Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Whatever may be the opinion or practice of my adverfary, this I ap prehend to be the dealing of a fair and honourable man.

The historical monuments of the three first centuries of ecclefiaftical antiquity are neither very numerous, nor very prolix. From the end of the Acts of the Apostles, to the time when the firft Apology of Justin Martyr was prefented, there intervened a dark and doubtful period of fourfcore years; and, even if the Epiftles of Ignatius fhould be approved by the critic, they could not be very ferviceable to the hiftorian. From the middle of the fecond to the beginning of the fourth century, we gain our knowledge of the ftate and progress of Christianity from the fucceffive Apologies which were occafionally compofed by Justin, Athenagoras, Tertullian, Origen, &c.; from the Epistles of Cyprian; from a few fincere acts of the Martyrs; from fome moral or controverfial tracts, which indirectly explain the events and manners of the times; from the rare and accidental notice which profane writers have taken of the Chriftian fect; from the declamatory Narrative which celebrates the deaths of the perfecutors; and from the Ecclefiaftical History of Eufebius, who has preferved fome valuable fragments of more early writers. Since the revival of letters, thefe original materials have been the common fund of critics and hiftorians: nor has it ever been imagined, that the abfolute and exclusive property of a paffage in Eufebius or Tertullian was ac. quired by the first who had an opportunity of quoting it. The learned work of Mofheim, de Rebus Chriftianis ante Conftantinum, was printed in the year 1753; and if I were poffeffed of the patience and difingenuity of Mr. Davis, I would engage to find all the ancient teftimonies that he has alleged, in the writings of Dodwell or Tillemont, which were published before the end of the last century. But if I were animated by any malevolent intentions against Dodwell or Tillemont, I could as cafily, and as unfairly, fix on them the guilt of Plagiarism, by producing the fame paffages transcribed or tranfJated at full length in the Annals of Cardinal Baronius. Let not criticifm be any longer difgraced by the practice of fuch unworthy arts. Instead of admitting fufpicions as falfe as they are ungenerous, candour will acknowledge, that Mofheim or Dodwell, Tillemont or Baronius, enjoyed the fame right, and often were under the fame obligation, of quoting the paffages which they had read, and which were indifpenfably requifite to confirm the truth and fubftance of their fimilar narratives. Mr. Davis is fo far from allowing me the benefit of this common indulgence, or rather of this common right, that he ftigmatizes with the name of Plagiarism a close and literal agreement with Dodwell in the account of fome parts of the perfecution of Diocletian, where a few chapters of Eufebius and Lactantius, perhaps of Lactantius alone, are the fole materials from whence our knowledge could be derived, and where, if I had not transcribed, I must have invented. He is even bold enough (bold is not the proper word) to conceive fome hopes of perfuading his readers, that an Historian who has employed feveral years of his life, and feveral hundred pages, on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, had never read Orofius, or the Auguftan History; and that he was forced to borrow, at fecond-hand, his quotations from the Theodofian

Code.

Code. I cannot profefs myself very defirous of Mr. Davis's ac quaintance; but if he will take the trouble of calling at my house any afternoon when I am not at home, my fervant fhall fhew him my library, which he will find tolerably well furnished with the useful authors, ancient as well as modern, ecclefiaftical as well as profane, who have directly fapplied me with the materials of my hiftory.'

Towards the clofe of his anfwer to Mr. Davis, Mr. Gibbon fays, that his Readers must be fatisfied, and indeed fatiated, with the repeated proofs which he has made of the weight and temper of his adverfary's weapons; that they have, in every affault, fallen dead and lifelefs to the ground; that they have more than once recoiled, and dangerously wounded, the unfkilful hand that had presumed to use them; that he has examined all the misreprefentations and inaccuracies, which even for a moment could perplex the ignorant, or deceive the credulous; that the few imputations which he has neglected, are ftill more palpably falfe, or ftill more evidently trifling; and that even the friends of Mr. Davis will fcarcely continue to afcribe his contempt of that Gentleman to his fear.

The remaining part of Mr. Gibbon's Vindication is employed in confidering the criticisms of Mr. Apthorpe, Dr. Watson, Dr. Randolph, Dr. Chelfum, &c. Being reluctantly drawn into the lifts of controverfy, fays Mr. Gibbon, I fhall not retire till I have faluted, either with ftern defiance, or gentle courtely, the theological champions who have fignalized their ardor to break a lance against the fhield of a Pagan adverfary.'

