We should have much liked to have given some extended quotations from the works of Condorcet; but, owing to their general character, we cannot extract any philosophic formula which would be generally interesting. His "Lettres d'un Theologien" are well deserving of a reprint; they created an astounding sensation when they appeared, being taken for the work of Voltaire—the light, easy, graceful style, with deeply concealed irony, the crushing retort and the fiery sarcasm. They made even priests laugh by their Attic wit and incongruous similes. But it was in the "Academy" where Condorcet's influence was supreme. He immortalized the heroes as they fell, and pushed the cause on by his professional duties. He was always awake to the call of duty, and nobly did he work his battery. He is now in the last grand sleep of man—the flowers of poesy are woven in amarynth wreaths over his tomb.
Baruch Spinoza, or Espinoza, better known under the name of Benedict Spinoza (as rendered by himself in the Latin language,) was born at Amsterdam, in Holland, on the 24th of November, 1632. There is some uncertainty as to this date, as there are several dates fixed by different authors, both for his birth and death, but we have adopted the biography given by Dr. C. H. Bruder, in the preface to his edition of Spinoza's works. His parents were Jews of the middle, or, perhaps, somewhat humbler class. His father was originally a Spanish merchant, who, to escape persecution, had emigrated to Holland. Although the life of our great philosopher is one full of interesting incidents, and deserves to be treated fully, we have but room to give a very brief sketch, referring our readers, who may wish to learn more of Spinoza's life, to Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," Westminster Review, No. 77, and "Encyclopaedia Brittannica." p. 144. His doctrines we will let speak for themselves in his own words, trusting thereby to give the reader an opportunity of knowing who and what Spinoza really was. One man shrinks with horror from him as an Atheist. Voltaire says, that he was an Atheist, and taught Atheism. Another calls him "a God-intoxicated man." We present him a mighty thinker, a master mind, a noble, fearless utterer of free and noble thoughts, a hard-working, honest, independent man; as one who, two centuries ago, gave forth to the world a series of thinkings which have crushed, with resistless force, the theological shell in the centre of which the priests hide the kernel "truth."
Spinoza appears in his boyhood to have been an apt scholar, and to have rapidly mastered the tasks set him by his teachers. Full of rabbinical lore he won the admiration of the Rabbi Moses Mortira, but the pupil rose higher than his master, and attempted to solve problems which the learned rabbis were content to reverence as mysteries not capable of solution. First they remonstrated, then threatened; still Spinoza persevered in his studies, and in making known the result to those around him. He was threatened with excommunication, and withdrew himself from the synagogue. One more effort was made by the rabbis, who offered Spinoza a pension of about L100 a-year if he would attend the synagogue more frequently, and consent to be silent with regard to his philosophical thinkings. This offer he indignantly refused. Reason failing, threats proving futile, and gold being treated with scorn, one was found sufficiently fanatic to try a further experiment, which resulted in an attempt on Spinoza's life; the knife, however, luckily missed its aim, and our hero escaped. At last, in the year 1660, Spinoza, being then twenty-eight years of age, was solemnly excommunicated from the synagogue. His friends and relations shut their doors against him. An outcast from the home of his youth, he gained a humble livelihood by polishing glasses for microscopes, telescopes, etc., at which he was very expert. While thus acquiring, by his own handiwork, the means of subsistence, he was studying hard, devoting every possible hour to philosophical research. Spinoza became master of the Dutch, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin languages, the latter of which he acquired in the house of one Francis Van den Ende, from whom it is more than probable he received as much instruction in Atheism as in Latin. Spinoza only appears to have once fallen in love, and this was with Van den Ende's daughter, who was herself a good linguist, and who gave Spinoza instruction in Latin. She, however, although willing to be his instructress and companion in a philogical path, declined to accept his love, and thus Spinoza was left to philosophy alone. After his excommunication he retired to Rhynsburg, near the City of Leyden, in Holland, and there studied the works of Descartes. Three years afterwards he published an abridgment of the "Meditations" of the great father of philosophy, which created a profound sensation. In an appendix to this abridgment were contained the germs of those thinkings in which the pupil outdid the master, and the student progressed beyond the philosopher. In the month of June, 1664, Spinoza removed to Woorburg, a small village near the Hague, where he was visited by persons from different parts, attracted by his fame as a philosopher; and at last, after many solicitations he came to the Hague, and resided there altogether. In 1670 he published his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus." This raised him a host of opponents; many writers rushed eager for the fray, to tilt with the poor Dutch Jew. His book was officially condemned and forbidden, and a host of refutations (?) were circulated against it. In spite of the condemnation it has outlived the refutations.
Spinoza died on the 21st or 22nd of February, 1677, in his forty-fifth year, and was buried on the 25th of February at the Hague. He was frugal in his habits, subsisting independently on the earnings of his own hands. Honorable in all things, he refused to accept the chair of Professor of Philosophy, offered to him by the Elector, and this because he did not wish to be circumscribed in his thinking, or in the freedom of utterance of his thoughts. He also refused a pension offered to him by Louis XIV, saying that he had no intention of dedicating anything to that monarch. The following is a list of Spinoza's works:—"Principiorum Philosophise Renati Descartes;" "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus;" "Ethica;" "Tractatus Politi-cus;" "De Emandatione Intellectus;" "Epistolae;" "Grammaticus Hebracae," etc. There are also several spurious works ascribed to Spinoza. The "Tractatus Politicus" has been translated into English by William Maccall, who seems fully to appreciate the greatness of the philosopher, although he will not admit the usefulness of Spinoza's logic. Maccall does not see the utility of that very logic which compelled him to admit Spinoza's truth. We are not aware of any other translation of Spinoza's works except that of a small portion of his "Ethica," by Lewes. This work, which was originally published in 1677, commenced with eight definitions, which, together with the following axioms and propositions, were reprinted from the Westminster Review in the Library of Reason:—
I. By cause of itself I understand that, the essence of which involves existence: or that, the nature of which can only be considered as existent.
II. A thing finite is that which can be limited (terminari potest) by another thing of the same nature—ergo, body is said to be finite because it can always be conceived as larger. So thought is limited by other thoughts. But body does not limit thought, nor thought limit body.
III. By substance I understand that which is in itself, and is conceived per se—that is, the conception of which does not require the conception of anything else as antecedent to it.
IV. By attribute I understand that which the mind perceives as constituting the very essence of substance.
V. By modes I understand the accidents (affectiones) of substance; or that which is in something else, through which also it is conceived.
VI. By God I understand the being absolutely infinite; that is, the substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses an infinite and eternal essence.
Explication, I say absolutely infinite, but not in suo genere; for to whatever is infinite, but not in suo genere, we can deny infinite attributes; but that which is absolutely infinite, to its essence pertains everything which implies essence, and involves no negation.
VII. That thing is said to be free which exists by the sole necessity of its nature, and by itself alone is determined to action. But that is necessary, or rather constrained, which owes its existence to another, and acts according to certain and determinate causes.
VIII. By eternity I understand existence itself, in as far as it is conceived necessarily to follow from the sole definition of an eternal thing.
