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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. XIX.
Taken from the 21 volume 1901 edition of the Complete Works, this is an early work by Voltaire of social and political analysis. Forced to go into exile in England, he was very impressed with the practice of religious toleration he found there, the comparative liberty the English enjoyed in economic activity, and the vigorous intellectual life.
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“Between two servants of Humanity, who appeared eighteen hundred years apart, there is a mysterious relation. * * * * Let us say it with a sentiment of profound respect: JESUS WEPT: VOLTAIRE SMILED. Of that divine tear and of that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.”
SHORT STUDIES IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN SUBJECTS
Vol. XIX — Part II
Voltaire recorded his views upon the English people and government in a series of “Philosophic Letters,” which were published in France and in England in 1733. According to Parton, Lafayette declared that it was his reading of these letters that made him a republican at nine years of age, and to them Rousseau “attributed in great measure the awakening of his late–maturing intelligence.” The author had to tone the letters down to get them passed by the censor. His praise of English liberty of thought and speech even then proved too irritating to the authorities. The book was denounced as heretical, in May, 1734. Every known copy was confiscated. The publisher was sent to the Bastille; a lettre de cachet was issued against the author; his house was searched, and the Parliament of Paris had the book publicly burned by the executioner. A few later pieces have been included here.
The members of the English Parliament are fond of comparing themselves, on all occasions, to the old Romans.
Not long since, Mr. Shippen opened a speech in the house of commons with these words: “The majesty of the people of England would be wounded.” The singularity of this expression occasioned a loud laugh; but this gentleman, far from being disconcerted, repeated the statement with a resolute tone of voice, and the laugh ceased. I must own, I see no resemblance between the majesty of the people of England and that of the Romans, and still less between the two governments. There is in London a senate, some of the members whereof are accused—doubtless very unjustly—of selling their votes, on certain occasions, as was done at Rome; and herein lies the whole resemblance. In other respects, the two nations appear to be quite opposite in character, with regard both to good and to evil. The Romans never knew the terrible madness of religious wars. This abomination was reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility. Marius and Sulla, Cæsar and Pompey, Antony and Augustus, did not draw their swords against one another to determine whether the flamen should wear his shirt over his robe, or his robe over his shirt; or whether the sacred chickens should both eat and drink, or eat only, in order to take the augury. The English have formerly destroyed one another, by sword or halter, for disputes of as trifling a nature. The Episcopalians and the Presbyterians quite turned the heads of these gloomy people for a time; but I believe they will hardly be so silly again, as they seem to have grown wiser at their own expense; and I do not perceive the least inclination in them to murder one another any more for mere syllogisms. But who can answer for the follies and prejudices of mankind?
Here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which throws the advantage entirely on the side of the latter; namely, that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English are the only people on earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them, and who, by a series of struggles, have at length established that wise and happy form of government where the prince is all–powerful to do good, and at the same time is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence or lordly power, and the people share in the government without confusion.
The house of lords and the house of commons divide the legislative power under the king; but the Romans had no such balance. Their patricians and plebeians were continually at variance, without any intermediate power to reconcile them. The Roman senate, who were so unjustly, so criminally, formed as to exclude the plebeians from having any share in the affairs of government, could find no other artifice to effect their design than to employ them in foreign wars. They considered the people as wild beasts, whom they were to let loose upon their neighbors, for fear they should turn upon their masters. Thus the greatest defect in the government of the Romans was the means of making them conquerors; and, by being unhappy at home, they became masters of the world, till in the end their divisions sank them into slavery.
The government of England, from its nature, can never attain to so exalted a pitch, nor can it ever have so fatal an end. It has not in view the splendid folly of making conquests, but only the prevention of their neighbors from conquering. The English are jealous not only of their own liberty, but even of that of other nations. The only reason of their quarrels with Louis XIV. was on account of his ambition.
It has not been without some difficulty that liberty has been established in England, and the idol of arbitrary power has been drowned in seas of blood; nevertheless, the English do not think they have purchased their laws at too high a price. Other nations have shed as much blood; but then the blood they spilled in defence of their liberty served only to enslave them the more.
That which rises to a revolution in England is no more than a sedition in other countries. A city in Spain, in Barbary, or in Turkey takes up arms in defence of its privileges, when immediately it is stormed by mercenary troops, it is punished by executioners, and the rest of the nation kiss their chains. The French think that the government of this island is more tempestuous than the seas which surround it; in which, indeed, they are not mistaken: but then this happens only when the king raises the storm by attempting to seize the ship, of which he is only the pilot. The civil wars of France lasted longer, were more cruel, and productive of greater evils, than those of England: but none of these civil wars had a wise and becoming liberty for their object.
In the detestable times of Charles IX. and Henry III. the whole affair was only, whether the people should be slaves to the Guises. As to the last war of Paris, it deserves only to be hooted at. It makes us think we see a crowd of schoolboys rising up in arms against their master, and afterward being whipped for it. Cardinal de Retz, who was witty and brave, but employed those talents badly; who was rebellious without cause, factious without design, and the head of a defenceless party, caballed for the sake of caballing, and seemed to foment the civil war for his own amusement and pastime. The parliament did not know what he aimed at, nor what he did not aim at. He levied troops, and the next instant cashiered them; he threatened; he begged pardon; he set a price on Cardinal Mazarin’s head, and afterward congratulated him in a public manner. Our civil wars under Charles VI. were bloody and cruel, those of the League execrable, and that of the Frondeurs ridiculous.
That for which the French chiefly reproach the English nation is the murder of King Charles I., a prince who merited a better fate, and whom his subjects treated just as he would have treated them, had he been powerful and at ease. After all, consider, on one side, Charles I. defeated in a pitched battle, imprisoned, tried, sentenced to die in Westminster Hall, and then beheaded; and, on the other, the emperor Henry VII. poisoned by his chaplain in receiving the sacrament; Henry III. of France stabbed by a monk; thirty different plots contrived to assassinate Henry IV., several of them put into execution, and the last depriving that great monarch of his life. Weigh, I say, all these wicked attempts, and then judge.
This mixture of different departments in the government of England; this harmony between the king, lords, and commons has not always subsisted. England was for a long time in a state of slavery, having, at different periods, worn the yoke of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and, last of all, the Normans. William the Conqueror, in particular, governed them with a rod of iron. He disposed of the goods and lives of his new subjects like an eastern tyrant: he forbade, under pain of death, any Englishman to have either fire or light in his house after eight o’clock at night, whether it was that he intended by this edict to prevent their holding any assemblies in the night, or, by so whimsical a prohibition, had a mind to try to what a degree of abjectness men might be subjected by their fellow–creatures. It is, however, certain that the English had parliaments both before and since the time of William the Conqueror; they still boast of them, as if the assemblies which then bore the title of parliaments, and which were composed of the ecclesiastical tyrants and the barons, had been actually the guardians of their liberties, and the preservers of the public felicity.
These barbarians, who poured like a torrent from the shores of the Baltic and overran all the east of Europe, brought the use of these estates or parliaments, which are the subject of so much noise, though very little known, along with them. It is true, kings were not then despotic, which is precisely the reason why the people groaned under so intolerable a yoke. The chiefs of those barbarians who had ravaged France, Italy, Spain, and England, made themselves monarchs. Their captains divided and shared with them the lands of the conquered: hence those margraves, lairds, barons, with all that gang of petty tyrants who have often disputed with sovereigns who were not firmly fixed on their thrones the spoils and plunder of the people. It was so many birds of prey fighting with an eagle, that they might suck the blood of the doves; and every nation, instead of having one good and indulgent master, which might have been their lot, had a hundred of those blood–sucking monsters. Shortly after, priestcraft began to mingle in civil matters; from earliest antiquity, the fate of the Gauls, Germans, and inhabitants of Great Britain depended on the Druids, and on the heads of their villages, an ancient kind of barons, though a less tyrannical sort than their predecessors. These Druids called themselves mediators between men and the Deity: it was they who made laws, excommunicated, and, lastly, punished criminals with death. The bishops succeeded by imperceptible degrees to their temporal authority in the Gothic and Vandal government. The popes put themselves at their head, and with their briefs, bulls, and their other more mischievous instruments, the monks, made kings tremble on their thrones, deposed or assassinated them at pleasure, and, in a word, drew to themselves all the treasure of Europe. The weak Ina, one of the tyrants of the Saxon heptarchy, was the first who, in a pilgrimage which he made to Rome, submitted to pay “Peter’s pence”—about a French crown, or half a crown sterling—for every house in his kingdom. The whole island presently followed this example; England became insensibly a province to the pope; and the holy father sent thither, from time to time, his legates to levy extraordinary impositions. At last John, surnamed Sans Terre, or Lackland, made a formal cession of his kingdom to his holiness, who had excommunicated him. The barons, who were by no means gainers by this proceeding, expelled this wretched prince, and set up in his place Louis VIII., father of St. Louis, king of France; but they were presently disgusted with this new monarch, and compelled him to cross the seas again.
While the barons, with the bishops and popes, were tearing all England to pieces, where each of them would fain have ruled, the people, that is to say, the most numerous, the most useful, and even the most virtuous part of mankind, composed of those who addict themselves to the study of the laws and of the sciences, of merchants, mechanics, and, in a word, of laborers, that first and most despised of all professions; the people, I say, were considered by them as animals of a nature inferior to the rest of the human species. The commons were then far from enjoying the least share in the government; they were then villeins or slaves, whose labor, and even whose blood, was the property of their masters, who called themselves the nobility. Far the greatest part of the human species were in Europe—as they still are in several parts of the world—the slaves of some lord, and at best but a kind of cattle, which they bought and sold with their lands. It was the work of ages to render justice to humanity, and to find out what a horrible thing it was, that the many should sow while a few did reap: and is it not the greatest happiness for the French, that the authority of those petty tyrants has been extinguished by the lawful authority of our sovereign, and in England by that of the king and nation conjointly?
Happily, in those shocks which the quarrels of kings and great men gave to empires, the chains of nations have been relaxed more or less. Liberty in England has arisen from the quarrels of tyrants. The barons forced John Sans Terre and Henry III. to grant that famous charter, the principal scope of which was in fact to make kings dependent on the lords; but, at the same time, the rest of the nation were favored, that they might side with their pretended protectors. This great charter, which is looked upon as the palladium and the consecrated fountain of the public liberty, is itself a proof how little that liberty was understood: the very title shows beyond all doubt that the king thought himself absolute, de jure; and that the barons, and even the clergy, forced him to relinquish this pretended right, only because they were stronger than he. It begins in this manner: “We, of our free will, grant the following privileges to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, and barons of our kingdom,” etc. In the articles of this charter there is not one word said of the house of commons; a proof that no such house then existed; or, if it did, that its power was next to nothing. In this the free men of England are specified—a melancholy proof that there were then some who were not so. We see, by the thirty–second article, that those pretended free men owed their lords certain servitude. Such a liberty as this smelled very rank of slavery. By the twenty–first article, the king ordains, that from henceforth officers shall be restrained from forcibly seizing the horses and carriages of free men, except on paying for the same. This regulation was considered by the people as real liberty, because it destroyed a most intolerable kind of tyranny. Henry VII., that fortunate conqueror and politician, who pretended to cherish the barons, whom he both feared and hated, bethought himself of the project of alienating their lands. By this means the villeins, who afterward acquired property by their industry, bought the castles of the great lords, who had ruined themselves by their extravagance; and by degrees nearly all the estates in the kingdom changed masters.
The house of commons daily became more powerful; the families of the ancient peerage became extinct in time; and as, in the rigor of the law, there is no other nobility in England besides the peers, the whole order would have been annihilated had not the kings created new barons from time to time; and this expedient preserved the body of the peers they had formerly so much dreaded, in order to oppose the house of commons, now grown too powerful. All the new peers, who form the upper house, receive nothing besides their titles from the crown; scarcely any of them possessing the lands from which those titles are derived. The duke of Dorset, for example, is one of them, though he possesses not a foot of land in Dorsetshire; another may be earl of a village, who hardly knows in what quarter of the island such a village lies. They have only a certain power in parliament, and nowhere out of it, which, with some few privileges, is all they enjoy.
Here is no such thing as the distinction of high, middle, and low justice in France; nor of the right of hunting on the lands of a citizen, who has not the liberty of firing a single shot of a musket on his own estate.
A peer or nobleman in this country pays his share of the taxes as others do, all of which are regulated by the house of commons; which house, if it is second only in rank, is first in point of credit. The lords and bishops, it is true, may reject any bill of the commons, when it regards the raising of money; but are not entitled to make the smallest amendment in it: they must either pass it or throw it out, without any restriction whatever. When the bill is confirmed by the lords, and approved by the king, then every person is to pay his quota without distinction; and that not according to his rank or quality, which would be absurd, but in proportion to his revenue. Here is no taille, or arbitrary poll–tax, but a real tax on lands; all of which underwent an actual valuation under the famous William III. The taxes remain always the same, notwithstanding the fact that the value of lands has risen; so that no one is stripped to the bone, nor can there be any ground of complaint; the feet of the peasant are not tortured with wooden shoes; he eats the best wheaten bread, is well and warmly clothed, and is in no apprehension on account of the increase of his herds and flocks, or terrified into a thatched house, instead of a convenient slated roof, for fear of an augmentation of the taille the year following. There are even a number of peasants, or, if you will, farmers, who have from five to six hundred pounds sterling yearly income, and who are not above cultivating those fields which have enriched them, and where they enjoy the greatest of all human blessings, liberty.
Never has any people, since the fall of Carthage, been at the same time powerful by sea and land, till Venice set the example. The Portuguese, from their good fortune in discovering the passage by way of the Cape of Good Hope, have been for some time great lords on the coasts of the East Indies, but have never been very respectable in Europe. Even the United Provinces became warlike, contrary to their natural disposition, and in spite of themselves; and it can in no way be ascribed to their union among themselves, but to their being united with England, that they have contributed to hold the balance in Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Carthage, Venice, and Amsterdam were undoubtedly powerful; but their conduct has been exactly like that of merchants grown rich by traffic, who afterward purchase lands with the dignity of lordship annexed to them. Neither Carthage, Venice, nor Holland have, from a warlike and even conquering beginning, ended in a commercial nation. The English are the only people existing who have done this; they were a long time warriors before they learned to cast accounts. They were entirely ignorant of numbers when they won the battles of Agincourt, Crécy, and Poitiers, and were also ignorant that it was in their power to become cornfactors and woollen–drapers, two things that would certainly turn to much better account. This science alone has rendered the nation at once populous, wealthy, and powerful. London was a poor countrytown when Edward III. conquered one–half of France; and it is wholly owing to this that the English have become merchants; that London exceeds Paris in extent, and number of inhabitants; that they are able to equip and man two hundred sail of ships of war, and keep the kings who are their allies in pay. The Scottish are born warriors, and, from the purity of their air, inherit good sense. Whence comes it then that Scotland, under the name of a union, has become a province of England? It is because Scotland has scarcely any other commodity than coal, and that England has fine tin, excellent wool, and abounds in corn, manufactures, and trading companies.
When Louis XIV. made Italy tremble, and his armies, already in possession of Savoy and Piedmont, were on the point of reducing Turin, Prince Eugene was obliged to march from the remotest parts of Germany to the assistance of the duke of Savoy. He was in want of money, without which cities can neither be taken nor defended. He had recourse to the English merchants. In half an hour’s time they lent him five millions, with which he effected the deliverance of Turin, beat the French, and wrote this short note to those who had lent him the money: “Gentlemen, I have received your money, and flatter myself I have employed it to your satisfaction.” This gives an Englishman a kind of pride, which is extremely well founded, and causes him, not without reason, to compare himself to a citizen of Rome. Thus the younger son of a peer of the realm is not above traffic. Lord Townshend, secretary of state, has a brother who is satisfied with being a merchant in the city. At the time when Lord Oxford ruled all England, his younger brother was a factor at Aleppo, whence he could never be prevailed on to return, and where he died. This custom, which is now unhappily dying out, appears monstrous to a German, whose head is full of the coats of arms and pageants of his family. They can never conceive how it is possible that the son of an English peer should be no more than a rich and powerful citizen, while in Germany they are all princes. I have known more than thirty highnesses of the same name, whose whole fortunes and estate put together amounted to a few coats of arms, and the starving pride they inherited from their ancestors.
In France everybody is a marquis; and a man just come from the obscurity of some remote province, with money in his pocket, and a name that ends with an “ac” or an “ille,” may give himself airs, and usurp such phrases as, “A man of my quality and rank”; and hold merchants in the most sovereign contempt. The merchant again, by dint of hearing his profession despised on all occasions, at last is fool enough to blush at his condition. I will not, however, take upon me to say which is the most useful to his country, and which of the two ought to have the preference; whether the powdered lord, who knows to a minute when the king rises or goes to bed, perhaps to stool, and who gives himself airs of importance in playing the part of a slave in the antechamber of some minister; or the merchant, who enriches his country, and from his countinghouse sends his orders into Surat or Cairo, thereby contributing to the happiness and convenience of human nature.
The rest of Europe, that is, the Christian part of it, very gravely assert that the English are fools and madmen; fools, in communicating the contagion of smallpox to their children, in order to hinder them from being subject to that dangerous and loathsome disorder; madmen, in wantonly exposing their children to this pestilence, with the design of preventing a contingent evil. The English, on their side, call the rest of Europe unnatural and cowardly; unnatural, in leaving their children exposed to almost certain death by smallpox; and cowardly, in fearing to give their children a trifling matter of pain for a purpose so noble and so evidently useful. In order to determine which of the two is in the right, I shall now relate the history of this famous practice, which is in France the subject of so much dread.
The women of Circassia have from time immemorial been accustomed to give their children smallpox, even as early as at six months of age, by making an incision in the arm, and afterward inserting in this incision a pustule carefully taken from the body of some other child. This pustule so insinuated produces in the body of the patient the same effect that leaven does in a piece of dough; that is, it ferments in it, and communicates to the mass of blood the qualities with which it is impregnated. The pustules of the child infected in this manner serve to convey the same disease to others. This disorder, therefore, is perpetually circulating through the different parts of Circassia; and when, unluckily, there is no infection of smallpox in the country, it creates the same uneasiness as a dearth or an unhealthy season would have occasioned.
What has given rise to this custom in Circassia, and which is so extraordinary to other nations, is, however, a cause common to all the nations on the face of the earth; that is, the tenderness of mothers, and motives of interest. The Circassians are poor, but have handsome daughters; which, accordingly, are the principal article of their foreign commerce. It is they who furnish beauties for the seraglios of the grand seignior, the sufi of Persia, and others who are rich enough to purchase and to maintain these precious commodities. These people bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; that is, in virtuous and honorable principles, which contain the whole science of wheedling the male part of the creation; the art of dancing, with gestures expressive of uncommon effeminacy and lasciviousness; and lastly, that of rekindling, by the most bewitching artifices, the exhausted appetites of those haughty lords to whom their fates have destined them. These poor creatures repeat their lesson every day with their mothers, in the same manner as our girls do their catechism; that is, without understanding a single syllable of what is taught them. Now it often happened that a father and mother, after having taken an infinite deal of pains in giving their children a good education, suddenly see their hopes frustrated. Smallpox getting into the family, one daughter perhaps died; another lost an eye; a third recovered, but with a disfigured nose; so that here was an honest couple hopelessly ruined. Often, too, an entire stagnation of all kinds of commerce has ensued, and that for several years running, when the disorder happened to be epidemic, to the no small detriment of the seraglios of Turkey and Persia.
A commercial people are always exceedingly vigilant with regard to their interest, and never neglect those items of knowledge that may be of use in the carrying on of their traffic. The Circassians found that, upon computation, in a thousand persons there was hardly one that was ever twice seized with smallpox completely formed; that there had been instances of a person’s having had a slight touch of it, or something resembling it, but there never were any two relapses known to be dangerous; in short, that the same person has never been known to have been twice infected with this disorder. They further remark, that when the disease is mild, and the eruption has only to pierce through a thin and delicate skin, it leaves no mark on the face. From these natural observations they concluded, that if a child of six months or a year old was to have a mild kind of smallpox, not only would the child certainly survive, but it would get better without bearing any marks of it, and would assuredly be immune during the remainder of its life. Hence it followed, that their only method would be to communicate the disorder to their children betimes, which they did, by insinuating into the child’s body a pustule taken from the body of one infected with smallpox, the most completely formed, and at the same time the most favorable kind that could be found. The experiment could hardly fail. The Turks, a very sensible people, soon adopted this practice; and, at this day, there is scarcely a pasha in Constantinople who does not inoculate his children while they are at the breast.
There are some who pretend that the Circassians formerly learned this custom from the Arabians. We will leave this point in history to be elucidated by some learned Benedictine, who will not fail to compose several volumes in folio upon the subject, together with the necessary vouchers. All I have to say of the matter is that, in the beginning of the reign of George I., Lady Mary Wortley Montague, one of the most celebrated ladies in England for her strong and solid good sense, happening to be with her husband at Constantinople, resolved to give smallpox to a child she had had in that country. In vain did her chaplain remonstrate that this practice was by no means consistent with Christian principles, and could only be expected to succeed with infidels; my lady Wortley’s son recovered, and was presently as well as could be wished. This lady, on her return to London, communicated the experiment she had made to the princess of Wales, now queen of Great Britain. It must be acknowledged that, setting crowns and titles aside, this princess is certainly born for the encouragement of arts, and for the good of the human race, to whom she is a generous benefactor. She is an amiable philosopher seated on a throne, who has improved every opportunity of instruction, and who has never let slip any occasion of showing her innate generosity. It is she who, on hearing that a daughter of Milton was still living, and in extreme misery, immediately sent her a valuable present; she it is who encourages the celebrated father Courayer; in a word, it is she who deigned to become the mediatrix between Dr. Clarke and Mr. Leibnitz. As soon as she heard of inoculation for smallpox, she caused it to be tried on four criminals under sentence of death, who were thus doubly indebted to her for their lives: for she not only rescued them from the gallows, but, by means of this artificial attack of smallpox, prevented them from having it in the natural way, which they, in all human probability, would have had, and of which they might have died at a more advanced age. The princess, thus assured of the utility of this proof, caused her own children to be inoculated. All England, or rather Britain, followed her example; so that from that time at least six thousand children stand indebted for their lives to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, as do all the fair of the island for preserving their beauty.
In a hundred persons that come into the world, at least sixty are found to contract smallpox; of these sixty, twenty are known to die, in the most favorable times, and twenty more wear very disagreeable marks of this cruel disorder as long as they live. Here is then a fifth part of the human species assuredly killed, or, at least, horribly disfigured. Among the vast numbers inoculated in Great Britain, or in Turkey, none are ever known to die, except such as were in a very ill state of health, or given over before. No one is marked with it; no one is ever infected a second time, supposing the inoculation to be perfect, that is, to have taken place as it ought. It is, therefore, certain that, had some French lady imported this secret from Constantinople into Paris, she would have rendered an inestimable and everlasting piece of service to the nation. The duke de Villequier, father of the present duke d’Aumont, a nobleman of the most robust constitution, would not have been cut off in the flower of his age; the prince de Soubise, who enjoyed the most remarkable state of good health ever known, would not have been carried off at twenty–five; nor would the grandfather of Louis XV. have been laid in his grave by it in his fiftieth year. The twenty thousand persons who died at Paris in 1723 would have been now alive. What shall we say then? Is it that the French set a lower value upon life? or are the ladies of France less anxious about the preservation of their charms? It is true, and it must be acknowledged, that we are a very odd kind of people! It is possible, that in ten years we may think of adopting this British custom, provided the doctors and curates allow us this indulgence; or, perhaps, the French will inoculate their children, out of mere whim, should those islanders leave it off, from their natural inconstancy.
I learn that the Chinese have practised this custom for two hundred years; the example of a nation that has the first character in point of natural good sense, as well as of their excellent internal police, is a strong prejudice in its favor. It is true, the Chinese follow a method peculiar to themselves; they make no incision, but take smallpox up the nose in powder, just as we do a pinch of snuff: this method is more pleasant, but amounts to much the same thing, and serves equally to prove that had inoculation been practised in France, it must assuredly have saved the lives of thousands.
It is some years since a Jesuit missionary having read this chapter, and being in a province of America, where smallpox makes horrible ravages, bethought himself of causing all the Indian children he baptized to be inoculated, so that they are indebted to him not only for this present life, but also for life eternal at the same time; what inestimable gifts for savages!
The bishop of Worcester has lately preached up the doctrine of inoculation at London; he has proved, like a good citizen and patriot, what a vast number of subjects this practice preserves to a nation; a doctrine which he has also enforced by such arguments as might be expected from a pastor and a Christian. They would preach at Paris against this salutary invention, as they wrote twenty years ago against Sir Isaac Newton’s philosophy: in short, everything contributes to prove that the English are greater philosophers, and possessed of more courage than we. It will require some time before a true spirit of reason and a particular boldness of sentiment will be able to make their way over the Straits of Dover.
It must not, however, be imagined that no persons are to be met with from the Orkneys to the South Foreland but philosophers; the other species will always form the greater number. Inoculation was at first opposed in London; and a great while before the bishop of Worcester preached this gospel from the pulpit, a certain curate had taken it into his head to declaim against this practice: he told his congregation that Job had certainly been inoculated by the devil. This man spoiled a good Capuchin, for which nature seems to have intended him; he was certainly unworthy the honor of being born in this island. So we see prejudice, as usual, first got possession of the pulpit, and reason could not reach it till long after; this is no more than the common progress of the human mind.
It is not long since the ridiculous and threadbare question was agitated in a celebrated assembly; who was the greatest man, Cæsar or Alexander, Tamerlane or Cromwell? Somebody said that it must undoubtedly be Sir Isaac Newton. This man was certainly in the right; for if true greatness consists in having received from heaven the advantage of a superior genius, with the talent of applying it for the interest of the possessor and of mankind, a man like Newton—and such a one is hardly to be met with in ten centuries—is surely by much the greatest; and those statesmen and conquerors which no age has ever been without, are commonly but so many illustrious villains. It is the man who sways our minds by the prevalence of reason and the native force of truth, not they who reduce mankind to a state of slavery by brutish force and downright violence; the man who by the vigor of his mind, is able to penetrate into the hidden secrets of nature, and whose capacious soul can contain the vast frame of the universe, not those who lay nature waste, and desolate the face of the earth, that claims our reverence and admiration.
Therefore, as you are desirous to be informed of the great men that England has produced, I shall begin with the Bacons, the Lockes, and the Newtons. The generals and ministers will come after them in their turn.
I must begin with the celebrated baron Verulam, known to the rest of Europe by the name of Bacon, who was the son of a certain keeper of the seals, and was for a considerable time chancellor under James I. Notwithstanding the intrigues and bustle of a court, and the occupations incident to his office, which would have required his whole attention, he found means to become a great philosopher, a good historian, and an elegant writer; and what is yet more wonderful is that he lived in an age where the art of writing was totally unknown, and where sound philosophy was still less so. This personage, as is the way among mankind, was more valued after his death than while he lived. His enemies were courtiers residing at London, while his admirers consisted wholly of foreigners. When Marquis d’Effiat brought Princess Mary, daughter of Henry the Great, over to be married to King Charles, this minister paid Bacon a visit, who being then confined to a sick bed, received him with close curtains. “You are like the angels,” said d’Effiat to him; “we hear much talk of them, and while everybody thinks them superior to men, we are never favored with a sight of them.”
You have been told in what manner Bacon was accused of a crime which is very far from being the sin of a philosopher; of being corrupted by pecuniary gifts; and how he was sentenced by the house of peers to pay a fine of about four hundred thousand livres of our money, besides losing his office of chancellor, and being degraded from the rank and dignity of a peer. At present the English revere his memory to such a degree that only with great difficulty can one imagine him to have been in the least guilty. Should you ask me what I think of it, I will make use of a saying I heard from Lord Bolingbroke. They happened to be talking of the avarice with which the duke of Marlborough had been taxed, and quoted several instances of it, for the truth of which they appealed to Lord Bolingbroke, who, as being of a contrary party, might, perhaps, without any trespass against the laws of decorum, freely say what he thought. “He was,” said he, “so great a man that I do not recollect whether he had any faults or not.” I shall, therefore, confine myself to those qualities which have acquired Chancellor Bacon the esteem of all Europe.
The most singular, as well as the most excellent, of all his works, is that which is now the least read, and which is at the same time the most useful; I mean his “Novum Scientiarum Organum.” This is the scaffold by means of which the edifice of the new philosophy has been reared; so that when the building was completed, the scaffold was no longer of any use. Chancellor Bacon was still unacquainted with nature, but he perfectly knew, and pointed out extraordinarily well, all the paths which lead to her recesses. He had very early despised what those square–capped fools teach in those dungeons called Colleges, under the name of philosophy, and did everything in his power that those bodies, instituted for the cultivation and perfection of the human understanding, might cease any longer to mar it, by their “quiddities,” their “horrors of a vacuum,” their “substantial forms,” with the rest of that jargon which ignorance and a nonsensical jumble of religion had consecrated.
This great man is the father of experimental philosophy. It is true, wonderful discoveries had been made even before his time; the mariner’s compass, the art of printing, that of engraving, the art of painting in oil, that of making glass, with the remarkably advantageous invention of restoring in some measure sight to the blind; that is, to old men, by means of spectacles; the secret of making gunpowder had, also, been discovered. They had gone in search of, discovered, and conquered a new world in another hemisphere. Who would not have thought that these sublime discoveries had been made by the greatest philosophers, and in times much more enlightened than ours? By no means; for all these astonishing revolutions happened in the ages of scholastic barbarity. Chance alone has brought forth almost all these inventions; it is even pretended that chance has had a great share in the discovery of America; at least, it has been believed that Christopher Columbus undertook this voyage on the faith of a captain of a ship who had been cast by a storm on one of the Caribbee islands. Be this as it will, men had learned to penetrate to the utmost limits of the habitable globe, and to destroy the most impregnable cities with an artificial thunder, much more terrible than the real; but they were still ignorant of the circulation of the blood, the weight and pressure of the air, the laws of motion, the doctrine of light and color, the number of the planets in our system, etc. And a man that was capable to maintain a thesis on the “Categories of Aristotle,” the universale a parte rei, or such–like nonsense, was considered as a prodigy.
The most wonderful and useful inventions are by no means those which do most honor to the human mind. And it is to a certain mechanical instinct, which exists in almost every man, that we owe far the greater part of the arts, and in no manner whatever to philosophy. The discovery of fire, the arts of making bread, of melting and working metals, of building houses, the invention of the shuttle, are infinitely more useful than printing and the compass; notwithstanding, all these were invented by men who were still in a state of barbarity. What astonishing things have the Greeks and Romans since done in mechanics? Yet men believed, in their time, that the heavens were of crystal, and the stars were so many small lamps, that sometimes fell into the sea; and one of their greatest philosophers, after many researches, had at length discovered that the stars were so many pebbles, that had flown off like sparks from the earth.
In a word, there was not a man who had any idea of experimental philosophy before Chancellor Bacon; and of an infinity of experiments which have been made since his time, there is hardly a single one which has not been pointed out in his book. He had even made a good number of them himself. He constructed several pneumatic machines, by which he discovered the elasticity of the air; he had long brooded over the discovery of its weight, and was even at times very near to catching it, when it was laid hold of by Torricelli. A short time after, experimental physics began to be cultivated in almost all parts of Europe. This was a hidden treasure, of which Bacon had some glimmerings, and which all the philosophers whom his promises had encouraged made their utmost efforts to lay open. We see in his book mention made in express terms of that new attraction of which Newton passes for the inventor. “We must inquire,” said Bacon, “whether there be not a certain magnetic force, which operates reciprocally between the earth and other heavy bodies, between the moon and the ocean, between the planets, etc.” In another place he says: “Either heavy bodies are impelled toward the centre of the earth, or they are mutually attracted by it; in this latter case it is evident that the nearer falling bodies approach the earth, the more forcibly are they attracted by it. We must try,” continues he, “whether the same pendulum clock goes faster on the top of a mountain, or at the bottom of a mine. If the force of the weight diminishes on the mountain, and increases in the mine, it is probable the earth has a real attracting quality.”
This precursor in philosophy was also an elegant writer, a historian, and a wit. His moral essays are in high estimation, though they seem rather calculated to instruct than to please; and as they are neither a satire on human nature, like the maxims of Rochefoucauld, nor a school of skepticism, like Montaigne; they are not so much read as these two ingenious books. His life of Henry VII. passed for a masterpiece; but how is it possible some people should have been idle enough to compare so small a work with the history of our illustrious M. de Thou? Speaking of that famous impostor Perkin, son of a Jew convert, who assumed so boldly the name of Richard IV., king of England, being encouraged by the duchess of Burgundy, and who disputed the crown with Henry VII., he expresses himself in these terms: “About this time King Henry was beset with evil spirits, by the witchcraft of the duchess of Burgundy, who conjured up from hell the ghost of Edward IV., in order to torment King Henry. When the duchess of Burgundy had instructed Perkin, she began to consider with herself in what region of the heavens she should make this comet shine, and resolved immediately that it should make its appearance in the horizon of Ireland.” I think our sage de Thou seldom gives in to this gallimaufry, which used formerly to pass for the sublime, but which at present is known by its proper title, “bombast.”
There surely never was a more solid and more methodical understanding, nor a more acute and accurate logician, than Locke, though he was far from being an excellent mathematician. He never could bring himself to undergo the drudgery of calculation, nor the dryness of mathematical truths, which offer no sensible image to the understanding: and no one has more fully evinced than he has, that a man, without the smallest assistance from geometry, might still possess the most geometrical intellect possible. The great philosophers before his time had made no difficulties in determining the essence or substance of the human soul; but as they were wholly ignorant of the matter, it was but reasonable they should all be of different opinions.
In Greece, which was at one time the cradle of arts and of errors, where the greatness and folly of the human mind were pushed to so great a height, they reasoned on the soul exactly as we do. The divine Anaxagoras, who had altars erected to him for teaching men that the sun was bigger than the Peloponnessus, that snow was black, that the sky was of stone, affirmed that the soul was an aerial spirit, though immortal. Diogenes, a different person from him, who became a cynic from a counterfeiter of money, asserted that the soul was a portion of the substance of God; a notion which had at least something striking. Epicurus maintains the soul is composed of parts, in the same manner as matter. Aristotle, whose works have been interpreted a thousand different ways, because they were in fact absolutely unintelligible, was of opinion, if we may trust some of his disciples, that the understandings of all mankind were but one and the same substance. The divine Plato, master of the divine Aristotle, and the divine Socrates, master of the divine Plato, said that the soul was at the same time corporeal and eternal. The dæmon of Socrates had, no doubt, let him into the secret of this matter. There are actually some who pretend that a fellow who boasted of having a familiar was most assuredly either knave or fool; possibly they who say so may be rather too squeamish.
As for our fathers of the Church, several of them, in the first ages were of opinion that the human soul, as well as the angels, and God himself, were all corporeal. The world is every day improving. St. Bernard, as Father Mabillon is forced to own, taught, with respect to the soul, that after death it did not behold God in heaven, but was obliged to rest satisfied with conversing with the humanity of Jesus Christ. Possibly they took it for once on his bare word; though the adventure of the crusade has somewhat lessened the credit of his oracles. Whole drones of schoolmen came after him: there was the irrefragable doctor, the subtile doctor, the angelic doctor, the seraphic doctor, the cherubimical doctor, all of whom made no scruple of saying they were perfectly clear as to the soul’s substance, but who have, for all that, spoken of it exactly as if they neither understood one syllable of what they spoke of, and desired that nobody else should. Our Descartes, born to discover the mistakes of antiquity, only that he might substitute his own in their place, and borne down by the stream of system, which hoodwinks the greatest men, imagined he had demonstrated that the soul was the same thing with thought, in the same manner as matter is the same with extension. He firmly maintained that the soul always thinks, and that, at its arrival in the body, it is provided with a whole magazine of metaphysical notions, as of God, space, infinity, and fully supplied with all sorts of abstract ideas, which it unhappily loses the moment it comes forth from its mother’s womb. Father Malebranche, of the oratory, in his sublime illusions, admits of no such thing as innate ideas, though he had no doubt of our seeing everything in God; and that God Himself, if it is lawful to speak in this manner, was the very essence of our soul.
After so many speculative gentlemen had formed this romance of the soul, one truly wise man appeared, who has, in the most modest manner imaginable, given us its real history. Mr. Locke has laid open to man the anatomy of his own soul, just as some learned anatomist would have done that of the body. He avails himself throughout of the help of metaphysical lights; and although he is sometimes bold enough to speak in a positive manner, he is on other occasions not afraid to discover doubts. Instead of determining at once what we were entirely ignorant about, he examines, step by step, the objects of human knowledge; he takes a child from the moment of its birth; he accompanies him through all the stages of the human understanding; he views what he possesses in common with the brutes, and in what he is superior to them. Above all, he is solicitous to examine the internal evidence of consciousness. “I leave,” says he, “those who are possessed of more knowledge than I am to determine whether our souls exist before or after the organization of the body; but cannot help acknowledging that the soul that has fallen to my share is one of those coarse material kinds of souls which cannot always think; and I am even so unhappy as not to be able to conceive how it should be more indispensably necessary that the soul should always think, than it should be that the body should always be in motion.”
For my own part, I am proud of the honor of being every whit as stupid on this point as Mr. Locke. Nobody shall ever persuade me that I always think; and I don’t find myself in the least more disposed than he to think that, a few weeks after I was conceived, my soul was very learned, and acquainted with a thousand things that I forgot the moment I came into the world, and that I possessed to very little good purpose in the uterus, so many valuable secrets in philosophy, all of which abandoned me the instant they could have been of any advantage, and which I have never since been able to recover.
Locke, after demolishing the notion of innate ideas; after having renounced the vain opinion that the mind always thinks; having fully established this point, that the origin of all our ideas is from the senses; having examined our simple and compound ideas; having accompanied the mind in all its operations; having shown the imperfection of all the languages spoken by men, and what a gross abuse of terms we are every moment guilty of; Locke, I say, at length proceeds to consider the extent, or rather the nothingness, of human knowledge. This is the chapter in which he has the boldness to advance, though in a modest manner, that “we shall never be able to determine, whether a being, purely material, is capable of thought or not.” This sagacious proposition has passed with more than one divine as a scandalous assertion, that the soul is material and mortal. Some English devotees as usual gave the alarm. The superstitious are in society what poltroons are in an army; they infect the rest with their own panics. They cried out that Mr. Locke wanted to turn all religion topsy–turvy: there was, however, not the smallest relation to religion in the affair, the question was purely philosophical, and altogether independent of faith and revelation. They had only to examine, without rancor, whether it were a contradiction to say, that “matter is incapable of thought,” and, “God is able to endow matter with thought.” But it is too frequent with theologians to begin with pronouncing that God is offended, whenever we are not of their side of the question, or happen not to think as they do: the case is pretty much like that of the bad poets, who took it into their heads to imagine Boileau spoke high treason, when he was only laughing at the silliness of their wretched compositions. Doctor Stillingfleet has acquired the character of a moderate divine, only because he has refrained from abuse in his controversy with Mr. Locke. He ventured to enter the lists with him, but was vanquished, because he reasoned too much like a doctor; while Locke, like a true philosopher, fully acquainted with the strength and weakness of human understanding, fought with arms of whose temper he was perfectly well assured.