He treats Dr. Watfon in a very polite and liberal manner; gives his reafons for not entering into a public controversy with a writer of fo refpectable a character; and, after illuftrating a paffage, which, by the mifconftruction of his true meaning, feems to have made, he fays, an involuntary, but unfavourable impreffion on the liberal mind of Dr. Watfon, proceeds as folJows.

Far be it from me, or from any faithful Hiftorian, to impute to refpectable focieties the faults of fome individual members. Our two Universities moft undoubtedly contain the fame mixture, and most probably the fame proportions, of zeal and moderation, of reafon and fuperftition, Yet there is much lefs difference between the fmoothness of the Ionic and the roughness of the Doric diale&, than may be found between the polished ftile of Dr. Watson, and the coarfe language of Mr. Davis, Dr. Chelfum, or Dr. Randolph. The fecond of thefe critics, Dr. Chelfum of Christ Church, is unwilling that the world should forget that he was the first who founded to arms, that he was the firft who furnished the antidote to the poifon, and who, as early as the month of October of the year 1776, published his Strictures on the Two laft Chapters of Mr. Gibbon's Hillory. The fuccefs of a pamphlet, which he modeftly ftyles imperfect and ll-digefted, encouraged him to refume the controverfy. In the beginning of the prefent year, his Remarks made their fecond appear

ance,

1 3

1

ance, with fome alteration of form, and a large increase of bulk; and the author, who feems to fight under the protection of two episcopal banners, has prefixed, in the front of his volume, his name and titles, which in the former edition he had lefs honourably fuppreffed. His confidence is fortified by the alliance and communications of a diftinguished Writer, Dr. Randolph, &c. who, on a proper occafion, would, no doubt, be ready to bear as honourable teftimony to the merit and reputation of Dr. Chelfum. The two friends are indeed fo happily united by art and nature, that if the author of the Remarks had not pointed out the valuable communications of the Margaret Profeffor, it would have been impoffible to feparate their refpective property. Writers who poffefs any freedom of mind, may be known from each other by the peculiar character of their ftyle and fentiments; but the champions who are inlifted in the fervice of Authority, commonly wear the uniform of the regiment. Oppreffed with the fame yoke, covered with the fame trappings, they heavily move along, perhaps not with an equal pace, in the fame beaten track of prejudice and preferment. Yet I fhould expofe my own injuftice, were I abfolutely to confound with Mr. Davis the two Doctors in Divinity, who are joined in one volume. The three critics appear to be animated by the fame implacable refentment against the Hiftorian of the Roman Empire; they are alike difpofed to fupport the fame opinions by the fame arts; and if in the language of the two latter the difregard of politeness is fomewhat lefs grofs and indecent, the difference is not of fuch a magnitude as to excite in my breaft any lively fenfa. tions of gratitude. It was the misfortune of Mr. Davis that he un. dertook to write before he had read. He fet out with the stock of authorities which he found in my quotations, and boldly ventured to play his reputation against mine. Perhaps he may now repent of a lofs which is not easily recovered; but if I had not furmounted my almost infuperable reluctance to a public difpute, many a reader might fill be dazzled by the vehemence of his affertions, and might ftill believe that Mr. Davis had detected feveral wilful and important mifreprefentations in my Two laft Chapters. But the confederate Doctors appear to be scholars of a higher form and longer experience; they enjoy a certain rank in their academical world; and as their zeal is enlightened by fome rays of knowledge, fo their defire to ruin the credit of their adverfary is occafionally checked by the apprehenfion of injuring their own. Thefe reftraints, to which Mr. Davis was a ftranger, have confined them to a very narrow and humble path of hiftorical criticism; and if I were to correct, according to their wishes, all the particular facts against which they have advanced any objections, thefe corrections, admitted in their fullest extent, would hardly furnish materials for a decent lift of errata.

The dogmatical part of their work, which in every fenfe of the word deferves that appellation, is ill adapted to engage my attention. I had declined the confideration of theological arguments, when they were managed by a candid and liberal adverfary; and it would be inconfiftent enough, if I fhould have refufed to draw my sword in honourable combat against the keen and well-tempered weapon of Lr. Watfon, for the fole purpofe of encountering the ruftic cudgels of two flaunch and sturdy Polemics,'

Wo

We shall now conclude this article with obferving, that it is impossible for an impartial Reader to perufe Mr. Gibbon's Vindication with any degree of attention, without entertaining a very high idea of his learning, his abilities, and his candor. There are fome objections, indeed, to the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of his Hiftory, which have been urged by Dr. Watson, Dr. Chelfum, and others, to which he has given no anfwer, thinking them, perhaps, of little importance, but which, in our opinion, deferved a diftin&t, and ferious confideration.