I. Everything which is, is in itself, or in some other thing.
II. That which cannot be conceived through another, per aliud must be conceived, per se.
III. From a given determinate cause the effect necessarily follows, and vice versa. If no determinate cause be given, no effect can follow.
IV. The knowledge of an effect depends on the knowledge of the cause, and includes it.
V. Things that have nothing in common with each other cannot be understood by means of each other—that is, the conception of one, does not involve the conception of the other.
VI. A true idea must agree with its original in nature.
VII. Whatever can be clearly conceived as non-existent does not, in its essence, involve existence.
I. Substance is prior in nature to its accidents. Demonstration. Per definitions three and five.
II. Two substances, having different attributes, have nothing in common with each other. Dem. This follows from def. three; for each substance must be conceived in itself and through itself; in other words, the conception of one does not involve the conception of the other.
III. Of things which have nothing in common, one cannot be the cause of the other. Dem. If they have nothing in common, then (per axiom five) they cannot be conceived by means of each other; ergo (per axiom four,) one cannot be the cause of the other.—Q. E. D.
IV. Two or more distinct things are distinguished among themselves, either through the diversity of their attributes, or through that of their modes. Dem. Everything which is, in itself, or in some other thing (per ax. one)—that is (per def. three and five,) there is nothing out of ourselves (extra intellectum, outside the intellect) but substance and its modes. There is nothing out of ourselves whereby things can be distinguished amongst one another, except substances, or (which is the same thing, per def. lour) their attributes and modes.
V. It is impossible that there should be two or more substances of the same nature, or of the same attributes. Dem. If there are many different substances they must be distinguished by the diversity of their attributes or of their modes (per prop. 4.) If only by the diversity of their attributes, it is thereby conceded that there is, nevertheless, only one substance of the same attribute; but if their diversity of modes, then, substance being prior in order of time to its modes, it must be considered independent of them—that is (per def. three and six,) cannot be conceived as distinguished from another—that is (per prop, four,) there cannot be many substances, but only one substance.—Q. E. D.
VI. One substance cannot be created by another substance. Dem. There cannot be two substances with the same attributes (per prop, five)—that is (per prop. two,) that hare anything in common with each other; and, therefore (per prop, three,) one cannot be the cause of the other.
Corollary 1. Hence it follows that substance cannot be created by anything else. For there is nothing in nature except substance and its modes (per axiom one, and def. three and five.) Now, this substance, not being produced by another, is self-caused.
Corollary 2. This proposition is more easily to be demonstrated by the absurdity of its contradiction; for if substance can be produced by anything else, the conception of it would depend on the conception of the cause (per axiom four,) and hence (per def. three,) it would not be substance.
VII. It pertains to the nature of substance to exist. Dem. Substance cannot be produced by anything else (per coroli. prop, six,) and is therefore the cause of itself—that is (per def. one,) its essence necessarily involves existence; or it pertains to the nature of substance to exist.—Q. E. D.
VIII. All substance is necessarily infinite. Dem. There exists but one substance of the same attribute; and it must either exist as infinite or finite. But not finite, for (per def. two) as finite it must be limited by another substance of the same nature, and in that case there would be two substances of the same attributes, which (per prop, five) is absurd. Substance therefore is infinite.—Q. E. D.
"Scholium I.—I do not doubt but that to all who judge confusedly of things, and are not wont to inquire into first causes, it will be difficult to admit the demonstration of prop. 7, because they do not sufficiently distinguish between the modifications of substances, and substances themselves, and are ignorant of the manner in which things are produced. Hence it follows, that the commencement which they see natural things have, they attribute to substances; for he who knows not the true cause of things, confounds all things, and feigns that trees talk like men; that men are formed from stones as well as from seeds, and that all forms can be changed into all other forms. So, also, those who confound the divine nature with the human, naturally attribute human affections to God, especially as they are ignorant of how these affections are produced in the mind. If men attended to the nature of substance, they would not, in the least, doubt proposition seven; nay, this proposition would be an axiom to all, and would be numbered among common notions. For by substance they would understand that which exists in itself, and is concerned through itself—i.e., the knowledge of which does not require the knowledge of anything as antecedent to it. But by modification they would understand that which is in another thing, the conception of which is formed by the conception of the thing in which it is, or to which it belongs. We can have, therefore, correct ideas of non-existent modifications, because, although out of the understanding they have no reality, yet their essence is so comprehended in that of another, that they can be conceived through this other. The truth of substance (out of the understanding) lies nowhere but in itself, because it is conceived per se. If therefore any one says he has a clear idea of substance, and yet doubt whether such substance exist, this would be as much as to say that he has a true idea, and nevertheless doubts whether it be not false (as a little attention sufficiently manifests;) or if any man affirms substance to be created, he at the same time affirms that a true idea has become false, than which nothing can be more absurd. Hence it is necessarily confessed that the existence of substance, as well as its essence, is an eternal truth. And hence we must conclude that there is only one substance possessing the same attribute, which requires here a fuller development. I note therefore—1. That the correct definition of a thing includes and expresses nothing but the nature of the thing defined. From which follows—2. That no definition includes or expresses a distinct number of individuals, because it expresses nothing but the nature of the thing defined; ergo, the definition of a triangle expresses no more than the nature of a triangle, and not any fixed number of triangles. 3. There must necessarily be a distinct cause for the existence of every existing thing. 4. This cause, by reason of which anything exists, must either be contained in the nature and definition of the existing thing (viz., that it pertains to its nature to exist,) or else must be beyond it—must be something different from it.
"As therefore it pertains to the nature of substance to exist, so must its definition include a necessary existence, and consequently from its sole definition we must conclude its existence. But as from its definition, as already shown in notes two and three, it is not possible to conclude the existence of many substances—ergo, it necessarily follows that only one substance of the same nature can exist."
It will be necessary for the reader to remember that Spinoza commenced his philosophical studies at the same point with Descartes. Both recognized existence as the primal fact, self-evident and indisputable.
But while Descartes had, in some manner, fashioned a quality—God and God-created substance—Spinoza only found one, substance, the definition of which included existence. By his fourth proposition ("of things which have nothing in common, one cannot be the cause of the other, ") he destroyed the creation theory, because by that theory God is assumed to be a spirit having nothing in common with matter, yet acting on matter; and Lewes speaks of the fourth proposition in the following terms:—"This fallacy has been one of the most influential corrupters of philosophical speculation. For many years it was undisputed, and most metaphysicians still adhere to it. The assertion is that only like can act upon like; but although it is true that like produces (causes) like, it is also true that like produces unlike; thus fire produces pain when applied to our bodies; explosion when applied to gunpowder; charcoal when applied to wood; all these effects are unlike the cause." We cannot help thinking that in this instance, the usually thoughtful Lewes has either confused substance with its modes, or, for the sake of producing a temporary effect, has descended to mere sophism. Spinoza's proposition is, that substances having nothing in common, cannot act on one another. Lewes deals with several modes of the same substance as though they were different substances. Way, more, to make his argument the more plausible, he entirely ignores in it that noumenon of which he speaks as underlying all phenomena, and uses each phenomenon as a separate existence. In each of the instances mentioned, however varied may be the modification, the essence is the same. They are merely examples of one portion of the whole acting upon another portion, and there is that in each mode which is common to the whole, and by means of which the action takes place.
