« AnteriorContinuar »
the end contribute to its dissolution, so the efforts of former adventurers. All this may be performed which might have promoted learning in its feeble in a society of long continuance, but if the kingdom commencement, may, if continued, retard its pro-be but of short duration, as was the case of Arabia, gress. The paths of science, which were at first learning seems coeval, sympathizes with its politi. intricate because untrodden, may at last grow toil- cal struggles, and is annihilated in its dissolution. some, because too much frequented. As learning| But permanence in a state is not alone sufficient; advances, the candidates for its honours become it is requisite also for this end that it should be free. more numerous, and the acquisition of fame more Naturalists assure us, that all animals are sagac. uncertain: the modest may despair of attaining it, ous in proportion as they are removed from the and the opulent think it too precarious to pursue. tyranny of others. In native liberty, the elephant Thus the task of supporting the honour of the is a citizen, and the beaver an architect; but whentimes may at last devolve on indigence and effron- ever the tyrant man intrudes upon their communitery, while learning must partake of the contempt ty, their spirit is broken, they seem anxious only of its professors.
for safety, and their intellects suffer an equal dimi. To illustrate these assertions, it may be proper nution with their prosperity. The parallel will hold to take a slight review of the decline of ancient with regard to mankind. Fear naturally represses learning; to consider how far its depravation was invention; benevolence, ambition: for in a nation owing to the impossibility of supporting continued of slaves, as in the despotic governments of the perfection; in what respects it proceeded from vol- East, to labour after fame is to be a candidate for utary corruption; and how far it was hastened on danger. by accident. If modern learning be compared with To attain literary excellence also, it is requisite ancient, in these different lights, a parallel between that the soil and climate should, as much as possiboth, which has hitherto produced only vain dis- ble, conduce to happiness. The earth must suppute, may contribute to amusement, perhaps to in- ply man with the necessaries of life, before he has struction. We shall thus be enabled to perceive leisure or inclination to pursue more refined enjoywhat period of antiquity the present age most re-ments. The climate also must be equally indulgent; sembles, whether we are making advances towards for in too warm a region the mind is relaxed into excellence, or retiring again to primeval obscurity; languor, and by the opposite excess is chilled into we shall thus be taught to acquiesce in those de- torpid inactivity. fects which it is impossible to prevent, and reject These are the principal advantages which tend all faulty innovations, though offered under the to the improvement of learning; and all these were specious titles of improvement.
united in the states of Greece and Rome. Learning, when planted in any country, is tran- We must now examine what hastens, or presient and fading, nor does it flourish tille slow gra- vents its decline. dations of improvement have naturalized it to the Those who behold the phenomena of nature, soil. It makes feeble advances, begins among the and content themselves with the view without invulgar, and rises into reputation among the great. quiring into their causes, are perhaps wiser than is It can not be established in a state at once, by intro- generally imagined. In this manner our rude an-, ducing the learned of other countries; these may cestors were acquainted with facts; and poetry, grace a court, but seldom enlighten a kingdom. which helped the imagination and the memory, was Ptolemy Philadelphus, Constantine Porphyroge- thought the most proper vehicle for conveying their neta, Alfred, or Charlemagne, might have invited knowledge to posterity. It was the poet who har. Icarned foreigners into their dominions, but could monized the ungrateful accents of his native dia not establish learning. While in the radiance of lect, who lifted it above common conversation, and royal favour, every art and science seemed to flour-shaped its rude combinations into order. From ish; but when that was withdrawn, they quickly him the orator formed a style: and though poetry felt the rigours of a strange climate, and with exo- first rose out of prose, in turn it gave birth to every tic constitutions perished by neglect.
