Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and what valuable purposes can it serve? It is no difficult task for a writer of our Author's genius and sprightly fancy, to declaim upon such a subject as this, and it is obvious with what view he does it. The real friend to mankind, however, instead of labouring to give them mean and debasing ideas of their nature, endeavours to give them exalted notions of its importance and destination; to touch ihose generous springs of action which the original parent mind has implanted in the human breast; and to inspire them with a noble and god-like ambition. How different from this is the general aim and tendency of Voltaire's writings; and in this view, how contemptible must he appear in the eyes of every virtuous and good man, not withstanding his sprightly fallies of imagination, his original strokcs of wit and humour, and his lively and agreeable manner.of writing !-But to proceed.

One supreine Artist only. • Great part of mankind, observing physical and moral evil diffused over this globe, have imagined that there are two powerful Beings, one the Author of good, the per the Author of evil. If such Beings exist, they must exist necessarily in the same space, and must therefore penetrate each other, which is absurd. The idea of these two hoftile powers, can only derive its origin from those examples which strike us here on earth : we see men of gentle, and men of favage dispositions, useful and pernicious animals, good masters and tyrants. In like manner, it has been chought, that there must be two opposite powers, which preside over nature; but this is only an Asiatic romance, Through the whole of nature there is, manifestly, an unity of design; the laws of motion and gravitation are vivariable, and it is impossible that two fupreme Artists, entirely opposite toeach other, Thould establish the fame laws. This alone, in my opinion, overthrows the Manichean system, and there is no occa. fion for large volumes to thew the absurdity of it.

“There is therefore, one only supreme and eternal power, with which every thing is connected, and on which every thing depends; the nature of which, however, is incomprehensible. Saint Thomas tells us, that God is a pure nci, a form, which has neither genus nor predicale, which exists effentially, participitatively, and nuncupatively. When the Dominicans were masters of the Inquisition, they would have burnt any man who should have de. nied these fine things; as for me, I should not have denied them, but I should not have understood them.

• I am told that God is a simple Being. I humbly confess that I do not understand the meaning of this. I do not indeed attribute to him gross parts which I can separate, but I cannot conceive, how the Principle and Lord of every thing which exfifts in extenfion, should not be extended. Simplicity, strietiy

Ipeaking,

Nn 2

speaking, seems to me very like non-existence. The extreme weakness of my understanding, has no instrument fine enoughi to lay hold of this fimplicity. I shall be told, I know, that a mathematical point is limple; but a mathematical point has no real existence.

I am told, likewise, that an idea is simple; but neither is this intelligible to me. I see a horse, I have an idea of him, but I only fee an allemblage of parts in him. I see a colour, I have the idea of colour, but this colour is extended. I pronounce the abstract names of colour in general; of vice, of virtue, of truth, in general; but it is because I have the knowledge of coloured obje&ts, of actions which appear to me virtuous or vicious, and of things which seem true or false.

I express all this by a word; but I have no clear knowledge of fimplicity; I know no more wbat it is, than I know what infinite is.

• Being convinced, that I know not what I am myself, I cannot posibly know what the Author of my being is. My ignorance overwhelms me every moment, but I comfort myself with reflecting that it is of small importance to know whether he exills in extension or not, provided I do nothing contrary to that conscience which he has given me. Which of all the fystems, therefore, that have been invented by men in regard to the Deity, hall [ embrace? None, excepting that of adoring him.'

It is in this oblique manner, our Author scatters his insinuations against revelation up and down his writings. And ina deed, this is the most prudent method of attack, and, with the generality of readers, the moft likely to answer the ends proposed by it. A direct attack would be a little more troublesome, and would put many readers upon their guard; but fly innuendres artfully introduced, occafion no alarm, and have a happy cttect upon those exalted minds, who are raised far above vulgat prejudices; being placed likewise where there was little realon to expect them, they give the pleasure of an agreeable furpuiee. --But let us return to our Author.

Of the Greek philosophers, and first of Pythagoras, All the Greek philosophers have talked very absurdly upon subjects of natural philosophy and metaphysics. They are all excellent in morality; they are all equal to Zoroaster, Confucius, and the Brachmans. Only read the golden verses of Pyshagoras, which are the substance of his doctrine; no matter wie is ithe author of them; tell me, if a single virtue is omitied in them.'

Of Zaleucus. • Unite all your common places, ye preachers of Greece, 1.al, Spain, Germany, France, &c. let all your desirmations

be

be distilled, can a purer spirit be drawn from them, than the exordium to the laws of Zaleucus ?

Subdue your soul, purify it, baris wvery criminal thought. Do not imagine that the Deity can be properly served by the vicious; do not imagine that he is like weak mortals, who are flattered by praises and magnificent presents ; it is virtue alone can procure his favour.-This is the summary of all religion, and of all morality.

Of Epicurus. • College-pedants, and petty pedagogues have imagined, in consequence of some pleasantries of Horace and Petronius, that Epicurus taught pleasure both by precept and example. Epicurus, during his whole life, was a temperate, wise, and just philosopher. At the age of twelve or shirteen years, he gave marks of an uncommon degree of understanding; for when the grammarian, who inftructed bim, repeated to him that verse of Hefiod, wherein it is said, that Chaos was produced the first of all beings : Epicurus asked, And pray, who produced Chaos, if Chaos was the first? I know nothing of that, replied the grammarian, none but the philosophers can answer that question. I will have recourse to them, therefore, said Epicurus, for a solution of it, and from that time, till the age of feventy-two, he cultivated philosophy. His laft will, which Diogenes Laertes has preserved entire, discovers a soul full of tranquillity and justice; he enfranchises such of his Naves as he thought de. served it; he recommends to his executors to set those at liberty, who should render themselves worthy of it: no ostentation, no unjust preference! it is the last will of a man, whose whale conduct in life was governed by reason. He was the only one of all the philosophers, who was beloved by all bis Disciples, and his sect was the only one where love prevailed, and which was not divided into several others.