Philip Mordaunt, cousin–german to the famous earl of Peterborough, who was so well known in all the courts of Europe, and who made his boast that he had seen more postilions, and more crowned heads, than any other man in the world; this Philip Mordaunt, I say, was a young man about twenty–seven, handsome, well made, rich, of an illustrious family, and one who might pretend to anything; and, what was more than all the rest, he was passionately beloved by his mistress. However, this man took a distaste to life, discharged all that he owed, wrote to his friends to take leave of them, and even composed some verses upon the occasion, which concluded thus, that “though opium might be some relief to a wise man, if disgusted with the world, yet in his opinion a pistol, and a little resolution, were much more effectual remedies.” His behavior was suitable to his principles; and he despatched himself with a pistol, without giving any other reason for it than that his soul was weary of his body, and that when we dislike our house we ought to quit it. One would imagine he chose to die because he was weary of being happy.
One Richard Smith has lately exhibited a most extraordinary instance of this nature to the world. This Smith was tired of being really unhappy; he had been rich, and was reduced to poverty; he had been healthy, and had become infirm; he had a wife, to whom he had nothing to give but a share in his misfortunes; and an infant in the cradle was the only thing he had left. Richard Smith and his wife, Bridget, then, after having affectionately embraced, and given each a formal kiss to their child, first cut the poor little creature’s throat, and then hanged themselves at the foot of their bed. I do not remember to have heard anywhere of such a scene of horrors committed in cold blood; but the letter which these unhappy wretches wrote to their cousin, Mr. Brindley, before their death, is as remarkable as the manner of their death. “We are certain,” said they, “of meeting with forgiveness from God. . . . . We put an end to our lives because we were miserable, without any prospect of relief; and we have done our child that service to put it out of life, for fear it should have been as miserable as ourselves. . . It is to be observed that these people, after having murdered their child out of their paternal affection, wrote to a friend, recommending their dog and cat to his care. They thought, probably, that it was easier to make their dog and cat happy in this world than their child, and that keeping them would not be any great expense to their friend.
The earl of Scarborough has lately quitted life with the same indifference as he did his place of master of the horse. Having been told in the house of lords that he sided with the court, on account of the profitable post he held in it, “My lords,” said he, “to convince you that my opinion is not influenced by any such consideration, I will instantly resign.” He afterward found himself perplexed between a mistress he was fond of, but to whom he was under no engagements, and a woman whom he esteemed, and to whom he had made a promise of marriage. My lord Scarborough, therefore, killed himself to get rid of difficulty.
The many tragical stories of this nature, with which the English newspapers abound, have made the greater part of Europe imagine that the English are fonder of killing themselves than any other people; and yet I question much whether there are not as many madmen at Paris as at London; and if our newspapers were to keep an exact register of those who have either had the folly, or unhappy resolution to destroy themselves, we might in this respect be found to vie with the English. But our compilers of news are more prudent; the adventures of private persons are never set forth to public scandal in any of the papers licenced by the government; however, I believe I may venture to affirm that this rage of suicide will never become epidemic. Nature has sufficiently guarded against it, and hope and fear are the powerful curbs she makes use of to stop the hand of the wretch uplifted to be his own executioner.
I know it may be said, that there have been countries where a council was established to give licence to the people to kill themselves, when they could give sufficient reasons for doing it. To this I answer, that either the fact is false, or that such council found very little employment.
There is one thing indeed which may cause some surprise, and which I think deserves to be seriously discussed, which is, that almost all the great heroes among the Romans, during the civil wars, killed themselves when they lost a battle, and that we do not find an instance of a single leader, or great man, in the disputes of the League, the Fronde, or during the troubles of Italy and Germany, who put end to his life with his own hand. It is true, that these latter were Christians, and that there is great difference between a Christian soldier and a Pagan; and yet, how comes it that those very men who were so easily withheld by Christianity, from putting an end to their own lives, should be restrained either by that or any other consideration, when they had a mind to poison, assassinate, or publicly execute a vanquished enemy? Does not the Christian religion forbid this manner of taking away the life of a fellow–creature, if possible more than our own? The advocates for suicide tell us that it is very allowable to quit our house when we are weary of it. Agreed: but most men had rather lie in a bad house than sleep in the open fields.
I one day received a circular letter from an Englishman, in which he proposes a premium to the person who should the most clearly demonstrate that it was allowable for a man to kill himself. I made him no answer, for I had nothing to prove to him, and he had only to examine within himself if he preferred death to life.
But then let us ask why Cato, Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Otho, and so many others gave themselves death with so much resolution, and that our leaders of parties suffered themselves to be taken alive by their enemies, or waste the remains of a wretched old age in a dungeon? Some refined wits pretend to say that the ancients had no real courage; that Cato acted like a coward in putting an end to his own life: and that he would have showed more greatness of soul in crouching beneath the victorious Cæsar. This may be very well in an ode, or as a figure in rhetoric; but it is very certain there must be some courage to resign a life coolly by the edge of a sword, some strength of mind thus to overcome the most powerful instinct of nature; in a word, that such an act shows a greater share of ferocity than weakness. When a sick man is in a frenzy, we cannot say he has no strength, though we may say it is the strength of a madman.
Self–murder was forbidden by the Pagan as well as by the Christian religion. There was even a place allotted in hell to those who put an end to their own lives. Witness these lines of the poet.
This was the religion of the heathens; and notwithstanding the torments they were to endure in the other world, it was esteemed an honor to quit this by giving themselves death by their own hands: so contradictory are the manners of men! Is not the custom of duelling still unhappily accounted honorable among us, though prohibited by reason, by religion, and by all laws, divine and human? If Cato and Cæsar, Antony and Augustus did not challenge each other to a duel, it was not that they were less brave than ourselves. If the duke of Montmorency, Marshal Marillac, de Thou, Cinq–Mars, and many others, rather chose to be dragged to execution like the vilest miscreants, than put an end to their own lives like Cato and Brutus, it was not that they had less courage than those Romans; the true reason is, that it was not then the fashion at Paris to kill oneself on such occasions; whereas it was an established custom with the Romans.
The women on the Malabar coast throw themselves alive into the flames, in which the bodies of their dead husbands are burning. Is it because they have more resolution than Cornelia? No; but the custom of the country is for wives to burn themselves.
The English had a regular theatre, as well as the Spaniards, while the French had as yet but booths. Shakespeare, whom the English consider as another Sophocles, flourished about the time of Lope de Vega; he was properly the creator of their theatre. His genius was at once strong and abundant, natural and sublime, but without the smallest spark of taste, and void of the remotest idea of the rules. I will venture to tell you a bold but yet undoubted truth; which is, that the merit of this author has been the ruin of the English stage: there are in him scenes so perfectly beautiful, and passages so very full of the great and terrible, spread up and down those monstrous farces of his which they have christened tragedies, that his pieces have always been played with prodigious success. Time, which alone is capable of establishing the reputation of authors, serves at length to consecrate their very defects. The greater part of those extravagant passages, and of that bombast which abounds in his works, have, in the course of a hundred and fifty years, acquired a kind of title to pass for the true sublime. Their modern authors are, generally speaking, no more than copiers of him, though what succeeded in Shakespeare is hissed in them; and you know the veneration they entertain for this author increases in proportion to their contempt of the moderns. They never once reflect that it is absurd to pretend to imitate him; and it is wholly owing to the ill success of those copiers, and not to their want of capacity, that he is thought inimitable.
You know that in the tragedy of the “Moor of Venice,” a very interesting piece, a husband smothers his wife on the stage, and the poor woman dies asserting her innocence. You are not ignorant that in “Hamlet” a couple of grave–diggers dig a grave upon the stage, singing and drinking at their work, and passing the low jokes common to this sort of people, on the skulls they throw up; but what will most astonish you is that these fooleries have been imitated.
In the reign of Charles II., which was the reign of politeness, and the era of the fine arts, Otway, in his “Venice Preserved,” introduced the senator Antonio, and his courtesan, Aquilina, in the midst of the horrors of Bedemar’s conspiracy; the old senator plays all the monkey–tricks, on the stage, of an old impotent crazy lecher. He mimics by turns a bull, and a dog, and he bites his mistress’ legs, who alternately whips and kicks him. These buffooneries, however, calculated to please the rabble, have since been omitted in the representation of this piece; but in “Julius Cæsar,” the idle jests of Roman shoemakers and cobblers are still introduced on the stage with Cassius and Brutus.
You will, no doubt, lament that those who have hitherto spoken to you of the English stage, and particularly of the celebrated Shakespeare, have pointed out only his errors, and that no one has translated those striking passages in this great man which atone for all his faults. To this I shall answer that it is very easy to recount in prose the absurdities of a poet, but very difficult to translate his fine verses; those who set themselves up for critics of celebrated writers generally compile volumes; but I had rather read two pages which present only their beauties; for I shall always concur with all men of taste in this opinion, that there is more to be learned in a dozen verses of Homer or Virgil, than in all the criticisms on those great men.
I have ventured to translate some passages of the best English poets, and I begin with one of Shakespeare’s. Be indulgent to the copy, in honor to the original; and always remember, that when you see a translation, you perceive only a faint copy of a fine picture. I have selected the soliloquy in the tragedy of “Hamlet,” which is universally known, and begins with this line: “To be, or not to be! that is the question!” It is Hamlet, prince of Denmark, who speaks.
Do not imagine that I have given you the English word for word—woe be to those literal translators, who, by rendering every single word, enervate the sense! It is in this case that we may truly say, “The letter kills, and the spirit giveth life.”
I shall now give you a passage from the famous Dryden, an English poet who flourished in the reign of Charles II.; an author more fertile than judicious, who would have preserved an unblemished reputation, if he had written only the tenth part of his works.
The passage begins thus:
It is in these detached sentences that the English tragedies have hitherto excelled. Their pieces, almost always barbarous, void of decency, order, and probability, have yet, amidst this night of darkness, their splendid days of light: their style is too stiff, too unnatural, too much copied from the Hebrew writers, and too full of Asiatic bombast; but then the mind is transported to an amazing height, soaring on the pinions of the metaphorical style which adorns the English language.
It sometimes seems as if nature were not the same in England as elsewhere. This same Dryden, in his farce of “Don Sebastian, King of Portugal,” which he calls a tragedy, makes an officer give the following reply to that monarch:
This speech is in the English taste; and the whole piece is full of buffoonery. How shall we reconcile, say our critics, so much good sense with such absurdity, so much meanness with such sublimity of expression? Nothing so easy; let it be remembered that they were written by men. The Spanish stage has all the faults of the English, without its beauties; and, in reality, what were the Greek authors? what Euripides, who, in the same piece, paints so affecting, so noble a picture of Alcestes sacrificing herself to the manes of her husband, and puts into the mouth of Admetes and his father such gross puerilities, that have puzzled even his commentators? A reader must have great patience and fortitude not to find Homer’s sleepy fit sometimes a little tedious, and his dreams insipid. It will require many ages to purify good taste. Virgil among the Romans, Racine among the French, were the first who always preserved a purity of taste in capital pieces.
Addison was the first Englishman who wrote a rational tragedy; but I should pity him if he had only made it barely rational. His tragedy of “Cato” is written from the beginning to the end with that masterly and energic elegance of which Corneille first gave us such fine examples in his unequalled style. It appears to me that this piece is adapted to an audience somewhat philosophic, and very republican. I much doubt if our young ladies and petitsmaîtres would have relished Cato in his nightgown, reading Plato’s dialogues, and making reflections on the immortality of the soul: but those who soar above the customs, the prejudices, and the foibles of their own nation, who are of every age, and of every country, those who prefer philosophic grandeur to soft tales of love, will be pleased to find here a copy, though an imperfect one, of that sublime scene. It seems as if Addison, in this fine soliloquy, aimed at rivalling Shakespeare. I will translate the one as I did the other; I mean, with that freedom without which we are too apt to wander from the original, by endeavoring at too close an imitation. The groundwork is faithfully portrayed, I shall only add a few shades. Not being able to equal him, I must attempt to improve upon him.
In this tragedy of a patriot and philosopher, the character of Cato appears to me to be one of the most complete that ever appeared on any stage. The Cato of Addison is, in my opinion, greatly superior to the Cornelia of Pierre Corneille, for he is continually great without ostentation; and the part of Cornelia, besides being an unnecessary one, is in many places too declamatory; she would always be the heroine, and Cato never perceives that he is the hero.
It is a great pity that so fine a piece should not be a complete tragedy; unconnected scenes, which often leave the stage empty, injudicious and tedious apart or aside speeches, cold and insipid amours, a conspiracy quite foreign to the piece, a certain Sempronius disgusted and killed on the stage; all these put together render the celebrated tragedy of “Cato” a performance that our comedians would never venture to present, even if we were of the same way of thinking as the Romans, or the English themselves. The barbarism and irregularity of the theatre at London made an impression on Addison’s better judgment: methinks I see in him the Czar Peter, who, in reforming the Russians, still retained some prejudices of his education, and of the manners of his country.
The custom of introducing love, right or wrong, into dramatic works, passed over from Paris to London about the year 1660, with our ribbons and perukes. The ladies, who there as well as here embellish the theatre, would no longer suffer any other but love scenes on the stage. The sage Addison had the effeminate complaisance to bend the severity of his character to the manners of his time, and spoiled a masterpiece to comply with the reigning mode.
Since his time the pieces have become more regular, the people more difficult, and the authors more timid. I have seen very decent, but very flat, modern compositions: it seems as if the English poets had hitherto been born to produce only irregular beauties.
The poetic genius of the English resembles, at this day, a spreading tree planted by nature, shooting forth at random a thousand branches, and growing with unequal strength: it dies if you force its nature, or shape it into a regular tree, fit for the gardens of Marly.
If in most of the English tragedies the heroes are awkward and the heroines extravagant, in return the style is more natural in comedy; but then this style would appear to us rather that of debauchery than of politeness; it distinguishes everything by its proper name; a woman, enraged at her lover, wishes him the pox; a drunkard, in a piece that is very often performed, is disguised like a priest, makes a great riot, and is arrested by the watch: he calls himself a curate; he is asked what cure he has; and he replies, “An excellent one for the . . . .” In one of the most decent comedies, “The Careless Husband,” this husband is represented having his head rubbed by a servant–maid, who is seated by his side: his wife enters, and exclaims: “To what power may one not arrive by being a whore!” Some cynics justify these gross expressions, and quote the example of Horace, who describes, by their proper names, all the parts of the human body, and all the pleasures they give. These are images that succeed with us only when properly veiled; but Horace, who seemed made for the stews as well as for the court, and who perfectly understood the customs of both, speaks as freely of the way of a man with a maid, as if he was describing a walk, or a collation. It has been observed, that the Romans, in the days of Augustus, were as polite as the Parisians are at present; and that this very Horace, who praises the emperor Augustus for reforming the manners, complied, without scruple, with the customs of the times, which permitted the promiscuous use of girls and boys, and of the proper names of things. Strange it is—if anything can be said to be so—that Horace, while speaking the language of a debauchee, should be the favorite of a reformer; and that Ovid, for speaking only the language of gallantry, should be exiled by a debauchee, an impostor, an assassin, called Octavius, who acquired the empire by crimes which merited death.
However this be, Bayle pretends that expressions are indifferent, in which he, the cynics, and the Stoics, deceive themselves; for everything has different names which represent it under different aspects, and afford different ideas of it. The words “magistrate” and “lawyer,” “gentleman” and “squire,” “officer” and “sharper,” “monk” and “friar,” have not the same signification. The consummation of marriage, and everything that contributes to the completion of this great work, will be differently expressed by the parson, the husband, the physician, and the rake. The word the latter of these would make use of would awaken the idea of pleasure, the terms the physician would explain himself in would put you in mind of a dead body, the husband would make that understood with decency which the young libertine had described immodestly, and the parson would attempt to give you the idea of a sacrament. Words then are not in themselves indifferent; for they are not synonymous.
It must further be considered, that though the Romans permitted these gross expressions in satires, which were read but by a few people, they never suffered indecent words on the stage; for, as La Fontaine says: “Chaste are the ears, although the eyes are wanton.” In a word, no expression should be made use of in public, which a modest woman would be ashamed to repeat.
The English have stolen, disguised, and mangled, most of Molière’s plays. They attempted to make a Tartuffe. It was impossible that this subject should succeed at London, because the portrait of a stranger affords very little pleasure. One of the blessings of the English nation is, that she has no Tartuffes: to have hypocrites, it is necessary to have bigots; but the name of bigot is almost unknown there, while that of an honest man is common. He sees no dotards committing to others the care of their souls; no petty tyrants establishing a despotic empire, in some quarter of the city, over a set of superannuated females, who were once coquettes, and always weak; and over men still more weak and despicable. Philosophy, liberty, and the climate, lead the way to misanthropy. London, which has no Tartuffes, abounds with Timons. The “Plain Dealer” is one of the best English comedies: it was written at the time when Charles II. and his splendid court were endeavoring to laugh away the settled gloom that had overspread the nation. Wycherly, the author of this comedy, was the professed admirer of the duchess of Cleveland, the king’s mistress. This man, who passed his life in the gay world, as it is called, painted its follies and absurdities in the strongest colors. The strokes are bolder in Wycherly’s piece than in Molière’s; but they are not so delicate, nor so refined. The English author has corrected the only fault in Molière’s piece, the want of plot and intrigue: the English comedy is interesting, the intrigue is ingenious, but too bold for our manners.
A captain of a ship, of distinguished courage and frankness, and a professed despiser of mankind, has a sincere and prudent friend whom he mistrusts, and a mistress, by whom he is tenderly beloved, whom he slights: whilst he places all his confidence in a false friend, the most unworthy of men; and gives his heart to a jilt, the most perfidious of her sex. He believes, however, that this woman is a Penelope, and this false friend a Cato: he sets–out on an expedition against the Dutch, and leaves all his money, jewels, and other effects, in the hands of this woman to the care of this friend he so firmly relies on; while the true friend, whom he mistrusts, embarks with him, and the lady, to whom he has not deigned to pay the least regard, disguises herself in the habit of a page, and performs the voyage with him, without discovering her sex the whole time.
The captain’s ship being blown up in an engagement, he returns to London in the utmost distress, accompanied by his friend and the page, without knowing the friendship of the one, or the love of the other. He goes immediately to that paragon of women from whom he expects to receive his strong box, and a fresh proof of her fidelity. He finds her married to the sharper he had confided in, and can get no account of the treasure he had committed to her charge. The good man will hardly believe that so virtuous a woman could be guilty of such baseness; when the better to convince him of it, this honest lady falls in love with the little page, and attempts to take him away by force: but as it is necessary, in a dramatic piece, that justice should take place, vice be punished, and virtue meet its reward, at the close of the catastrophe, the captain supplied the place of the page, goes to bed to his inconstant mistress, cuckolds his treacherous friend, runs him through the body, recovers the remains of his effects, and marries his page. You will observe, that this piece is interlarded with an old litigious woman, related to the captain, who is one of the merriest creatures, and one of the best characters, on the stage.
Wycherly has taken another piece from Molière not less bold and singular; it is a sort of “School for Women.” The principal character in the piece is a droll libertine, the terror of the husbands of London; who, to make sure of his business, spreads a report, that, in a late illness, his surgeons had found it necessary to make him a eunuch. Having this curious character, the husbands grant him free access to their wives, and his only difficulty is where to fix his choice. However, at last, he gives the preference to a little country–woman, who has a great share of innocence, with a natural warmth of constitution, by which she makes her husband a cuckold with a good will and readiness that far exceeds the premeditated malice of experienced dames. This piece is not indeed “The School of Morality”; but it is “The School of Wit and True Comic Humor.”
The comedies of Sir John Vanbrugh are more facetious, but less ingenious. The knight was a man of pleasure, and besides a poet and an architect. It is remarked, that he wrote as delicately and as elegantly as he built clumsily: it was he who built the famous castle of Blenheim, the heavy but durable monument of our unfortunate battle of Höchstädt. If the apartments were only as large as the walls are thick, this mansion would be convenient enough. In Sir John Vanbrugh’s epitaph, the earth is invoked to lie heavy on him, who, when living, had laid such heavy loads upon it. This gentleman took a tour into France just before the curious war of 1701, and was put into the Bastille, where he remained some time, without knowing what it was that had procured him this mark of distinction from our ministry. He wrote a comedy in the Bastille, and, what is in my opinion very remarkable, there is not in all the piece the least stroke against the country where he suffered this violence.
Of all the English writers, the late Mr. Congreve has carried the glory of the comic theatre to the highest pitch. He wrote but few pieces, but they are all excellent of their kind: the laws of the drama are strictly observed in them; they are full of characters elegantly varied; no mean pleasantry, not the least indecency, is introduced; you find in every part the language of politeness, even in describing the actions of knaves; which proves that he knew the world, and kept what is called good company. His comedies are the most sprightly and correct, Sir John Vanbrugh’s the gayest, and Wycherly’s the boldest. It is to be observed, that none of these sublime wits have spoken ill of Molière: it is only writers of no repute that have vilified this great man. In a word, do not expect from me any extracts from these English performances that I am so great an advocate of; nor that I should give you a single bonmot or jest from Congreve or Wycherly. One cannot laugh in a translation. If you would be acquainted with the English comedy, you must go to London: you must reside there three years; you must learn the language perfectly, and constantly frequent the theatre. I take no great pleasure in reading Plautus or Aristophanes, because I am neither Greek nor Roman. The delicate turn of bon mots, the allusion, and the apropos, are all lost to a foreigner.
It is not the same in tragedy; that consists alone in the sublime passions, and heroic fooleries, consecrated by the stale error of fables and histories. Œdipus and Electra belong as much to us, to the English, and to the Spaniards, as to the Greeks: but true comedy is the living picture of the absurdities of a country; and, if you are not thoroughly acquainted with the country, you can hardly judge of the painting.
It has been objected to the English, that their scene is bloody, and often covered with dead bodies; that their gladiators fight half naked before young girls, and often return from the combat with the loss of a nose or a cheek. In answer to this, they tell you that they imitate the Greeks in tragedy, and the Romans in the act of cutting off noses: but their theatre is widely different from that of Sophocles and Euripides; and, with respect to the Romans, it must be acknowledged that a nose or a cheek is a trifle in comparison with that multitude of victims that mutually butchered each other in the circus for the diversion of the Roman ladies.
The English have sometimes had dances in their comedies, which were allegorical, and of a very singular taste. Despotic power and a republican state were represented by a very gallant dance in 1709. A king appears in the dance, who, after a few capers, gives his prime minister a very severe kick on the . . . . the minister bestows it on a second person, the second on a third, and, in fine, he who received the last represented the bulk of the nation, which had nobody to revenge itself on: all was performed in cadence. The republican government was represented by a round dance, where everyone equally received and returned the blow. This, however, is the country that has given birth to Addisons, Popes, Lockes, and Newtons.
[Voltaire indulged a whim in making believe that this comedy was written by “M. Hume, brother of M. David Hume, the celebrated philosopher.” This gained it a favorable hearing. It was supposed to have been translated by one “Jerôme Carré,” a pseudonym elsewhere used by Voltaire. His “M. Hume” refers to Home, the author of the tragedy “Douglas.” Though of secondary interest, the correspondence fits into these papers on British topics.]
Sir:—The little trifle which I have the honor to put under your protection, is nothing more than an excuse for talking to you with freedom. You have conferred an eternal obligation on the fine arts and true taste, by generously contributing everything in your power toward a theatre in Paris, more worthy of that illustrious city than any she has hitherto seen.
If we no longer see Cæsar and Ptolemy, Athalie, and Jehoida, Mérope and her son crowded upon the stage, and surrounded by a set of wild and licentious young fellows; if our representations have infinitely more decency than ever they had before, it is to you we are indebted for this reformation: the favor done to us is still more considerable, as by our excellency in tragedy and comedy we are distinguished above all nations: however, with regard to other things, we may be rivalled, or even excelled. We have some good philosophers amongst us, but must fairly acknowledge that we are but the followers of Newton, Locke, and Galileo. If France can boast of some historians, yet the Spaniards, the Italians, nay and even the English, may in this respect dispute the preeminence with us. Massillon alone passes with our men of taste here for a tolerably good orator; but how far beneath Archbishop Tillotson is he in the eyes of all Europe beside! I don’t pretend to decide the merit of men of genius, nor is my hand strong enough to hold the balance between them; I only tell you what other people think, and you, sir, who have travelled, must know that every people has its favorite authors, whom it always prefers to those of other nations.
If you descend from works of wit to those where the hand is principally concerned, what painter have we comparable to the great Italian masters? It is only indeed in the Sophoclean art that we are allowed by all the world to excel; and this, no doubt, is the reason why, in many parts of Italy, they often play our pieces, either in our language or their own, and that French theatres are found at St. Petersburg and Vienna.
All that could be found fault with on our stage was the want of action and scenery: our tragedies were often nothing but long conversations in five acts. How could we hazard those pompous spectacles, those striking pictures, those grand and terrible actions, which, well conducted, have the finest effect; how were we to bring the bleeding body of Cæsar on the stage; how could we make a desperate queen go down into her husband’s tomb, and come out of it again dying by the hand of her son? Was it possible to do this in the midst of a crowd that hid from the view of the spectators, mother, son, tomb and all, and took away all the terror of the scene by a contrast truly ridiculous?
From these glaring absurdities you, sir, have in a great measure set us free; and when any writers of genius shall rise up capable of uniting the pomp of scenery, and the lively representation of an action, at the same time both probable and affecting, to strong thoughts, and that fine and natural poetry which constitutes the true merit of the drama; to you, sir, whenever that shall happen, will be due the thanks of our posterity.
But we must not leave the care of this to posterity, but have the courage to tell our own age what useful and noble works our contemporaries are able to produce: the just praise of merit is a perfume reserved only to embalm the dead. Let a man do anything ever so well, while he lives, nobody makes mention of it; or if they do, his merit is always extenuated, or detracted from; and the moment he is dead, that merit is as much exaggerated, on purpose to lessen the reputation of those who are still living.
I would at least have all who read this little work know that there is in Paris more than one worthy and unfortunate man whom you have relieved; and that while you spend your leisure hours in the laborious and painful revival of a useful art lost in Asia, where it was invented, you have revived also a secret yet more rare—that of assisting indigent virtue by concealed charity and beneficence.
I am not ignorant that there is in Paris, and in what is called the polite world, a set of men, who would ridicule those good actions which they are not capable of performing; and it is my knowledge of them, sir, which doubles my respect for you.
P. S.—There is no occasion for signing my name to this letter, as I have never put it at the bottom of any of my works; and when the world sees it at the head of any book, or in any playhouse bill, let them place it to the account of the billsticker or the bookseller.
Gentlemen:—I am obliged by the illustrious Mr. F— to expose myself to you face to face; I shall talk to you respectfully and sentimentally; my complaint shall be marked with decorum, and enlightened by the torch of truth. I hope Mr. F— will be confounded when he comes face to face before those honest gentlemen who are not used to favor the malpractices of those who, not being sentimental, make a trade of insulting Tierce & Quart, without any provocation, as Cicero says in his oration “Pro Murena,” page 4.
My name, gentlemen, is Jerome Carré, and I am a native of Montauban, a poor man, without any friends or fortune; and as I have changed my mind about going to Montauban because Mr. L. F.—, of P—, persecutes me there, I am come to implore the protection of the Parisians. I have translated the comedy of “The Scotch–Woman” from Mr. Hume. The comedians, both French and Italian, would have represented it, and it might have been played perhaps five or six times, but Mr. F— freely employs all his interest and authority to prevent my translation from appearing: he who, while he was a Jesuit, encouraged young men so much, is now their enemy: he has written a whole paper against me, and begins by maliciously stating that my translation comes from Geneva, on purpose to make me suspected for a heretic. Moreover, he calls Mr. Hume, Mr. Home; and afterward says that Mr. Hume, the clergyman, author of this piece, is no relative of Mr. Hume, the philosopher. Let him only consult the “Journal Encyclopédique” of the month of April, 1758, which I look upon to be the best of a hundred and sixty–three journals that appear in Europe every month; there he will meet with this piece of intelligence, page 137: “The author of ‘Douglas’ is one Hume, a clergyman, a relation of the famous David Hume, so well known for his impiety.”
I cannot possibly tell whether Mr. David Hume is impious or not; if he is, I am sorry for it, and shall pray to God for him as I should; it follows, however, that Mr. Hume, the clergyman, the relative of David Hume, is author of “The Scotch–Woman,” which is all we wanted to prove; I must own to my shame, that I did believe him to be his brother; but be he brother or cousin, certain it is, that he is the author of “The Scotch–Woman.” It is true, indeed, that in the journal above cited, “The Scotch–Woman” is not expressly named; mention is only made of “Agis” and “Douglas,” but that is a trifle; so undoubtedly is he the author of “The Scotch–Woman,” that I have by me several of his letters, wherein he thanks me for having translated it, one of which I shall submit to the charitable reader.
“My Dear Translator:—You have committed many blunders in your performance, you have quite spoiled the character of Wasp, and struck out his punishment at the end of the piece,” etc.
It is true that I have softened a little the features of Wasp, but it was by advice of some of the best judges in Paris: the French politeness will not admit of some phrases which English freedom makes no scruple of adopting: if I am to blame, it is from excess of delicacy; and I hope the gentlemen of Paris, whose protection I implore, will pardon the faults of my piece, in consideration of my extreme unwillingness to offend them.
Native of Montauban, living near the impasse of St. Thomas; I call impasse, gentlemen, what you term cul de sac, as a street, I apprehend, can signify neither an a—e nor a sack; therefore beg you will make use of the word impasse, which is noble, sonorous, intelligible, and absolutely necessary, instead of cul, and in spite of Sir F—, heretofore T—.
This letter from Mr. Jerome Carré had its desired effect. The piece was represented the beginning of August, 1760; they began late, and somebody asking why they stayed so long, perhaps, replied aloud, a man of wit, Mr. F— is gone up to the Hôtel–de–Ville. As this Mr. F— was weak enough to fancy himself pointed at in the comedy of “The Scotch–Woman,” though Mr. Hume had never seen him in his life, the audience were kind enough to be of the same opinion. The comedy was got by heart, by half the town, before ever it was played; and notwithstanding, was received with prodigious applause. F— was weak enough to assert, in a certain paper, called “L’Année Littéraire,” that “The Scotch–Woman’s” success was owing to a cabal of twelve or fifteen hundred persons who had a sovereign hatred and contempt for him; but Mr. Jerome Carré was far from making any such cabals: all Paris knows he is incapable of doing it; besides, that he had never set eyes on F—, and could not conceive the reason why all the spectators seemed to find him out in the character of Wasp. A famous lawyer, at the second representation, cried out, “Courage, Mr. Carré, avenge the public.” The pit and boxes applauded this speech by repeated claps. Carré, on quitting the theatre, was embraced by above a hundred persons. “How much we are obliged to you,” said they, “Mr. Carré, for doing justice on this man, whose manners are even more detestable than his works.” “O gentlemen,” replied Carré, “you do me more honor than I deserve; I am nothing more than the poor translator of a comedy that is full of interesting scenes and good morality.”
As he was talking thus upon the stairs, he was saluted with two kisses by the w— of F—. “How much I am obliged to you,” said she, “for thus punishing my h—, but you will never make him better.” The innocent Carré was quite confounded; he could not conceive how an English character should be taken for a Frenchman, named F—, and that all France should thus compliment him on so good a likeness. The young man learned by this adventure how much caution is necessary in the world; and found out at the same time that whenever one draws a good portrait of a ridiculous fellow, there will be always some one found out that must resemble him.
The part of Wasp in the play was very inconsiderable, and contributed but little to its real merit of success; for in several of the provinces it received as much applause as in Paris. It may, perhaps, here be answered that this Wasp was as much esteemed in the provinces as in the capital; but it is more probable that the success of Mr. Hume’s piece was owing to the lively and interesting situations to be found in it. Describe a coxcomb, and you may only succeed with a few persons; make your play interesting, and you will please all the world.
Be that as it may, we will lay before our readers the translation of a letter from my Lord Boldthinker, to the supposed Hume, on his piece called “The Scotch–Woman.”
“I believe, my dear Hume, you have yet some talents which you are accountable for to your country; it is not enough to have sacrificed this vile Wasp to public derision on all the stages of Europe, where your amiable and virtuous ‘Scotch–Woman’ appears; do more, I beseech you; expose on the stage all those base persecutors of literature, all those hypocrites, who, blackened with every vice themselves, calumniate every virtue in others; bring before the public tribunal those enraged fanatics who spit their venom on innocence; those false slaves who fawn on you with one eye and threaten you with the other; who are afraid to open their mouths before a philosopher, and endeavor secretly to ruin him; expose in open day those detestable cabals that would bury mankind once more in darkness and ignorance. You have already kept silence too long; nothing is gained by trying to soften the obstinate and perverse. There is no other means to render letters respectable but by making those tremble who injure them. Pope had recourse to this before he died; in his ‘Dunciad’ he branded all those with everlasting ridicule who had deserved it; they disappeared immediately and rose up no more; the whole nation applauded him. If the malevolence and ill–nature of the world did at first give some degree of reputation to the enemies of Pope and Swift, reason soon recovered her rights. Our Zoiluses are seldom supported for any long time. Satire is a weapon which we ought to make use of in vindication of human nature; it is not only the Pantolabi and Nomentani, but the Anituses and Melituses of the age whom we ought to scourge. Good verse may transmit to posterity the glory of worthy men and the infamy of bad ones. Go on in your labors, you will never want proper subjects . . . .”
The comedy, a translation of which we have here submitted to the lovers of literature, was written by Mr. Hume, pastor of the church of Edinburgh, already well known by his two fine tragedies played in London; a relative and friend of the celebrated philosopher Mr. Hume, who has with so much boldness and sagacity sounded the depths of metaphysics and morality. These two philosophers do equal honor to Scotland, their native country.
The comedy, entitled “The Scotch–Woman,” seems to be one of those performances which must succeed in every language, as it is a lively portrait of nature, which is everywhere the same; the author has all the simplicity and truth of the valuable Goldoni, joined, perhaps, to more intrigue, plots and spirit. The catastrophe, the character of the heroine and that of Freeport, are different from anything that has ever been exhibited on the French stage, and yet is all pure nature. This piece seems written in the taste of those English romances which have of late years been so well received; there is the same fine picture of the manners, and some lively touches strongly resembling them; nothing stiff or labored; no affectation of wit, or contemptible desire of showing the author, instead of his characters; nothing foreign to the subject; no parade of learning, or trivial maxims to fill up the vacancy of the scene; common justice obliged us to say thus much of the celebrated author. We must, at the same time, confess that we thought ourselves, by the advice of some excellent critics, under the necessity of retrenching something from the part of Wasp in the last act; he was punished, as it was very proper he should be, at the conclusion of the piece; but this poetical justice seemed to throw in a degree of coldness that hurt the lively and interesting catastrophe.
The character of Wasp is withal so base and detestable that we were willing to spare our readers the too frequent view of a thing rather disgusting than comic; we own, indeed, that it is in nature; for in all great cities, where the freedom of the press subsists, we always find some of these wretches who get a livelihood by their impudence; these subaltern Aretines, who get their bread by doing and speaking evil, under the pretext of serving the cause of literature; as if the worms that gnaw the fruits and flowers could ever be useful to them.
One of those illustrious literati, or to express ourselves more properly, one of those two men of genius who presided over the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” that work so necessary to mankind, the suspension of which has put all Europe into a panic, one of these fine great men, in some essays composed by him for his amusement on the art of comedy, has most judiciously remarked that we should bring on the stage the several states and conditions of men. The employment of Mr. Hume’s Wasp is in England a kind of business; there is even a tax raised on the papers written by these gentlemen. Neither the business nor the character seem worthy of the French stage, but the English pen contemns nothing, but often takes pleasure in representing objects whose meanness would offend other nations. The English never mind whether the subject be low or not, provided it be true; they tell us that comedy has a right to handle all characters and all conditions; that everything which is in nature should be painted; that we have a false delicacy, and that the most contemptible character may serve as a contrast for the best and most amiable.
I must here add, in justification of Mr. Hume, that he has had art enough not to bring on his Wasp; but in those parts where the story is not interesting he has imitated those painters who give us a toad, a lizard, or a snake, in one corner of the picture, still preserving the dignity of the principal figures.
What strikes us most remarkably in this piece is that the unities of time, place and action are scrupulously observed. It has withal a merit very seldom found in English or Italian plays, that the stage is never empty. Nothing is more common or more disagreeable than to see two actors go off, and two others come on in their places, without being called or expected. This intolerable fault is not to be found in “The Scotch–Woman.”
With regard to the nature of this piece, it is, properly speaking, high comedy, with a mixture of the simple. The man of true taste and delicacy prefers the smile of the soul to vulgar laughter. There are some parts of it so tender as even to draw tears, though without a studied affectation of the pathetic in any of the characters; for in like manner as true pleasantry consists in not endeavoring to be pleasant, so he who moves us never labors to do it; he is no rhetorician, everything comes from the heart. Woe be to him in any kind of writing who is over fond of pleasing! We are not certain whether this piece could possibly be represented at Paris; our condition and manner of life, which prevent our going often to public spectacles, make it impossible for us to judge what effect an English performance would have in France; we shall only say that, in spite of all our endeavors to do justice to the original, we are far from coming up to the merit of Mr. Hume’s expressions, which are always strong and natural; but the principal beauty of this comedy is the excellence of its moral, suitable to the gravity of the author’s function, at the same time that it has all those lively graces which are so agreeable to the polite world.
Comedy thus written is certainly one of the noblest efforts of the human soul; we must acknowledge it is an art, and a very difficult one; anybody may compile facts; it is easy to learn trigonometry; but every art requires genius, and genius is extremely rare and uncommon.
We cannot finish this preface better than by an extract from our countryman, Montaigne, on spectacles:
“I have played the principal parts in the Latin tragedies of Buchanan and Muretus, which were extremely well represented in our college at Guienne; Andreas Goveanus, our principal, was in this, as well as every other respect, certainly one of the best principals in France, and always superintended these things. It is an exercise which I am far from disapproving in young persons of fashion; even our princes have often practised it in imitation of the ancients, nor has it reflected any disgrace upon them; men of honor may engage in the profession as they did in Greece; Aristoni tragico actori rem aperit; huic & genus & fortuna honesta erant; nec ars, quia nihil tale apud Grœcos pudori est, ea deformabat. I have always thought them ridiculous who condemned such innocent amusements; and those very unjust who will not permit comedians to come into our cities. Good policy always endeavors to bring people together, as well for sports and exercise, as for the most serious acts of devotion; it increases friendship and society, and it is certainly right that all pastimes should be carried on in public, and in the view of the magistrates. The prince, I think, should sometimes gratify the people at his own expense; and it would be very proper that, in populous cities, some particular places should be set apart for public spectacles, which might serve to divert the vulgar from worse employments. To return to my purpose; there is nothing like alluring the passions and affections, otherwise we only make asses loaded with books; knowledge, to be agreeable, should not only lodge with, but should be married to us.”
There was a time when the arts were cultivated in France by persons of the first distinction; even the courtiers applied themselves to the belles–lettres, in spite of that dissipation, that taste for trifles, and that passion for intrigue, which are the deities of this country. It appears to me, that at present, learning is not the reigning taste at court. Perhaps the passion of studying may one day return to us. The king has it in his power to do what he pleases with this nation. In England it is common to study, and learning is more in esteem there than with us. This advantage is a necessary consequence of their form of government. There are about eight hundred persons in London that have a right to speak in public, and to support the interest of the nation; about five or six thousand more pretend in their turns to the same happiness; all the rest erect themselves into judges of these, and everyone gives his thoughts in print on the public affairs. Thus the whole nation is under a kind of necessity of being instructed. Nothing is talked of but the Athenian and Roman governments. It is necessary, nevertheless, to read the authors who have treated of them. This study naturally leads to that of the belles–lettres. In general men have the spirit or genius of their peculiar condition. Why have our magistrates, our physicians, and many of our ecclesiastics in general, more learning, taste, and judgment than are to be found among other professions? It is because their station requires the cultivation of the mind, as that of a merchant demands a knowledge of commerce.