ART. VI. Elements of General Hiftory. Tranflated from the French of the Abbé Millot. 8vo. 2 Vols. 12 s. Boards. Cadell. 1778.

"

SU

UCH of our Readers as are converfant with foreign literature, can be no ftrangers to the character of Abbé Millot, whofe judgment as an Hiftorian, and whofe elegance as a Writer, give him a juft title to that refpect and confideration which he enjoys in the republic of letters.

The work now before us cannot fail of adding confiderably to his reputation, and must be particularly acceptable to all thofe readers, who are defirous of having a general acquaintance with the principal hiftorical events of ancient times, but who have neither leifure nor ability to confult the originals. He has reduced a very extenfive fubject within narrow limits, confining himself to what is ufeful and important to men and citizens, without entering into minute enquiries, or tedious details of uninteresting facts, and leaving out those idle fables and filly ftories which are fo frequently to be met with in ancient history, and which, while they load the memory, contribute little or nothing towards ftrengthening the understanding, or improving.

the heart.

Though the Author has the inftruction of youth principally in view, yet thofe of advanced years, and cultivated understandings, will reap very confiderable advantage from an attentive perufal of his work; which, with few, very few exceptions indeed, breathes a manly, candid, and liberal fpirit; fhews the Hiftorian to be an enemy to fuperftition, bigotry, violence, and tyranny; and a hearty friend to every thing that can improve, adorn, or exalt humanity.

The firft volume contains the hiftory of the Egyptians, Chinefe, Affyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Hebrews or Jews, Medes, Perfians, Scythians, and Celtæ, Indians, Greeks, and Romans, and clofes with the hiftory of the fecond Punic war.The work is divided in such a manner as to make each chapter the fubject of one leffon for youth.

The tranflation, though not elegant, has yet confiderable merit, being, in general, very juft to the original. Our Readers

I 4

may

[ocr errors]

may form fome judgment of it from the following fpeci men, which will give them, at the fame time, fome idea of the Author's tafte and manner of writing; we shall take it from that part of the work which treats of the arts, learning, and fcience of the Greeks. Part of what he fays concerning their philofophy is as follows:

When the minds of men are fet in motion, and they are led by curiofity, emulation, or any other motive, to dedicate their attention to ftudy, it is impoffible that all can purfue the fame track; so that if the belles lettres have an invincible attraction for fome, there are others no lefs delighted with the fciences: a paffion for acquiring knowledge, and a love of fearching after truth, fhew themselves even in the train of the mufes. When the pleasures derived from reason begin to be relished, thofe of the imagination lofe their influence upon thofe ferious active minds who prefer the folid to the agreeable, or rather who find what is agreeable in the discovery of truth. Man, fociety, and nature, prefent to them an immenfe field for reflection and enquiry: they embrace philofophy because there alone can they find the gratification of their defires.

The firft philofophers were fages who chiefly dedicated their attention to the ftudy and practice of morality. What could beft fecure the happiness of individuals or of the ftate, was the subject of their meditations; their deepest contemplations related to that object; they were unacquainted with vain fubtilties and contentions about words, or with a paffion for fupporting different systems and fets, which produced fuch numberless errors and extravagancies, when fenfe was forfaken for intellectual caufes, and the love of truth was facrificed to opinion. They afterwards loft themselves in different hypothefes on the origin of the world, the firft caufe, the 'fupreme good, &c. &c. Wifdom evaporated in idle reveries, and endless fophiftry. What was faid to Thales of Miletus, by a good woman, who faw him fall while contemplating the ftars, may be applied to most of the ancient philofophers. How Should you know the heavens, faid the, when you do not fee what is at your feet!

The Grecian philofophy was divided into two branches, the Ionic and Italian fects; both of which were fubdivided into feveral others. Thales, the cotemporary of Solon, was at the head of the first, and Pythagoras the chief of the fecond. I fhall only speak as a hiftorian, and mention the most celebrated philofophers, but in a few words, confining myself to what is moft interefting.

Pythagoras deferves to be ranked firft, because he laboured effectually in the caufe of morals. It was not in the time of Numa, as -numbers have supposed, but in that of Tarquin the proud, about five hundred and forty years before the chriftian era, that that great man did fo much honour to Greece, and fo much good to Italy. He was believed to be a native of Samos, and having heard the reafonings of a philofopher upon the immortality of the foul, immediately devoted himself in a kind of enthufiafm, to the ftudy of philofophy. He travelled into Egypt, Phoenicia, Chaldea, and probably as far as the Indies, in queft of knowledge. Though a geometrician and aftronomer, he looked upon virtue as the first of the fciences, and

was

« AnteriorContinuar »