomes master of the mountains; but he is unable to overcome the inhabitants of the valleys, because they had chariots armed with scythes. Can anything more correctly represent the idea of a local deity, a god who is strong in one place, but not so in another?
Jephthah, the son of Gilead, and a concubine, says to the Moabites: “Wilt thou not possess what Chemosh, thy god, giveth thee to possess? So, whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.”
It is then perfectly proved, that the undistinguishing Jews, although chosen by the God of the universe, regarded him notwithstanding as a mere local god, the god of a particular territory of people, like the god of the Amorites, or that of the Moabites, of the mountains or of the valleys.
It is unfortunately very evident that it was perfectly indifferent to the grandson of Moses whether he served Micah’s god or his grandfather’s. It is clear, and cannot but be admitted, that the Jewish religion was not formed, that it was not uniform, till the time of Esdras; and we must, even then, except the Samaritans.
You may now, probably, have some idea of the meaning of this lord or god Melchom. I am not in favor of his cause—the Lord deliver me from such folly!—but when you remark, “the god which Jeremiah threatened to carry into slavery must be a curious and pleasant sort of deity,” I will answer you, M. l’Abbé, with this short piece of advice:—“From your own house of glass do not throw stones at those of your neighbors.”
They were the Jews who were at that very time carried off in slavery to Babylon. It was the good Jeremiah himself who was accused of being bribed by the court of Babylon, and of having consequently prophesied in his favor. It was he who was the object of public scorn and hatred, and who it is thought ended his career by being stoned to death by the Jews themselves. This Jeremiah, be assured from me, was never before understood to be a joker.
The God of the Jews, I again repeat, is the God of all nature. I expressly make this repetition that you may have no ground for pretending ignorance of it, and that you may not accuse me before the ecclesiastical court. I still, however, assert and maintain, that the stupid Jews frequently knew no other God than a local one.
“It is not natural to attribute the tides to the phases of the moon. They are not the high tides which occur at the full moon, that are ascribed to the phases of that planet.” Here we see ignorance of a different description.
It occasionally happens that persons of a certain description are so much ashamed of the part they play in the world, that they are desirous of disguising themselves sometimes as wits, and sometimes as philosophers.
In the first place, it is proper to inform M. l’Abbé, that nothing is more natural than to attribute an effect to that which is always followed by this effect. If a particular wind is constantly followed by rain, it is natural to attribute the rain to the wind. Now, over all the shores of the ocean, the tides are always higher in the moon’s “syzygies”—if you happen to know the meaning of the term—than at its quarterings. The moon rises every day later; the tide is also every day later. The nearer the moon approaches our zenith, the greater is the tide; the nearer the moon approaches its perigee, the higher the tide still rises. These experiences and various others, these invariable correspondences with the phases of the moon, were the foundation of the ancient and just opinion, that that body is a principal cause of the flux and reflux of the ocean.
After numerous centuries appeared the great Newton—Are you at all acquainted with Newton? Did you ever hear, that after calculating the square of the progress of the moon in its orbit during the space of a minute, and dividing that square by the diameter of that orbit, he found the quotient to be fifteen feet? that he thence demonstrated that the moon gravitates towards the earth three thousand six hundred times less than if she were near the earth? that he afterwards demonstrated that its attractive force is the cause of three-fourths of the elevation of the sea by the tide, and that the force of the sun is the cause of the remaining fourth? You appear perfectly astonished. You never read anything like this in the “Christian Pedagogue.” Endeavor henceforward, both you and the porters of your parish, never to speak about things of which you have not even the slightest idea.
You can form no conception of the injury you do to religion by your ignorance, and still more by your reasonings. In order to preserve in the world the little faith that remains in it, it would be the most judicious measure possible to restrain you, and such as you, from writing and publishing in behalf of it.
I should absolutely make your astonished eyes stare almost to starting, were I to inform you, that this same Newton was persuaded that Samuel is the author of the Pentateuch. I do not mean to say that he demonstrated it in the same way as he calculated and deduced the power of gravitation. Learn, then, to doubt and to be modest. I believe in the Pentateuch, remember; but I believe, also, that you have printed and published the most enormous absurdities. I could here transcribe a large volume of instances of your own individual ignorance and imbecility, and many of those of your brethren and colleagues. I shall not, however, take the trouble of doing it. Let us go on with our questions.
I am ignorant how I was formed, and how I was born. I was perfectly ignorant, for a quarter of my life, of the reasons of all that I saw, heard, and felt, and was a mere parrot, talking by rote in imitation of other parrots.
When I looked about me and within me, I conceived that something existed from all eternity. Since there are beings actually existing, I concluded that there is some being necessary and necessarily eternal. Thus the first step I took to extricate myself from my ignorance, overpassed the limits of all ages—the boundaries of time.
But when I was desirous of proceeding in this infinite career, I could neither perceive a single path, nor clearly distinguish a single object; and from the flight which I took to contemplate eternity, I have fallen back into the abyss of my original ignorance.
I have seen what is denominated “matter,” from the star Sirius, and the stars of the “milky way,” as distant from Sirius as that is from us, to the smallest atom that can be perceived by the microscope; and yet I know not what matter is.
Light, which has enabled me to see all these different and distant beings, is perfectly unknown to me; I am able by the help of a prism to anatomize this light, and divide it into seven pencillings of rays; but I cannot divide these pencillings themselves; I know not of what they are composed. Light resembles matter in having motion and impinging upon objects, but it does not tend towards a common centre like all other bodies; on the contrary it flies off by some invincible power from the centre, while all matter gravitates towards a centre. Light appears to be penetrable, and matter is impenetrable. Is light matter, or is it not matter? What is it? With what numberless properties can it be invested? I am completely ignorant.
This substance so brilliant, so rapid, and so unknown, and those other substances which float in the immensity of space—seeming to be infinite—are they eternal? I know nothing on the subject. Has a necessary being, sovereignly intelligent, created them from nothing, or has he only arranged them? Did he produce this order in time, or before time? Alas! what is this time, of which I am speaking? I am incapable of defining it. O God, it is Thou alone by whom I can be instructed, for I am neither enlightened by the darkness of other men nor by my own.
Mice and moles have their resemblances of structure, in certain respects, to the human frame. What difference can it make to the Supreme Being whether animals like ourselves, or such as mice, exist upon this globe revolving in space with innumerable globes around it?
Why have we being? Why are there any beings? What is sensation? How have I received it? What connection is there between the air which vibrates on my ear and the sensation of sound? between this body and the sensation of colors? I am perfectly ignorant, and shall ever remain ignorant.
What is thought? Where does it reside? How is it formed? Who gives me thoughts during my sleep? Is it in virtue of my will that I think? No, for always during sleep, and often when I am awake, I have ideas against, or at least without, my will. These ideas, long forgotten, long put away, and banished in the lumber room of my brain, issue from it without any effort or volition of mine, and suddenly present themselves to my memory, which had, perhaps, previously made various vain attempts to recall them.
External objects have not the power of forming ideas in me, for nothing can communicate what it does not possess; I am well assured that they are not given me by myself, for they are produced without my orders. Who then produces them in me? Whence do they come? Whither do they go? Fugitive phantoms! What invisible hand produces and disperses you?
Why, of all the various tribes of animals, has man alone the mad ambition of domineering over his fellow? Why and how could it happen, that out of a thousand millions of men, more than nine hundred and ninety-nine have been sacrificed to this mad ambition?
How is it that reason is a gift so precious that we would none of us lose it for all the pomp or wealth of the world, and yet at the same time that it has merely served to render us, in almost all cases, the most miserable of beings? Whence comes it, that with a passionate attachment to truth, we are always yielding to the most palpable impostures?
Why do the vast tribes of India, deceived and enslaved by the bonzes, trampled upon by the descendant of a Tartar, bowed down by labor, groaning in misery, assailed by diseases, and a mark for all the scourges and plagues of life, still fondly cling to that life? Whence comes evil, and why does it exist?
O atoms of a day! O companions in littleness, born like me to suffer everything, and be ignorant of everything!—are there in reality any among you so completely mad as to imagine you know all this, or that you can solve all these difficulties? Certainly there can be none. No; in the bottom of your heart you feel your own nothingness, as completely as I do justice to mine. But you are nevertheless arrogant and conceited enough to be eager for our embracing your vain systems; and not having the power to tyrannize over our bodies, you aim at becoming the tyrants of our souls.
Imagination is the power which every being, endowed with perception and reason, is conscious he possesses of representing to himself sensible objects. This faculty is dependent upon memory. We see men, animals, gardens, which perceptions are introduced by the senses; the memory retains them, and the imagination compounds them. On this account the ancient Greeks called the muses, “the daughters of memory.”
It is of great importance to observe, that these faculties of receiving ideas, retaining them, and compounding them, are among the many things of which we can give no explanation. These invisible springs of our being are of nature’s workmanship, and not of our own.
Perhaps this gift of God, imagination, is the sole instrument with which we compound ideas, even those which are abstract and metaphysical.
You pronounce the word “triangle;” but you merely utter a sound, if you do not represent to yourself the image of some particular triangle. You certainly have no idea of a triangle but in consequence of having seen triangles, if you have the gift of sight, or of having felt them, if you are blind. You cannot think of a triangle in general, unless your imagination figures to itself, at least in a confused way, some particular triangle. You calculate; but it is necessary that you should represent to yourself units added to each other, or your mind will be totally insensible to the operation of your hand.
You utter the abstract terms—greatness, truth, justice, finite, infinite; but is the term “greatness” thus uttered, anything more or less, than a mere sound, from the action of your tongue, producing vibrations in the air, unless you have the image of some greatness in your mind? What meaning is there in the words “truth” and “falsehood,” if you have not perceived, by means of your senses, that some particular thing which you were told existed, did exist in fact; and that another of which you were told the same, did not exist? And, is it not from this experience, that you frame the general idea of truth and falsehood? And, when asked what you mean by these words, can you help figuring to yourself some sensible image, occasioning you to recollect that you have sometimes been told, as a fact, what really and truly happened, and very often what was not so?
Have you any other notion of just and unjust, than what is derived from particular actions, which appeared to you respectively of these descriptions? You began in your childhood by learning to read under some master: you endeavored to spell well, but you really spelled ill: your master chastised you: this appeared to you very unjust. You have observed a laborer refused his wages, and innumerable instances of the like nature. Is the abstract idea of just and unjust anything more than facts of this character confusedly mixed up in your imagination?
Is “finite” anything else in your conception than the image of some limited quantity or extent? Is “infinite” anything but the image of the same extent or quantity enlarged indefinitely? Do not all these operations take place in your mind just in the same manner as you read a book? You read circumstances and events recorded in it, and never think at the time of the alphabetical characters, without which, however, you would have no notion of these events and circumstances. Attend to this point for a single moment, and then you will distinctly perceive the essential importance of those characters over which your eye previously glided without thinking of them. In the same manner all your reasonings, all your accumulations of knowledge are founded on images traced in your brain. You have, in general, no distinct perception or recollection of them; but give the case only a moment’s attention, and you will then clearly discern, that these images are the foundation of all the notions you possess. It may be worth the reader’s while to dwell a little upon this idea, to extend it, and to rectify it.
The celebrated Addison, in the eleven essays on the imagination with which he has enriched the volumes of the “Spectator,” begins with observing, that “the sense of sight is the only one which furnishes the imagination with ideas.” Yet certainly it must be allowed, that the other senses contribute some share. A man born blind still hears, in his imagination, the harmony which no longer vibrates upon his ear; he still continues listening as in a trance or dream; the objects which have resisted or yielded to his hands produce a similar effect in his head or mind. It is true that the sense of sight alone supplies images; and as it is a kind of touching or feeling which extends even to the distance of the stars, its immense diffusion enriches the imagination more than all the other senses put together.
There are two descriptions of imagination; one consists in retaining a simple impression of objects; the other arranges the images received, and combines them in endless diversity. The first has been called passive imagination, and the second active. The passive scarcely advances beyond memory, and is common to man and to animals. From this power or faculty it arises, that the sportsman and his dog both follow the hunted game in their dreams, that they both hear the sound of the horn, and the one shouts and the other barks in their sleep. Both men and brutes do something more than recollect on these occasions, for dreams are never faithful and accurate images. This species of imagination compounds objects, but it is not the understanding which acts in it; it is the memory laboring under error.
This passive imagination certainly requires no assistance from volition, whether we are asleep or awake; it paints, independently of ourselves, what our eyes have seen; it hears what our ears have heard, and touches what we have touched; it adds to it or takes from it. It is an internal sense, acting necessarily, and accordingly there is nothing more common, in speaking of any particular individual, than to say, “he has no command over his imagination.”
In this respect we cannot but see, and be astonished at the slight share of power we really possess. Whence comes it, that occasionally in dreams we compose most coherent and eloquent discourses, and verses far superior to what we should write on the same subject if perfectly awake?—that we even solve complicated problems in mathematics? Here certainly there are very combined and complex ideas in no degree dependent on ourselves. But if it is incontestable that coherent ideas are formed within us independently of our will in sleep, who can safely assert that they are not produced in the same manner when we are awake? Is there a man living who foresees the idea which he will form in his mind the ensuing minute? Does it not seem as if ideas were given to us as much as the motions of our fibres; and had Father Malebranche merely maintained the principle that all ideas are given by God, could any one have successfully opposed him?
This passive faculty, independent of reflection, is the source of our passions and our errors; far from being dependent on the will, the will is determined by it. It urges us towards the objects which it paints before us, or diverts us from them, just according to the nature of the exhibition thus made of them by it. The image of a danger inspires fear; that of a benefit excites desire. It is this faculty alone which produces the enthusiasm of glory, of party, of fanaticism; it is this which produces so many mental alienations and disorders, making weak brains, when powerfully impressed, conceive that their bodies are metamorphosed into various animals, that they are possessed by demons, that they are under the infernal dominion of witchcraft, and that they are in reality going to unite with sorcerers in the worship of the devil, because they have been told that they were going to do so. This species of slavish imagination, which generally is the lot of ignorant people, has been the instrument which the imagination of some men has employed to acquire and retain power. It is, moreover, this passive imagination of brains easily excited and agitated, which sometimes produces on the bodies of children evident marks of the impression received by the mother; examples of this kind are indeed innumerable, and the writer of this article has seen some so striking that, were he to deny them, he must contradict his own ocular demonstration. This effect of imagination is incapable of being explained; but every other operation of nature is equally so; we have no clearer idea how we have perceptions, how we retain them, or how we combine them. There is an infinity between us and the springs or first principles of our nature.
Active imagination is that which joins combination and reflection to memory. It brings near to us many objects at a distance; it separates those mixed together, compounds them, and changes them; it seems to create, while in fact it merely arranges; for it has not been given to man to make ideas—he is only able to modify them.
This active imagination then is in reality a faculty as independent of ourselves as passive imagination; and one proof of its not depending upon ourselves is that, if we propose to a hundred persons, equally ignorant, to imagine a certain new machine, ninety-nine of them will form no imagination at all about it, notwithstanding all their endeavors. If the hundredth imagines something, is it not clear that it is a particular gift or talent which he has received? It is this gift which is called “genius”; it is in this that we recognize something inspired and divine.
This gift of nature is an imagination inventive in the arts—in the disposition of a picture, in the structure of a poem. It cannot exist without memory, but it uses memory as an instrument with which it produces all its performances.
In consequence of having seen that a large stone which the hand of man could not move, might be moved by means of a staff, active imagination invented levers, and afterwards compound moving forces, which are no other than disguised levers. It is necessary to figure in the mind the machines with their various effects and processes, in order to the actual production of them.
It is not this description of imagination that is called by the vulgar the enemy of judgment. On the contrary, it can only act in union with profound judgment; it incessantly combines its pictures, corrects its errors, and raises all its edifices according to calculation and upon a plan. There is an astonishing imagination in practical mathematics; and Archimedes had at least as much imagination as Homer. It is by this power that a poet creates his personages, appropriates to them characters and manners, invents his fable, presents the exposition of it, constructs its complexity, and prepares its development; a labor, all this, requiring judgment the most profound and the most delicately discriminative.
A very high degree of art is necessary in all these imaginative inventions, and even in romances. Those which are deficient in this quality are neglected and despised by all minds of natural good taste. An invariably sound judgment pervades all the fables of Æsop. They will never cease to be the delight of mankind. There is more imagination in the “Fairy Tales”; but these fantastic imaginations, destitute of order and good sense, can never be in high esteem; they are read childishly, and must be condemned by reason.
The second part of active imagination is that of detail, and it is this to which the world distinguishingly applies the term. It is this which constitutes the charm of conversation, for it is constantly presenting to the mind what mankind are most fond of—new objects. It paints in vivid colors what men of cold and reserved temperament hardly sketch; it employs the most striking circumstances; it cites the most appropriate examples; and when this talent displays itself in union with the modesty and simplicity which become and adorn all talents, it conciliates to itself an empire over society. Man is so completely a machine that wine sometimes produces this imagination, as intoxication destroys it. This is a topic to excite at once humiliation and wonder. How can it happen that a small quantity of a certain liquor, which would prevent a man from effecting an important calculation, shall at the same time bestow on him the most brilliant ideas?
It is in poetry particularly that this imagination of detail and expression ought to prevail. It is always agreeable, but there it is necessary. In Homer, Virgil, and Horace, almost all is imagery, without even the reader’s perceiving it. Tragedy requires fewer images, fewer picturesque expressions and sublime metaphors and allegories than the epic poem and the ode; but the greater part of these beauties, under discreet and able management, produce an admirable effect in tragedy; they should never, however, be forced, stilted, or gigantic.
Active imagination, which constitutes men poets, confers on them enthusiasm, according to the true meaning of the Greek word, that internal emotion which in reality agitates the mind and transforms the author into the personage whom he introduces as the speaker; for such is the true enthusiasm, which consists in emotion and imagery. An author under this influence says precisely what would be said by the character he is exhibiting.
Less imagination is admissible in eloquence than in poetry. The reason is obvious—ordinary discourse should be less remote from common ideas. The orator speaks the language of all; the foundation of the poet’s performance is fiction. Accordingly, imagination is the essence of his art; to the orator it is only an accessory.
Particular traits or touches of imagination have, it is observed, added great beauties to painting. That artifice especially is often cited, by which the artist covers with a veil the head of Agamemnon at the sacrifice of Iphigenia; an expedient, nevertheless, far less beautiful than if the painter had possessed the secret of exhibiting in the countenance of Agamemnon the conflict between the grief of a father, the majesty of a monarch, and the resignation of a good man to the will of heaven; as Rubens had the skill to paint in the looks and attitude of Mary de Medici the pain of childbirth, the joy of being delivered of a son, and the maternal affection with which she looks upon her child.
In general, the imaginations of painters when they are merely ingenious, contribute more to exhibit the learning in the artist than to increase the beauty of the art. All the allegorical compositions in the world are not worth the masterly execution and fine finish which constitute the true value of paintings.
In all the arts, the most beautiful imagination is always the most natural. The false is that which brings together objects incompatible; the extravagant paints objects which have no analogy, allegory, or resemblance. A strong imagination explores everything to the bottom; a weak one skims over the surface; the placid one reposes in agreeable pictures; the ardent one piles images upon images. The judicious or sage imagination is that which employs with discrimination all these different characters, but which rarely admits the extravagant and always rejects the false.
If memory nourished and exercised be the source of all imagination, that same faculty of memory, when overcharged, becomes the extinction of it. Accordingly, the man whose head is full of names and dates does not possess that storehouse of materials from which he can derive compound images. Men occupied in calculation, or with intricate matters of business, have generally a very barren imagination.
When imagination is remarkably stirring and ardent, it may easily degenerate into madness; but it has been observed that this morbid affection of the organs of the brain more frequently attaches to those passive imaginations which are limited to receiving strong impressions of objects than to those fervid and active ones which collect and combine ideas; for this active imagination always requires the association of judgment, the other is independent of it.
It is not perhaps useless to add to this essay, that by the words perception, memory, imagination, and judgment, we do not mean distinct and separate organs, one of which has the gift of perceiving, another of recollecting, the third of imagining, and the last of judging. Men are more inclined, than some are aware, to consider these as completely distinct and separate faculties. It is, however, one and the same being that performs all these operations, which we know only by their effects, without being able to know anything of that being itself.
Brutes possess imagination as well as ourselves; your dog, for example, hunts in his dreams. “Objects are painted in the fancy,” says Descartes, as others have also said. Certainly they are; but what is the fancy, and how are objects painted in it? Is it with “the subtle matter”? “How can I tell” is the appropriate answer to all questions thus affecting the first principles of human organization.
Nothing enters the understanding without an image. It was necessary, in order to our obtaining the confused idea we possess of infinite space, that we should have an idea of a space of a few feet. It is necessary, in order to our having the idea of God, that the image of something more powerful than ourselves should have long dwelt upon our minds.
We do not create a single idea or image. I defy you to create one. Ariosto did not make Astolpho travel to the moon till long after he had heard of the moon, of St. John, and of the Paladins.
We make no images; we only collect and combine them. The extravagances of the “Thousand and One Nights” and the “Fairy Tales” are merely combinations. He who comprises most images in the storehouse of his memory is the person who possesses most imagination.
The difficulty is in not bringing together these images in profusion, without any selection. You might employ a whole day in representing, without any toilsome effort, and almost without any attention, a fine old man with a long beard, clothed in ample drapery, and borne in the midst of a cloud resting on chubby children with beautiful wings attached to their shoulders, or upon an eagle of immense size and grandeur; all the gods and animals surrounding him; golden tripods running to arrive at his council; wheels revolving by their own self-motion, advancing as they revolve; having four faces covered with eyes, ears, tongues, and noses; and between these tripods and wheels an immense multitude of dead resuscitated by the crash of thunder; the celestial spheres dancing and joining in harmonious concert, etc. The lunatic asylum abounds in such imaginations.
We may, in dealing with the subject of imagination distinguish:
1. The imagination which disposes of the events of a poem, romance, tragedy, or comedy, and which attaches the characters and passions to the different personages. This requires the profoundest judgment and the most exquisite knowledge of the human heart; talents absolutely indispensable; but with which, however, nothing has yet been done but merely laying the foundation of the edifice.
2. The imagination which gives to all these personages the eloquence or diction appropriate to their rank, suitable to their station. Here is the great art and difficulty; but even after doing this they have not done enough.
3. The imagination in the expression, by which every word paints an image in the mind without astonishing or overwhelming it; as in Virgil:
Virgil is full of these picturesque expressions, with which he enriches the Latin language, and which are so difficult to be translated into our European jargons—the crooked and lame offspring of a well-formed and majestic sire, but which, however, have some merit of their own, and have done some tolerably good things in their way.
