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It is a little curious, that the author of the work before us propounds a theory directly opposite to that of the writer whose defects we have been touching; and that both have been led to the very verge of fatalism by not watching with sufficient vigilance the progress of their speculations. How much in the characters of nations and of individuals is to be attributed to the influence of natural propensities; how much to the operation of moral motives, and how much (if any thing) to the self-determining agency of the soul, we do not believe any measure of human sagacity is sufficient to determine. This, however, is clear, that physical causes are limited in their operation, while moral influences are capable of a regular and indefinite progression. Of the two systems of necessity which have infested philosophy, we have no hesitation in saying that the latter is the less vulgar and the less dangerous; that it has more of probability and more of truth. And though we steadily renounce every necessitarian theory, we are persuaded that the hypothesis which has its foundation in the subjection of the will to moral motives, may be, and has been, held by many in union with the highest truths and deepest piety: while the opposite theory, we have litte doubt, will generally be found connected at its root with materialism in philosophy, and scepticism in religion.
It would be easy to multiply little criticisms on the Spirit of Laws, but there is something equally contrary to generosity and good taste in thus counting “the moats that people the sunbeam.” This great performance will remain, in defiance of criticism, an imperishable monument of the genius and learning, the enterprise and perseverance, of its author. Some parts, indeed, have fallen away, and the proportions are incomplete; but, like the structures of antiquity, enough will remain to testify to the grandeur of the edifice, and attract the admiration of all succeeding ages.
There are some observations in the work before us on the celebrated sketch de la Grandeur et Decadence des Romains, which are composed in a tone of such a melancholy sublimity that we cannot resist the pleasure of extracting them.
" The period in which Montesquieu lived, more even than the vivacity of his genius, seduced him into a train of errors which experience bas rendered very perceptible. At a distance from the revolutions and the movements in which the spirit of nations and of men assumes a new character, and reveals itself suddenly in an unforeseen manner, Montesquieu indulged in many illusions ; many objects presented themselves to his eyes under an imaginary point of view, and excited his esteem and admiration, which now appear to us under a different aspect. The present has taught us better to understand the things which we could not disentangle in the past. History becomes more sad and more terrible for those who are enabled in reading it to compare it with the great events which they have themselves witnessed. How many governments, how many constitutions have we admired and considered as models, which we are now compelled to regard with another eye! How many meo have appeared to us clothed with glory and brilliancy, whose virtues and merits have now been destroyed or diminished since we have seen what circumstances could conduct to renown! How many events withdrawo into the vista of ages seemed to us solemn and imposing, which now appear but idle representations of which posterity had lost the art.
“It is thus that in admiring the progress and the whole of the work on the greatness and decline of the Romans, we are unable to enter into the system of virtue and prudence which the imagination of Montesquieu fancied itself to see presiding, from age to age, over the destinies and the glories of the masters of the world; whether it be that in adopting it we are fearful to discover ourselves to be but too inferior to that picture of heroism, or whether it be that the spectacle of our own age has rendered us sincerely iocredulous. Such is the effect of circum. stances upon opinions; Montesquieu, in a period of order and tranquillity, regards success as the necessary and natural reward of virtue and honour; Machiavel, in the midst of the cruel conflicts of the Italian politics, sees nothing great but in ability and force of character, whatever be their direction or their end.
“In the same manner our minds, saddened with revolutions, delivered from the enchantments of political romances, find no writers in perfect syınpathy with our feelings but those who have lived in the midst of the distractions and calamities of nations. They only appear to us true and profound. Contempt of man, scepticism of virtue, despair of the future, reflections which can supply no consoling thought-such are the sentiments which we now feel a melancholy pleasure to contemplate in historians and philosophers. We feel soothed with imagining ihat past ages have neither been more happy nor more worthy to be so." P. 61-63.
There is something peculiarly affecting in these solemn passages. The spirit, indeed, in which they are written is not altogether commendable ; but they betray the sufferings of a mind deeply sensible to the wounds which have been inflicted on its own age and nation. There are few things which, to a comprehensive and feeling spirit, are so afflicting as the sense of its inability to resist the torrent with which violence allied to guilt can desolate mankind. There is something so mean in the evil passions, something so base and contemptible in the gross and brutal force which alone renders them formidable, that beings of a nobler nature feel a mixture of agony and humiliation in submitting to an authority at once illegitimate, violent, and degrading. They feel astonished that wisdom and virtue are unable to rescue mankind from so mi. serable a servitude ; and after struggling perhaps a while in vain against audacious and triumphant guilt, relinquish the contest in despair, and begin to doubt whether virtue be not a name, and all the moral excellence and beauty which they have been accustomed to contemplate with admiration, the visions of a bright but delusive fancy. It is here that religion steps in to rescue us from despair; and raising our thoughts to that Almighty Being with whom “ a thousand years are as one day,” and carrying forward our hopes to a fairer and immortal region, teaches us to repose in humble confidence on the wisdom and the faithfulness of Him who has declared that a day of retribution is approaching which shall fully vindicate his righteousness, and ascertain the final and everlasting triumphs of virtue and piety. Happy they who find in faith that abiding consolation which can compose the disquietudes of anxiety and silence the murmurings of discontent; which can infuse a secret and vital energy that no resistance can subdue, no disappointments deaden; the spring of benevolent activity, even under the pressure of the darkest afflictions, “performing in despair the offices of hope."
It is just to the author before us to observe, that though his language be desponding, it is but the depression of a moment. The emotion quickly passes by, and he recovers bis natural tone of dignity and courage.