Much has been said of Spinoza's "God" and "Divine Substance," and we must refer the reader to Definition Six, in which God is defined as being "infinite substance." Now, although we should be content to strike the word "God" out of our own tablet of philosophical nomenclature, as being a much misused, misrepresented, and entirely useless word, yet we must be very careful, when we find another man using the word, to get his precise definition, and not to use any-other ourselves while in his company.
Spinoza, when asked "What name do you attach to infinite substance?" says, "God."—If he had said any other word we could not have quarrelled with him so long as he defined the word, and adhered strictly to the terms of his definition, although we might regret that he had not either coined a word for himself, or used one less maltreated by the mass. Spinoza said, "I can only take cognizance of one substance (of which I am part) having infinite attributes of extension and thought. I take cognizance of substance by its modes, and in my consciousness of existence. Every thing is a mode of the attribute of extension, every thought, wish, or feeling, a mode of the attribute of thought. I call this, substance, with infinite attributes, God." Spinoza, like all other thinkers, found himself overpowered by the illimitable vastness of the infinite when attempting to grasp it by his mental powers, but unlike other men he did not endeavor to relieve himself by separating himself from that infinite; but, knowing he was a part of the whole, not divisible from the remainder, he was content to aim at perfecting his knowledge of existence rather than at dogmatising upon an indefinable word, which, if it represented anything, professed to represent an incomprehensible existence far beyond his reach.
We ought not to wonder that in many parts of Spinoza's writings we find the word "God" treated in a less coherent manner than would be possible under the definition given in his "Ethics," and for these reasons:—Spinoza, from his cradle upwards, had been surrounded with books and traditions sanctified by the past, and impressed on his willing mind by his family, his tutors, and the heads of his church; a mind like his gathered all that was given, even more quickly than it was offered, still craving for more—"more light"—"more light"—and at last light came bursting on the young thinker like a lightning flash at dark midnight, revealing his mind in chains, which had been cast round him in his nursery, his school, his college, his synagogue. By a mighty effort he burst these chains, and walked forth a free man, despite the entreaties of his family, the reasonings of the rabbis, the knife of the fanatic, the curse of his church, and the edict of the state. But should it be a matter of surprise to us that some of the links of those broken chains should still hang on the young philosopher, and, seeming to be a part of himself, almost imperceptibly incline to old ways of thinking, and to old modes of utterance of those thoughts! Wonder not that a few links bang about him, but rather that he ever succeeded in breaking those chains at all. Spinoza, after his secession from his synagogue, became logically an Atheist; education and early impressions enlarged this into a less clearly-defined Pantheism; but the logic comes to us naked, disrobed of all by which it might have been surrounded in Spinoza's mind. If that logic be correct, then all the theologies of the world are false. We have presented it to the reader to judge of for himself. Many men have written against it; of these some have misunderstood, some have misrepresented, some have failed, and few have left us a proof that they had endeavored to deal with Spinoza on his own ground. Maccall says, "In the glorious throng of heroic names, there are few nobler than Spinoza's. Apart altogether from the estimate we may form of his philosophy, there is something unspeakably interesting in the life and the character of the man. In his metaphysical system there are two things exceedingly distinct. There is, first, the immense and prodigious, but terrible mathematical skeleton, which his subtle intellect binds up and throws as calmly into space as we drop a pebble into the water, and whose bones, striking against the wreck of all that is sacred in belief, or bold in speculation, rattle a wild response to our wildest phantasies, and drive us almost to think in despair that thinking is madness; and there is, secondly, the divinest vision of the infinite, and the divinest incense which the intuition of the infinite ever yet poured forth at the altar of creation."
The "Treatise on Politics" is not Spinoza's greatest work; it is, in all respects, inferior to the "Ethics," and to the "Theologico-Political Treatise." But there are in politics certain eternal principles, and it is for setting forth and elucidating these that the Treatise of Spinoza is so valuable.
In the second chapter of that Treatise, after defining what he means by nature, etc., he, on the sixth section, proceeds as follows:—"But many believe that the ignorant disturb more than follow the order of nature, and conceive of men in nature as a state within the state. For they assert that the human mind has not been produced by any natural causes, but created immediately by God, and thereby rendered so independent of other things as to have absolute power of determining itself, and of using reason aright. But experience teaches us more than enough, that it is no more in our power to have a sound mind than a sound body. Since, moreover, everything, as far as it is able, strives to conserve its being, we cannot doubt that if it were equally in our power to live according to the prescripts of reason, as to be led by blind desire, all would seek the guidance of reason and live wisely, which is not the case. For every one is the slave of the particular pleasure to which he is most attached. Nor do theologians remove the difficulty when they assert that this inability is a vice, or a sin of human nature, which derives its origin from the fall of the first parent. For if it was in the power of the first man to stand rather than to fall, and if he was sound in faculty, and had perfect control over his own mind, how did it happen that he, the wise and prudent, fell? But they say he was deceived and tempted by the devil. But who was it that led astray and tempted the devil himself? Who, I ask, rendered this the most excellent of intelligent creatures so mad, that he wished to be greater than God? Could he render himself thus mad—he who had a sane mind, and strove as much as in him lay to conserve his being? How, moreover, could it happen that the first man in possession of his entire mental faculties, and master of his will, should be both open to temptation, and suffer himself to be robbed of his mind? For if he had the power of using his reason aright, he could not be deceived; for as far as in him lay, he necessarily sought to conserve his own being, and the sanity of his mind. But it is supposed he had this in his power, therefore he necessarily conserved his sane mind, neither could he be deceived. Which is evidently false from his history; and, consequently, it must be granted that it was not in the power of the first person to use reason aright, but that he, like us, was subject to passions."
Spinoza is scarcely likely to become a great favorite with the "Woman's Rights Convention." In his ninth chapter of the same Treatise, he says, "If by nature women were equal to men, and excelled as much as they in strength of mind and in talent, truly amongst nations, so many and so different, some would be found where both sexes ruled equally, and others where the men were ruled by the women, and so educated as to be inferior to them in talent; but as this has never happened, we are justified in assuming that women, by nature, have not an equal right with men, but that they are necessarily obedient to men, and thus it can never happen that both sexes can equally rule, and still less that men be ruled by women."
Lewes, in his seventh chapter on Modern Philosophy, thus sums up Spinoza's teachings and their result. He says:—
"The doctrine of Spinoza was of great importance, if for nothing more than having brought about the first crisis in modern philosophy. His doctrine was so clearly stated, and so rigorously deduced from admitted premises, that he brought philosophy into this dilemma:—
"'Either my premises are correct; and we must admit that every clear and distinct idea is absolutely true; true not only subjectively, but objectively.
"'If so, my objection is true;
"'Or my premises are false; the voice of consciousness is not the voice of truth;
"'And if so, then is my system false, but all philosophy is impossible; since the only ground of certitude—our consciousness—is pronounced unstable, our only means of knowing the truth is pronounced fallacious.'"
"Spinozism or scepticism, choose between them, for you have no other choice.
"Mankind refused, however, to make a choice. If the principles which Descartes had established could have no other result than Spinozism, it was worth while inquiring whether those principles might not themselves be modified.