There is an astonishing imagination, even in the science of mathematics. An inventor must begin with painting correctly in his mind the figure, the machine invented by him, and its properties or effects. We repeat there was far more imagination in the head of Archimedes than in that of Homer.
As the imagination of a great mathematician must possess extreme precision, so must that of a great poet be exceedingly correct and chaste. He must never present images that are incompatible with each other, incoherent, highly exaggerated, or unsuitable to the nature of the subject.
The great fault of some writers who have appeared since the age of Louis XIV. is attempting a constant display of imagination, and fatiguing the reader by the profuse abundance of far-fetched images and double rhymes, one-half of which may be pronounced absolutely useless. It is this which at length brought into neglect and obscurity a number of small poems, such as “Ver Vert,” “The Chartreuse,” and “The Shades,” which at one period possessed considerable celebrity. Mere sounding superfluity soon finds oblivion.
The active and the passive imagination have been distinguished in the “Encyclopædia.” The active is that of which we have treated. It is the talent of forming new pictures out of all those contained in our memory.
The passive is scarcely anything beyond memory itself, even in a brain under strong emotion. A man of an active and fervid imagination, a preacher of the League in France, or a Puritan in England, harangues the populace with a voice of thunder, with an eye of fire, and the gesture of a demoniac, and represents Jesus Christ as demanding justice of the Eternal Father for the new wounds he has received from the royalists, for the nails which have been driven for the second time through his feet and hands by these impious miscreants. Avenge, O God the Father, avenge the blood of God the Son; march under the banner of the Holy Spirit; it was formerly a dove, but is now an eagle bearing thunder! The passive imaginations, roused and stimulated by these images, by the voice, by the action of those sanguinary empirics, urge the maddened hearers to rush with fury from the chapel or meeting house, to kill their opponents and get themselves hanged.
Persons of passive imaginations, for the sake of high and violent excitement, go sometimes to the sermon and sometimes to the play; sometimes to the place of execution; and sometimes even to what they suppose to be the midnight and appalling meetings of presumed sorcerers.
Who is the impious man? It is he who exhibits the Being of Beings, the great former of the world, the eternal intelligence by whom all nature is governed, with a long white beard, and having hands and feet. However, he is pardonable for his impiety—a weak and ignorant creature, the sight or conduct of whom we ought not to allow to provoke or to vex us.
If he should even paint that great and incomprehensible Being as carried on a cloud, which can carry nothing; if he is so stupid as to place God in a mist, in rain, or on a mountain, and to surround him with little round, chubby, painted faces, accompanied by two wings, I can smile and pardon him with all my heart.
The impious man, who ascribes to the Being of Beings absurd predictions and absolute iniquities, would certainly provoke me, if that Great Being had not bestowed upon me the gift of reason to control my anger. This senseless fanatic repeats to me once more what thousands of others have said before him, that it is not our province to decide what is reasonable and just in the Great Being; that His reason is not like our reason, nor His justice like our justice. What then, my rather too absurd and zealous friend, would you really wish me to judge of justice and reason by any other notions than I have of them myself? Would you have me walk otherwise than with my feet, or speak otherwise than with my mouth?
The impious man, who supposes the Great Being to be jealous, proud, malignant, and vindictive, is more dangerous. I would not sleep under the same roof with such a man.
But how will you treat the impious man, the daring blasphemer, who says to you: “See only with my eyes; do not think for yourself; I proclaim to you a tyrant God, who ordained me to be your tyrant; I am His well-beloved; He will torment to all eternity millions of His creatures, whom He detests, for the sake of gratifying me; I will be your master in this world and will laugh at your torments in the next!”
Do you not feel a very strong inclination to beat this cruel blasphemer? And, even if you happen to be born with a meek and forgiving spirit, would you not fly with the utmost speed to the West, when this barbarian utters his atrocious reveries in the East?
With respect to another and very different class of the impious—those who, while washing their elbows, neglect to turn their faces towards Aleppo and Erivan, or who do not kneel down in the dirt on seeing a procession of capuchin friars at Perpignan, they are certainly culpable; but I hardly think they ought to be impaled.
So many philosophical works have been written on the nature of impost, that we need say very little about it here. It is true that nothing is less philosophical than this subject; but it may enter into moral philosophy by representing to a superintendent of finances or to a Turkish teftardar that it accords not with universal morals to take his neighbor’s money; and that all receivers and custom-house officers and collectors of taxes are cursed in the gospel.
Cursed as they are, it must, however, be agreed that it is impossible for society to subsist unless each member pays something towards the expenses of it; and as, since every one ought to pay, it is necessary to have a receiver, we do not see why this receiver is to be cursed and regarded as an idolater. There is certainly no idolatry in receiving money of guests to-day for their supper.
In republics, and states which with the name of kingdoms are really republics, every individual is taxed according to his means and to the wants of society.
In despotic kingdoms—or to speak more politely—in monarchical states, it is not quite the same—the nation is taxed without consulting it. An agriculturist who has twelve hundred livres of revenue is quite astonished when four hundred are demanded of him. There are several who are even obliged to pay more than half of what they receive.
The cultivator demands why the half of his fortune is taken from him to pay soldiers, when the hundredth part would suffice. He is answered that, besides the soldiers, he must pay for luxury and the arts; that nothing is lost; and that in Persia towns and villages are assigned to the queen to pay for her girdles, slippers, and pins.
He replies that he knows nothing of the history of Persia, and that he should be very indignant if half his fortune were taken for girdles, pins, and shoes; that he would furnish them from a better market, and that he endures a grievous imposition.
He is made to hear reason by being put into a dungeon, and having his goods put up to sale. If he resists the tax-collectors whom the New Testament has damned, he is hanged, which renders all his neighbors infinitely accommodating.
Were this money employed by the sovereign in importing spices from India, coffee from Mocha, English and Arabian horses, silks from the Levant, and gew-gaws from China, it is clear that in a few years there would not remain a single sous in the kingdom. The taxes, therefore, serve to maintain the manufacturers; and so far what is poured into the coffers of the prince returns to the cultivators. They suffer, they complain, and other parts of the state suffer and complain also; but at the end of the year they find that every one has labored and lived some way or other.
If by chance a clown goes to the capital, he sees with astonishment a fine lady dressed in a gown of silk embroidered with gold, drawn in a magnificent carriage by two valuable horses, and followed by four lackeys dressed in a cloth of twenty francs an ell. He addresses himself to one of these lackeys, and says to him: “Sir, where does this lady get money to make such an expensive appearance?” “My friend,” says the lackey, “the king allows her a pension of forty thousand livres.” “Alas,” says the rustic, “it is my village which pays this pension.” “Yes,” answers the servant; “but the silk that you have gathered and sold has made the stuff in which she is dressed; my cloth is a part of thy sheep’s wool; my baker has made my bread of thy corn; thou hast sold at market the very fowls that we eat; thus thou seest that the pension of madame returns to thee and thy comrades.”
The peasant does not absolutely agree with the axioms of this philosophical lackey; but one proof that there is something true in his answer is that the village exists, and produces children who also complain, and who bring forth children again to complain.
If we were obliged to read all the edicts of taxation, and all the books written against them, that would be the greatest tax of all.
We well know that taxes are necessary, and that the malediction pronounced in the gospel only regards those who abuse their employment to harass the people. Perhaps the copyist forgot a word, as for instance the epithet pravus. It might have meant pravus publicanus; this word was much more necessary, as the general malediction is a formal contradiction to the words put into the mouth of Jesus Christ: “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s.” Certainly those who collected the dues of Cæsar ought not to have been held in horror. It would have been, at once, insulting the order of Roman Knights and the emperor himself; nothing could have been more ill-advised.
In all civilized countries the imposts are great, because the charges of the state are heavy. In Spain the articles of commerce sent to Cadiz, and thence to America, pay more than thirty per cent. before their transit is accomplished.
In England all duty upon importation is very considerable; however, it is paid without murmuring; there is even a pride in paying it. A merchant boasts of putting four or five thousand guineas a year into the public treasury. The richer a country is, the heavier are the taxes. Speculators would have taxes fall on landed productions only. What! having sown a field of flax, which will bring me two hundred crowns, by which flax a great manufacturer will gain two hundred thousand crowns by converting it into lace—must this manufacturer pay nothing, and shall I pay all, because it is produced by my land? The wife of this manufacturer will furnish the queen and princesses with fine point of Alençon, she will be patronized; her son will become intendant of justice, police, and finance, and will augment my taxes in my miserable old age. Ah! gentlemen speculators, you calculate badly; you are unjust.
The great point is that an entire people be not despoiled by an army of alguazils, in order that a score of town or court leeches may feast upon its blood.
The Duke de Sully relates, in his “Political Economy,” that in 1585 there were just twenty lords interested in the leases of farms, to whom the highest bidders gave three million two hundred and forty-eight thousand crowns.
It was still worse under Charles IX., and Francis I., and Louis XIII. There was not less depredation in the minority of Louis XIV. France, notwithstanding so many wounds, is still in being. Yes; but if it had not received them it would have been in better health. It was thus with several other states.
It is just that those who enjoy the advantages of a government should support the charges. The ecclesiastics and monks, who possess great property, for this reason should contribute to the taxes in all countries, like other citizens. In the times which we call barbarous, great benefices and abbeys were taxed in France to the third of their revenue.
By a statute of the year 1188, Philip Augustus imposed a tenth of the revenues of all benefices. Philip le Bel caused the fifth, afterwards the fifteenth, and finally the twentieth part, to be paid, of all the possessions of the clergy.
King John, by a statute of March 12, 1355, taxed bishops, abbots, chapters, and all ecclesiastics generally, to the tenth of the revenue of their benefices and patrimonies. The same prince confirmed this tax by two other statutes, one of March 3, the other of Dec. 28, 1358.
In the letters-patent of Charles V., of June 22, 1372, it is decreed, that the churchmen shall pay taxes and other real and personal imposts. These letters-patent were renewed by Charles VI. in the year 1390.
How is it that these laws have been abolished, while so many monstrous customs and sanguinary decrees have been preserved? The clergy, indeed, pay a tax under the name of a free gift, and, as it is known, it is principally the poorest and most useful part of the church—the curates (rectors)—who pay this tax. But, why this difference and inequality of contributions between the citizens of the same state? Why do those who enjoy the greatest prerogatives, and who are sometimes useless to the public, pay less than the laborer, who is so necessary? The Republic of Venice supplies rules on this subject, which should serve as examples to all Europe.
Churchmen have not only pretended to be exempt from taxes, they have found the means in several provinces to tax the people, and make them pay as a legitimate right.
In several countries, monks having seized the tithes to the prejudice of the rectors, the peasants are obliged to tax themselves, to furnish their pastors with subsistence; and thus in several villages, and above all, in Franche-Comté, besides the tithes which the parishioners pay to the monks or to chapters, they further pay three or four measures of corn to their curates or rectors. This tax was called the right of harvest in some provinces, and boisselage in others.
It is no doubt right that curates should be well paid, but it would be much better to give them a part of the tithes which the monks have taken from them, than to overcharge the poor cultivator.
Since the king of France fixed the competent allowances for the curates, by his edict of the month of May, 1768, and charged the tithe-collectors with paying them, the peasants should no longer be held to pay a second tithe, a tax to which they only voluntarily submitted at a time when the influence and violence of the monks had taken from their pastors all means of subsistence.
The king has abolished this second tithe in Poitou, by letters-patent, registered by the Parliament of Paris July 11, 1769. It would be well worthy of the justice and beneficence of his majesty to make a similar law for other provinces, which are in the same situation as those of Poitou, Franche-Comté, etc.
I commence by this question, in favor of the impotent—“frigidi et maleficiati,” as they are denominated in the decretals: Is there a physician, or experienced person of any description, who can be certain that a well-formed young man, who has had no children by his wife, may not have them some day or other? Nature may know, but men can tell nothing about it. Since, then, it is impossible to decide that the marriage may not be consummated some time or other, why dissolve it?
Among the Romans, on the suspicion of impotence, a delay of two years was allowed, and in the Novels of Justinian three are required; but if in three years nature may bestow capability, she may equally do so in seven, ten, or twenty.
Those called “maleficiati” by the ancients were often considered bewitched. These charms were very ancient, and as there were some to take away virility, so there were others to restore it; both of which are alluded to in Petronius.
This illusion lasted a long time among us, who exorcised instead of disenchanting; and when exorcism succeeded not, the marriage was dissolved.
The canon law made a great question of impotence. Might a man who was prevented by sorcery from consummating his marriage, after being divorced and having children by a second wife—might such man, on the death of the latter wife, reject the first, should she lay claim to him? All the great canonists decided in the negative—Alexander de Nevo, Andrew Alberic, Turrecremata, Soto, and fifty more.
It is impossible to help admiring the sagacity displayed by the canonists, and above all by the religious of irreproachable manners in their development of the mysteries of sexual intercourse. There is no singularity, however strange, on which they have not treated. They have discussed at length all the cases in which capability may exist at one time or situation, and impotence in another. They have inquired into all the imaginary inventions to assist nature; and with the avowed object of distinguishing that which is allowable from that which is not, have exposed all which ought to remain veiled. It might be said of them: “Nox nocti indicat scientiam.”
Above all, Sanchez has distinguished himself in collecting cases of conscience which the boldest wife would hesitate to submit to the most prudent of matrons. One query leads to another in almost endless succession, until at length a question of the most direct and extraordinary nature is put, as to the manner of the communication of the Holy Ghost with the Virgin Mary.
These extraordinary researches were never made by anybody in the world except theologians; and suits in relation to impotency were unknown until the days of Theodosius.
In the Gospel, divorce is spoken of as allowable for adultery alone. The Jewish law permitted a husband to repudiate a wife who displeased him, without specifying the cause. “If she found no favor in his eyes, that was sufficient.” It is the law of the strongest, and exhibits human nature in its most barbarous garb. The Jewish laws treat not of impotence; it would appear, says a casuist, that God would not permit impotency to exist among a people who were to multiply like the sands on the seashore, and to whom he had sworn to bestow the immense country which lies between the Nile and Euphrates, and, by his prophets, to make lords of the whole earth. To fulfil these divine promises, it was necessary that every honest Jew should be occupied without ceasing in the great work of propagation. There was certainly a curse upon impotency; the time not having then arrived for the devout to make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.
Marriage in the course of time having arrived at the dignity of a sacrament and a mystery, the ecclesiastics insensibly became judges of all which took place between husband and wife, and not only so, but of all which did not take place.
Wives possessed the liberty of presenting a request to be embesognées—such being our Gallic term, although the causes were carried on in Latin. Clerks pleaded and priests pronounced judgment, and the process was uniformly to decide two points—whether the man was bewitched, or the woman wanted another husband.
What appears most extraordinary is that all the canonists agree that a husband whom a spell or charm has rendered impotent, cannot in conscience apply to other charms or magicians to destroy it. This resembles the reasoning of the regularly admitted surgeons, who having the exclusive privilege of spreading a plaster, assure us that we shall certainly die if we allow ourselves to be cured by the hand which has hurt us. It might have been as well in the first place to inquire whether a sorcerer can really operate upon the virility of another man. It may be added that many weak-minded persons feared the sorcerer more than they confided in the exorcist. The sorcerer having deranged nature, holy water alone would not restore it.
In the cases of impotency in which the devil took no part, the presiding ecclesiastics were not less embarrassed. We have, in the Decretals, the famous head “De frigidis et maleficiatis,” which is very curious, but altogether uninforming. The political use made of it is exemplified in the case of Henry IV. of Castile, who was declared impotent, while surrounded by mistresses, and possessed of a wife by whom he had an heiress to the throne; but it was an archbishop of Toledo who pronounced this sentence, not the pope.
Alfonso, king of Portugal, was treated in the same manner, in the middle of the seventeenth century. This prince was known chiefly by his ferocity, debauchery, and prodigious strength of body. His brutal excesses disgusted the nation; and the queen, his wife, a princess of Nemours, being desirous of dethroning him, and marrying the infant Don Pedro his brother, was aware of the difficulty of wedding two brothers in succession, after the known circumstance of consummation with the elder. The example of Henry VIII. of England intimidated her, and she embraced the resolution of causing her husband to be declared impotent by the chapter of the cathedral of Lisbon; after which she hastened to marry his brother, without even waiting for the dispensation of the pope.
The most important proof of capability required from persons accused of impotency, is that called “the congress.” The President Bouhier says, that this combat in an enclosed field was adopted in France in the fourteenth century. And he asserts that it is known in France only.
This proof, about which so much noise has been made, was not conducted precisely as people have imagined. It has been supposed that a conjugal consummation took place under the inspection of physicians, surgeons, and midwives, but such was not the fact. The parties went to bed in the usual manner, and at a proper time the inspectors, who were assembled in the next room, were called on to pronounce upon the case.
In the famous process of the Marquis de Langeais, decided in 1659, he demanded “the congress”; and owing to the management of his lady (Marie de St. Simon) did not succeed. He demanded a second trial, but the judges, fatigued with the clamors of the superstitious, the plaints of the prudes, and the raillery of the wits, refused it. They declared the marquis impotent, his marriage void, forbade him to marry again, and allowed his wife to take another husband. The marquis, however, disregarded this sentence, and married Diana de Navailles, by whom he had seven children!
His first wife being dead, the marquis appealed to the grand chamberlain against the sentence which had declared him impotent, and charged him with the costs. The grand chamberlain, sensible of the ridicule applicable to the whole affair, confirmed his marriage with Diana de Navailles, declared him most potent, refused him the costs, but abolished the ceremony of the congress altogether.
The President Bouhier published a defence of the proof by congress, when it was no longer in use. He maintained, that the judges would not have committed the error of abolishing it, had they not been guilty of the previous error of refusing the marquis a second trial.
But if the congress may prove indecisive, how much more uncertain are the various other examinations had recourse to in cases of alleged impotency? Ought not the whole of them to be adjourned, as in Athens, for a hundred years? These causes are shameful to wives, ridiculous for husbands, and unworthy of the tribunals, and it would be better not to allow them at all. Yes, it may be said, but, in that case, marriage would not insure issue. A great misfortune, truly, while Europe contains three hundred thousand monks and eighty thousand nuns, who voluntarily abstain from propagating their kind.
The domains of the Roman emperors were anciently inalienable—it was the sacred domain. The barbarians came and rendered it altogether inalienable. The same thing happened to the imperial Greek domain.
After the re-establishment of the Roman Empire in Germany, the sacred domain was declared inalienable by the priests, although there remains not at present a crown’s worth of territory to alienate.
All the kings of Europe, who affect to imitate the emperors, have had their inalienable domain. Francis I., having effected his liberty by the cession of Burgundy, could find no other expedient to preserve it, than a state declaration, that Burgundy was inalienable; and was so fortunate as to violate both his honor and the treaty with impunity. According to this jurisprudence, every king may acquire the dominions of another, while incapable of losing any of his own. So that, in the end, each would be possessed of the property of somebody else. The kings of France and England possess very little special domain: their genuine and more effective domain is the purses of their subjects.
“The Tartars,” says the “Spirit of Laws,” “who may legally wed their daughters, never espouse their mothers.”
It is not known of what Tartars our author speaks, who cites too much at random: we know not at present of any people, from the Crimea to the frontiers of China, who are in the habit of espousing their daughters. Moreover, if it be allowed for the father to marry his daughter, why may not a son wed his mother?
Montesquieu cites an author named Priscus Panetes, a sophist who lived in the time of Attila. This author says that Attila married with his daughter Esca, according to the manner of the Scythians. This Priscus has never been printed, but remains in manuscript in the library of the Vatican; and Jornandes alone makes mention of it. It is not allowable to quote the legislation of a people on such authority. No one knows this Esca, or ever heard of her marriage with her father Attila.
I confess I have never believed that the Persians espoused their daughters, although in the time of the Cæsars the Romans accused them of it, to render them odious. It might be that some Persian prince committed incest, and the turpitude of an individual was imputed to the whole nation.
I believe that the ancient Persians were permitted to marry with their sisters, just as much as I believe it of the Athenians, the Egyptians, and even of the Jews. From the above it might be concluded, that it was common for children to marry with their fathers or mothers; whereas even the marriage of cousins is forbidden among the Guebers at this day, who are held to maintain the doctrines of their forefathers as scrupulously as the Jews.
You will tell me that everything is contradictory in this world; that it was forbidden by the Jewish law to marry two sisters, which was deemed a very indecent act, and yet Jacob married Rachel during the life of her elder sister Leah; and that this Rachel is evidently a type of the Roman Catholic and apostolic church. You are doubtless right, but that prevents not an individual who sleeps with two sisters in Europe from being grievously censured. As to powerful and dignified princes, they may take the sisters of their wives for the good of their states, and even their own sisters by the same father and mother, if they think proper.
It is a far worse affair to have a commerce with a gossip or godmother, which was deemed an unpardonable offence by the capitularies of Charlemagne, being called a spiritual incest.
One Andovere, who is called queen of France, because she was the wife of a certain Chilperic, who reigned over Soissons, was stigmatized by ecclesiastical justice, censured, degraded, and divorced, for having borne her own child to the baptismal font. It was a mortal sin, a sacrilege, a spiritual incest; and she thereby forfeited her marriage-bed and crown. This apparently contradicts what I have just observed, that everything in the way of love is permitted to the great, but then I spoke of present times, and not of those of Andovere.
As to carnal incest, read the advocate Voglan, who would absolutely have any two cousins burned who fall into a weakness of this kind. The advocate Voglan is rigorous—the unmerciful Celt.
Have there ever been incubi and succubi? Our learned juriconsults and demonologists admit both the one and the other.
It is pretended that Satan, always on the alert, inspires young ladies and gentlemen with heated dreams, and by a sort of double process produces extraordinary consequences, which in point of fact led to the birth of so many heroes and demigods in ancient times.
The devil took a great deal of superfluous trouble: he had only to leave the young people alone, and the world will be sufficiently supplied with heroes without any assistance from him.
An idea may be formed of incubi by the explanation of the great Delrio, of Boguets, and other writers learned in sorcery; but they fail in their account of succubi. A female might pretend to believe that she had communicated with and was pregnant by a god, the explication of Delrio being very favorable to the assumption. The devil in this case acts the part of an incubus, but his performances as a succubus are more inconceivable. The gods and goddesses of antiquity acted much more nobly and decorously; Jupiter in person, was the incubus of Alcmena and Semele; Thetis in person, the succubus of Peleus, and Venus of Anchises, without having recourse to the various contrivances of our extraordinary demonism.
Let us simply observe, that the gods frequently disguised themselves, in their pursuit of our girls, sometimes as an eagle, sometimes as a pigeon, a swan, a horse, a shower of gold; but the goddesses assumed no disguise: they had only to show themselves, to please. It must however be presumed, that whatever shapes the gods assumed to steal a march, they consummated their loves in the form of men.
