Imatges de pÓgina

Bacchus, or of Sanchoniathon, Thaut, Bramah, &c. People then wrote all they liked with impunity. At present we must be a little more careful.

[ocr errors]



• lover of wisdom,' that is, of truth. All philosophers have possessed this two-fold character; there is not one among those of antiquity who did not give examples of virtue to mankind, and lessons of moral truth. They might be mistaken, and undoubtedly were so, on subjects of natural philosophy; but that is of comparatively so little importance to the conduct of life, that philosophers had then


need of it. Ages were required to discover a part of the laws of nature. A single day is sufficient to enable a sage to become acquainted with the duties of man.

The philosopher is no enthusiast; he does not set himself up for a prophet; he does not represent himself as inspired by the gods. I shall not therefore place in the rank of philosophers the ancient Zoroaster, or Hermes, or Orpheus, or any of those legislators in whom the nations of Chaldea, Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Greece made their boast. Those who called themselves the sons of gods were the fathers of imposture; and if they employed falsehood to inculcate truths, they were unworthy of inculcating them; they were not philosophers; they were at best only prudent liars.

By what fatality, disgraceful perhaps to the nations of the west, has it happened that we are obliged to travel to the extremity of the east, in order to find a sage of simple manners and character, without


and without imposture, who taught men how to live happy six hundred years before our era, at a period when the whole of the north was ignorant of the use of letters, and when the Greeks had scarcely begun to distinguish themselves by wisdom? That sage is Confucius, who deemed too highly of his character as a legislator




for mankind, to stoop to deceive them. What finer rule of conduct has ever been given since his time, throughout the earth?

“ Rule a state as you rule a family; a cannot govern his family well without giving a good example.

“ Virtue should be common to the labourer and the monarch.

“ Be active in preventing crimes, that you may lessen the trouble of punishing them.

“ Under the good kings Yao and Xu, the Chinese were good; under the bad kings Kie and Chu, they were wicked.

“ Do to another as to thyself.

“Love mankind in general, but cherish those who are good. Forget injuries, but never benefits.

I have seen men incapable of the sciences, but never any incapable of virtue.”

Let us acknowledge, that no legislator ever announced to the world more useful truths.

A multitude of Greek philosophers taught afterwards a morality equally pure. Had they distinguished themselves only by their vain systems of natural philosophy, their names would be mentioned at the present day only in derision. If they are still respected, it is because they were just, and because they taught mankind to be so.

It is impossible to read certain passages of Plato; and particularly the admirable exordium of the laws of Zaleucus, without experiencing an ardent love of honourable and generous actions. The Romans have their Cicero, who alone is perhaps more valuable than all the philosophers of Greece. After him come men more respectable still, but whom we may almost despair of imitating; these are Epictetus in slavery, and the Antonines and Julian upon a throne.

Where is the citizen to be found among us who would deprive himself, like Julian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius, of all the refined accommodations of our delicate and luxurious modes of living? Whe would, like them, sleep on the bare ground? Who would restrict himself to their frugal habits? Who would, like them, march bare headed and bare-footed at the head of the armies, exposed sometimes to the burning sun, and at other times to the freezing blast? Who would, like them, keep perfect mastery of all his passions? We have among us devotees, but where are the sages? where are the souls just and tolerant, serene and undaunted ?

There have been some philosophers of the closet in France; and all of them, with the exception of Montaigne, have been persecuted. It seems to me the last degree of malignity that our nature can exhibit, to attempt to oppress those who devote their best endeavours to correct and improve it.

I can easily conceive of the fanatics of one sect slaughtering those of another sect; that the franciseans should hate the dominicans, and that a bad artist should cabal and intrigue for the destruction of an artist that surpasses him; but that the sage Charron should have been menaced with the loss of life; that the learned and noble-minded Ramus should have been actually assassinated ; that Descartes should have been obliged to withdraw to Holland in order to escape the rage of ignorance; that Gassendi should have been often compelled to retire to Digne, far distant from the calumnies of Paris,-are events that load a nation with eternal opprobrium.