prosaic excellence. Musical period, concise exAs the arts and sciences are slow in coming to pression, and delicacy of sentiment, were all excelmaturity, it is requisite, in order to their perfection, lencies derived from the poet; in short, he not only that the state should be permanent which gives preceded but formed the orator, philosopher, and them reception. There are numberless attempts historian. without success, and experiments without conclu- When the observations of past ages were colsion, hetween the first rudiments of an art, and its lected, philosophy next began to examine their utmost perfection; between the outlines of a sha-causes. She had numberless facts from which tu dow, and the picture of an A pelles. Leisure is re- draw proper inferences, and poetry had taught her quired to go through the tedious interval, to join the strongest expression to enforce them. Thus the experience of predecessors to our own, or en- the Greek philosophers, for instance, exerted all larse our views, by building on the ruined attempts their happy talents in the investigation of truik
and the production of beauty. They saw, that|ly give us still fainter resemblances of original beauthere was more excellence in captivating the judg. ty. It might still suggest, that explained wit makes ment, than in raising a momentary astonishment. but a feeble impression; that the observations of In their arts they imitated only such parts of nature others are soon forgotten, those made by ourselves as might please in the representation; in the sci- are permanent and useful. But it seems, underences, they cultivated such parts of knowledge as it standings of every size were to be mechanically inwas every man's duty to know. Thus learning structed in poetry. If the reader was too dull to was encouraged, protected, and honoured; and in relish the beauties of Virgil, the comment of Ser its turn it adorned, strengthened, and harmonized vius was ready to brighten his imagination; if Tethe community.
rence could not raise bim to a smile, Evantius was But as the mind is vigorous and active, and ex. at hand, with a long-winded scholium to increase periment is dilatory and painful, the spirit of phi- his titilation. Such rules are calculated to make losophy being excited, the reasoner, when destitute block heads talk, but all the lemmata of the Lyceum of experiment, had recourse to theory, and gave up are unable to give him feeling. what was useful for refinement.
But it would be endless to recount all the abCritics, sophists, grammarians, rhetoricians, and surdities which were hatched in the schools of commentators, now began to figure in the literary those specious illers; be it sufficient to say, that commonwealth. In the dawn of science such are they increased as learning improved, but swarmed generally modest, and not entirely useless. Their on its decline. It was then that every work of performances serve to mark the progress of learn- taste was buried in long comments, every useful ing, though they seldom contribute to its improve subject in morals was distinguished away into casu. ment. But as nothing but speculation was required istry, and doubt and subtlety characterized the learnin making proficients in their respective depart-ing of the age. Metrodorus, Valerius Probus, ments, so neither the satire nor the contempt of the Aulus Gellius, Pedianus, Boethius, and a hundred wise, though Socrates was of the number, nor the others, to be acquainted with whom might show laws levelled at them by the state, though Cato much reading, and but little judgment; these, I was in the legislature, could prevent their ap- say, made choice each of an author, and delivered proaches.* Possessed of all the advantages of un- all their load of learning on his back. Shame to feeling dulness, laborious, insensible, and persever- our ancestors! many of their works have reached ing, they still proceed mending and mending every our times entire, while Tacitus himself has suffer. work of genius, or, to speak without irony, under-ed mulilation. mining all that was polite and useful. Libraries In a word, the commonwealth of literature was were loaded, but not enriched with their labours, at last wholly overrun by these studious triflers. while the fatigue of reading their explanatory com- Men of real genius were lost in the multitude, or, ments was tenfold that which might suffice for un- as in a world of fools it were folly to aim at being derstanding the original, and their works effectual- an only exception, obliged to conform to every prely increased our application, by professing to re- vailing absurdity of the times. Original producmove it.
tions seldom appeared, and learning, as if grown Against so obstinate and irrefragable an enemy, superannuated, bestowed all its panegyric upon what could avail the unsupported sallies of genius, the vigour of its youth, and turned encomiast upon or the opposition of transitory resentment? In its former achievements. short, they conquered by persevering, claimed the It is to these, then, that the depravation of anright of dictating upon every work of taste, senti- cient polite learning is principally to be ascribed. ment, or genius, and at last, when destitute of ern- By them it was separated from common sense, and ployment, like the supernumerary domestics of the made the proper employment of speculative idlers, great, made work for each other.