As to the new manner of rendering girls pregnant by the ministry of the devil, it is not to be doubted, for the Sorbonne decided the point in the year 1318.
“Per tales artes et ritus impios et invocationes et demonum, nullus unquam sequatur effectus ministerio demonum, error.”—“It is an error to believe, that these magic arts and invocations of the devils are without effect.”
This decision has never been revoked. Thus we are bound to believe in succubi and incubi, because our teachers have always believed in them.
There have been many other sages in this science, as well as the Sorbonne. Bodin, in his book concerning sorcerers, dedicated to Christopher de Thou, first president of the Parliament of Paris, relates that John Hervilier, a native of Verberie, was condemned by that parliament to be burned alive for having prostituted his daughter to the devil, a great black man, whose caresses were attended with a sensation of cold which appears to be very uncongenial to his nature; but our jurisprudence has always admitted the fact, and the prodigious number of sorcerers which it has burned in consequence will always remain a proof of its accuracy.
The celebrated Picus of Mirandola—a prince never lies—says he knew an old man of the age of eighty years who had slept half his life with a female devil, and another of seventy who enjoyed a similar felicity. Both were buried at Rome, but nothing is said of the fate of their children. Thus is the existence of incubi and succubi demonstrated.
It is impossible, at least, to prove to the contrary; for if we are called on to believe that devils can enter our bodies, who can prevent them from taking kindred liberties with our wives and our daughters? And if there be demons, there are probably demonesses; for to be consistent, if the demons beget children on our females, it must follow that we effect the same thing on the demonesses. Never has there been a more universal empire than that of the devil. What has dethroned him? Reason.
Who will give me a clear idea of infinity? I have never had an idea of it which was not excessively confused—possibly because I am a finite being.
What is that which is eternally going on without advancing—always reckoning without a sum total—dividing eternally without arriving at an indivisible particle?
It might seem as if the notion of infinity formed the bottom of the bucket of the Danaïdes. Nevertheless, it is impossible that infinity should not exist. An infinite duration is demonstrable.
The commencement of existence is absurd; for nothing cannot originate something. When an atom exists we must necessarily conclude that it has existed from all eternity; and hence an infinite duration rigorously demonstrated. But what is an infinite past?—an infinitude which I arrest in imagination whenever I please. Behold! I exclaim, an infinity passed away; let us proceed to another. I distinguish between two eternities, the one before, the other behind me.
When, however, I reflect upon my words, I perceive that I have absurdly pronounced the words: “one eternity has passed away, and I am entering into another.” For at the moment that I thus talk, eternity endures, and the tide of time flows. Duration is not separable; and as something has ever been, something must ever be.
The infinite in duration, then, is linked to an uninterrupted chain. This infinite perpetuates itself, even at the instant that I say it has passed. Time begins and ends with me, but duration is infinite. The infinite is here quickly formed without, however, our possession of the ability to form a clear notion of it.
We are told of infinite space—what is space? Is it a being, or nothing at all? If it is a being, what is its nature? You cannot tell me. If it is nothing, nothing can have no quality; yet you tell me that it is penetrable and immense. I am so embarrassed, I cannot correctly call it either something or nothing.
In the meantime, I know not of anything which possesses more properties than a void. For if passing the confines of this globe, we are able to walk amidst this void, and thatch and build there when we possess materials for the purpose, this void or nothing is not opposed to whatever we might choose to do; for having no property it cannot hinder any; moreover, since it cannot hinder, neither can it serve us.
It is pretended that God created the world amidst nothing, and from nothing. That is abstruse; it is preferable to think that there is an infinite space; but we are curious—and if there be infinite space, our faculties cannot fathom the nature of it. We call it immense, because we cannot measure it; but what then? We have only pronounced words.
Of the Infinite in Number.
We have adroitly defined the infinite in arithmetic by a love-knot, in this manner ∞; but we possess not therefore a clearer notion of it. This infinity is not like the others, a powerlessness of reaching a termination. We call the infinite in quantity any number soever, which surpasses the utmost number we are able to imagine.
When we seek the infinitely small, we divide, and call that infinitely small which is less than the least assignable quantity. It is only another name for incapacity.
Is Matter Infinitely Divisible?
This question brings us back again precisely to our inability of finding the remotest number. In thought we are able to divide a grain of sand, but in imagination only; and the incapacity of eternally dividing this grain is called infinity.
It is true, that matter is not always practically divisible, and if the last atom could be divided into two, it would no longer be the least; or if the least, it would not be divisible; or if divisible, what is the germ or origin of things? These are all abstruse queries.
Of the Universe.
Is the universe bounded—is its extent immense—are the suns and planets without number? What advantage has the space which contains suns and planets, over the space which is void of them? Whether space be an existence or not, what is the space which we occupy, preferable to other space?
If our material heaven be not infinite, it is but a point in general extent. If it is infinite, it is an infinity to which something can always be added by the imagination.
Of the Infinite in Geometry.
We admit, in geometry, not only infinite magnitudes, that is to say, magnitudes greater than any assignable magnitude, but infinite magnitudes infinitely greater, the one than the other. This astonishes our dimension of brains, which is only about six inches long, five broad, and six in depth, in the largest heads. It means, however, nothing more than that a square larger than any assignable square, surpasses a line larger than any assignable line, and bears no proportion to it.
It is a mode of operating, a mode of working geometrically, and the word infinite is a mere symbol.
Of Infinite Power, Wisdom, Goodness.
In the same manner, as we cannot form any positive idea of the infinite in duration, number, and extension, are we unable to form one in respect to physical and moral power.
We can easily conceive, that a powerful being has modified matter, caused worlds to circulate in space, and formed animals, vegetables, and metals. We are led to this idea by the perception of the want of power on the part of these beings to form themselves. We are also forced to allow, that the Great Being exists eternally by His own power, since He cannot have sprung from nothing; but we discover not so easily His infinity in magnitude, power, and moral attributes.
How are we to conceive infinite extent in a being called simple? and if he be uncompounded, what notions can we form of a simple being? We know God by His works, but we cannot understand Him by His Nature. If it is evident that we cannot understand His nature, is it not equally so, that we must remain ignorant of His attributes?
When we say that His power is infinite, do we mean anything more than that it is very great? Aware of the existence of pyramids of the height of six hundred feet, we can conceive them of the altitude of 600,000 feet.
Nothing can limit the power of the Eternal Being existing necessarily of Himself. Agreed: no antagonists circumscribe Him; but how convince me that He is not circumscribed by His own nature? Has all that has been said on this great subject been demonstrated?
We speak of His moral attributes, but we only judge of them by our own; and it is impossible to do otherwise. We attribute to Him justice, goodness, etc., only from the ideas we collect from the small degree of justice and goodness existing among ourselves. But, in fact, what connection is there between our qualities so uncertain and variable, and those of the Supreme Being?
Our idea of justice is only that of not allowing our own interest to usurp over the interest of another. The bread which a wife has kneaded out of the flour produced from the wheat which her husband has sown, belongs to her. A hungry savage snatches away her bread, and the woman exclaims against such enormous injustice. The savage quietly answers that nothing is more just, and that it was not for him and his family to expire of famine for the sake of an old woman.
At all events, the infinite justice we attribute to God can but little resemble the contradictory notions of justice of this woman and this savage; and yet, when we say that God is just, we only pronounce these words agreeably to our own ideas of justice.
We know of nothing belonging to virtue more agreeable than frankness and cordiality, but to attribute infinite frankness and cordiality to God would amount to an absurdity.
We have such confused notions of the attributes of the Supreme Being, that some schools endow Him with prescience, an infinite foresight which excludes all contingent event, while other schools contend for prescience without contingency.
Lastly, since the Sorbonne has declared that God can make a stick divested of two ends, and that the same thing can at once be and not be, we know not what to say, being in eternal fear of advancing a heresy. One thing may, however, be asserted without danger—that God is infinite, and man exceedingly bounded.
The mind of man is so extremely narrow, that Pascal has said: “Do you believe it impossible for God to be infinite and without parts? I wish to convince you of an existence infinite and indivisible—it is a mathematical point—moving everywhere with infinite swiftness, for it is in all places, and entire in every place.”
Nothing more absurd was ever asserted, and yet it has been said by the author of the “Provincial Letters.” It is sufficient to give men of sense the ague.
Everything around exercises some influence upon us, either physically or morally. With this truth we are well acquainted. Influence may be exerted upon a being without touching, without moving that being.
In short, matter has been demonstrated to possess the astonishing power of gravitating without contact, of acting at immense distances. One idea influences another; a fact not less incomprehensible.
I have not with me at Mount Krapak the book entitled, “On the Influence of the Sun and Moon,” composed by the celebrated physician Mead; but I well know that those two bodies are the cause of the tides; and it is not in consequence of touching the waters of the ocean that they produce that flux and reflux: it is demonstrated that they produce them by the laws of gravitation.
But when we are in a fever, have the sun and moon any influence upon the accesses of it, in its days of crisis? Is your wife constitutionally disordered only during the first quarter of the moon? Will the trees, cut at the time of full moon, rot sooner than if cut down in its wane? Not that I know. But timber cut down while the sap is circulating in it, undergoes putrefaction sooner than other timber; and if by chance it is cut down at the full moon, men will certainly say it was the full moon that caused all the evil. Your wife may have been disordered during the moon’s growing; but your neighbor’s was so in its decline.
The fitful periods of the fever which you brought upon yourself by indulging too much in the pleasures of the table occur about the first quarter of the moon; your neighbor experiences his in its decline. Everything that can possibly influence animals and vegetables must of course necessarily exercise that influence while the moon is making her circuit.
Were a woman of Lyons to remark that the periodical affections of her constitution had occurred in three or four successive instances on the day of the arrival of the diligence from Paris, would her medical attendant, however devoted he might be to system, think himself authorized in concluding that the Paris diligence had some peculiar and marvellous influence on the lady’s constitution?
There was a time when the inhabitants of every seaport were persuaded, that no one would die while the tide was rising, and that death always waited for its ebb.
Many physicians possessed a store of strong reasons to explain this constant phenomenon. The sea when rising communicates to human bodies the force or strength by which itself is raised. It brings with it vivifying particles which reanimate all patients. It is salt, and salt preserves from the putrefaction attendant on death. But when the sea sinks and retires, everything sinks or retires with it; nature languishes; the patient is no longer vivified; he departs with the tide. The whole, it must be admitted, is most beautifully explained, but the presumed fact, unfortunately, is after all untrue.
The various elements, food, watching, sleep, and the passions, are constantly exerting on our frame their respective influences. While these influences are thus severally operating on us, the planets traverse their appropriate orbits, and the stars shine with their usual brillancy. But shall we really be so weak as to say that the progress and light of those heavenly bodies are the cause of our rheums and indigestion, and sleeplessness; of the ridiculous wrath we are in with some silly reasoner; or of the passion with which we are enamored of some interesting woman?
But the gravitation of the sun and moon has made the earth in some degree flat at the pole, and raises the sea twice between the tropics in four-and-twenty hours. It may, therefore, regulate our fits of fever, and govern our whole machine. Before, however, we assert this to be the case, we should wait until we can prove it.
The sun acts strongly upon us by its rays, which touch us, and enter through our pores. Here is unquestionably a very decided and a very benignant influence. We ought not, I conceive, in physics, to admit of any action taking place without contact, until we have discovered some well-recognized and ascertained power which acts at a distance, like that of gravitation, for example, or like that of your thoughts over mine, when you furnish me with ideas. Beyond these cases, I at present perceive no influences but from matter in contact with matter.
The fish of my pond and myself exist each of us in our natural element. The water which touches them from head to tail is continually acting upon them. The atmosphere which surrounds and closes upon me acts upon me. I ought not to attribute to the moon, which is ninety thousand miles distant, what I might naturally ascribe to something incessantly in contact with my skin. This would be more unphilosophical than my considering the court of China responsible for a lawsuit that I was carrying on in France. We should never seek at a distance for what is absolutely within our immediate reach.
I perceive that the learned and ingenious M. Menuret is of a different opinion in the “Encyclopædia” under the article on “Influence.” This certainly excites in my mind considerable diffidence with respect to what I have just advanced. The Abbé de St. Pierre used to say, we should never maintain that we are absolutely in the right, but should rather say, “such is my opinion for the present.”
Influence of the Passions of Mothers upon their Fœtus.
I think, for the present, that violent affections of pregnant women produce often a prodigious effect upon the embryo within them; and I think that I shall always think so: my reason is that I have actually seen this effect. If I had no voucher of my opinion but the testimony of historians who relate the instance of Mary Stuart and her son James I., I should suspend my judgment; because between that event and myself, a series of two hundred years has intervened, a circumstance naturally tending to weaken belief; and because I can ascribe the impression made upon the brain of James to other causes than the imagination of Mary. The royal assassins, headed by her husband, rush with drawn swords into the cabinet where she is supping in company with her favorite, and kill him before her eyes; the sudden convulsion experienced by her in the interior of her frame extends to her offspring; and James I., although not deficient in courage, felt during his whole life an involuntary shuddering at the sight of a sword drawn from a scabbard. It is, however, possible that this striking and peculiar agitation might be owing to a different cause.
There was once introduced, in my presence, into the court of a woman with child, a showman who exhibited a little dancing dog with a kind of red bonnet on its head: the woman called out to have the figure removed; she declared that her child would be marked like it; she wept; and nothing could restore her confidence and peace. “This is the second time,” she said, “that such a misfortune has befallen me. My first child bears the impression of a similar terror that I was exposed to; I feel extremely weak. I know that some misfortune will reach me.” She was but too correct in her prediction. She was delivered of a child similar to the figure which had so terrified her. The bonnet was particularly distinguishable. The little creature lived two days.
In the time of Malebranche no one entertained the slightest doubt of the adventure which he relates, of the woman who, after seeing a criminal racked, was delivered of a son, all whose limbs were broken in the same places in which the malefactor had received the blows of the executioner. All the physicians at the time were agreed, that the imagination had produced this fatal effect upon her offspring.
Since that period, mankind is believed to have refined and improved; and the influence under consideration has been denied. It has been asked, in what way do you suppose that the affections of a mother should operate to derange the members of the fœtus? Of that I know nothing; but I have witnessed the fact. You new-fangled philosophers inquire and study in vain how an infant is formed, and yet require me to know how it becomes deformed.
The origin of the ancient mysteries may, with the greatest probability, be ascribed to the same weakness which forms associations of brotherhood among ourselves, and which established congregations under the direction of the Jesuits. It was probably this want of society which raised so many secret assemblies of artisans, of which scarcely any now remain besides that of the Freemasons. Even down to the very beggars themselves, all had their societies, their confraternities, their mysteries, and their particular jargon, of which I have met with a small dictionary, printed in the sixteenth century.
This natural inclination in men to associate, to secure themselves, to become distinguished above others, and to acquire confidence in themselves, may be considered as the generating cause of all those particular bonds or unions, of all those mysterious initiations which afterwards excited so much attention and produced such striking effects, and which at length sank into that oblivion in which everything is involved by time.
Begging pardon, while I say it, of the gods Cabri, of the hierophants of Samothrace, of Isis, Orpheus, and the Eleusinian Ceres, I must nevertheless acknowledge my suspicions that their sacred secrets were not in reality more deserving of curiosity than the interior of the convents of Carmelites or Capuchins.
These mysteries being sacred, the participators in them soon became so. And while the number of these was small, the mystery was respected; but at length, having grown too numerous, they retained no more consequence and consideration than we perceive to attach to German barons, since the world became full of barons.
Initiation was paid for, as every candidate pays his admission fees or welcome, but no member was allowed to talk for his money. In all ages it was considered a great crime to reveal the secrets of these religious farces. This secret was undoubtedly not worth knowing, as the assembly was not a society of philosophers, but of ignorant persons, directed by a hierophant. An oath of secrecy was administered, and an oath was always regarded as a sacred bond. Even at the present day, our comparatively pitiful society of Freemasons swear never to speak of their mysteries. These mysteries are stale and flat enough; but men scarcely ever perjure themselves.
Diagoras was proscribed by the Athenians for having made the secret hymn of Orpheus a subject for conversation. Aristotle informs us, that Æschylus was in danger of being torn to pieces by the people, or at least of being severely beaten by them, for having, in one of his dramas, given some idea of those Orphean mysteries in which nearly everybody was then initiated.
It appears that Alexander did not pay the highest respect possible to these reverend fooleries; they are indeed very apt to be despised by heroes. He revealed the secret to his mother Olympias, but he advised her to say nothing about it—so much are even heroes themselves bound in the chains of superstition.
“It is customary,” says Herodotus, “in the city of Rusiris, to strike both men and women after the sacrifice, but I am not permitted to say where they are struck.” He leaves it, however, to be very easily inferred.
I think I see a description of the mysteries of the Eleusinian Ceres, in Claudian’s poem on the “Rape of Proserpine,” much clearer than I can see any in the sixth book of the “Æneid.” Virgil lived under a prince who joined to all his other bad qualities that of wishing to pass for a religious character; who was probably initiated in these mysteries himself, the better to impose thereby upon the people; and who would not have tolerated such a profanation. You see his favorite Horace regards such a revelation as sacrilege:—
Besides, the Cumæan sibyl and the descent into hell, imitated from Homer much less than it is embellished by Virgil, with the beautiful prediction of the destinies of the Cæsars and the Roman Empire, have no relation to the fables of Ceres, Proserpine, and Triptolemus. Accordingly, it is highly probable that the sixth book of the “Æneid” is not a description of those mysteries. If I ever said the contrary, I here unsay it; but I conceive that Claudian revealed them fully. He flourished at a time when it was permitted to divulge the mysteries of Eleusis, and indeed all the mysteries of the world. He lived under Honorius, in the total decline of the ancient Greek and Roman religion, to which Theodosius I. had already given the mortal blow.
Horace, at that period, would not have been at all afraid of living under the same roof with a revealer of mysteries. Claudian, as a poet, was of the ancient religion, which was more adapted to poetry than the new. He describes the droll absurdities of the mysteries of Ceres, as they were still performed with all becoming reverence in Greece, down to the time of Theodosius II. They formed a species of operatic pantomime, of the same description as we have seen many very amusing ones, in which were represented all the devilish tricks and conjurations of Doctor Faustus, the birth of the world and of Harlequin who both came from a large egg by the heat of the sun’s rays. Just in the same manner, the whole history of Ceres and Proserpine was represented by the mystagogues. The spectacle was fine; the cost must have been great; and it is no matter of astonishment that the initiated should pay the performers. All live by their respective occupations.
Every mystery had its peculiar ceremonies; but all admitted of wakes or vigils of which the youthful votaries fully availed themselves; but it was this abuse in part which finally brought discredit upon those nocturnal ceremonies instituted for sanctification. The ceremonies thus perverted to assignation and licentiousness were abolished in Greece in the time of the Peloponnesian war; they were abolished at Rome in the time of Cicero’s youth, eighteen years before his consulship. From the “Aulularia” of Plautus, we are led to consider them as exhibiting scenes of gross debauchery, and as highly injurious to public morals.
Our religion, which, while it adopted, greatly purified various pagan institutions, sanctified the name of the initiated, nocturnal feasts, and vigils, which were a long time in use, but which at length it became necessary to prohibit when an administration of police was introduced into the government of the Church, so long entrusted to the piety and zeal that precluded the necessity of police.
The principal formula of all the mysteries, in every place of their celebration, was, “Come out, ye who are profane;” that is, uninitiated. Accordingly, in the first centuries, the Christians adopted a similar formula. The deacon said, “Come out, all ye catechumens, all ye who are possessed, and who are uninitiated.”
It is in speaking of the baptism of the dead that St. Chrysostom says, “I should be glad to explain myself clearly, but I can do so only to the initiated. We are in great embarrassment. We must either speak unintelligibly, or disclose secrets which we are bound to conceal.”
It is impossible to describe more clearly the obligation of secrecy and the privilege of initiation. All is now so completely changed, that were you at present to talk about initiation to the greater part of your priests and parish officers, there would not be one of them that would understand you, unless by great chance he had read the chapter of Chrysostom above noticed.
You will see in Minutius Felix the abominable imputations with which the pagans attacked the Christian mysteries. The initiated were reproached with treating each other as brethren and sisters, solely with a view to profane that sacred name. They kissed, it was said, particular parts of the persons of the priests, as is still practised in respect to the santons of Africa; they stained themselves with all those pollutions which have since disgraced and stigmatized the templars. Both were accused of worshipping a kind of ass’s head.
We have seen that the early Christian societies ascribed to each other, reciprocally, the most inconceivable infamies. The pretext for these calumnies was the inviolable secret which every society made of its mysteries. It is upon this ground that in Minutius Felix, Cecilius, the accuser of the Christians, exclaims:
“Why do they so carefully endeavor to conceal what they worship, since what is decent and honorable always courts the light, and crimes alone seek secrecy?”
“Cur occultare et abscondere quidquid colunt magnopere nituntur? Quum honesta semper publico gaudeant, scelera secreta sint.”
It cannot be doubted that these accusations, universally spread, drew upon the Christians more than one persecution. Whenever a society of men, whatever they may be, are accused by the public voice, the falsehood of the charge is urged in vain, and it is deemed meritorious to persecute them.
How could it easily be otherwise than that the first Christians should be even held in horror, when St. Epiphanius himself urges against them the most execrable imputations? He asserts that the Christian Phibionites committed indecencies, which he specifies, of the grossest character; and, after passing through various scenes of pollution, exclaimed each of them: “I am the Christ.”
According to the same writer, the Gnostics and the Stratiotics equalled the Phibionites in exhibitions of licentiousness, and all three sects mingled horrid pollutions with their mysteries, men and women displaying equal dissoluteness.
The Carpocratians, according to the same father of the Church, even exceeded the horrors and abominations of the three sects just mentioned.
The Cerinthians did not abandon themselves to abominations such as these; but they were persuaded that Jesus Christ was the son of Joseph.
The Ebionites, in their gospel, maintain that St. Paul, being desirous of marrying the daughter of Gamaliel, and not able to obtain her, became a Christian, and established Christianity out of revenge.
All these accusations did not for some time reach the ear of the government. The Romans paid but little attention to the quarrels and mutual reproaches which occurred between these little societies of Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians, who were, as it were, hidden in the vast and general population; just as in London, in the present day, the parliament does not embarrass or concern itself with the peculiar forms or transactions of Mennonites, Pietists, Anabaptists, Millennarians, Moravians, or Methodists. It is occupied with matters of urgency and importance, and pays no attention to their mutual charges and recriminations till they become of importance from their publicity.
