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of the ancients I should only have concluded that the illusion we are under is more complete.
If the time and place permitted, my dear friend, I should have many other remarks to make on ancient literature; I should take the liberty of combating many of Madame de Staël's literary opinions. I must, however, observe, that I cannot agree with her respecting the metaphysics of the ancients; their dialect was more verbose and less impressive than ours, but in metaphysics they knew quite as much as we do. Has mankind advanced a single step in the moral sciences ?-No; it has advanced only in the physical ones; nay, how easy would it be to dispute even the principles of our sciences. Certainly Aristotle with his ten categories, which included all the powers of thought, knew as much as Boyle or Condillac with their idealism. But we might pass eternally from one system to another in these matters; in metaphysics all is doubt, obscurity, and uncertainty. The reputation and the influence of Locke are already declining in England; his doctrine, which goes to proving very clearly that there are no such things as innate ideas, is nothing less than certain, since it cannot stand against mathema. tical truths, which could never have passed into the soul through the medium of the senses. Is it smell, taste, feeling, hearing, seeing, which could demonstrate to Py. thagoras that in a rectangular triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares made on the other two sides. All the arithmeticians, and all the geometricians will tell Madame de Staël, that the numbers and the relations of the three dimensions of matter are pure abstractions of the thought, and that the senses, far from having any concern in this kind of knowledge, are its greatest enemies. Besides mathematical truths, if I dare say it, are innate in us for this very reason, that they are eternal, unalterable. If then these truths be eternal, they can only be emanations from a fountain of truth
which exists somewhere; and this fountain of truth can only be God. The idea of God is then in its turn, an innate idea in the human mind; and our soul which contains these eternal truths must be an immortal essence.
Observe, my dear friend, this connection of things, and then judge how very little Madame de Staël has ex. amined into the depths of her argument. I shall be constrained here, in spite of myself, to pass a very severe judgment. This lady, anxious to invent'a system, and imagining she perceived that Rousseau had reflected more profoundly than Plato, and Seneca more than Livy, thought she was in possession of all the clues to the soul, and to the principle of intelligence. But pedantic spirits, like myself, are not at all satisfied with this precipitate march; they would have had her dive deeper into the subject, not have been so superficial. They would have had her, in a book that treats of the most important subject in the world, the faculty of thought in man, given way less to imagination, to a taste for sophism, to the versatile and changeable fancy of the woman.
You know with what we religious people are charged by the philosophers ;--they say that we have not very strong heads, and shrug their shoulders with pity when we talk to them of the moral sentiment; they ask what all this proves ?--Indeed I must own to my confusion, that I cannot tell that myself, for I have never sought to de. monstrate my heart to myself, I have left that task to my friends. Do not take any unfair advantage of this confession, and betray me to philosophy. I must have the air of understanding myself, even though I do not in reality understand myself at all. I have been told in my retreat that this manner would succeed; but it is very singular that all those who overwhelm us with this contempt for our want of argumentation, and who regard our miserable ideas as things habituated to the
house,* themselves forget the very foundation of things on which they treat. Thus we are obliged to do violence to ourselves, and to think, at the hazard of our lives, in contradiction to our religious dispositions, in order to bring back to the recollection of these thinkers, what they ought to have thought.
Is it not altogether incredible that in speaking of the degradation of the Roman emperors, Madame de Staël has neglected to point out the influence that growing christianity had upon the minds of men. She has the air of never recollecting the religion which changed the face of the world, till she comes to the moment when the inroads of the barbarians commenced. But long before this epoch the cries of justice and liberty had resounded through the empire of the Cæsars. And who was it that had uttered these cries?
_The Christians. Fatal blind. ness of systems ! Madame de Staël applies the epithet of the madness of martyrdom to acts which her generous heart, on other occasions, would have extolled with transport. I speak here of young virgins who preferred death to the caresses of tyrants, of men refusing to sacrifice to idols, and sealing with their blood, before the eyes of the astonished world, the dogmas of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. Here is, in my opinion, true philosophy.
What must have been the astonishment of the human race when in the midst of the most shameful superstitions when every thing, as Bossuet says, was God
was God except God himself-how much must the world have been astonished at such a time on a sudden to hear from Tertullian the following abstract of the Christian Faith: “The God whom we adore is one only God who created the Universe with the Elements, the bodies, and the minds of which it is composed ;-who by his word, his reason and
* A phrase used by Madame de Stael in her new Preface.
his Almighty power called out of nothing a world to be the ornament of his greatness.--He is invisible, although he is every where to be seen, impalpable, although we form to ourselves representations of him, incomprehensible, although obvious to all the lights of reason.-Nothing can make us so well comprehend the supreme Being, as the impossibility of conceiving him; his immensity at the same time conceals him, and discloses him to the eyes of mankind."*
And when the same apologist dared alone speak the language of freedom amid the silence of the rest of the world, was not this philosophy. Who would not have thought that he heard the first Brutus roused from the tomb, menacing the throne of Tiberius when listening to these fiery accents which shook the porticoes whither enslaved Rome came to breathe her sighs. “I am not the slave of the emperor; I have only one master, the allpowerful and eternal God who is also the master of Cæsar.f It is for this reason that you exercise all sorts of cruelties towards us. Ah if it were permitted to us to render evil for evil, a single night and a few torches would suffice for our vengeance. We are but of yesterday, and we are every where among you—your cities, your islands, your fortresses, your camps, your colonies, your tribes, your councils, the palace, the senate, the forum, in all these we abound, we leave you nothing free except your temples.
I may be mistaken, my dear friend, but it seems to me that Madame de Staël in sketching the history of the philosophic mind should not have omitted such things. The literature of the Fathers which fills up the
from Tacitus to Saint Bernard offered an immense career for reflections and observations. One of the most injurious
* Tertul. Apologet, Chap. I
appellations for example, which the people could give to the first Christians was that of philosophers.* They call. ed them also Atheists, t and forced them to abjure their religion in these terms: aire tous Atheus-confusion to the Atheists. Strange fate of Christians! burnt under Nero for atheism, guillotined under Robespierre for overcredulity!--Which of the two tyrants was in the right? According to the law of perfectibility Robespierre.
Throughout the whole of Madame de Staël's book, from the one end to the other, there are nothing but the most singular contradictions. Sometimes she appears almost a christian, and I am ready to rejoice in the idea; but, in an instant after, philosophy resumes the ascendancy. Sometimes, inspired by her natural sensibility which tells her that there is nothing fine, nothing affecting without religion, she suffers her soul to have its free course ; but suddenly argumentation awakes and checks in an instant the effusions of her soul. Analysis then takes the place of that vague infinite in which thought loves to lose itself, and the understanding cites, to its tribunal, causes which formerly went before that old seat of truth called by our Gaulish fathers the entrails of man. Hence it results that Madame de Staël's book appears to be a singular mixture of truths and errors. When she ascribes to Christianity the melancholy that reigns in the genius of the moderns, I am entirely of her opinion ; but when she joins to this cause I know not what malignant influence of the north, I no longer recognise the writer who before appeared so judicious. You see, my dear friend, that I am led on by my subject; but I proceed now to modern literature.
* St. Just. Apolog. Tert. Apologet, &c. + Athenogor. Legat. pro Christ.Arnob. lib. 1.
Euseb. lib. 4, Cap. 15.