One of the philosophers who were most persecuted, was the immortal Bayle, the honour of human nature. I shall be told that the name of Jurieu, his slanderer and persecutor, is become execrable; I acknowledge that it is so; that of the jesuit le Tellier is become so likewise; but is it the less true that the great men whom he oppressed ended their days in exile and penury?

One of the pretexts made use of for reducing Bayle to poverty, was his artiele of David, in his valnable dictionary. He was reproached with not praising actions which were in themselves unjust, sanguinary, atrocious, contrary to good faith, or grossly offensive to decency.

Bayle certainly has not praised David for having, according to the Hebrew historian, collected six hundred vagabonds overwhelmed with debts and crimes; for having pillaged his countrymen at the head of these banditti; for having resolved to destroy Nabal and his whole family, because he refused paying contributions to him ; for having hired out. his services to king Achish the enemy of his country; for having afterwards betrayed Achish, notwithstanding his kindness to him; for having sacked the villages in alliance with that king; for having massacred in these villages every human being, including even infants at the breast, that no one might be found on a future day to give testimony of his depredations, as if an infant could have possibly disclosed his villainy; for having destroyed all the inhabitants of some other villages under saws, and harrows, and axes, and in brickkilns; for having wrested the throne from Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, by an act of perfidy; for having despoiled of his property aud afterwards put to death Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, and son of his own peculiar friend and generous protector Jonathan; or for having delivered up to the Gibeonites two other sons of Saul, and five of his grand-sons who perished by the gallows.

I do not notice the extreme incontinence of David, his numerous concubines, his adultery with Bathsheba, or his murder of Uriah.

What then! is it possible that the enemies of Bayle should have expected or wished him to eulogize all these cruelties and crimes? Ought he to have said-Go, ye princes of the earth, and imitate the man after God's own heart; massacre without pity the allies of your benefactor; destroy or deliver over to destruction the whole family of your king; appropriate to your own pleasures all the women, while you are pouring out the blood of the men; and you will thus exhibit models of human virtue, especially if, in addition to all the rest, you do but compose a book of psalms?

Was not Bayle perfectly correct in his observation,

that if David was the man after God's own heart, it must have been by his penitence, and not by his crimes? Did not Bayle perform a service to the human race when he said, that God, who undoubtedly dictated the Jewish history, has not consecrated all the crimes recorded in that history?

However, Bayle was in fact persecuted, and by whom? By the very men who had been elsewhere persecuted themselves; by refugees, who in their own country would have been delivered over to the flames; and these refugees were opposed by other refugees called jansenists, who had been driven from their own country by the jesuits; who have at length been themselves driven from it in their turn.

Thus all the persecutors declare against each other mortal war, while the philosopher, oppressed by them all, contents himself with pitying them.

It is not generally known, that Fontenelle, in 1718, was on the point of losing his pensions, place, and liberty, for having published in France, twenty years before, what may be called an Abridgment of the learned Van Dale's Treatise on Oracles, in which he had taken particular care to retrench and modify the original work, so as to give no unnecessary offence to fanaticism. A jesuit had written against Fontenelle, and he had not deigned to make him any reply; and that was enough to induce the jesuit Le Tellier, confessor to Louis XIV. to accuse Fontenelle to the king of atheism.

But for the fortunate mediation of M. d'Argenson, the son of a forging solicitor of Vire-a son worthy of such a father, as he was detected in forgery himself would have proscribed, in his old age, the nephew of the great Corneille.

It is so easy for a confessor to seduce his penitent, that we ought to bless God that Le Tellier did no more harm than is justly imputed to him. There are two, situations in which seduction and cal any cannot easily be resisted—the bed and the confessional,

We have always seen philosophers persecuted by fanatics. But can it be really possible, that men of

« AnteriorContinua »