It is not long since a very young English nobleman paid me a visit in Paris on his return from Italy: he had composed a poetical description of that country, as politely written as any of Lord Rochester’s verses, or those of our Chalieux, our Sarasins, or our Chapelles. The translation I have made of them is so far from approaching the energy and lively humor of the original, that I am obliged sincerely to ask pardon of the author and those who understand English: however, as I have no other way of making Lord Harvey’s verses known, take them in my language—
I am not of Lord Harvey’s opinion. There are countries in Italy which are very unfortunate, because foreigners have for a long time been fighting for the government of them; but there are others where the people are neither so beggarly nor so foolish as he describes them.
The earl of Rochester’s reputation is universally known. M. de St. Évremond has taken great notice of him; but he has only made us acquainted with the celebrated Rochester as a man of pleasure and intrigue. I propose to distinguish him as the man of genius and the poet. Among other works that are fraught with that lively imagination which he alone possessed, he wrote some satires on the same subjects as our celebrated Despréaux. I know nothing more useful toward perfecting true taste, than comparing the works of great men who have exercised their talents on the same subject. Observe in what manner Despréaux speaks against human reason in his “Satire on Man”:
Observe likewise how very nearly Lord Rochester expresses himself on the same subject in his “Satire on Man”; but let the reader always remember that mine are free translations of the English poets, and that the curb of our versification and the delicate decorum of our language will never form an equivalent for the impetuous flow of the English style.
Be these ideas true or false, it is certain that they are expressed with that energy which constitutes the poet. I shall guard against examining them as a philosopher, and not quit the pencil for the compass: my only end in this letter is to make known the genius of the English poets; and to this point I shall continue to adhere.
The celebrated Waller has been much talked of in France. La Fontaine, St. Évremond, and Bayle, have made his eulogium; but little more is known of him than his name. He had very near the same degree of reputation in London, that Voiture had in Paris; and I think he merited it more. Voiture lived at a time when the people were just bursting the bands of barbarism, and were yet in a state of ignorance. Everyone wanted genius, but none had it at that time. Witticisms were sought after instead of ideas: false stones are much easier found than diamonds.
Voiture, born with an easy but frivolous genius, was the first who made a figure in this dawn of the French literature. Had he come after those great men who have adorned the age of Louis XIV. he would have been under a necessity of possessing something more than mere wit. His compositions might do well enough to amuse a private family, but are by no means worthy of being transmitted to posterity. It is true, Boileau praises him; but it is only in his first satires, that is to say, before his taste was completely formed; he was then but young, and of an age when we form our opinions of men rather by the reputation they have acquired, than by their real merit. And besides, Boileau was often very unjust both in his praises and in his censures. He extolled Ségrais, whom nobody reads; he censured Quinault, whom everyone repeats by heart; and he speaks not a syllable of La Fontaine.
Waller, though a better poet than Voiture, was yet short of perfection. His compositions, which are full of gallantry, breathe an air of easy gracefulness; but his negligence makes them often languid, and besides his pieces are extremely disfigured with false thoughts. The English understood not in his time the secret of writing with purity and correctness. His serious works are manly and vigorous, a circumstance no one would have looked for from the persual of his other performances. His funeral panegyric on Oliver Cromwell, with all its faults, passes for a masterpiece. To understand this poem it is necessary to know that Cromwell died on the same day on which a prodigious storm happened. It begins in this manner:
It was on occasion of this panegyric on Cromwell that Waller made Charles II. that famous answer, recorded in Bayle’s dictionary. The king, whom Waller, according to the old custom between kings and poets, had waited upon, in order to present him with a poem stuffed with praises, reproached him with having written a better for Oliver. Waller answered, “Sir, we poets succeed much better in fiction than in truth.” This answer was not so sincere as that of the Dutch ambassador, who, on the same king’s complaining that his nation had showed less respect for him than for Cromwell, made answer, “Ah! Sir, Cromwell was quite a very different sort of a man.” There are courtiers even in England, and Waller was certainly one in the truest sense of the word; but I consider men, after their death, by their works only: all the rest is with me wholly buried in oblivion. I will only remark, that Waller, born in a court, with a fortune of three thousand pounds a year, had neither the silly pride nor the stupidity to abandon the talent with which nature had endowed him. The earls of Dorset and Buckingham, Lord Halifax, and many others, did not think they derogated from their high rank and quality in becoming excellent poets, and illustrious writers. Their works certainly do them more honor than their titles. They have cultivated letters, as if the making of their fortunes had depended on their studies. They have, moreover, rendered the arts and sciences respectable in the eyes of the people, who in everything stand in need of being guided by the great, and who, notwithstanding, are less influenced by their example in England than in any other country in the universe.
When Prior first came over to France as ambassador–plenipotentiary from Queen Anne to settle the terms of peace granted to Louis XIV. and previous to the arrival of Lord Bolingbroke, who signed the treaty; when this peer, I say, first came to France, no one imagined him to be at once a statesman and a poet. France has since paid England in her own coin; for Cardinal Du Bois sent our des Touches to London, who passed as little for a poet in England, as Prior did in France. Prior, the plenipotentiary, was originally a waiter in a tavern; the earl of Dorset, who himself was an excellent poet, and besides loved his bottle, found him one day reading Horace on a bench in the tavern, just as Lord Ilay found his gardener’s boy reading Newton. Ilay made his young gardener a great philosopher, and Dorset made a very pleasant poet of his waiter.
“Alma, or the History of the Soul,” written by this poet, is the most natural history that has been given till now, of that being, so well perceived, and so little understood. The soul has her residence at first in the extremities of the body, in the feet and hands of children; from there she insensibly places herself in the centre of the body at the age of puberty; afterward she takes possession of the heart, where she produces sentiments of love, gallantry, and heroism. In a still riper age, she mounts upward to the head, where she reasons in the best manner she is able; till at last, in old age, she retires the Lord knows whither, like the sap of an old tree, which evaporates, and is at last wholly lost. Possibly this work may be rather too prolix; all pleasantry ought to be concise, and perhaps the serious kind would hardly be the worse for a small spice of this quality.
The same Prior has composed a small poem on the battle of Höchstädt. This is by no means comparable to his “History of the Soul”; the only good thing in it is his apostrophe to Boileau.
Our plenipotentiary concludes with a paraphrase, consisting of five hundred verses on these words which are commonly ascribed to Solomon, “All is vanity.” It would have been no difficult matter to have written five thousand on the same topic. But woe to him that says all he is able to say.
Queen Anne being dead, and a change happening in the ministry, the peace of which Prior had sketched the first outlines, became the detestation of the people; and the political bard had no other resource left him but an edition of his works, published by a subscription set on foot by those of his own party, after which he died like a philosopher, that is as every honest Englishman dies, or at least is thought to die.
I should be glad now to give you a slight idea of the poetical writings of the earl of Roscommon and Dorset; but I am sensible this would make a little volume, and, after all, I should be able to give you but a very imperfect idea of so many different pieces. Poetry is akin to music, which must be heard, to form any judgment of its excellence. Even when I attempt to translate some passages of these foreign poets, I can at best but give you a very imperfect notion of their harmony or numbers; and I find it utterly impossible to convey to you the smallest notion of their cadences.
But, above all, the English poem called “Hudibras” is what puzzles me most to make you at all acquainted with. It is a piece wholly in the comic or burlesque style, though the subject is of no less consequence than the civil wars of Cromwell. This cruel war, which has been the occasion of so many tears, and which has caused such an ocean of blood to be shed, has notwithstanding, given birth to a poem, which I defy the gravest reader to peruse without laughing. There is something of this contrasted kind to be met with in our “Menippean Satire.” The Romans would certainly never have thought of writing a burlesque poem on the civil wars of Cæsar and Pompey, or on the proscriptions of Antony and Augustus. Whence then comes it to pass, that the dreadful disasters occasioned in France by the League, and those in England between the king and parliament, have given rise to so much pleasantry? It is undoubtedly true that those fatal broils had actually something exceedingly ridiculous at bottom. The citizens of Paris, at the head of the Faction of the Sixteen, mingled abundance of folly and impertinence with the horrors of faction. The intrigues of the women, the legate, and the monks had a droll aspect, notwithstanding those numberless calamities of which they were the occasion. The theological disputes, and the fanaticism of the Puritans in England, were fruitful fields for ridicule; and this source of ridicule, well laid open, was capable of affording large scope for pleasantry, after these tragical horrors, under which it lay concealed, were once removed. Although the bull Unigenitus has been the occasion of much bloodshed, yet is not the little poem of “Philotamus” the less adapted to the subject; and the only reproach that can, with any justice, be made him is, that he is not so merry and diverting, and so diversified, as he ought to be, and that he does not introduce in the course of the work, what he promises in the beginning.
The poem “Hudibras,” which I am now mentioning to you, seems to be a mixture of the “Menippean Satire” with Don Quixote,” with this double advantage, that it is written in verse, and that it is infinitely more witty. As for the “Menippean Satire,” it cannot stand in competition with it, and is really but a very middling performance. But his superabundance of wit is what has made him inferior to “Don Quixote.” Taste, pleasing simplicity, the art of narration, of properly disposing the different adventures, of checking the natural fertility of one’s genius, are, in my humble opinion, infinitely superior to mere wit. Hence it is, that “Don Quixote” is read by all the nations of Europe, while “Hudibras” affords entertainment only for those of his own country.
The name of this extraordinary author is Butler; he was contemporary with Milton, and had an infinitely greater share of reputation than he, from the pleasantry and humor of his poem; whereas that of Milton is very dismal. Butler made the enemies of Charles II. the subject of universal ridicule, and had this for his sole recompense, that the king often did him the honor to quote his verses. The battles of the knight Hudibras were much better known than those of the angels and devils of Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” But the court of England treated the witty and diverting Butler as ill as the court above did the grave Milton, for both were in a starving condition, or very near it.
The hero of Butler’s poem was no feigned personage, like the Don Quixote of Michael Cervantes; he was actually a knight–baronet, that had formerly been one of Cromwell’s enthusiasts, in whose service he bore the office of a colonel. His name was Sir Samuel Luke. In order to understand the spirit of this poem, which is wholly singular in its kind, there will be a necessity of retrenching, at least three–fourths of the passages we want to translate; for Butler is an author who never thinks he has said enough. I have therefore reduced to about fourscore verses, the first four hundred in his work, to avoid a disgusting prolixity.
A man whose imagination was capable of containing a tenth part of the vis comica, true or false, that predominates through every part of this work, would still be extremely diverting; but at the same time he would do well to have a care how he attempts to translate “Hudibras”; for how is it possible to excite laughter in readers who are foreigners, by means of the follies of persons long since forgotten in the very nation where they were once so famous? Dante is now no longer read in Europe, because his work is perpetually alluding to facts utterly unknown. The case is exactly the same with “Hudibras.” Most of the ridicule in this work falls on the theology and divines of his own time. A commentary is therefore wanted to every line. Humor that stands in need of being explained from that moment ceases to be such; and it is very rare to find an explainer of the wit of others, who has any of his own.
This is one reason why it will never be possible for the ingenious Dr. Swift to be understood in France, though he has justly acquired the title of “the English Rabelais.” He enjoys also the honor of the priesthood, while he laughs at the whole cloth. Rabelais, however, was in every respect superior to his age, though Swift is infinitely superior to Rabelais.
Our curate of Meudon, in his extravagant and unintelligible book, has diffused abundance of gayety, and a still greater quantity of impertinence. He was equally full of prolixity, order, and erudition. A good story, which fills two pages, is bought at the expense of whole volumes of nonsense. There are none but those of capricious taste, who pique themselves on understanding and relishing the whole of his performance. The rest of the nation laugh at the pleasantries of Rabelais, while they despise his work, and he passes with them for the chief of buffoons. People are sorry that a man with so much wit should make such a low use of it. In short, it is a drunken philosopher, who wrote only when he was unable to stand.
Dr. Swift is Rabelais in his right senses, but polished by frequenting the best company. It is true he has not the gayety of the former, but he is possessed of all that delicacy, judgment, proper choice of matter, and that exquisite taste which is wholly wanting in the curate of Meudon. His verses are of a singular caste, and almost utterly inimitable. True pleasantry is his talent in prose and verse; but to understand him fully it is necessary to take a short trip into his country.
In this country, which appears so extraordinary to the rest of mankind, nobody was much surprised to see the reverend Dr. Swift, dean of a cathedral, laughing in his “Tale of a Tub” at Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. He alleges in his own vindication, that he left Christianity untouched. He pretends to have shown all manner of respect to the father, by giving a hearty drubbing to each of the three sons. Nice people will be apt to find this apology rather too slight for what passes with them for a flagrant enormity.
This famous “Tale of a Tub” is an imitation of the ancient tale of the “Three Invisible Rings,” which a certain father bequeathed to his three children. These three rings were the Jewish, the Christian, and the Mahometan religions. It is likewise an imitation of the “History of Mero and Enegu,” by Fontenelle. Mero was the anagram of Rome, and Enegu that of Geneva. These were two sisters, who pretended each to have the right of succession to the kingdom of their father. Mero was the first that mounted the throne. Fontenelle represents her as a sorceress, who was wont to steal bread, and who performed her enchantments by the help of dead bodies. She is exactly Lord Peter in Swift, while he is presenting a piece of bread to his two brothers, and tells them, “Friends, here is some excellent Burgundy, this partridge has a most exquisite flavor.” The same Lord Peter plays everywhere the part of Mero in Fontenelle.
Thus almost every composition is no more than an imitation. The hint of the “Persian Letters” is taken from the “Turkish Spy.” Boiardo has imitated Pulci, as Ariosto has imitated Boiardo. The most original geniuses borrow from each other. Michael Cervantes makes his Don Quixote a fool; but pray is Orlando any other? It would puzzle one to decide whether knight–errantry has been made more ridiculous by the grotesque painting of Cervantes, than by the luxuriant imagination of Ariosto. Metastasio has taken the greater part of his operas from our French tragedies. Several English writers have copied us, without saying one word of the matter. It is with books, as it is with the fires in our houses; one goes and lights his candle at his neighbor’s, and then lights one of his own; whence he communicates to his neighbors that want his assistance, so that it becomes absolutely the property of every one.
I fancy it will be more easy for you to form some idea of Mr. Pope. He is in my opinion the most elegant, the most correct, and, what is still more difficult to find, the most harmonious poet that England has hitherto produced. He has reduced the shrill harshness of the English trumpet to the soft sweetness of the Lydian flute. His “Essay on Criticism” will soon be sufficiently known in France, by the translations in verse which Abbé du Renel is about to publish.
What follows is a passage from his poem called the “Rape of the Lock,” which I have lately translated with my usual liberty; for I must again repeat that I know nothing so execrable as a literal translation of a piece of poetry.
Pope’s “Essay on Man” is in my opinion the finest, the most useful, and the sublimest didactic poem that has ever been written in any language. The groundwork of the whole, it is true, may be found in Lord Shaftesbury’s “Characteristics,” for which reason I cannot see why Mr. Pope has given all the honor of it to Lord Bolingbroke, without mentioning a word of the famous Shaftesbury, the disciple of Locke.
As there is nothing in metaphysics but what has been often thought in every age and nation where the talents of the mind are cultivated, this system has a great conformity with that of Leibnitz; who pretends, that, of all possible worlds, God must certainly have chosen the best; and that, even in this best, all the irregularities of our globe, as well as the follies of its inhabitants, should have a place. It has also a resemblance to the notion of Plato, which says, that, in the infinite chain of beings, our earth, our bodies, and our souls, are so many necessary links. But neither Leibnitz nor Pope admits of those changes, which, according to Plato, have happened to those links of it, our souls and bodies. Plato, in his unintelligible prose, wrote like a poet; while Pope, in his admirable version, is truly a great philosopher. He says, all things have at all times been, even from the very infancy of nature, as they are; that is, as they should be: “Whatever is, is best.” I could not help being pleased, I own, to find he agreed with me in a point which I had maintained several years since.
“You are filled with wonder to think God should have made man with faculties so limited, so ignorant, and so much short of true happiness. Why do not you rather wonder he did not make him infinitely more so?” When a Frenchman and an Englishman happen to agree in any point, you may swear they are then in the right.
The son of the famous Racine has published a letter of Pope addressed to him, with a recantation of this doctrine. This letter is written in the style and manner of Fénelon; it was delivered him by Ramsay, the editor of “Telemachus”; that Ramsay, who was the imitator of “Telemachus,” and much such another as Boyer was of Corneille; that Scotch Ramsay who modestly demanded admittance into the French Academy; in a word, by that Ramsay who was sadly disappointed at not being a doctor of the Sorbonne. This I know, as does every man of letters in England, that Pope, with whom I was very intimately acquainted, could hardly read French; spoke not one word of our language; never wrote one single syllable in the language, not being capable; and, if he ever wrote such a letter to the son of our Racine, God must certainly have endowed him with the gift of tongues, by way of recompense for having composed so wonderful a work as his “Essay on Man.”
All great men have either been formed before the institution of academies, or at least without any assistance from them. Homer and Phidias, Sophocles and Apelles, Virgil and Vitruvius, Ariosto and Michelangelo, belonged to no academy; Tasso met with no other advantages besides a few illgrounded criticisms from that of La Crusca; nor was Newton indebted to the Royal Society of London for his discoveries in optics, gravitation, the doctrine of integrals, and chronology. Of what use then are academies? To keep alive that flame which great geniuses have kindled.
The Royal Society of London was formed in 1660, six years before our Academy of Sciences. This society bestows no premiums or rewards, as ours does; but then to make amends every member is perfectly at liberty; there are none of those disagreeable distinctions, invented by the abbé Bignon, who divided the Academy of Sciences into literary members who had salaries, and mere honoraries who had no pretensions to learning. The Society of London, wholly independent of, and unengaged by any but themselves, was composed of persons who, as I have already observed, discovered the series of infinities, the laws of light and colors, those of gravity, the aberration of the fixed stars, the reflecting telescope, the fire–engine, the solar microscope, with many other inventions equally useful and astonishing. What more could those great men have done for the public utility, had they been either pensioners or honoraries?
The famous Dr. Swift, in the latter part of Queen Anne’s reign, formed the design of establishing an academy for the English language on the model of the French Academy. This project was supported by the earl of Oxford, then at the head of the treasury, and still more by Lord Bolingbroke, who possessed the talent of speaking extempore in parliament with all that purity with which Swift wrote in his closet, and who would have been at once the patron and the ornament of this academy. The members who were to have composed it were persons whose writings will last as long as the English language; namely, Dr. Swift; Mr. Prior, whom we have seen at our court, in a public character, and who is held in the same reputation in England as La Fontaine in France; Mr. Pope, the English Boileau; Mr. Congreve, who may be justly styled their Molière, with several others whose names I cannot well remember; all of whom could not have failed to have rendered this body illustrious in its very infancy. But the queen unfortunately happening to die suddenly, the Whigs took it into their heads to bring the protectors of these, if possible, to the block or gallows; a mortal blow, as you may well imagine, to the belles–lettres. The members who were to have composed this academy would have had a prodigious advantage over the founders of ours. Swift, Prior, Congreve, Dryden, Pope, Addison, etc., had fixed the English language by their writings; whereas Chapelain, Colletet, Cassaigne, Faret, Cotin, our first academicians, were the scandal of our nation, and their names so ridiculous, that at this day, should any author have the misfortune to be called Chapelain or Cotin, he would be under the necessity of changing his name.
Besides, the English academy would have adopted a very different plan of operation from that of ours. One day one of the wits of that country asked me to show him some of the memoirs of the French Academy. I told him they had not written any memoirs, but they had printed about four–score volumes of compliments. He glanced over one or two of them. He could by no means comprehend a single syllable of what they meant, though he very well understood all our good authors. “All I can discover,” said he, “by this multitude of fine speeches, is, that after the new candidate has told them that his predecessor was a very great man, that Cardinal Richelieu was an exceedingly great man, and Chancellor Séguier a very eminent man; the director answered him in the same manner that echoed back the same expressions; adding that the candidate might possibly be a great man; and as for himself, the director, he did not mean by all this to forfeit his title to be one among the rest.” It is easy to discover by what kind of fatality almost all those academical discourses have done this body so little honor. Vitium est temporis potius quam hominis. The custom has been established insensibly, that every academician should repeat those eulogiums at his reception; this was no more than to make it a kind of law to tire the patience of the public. Should we afterwards inquire, how it came to pass, that the greatest geniuses who have entered into this society have sometimes made the worst harangues, the reason is very evident; it is, that they wanted to shine by treating a threadbare subject in a manner different from all who had gone before them. The necessity of saying something, when one has not a syllable to say; the plague of mixing something new in a subject already exhausted; and withal, that passion of showing one’s talents, are enough to make the greatest wit appear truly ridiculous. Not being able to find anything but what has been said before, they rack their brains to give the old thoughts new clothing, by forced turns of expression, and have been compelled to speak without thinking; like people who act as if they were eating, while they are ready to perish with hunger. Instead of the law whereby the French Academy have bound themselves to print all their discourses, which are, properly speaking, the whole of their works, methinks they had done better, had they made it a law to print none of them at all.
The academy of belles–lettres have proposed a wiser and more advantageous end, which is that of presenting the public with a collection of memoirs, filled with researches and ingenious criticisms. Those memoirs are already in esteem among foreigners; only one would wish they had dipped somewhat deeper in certain subjects, and that they had entirely passed by some others without notice. We could have very well dispensed, for instance, with such disquisitions as the origin of the preference due to the right hand over the left, with some other researches, which, though with titles not quite so ridiculous, are not less frivolous. The Academy of Sciences, in her more difficult, but more evidently useful, inquiries, is wholly employed in the study of nature, and the perfecting of the arts. It is to be believed that studies, which are at once so profound and so closely pursued, calculations so exact, discoveries so nice and ingenious, and views so extensive, will one day produce something that may be greatly to the advantage of mankind.
The most useful discoveries have been made in the most barbarous ages; and it seems to be the lot of the most enlightened periods, and of the most learned bodies, to reason about the inventions of the ignorant. We may know, after the long disputes of Mr. Huyghens and Mr. Renaud, the determination of the most advantageous angle of the rudder of a ship with her keel; but Christopher Columbus had discovered America without so much as dreaming of any such angle. I am far from inferring from this that we ought to confine ourselves wholly to the uncertainty of blind practice; but it would be a happiness if natural philosophers and geometricians would, as much as possible, join the practical part to the theory. Is it absolutely necessary, that what does the most honor to the human mind should often be the least useful. A man who is possessed of the four common rules of arithmetic, with a natural stock of good sense, becomes an eminent merchant, a James Cœur, a Delmet, or a Bernard; while a poor algebraist passes his days in discovering wonderful relations and astonishing properties in numbers, but of no manner of use, and which would never have let him into the common course of exchange. All the arts are pretty much the same. There is a certain point, beyond which all is matter of mere curiosity. These ingenious but useful truths are like the stars, which are placed at such an infinite distance from us that we reap not the least advantage from their beams.
As for the French Academy, what advantage might they not afford to learning, to the language, and to the nation, if, instead of pestering the world every year with a magazine of fulsome compliments, they had published the good authors of the age of Louis XIV., purged from all those faults in language which have crept into them? Corneille and Molière are quite full of them. Fontaine swarms with such mistakes. Those at least might be pointed out that appear incapable of being mended. Europe, which reads our authors, might in them learn our language safe from all danger of a vicious idiom. Its purity would then be fixed forever. The best French authors, carefully published at the king’s expense, would be one of the most glorious monuments of the nation. I have heard that Boileau formerly made a proposal of this kind; and that it has been since renewed by one whose wit and good sense, as well as sound criticism, are well known; but with the common fate of many other useful projects, that of being approved and neglected.
It is very extraordinary that Corneille, who composed the first of his good tragedies at a time when the language was only beginning to be formed, should have written them with tolerable purity and great sublimity, and all the rest in a loose, incorrect, and even low style, though Racine had then bestowed on the French language so much purity, so much sublimity and grace; and while Boileau fixed it by the most exact corrections, precision, strength, fullness, energy, and harmony. Let any one but compare the “Bérénice” of Racine with that of Corneille, and he would imagine this latter to have been written in the age of Tristan. It would make one believe that Corneille neglected his style in proportion as he was under a greater necessity to support it, and that his sole emulation was to write, when it should have been to write well. His last twelve or thirteen tragedies are not only wretched, but in a very mean style. What is still more surprising is, that, even in our own days, we have had plays, with other performances both in prose and verse, composed by academicians, who have neglected their language to such a degree that one can hardly read ten verses in them without meeting with some barbarism. We may overlook a few faults in a good author; but where they grow numerous, it is impossible for such a work to support the writer’s reputation. A company of persons of good taste one day counted more than six hundred intolerable solecisms in a tragedy which had met with distinguished applause both in Paris and at court. Two or three instances of such unmerited success would be sufficient to corrupt the language past all possibility of recovery, and to plunge it into its ancient barbarism, from whence it has been drawn by the assiduous labors of so many great men.
Cromwell is commonly represented as one who was an impostor through the whole course of his life. This is what I can hardly believe. My opinion of the matter is, that he was first of all an enthusiast, but that afterwards he made his very fanaticism subservient to his greatness. A novice possessed of extreme religious fervor at twenty often becomes a consummate knave at forty. In the great game of human life, men begin by being dupes, but end knaves. A statesman may sometimes take for his chaplain a monk covered over with the little pedantry of his convent; fanatic, devout, credulous, awkward, and quite raw in the world, the monk acquires knowledge, politeness, learns to intrigue, till at last he supplants his patron.
Cromwell at first hardly knew what to make of himself, and was puzzled whether to be a churchman or a soldier. He was actually both. He made a campaign with Frederick Henry, prince of Orange, in 1622, who was not only a man of great capacity himself, but also brother of two illustrious personages. When he returned to England, he entered into the service of Bishop Williams, and was my lord’s chaplain, while my lord was thought to be rather too great with his wife. His religious principles were those of the Puritanical sect; so that he could not but mortally hate the bishop, nor could he have any great affection for kings. He was banished from the bishop’s family on account of his being a Puritan, and this accident was properly the fountain and first beginning of all his grandeur. The English Parliament had declared against royalty and episcopacy, when some friends Cromwell had in that parliament had him chosen for a borough. He may be said to have existed only from this time, and was turned of forty before he made any noise in the world. In vain had he studied the Bible, learned to wrangle about the institution of priests and deacons, and made some wretched sermons and libels; he was still in obscurity. I have seen a sermon of his, pretty much like one of the Quaker’s harangues, in which one cannot discover the smallest traces of that persuasive eloquence by which he afterwards swayed the parliaments. The true reason of this is, that he was much better qualified for the State than the Church. But his eloquence consisted wholly in his air and in the tone of his voice; the single motion of that hand that won so many battles and killed so many royalists was more persuasive than all the studied periods of Cicero. It must also be acknowledged that the reputation he acquired was wholly owing to his incomparable valor, which laid the first steps of that ladder by which he reached the highest summit of human grandeur.
He began by serving as a volunteer desirous of making his fortune, in the city of Hull, which was then besieged by the king. Here he performed so many gallant and successful exploits that he was rewarded by the parliament with a gratuity of about six thousand livres of our money. Such a present, bestowed by the parliament on a simple volunteer, was a sure prognostic that their party must one day get the better. The king was not then in a position to make such a present to his general officers as the parliament gave on this occasion to their volunteers. With money and fanaticism, they must, in the long run, overcome all that stood in their way; they made Cromwell a colonel; then it was that his great talents for war began to display themselves; insomuch that, when the parliament made the earl of Manchester their general, they made Cromwell a lieutenant–general, without passing through the intermediate ranks. Never did man seem more worthy of command; never was there seen a greater share of prudence and activity, or a more daring and undaunted spirit, joined to such an infinity of resources as were in Cromwell. He was wounded in the battle of York; and while the surgeons were preparing to dress his wounds, he was told that his general, Lord Manchester, was retreating, and that the battle was entirely lost. He ran to Lord Manchester, whom he found flying, with some of his officers; he immediately took him by the arm; and, with an air of intrepidity and greatness, said: “You are mistaken, my lord; this is not the way the enemy have fled.” He led him back near to the spot on which the battle was fought; rallied in the night more than twelve thousand men; exhorted them in the name of the Lord; cited the examples of Moses, Gideon, and Joshua; beseeched them by all means not to neglect to engage the victorious royalists at break of day; and entirely defeated them. Almost all the officers in his army were enthusiasts, who carried their Bibles tied to the pommels of their saddles; there was nothing talked of, either in the army or in parliament, but the overthrowing of Babylon, the establishment of the Lord’s worship in the New Jerusalem, and the breaking of the great idol. Cromwell, though amidst a host of fools, grew wise at last, and bethought himself that it was better to guide them than to be governed by them. The habit, however, of preaching like one inspired still remained with him. Imagine to yourself a Fakir, with his loins bound about with a girdle of iron out of mere mortification, who afterwards pulls off his girdle, and falls to knocking down his brother Fakirs. This is Cromwell; he became fully as good a politician as he was a soldier; he entered into an association with all the colonels of the army; and thus he formed his soldiers into a kind of republic, who forced their general to abdicate. Another generalissimo was named, with whom he was soon dissatisfied; he governed the army, and with them the parliament, whom he at last compelled to create him generalissimo. All this is certainly a great deal; but what is more remarkable is that he gained every battle he fought, whether in Scotland, England, or Ireland; and gained them not like other generals, by being a mere spectator, solicitous about his own safety, but by continually charging the enemy in person; rallying his troops; by being present everywhere; often wounded; killing several of the royalists with his own hand; like some furious grenadier, that delights in carnage.
In the midst of this cruel and bloody war, Cromwell was making love, and went with his Bible under his arm to lie with the wife of his major–general, Lambert. This lady was in love with the earl of Holland, who was then serving in the royal army. Cromwell took him prisoner in one of his battles, and had the pleasure of cutting off his rival’s head. His maxim was to cut off every enemy of any consequence, either in the field of battle, or by the hand of the executioner. He increased his power on every occasion by perpetually abusing it; and the depth of his designs lack nothing of his natural ferocity. He entered the parliament; and taking out his watch, throws it on the ground and breaks it to pieces, with this expression: “I will break you, just as I have done that watch.” Some time after he returned, and dissolved them by his own authority, making them file off, as it were in review, before him. Each member was obliged, as he passed him, to make him a profound bow. One of them, it seems, thought proper to pass him with his hat on; when Cromwell, taking it off, threw it on the ground. “Learn,” said he, “to show me the proper respect.”
After having insulted every crowned head, by cutting off that of the king, his lawful sovereign, and when he had even begun his own reign, he sent his picture to Queen Christina of Sweden. Marvel, a famous English poet, who made very good Latin verses, composed six lines on the occasion, which were to accompany that present, in which he introduced Cromwell himself. Cromwell corrected the last two, which are these:
The bold sentiment expressed in those three couplets may be turned in this manner:
This queen was the first who acknowledged him on his being made protector of the three kingdoms. Almost every sovereign in Europe sent ambassadors to their brother Cromwell, to this once menial servant of a bishop, who had put his sovereign, who was of their blood, to death by the hands of the executioner; nay, they disputed who should have the honor of being in alliance with him. Cardinal Mazarin, to please him, banished the two sons of Charles I., the two grandsons of Henry IV., the two cousins–german of Louis XIV. of France, conquered Dunkirk for him, and the keys of that place were accordingly sent him. When he died, Louis XIV., with his whole court, put on mourning, except Mademoiselle, who had the courage to come to the circle in colors, thus singly maintaining the honor of her family.
Never was there king more absolute than Cromwell. He said he liked better to govern under the quality of protector than that of king, because the power of the latter was well known to the people of England, whereas that of a protector was not. This showed a thorough knowledge of mankind, who are slaves to opinion, which opinion often depends on a mere name. He had conceived a thorough contempt for religion, though he was indebted to it for all the power and honors he enjoyed. We have an undeniable anecdote of this preserved in the St. John family, which is a sufficient proof of the sovereign contempt Cromwell entertained for that instrument which had produced such wonderful effects in his hands. He was one day cracking a bottle with Ireton, Fleetwood, and St. John, who was grandfather of the present Lord Bolingbroke; they wanted to draw the cork of a bottle, when the corkscrew happened to fall under the table; they were all of them in search of it, but could not find it. In the meantime word was brought in that a deputation from the Presbyterian churches waited for an audience in the antechamber. “Tell them,” said Cromwell, “that I am in private seeking the Lord.” This was the canting expression of those fanatics for being at prayers. When he had in this manner dismissed the deputation of ministers, he made use of these very words to his companions: “Those knaves think we are seeking the Lord, whereas in truth we are looking for the corkscrew.”
Europe has no example of any man who raised himself to such a height of glory, from so humble an original. What could such a man want? Success. This success he enjoyed; but was he happy with all his good fortune? He lived in very narrow and uneasy circumstances till past forty; he then bathed himself in blood, passed the rest of his days in perpetual anxieties, and died at last in his fifty–seventh year. Let any man but compare the life of this man with that of Newton, who lived four–score and four years, in perfect tranquillity, full of honor, the light and guide of all intelligent beings, his reputation and fortune daily increasing, without care or remorse; and then tell me whose was the happier lot of the two.
The Irish massacre has not the same degree of celebrity in the history of great crimes as that of St. Bartholomew, though it was as general, and accompanied with all the horrors and barbarities that could distinguish such an outburst of enthusiastic fury. But this conspiracy of one half of a nation against the other, on account of religion, passed in an island at that time little known by other nations, and had not the authority of such illustrious accomplices as a queen regent, a king of France, and a duke of Guise; the victims of this brutal zeal, though equal in number, were not of such consideration as those in France, and although the scene was fully as bloody, yet the theatre of action did not fix the attention of Europe. The whole world still rings with the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s day, while the Irish massacre is in a manner forgotten.
If we were to reckon the murders which have been committed by enthusiasm since the days of St. Athanasius and of Arius to the present time, we should find that those disputes have contributed more to the depopulation of the earth than all the battles that have been fought; for in these the male species only is destroyed, which is always more numerous than the female; but in the massacres perpetrated for religion’s sake both sexes are indiscriminately made the victims.
Reflections on the declaration of Charles I. concerning religion show that in religious matters princes are more under subjection to their people than the people to them. When once what we call dogma, or an opinion, has got root in a nation, the sovereign must declare that he is ready to die in the defence of that opinion. It is much easier to make such a speech than to persuade a headstrong populace.
Of the numberless dissensions which have at different times threatened the subversion of the English government before it acquired the happy and settled form in which we now see it, the troubles of those times preceding the death of Charles I. were the only ones in which excess of folly and excess of madness were joined together, and that ridiculous superstition with which the reformed sect had reproached those of the Romish communion, might now be retorted upon the Puritans. The bishops behaved like mean–spirited cowards; they should have died in defence of a cause which they thought just; but the behavior of the Presbyterians was that of madmen; their dress, their way of discoursing, their low allusions to passages of Scripture, their ridiculous gestures, their sermons, their pretended prophecies; in short, the whole of their manners might in peaceable times have served to divert the mob at a fair, had they not been rather too disgusting. But, unhappily, these fanatics joined fury to absurdity; and those whom children nowadays would laugh to scorn, by wading through rivers of blood, made themselves respected and dreaded; and were at once the most ridiculous and the most formidable of men.
The marquis of Montrose was sentenced to be hanged on a gibbet thirty feet high, to be afterward quartered, and his members fixed upon the gates of the four principal towns in Scotland, for having offended against the New Law or Covenant, as it was called. This brave nobleman, on hearing his sentence pronounced by the judge, made answer that he was sorry he had not quarters enough to be sent to the gates of every town in Europe, as monuments of his fidelity to his prince. He even put this sentiment into tolerable verse as he was going to the place of execution. He was a person of the most agreeable wit, and the most learning, as well as the bravest man of any in the three kingdoms. The Presbyterian clergy accompanied him to his execution, reviling and insulting him and pronouncing his damnation.
Oliver Cromwell placed confidence only in the independents, who could not exist except through him, and he would laugh at them sometimes with the deists, though he did not look on deism with a favorable eye, as being a religion void of enthusiasm, and consequently fit only for philosophers, and never of service to conquerors.
There were but a few of this philosophic sect in the kingdom, and with these he would sometimes divert himself at the expense of the holy madmen, who had cleared the way for him to the throne with the Bible in their hands. By this conduct he preserved, to his last hour, an authority which had been cemented with blood, and supported by force and artifice.
Deism, which Charles II. seemed openly to profess, became the reigning religion among the many others then in the kingdom, and has since made surprising progress in other parts of the world. The earl of Shaftesbury, son of the minister, and one of the chief supporters of this sect, says positively in his “Characteristics,” that the noble appellation of deist cannot be too highly reverenced. A number of eminent writers have made open profession of deism; and the major part of the Socinians have ranged themselves under its standard. This sect, now very numerous, is accused of admitting only the light of reason and rejecting all revelation. It is not possible for a Christian to stand up as their advocate; but the strict impartiality with which we are desirous to draw this great picture of human life obliges us, while we condemn their doctrine, to do justice to their behavior. We cannot therefore but acknowledge that this is the only sect of all others that has not disturbed the peace of society by its disputes; and, though erroneous, has been always clear of fanaticism. It is indeed impossible that such a sect should be other than peaceable, since its followers are united with all mankind in the principle common to all ages and all countries; namely, the worship of one only God; and differ from other men only in having neither forms nor places of worship, in believing only in one just God, allowing for the diversity of opinions in others, and seldom disclosing their own. They say that their pure religion, which is as old as the world, was for a long time the only true one, before God Himself gave another to the Hebrew nation. They found this notion from its having been always the religion of the Chinese literati; but these literati had a public form of worship, whereas the European deists have only a private one, every person worshipping God in his own house, and assisting without scruple at all public ceremonies; at least there have hitherto been but a very inconsiderable number of those called Unitarians, who have formed an assembly; and these may be called primitive Christians rather than deists.
Notwithstanding the great change in minds and affairs in England, the love of liberty and faction did not change among the people, nor that passion for absolute power which prevailed in the king and his brother, the duke of York; so that in the midst of the pleasures and festivities of a court, confusion, division, and animosities between sects and parties overspread the kingdom. There were not indeed any violent civil wars, as in the time of Cromwell; but numberless intrigues, plots, and murders, committed under the solemn mask of justice, and in virtue of laws which hatred or party misapprehension construed according to their own purpose, threw a cloud over a great part of the reign of Charles II. This prince indeed seemed, by the amiable mildness of his character, formed to render his people as happy as he made every one who had the honor of approaching him; and yet the blood of the subject flowed under the hand of the executioner during this good prince’s reign, as well as under those of others. Religion was the sole cause of these disasters, notwithstanding that Charles himself was perfectly indifferent on that head.