Men bred up among books, and seeing nature only They now took upon them to teach poetry to by reflection, wuld do little, except hunt after perthose who wanted genius: and the power of dis- plexity and confusion. The public, therefore, with pating, to those who knew nothing of the subject reason, rejected learning, when thus rendered bar in debate. It was observed how some of the most ren, though voluminous; for we may be assured, admired poets had copied nature. From these they that the generality of mankind never lose a passion collected dry rules, dignified with long names, and for letters, while they continue to be either amus. such were obtruded upon the public for their im- ing or useful. provement. Common sense would be apt to sug- It was such writers as these, that rendered leamgest, that the art might be studied more to advan- ling unfit for uniting and strengthening civil socie. tage, rather by imitation than precept. It night ty, or for promoting the views of ambition. True muggest, that those rules were collected, not from philosophy had kept the Grecian states cemenud rature, but a copy of nature, and would consequent- into one effective body, more than any law for that Vide Sueton. llist, Gram
purpose; and the Etrurian philosophy, which pro
valed in the first ages of Rome, inspired those pa-l But let us take a more distinct view of those triot virtues which paved the way to universal em- ages of ignorance in which false refinement had inpire. But by the labours of commentators, when volved mankind, and see how far they resemble ous philosophy became abstruse, or triflingly minute, own, when doubt was presented instead of knowledge, when the orator was taught to charm the multitude with the music of his periods, and pronounced a
CHAPTER III. declamation that might be sung as well as spoken, and often upon subjects wholly fictitious; in such
A View of the Obscure Ages. circumstances, learning was entirely unsuited to all the purposes of government, or the designs of the WHATEVER the skill of any country may be in ambitious. As long as the sciences could influence the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learnthe state, and its politics were strengthened by them, ing alone, that it must expect a character from posso long did the community give them countenance terity. The poet and the historian are they who and protection. But the wiser part of mankind diffuse a lustre upon the age, and the philosopher would not be imposed upon by unintelligible jar- scarcely acquires any applause, unless his characgon, nor, like the knight in Pantagruel
, swallow a ter be introduced to the vnlgar by their mediation. himera for a breakfast, though even cooked by The obscure ages, which succeeded the decline Aristotle. As the philosopher grew useless in the of the Roman empire, are a striking instance of state, he also became contemptible. In the times the truth of this assertion. Whatever period of of Lucian, he was chiefly remarkable for his ava- those ill-fated times we happen to turn to, we shall rice, his impudence, and his beard.
perceive more skill in the sciences among the proUnder the auspicious influence of genius, arts fessors of them, more abstruse and deeper inquiry and sciences grew up together, and mutually illus-into every philosophical subject, and a greater lrated each other. But when once pedants became show of subtlety and close reasoning, than in the lawgivers, the sciences began to want grace, and most enlightened ages of all antiquity. . But their the polite arts solidity; these grew crabbed and writings were mere speculative amusements, and sour, those meretricious and gaudy; the philosopher all their researches exhaustel upon trifles. Unlxecame disgustingly precise, and the poet, ever skilled in the arts of adorning their knowledge, or straining after grace, caught only finery. adapting it to common sense, their voluminous
These men also contributed to obstruct the pro- productions rest peacefully in our libraries, or at gress of wisdom, by addicting their readers to one best are inquired after from motives of curiosity, particular sect, or some favourite science. They not by the scholar, but the virtuoso. generally carried on a petty traffic in some little I am not insensible, that several late French creek: within that they busily plied about, and historians have exhibited the obscure ages in a drove an insignificant trade; but never ventured very different light. They have represented them out into the great ocean of knowledge, nor went as utterly ignorant both of arts and sciences, buried beyond the bounds that chance, conceit, or laziness, in the profoundest darkness, or only illuminated had first prescribed their inquiries. Their disci- with a feeble gleam, which, like an expiring taper, ples, instead of aiming at being originals them- rose and sunk by intervals. Such assertions, howselves, became imitators of that merit alone which ever, though they serve to help out the declaimer, was constantly proposed for their admiration. In should be cautiously admitted by the historian. exercises of this kind, the most stupid are generally For instance, the tenth century, is particularly dismost successful; for there is not in nature a more tinguished by posterity, with the appellation of imitative animal than a dunce.