The charges above mentioned, at length, however, came to the ears of the senate; either from the Jews, who were implacable enemies of the Christians, or from Christians themselves; and hence it resulted that the crimes charged against some Christian societies were imputed to all; hence it resulted that their initiations were so long calumniated; hence resulted the persecutions which they endured. These persecutions, however, obliged them to greater circumspection; they strengthened themselves, they combined, they disclosed their books only to the initiated. No Roman magistrate, no emperor, ever had the slightest knowledge of them, as we have already shown. Providence increased, during the course of three centuries, both their number and their riches, until at length, Constantius Chlorus openly protected them, and Constantine, his son, embraced their religion.
In the meantime the names of initiated and mysteries still subsisted, and they were concealed from the Gentiles as much as was possible. As to the mysteries of the Gentiles, they continued down to the time of Theodosius.
When people speak of the massacre of the innocents, they do not refer to the Sicilian Vespers, nor to the matins of Paris, known under the name of St. Bartholomew; nor to the inhabitants of the new world, who were murdered because they were not Christians, nor to the auto-da-fés of Spain and Portugal, etc. They usually refer to the young children who were killed within the precincts of Bethlehem, by order of Herod the Great, and who were afterwards carried to Cologne, where they are still to be found.
Their number was maintained by the whole Greek Church to be fourteen thousand.
The difficulties raised by critics upon this point of history have been all solved by shrewd and learned commentators.
Objections have been started in relation to the star which conducted the Magi from the recesses of the East to Jerusalem. It has been said that the journey, being a long one, the star must have appeared for a long time above the horizon; and yet that no historian besides St. Matthew ever took notice of this extraordinary star; that if it had shone so long in the heavens, Herod and his whole court, and all Jerusalem, must have seen it as well as these three Magi, or kings; that Herod consequently could not, without absurdity, have inquired diligently, as Matthew expresses it, of these kings, at what time they had seen the star; that, if these three kings had made presents of gold and myrrh and incense to the new-born infant, his parents must have been very rich; that Herod could certainly never believe that this infant, born in a stable at Bethlehem, would be king of the Jews, as the kingdom of Judæa belonged to the Romans, and was a gift from Cæsar; that if three kings of the Indies were, at the present day, to come to France under the guidance of a star, and stop at the house of a woman of Vaugirard, no one could ever make the reigning monarch believe that the child of that poor woman would become king of France.
A satisfactory answer has been given to these difficulties, which may be considered preliminary ones, attending the subject of the massacre of the innocents; and it has been shown that what is impossible with man is not impossible with God.
With respect to the slaughter of the little children, whether the number was fourteen thousand, or greater, or less, it has been shown that this horrible and unprecedented cruelty was not absolutely incompatible with the character of Herod; that, after being established as king of Judæa by Augustus, he could not indeed fear anything from the child of obscure and poor parents, residing in a petty village; but that laboring at that time under the disorder of which he at length died, his blood might have become so corrupt that he might in consequence have lost both reason and humanity; that, in short, all these incomprehensible events, which prepared the way for mysteries still more incomprehensible, were directed by an inscrutable Providence.
It is objected that the historian Josephus, who was nearly contemporary, and who has related all the cruelties of Herod, has made no more mention of the massacre of the young children than of the star of the three kings; that neither the Jew Philo, nor any other Jew, nor any Roman takes any notice of it; and even that three of the evangelists have observed a profound silence upon these important subjects. It is replied that they are nevertheless announced by St. Matthew, and that the testimony of one inspired man is of more weight than the silence of all the world.
The critics, however, have not surrendered; they have dared to censure St. Matthew himself for saying that these children were massacred, “that the words of Jeremiah might be fulfilled. A voice is heard in Ramah, a voice of groaning and lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
These historical words, they observe, were literally fulfilled in the tribe of Benjamin, which descended from Rachel, when Nabuzaradan destroyed a part of that tribe near the city of Ramah. It was no longer a prediction, they say, any more than were the words “He shall be called a Nazarene. And He came to dwell in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. He shall be called a Nazarene.” They triumph in the circumstance that these words are not to be found in any one of the prophets; just as they do in the idea that Rachel weeping for the Benjamites at Ramah has no reference whatever to the massacre of the innocents by Herod.
They dare even to urge that these two allusions, being clearly false, are a manifest proof of the falsehood of this narrative; and conclude that the massacre of the children, and the new star, and the journey of the three kings, never had the slightest foundation in fact.
They even go much further yet; they think they find as palpable a contradiction between the narrative of St. Matthew and that of St. Luke, as between the two genealogies adduced by them. St. Matthew says that Joseph and Mary carried Jesus into Egypt, fearing that he would be involved in the massacre. St. Luke, on the contrary, says, “After having fulfilled all the ceremonies of the law, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth, their city, and went every year to Jerusalem, to keep the Passover.”
But thirty days must have expired before a woman could have completed her purification from childbirth and fulfilled all the ceremonies of the law. During these thirty days, therefore, the child must have been exposed to destruction by the general proscription. And if his parents went to Jerusalem to accomplish the ordinance of the law, they certainly did not go to Egypt.
These are the principal objections of unbelievers. They are effectually refuted by the faith both of the Greek and Latin churches. If it were necessary always to be clearing up the doubts of persons who read the Scriptures, we must inevitably pass our whole lives in disputing about all the articles contained in them. Let us rather refer ourselves to our worthy superiors and masters; to the university of Salamanca when in Spain, to the Sorbonne in France, and to the holy congregation at Rome. Let us submit both in heart and in understanding to that which is required of us for our good.
The Inquisition is an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, established by the see of Rome in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even in the Indies, for the purpose of searching out and extirpating infidels, Jews, and heretics.
That we may not be suspected of resorting to falsehood in order to render this tribunal odious, we shall in this present article give the abstract of a Latin work on the “Origin and Progress of the Office of the Holy Inquisition,” printed by the royal press at Madrid in 1589, by order of Louis de Paramo, inquisitor in the kingdom of Sicily.
Without going back to the origin of the Inquisition, which Paramo thinks he discovers in the manner in which God is related to have proceeded against Adam and Eve, let us abide by the new law of which Jesus Christ, according to him, was the chief inquisitor. He exercised the functions of that office on the thirteenth day after his birth, by announcing to the city of Jerusalem, through the three kings or Magi, his appearance in the world, and afterwards by causing Herod to be devoured alive by worms; by driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple; and finally, by delivering Judæa into the hands of tyrants, who pillaged it in punishment of its unbelief.
After Jesus Christ, St. Peter, St. Paul, and the rest of the apostles exercised the office of inquisitor, which they transmitted to the popes and bishops, and their successors. St. Dominic having arrived in France with the bishop of Osma, of which he was archdeacon, became animated with zeal against the Albigenses, and obtained the regard and favor of Simon, Count de Montfort. Having been appointed by the pope inquisitor in Languedoc, he there founded his order, which was approved of and ratified, in 1216, by Honorius III. Under the auspices of St. Madelaine, Count Montfort took the city of Gezer by assault, and put all the inhabitants to the sword; and at Laval, four hundred Albigenses were burned at once. “In all the histories of the Inquisition that I ever read,” says Paramo, “I never met with an act of faith so eminent, or a spectacle so solemn. At the village of Cazera, sixty were burned; and in another place a hundred and eighty.”
The Inquisition was adopted by the count of Toulouse in 1229, and confided to the Dominicans by Pope Gregory IX. in 1233; Innocent IV. in 1251 established it in the whole of Italy, with the exception of Naples. At the commencement, indeed, heretics were not subjected in the Milanese to the punishment of death, which they nevertheless so richly deserved, because the popes were not sufficiently respected by the emperor Frederick, to whom that state belonged; but a short time afterwards heretics were burned at Milan, as well as in the other parts of Italy; and our author remarks, that in 1315 some thousands of heretics having spread themselves through Cremasco, a small territory included in the jurisdiction of the Milanese, the Dominican brothers burned the greater part of them; and thus checked the ravages of the theological pestilence by the flames.
As the first canon of the Council of Toulouse enjoined the bishops to appoint in every parish a priest and two or three laymen of reputation, who should be bound by oath to search carefully and frequently for heretics, in houses, caves, and all places wherever they might be able to hide themselves, and to give the speediest information to the bishop, the seigneur of the place, or his bailiff, after having taken all necessary precautions against the escape of any heretics discovered, the inquisitors must have acted at this time in concert with the bishops. The prisons of the bishop and of the Inquisition were frequently the same; and, although in the course of the procedure the inquisitor might act in his own name, he could not, without the intervention of the bishop, apply the torture, pronounce any definitive sentence, or condemn to perpetual imprisonment, etc. The frequent disputes that occurred between the bishops and the inquisitors, on the limits of their authority, on the spoils of the condemned, etc., compelled Pope Sixtus IV., in 1473, to make the Inquisitions independent and separate from the tribunals of the bishops. He created for Spain an Inquisitor-general, with full powers to nominate particular inquisitors; and Ferdinand V., in 1478, founded and endowed the Inquisition.
At the solicitation of Turrecremata (or Torquemada), a brother of the Dominican order, and grand inquisitor of Spain, the same Ferdinand, surnamed the Catholic, banished from his kingdom all the Jews, allowing them three months from the publication of his edict, after the expiration of which period they were not to be found in any of the Spanish dominions under pain of death. They were permitted, on quitting the kingdom, to take with them the goods and merchandise which they had purchased, but forbidden to take out of it any description of gold or silver.
The brother Turrecremata followed up and strengthened this edict, in the diocese of Toledo, by prohibiting all Christians, under pain of excommunication, from giving anything whatever to the Jews, even that which might be necessary to preserve life itself.
In consequence of these decrees about a million Jews departed from Catalonia, the kingdom of Aragon, that of Valencia, and other countries subject to the dominion of Ferdinand; the greater part of whom perished miserably; so that they compare the calamities that they suffered during this period to those they experienced under Titus and Vespasian. This expulsion of the Jews gave incredible joy to all Catholic sovereigns.
Some divines blamed these edicts of the king of Spain; their principal reasons are that unbelievers ought not to be constrained to embrace the faith of Jesus Christ, and that these violences are a disgrace to our religion.
But these arguments are very weak, and I contend, says Paramo, that the edict is pious, just, and praiseworthy, as the violence with which the Jews are required to be converted is not an absolute but a conditional violence, since they might avoid it by quitting their country. Besides, they might corrupt those of the Jews who were newly converted, and even Christians themselves; but, as St. Paul says, what communion is there between justice and iniquity, light and darkness, Jesus Christ and Belial?
With respect to the confiscation of their goods, nothing could be more equitable, as they had acquired them only by usury towards Christians, who only received back, therefore, what was in fact their own.
In short, by the death of our Lord, the Jews became slaves, and everything that a slave possesses belongs to his master. We could not but suspend our narrative for a moment to make these remarks, in opposition to persons who have thus calumniated the piety, the spotless justice, and the sanctity of the Catholic king.
At Seville, where an example of severity to the Jews was ardently desired, it was the holy will of God, who knows how to draw good out of evil, that a young man who was in waiting in consequence of an assignation, should see through the chinks of a partition an assembly of Jews, and in consequence inform against them. A great number of the unhappy wretches were apprehended, and punished as they deserved. By virtue of different edicts of the kings of Spain, and of the inquisitors, general and particular, established in that kingdom, there were, in a very short time, about two thousand heretics burned at Seville, and more than four thousand from 1482 to 1520. A vast number of others were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, or exposed to inflictions of different descriptions. The emigration from it was so great that five hundred houses were supposed to be left in consequence quite empty, and in the whole diocese, three thousand; and altogether more than a hundred thousand heretics were put to death, or punished in some other manner, or went into banishment to avoid severer suffering. Such was the destruction of heretics accomplished by these pious brethren.
The establishment of the Inquisition at Toledo was a fruitful source of revenue to the Catholic Church. In the short space of two years it actually burned at the stake fifty-two obstinate heretics, and two hundred and twenty more were outlawed; whence we may easily conjecture of what utility the Inquisition has been from its original establishment, since in so short a period it performed such wonders.
From the beginning of the fifteenth century, Pope Boniface IX. attempted in vain to establish the Inquisition in Portugal, where he created the provincial of the Dominicans, Vincent de Lisbon, inquisitor-general. Innocent VII., some years after, having named as inquisitor the Minim Didacus de Sylva, King John I. wrote to that pope that the establishment of the Inquisition in his kingdom was contrary to the good of his subjects, to his own interests, and perhaps also to the interests of religion.
The pope, affected by the representations of a too mild and easy monarch, revoked all the powers granted to the inquisitors newly established, and authorized Mark, bishop of Senigaglia, to absolve the persons accused; which he accordingly did. Those who had been deprived of their dignities and offices were re-established in them, and many were delivered from the fear of the confiscation of their property.
But how admirable, continues Paramo, is the Lord in all his ways! That which the sovereign pontiffs had been unable effectually to obtain with all their urgency, King John granted spontaneously to a dexterous impostor, whom God made use of as an instrument for accomplishing the good work. In fact, the wicked are frequently useful instruments in God’s hands, and he does not reject the good they bring about. Thus, when John remarks to our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord, we saw one who was not Thy disciple casting out demons in Thy name, and we prevented him from doing so,” Jesus answered him, “Prevent him not; for he who works miracles in My name will not speak ill of Me; and he who is not against Me is for Me.”
Paramo relates afterwards that he saw in the library of St. Laurence, at the Escorial, a manuscript in the handwriting of Saavedra, in which that knave details his fabrication of a false bull, and obtaining thereby his entrée into Seville as legate, with a train of a hundred and twenty domestics; his defrauding of thirteen thousand ducats the heirs of a rich nobleman in that neighborhood, during his twenty days’ residence in the palace of the archbishop, by producing a counterfeit bond for the same sum, which the nobleman acknowledged, in that instrument, to have borrowed of the legate when he visited Rome; and finally, after his arrival at Badajoz, the permission granted him by King John III., to whom he was presented by means of forged letters of the pope, to establish tribunals of the Inquisition in the principal cities of the kingdom.
These tribunals began immediately to exercise their jurisdiction; and a vast number of condemnations and executions of relapsed heretics took place, as also of absolutions of recanting and penitent heretics. Six months had passed in this manner, when the truth was made apparent of that expression in the Gospel, “There is nothing hid which shall not be made known.” The Marquis de Villeneuve de Barcarotta, a Spanish nobleman, assisted by the governor of Mora, had the impostor apprehended and conducted to Madrid. He was there carried before John de Tavera, archbishop of Toledo. That prelate, perfectly astonished at all that now transpired of the knavery and address of the false legate, despatched all the depositions and documents relative to the case to Pope Paul III.; as he did also the acts of the inquisitions which Saavedra had established, and by which it appeared that a great number of heretics had already been judged and condemned, and that the impostor had extorted from his victims more than three hundred thousand ducats.
The pope could not help acknowledging in this the finger of God and a miracle of His providence; he accordingly formed the congregation of the tribunal of the Inquisition, under the denomination of “The Holy Office,” in 1545, and Sixtus V. confirmed it in 1588.
All writers but one agree with Paramo on the subject of the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal. Antoine de Sousa alone, in his “Aphorisms of Inquisitors,” calls the history of Saavedra in question, under the pretence that he may very easily be conceived to have accused himself without being in fact guilty, in consideration of the glory which would redound to him from the event, and in the hope of living in the memory of mankind. But Sousa, in the very narrative which he substitutes for that of Paramo, exposes himself to the suspicion of bad faith, in citing two bulls of Paul III., and two others from the same pope to Cardinal Henry, the king’s brother; bulls which Sousa has not introduced into his printed work, and which are not to be found in any collection of apostolical bulls extant; two decisive reasons for rejecting his opinion, and adhering to that of Paramo, Hiescas, Salasar, Mendoça, Fernandez, and Placentinus.
When the Spaniards passed over to America they carried the Inquisition with them; the Portuguese introduced it in the Indies, immediately upon its being established at Lisbon, which led to the observation which Louis de Paramo makes in his preface, that this flourishing and verdant tree had extended its branches and its roots throughout the world, and produced the most pleasant fruits.
In order to form some correct idea of the jurisprudence of the Inquisition, and the forms of its proceedings, unknown to civil tribunals, let us take a cursory view of the “Directory of Inquisitors,” which Nicolas Eymeric, grand inquisitor of the kingdom of Aragon about the middle of the fourteenth century, composed in Latin, and addressed to his brother inquisitors, in virtue of the authority of his office.
A short time after the invention of printing, an edition of this work was printed at Barcelona, and soon conveyed to all the inquisitions in the Christian world. A second edition appeared at Rome in 1578, in folio, with scholia and commentaries by Francois Pegna, doctor in theology and canonist.
The following eulogium on the work is given by the editor in an epistle dedicatory to Gregory XIII.: “While Christian princes are everywhere engaged in combating with arms the enemies of the Catholic religion, and pouring out the blood of their soldiers to support the unity of the Church and the authority of the apostolic see, there are also zealous and devoted writers, who toil in obscurity, either to refute the opinions of innovators or to arm and direct the power of the laws against their persons, in order that the severity of punishments, and the solemnity and torture attending executions, keeping them within the bounds of duty, may produce that effect upon them which cannot be produced in them by the love of virtue.
“Although I fill only the lowest place among these defenders of religion, I am nevertheless animated with the same zeal for repressing the impious audacity and horrible depravity of the broachers of innovation. The labor which I here present to you on the ‘Directory of Inquisitions,’ will be a proof of my assertion. This work of Nicolas Eymeric, respectable for its antiquity, contains a summary of the principal articles of faith, and an elaborate and methodical code of instruction for the tribunals of the Holy Inquisition, on the means which they ought to employ for the repression and extirpation of heretics; on which account I felt it my duty to offer it in homage to your holiness, as the chief of the Christian republic.”
He declares, elsewhere, that he had it reprinted for the instruction of inquisitors; that the work is as much to be admired as respected, and teaches with equal piety and learning the proper means of repressing and exterminating heretics. He acknowledges, however, that he is in possession of other useful and judicious methods, for which he refers to practice, which will instruct much more effectually than any lessons, and that he more readily thus silently refers to practice, as there are certain matters relating to the subject which it is of importance not to divulge, and which, at the same time, are generally well known to inquisitors. He cites a vast number of writers, all of whom have followed the doctrines of the “Directory”; and he even complains that many have availed themselves of it without ascribing any honor to Eymeric for the good things they have in fact stolen from him.
We will secure ourselves from any reproach of this description, by pointing out exactly what we mean to borrow both from the author and the editor. Eymeric says, in the fifty-eighth page, “Commiseration for the children of the criminal, who by the severity used towards him are reduced to beggary, should never be permitted to mitigate that severity, since both by divine and human laws children are punished for the faults of their fathers.”
Page 123. “If a charge entered for prosecution were destitute of every appearance of truth, the inquisitor should not on that account expunge it from his register, because what at one period has not been discovered, may be so at another.”
Page 291. “It is necessary for the inquisitor to oppose cunning and stratagem to those employed by heretics, that he may thus pay the offenders in their own coin, and be enabled to adopt the language of the apostle, ‘Being crafty, I caught you with guile.’ ”
Page 296. “The information and depositions (procés-verbal) may be read over to the accused, completely suppressing the names of the accusers; and then it is for him to conjecture who the persons are that have brought against him any particular charges, to challenge them as incompetent witnesses, or to weaken their testimony by contrary evidence. This is the method generally used. The accused must not be permitted to imagine that challenges of witnesses will be easily allowed in cases of heresy, for it is of no consequence whether witnesses are respectable or infamous, accomplices in the prisoner’s offence, excommunicated, heretical, or in any manner whatever guilty, or perjured, etc. This has been so ruled in favor of the faith.”
Page 202. “The appeal which a prisoner makes from the Inquisition does not preclude that tribunal from trial and sentence of him upon other heads of accusation.”
Page 313. “Although the form of the order for applying the torture may suppose variation in the answers of the accused, and also in addition sufficient presumptive evidence against him for putting him to the question; both these circumstances are not necessary, and either will be sufficient for the purpose without the other.”
Pegna informs us, in the hundred and eighteenth scholium on the third book, that inquisitors generally employ only five kinds of torture when putting to the question, although Marsilius mentions fifteen kinds, and adds, that he has imagined others still—such, for example, as precluding the possibility of sleep, in which he is approved by Grillandus and Locatus.
Eymeric continues, page 319: “Care should be taken never to state in the form of absolution, that the prisoner is innocent, but merely that there was not sufficient evidence against him; a precaution necessary to prevent the prisoner, absolved in one case, from pleading that absolution in defence against any future charge that may be brought against him.”
Page 324. “Sometimes abjuration and canonical purgation are prescribed together. This is done, when, to a bad reputation of an individual in point of doctrine are joined inconsiderable presumptions, which, were they a little stronger, would tend to convict him of having really said or done something injurious to the faith. The prisoner who stands in these circumstances is compelled to abjure all heresy in general; and after that, if he falls into any heresy of any description whatever, however different from those which may have constituted the matter of the present charge or suspicion against him, he is punished as a relapsed person, and delivered over to the secular arm.”
Page 331. “Relapsed persons, when the relapse is clearly proved, must be delivered up to secular justice, whatever protestation they may make as to their future conduct, and whatever contrition they may express. The inquisitor will, in such circumstances, inform the secular authorities, that on such a particular day and hour, and in such a particular place, a heretic will be delivered up to them and should provide that notice be given to the public that they will be expected to be present at the ceremony, as the inquisitor will deliver a sermon on the occasion in defence of the true faith, and those who attend will obtain the usual indulgences.”
These indulgences are accordingly detailed: after the form of sentence given against the penitent heretic, the inquisitor will grant forty days’ indulgence to all persons present; three years to those who contributed to the apprehension, abjuration, condemnation, etc., of the said heretic; and finally, three years also will be granted by our holy father, the pope, to all who will denounce any other heretic.
Page 332. “When the culprit has been delivered over to the secular authority, it shall pronounce its sentence, and the criminal shall be conveyed to the place of punishment; some pious persons shall accompany him, and associate him in their prayers, and even pray with him; and not leave him till he has rendered up his soul to his Creator. But it is their duty to take particular care neither to say or to do anything which may hasten the moment of his death, for fear of falling into some irregularity. Accordingly, they should not exhort the criminal to mount the scaffold, or present himself to the executioner, or advise the executioner to get ready and arrange his instruments of punishment, so that the death may take place more quickly, and the prisoner be prevented from lingering; all for the sake of avoiding irregularity.”
Page 335. “Should it happen that the heretic, when just about to be fixed to the stake to be burned, were to give signs of conversion, he might, perhaps, out of singular lenity and favor, be allowed to be received and shut up, like penitent heretics, within four walls, although it would be weak to place much reliance on a confession of this nature, and the indulgence is not authorized by any express law; such lenity, however, is very dangerous. I was witness of an example in point at Barcelona: A priest who was condemned, with two other impenitent heretics, to be burned, and who was actually in the midst of the flames, called on the bystanders to pull him out instantly, for he was willing to be converted; he was accordingly extricated, dreadfully scorched on one side. I do not mean to decide whether this was well or ill done; but I know that, fourteen years afterwards, he was still dogmatizing, and had corrupted a considerable number of persons; he was therefore once more given up to justice, and was burned to death.”
