« PředchozíPokračovat »
The profession of Bayle, which made it an object to him to turn to account even the sweepings of his study, affords an additional explanation of the indigested mass of heterogeneous and inconsistent materials contained in his Dictionary. Had he adopted any one system exclusively, his work would have shrunk in its dimensions into a comparatively narrow compass.
When these different considerations are maturely weighed, the omission by Bayle of the article Montaigne, will not be much regretted by the admirers of the Essays. It is extremely doubtful if Bayle would have been able to seize the true spirit of Montaigne's character; and, at any rate, it is not in the delineation of character that Bayle excels. His critical acumen, indeed, in the ex-. amination of opinions and arguments, is unrivalled ; but
moral, is candid and temperate. “ A writer whose strength and clearness of reasoning can only be equalled by the gaiety, easiness, and delicacy of his wit; who, pervading human nature with a glance, struck into the province of paradox, as an exercise for the restless vigor of his mind: who, with a soul superior to the sharpest attacks of fortune, and a heart practised to the best philosophy, had not yet enough of real greatness, to overcome that last foible of superior geniuses, the temptation of honor, which the academical exercise of wit is supposed to bring to its professors.” (Divine Legation.)
If there be any thing objectionable in this panegyric, it is the unqualified praise bestowed on Bayle's wit, which, though it seldon fails in copiousness, in poignancy, or in that grave argumentative irony, by which it is still more characteristically marked, is commonly as deficient in gaiety and delicacy as that of Warburton himself.
Leibnitz seems perfectly to have entered into the peculiar temper of his adversary Bayle, when he said of him, that “the only way to make Bayle write usefully, would be to 'attack him when he advances propositions that are sound and true; and to abstain from attacking him, when he says any thing false or pernicious.”
“Le vrai moyen de faire écrire utilement M. Bayle, ce seroit de l'attaquer, lorsqu'il écrit des bonnes choses et vraies, car ce seroit le moyen de le piquer pour continuer. Au lieu qu'il ne faudroit point l'attaquer quand il en dit de mauvaises, car cela l'engagera à en dire d'autres aussi mauvaises pour soutenir les premières.” (Tom. VI. p. 273.)
Leibnitz elsewhere says of him: “ Ubi bene, nemo melius.” (Tom. I. p. 257.) *“ The inequality of Bayle's voluminous works,” says Gibbon,“ is explained by his alternately writing for himself, for the bookseller, and for posterity; and if a severe critic would reduce him to a single folio, that relic, like the books of the sybils, would become still more valuable. (Gibbon's Mem. p. 50.)
Mr. Gibbon observes in another place, that, “ if Bayle wrote his Dictionary to emply the various collections he had made, without any particular design, he could not have chosen a better plan. It permitted him every thing, and obliged him to nothing. By the double freedom of a Dictionary and of Notes, he could pitch on what articles he pleased, and say what he pleased on those articles.” (Extraits Raisonnés de mes Lectures, p. 64.)
“How could such a genius as Bayle," says the same author, “ employ three or four pages, and a great apparatus of learning, to examine whether Achilles was fed with marrow only; whether it was the marrow of lions and stags, or that of lions only,” &c. ? (Ibid. p. 66.)
for a long and interesting passage with respect to Bayle's history and character, see Gibbon's Memoirs, &c. Vol. I. pp. 49, 50, 51.
his portraits of persons commonly exhibit only the coarser lineaments which obtrude themselves on the senses of ordinary observers; and seldom, if ever, evince that discriminating and divining eye, or that sympathetic penetration into the retirements of the heart, which lend to every touch of a master artist, the never to be mistaken: expression of truth and nature.