"The ground of discussion was shifted, psychology took the place of ontology. It was Descartes's theory of knowledge which led to Spinozism; that theory must therefore he examined; that theory becomes the great subject of discussion. Before deciding upon the merits of any system which embraced the great questions of creation, the Deity, immortality, etc., men saw that it was necessary to decide upon the competency of the human mind to solve such problems. All knowledge must be obtained either through experience or independent of experience. Knowledge dependent on experience must necessarily be merely knowledge of phenomena. All are agreed that experience can only be experience of ourselves as modified by objects. All are agreed that to know things per se—noumena—we must know them through some other channel then experience. Have we or have we not that other channel? This is the problem."
"Thus, before we can dogmatize upon on to logical subjects, we must settle this question—Can we transcend the sphere of our consciousness, and know things per se?"
Freethought, as developed in the Deistic straggles of the seventeenth century, had to battle for existence against the Puritanic reaction which took its second rise from the worn-out licentious age of the last of the Stuarts, and that of the no less dangerous (though concealed) libertinism of the Dutch king. A religious rancor also arose which, but for the influence of a new power, would have re-enacted the tragedy of religious persecution. But this rancor became somewhat modified, from the fact that the various parties now were unlike the old schismatics, who were each balanced at the opposite ends of the same pole—extreme Papacy on the one hand, and Fifth-monarchists on the other—when each oscillation from the Protestant centre deranged the balance of enthusiasm, and drove it to the farthest verge of fanaticism, until all religious parties were hurled into one chaos of disunion. Such were the frequent changes of the seventeenth century—but at its close the power of Deism had evolved a platform on which was to be fought the hostilities of creeds. Here, then, could not exist that commingling of sects, which were deducible in all their varied extravagance from the Bible. Theology had no longer to fight with itself, but with philosophy. Metaphysics became the Jehu of opinion, and sought to drive its chariot through the fables of the saints. The old doctrines had to be re-stated to meet new foes. For the Papists, Nonconformists, and Brownists, were excluded to make way for the British Illuminati, who spread as much consternation through England as did the French Encyclopaedists across Europe. The new field of action was only planned, for when Catholicism first opposed Protestantism, its leaders little thought what a Pandoric box it was opening—nor did the Divines of the latter sect ever doubt the finality of their own doctrines. They wished to replace one infallibility by another. And the same charge can be substantiated against Deism. When in this Augustan age the Free-thinking leaders, fresh from the trammels of Christism, first took the name of Moral Philosophers, they little knew they were paving the way for an Atheism they so much dreaded—a democracy more unbridled than their most constitutional wishes—a political economy to be tried for half a century, and then to be discarded—a revolutionary fervor which should plough up Europe, and then give place to a Communism, which the first founders of this national agitation would have gazed upon with amazement, and shrunk from with despair. Such is the progress of change. The rise of the Deistic movement may be defined in a sentence. It was the old struggle of speculative opinion shifting its battle-ground from theology to philosophy, prior to the one being discarded, and the other developed into positive science.
Amongst the most distinguished of these reformers, stands the name of Anthony Collins.
Who and what he was, we have little opportunity of knowing, save from the scattered notices of contemporaries; but sufficient is left on record to prove him one of the best of men, and the very Corypheus of Deism. The twin questions of Necessity and Prophecy have been examined by him perhaps more ably than by any other liberal author. There are slight discrepancies in relation to the great events of his life. The Abbe Lodivicat says he was born June 21st, 1676, of a rich and noble family, at Heston, in Middlesex, and was appointed treasurer of the county; but another account says "Hounslow," which we think was the more likely place. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He studied for the bar for sometime, but (being wealthy) ultimately renounced jurisprudence, while his youthful studies admirably fitted him for his subsequent magisterial duties. He was clever, honest, learned, and esteemed by all who knew his character. The elder D'Israeli says, "that he was a great lover of literature, and a man of fine genius, while his morals were immaculate, and his personal character independent."
The friendship of Locke alone is sufficient to stamp the character of Collins with honor, and he was one of the most valued friends of this great man. In a volume published by P. Des Maizeaux (a writer we shall have occasion to notice) in the year 1720, containing a collection of the posthumous works of Locke, there are several letters addressed to Collins which fully substantiate our opinion. Locke was then an old man, residing in the country, and Collins was a young man in London, who took a pleasure in executing the commissions of his illustrious friend. In one of them, dated October 29th, 1703, he says—"If I were now setting out in the world, I should think it my greatest happiness to have such a companion as you, who had a true relish of truth, would in earnest seek it with me, from whom I might receive it undisguised, and to whom I might communicate what I thought true, freely. Believe it my good friend, to love truth for truth's sake, is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtue; and, if I mistake not, you have as much of it as ever I met with in anybody. What, then, is there wanting to make you equal to the best—a friend for any one to be proud of?"
During the following year the correspondence of Locke appears in a most interesting light—the affectionate inquiries, the kind advice, and the most grateful acknowledgments are made to Collins. On Sept. 11th, Locke writes:—"He that has anything to do with you, must own that friendship is the natural product of your constitution, and your soul, a noble soil, is enriched with the two most valuable qualities of human nature—truth and friendship. What a treasure have I then in such a friend with whom I can converse, and be enlightened about the highest speculations!" On the 1st of October he wrote Collins on his rapid decay, "But this, I believe, he will assure you, that my infirmities prevail so fast on me, that unless you make haste hither, I may lose the satisfaction of ever seeing again a man that I value in the first rank of those I leave behind me." This was written twenty-seven days before his death. Four days before his decease, he wrote a letter to be given to Collins after his death. This document is one of the most important in relation to the life of the great Freethinker—it irrefragably proves the falsity of everything that may be alleged against the character of Collins:—
"Oates, August 23, 1704. For Anthony Collins, Esq.
"Dear Sir—By my will, you will see that I had some kindness for * * * And I knew no better way to take care of him, than to put him, and what I designed for him, into your hands and management. The knowledge I have of your virtues of all kinds, secures the trust, which, by your permission, I have placed in you; and the peculiar esteem and love I have observed in the young man for you, will dispose him to be ruled and influenced by you, so of that I need say nothing. May you live long and happy, in the enjoyment of health, freedom, content, and all those blessings which Providence has bestowed on, you, and your virtues entitle you to. I know you loved me living, and will preserve my memory now I am dead. * * * I leave my best wishes with you.