After examining his doctrine, and all that has been written both for and against him; it appears evident, that the whole amounts to no more than the dispute between Malbranche and Arnaud. Malbranche acknowledges that pleasure makes a man happy, Arnaud,denies it; the dispute is merely about words, like many other disputes, into which philosophy and divinity introduce obscurity and uncertainty.'

Of the Stoics. • If the Epicureans rendered human nature amiable, the Stoics rendered it almost divine. Resignation, or rather ap elevation of foul, to the supreme Being; contempt of pleasure, contempt even of pain, contempt of life, and of death, infexibility in justice : such was the character of the true Stoics; and all that can be said against them is, that they discouraged other ben,

Socrates,

Nn3

• Socrates, who did not belong to their sect, shewed that it was imposible to carry virtue so far as they did, and at the same time belong to any party; and the death of this martyr, is the eternal disgrace of Athens, though the repented of it.

< The Stoic Cato, on the other hand, is the eternal honour of Rome. Epictetus in bondage, 'is, perhaps, fuperior to Cato; because he is always contented with his condition. I am, says he, in that situation wherein it has pleased providence to place me; to complain of it, is to complain of providence.

• Shall I say, that the emperor Antoninus was even superior to Epictetus, because he triumphed over more temptations, and because it was much more difficult for an Emperor not to be corfupted, than for a poor man not to murmur? Read the thoughts of the one and the other; the Emperor and the Slave will apfear of equal dignity.

* Shall I dare to mention the Emperor Julian on this occafion? He was mistaken in many of his opinions ; but in regard to morality he certainly was not mistaken. In a word, none of the philosophers of antiquity were more desirous of rendering men happy.

• There have been persons among us, who have said, that all the virtues of these great men were only splendid fins. that the earth were covered with fuch sinners ! ?

Philosophy is virtue. • There were Sophists, who were to Philosophers, what mon. keys are to men. Lucian laughed at them, and the consequence was, that they were despised. They were very like the mendicant monks in our universities. But let us never forget that all the philosophers have given great examples of virtue, and that the Sophists, nay, even the Monks, have respected virtue in their writings.?

• I shall place Ælop among these great men, and even at the head of them, whether he was the Pilpay of the Indians, the Lokman of the Persians; the Akkim of the Arabs, or the Hacam of the Phenicians ; this is of no importance: I find that his fables have been highly valued by all the oriental nations, and that their origin is loft in an unfathomable antiquity. They have taught almost all our hemisphere. They are not colo Jections of faftidious fentences, which tire rather than instruct the Reader; they are truth itseif with the charms of fable. All that modern languages have been able to do, is to embellish them. This antient wisdom is fimple and naked in the original Author. What do all these fables teach us? To be just.''

Of the prace which sprung from Philosophy. <Since all the Philosophers had different opinions, it is evident that opinion and virtue, are very different in the r natures. Whether

they

« Of Æfop.

they did or did not believe that Thetis was the Goddess of the Sea, whether they had or had not faith in the war of the Giants, the golden age, the box of Pandera, the death of the serpent Pithon, &c. these doctrines had nothing in common with morality. What deserves admiration in Antiquity, is, that their Theology never disturbed the public peace.'

· Questions. "O that we could imitate antiquity! O that we could be perfuaded to do, in regard to theological disputes, what we have done, at the end of seventeen centuries, in regard to the bellesLettres !

. We have forsaken the barbarism of the Schools, and returned to the fine Writers of Antiquity. The Romans were never fo absurd as to think of persecuting a man, because he believed a vacuum, or a plenum ; because he imagined that accidents might subsist without a substratum; or because he explained a passage of an Author in a different sense from others.

We have recourse every day to the Roman jurisprudence; and when we want laws, (which is often the cale) we go and consult the Code and the Digeft. Why not imitate our malters in their wise toleration ?

• Of what importance is it to the state, whether the opinions of the Reals, or the Nominals prevail, whether we believe in Scotus, or in Thomas, in Oecolampadius, or in Melantthon, &c? Is it not evident that the true interest of a nation has no more concern with this, than it has in a good or bad translation of a passage from Lycophron or Hefiod?'

These specimens of our Author's manner of treating the subjects he writes upon, are fufficient to give our Readers a just idea of the merits of his performance, and to convince them how easy a matter it would be for a writer, even of moderate abilities, to multiply volumes upon fuch topics.

The reflections, which are proper to be made on such write ings, muft necefiarily occur to every difcerning Reader. One thing, however, we cannot help mentioning ; Voltaire, and some other modern infidels of great name; take frequent opportunities of afferting, and that roundly, and without any manner of hesitation, that there was no such thing among the antients, as persecution for religious opinions. Now every one who is conversant with antient history, knows that this is absolutely false, and can produce striking instances in support of the contrary. Are such affertions, therefore, to be charged to ignorance, or to wilful misrepresentation?

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »