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furnish matter for philosophical history. To enumerate the names and the labors of obscure or even secondary authors (whatever amusement it might afford to men of curious erudition), would contribute but little to illustrate the origin and filiation of consecutive systems, or the gradual developement and progress of the human mind.
FROM THE REVIVAL OF LETTERS TO THE PUBLICATION OF BACON'S PHI
The long interval, commonly known by the name of the middle ages, which immediately preceded the revival of letters in the western part of Europe, forms the most melancholy blank which occurs, from the first dawn of recorded civilization, in the intellectual and moral history of the human race. In one point of view alone, the recollection of it is not altogether unpleasing, in as much as, by the proof it exhibits of the inseparable connexion between ignorance and prejudice on the one hand, and vice, misery, and slavery, on the other, it affords, in conjunction with other causes, which will afterwards fall under our review, some security against any future recurrence of a similar calamity.
It would furnish a very interesting and instructive subject of speculation, to record and to illustrate (with the spirit, however, rather of a philosopher than of an antiquary) the various abortive efforts, which, during this protracted and seemingly hopeless period of a thousand years, were made by enlightened individuals, to impart to their contemporaries the fruits of their own acquirements. For in no one age from its commencement to its close, does the continuity of knowledge (if I may borrow an expression of Mr. Harris) seem to have been entirely interrupted : “ There was always a faint twilight, like that auspicious gleam which, in a summer's night, fills up the interval between the setting and the rising sun." * On the present occasion, I shall content myself with remarking the important effects produced by the numerous monastic establishments all over the Christian world, in preserving, amidst the general wreck, the inestimable remains of Greek and Roman refinement; and in keeping
Philological Inquiries, Part III. chap. i.
alive, during so many centuries, those scattered sparks of truth and of science, which were afterwards to kindle into so bright a flame. I mention this particularly, because, in our zeal against the vices and corruptions of the Romish church, we are too apt to forget, how deeply we are indebted to its superstitious and apparently useless foundations, for the most precious advantages that we now enjoy.
The study of the Roman Law, which, from a variety of causes, natural as well as accidental, became, in the course of the twelfth century, an object of general pursuit, shot a strong and auspicious ray of intellectual light across the surrounding darkness. No study could then have been presented to the curiosity of men, more happily adapted to improve their taste, to enlarge their views, or to invigorate their reasoning powers; and although, in the first instance, prosecuted merely as the object of a weak and undistinguishing idolatry, it nevertheless conducted the student to the very confines of ethical as well as of political speculation ; and served, in the meantime, as a substitute of no inconsiderable value for both these sciences. Accordingly we find that, while in its immediate effects, it powerfully contributed, wherever it struck its roots, by meliorating and systematizing the administration of justice, to accelerate the progress of order and of civilization, it afterwards furnished, in the farther career of human advancement, the parent stock on which were grafted the first rudiments of pure ethics and of liberal politics taught in modern times. I need scarcely add, that I allude to the systems of natural jurisprudence compiled by Grotius and his successors; systems which, for a hundred and fifty years, engrossed all the learned industry of the most enlightened part of Europe ; and which, however unpromising in their first aspect, were destined, in the last result, to prepare the way for that never to be forgotten change in the literary taste of the eighteenth century, « which has every where turned the spirit of philosophical inquiry from frivolous or abstruse speculations, to the business and affairs of men."*
• Dr. Robertson from whom I quote these words, has mentioned this change as
The revival of letters may be considered as coëval with the fall of the Eastern empire, towards the close of the fifteenth century. In consequence of this event, a number of learned Greeks took refuge in Italy, where the taste for literature already introduced by Dante, Petrarclı, and Boccacio, together with the liberal patronage of the illustrious House of Medicis, secured them a welcome reception. A knowledge of the Greek tongue soon became fashionable ; and the learned, encouraged by the rapid diffusion which the art of printing now gave to their labors, vied with each other in rendering the Greek authors accessible, by means of Latin translations, to a still wider circle of readers.
For a long time, indeed, after the era just mentioned, the progress of useful knowledge was extremely slow. The passion for logical disputation was succeeded by an unbounded admiration for the wisdom of antiquity; and . in proportion as the pedantry of the schools disappeared in the universities, that of erudition and philology occupied its place.