Such is the honorable connection which existed between Locke and Collins. Collins's first publication was a tract, "Several of the London Cases Considered," in the year 1700. In 1707, he published an "Essay Concerning the Use of Reason on Propositions, the evidence whereof depends upon Human Testimony;" "in which," says Dr. Leland, "there are some good observations, mixed with others of a suspicious nature and tendency." It principally turned on the Trinitarian controversy then raging, and is of little interest now. In this year Collins united with Dodwell in the controversy carried on by Dr. Samuel Clarke. One of Clarke's biographers alludes to it thus: "Dr. Clarke's arguments in favor of the immateriality, and consequent immortality of the soul, called out, however, a far more formidable antagonist than Dodwell, in the person of Anthony Collins, an English gentleman of singular intellectual acuteness, but, unhappily, of Infidel principles. The controversy was continued through several short treatises. On the whole, though Clarke, in some instances, laid himself open to the keen and searching dialectics of his gifted antagonist, the victory certainly remained with the Divine." Of course it is only to be expected that such will be the opinion of an opponent—but it is further proof of Collins's ability and character. In 1703 appeared his celebrated "Discourses of Freethinking," which perhaps created the greatest sensation in the religious world (with the exception of the "Age of Reason") of any book published against Christianity. This book is as able a defence of the freedom of the expression of thought without penalty, as was ever published. It is divided into four sections. In the 1st, Freethinking is defined—in five arguments. In the 2nd, That it is our duty to think freely on those points of which men are denied the right to think freely: such as of the nature and attributes of God, the truth and authority of Scriptures, and of the meaning of Scriptures, in seven arguments and eleven instances. The third section is the consideration of six objections to Freethinking—from the whole of which he concludes (1) That Freethinkers must have more understanding, and that they must necessarily be the most virtuous people. (2) That they have, in fact, been the most understanding and virtuous people in all ages. Here follows the names of a great number of men whom Collins classified as Freethinkers, and of whom we have no reason to be ashamed.
This book was answered by many divines, but none of them emerged from the contest with such Christian honors as the famous Dr. Bentley—considered England's greatest classical scholar. In the same year, the Dr. published his reply under the signature of "Phileleutheros Lipsiensis." The fame of Bentley was considered equal to Collins's; and it has always been represented that this reply completely crushed the Freethinker—nothing could be farther from the truth. Bentley principally attacked the Greek quotations and denounced Collins for his ignorance in not putting his (Bentley's) construction on every disputed word. For this reply, Bentley received the thanks of the University of Cambridge. In condition with this work, Collins is also charged with wilful deception—which has been reproduced in our own lives by devines who perhaps never read a line of Collins. A French edition of the "Discourse" was translated under the personal inspection of Collins: and it is said that he altered the construction of several sentences to evade the charges brought against him by Bentley Dr. Leland is particularly eloquent upon this; and the Rev. Mr. Lorimer, of Glasgow, triumphantly plagiarises the complaint of the men whose defects he can only imitate. There is another charge connected with Bentley and his friends, which it is desirous should be exposed. The elder D'Israeli says:—"Anthony Collins wrote several well-known works, without prefixing his name; but having pushed too far his curious and polemical points, he incurred the odium of a Freethinker—a term which then began to be in vogue, and which the French adopted by translating it, in their way—'a strong thinker,' or esprit fort. Whatever tendency to 'liberalise' the mind from the dogmas and creeds prevails in these works, the talents and learning of Collins were of the first class. His morals were immaculate, and his personal character independent; but the odium theologicum of those days combined every means to stab in the dark, till the taste became hereditary with some. I may mention a fact of this cruel bigotry which occurred within my own observation, on one of the most polished men of the age. The late Mr. Cumberland, in the romance entitled his 'Life' gave this extraordinary fact. He said that Dr. Bentley, who so ably replied to Collins's 'Discourse,' when many years after he discovered him fallen into great distress, conceiving that by having ruined Collins's character as a writer for ever, he had been the occasion of his personal misery, he liberally contributed to his maintenance. In vain I mentioned to that elegant writer, who was not curious about facts, that this person could never have been Anthony Collins, who had always a plentiful fortune; and when it was suggested to him that this 'A. Collins' as he printed it, must have been Arthur Collins, the historic compiler, who was often in pecuniary difficulties, still he persisted in sending the lie down to posterity, without alteration, in his second edition, observing to a friend of mine, that 'the story, while it told well, might serve as a striking instance of his great relative's generosity; and that it should stand because it could do no harm to any but to Anthony Collins, whom he considered as little short of an Atheist.'" Such is a specimen of Christian honor and justice.
In 1715, appeared his "Philosophical inquiry into Human Liberty." Dr. Clarke was again his opponent. The publication of this work marked an epoch in metaphysics. Dugald Stewart, in criticising the discussion on Moral Liberty between Clarke and Leibnitz, says, "But soon after this controversy was brought to a conclusion by the death of his antagonist, he (Clarke) had to renew the same argument, in reply to his countryman, Anthony Collins, who, following the footsteps of Hobbes, with logical talents not inferior to his master (and with a weight of personal character in his favor to which his master had no pretensions,) gave to the cause which he so warmly espoused, a degree of credit amongst sober and inquiring politicians, which it had never before possessed in England." The following are the principal arguments of Collins in reference to Liberty and Necessity:—
First. Though I deny Liberty in a certain meaning of that word, yet I contend for Liberty, as it signifies a power in man to do as he wills or pleases.
Secondly. When I affirm Necessity I contend only for moral necessity; meaning thereby that man, who is an intelligent and sensible being, is determined by his reason and senses; and I deny any man to be subject to such necessity as is in clocks, watches, and such other beings, which, for want of intelligence and sensation, are subject to an absolute, physical or mechanical necessity.
Thirdly, I have undertaken to show, that the notions I advance are so far from being inconsistent with, that they are the sole foundation of morality and laws, and of rewards and punishments in society, and that the notions I explode are subversive of them.
From the above premises, Collins sought to show that man is a necessary agent. (1) From our experience (through consciousness.) (2) From the impossibility of liberty. (3) From the consideration of the divine prescience. (4) From the nature and use of rewards and punishments. (5) From the nature of morality. Such were the principles on which the great question of Necessity has ever been advocated—from Hobbes to Collins, Jonathan Ed wards to Mackintosh and Spencer. In the year 1704 Toland dedicated to him a new translation of AEsop's Fables. There are many anecdotes respecting Collins inserted in religious magazines, most of which are false, and all without proof. One of them, related in a most circumstantial manner, appears to be the favorite. It depicts Collins walking out in the country on a Sunday morning, when he meets a countryman returning from Church.
"Well, Hodge," says Collins, "so you have been enjoying the fresh breezes of nature, this fine morning."
The clown replied that "he had been worshipping nature's God," and proved it by repeating the substance of the Athanasian creed. Upon which Collins questions him as to the residence of his God: and for a reply is told that his God is so large, that he fills the universe; and so small that he dwells in his breast. This sublime fact, we are told, had more effect upon Collins's mind than all the books written against him by the clergy. When will sensible men reject such charlatanism?
The next great work of Collins was his "Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion," in two parts. The first containing some considerations on the quotations made from the Old in the New Testament, and particularly on the prophecies cited from the former, and said to be fulfilled in the latter. The second containing an examination of the scheme advanced by Mr. Whiston, in his essay towards restoring the true text of the Old Testament, and for vindicating the citations thence made in the New Testament, to which is prefixed an apology for free debate and liberty of writing. This book took the religious world by storm; it is even thought it struck more dismay amongst divines than his former essay on Freethink-ing. The book proceeds to show that Christianity is not proved by prophecy. That the Apostles relied on the predictions in the Old Testament, and their fulfilment in Jesus as the only sure proof of the truth of their religion; if therefore, the prophecies are not thoroughly literal, and fulfilled distinctly, there can be no proof in Christianity. He then examines the principal prophecies, and dismisses them, as allegorical fables too vague to be of any credit. In less than two years no less than thirty-five books were published in reply to this work, written by the ablest and most influential theologians in England. In 1727 Collins published another large work, "The Scheme of Literal Prophecy Considered," in which he still further defends his view principally against the sophistical reasoning of Whiston, and finally vanquished the whole of his opponents.