Charles had no children, and his brother, who was heir presumptive to the crown, had lately turned Papist, a name which is held in execration by the parliament and kingdom of England in general. As soon as it was positively known that the duke had changed his religion, the fear of having one day a Papist for their king made a change in almost all minds. Some wretches among the dregs of the people hired by the faction that opposed the court, pretended to discover a plot much more extraordinary than that known as the Gunpowder Plot. They declared, and swore to it, that the Papists had formed a design to murder the king and place the crown upon his brother’s head; that Pope Clement X., in a congregation called “de Propaganda,” held in 1675, had declared that the kingdom of England belonged to the popes by an imprescriptible right; that, in virtue of this right, he had appointed Oliva, general of the Jesuit order, his lieutenant there; and that this Jesuit had made over his authority to the duke of York, the pope’s vassal; that an army was to be raised in England to drive Charles II. from the throne; that Father La Chaise, a Jesuit and confessor to Louis XIV., had remitted a thousand louis d’or to London to set the operations on foot; that Conyers, another Jesuit, had bought a poniard which cost him twenty shillings, with which he was to stab the king; and that a certain physician had been offered ten thousand pounds to poison him. At the same time they produced a list of the names and commissions of all the officers who had been nominated by the general of the Jesuits to command the army to be raised in defence of popery.
Never was accusation more absurd. The rabbet woman, or the bottle–conjurer in England, or with us the affair of the bull Unigenitus, the convulsionists, and the charges brought against philosophers and men of learning, were not more ridiculous. But when once the minds of men come to be heated, the more preposterous an opinion is, the more it is credited.
The whole nation took the alarm. The parliament, in spite of all the endeavors of the court, proceeded in the most severe manner. There was some mixture of truth in these incredible falsehoods, and that was sufficient to sanctify the whole. The informers pretended that Oliva had appointed one Coleman, a dependant on the duke of York, his secretary of state in England. This Coleman’s papers were seized, and some letters were found among them written by him to Father La Chaise, in which were the following expressions: “We have a great undertaking in hand, no less than the conversion of three kingdoms, and perhaps the total extirpation of heresy; we have a prince zealous in our cause, etc. You must send a large sum of money to the king, money is the only prevailing logic at our court.”
It is plain by these letters that the Catholic party wanted to get the upper hand, that they placed great dependence on the duke of York, and that the king himself was inclined to favor the Catholics, provided they would supply him handsomely with money; and, lastly, that the Jesuits were doing all in their power to serve the pope in England. All the rest was manifestly false; and the informers contradicted themselves so grossly in their depositions that at any other time they would have been laughed at by every one.
But Coleman’s letters, and the murder of a justice of peace, which happened about that time, made anything be believed of the Papists. Several persons who were accused lost their lives on the scaffold, and five Jesuits were hanged and quartered. Had these men been condemned as disturbers of the public peace, or for holding illicit correspondence, and endeavoring to subvert the religion by law established, their sentence would have been perfectly just; but certainly they should not have been put to death as captains or chaplains of a popish army, which was to have conquered the three kingdoms. The zeal against popery, however, was carried so far that the house of commons almost unanimously passed the bill of exclusion against the duke of York, by which he was declared forever incapable of succeeding to the crown of England. This unhappy prince, a few years afterward, did but too well confirm this sentence of the house of commons.
England, all the northern kingdoms, one–half of Germany, the seven United Provinces, and one–fourth of the Swiss cantons, had hitherto contented themselves with considering the Roman Catholic religion as idolatrous. But this obloquy had not passed into a law in any of these states. Now, however, the English parliament tacked the oath of abjuration to that of the test, and obliged the people to swear to their abhorrence of popery as an idolatrous religion.
What changes have happened in the human mind! The first Christians accused the Roman senate with paying divine honors to statues, which they certainly did not. The Christian religion continued three hundred years without images; twelve Christian emperors treated as idolaters those who prayed before the pictures or figures of saints. This mode of worship was afterward received by the Eastern and Western churches, and after that held in abhorrence by one–half of Europe. At length, Christian Rome, which places its chief glory in the destruction of idolatry, was ranked with the heathens, by the laws of a powerful and discerning people, who are deservedly held in high esteem by all other nations.
The enthusiasm of the common people did not stop at these demonstrations of horror and aversion to popery; accusations and punishments were still continued.
But the most deplorable circumstance was the execution of Lord Stafford, a venerable nobleman, of tried fidelity to his king and country, who had retired from public business, and was closing the career of an honorable life, by the exercise of every domestic virtue. This good man passed for a Papist, though he was not such. He was accused by one of the state informers, of having hired him to murder the king; and though it was proved that he had never spoken to the person who was his accuser, yet the wretch was believed. The innocence of Lord Stafford availed him naught in the day of trial; he was condemned to lose his head; and by the same shameful and wicked weakness that had cost his father his crown and his life, Charles did not dare to pardon him. This example proves that the tyranny of public bodies is always heavier than that of a king. There are a thousand ways to pacify the resentment of a sovereign; there are none to bend the inflexible cruelty of the public, when carried away by prejudice. Each member is filled with the fury that animates the whole, imparts it with redoubled force to his companions, and gives himself up without fear to the most pitiless inhumanity, conscious that an individual is not answerable for the actions of a community.
While the Papists and the Church of England party were exhibiting these bloody spectacles in London, the Presbyterians in Scotland presented a scene no less absurd, and infinitely more abominable. They murdered the archbishop of St. Andrews, primate of that kingdom, where the Episcopal government still continued, because this prelate had stood up in defence of his prerogatives. After this noble action, the Presbyterians assembled the people, and in their sermons openly compared their shocking deed with those of Jael, Ehud, and Judith, recorded in Holy Writ, and to which indeed it bore a close resemblance. From the church they led their infatuated auditors with the sound of drums and bagpipes to Glasgow, of which they made themselves masters. After this they took an oath that they would no longer acknowledge the king as supreme head of the church, nor his brother as king after his death; and that they would show obedience to no one but the Lord, to whom they would sacrifice all the bishops who opposed the workings of the saints.
The king was now obliged to send his natural son, the duke of Monmouth, with a small army against these saints. The Presbyterians marched to meet them with eight thousand men, headed by ministers of the gospel. This army styled itself “the army of the Lord.” An old minister got up on a little hillock, and caused his hands to be supported, as we read of Aaron, in order to insure victory to those of his party; notwithstanding which, the army of the Lord was routed at the very first onset, and twelve hundred of the saints taken prisoners, all of whom the duke treated with the greatest humanity; he hanged only two of the most active of their priests, and set at liberty every one who would take an oath not to make any more disturbances in the country, in God’s name. Nine hundred accepted their liberty on these conditions, the remaining three hundred declared that it was better to obey God than man, and that they had rather suffer death themselves than not be allowed to kill all Church of England men and Papists. Upon this they were transported to America; and the ship that was carrying them over being cast away, they all received the crown of martyrdom at the bottom of the sea.
This spirit of folly continued some time longer in England, Scotland, and Ireland; but at length the king found means to restore the public tranquillity, not so much by his prudence perhaps, as by his amiable disposition, and that pleasing affability which won him the hearts of all who approached him, and insensibly softened the gloomy ferocity of discontented factions, and harmonized the minds of jarring parties.
Two little English books inform us that this nation, famous for so many excellent works, and so many famous enterprises, is possessed of two excellent tragic poets; one is Shakespeare, who is said greatly to surpass Corneille; the other, the tender Otway, much superior to the tender Racine.
This dispute turning entirely upon taste, there does not seem any answer to be made to the English. Who can hinder a whole nation from liking a poet of its own better than one of another country? It is impossible to prove to a whole people that it is pleased in the wrong place; but we may refer the matter in dispute between the stage of Paris and that of London to other nations. We therefore address ourselves to all readers, from St. Petersburg to Naples, and we entreat them to decide the controversy.
There is not a man of learning in Russia, in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, in Switzerland, or in Holland, who is not acquainted with “Cinna” and “Phædra”; and very few of them have any knowledge of the works of Shakespeare or Otway. This is a great prejudice in favor of the former; however, it is but a prejudice. The papers relative to the suit should be produced before the bar. “Hamlet” is one of the most admired works of Shakespeare, as well as one of those most frequently represented. We shall faithfully lay it before the judges.
The subject of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, is pretty nearly the same as that of Electra.
Hamlet, king of Denmark, was poisoned by his brother Claudius and his queen, Gertrude, who poured poison into his ear while he was asleep. Claudius succeeded the deceased; and a few days after the burial, the widow married the brother–in–law.
Nobody had ever entertained the least suspicion of the late King Hamlet’s having been poisoned in the manner above related. Claudius reigns in peace. Two soldiers being upon guard before the gate of Claudius’s palace, one says to the other, “How has your hour passed?” The other answers, “Very well, I have not heard a mouse stir.” After some discourse of the same nature, the ghost appears, dressed like the late King Hamlet; one of these soldiers says to his comrade: “Speak to this ghost; you are a scholar.” “That I will,” says the other; “stay and speak, phantom, I command you.” The apparition disappears without answering. The two soldiers, in astonishment, talk of this apparition. The learned soldier remembers that he had heard that “the same thing had happened at the time of the death of Cæsar; tombs were opened, the dead in their shrouds screamed and leaped about in the streets of Rome; it without doubt is a presage of some extraordinary event.”
At these words the ghost appears a second time; then one of the guards cries out, “Phantom, what would you have? Can I do anything for you? Is your coming occasioned by any hidden treasures?” Then the cock crows. The ghost walks off slowly; the sentinels propose striking it with a halberd in order to stop it; but it flies; and the soldiers conclude that it is customary for ghosts to vanish at the crowing of the cock, “For,” say they, “at the time of Advent (Christmas eve) the bird of dawning sings all night, and then spirits dare not wander any longer; the nights are wholesome, the planets shed no bad influence; fairies and sorcerers are without power at so holy and blessed a season.”
Observe, by the by, that this is one of the striking passages that Pope has marked with commas in his edition of Shakespeare, to make readers take notice of its excellence.
After the ghost has thus made his appearance, King Claudius, Gertrude, his queen, and the courtiers, join in a conversation in the hall of the palace. Young Hamlet, son of the poisoned monarch, the hero of the piece, receives with sadness and melancholy the marks of friendship shown him by Claudius and Gertrude; this prince was far from suspecting that his father had been poisoned by them; but he was highly displeased that his mother had so soon married the brother of her first husband. Gertrude dissuades her son from continuing to wear mourning for his father, to no purpose. “It is not,” says he, “my coat as black as ink, nor the appearances of grief, which constitute the real mourning; this mourning is at the bottom of the heart, the rest is only vain parade.” He declares that he has an inclination to quit Denmark, and go to school to Wittenberg. “Dear Hamlet,” says the queen, “do not go to school to Wittenberg; stay with us.” Hamlet answers that he will endeavor to obey her. Claudius is charmed at the answer; and orders that all of his court should go and drink, while the cannons were fired off; though gunpowder was not then invented.
Hamlet, left alone a prey to his reflections, makes the following soliloquy: “What, my mother, whom my father loved to such a degree; my mother, for whom my father found his appetite increase the longer he ate! My mother marries another at the end of a month—another, no more to be compared to him than a satyr is to be compared to the sun! the month being scarce elapsed! What do I say? before she had worn out the shoes with which she followed the body of my poor father! Ah, frailty is the name of woman; my heart bursts, for I must hold my tongue.” Here again Pope gives notice to his readers that this passage is worthy of their admiration.
In the meantime the two sentinels come to inform Prince Hamlet that they had seen a ghost which bore a strong resemblance to his father; this gives the prince great uneasiness; he is impatient to see this apparition; he swears that he will speak to it, though hell should gap and bid him hold his peace; and he goes home to wait the close of the day with impatience.
While he is in his apartment at the palace, a young person named Ophelia, daughter of Lord Polonius, great chamberlain, appears in the house of her father, with her brother Laertes. This Ophelia has some inclination for Prince Hamlet. Laertes gives her very good advice.
“Do you see me, sister, a prince, the heir to a kingdom, should not carve for himself; his morsels should be chosen for him; take care how you lose your heart with him, and how you open your chaste treasure to his violent importunities. It is dangerous to pull off one’s mask, even by moonlight; putrefaction often destroys the children of the spring before their buds are blown; and in the morning, and the dew of youth, contagious winds are much to be feared.”
Ophelia answers, “Ah, dear brother, don’t deal with me as some ungracious pastors do, who show the steep and thorny road to heaven, whilst they themselves, like bold libertines, do the reverse of what they preach.”
The brother and sister having had this conversation, leave the stage to Prince Hamlet, who returns with a friend and the same sentinels who had seen the ghost. The apparition again presents itself before them; the prince speaks to it with respect and resolution; the ghost answers only by making Hamlet a sign to follow him. “Ah, do not follow him,” said his friend; “he that follows a ghost is in danger of losing his senses.” “No matter,” answers Hamlet, “I will go with him.” They endeavor to prevent him, but without success. “My destiny cries out to me to go,” says he, “and makes the smallest of my arteries as strong as the lion of Nemea. Yes, I’ll follow him, and I’ll make a ghost of whoever opposes me.”
Then he goes out with the ghost, and they both return soon after, quite familiar with each other. The ghost informs him that he is in purgatory, and that he is going to relate to him things that will make his hair stand on end like quills upon a porcupine. “’Tis thought,” says he, “that I died of the bite of a serpent in my garden, but the serpent is the man who wears my crown; it is my brother; and what is most horrible is, that he put me to death without my so much as receiving extreme unction. Avenge me; farewell, my son; glow–worms show that the morning approaches; farewell, remember me.” The friends of Prince Hamlet then return, and ask him what the ghost had said. “It is a very honest ghost,” answers the prince, “but swear that you will divulge nothing of what it has intrusted me with.” Immediately the voice of the ghost is heard, which cries out to Hamlet’s friends, “Swear.” “You must swear by my sword,” says the prince to them. The ghost cries underground, “Swear by his sword.” They swear. Hamlet goes with them without forming any resolution. You may remember that this same Prince Hamlet was in love with Ophelia, daughter of Lord Polonius, great chamberlain, the sister of young Laertes, who travels to France for his improvement. The good man, Polonius, recommends Laertes to his governor, and tells him in plain terms that the young man sometimes goes to the bawdy–house, and that he should be narrowly watched. While he is giving directions to the governor, his daughter Ophelia enters in a terrible fright, “Ah, my lord! while I was at work in my closet, Prince Hamlet entered with his waistcoat unbuttoned, without hat or garters, with his stockings upon his heels, with knees trembling and knocking against each other, pale as his shirt; he a long time examined my face, as if he was going to draw it, shook my arm, shook his head, heaved several deep sighs, and went off like a blind man who gropes his way.” The chamberlain, Polonius, who does not know that Hamlet has seen a ghost, and that he may possibly have lost his senses, thinks that his excessive love for Ophelia may have turned his head; and here the matter rests. The king and queen talk a long time of the madness of the prince. Ambassadors from Norway arrive at court, and hear this accident. The good man, Polonius, who is an old dotard, much more crazy than Hamlet, assures the king that he will take care of this disordered person; “’Tis my duty,” says he, “for what is duty? ’Tis duty just as day is day, night, night, and time, time; therefore since brevity is the soul of wit, and loquacity the body, I will be brief: Your noble son is mad; I call it mad: for what is madness but being mad? In fine, madam, he is mad; this is fact; it is a great pity, it is a great pity it should be true; the only business now is to find the cause of the effect. Now the cause is, that I have a daughter.” To prove that it was love that had deprived the prince of his senses, he reads to the king and queen the letters that Hamlet had written to Ophelia.
While thus the king, the queen, and all the court talk of the melancholy condition of the prince, he arrives in great disorder, and by his discourse confirms the opinion that had been conceived of his madness; he however sometimes makes answers that reveal a soul deeply wounded, and which are replete with good sense. The chamberlains, who have orders to amuse him, propose to him to hear a company of comedians, who had just arrived. Hamlet talks very rationally of plays; the players act a scene before him, he gives his opinion of it with great good sense. Afterward, when he is alone, he declares that he is not so mad as he appears to be. “What,” says he, “a player has wept for Hecuba! What’s Hecuba to him? What would he then do if his uncle and his mother had poisoned his father, as Claudius and Gertrude have poisoned mine? Ah, cursed poisoner, assassin, fornicator, debauchee, base villain, and I now, what an ass am I? is not this fine conduct in me, the son of a king who has been poisoned; me, from whom heaven and hell demand vengeance, to content myself with evaporating my resentment in words like a common whore? I am satisfied with cursing like a slut, a beggar–woman, a scullion.”
He then forms a resolution to avail himself of the above–mentioned players, to discover whether his uncle and his mother had in fact poisoned his father; “for after all,” says he, “the apparition may have deceived me; it is perhaps the devil that hath spoken to me; this matter must be cleared up.” Hamlet then directs the players to play a pantomime, in which one is to sleep, and another to pour poison into his ear. It is very certain, that if King Claudius is guilty, he will be greatly surprised when he sees the pantomime; he will turn pale, his guilt will be seen upon his face; Hamlet will be sure of the crime, and will have a right to revenge.
Thus said, thus done. The company comes and represents this scene in dumb show before the king, the queen, and the whole court; and the dumb show is succeeded by a scene in verse. The king and queen look upon these two scenes as highly impertinent; they suspect Hamlet of having played them this trick, and of not being quite so great a madman as he appeared to be; this idea gave them great perplexity; they trembled with fear of having been detected. What course could they take? King Claudius resolves to send Hamlet to England, upon pretext of curing his madness; and writes to his good friend, the king of England, to desire it as a favor of him, that he would hang the young traveller upon the receipt of his letter.
But the queen is desirous of questioning and sounding Hamlet before his departure; and for fear he should do some mischief in his madness, the old chamberlain, Polonius, hides himself behind a tapestry hanging, in order to come to the queen’s assistance, if there should be occasion.
The prince, who was mad, or who pretended to be so, comes to confer with his mother, Gertrude. In his way, he sees in a corner King Claudius, who was seized with a fit of remorse; he is afraid of being one day damned for having poisoned his brother, married his widow, and usurped his crown. He kneels down and makes a short prayer, not worth repeating. Hamlet, at first, has an inclination to grasp the opportunity to kill him; but reflecting that Claudius is in a state of grace, because he is then offering up his prayers to God, he takes care not to kill him in such circumstances. “What a fool I should be,” says he; “I should send him directly to heaven, whereas he sent my father to purgatory. Come, my sword, wait for another time in order to stab him; wait till he is drunk, gaming, or swearing, or till he is in bed with some incestuous woman, or till he is doing some other deed that is not likely to work out his salvation; then fall upon him, that he may kick at heaven, and that his soul may be damned, and black as hell, to which he will descend.” This likewise is a passage which Pope’s commas direct us to admire.
Hamlet then having deferred the murder of Claudius, in order to damn him, comes to confer with his mother; and notwithstanding his madness, overwhelms her with such bitter reproaches of her crime, as pierce her to the very heart. The old chamberlain, Polonius, is apprehensive of his carrying matters too far; he cries out for help behind the hanging; Hamlet takes it for granted that it was the king who had hid himself there, to listen to their conversation. “Ah mother,” cries he, “there is a great rat behind the hangings.” He thereupon draws his sword, runs to the rat, and kills the good man Polonius. “Ah my son, what are you about?” cries the queen. “Mother,” returns Hamlet, “it is the king that I have slain!” “It is a wicked action to kill a king;” “Almost as wicked, my good mother, as to kill a king and lie with his brother.” This conversation lasts a long time; and Hamlet, as he goes out, walks upon the dead body of the old chamberlain, and is ready to fall down.
The good lord chamberlain was an old fool, and is represented as such, as has already been seen; his daughter Ophelia, who, no doubt, resembled him in this respect, becomes raving mad when she is informed of her father’s death: she runs upon the stage with flowers and straw upon her head, sings ballads, and then goes and drowns herself. Thus there are three mad people in the play, the chamberlain, and Hamlet, without reckoning the other buffoons who play their parts.
The corpse of Ophelia is taken out of the river, and her funeral is prepared. In the meantime King Claudius had made the prince embark for England; Hamlet, while upon his passage, had conceived a suspicion that he had been sent to London with some treacherous design: he finds in the pocket of one of the chamberlains, his conductor, the letter of King Claudius to his friend, the king of England, sealed with the great seal; in it he finds the king of England earnestly recommended to despatch him the moment of his arrival. What does he do? He happened luckily to have the great seal of his father in his purse; he throws the letter into the sea, and writes another which he signs with the name of Claudius, and requests the king of England to hang the bearers upon their arrival: then he folds up the whole packet, and seals it with the seal of the kingdom.
This done, he finds a pretext for returning to court. The first thing he sees is two grave–diggers digging Ophelia’s grave; these two laborers are likewise buffoons in the tragedy. They discuss the question whether Ophelia should be buried in consecrated ground after having drowned herself, and they conclude that she should be buried in Christian burial because she was a young lady of quality. Then they maintain that laborers are the most ancient gentlemen upon earth, because they are of the same trade as Adam. “But was Adam a gentleman?” says one of the grave–diggers. “Yes,” answers the other, “for he was the first that ever bore arms.” “What, did he bear arms?” says the grave–digger. “Without doubt,” says the other; “can a man till the ground without spades and pickaxes? He therefore bore arms; he was a gentleman.”
In the midst of these fine harangues, and the songs sung by these gentlemen in the parish church of the palace, arrives Prince Hamlet with one of his friends, and they contemplate the skulls found by the grave–diggers. Hamlet thinks he has discovered the skull of a statesman able to cheat God, then that of a courtier, then the skull of a court lady, and of a knavish lawyer, and he is very liberal of his railleries upon the owners of those skulls. At last the skull of the king’s jester is found, and it is concluded that there is not any great difference between the brain of Cæsar or Alexander and that of this jester; in fine, the grave is made while they thus dispute and sing. Holy water is brought by the priests. The body of Ophelia is brought upon the stage. The king and queen follow the bier; Laertes in mourning accompanies the corpse of his sister Ophelia; and when the body is laid in the ground, Laertes, frantic with grief, leaps into the grave. Hamlet, who remembers that he had once loved Ophelia, leaps in likewise. Laertes, enraged at seeing in the same grave with him the person who had killed Polonius, taking him for a rat, flies in his face; they wrestle in the grave, and the king causes them to be parted, in order to preserve decency in the funeral ceremonies.
In the meantime, King Claudius, who is a great politician, perceives that it is absolutely necessary to despatch such a dangerous madman as Prince Hamlet; and since that young prince had not been hanged at London, it is thought highly proper that he should be despatched in Denmark.
The artful Claudius has recourse to the following stratagem. He was used to poisoning: “Hark ye,” says he to young Laertes, “Prince Hamlet has killed your father, my great chamberlain; that you may have it in your power to revenge yourself, I shall propose to you a little piece of chivalry: I will lay a wager with you that in twelve passes you will not hit Hamlet three times; you shall fence with him before the whole court. You shall have a sharp foil, the point of which I have dipped in a poison exceeding subtile. If you unluckily should not be able to hit the prince, I will take care to have a bottle of poisoned wine ready for him upon the table. People that fence must drink: Hamlet will drink, and one way or other must lose his life.” Laertes thinks the expedient, for amusement and revenge, admirably devised.
Hamlet accepts the challenge; bottles are placed upon the table; two champions appear with foils in their hands in the presence of King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, and the whole Danish court; they fence; Laertes wounds Hamlet with his poisoned foil. Hamlet, finding himself wounded, cries out: “Treachery”; and, in a rage, tears the poisoned foil from Laertes, stabs him, and stabs the king: Queen Gertrude, in a fight, drinks, in order to recover herself; thus she is poisoned likewise; and all four, that is, King Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and Hamlet, die upon the stage.
It is remarkable that an express just then arrives that the two chamberlains, who had sailed for England with the packet sealed with the great seal of Denmark, had been despatched upon their landing. Thus there does not remain one person of the drama alive: but, to supply the place of the deceased, there is one Fort–en–bras, a relative of the family, who had conquered Poland during the representation of the piece, and who comes at the conclusion of it to offer himself as a candidate for the throne of Denmark.
This is the whole plan of the celebrated tragedy of “Hamlet,” the masterpiece of the London theatre. Such is the work that is preferred to “Cinna”!
Here there are two important questions to be solved; the first is, How could so many wonderful things be generated in one head alone? For it must be acknowledged that all the plays of the divine Shakespeare are in the very same taste. The second is, How have audiences been able to work themselves up to see these pieces with transport, and how can they still be attended to in an age which has produced the “Cato” of Addison?
The astonishment occasioned by the first wonder will cease entirely when it is known that Shakespeare has taken the subjects of all his tragedies from history or romances; and that he has done nothing more than turn into dialogues the romances of Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet, written entirely by Saxo, the grammarian, to whom the whole glory of the performance is due.
The second question, that is, as to the pleasure taken in seeing these tragedies, is somewhat more difficult to be accounted for; but this seems to be the reason of it, according to the profound reflections of certain philosophers:
Chairmen, sailors, hackney–coachmen, apprentice boys, butchers, and clerks are passionately fond of fights; give them cock–fights, bull–fights, or prize–fights, buryings, duels, executions, witchcraft and ghosts, and they crowd to the theatre; many a nobleman is as curious as the populace. The citizens of London found in the tragedies of Shakespeare everything that can please the curious. Those at court were obliged to conform to the current taste: how could they avoid admiring what the most rational of the citizens admired? There was nothing better to be seen during a hundred and fifty years; admiration gathered strength, and was converted into idolatry. A few strokes of genius, a few happy lines replete with nature and force, which spectators got by heart whether they would or no, procured indulgence for the rest; and soon the whole piece succeeded by means of a few detached beauties.
Certain it is, that such beauties are to be met with in Shakespeare. M. de Voltaire is the first who caused them to be known in France; it is he who taught us, about thirty years ago, the names of Milton and Shakespeare: but the translations which he has given us of some passages of these authors, are they faithful? He apprises us himself that they are not; he has rather copied than translated. In this manner he has rendered in verse the soliloquy of Hamlet at the beginning of the second scene of the third act :
Through all the obscurity of this literal translation, which can only render each word of the English by the word which answers to it in French, it is easy to discover the genius of the English language; its natural turn, which is afraid neither of the lowest nor of the most gigantic ideas; its energy, which other nations would look upon as harshness; its boldness, which minds not accustomed to foreign turns of expression would look upon as bombast; but under these veils may be discovered profoundness, something that engages and that affects much more than eloquence could. Hence it is that almost all the English have this soliloquy by heart. It is an unpolished diamond that has spots; but if it was polished it would lose part of its weight.
There, perhaps, is not a more striking example of the diversity of tastes in different nations. After this let critics talk of the laws of Aristotle, the three unities, decency, and the necessity of never leaving the stage empty as well as of never making any person of the drama enter or go out without an obvious reason; of connecting an intrigue with art, and unravelling it naturally; of expressing oneself in terms at once noble and simple; of making princes speak in such a manner as becomes their quality, and as they would choose to do; of never deviating from the rules of language. It is evident that there is a way of charming a whole nation without taking all this trouble.
If Shakespeare, for these reasons, bears the palm from Corneille, we will acknowledge that Racine is contemptible in comparison with the tender and elegant Otway. To be convinced of this, it will be sufficient to cast an eye upon the following abstract of the tragedy entitled “The Orphan.”
An old gentleman of Bohemia, named Acasto, had retired to his castle with his two sons, Castalio and Polydore: it is true, these are no more Bohemian names, than that of Claudius is Danish. Serina, his daughter, lives with him; he has also at his house a Monimia, who is very different from the Monimia of Racine. This young lady was intrusted to his care by her deceased father. In the castle of Lord Acasto there is a chaplain, a page, and two valets de chambre; this is the retinue of the good man, at least all of it that is seen upon the stage. Add to these, Serina’s maid, and a brother of Monimia’s, a passionate man, just come from Hungary, and you have all the persons of the drama.
If the tragedy of “Hamlet” is opened by two sentinels, that of “The Orphan” is opened by two domestics; for great men should by all means be imitated. These domestics talk of their good master Acasto, and his two sons, Castalio and Polydore, whose only amusement is hunting. Not to keep the reader any longer in suspense, it is proper to inform him that, if he suspects that the two brothers are both in love with Monimia, as in Racine, he is not mistaken; but he will, in all likelihood, be somewhat surprised at being told that Castalio, one of the brothers, who is loved by Monimia, gives his dear Polydore leave to lie with her if he can; he is satisfied, provided he himself may have the same liberty; for he swears that he has no desire to marry her, and “that he will marry when he is old, in order to mortify the flesh.”
However, immediately after having thus declared against marriage, he privately marries Monimia, and Acasto’s chaplain gives them the nuptial benediction. During these transactions, M. Chamont, brother of Monimia, arrives from Hungary; this M. Chamont is a very odd man, and very hard to be pleased; he immediately asks his sister whether she has her maidenhead. Monimia swears to him that her honor is unviolated. “Ah, wherefore have you any doubt concerning my maidenhead, brother?” says she. “Hear me, my sister,” says Chamont, “I not long since had a dream in Hungary; my bed shook, I saw you between two young fellows, who caressed you, turn about. I took my great sword, I ran to them; and upon waking, I found that I had pierced the figured tapestry, just at a place that represented the Theban brothers, Polinices and Etheocles, killing one another.”
“Well, brother,” says Monimia, “since you have been tormented in your sleep, you must torment me waking.” “Oh, this is not all, sister; do not justify yourself too fast. As I walked along, thinking of my dream, I met a toothless old hag, bent double with age, her vaulted back was clothed with a piece of an old hanging, her thighs were hardly covered by rags of all sorts of colors—variety of wretchedness—she gathered a few sticks, she asked me where I was going, and bade me make haste, if I desired to preserve my sister; in fine, she spoke to me of Castalio and Polydore.”
Monimia is greatly surprised at this adventure; she immediately confesses that she was engaged to Castalio; but she swears to her brother that she had never lain with him.
M. Chamont is by no means satisfied with this confession; he is a rough man, as has been already hinted; he goes in quest of the chaplain. “Come,” says he, “Mr. Gravity, tell me, are not you chaplain to the family?” “And you, sir; are you not an officer?” returns the chaplain. “Yes, friend,” says Chamont. “I was once an officer myself,” says the chaplain, “but my friends consigned me to the church; yet I am an honest man, though I wear black; I am tolerably respected in the family; I do not pretend to know more than other people, I concern myself about nobody’s affairs but my own; I rise early, study little, eat and drink merrily; and for this my behavior am held in esteem by everybody.” “Did you know old Chamont, my father?” says the officer. “Yes,” says the chaplain, “I was greatly concerned for his death.” “What, you loved him?” says Chamont; “I could embrace you for that; tell me, do you think Castalio loves my sister?” “Do I think he loves her?” says the chaplain. “Aye, do you think he loves her?” replies Chamont. “Faith I never asked him,” answers the chaplain, “and I am surprised you should ask me such a question.” “Ah, hypocrite,” cries Chamont, “you are like all those of your profession, a good–for–nothing fellow; you have not courage to speak the truth, and you pretend to teach it: are you a party concerned in this affair? What do you do in it? Curse upon the villain’s serious face; you goggle your eyes just as bawds do; they talk of heaven, they look devoutly, and tell lies; they preach like a priest, and thou art a bawd.”
What is pleasant enough is that the chaplain, won by these obliging expressions, owns that he had that morning married Castalio and Monimia in a garret.
The brother is well enough satisfied, and goes with the chaplain. The married couple arrive; nothing remains but to consummate the marriage. Those who are not let into the secret might think, from what had passed before, that this ceremony was to be performed on the stage; but the modest Monimia only bids her husband come and knock three times at her chamber door, when all the family should be asleep. Polydore, the brother, hears what was said from between the side scenes; and not knowing that his brother Castalio is Monimia’s husband, he resolves to be beforehand with him, and to go without delay and make sure of Monimia’s first favors. He addresses himself to the little rogue of a page, promises him sweetmeats and money, if he would amuse his brother Castalio during part of the night: the page plays his part admirably; he talks to Castalio of Monimia’s love, of her garters, and her breasts; he is for singing him a song; and thus he makes him lose time.
Polydore did not lose his; he went to Monimia’s door, he struck three times gently, the maid opened to him; and thus he contrived to lie with his brother’s wife.
At last Castalio comes to the door, and gives three gentle raps; the servant, who ought to know both him and his brother by their voices, does not so much as apprehend a mistake; she thinks that Polydore is the pretended husband who desires admittance, and that it is the true husband Castalio who is in bed; she bids him go about his business, tells him he is a madman; it is to no purpose for him to tell his name, she shuts the door in his face; he is treated by the maid just as Amphitryon is by Sofia.
Polydore having reaped the fruits of his stratagem, probably without uttering a single word, leaves his conquest, and returns to his own bed. Castalio, who was refused admittance, is seized with despair, becomes frantic, rolls himself upon the floor, inveighs against the whole sex; and concludes that, from the time of Eve, who fell in love with the devil, and damned the human species, women have always given rise to ills of every kind.
Monimia, who rose in haste to meet her dear Castalio, in whose company she hoped to enjoy some rapturous moments, meets him, and is going to embrace him; he treats her with the utmost cruelty, and pulls her by the hair off the stage.
M. Chamont, who still remembers his dream, and the old witch he had met, comes with great gravity to ask his sister an account of the consummation of her marriage. The poor woman owns that her husband, after having passed the night with her in raptures, had dragged her about by the hair upon the floor.
This Chamont, who is not to be trifled with, goes in quest of the father—who by the by had been taken ill during the representation of the tragedy, through his great age—he speaks to him in the same tone that he had before used to the chaplain; “Do you know,” says he, “that your son Castalio has married my sister?” “I am sorry for it,” answers the good man. “How! sorry for it!” says Chamont; “by God there’s not a nobleman that might not be proud to marry my sister; but damn me he has used her ill; either teach him manners, or I’ll set your house on fire.” “Well, well, I’ll do you justice; farewell, my dear boy,” says Acasto.
The poor father goes in quest of his son Castalio, in order to examine him with regard to what had passed; whilst he is in conversation with him, Polydore is desirous of knowing how Monimia was, after having passed the night with him; he thinks he had only enjoyed his brother’s mistress in virtue of the permission he had received from him: this discourse makes Monimia begin to suspect her mistake; in fine, Polydore owns that he had enjoyed her; Monimia faints away, and recovers her senses only to abandon herself to the transports of despair.
If such a subject, such language, and such manners, disgust persons of taste all over Europe, they ought to excuse the author: he never so much as suspected that there was anything extravagant in his piece: he dedicates it to the duchess of Cleveland with the simplicity and want of art with which he wrote it; he congratulates that lady upon having had two children by Charles II.
We are fully sensible how much the Monimia of Racine in “Mithridates” is inferior to the Monimia of Mr. Thomas Otway; it is the same author who wrote “Venice Preserved”; it is a pity this “Venice Preserved” has not been translated with exactness; we are deprived of a senator who bites the legs of his mistress, who plays the dog, who barks, and is whipped out of doors; we should likewise have had the pleasure of seeing a scaffold, a wheel, a priest who comes to exhort Captain Pierre at his execution, and who is abused and bidden to go about his business by the latter; there are many other strokes of this nature, which the translator has omitted in compliance with our false delicacy.
We cannot sufficiently lament that the translator has, with the same cruelty, deprived us of the finest scenes of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” With what pleasure should we have seen the first scene at Venice, and the last at Cyprus! First of all, a Moor runs away with the daughter of a senator: Iago, the Moor’s officer, runs to the window of the father’s house; the father appears in his shirt at the window. “Zounds,” says he, “put on your clothes; a black ram has got upon your white ewe; come, come, rise and come down, or the devil will make you a grandsire.”
—“What’s the matter, what would you be at? Are you a mad man?”
—“Zounds, sir, are you one of those who would not serve God if the devil forbade them? We are come to do you a service, and you take us for ruffians; I tell you your daughter will be covered by a Barbary horse; your grandchildren will neigh after you, and African nags will be your cousins–german.”
—“What profane rogue talks to me at this rate?”
—“Know that your daughter Desdemona and the Moor Othello now make the beast with two backs.”
This same Iago accompanies to Cyprus the Moor Othello and the lady Desdemona, whom the senate of Venice kindly grants, in spite of the father, for a wife to the Moor, whom they appoint governor of Cyprus.
Scarcely have they arrived in that island, when Iago undertakes to make the Moor jealous of his wife, and to inspire him with a suspicion of her fidelity. The Moor begins to feel some inquietude, he makes the following reflections. “After all,” says he, “what sense had I of the pleasure that others had given her, and of her debauchery? I did not see it, it did not hurt me; I slept as well as usual. When a thing has been stolen from us of which we had no occasion, if we are ignorant of the theft, we have lost nothing. I had been happy if the whole army, and even the pioneers, had enjoyed her, so as I had known nothing of the matter. Oh no—farewell all content—farewell the plumed troops, farewell the proud war that makes a virtue of ambition; farewell the neighing steeds and the shrill trumpets; the fife that pierces the ear, and the drum that excites the courage, the royal banner; and all the rank, pride, pomp, and various circumstances of glorious war; and you, you mortal engines, whose rude throats imitate those of the immortal Jupiter; farewell, Othello has now no occupation.”
This is another of the admirable passages distinguished by Pope’s commas.
—“Is it possible, my lord?”
—“Villain, prove that my wife’s a whore, give me an ocular proof of it; or by the worth of the eternal soul of man, it would have been better for you, you had been born a dog.”
—“This office by no means pleases me; but since I have gone so far through pure honesty and friendship for you, I will proceed. I lay the other night with your lieutenant Cassio; and could not sleep for the toothache. You cannot but know that there are people so loose of soul, that in their sleep they talk of their affairs; Cassio is one of these: he said in his sleep, ‘Dear Desdemona, let us be careful, let us hide our loves.’ In speaking, he took me by the hand, he patted me, he cried, ‘Oh, charming creature!’ he kissed me with transport, as if he had by the roots torn up kisses planted upon my lips, he put his thighs upon my legs, he sighed, he breathed short, he kissed me, he cried out, ‘Cursed fate which has given you to the Moor!’ ”
Upon these proofs, so very decently related, and the handkerchief of Othello, which Cassio had found by accident, the Moorish general strangles his wife in her bed; but he kisses her before he puts her to death. “Come,” says he, “die, thou whore.” “Ah, kill me to–morrow, let me live to–night,” says she. “Wretch, if you stir,” cries he. “Give me but one half hour,” says she. “No,” answers he. “After that I will delay you no longer; let me at least say my prayers,” says she. “No, it is too late,” answers Othello. He strangles her; and Desdemona, after she is strangled, cries out that she is innocent.
When Desdemona is dead, the senate recalls Othello: he is seized in order to be carried to Venice to take his trial. “Hold,” says he, “a word or two. Tell the senate, that one day at Aleppo I found a turbaned Turk, who beat a Venetian, and made a jest of the republic; I took by the beard, the circumcised dog, and smote him thus.” At these words he stabs himself.
A French translator, who has given us sketches of several English pieces, and among others, of the “Moor of Venice,” partly in verse, partly in prose, has not translated any of these important passages which we have laid before our readers; he makes Othello express himself thus:
There is not a word of this in the original; “l’art n’est pas fait pour moi,” is taken from the tragedy of “Zaïre,” but the rest is not.
The reader now has it in his power to decide the dispute for pre–eminence between the tragedies of London and Paris.
Who would think that the tragic art is partly due to Minos? If one of the infernal judges is the inventor of this species of poetry, it is no wonder it should be of a nature somewhat gloomy: a more gay origin is, generally speaking, assigned to it. Thespis and other drunkards are thought to have introduced this show among the Greeks at the time of vintage; but if we may credit what Plato says in his dialogue, entitled “Minos,” there were dramatic pieces played during the reign of this prince. Thespis carried his actors about in a cart. But in Crete and other countries, long before the age of Thespis, actors performed only in the temples. Tragedy, at its first invention, was consecrated to the gods; hence the hymns of the chorus almost always turn upon the praises of the gods in the tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. A poet was not permitted to present the public with a piece till he was forty years of age; they were called “Tragedidaskaloi”—doctors in tragedy. Their works were represented only at the time of the great festivals; the money spent by the public upon these spectacles was a sacred treasure.
