Imágenes de páginas

ples: he returned home, resumed his studies, unravelled his mistakes, and delivered his mind from the yoke of authority and superstition. His new creed was built on the principle, that the Bible is our sole judge, and private reason our sole interpreter ; and he ably maintains this principle in the Religion of a Protestant,' a book which, after startling the doctors of Oxford, is still esteemed the most solid defence of the Reformation. The learning, the virtue, the recent merits of the author, entitled him to fair preferment; but the slave had now broken his fetters, and the more he weighed, the less was he disposed to sub. scribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of the church of England. In a private letter he declares, with all the energy of language, that he could not subscribe to them without subscribing to his own damnation; and that if ever he should depart from this immoveable resolution, he would allow his friends to think him a madman or an atheist. As the letter is without a date, we cannot ascertain the number of weeks or months that elapsed between this passionate abhorrence and the Salisbury Register, which is still extant. “Ego, Gulielmus Chillingworth, .... omnibus hisce articulis, .... et singulis in iisdem contentis, volens et ex animo subscribo, et consensum meum iisdem præbeo. 20 die Julii 1638.” But alas! the chancellor and prebendary of Sarum soon deviated from his own subscription: as he more deeply scrutinized the article of the Trinity, neither scripture nor the primitive fathers could long uphold his orthodox belief; and he could not but confess, “that the doctrine of Arius is either a truth, or at least no damnable heresy.” From this middle region of the air the descent of his reason would naturally rest on the firmer ground of the Soci. nians; and if we may credit a doubtful story, and the popular opinion, his anxious inquiries at last subsided in philosophic indifference. So conspicuous however were the candour of his nature and the innocence of his heart, that this apparent levity did not affect the reputation of Chillingworth. His frequent changes proceeded from too nice an inquisition into truth. His doubts grew out of himself; he assisted them with all the strength of his reason; he was then too hard for himself; but finding as little quiet and repose in those victories, he quickly recovered by a new appeal to his own judgment; so that in all his sallies and retreats he was in fact his own convert.

Bayle was the son of a Calvinist minister in a remote province in France, at the foot of the Pyrenees. For the benefit of education, the Protestants were tempted to risk their children in the Catholic universities; and in the twenty-second year of his age young Bayle was seduced by the arts and arguments of the Jesuits of Thoulouse. He remained about seventeen months (19th March 1669—19th August 1670) in their hands a voluntary captive; and a letter to his parents, which the new convert composed or subscribed (15th April 1670) is darkly tinged with the spirit of Popery. But nature had designed him to think as he pleased, and to speak as he thought; his piety 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. His return to the communion of a falling sect was a bold and disinterested step, that exposed him to the rigour of the laws; and a speedy Alight to Geneva protected him from the resentment of his spiritual tyrants, unconscious as they were of the full value of the prize which they had lost. Had Bayle adhered to the Catholic church, had he embraced the ecclesiastical profession, the genius and fervour of such a proselyte might have aspired to wealth and honours in his native country; but the hypocrite would have found less happiness in the comforts of a benefice, or the dignity of a mitre, than he enjoyed at Rotterdam in a private state of exile, indigence, and freedom. Without a country, or a patron, or a prejudice, he claimed the liberty and subsisted by the labours of his pen: the inequality of his volumi. nous works is explained and excused by his alternately writing for himself, for the booksellers, 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. A calm and lofty spectator of the religious tempest, the philosoher of Rotterdam condemned with equal firmness the persecutions of Louis the fourteenth, and the republican maxims of the Calvinists, their vain prophecies, and the intolerant bigotry which sometimes vexed his solitary retreat. In reviewing the controversies of the times, he turned against each other the arguments of the disputants; successively wielding the arms of the Catholics and Protestants, he proves that neither the

way of authority, nor the way of examination, can afford the multitude any test of religious truth; and dexterously concludes that custom and education must be the sole grounds of popular belief. The ancient paradox of Plutarch, that atheism is less pernicious than superstition, acquires a tenfold vigour, when it is adorned with the colours of his wit, and pointed with the acuteness of his logic. His Critical Dictionary is a vast repository of facts and opinions ; and he balances the false religions in his sceptical scales, till the opposite quantities (if I may use the language of algebra) annihilate each other. The wonderful power which he so boldly exercised, of assembling doubts and objections, had tempted him jocosely to assume the title of the vapaa nyepeta Zevs, the cloudcompelling Jove; and in a conversation with the ingenious abbé (afterwards cardinal) de Polignac, he freely disclosed his universal Pyrrhonism. “I anı most truly (said Bayle) a Protestant; for i protest indifferently against all systems and all sects."