“ However, there is something more noble in not despairing of men or of nations, in tracing for them a route of virtue and happiness, and giving them an impulse free and complete, in doing away this culpa. ble indifference which can produce nothing but evil. If Montesquieu had lived in our days, perhaps his works would have had less depth, but they would not have offered that beautiful symmetry, that consistency of principles, which gives to them a character so brilliant and persuasive.” P. 64.
But the attractions of these highly interesting topics have seduced us into an extravagant length. We must be contented, therefore, to pass rapidly through a host of writers who are marshalled in due order by the writer before us, but who are for the most part of little celebrity, and with some of whom we are in truth acquainted only by their names. Some, however, there are, whose works would well deserve a much fuller consideration than it is now possible for us to bestow. In the same rank with Voltaire and Montesquieu the author of the Tableau places two other writers, undoubtedly of great, though in this country of unequal, renown-Rousseau and Buffon. Of the first of these we are unwilling to say a little, and we have not space to say much. Those who wish to see an examination of the works of this singuJar writer, that will undoubtedly well repay the trouble of perusing it, may consult from the 120th to the 140th pages of the work before us. It is pot, perhaps, written exactly in the tone which we should have adopted, (if indeed it be not presumptuous to name ourselves in the same breath with such a writer, but it is full of acuteness, depth, candour, and sensibility. We shall make only two short extracts, the first on account of its intrinsic value; the second for the sake of its severity : for though we do not ordinarily favour such passages, yet the writings of Rousseau have presented to the world such fascinating counterfeits of whatever is truly excellent, and under the colour of an ardent devotion to religion, virtue, and feeling, in their native simplicity, have advanced such fearful lengths towards the destruction of them all, that we hold any honest method of dissipating so dangerous an illusion to be just and valuable.
Speaking of the celebrated profession of faith by the Vicaire Savoyard, the author of the Tableau says,
« One is surprised to see him ascend at first by a noble flight up to the knowledge of a God, and then to take his departure from that point to the rejection of all positive religion and forms of worship. But such a march is conformable to the philosophy of Rousseau. The idea of a Divinity, a vague sentiment of gratitude and respect towards him, in a word, whatever is called natural religion, all this is within the province of imagination. One may be continually impressed with these Doble thoughts without feeling their influence in our actions; but worship is the positive application of these sentiments; it is through this medium that they become useful; it is by this alone that they acquire a body, that they assume a reality, and become possessed of some influence over our conduct. In examining Rousseau one sees that there is an analogy between religion without worship, and virtue without practice. P. 131, 132.
To this just and noble passage it is only necessary to add, that the homage which God requires of his creatures is not that of postures and rituals, but of their hearts and lives; a service such as it becomes him to receive, and which it constitutes our true happiness to render. Doctrines which float only in the imagination are contemplated rather than believed. The reception of divine truths, of which the scriptures speak, is their reception by the whole man understanding them, feeling them, and loving them. It is difficult to comprehend how any persons should have been led to suppose that Rousseau at heart believed in christianity. The Vicaire Savoyard pays some fine compliments to the New Testament; but he argues at great length against the credibility of revelation;—and the sum of his reasoning is this, that it requires a great deal of time and labour to ascertain that Christianity is true, and therefore it must be false !
The other passage which we promised to extract is immediately connected with the author's observations on the Confession of Rousseau, and it closes his criticisms upon that writer.
" No one knew better than Rousseau how to lay open the interior of his soul. Who has not felt himself moved and charmed in reading the lively description of those bewildering thoughts, of those hopes forever deceived and forever reviving, of those delights of imagination, of those romances of virtue and happiness, always false and still renewed, of those storms which rage in the very depths and recesses of the
ul, in short, of the whole history of a mind pensive and solitary? After having thus placed us, by the magic of truth, in his own situation, Rousseau makes us share in all his thoughts, and, as it were, io his actions. We fall with him by an irresistible declension into all his errors; we assume his insane pride; we see nothing but outrage and injustice; we become the enemies of all mankind, and we prefer ourselves to them. But a sounder reflection enables us to perceive that the man who has known how tbus to lead us along with him uniformly led a life full of egotism; that he drew every thing towards himself: that the enjoyments which he sought were always from something solitary, in which others had no share; that he never sacrificed bis interest but to his pride; that he was envious of every thing he did not obtain, though he often refused to possess it; that even his affections had a character of egotism, that he loved for his own satisfaction, and not for the satisfaction of others. In the end we repent of having suffered ourselves to be abused into the belief of the superiority of such a man; we comprehend sufficiently all his faults, but we pardon them no longer, and we confound po inore explanation with excuse.” P. 140.
In order that we may justly estimate the merit of this passage it is proper to add, that the writer is so far from being insensible to the talents of Rosseau, that he appears by some passages in his work to think him the most eloquent and fascinating of all those who gave celebrity to the eighteenth century. His imagination and feeling rendered him deeply sensible of the powers of that singular genius; and the rectitude of his understanding enabled him to perceive that such powers so vitiated only make the possessor wretched and contemptible, an enemy to himself, and to all his kindred.
If the author of the Tableau has ever been seduced into exaggeration, perhaps it is in his praises of Buffon, the last of the illustrious four to whom he assigns the first rank in literature. He is, perhaps, a little too much captivated by the brilliant fancy and highly picturesque style of the naturalist; and he is rather too merciful to his extravagant love of hypothesis. Eloquence is not the highest praise of a philosophical writer; and after allowing all that can be said in admiration of particular descriptive passages, still we venture to ask whether it be characteristic of a profound or an exalted mind to resolve every phenomenon into physical causes, and wander through all the vastness of creation without evincing the smallest sensibility to the power, the majesty, or the goodness of Him who made and sustains it.