Eubulus, or Eubolis, or Ebylys, made a law to punish with death whoever should propose applying this money to profane purposes. For this reason Demosthenes, in his second “Olynthiac,” uses so much caution and address in order to engage the Athenians to spend this money in the war against Philip; it is much the same thing as if an attempt should be made in Italy to pay soldiers with the treasure of our Lady of Loretto.
These public diversions were, among the Greeks, connected with their religious ceremonies. It is well known that among the Egyptians, songs, dances and representations made an essential part of the ceremonies reputed sacred. The Jews borrowed these customs from the Egyptians, as every ignorant and barbarous nation endeavors to imitate its learned and polite neighbors; hence those Jewish festivals, those dances of priests before the ark, those trumpets, those hymns, and so many other ceremonies entirely Egyptian.
This is not all; the truly great tragedies, the awful and terrible representations were sacred mysteries which were celebrated in the greatest temples of the earth in the presence of the initiated alone; there the habits, the decorations, and the machines, were adapted to the subject, and the subject related to the present life as well as to that which is to come.
At first it was a great chorus, at the head of which was the hierophant: “Prepare,” cried he, “to see with the eyes of the soul, the governor of the universe. He is single, he is alone self–existent, and all other beings owe their existence to him; he extends his power and his works everywhere; he sees all things; he cannot be seen by mortals.”
This strophe was repeated by the chorus; silence was kept for some time after; this was a true prologue. The piece began by darkness spread over the theatre; actors appeared by the feeble glimmering of a lamp; they wandered upon mountains, and descended into caves; they hit one another; they marched like wild people; their discourse and their gestures expressed the uncertainty of human conduct and all the errors of our lives. The scene changed; hell appeared in all its horror; criminals confessed their crimes, and acknowledged the justice of divine vengeance. Of this Virgil gives an admirable detail, in the sixth book of his “Æneid,” which is nothing else than a description of the mysteries; and this proves that he is not in the wrong in putting these words in the mouth of Phlegias:
Be just, ye mortals, and the gods revere.
The fool in “Scarron” makes a mistake when he says:
It was of use to the spectators. At last the Elysian fields, inhabited by the just, were seen: they sang the goodness of God, of one true God the architect of the universe; they instructed the spectators in all their duties. In this manner Stobeus speaks of these sublime exhibitions of which some faint traces are to be found in the scattered fragments of antiquity.
Among the Romans, comedy was admitted after the first Punic war, in order to accomplish a vow which was made in order to avert a plague, and to appease the gods, as Livy informs us in his seventh book. It was a very solemn act of religion. The pieces of Livius Andronicus made a part of the holy ceremony of the secular games. There never was a theatre without images of the gods and altars.
The Christians regarded the Pagan ceremonies with the same horror as the Jews, though they retained some of them. The first Fathers of the Church were desirous of separating the Christians from the Gentiles in every respect; they declaimed loudly against exhibitions. The theatre, which was the place of residence of the inferior divinities of the ancients, appeared to them the devil’s empire. Tertullian, the African, says, in his book concerning theatrical exhibitions, that “The devil raises actors upon buskins to give the lie to Jesus Christ, who has declared that no man can add a cubit to his stature.” St. Gregory of Nazianzen opened a Christian theatre, as we are told by Sozomenus; one St. Apollinarius did as much; it is Sozomenus who informs us of this in his ecclesiastical history. The subjects of these pieces were taken from the Old and New Testaments; it seems highly probable that a tradition concerning these theatrical performances gave rise to the mysteries which were for some time represented almost all over Europe.
Castelvetro assures us, in his “Treatise upon Poetry,” that the passion of Jesus Christ was played from time immemorial throughout all Italy. We imitated these representations of the Italians, from whom we derive every art; and we began to imitate them very late; as we have done in all the liberal as well as the mechanical arts.
We did not begin these exercises till about the fourteenth century: the citizens of Paris made their first essays at St. Maur. The mysteries were represented at Paris upon the entry of Charles VI., in 1380.
It is generally thought that these were scandalous exhibitions, indecent pleasantries upon the mysteries of our holy religion, upon our Saviour’s being born in a stable, upon the ox and the ass, upon the star that guided the three kings, upon those kings themselves, upon the jealousy of Joseph, etc. We may form a judgment of this from our Christian gambols, which are pleasantries as comic as blamable, and improper upon all these ineffable events. Almost everybody has heard of the verses with which one of these tragedies concerning the Passion begins:
It is said, that in the tragedy of “The Resurrection,” an angel speaks to God the Father in terms that are absolutely blasphemous.
There is not a word of this in the mysterious pieces which have reached our times; these works were, for the most part, extremely serious; there was nothing worthy of censure in them, but the uncouth language spoken in those days; they consisted of the Holy Scripture reduced to dialogues, and represented in actions; in them, choruses sang the praises of God: there was more pomp and magnificence of decoration upon the stage than was ever seen by us; the city company consisted of more than a hundred actors, exclusive of attendants, servants, and scene–drawers: accordingly the house was crowded, and a single box, for the time of Lent, was hired for twenty crowns, even before the establishment of the Hôtel de Bourgogne. This appears from the register of the Parliament of Paris for the year 1541.
Preachers complained that their sermons were no longer frequented, for the monologue was always jealous of the dialogue: the sermons were very far from being as decent as the dramatic pieces of those ages: those who desire to be convinced of this need only read the sermons of Menot, and of all his contemporaries.
In 1541, however, the attorney–general, by his requisition of November 9, maintains, in Article ii, that “Sermons are much more decent than mysteries, as they are preached by divines, of learning and knowledge; whereas the acts are exhibited by illiterate persons.”
Without entering into any longer detail upon the mysteries, and the moral pieces that succeeded them, it will be sufficient to say that the Italians, who first exhibited these plays, were the first who relinquished them: Cardinal Bibiena, Pope Leo X., and Archbishop Trissino, restored the theatre of the Greeks as far as they were able; there was not then an insolent pedant to be found, who had the impudence to think he could brand the art of Sophocles, which the popes themselves had undertaken to revive in Rome.
The city of Vicenza, in 1514, was at a vast expense to represent the first tragedy that had been seen in Rome since the downfall of the empire; it was played in the town house, and spectators attended from the extremities of Italy. The piece is the work of Archbishop Trissino; it is noble, regular, and written with purity of language; it has choruses; the spirit of antiquity breathes through it; the author may, however, be reproached for his prolix declamation, his want of intrigue, and languor; these were the faults of the Greeks; he copied them too much in their faults, but he attained to some of their excellencies. Two years after, Pope Leo X. caused the “Rosamonda” of Rucellai to be represented at Florence, with a magnificence greatly surpassing that of Vicenza. Italy was divided between Rucellai and Trissino.
Comedy rose long before by the genius of Cardinal Bibiena, who gave the “Calandra” in 1482. After him came the comedies of the immortal Ariosto, then the famous “Mandragora” of Machiavelli; in fine, the taste for pastoral prevailed. The “Aminta” of Tasso had the success it deserved, and the “Pastor Fido” had still greater. A hundred passages of the “Pastor Fido” formerly were, and still are, known by heart all over Europe; they will pass to the latest posterity. Nothing is really excellent but what all nations acknowledge to be so; that people is to be pitied that is single in admiring its music, its painting, its eloquence, or its poetry.
While the “Pastor Fido” charmed all Europe, while whole scenes of it were repeated everywhere, while it was translated into all the languages of Europe, in what a state were polite literature and the theatres in other countries! They were in the same state in which we were all, that is, in a state of barbarism. The Spaniards had their autos sacramentales, that is, their sacramental acts. Lope de Vega, a genius worthy to be the reformer of that age, was subdued by his age: he says that, in order to please, he is under the necessity of locking up ancient authors of merit, lest they should reproach him with his absurdities; in one of his best pieces, entitled “Don Raymond,” this Don Raymond, son of the king of Navarre, is disguised like a clown; the Infanta of Leon, his mistress, is disguised like a faggot–maker; a prince of Leon like a pilgrim. The scene is partly laid at a public house.
With regard to the French, what were their favorite books and theatrical exhibitions? “Garagantua’s Chapter upon Bum–fodder,” the “Oracle of the Bottle,” and the pieces of “Christian and Hardy.” Seventy–two years passed from the time of Jodelle, who, in the reign of Henry II., had made a vain attempt to revive the art of the Greeks, without anything supportable being once produced by the French: at last, Mairet, gentleman to the duke of Montmorency, after having long struggled with the depraved taste of his age, composed his tragedy of “Sophonisba,” which has not the least resemblance to that of Archbishop Trissino. It is somewhat singular that the revival of the theatre, and of the rules of dramatic poetry, should begin both in Italy and France by a piece entitled “Sophonisba.” This piece of Mairet’s is the first we have in which the three unities are not violated; it served as a model to most of the tragedies which were written afterward; it was played in 1629, a little before Corneille began to cultivate tragedy; and it was so well liked, notwithstanding its faults, that the piece which Corneille afterward wrote upon the same subject had no success; therefore that of Mairet opened the true career of tragedy, into which Rotrou entered, and this poet surpassed his master: his tragedy of “Wenceslaus” is still played; it is indeed a very faulty piece, but the first scene of it, and almost all the fourth act, are masterpieces.
Corneille afterward made his appearance; his “Médée,” which is merely declamatory, had some success; but “Le Cid,” an imitation of a Spanish tragedy, was the first piece whose reputation was extended beyond France, and that obtained all suffrages, except those of Cardinal Richelieu and Scudéri. Everybody knows to what pitch of sublimity Corneille soared in the fine scenes of the “Horace” and “Cinna” in the characters of Cornelia and Severus, and in the fifth act of “Rodogune.” If “Médée,” “Pertharite,” “Théodore,” “Œdipe,” “Bérénice,” “Suréna,” “Otho,” “Sophonisbe,” “Pulchérie,” “Agésilas,” “Attila,” “Don Sanche,” and the “Golden Fleece,” were altogether unworthy of him; his fine pieces, and the admirable passages scattered up and down in the indifferent ones, will cause him to be always justly considered as the father of tragedy.
It is unnecessary to speak here of the poet who rivalled and even surpassed this great man when his genius began to decline. Authors were then no longer allowed to neglect language and the art of versification in their tragedies; and whatever was not written with the elegance of Racine was despised.
It is true, we have been reproached, and not without reason, that our theatre was an eternal school of gallantry, and of a sort of coquetry which has in it nothing of a tragic nature. Corneille has been justly censured for having made Theseus and Dirce talk of love during the time of the plague; for having put little ridiculous pieces of coquetry in the mouth of Cleopatra; and finally, for having almost always treated love in an unaffecting manner in his works, without ever making it a strong passion, except in the frenzy of Camilla, and the tender scenes of “Le Cid” which he borrowed from Guillem de Castro and embellished. The elegant Racine was not reproached with insipid courtship and low expressions; but it was soon perceived that almost all his pieces, as well as those of succeeding authors, contained a declaration of love, a quarrel, a reconciliation, and a scene of jealousy. It has been asserted that this uniformity of little unaffecting intrigues would have greatly debased the tragedies of this amiable poet, if he had not known how to conceal this defect by all the charms of poetry, the graces of diction, the sweetness of a soft eloquence, and all the resources of art.
Among the striking beauties of our theatre there was another concealed defect which was not perceived, because the public could not of itself have ideas superior to those of these great masters. This defect was first taken notice of by St. Évremond; he says that our pieces do not make an impression sufficiently strong; that what should excite compassion causes at most only tenderness; that emotion holds the place of agitation, astonishment of horror; and that our sentiments are almost always defective in the profound.
It must be acknowledged that St. Évremond has laid his finger upon the secret wound of the French theatre; critics may talk ever so much of St. Évremond’s being the author of the wretched comedy of “Sir Politic Wou’d–be,” and of that of the opera; that his little poems, written for the amusement of company, are the most insipid of any extant in our language, that he only piddled with phrases; notwithstanding all this, an author entirely destitute of genius may have considerable penetration and taste. He, doubtless, showed a very just taste when he thus discovered the cause why most of our pieces are so languishing.
We have almost always wanted a degree of warmth; every other quality we possess. The source of this languor, of this weak monotony, was partly that little spirit of gallantry then so dear to courtiers and to women, which converted tragedy into conversations in the spirit of those of Clelia. Other tragedies were sometimes long political debates; these have spoiled “Sertorius,” rendered “Othon” altogether insipid, and have made “Suréna” and “Attila” quite insupportable. But another reason prevented authors from employing much of the pathetic upon the stage, and made it impossible for an action represented to be completely tragic; this was the construction of the theatre and the narrowness of the place of exhibition. Our theatres were, in comparison with those of the Greeks and Romans, what our market–places, our Greve, and our little village fountains, to which water carriers repair to fill their pails, are in comparison with the aqueducts, the fountains of Agrippa, the Forum Trajani, the Coliseum and the Capitol.
Our theatres deserved excommunication, no doubt, when buffoons hired a tennis court to play “Cinna” upon boards, and when these ignorant creatures, dressed like mountebanks, impersonated Cæsar and Augustus in full–bottomed wigs and laced hats.
The stage was then altogether low and despicable. Comedians had a patent, they bought a tennis–court, they formed a company as merchants form a society. This was not the theatre of Pericles. What could they perform upon about a score of boards loaded with spectators? What pomp or magnificence could entertain the eye? What grand theatrical action could be carried into execution? What liberty could the imagination of the poet enjoy? There was a necessity for pieces to consist of long narratives; a dramatic piece was rather a concatenation of conversations than an action. Every performer was desirous of shining in a long soliloquy; they rejected a piece that was without such; Corneille was obliged to open his tragedy of “Cinna” with Emilia’s unnecessary soliloquy, which is now omitted.
This form excluded all theatrical action, all emphatic expressions of the passions, those striking pictures of human misery, those terrible and affecting strokes which tear the heart; it was only touched by the poet, it should have been torn. Declamation, which, till the time of Mademoiselle Le Couvreur was a measured recitative, a noted song in a manner, obstructed still more those outbursts of nature which are represented by a word, by an attitude, by silence, by a cry which escapes in the anguish of grief. These strokes were first made known to us by Mademoiselle Dumesnil, when, in “Mérope,” with distracted eyes and a broken voice, she, raising her trembling hand, prepared to sacrifice her own son; when Narbas stopped her; when, letting her dagger fall, she was seen to faint away in the arms of her women; when she started from this momentary death with the transports of a mother, and when afterward, darting forward to Poliphontes and crossing the stage in an instant, she, with tears in her eyes, a face as pale as death, thick sobs and arms extended, cried out, “Barbare, il est mon fils.” “Wretch, he is my son.” We have seen Baron; his deportment was noble and becoming, but that was his whole excellence. Mademoiselle La Couvreur had grace, just expression, simplicity, truth and dignity, combined with ease; but for the grand pathos of action, we saw the first instance of it in Mademoiselle Dumesnil.
Something still superior, if possible, we have seen in Mademoiselle Clairon, and the player who takes the part of Tancred in the third act of the piece of that name, and at the end of the fifth; souls were never agitated by such violent emotions, never were tears shed in greater abundance. The perfection of the player’s art showed itself upon those two occasions with a force, of which, till then, we had no idea; and Mademoiselle Clairon must be allowed to have surpassed all the painters in the kingdom.
If in the fourth act of “Mahomet” there had been young players who could form themselves upon this great model, a Seid who could be at once enthusiastic and tender, fierce through fanaticism, humane by nature, who knew how to shudder and to weep; a Palmira animated, compassionate, terrified, trembling at the crime she is going to commit; who could feel horror, repentance and despair at the moment the crime is committed; a father, truly so, who should appear to have the bowels, the voice, and the deportment of a father; a father, who should acknowledge his two children in his two murderers, who should embrace them, shedding tears with his blood; who should mix his tears with those of his children, who should rise to clasp them in his arms, who should fall back and throw himself upon them; in fine, if there was everything that the natural horror of death can furnish a picture with, this situation would even surpass those already mentioned.
It is but a few years since players have ventured to be what they should be, that is, living pictures; before they declaimed. We know, and the public knows it better than we do, that poets should not be too lavish of those terrible and shocking actions which make the greatest impression when they are well introduced and properly managed, but are quite impertinent when they have no relation to the subject. A piece badly written, whose plot is badly unravelled, obscure, laden with incredible incidents, which has no other merit but that which pantomime and decorations bestow upon it, is a disgusting monster.
Place a tomb in “Sémiramis,” dare to make the ghost of Ninus appear, let Ninias come out of that tomb with his arms stained with his mother’s blood; all that will be allowed you. Respect for antiquity, mythology, the majesty of the subject, the heinousness of the crime, something gloomy and terrible, which breathes through that tragedy from its very opening, carry the spectator, in imagination, far from his age and country; but do not often take such liberties, let them be rare and let them be indispensable; if they are idly lavished, they will make spectators laugh.
The abuse of theatrical action may make tragedy become barbarous. What is then to be done? We should cautiously avoid all rocks; but as it is easier to make a fine decoration than a fine scene, and to direct performers what attitudes to assume than to write well, it is probable that authors will spoil tragedy while they think they are bringing it to perfection.
The Encyclopedic Journal, one of the most curious and instructive of Europe, gives us an account of a parallel between Horace, Boileau, and Pope, written in England; it mentions the verses addressed to the king of Prussia, in which Pope is preferred to the French as well as the Roman poet.
These lines are to be found at the beginning of the poem upon the “Law of Nature”; a work at once philosophical and moral, in which poetry reassumes its first intention, namely, that of teaching virtue, the love of our neighbor, and indulgence; and in which the author explains the principles of that universal law which God has implanted in all our hearts. We agree with the author that the “Essay on Man” of the celebrated Pope is an excellent work, and that neither Horace, Boileau, nor any other poet, has produced anything of the kind. Rousseau is the first who made an attempt somewhat similar, in a poem entitled “Nobody Knows Why; an Allegory”; he does his best to explain the system of Plato; but how weak and languishing is that work! It is neither poetry nor philosophy; there is neither proof nor painting in it.
It is no wonder such a poem should have lain in oblivion; it is, as appears by this quotation, a heap of fustian, consisting of improper terms, a concatenation of unmeaning epithets in dry and rugged prose, which the author has turned into rhyme.
Very different from this is Pope’s “Essay on Man”; poetry never presented so many great ideas in so few words. It is the plan of Lords Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke, carried into execution by the most consummate artist; accordingly it is translated into almost all the languages of Europe. We do not enter into the question whether this complete performance is orthodox; whether even its boldness has not in some measure contributed to its extraordinary sale; whether it does not sap the foundation of the Christian religion, by endeavoring to prove that things are exactly in the state in which they should be; and whether this system does not overturn the dogma of the fall and the Holy Scriptures. We do not profess theology; we leave it to those who do to refute Pope, Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Leibnitz, and other great men; we confine ourselves entirely to philosophy and poetry. We presume, with a view of being instructed, to ask how we are to understand this line,
All partial evil universal good.
It is a strange universal good that is composed of the sufferings of each individual! Let him that is able understand this. Did Bolingbroke well understand himself when he digested this system? What is the meaning of this maxim? “Whatever is, is right.” Is it true with regard to us? Doubtless it is not. Is it true with regard to God? It is certain that God does not suffer by our ills. What, then, is at the bottom of this Platonic reverie? It is a chaos, like all other systems, but it has been adorned with diamonds.
With regard to the other epistles of Pope, which admit of comparison with those of Horace and Boileau, I would gladly ask, if these two authors, in their satires, ever had recourse to the weapons of which Pope has made use. His polite treatment of Lord Harvey, one of the most amiable men in England, is somewhat extraordinary; this is the passage word for word:
It is true, Pope is discreet enough not to name the lord that he characterizes; he good–naturedly calls him Sporus, which was the name of an infamous prostitute of Nero’s; take notice too, that most of these invectives are levelled at the person of Lord Harvey, and that Pope goes so far as to reproach him with its gracefulness. When we take into consideration that he was a little ill–shaped man, deformed both before and behind, who spoke thus, we have a striking instance of the blindness of anger and self–love.
Readers may very likely ask, whether it was Pope or one of the chairmen who carried him that wrote these lines. This bears no resemblance to the style of Boileau. May we not justly conclude that politeness and decency vary in different countries?
To render this difference, which nature and art have made between two neighboring nations, still more evident, if possible, let us cast our eyes upon a literal translation of a passage in the “Dunciad”; it is in the second book. Dulness had offered a prize for whichever of her favorites should conquer the rest at a race. Two London booksellers are competitors for the prize; one is Lintot, who is somewhat corpulent; the other was Curl, a man rather lighter than his antagonist: they run, and this was the consequence:
The picture of Indolence, in “Le Lutrin,” is of another kind; but we are told that tastes are not to be disputed.
Another conclusion which we will venture to draw from the comparison of little detached poems with great poems, such as the epic and tragedy, is that they should have their proper rank assigned them. I cannot conceive how an epistle or an ode can be compared to a dramatic piece of merit. Let an epistle, or what is still more easy to compose, a satire, or what is often insipid enough, an ode, be as well written as a tragedy, there is a hundred times more merit in the composition of the latter, and more pleasure in seeing it, than in transcribing or reading commonplace morality; I say commonplace morality; for all that can be said upon moral subjects has been said already. A good moral epistle teaches us nothing; a well–written ode still less; it may at best amuse those who have a taste for poetry about a quarter of an hour; but to create a subject, to invent an intricate intrigue, and unravel it; to give each person of the drama his proper character, and to support it; to contrive that none of them should enter or make their exits without a reason visible to all the spectators; never to leave the stage empty; to make everyone say what he should say, with elevation but without bombast, with simplicity free from meanness; to compose fine verse which does not discover the poet, but is such as the person who speaks might make if he spoke in verse; this is part of the duty which every author of a tragedy must discharge, upon pain of not succeeding among us. And when he has accomplished all this, he has hitherto done nothing. “Esther” is a piece in which all these conditions are fulfilled; but when it was acted upon the stage, the audience could not endure the representation. A poet should, as it were, hold the hearts of spectators in his hand; he should force tears from the most insensible; he should wring the most obdurate hearts: without terror and pity, tragedy has no existence; and even though you should excite both pity and terror, if with these advantages you fail in the observance of other laws, if your verse is not excellent, you are only a middling writer who have treated a well–chosen subject.
How difficult is a tragedy, and how easy is an epistle or a satire! Who then could presume to place in the same class a Racine and a Boileau? Who can esteem a portrait painter as much as a Raphael? Can a head by Rembrandt be compared to the picture of the Transfiguration, or that of the Marriage at Cana?
We are well aware that most of the epistles of Boileau are fine, and that they have truth for their foundation, without which nothing is supportable; but with regard to the epistles of Rousseau, what falsehoods are there in the subjects, what contortions in the style! how frequently do they excite disgust and indignation! What is the meaning of his epistle to Marot, in which he attempts to prove that fools only are wicked? How ridiculous is this paradox!
Were Sulla, Catiline, Cæsar, Tiberius, and even Nero, fools? Was the famous duke of Borgia a fool? Need we seek for examples in ancient history? Besides, who can bear the harsh and constrained manner in which this false notion is expressed?
The covering of wit! Good God! was it thus Boileau wrote? Who can endure the epistle to the duke de Noailles, which he has in his latter editions christened, “An Epistle to the Count of C—”
This wretched burlesque, this impertinent mixture of the jargon of the sixteenth century and of the language spoken at present, a mixture held in such contempt by persons of taste, cannot procure the prize for a subject which of itself teaches nothing, means nothing, and is neither useful nor entertaining.
The grand defect which we meet with in all the works of this author is, that we never meet with our own resemblance in his paintings; we in them see nothing which renders man dear to himself, to use the expression of Horace; nothing pleasing, nothing agreeable. This gloomy writer never once spoke to the heart. Most of his epistles turn upon himself, upon his quarrels with his enemies; the public is no way interested in his pitiful concerns; they mind his verses against La Motte no more than his “Rocks of Salisbury”; what is it to them that among those rugged rocks,
Can these shocking lines, and this wretched subject, come in competition with the worst tragedy extant? We are overstocked with poetry: a commodity too common is become a drug. The rule of “ne quid nimis”; “not too much,” takes place here. The poetry of the theatre, where the nation assembles, is almost the only sort that interests us nowadays; yet new dramatic poems should not be exhibited too often:
For moderate use gives relish to delight.
My Lord:—I have here dedicated a French work represented at Paris, to an English patron; not because there are not in my own country many men of distinguished parts and judgment, to whom I might have paid that compliment; but because the tragedy of Brutus is as it were a native of England. Your lordship may remember that when I retired to Wandsworth with my friend, Mr. Fakener, that worthy and virtuous citizen, I employed my leisure hours at his house in writing the first act of this piece in English prose, pretty nearly the same as it now stands in French verse. I mentioned it to your lordship several times, and we were both equally surprised that no Englishman had ever treated this subject, which seems peculiarly adapted to your theatre. You encouraged me to pursue a plan which would admit of such noble sentiments; permit me, therefore, my lord, to inscribe this work to your lordship, though not written in your own tongue; to you, my lord,
Docte sermones utriusque linguæ.
you, who are able to instruct me in French as well as English; you, who at least have taught me to give my own language that force and energy, which freedom of thought can alone inspire; for the vigorous sentiments of the heart pass insensibly into our expressions, and he who thinks nobly will always speak so.
I must own, my lord, on my return from England, where I had passed almost two years in the continual study of your language, I found myself at a loss when I set about a French tragedy. I was accustomed almost to think in English, and perceived that the French idioms did not present themselves to my imagination with that facility that they did formerly; it was like a rivulet, whose current had been turned another way; some time and pains were requisite to make it flow again in its proper channel. I began then to be convinced that to succeed in any art, we must cultivate it all our lives.
What deterred me more than anything from works of this kind were the severe rules of our poetry, and the slavery of rhyme. I regretted that happy liberty which you enjoy of writing tragedy in blank verse; of lengthening out, of shortening almost all your words; of running one verse into another; and, upon occasion, coining new expressions; which are generally adopted, if they sound well, and are useful, and intelligible. “An English poet,” said I, “is a freeman, who can subject his language to his genius; while the Frenchman is a slave to rhyme, obliged sometimes to make four verses to express a sentiment that an Englishman can give you in one.” An Englishman says what he will; a Frenchman only what he can. One runs along a large and open field, while the other walks in shackles, through a narrow and slippery road; but, in spite of all these reflections and complaints, we can never shake off the yoke of rhyme; it is absolutely essential to French poetry. Our language will not admit of inversions; nor our verses bear to be run one into another; our syllables can never produce a sensible harmony, by their long or short measures; our cæsuras, and a certain number of feet, would not be sufficient to distinguish prose from verse; rhyme is therefore indispensably necessary; besides, so many of our great masters, who have written in rhyme, such as Corneille, Racine, and Despréaux, have so accustomed our ears to this kind of harmony, that we could never bear any other; and I once more therefore insist upon it, that whoever can be absurd enough to shake off a burden which the great Corneille was obliged to carry, would be looked upon, and with great reason, not as a bold and enterprising genius, striking out into a new road, but as a weak and impotent writer, who had not strength to support himself in the old path.
Some have attempted to give us tragedies in prose; but it is a thing which, I believe, can never succeed. Those who already have much, are seldom contented with a little; and he who says, “I come to lessen your pleasure,” will always be a very unwelcome guest to the public. If, in the midst of Paul Veronese or Rubens’ pictures, any one should come and place his sketches with a pencil, would he have any right to compare himself with those great artists? We are used at feasts to dancing and singing; would it be enough on these occasions merely for us to walk and speak, only under the pretence that we walked and spoke well, and that it was more easy, and more natural?
It is probable that verse will always be made use of in tragedy, rhymed verse in ours. It is even to this constraint of rhyme, and the extreme severity of our versification, that we are indebted for the most excellent performances in our language. We require in our rhymes that they should never prejudice the sentiment; that they should never be trivial, nor labored; and are so rigorous as to expect the same purity, and the same exactness in verse, as in prose. We do not permit the least licence; we force our authors to carry all the chains without breaking one link, and at the same time to appear entirely free, and never acknowledge any as poets who have not fulfilled all these conditions.
Such are the reasons why it is more easy to make a hundred verses in any other language than four in French. The example of Abbé Regnier–Desmarias, of the French Academy, and also of the Academy of La Crusca, is a sufficient proof of this. He translated “Anacreon” into Italian with great success; and yet his French verses, with few exceptions, are but very indifferent. It was nearly the same with Ménage. How many of our men of genius have made excellent Latin verses, and written others in their own language which were insufferable.
Many disputes have I had in England about our versification: what reproaches have I heard from the learned bishop of Rochester for this childish constraint, which, he used to say, we ridiculously laid upon ourselves, out of mere wantonness and levity: but depend on it, my lord, the more a stranger knows of our language, the sooner will he reconcile himself to that rhyme which is at first so formidable to him. It is not only necessary to our tragedies, but is even an ornament to our comedies themselves. A good thing in verse is more easily retained: the various pictures of human life will be always more striking in verse—when a Frenchman says verse, he always means rhyme—and we have comedies in prose, by the celebrated Molière, which we have been obliged to put into verse after his death, and which are never played but in their new dress.
Not daring, therefore, my lord, to hazard on the French theatre that kind of verse which is used in Italy and in England, I have endeavored at least to transplant into our scene some of the beauties of yours; at the same time I am sufficiently satisfied, that the English theatre is extremely defective. I have heard you say you have not one good tragedy; but to make you amends, in those wild pieces which you have, there are some admirable scenes. Hitherto there has been wanting, in all the tragic authors of your nation, that purity, that regular conduct, that decorum in the action and style, and all those strokes of art which have established the reputation of the French theatre since the time of the great Corneille: though, at the same time, it must be acknowledged, that your most irregular pieces have very great merit with regard to the action.
We have in France some tragedies in high repute, which are rather conversations than the representation of an event. An Italian author, in a letter on the theatres, writes thus to me: “Un cretico del nostro ‘Pastor Fido’ disso che quel componimento era un riassunto di bellissimi madrigali; credo, se vivesse,che direbbe delle tragedie Francese che sono un riassunto di belle elegie, e sontuosi epitalami.”
I am afraid there is too much truth in what my Italian friend says; our excessive delicacy obliges us frequently to put into narration, what we would gladly have brought before the eyes of the spectator; but we are afraid to hazard on the scene new spectacles, before a people accustomed to turn into ridicule everything which they are not used to.
The place where our comedies are acted, and the abuses which have crept into it, are another cause of that dryness which appears in some of our pieces. The benches on the stage, appropriated to the spectators, confine the scene, and make all action almost impracticable; and this is the reason why the decorations, so highly recommended by the ancients, are with us seldom well adapted to the piece: and above all, it prevents the actors from passing out of one apartment into the other in sight of the spectators; as was the sensible practice of the Greeks and Romans, to preserve at once unity of place and probability.
How, for instance, could we dare, on our theatre, to bring on the ghost of Pompey, or the genius of Brutus, among a crowd of young fellows who seldom look upon the most serious things but with the view of showing their wit by a bon mot on the occasion? How could we produce before them the body of Marcus, and Cato, his father, crying out:
This is what the late Mr. Addison took the liberty to do at London. This “Cato” was translated into Italian, and played in several parts of Italy: but if we were to hazard such a spectacle at Paris, you would hear the parterre roaring out, and observe the women turning their heads away.
You cannot imagine how far we carry this delicacy. The author of our tragedy of “Manlius” took his subject from the English work by Otway, called, “Venice Preserved.” The plot is taken from the history of the conspiracy of Marquis de Bedemar, written by Abbé de St. Rèal. Permit me to observe, by the way, that this short piece of history is much superior both to Otway’s piece, and our own “Manlius.” First, you may remark the prejudice that obliged the French author to disguise a known fact under Roman names, whilst the English writer made use of the real ones. The London theatre saw nothing ridiculous in a Spanish ambassador’s being called Bedemar, or the conspirators Jaffier, Pierre, and Elliot: this alone in France would have been sufficient to ruin the performance. But Otway assembles the conspirators; Regnaud makes them all take their oaths; assigns to each his post; appoints the hour to begin the massacre; and every now and then casts an eye of diffidence and suspicion on Jaffier, whom he mistrusts. He makes a pathetic address to them all, which is translated word for word from Saint–Réal: “Jamais repos si profonde ne précéda un trouble si grand.”
But what has the French author done? afraid to produce so many persons on the stage, he only relates by Renaud, under the name of Rutilus, an inconsiderable part of that speech which he tells us he had made to the conspirators. One may perceive by this circumstance alone, how superior the English scene is to the French, however faulty Otway’s piece may be in every other respect.
With what pleasure have I seen at London your tragedy of Julius Cæsar, which for these hundred and fifty years past has been the delight of your nation! not that I approve the barbarous irregularities which it abounds with; it only astonishes me, that there are not many more in a work written in an age of ignorance, by a man who did not even understand Latin, and had no instructor but his own genius: and yet, among so many gross faults, with what rapture did I behold Brutus, holding in his hand a dagger, still wet with the blood of Cæsar, assemble the Roman people, and thus harangue them from the tribunal:
“Romans, countrymen, and friends, if there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Cæsar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love to Cæsar was no less than his. If then that friend demand, why Brutus rose against Cæsar, this is my answer: Not that I loved Cæsar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Cæsar were living, and die all slaves, than that Cæsar were dead, to live all free men? As Cæsar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but as he was ambitious, I slew him. Who is here so base that would be a bondman? if any, speak, for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? if any, speak, for him have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? if any, speak, for him have I offended.
“All. None, Brutus, none.
“Brutus. Then none have I offended. Here comes his body, mourned by Mark Antony; who, though he had no hand in his death, shall receive the benefit of his dying, a place in the commonwealth; as which of you shall not. With this I depart, that as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself, when it shall please my country to need my death.
“All. Live, Brutus, live.”
After this scene Antony comes to excite the compassion of those very Romans whom Brutus had just before inspired with his own rigor and barbarity. Antony, by an artful discourse, leads back as it were insensibly these haughty spirits, and when he sees them softened a little, shows them the body of Cæsar; and making use of the most pathetic figures of rhetoric, excites them to sedition and revenge. The French, perhaps, would never suffer on their stage a chorus composed of Roman artisans and plebeians; would never permit the bleeding body of Cæsar to be exposed in public; or the people to be excited to rebellion by a harangue from the tribunal; custom alone, who is the queen of this world, can change the taste of nations, and make the objects of our aversion pleasing and agreeable.
The Greeks produced spectacles on the stage that appear not less shocking and absurd to us. Hippolytus, bruised with his fall, comes on to count his wounds, and make hideous lamentations. Philoctetes falls into a trance, occasioned by the violence of his pains, and the black blood flows from his wound. Œdipus, covered with blood that drops from the remaining part of his eyes, which he had been just tearing out, complains both of gods and men. We hear the shrieks of Clytemnestra, murdered by her own son; and Electra cries out from the stage: “Strike, spare her not, she did not spare our father.” Prometheus is fastened to a rock, by nails driven into his arms and stomach. The furies answer the bloody ghost of Clytemnestra by horrid and inarticulate noises. In short, many of the Greek tragedies are filled with terror of this kind, that is to the last degree extravagant. The Greek tragedians, in other respects superior to the English, were certainly wrong in often mistaking horror for terror; and the disgusting and incredible for the tragic and the marvellous. The art was in its infancy in Athens in the time of Æschylus, as at London in the time of Shakespeare; but amidst all the faults, both of the Greek and English poets, we find singular beauties, and the true pathetic; and if any of my countrymen, who have no other knowledge of the manners and tragedies of their neighbors but what they get from translations and hearsays, condemn them without restriction, they are, in my opinion, like so many blind men, who should assure us that a rose could not have lively colors, because they felt the thorns at the ends of their fingers: but if the Greeks and you have both passed the bounds of decorum, and the English more particularly abound in the frightful instead of the terrible, we, on the other hand, as overscrupulous as you have been rash, for fear of going too far, stop too short, and very often fail of reaching the tragic, for fear of going beyond it.
I am far from proposing that the stage should be a scene of bloodshed, as it is in Shakespeare, and many of his successors, who, without his genius, have imitated his faults; but I dare believe that there are some certain circumstances and situations, which at present appear shocking and disgusting to a French audience, that, if well conducted, represented with art, and above all softened by the charms of good verse, might give us a species of pleasure we are as yet unacquainted with, which notwithstanding may certainly be attained.
At least I should wish to be informed why our heroes and heroines should be permitted to kill themselves and nobody else: is the scene less bloody by the death of Athaliah, who stabs herself for her lover, than it would be by the murder of Cæsar? And if the sight of Cato’s son, brought in dead before his father, gives that old Roman an opportunity of making an excellent speech on the occasion; if this part of “Cato” was admired both in England and in Italy, even by the greatest partisans of French decorum; if the most delicate of the fair sex were not in the least shocked at it; why may not the French bring themselves to it by use? Is not nature the same in all mankind?
All these laws of banishing murder from the stage; of not suffering more than three persons to speak, are such as, in my opinion, might admit of some exceptions among us, as they did among the Greeks. It is not with the rules of decorum, that are always a little arbitrary, as it is with the fundamental laws of the theatre, which are the three unities; it would be a mark of weakness and sterility to extend an action beyond that degree of space and time suitable to it. Ask any man, who has crowded too many events into his piece, what is the reason of this fault, and, if he has sincerity enough, he will fairly confess, that he had not sufficient genius to fill up his performance with a single action: and if he takes up two days, and places his scene in two different places, you may take it for granted, it is because he has not skill enough to confine his plan within the limits of three hours, or bring it into the walls of a palace, as probability requires he should. But it is quite another thing with regard to hazarding a horrible spectacle on the stage; this would not in the least shock probability: a boldness like this, far from implying any weakness in the author, would, on the contrary, demand a great genius to give his verses true grandeur in an action, which, without sublimity of style, would appear savage and disgusting.
This was what our great Corneille once attempted in his “Rodogune.” He brings upon the stage a mother, who, in the presence of an ambassador and the whole court, wants to poison her son and her daughter–in–law, after having killed her other son with her own hand. She presents them the poisoned cup, and on their refusing to taste it, occasioned by their suspicions of her, drinks it herself, and dies by the poison which she had designed for them. Strokes so terrible as these should be very rare; it is not every one who should dare to strike them. Such novelties require great circumspection, and a masterly hand in the execution. The English themselves allow that Shakespeare, for example, was the only poet who could call up ghosts, and make them speak with success.
Within that circle none durst move but he.
The more majestic and full of terror a theatrical action is, the more insipid would it become, if it were often repeated; in the same manner as details of battles, which, being in their own nature everything that is terrible, become dry and tedious, by appearing often in history. The only piece of Racine, where there is any spectacle, is his masterpiece, “Athalie”; there we see a child on the throne, his nurse and the priests attending him, a queen who commands her soldiers to massacre him, and the Levites running to take up arms in his defence: the whole of this action is pathetic; and yet, if the style was not so too, it would appear childish and ridiculous.
The more we strike the eye with splendid appearances, the stronger obligation do we lay ourselves under of supporting them by sublimity of diction; otherwise the writer will only be considered as a decorator, and not as a tragic poet. It is nearly thirty years since the tragedy of “Montezuma” was represented at Paris; the scene opened with a spectacle entirely new: a palace in a magnificent but barbarous taste; Montezuma in a dress very singular and uncommon; at the end of the stage a number of his slaves, armed with bows and arrows according to the custom of their country; round the king were eight grandees of his court prostrate on the earth, with their faces to the ground; Montezuma begins the piece with these words:
The spectacle charmed the spectators, but nothing else gave the least pleasure throughout the whole tragedy.