It furnishes some apology for the unsettled state of Bayle's opinions, that his habits of thinking were formed prior to the discoveries of the Newtonian School. Neither the vortices of Descartes, nor the monads and pre-established harmony of Leibnitz, were well calculated to inspire him with confidence in the powers of the human understanding ; nor does he seem to have been led, either by taste or by genius, to the study of those exacter sciences in which Kepler, Galileo, and others, had, in the preceding age, made such splendid advances. In Geometry he never proceeded beyond a few of the elementary propositions ; and it is even said (although I apprehend with little probability) that his farther progress was stopped by some defect in his intellectual powers, which disqualified him for the successful prosecution of the study
It is not unworthy of notice, that Bayle was the son of a Calvinist minister, and was destined by his father for his own profession; that during the course of his education in a college of Jesuits, he was converted to the Roman Catholic persuasion : * and that finally he went to Geneva, where, if he was not recalled to the Protestant faith, he was at least most thoroughly reclaimed from the errors of Popery.t
*“ For the benefit of education, the Protestants were tempted to risk their children in the Catholic Universities; and in the 22d year of his age young Bayle was seduced by the arts and arguments of the Jesuits of Thoulouse. He remained about seventeen months in their hands a voluntary captive.” (Gibbon's Misc. Works, Vol. I. p. 49.)
† According to Gibbon, " the piety of Bayle was offended by the excessive worship of creatures; and the study of physics convinced him of the impossibility of transubstantiation, which is abundantly refuted by the testimony of our senses.” (Ibid. p. 49.)
The same author, speaking of his own conversion from Popery, observes (after allowing to his preceptor Mr. Pavillard, “ a handsome share” of the honor,) " that it was principally effected by his private reflections ; ” adding the following very curious acknowledgment: “ I still remember my solitary transport at the discovery
To these early fluctuations in his religious creed, may be ascribed his singularly accurate knowledge of controversial theology, and of the lives and tenets of the most distinguished divines of both churches,-a knowledge much more minute than a person of his talents could well be supposed to accumulate from the mere impulse of literary curiosity. In these respects he exhibits a striking resemblance to the historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Nor is the parallel between them Jess exact in the similar effects produced on their minds, by the polemical cast of their juvenile studies. Their common propensity to indulge in indecency is not so easily explicable. "In neither does it seem to have originated in the habits of a dissolute youth ; but in the wantonness of a polluted and distempered imagination. Bayle, it is well known, led the life of an anchoret;* and the licentiousness of his pen is, on that very account, the more reprehensible. But (every thing considered the grossness of Gibbon is certainly the more unaccountable, and perhaps the more unpardonable of the two.t
On the mischievous tendency of Bayle's work to unsettle the principles of superficial readers, and (what is worse) to damp the moral enthusiasm of youth, by shaking their faith in the reality of virtue, it would be superfluous to enlarge. The fact is indisputable, and is admitted even by his most partial admirers. It equally useless 'to remark the benefits which (whether foreseen or not by the author, is of little consequence) have actually resulted to literature from his indefatigable labors. One thing will, I apprehend, be very generally granted in his favor, that, if he has taught men to suspend their judgment, he has taught them also to think and to reason for themselves; a lesson which appeared to a late philosophical divine of so great importance, as to suggest to him a doubt, whether it would not be better for authors to state nothing but premises, and to leave to their readers the task of forming their own conclusions.* Nor can Bayle be candidly accused of often discovering a partiality for any particular sect of philosophers. He opposes Spinoza and Hobbes with the same spirit and ability, and apparently with the same good faith, with which he controverts the doctrines of Anaxagoras and of Plato. Even the ancient sceptics, for whose mode of philosophizing he might be supposed to have felt some degree of tenderness, are treated with as little ceremony as the most extravagant of the dogmatists. He has been often accused of a leaning to the most absurd of all systems, that of the Manicheans; and it must be owned, that there is none in defence of which he has so often and so ably † exerted his talents ; but it is easy to perceive, that, when he does so, it is not from any serious faith which he attaches to it (perhaps the contrary supposition would be nearer the truth,) but from the peculiarly ample field which it opened for the display of his controversial subtlety, and of his inexhaustible stores of miscellaneous information. I In one passage he has pronounced with a
of a philosophical argument against the doctrine of transubstantiation ; that the text of Scripture, which seems to inculcate the real presence, is attested only by a single sense-our sight; while the real presence itself is disproved by three of our senses—the sight, the touch, and the taste. (Ibid. p. 58.) That this philosophical argument” should have had any influence on the mind of Gibbon, even at the early period of life when he made " the discovery,” would appear highly improbable, if the fact were not attested by himself; but as for Bayle, whose logical acumen was of a far harder and keener edge, it seems quite impossible to conceive, “ that the study of physics” was at all necessary to open his eyes to the absurdity of the real presence ; or that he would not at once have perceived the futility of appealing to our senses or to our reason, against an article of faith which professedly disclaims the authority of both.