Meanwhile, an important advantage was gained in the immense stock of materials which the ancient authors
supplied to the reflections of speculative men; and which, although frequently accumulated with little discrimination or profit, were much more favorable to the developement of taste and of genius than the unsubstantial subtletiesofontologyor of dialectics. By such studies were formed Erasmus,*
the glory of the present age, meaning, I presume, the period which has elapsed since the time of Montesquieu. By what steps the philosophy to wbich he alludes took its rise from the systems of jurisprudence previously in fashion, will appear in the sequel of this discourse.
* The writings of Erasmus probably contributed still more than those of Luther himself to the progress of the Reformation among men of education and taste; but, without the cooperation of bolder and more decided characters than his, little would to this day have been effected in Europe among the lower orders. “ Erasinus imagined,” as is observed by his biographer," that at length, by training up youth in learning and useful knowledge, those religious improvements would gradually be brought about, which the Princes, the Prelates, and the Divines of his days could not be persuaded to adınit or to tolerate.” (Jortin, p. 279.) Ip yielding, however, to this pleasing expectation, Erasmus must have flattered himself with the hope, not only of a perfect freedom of literary discussion, but of such reforms in the prevailing modes of instruction, as would give complete scope to the energies of the human mind ;-for, where books and teachers are subjected to the censorship of those who are hostile to the dissemination of truth, they become the most powerful of all auxiliaries to the authority of established errors.
It was long a proverbial saying among the ecclesiastics of the Romish church, that “ Erasmus laid the egg, and Luther hatched it;” and there is more truth in the remark, than in most of their sarcasms on the same subject.
Ludovicus Vives, * Sir Thomas More,f and many other accomplished scholars of a similar character, who, if they do not rank in the same line with the daring reformers by whom the errors of the Catholic church were openly assailed, certainly exhibit a very striking contrast to the barbarous and unenlightened writers of the preceding age.
The Protestant Reformation, which followed immediately after, was itself one of the natural consequences of the revival of letters, and of the invention of printing. But although, in one point of view, only an effect
, it is not, on the present occasion, less entitled to notice than the causes by which it was produced.
The renunciation, in a great part of Europe, of theological opinions so long consecrated by time, and the adoption of a creed more pure in its principles, and more liberal in its spirit, could not fail to encourage, on all other subjects, a congenial freedom of inquiry. These circumstances operated still more directly and powerfully, by their influence in undermining the authority of Aristotle ; an authority, which for many years was scarcely inferior in the schools to that of the Scriptures; and which, in some Universities, was supported by statutes, requiring the teachers to promise upon oath, that, in their public lectures, they would follow no other guide.
Luther, who was perfectly aware of the corruptions which the Romish church had contrived to connect with
* Ludovicus Vives was a learned Spaniard, intimately connected both with Erasmus and More ; with the former of whom he lived for some time at Louvain; where they both promoted literature as much as they could, though not without great opposition froni some of the divines.” Jortin, p. 255.
"He was invited into England by Wolsey, in 1523 ; and coming to Oxford, he read the Cardinal's lecture of Humanity, and also lectures of Civil Law, which Henry VIII., and his Queen Catharine, did himn the honor of attending.” (Ibid. p. 207.) He died at Bruges in 1554.
In point of good sense and acuteness, wherever he treats of philosophical questions, he yields to none of his contemporaries; and in some of his anticipations of the future progress of science, he discovers a mind more comprehensive and sagacious than any of them. Erasmus appears, froin a letter of his to Budæus (dated in 1521,) to have foreseen the brilliant career which Vives, then a very young man, was about to run. “ Vives in stadio literario, pon minus feliciter quam gnaviter decertat, et si satis ingenium hominis novi, non conquiescet, donec omnes a tergo relinquerit.”-For this letter (the whole of which is peculiarly interesting, as it contains a character of Sir Thomas More, and an account of the extraordinary accomplishments of his daughters,) see Jortin's Life of Erasmus, vol. II. p. 366,
| See Note A.