With regard to myself I must own, it was not without fear that I introduced on our stage the Roman senate in scarlet robes delivering their opinions. I recollected, that when I brought into my “Œdipe” a chorus of Thebans, saying:
The parterre, instead of being struck with the pathetic in this passage, only felt the absurdity, if any such there were, of putting these verses into the mouths of raw actors, not much used to choruses, and immediately set up a loud laugh. This prevented me from making the senators in Brutus speak, when Titus is accused before them, of heightening the terror of the incident by expressing the astonishment and grief of these reverend fathers of their country, who, no doubt, should have signified their surprise in another manner than by dumb show: but they did not do even so much as this.
The English are more fond of action than we are, and speak more to the eye; the French give more attention to elegance, harmony, and the charms of verse. It is certainly more difficult to write well than to bring upon the stage assassinations, wheels, mechanical powers, ghosts, and sorcerers. The tragedy of “Cato,” which reflects so much honor on Mr. Addison, your successor in the ministry, I have heard you say, owes its great reputation to its fine poetry; that is to say, to just and noble sentiments expressed in harmonious verses. It is these detached beauties that support poetical performances, and hand them down to posterity. It is only a peculiar manner of saying common things; it is the art of embellishing by diction what all men think and feel that constitutes the true poet. There are no refined or strained sentiments, no romantic adventures in the fourth book of Virgil; all is natural; and yet it is the highest effort of human genius. M. Racine is superior to all those who have said the same things as himself only because he has said them better: and Corneille is never truly great, except when he expresses himself as well as he thinks. Let us remember this precept of Despréaux’s.
This is greatly wanting in many of our dramatic performances, which the art of an actor, or the figure and voice of an actress, have carried off with success on our stage. How many ill–written pieces have been acted oftener than “Cinna” and “Britannicus,” though nobody ever retained two lines of any of these poor pieces, and at the same time “Britannicus” and “Cinna” are got by heart. In vain did the “Regulus” of Pradon draw tears from the spectators by some moving incidents: the work itself, with all those that resemble it, have sunk into contempt, whilst the authors pay themselves a thousand compliments in their prefaces to them.
Some judicious critics will perhaps ask me, why I brought love into the tragedy of “Junius Brutus”; and why I have mingled that passion with the austere virtue of a Roman senate, and the political intrigues of an ambassador: our nation is reproached for enervating the scene by too much tenderness; and the English, at least for this last age, have deserved the same censure; or you have always followed a little our modes, and our vices: but will you permit me to give you my opinion on this head?
To exact love in every tragedy shows an effeminate taste; and entirely to proscribe and banish it from the theatre is equally unreasonable and ridiculous. The stage, either in tragedy or comedy, is a lively picture of the human passions: one perhaps represents the ambition of a prince, the other ridicules the vanity of a citizen. Here you laugh at the coquetry and intrigues of a citizen’s lady; there you weep the unhappy passion of Phædra: love amuses you in a romance, or charms you in the “Dido” of Virgil. Love in a tragedy is not more essentially a fault, than it is in the “Æneid.” In short, it is never blamable, but when it is brought in unseasonably, or treated inartistically.
The Greeks seldom ventured to bring this passion on the stage of Athens; first, because their tragedies generally turning on subjects of terror, the minds of the spectators were biassed as it were in favor of that particular species; and, secondly, because the women at that time led a much more retired life than ours do, and consequently the language of love, not being as it is now the subject of every conversation, the poets had less inducement to treat a passion, which it is most difficult to paint on account of that very delicate management which it requires. Another reason, which I own weighs greatly with me, was, that they had no actresses, the women’s parts being always played by men in masks. Love from their mouths would perhaps have appeared ridiculous.
In London and Paris it is quite another thing, where it must be acknowledged the authors would have very ill understood their own interests, and must have known little of their audience, to have made their Oldfields, Duclos, and Lecouvreur talk of nothing but ambition and politics.
But the misfortune is that love, with our heroes of the theatre, is seldom anything more than gallantry; and with you it sometimes degenerates into lewdness and debauchery. In our “Alcibiades,” a piece greatly followed but poorly written, and therefore at present in very little esteem, we admired for a long time these bad verses, which were repeated in a soft and persuasive tone by the Æsopus of the last age.
In your “Venice Preserved,” old Regnaud wants to debauch the wife of Jaffier; she complains of it in terms rather indecent, and goes so far as to say he came to her unbuttoned.
To render love worthy of the tragic scene, it ought to arise naturally from the business of the piece, and not be brought in by mere force, only to fill up a vacancy, as it generally does in your tragedies, and in ours, which are both of them too long: it should be a passion entirely tragical, considered as a weakness, and opposed by remorse; it should either lead to misfortunes or to crimes, to convince us how dangerous it is; or it should be subdued by virtue, to show us that it is not invincible. In all other cases, it is no more than the love of an eclogue, or a comedy.
You, my lord, must decide whether I have fulfilled any of these conditions; but I hope that, above all, your friends will be so candid as not to judge of the genius and taste of our nation by this discourse, or by the tragedy which I have sent you with it. I am, perhaps, one of those who cultivate the belles–lettres in France with the least success, and if the sentiments which I have here submitted to your judgment are disapproved, I and I only, deserve to be censured for them.
Being of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a sect as the Quakers were very well deserving the curiosity of every thinking man, I resolved to make myself acquainted with them, and for that purpose made a visit to one of the most eminent of that sect in England, who, after having been in trade for thirty years, had the wisdom to prescribe limits to his fortune, and to his desires, and withdrew to a small but pleasant retirement in the country, not many miles from London. Here it was that I made him my visit. His house was small, but neatly built, and with no other ornaments but those of decency and convenience. The Quaker himself was a hale, ruddy–complexioned old man, who had never suffered from sickness, because he had always been a stranger to passions and intemperance. I never in my life saw any one have a more noble, or a more engaging aspect. He was dressed after the fashion of those of his persuasion, in a plain coat, without plaits in the side, or buttons on the pockets and sleeves; and he wore a beaver hat, the brim of which flapped downward like those of our clergy. He advanced toward me without moving his hat, or making the least inclination of his body; but there appeared more real politeness in the open, humane air of his countenance, than in drawing one leg behind the other, and carrying that in the hand which is made to be worn on the head. “Friend,” said he, “I perceive thou art a stranger, if I can do thee any service thou hast only to let me know it.” “Sir,” I replied, bowing my body, and sliding one leg toward him, as is the custom with us, “I flatter myself that my curiosity, which you will allow to be just, will not give you any offence, and that you will do me the honor to inform me of the particulars of your religion.” “The people of thy country,” answered the Quaker, “are too full of their bows and their compliments; but I never yet met with one of them who had so much curiosity as thyself. Come in and let us dine first together.” I still continued to make some silly compliments, it not being easy to disengage at once oneself from habits we have been long accustomed to; and after taking part of a frugal meal, which began and ended with a prayer to God, I began to put questions to my plain host.
I opened with that which good Catholics have more than once made to Huguenots. “My dear sir,” said I, “were you ever baptized?” “No, friend,” replied the Quaker, “nor any of my brethren.” “Zounds!” said I to him, “you are not Christians then!” “Friend,” replied the old man, in a soft tone of voice, “do not swear; we are Christians, but we do not think that sprinkling a few drops of water on a child’s head makes him a Christian.” “My God!” exclaimed I, shocked at his impiety, “have you then forgotten that Christ was baptized by St. John?” “Friend,” replied the mild Quaker, “once again, do not swear. Christ was baptized by John, but He Himself never baptized any one; now we profess ourselves disciples of Christ, and not of John.” “Mercy on us,” cried I, “what a fine subject you would be for the holy inquisitor! In the name of God, my good old man, let me baptize you.” “Were that all,” replied he very gravely, “we would submit cheerfully to be baptized, purely in compliance with thy weakness; for we do not condemn any person who uses that rite; but, on the other hand, we think that those who profess a religion of so holy and spiritual a nature as that of Christ, ought to abstain to the utmost of their power from Jewish ceremonies.”
“Why, there again!” said I, “baptism a Jewish ceremony!” “Yes, my friend,” said he, “and so truly Jewish, that many Jews use the baptism of John to this day. Peruse ancient authors, and they will show thee that John only revived this practice, and that it was in use among the Hebrews long before his time, the same as the pilgrimage to Mecca was among the Ishmaelites. Jesus indeed submitted to be baptized of John, in the like manner as He had undergone circumcision; but both the one and the other ceremony were to end in the baptism of Christ, that baptism of the spirit, that ablution of the soul which is the salvation of mankind. Thus the forerunner John said, ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.’ St. Paul likewise, the great apostle of the Gentiles, writes thus to the Corinthians: ‘Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel.’ Accordingly Paul never baptized but two persons with water, and that against his inclination. He circumcised his disciple, Timothy; and the other apostles circumcised all those who were desirous of it. Art thou circumcised?” added he. “I really have not that honor,” replied I. “Wilt thou, friend?” replied the Quaker; “thou art a Christian without being circumcised, and I am one without being baptized.”
Thus did my pious host make a false but very specious application of three or four passages of Holy Writ, which seemed to favor the tenets of his sect; but at the same time forgot, very sincerely, above a hundred others that directly overturned them. I resolved not to contend with him, as there is nothing to be gained by arguing with an enthusiast: one should never pretend to revéal to a lover his mistress’ faults, to a lawyer the weakness of one’s cause, nor force the truth upon a fanatic. Accordingly I proceeded to other questions.
“Pray,” said I to him, “in what manner do you communicate?” “We have no such ceremony among us,” replied he. “How!” said I, “have you no communion?” “No,” answered he; “no other than that of hearts.” He then began again to quote his texts of Scripture, and read me a very curious lecture against the sacrament; and harangued with a tone of inspiration to prove that the sacraments were mere human inventions, and that the word “sacrament” was not once mentioned in the Scripture. “I must ask thy excuse,” said he, “for my ignorance; for I am sensible I have not employed a hundredth part of the arguments that might be made use of, to prove the truth of our religion: but thou mayest see them all amply unfolded in the ‘Exposition of Our Faith,’ written by Robert Barclay. It is one of the best books that ever came from the hand of man; our very adversaries confess it is dangerous, and that is sufficient alone to prove its goodness.” I promised to peruse this piece; and my Quaker thought he had already made a convert.
He then proceeded to give me a brief account of certain singularities, which make this sect the contempt of others. “Confess,” said he, “that it was very difficult for thee to refrain from laughing, when I answered all thy compliments without uncovering my head, and at the same time spoke to thee only with ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ However, thou appearest to me too well read not to know, that, in Christ’s time, no nation was so ridiculous as to use the plural for the singular. They said to Augustus Cæsar himself, ‘I love thee’, ‘I beseech thee’, ‘I thank thee’; and he would not even suffer himself to be called ‘domine’; ‘sir.’ It was not till long after his time that men took the ridiculous notion of having themselves called ‘you’, instead of ‘thou’, as if they were double, and usurped the impertinent titles of ‘lordship’, ‘eminence’, and ‘holiness’, which poor reptiles bestow on other reptiles like themselves; assuring them, that they are, ‘with the most profound respect’, and an infamous falsehood, their ‘most obedient humble servants’. It is the more effectually to secure ourselves against this shameful traffic of lies and flattery, that we ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ a king, with the same freedom as we do his meanest servant; and salute no person, as owing mankind only charity, and respect only to the laws.
“We dress also differently from others, and this purely that it may be a perpetual warning to us not to imitate them. While others pride themselves on wearing the badges of their several dignities, we confine ourselves to those of Christian humility. We shun all the assemblies of the gay, we avoid places of diversions of all kinds, and carefully abstain from gaming; for wretched would be our state, indeed, were we to fill with such levities the heart that ought to be the habitation of God. We never swear, not even in a court of justice; being of opinion, that the name of the Most High ought not to be prostituted in the frivolous contests between man and man. When we are obliged to appear before a magistrate, upon the concerns of others—for lawsuits are unknown among the Friends—we affirm the truth by our ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ and they believe us on our simple affirmation, while other Christians are daily perjuring themselves on the blessed Gospels. We never take up arms, not that we are fearful of death; on the contrary, we bless the instant that unites us to the Being of beings. The reason is, that we are neither wolves, tigers, nor mastiffs, but men and Christians. Our God, who has commanded us to love our enemies, and to suffer without repining, can certainly not order us to cross the seas, and cut the throats of our fellow–creatures, as often as murderers, clothed in scarlet, and wearing caps two feet high, enlist peaceful citizens by a noise made with two sticks on an ass’ skin extended. And when, after the gaining of a battle, all London blazes with illuminations, when the air glows with fireworks, and a noise is heard of thanksgivings, of bells, of organs, and of cannon, we groan in silence for the cruel havoc which occasions these public rejoicings.”
Such was the substance of the conversation I had with this very singular person; and I was greatly surprised when, the Sunday following, he came to take me with him to one of their meetings. There are several of these in London; but that to which he carried me stands near the famous pillar called the Monument. The brethren were already assembled when I entered with my guide. There might be about four hundred men and three hundred women in the place. The women hid their faces with their hoods, and the men were covered with their broad–brimmed hats. All were sitting, and there was a universal silence amongst them. I passed through the midst of them; but not one lifted up his eyes to look at me. This silence lasted a quarter of an hour; when at last an old man rose up, took off his hat, and after making a number of wry faces, and groaning in a most lamentable manner, he, half–mouthing, half snuffling, threw out a heap of unaccountable stuff—taken, as he thought, from the Gospel—which neither himself nor any of his auditors understood. When this religious buffoon had ended his curious soliloquy, and the assembly broke up, very much edified, and very stupid, I asked my guide how it was possible the judicious part of them could suffer such incoherent prating? “We are obliged,” said he, “to suffer it, because no one knows, when a brother rises up to hold forth, whether he will be moved by the spirit or by folly. In this uncertainty, we listen patiently to every one. We even allow our women to speak in public; two or three of them are often inspired at the same time, and then a most charming noise is heard in the Lord’s house.” “You have no priests, then?” said I. “No, no, friend,” replied the Quaker; “heaven make us thankful!” Then opening one of the books of their sect, he read the following words in an emphatic tone: “ ‘God forbid we should presume to ordain any one to receive the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s day, in exclusion to the rest of the faithful!’ Thanks to the Almighty, we are the only people upon earth that have no priests! Wouldst thou deprive us of so happy a distinction? Wherefore should we abandon our child to hireling nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough to nourish it? These mercenary creatures would quickly domineer in our houses, and oppress both the mother and the child. God has said, ‘You have received freely, give as freely.’ Shall we, after this injunction, barter, as it were, the Gospel; sell the Holy Spirit, and make of an assembly of Christians a mere shop of traders? We do not give money to a set of men, clothed in black, to assist our poor, to bury our dead, or to preach to the brethren; these holy offices are held in too high esteem by us to entrust them to others.” “But how,” said I, with some warmth; “how can you pretend to know whether your discourse is really inspired by the Almighty?” “Whosoever,” replied my friend, “shall implore Christ to enlighten him, and shall publish the truths contained in the Gospel, of which he inwardly feels, such a one may be assured that he is inspired by the Lord. He then overwhelmed me with a multitude of Scripture quotations, which proved, as he imagined, that there is no such thing as Christianity, without an immediate revelation; and added these remarkable words: “When thou movest one of thy limbs, is it moved by thy own power? Certainly not; for this limb is often liable to involuntary motions; consequently He who created thy body gives motion to this earthy tabernacle. Or are the several ideas, of which thy soul receives the impression, of thy own formation? Still less so; for they come upon thee whether thou wilt or no, consequently thou receivest thy ideas from Him who created thy soul. But as He leaves thy heart at full liberty, He gives thy mind such ideas as thy heart may deserve; if thou livest in God, thou actest and thinkest in God. After this, thou needest but open thine eyes to that light which enlightens all mankind, and then thou wilt perceive the truth, and make others perceive it.” “Why, this,” said I, “is our Malebranche’s doctrine to a tittle.” “I am acquainted with thy Malebranche,” said he; “he had something of the Quaker in him; but he was not enough so.”
These are the main particulars that I have been able to gather, concerning the doctrine of the Quakers. In the ensuing pages you will find some account of their history, which is still more singular than their opinions.
You have already heard that the Quakers date their epoch from Christ, who, according to them, was the first Quaker. Religion, say they, was corrupted almost immediately after His death, and remained in that state of corruption about sixteen hundred years. But there were always a few of the faithful concealed in the world, who carefully preserved the sacred fire, which was extinguished in all but themselves; till at length this light shone out in England in 1642.
It was at the time when Great Britain was distracted by intestine wars, which three or four sects had raised in the name of God, that one George Fox, a native of Leicestershire, and son of a silk–weaver, took it into his head to preach the Word, and, as he pretended, with all the requisites of a true apostle; that is, without being able either to read or write. He was a young man, about twenty–five years of age, of irreproachable manners, and religiously mad. He was clad in leather from head to foot, and travelled from one village to another, exclaiming against the war and the clergy. Had he confined his invectives to the military only, he would have had nothing to fear; but he inveighed against churchmen. Fox was seized at Derby, and being carried before a justice of peace, he stood with his leathern hat on; upon which an officer gave him a great box on the ear, and cried to him, “You unmannerly rascal, don’t you know you are to appear uncovered before his worship?” Fox very deliberately presented his other cheek to the officer, and begged him to give him another box on the ear for God’s sake. The justice would have had him sworn before he put any questions to him; but Fox refused, saying, “Friend, know that I never swear.” The justice, finding himself “thee’d” and “thou’d” by him, and enraged at his insolence, ordered him to the house of correction, there to be whipped. Fox returned thanks to the Lord all the way he went to prison, where the justice’s orders were executed with great severity. Those who whipped him were greatly surprised to hear this enthusiast beseech them to give him a few more lashes, for the good of his soul. These gentlemen did not wait for many entreaties: Mr. Fox had his dose doubled, for which he thanked them very cordially, and then began to hold forth. At first the attendants began laughing; but they afterward listened to him; and as enthusiasm is a catching distemper, many were persuaded, and those who had scourged him became his disciples. Being afterward set at liberty, he went up and down the country, with a dozen proselytes at his heels, declaiming against the clergy, and receiving flagellations from time to time. One day being set in the pillory, he made so moving a harangue to the crowd, that fifty of the auditors became his converts; and he won so much over the rest, that they tumultuously pulled his head out of the hole, and then went in a body to search for the Church of England clergyman who had been chiefly instrumental in bringing him to this punishment, and set him on the same pillory where Fox had stood.
Fox had the boldness to make converts of some of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers, who immediately quitted the service, and refused to take the oaths. Oliver, having as great a contempt for a sect which would not fight as Pope Sixtus V. had for another sect, dove non si chiavava, began to persecute these new converts. The prisons were crowded with them; but persecution seldom has any other effect than to increase the number of proselytes. They came forth from their confinement more full of zeal than ever, and followed by their jailers, whom they had converted. But what contributed chiefly to the spreading of this sect were the following circumstances: Fox thought himself inspired, and was therefore of opinion, that he must speak in a manner different from the rest of mankind: upon which he began to writhe his body, to screw up the muscles of his face, to hold in his breath, and to exhale it again in a forcible manner, insomuch that the priestess of the Delphic god could not have acted her part to better advantage. Inspiration soon became so habitual to him, that he could scarcely deliver himself in any other manner. This was the first gift he communicated to his disciples: these copied their master closely in his grimaces and contortions, and shook from head to foot at the instant of inspiration; and hence they got the name of Quakers. The vulgar, ever the dupes of novelty, amused themselves with mimicking these people, trembled, spoke through the nose, quaked, and fancied themselves inspired by the Holy Ghost. They only lacked a few miracles, and those they wrought.
This new patriarch Fox said one day to a justice of peace, before a large assembly of people. “Friend, take care what thou dost; God will soon punish thee for persecuting his saints.” This magistrate, being one who besotted himself every day with bad beer and brandy, died of apoplexy two days after; just as he had signed a mittimus for imprisoning some Quakers. The sudden death of this justice was not ascribed to his intemperance; but was universally looked upon as the effect of the holy man’s predictions; so that this accident made more Quakers than a thousand sermons and as many shaking fits would have done. Cromwell, finding them increase daily, was willing to bring them over to his party, and for that purpose tried bribery; however, he found them incorruptible, which made him one day declare that this was the only religion he had ever met with that could resist the charms of gold.
The Quakers suffered several persecutions under Charles II.; not upon a religious account, but for refusing to pay the tithes, for “theeing” and “thouing” the magistrates, and for refusing to take the oaths enacted by the laws.
At length Robert Barclay, a native of Scotland, presented to the king, in 1675, his “Apology for the Quakers”; a work as well drawn up as the subject could possibly admit. The dedication to Charles II., instead of being filled with mean, flattering encomiums, abounds with bold truths and the wisest counsels. “Thou hast tasted,” says he to the king, at the close of his “Epistle Dedicatory,” “of prosperity and adversity: thou hast been driven out of the country over which thou now reignest, and from the throne on which thou sittest: thou hast groaned beneath the yoke of oppression; therefore hast thou reason to know how hateful the oppressor is both to God and man. If, after all these warnings and advertisements, thou dost not turn unto the Lord, with all thy heart; but forget Him who remembered thee in thy distress, and give thyself up to follow lust and vanity, surely great will be thy guilt, and bitter thy condemnation. Instead of listening to the flatterers about thee, hearken only to the voice that is within thee, which never flatters. I am thy faithful friend and servant, Robert Barclay.”
The most surprising circumstance is that this letter, though written by an obscure person, was so happy in its effect as to put a stop to the persecution.
About this time appeared the illustrious William Penn, who established the power of the Quakers in America, and would have rendered them respectable in the eyes of the Europeans, if mankind could respect virtue when appearing in the shape of folly. This man was the only son of Vice–Admiral Penn, favorite of the duke of York, afterward King James II.
William Penn, when only fifteen years of age, chanced to meet a Quaker in Oxford, where he was then following his studies. This Quaker made a proselyte of him; and our young man, being naturally sprightly and eloquent, having a very winning aspect and engaging carriage, soon gained over some of his companions and intimates, and in a short time formed a society of young Quakers, who met at his house; so that at the age of sixteen he found himself at the head of a sect. Having left college, at his return home to the vice–admiral, his father, instead of kneeling to ask his blessing, as is the custom with the English, he went up to him with his hat on, and accosted him thus: “Friend, I am glad to see thee in good health.” The vice–admiral thought his son crazy; but soon discovered he was a Quaker. He then employed every method that prudence could suggest to engage him to behave and act like other people. The youth answered his father only with repeated exhortations to turn Quaker also. After much altercation, his father confined himself to this single request, that he would wait on the king and the duke of York with his hat under his arm, and that he would not “thee” and “thou” them. William answered that his conscience would not permit him to do these things. This exasperated his father to such a degree that he turned him out of doors. Young Penn gave God thanks that he permitted him to suffer so early in His cause, and went into the city, where he held forth, and made a great number of converts; and being young, handsome, and of a graceful figure, both court and city ladies flocked very devoutly to hear him. The patriarch Fox, hearing of his great reputation, came to London—notwithstanding the length of the journey—purposely to see and converse with him. They both agreed to go upon missions into foreign countries; and accordingly they embarked for Holland, after having left a sufficient number of laborers to take care of the London vineyard.
Their labors met with all the success they could wish in Amsterdam; but a circumstance which reflected the greatest honor on them, and at the same time put their humility to the strongest test, was the reception they met from the princess Palatine, Elizabeth, aunt of George I. of Great Britain, a lady conspicuous for her genius and knowledge, and to whom Descartes had dedicated his “Philosophical Romance.”
She was then retired to The Hague, where she received these Friends; for so the Quakers were at that time called in Holland. This princess had several conferences with them; they held several of their meetings at her house, and, if they did not make a perfect convert of her, they at least acknowledged that she was not far from the kingdom of heaven. The Friends sowed the good seed likewise in Germany; but had only an indifferent harvest; for the mode of “theeing” and “thouing” was not relished in a country where every one was obliged to make use of “your highness,” and “your excellence.” Penn soon quitted that country, and returned to England, having received advice that his father was ill, to see him before he died. The vice–admiral was reconciled to his son, and, though of a different persuasion, embraced him tenderly. William in vain exhorted his father not to receive the sacrament, and to die a Quaker; and the good old man entreated his son William to wear buttons on his sleeves, and a crape hatband in his beaver; but all to no purpose.
William inherited very large possessions, part of which consisted of crown debts, due to the vice–admiral for sums he had advanced for the sea–service. No moneys were at that time less secure than those owing from the king. Penn was obliged to go, more than once, and “thee” and “thou” Charles and his ministers, to recover the debt; and at last, instead of specie, the government invested him with the right and sovereignty of a province of America, to the south of Maryland. Thus was a Quaker raised to sovereign power.
He set sail for his new dominions with two ships filled with Quakers, who followed his fortune. The country was then named by them Pennsylvania from William Penn; and he founded Philadelphia, which is now a very flourishing city. His first care was to make an alliance with his American neighbors; and this is the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed. The new sovereign also enacted several wise and wholesome laws for his colony, which have remained invariably the same to this day. The chief is, to ill–treat no person on account of religion, and to consider as brethren all those who believe in one God. He had no sooner settled his government than several American merchants came and peopled this colony. The natives of the country, instead of flying into the woods, cultivated by degrees a friendship with the peaceable Quakers. They loved these new strangers as much as they disliked the other Christians, who had conquered and ravaged America. In a little time these savages, as they are called, delighted with their new neighbors, flocked in crowds to Penn, to offer themselves as his vassals. It was an uncommon thing to behold a sovereign “thee’d” and “thou’d” by his subjects, and addressed by them with their hats on; and no less singular for a government to be without one priest in it; a people without arms, either for offence or preservation; a body of citizens without any distinctions but those of public employments; and for neighbors to live together free from envy or jealousy. In a word, William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions.
Some time afterwards he returned to England, to settle some affairs relating to his new dominions. King James II., who had loved his father, had the same affection for the son, and considered him rather as a great man than an obscure sectary. The king’s politics, on this occasion, agreed with his inclinations. He was desirous of pleasing the Quakers, by annulling the laws made against Nonconformists, in order to have an opportunity, by this general toleration, to introduce the Romish religion. All the sectaries in England saw the snare that was laid for them, and took care to be on their guard; they always unite when the Romish religion, their common enemy, is to be opposed. But Penn did not think himself bound, in any manner, to renounce his principles, merely to favor Protestants who hated him, in opposition to a king who loved him. He had established liberty of conscience in his American dominions, and he would not appear to intend to destroy it in Europe. He therefore adhered to James, and so strictly, that he was generally accused of being a Jesuit. However, the unfortunate King James II. was, like most princes of the Stuart family, an odd medley of grandeur and weakness; and, like them, always did too much or too little, lost his kingdom in a manner that could not be accounted for. All the English sectaries accepted from William III. and his parliament, the toleration and indulgence which they had refused when offered by King James. It was then the Quakers began to enjoy, by virtue of the laws, the several privileges they possess at this time.
Penn, having at length seen Quakerism firmly established in his native country, returned to Pennsylvania; where, at his arrival, he was received by his own people and the Americans with tears of joy, as if he had been a father, returned to his children after a long absence. The laws he had enacted had been religiously observed in his absence; a circumstance which had happened to no legislator but himself. After having resided some years in Pennsylvania, he quitted it, but with great reluctance, to return to England, there to solicit some matters in favor of the trade of Pennsylvania. But he lived not to revisit it again, being taken off by death in London, in 1718.
It was in the reign of Charles II. that they obtained the noble distinction of being exempted from giving their testimony on oath in a court of justice, and being believed on their bare affirmation. On this occasion the chancellor, who was a man of wit, spoke to them as follows: “Friends, Jupiter one day ordered that all the beasts of burden should repair to be shod. The asses represented that their laws would not allow them to submit to that operation. ‘Very well,’ said Jupiter; ‘then you shall not be shod; but the first false step you make, you may depend upon being severely drubbed.’ ”
I cannot guess what may be the fate of Quakerism in America; but I perceive it loses ground daily in England. In all countries, where the established religion is of a mild and tolerating nature, it will at length swallow up all the rest. Quakers cannot sit as representatives in parliament, nor can they enjoy any posts or office under the government, because an oath must be always taken on these occasions, and they never swear; so that they are reduced to the necessity of subsisting by traffic. Their children, when enriched by the industry of their parents, become desirous of enjoying honors, and of wearing buttons and ruffles; are ashamed of being called Quakers, and become converts to the Church of England, merely to be in the faction.
England is truly the country of sectaries—“in my Father’s house are many mansions.” An Englishman, in virtue of his liberty, goes to heaven his own way. And yet, notwithstanding that every one is permitted to serve God after his own way, the true religion of the nation, that in which a man makes his fortune, is the sect of Episcopalians, called the Church of England, or simply “the Church,” by way of eminence. No one can possess an employment, either in England or Ireland, unless he be ranked among the orthodox, or a member of the Church of England, as by law established. This reason—which carries its conviction with it—has operated so effectually on the minds of dissenters of all persuasions, that not a twentieth part of the nation is out of the pale of the established Church.
The English clergy have retained a great number of the ceremonies of the Church of Rome; and, in particular, that of receiving, with a most scrupulous exactness, their tithes. They have also the pious ambition of aiming at superiority; for where is the simple curate of a village who would not willingly be pope?
Moreover, they make a religious merit of inspiring their flock with a holy zeal against every one who dissents from their church. This zeal burned fiercely under the Tories during the four last years of Queen Anne’s reign; but happily produced no greater mischief than the breaking of the windows of some few meeting–houses; for the rage of religious parties ceased in England with the civil wars, and was under Queen Anne no more than the murmurings of a sea, whose billows still heaved, after a violent storm. When the Whigs and the Tories laid waste their native country, in the same manner as the Guelphs and Ghibellines formerly did Italy, it was absolutely necessary for both parties to call in religion to their aid. The Tories were for Episcopacy, the Whigs for abolishing it; but when these had got the upper hand, they contented themselves with only limiting its power.
When the earl of Oxford and Lord Bolingbroke used to drink healths to the Tory cause, the Church of England considered these noblemen as defenders of its holy privileges. The lower house of convocation, a kind of house of commons, composed wholly of the clergy, was in some credit at that time; at least, the members of it had the liberty of meeting to discuss ecclesiastical matters; to sentence, from time to time, to the flames, all impious books, that is, books written against themselves. The ministry, which is composed of Whigs at present, does not now so much as allow these gentlemen to assemble; so that they are at this time reduced—in the obscurity of their respective parishes—to the dull occupation of praying for the prosperity of that government, whose tranquillity they would not unwillingly disturb.
With respect to the bishops, who are twenty–six in all, they still maintain their seats in the house of lords in spite of the Whigs; because ancient custom, or, if you please, abuse, of considering them as barons, still subsists. There is a clause, however, in the oath they are obliged to take to the government, that puts these gentlemen’s Christian patience to a severe trial; namely, that they shall be of the Church of England, as by law established. There is hardly a bishop, dean, or other dignitary, but imagines himself so jure divino; and consequently it cannot but be a great mortification to them to be obliged to confess that they owe their dignities to a pitiful law made by a set of profane laymen. A learned monk (Father Courayer) wrote a book, not long ago, to prove the validity and succession of English ordinations. This book was forbidden in France; but think you the English ministry were pleased with it? No such thing. Those cursed Whigs do not care a straw whether the Episcopal succession among them has been interrupted or not; or whether Bishop Parker was consecrated in a tavern, as some pretend, or in a church, choosing rather that the bishops should derive their authority from the parliament than from the apostles. Lord B— observed that the notion of divine right would only serve to make tyrants in lawn sleeves and rochets; but that the law made citizens.
With respect to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France, and for this reason: the clergy, in general, are educated in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, at a distance from the depravity and corruption that are found in the capital. They are not called to the dignities of the Church till very late, at a time of life when men are sensible of no other passion but avarice, and their ambition wants a supply. Employments are here bestowed, both in church and army, as the rewards for long services only; and there is hardly an instance of boys being made bishops or colonels, immediately upon their leaving school. Besides, most of the clergy are married. The pedantic airs contracted at the university, and the little commerce men of this profession have with the women, commonly oblige a bishop to confine himself to his own. Clergymen sometimes take a cheerful glass at the tavern, because it is the custom so to do; and if they chance to take a cup too much, it is with great sobriety, and without giving the least scandal.
That undefinable mixed kind of mortal who is neither of the clergy nor of the laity; in a word, the thing called abbé in France, is a species utterly unknown in England. All the clergy here are very much upon the reserve, and most of them pedants. When these are told, that in France young fellows, distinguished for their dissoluteness, and raised to the prelacy by female intrigues, address the fair sex publicly in an amorous way, amuse themselves with writing tender songs, entertain their friends splendidly every night at their own houses, and after the feast is over, withdraw to invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and boldly assume the title of successors to the apostles; when the English, I say, are told these things, they bless God that they are Protestants. But these are shameless heretics, who deserve to fry in hell with all the devils, as Master Rabelais says; and, for this reason, I shall trouble myself no more about them.
The Church of England is confined wholly to England and Ireland, Presbyterianism being the established religion in Scotland. This Presbyterianism is exactly the same as Calvinism, as it was established in France, and is now professed at Geneva. As the priests of this sect receive but very inconsiderable stipends from their churches, and consequently cannot live in the same luxurious manner with bishops, they very naturally exclaim against honors to which they cannot attain. Figure to yourself the haughty Diogenes trampling under foot the pride of Plato. The Scotch Presbyterians are not very unlike that proud and beggarly reasoner. Diogenes did not treat Alexander with half the insolence with which these treated King Charles II., for when they took up arms in his cause against Cromwell, who had deceived them, they compelled that poor prince to undergo the hearing of three or four sermons every day; would not suffer him to play; reduced him to a state of penance and mortification; insomuch, that Charles very soon grew weary of these pedants, and made his escape from them with as much joy as a youth does from school.
In presence of the young, the gay, the sprightly French graduate, who bawls for a whole morning together in the divinity school, and makes one at a concert in the evening with the ladies, a Church of England clergyman is a Cato. But this Cato is a very Jemmy, when compared with a Scotch Presbyterian. The latter affects a solemn gait, a sour countenance, wears a broad–brimmed hat and a long cloak over a short coat, preaches through the nose, and calls by the name of “Whore of Babylon” all churches where the ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy a good five or six thousand a year, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and give them the titles of “my lord,” “your grace,” or “your eminence.” These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, have brought an outside of gravity and austerity in some measure into fashion. To them is owing the sanctification of Sunday in the three kingdoms. People are forbidden to work or take any recreation on that day, which is being twice as severe as the Romish Church. No operas, plays, or concerts are allowed in London on Sundays; and even cards are so expressly forbidden, that none but persons of quality, and those we call genteel, play on that day; the rest of the nation go either to church, to the tavern, or to a kept mistress’.
Though the Episcopal and Presbyterian sects are the two prevailing ones in Great Britain, yet all others are very welcome to come and settle in it, and they live very sociably together, though most of their preachers hate one another almost as cordially as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit.
Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact business together, as though they were all of the same religion, and give the name of Infidels to none but bankrupts; there the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends upon the Quaker’s word. At the breaking up of this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the synagogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that man has his son’s foreskin cut off, and causes a set of Hebrew words—to the meaning of which he himself is an utter stranger—to be mumbled over the infant; others retire to their churches, and there wait the inspiration of heaven with their hats on; and all are satisfied.
If one religion only were allowed in England, the government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats; but, as there is such a multitude, they all live happy, and in peace.
There is a little sect here, composed of clergymen, and a few of the most learned of the laity, who neither assume the name of Arians or Socinians, and yet are directly opposite in union to St. Athanasius with regard to the Trinity; not scrupling to declare frankly that the Father is greater than the Son.
Do you remember what is related of a certain orthodox bishop, who, in order to convince an emperor of the reality of consubstantiation, put his hand under the chin of the monarch’s son and gave him a tweak by the nose in presence of his most sacred majesty. The emperor was going to order his attendants to throw the bishop out of the window, when the good old man gave him this polite and convincing reason: “Since your majesty,” says he, “is angry when your son has not due respect shown him, what punishment do you think will God the Father inflict on those who refuse His Son Jesus the titles due to Him?” The persons I am speaking of declare that the holy bishop was a rash old fool; that his argument was by no means conclusive; and that his imperial majesty should have answered him in this manner: “Learn that there are two ways by which men may be wanting in the respect they owe to me; first, in not doing honor sufficient to my son; and, secondly, in paying him the same honors as you do me.”
Be this as it will, the principles of Arius began to revive, not only in England, but in Holland and Poland. The celebrated Sir Isaac Newton honored this opinion so far as to countenance it. This philosopher thought that the Unitarians argued more mathematically than we do; but the most zealous stickler for Arianism is the illustrious Dr. Clarke. This man is rigidly virtuous and of a mild disposition; is more fond of his tenets than desirous of propagating them; and so totally absorbed in problems and calculations that he is a mere reasoning machine. He wrote a book, which is very much esteemed and little understood, on the “Existence of God”; and another, more intelligible, indeed, but pretty much contemned, on the “Truth of the Christian Religion.”
He never engaged in those curious scholastic disputes which our friend calls “venerable trifles.” He only published a work containing all the testimonies of the primitive ages, for and against the Unitarians, and leaves to the reader the counting of the voices and the liberty of passing sentence. This book won the doctor a great number of partisans and lost him the archbishopric of Canterbury; for when Queen Anne was about to bestow that see on him, a reverend doctor, whose name was Gibson, for certain reasons known to himself, and which were doubtless very good ones, observed to her majesty that Dr. Clarke was undoubtedly the most learned and upright man in the kingdom, and that he wanted only one qualification to be the most deserving object of her majesty’s gracious favor. “And pray what is that, doctor?” asked the queen. “May it please your majesty, to be a Christian,” replied the humane and benevolent priest. In my opinion, Dr. Clarke was a little out in his calculation, and had better have been an orthodox primate of all England than a mere Arian curate.
You see that opinions are subject to as many revolutions as empires. Arianism, after having triumphed during three centuries, and having been buried in oblivion for twelve, rises at length out of its own ashes; but it has chosen a very improper time to make its appearance in the present age, being quite cloyed with disputes and sects. The members of this sect are as yet too few to be indulged the liberty of holding public assemblies, which, however, they will doubtless be permitted to do, in case they spread considerably; but people nowadays are so cold with respect to all things of this kind, that there is little probability of making a fortune, either in a new religion, or in one revived. Is it not whimsical enough that Luther, Calvin, and Zuinglius, whose writings nobody now reads, should have founded sects that are at present spread over a great part of Europe? That Mahomet, though so ignorant, should have given a religion to Asia and Africa? and that Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Clarke, Mr. Locke, Mr. Le Clerc, and others, the greatest philosophers, as well as the ablest writers of their ages, should scarcely have been able to raise a better flock. This it is to be born at a proper period of time. Were Cardinal de Retz to return again into the world, he would not draw ten women in Paris after him; were Oliver Cromwell, he who beheaded his sovereign and seized upon the regal dignity, to rise from the dead, he would be a wealthy city trader, and nothing more.
