Page images
PDF
EPUB

any one dates to attack them, he is soon drowned in a de. luge of ink and abuse; the crime of treasen against philosophy is wholly unpardonable. They deory alt seienees except their own caleulations ; poetry is a frivolity, the fictions of which ought to be banished the world : a poet ought not to think any thing worthy of his thyfnes but algebraic equations. As to history, that they would have studied in the reverse, beginning at our own times, and mounting upwards to the deluge. They would fäin re. form all governments, making France a democràtic state; with a geometrician as its legislator, to be governed entirely by geometricians who shall subjeet all the operations of the new government to infinitesimal calculations. This republic would maintain a constant peacey and would be supported without an army."

Pesthamows Works of Frederick Il vol. VI

It was above all things a primary object among the literati of that time, to depreciate the great men of the seventeenth century; to diminish the weight of their example and authority. Let us again hear the King of Prussia on this subject. Thus does he speak in his examination of the System of Nature.

“ It is a great error to believe that perfection is to be found in any thing human ; the imagination may form such chimeras to itself, but they will never be realized. In the number of centuries that the world has now en dured, different nations have made experiments on all sorts of governments, but not one has been found that was not subject to some inconveniences. Of all the paradoxes which the would-be philosophers of our days maintain with so much self-complacency, that of decrying the great men of the last century appears to be what they have the most at heart. How can their reputations be increased

a

by exaggerating the faults of a king, all whose faults were effaced by his splendour and greatness. The foibles af Louis XIV, are well known, these philosophers have nat even the petty merit of having been the first to discover thena. A prince who should reign only a week would doubtless be guilty of some errors, how many must be expected from a monarch who passed nearly sixty years of his life upon the throne.” ??

This passage is followed by a magnificent qulogium of Louis XIV, and Frederick often recurs to the same subject in his correspondence with M. d'Alembert. "Our poor century," he says, “is no less lamentably barren of great men, than of good works. Of the age of Louis XIV, which does honour to the human mind, nothing remains to us but the dregs, and soon not even that will be left.” The eulogium of Louis the Great, . from the pen of the Great Frederick,-a King of Prussia defend ing French glory against French literati, is one of those precious strokes at which a writer ought to catch very eagerly.

I have already remærked, that if M. Gilbent had only attacked the sophists, he might have been suspected of partiality; but he equally raised his voice against every vicious character, whatever might be his rank and power Without any idea or apprehension of doing injury to religion, he abandoned to contempt tạose ecclesiasties who are the eternal shame of their order.

2

a

Religion, matron driven to despair,
By her own children margled and defaced mom
Weeping their ways, in her deserted temples,
In vain with words. of pardon does she stretch
Her arms toward them, still reviled, derided,
Her precepts are forgot, her laws profaned,,
See there, amid a circle of gay nymphs,
That youthful Abbe ;---saintly in his garb,
In mind a sophist he directs his wit
Against that God, by serving whom he lives.

I do not think that a more despicable character ex ists, than that of a priest who, considering christianity as an abuse; yet consents to feed on the bread of the altar, and lies at once. to God and to man. But we would fain enjoy the honours of philosophy without losing the riches of religion ; the first being necessary to our self-love, the second to our manners.

Such was the deplorable success which infidelity had obtained; that it was not uncommon to hear a sermon in which the name of Jesus Christ was avoided by the preacher as a rock on which he feared to split. And what was so ridiculous and so fatal in this name to a christian orator?-Did Bossuet find that this name detracted from his eloquence ? -You preach before the poor, and you

dare not name Jesus Christ ! before the unfortunate, and the name of their father must not pass your lips !---before children, and you cannot instruct them that it was hę who blessed their innocence. You talk of morality, and you blush to name the author of that which is preached in the gospel! never can the affecting precepts of religion be supplied by the common place maxims.of philosophy. Religion is a sentiment, philosophy an essay of reason, and even supposing that both led to: practising the same virtues it would always be safest to take the first. Buta still stronger consideration is, that all the virtues of philosophy are accessible to religion, while many of the religious virtues are not accessible to philosophy, Was it philosophy that established itself on the summit of the Alps to rescue the traveller ? -It is philosophy that succours the slave afflicted with the plague in the bagnios of Constantinople, or that exiles itself in the deserts of the New World, to instruct and civilize the savages. Philosophy may carry its sacrifices ; so far as to afford assistance to the sick, but in applying the remedy it turns away its eyes; the heart and the

senses recoil, for such are the emocions of nature. But see religion, how it soothes the infirm, with what tenderHess it contemplates those disgusting wounds..mit discovers an ineffable beauty, an immortal life in those dying features, where philosophy can see nothing but the hideousness of death. There is the same difference between the services that philosophy and religion render to human nature as exists between duty and love.

To justify M. Gilbert for having defended christianity, I cannot rest too much on the authority of the great king whom I have so often cited in this article. The philosophers themselves considered him as a philosopher, and certainly he cannot be accused of harbouring any religious superstitions; bat he had a long habit of governing men, and he knew that the mass could not be led with the abstract principles of metaphysics. In pursuing hiş refutation of the System of Nature, he says: "How can the author pretend to maintain, with any face of truth, that the christian religion is the canse of all the misfortunes of human nature. To speak with justice, he should have said, simply, that the ambition and interests of mankind make use of this religion as a pretenee to disturb the peace of the world, and to satisfy their own passions. What objection can seriously be made against the system of morality contained in the elecalogue ?-Did the gospel contain no cther precept but this one: Do not to others what you would not that they should do to you, we should be obliged to confess that these few words contain the sery quintessence of all morality. Besides, were not charity and humanity, with the pardon of offences, preached by Jesus in his excellent scrmoly on the mount ?--The law itself must not be confounded with the abuses of it; the things inculcated, with the things practised.?

Ripened by age and experience, perhaps warned by that voice which speaks from the tomb, Frederick, to

Еe

wards the close of his life, had shaken off those vain sys. tems which lead to nothing but errors. He began to feel the foundations of society tremble under him, and to discover the deep mine that atheism was silently hollowing out. Religion is made more especially for those who are the most elevated above their fellow creatures. It is sta tioned around thrones, like those vulnerary herbs which grow about the mountains of Switzerland, there where falls the most terrible are likely to be encountered.

It is probable that the two satires of M. Gilbert, and some stanzas of his odes will retain a place among our literature. This young poet, who died before his talents were matured, has neither the grace and lightness of Ho. race, nor the beautiful poetry and exquisite taste of Boi. leau. He tortures his language, he seeks after inversion, he drives on his metaphors too far, his talents are capricious and his muse fanciful, but he has forcible modes of expression, verses well constructed, and sometimes the vein of Juvenal. Thanks to the re-establishment of our temples in France, we have no occasion for new Gilberts to sing the woes of religion, we require poets to chaunt her triumphs. Already some of our most distinguished literati, Messrs. Delille, Laharpe, Fontanés, Bernardin de St. Pierre, and others have consecrated their meditations to religious subjects. A new defender, M. de Bonald, has arisen, who, by the depth of his ideas and the power of reasonings, has abundantly justified the lofty and all-seeing wisdom of the christian institutions. Every one among our youth who gives any promise of talent, returns to those sacred principles which made Quintilian say: ** If thou believest, thou shalt soon be instructed in the duties of a good and happy life." Brevis est institutio vita, honesta beataque, si credas.

« PreviousContinue »