obscure. Yet, even in this, the reader's memory Hence ancient learning may be distinguished may possibly suggest the names of some, whose into three periods. Its commencement, or the age works, still preserved, discover a most extensive of poets ; its maturity, or the age of philosophers; erudition, though rendered almost useless by affecand its decline, or the age of critics. In the poeti- tation and obscurity. A few of their names and cal age commentators were very few, but might writings may be mentioned, which will serve at have in some respects been useful. In its philoso- once to confirm what I assert, and give the reader phical, their assistance must necessarily become an idea of what kind of learning an age declining obnoxious; yet, as if the nearer we approached into obscurity chiefly chooses to cultivate. perfection the more we stood in need of their direc- About the tenth century flourished Leo the phitions, in this period they began to grow numerous. losopher. We have seven volumes folio of his coiBut when polite learning was no more, then it lections of laws, published at Paris, 1617. Ho was those literary lawgivers made the most formi- wrote upon the art military, and understood also dable appearance. Corruptissima republica, plu- astronomy and judicial astrology. He was seven Timæ leges. Tacit.,
times more voluminous than Plato.
Solomon, the German, wrote a most elegant dic- commentaries, and compilations, and to evaporato tionary of the Latin tongue, still preserved in the in a folio the spirit that could scarcely have sufficed university of Louvain; Pantaleon, in the lives of for an epigram. The most barbarous times had bis illustrious countrymen, speaks of it in the warm- men of learning, if commentators, compilers, poest strains of rapture. Dictionary writing was at lemic divines, and intricate metaphysicians, de that time much in fashion.
served the title. Constantine Porphyrogenta was a man univer- I have mentioned but a very inconsiderable numsally skilled in the sciences. His tracts on the ad- ber of the writers in this age of obscurity. The ministration of an empire, on tactics, and on laws, multiplicity of their publications will at least equal were published some years since at Leyden. His those of any similar period of the most polite ancourt, for he was emperor of the East, was resorted tiquity. As, therefore, the writers of those times to by the learned from all parts of the world. are almost entirely forgotten, we may infer, that the
Luitprandus was a most voluminous historian, number of publications alone will never secure any and particularly famous for the history of his own age whatsoever from oblivion. Nor can printing, times. The compliments paid him as a writer are contrary to what Mr. Baumelle has remarked, presaid to exceed even his own voluminous produc- vent literary decline for the future, since it only intions. I can not pass over one of a later date made creases the number of books, without advancing him by a German divine. Luitprandus nunquam their intrinsic merit. Luitprando dissimilis.
Alfric composed several grammars and dictionaries still preserved among the curious. Pope Sylvester the Second wrote a treatise on
CHAPTER IV. the sphere, on arithmetic and geometry, published
or the Present State of Polite Learning in Italy. some years since at Paris.
Michael Psellus lived in this age, whose books FROM ancient we are now come to modern times, in the sciences, I will not scruple to assert, contain and, in running over Europe, we shall find, that miore learning than those of any one of the earlier wherever learning has been cultivated, it has flour. ages. His erudition was indeed amazing; and he ished by the same advantages as in Greece and was as voluminons as he was learned. The cha- Rome; and that, wherever it has declined, it sinks sacter given him by Allatius has, perhaps, more by the same causes of decay. truth in it than will be granted by those who have Dante, the poet of Italy, who wrote in the thirseen none of his productions. There was, says he, teenth century, was the first who attempted to bring no science with which he was unacquainted, none learning from the cloister into the community, and which he did not write something upon, and none paint human nature in a language adapted to mo which he did not leave better than he found it. To dern manners. He addressed a barbarous people mention his works would be endless. His com- in a method suited to their apprehensions; united mentaries on Aristotle alone amount to three folios. purgatory and the river Styx, St. Peter and Virgil,
Bertholdus Teutonicus, a very voluminous his- Heaven and Hell together, and shows a strange torian, was a politician, and wrote against the gov- mixture of good sense and absurdity. The truth ernment under which he lived: but most of his is, he owes most of his reputation to the obscurity writings, though not all, are lost.