The discovery of America, that object of so much avarice and ambition, has likewise become the object of philosophy. A prodigious number of writers have endeavored to prove that the Americans are a colony of the ancient world. Some modest metaphysicians have alleged that the same power which made the grass to grow on the plains of America might likewise stock the country with inhabitants; but this naked and simple system has not been regarded.
When first the great Columbus gave it as his opinion that there might possibly be such a new world, it was boldly asserted that it was absolutely impossible; and Columbus was taken for a visionary. When he had actually made the discovery it was pretended that this new world was known long before.
Some have alleged that one Martin Beheim, a native of Nuremberg, set sail from the coasts of Flanders about the year 1460 to go in quest of this unknown world; and that he reached the Straits of Magellan, of which he left charts. But as Martin Beheim did not people America, and as it was absolutely necessary that one of Noah’s great–grandsons should take this trouble, they have ransacked the records of antiquity to see if they could find anything that had the least resemblance to a long voyage, and which they could apply to the discovery of this fourth part of the globe. Accordingly they have sent the ships of Solomon to Mexico, and have made them bring thence the gold of Ophir, though he was obliged to borrow it from King Hiram. They have even found America in Plato. They have given the honor of its discovery to the Carthaginians, and have quoted on this subject a book of Aristotle’s, which he never wrote.
Hornius pretends to find some analogy between the language of the Hebrews and that of the Caribbees. Father Laffiteau, the Jesuit, has not failed to improve such a curious hint. The Mexicans, in the violence of their grief, tear their garments; some Asiatics do the same; therefore they are the ancestors of the Mexicans. We may add, with as much reason, that the people of Languedoc are fond of dancing, the Hurons likewise dance on their days of rejoicing, and, therefore, the Languedocians are descended from the Hurons, or the Hurons from the Languedocians.
The authors of a terrible “Universal History” pretend that all the Americans are a colony of the Tartars. They assure us that this is the opinion most generally received among the learned; but do not inform us whether it be among the learned that think for themselves. According to them, some descendant of Noah had nothing more at heart than to go and fix his quarters in the delicious country of Kamchatka, to the north of Siberia. His children, having nothing to do, went to visit Canada, either by equipping a fleet for the purpose, or by walking on the ice by way of recreation, along some neck of land, which from that time to the present has never been again discovered. They then began to beget children in Canada, and in a very short time that beautiful country, being no longer able to maintain the prodigious number of inhabitants, they went to people Mexico, Peru, and Chili; and their great–granddaughters were brought to bed of giants near the Straits of Magellan.
As lions are to be found in some of the hotter climates of America, these authors suppose that the Christopher Columbus of Kamchatka carried over some lions to Canada for their diversion.
But the Kamchatkians were not the only people that furnished the new world with inhabitants; they were charitably assisted by the Tartars of Mantchou; by the Huns, the Chinese, and the Japanese.
The Tartars of Mantchou are incontestably the ancestors of the Peruvians; for Mangoo–Capac was the first inca of Peru. Mango resembles Manco, Manco Mancu, Mancu Mantchu, and hence, by a small addition, we have Mantchou. Nothing can be better demonstrated.
As to the Huns, they built in Hungary a town that was called Cunadi. Now, by changing cu into ca, we have Canadi, from which Canada evidently derives its name.
A plant resembling the ginseng of the Chinese grows in Canada, therefore the Chinese carried it thither, even before they were masters of that part of Chinese Tartary where their ginseng is produced; and besides, the Chinese are such great sailors that they formerly sent fleets to America without preserving the least correspondence with their colonies.
With regard to the Japanese, as they lie nearest to America, from which they are distant only about twelve hundred leagues, they must certainly have been there in former times; but they afterward neglected that voyage.
Such are the learned tracts that are boldly ushered into the world in the present age. What answer can we give to these systems, and to so many others of the like nature? None.
If it was an effect of philosophy that discovered America, it certainly is not one to be every day asking how it happened that men were found on this continent, and how they had been transported thither? If we are not surprised to find that there are flies in America, it is very stupid to express our wonder that there should be men there also.
The savage who thinks himself a production of the climate in which he lives, the same as his original and manioc root, is not more ignorant than ourselves in this point, and reasons better. In fact, as the negro of Africa has not his original from us whites, why should the red, olive, or ash–colored people of America come from our countries? And, besides, which was the primitive or mother country of all the others?
Were the flowers, fruits, trees, and animals, with which nature covers the face of the earth, planted by her at first only in one spot, in order that they might be spread over the rest of the world? Where must that spot have been which first produced all the grass, and all the oats, and dispersed them afterward through all other parts of the globe? How were the moss and the firs of Norway conveyed to the countries of the southern pole? You cannot suppose any one country which is not almost wholly destitute of some of the productions of another. We must suppose, then, that originally it had everything, and that now it has nothing. Every climate has its different productions, and the most fruitful is extremely poor in comparison with all the others put together. The great Master of Nature has peopled with variety the whole globe. The firs of Norway certainly are not the parents of the clove trees of the Molucca Islands; as little are they indebted for their origin to the firs of any other country. We may as well suppose the grass growing in Archangel to be produced by that on the banks of the Ganges. It would never come into our heads to suppose that the caterpillars and snails of one part of the world were produced in another part; why then should we be surprised that America produces some species of animals and some race of men resembling ours?
Not only America, but Africa and Asia also, produce and contain vegetables and animals resembling those in Europe; and each of those continents do likewise produce many kinds that have not the least resemblance to those of the old world.
The lands in Mexico, Peru, and Canada never bear wheat, which is a part of our food, nor grapes, which make our common drink; nor olives, which is so useful a fruit to us; nor indeed the greatest part of our other fruits. All our beasts of burden, such as horses, camels, asses, and oxen, were creatures wholly unknown in that part of the world; they had, indeed, a kind of oxen and sheep, but altogether different from ours. The sheep of Peru were larger and stronger than those of Europe, and were made use of to carry loads; their oxen were a breed somewhat between our camel and buffalo. There is a species of hogs in Mexico which have their navels at their backs, instead of their bellies, as in all other quadrupeds. There are neither dogs nor cats in this country; there are lions here, indeed, and in Peru, but very small, and almost without hair, and what is most extraordinary, the lion of these climates is a cowardly creature.
You may, if you please, reduce all mankind to one single species, because they have the same organs of life, sense, and motion; but this species is evidently divided into several others, whether we consider it in a physical or moral light.
As to the first of these, the Esquimaux, a race of people inhabiting the sixtieth degree of north latitude, are said to resemble the Laplanders in figure and stature. The neighboring people have faces covered with hair. The Iroquois, the Hurons, and all the people of that tract, as far as Florida, are olive colored, and without the least appearance of hair on any part of the body except their heads. Captain Rogers, who sailed along the coast of California, discovered a species of negroes unknown in America. On the Isthmus of Panama there is a race of people called Dariens, who greatly resemble the Albinos of Africa. They are at most four feet high; they are white, and are the only native people of all America who are of a white color; they have red eyes bordered with eyelashes in the form of a semi–circle. They never stir out of their holes but in the night time, not being able to see in daylight, and are to the rest of mankind what owls are to the feathered race. The natives of Mexico and Peru are of a copper color, those of Brazil of a deeper red, and the people of Chili are more ash colored; the size of the Patagonians, or inhabitants of the Straits of Magellan, has been greatly exaggerated; the truth seems to be that they are by far the tallest people of any in the known world.
Among all these nations, so greatly differing from us and from one another, there has never yet been found a race of men living without society, wandering as chance might direct, like the brutes, or like them coupling promiscuously, or quitting their females to go in quest of food by themselves; such a state seems incompatible with human nature, which, by the instinct of species, affects society as it does liberty. Hence we find that the shutting up of a prisoner in a prison, where he is debarred any commerce with the rest of mankind, is one of the many punishments invented by tyrants for the torture of their fellow–creatures; and is a punishment which would appear less supportable to a savage than to a civilized man.
From the Straits of Magellan to Hudson’s Bay there are a number of families gathered under one chief and living in huts which compose villages; but we have no instance in those parts of any wandering people abandoning their habitations, according to the seasons, like the Arabians, Bedouins, and Tartars. The reason seems to be that these people, not having any beasts of burden, could not so easily transport their cabins. We everywhere meet with certain fixed idioms by which the most savage nations are enabled to express the few ideas they are masters of; this is another instinct peculiar to mankind, to denote their wants by certain articulate sounds. Names must necessarily have arisen from the number of different languages, more or less copious, according to the greater or lesser degree of understanding in those who made use of them. Nay, the language of the Mexicans was more regular than that of the Iroquois, as ours is more copious and absolute than that of the Samoyeds.
Of all the people of America, only one nation had a religion, which seems, at first sight, not to be repugnant to reason; these are the Peruvians, who, like the ancient Persians and Sabeans, adored the sun as a planet that dispensed its benefits to all creation; but, excepting the large and well–peopled nations in America, all the others were plunged in a state of the most barbarous stupidity. Their religious assemblies had no mark of a regular worship, and their belief was without form. It is certain that the Brazilians, the inhabitants of the Caribbean and Molucca islands, and the people of Guiana, and the northern countries, had no clearer notion of a Supreme Being than the Kaffirs of Africa. A knowledge of this kind requires a reason that has been cultivated, which their reasons were not. Nature alone may inspire with a confused idea of something supremely powerful and terrible, the savage who sees a thunderbolt fall, or beholds a mighty river break its bounds; but this is only a faint beginning of the knowledge of God, creator of the universe; a knowledge which was absolutely wanting to all the inhabitants of the vast continent of America.
The other Americans, who had formed to themselves a religion, had made an abominable one. The Mexicans were not the only people who sacrificed human victims to a certain evil deity of their own invention. It has been said that the Peruvians were wont to disgrace their worship of the sun by similar bloody offerings. And there seems to be some kind of conformity between the ancient people of our hemisphere and the more civilized of the other, in regard to this barbarous religion.
We are assured by Herrera that the Mexicans feasted on the flesh of the human victims that they offered in sacrifice. The greater part of the first travellers and missionaries all agree that the people of the Brazils and the Caribbean Islands, as also the Iroquois and Hurons, and some other of those nations, ate the prisoners whom they took in their wars; and that they did not look upon this as a custom peculiar to themselves, but as the general practice of all nations. So many authors, both ancient and modern, have made mention of cannibals, or man–eaters, that it is difficult to deny that there are such. In 1725, I saw four savages at Fontainebleau, who had been brought from the Mississippi; among them was a woman of an ash–colored complexion, like that of her companions. I asked her, by the interpreter who was with them, whether she had at any time eaten human flesh; to which she answered, “yes,” in the same indifferent manner as if it had been a common question. This barbarity, which so much shocks our nature, is, however, far less cruel than murder; real barbarity consists in taking away the life of any one, and not in disputing the dead carcass with the crows or the worms. A people who lived altogether by hunting, as did the Brazilians and Canadians, and the inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands, might sometimes, on failure of their usual food, be driven to this shocking recourse to supply the calls of nature. Hunger and vengeance might have accustomed them to this food; and when we see in the most civilized ages the people of Paris devouring the mangled remains of Marshal d’Ancre, and those of the Hague eating the heart of the grand pensionary, De Witt, we need not wonder that a deed of horror that was only temporary with us, has become a lasting custom among savages.
The most ancient writings extant confirm to us, that men may have been driven to this excess by hunger. Moses himself threatens the Hebrews in five verses of Deuteronomy, that they should eat their own children, if they transgressed the law; and the prophet Ezekiel promises the same people, in the name of God, that if they fight valiantly against the king of Persia, the Lord will give them to eat of the flesh of the horse and of the horseman. Marco Polo, or Mark Paul, says that in his time, in one part of Tartary, the magicians or priests—which were the same—had the privilege of eating the flesh of criminals condemned to death. This strikes one with horror; but the picture of human kind will be found too frequently to produce this effect.
How has it happened that people who were always separated from each other by their countries have yet been united in this horrible custom? Can we suppose it to be not altogether repugnant to human nature? It is certain that this practice is very rare; but it is as certain that it does really exist.
There is another vice altogether different from this, and seemingly more contrary to the end of nature, in which, nevertheless, the Greeks prided themselves, which the Romans allowed, and which has continued to prevail among the most civilized nations, and is much more common in the warm and temperate climates of Europe and of Asia, than in the frozen regions of the North. There have been instances in America of the same effect of the caprices of human nature. The natives of Brazil practised this unnatural custom in common; it was unknown to the Canadians. But how happens it that a passion which overturns all the laws of propagation of the human species, should, in both parts of the world, have taken possession of the very organs of propagation themselves?
Another observation, no less important, is that the central parts of Africa have been found to be tolerably well peopled, and the two extremities towards the poles very thinly inhabited; in general, the new world does not appear to contain the number of people it should do. There must certainly be some natural causes for this.
In the first place, then, the cold is as excessive and piercing in America, in the same degree of latitude as Paris and Vienna, as in our continent at the polar circle.
In the second place, the rivers in America are for the most part ten times as large as ours, and as these frequently overflow, they must have occasioned a great dearth, and in consequence, mortality in those immense tracts. The mountains, by being much higher, are not so habitable as ours. The violent and lasting poisons with which the whole soil of America is covered, renders the slightest wound of an arrow dipped in their juice instantaneously mortal. And, lastly, the stupidity of the human species in a part of this hemisphere may have greatly contributed to depopulate the country. It is a general remark that the human understanding is not nearly so perfect in the New as in the Old World. Man is a very feeble animal, and, when in a state of infancy, very liable to perish for want of due care; and it cannot be supposed that when the inhabitants on the banks of the Rhone, the Elbe, and the Vistula were wont to plunge their new–born infants into those rivers, that the German and Sarmatian mothers reared as many children as they do now; especially when those countries were covered with vast woods, which made the climate more inclement and unwholesome than it has been of late times. Numberless colonies of Americans were in want of proper food. They could not furnish their infants with good milk; nor could they provide for them afterwards, either wholesome food, or a sufficiency of it. We find several of the carnivorous kind of animals greatly reduced in number, for want of subsistence; and it is a matter of surprise that we meet with more men in America than monkeys.
It is said that, as a Spanish captain was marching through the lands of a cacique, the latter presented him with a number of slaves and some game, saying: “If thou art a god, there are men, eat them; if thou art a mortal, here is the flesh of animals, which these slaves will dress for thee.”
The first of the Incas, or emperors of Peru, who conquered that country and gave the inhabitants laws, passed for a son of the sun. Thus we find the most civilized nations, both of the Old and New World, resembled one another in the custom of deifying great and extraordinary men, whether conquerors or legislators.
Garcilaso de la Vega, a descendant from the Incas, who was brought to Madrid, wrote the history of those kings, in 1608. He was then far advanced in years; and his father might easily have been a witness to the revolution which happened in that country in 1530. He could not, indeed, know with any certainty the minuter parts of the history of his ancestors. The people of America were strangers to the art of writing, resembling in this respect the ancient Tartar nations, the inhabitants of the southern parts of Africa, our ancestors, the Celts, and most of the people of the North; none of all these nations had anything that could supply the place of history. The Peruvians transmitted their principal events to posterity by means of knots tied on cords; but we find that in general fundamental laws, the most essential points of religion, and heroic exploits, are transmitted with tolerable fidelity from person to person by word of mouth, in which manner Garcilasso might have acquired his knowledge of some capital events, and in such only, he is worthy of our credit. He says that throughout all the Peruvian Empire they worshipped the sun; a worship which appeared more reasonable than any other, in a country that did not enjoy the light of revelation. Pliny admitted no other god, even in the most enlightened ages of Rome. Plato, who was still more enlightened than he, called the sun the son of God, the splendor of the Father; and we find this planet adored many ages before by the Magi, and the ancient Egyptians; the same appearance of truth and the same error prevailed equally in both hemispheres.
The Peruvians had obelisks and regular gnomonic instruments, to show the points of the equinoxes and solstices. Their year consisted of three hundred and sixty–five days; perhaps the science of ancient Egypt did not extend further. They raised prodigies in architecture, and cut statues with surprising art. In a word, they were the best polished, and the most industrious people of any in the New World.
The Inca Huascar, father of Atahualpa, the last of the Incas, in whose reign this vast empire was destroyed, had greatly augmented and embellished it.
In the pacific and religious ceremonies instituted to the honor of the sun, they formed certain dances; nothing is more natural; it was one of the ancient customs in our part of the world. Huascar, in order to render these dances more grave and solemn, made the performers carry a chain of gold, seven hundred of our geometrical paces in length, and as thick as a man’s wrist; each dancer took hold of a link. Hence we may conclude that gold must have been more plentiful in Peru than copper is with us.
Here let us observe, that if the Mexicans are chargeable with having sometimes sacrificed their conquered enemies to the god of war, the Peruvians were never known to offer such sacrifices to the sun, whom they looked on as a good and benignant deity. And indeed the Peruvian nation itself was perhaps the most gentle in its manners of any in the whole world.
The Mariana Islands, lying near the line, demand our particular attention. The inhabitants of those islands know not what fire is, and indeed that element would be altogether useless to them, as they live wholly upon fruits, which their land produces in great abundance; especially cocoa, sago, which is much superior to rice, and a kind of paste or dough, that has the taste of the best bread, and is formed in a pod or shell on the top of a large tree. It is said that these people commonly live to the age of a hundred and twenty; the same has been said of the natives of Brazil. When they were first discovered, they were neither wild nor cruel; nor did they want for any of the conveniences which were necessary for their subsistence. Their houses were built of the planks of cocoa trees, formed for the purpose, with great industry, and were neat and regular. Their gardens were laid out with great art; and they were, perhaps, the most happy, and the least wretched of any people whatever. Nevertheless, the Portuguese called their country “the Island of Thieves”—Islas de los Ladrones—because those people, not being perfectly versed in the meum et tuum, happened to eat some of their ship provisions. There was no more religion among them than among the Hottentots or many other of the African and American nations. But beyond these islands, towards the Moluccas, there are other nations where the Mahometan religion was introduced in the time of the caliphs. The Mahometans had sailed thither through the Indian Ocean, and the Christians came through the South Sea. Had the Arabians known the use of the compass, they were the only people to have discovered America, as lying in the very track; but their navigation never extended farther than the Isle of Mindanao, to the west of the Manillas. This vast cluster of islands was inhabited by different species of men, some white, some black, some olive, and some red, or copper–colored. Nature has been always found to vary more in hot climates than in those to the northward.
At the time that the Spaniards invaded the richest part of the New World, the Portuguese, glutted with the treasures of the new, neglected the Brazils, which they had discovered in the year 1500, without looking after them.
The Portuguese admiral, Cabral, after having passed the Cape Verde Islands, on his way to the coast of Malabar, through the southern sea of Africa, steered so far to the westward, that he fell in with the land of Brazil, which is that part of the continent of America, which lies nearest to Africa; there being but thirty degrees of longitude between this coast and Mount Atlas; it consequently was the first discovered. The country was found to be extremely fertile, and blooming with a continual Spring. The natives were stout, well–made, robust, and vigorous: their complexion was of a reddish cast; they went quite naked, excepting only a large belt round their middles, which served them as a kind of pouch.
They lived by hunting; and as they were not always assured of a certain subsistence, were consequently wild and fierce, making war on one another, with their arrows and clubs, for the spoils of the chase, in the same manner as the civilized barbarians of the old continent did, for the possession of a few villages. Anger and resentment for injuries actual or supposed frequently armed them against one another, as we read of the ancient Greeks and people of Asia. They did not sacrifice human victims, for they had no religious worship among them, and consequently could have no sacrifices to make, as the Mexicans had; but they feasted on the persons they took in battle; and Americus Vespucius relates, in one of his letters, that these people were struck with astonishment to hear that the Europeans did not eat their prisoners.
As to laws, the Brazilians had none, but such as were made on instant need, by the people assembled together. They were governed wholly by instinct. By this instinct they went to the chase when pressed by hunger, took to themselves wives, when necessity required, and satisfied the calls of a momentary passion indiscriminately.
These people are alone a convincing proof that America was never known to the Old World, or certainly some kind of religion would have found its way among them, from the continent of Africa, to which they are so near; and there must have remained some small traces of this religion, whatever it had been: whereas there is none to be found. They had indeed certain jugglers among them, who went about with their heads adorned with feathers, stirred the people up to battle, pointed out to them the new moon, and pretended to cure them of their maladies with certain herbs; but no one ever heard of either priests, altars, or any kind of religious worship among them.
The people of Mexico and Peru, who were more civilized, had a regular worship. Religion with them was the support of the state, because it was entirely subject to, and dependent on, the sovereign; but there could be no state or government among savages, who had neither wants nor a police.
The Portuguese government suffered the colonies which their merchants had sent to the Brazils to languish nearly fifty years unsupported, and almost unnoticed. At length, in 1559, it made some solid regulations relating thereto, and the kings of Portugal received tribute from both worlds at the same time. When Philip II., king of Spain, conquered Portugal, in 1581, he found a considerable increase of wealth in the Brazils. The Dutch afterwards took them almost entirely from the Spaniards from 1625 till 1630.
The negro race is a species of men as different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of greyhounds. The mucous membrane, or network, which nature has spread between the muscles and the skin, is white in us and black or copper–colored in them. The famous Ruisch was the first in our time, who, in dissecting a negro at Amsterdam, was so happily skilful as to raise the whole of this mucoreticular membrane. Czar Peter purchased it of him; but Ruisch kept a small piece for himself, which I have seen, and it is like a piece of black gauze. If a negro by accident burns himself so that his membrane is hurt, his skin turns brown in the place, otherwise it comes black again as before. Their eyes are not formed like ours. The black wool on their heads and other parts has no resemblance to our hair; and it may be said that if their understanding is not of a different nature from ours, it is at least greatly inferior. They are not capable of any great application or association of ideas, and seem formed neither for the advantages nor abuses of our philosophy. They are a race peculiar to that part of Africa, the same as elephants and monkeys. The negroes of the empire of Morocco are a warlike, hardy, and cruel people, and often superior in the field to the sunburned, tawny troops, whom they call white. They think themselves born in Guinea, to be sold to the whites and to serve them.
There are several kinds of negroes. Those of Guinea, Ethiopia, Madagascar and the Indies are all different. The blacks of Guinea and Congo have wool; the others long, shaggy hair. The petty nations of blacks, who have but little commerce with other nations, are strangers to all kind of religious worship. The first degree of stupidity is to think only of the present and of bodily wants. This was the state of several nations, and especially those which inhabited islands. The second degree is to foresee by halves, without being able to form any fixed society; to behold the stars with wonder and amazement; to celebrate certain feasts, to make a general rejoicing on the return of certain seasons, or the appearance of a particular star, without going further or having any distinct positive idea. In this middle state between imbecility and infant reason, many nations have continued for several ages.
Spain drew immense treasures from Mexico and Peru—which, however, have not greatly enriched them in the end—at a time when other nations had not a single colony in the other parts of America that was of any advantage to them; this naturally excited their jealousy and determined them to follow the example of the Spaniards.
Admiral Coligny, who had great ideas in everything, formed a scheme in the year 1557, during the reign of Henry II., to establish a colony of French of his own sect in the Brazils. The chevalier de Villegagnon, at that time a Calvinist, was sent thither. Calvin himself embarked in the undertaking. The Genoese were not at that time such good traders as at present, and Calvin sent over a greater number of preachers than laborers. The former wanting to have the upper hand, there ensued a violent quarrel between the commandant and them, which terminated in a sedition. The colony, thus divided, was attacked and ruined by the Portuguese. Villegagnon renounced Calvin and his ministers as a set of religious incendiaries; they stigmatized him for an atheist, and France lost the Brazils.
It was said that the family of the Incas had taken refuge in that extensive country, whose frontiers join to those of Peru; that the greater part of the inhabitants of that country had fled thither from the avarice and cruelty of the European Christians, who occupied the central part, and had settled near a certain lake named Perima, the sand of which was gold; and that they had there built a city, the houses of which were all tiled with that precious metal. The Spaniards were for a long time employed in searching after this city, which they called Eldorado, or the Golden City.
This name roused the attention of all the powers of Europe. In 1596 Queen Elizabeth sent out a fleet, under the command of the ingenious and unfortunate Sir Walter Raleigh, to dispute these glorious spoils with the Spaniards. Raleigh actually discovered a country inhabited by a people of a red complexion; and he pretends, in his writings, to have met with a nation whose shoulders were as high as their heads. He had no doubt that the country furnished mines; and he brought back to England with him a hundred large plates of solid gold and several pieces of the wrought metal; but, after all, there was no Dorado nor Lake Perima to be found. The French, after several fruitless attempts, made a settlement in 1664, on the island of Cayenne, a point of that extensive coast not more than fifteen leagues in circumference, and to which they gave the name of Equinoctial France, though the whole colony did not consist of above one hundred and fifty houses, partly wood and partly earth: and the island of Cayenne was never worth anything to France, till the time of Louis XIV., who was the first of the French kings that truly encouraged maritime commerce. This island was taken from the French by the Dutch in the war of 1672. But a fleet, sent over by Louis XIV., took it again. Its present produce is a little indigo, and some very bad coffee. Guiana was reputed the finest country in all America, and where the French might have made settlements with the greatest ease; and this was the very country the most neglected by them.
They had heard of Florida, a country lying between the old and new world, part of which the Spaniards were already in possession of; and it was they who first gave the name of Florida to this part of the continent of North America. But, as the captain of a French cruiser pretended to have landed here nearly about the same time as the Spaniards, the right to it was to be disputed; for, by our law of nations, or rather of robbers, the lands of the Americans should be the property not only of the first invaders, but also of any one who pretended to have first discovered them.
Admiral Coligny, in the reign of Charles IX., and about 1564, had sent thither a colony of Huguenots, being desirous of establishing his religion in America, as well as the Spaniards had established theirs. The Spaniards destroyed this country, and hanged up all the French they found in the place on the trees, with a label to each, saying that they had been hanged not as Frenchmen, but as heretics.
Some time afterwards, one Chevalier de Gourgues, a Gascon, having put himself at the head of a number of pirates to endeavor to recover Florida, made himself master of a small Spanish fort, and, in his turn, hanged up all the prisoners, taking care to affix a card to each, signifying that they had been hanged not as Spaniards, but as robbers and infidels. And now the unhappy natives of America began to see their European despoilers avenge their cause, by mutually destroying each other: a consolation which they had frequently enjoyed.
After having hanged the Spaniards, in order to protect themselves from the same treatment, the French were obliged to evacuate Florida, and made a formal renunciation of their pretended right to that country; which was, in many respects, preferable even to Guiana. But the bloody disputes concerning religion, which at that time spread destruction through all the kingdom of France, left the people no leisure to go and butcher and convert these savages, or contest the possession of this fine country with the Spaniards.
The English had for some time been in possession of the best lands, and the most advantageous in point of situation, that could be wished for in North America, on the other side of Florida, when a few merchants of Normandy, on the simple prospect of establishing a small trade for skins and furs, established a colony in Canada, a country covered with ice or snow during eight months of the year, and inhabited only by savages, bears, and beavers. This country, which was discovered some time before 1535, had been afterward abandoned; but at length, after several attempts badly supported by the government for want of a sufficient naval force, a small company of merchants of Dieppe and St. Malo founded Quebec, in 1608; that is to say, they built a few huts there, which did not take the form of a town till the reign of Louis XIV.
This settlement and that of Louisburg, as well as all the rest in New France, have been always very poor, while there are no less than fifteen thousand coaches driving through the streets of the city of Mexico, and still more in that of Lima. Nevertheless, the poverty of these countries has not exempted them from being the theatre of continual wars, either with the natives or the English, who, though already possessed of far the best territories, were still anxious to divest the French of those which belonged to them, in order to make themselves sole masters of the trade of this wintry region of the world.
The natives of Canada are not the same as those of Mexico, Peru, or the Brazils. They resemble them in the want of hair, of which they have none except on their eyebrows and head; but they differ from them in their color, which approaches nearer to ours; and still more in their disposition, which is very fierce and brave. They were always entire strangers to monarchical government, the republican spirit having always prevailed among the northern nations, both of the old and new world. The inhabitants of North America, of the Appalachian mountains, and of Davis’s Straits, are all peasants and hunters, living together in little towns or villages, which is an institution natural to the human species. We very seldom give them the name of Indians, having erroneously appropriated that name to the people of Mexico, Peru, and the Brazils; which country has been called the Indies, only because as much treasure comes from there as from the real Indies; but content ourselves with calling them North American savages, though they are less so in some respects than the country people on some of our European seacoasts, who have so long assumed the barbarous right of plundering all vessels that are wrecked on their shores, and murdering the poor unhappy sailors. War, the crime and scourge of all times and all countries, was not with them as it is with us, a mere motive of interest; it was in general the result of vengeance meditated for injuries received, as it was also with the Brazilians and all other savage nations.
The most horrible thing belonging to the Canadians was their custom of putting their captives to death by the most cruel torments, and afterwards eating them. This barbarous practice they learned from the people of Brazil, though fifty degrees from each other. Both nations feasted on the flesh of their enemies, as on the produce of the chase. This is a custom that has not always prevailed; but it has been common to more than one nation, as we have shown in the foregoing pages.
In the frozen and barren climes of Canada men were frequently cannibals; but they were not so in Acadia, which is a better country, and produces greater plenty of foods: nor in the rest of the continent, excepting only some parts of the Brazils and on the Caribbean islands.
The infant colony of Canada was formed by a few Jesuits and Huguenots, who had met together there by a strange fatality: they afterwards entered into an alliance with the Hurons, who were at war with the Iroquois. These latter did great damage to the colony, and took several Jesuits prisoners; and, as it is said, ate them. The settlement at Quebec suffered considerably from the English, who attacked it almost as soon as it was built and fortified. They afterwards made themselves masters of all Acadia, which indeed was doing little more than destroying a few fishermen’s huts.
The French then had no foreign settlement at that time, either in Asia or America.
The company of merchants who had ruined themselves by these projects, hoping to repair their losses, applied to Cardinal Richelieu to be included in the treaty made with the English at St. Germain. The latter consented to restore the little they had taken, and of which they made small account; and this little became New France. This settlement continued a long time in a deplorable condition, save only that the codfishery brought in some little profits which served to support the company. But as soon as the English were apprised of these small profits, they seized Acadia again.
They restored it by the Treaty of Breda. After that they took it five several times, and at length made it their property by the Treaty of Utrecht; a treaty which, though regarded as a happy event at the time it was made, has since proved most fatal to the peace of Europe: for we shall see that the ministers who drew it up, not having properly determined the limits of Acadia, which the English have endeavored to enlarge, and the French to confine; this corner of the world has proved the subject of a furious war, which broke out between the rival nations in 1755, and drew along with it the war in Germany, with which it had no kind of connection. But so complicated are the political interests of the present times, that a shot fired in America shall be the signal for setting all Europe together by the ears.
The French, in 1713, remained in possession of the little island of Cape Breton, on which is Louisburg; the river St. Lawrence, Quebec, and Canada—possessions which were rather useful, by being a nursery for seamen, than profitable in any other respects. Quebec contained about seven thousand inhabitants; but the war carried on by the government to preserve this country cost more than the country itself will ever be worth, and yet it appeared absolutely necessary.
New France is an immense tract of country, which joins on one side to Canada, and on the other to New Mexico; and whose limits toward the northeast are not known. This country is called the Mississippi, from a river of that name, which falls into the gulf of Mexico; and Louisiana, from the name of Louis XIV.
This tract of land lay convenient for the Spaniards; but having already too large an extent of dominion in America, they neglected the possession of it; and the more so, as it produced no gold. Some French belonging to Canada undertook to travel into this country, partly by land, and partly by sailing along the Illinois river; in which trial they underwent the most shocking hardships and fatigues. It was as if you were to go to Egypt around the Cape of Good Hope, instead of taking the route of Damietta. This extensive part of New France, till 1708, was peopled only by about a dozen families, who led a wandering life, in the midst of deserts and woods.
Louis XIV., who at that time was ready to sink under his misfortunes, and saw Old France on the point of falling to ruin, could not think of the New. The state was exhausted of men and money; and here it may not be improper to observe, that, during these times of public calamity, two men acquired fortunes of nearly forty millions each; one by a great private trade he carried on in the East Indies, while that company which had been established by Colbert was entirely ruined; and the other, by lending money to an unsuccessful, necessitous, and ignorant ministry. This great merchant, whose name was Crozat, was rich and venturous enough to risk a part of his fortune to purchase a grant of Louisiana from the king, on condition that every ship that he or his partners should send thither should carry over six young persons of each sex, in order to people the country, where trade and population were equally at a stand.
After the death of Louis XIV., Law, a Scotchman, a very extraordinary person, many of whose schemes had proved useless, and others hurtful to the nation, made the government and the people believe that Louisiana produced as much gold as Peru, and that it would soon be able to supply as great a quantity of silk as China. This was the first epoch of Law’s famous scheme, called the “Mississippi Scheme.” Several colonies were sent to that country, and a plan was drawn of a magnificent and regular city, to be built there, by the name of New Orleans. The settlers almost all perished from want; and the city was confined to a few paltry houses. Perhaps one day, when France shall have a million or two of inhabitants more than she may know what to do with, it may be of some advantage to her to people Louisiana.
The most important possessions that the French have acquired at different times, are, one–half of the island of San Domingo, the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and some of the Lesser Antilles; which is not the two–hundredth part of what the Spaniards have got by their conquests; but these have, however, turned out to great advantage.
San Domingo is that very island Hispaniola—by the natives called Haiti—which was discovered by Columbus, and depopulated by the Spaniards; the French have not been able to find on that part of the island which they inhabit, the gold and silver formerly found there; this may happen either from metals requiring a long succession of ages to be formed, or, what seems more probable, that there is only a certain quantity contained in the bowels of the earth, and that a mine, when once exhausted, is never recruited; and indeed, when we consider that gold and silver are not mixed metals, it is difficult to say how they can be reproduced. There are still mines of these metals in that part of the country which is under the dominion of the Spaniards; but as the expense exceeds the profits, they have left off working them.
It was to the desperate boldness of a new people, formed by hazard out of English, Bretons, and Normans, that the French are indebted for sharing any part of this island with the Spaniards. These people, who were called buccaneers, or freebooters, had nearly the same origin and association as the ancient Romans; but their courage was more impetuous and terrible. Figure to yourself a company of tigers endowed with some portion of human reason, and you will then have a true idea of these buccaneers. Their history is as follows:
It happened, about 1625, that some adventurers from France and England landed at the same time on one of the Caribbeean islands, called St. Christopher by the Spaniards, who always gave the name of some saint to every place they invaded, and butchered the natives in the name of that saint. These newcomers found themselves obliged, notwithstanding the natural antipathy of the two nations, to unite against the Spaniards, who, being masters of all the neighboring islands, as well as of the continent, soon came upon them with a force greatly superior to theirs. The French chief made his escape, and returned to France. The English commander capitulated. The most resolute of both French and English got over to the island of San Domingo by the help of some barks, and fixed their residence in an inaccessible part of that island, surrounded by rocks. There they built some small canoes resembling those of the American Indians, and made themselves masters of the island of Tortuga; whither several Normans went over to join them, as they did in the twelfth century, to make the conquest of Apulia, and that of England in the tenth. These people met with all the vicissitudes of good and bad fortune that must naturally attend a set of lawless adventurers, assembled together from Normandy and England, on the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1655, Cromwell fitted out a fleet which took the Island of Jamaica from the Spaniards. This expedition would not have succeeded but for the assistance of these buccaneers. They cruised upon all nations indiscriminately, and being more taken up with the search after plunder than the care of defending themselves, they suffered the Spaniards to make themselves masters of the Island of Tortuga during one of their cruises. However, they soon recovered it again; and the French ministry were obliged to appoint the person whom they chose governor of the island. They infested all the Gulf of Mexico, and had lurking–places in several of the little islands thereabouts. They assumed the name of “Brothers of the coast.” Stowed in a heap in a pitiful canoe, that a single shot from a great gun, or the least gale of wind would have blown to atoms, they boldly boarded Spanish ships of the largest burden, and frequently made them their own. They knew no other law but that of equally distributing the share of the spoils; no other religion but that of nature; and even from that, they frequently deviated in an abominable manner.
They had it not in their power to steal wives for themselves, as history tells us the companions of Romulus did; but they procured a hundred young women from France: this number, however, was far from being sufficient to keep up a society, which was so numerous. Two buccaneers therefore cast dice for one woman; he that won married her; and the loser had no right to lie with her, unless the other was absent, or employed elsewhere.
These people seemed formed rather to destroy than to found a state. They performed unheard–of exploits, and were guilty of incredible cruelties. One man—named l’Olonois, from the island of Olonne, his birthplace—ventured into the port of Havana with a single canoe, and cut out an armed frigate. Upon examining one of the prisoners on board, the man confessed that this frigate was fitted out purposely to sail in search of him, and, if possible, to take and hang him; adding further, that he himself was to have been his executioner. On hearing this, l’Olonois, without further delay, ordered the fellow to be hanged up, cut off the heads of all the other prisoners with his own hand and drank their blood.
This l’Olonois, and one of his companions named le Basque, marched at the head of five hundred buccaneers, as far as Venezuela, in the bay of Honduras, where they destroyed two towns with fire and sword, and returned loaded with booty. This success enabled them to equip the vessels which had been taken by their canoes, with cannon and all other necessaries, so that they suddenly beheld themselves a maritime power, and on the point of being great conquerors.
Morgan, a native of England, who has left a famous name behind him, put himself at the head of a thousand buccaneers, partly of his own nation, and partly Normans, Bretons, and natives of Saintonge, and Basque, with whom he undertook to get possession of Porto Bello, the magazine of the riches of Spain, a city of great strength, and defended by a number of cannon, and a considerable garrison. Morgan arrived before it without any artillery, scaled the walls of the citadel in spite of the enemy’s fire, and, notwithstanding the most obstinate resistance, made himself master of it. By this successful temerity, he obliged the city to purchase its ransom of him for a million of piastres. Some time afterward, he had the boldness to land on the Isthmus of Panama, in the midst of the Spanish troops; forced his way to the ancient city of Panama, carried off all the treasures lodged there, burned the city to the ground, and returned to Jamaica victorious and enriched. This man, who was only the son of a poor peasant in England, might have erected a kingdom to himself in America; but after all his exploits, he ended his days in prison in London.
The French buccaneers, whose place of retreat was sometimes among the rocks of San Domingo, and at others in the island of Tortuga, fitted out six armed boats, and with about twelve hundred men, attacked Vera Cruz, an undertaking as great as if twelve hundred men from Biscay should come and lay siege to Bordeaux with ten boats. However, they took the place by storm, and brought away five millions in species, and about fifteen hundred slaves. At length, made bold by a multitude of successes of this kind, they determined, French and English, to enter the South Sea, and make themselves masters of Peru. No Frenchman had at that time ever seen the South Sea, and there was no way to get to it but by crossing the mountains of the Isthmus of Panama, or by sailing all along the coast of South America, and passing the Straits of Magellan, to which they were strangers. However, they divided themselves into two parties, and set out at the same time in the two different routes.
Those who crossed the isthmus plundered and destroyed all that came in their way, and at length arrived on the borders of the South Sea, made themselves masters of some barks they found in the harbors, and awaited the arrival of their companions, who were to pass the Straits of Magellan. These latter, who were almost all French, after having undergone adventures as romantic as their enterprise, were not able to get to Peru through the straits, being blown back by tempests, which drove them upon the coast of Africa, where they landed, and plundered all the inhabitants along shore.
