Imatges de pàgina

chaunted with his sister Miriam, when they came out of the red sea, is the most ancient poetical monument in hexameter verse that we possess. I am not of the opinion of those impious and ignorant rogues, Newton, Le Clerc, and others, who prove that all this was written about eight hundred years after the event, and who insolently maintain that Moses could not write in Hebrew, since Hebrew is only a comparatively modern dialect of the Phenician, of which Moses could know nothing at all. I examine not with the learned Huet how Moses was able to sing so well, who stammered and could not speak.

If we listened to many of these authors, Moses would be less ancient than Orpheus, Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod. We perceive at the first glance the absurdity of this opinion; as if a Greek could be as ancient as a Jew.

Neither will I reply to those impertinent persons who suspect that Moses is only an imaginary personage, a fabulous imitation of the fable of the ancient Bacchus; and that all the prodigies of Bacchus, since attributed to Moses, were sung in orgies before it was known that Jews existed in the world. This idea refutes itself: it is obvious to good sense that it is impossible Bacchus could exist before Moses.

We have still however an excellent Jewish poet undeniably anterior to Horace-king David; and we know well how infinitely superior the Miserere' is to the "Justum ac tenacem propositi virum.'

But what is most astonishing, legislators and kings We find even at present have been our earliest poets. people so good as to become poets for kings. Virgil indeed had not the office of poet to Augustus, nor Lucan that of poet to Nero; but I confess that it would have debased the profession not a little to make gods of either the one or the other.

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It is asked, why poetry, being so unnecessary to the world, occupies so high a rank among the fine arts? The same question may be put with regard to music. Poetry is the music of the soul, and above all of great and of feeling souls.

One merit of poetry few persons will deny; it says more and in fewer words than prose.

Who was ever able to translate the following Latin verses with the brevity with which they came from the brain of the poet?

Vive memor lethi, fugit hora, hoc quod loquor indè est.

I speak not of the other charms of poetry, as they are well known; but I insist upon the grand precept of Horace, Sapere est principium et fons.' There can be no great poetry without great wisdom; but how connect this wisdom with enthusiasm? Like Cæsar, who formed his plan of battle with circumspection, and fought with all possible ardour.

There have no doubt been ignorant poets, but then they have been bad poets. A man acquainted only with dactyls and spondees, and with a head full of rhymes, is rarely a man of sense; but Virgil is endowed with superior reason.

Lucretius, in common with all the ancients, was miserably ignorant of physical laws, a knowledge of which is not to be acquired by wit. It is a knowledge which is only to be attained by instruments, which in his time had not been invented. Glasses are necessary— microscopes, pneumatic machines, barometers, &c. to have even a distant idea of the operations of nature.

Descartes knew little more than Lucretius, when his keys opened the sanctuary; and an hundred times more of the path has been trodden from the time of Galileo, who was better instructed physically than Descartes, to the present day, than from the first Hermes to Lucretius.

All ancient physics are absurd: it was not thus with the philosophy of mind, and that good sense which, assisted by strength of intellect, can acutely balance between doubts and appearances. This is the chief merit of Lucretius; his third book is a masterpiece of reasoning. He argues like Cicero, and expresses himself like Virgil; and it must be confessed, that when our illustrious Polignac attacked his third book, he refuted it only like a cardinal.

When I say, that Lucretius reasons in his third book

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like an able metaphysician, I do not say that he was right. We may argue very soundly, and deceive ourselves, if not instructed by revelation. Lucretius was not a Jew, and we know that Jews alone were in the right in the days of Cicero, of Possidonius, of Cæsar, and of Cato. Lastly, under Tiberius, the Jews were no longer in the right, and common sense was possessed by the christians exclusively.

Thus it was impossible that Lucretius, Cicero and Cæsar could be anything but imbecile, in comparison with the Jews and ourselves; but it must be allowed, that in the eyes of the rest of the world they were very great men.

I allow that Lucretius killed himself, as well as Cato, Cassius, and Brutus; but they might very well kill themselves, and still reason like men of intellect during their lives.

In every author let us distinguish the man from his works. Racine wrote like Virgil, but he became jansenist through weakness, and he died in consequence of weakness equally great-because a man in passing through a gallery did not bestow a look upon him.* I am very sorry for all this; but the part of Phedra is not therefore the less admirable.


