« ÖncekiDevam »
borrows his state of argument from the logician; the poet his measure from the musician ; the geometrician his proportions from the arithmetician ; and the metaphysician takes physical conjecture for his foundation. “Let the tyrannical generals be weighed in the balance,'* he concludes.
The spirit which actuated Montaigne in these violent fits of depreciation is anything but a philosophic one. Ridiculing the presumption of dogmatists, he had unconsciously fallen into a dogmatism of a very unreasonable cast. A little more modesty might have taught him, in the language of Bacon, that those who complain of the subtlety of nature, the entanglement of causes, and the imperfection of the human understanding, do rather choose to accuse the common state of men and things, than make confession of themselves. (Pref. ad Instaurat. Mag.) Doubting, as he did, the efficacy of reason, he was compelled to rest himself contented with bare assertion, and with supporting his assertions by the authority of men to whom he had been all along denying any authority. It is but a realization of the Blunderer in the Progress of Error, who
“With a clear and shining lamp supplied,
First puts it out, then takes it for a guide.' From this deficiency of argumentative proof, as well as from want of method and arrangement in his proofs, the admirers of Montaigne have never claimed for him a higher position than that of a philosopher without a sect. There is nothing in him to intimate that he proposed to himself the foundation of a school. He made use of his reason to inquire and interrogate, but not to determine; and inquisitiveness without decision is too repugnant to the idea of system ever to beget one. His policy is to suggest the problem, but he does not venture to suggest the solution. There is not sufficient unity of purpose in his book, certainly not sufficient unity of plan to form the consistent basis on which to rear the structure of an academy. The curious observer may possibly discover through all his deviations that a single thread still gives connexion and sequence to all his movements. But the miscellaneous manner in which he handled his theme hardly presents that uniformity of design which is to be found, for instance, in the Characteristics of Shaftesbury. He hurries from subject to subject, with as little regard for classification as the author of the Tales of the Princess Schezerade. Hence, in the course of his aberrations, he himself appears in a thousand different guises, at one time a Stoic, then
* Those who are not content to have Montaigne the intellectual parent of Charron, Bayle, and Voltaire, may, if they please, consider this declamation against the Deductive process, a latent anticipation in favour of the philosophy of Induction. -Cfr. Novum Organon. Aphorismata, xix., xlvi., cxxv.
His Classical Prejudices.
an Epicurean, then a Stoic again. He had taken Plutarch and Seneca as his model, and the tone and style of his thought had become so completely identified with theirs, that he could not sustain himself long in any position, or promise himself constancy in any discussion requiring even ordinary application and perseverance.
This assimilation of himself with the authors of antiquity is one of the most marked of Montaigne's characteristics. It filled his pages with ostentatious citations from the libraries of Greece and Rome, thereby setting the fashion of that pedantic abuse of quotation which long after Balzac attempted to ridicule in his Barbon, and which, in our own country, Ben Jonson laughed at in his Silent Woman, and Butler caricatured in his Hudibras. But it affected him in points of far more serious importance than mere dialectical or rhetorical propriety. It affected him very visibly, for instance, in his sentiments on death and suicide. It would be difficult to name any author, not pretending to inspiration, who has handled more grandly or more solemnly that grandest and most solemn of all themes, the Mortality of Man. The necessity of the inevitable hour, the advantages of contemplating its approach, the philosophy of despising its arrival, are all urged over and over again with a pathos and an eloquence that might have been envied in the Porch or the Academy. But of those loftier motives which, for the Christian, disarms the King of Terrors, robs the grave of its sting, and makes death itself the portal to life, he makes as little account as though he knew no more about the secrets of immortality than Epictetus, or any of those poetic heathens who filled their stanzas with stories about Charon and the Capacious Urn. Early training, again, may be permitted to explain the preference which he gives to Epaminondas, Alexander, and Cæsar, over the generals of his own day; or to account for the zeal he displays about the factions of Consular Rome, contrasted with his apathetic demeanour towards the civil broils of his own country; but no partiality can excuse his advocacy of voluntary death, the finest, as he calls it, of all deaths. It is true that in the height of his career he pretends to recollect the canon of the Creator against self-murder ; but though he pauses between the fortitude of Regulus and the weakness of Cato, it is clear that the balance of his decision is in favour of the suloyov Faywynu of the Stoics. In his journey through Italy, he had seen Tasso pining in the dungeons of Ferrara. Addison, when he passed over the same ground, heard the gondoliers of Venice beguiling the toil of the oar with stanzas from the Jerusalem Delivered. Montaigne could not mention the miserable plight of the poor poet without the cruel declaration that he had less of compassion than of anger for the man who could thus be content to survive himself and his works.
Such equivocal philosophy as this must, as a matter of course, considerably narrow Montaigne's reputation in the estimate of posterity. Whether his eccentricities, to call them by the mildest term, were the fruit of design or of accident, whether they formed part of his schemes, or whether they were not rather owing to the absence of all scheme, it is difficult to decide. The discursive, loose, and unmethodical style in which he set down his thoughts must be held responsible for some of the apparent contradictions and mutations that chequered his judgment. At any rate, though he affords ample grounds for the charge of pyrrhonism, those who accuse him so positively of absolute irreligion do so at the risk of their own penetration. For our own parts, we are disposed to regard him rather as one of those spirits of a mildler sort,' who, with all their faults, have their worse as well as their better about them. This is not saying much in his favour, it is only saying a little less against him than some have said.
