Imagens da página

itself in various departments; but the quiddities and conundrums of this class of writers, in comparison with the effective and manly exertions of Voltaire, resemble the learned lucubrations of the schoolmen in opposition to the effective intellectuality of Bacon.

The reader will perceive, that the foregoing review of the character of Voltaire is chiefly confined to a consideration of his claims as a man of social purpose, or, if it must be so, as a philosopher. As a man of genius and of literature, he has been so often and so ably estimated, it would be in vain to attempt novelty either of illustration or discovery. On the former point, the case is different: it is the practice of a powerful party to prate him down ; and, owing to mental cowardice, many who are too conscientious to join in the jargon, allow it to pass. Hence this brief rally, which is scarcely out of place in an introduction to the republication of a work so connected with the light in which he has here been chiefly considered. Upon that work a few very candid observations will now follow, and then this voluntary task will be ended.

The Philosophical Dictionary is one of the most lively, amusing, and various books of fact and illustration now in existence ; comprising information adapted to every taste and line of study, delivered with the wit, animation, ease, and perspicuity, for which its gifted author was unrivalled. There is scarcely a topic which has instructed or amused the world of letters, which is not treated of; nor any part of the varied shores which bound the ever-revolving tide of human opinion, left unexplored. It must no doubt be admitted, that the scriptural narrative, especially in relation to Jewish history and antiquities, is canvassed with great freedom; and what is still more disagreeable to many grave and respectable persons, with occasional sallies of wit and raillery, which, it is to be feared, will not in their estimation be entirely atoned for by the air of deference and of extreme good manners with which they are usually concluded. But on the other hand it may be pleaded, that a great number of serious people deem the most important doctrines of religion unaffected by any alleged or presumed discrepancies in the above relations; and the fact is unanswerable, that a still greater number of learned persons are well paid to reconcile them. What more need be said ? It is good to hear all sides. It will be more difficult to satisfy the objectors to wit ; it being impossible to say that there is none; but then it is of great logical capability, shutting up, like the plant in the seed, a complete set of premises and conclusions—the flash usually escaping with the latter. This being the case, nothing in the world will be more easy than to turn them into syllogisms previous to reply; by which expedient their fallacy will be the more readily detected, and the reasoning be made to assume the decent solemnity, which is so be coming in criminals on the point of execution.

Whether this advice be followed or no, it is not necessary to lose some excellent ore for a small portion of alloy. We admire the sun, although it sometimes scorches, and pluck the rose which is surrounded by thorns. In a word, a strong conviction exists, that this very entertaining and discursive work will be welcome to a great many people,—and who can please all ?

It only remains to explain to the reader that the French edition of the Philosophical Diction

ary, from which this translation is made, is a far more comprehensive collection than the one originally published under that name by Voltaire. It contains not only that work, but the contents of another publication, called “ Questions on the Encyclopedia ;" of a manuscript Dictionary entitled a “ Dictionary of Opinion”* (Opinion par

* We supply Extracts from the original Introductions to these Works, in order to explain the spirit in which they were originally produced. Extracts from Introduction to the Questions on the

Encyclopedia." “A few questions are all that is here proposed by some men of letters, who have studied the Encyclopedia, and who seek only for elucidations; they declare themselves doubters not teachers. They doubt more especially of what they advance, they respect what it is their duty to respect; and submit their reason in all things above their reason, of which there are many.

“ As most of the men of learning and talent, who so zealously contributed to the French Encyclopedia, are nowengaged in perfecting it, and adding to it several volumes, and as in more than one country new editions of it are already commenced, we have thought it our duty to present to the lovers of literature an attempt at some articles which have been entirely omitted in the great Dictionary, or which will bear some additions, or which, having been inserted by the hands of strangers, have not been treated in a manner consonant with the views of the Directors of this immense undertaking.

“To them we dedicate our attempt; they can take and correct, or leave the articles, as to them may seem good, in the large edition, which the booksellers of Paris are preparing. We offer them exotic plants which will deserve a place in their grand collection only, inasmuch as they shall be cultivated by such hands, which can alone bestow on them health and vigour.” Advertisement to the Collection entitled A Dictionary of

Opinion." « Quos oportet redargui; qui universas domos subvertunt, docentes quæ non oportet, turpis lucris gratidWhose mouths shall be stopped ; who subvert whole houses, teaching that which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.'-(Paul to Titus, chap.i.v. 11.)

This Dictionary is extracted from the most esteemed works which are not within the reach of the great mass of society,

l'Alphabet); the articles of M. Voltaire inserted in the French Encyclopedia; a few designed for the Dictionary of the French Academy; and various minor pieces of a still more miscellaneous nature. Like all other Dictionaries of facts and opinions connected with the progress of knowledge, time has made some havoc with a portion of its contents. Several articles are superseded by the extension of physical and economical science since they were written, as well as by increased information in every direction. These necessary omissions are increased by leaving out a portion of disquisition which never could interest out of France, nor even in France any longer; including remarks on very local and obsolete laws; on minute peculiarities in the French language; and critical observations on the passing Drama, and on French Poetry, which have been repeated from other sources almost to satiety. Some repetition also, for which the French Editors claim indulgence in a work thus got together, is carefully removed. These, and a few kindred reductions, respecting which there can be scarcely any difference of opinion, are likely to reduce the original work of eight volumes about a quarter ; by which reduction the Publishers will be enabled to complete the present translation in five, or at most six volumes of an equal size, one of which it is purposed to furnish every two months, until the version be completed. and if the author does not always mention the sources from which he has drawn his articles, as being well known to the learned, he will not be suspected of wishing to shine in borrowed plumes, since he keeps the secret of his own name, according to the sentence in the Gospel — Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."*"



A. The letter A has been accounted sacred in almost every nation, because it was the first letter. The Egyptians added this to their other numberless superstitions; hence it was that the Greeks of Alexandria called it hier'alpha; and as omega was the last of the letters, these words alpha and omega signified the beginning and the end of all things. This was the origin of the cabalistic art, and of more than one mysterious folly. The letters served as cyphers, and to express

musical notes. Judge what an infinity of secret knowledge must thus have been produced. A, b, c, d, e, f, g, were the seven heavens; the harmony of the celestial spheres was composed of the seven first letters; and an acrostic accounted for everything among the ever-venerable Ancients.

A, B, C, OR ALPHABET. Why has not the alphabet a name in any European language? Alphabet signifies nothing more than A, B, and A, B, signifies nothing, or but indicates two sounds, which two sounds have no relation to each other. Beta is not formed from alpha; one is first, the other second, and no one knows why.

How can it have happened that terms are still wanting to express the portal of all the sciences ? The



« AnteriorContinuar »