In the meantime, those who had made the South Sea across the isthmus, having only open boats to sail in, were pursued by the Spanish flotilla from Peru. How were they to escape? One of their companions, who commanded a kind of canoe with about fifty men aboard, made the best of his way into the Vermillion Sea, and got on shore in California, where he remained four years; he afterward returned through the South Sea; in his passage he took a ship with five hundred thousand piastres on board, passed the Straits of Magellan, and arrived safe at Jamaica with his booty.
The others returned to the isthmus loaded with gold and precious stones. The Spanish troops assembled on all sides, and pursued them. This obliged them to cross the isthmus in its widest part, and to march round about for the space of three hundred leagues; whereas there are not over eighty in a right line, from the place where they were, to that whither they were going. In their journey they were frequently stopped by cataracts, which they were obliged to descend in machines made like a tub. They had to struggle with hunger and thirst, the elements, and their enemies the Spaniards. At length, however, they arrived at the North Sea, with what part of their treasure they had been able to save. Their number was, by this time, decreased to five hundred. The retreat of the ten thousand Greeks will be always more famous in history, but certainly is not to be compared with this.
If these adventurers could have been all united under one chief, they might have formed a formidable state in America; but their enterprises were chiefly confined to doing the Spaniards almost as much hurt as the Spaniards had formerly done to the American natives. Part of them returned to their own countries, to enjoy their riches in peace; others died of the excesses resulting from those riches; and a great many were soon reduced to their original indigence. The governments of France and England ceased to countenance or protect them, when they had no longer any occasion for their assistance; and at present nothing remains of these heroic robbers, but the remembrance of their valor and cruelty.
It is to them that France is indebted for one–half of the island of San Domingo; and it was by their arms that she was maintained in possession of it during the time of their cruises.
In 1757 they reckoned thirty thousand persons in that part of San Domingo belonging to the French, besides one hundred thousand slaves, blacks and mulattoes, who worked in the several plantations of sugar, cocoa, and indigo; and who sacrificed their lives and healths to please those newly–acquired wants and appetites, which were unknown to our forefathers. We send for these negroes to the coast of Guinea, and to the Gold and Ivory coasts. I do not know what the present price may be; but about thirty years ago a good negro could be bought for fifty livres, which is about five times less than what we pay for a fat ox. We tell them with one breath that they are men like us, and that they are redeemed by the blood of a God, who was crucified for them; and the next we set them to work like beasts of burden, and feed them worse. If they attempt to make their escape, we cut off one of their legs, and after having supplied its place with a wooden one, we make them turn a sugar–mill by hand; and yet shall we pretend, after all this, to talk of the law of nations?
The little islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe yield the same commodities as San Domingo. These islands, and the events that have happened in them, are mere points in the history of the universe; but, after all, these countries, though hardly perceptible in a map of the world, produced in France an annual circulation of nearly sixty millions in merchandise. This trade does not enrich a country; far from it, for it is the cause of many shipwrecks, and the loss of a number of lives. Therefore it certainly cannot be looked on as a real good; but as mankind have made new wants for themselves, it prevents the kingdom from purchasing at a dear rate from foreigners, a superfluity that has, by this means, become a necessity.
The English, who, being islanders, are necessarily more practised in sea affairs than the French, have acquired more advantageous settlements in North America than the latter. They are in possession of about six hundred leagues of coast from Carolina to Hudson’s Bay, by which they have long but vainly endeavored to find a passage into the South Seas, and so to Japan. The English settlements in America were not nearly so valuable as those of the Spaniards; the former having produced, at least hitherto, neither gold, silver, indigo, cochineal, precious stones, nor woods for dyeing; and yet they have proved very advantageous to the possessors. The English territories begin about ten degrees from our tropic, in a most delightful country called Carolina. Here the French have never been able to effect any settlement; and the English did not take possession of it till they had secured the coast to the northward.
You have seen the Spaniards and Portuguese masters of almost all the New World, from the Straits of Magellan to Florida: next to Florida is Carolina, to which the English have of late years added another part to the southward, called Georgia, from the name of their king, George I. They have been in possession of Carolina ever since 1664. That which bestows the greatest lustre on this province is its having received its laws from the admirable Locke: a perfect liberty of conscience, and a universal toleration in point of religion, form the basis of these laws. Here the Episcopals live in brotherly union with the Puritans; they even permit the Catholics, their natural enemies, to exercise their religion undisturbed, as also the Indians, who are called idolaters; but the laws require that there shall be seven heads of families to establish any particular sect or religion within that government. Locke wisely considered that seven families, with their slaves, might amount to about six hundred souls, and that it would be an act of injustice to deprive such a number of persons from serving God in their own way; and that under such a restraint they might be tempted to quit the colony.
Marriages in one–half of this country are performed only in the presence of a magistrate; but those who have an inclination to add the benediction of the priest to this civil contract, may have that satisfaction.
These laws were received with admiration, after the torrents of blood that had been shed throughout all Europe, by the spirit of enthusiasm and persecution. But they were laws that would never have entered into the imagination of either the Greeks or Romans, as they could never have conceived that there would be a time in which men would force one another to embrace a particular faith, sword in hand. By this humane code it is ordered, that the negroes shall be treated with the same humanity as domestic servants. In the year 1657, there were in the province of Carolina forty thousand blacks, and twenty thousand whites.
Beyond Carolina is Virginia, a colony so named in honor of the virgin queen Elizabeth, and first peopled by the famous Raleigh, who afterward met with so cruel a return for all his public–spirited labor, from James I. It cost immense pains to settle this colony; for the savage natives, who were a more warlike people than the Mexicans, and who saw themselves as unjustly attacked, almost totally destroyed it at its first establishment.
It has been said, that since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which impolitic step added thousands of subjects to both worlds, at the expense of France, the number of inhabitants in Virginia have amounted to one hundred and forty thousand, without reckoning the negroes. In this province and in Maryland they apply themselves chiefly to the culture of tobacco, which forms an immense branch of trade, and is another of our new artificial wants, which did not crop up till lately, and which has now grown powerful by example; as you may perceive, when I tell you that it was looked on as the greatest impoliteness at the court of Louis XIV., for any one to thrust this dirty, stimulating dust up his nose. The first tobacco farm in France, which did not bring in to the proprietors above three hundred thousand livres a year, at present is worth sixteen millions. The French lay out very nearly four millions a year in this weed, with the English colonies, when they themselves might plant it in Louisiana: and here I cannot forbear remarking that France and England at present consume, in commodities unknown to their forefathers, more than the whole revenues of both crowns were formerly worth.
To the northward of Virginia is the province of Maryland, containing forty thousand white people and about sixty thousand blacks. Beyond this lies Pennsylvania, a country differing from all the rest of the world by the singular manners of its inhabitants. This country received its name and laws, in 1680, from one William Penn, the head of a new sect, which have very improperly been called Quakers. This was not an usurped power, as were most of those invasions which we have seen both in the old and new world. Penn purchased these lands of the real natives, and became a lawful proprietor in the most rigid sense of the word. The Christian doctrine, which he carried along with him there, differs as much from that acknowledged in every other part of Europe, as his colony does from every other colony. He and his companions professed the same simplicity and equality which prevailed among the primitive disciples of Christ. They knew no other religious tenet but those which proceeded extempore from the lips, and which were all confined to the love of God and their fellow–creatures. They did not admit baptism, because Christ baptized no one. They had no priest, because Christ Himself was the only teacher and pastor of His first disciples. Here I perform only the duty of a faithful historian, and shall further add, that if Penn and his followers erred in their theology—that inexhaustible source of misfortunes and disputes—they at least excelled all other people in the strictness of their morals. Though situated in the midst of twelve small nations, whom we term savages, they have never had the least dispute with any of them; on the contrary, these have always looked on them in the light of fathers and arbitrators. Penn and his primitive followers, who are called Quakers, but to whom we ought to give no other title than that of “the upright,” made it a maxim never to go to war with any one, nor to law with each other. They had no judges among them, but only arbitrators, who settled all differences in law in an amicable manner, and without expense. They had no physicians, for they were a sober people, and consequently did not stand in need of them.
The province of Pennsylvania was for a long time without soldiers, till the government of late years, while at war with France, sent some regiments over from England for the defence of this country. Take away the name of Quakers, and that barbarous and disagreeable habit of throwing their bodies into a variety of ridiculous convulsions in their religious assemblies, and it must be confessed that there is not a more venerable society of men in the world. Their colony is as flourishing as their manners are pure. Philadelphia, or the City of the Brethren, which is their capital, is one of the most beautiful cities in the universe; and in 1740 contained eighty thousand souls. But the inhabitants are not all Quakers, half of them consisting of Germans, Swedes, and other nations, which altogether form seventeen different religions; and yet the Quakers, who have the chief government, treat them all as brethren.
Beyond this singular spot of the globe, where affrighted peace has sheltered herself, when chased from every other part, we come to New England, whose capital is Boston, the richest city on all that coast.
This city was at first peopled and governed by Puritans, who had fled from the persecution raised against them in England by the famous Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, whose head afterward paid for his persecutions, and whose fate was a prelude to that of his weak and unfortunate master, Charles I. These Puritans, who were a kind of Calvinists, took refuge in this country, afterward called New England, in 1620; and it might be said of them and the Episcopal party who persecuted them in England, that they were tigers who made war upon bears; for these latter brought over with them to America their gloomy and morose disposition, by which they miserably harassed the pacific Pennsylvanians when they came first to settle near them. But in 1692 these Puritans proved a heavy scourge to themselves, by the most unaccountable epidemic madness that ever possessed the human race.
At the time when Europe was beginning to emerge from the abyss of horrible superstition and ignorance in which it had been plunged for such a number of ages; and witchcraft and the power of evil spirits was no longer regarded in England and other civilized nations except as ancient prejudices and follies at which all reasonable men blushed; the Puritans revived them in America. A young woman happened to be seized with convulsions in 1692, a public speaker accused an old maid–servant in the family of having bewitched her, and the poor old woman was obliged to confess herself a witch. Upon this half of the inhabitants believed themselves bewitched, and accused the other half of the black art; the populace rose and threatened to hang the judges if they did not order the accused persons to be hanged. Thus for two years nothing was talked of but witchcraft, witches, and hanging; and they were countrymen of the great Locke and Newton who were seized with this madness. At length the malady abated, and the people of New England, having come to their senses, were amazed and ashamed at their outrageous folly. They now applied themselves to trade and husbandry, and their colony soon became the most flourishing of any; insomuch that in 1750 it contained nearly one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, which is ten times the number that the French have in their settlements.
From New England we come to New York, or Acadia, which has been the subject of so much discord and bloodshed; and Newfoundland, where the great codfishery is carried on; and then, after having sailed some way to the eastward, we arrive at Hudson’s Bay, by which it has been vainly hoped to find out a shorter passage to the extremities of the eastern and western hemispheres.
The islands which the English possess in America have proved almost as profitable to them as their continent. Jamaica, Barbados, and some others, where they grow sugar, have turned out exceedingly profitable, not only on account of their own manufactures, but of the trade carried on from them with New Spain, which is so much the more advantageous, as it is prohibited.
The Dutch, who are so powerful in the East Indies, are hardly known in America; the little colony of Surinam, in the neighborhood of the Brazils, being the only territory of any consequence that they are possessed of in that part of the world. Thither they have carried the genius of their country, which is to cut their lands into canals. They have made a New Amsterdam at Surinam, as well as at Batavia, and the island of Curaçoa yields them a considerable profit. Lastly, the Danes have of late been possessed of three small islands, and have opened a very beneficial trade, through the encouragement their king has given them.
This is all that the Europeans have done of any consequence, at present, in this fourth part of the globe.
There yet remains a fifth, which is that of the Terra Australis, or Antarctic land, of which only a small part of the seacoast and some few islands have, as yet, been discovered. If we comprehend under the name of this new southern world Papua or New Guinea, which begins even under the equator, it is evident that this part of the world is by far the most extensive of any.
Magellan discovered the Antarctic land, in 1520, lying in fifty–one degrees south declination; but these frozen climes proved no temptation to the masters of Peru. Since that time several immense countries have been discovered to the southward of the Indies, and in particular New Holland, which stretches from the tenth to the thirtieth degree. The Dutch Batavia company are said to be in possession of several prosperous settlements in this country; but it is not very easy to carry on a trade, and be masters of whole provinces unknown to the rest of the world. It is not unlikely that this fifth portion of the globe may yet be visited by some new adventurers, from whom we may learn that nature has not neglected these climes; that she exhibits her usual variety and profusion in them, as well as throughout the rest of the world.
But hitherto we know little or nothing of these immense countries, except that they are some wild and uncultivated coasts where Pelsart and his companions, in 1630, found black men who walked on their hands as upon feet; a bay where Tasman, in 1642, was attacked by a people with yellow complexions, armed with clubs and arrows; and another where Dampier, in 1649, had an engagement with a race of negroes who had no fore teeth in their upper jaws. We have not yet penetrated into this segment of the globe; and it must be confessed, that it is better to improve and cultivate our own countries than to go in search of the frozen regions and motley–colored animals of the southern pole.
of the power of the jesuits in that part of the world, and of their disputes with the spaniards and portuguese.
The conquests of Mexico and of Peru are prodigies of human boldness; the cruelties which were exercised there, and the total extirpation of the inhabitants of San Domingo and some other islands, the utmost stretch of human barbarity; but the settlement of Paraguay, established by only a few Spanish Jesuits, appears the triumph of humanity, and seems in some measure to make atonement for the cruelties of the first conquerors. The Quakers of America, and the Jesuits of Paraguay, have exhibited a new spectacle to the world. The former have softened the rugged manners of the savages bordering on Pennsylvania; they have won them to instruction by the mere force of example, without making any attempt on their liberties; and have procured them new conveniences of life by making them acquainted with trade. The Jesuits have indeed made use of religion to deprive the inhabitants of Paraguay of their liberties; but, on the other hand, they have civilized them, have taught them to be industrious, and have succeeded in governing a vast country, in the same manner as a convent is governed in Europe. Upon examination, the Quakers appear to have acted the most justly, and the Jesuits the most politically. The former considered the attempt to subject their neighbors in the light of a crime; the latter made a virtue of subduing savages by mildness and instruction.
Paraguay is a vast country, lying between Brazil, Peru, and Chili. The Spaniards, who made themselves masters of this coast, founded the city of Buenos Ayres, a place of great trade on the River la Plata; but with all their power they were too few in number to conquer the swarms of natives that dwelt in the midst of the forests, and whom, however, it was necessary to subject, in order to facilitate to themselves a passage from Buenos Ayres to Peru. In this conquest, the Jesuits assisted them much more effectually than their soldiers could have done. These missionaries penetrated by degrees into the heart of the country in the seventeenth century. Some of the savage natives, who had been taken when young, and bred up in Buenos Ayres, served them as guides and interpreters. The fatigues and labors they underwent equalled, if not exceeded, those of the conquerors of the new world. The courage inspired by religion is at least as great as that which actuates the warrior in pursuit of fame. They were discouraged by no difficulties, and at length they succeeded in the following manner:
The cows, sheep, and oxen, which had been brought from Europe to Buenos Ayres, having multiplied prodigiously, they took a great number of these with them, as likewise several wagon–loads of all kinds of instruments of husbandry and architecture. They sowed some plains which they found on their way with several sorts of European grain, and made a present of the whole to the savages, whom they thus lured to their purpose, as animals are caught with a bait. These nations consisted only of a number of families, who lived separate from each other, without society, or the knowledge of religion. They were, however, soon brought into the former, by having new wants given them from the new productions with which they were supplied. The missionaries in the next place, with the assistance of some of the inhabitants of Buenos Ayres, endeavored to teach them to sow and till the ground, make bricks, hew timber, and build houses. In a short time, these wild and uncivilized people were wholly transformed, and became useful and obedient subjects to their benefactors; and though they did not immediately become proselytes to Christianity, the doctrine of which was above their comprehension, their children, by being bred up in that religion, soon became thorough Christians.
This settlement in its beginning, consisted only of fifty families, which, in 1750, were increased to a hundred thousand. The Jesuits, in the space of one century, have formed thirty cantons, to which they have given the name of the Country of the Missions. Each canton at present contains ten thousand inhabitants. One father, Florentine, a Franciscan friar, who was at Paraguay, in 1711, and who in every page of his narrative, expresses his admiration of this new government, says that the village of St. Xavier, in which he lived a considerable time, contained at least thirty thousand souls; from which we may conclude, with some degree of certainty, that the Jesuits have raised more than four hundred thousand subjects by mere persuasion.
If anything can give us a clear idea of this colony, it is the ancient Lacedæmonian government. All things are in common in Paraguay; and the use of gold and silver is unknown to these people, though bordering on the mines of Peru. The essential character of a Spartan was obedience to the laws of Lycurgus; that of an inhabitant of Paraguay has hitherto been obedience to the laws of the Jesuits: in a word, there seems to be a perfect resemblance between the two people, save only, that those of Paraguay have no slaves to till their lands, or hew their timber, as the Spartans had; but are themselves slaves to the Jesuits.
This country is indeed dependent in spiritual matters on the bishop of Buenos Ayres, and in temporals, on the governor of that city. It is also subject to the king of Spain, in like manner as the provinces of La Plata and Chili; but the Jesuits, the original founders of this colony, have always maintained an absolute government over the people they organized. They gave the king of Spain a piastre a head for each of their subjects; and this they pay to the governor of Buenos Ayres, either in money or commodities; they only are possessed of the former, for the subjects never touch it. This is the only mark of vassalage which the Spanish government has thought requisite to demand of them. But the governor of Buenos Ayres cannot appoint any person to any office, either military or civil, in the Jesuits’ country; nor can the bishop send so much as a parish priest thither.
An attempt was once made to send two curates to the villages of Our Lady of Faith and St. Ignatius, and they even took the precaution to send a guard of soldiers with them; but the people of both villages quitted their habitations, and divided themselves among the other cantons; and the two curates, finding themselves left alone, returned to Buenos Ayres.
Another bishop, incensed at hearing of this affront, which had been put on his predecessor, resolved to establish the customary church government throughout the Country of Missions. For this purpose, he invited all the clergy in his jurisdiction to repair to him on a day appointed, in order to receive their respective charges; but no one dared to appear. We have this fact related by the Jesuits themselves, in one of their memorials, which they published. Thus, then, they commenced absolute masters in spiritual affairs, and no less so in the civil. They, indeed, allow a passage through their country to the officers that the governor sends to Peru; but those officers are not permitted to stay over three days in the country, during which time they must not converse with any of the inhabitants; and though they come in the king’s name, they are treated exactly like foreigners, who are suspected of being spies. The Jesuits, who have always been careful to preserve appearances, make use of religion as a pretext to justify this behavior, which might be construed into disobedience and contempt. And they declared to the Council of the Indies, at Madrid, that they could not consent to receive a Spaniard into their provinces, lest he should corrupt the manners of the natives; and this reason, which carries with it such an insult on their own country, has been admitted as satisfactory by the kings of Spain, who could not hope for any assistance from the Paraguayans; but on this extraordinary condition, which is a reproach and disgrace to a nation so proud and tenacious of their honor as the Spaniards.
The form of government in this nation, the only one of its kind in the known world, is as follows: The provincial, or Jesuit–governor, with the assistance of his council, frames the laws; and each rector, assisted by another council, takes care that they are observed; a person is chosen from among the body of inhabitants of each canton, as a justice of the peace, and has under him a lieutenant. These two officers go round their district every day, and give an account to the superior of whatever passes.
Every village carries on some manufactory; and the workmen in each profession meet together, and perform their occupations in common, and in the presence of their overseers, who are appointed by the fiscal. The Jesuits furnish the hemp, cotton, and flax, which the inhabitants work up. They also give out the grain to be sown, which is reaped in common; and the whole produce of the harvest deposited in the public magazines, whence each family is supplied with what it wants for its subsistence, and the remainder is sold at Buenos Ayres, or Peru.
The Paraguayans keep flocks; they raise corn, pease, indigo, cotton, hemp, sugar–canes, jalap, ipecac, and a plant called Paraguay grass, which is a kind of tea, greatly esteemed in South America, and of which they make a considerable traffic. These commodities are returned in goods and specie; the former the Jesuits distribute among the inhabitants, and the gold and silver they make use of to decorate their churches, and to answer the calls of the government. Each canton has an arsenal or military storehouse, from which on certain days they give out arms to such of the inhabitants as know how to make use of them. A Jesuit superintends the exercise, which is performed in a regular manner, and after it is over, the arms are all returned again into the store, no inhabitant being allowed to keep arms in his house. The same principle which has made these people the most tractable of all subjects, has likewise made them excellent soldiers. They fight as they obey, from a belief that it is their duty. Their assistance has been more than once necessary against the Portuguese of Brazil, the banditti, who are known by the name of Mamelukes, and the Mosquito savages, who were a race of cannibals. They have always been headed by Jesuits in these expeditions, and have always fought with courage, order, and success.
In the year 1662, when the Spaniards laid siege to the city of St. Sacrament, of which the Portuguese had made themselves masters, and which gave birth to such extraordinary accidents, a Jesuit brought four thousand Paraguayans to the assistance of the former, who scaled the walls of the town, and entered the place sword in hand. And here I must not omit one circumstance, which will show that these monks, who were used to command, understood their business much better than the governor of Buenos Ayres, who was at the head of the Spanish forces. This general, when the assault was going to be made, gave orders for placing a rank of horses in front of the men, in order, that the cannon from the enemy’s ramparts having spent their fire on these creatures, the soldiers might advance with less danger; but the Jesuit, who headed the Paraguayans, represented the folly and danger of such a scheme, and ordered the place to be attacked in the usual way.
The manner in which these people fought for the Spaniards showed that they would not be at a loss to defend themselves on occasion, and that it would be dangerous to attempt to make any change in their government. It is certain that the Jesuits have already formed to themselves an empire in Paraguay, of about four hundred leagues in circumference, and that they have it in their power to add to its extent.
Though vassals, in all appearance, to the crown of Spain, they are in effect kings, and perhaps the best obeyed of any kings on earth. They have been at once founders, legislators, pontiffs, and sovereigns.
A government with a constitution altogether so new and extraordinary, and established in another hemisphere, is an effect perhaps the most distant from its cause that was ever known to the world. We have for some time seen priests possessed of sovereign authority in Europe; but they attained to this rank, which seems so opposite to their real condition, by a gradual and natural progression. They obtained considerable lands, and these lands, like most others, have in time become fiefs and principalities. But the Jesuits had nothing given them in Paraguay; and they have made themselves absolute sovereigns, without even pretending to be proprietors of a foot of land. In a word, everything has been of their own creation.
But having at length abused their power, they have lost a great part of it; for when the crown of Spain ceded the city of St. Sacrament, together with its vast dependencies, to the Portuguese, the Jesuits had the boldness to oppose this convention; the people they governed would not consent to be under the Portuguese government, and for some time resisted their old and new masters.
If we may credit the “Relacio Abbreviada,” the Portuguese general, d’Andrado, wrote to the Spanish general, Valdareos, in 1750, in these terms: “The Jesuits are the only rebels. Their Indians have twice attacked the Portuguese fort of Pardo, with a considerable train of artillery.” The same narrative adds that the Indians cut off the heads of their prisoners, and carried them to their commanders, the Jesuits. Although this charge may be true, it does not seem probable.
It is however certain, that in 1757, there was an insurrection in one of their provinces called St. Nicholas, when some mutineers took the field, to the number of thirteen thousand, under the command of two Jesuits named Lamp and Tadeo; and this gave rise to a report, which was generally believed, that one of the Jesuits had caused himself to be proclaimed king of Paraguay, having assumed the name of Nicholas I.
While the monks of this order were carrying on a war against the kings of Spain and Portugal, in America, their brethren in Europe were the confessors of those very kings. But of late we have seen them accused of rebellion, and an intent to murder their lawful king in Lisbon, entirely driven out of Portugal in the year 1758, and violently persecuted at the court of Madrid. The Portuguese government have cleared all their American colonies of them; but they still remain masters of all that part of Paraguay which belongs to Spain, where it is difficult to get at them, and where they still continue to share the sovereign authority with the crown of Spain, over an immense tract of country. This is an example hitherto not paralleled in the history of the universe. It will be the subject of some future pages to show why the whole earth seems to have taken up arms against them, and why the see of Rome alone has declared herself their protectress.
and the petrifications which are alleged as proof thereof; written originally in italian, and sent by the author to the academy of bologna, and since translated by him into french.
There are certain errors which belong alone to the common people; there are others which are confined to philosophers. In this latter class we may perhaps rank the notion which prevails among the generality of natural philosophers, that the earth almost everywhere affords proofs of a once total submersion. In the mountains of Hesse, there has been found a stone which had the impression of a turbot, and a petrified pike was found in one of the Alps. From this it has been taken for granted, that the mountains we now see have been formerly covered with seas and rivers; whereas it is much more natural to suppose that these fish had been brought thither by some traveller, who, finding them spoiled, threw them away, and, in process of time they became petrified; but this notion would have been too simple, and not have left sufficient room for hypothesis. Ay! but a ship’s anchor has been found upon one of the mountains of Switzerland! Indeed! and might it not have been brought there like many other heavy burdens, and even as cannon have been, by hand, and afterward used to stop some very weighty load from sliding down the declivity of the rock; or might not this very anchor have been brought from the little seaport in the lake of Geneva; or, after all, may not the story itself of the anchor be false? Undoubtedly; but then it has been thought more proper to affirm that this was the anchor of some vessel that had been moored in Switzerland before the deluge.
There is some resemblance between the tongue of a sea–dog and a stone called glossopetra. This is enough to persuade a naturalist that these stones have been all tongues of sea–dogs left in the Apennines in Noah’s time. Why do they not, at the same time, affirm that the shells called conchæ veneris are the very things whose names they bear?
Almost all reptiles are of a spiral form when not in motion; and it is nothing wonderful, that, when they are petrified, they should retain the same uncouth figure; and it is altogether natural for stones themselves to be formed in this shape; the Alps and the Vosges are full of such. Now, it has pleased naturalists to give the name of cornu Ammonis, or Ammon’s horn, to these stones; and they pretend to discover therein the fish called the nautilus, which they never saw, and which is said to be bred in the Indian seas; and, without the trouble of examining whether this petrified body is a nautilus or an eel, they conclude that the Indian Sea has formerly overflowed the mountains of Europe.
There have been also found, in some of the provinces of France and Italy, certain small shells that are positively said to be natives of the Syrian Sea. I am in no disposition to contest their origin; but why may it not be remembered, that the innumerable crowds of pilgrims and Crusaders, who carried money into the Holy Land, brought back with them a number of shells? or is it more eligible to believe that the seas of Joppa and Sidon came and covered the whole country of Burgundy and the Milanese?
We might, indeed, choose whether we would credit either of these hypotheses; and rather think, with many naturalists, that these shells, that are supposed to have been transferred from such a distance, are fossils, which are produced by the earth in these climates. Again; we might, with an equal degree of probability, conjecture, that the places where these shells are found were formerly covered with lakes or collections of water: but whichever opinion or error we may adopt, these shells are by no means a proof that the whole universe has been turned upside down.
The hills about Calais and Dover are rocks of chalk: therefore these hills have been formerly undivided by water. The soil about Gibraltar and Tangiers is nearly of the same nature; therefore Africa and Europe were formerly joined, and there was no Mediterranean Sea. The Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Apennines, have been thought by several philosophers to be the ruins of a world that has undergone a number of changes. This opinion was strongly maintained by the whole Pythagorean school, as well as by many others. They likewise affirmed that the earth we at present inhabit was formerly a sea, and that the sea was for a long time dry land.
Ovid is known to have spoken the opinions of the naturalists of the East, in the lines he puts into the mouth of Pythagoras:
—Metam. Book xv., ver. 259.
This was in fact the opinion of Pythagoras and the Indians, and it is doing him no injustice to relate it in verse. This opinion has gained particular credit by those heaps or beds of shells that are found under the ground in Calabria, Touraine, and other places at a considerable distance from the sea; and there is some reason to believe that they have been deposited there for a long succession of years.
The sea, which has retired several leagues from its ancient shores in some places, has in others made considerable encroachments upon the land. But from this almost imperceptible loss, many thought they had a right to conclude that the sea did for a long time cover the rest of the globe. Frejus, Narbonne, Ferrara, and some others, are no longer sea–ports; one half of the country of East Friesland was overflowed by the ocean; therefore it follows, that for several ages whales have sported upon Mount Taurus and the Alps, and man inhabited the bed of the ocean.
These hypotheses of the natural revolutions that have happened in this world has been strengthened in the minds of some philosophers by the discovery made by the chevalier de Louville, a famous astronomer, who, as is well known, in 1714, set out from Marseilles on purpose to discover by observations whether an angle of the ecliptic with the equator was the same as it had been fixed by Pitheas about two thousand years before. He found it less by twenty minutes; that is to say, the ecliptic had, according to his observations, in the space of two thousand years, approached nearer to the equator by one–third of a degree: which proves, that in six thousand years it will be nearer by a whole degree.
This supposed, it is evident that the earth, besides its known motions, must have another, by which it is made to revolve round itself from one pole to another. It will be found, that in the space of twenty–three thousand years, the sun will continue for a great length of time on the equator; and, in a period of two millions of years, all the climates in the world will have been in their turns under the torrid and the frigid zones. But what occasion, you will say, to alarm oneself about what is to happen two millions of years hence? There is probably a much longer period between the positions of the planets, with regard to each other. We already know the earth has a motion which is completed in twenty–five thousand years, called the precession of the equinoxes. Revolutions of thousands of millions of years are infinitely less in the sight of the great architect of nature, than to us that of a wheel which completes its round in the twinkling of an eye. This new period, invented by the chevalier de Louville, which has been corrected and supported by several astronomers, has occasioned search to be made after the ancient Babylonian observations, transmitted to the Greeks by Alexander, and preserved to posterity by Ptolemy in his “Almagest.”
The Babylonians in Alexander’s time pretended to have astronomical observations for upwards of four hundred thousand three hundred years. It was endeavored to reconcile these Babylonian calculations with the hypothesis of the revolution of two millions of years. At length, some philosophers concluded that, all the climates having been each in their turn under the pole and the equinoctial line, all the seas must likewise have changed places.
Extraordinary and great changes in nature are objects which will always please the imaginations of the wisest men. Philosophers are as fond of a change of scene in the universe, as the common people are of those on the stage. Our imagination, taking its flight from the point of existence and duration, launches into millions of ages, to contemplate with a secret pleasure Canada under the equator, and the seas of Nova Zembla covering the top of Mount Atlas.
A certain author, in his theory of the earth, a work more famous than instructive, pretends that the deluge submerged our whole globe, and from its ruins made the rocks and mountains we now see, and threw everything into a state of irreparable confusion; in short, he looks upon the universe as one great heap of ruins. The author of another theory, no less famous, sees nothing therein but the utmost order, and affirms, that, without the deluge, such noble harmony could never have subsisted; both writers allow the mountains to be the consequences of a universal inundation.
Burnet, the first of these authors, tells us for certain in his fifth chapter, that before the deluge the earth was compact, regular, uniform, and without hills, valleys, or seas. According to him, the deluge caused all these; and this is a reason why we find the cornua Ammonis in the Apennine mountains.
Woodward, the other theorist, condescends to allow that there were mountains before the deluge; but it is very certain that it dissolved all the different metals, and formed others, and that this is the reason, why in this earth of ours, we so frequently find flints, that were softened by the water and appear full of petrified animals. Woodward might have been convinced, if he pleased, that water will not dissolve marble, flint, or like substances; and that the rocks which are constantly washed by the sea still retain their hardness; but no matter. His hypothesis required that the water should have a power of dissolving, in the space of one hundred and fifty days, all the stones and minerals in the world, to lodge a few oysters and periwinkles in them.
It would require more time than the waters continued upon the face of the earth to read all the authors who have formed hypotheses on this subject. Everyone of them destroys and remoulds the earth, in the same manner as Descartes has created his after his own fancy; for the greatest part of your philosophers put themselves without any ceremony in the place of the Deity, and imagine they can create a world at command.
Far be it from me to think of copying their example; I have not the vanity to conceive I shall ever be able to discover the means made use of by the Creator to form the world, to drown, or to preserve it. I confine myself to the Scripture, without attempting to explain it, or admitting of what it does not say. I only desire to be permitted to examine, according to the rules of probability, whether this globe either has been, or will one day be, entirely different from what it now is. And here we have nothing more to do than make use of our eyesight.
In the first place, I shall examine those mountains, which Doctor Burnet, and many others, look upon as the ruins of the old world scattered up and down, without order or design, like those ruins of a city bombarded by an enemy. And here I, on the contrary, perceive them to be disposed with infinite regularity, from one end of the world to the other. They are, in fact, a chain of high, inexhaustible aqueducts, which, by dividing in several places, make room for the entrance of rivers, and arms of the sea to moisten the earth.
From the Cape of Good Hope there runs a continuous chain of rocks, which stoop to give passage to the Niger and the Zaire, and then rise again under the name of Mount Atlas, while the Nile falls down from another branch of those mountains. A narrow arm of the sea separates Mount Atlas from the promontory of Gibraltar, and it is afterward joined to the Sierra Morena; this latter joins to the Pyrenees, these to the Cévennes, the Cévennes to the Alps, and the Alps to the Apennines, which run as far as the kingdom of Naples; over against them are the mountains of Epirus and Thessaly. As soon as you have passed the Straits of Gallipoli, you meet with Mount Taurus, whose branches, under the names of Caucasus, Imaus, etc., stretch to the extremities of the globe. Thus the earth is crowned in every sense of the word, with these reservoirs of water, which furnish, without exception, all the rivers that bedew and fertilize it; nor does the sea furnish a single brook of its salt fluid to any one of its shores.
Burnet caused a map of the earth to be engraved, divided into mountains, instead of provinces. By this, and his representations, he endeavors all he can to give us an idea of the most terrible confusion; but, both his own map and his own words, do, in spite of himself, give us to understand the utmost harmony and utility. “The Andes,” says he, “in America are a thousand leagues in length; the Taurus divides Asia into two parts, etc. Could any man take in these at one view, he would be perfectly convinced that the globe of the earth is more deformed than can be imagined.” On the contrary, it is certain, that could any reasonable man at one view behold both hemispheres crossed by a regular chain of mountains, serving as reservoirs for the rains, and sources to the rivers; he must acknowledge, in all this pretended confusion, the wisdom and paternal care of a divine Being.
There is not one climate on the earth, without a mountain and a river springing from it. This chain of hills is an essential part in the great machine of the world. Without them no terrestrial animal could live, for want of the water they furnish, which is drawn up out of the sea, and purified by a perpetual exhalation; this vapor is carried by the wind to the tops of the hills, whence it falls down again in rivers, and it is demonstrable that this exhalation is so great as to suffice both for forming rivers and furnishing rain.
Another hypothesis, which supposes that in the before–mentioned period of two millions of years, the axis of the earth, by continually rising upward, and revolving round itself, has forced the ocean out of its bed; this hypothesis, I say, is equally contrary to natural philosophy with the others. A motion by which the axis of the earth is elevated only ten minutes in a thousand years does not appear sufficiently violent to destroy the globe. This motion, supposing it really to exist, would certainly leave the mountains in their places; and, to say the truth, I do not see any appearance of the Alps, or Mount Caucasus having been brought to the places where they now are, either by degrees, or instantly from the coasts of Kaffraria.
But if, leaving the examination of the mountains, we consider the ocean alone, it will equally overturn this system. The bed of the ocean is hollow, and this vast basin grows deeper, in proportion to its distance from the shores. There is not a single rock in the main sea, if we except a few islands; now, if there was a time, when the ocean covered our mountains, and man and beast inhabited the bed of the sea, how was it possible for them to have subsisted? What mountains had they then to furnish them with rivers? This requires a globe of quite a different nature from ours. And again, how could this globe have, at that time, revolved round itself, seeing that it was one–half hollow, and the other prominent; and this prominence loaded over and above with the whole weight of the ocean? How could the laws of gravity and hydrostatics be accomplished? or how could the ocean keep itself upon the mountains without sliding into that immense bed, which nature had formed for it? A world of a philosophical creation is generally a very ridiculous one.
I will suppose for an instant with those who admit that in the period of two millions of years we arrived at the point of time when the ecliptic falls in with the equator. I then suppose Italy, France, and Germany, to form the torrid zone; but we must not imagine that either then, or at any other time, the ocean can change its place: no motion of the earth can ever resist the laws of gravity, and in whatever manner our globe may turn, everything will press equally upon the centre. The universal system of mechanics is invariably the same.
No system, no hypothesis, then, can give the least degree of probability to the generally received notion that our globe has changed its appearance; that the ocean did for a long time cover the earth which we now inhabit; and that mankind formerly dwelt in those places that now serve as habitations for porpoises and whales. Nothing has been changed of the animal or vegetable world; the species have all remained unalterably the same, and it would be very strange that a grain of millet should retain its nature forever, and yet the whole globe be subject to such changes.
What I have here said of the ocean may be said likewise of the Mediterranean, and the great lake called the Caspian Sea. If these lakes have not been always the same as they now are, the nature of this globe must have been altogether different from what it is at present.
A great number of authors tell us that, an earthquake having one day swallowed up the mountains that joined the two continents of Europe and Africa, the ocean made itself a passage between Calpe and Abila, and formed the Mediterranean, which runs as far as the Palus Mæotis, which is five hundred leagues distant from there; so that a tract of fifteen hundred miles was hollowed in an instant to receive the ocean. It is to be observed, at the same time, that in that part of the sea opposite Gibraltar no bottom can be found, which makes the adventure of the mountains still more marvellous.
If it was only to be considered how many rivers of Europe and Asia fall into the Mediterranean, we should see that their waters must necessarily form a great lake there. The Don, the Boristhenes, the Danube, the Po, the Rhone, etc., could not empty themselves into the ocean, unless we choose to amuse ourselves with the imagination that there was a time when the Don and Boristhenes came over the Pyrenees to visit Biscay.
Philosophers, nevertheless, have insisted, that the Mediterranean was produced by some accident. They ask, what becomes of the waters that so many rivers are continually pouring into it, or where the Caspian Sea can empty itself. They have supposed a vast subterranean cavity to have been formed, in the general subversion of the system of the earth, that threw out these seas; and that they have a communication with each other, and with the ocean, by means of this imaginary gulf. It has likewise been affirmed, that fish have been thrown into the Caspian Sea with rings in their noses, and taken out afterward in the Mediterranean. In this manner have history and philosophy been treated for a long time; and since true history has taken away the fiction, and real natural philosophy that of airy hypotheses, we ought no longer to give credit to such idle tales. It is demonstrable, that exhalation alone will sufficiently account for these seas not overflowing their shores, and that there is no necessity for them to empty themselves into the ocean. And it is highly probable, that the Mediterranean Sea has always occupied its present place; and that the fundamental constitution of this universe has never suffered a change.
I am well aware that there will always be a set of people, upon whose minds a petrified pike, found upon Mount Cenis, or a turbot in the country of Hesse, will have greater weight than all the arguments of sound philosophy. They will still be fond of imagining that the summits of the mountains have heretofore served as a bed to the ocean, notwithstanding the impossibility of the thing from the laws of nature; while others again will think, from finding some few Syrian shells in Germany, that the Syrian Sea came to Frankfort. A taste for the wonderful is the parent of hypotheses; but nature appears to delight as much in uniformity and unchangeableness, as our imaginations do in surprising revolutions: and, to use the words of the great Newton, “Natura est sibi consona”; “Nature is consistent with herself.” We are told by the Scripture, that there has been a deluge; but there remains no other monument on the earth—at least that I can perceive—but the remembrance of so dreadful a prodigy, which in vain admonishes us to amend our lives.