Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

WE

3

ART. 1.
Histoire des Membres, &c. i. e. History of the Members of the French
Academy, by M. D'ALEMBERT, concluded: See our last Appen.
dix, page 655.

E return with the more pleasure to this work, as we find

the fifth and fixth volumes, which our former review of this publication did not include, equally amusing and instructive with the first four. We cannot, however, quite agree with the author, when, in his eloge of the Abbé du Bos, he says, that'he was one of those men of letters who had more merit than reputation.' Indeed we are of a totally different opinion, and think that his fame considerably exceeded his desert. The subjects which he treated, were interesting, and he was one of the first among the mang Frenchmen who wrote and talked prettily and ingeniously about the fine arts, without feeling their effeets with true taste and enthusiasm. Who talk more speciously and frequently about music than our Gallic neighbours ? and what mufic is less pleasing to the rest of Europe than theirs ? not so much in the compofition, the laws of harmony being nearly the same every where, as in the expreffion; which is fo nationally and radically bad, as to spoil and corrupt the music which they perform of every other country, and reduce it to a level with their own, What the Abbé du Bos bas asserted of the music of the ancients, discovers at once his ignorance of the subjeet, and his firm reliance on the ignorance of his readers. His decisions concerning poetry and painting are more frequently the effects of arrogance than good taste or found judgment. Voltaire says, that he had never written ver ses or used a pencil; but he had read, seen, and medicated much. He certainly was more APP, Rey, VOL, LXXX, Рp

fond

fond of discuffion, than of the filent and attentive examination of works of art: and it has often been a matter of dispute ia France, whether, in judging of productions of art, difcuffron or sentiment was the best guide. M. D'ALEMBERT wisely advises bis countrymen to feel first, and discuss afterwards. But we bave known few French connoisseurs, who would not rather talk than listen, during the perufal of poetry, or the performance of mufic,

We meet with some admirable traits of character, eloquence, and benignity, in the notes to the eloge of the celebrated preacher Maffilion, bilhop of Clermont en Auvergne : and the manner in which this prelate pleads the cause of the poor of his diocese to Cardinal Fleury, then minifter of ftate, is a model of elegant fimplicity and pathetic fupplication. The cardinal and he were of different parties in the religious disputes of France at that time, yet they respected and feared each other : and Masillon pleasantly said, '“ We are mutually afraid of each other, and we are both glad to find each other a coward.” When he had lent bis chapel to some sectarists, who occafioned a disturbance, he said: “ I opened the door to ignorance, for the sake of peace, but I should have remembered that among prielts as well as among common people, ignorance is much more to be feared than science.”

Mafillon left his whole poffeffions to the poor, which did properly belong to his family. Charlemagne, hearing of the death of a bishop, asked how much he had left to the poor; and was told, two pounds of filver. A young priest, who stood by, observed, that it was but a finall viaticum, a short allowance, for lo long a voyage. The prince, pleased with the reflexion, told the prieit that he should be his successor, and added, “ but don't forget what you have faid."

The eloge of the Marquis de St. Aulaire, who arrived at his hundredth year, and ac fixty became an agreeable poet, is amufing and full of anecdotes. And in that of ihe Don Quixote in benevolence and speculative patriotism, the Abbé de St. Pierre, we find so many initances of a wild imagination under the guidance of a good heart, so many impracticable but well-intentioned schemes for the benefit of focicty, the melioration of the goverament of his country, and the peace and happiness of all Europe; that virtue seems to have been his mistress, his dulcinea, whom he is always feeking, but never finds. This worthy Abbé is fupposed to have been the first who ventured to use the word Bienfaifance in the French language; and it is certain that, in order to make it current, he put its principle in practice on all occasions. He wrote against exceffive taxation, religious intolerance, the useless expence and magnificence of courts, supported with the fubitance and tears of the people. He regarded arbitrary power

and

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

and its consequent evils as the certain ruin of a state. These
are common place sentiments in England, but were new and
heroic in France, at the beginning of the present century.
was the first who saw through all the glare and splendour of the
court and character of Lewis the XIVth, and the defects and
vices of that prince's principles and government. But so long and
constant had been the practice of adulation to which the mem-
bers of the French Academy were accustomed, that they treated
him as guilty of Academic treason for publishing, even after the
decease of that monarch, his sentiments in a pamphlet called La
Polyfynodie, Plurality of Councils, and expelled him from the Aca-
demy. This good man being asked, the day before he died,
what he thought of his approaching end, answered, that " it
seemed like a journey into the country.”

The president Bouhier, a man of considerable erudition, was
elected into the French Academy, on the condition that he
would quit Dijon, the place of his birth and residence, and secile
at Paris; to which condition, he acceded, but was unable to per-
form his promise, for want of health. Though remote from the
capital, he could not remain in obscurity, but from the variety
and extent of bis learning, he was couried and consulted by the
literati throughout Europe: and many learned men, who had
availed themselves of his councils, dedicated their works to him.
• It were to be wilhed (says M. D'ALEMBERT) that men of
letters would prefer such patrons to the generality of ill-chosen
Mecænas's so unworthy of that title, and whose pride and indif-
ference incline them to receive as a debt, the homage which
men of genius and talents pay to them.'

At a time when the ministers of state were frequently changed in France, an author dedicated his book to the Brazen Horse on the Pont-neuf at Paris, persuaded that his patron would long remain in place. But the Duke de Montaufier, the governor of the Dauphin, would never suffer him to read the dedications which were addressed to that young prince: However, he discovered him one day reading, in secrer, one of these epistles; but instead of taking it from him, he obliged the prince to read it aloud, and ftopping him at the end of every phrase, said, “ Don't you see, fis, that they are laughing at you with impunity ? can you fincerely believe yourself poflessed of all the good qualities ascribed to you; or can you read, without indignation, fuch gross flattery, which they would not venture to bestow without having the meanest opinion of your understanding ?”