*“Chaste dans ses maurs, grave dans ses discours, sobre dans ses alimens, austère dans son genre de vie." (Portrait de Bayle par M. Saurin, dans son Sermon sur l'accord de la religion avec la politique.)
† In justice to Bayle, and also to Gibbon, it should be remembered, that over the most offensive passages in their works they have drawn the veil of the learned languages. It was reserved for the translators of the Historical and Critical Diction. ary to tear this veil assunder, and to expose the indelicacy of their author to every curious eye. It is impossible to observe the patient industry and fidelity with which they have executed this part of their task, without feelings of indignation and disgust. For such an outrage on taste and decorum, their tedious and feeble attacks on the Mapicheism of Bayle offer but a poor compensation. Of all Bayle's suspected her. esies, it was perhaps that which stood the least in need of a serious refutation ; and, if the case had been otherwise, their incompetency to contend with such an adversary would have only injured the cause which they professed to defend.
may not be
* See the preface to Bishop Butler's Sermons.
| One of the earliest as well as the ablest of those who undertook a reply to the passages in Bayle which seem to favor Manicheism, candidly acquits him of any serious design to recommend that system to his readers. En répondant aux objections Manichéenes, je ne prétends faire aucun tort à M. Bayle: qui je ne soupçonne nullement de les favoriser. Je suis persuadé qu'il n'a pris la liberté philosophique de dire, en bien des rencontres, le pour et le contre, sans rien dissimuler, que pour donner de l'exercice à ceux que entendent les matières qu'il traite, et non pour favoriser ceux dont il explique les raisons." (Parrhasiana, ou Pensées Diverses, p. 302, par M. Le Clerc, Amsterdam, 1699.)
tone of decision which he seldom assumes, that “it is absurd, indefensible, and inconsistent with the regularity and order of the universe ; that the arguments in favor of it are liable to be retorted; and that, granting it to be true, it would afford no solution of the difficulties in ques
The apparent zeal with which, on various occasions, he has taken up its defence, may, I think, be reasonably accounted for, by the favorable opportunity it afforded him of measuring his logical powers with those of Leibnitz.t
To these considerations it may be added, that, in consequence of the progress of the sciences since Bayle's time, the unlimited scepticism commonly, and perhaps justly imputed to him, is much less likely to mislead than it was a century ago; while the value of his researches, and of his critical reflections, becomes every day more conspicuous, in proportion as more enlarged views of nature, and of human affairs, enable us to combine together that mass of rich but indigested materials, in the compilation of which his own opinions and principles seem to have been totally lost. Neither comprehension, indeed, nor generalization, nor metaphysical depth, are to be numbered among the characteristical attributes of his genius. Far less does he ever anticipate, by the moral lights of the soul, the slow and hesitating decisions of the understanding; or touch with a privileged hand those mysterious chords to which all the social sympathies of our
* See the illustration upon the Sceptics at the end of the Dictionary.
This supposition may be thought inconsistent with the well known fact, that the Théodicée of Leibnitz was not published till after the death of Bayle. But it must be recollected, that Bayle had previously entered the lists with Leibnitz in the article Rorarius, where he had urged some very acute and forcible objections against the scheme of pre-established harmony; a scheine wh ch leads so naturally and obviously to that of optimism, that it was not difficult to foresee what ground Leibnitz was likely to take in defending his principles. The great aim of Bayle seems to have been to provoke Leibnitz to unfold the whole of his system and of its necessary consequences; well knowing what advantages in the management of such a controversy would be on the side of the assailant.
The tribute paid by Leibnitz to the memory of his illustrious antagonist deserves to be quoted. Sperandum est, Balium luminibus illis nunc circumdari, quod terris negatum est: cum credibile sit, bonam voluntatem ei nequaquain defuisse.”
“ Candidus insuetum miratur limen Olympi,
Sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis." † I speak of that metaphysical depth which is the exclusive result of what Newton called Patient Thinking. In logical quickness, and metaphysical subulety, Bayle has never been surpassed.