What Montaigne's real merit as a thinker is, we conceive to be this. He was the first who had the boldness in an age of pedants to strip pedantry of much of its domineering pretensions. In his position as the recognised antagonist of conventionalism he stood face to face with the accumulated dogmatism of centuries. It is true that the extent of the reaction, the force of the rebound operated injuriously on his own character, that in the first enjoyment of freedom he was in danger of falling, and actually did fall into licentiousness. But it is certain that his very exaggerations were not without fruit. By pointing out to men with a boldness and a distinctness that could not but arrest attention the road to emancipation, he rendered them less tolerant of tyranny. By illustrating to them with a positiveness of colouring almost revolting, the utter fallibility of human reason, he assisted them in their efforts to release themselves from the control of any other reason but their own. By teaching them, in a word, to doubt, he taught them, involuntarily indeed, and, like Baal, against his intention, to examine. In this view, and in this view only, can Montaigne be regarded as an ally of the Reformation.
In many other respects he was far in advance of his generation. Indeed, whatever are his failings, however little Christianity owes to a sceptic who insinuated that the creed of the Christian is sustained by the same innate principle of credulity as that which actuates the Mahommedan or the Bhuddist, however Protestants may feel towards the bigot who thought Protestantism a mere moral frenzy,' it cannot be denied that society is indebted Character and Effect of his Thinking.
to the liberality of the thinker who, in an age when Baroco and Baralipton were supreme, published in language as modern as anything to be found in the Tirocinium of Cowper,* views of education enlightened enough to win the future approbation of Locke; who, while De Thou was filling his book with the grossest fictions of witchcraft, laughed to scorn the absurdities of demonology, and who, though a contemporary of the Estrapade, protested against the use of torture almost half a century before the use of torture had been authorized by the conduct of our own Bacon.
ART. V.—Lectures on the Atomic Theory, and Essays scientific and
literary. By SAMUEL BROWN. 2 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh : 1858.
AMONG our chemical acquaintances there are some who are walking cyclopædias of the science, who can tell you off-hand the formula of malachite, or the average per centage of nitrogen in Canadian flour; but there is no enthusiasm about these men, they care little for general laws, and will certainly never discover any. On the other hand, there are chemists whose aspect and language breathe an intense love of science, and a fitness for seizing the latent analogies and significance of natural phenomena; yet their memory of particular facts is often treacherous, and in experimenting they may omit most necessary precautions. It is astonishing, too, how different science is to different votaries :
To some she is the goddess great,
The butter she will yield,' -whether that butter come in the form of what is understood by bread and butter, or that less substantial commodity which gives the flavour to after-dinner speeches and other lauditory effusions. Some men take up chemistry because it is a gentlemanly profession, others because they are impelled to it by an irresistible love; some delight in building up the facts of the science, others in evolving its doctrines. Again, there are chemists of an inquisitive and contemplative turn, to whom nature reveals her secrets, while there are others who at once apply this knowledge
* It is no accident or inadvertence that has thus associated the poet and the philosopher. Those who will be at the pains to compare the Review of Schools and Montaigne's twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth Essays, will find ample compensation in tracing out not only an analogy of sentiment, but even a verbal identity in the pages of the two authors.
to some practical end with material advantage to themselves and their fellows; and as these belong to two opposite types of intellect, it rarely happens that either is capable of success in the department of the other. To this theoretical class, animated by an intense love of science, and caring little either for minute detail or for material profit, belonged the subject of our present sketch.
In the quaint old country town of Haddington, some half century ago lived a man of great energy and moral worth, who was known by his neighbours as a kindly and industrious citizen, and by Scotland at large as the founder of the system of itinerating libraries. His name was Samuel Brown, and he was the eighth son of John Brown, also a notable man in his day and generation, the author of the Self-interpreting Bible. Around the table of Samuel sprang up a family of children, and it is to the fourth son, born in 1817, and on whom was bestowed the paternal name, that we are about to introduce the reader. Samuel the younger, as he grew up, entered with spirit into those chemical experiments in which his father sometimes dabbled ; and the souls of both were moved by the rhetoric of Chalmers as he discoursed of the mighty genius and childlike purity of Newton. Throughout his life the son exhibited many of his father's and grandfather's estimable qualities; whilst to them be added one derived apparently from his maternal grandmother, who had caught 'the rare and ill-beloved trick of thinking for herself, and of trusting her thoughts.'
Unless in a certain enthusiasm of action, his boyhood was in no way remarkable. At fourteen years of age he left the school of his native town for the High School in Edinburgh, and in the session of 1832–3 he entered the University as a student of medicine. To medicine, however, he seems not to have paid any greater attention than barely sufficed to procure his doctor's degree, for by this time chemical science had taken full possession of his soul, and already in his brain was born that great idea which it was his life-purpose to prove and elucidate. On the wall of his first rough laboratory there hung, sketched by his own band, the symbol of the cross, inscribed with the motto, ' Perfect through suffering,' and very prophetic was that of his future career, for much of his work proved fruitless, his beloved idea still remained a mystery, while not in his scientific quest alone, but in the wider experience of life, he met with difficulty and toil, disappointment and sorrow. But this discipline served to purify him, and to render his perception clearer of earthly and heavenly things. But to return; his collegiate course was interrupted by a visit to his eldest brother at St. Petersburg, and