“No person doubts,” says Pegna, scholium 47, “that heretics ought to be put to death; but the particular method of execution may well be a topic of discussion.” Alphonso de Castro, in the second book of his work, “On the Just Punishment of Heretics,” considers it a matter of great indifference whether they are destroyed by the sword, by fire, or any other method; but Hostiensis Godofredus, Covarruvias, Simancas, Roxas, etc., maintain that they ought decidedly to be burned. In fact, as Hostiensis very well expressed it, execution by fire is the punishment appropriate to heresy. We read in St. John, “If any one remain not in me, he shall be cast forth, as a branch, and wither, and men shall gather it and cast it into the fire and burn it.” “It may be added, continued Pegna, “that the universal custom of the Christian republic is in support of this opinion. Simancas and Roxas decide that heretics ought to be burned alive; but one precaution should always be taken in burning them, which is tearing out the tongue and keeping the mouth perfectly closed, in order to prevent their scandalizing the spectators by their impieties.”
Finally, page 369, Eymeric enjoins those whom he addresses to proceed in matters of heresy straight forward, without any wranglings of advocates, and without so many forms and solemnities as are generally employed in criminal cases; that is, to make the process as short as possible, by cutting off useless delays, by going on with the hearing and trial of such causes, even on days when the labors of the other judges are suspended; by disallowing every appeal which has for its apparent object merely a postponement of final judgment; and by not admitting an unnecessary multitude of witnesses, etc.
This revolting system of jurisprudence has simply been put under some restriction in Spain and Portugal; while at Milan the Inquisition itself has at length been entirely suppressed.
The Inquisition is well known to be an admirable and truly Christian invention for increasing the power of the pope and monks, and rendering the population of a whole kingdom hypocrites.
St. Dominic is usually considered as the person to whom the world is principally indebted for this institution. In fact, we have still extant a patent granted by that great saint, expressed precisely in the following words: “I, brother Dominic, reconcile to the Church Roger, the bearer of these presents, on condition of his being scourged by a priest on three successive Sundays from the entrance of the city to the church doors; of his abstaining from meat all his life; of his fasting for the space of three Lents in a year; of his never drinking wine; of his carrying about him the ‘san benito’ with crosses; of his reciting the breviary every day, and ten paternosters in the course of the day, and twenty at midnight; of his preserving perfect chastity, and of his presenting himself every month before the parish priest, etc.; the whole under pain of being treated as heretical, perjured, and impenitent.”
Although Dominic was the real founder of the Inquisition, yet Louis de Paramo, one of the most respectable writers and most brilliant luminaries of the Holy Office, relates, in the second chapter of his second book, that God was the first institutor of the Holy Office, and that he exercised the power of the preaching brethren, that is of the Dominican Order, against Adam. In the first place Adam is cited before the tribunal: “Adam ubi es?”—Adam, where art thou? “And in fact,” adds Paramo, “the want of this citation would have rendered the whole procedure of God null.”
The dresses formed of skins, which God made for Adam and Eve, were the model of the “san benito,” which the Holy Office requires to be worn by heretics. It is true that, according to this argument, God was the first tailor; it is not, however, the less evident, on account of that ludicrous and profane inference, that he was the first inquisitor.
Adam was deprived of the immovable property he possessed in the terrestrial paradise, and hence the Holy Office confiscates the property of all whom it condemns.
Louis de Paramo remarks, that the inhabitants of Sodom were burned as heretics because their crime is a formal heresy. He thence passes to the history of the Jews: and in every part of it discovers the Holy Office.
Jesus Christ is the first inquisitor of the new law; the popes were inquisitors by divine right; and they afterwards communicated their power to St. Dominic.
He afterwards estimates the number of all those whom the Inquisition has put to death; he states it to be considerably above a hundred thousand.
His book was printed in 1589, at Madrid, with the approbation of doctors, the eulogiums of bishops, and the privilege of the king. We can, at the present day, scarcely form any idea of horrors at once so extravagant and abominable; but at that period nothing appeared more natural and edifying. All men resemble Louis de Paramo when they are fanatics.
Paramo was a plain, direct man, very exact in dates, omitting no interesting fact, and calculating with precision the number of human victims immolated by the Holy Office throughout the world.
He relates, with great naïveté, the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal, and coincides perfectly with four other historians who have treated of that subject. The following account they unanimously agree in:
Singular Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal.
Pope Boniface had long before, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, delegated some Dominican friars to go to Portugal, from one city to another, to burn heretics, Mussulmans, and Jews; but these were itinerant and not stationary; and even the kings sometimes complained of the vexations caused by them. Pope Clement VII. was desirous of giving them a fixed residence in Portugal, as they had in Aragon and Castile. Difficulties, however, arose between the court of Rome and that of Lisbon; tempers became irritated, the Inquisition suffered by it, and was far from being perfectly established.
In 1539, there appeared at Lisbon a legate of the pope, who came, he said, to establish the holy Inquisition on immovable foundations. He delivered his letters to King John III. from Pope Paul III. He had other letters from Rome for the chief officers of the court; his patents as legate were duly sealed and signed; and he exhibited the most ample powers for creating a grand inquisitor and all the judges of the Holy Office. He was, however, in fact an impostor of the name of Saavedra, who had the talent of counterfeiting hand-writings, seals, and coats-of-arms. He had acquired the art at Rome, and was perfected in it at Seville, at which place he arrived in company with two other sharpers. His train was magnificent, consisting of more than a hundred and twenty domestics. To defray, at least in part, the enormous expense with which all this splendor was attended, he and his associates borrowed at Seville large sums in the name of the apostolic chamber of Rome; everything was concerted with the most consummate art.
The king of Portugal was at first perfectly astonished at the pope’s despatching a legate to him without any previous announcement to him of his intention. The legate hastily observed that in a concern so urgent as that of establishing the Inquisition on a firm foundation, his holiness could admit of no delays, and that the king might consider himself honored by the holy father’s having appointed a legate to be the first person to announce his intention. The king did not venture to reply. The legate on the same day constituted a grand inquisitor, and sent about collectors to receive the tenths; and before the court could obtain answers from Rome to its representations on the subject, the legate had brought two hundred victims to the stake, and collected more than two hundred thousand crowns.
However, the marquis of Villanova, a Spanish nobleman, of whom the legate had borrowed at Seville a very considerable sum upon forged bills, determined, if possible, to repay himself the money with his own hands, instead of going to Lisbon and exposing himself to the intrigues and influence of the swindler there. The legate was at this time making his circuit through the country, and happened very conveniently to be on the borders of Spain. The marquis unexpectedly advanced upon him with fifty men well armed, carried him off prisoner, and conducted him to Madrid.
The whole imposture was speedily discovered at Lisbon; the Council of Madrid condemned the legate Saavedra to be flogged and sent to the galleys for ten years; but the most admirable circumstance was, that Pope Paul IV. confirmed subsequently all that the impostor had established; out of the plenitude of his divine power he rectified all the little irregularities of the various procedures, and rendered sacred what before was merely human. Of what importance the arm which God employs in His sacred service?—“Qu’ importe de quel bras Dieu daigne se servir?”
Such was the manner in which the Inquisition became established at Lisbon; and the whole kingdom extolled the wisdom and providence of God on the occasion.
To conclude, the methods of procedure adopted by this tribunal are generally known; it is well known how strongly they are opposed to the false equity and blind reason of all other tribunals in the world. Men are imprisoned on the mere accusation of persons the most infamous; a son may denounce his father, and the wife her husband; the accused is never confronted with the accusers; and the property of the person convicted is confiscated for the benefit of the judges: such at least was the manner of its proceeding down to our own times. Surely in this we must perceive something decidedly divine; for it is absolutely incomprehensible that men should have patiently submitted to this yoke.
At length Count Aranda has obtained the blessings of all Europe by paring the nails and filing the teeth of the monster in Spain; it breathes, however, still.
“Instinctus,impulsus,” impulse; but what power impels us?
All feeling is instinct. A secret conformity of our organs to their respective objects forms our instinct. It is solely by instinct that we perform numberless involuntary movements, just as it is by instinct that we possess curiosity, that we run after novelty, that menaces terrify us, that contempt irritates us, that an air of submission appeases us, and that tears soften us.
We are governed by instinct, as well as cats and goats; this is one further circumstance in which we resemble the mere animal tribes—a resemblance as incontestable as that of our blood, our necessities, and the various functions of our bodies.
Our instinct is never so shrewd and skilful as theirs, and does not even approach it; a calf and a lamb, as soon as they are born, rush to the fountain of their mother’s milk; but unless the mother of the infant clasped it in her arms, and folded it to her bosom, it would inevitably perish.
No woman in a state of pregnancy was ever invincibly impelled to prepare for her infant a convenient wicker cradle, as the wren with its bill and claws prepares a nest for her offspring. But the power of reflection which we possess, in conjunction with two industrious hands presented to us by nature, raises us to an equality with the instinct of animals, and in the course of time places us infinitely above them, both in respect to good and evil—a proposition condemned by the members of the ancient parliament and by the Sorbonne, natural philosophers of distinguished eminence, and who, it is well known, have admirably promoted the perfection of the arts.
Our instinct, in the first place, impels us to beat our brother when he vexes us, if we are roused into a passion with him and feel that we are stronger than he is. Afterwards, our sublime reason leads us on to the invention of arrows, swords, pikes, and at length muskets, to kill our neighbors with.
Instinct alone urges us all to make love—“Amor omnibus idem;” but Virgil, Tibullus, and Ovid sing it. It is from instinct alone that a young artisan stands gazing with respect and admiration before the superfine gilt coach of a commissioner of taxes. Reason comes to the assistance of the young artisan; he is made a collector; he becomes polished; he embezzles; he rises to be a great man in his turn, and dazzles the eyes of his former comrades as he lolls at ease in his own carriage, more profusely gilded than that which originally excited his admiration and ambition.
What is this instinct which governs the whole animal kingdom, and which in us is strengthened by reason or repressed by habit? Is it “divinæ particula auræ?” Yes, undoubtedly it is something divine; for everything is so. Everything is the incomprehensible effect of an incomprehensible cause. Everything is swayed, is impelled by nature. We reason about everything, and originate nothing.
We shall teach men nothing, when we tell them that everything we do is done from interest. What! it will be said, is it from motives of interest that the wretched fakir remains stark naked under the burning sun, loaded with chains, dying with hunger, half devoured by vermin, and devouring them in his turn? Yes, most undoubtedly it is; as we have stated elsewhere, he depends upon ascending to the eighteenth heaven, and looks with an eye of pity on the man who will be admitted only into the ninth.
The interest of the Malabar widow, who burns herself with the corpse of her husband, is to recover him in another world, and be there more happy even than the fakir. For, together with their metempsychosis, the Indians have another world; they resemble ourselves; their system admits of contradictions.
Were you ever acquainted with any king or republic that made either war or peace, that issued decrees, or entered into conventions, from any other motive than that of interest?
With respect to the interest of money, consult, in the great “Encyclopædia,” the article of M. d’Alembert, on “Calculation,” and that of M. Boucher d’Argis, on “Jurisprudence.” We will venture to add a few reflections.
1. Are gold and silver merchandise? Yes; the author of the “Spirit of Laws” does not think so when he says: “Money, which is the price of commodities, is hired and not bought.”
It is both lent and bought. I buy gold with silver, and silver with gold; and their price fluctuates in all commercial countries from day to day.
The law of Holland requires bills of exchange to be paid in the silver coin of the country, and not in gold, if the creditor demands it. Then I buy silver money, and I pay for it in gold, or in cloth, corn, or diamonds.
I am in want of money, corn, or diamonds, for the space of a year; the corn, money, or diamond merchant says—I could, for this year, sell my money, corn, or diamonds to advantage. Let us estimate at four, five, or six per cent., according to the usage of the country, what I should lose by letting you have it. You shall, for instance, return me at the end of the year, twenty-one carats of diamonds for the twenty which I now lend you; twenty-one sacks of corn for the twenty; twenty-one thousand crowns for twenty thousand crowns. Such is interest. It is established among all nations by the law of nature. The maximum or highest rate of interest depends, in every country, on its own particular law. In Rome money is lent on pledges at two and a half per cent., according to law, and the pledges are sold, if the money be not paid at the appointed time. I do not lend upon pledges, and I require only the interest customary in Holland. If I were in China, I should ask of you the customary interest at Macao and Canton.
2. While the parties were proceeding with this bargain at Amsterdam, it happened that there arrived from St. Magliore, a Jansenist (and the fact is perfectly true, he was called the Abbé des Issarts); this Jansenist says to the Dutch merchant, “Take care what you are about; you are absolutely incurring damnation; money must not produce money, ‘nummus nummum non parit.’ No one is allowed to receive interest for his money but when he is willing to sink the principal. The way to be saved is to make a contract with the gentleman; and for twenty thousand crowns which you are never to have returned to you, you and your heirs will receive a thousand crowns per annum to all eternity.”
“You jest,” replies the Dutchman; “you are in this very case proposing to me a usury that is absolutely of the nature of an infinite series. I should (that is, myself and heirs would) in that case receive back my capital at the end of twenty years, the double of it in forty, the four-fold of it in eighty; this you see would be just an infinite series. I cannot, besides, lend for more than twelve months, and I am contented with a thousand crowns as a remuneration.”
The Abbé des Issarts.
—I am grieved for your Dutch soul; God forbade the Jews to lend at interest, and you are well aware that a citizen of Amsterdam should punctually obey the laws of commerce given in a wilderness to runaway vagrants who had no commerce.
—That is clear; all the world ought to be Jews; but it seems to me, that the law permitted the Hebrew horde to gain as much by usury as they could from foreigners, and that, in consequence of this permission, they managed their affairs in the sequel remarkably well. Besides, the prohibition against one Jew’s taking interest from another must necessarily have become obsolete, since our Lord Jesus, when preaching at Jerusalem, expressly said that interest was in his time one hundred per cent.; for in the parable of the talents he says, that the servant who had received five talents gained five others in Jerusalem by them; that he who had two gained two by them; and that the third who had only one, and did not turn that to any account, was shut up in a dungeon by his master, for not laying it out with the money-changers. But these money-changers were Jews; it was therefore between Jews that usury was practised at Jerusalem; therefore this parable, drawn from the circumstances and manners of the times, decidedly indicates that usury or interest was at the rate of a hundred per cent. Read the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew; he was conversant with the subject; he had been a commissioner of taxes in Galilee. Let me finish my argument with this gentleman; and do not make me lose both my money and my time.
The Abbé des Issarts.
—All that you say is very good and very fine; but the Sorbonne has decided that lending money on interest is a mortal sin.
—You must be laughing at me, my good friend, when you cite the Sorbonne as an authority to a merchant of Amsterdam. There is not a single individual among those wrangling railers themselves who does not obtain, whenever he can, five or six per cent. for his money by purchasing revenue bills, India bonds, assignments, and Canada bills. The clergy of France, as a corporate body, borrow at interest. In many of the provinces of France, it is the custom to stipulate for interest with the principal. Besides, the university of Oxford and that of Salamanca have decided against the Sorbonne. I acquired this information in the course of my travels; and thus we have authority against authority. Once more, I must beg you to interrupt me no longer.
The Abbé des Issarts.
—The wicked, sir, are never at a loss for reasons. You are, I repeat, absolutely destroying yourself, for the Abbé de St. Cyran, who has not performed any miracles, and the Abbé Paris, who performed some in St. Médard. . . . .
3. Before the abbé had finished his speech, the merchant drove him out of his counting-house; and after having legally lent his money, to the last penny, went to represent the conversation between himself and the abbé, to the magistrates, who forbade the Jansenists from propagating a doctrine so pernicious to commerce.
“Gentlemen,” said the chief bailiff, “give us of efficacious grace as much as you please, of predestination as much as you please, and of communion as little as you please; on these points you are masters; but take care not to meddle with the laws of commerce.”
Read the article on “Intolerance” in the great “Encyclopædia.” Read the treatise on “Toleration” composed on occasion of the dreadful assassination of John Calas, a citizen of Toulouse; and if, after that, you allow of persecution in matters of religion, compare yourself at once to Ravaillac. Ravaillac, you know, was highly intolerant. The following is the substance of all the discourses ever delivered by the intolerant:
You monster; you will be burned to all eternity in the other world, and whom I will myself burn as soon as ever I can in this, you really have the insolence to read de Thou and Bayle, who have been put into the index of prohibited authors at Rome! When I was preaching to you in the name of God, how Samson had killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, your head, still harder than the arsenal from which Samson obtained his arms, showed me by a slight movement from left to right that you believed nothing of what I said. And when I stated that the devil Asmodeus, who out of jealousy twisted the necks of the seven husbands of Sarah among the Medes, was put in chains in upper Egypt, I saw a small contraction of your lips, in Latin called cachinnus (a grin) which plainly indicated to me that in the bottom of your soul you held the history of Asmodeus in derision.
And as for you, Isaac Newton; Frederick the Great, king of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg; John Locke; Catherine, empress of Russia, victorious over the Ottomans; John Milton; the beneficent sovereign of Denmark; Shakespeare; the wise king of Sweden; Leibnitz; the august house of Brunswick; Tillotson; the emperor of China; the Parliament of England; the Council of the great Mogul; in short, all you who do not believe one word which I have taught in my courses on divinity, I declare to you, that I regard you all as pagans and publicans, as, in order to engrave it on your unimpressible brains, I have often told you before. You are a set of callous miscreants; you will all go to gehenna, where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched; for I am right, and you are all wrong; and I have grace, and you have none. I confess three devotees in my neighborhood, while you do not confess a single one; I have executed the mandates of bishops, which has never been the case with you; I have abused philosophers in the language of the fish-market, while you have protected, imitated, or equalled them; I have composed pious defamatory libels, stuffed with infamous calumnies, and you have never so much as read them. I say mass every day in Latin for fourteen sous, and you are never even so much as present at it, any more than Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Cæsar, Horace, or Virgil, were ever present at it—consequently you deserve each of you to have your right hand cut off, your tongue cut out, to be put to the torture, and at last burned at a slow fire; for God is merciful.
Such, without the slightest abatement, are the maxims of the intolerant, and the sum and substance of all their books. How delightful to live with such amiable people!
Was there ever a time when the globe was entirely inundated? It is physically impossible.
It is possible that the sea may successively have covered every land, one part after another; and even this can only have happened by very slow gradation, and in a prodigious number of centuries. In the course of five hundred years the sea has retired from Aigues-Mortes, Fréjus, and Ravenna, which were considerable ports, and left about two leagues of land dry. According to the ratio of such progression, it is clear that it would require two million and two hundred and fifty thousand years to produce the same effect through the whole circuit of the globe. It is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that this period of time nearly falls in with that which the axis of the earth would require to be raised, so as to coincide with the equator; a change extremely probable, which began to be considered so only about fifty years since, and which could not be completed in a shorter period of time than two million and three hundred thousand years.
The beds or strata of shells, which have been discovered at the distance of some leagues from the sea, are an incontestable evidence that it has gradually deposited these marine productions on tracts which were formerly shores of the ocean; but that the water should have ever covered the whole globe at once is an absurd chimera in physics, demonstrated to be impossible by the laws of gravitation, by the laws of fluids, and by the insufficient quantity of water for the purpose. We do not, however, by these observations, at all mean to impeach the truth of the universal deluge, related in the Pentateuch; on the contrary, that is a miracle which it is our duty to believe; it is a miracle, and therefore could not have been accomplished by the laws of nature.
All is miracle in the history of the deluge—a miracle, that forty days of rain should have inundated the four quarters of the world, and have raised the water to the height of fifteen cubits above the tops of the loftiest mountains; a miracle, that there should have been cataracts, floodgates, and openings in heaven; a miracle, that all sorts of animals should have been collected in the ark from all parts of the world; a miracle that Noah found the means of feeding them for a period of ten months; a miracle that all the animals with all their provisions could have been included and retained in the ark; a miracle, that the greater part of them did not die; a miracle, that after quitting the ark, they found food enough to maintain them; and a further miracle, but of a different kind, that a person, by the name of Lepelletier, thought himself capable of explaining how all the animals could be contained and fed in Noah’s ark naturally, that is, without a miracle.
But the history of the deluge being that of the most miraculous event of which the world ever heard, it must be the height of folly and madness to attempt an explanation of it: it is one of the mysteries which are believed by faith; and faith consists in believing that which reason does not believe—which is only another miracle.
The history of the universal deluge, therefore, is like that of the tower of Babel, of Balaam’s ass, of the falling of the walls of Jericho at the sound of trumpets, of waters turned into blood, of the passage of the Red Sea, and of the whole of the prodigies which God condescended to perform in favor of his chosen people—depths unfathomable to the human understanding.
Jehovah, the ancient name of God. No people ever pronounced it “Geova,” as the French do; they pronounced it “Iëvo”; you find it so written in Sanchoniathon, cited by Eusebius, Prep., book x.; in Diodorus, book ii.; and in Macrobius, Sat., book i. All nations have pronounced it ie and not g. This sacred name was formed out of the vowels i, e, o, u, in the east. Some pronounced ïe, oh, with an aspirate, i, e, o, va. The word was always to be constituted of four letters, although we have here used five, for want of power to express these four characters.
We have already observed that, according to Clement of Alexandria, by seizing on the correct pronunciation of this name a person had it in his power to produce the death of any man. Clement gives an instance of it.
Long before the time of Moses, Seth had pronounced the name of “Jehovah,” as is related in the fourth chapter of Genesis; and, according to the Hebrew, Seth was even called “Jehovah.” Abraham swore to the king of Sodom by Jehovah, chap. xiv. 22.
From the word “Jehovah,” the Latins derived “Jove,” “Jovis,” “Jovispeter,” “Jupiter.” In the bush, the Almighty says to Moses, “My name is Jehovah.” In the orders which he gave Him for the court of Pharaoh, he says to him: “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as the mighty God, only by my name, ‘Adonai,’ I was not known to them, and I made a covenant with them.”
The Jews did not for a long time pronounce this name. It was common to the Phœnicians and Egyptians. It signified, that which is; and hence, probably, is derived the inscription of Isis: “I am all that is.”
It is evident from the text of the Book of Judges that Jephthah promised to sacrifice the first person that should come out of his house to congratulate him on his victory over the Ammonites. His only daughter presented herself before him for that purpose; he tore his garments and immolated her, after having promised her to go and deplore in the recesses of the mountains the calamity of her dying a virgin. The daughters of Israel long continued to celebrate this painful event, and devoted four days in the year to lamentation for the daughter of Jephthah.