Perhaps no Freethinker, with the single exception of Hobbes, was so attacked during his life as Collins. Toland and Woolston were persecuted and driven into prison and poverty; but Collins, with his profusion of wealth, could oppose Christianity with applause—mingle in the gaiety of the Court—occupy a seat on the magisterial bench—be the welcome guest of the most liberal of the aristocracy, contemporary with others who even languished in prison for the propagation of similar sentiments. Since his day the clergy have grown wiser; then the most trivial pamphlet on the Deistic side created a consternation amongst the saints, and they strove who should be the first to answer it—indeed, it was considered a test of honor amongst the clergy to be eager in the exposure of Deism: but this style of warfare was discontinued after the lapse of a few years. The most discerning observers discovered that in proportion to the answers published against liberal works, the influence of the most powerful side decreased. Force, then, gradually interfered, and acts of Parliament were considered the only logical refutation of a philosophical heresy. The anomaly of our laws interfered again. Collins was rich, and so must escape the fangs of the law. Thomas Woolston was poor, so his vitals were pierced by laws which Collins escaped—yet both committed the same offence. In later times Gibbon traced the rise of Christianity, and about the same time Paine accomplished another portion of the same risk—and the Government which prosecuted the plebeian, flattered the patrician. But Collins's time was rapidly drawing nigh. On the 13th of December, 1729, he expired, aged fifty-three years; and to show the esteem in which his character was held, the following notice was inserted in the newspapers of the day—all hostile to his views, yet striving to make it appear that he was, after all, not so great an Infidel as his reputation honored him with:—"On Saturday last, died at his house in Harley Square, Anthony Collins, Esq. He was a remarkably active, up right, and impartial magistrate, the tender husband the kind parent, the good master, and the true friend He was a great promoter of literature in all its branch es; and an immoveable asserter of universal liberty in all civil and religious matters. Whatever his sentiments were on certain points, this is what he declared at the time of his death—viz., that he had always endeavored, to the best of his ability, to serve God, his king, and his country, so he was persuaded he was going to that place which God hath prepared for them that serve him, and presently afterwards he said, the Catholic religion is to serve God and roan. He was an eminent example of temperance and sobriety, and one that had the true art of living. His worst enemies could never charge him with any vice or immorality." With this character the Freethinkers have no right to be dissatisfied. The Abbe Lodivicat says, "His library was curious and valuable; always open to the learned, even to his opponents, whom he furnished with pleasure, both with books and arguments, which were employed in confuting him." Mr. D'Israeli says he has seen a catalogue of Collins's library, elaborately drawn up in his own handwriting, and it must have contained a splendid selection of books. This is proved by the correspondence with Locke, and the extensive number of quotations spread throughout his published works.
By the death of Collins, and the defalcation of one who abused the name of a Deist, the cause of Free-thought was impeded at the time when it most needed assistance. Collins had written a great number of tracts and larger works, intending them to be published after his death: one collection of eight octavo volumes of manuscript containing the attacks upon Christianity, by which he intended his name to be transmitted to posterity, were all arranged ready for publication as his posthumous works. To ensure their credit-able appearance, and to reward a man whom he had thought worthy of confidence, and one who professed to be a disciple of Collins, he bequeathed them to Des Maizeaux, then a popular author and editor. He had edited the correspondence of Locke and Collins, written the lite of Bayle, and subsequently edited Toland. The idea of Collins was to give his work to Des Maizeaux for a recompense for the trouble of publishing them, while he would derive the whole profits of their sale, which no doubt would be very large. It appears that the widow of Collins was much younger than himself—in league with the Church of England; and was in rather a suspicious friendship with more than one clerical antagonist of her late husband. Des Maizeaux being worked upon conjointly by Mrs. Collins and a person named Tomlinson, was induced to accept a present of fifty guineas, and relinquished the possession of the manuscripts. It was not long, however, before his conscience accused him of the great wrong done to the memory of his benefactor, and to the Free-thinking cause. His regret was turned into the most profound compunction for his crime; and in this state of mind he wrote a long letter to one who had been a mutual friend to Collins and himself, acknowledging that he had done "a most wicked thing," saying—"I am convinced that I have acted contrary to the will and intention of my dear deceased friend; showed a disregard to the particular mark of esteem he gave me on that occasion; in short, that I have forfeited what is dearer to me than my own life—honor and reputation.... I send you the fifty guineas I received, which I do now look upon as the wages of iniquity, and I desire you to return them to Mrs. Collins, who, as I hope it of her justice, equity, and regard to Mr. Collinses intentions, will be pleased to cancel my paper."
This appeal (which proved that Des Maizeaux, if he was weak-minded, was not absolutely dishonest) had no effect on Mrs. Collins. The manuscripts were never returned. What their contents were, no one now can inform us. We are justified, however, in supposing that as those eight volumes were the crowning efforts of a mind which in its youth was brilliant in no common degree, must have been even superior to those books which roused England from its dreamy lethargy, and brought about a revolution in controversy. Whether they touched upon miracles, or the external evidences, or the morals of Christism, is unknown. The curtain was drawn over the scene of demolition. Seven years after this time the controversy was reopened by Mrs. Collins, in the year 1737, on account of a report being current that Mrs. C. had permitted transcripts of those manuscripts to get abroad. The widow wrote some very sharp letters to Des Maizeaux, and he replied in a tone which speaks faithfully of the affection he still bore to Collins's memory. He concludes thus:—"Mr. Collins loved me and esteemed me for my integrity and sincerity, of which he had several proofs. How I have been drawn in to injure him, to forfeit the good opinion he had of me, and which, were he now alive, would deservedly expose me to his utmost contempt, is a grief which I shall carry to the grave. It would be a sort of comfort to me if those who have consented I should be drawn in, were in some measure sensible of the guilt towards so good, kind, generous a man."
Such is an epitome of the secret history of the MSS. of Anthony Collins. If we look at the fate of the MSS. of other Deists, we shall have good reasons for believing that some of the ablest writings, meant to give a posthumous reputation to their authors, have disappeared into the hands of either ignorant or designing persons. Five volumes, at least, of Toland's works, meant for publication, were, by his death, irretrievably lost. Blount's MSS. never appeared. Two volumes of Tindall's were seized by the Bishop of London, and destroyed. Woolston's MSS. met with no better fate. Chubb carefully prepared his works, and published them in his lifetime. Bolingbroke made Mallet his confidant, as Collins did by Des Maizeaux. The name of St. John produced L10,000 to Mallet; but those works were left with the tacit acknowledge ment that the Scotch poet should write a suitable life of the peer. The letter of Mallet to Lord Cornbury can only be compared to an invitation for a bid for the suppression of the "Philosophical Works" of St. John; and if this was not sufficient, we need only instance the apparent solicitation with which he stopped a well-known influential dignitary of the church on the day when the works were to appear, by pulling out his watch, and saying, "My Lord, Christianity will tremble at a quarter to twelve." We may be thankful to the pecuniary poverty of our opponents even for the possession of the first philosophy. Some of Hume's and Gibbon's works have not yet appeared. The MSS. of most of the minor Freethinkers disappeared with their authors. There is no doubt but what Robert Taylor left some valuable writings which cannot be recovered. Such is the feeble chance of great men's writings being published when they are no longer alive.
