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vailed 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 our 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 vulgar by their mediation. chimera 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 trated 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 exhausted upon trifles. Unbecame disgustingly precise, and the poet, ever skilled in the arts of adorning their knowledge, or stramning 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, pies, 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 dismoet 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 pets ; 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 colBut when polite learning was no more, then it lections of laws, published at Paris, 1647. He 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 evaporate 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 hai his 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 f&shion.
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 in tions. I can not pass over one of a later date made creases the number of books, without advancing him by a German divine. Luit prandus 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 more 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 voluminous as he was learned. The cha- Rome; and that, wherever it has declined, it sinks racter 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, nonc 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 mowhich he did not leave better than he found it. Todern 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 wbo 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 persecuon 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 had too 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 It was the fashion of the day to write dictionaries, Icritics was up. The Speronis of the age attempted to be awkwardly merry; and the Virtuosi and The Filosofi are entirely different from the forthe Nascotti sat upon the merits of every contem- mer. As those pretend to have got their knowporary performance. After the age of Clement VII. ledge from conversing with the living and polite, so the Italians seemed to think that there was more these boast of having theirs from books and study. merit in praising or censuring well, than in writing Bred up all their lives in colleges, they have there Trell; almost every subsequent performance since learned to think in track, servilely to follow the their time, being designed rather to show the ex- leader of their sect, and only to adopt such opinions cellence of the critic's taste than his genius. One as their universities, or the inquisition, are pleased or two poets, indeed, seem at present born to re- to allow. By these means, they are behind the rest deem the honour of their country. Metastasio has of Europe in several modern improvements; afraid restored nature in all her simplicity, and Maffei is to think for themselves; and their universities selthe first that has introduced a tragedy among his dom admit opinions as true, till universally received countrymen without a love-plot. Perhaps the Sam- among the rest of mankind. In short, were I to son of Milton, and the Athalia of Racine, might personize my ideas of learning in this country, I have been his guides in such an attempt. But two would represent it in the tawdry habits of the stage, parts in an age are not suffered to revive the splen- or else in the more homely guise of bearded schooldour of decaying genius; nor should we consider philosophy. them as the standard by which to characterize a nation. Our measur
sures of literary reputation must be taken rather from that numerous class of men, who, placed above the vulgar, are yet beneath the
CHAPTER V great, and who confer fame on others without re
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 contussi 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 cri. Torze 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 naciently 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. Ieled; 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 the 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 soherds, and shepherdesses without sheep indulge lemnity, or better understands all the decorums of their innocent divertimenti.
stupidity. Let the discourse of a professor run on
never so heavily, it can not be irksome to his dozing minated by no resulting phenomena. To make pupils, who frequently lend him sympathetic nods experiments, is, I own, the only way to promote of approbation. I have sometimes attended their natural knowledge; but to treasure up every unsucdisputes at gradation. On this occasion they often cessful inquiry into nature, or to communicata dispense with their gravity, and seem really all every experiment without conclusion, is not to pro alive. The disputes are managed between the fol- mote science, but oppress it. Had the members lowers of Cartesius (whose exploded system they of these societies enlarged their plans, and taken continue to call the new philosophy) and those of in art as well as science, one part of knowledge Aristotle. Though both parties are in the wrong, would have repressed any faulty luxuriance in the they argue with an obstinacy worthy the cause of other
, and all would have mutually assisted each truth; Nego, Probo, and Distinguo, grow loud; the other's promotion. Besides, the society which, disputants become warm, the moderator can not with a contempt of all collateral assistance, admite be heard, the audience take part in the debate, till of members skilled in one science only, whatever at last the whole hall buzzes with sophistry and their diligence or labour may be, will lose much
time in the discovery of such truths as are wel There are, it is true, several societies in this known already to the learned in a different line; country, which are chiefly calculated to promote consequently, their progress must be slow in gainknowledge. His late majesty as elector of Hano-ing a proper eminence from which to view their ver, has established one at Gottingen, at an expense subject, and their strength will be exhausted in atof not less than a hundred thousa pounds. This taining the station whence they should have set out. university has already pickled monsters, and dis- With regard to the Royal Society of London, the sected live puppies without number. Their trans- greatest, and perhaps the oldest institution of the actions have been published in the learned world kind, had it widened the basis of its institution, at proper intervals since their institution; and will, though they might not have propagated more disit is hoped, one day give them just reputation. coveries, they would probably have delivered them But had the fourth part of the immense sum above in a more pleasing and compendious form. They mentioned been given in proper rewards to genius, would have been free from the contempt of the illin some neighbouring countries, it would have ren- natured, and the raillery of the wit, for which, even dered the name of the donor immortal, and added candour must allow, there is but too much founda. to the real interests of society.