In whatever period this history was written, whether it was imitated from the Greek history of Agamemnon and Idomeneus, or was the model from which that history was taken; whether it might be anterior or posterior to similar narratives in Assyrian history is not the point I am now examining. I keep strictly to the text. Jephthah vowed to make his daughter a burnt offering, and fulfilled his vow.
It was expressly commanded by the Jewish law to sacrifice men devoted to the Lord: “Every man that shall be devoted shall not be redeemed, but shall be put to death without remission.” The Vulgate translates it: “He shall not be redeemed, but shall die the death.”
It was in virtue of this law that Samuel hewed in pieces King Agag, whom, as we have already seen, Saul had pardoned. In fact, it was for sparing Agag that Saul was rebuked by the Lord, and lost his kingdom.
Thus, then, we perceive sacrifices of human blood clearly established; there is no point of history more incontestable: we can only judge of a nation by its own archives, and by what it relates concerning itself.
There are, then, it seems, persons to be found who hesitate at nothing, who falsify a passage of Scripture as intrepidly as if they were quoting its very words, and who hope to deceive mankind by their falsehoods, knowing them perfectly to be such. If such daring impostors are to be found now, we cannot help supposing, that before the invention of printing, which affords such facility, and almost certainty of detection, there existed a hundred times as many.
One of the most impudent falsifiers who have lately appeared, is the author of an infamous libel entitled “The Anti-Philosophic Dictionary,” which truly deserves its title. But my readers will say, “Do not be so irritated; what is it to you that a contemptible book has been published?” Gentlemen, it is to the subject of Jephthah, to the subject of human victims, of the blood of men sacrificed to God, that I am now desirous of drawing your attention!
The author, whoever he may be, translates the thirty-ninth verse of the first chapter of the history of Jephthah as follows: “She returned to the house of her father, who fulfilled the consecration which he had promised by his vow, and his daughter remained in the state of virginity.”
Yes, falsifier of the Bible, I am irritated at it, I acknowledge; but you have lied to the holy spirit; which you ought to know is a sin which is never pardoned.
The passage in the Vulgate is as follows:
“Et reversa est ad patrem suum, et fecit ei sicut voverat quæ ignorabat virum. Exinde mos increbruit in Israel et consuetudo servata est, ut post anni circulum conveniant in unum filiæ Israel, et plangant filiam Jephte Galaaditæ, diebus quatuor.”
“And she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed, to her who had never known man; and hence came the usage, and the custom is still observed, that the daughters of Israel assemble every year to lament the daughter of Jephthah for four days.”
You will just have the goodness, Mr. Anti-philosopher, to tell us, whether four days of lamentation every year have been devoted to weeping the fate of a young woman because she was consecrated?
Whether any nuns (religieuses) were ever solemnly appointed among a people who considered virginity an opprobrium?
And also, what is the natural meaning of the phrase, he did to her as he had vowed—“Fecit ei sicut voverat?”
What had Jephthah vowed? What had he promised by an oath to perform? To kill his daughter; to offer her up as a burnt offering—and he did kill her.
Read Calmet’s dissertation on the rashness of Jephthah’s vow and its fulfilment; read the law which he cites, that terrible law of Leviticus, in the twenty-seventh chapter, which commands that all which shall be devoted to the Lord shall not be ransomed, but shall die the death: “Non redimetur, sed morte morletur.”
Observe the multitude of examples by which this most astonishing truth is attested. Look at the Amalekites and Canaanites; look at the king of Arvad and all his family subjected to the law of devotion; look at the priest Samuel slaying King Agag with his own hands, and cutting him into pieces as a butcher cuts up an ox in his slaughter-house. After considering all this, go and corrupt, falsify, or deny holy Scripture, in order to maintain your paradox; and insult those who revere the Scripture, however astonishing and confounding they may find it. Give the lie direct to the historian Josephus, who transcribes the narrative in question, and positively asserts that Jephthah immolated his daughter. Pile revilings upon falsehoods, and calumny upon ignorance; sages will smile at your impotence; and sages, thank God, are at present neither few nor weak. Oh, that you could but see the sovereign contempt with which they look down upon the Rouths, when they corrupt the holy Scripture, and when they boast of having disputed with the president Montesquieu in his last hour, and convinced him that he ought to think exactly like the Jesuits!
JESUITS; OR PRIDE.
The Jesuits have been so much a subject of discourse and discussion that, after having engaged the attention of Europe for a period of two hundred years, they at last begin to weary and disgust it, whether they write themselves, or whether any one else writes for or against that singular society; in which it must be confessed there have been found, and are to be found still, individuals of very extraordinary merit.
They have been reproached, in the six thousand volumes that have been written against them, with their lax morality, which has not, however, been more lax than that of the Capuchins; and with their doctrine relating to the safety of the person of kings; a doctrine which after all is not to be compared with the horn-handled knife of James Clement; nor with the prepared host, the sprinkled wafer, which so well answered the purpose of Ange de Montepulciano, another Jacobin, and which poisoned the emperor Henry VII.
It is not versatile grace which has been their ruin, nor the fraudulent bankruptcy of the reverend Father Lavalette, prefect of the apostolic missions. A whole order has not been expelled from France and Spain and the two Sicilies, because that order contained a single bankrupt. Nor was it affected by the odious deviations of the Jesuit Guyot-Desfontaines, or the Jesuit Fréron, or the reverend father Marsy, so injurious, in the latter instance, to the youthful and high-born victim. The public refused to attend these Greek and Latin imitations of Anacreon and Horace.
What is it then that was their ruin?—pride. What, it may be asked by some, were the Jesuits prouder than any other monks? Yes; and so much so that they procured a lettre de cachet against an ecclesiastic for calling them monks. One member of the society, called Croust, more brutal than the rest, a brother of the confessor of the second dauphiness, was absolutely, in my presence, going to beat the son of M. de Guyot, afterwards king’s advocate (prêteur-royal) at Strasburg, merely for saying he would go to see him in his convent.
It is perfectly incredible with what contempt they considered every university where they had not been educated, every book which they had not written, every ecclesiastic who was not “a man of quality.” Of this I have myself, times without number, been a witness. They express themselves in the following language, in their libel entitled “It is Time to Speak Out”: “Should we condescend even to speak to a magistrate who says the Jesuits are proud and ought to be humbled?” They were so proud that they would not suffer any one to blame their pride!
Whence did this hateful pride originate? From Father Guinard’s having been hanged? which is literally true.
It must be remarked that after the execution of that Jesuit under Henry IV., and after the banishment of the society from the kingdom, they were recalled only on the indispensable condition that one Jesuit should always reside at court, who should be responsible for all the rest. Coton was the person who thus became a hostage at the court of Henry IV.; and that excellent monarch, who was not without his little stratagems of policy, thought to conciliate the pope by making a hostage of his confessor.
From that moment every brother of the order seemed to feel as if he had been raised to be king’s confessor. This place of first spiritual physician became a department of the administration under Louis XIII., and more so still under Louis XIV. The brother Vadblé, valet de chambre of Father La Chaise, granted his protection to the bishops of France; and Father Letellier ruled with a sceptre of iron those who were very well disposed to be so ruled. It was impossible that the greater part of the Jesuits should not be puffed up by the consequence and power to which these two members of their society had been raised, and that they should not become as insolent as the lackeys of M. Louvois. There have been among them, certainly, men of knowledge, eloquence, and genius; these possessed some modesty, but those who had only mediocrity of talent or acquirement were tainted with that pride which generally attaches to mediocrity and to the pedantry of a college.
From the time of Father Garasse almost all their polemical works have been pervaded with an indecent and scornful arrogance which has roused the indignation of all Europe. This arrogance frequently sank into the most pitiful meanness; so that they discovered the extraordinary secret of being objects at once of envy and contempt. Observe, for example, how they expressed themselves of the celebrated Pasquier, advocate-general of the chamber of accounts:
“Pasquier is a mere porter, a Parisian varlet, a second-rate showman and jester, a journeyman retailer of ballads and old stories, a contemptible hireling, only fit to be a lackey’s valet, a scrub, a disgusting ragamuffin, strongly suspected of heresy, and either heretical or much worse, a libidinous and filthy satyr, a master-fool by nature, in sharp, in flat, and throughout the whole gamut, a three-shod fool, a fool double-dyed, a fool in grain, a fool in every sort of folly.”
They afterwards polished their style; but pride, by becoming less gross, only became the more revolting.
Everything is pardoned except pride; and this accounts for the fact that all the parliaments in the kingdom, the members of which had the greater part of them been disciples of the Jesuits, seized the first opportunity of effecting their annihilation; and the whole land rejoiced in their downfall.
So deeply was the spirit of pride rooted in them that it manifested itself with the most indecent rage, even while they were held down to the earth by the hand of justice, and their final sentence yet remained to be pronounced. We need only read the celebrated memorial already mentioned, entitled “It is Time to Speak Out,” printed at Avignon in 1763, under the assumed name of Anvers. It begins with an ironical petition to the persons holding the court of parliament. It addresses them with as much superiority and contempt as could be shown in reprimanding a proctor’s clerk. The illustrious M. de Montclar, procureur-général, the oracle of the Parliament of Provence, is continually treated as “M. Ripert,” and rebuked with as much consequence and authority as a mutinous and ignorant scholar by a professor in his chair. They pushed their audacity so far as to say that M. de Montclar “blasphemed” in giving an account of the institution of the Jesuits.
In their memorial, entitled “All Shall be Told,” they insult still more daringly the Parliament of Metz, and always in the style of arrogance and dictation derived from the schools.
They have retained this pride even in the very ashes to which France and Spain have now reduced them. From the bottom of those ashes the serpent, scotched as it has been, has again raised its hostile head. We have seen a contemptible creature, of the name of Nonnotte, set himself up for a critic on his masters; and, although possessing merely talent enough for preaching to a mob in the churchyard, discoursing with all the ease of impudence about things of which he has not the slightest notion. Another insolent member of the society, called Patouillet, dared, in the bishop’s mandates, to insult respectable citizens and officers of the king’s household, whose very lackeys would not have permitted him to speak to them.
One of the things on which they most prided themselves, was introducing themselves into the houses of the great in their last illness, as ambassadors of God, to open to them the gates of heaven, without their previously passing through purgatory. Under Louis XIV. it was considered as having a bad aspect, it was unfashionable and discreditable, to die without having passed through the hands of a Jesuit; and the wretch, immediately after the fatal scene had closed, would go and boast to his devotees that he had just been converting a duke and peer, who, without his protection, would have been inevitably damned.
The dying man might say: “By what right, you college excrement, do you intrude yourself on me in my dying moments? Was I ever seen to go to your cells when any of you had the fistula or gangrene, and were about to return your gross and unwieldy bodies to the earth? Has God granted your soul any rights over mine? Do I require a preceptor at the age of seventy? Do you carry the keys of Paradise at your girdle? You dare to call yourself an ambassador of God; show me your patent and if you have none, let me die in peace. No Benedictine, Chartreux, or Premonstrant, comes to disturb my dying moments; they have no wish to erect a trophy to their pride upon the bed of our last agony; they remain peacefully in their cells; do you rest quietly in yours; there can be nothing in common between you and me.”
A comic circumstance occurred on a truly mournful occasion, when an English Jesuit, of the name of Routh, eagerly strove to possess himself of the last hour of the great Montesquieu. “He came,” he said, “to bring back that virtuous soul to religion;” as if Montesquieu had not known what religion was better than a Routh; as if it had been the will of God that Montesquieu should think like a Routh! He was driven out of the chamber, and went all over Paris, exclaiming, “I have converted that celebrated man; I prevailed upon him to throw his ‘Persian Letters’ and his ‘Spirit of Laws’ into the fire.” Care was taken to print the narrative of the conversion of President Montesquieu by the reverend father Routh in the libel entitled “The Anti-Philosophic Dictionary.”
Another subject of pride and ambition with the Jesuits was making missions to various cities, just as if they had been among Indians or Japanese. They would oblige the whole magistracy to attend them in the streets; a cross was borne before them, planted in the principal public places; they dispossessed the resident clergy; they became complete masters of the city. A Jesuit of the name of Aubert performed one of these missions to Colmar, and compelled the advocate-general of the sovereign council to burn at his feet his copy of “Bayle,” which had cost him no less than fifty crowns. For my own part, I acknowledge that I would rather have burned brother Aubert himself. Judge how the pride of this Aubert must have swelled with this sacrifice as he boasted of it to his comrades at night, and as he exultingly wrote the account of it to his general.
O monks, monks! be modest, as I have already advised you; be moderate, if you wish to avoid the calamities impending over you.
You order me to draw you a faithful picture of the spirit of the Jews, and of their history, and—without entering into the ineffable ways of Providence, which are not our ways—you seek in the manners of this people the source of the events which that Providence prepared.
It is certain that the Jewish nation is the most singular that the world has ever seen; and although, in a political view, the most contemptible of all, yet in the eyes of a philosopher, it is, on various accounts, worthy consideration.
The Guebers, the Banians, and the Jews, are the only nations which exist dispersed, having no alliance with any people, are perpetuated among foreign nations, and continue apart from the rest of the world.
The Guebers were once infinitely more considerable than the Jews, for they are castes of the Persians, who had the Jews under their dominion; but they are now scattered over but one part of the East.
The Banians, who are descended from the ancient people among whom Pythagoras acquired his philosophy, exist only in India and Persia; but the Jews are dispersed over the whole face of the earth, and if they were assembled, would compose a nation much more numerous than it ever was in the short time that they were masters of Palestine. Almost every people who have written the history of their origin, have chosen to set it off by prodigies; with them all has been miracle; their oracles have predicted nothing but conquest; and such of them as have really become conquerors have had no difficulty in believing these ancient oracles which were verified by the event. The Jews are distinguished among the nations by this—that their oracles are the only true ones, of which we are not permitted to doubt. These oracles, which they understand only in the literal sense, have a hundred times foretold to them that they should be masters of the world; yet they have never possessed anything more than a small corner of land, and that only for a small number of years, and they have not now so much as a village of their own. They must, then, believe, and they do believe, that their predictions will one day be fulfilled, and that they shall have the empire of the earth.
Among the Mussulmans and the Christians they are the lowest of all nations, but they think themselves the highest. This pride in their abasement is justified by an unanswerable reason—viz., that they are in reality the fathers of both Christians and Mussulmans. The Christian and the Mussulman religion acknowledge the Jewish as their parent; and, by a singular contradiction, they at once hold this parent in reverence and in abhorrence.
It were foreign to our present purpose to repeat that continued succession of prodigies which astonishes the imagination and exercises the faith. We have here to do only with events purely historical, wholly apart from the divine concurrence and the miracles which God, for so long a time, vouchsafed to work in this people’s favor.
First, we find in Egypt a family of seventy persons producing, at the end of two hundred and fifteen years, a nation counting six hundred thousand fighting men; which makes, with the women, the children and the old men, upward of two millions of souls. There is no example upon earth of so prodigious an increase of population; this people, having come out of Egypt, stayed forty years in the deserts of Stony Arabia, and in that frightful country the people much diminished.
What remained of this nation advanced a little northward in those deserts. It appears that they had the same principles which the tribes of Stony and Desert Arabia have since had, of butchering without mercy the inhabitants of little towns over whom they had the advantage, and reserving only the young women. The interests of population have ever been the principal object of both. We find that when the Arabs had conquered Spain, they imposed tributes of marriageable girls; and at this day the Arabs of the desert make no treaty without stipulating for some girls and a few presents.
The Jews arrived in a sandy, mountainous country, where there were a few towns, inhabited by a little people called the Midianites. In one Midianite camp, alone, they took six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, seventy-two thousand oxen, sixty-one thousand asses, and thirty-two thousand virgins. All the men, all the wives, and all the male children, were massacred; the girls and the booty were divided between the people and the sacrificers.
They then took, in the same country, the town of Jericho; but having devoted the inhabitants of that place to the anathema, they massacred them all, including the virgins, pardoning none but Rahab, a courtesan, who had aided them in surprising the town.
The learned have agitated the question whether the Jews, like so many other nations, really sacrificed men to the Divinity. This is a dispute on words; those whom the people consecrated to the anathema were not put to death on an altar, with religious rites; but they were not the less immolated, without its being permitted to pardon any one of them. Leviticus (xxvii., 29) expressly forbids the redeeming of those who shall have been devoted. Its words are, “They shall surely be put to death.” By virtue of this law it was that Jephthah devoted and killed his daughter, that Saul would have killed his son, and that the prophet Samuel cut in pieces King Agag, Saul’s prisoner. It is quite certain that God is the master of the lives of men, and that it is not for us to examine His laws. We ought to limit ourselves to believing these things, and reverencing in silence the designs of God, who permitted them.
It is also asked what right had strangers like the Jews to the land of Canaan? The answer is, that they had what God gave them.
No sooner had they taken Jericho and Lais than they had a civil war among themselves, in which the tribe of Benjamin was almost wholly exterminated—men, women, and children; leaving only six hundred males. The people, unwilling that one of the tribes should be annihilated, bethought themselves of sacking the whole city of the tribe of Manasseh, killing all the men, old and young, all the children, all the married women, all the widows, and taking six hundred virgins, whom they gave to the six hundred survivors of the tribe of Benjamin, to restore that tribe, in order that the number of their twelve tribes might still be complete.
Meanwhile, the Phœnicians, a powerful people settled in the coasts from time immemorial, being alarmed at the depredations and cruelties of these newcomers, frequently chastised them; the neighboring princes united against them; and they were seven times reduced to slavery, for more than two hundred years.
At last they made themselves a king, whom they elected by lot. This king could not be very mighty; for in the first battle which the Jews fought under him, against their masters, the Philistines, they had, in the whole army, but one sword and one lance, and not one weapon of steel. But David, their second king, made war with advantage. He took the city of Salem, afterwards so celebrated under the name of Jerusalem, and then the Jews began to make some figure on the borders of Syria. Their government and their religion took a more august form. Hitherto they had not the means of raising a temple, though every neighboring nation had one or more. Solomon built a superb one, and reigned over this people about forty years.
Not only were the days of Solomon the most flourishing days of the Jews, but all the kings upon earth could not exhibit a treasure approaching Solomon’s. His father, David, whose predecessor had not even iron, left to Solomon twenty-five thousand six hundred and forty-eight millions of French livres in ready money. His fleets, which went to Ophir, brought him sixty-eight millions per annum in pure gold, without reckoning the silver and jewels. He had forty thousand stables, and the same number of coach-houses, twelve thousand stables for his cavalry, seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines. Yet he had neither wood nor workmen for building his palace and the temple; he borrowed them of Hiram, king of Tyre, who also furnished gold; and Solomon gave Hiram twenty towns in payment. The commentators have acknowledged that these things need explanation, and have suspected some literal error in the copyist, who alone can have been mistaken.
On the death of Solomon, a division took place among the twelve tribes composing the nation. The kingdom was torn asunder, and separated into two small provinces, one of which was called Judah, the other Israel—nine tribes and a half composing the Israelitish province, and only two and a half that of Judah. Then there was between these two small peoples a hatred, the more implacable as they were kinsmen and neighbors, and as they had different religions; for at Sichem and at Samaria they worshipped “Baal”—giving to God a Sidonian name; while at Jerusalem they worshipped “Adonai.” At Sichem were consecrated two calves; at Jerusalem, two cherubim—which were two winged animals with double heads, placed in the sanctuary. So, each faction having its kings, its gods, its worship, and its prophets, they made a bloody war upon each other.
While this war was carried on, the kings of Assyria, who conquered the greater part of Asia, fell upon the Jews; as an eagle pounces upon two lizards while they are fighting. The nine and a half tribes of Samaria and Sichem were carried off and dispersed forever; nor has it been precisely known to what places they were led into slavery.
It is but twenty leagues from the town of Samaria to Jerusalem, and their territories joined each other; so that when one of these towns was enslaved by powerful conquerors, the other could not long hold out. Jerusalem was sacked several times; it was tributary to kings Hazael and Razin, enslaved under Tiglath-Pileser, three times taken by Nebuchodonosor, or Nebuchadnezzar, and at last destroyed. Zedekiah, who had been set up as king or governor by this conqueror, was led, with his whole people, into captivity in Babylonia; so that the only Jews left in Palestine were a few enslaved peasants, to sow the ground.
As for the little country of Samaria and Sichem, more fertile than that of Jerusalem, it was re-peopled by foreign colonies, sent there by Assyrian kings, who took the name of Samaritans.
The two and a half tribes that were slaves in Babylonia and the neighboring towns for seventy years, had time to adopt the usages of their masters, and enriched their own tongue by mixing with it the Chaldæan; this is incontestable. The historian Josephus tells us that he wrote first in Chaldæan, which is the language of his country. It appears that the Jews acquired but little of the science of the Magi; they turned brokers, money-changers, and old-clothes men; by which they made themselves necessary, as they still do, and grew rich.
Their gains enabled them to obtain, under Cyrus, the liberty of rebuilding Jerusalem; but when they were to return into their own country, those who had grown rich at Babylon, would not quit so fine a country for the mountains of Cœlesyria, nor the fruitful banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris, for the torrent of Kedron. Only the meanest part of the nation returned with Zorobabel. The Jews of Babylon contributed only their alms to the rebuilding of the city and the temple; nor was the collection a large one; for Esdras relates that no more than seventy thousand crowns could be raised for the erection of this temple, which was to be that of all the earth.
The Jews still remained subject to the Persians; they were likewise subject to Alexander; and when that great man, the most excusable of all conquerors, had, in the early years of his victorious career, begun to raise Alexandria, and make it the centre of the commerce of the world, the Jews flocked there to exercise their trade of brokers; and there it was that their rabbis at length learned something of the sciences of the Greeks. The Greek tongue became absolutely necessary to all trading Jews.
After Alexander’s death, this people continued subject in Jerusalem to the kings of Syria, and in Alexandria to the kings of Egypt; and when these kings were at war, this people always shared the fate of their subjects, and belonged to the conqueror.
From the time of their captivity at Babylon, the Jews never had particular governors taking the title of king. The pontiffs had the internal administration, and these pontiffs were appointed by their masters; they sometimes paid very high for this dignity, as the Greek patriarch at Constantinople pays for his at present.
Under Antiochus Epiphanes they revolted; the city was once more pillaged, and the walls demolished. After a succession of similar disasters, they at length obtained, for the first time, about a hundred and fifty years before the Christian era, permission to coin money, which permission was granted them by Antiochus Sidetes. They then had chiefs, who took the name of kings, and even wore a diadem. Antigonus was the first who was decorated with this ornament, which, without the power, confers but little honor.