• The most noble of all dedications (continues M. D'ALEMBERT), the most worthy perhaps of reaching posterity, and unJuckily the most unknown, is that of the learned Lefevre, father of Mad. Dacier, addrefled to Pelison, while be was in the Baftile, for having defended the unfortunate Fouquet, his benefactor. P p 2

Pope

Do you/ not

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Pope dedicated Parnell's Poems to Lord Oxford in the Tower; but bis risque of persecution was small in England, compared with that of Lefevre in France, where ministers are armed with lettres de cachet; which are a kind of muskets charged with white powder, that have been said to go off without making a report. A friend approaching the bed of the president Bouhier within da hour of his death, found him in a seemingly profound meditation. He made a sign that he wished not to be disturbed, and with difficulty pronounced these words: I am watching death : fimilar to those of an ancient philosopher, who, when dying, said he was watching what passed at the moment when the soul quitted the body.

Among the subje&s proposed by she French Academy for the prize of eloquence, till about the middle of the present century, the chief part were religious or moral : as, the science of salvation ; the merit and dignity of martyrdom; the purity of soul and bs. dy; and even a paraphrafe on the Ave Maria. All these feem more fic subjects for the pulpit than a literary society; but as there are generally many bishops and dignified clergy in the Academy, it afforded them an opportunity of displaying their abilities 23 preachers, who were unable to distinguish themselves as poets. After these subjects were exhausted, and the nation feemed fure feited with monotonous and insipid repetitions of common.place precepts of virtue and piety, the Academy proposed the panegyrics of celebrated men, who had diftinguished themselves " by pencil, compass, sword, or pen." The public has much applauded feveral of these discourses; and subjects of this kind scem now to have entirely super feded the fermons of former times: some of which, however, fays M. D'ALEMBERT, merited diftinction; but there were chiefly composed by Jaymen; among whom those of Fontenelle and Dela Motte were the best. We bave heard of sermons written by the late Dr. Johnfon for his friends, and there is one in the Eloge de Mingin, with which Fontenelle fecretly supplied his friend Brunel, and gained him the prize. This discourse was written on the danger of certain ways to salvation which seem sure. The subject is created by Fontenelle with fo much wisdom and philosophy, and rendered so interesting by his enlarged and ingenious reflexions, that we are tempted to present our readers with an extract of some length in English.

• How astonishing is the infinite diversity of religious worship into which the universe is divided ! Every people, by the light of nature, and an internal sense of their own weakness, agree in submission to some fuperior Being, though they disagree in the ideas which they have formed of him. Every thing of which the senses can judga, or which the imagination can form, whatever is most brilliant and beyond our reach, as well as whatever is most vile, terrific, and Roxious, has been deified by fome people or other; all has had its incenfe, its altars, and its victims. The variety of religious worfirip

bas corresponded with that of the divinities. In one place, they will always have visible gods represented by ftatues; in another, it is a crime to represent the objects of worship; here flows the blood of animals and men; there, the incense only smokes; sometimes the angry gods are appeased by public games and spectacles; and sometimes by rigorous penance and voluntary sufferings. He who honours the divinities of one country abominates those of another; and the moft holy ceremonies of one people are often regarded by their neighbours as facrilegious.

There is however but one God, and miserable is that people to whom he is unknown !--Among so many different religions, and ways to salvation which men pursue, how is the right path pointed out to us ? Alas! that which is preferred by the inhabitants of the country where we happen to be born is almost always supposed, without examination, to be the safe and true road to eternal happiness : every people march with equal confidence in the steps of their countrymen. And how difficult is it to eradicate a first opinion which has taken poffeffion of us in youth, undisputed by realon, and at a time wheni t has no rival opinions to destroy! -O celestial truth! why is thy light so feeble, or why are men so blind? why does universal darkness almost cover the earth? why do innumerable nations run to perdition without knowing it? can one involuntary error merit such a punilhment? We must not pretend to fathom the abyis of eternal Wisdom ; it is our duty to submit to its decrees: God is jult, and will only punish the culpable; and if our weak reason is unable to reach the latent causes, springs, and regulations of Omnipotence, let us not murmur, but submic with humility and resignation to the ignorance of our nature.'

The Abbé Girard, author of the justiy celebrated little book entitled Synonymes François, or definition of synonymous words in the French language, has not been forgotten by M. D'ALEMBERT. This admirable work, shewing the nice and almost inperceptible shades of meaning in words of which the choice seems indifferent, obtained the author admiffion into the French Academy in spite of all the cabals and opposition of rival philologers. We know not of any such work in any other language ancient or modern, though it seems equally wanted in them all.

The royal lecturer and professor of philosophy, Terrason, was a very singular character : absent, simple, totally ignorant of the world, with much learning, and original wit and humour. He made a good translation of Diodorus Siculus merely, he said, to expose the credulity of that author. When he suddenly became very rich by the Misisippi scheme, it had no effect on his conduct or philosophy, though he said he would not answer for him. self beyond a million of livres; however, those who knew him would have been bound for him much farther. He was, how. ever, as suddenly ruined by this bubble as he was enriched, when he wrote a friend word that he had got rid of many diffi. culties in which wealth had involved him, and he thould now

enjoy

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Pp3

« PreviousContinue »