tion. But the Berlin academy is subject to none of Yet it ought to be observed, that, of late, learn- all these inconveniences, but every one of its indiviing has been patronized here by a prince, who, in duals is in a capacity of deriving more from the the humblest station, would have been the first of common stock than he contributes to it, while each mankind. The society established by the king of academician serves as a check upon the rest of his Prussia, at Berlin, is one of the finest literary in. fellows. stitutions that any age or nation has produced. Yet, very probably, even this fine institution will This academy comprehends all the sciences under soon decay. As it rose, so it will decline with its four different classes; and although the object of great encourager. The society, if I may so speak
, each is different, and admits of being separately is artificially supported. The introduction of fotreated, yet these classes mutually influence the reigners of learning was right; but in adopting a progress of each other, and concur in the same foreign language also, I mean the French, in which general design. Experimental philosophy, mathe- all the transactions are to be published, and ques: matics, metaphysics, and polite literature, are here tions debated, in this there was an error. As I carried on together. The members are not col- have already hinted, the language of the natives of lected from among the students of some obscure every country should be also the language of its seminary, or the wits of a metropolis, but chosen polite learning. To figure in polite learning, every from all the literati of Europe, supported by the country should make their own language from their bounty, and ornamented by the productions of their own manners; nor will they ever succeed by introroyal founder. We can easily discern how much ducing that of another, which has been formed such an institution excels any other now subsisting. from manners which are different. Besides
, an One fundamental error among societies of this kind, academy composed of foreigners must still be reis their addicting themselves to one branch of sci- cruited from abroad, unless all the natives of the ence, or some particular part of polite learning country to which it belongs, are in a capacity of Thus, in Germany, there are no where so many becoming candidates for its honours or rewards. establishments of this nature; but as they generally While France therefore continues to supply Berlin, profess the promotion of natural or medical know- polite learning will flourish; but when royal favour ledge, he who reads their Acta will only find an is withdrawn, learning will return to its natural obscure farago of experiment, most frequently ter-'country.
transient, acquire stability in proportion as they are CHAPTER VI.
connected with the laws of the country; and phi
losophy and law have no where been so closely Of Polite Learning in Holland, and some other Countries of
united as here. Europe.
Sweden has of late made sume attempts in polite HOLLAND, at first view, appears to have some learning in its own language. Count Tessin's inpretensions to polite learning. It may be regarded structions to the prince, his pupil
, are no bad beas the great emporium, not less of literature than of ginning. If the Muses can fix their residence so fvery other commodity. Here, though destitute far northward, perhaps no country bids so fair for of what may be properly called a language of their their reception. They have, I am told, a language own, all the languages are understood, cultivated, rude but energetic; if so, it will bear a polish. They and spoken. All useful inventions in arts, and have also a jealous sense of liberty, and that strength new discoveries in science, are published here almost of thinking peculiar to northern climates, without as soon as at the places which first produced them. its attendant ferocity. They will certainly in time Its individuals have the same faults, however, with produce somewhat great, if their intestine divisions the Germans, of making more use of their memory do not unhappily prevent them. than their judgment. The chief employment of The history of polite learning in Denmark may their literati is to criticise, or answer, the new per- be comprised in the life of one single man: it rose formances which appear elsewhere.
and fell with the late famous Baron Holberg. This A dearth of wit in France or England naturally was, perhaps, one of the most extraordinary perproduces a scarcity in Holland. . What Ovid says sonages that has done honour to the present cenof Echo, may be applied here, Nec loqui prius ipsa tury. His being the son of a private sentinel did didicit nec reticere loquenti. They wait till some- not abate the ardour of his ambition, for he learned thing new comes out from others; examine its me- to read though without a master. Upon the death rite and reject it, or make it reverberate through of his father, being left entirely destitute, he was in the rest of Europe.
volved in all that distress which is common among After all
, I know not whether they should be the poor, and of which the great have scarcely any allowed any national character for polite learning. idea. However, though only a boy of nine years Al their taste is derived to them from neighbouring old, he still persisted in pursuing his studies, tranations, and that in a language not their own. velled about from school to school, and begged his They somewhat resemble their brokers, who trade learning and his bread. When at the age of sevfor immense sums without having any capital. enteen, instead of applying himself to any of the
The other countries of Europe may be consider- lower occupations, which seem best adapted to such ed as immersed in ignorance, or making but feeble circumstances, he was resolved to travel for imefforts to rise. Spain has long fallen from amazing provement from Norway, the place of his birth, to Europe with her wit, to amusing them with the Copenhagen the capital city of Denmark. He greatness of her catholic credulity. Rome consi- lived there by teaching French, at the same time ders her as the most favourite of all her children, avoiding no opportunity of improvement that his and school divinity still reigns there in triumph. scanty funds could permit. But his ambition was In spite of all attempts of the Marquis D'Ensana- not to be restrained, or his thirst of knowledge sada, who saw with regret the barbarity of his coun- tisfied, until he had seen the world. Without motrymen, and bravely offered to oppose it by intro- ney, recommendations, or friends, he undertook to ducing new systems of learning, and suppressing set out upon his travels, and make the tour of Euthe seminaries of monastic ignorance; in spite of rope on foot. A good voice, and a trifling skill in the ingenuity of Padré Feio, whose book of vulgar music, were the only finances he had to support an errors so finely exposes the monkish stupidity of undertaking so extensive; so he travelled by day, the times, the religious have prevailed. Ensana- and at night sung at the door of peasants' houses da has been banished, and now lives in exile. Feio to get himself a lodging. In this manner, while has incurred the hatred and contempt of every bigot yet very young, Holberg passed through France, whose errors he has attempted to oppose, and feels Germany, and Holland; and coming over to Engno doubt the unremitting displeasure of the priest- land, took up his residence for two years in the twoord. Persecution is a tribute the great must ever university of Oxford. Here he subsisted by teachpay for pre-eminence.
ing French and music, and wrote his universal It is a little extraordinary, however, how Spain, history, his earliest, but worst performance. Furwhose genius is naturally fine, should be so much nished with all the learning of Europe, he at last behind the rest of Europe in this particular; or thought proper to return to Copenhagen, where his why school divinity should hold its ground there ingenious productions quickly gained him that fafor nearly six hundred years. The reason must vour he deserved. He composed not less than eighbe that philosophical opinions, which are otherwise teen comedies. Those in his own language are