The academical resentment which I may possibly have provoked, will prudently spare this plain narrative of my studies, or rather of my idleness, and of

[ocr errors]

the unfortunate event which shortened the term of my residence at Oxford. But it may be suggested, that my father was unlucky in the choice of a society and the chance of a tutor. It will perhaps be asserted, that in the lapse of forty years many improvements have taken place in the college and in the university. I am not unwilling to believe that some tutors might have been found more active than Dr Waldegrave, and less contemptible than Dr. ****. At a more recent period many students have been attracted by the merit and reputation of sir William Scott, then a tutor in University college, and now conspicuous in the profession of the civil law: my personal acquaintance with that gentleman has inspired me with a just esteem for his abilities and knowledge; and I am assured that his lectures on history would compose, were they given to the public, a most valuable treatise. Under the auspices of the late deans a more regular discipline has been introduced, as I am told, at Christ Church ;* a course of classical and philosophical studies is proposed, and even pursued, in that numerous semi.

* This was written on the information Mr Gibbon had received, and the observation he had made, previous to his late residence at Lausanne. During his last visit to England, he had an opportunity of seeing at Sheffield Place some young men of the college above alluded to; he had great satisfaction in conversing with them, made many inquiries respecting their course of study, applauded the discipline of Christ Church, and the liberal attention shewn by the dean to those whose only recommendation was their merit. Had Mr Gibbon lived to revise this work, I am sure he would have mentioned the name of Dr Jackson with the highest commendation: and also that of Dr Bagot, bishop of St Asaph, whose attention to the duties of his office while he was dean of Christ Church was unremitted, and to whom perhaps that college is more indebted for the good discipline introduced there, than to any other person whatever. There are other colleges at Oxford, with whose discipline my friend was unacquainted, to which, without doubt, he would willingly have allowed their due praise, particularly Brazen

nary ; learning has been made a duty, a pleasure, and

a fashion; and several young gentlemen do honour to the college in which they have been educated. According to the will of the donor, the profit


at our

Nose and Oriel colleges ; the former under the care of Dr Cleaver, bishop of Chester, the latter under that of Dr Eveleigh. It is still greatly to be wished that the general expense, or rather extravagance, of young men English universities may be more effectually restrained. The expense in which they are permitted to indulge, is inconsistent not only with a necessary degree of study, but with those habits of morality which should be promoted, by all means possible, at an early period of life. An academical education in England is at present an object of alarm and terror to every thinking parent of moderate fortune. It is the apprehension of the expense, of the dissipation, and other evil consequences which arise from the want of proper restraint at our own universities, that forces a number of our English youths to those of Scotland, and utterly excludes many from any sort of academical instruction. If a charge be true, which I have heard insisted on, that the heads of our colleges in Oxford and Cambridge are vain of having under their care chiefly men of opulence, who may be supposed exempt from the necessity of economical control, they are indeed highly censurable; since the mischief of allowing early habits of expense and dissipation is great in various respects, even to those possessed of large property; and the most serious evil from this indulgence must happen to youths of humbler fortune, who certainly form the majority of students both at Oxford and Cambridge. S.

Since these observations appeared, a sermon, with very copious notes, has been published by the reverend Dr Parr, wherein he complains of the scantiness of praise bestowed on those who were educated at the universities of England. I digressed merely to speak of the few heads of colleges of whom I had at that time heard, or with whom I was acquainted, and I did not allude to any others educated there. I have further to observe, that I have not met with any person who lived at the time to which Mr Gibbon alludes, who was not of opinion that his representation, at least of his own college, was just; and such was the opinion of that

« AnteriorContinuar »