With regard to the literary claims of Collins. His works are logically composed and explicitly worded. He invariably commences by stating the groundwork of his opponent's theories, and from them deduces a great number of facts and axioms of a contrary character, and upon those builds his whole chain of argument. He is seldom witty—never uses the flowers of rhetoric, combining a most rigid analysis with a synthetic scheme, admitting but of one unswerving end. He was characteristically great in purpose. He avoided carrying forward his arguments beyond the basis of his facts. Whether in treating the tangled intricacies of necessity, or the theological quagmires of prophecy, he invariably explained without confusing, and refuted without involving other subjects than those legitimately belonging to the controversy. His style of writing was serious, plain, and without an undue levity, yet withal perfectly readable. Men studied Collins who shrunk from contact with the lion-hearted Woolston, whose brusque pen too often shocked those it failed to convince. There was a timidity in many of the letters of Blount, and a craving wish to rely more on the witticisms of Brown, than was to be found in the free and manly spirit of our hero. To the general public, the abstruse speculations of the persecuted Toland were a barrier which his many classical allusions only heightened; and the musical syllables of Shaftesbury, with his style, at once so elevated, so pompous, and so quaint; or the political economic doctrines of Mandeville, all tended to exalt the name of Collins above those of his contemporaries and immediate successors; and posterity cannot fail to place his bust in that historic niche betwixt Hobbes—his master on one hand—and Bolingbroke, his successor on the other. From the great St. John has descended in the true apostolical descent the mantle of Free-thought upon Hume, Gibbon, Paine, Godwin, Carlile, Taylor, and Owen. And amongst this brilliant galaxy of genius, no name is more deserving of respect than that of Anthony Collins.
Rene des Cartes Duperron, better known as Des Cartes, the father of modern philosophy, was born at La Haye, in Touraine, of Breton parents, near the close of the sixteenth century, at a time when Bacon was like the morning sun, rising to shed new rays of bright light over the then dark world of philosophy. The mother of Des Cartes died while he was but a few days old, and himself a sickly child, he began to take part in the battle of life with but little appearance of ever possessing the capability for action on the minds of his fellows, which he afterwards so fully exercised. Debarred, however, by his physical weakness from many boyish pursuits, he devoted himself to study in his earliest years, and during his youth gained the title of the young philosopher, from his eagerness to learn, and from his earnest endeavors by inquiry and experiment to solve every problem presented to his notice. He was educated in the Jesuits' College of La Fleche; and the monument erected to him at Stockholm informs us, "That having mastered all the learning of the schools, which proved short of his expectations, he betook himself to the army in Germany and Hungary, and there spent his vacant winter hours in comparing the mysteries and phenomena of nature with the laws of mathematics, daring to hope that the one might serve as a key to the other. Quitting, therefore, all other pursuits, he retired to a little village near Egmont, in Holland, where spending twenty-five years in continual reading and meditation, he effected his design."
In his celebrated "Discourse on Method," he says,—"As soon as my age permitted me to leave my preceptors, I entirely gave up the study of letters; and, resolving to seek no other science than that which I could find in myself, or else in the great book of the world, I employed the remainder of my youth in travel—in seeing courts and camps—in frequenting people of diverse humors and conditions—in collecting various experiences; and, above all, in endeavoring to draw some profitable reflection from what I saw. For it seemed to me that I should meet with more truth in the reasonings which each man makes in his own affairs, and which, if wrong, would be speedily punished by failure, than in those reasonings which the philosopher makes in his study upon speculations which produce no effect, and which are of no consequence to him, except perhaps that he will be the more vain of them, the more remote they are from common sense, because he would then have been forced to employ more ingenuity and subtlety to render them plausible."
At the age of thirty-three Des Cartes retired from the world for a period of eight years, and his seclusion was so effectual during that time, that his place of residence was unknown to his friends. He there prepared the "Meditations," and "Discourse on Method," which have since caused so much pen-and-ink warfare amongst those who have aspired to be ranked as philosophical thinkers. He became European in fame; and, invited by Christina of Sweden, he visited her kingdom, but the rudeness of the climate proved too much for his delicate frame, and he died at Stockholm in the year 1650, from inflammation of the lungs, being fifty-four years of age at the time of his death.
Des Cartes was perhaps the most original thinker that France had up to that date produced; and, contemporary with Bacon, he exercised a powerful influence or the progress of thought in Europe; but although a great thinker, he was not a brave man, and the fear of giving offence to the church and government, has certainly prevented him from making public some of his writings, and perhaps has toned down some of these thoughts which, when first uttered, took a higher flight, and struck full home to the truth itself.
The father and founder of the deductive method, Des Cartes still proudly reigns to the present day, although some of his conclusions have been over-turned, and others of his thinkings have been carried to conclusions which he never dared to dream of. He gave a strong aid to the tendency of advancing civilization, to separate philosophy from theology, thereby striking a blow, slow in its effect, and effectual in its destructive operation, on all priestcraft. In his dedication ol the "Meditations," he says,—"I have always thought that the two questions of the existence of God and the nature of the soul, were the chief of those which ought to be demonstrated rather by philosophy than by theology; for although it is sufficient for us, the faithful, to believe in God, and that the soul does not perish with the body, it does not seem possible ever to persuade the Infidels to any religion, unless we first prove to them these two things by natural reason."
Having relinquished faith, he found that he must choose an entirely new faith in which to march with reason; the old ways were so cumbered with priests and Bibles, that progression would have been impossible. This gave us his method. He wanted a starting point from which to reason, some indisputable fact upon which to found future thinkings.
"He has given us the detailed history of his doubts. He has told us how he found that he could, plausibly enough, doubt of everything except his own existence. He pushed his scepticism to the verge of self-annihilation. There he stopped: there in self, there in his consciousness, he found at last an irresistible fact, an irreversible certainty. Firm ground was discovered. He could doubt the existence of the external world, and treat it as a phantasm. He could doubt the existence of God, and treat the belief as a superstition. But of the existence of his own thinking, doubting mind, no sort of doubt was possible. He, the doubter, existed if nothing else existed. The existence that was revealed to him in his own consciousness, was the primary fact, the first indubitable certainty. Hence his famous Cogito ergo Sum: I think, therefore I am." (Lewes's Bio. Hist. Phil.)
Proceeding from the certainty of his existence, Des Cartes endeavors to rind other equally certain tacts, and for that purpose presents the following doctrine and rules for our guidance:—The basis of all certitude is consciousness, consciousness is the sole foundation of absolute certainty, whatever it distinctly proclaims must be true. The process is, therefore, rendered clear and simple: examine your consciousness—each distinct reply will be a fact.