LET us often repeat useful truths. There have always been fewer poisonings than have been spoken of: it is almost with them as with parricides; the accusations have been very common, and the crimes very rare. One proof is, that we have a long time taken for poison that which is not so. How many princes have got rid of those who were suspected by them by making them drink bullock's blood! How many other princes have swallowed it themselves to avoid falling into the

Louis XIV. took some offence at Racine, and passed him in an anti-chamber without the usual notice. The consequence is well known; Racine, like a genuine Frenchman, sickened and died. This weakness, filtered through a modern Scottish novel, might be transformed into the purest of the virtues; at least such has been the mode of treating very similar virtue.-T.

ands of their enemies! All ancient historians, and even Plutarch, attest it.

I was so infatuated with these tales in my childhood, that I bled one of my bulls, in the idea that his blood belonged to me, since he was born in my stable (an ancient pretension of which I will not here dispute the validity). I drank this blood, like Atreus and Mademoiselle de Vergi, and it did me no more harm than horse's blood does to the Tartars, or pudding does to us every day, if it be not too rich.

Why should the blood of a bull be a poison, when that of a goat is considered a remedy? The peasants of my province swallow the blood of a cow, which they call fricassée, every day; that of a bull is not more dangerous. Be sure, dear reader, that Themistocles died not of it.

Some speculators of the court of Louis XIV. believed they discovered that his sister-in-law, Henrietta of England, was poisoned with powder of diamonds, which was put into a bowl of strawberries, instead of grated sugar; but neither the impalpable powder of glass or diamonds, nor that of any production of nature which was not in itself venomous, could be hurtful.

They are only sharp-cutting active points which can become violent. The exact observer Mead, a celebrated English physician, saw through a microscope the liquor shot from the gums of irritated vipers. He pretends that he has always found them strewn with these cutting pointed blades, the immense number of which tear and pierce the internal membranes.*

* We cannot explain the effects of a poison by a mechanical cause of this kind. Some appear to have a chemical action on our organs, which they destroy by decomposing the substance which forms them. Such are caustic poisons. The venom of the viper appears only to have a purely organic action. (See the work of M. l'Abbé Fontana on the venom of the viper.) We pretend not to pronounce that the mechanical action of bodies, their chemical and organic action, may be one of a different nature; but facts prove that these three species of actions exist, and nothing proves to us that they should be reduced to a single one, nor even gives us a glimpse of the possibility of it.-French Ed.

The cantarella, of which it is pretended that pope Alexander VI. and his bastard the duke of Borgia made great use, was, it is said, the foam of a hog rendered furious by suspending him by the feet with his head downwards, in which situation he was beat to death; it was a poison as prompt and violent as that of the viper. A great apothecary assures me, that la Tofana, that celebrated poisoness of Naples, principally made use of this receipt; all which is perhaps untrue.* This science is one of those of which we should be ignorant.

Poisons which coagulate the blood, instead of tearing the membranes, are opium, hemlock, henbane, aconite, and several others. The Athenians became so refined as to cause their countrymen, condemned to death, to die by poisons reputed cold; an apothecary was the executioner of the republic. It is said, that Socrates died very peacefully, and as if he slept: I can scarcely believe it.

I make one remark on the Jewish books, which is, that among this people we see no one who was poisoned. A crowd of kings and priests perished by assassination; the history of the nation is the history of murders and robberies: but a single instance only is mentioned of a man who was poisoned, and this man was not a Jew-he was a Syrian named Lysias, general of the armies of Antiochus Epiphanus. The second book of Maccabees says,† that he poisoned himself— veneno vitam finivit;' but these books of Maccabees are very suspicious. My dear reader, I have already desired you to believe nothing lightly.

* It is very probable that it is a popular story. It would be more easy not to think of penetrating these pretended secrets; but those who know anything on these subjects should have the prudence to be silent. It is not that these truths might not be useful, if they were known like any other species of truth, but they should only be published in works which show at the same times the danger, the precautions which can preserve us from it, and the remedies.-French Ed.

The Aqua Tofana is now well known, and certainly has nothing in common with the slaver of an enraged pig. Morphine, and similar chemical concentrations are at present the rage.-T. + Chap. x. 13.

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