At that time the Romans were beginning to become formidable to the kings of Syria, masters of the Jews; and the latter gained over the Roman senate by presents and acts of submission. It seemed that the wars in Asia Minor would, for a time at least, give some relief to this unfortunate people; but Jerusalem no sooner enjoyed some shadow of liberty than it was torn by civil wars, which rendered its condition under its phantoms of kings much more pitiable than it had ever been in so long and various a succession of bondages.
In their intestine troubles, they made the Romans their judges. Already most of the kingdoms of Asia Minor, Southern Africa, and three-fourths of Europe, acknowledged the Romans as their arbiters and masters.
Pompey came into Syria to judge the nation and to depose several petty tyrants. Being deceived by Aristobulus, who disputed the royalty of Jerusalem, he avenged himself upon him and his party. He took the city; had some of the seditious, either priests or Pharisees, crucified; and not long after, condemned Aristobulus, king of the Jews, to execution.
The Jews, ever unfortunate, ever enslaved, and ever revolting, again brought upon them the Roman arms. Crassus and Cassius punished them; and Metellus Scipio had a son of King Aristobulus, named Alexander, the author of all the troubles, crucified.
Under the great Cæsar, they were entirely subject and peaceable. Herod, famed among them and among us, for a long time was merely tetrarch, but obtained from Antony the crown of Judæa, for which he paid dearly; but Jerusalem would not recognize this new king, because he was descended from Esau, and not from Jacob, and was merely an Idumæan. The very circumstance of his being a foreigner caused him to be chosen by the Romans, the better to keep this people in check. The Romans protected the king of their nomination with an army; and Jerusalem was again taken by assault, sacked, and pillaged.
Herod, afterwards protected by Augustus, became one of the most powerful sovereigns among the petty kings of Arabia. He restored Jerusalem, repaired the fortifications that surrounded the temple, so dear to the Jews, and rebuilt the temple itself; but he could not finish it, for he wanted money and workmen. This proves that, after all, Herod was not rich; and the Jews, though fond of their temple, were still fonder of their money.
The name of king was nothing more than a favor granted by the Romans; it was not a title of succession. Soon after Herod’s death, Judæa was governed as a subordinate Roman province, by the proconsul of Syria, although from time to time the title of king was granted, sometimes to one Jew, sometimes to another, for a considerable sum of money, as under the emperor Claudius, when it was granted to the Jew Agrippa.
A daughter of Agrippa was that Berenice, celebrated for having been beloved by one of the best emperors Rome can boast. She it was who, by the injustice she experienced from her countrymen, drew down the vengeance of the Romans upon Jerusalem. She asked for justice, and the factions of the town refused it. The seditious spirit of the people impelled them to fresh excesses. Their character at all times was to be cruel; and their fate, to be punished.
This memorable siege, which ended in the destruction of the city, was carried on by Vespasian and Titus. The exaggerating Josephus pretends that in this short war more than a million of Jews were slaughtered. It is not to be wondered at that an author who puts fifteen thousand men in each village should slay a million. What remained were exposed in the public markets; and each Jew was sold at about the same price as the unclean animal of which they dare not eat.
In this last dispersion they again hoped for a deliverer; and under Adrian, whom they curse in their prayers, there arose one Barcochebas, who called himself a second Moses—a Shiloh—a Christ. Having assembled many of these wretched people under his banners, which they believed to be sacred, he perished with all his followers. It was the last struggle of this nation, which has never lifted its head again. Its constant opinion, that barrenness is a reproach, has preserved it; the Jews have ever considered as their two first duties, to get money and children.
From this short summary it results that the Hebrews have ever been vagrants, or robbers, or slaves, or seditious. They are still vagabonds upon the earth, and abhorred by men, yet affirming that heaven and earth and all mankind were created for them alone.
It is evident, from the situation of Judæa, and the genius of this people, that they could not but be continually subjugated. It was surrounded by powerful and warlike nations, for which it had an aversion; so that it could neither be in alliance with them, nor protected by them. It was impossible for it to maintain itself by its marine; for it soon lost the port which in Solomon’s time it had on the Red Sea; and Solomon himself always employed Tyrians to build and to steer his vessels, as well as to erect his palace and his temple. It is then manifest that the Hebrews had neither trade nor manufactures, and that they could not compose a flourishing people. They never had an army always ready for the field, like the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Syrians, and the Romans. The laborers and artisans took up arms only as occasion required, and consequently could not form well-disciplined troops. Their mountains, or rather their rocks, are neither high enough, nor sufficiently contiguous, to have afforded an effectual barrier against invasion. The most numerous part of the nation, transported to Babylon, Persia, and to India, or settled in Alexandria, were too much occupied with their traffic and their brokerage to think of war. Their civil government, sometimes republican, sometimes pontifical, sometimes monarchial, and very often reduced to anarchy, seems to have been no better than their military discipline.
You ask, what was the philosophy of the Hebrews? The answer will be a very short one—they had none. Their legislator himself does not anywhere speak expressly of the immortality of the soul, nor of the rewards of another life. Josephus and Philo believe the soul to be material; their doctors admitted corporeal angels; and when they sojourned at Babylon, they gave to these angels the names given them by the Chaldæans—Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel. The name of Satan is Babylonian, and is in somewise the Arimanes of Zoroaster. The name of Asmodeus also is Chaldæan; and Tobit, who lived in Nineveh, is the first who employed it. The dogma of the immortality of the soul was developed only in the course of ages, and among the Pharisees. The Sadducees always denied this spirituality, this immortality, and the existence of the angels. Nevertheless, the Sadducees communicated uninterruptedly with the Pharisees, and had even sovereign pontiffs of their own sect. The prodigious difference in opinion between these two great bodies did not cause any disturbance. The Jews, in the latter times of their sojourn at Jerusalem, were scrupulously attached to nothing but the ceremonials of their law. The man who had eaten pudding or rabbit would have been stoned; while he who denied the immortality of the soul might be high-priest.
It is commonly said that the abhorrence in which the Jews held other nations proceeded from their horror of idolatry; but it is much more likely that the manner in which they at the first exterminated some of the tribes of Canaan, and the hatred which the neighboring nations conceived for them, were the cause of this invincible aversion. As they knew no nations but their neighbors, they thought that in abhorring them they detested the whole earth, and thus accustomed themselves to be the enemies of all men.
One proof that this hatred was not caused by the idolatry of the nations is that we find in the history of the Jews that they were very often idolaters. Solomon himself sacrificed to strange gods. After him, we find scarcely any king in the little province of Judah that does not permit the worship of these gods and offer them incense. The province of Israel kept its two calves and its sacred groves, or adored other divinities.
This idolatry, with which so many nations are reproached, is a subject on which but little light has been thrown. Perhaps it would not be difficult to efface this stain upon the theology of the ancients. All polished nations had the knowledge of a supreme God, the master of the inferior gods and of men. The Egyptians themselves recognized a first principle, which they called Knef, and to which all beside was subordinate. The ancient Persians adored the good principle, named Orosmanes; and were very far from sacrificing to the bad principle, Arimanes, whom they regarded nearly as we regard the devil. Even to this day, the Guebers have retained the sacred dogma of the unity of God. The ancient Brahmins acknowledged one only Supreme Being; the Chinese associated no inferior being with the Divinity, nor had any idol until the times when the populace were led astray by the worship of Fo, and the superstitions of the bonzes. The Greeks and the Romans, notwithstanding the multitude of their gods, acknowledged in Jupiter the absolute sovereign of heaven and earth. Homer, himself in the most absurd poetical fictions, has never lost sight of this truth. He constantly represents Jupiter as the only Almighty, sending good and evil upon earth, and, with a motion of his brow, striking gods and men with awe. Altars were raised, and sacrifices offered to inferior gods, dependent on the one supreme. There is not a single monument of antiquity in which the title of sovereign of heaven is given to any secondary deity—to Mercury, to Apollo, to Mars. The thunderbolt was ever the attribute of the master of all, and of him only.
The idea of a sovereign being, of his providence, of his eternal decrees, is to be found among all philosophers and all poets. In short, it is perhaps as unjust to think that the ancients equalled the heroes, the genii, the inferior gods, to him whom they called “the father and master of the gods,” as it would be ridiculous to imagine that we associate with God the blessed and the angels.
You then ask whether the ancient philosophers and law-givers borrowed from the Jews, or the Jews from them? We must refer the question to Philo; he owns that before the translation of the Septuagint the books of his nation were unknown to strangers. A great people cannot have received their laws and their knowledge from a little people, obscure and enslaved. In the time of Osias, indeed, the Jews had no books; in his reign was accidentally found the only copy of the law then in existence. This people, after their captivity at Babylon, had no other alphabet than the Chaldæan; they were not famed for any art, any manufacture whatsoever; and even in the time of Solomon they were obliged to pay dear for foreign artisans. To say that the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, were instructed by the Jews, were to say that the Romans learned the arts from the people of Brittany. The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers. So far were they from having public schools for the instruction of youth, that they had not even a term in their language to express such an institution. The people of Peru and Mexico measured their year much better than the Jews. Their stay in Babylon and in Alexandria, during which individuals might instruct themselves, formed the people to no art save that of usury. They never knew how to stamp money; and when Antiochus Sidetes permitted them to have a coinage of their own, they were almost incapable of profiting by this permission for four or five years; indeed, this coin is said to have been struck at Samaria. Hence, it is, that Jewish medals are so rare, and nearly all false. In short, we find in them only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched. Still, we ought not to burn them.
Their law must appear, to every polished people, as singular as their conduct; if it were not divine, it would seem to be the law of savages beginning to assemble themselves into a nation; and being divine, one cannot understand how it is that it has not existed from all ages, for them, and for all men.
But it is more strange than all that the immortality of the soul is not even intimated in this law, entitled “Vaicrah and Addebarim,” Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
In this law it is forbidden to eat eels, because they have no scales; and hares, because they chew the cud, and have cloven feet. Apparently, the Jews had hares different from ours. The griffin is unclean, and four-footed birds are unclean, which animals are somewhat rare. Whoever touches a mouse, or a mole is unclean. The women are forbidden to lie with horses or asses. The Jewish women must have been subject to this sort of gallantry. The men are forbidden to offer up their seed to Moloch; and here the term seed is not metaphorical. It seems that it was customary, in the deserts of Arabia, to offer up this singular present to the gods; as it is said to be usual in Cochin and some other countries of India, for the girls to yield their virginity to an iron Priapus in a temple. These two ceremonies prove that mankind is capable of everything. The Kaffirs, who deprive themselves of one testicle, are a still more ridiculous example of the extravagance of superstition.
Another law of the Jews, equally strange, is their proof of adultery. A woman accused by her husband must be presented to the priests, and she is made to drink of the waters of jealousy, mixed with wormwood and dust. If she is innocent, the water makes her more beautiful; if she is guilty, her eyes start from her head, her belly swells, and she bursts before the Lord.
We shall not here enter into the details of all these sacrifices, which were nothing more than the operations of ceremonial butchers; but it of great importance to remark another kind of sacrifice too common in those barbarous times. It is expressly ordered, in the twenty-seventh chapter of Leviticus, that all men, vowed in anathema to the Lord, be immolated; they “shall surely be put to death”; such are the words of the text. Here is the origin of the story of Jephthah, whether his daughter was really immolated, or the story was copied from that of Iphigenia. Here, too, is the source of the vow made by Saul, who would have immolated his son, but that the army, less superstitious than himself, saved the innocent young man’s life.
It is then but too true that the Jews, according to their law, sacrificed human victims. This act of religion is in accordance with their manners; their own books represent them as slaughtering without mercy all that came in their way, reserving only the virgins for their use.
It would be very difficult—and should be very unimportant—to know at what time these laws were digested into the form in which we now have them. That they are of very high antiquity is enough to inform us how gross and ferocious the manners of that antiquity were.
It has been pretended that the dispersion of this people had been foretold, as a punishment for their refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah; the asserters affecting to forget that they had been dispersed throughout the known world long before Jesus Christ. The books that are left us of this singular nation make no mention of a return of the twelve tribes transported beyond the Euphrates by Tiglath-Pileser and his successor Shalmaneser; and it was six hundred years after, that Cyrus sent back to Jerusalem the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which Nebuchodonosor had brought away into the provinces of his empire. The Acts of the Apostles certify that fifty-three days after the death of Jesus Christ, there were Jews from every nation under heaven assembled for the feast of Pentecost. St. James writes to the twelve dispersed tribes; and Josephus and Philo speak of the Jews as very numerous throughout the East.
It is true that, considering the carnage that was made of them under some of the Roman emperors, and the slaughter of them so often repeated in every Christian state, one is astonished that this people not only still exists, but is at this day no less numerous than it was formerly. Their numbers must be attributed to their exemption from bearing arms, their ardor for marriage, their custom of contracting it in their families early, their law of divorce, their sober and regular way of life, their abstinence, their toil, and their exercise.
Their firm attachment to the Mosaic law is no less remarkable, especially when we consider their frequent apostasies when they lived under the government of their kings and their judges; and Judaism is now, of all the religions in the world, the one most rarely abjured—which is partly the fruit of the persecutions it has suffered. Its followers, perpetual martyrs to their creed, have regarded themselves with progressively increasing confidence, as the fountain of all sanctity; looking upon us as no other than rebellious Jews, who have abjured the law of God, and put to death or torture those who received it from His hand.
Indeed, if while Jerusalem and its temple existed, the Jews were sometimes driven from their country by the vicissitudes of empires, they have still more frequently been expelled through a blind zeal from every country in which they have dwelt since the progress of Christianity and Mahometanism. They themselves compare their religion to a mother, upon whom her two daughters, the Christian and the Mahometan, have inflicted a thousand wounds. But, how ill soever she has been treated by them, she still glories in having given them birth. She makes use of them both to embrace the whole world, while her own venerable age embraces all time.
It is singular that the Christians pretend to have accomplished the prophecies by tyrannizing over the Jews, by whom they were transmitted. We have already seen how the Inquisition banished the Jews from Spain. Obliged to wander from land to land, from sea to sea, to gain a livelihood; everywhere declared incapable of possessing any landed property, or holding any office, they have been obliged to disperse, and roam from place to place, unable to establish themselves permanently in any country, for want of support, of power to maintain their ground, and of knowledge in the art of war. Trade, a profession long despised by most of the nations of Europe, was, in those barbarous ages, their only resource; and as they necessarily grew rich by it, they were treated as infamous usurers. Kings who could not ransack the purses of their subjects, put the Jews, whom they regarded not as citizens, to torture.
What was done to them in England may give some idea of what they experienced in other countries. King John, being in want of money, had the rich Jews in his kingdom imprisoned. One of them, having had seven of his teeth drawn one after another, to obtain his property, gave, on losing the eighth, a thousand marks of silver. Henry III. extorted from Aaron, a Jew of York, fourteen thousand marks of silver, and ten thousand for his queen. He sold the rest of the Jews of his country to his brother Richard, for the term of one year, in order, says Matthew Paris, that this count might disembowel those whom his brother had flayed.
In France they were put in prison, plundered, sold, accused of magic, of sacrificing children, of poisoning the fountains. They were driven out of the kingdom; they were suffered to return for money; and even while they were tolerated, they were distinguished from the rest of the inhabitants by marks of infamy. And, by an inconceivable whimsicality, while in other countries the Jews were burned to make them embrace Christianity, in France the property of such as became Christians was confiscated. Charles IV., by an edict given at Basville, April 4, 1392, abrogated this tyrannical custom, which, according to the Benedictine Mabillon, had been introduced for two reasons:
First, to try the faith of these new converts, as it was but too common for those of this nation to feign submission to the gospel for some personal interest, without internally changing their belief.
Secondly, because as they had derived their wealth chiefly from usury, the purity of Christian morals appeared to require them to make a general restitution, which was effected by confiscation.
But the true reason of this custom, which the author of the “Spirit of Laws” has so well developed, was a sort of “droit d’amortissement”—a redemption for the sovereign, or the seigneurs, of the taxes which they levied on the Jews, as mortmainable serfs, whom they succeeded; for they were deprived of this benefit when the latter were converted to the Christian faith.
At length, being incessantly proscribed in every country, they ingeniously found the means of saving their fortunes and making their retreats forever secure. Being driven from France under Philip the Long, in 1318, they took refuge in Lombardy; there they gave to the merchants bills of exchange on those to whom they had entrusted their effects at their departure, and these were discharged.
The admirable invention of bills of exchange sprang from the extremity of despair; and then, and not until then, commerce was enabled to elude the efforts of violence, and to maintain itself throughout the world.
When, forty-four years ago, your countryman Medina became a bankrupt in London, being twenty thousand francs in my debt, he told me that “it was not his fault; that he was unfortunate”; that “he had never been one of the children of Belial”; that “he had always endeavored to live as a son of God”—that is, as an honest man, a good Israelite. I was affected; I embraced him; we joined in the praise of God; and I lost eighty per cent.
You ought to know that I never hated your nation; I hate no one; not even Fréron.
Far from hating, I have always pitied you. If, like my protector, good Pope Lambertini, I have sometimes bantered a little, I am not therefore the less sensitive. I wept, at the age of sixteen, when I was told that a mother and her daughter had been burned at Lisbon for having eaten, standing, a little lamb, cooked with lettuce, on the fourteenth day of the red moon; and I can assure you that the extreme beauty that this girl was reported to have possessed, had no share in calling forth my tears, although it must have increased the spectators’ horror for the assassins, and their pity for the victim.
I know not how it entered my head to write an epic poem at the age of twenty. (Do you know what an epic poem is? For my part I knew nothing of the matter.) The legislator Montesquieu had not yet written his “Persian Letters,” which you reproach me with having commented on; but I had already of myself said, speaking of a monster well known to your ancestors, and which even now is not without devotees:
You clearly see, then, that even so long ago I was your servant, your friend, your brother; although my father and mother had preserved to me my foreskin.
I am aware that virility, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, has caused very fatal quarrels. I know what it cost Priam’s son Paris, and Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus. I have read enough of your books to know that Hamor’s son Sichem ravished Leah’s daughter Dinah, who at most was not more than five years old, but was very forward for her age. He wanted to make her his wife; and Jacob’s sons, brothers of the violated damsel, gave her to him in marriage on condition that he and all his people should be circumcised. When the operation was performed, and all the Sichemites, or Sechemites, were lying-in of the pains consequent thereupon, the holy patriarchs Simeon and Levi cut all their throats one after another. But, after all, I do not believe that uncircumcision ought now to produce such abominable horrors; and especially I do not think that men should hate, detest, anathematize, and damn one another every Saturday and Sunday, on account of a morsel more or less of flesh.
If I have said that some of the circumcised have clipped money at Metz, at Frankfort on the Oder, and at Warsaw (which I do not remember) I ask their pardon; for, being almost at the end of my pilgrimage, I have no wish to embroil myself with Israel.
I have the honor to be (as they say),
I have ever agreed, having read a few historical books for amusement, that you are a very ancient people, and your origin may be dated much farther back than that of the Teutones, the Celts, the Slavonians, the Angles, and Hurons. I see you assembling as a people in a capital called, sometimes Hershalaïm, sometimes Shaheb, on the hill Moriah, and on the hill Sion, near a desert, on a stony soil, by a small torrent which is dry six months of the year.
When you began to establish yourselves in your corner, I will not say of land, but of pebbles, Troy had been destroyed by the Greeks about two centuries.
Medon was archon of Athens. Echestratus was reigning in Lacedæmon. Latinus Sylvius was reigning in Latium; and Osochor in Egypt. The Indies had been flourishing for a long succession of ages.
This was the most illustrious period of Chinese history. The emperor Tchin-wang was reigning with glory over that vast empire; all the sciences were there cultivated; and the public annals inform us that the king of Cochin China, being come to pay his respects to this emperor, Tchin-wang, received from him a present of a mariner’s compass. This compass might have been of great service to your Solomon, for his fleets that went to the fine country of Ophir, which no one has ever known anything about.
Thus, after the Chaldæans, the Syrians, the Persians, the Phœnicians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Indians, the Chinese, the Latins, and the Etruscans, you are the first people upon earth who had any known form of government.
The Banians, the Guebers, and yourselves, are the only nations which, dispersed out of their own country, have preserved their ancient rites; if I make no account of the little Egyptian troops, called Zingari in Italy, Gypsies in England, and Bohemians in France, which had preserved the antique ceremonies of the worship of Isis, the sistrum, the cymbals, the dance of Isis, the prophesying, and the art of robbing hen-roosts.
These sacred troops are beginning to disappear from the face of the earth; while their pyramids still belong to the Turks, who perhaps will not always be masters of them—the figure of all things on this earth doth so pass away.
You say, that you have been settled in Spain ever since the days of Solomon: I believe it, and will even venture to think that the Phœnicians might have carried some Jews thither long before, when you were slaves in Phœnicia, after the horrid massacres which you say were committed by the robber Joshua, and by that other robber Caleb.
Your books indeed say, that you were reduced to slavery under Chushan-Rashataim, king of Mesopotamia, for eight years; under Eglon, king of Moab, for eighteen years; then under Jabin, king of Canaan, for twenty years; then in the little canton of Midian, from which you had issued, and where you dwelt in caverns, for seven years; then in Gilead, for eighteen years—notwithstanding that Jair, your prince, had thirty sons, each mounted on a fine ass—then under the Phœnicians (called by you Philistines), for forty years—until at last the Lord Adonai sent Samson, who tied three hundred foxes, one to another by the tails, and slew a thousand Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass, from which issued a fountain of clear water; which has been very well represented at the Comédie Italienne.
Here are, by your own confession, ninety-six years of captivity in the land of promise. Now it is very probable that the Syrians, who were the factors for all nations, and navigated as far as the great ocean, bought some Jewish slaves, and took them to Cadiz, which they founded. You see that you are much more ancient than you think. It is indeed very likely that you inhabited Spain several centuries before the Romans, the Goths, the Vandals, and the Moors.
I am not only your friend, your brother, but moreover your genealogist. I beg, gentlemen, that you will have the goodness to believe, that I never have believed, I do not believe, and I never will believe, that you are descended from those highway robbers whose ears and noses were cut off by order of King Actisanes, and whom, according to Diodorus of Sicily, he sent into the desert between Lake Sirbo and Mount Sinai—a frightful desert where water and every other necessary of life are wanting. They made nets to catch quails, which fed them for a few weeks, during the passage of the birds.
Some of the learned have pretended that this origin perfectly agrees with your history. You yourselves say, that you inhabited this desert, that there you wanted water, and lived on quails, which in reality abound there. Your accounts appear in the main to confirm that of Diodorus; but I believe only the Pentateuch. The author does not say that you had your ears and noses cut off. As far as I remember, (for I have not Diodorus at hand), you lost only your noses. I do not now recollect where I read that your ears were of the party; it might be in some fragments of Manetho, cited by St. Ephraem.