of the times in which he lived. As in the land of Constantius Afer was a philosopher and physi- Benin a man may pass for a prodigy of parts who cian. We have remaining but two volumes folio can read, so in an age of barbarity, a small degree of his philological performances. However, the of excellence ensures success. But it was great historian who prefixes the life of the author to his merit in him to have lifted up the standard of naworks, says, that he wrote many more, as he kept ture, in spite of all the opposition and the persecu. on writing during the course of a long life. tion he received from contemporary criticism. To
Lambertus published a universal history about this standard every succeeding genius resorted; the this time, which has been printed at Frankfort in germ of every art and science began to unfold; and folio. An universal history in one folio! If he had to imitate nature was found to be the surest way consulted with his bookseller, he would have spun of imitating antiquity. In a century or two after, it out to ten at least; but Lambertus might have modern Italy might justly boast of rivalling ancient bad wo much modesty.
Rome; equal in some branches of polite learning, By this time the reader perceives the spirit of and not far surpassed in others. learning which at that time prevailed. The igno- They soon, however, fell from emulating the rance of the age was not owing to a dislike of know- wonders of antiquity into simple admiration. As ledge but a false standard of taste was erected, and if the word had been given when Vida and Tasso a wrong direction given to philosophical inquiry. wrote on the arts of poetry, the whole swarm of Ji was i he fashion of the day to write dictionaries, critics was up. The Speronis of the age attempt
ed to be awkwardly merry; and the Virtuosi and The Filosofi are entirely different from the for-
Of Polite Learning in Germany. ceiving any portion of it themselves.
In Italy, then, we shall no where find a stronger If we examine the state of learning in Germany, passion for the arts of taste, yet no country making we shall find that the Germans early discovered a more feeble efforts to promote either. The Vir- passion for polite literature; but unhappily, like contuosi and Filosofi seem to have divided the Ency-querors, who, invading the dominions of others, clopedia between each other. Both inviolably at- leave their own to desolation, instead of studying tached to their respective pursuits; and, from an the German tongue, they continue to write in Latin. opposition of character, each holding the other in Thus, while they cultivated an obsolete language, the most sovereign contempt. The Virtuosi, pro- and vainly laboured to apply it to modern manners, fessed critics of beauty in the works of art, judge they neglected their own. of medals by the smell, and pictures by feeling; in At the same time also, they began at the wrong statuary, hang over a fragment with the most ar-end, I mean by being commentators; and though dent gaze of admiration : though wanting the head they have given many instances of their industry, and the other extremities, if dug from a ruin, the they have scarcely afforded any of genius. If criTorse becomes inestimable. An unintelligible ticism could have improved the taste of a people, monument of Etruscan barbarity can not be suffi- the Germans would have been the most polite na. ciently prized; and any thing from Herculaneum tion alive. We shall no where behold the learned excites rapture. When the intellectual taste is wear a more important appearance than here; no thus decayed, its relishes become false, and, like that where more dignified with professorships, or dressof sense, nothing will satisfy but what is best suited ed out in the fopperies of scholastic finery. Howto feed the disease.
ever, they seem to earn all the honours of this kind Poetry is no longer among them an imitation of which they enjoy. Their assiduity is unparalwhat we see, but of what a visionary might wish. leled; and did they employ half those hours on The zephyr breathes the most exquisite perfume, study which they bestow on reading, we might the trees wear eternal verdure; fawns, and dryads, be induced to pity as well as praise their painful and hamadryads, stand ready to fan the sultry pre-eminence. But guilty of a fault too common shepherdess, who has forgot indeed the pretti-to great readers, they write through volumes, while nesses with which Guarini's shepherdesses have they do not think through a page. Never fatigued been reproached, but is so simple and innocent as themselves, they think the reader can never be often to have no meaning. Happy country, where weary; so they drone on, saying all that can be said she pastoral age begins to revive! where the wits on the subject, not selecting what may be advanceven of Rome, are united into a rural group of ed to the purpose. Were angels to write books, nymphs and swains, under the appellation of mo- they never would write folios. dern Arcadians: where in the midst of porticos, But let the Germans have their due; if they are processions and cavalcades, abbés turned shep. dull
, no nation alive assumes a more laudable sn herds, and shepherdesses without sheep indulge lemnity, or better understands all the decorums of their innocent dirertimenti.
stupidity. Let the discourse of a professor run on