In vain does the secretary, who has done me the honor of writing to me in your name, assure me that you stole to the amount of upwards of nine millions in gold, coined or carved, to go and set up your tabernacle in the desert. I maintain, that you carried off nothing but what lawfully belonged to you, reckoning interest at forty per cent., which was the lawful rate.
Be this as it may, I certify that you are of very good nobility, and that you were lords of Hershalaïm long before the houses of Suabia, Anhalt, Saxony, and Bavaria were heard of.
It may be that the negroes of Angola, and those of Guinea, are much more ancient than you, and that they adored a beautiful serpent before the Egyptians knew their Isis, and you dwelt near Lake Sirbo; but the negroes have not yet communicated their books to us.
Far from accusing you, gentlemen, I have always regarded you with compassion. Permit me here to remind you of what I have read in the preliminary discourse to the “Essay on the Spirit and Manners of Nations,” and on general history. Here we find, that two hundred and thirty-nine thousand and twenty Jews were slaughtered by one another, from the worshipping of the golden calf to the taking of the ark by the Philistines—which cost fifty thousand and seventy Jews their lives, for having dared to look upon the ark, while those who had so insolently taken it in war, were acquitted with only the piles, and a fine of five golden mice, and five golden anuses. You will not deny that the slaughter of two hundred and thirty-nine thousand and twenty men, by your fellow-countrymen, without reckoning those whom you lost in alternate war and slavery, must have been very detrimental to a rising colony.
How should I do otherwise than pity you? seeing that ten of your tribes were absolutely annihilated, or perhaps reduced to two hundred families, which, it is said, are to be found in China and Tartary. As for the two other tribes, I need not tell you what has happened to them. Suffer them my compassion, and do not impute to me ill-will.
Be not displeased at my asking from you some elucidation of a singular passage in your history, with which the ladies of Paris and people of fashion are but slightly acquainted.
Your Moses had not been dead quite thirty-eight years when the mother of Micah, of the tribe of Benjamin, lost eleven hundred shekels, which are said to be equivalent to about six hundred livres of our money. Her son returned them to her; the text does not inform us that he had not stolen them. The good Jewess immediately had them made into idols, and, according to custom, built them a little movable chapel. A Levite of Bethlehem offered himself to perform the service for ten francs per annum, two tunics, and his victuals.
A tribe (afterwards called the tribe of Dan) searching that neighborhood for something to plunder, passed near Micah’s house. The men of Dan, knowing that Micah’s mother had in her house a priest, a seer, a diviner, a rhoë, inquired of him if their excursion would be lucky—if they should find a good booty. The Levite promised them complete success. They began by robbing Micah’s chapel, and took from her even her Levite. In vain did Micah and his mother cry out: “You are carrying away my gods! You are stealing my priest!” The robbers silenced them, and went, through devotion, to put to fire and sword the little town of Dan, whose name this tribe adopted.
These freebooters were very grateful to Micah’s gods, which had done them such good service, and placed them in a new tabernacle. The crowd of devotees increasing, a new priest was wanted, and one presented himself. Those who are not conversant with your history will never divine who this chaplain was: but, gentlemen, you know that it was Moses’ own grandson, one Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses and Jethro’s daughter.
You will agree with me, that the family of Moses was rather a singular one. His brother, at the age of one hundred, cast a golden calf and worshipped it; and his grandson turned chaplain to the idols for money. Does not this prove that your religion was not yet formed, and that you were a long time groping in the dark before you became perfect Israelites as you now are?
To my question you answer, that our Simon Peter Barjonas did as much; that he commenced his apostleship with denying his master. I have nothing to reply, except it be, that we must always distrust ourselves; and so great is my own self-distrust, that I conclude my letter with assuring you of my utmost indulgence, and requesting yours.
Jewish Assassinations. Were the Jews Cannibals? Had their Mothers Commerce with Goats? Did their Fathers and Mothers Immolate their Children? With a few other fine Actions of God’s People.
—I have been somewhat uncourteous to your secretary. It is against the rules of politeness to scold a servant in the presence of his master; but self-important ignorance is revolting in a Christian who makes himself the servant of a Jew. I address myself directly to you, that I may have nothing more to do with your livery.
Jewish Calamities and Great Assassinations.
Permit me, in the first place, to lament over all your calamities; for, besides the two hundred and thirty-nine thousand and twenty Israelites killed by order of the Lord, I find that Jephthah’s daughter was immolated by her father. Turn which way you please—twixt the text as you will—dispute as you like against the fathers of the Church; still he did to her as he had vowed; and he had vowed to cut his daughter’s throat in thanksgiving to God. An excellent thanksgiving!
Yes, you have immolated human victims to the Lord; but be consoled; I have often told you that our Celts and all nations have done so formerly. What says M. de Bougainville, who has returned from the island of Otaheite—that island of Cytherea, whose inhabitants, peaceful, mild, humane, and hospitable, offer to the traveller all that they possess—the most delicious of fruits—the most beautiful and most obliging of women? He tells us that these people have their jugglers; and that these jugglers force them to sacrifice their children to apes, which they call their gods.
I find that seventy brothers of Abimelech were put to death on the same stone by this Abimelech, the son of Gideon and a prostitute. This son of Gideon was a bad kinsman, and this Gideon, the friend of God, was very debauched.
Your Levite going on his ass to Gibeah—the Gibeonites wanting to violate him—his poor wife violated in his stead, and dying in consequence—the civil war that ensued—all your tribe of Benjamin exterminated, saving only six hundred men—give me inexpressible pain.
You lost, all at once, five fine towns which the Lord destined for you, at the end of the lake of Sodom; and that for an inconceivable attempt upon the modesty of two angels. Really, this is much worse than what your mothers are accused of with the goats. How should I have other than the greatest pity for you, when I find murder and bestiality established against your ancestors, who are our first spiritual fathers, and our near kinsmen according to the flesh? For after all, if you are descended from Shem, we are descended from Japhet. We are therefore evidently cousins.
Melchim, or Petty Kings of the Jews.
Your Samuel had good reason for not wishing you to have kings; for nearly all your kings were assassins, beginning with David, who assassinated Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, his tender friend, whom he “loved with a love greater than that of woman”; who assassinated Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba; who assassinated even the infants at the breast in the villages in alliance with his protector Achish; who on his death-bed commanded the assassination of his general Joab and his counsel Shimei—beginning, I say, with this David, and with Solomon, who assassinated his own brother Adonijah, clinging in vain to the altar, and ending with Herod “the Great,” who assassinated his brother-in-law, his wife, and all his kindred, including even his children.
I say nothing of the fourteen thousand little boys whom your petty king, this mighty Herod, had slaughtered in the village of Bethlehem. They are, as you know, buried at Cologne with our eleven thousand virgins; and one of these infants is still to be seen entire. You do not believe this authentic story, because it is not in your canon, and your Flavius Josephus makes no mention of it. I say nothing of the eleven hundred thousand men killed in the town of Jerusalem alone, during its siege by Titus. In good faith, the cherished nation is a very unlucky one.
Did the Jews Eat Human Flesh?
Among your calamities, which have so often made me shudder, I have always reckoned your misfortune in having eaten human flesh. You say that this happened only on great occasions; that it was not you whom the Lord invited to His table to eat the horse and the horseman, and that only the birds were the guests. I am willing to believe it.
Were the Jewish Ladies Intimate with Goats?
You assert that your mothers had no commerce with he-goats, nor your fathers with she-goats. But pray, gentlemen, why are you the only people upon earth whose laws have forbidden such commerce? Would any legislator ever have thought of promulgating this extraordinary law if the offence had not been common?
Did the Jews Immolate Human Victims?
You venture to affirm that you have never immolated human victims to the Lord. What, then, was the murder of Jephthah’s daughter, who was really immolated, as we have already shown from your own books?
How will you explain the anathema of the thirty-two virgins, that were the tribute of the Lord, when you took thirty-two thousand Midianitish virgins and sixty-one thousand asses? I will not here tell you, that according to this account there were not two asses for each virgin; but I will ask you, what was this tribute for the Lord? According to your Book of Numbers, there were sixteen thousand girls for your soldiers, sixteen thousand for your priests, and on the soldiers’ share there was levied a tribute of thirty-two virgins for the Lord. What became of them? You had no nuns. What was the Lord’s share in all your wars, if it was not blood? Did not the priest Samuel hack in pieces King Agag, whose life King Saul had saved? Did he not sacrifice him as the Lord’s share?
Either renounce your sacred books, in which, according to the decision of the church, I firmly believe, or acknowledge that your forefathers offered up to God rivers of human blood, unparalleled by any people on earth.
The Thirty-two Thousand Virgins, the Seventy-five Thousand Oxen, and the Fruitful Desert of Midian.
Let your secretary no longer evade—no longer equivocate, respecting the carnage of the Midianites and their villages. I feel great concern that your butcher-priest Eleazar, general of the Jewish armies, should have found in that little miserable and desert country, seventy-five thousand oxen, sixty-one thousand asses, and six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, without reckoning the rams and the lambs.
Now if you took thirty-two thousand infant girls, it is likely that there were as many infant boys, and as many fathers and mothers. These united amount to a hundred and twenty-eight thousand captives, in a desert where there is nothing to eat, nothing to drink but brackish water, and which is inhabited by some wandering Arabs, to the number of two or three thousand at most. You will besides observe, that, on all the maps, this frightful country is not more than eight leagues long, and as many broad.
But were it as large, as fertile, and as populous as Normandy or the Milanese, no matter. I hold to the text, which says, the Lord’s share was thirty-two maidens. Confound as you please Midian by the Red Sea with Midian by Sodom; I shall still demand an account of my thirty-two thousand virgins. Have you employed your secretary to calculate how many oxen and maidens the fine country of Midian is capable of feeding?
Gentlemen, I inhabit a canton which is not the Land of Promise; but we have a lake much finer than that of Sodom, and our soil is moderately productive. Your secretary tells me that an acre of Midian will feed three oxen: I assure you, gentlemen, that with us an acre will feed but one. If your secretary will triple the revenue of my lands, I will give him good wages, and will not pay him with drafts on the receivers-general. He will not find a better situation in all the country of Midian than with me; but unfortunately this man knows no more of oxen than he does of golden calves.
As for the thirty-two thousand maidenheads, I wish him joy of them. Our little country is as large as Midian. It contains about four thousand drunkards, a dozen attorneys, two men of sense, and four thousand persons of the fair sex, who are not uniformly pretty. These together make about eight thousand people, supposing that the registrar who gave me the account did not exaggerate by one-half, according to custom. Either your priests or ours would have had considerable difficulty in finding thirty-two thousand virgins for their use in our country. This makes me very doubtful concerning the numberings of the Roman people, at the time when their empire extended just four leagues from the Tarpeian rock, and they carried a handful of hay at the end of a pole for a standard. Perhaps you do not know that the Romans passed five hundred years in plundering their neighbors before they had any historian, and that their numberings, like their miracles, are very suspicious.
As for the sixty-one thousand asses, the fruits of your conquests in Midian—enough has been said of asses.
Jewish Children Immolated by their Mothers.
I tell you, that your fathers immolated their children; and I call your prophets to witness. Isaiah reproaches them with this cannibalish crime: “Slaying the children of the valleys under the clefts of the rocks.”
You will tell me, that it was not to the Lord Adonaï that the women sacrificed the fruit of their womb—that it was to some other god. But what matters it whether you called him to whom you offered up your children Melkom, or Sadaï, or Baal, or Adonai? That which it concerns us to know is, that you were parricides. It was to strange idols, you say, that your fathers made their offerings. Well,—I pity you still more for being descended from fathers at once both parricidal and idolatrous. I condole with you, that your fathers were idolaters for forty successive years in the desert of Sinai, as is expressly said by Jeremiah, Amos, and St. Stephen.
You were idolaters in the time of the Judges; and the grandson of Moses was priest of the tribe of Dan, who, as we have seen, were all idolaters; for it is necessary to repeat—to insist; otherwise everything is forgotten.
You were idolaters under your kings; you were not faithful to one God only, until after Esdras had restored your books. Then it was that your uninterruptedly true worship began; and by an incomprehensible providence of the Supreme Being, you have been the most unfortunate of all men ever since you became the most faithful—under the kings of Syria, under the kings of Egypt, under Herod the Idumæan, under the Romans, under the Persians, under the Arabs, under the Turks—until now, that you do me the honor of writing to me, and I have the honor of answering you.
Do not reproach me with not loving you. I love you so much that I wish you were in Hershalaïm, instead of the Turks, who ravage your country; but who, nevertheless, have built a very fine mosque on the foundations of your temple, and on the platform constructed by your Herod.
You would cultivate that miserable desert, as you cultivated it formerly; you would carry earth to the bare tops of your arid mountains; you would not have much corn, but you would have very good vines, a few palms, olive trees, and pastures.
Though Palestine does not equal Provence, though Marseilles alone is superior to all Judæa, which had not one sea-port; though the town of Aix is incomparably better situated than Jerusalem, you might nevertheless make of your territory almost as much as the Provençals have made of theirs. You might execute, to your hearts’ content, your own detestable psalmody in your own detestable jargon.
It is true, that you would have no horses; for there are not, nor have there ever been, about Hershalaïm, any but asses. You would often be in want of wheat, but you would obtain it from Egypt or Syria.
You might convey merchandise to Damascus and to Saïd on your asses—or indeed on camels—which you never knew anything of in the time of your Melchim, and which would be a great assistance to you. In short, assiduous toil, to which man is born, would fertilize this land, which the lords of Constantinople and Asia Minor neglect.
This promised land of yours is very bad. Are you acquainted with St. Jerome? He was a Christian priest, one of those men whose books you do not read. However, he lived a long time in your country; he was a very learned person—not indeed slow to anger, for when contradicted he was prodigal of abuse—but knowing your language better than you do, for he was a good grammarian. Study was his ruling passion; anger was only second to it. He had turned priest, together with his friend Vincent, on condition that they should never say mass nor vespers, lest they should be too much interrupted in their studies; for being directors of women and girls, had they been moreover obliged to labor in the priestly office, they would not have had two hours in the day left for Greek, Chaldee, and the Jewish idiom. At last, in order to have more leisure, Jerome retired altogether, to live among the Jews at Bethlehem, as Huet, bishop of Avranches, retired to the Jesuits, at the house of the professed, Rue St. Antoine, at Paris.
Jerome did, it is true, embroil himself with the bishop of Jerusalem, named John, with the celebrated priest Rufinus, and with several of his friends; for, as I have already said, Jerome was full of choler and self-love, and St. Augustine charges him with levity and fickleness: but he was not the less holy, he was not the less learned, nor is his testimony the less to be received, concerning the nature of the wretched country in which his ardor for study and his melancholy confined him.
Be so obliging as to read his letter to Dardanus, written in the year 414 of our era, which, according to the Jewish reckoning, is the year of the world 4000, or 4001, or 4003, or 4004, as you please.
“I beg of those who assert that the Jewish people, after the coming out of Egypt, took possession of this country, which to us, by the passion and resurrection of our Saviour, has become truly a land of promise—I beg of them, I say, to show us what this people possessed. Their whole dominions extended only from Dan to Beersheba, about one hundred and sixty miles in length. The Holy Scriptures give no more to David and to Solomon . . . . I am ashamed to say what is the breadth of the land of promise, and I fear that the pagans will thence take occasion to blaspheme. It is but forty-six miles from Joppa to our little town of Bethlehem, beyond which all is a frightful desert.”
Read also the letter to one of his devotees, in which he says, that from Jerusalem to Bethlehem there is nothing but pebbles, and no water to drink; but that farther on, towards the Jordan, you find very good valleys in that country full of bare mountains. This really was a land of milk and honey, in comparison with the abominable desert of Horeb and Sinai, from which you originally came. The sorry province of Champagne is the land of promise, in relation to some parts of the Landes of Bordeaux—the banks of the Aar are the land of promise, when compared with the little Swiss cantons; all Palestine is very bad land, in comparison with Egypt, which you say you came out of as thieves; but it is a delightful country, if you compare it with the deserts of Jerusalem, Sodom, Horeb, Sinai, Kadesh, etc.
Go back to Judæa as soon as you can. I ask of you only two or three Hebrew families, in order to establish a little necessary trade at Mount Krapak, where I reside. For, if you are (like us) very ridiculous theologians, you are very intelligent buyers and sellers, which we are not.
My tenderness for you has only a few words more to say. We have been accustomed for ages to hang you up between two dogs; we have repeatedly driven you away through avarice; we have recalled you through avarice and stupidity; we still, in more towns than one, make you pay for liberty to breathe the air: we have, in more kingdoms than one, sacrificed you to God; we have burned you as holocausts—for I will not follow your example, and dissemble that we have offered up sacrifices of human blood; all the difference is, that our priests, content with applying your money to their own use, have had you burned by laymen; while your priests always immolated the human victims with their own sacred hands. You were monsters of cruelty and fanaticism in Palestine; we have been so in Europe: my friends, let all this be forgotten.
Would you live in peace? Imitate the Banians and the Guebers. They are much more ancient than you are; they are dispersed like you; they are, like you, without a country. The Guebers, in particular, who are the ancient Persians, are slaves like you, after being for a long while masters. They say not a word. Follow their example. You are calculating animals—try to be thinking ones.
Good day, friend Job! thou art one of the most ancient originals of which books make mention; thou wast not a Jew; we know that the book which bears thy name is more ancient than the Pentateuch. If the Hebrews, who translated it from the Arabic, made use of the word “Jehovah” to signify God, they borrowed it from the Phœnicians and Egyptians, of which men of learning are assured. The word “Satan” was not Hebrew; it was Chaldæan, as is well known.
Thou dwelledst on the confines of Chaldæa. Commentators, worthy of their profession, pretend that thou didst believe in the resurrection, because, being prostrate on thy dunghill, thou hast said, in thy nineteenth chapter, that thou wouldst one day rise up from it. A patient who wishes his cure is not anxious for resurrection in lieu of it; but I would speak to thee of other things.
Confess that thou wast a great babbler; but thy friends were much greater. It is said that thou possessedst seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand cows, and five hundred sheasses. I will reckon up their value:
without reckoning thy furniture, rings and jewels.
I have been much richer than thou; and though I have lost a great part of my property and am ill, like thyself I have not murmured against God, as thy friends seem to reproach thee with sometimes doing.
I am not at all pleased with Satan, who, to induce thee to sin, and to make thee forget God, demanded permission to take away all thy property, and to give thee the itch. It is in this state that men always have recourse to divinity. They are prosperous people who forgot God. Satan knew not enough of the world at that time; he has improved himself since; and when he would be sure of any one, he makes him a farmer-general, or something better if possible, as our friend Pope has clearly shown in his history of the knight Sir Balaam.
Thy wife was an impertinent, but thy pretended friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuite, and Zophar, the Naamathite, were much more insupportable. They exhorted thee to patience in a manner that would have roused the mildest of men; they made thee long sermons more tiresome than those preached by the knave V—e at Amsterdam, and by so many other people.
It is true that thou didst not know what thou saidst, when exclaiming—“My God, am I a sea or a whale, to be shut up by Thee as in a prison?” But thy friends knew no more when they answered thee, “that the morn cannot become fresh without dew, and that the grass of the field cannot grow without water.” Nothing is less consolatory than this axiom.
Zophar of Naamath reproached thee with being a prater; but none of these good friends lent thee a crown. I would not have treated thee thus. Nothing is more common than people who advise; nothing more rare than those who assist. Friends are not worth much, from whom we cannot procure a drop of broth if we are in misery. I imagine that when God restored thy riches and health, these eloquent personages dared not present themselves before thee, hence the comforters of Job have become a proverb.
God was displeased with them, and told them sharply, in chap. xlii., that they were tiresome and imprudent, and he condemned them to a fine of seven bullocks and seven rams, for having talked nonsense. I would have condemned them for not having assisted their friend.
I pray thee, tell me if it is true, that thou livedst a hundred and forty years after this adventure. I like to learn that honest people live long; but men of the present day must be great rogues, since their lives are comparatively so short.
As to the rest, the book of Job is one of the most precious of antiquity. It is evident that this book is the work of an Arab who lived before the time in which we place Moses. It is said that Eliphaz, one of the interlocutors, is of Teman, which was an ancient city of Arabia. Bildad was of Shua, another town of Arabia. Zophar was of Naamath, a still more eastern country of Arabia.
But what is more remarkable, and which shows that this fable cannot be that of a Jew, is, that three constellations are spoken of, which we now call Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades. The Hebrews never had the least knowledge of astronomy; they had not even a word to express this science; all that regards the mental science was unknown to them, inclusive even of the term geometry.
The Arabs, on the contrary, living in tents, and being continually led to observe the stars, were perhaps the first who regulated their years by the inspection of the heavens.
The more important observation is, that one God alone is spoken of in this book. It is an absurd error to imagine that the Jews were the only people who recognized a sole God; it was the doctrine of almost all the East, and the Jews were only plagiarists in that as in everything else.
In chapter xxxviii. God Himself speaks to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, which has been since imitated in Genesis. We cannot too often repeat, that the Jewish books are very modern. Ignorance and fanaticism exclaim, that the Pentateuch is the most ancient book in the world. It is evident, that those of Sanchoniathon, and those of Thaut, eight hundred years anterior to those of Sanchoniathon; those of the first Zerdusht, the “Shasta,” the “Vedas” of the Indians, which we still possess; the “Five Kings of China”; and finally the Book of Job, are of a much remoter antiquity than any Jewish book. It is demonstrated that this little people could only have annals while they had a stable government; that they only had this government under their kings; that its jargon was only formed, in the course of time, of a mixture of Phœnician and Arabic. These are incontestable proofs that the Phœnicians cultivated letters a long time before them. Their profession was pillage and brokerage; they were writers only by chance. We have lost the books of the Egyptians and Phœnicians, the Chinese, Brahmins, and Guebers; the Jews have preserved theirs. All these monuments are curious, but they are monuments of human imagination alone, in which not a single truth, either physical or historical, is to be learned. There is not at present any little physical treatise that would not be more useful than all the books of antiquity.
The good Calmet, or Dom Calmet (for the Benedictines like us to give them their Dom), that simple compiler of so many reveries and imbecilities; that man whom simplicity has rendered so useful to whoever would laugh at antique nonsense, faithfully relates the opinion of those who would discover the malady with which Job was attacked, as if Job was a real personage. He does not hesitate in saying that Job had the smallpox, and heaps passage upon passage, as usual, to prove that which is not. He had not read the history of the smallpox by Astruc; for Astruc being neither a father of the Church nor a doctor of Salamanca, but a very learned physician, the good man Calmet knew not that he existed. Monkish compilers are poor creatures!