He tells us further that all clear ideas are true—that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived is true—and in these lie the vitality of his system, the cause of the truth or error of his thinkings.
The following are the rules he gave us for the detection and separation of true ideas from false, (i.e., imperfect or complex):—
"1. Never to accept anything as true but what is evidently so; to admit nothing but what so clearly and distinctly presents itself as true, that there can be no reason to doubt it.
"2. To divide every question into as many separate parts as possible, that each part being more easily conceived, the whole may be more intelligible.
"3. To conduct the examination with order, beginning by that of objects the most simple, and therefore the easiest to be known, and ascending little by little up to knowledge of the most complex.
"4. To make such exact calculations, and such circumspections as to be confident that nothing essential has been omitted. Consciousness being the basis of all certitude, everything of which you are clearly and distinctly conscious must be true: everything which you clearly and distinctly conceive, exists, if the idea of it involve existence."
In these four rules we have the essential part of one half of Des Cartes's system, the other, which is equally important, is the attempt to solve metaphysical problems by mathematical aid. To mathematics he had devoted much of his time. He it was who, at the age of twenty three, made the grand discovery of the applicability of algebra to geometry. While deeply engaged in mathematical studies and investigations, he came to the conclusion that mathematics were capable of a still further simplification, and of much more extended application. Impressed with the certainty of the conclusions arrived at by the aid of mathematical reasoning, he began to apply mathematics to metaphysics.
His ambition was to found a system which should be solid and convincing. Having searched for certitude, he had found its basis in consciousness; he next wanted a method, and hoped he had found it in mathematics.
He tells us that "those long chains of reasoning, all simple and easy, by which geometers used to arrive at their most difficult demonstrations, suggested to him that all things which came within human knowledge, must follow each other in a similar chain; and that provided we abstain from admitting anything as true which is not so, and that we always preserve in them the order necessary to deduce one from the other, there can be none so remote to which we cannot finally attain, nor so obscure but that we may discover them."
Acting out this, he dealt with metaphysics as we should with a problem from Euclid, and expected by rigorous reasoning to discover the truth. He, like Archimedes, had wished for a standing place from which to use the lever, that should overturn the world; but, having a sure standing place in the indubitable fact of his own existence, he did not possess sufficient courage to put forth the mighty power—it was left for one who came after him to fairly attempt the over-throw of the world of error so long existent.
Cartesianism was sufficiently obnoxious to the divines to provoke their wrath; and yet, from some of its peculiarities, it has found many opponents amongst the philosophical party. The Cartesian philosophy is founded on two great principles, the one metaphysical, the other physical. The metaphysical is Des Cartes's foundation-stone—the "I think, therefore I am." This has been warmly attacked as not being logical. Des Cartes said his existence was a fact—a fact above and beyond all logic; logic could neither prove nor disprove it. The Cogito ergo Sum was not new itself, but it was the first stone of a new building—the first step in a new road: from this fact Des Cartes tried to reach another, and from that others.
The physical principle is that nothing exists but substance, which he makes of two kinds—the one a substance that thinks, the other a substance extended. Actual thought and actual extension are the essence of substance, so that the thinking substance cannot be without some actual thought, nor can anything be retrenched from the extension of a thing, without taking away so much of its actual substance.
In his physical speculations, Des Cartes has allowed his imagination to run very wild. His famous theory of vortices is an example of this. Assuming extension to be the essence of substance, he denied the possibility of a vacuum by that assumption; for if extension be the essence of substance, wherever extension is, there substance must be. This substance he assumes to have originally been divided into equal angular particles, each endowed with an equal degree of motion; several systems or collections of these particles he holds to have a motion about certain equidistant points, or centres, and that the particles moving round these composed so many vortices. These angular particles, by their intestine motions, he supposes to become, as it were, ground into a spherical form; the parts rubbed off are called matter of the first element, while the spherical globules he calls matter of the second element; and since there would be a large quantity of this element, he supposes it to be driven towards the centre of each vortex by the circular motion of the globules, and that there it forms a large spherical body such as the suu. This sun being thus formed, and moving about its own axis with the common matter of the vortex, would necessarily throw out some parts of its matter, through the vacuities of the globules of the second element constituting the vortex; and this especially at such places as are farthest from its poles: receiving, at the same time in, by these poles, as much as it loses in its equatorial parts. And, by these means, it would be able to carry round with it those globules that are nearest, with the greater velocity; and the remoter, with less. And, further: those globules which are nearest the centre of the sun, must be smallest; because, were they greater, or equal, they would, by reason of their velocity, have a greater centrifugal force, and recede from the centre. If it should happen that any of these sun-like bodies, in the centres of the several vortices, should be so in-crusted and weakened, as to be carried about in the vortex of the true sun: if it were of less solidity, or had less motion than the globules towards the extremity of the solar vortex, it would descend towards the sun, till it met with globules of the same solidity, and susceptible of the same degree of motion with itself* and thus, being fixed there, it would be for ever after carried about by the motion of the vortex, without either approaching any nearer to, or receding from the sun, and so become a planet. Supposing, then, all this, we are next to imagine that our system was at first divided into several vortices, in the centre of each of which was a lucid spherical body; and that some of these being gradually incrustated, were swallowed up by others which were larger, and more powerful, till at last they were all destroyed and swallowed up by the biggest solar vortex, except some few which were thrown off in right lines from one vortex to another, and so became comets. It should also be added, that in addition to the two elements mentioned above, those particles which may yet exist, and be only in the course of reduction to their globular form an it still retain their angular proportions, form a third element.
This theory has found many opponents; but in this state of our work we conceive our duty to be that of giving a simple narrative of the philosopher's ideas, rather than a history of the various criticisms upon those ideas, the more especially as our pages scarcely afford room for such a mode of treatment.
Having formed his method, Des Cartes proceeded to apply it. The basis of certitude being consciousness, he interrogated his consciousness, and found that he had an idea of a substance infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, omniscient, omnipotent. This he called an idea of God: he said, "I exist as a miserably imperfect finite being, subject to change—ignorant, incapable of creating anything—I find by my finitude that I am not the infinite; by my liability to change that I am not the immutable; by my ignorance that I am not the omniscient: in short, by my imperfection, that I am not the perfect. Yet an infinite, immutable, omniscient, and perfect being must exist, because infinity, immutability, omniscience, and perfection are applied as correlatives in my ideas of finitude, change, etc. God therefore exists: his existence is clearly proclaimed in my consciousness, and therefore ceases to be a matter of doubt any more than the fact of my own existence. The conception of an infinite being proved his real existence, for if there is not really such a being I must have made the conception; but if I could make it I can also unmake it, which evidently is not true; therefore there must be externally to myself, an archetype from which the conception was derived.".... "All that we clearly and distinctly conceive as contained in anything is true of that thing."
"Now, we conceive clearly and distinctly that the existence of God is contained in the idea we have of him: ergo—God exists."—(Lewes's Bio. Hist. Phil.)
Des Cartes was of opinion that his demonstrations of the existence of God "equal or even surpass in certitude the demonstrations of geometry." In this opinion we must confess we cannot share. He has already told us that the basis of all certitude is consciousness—that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived, must be true—that imperfect and complex conceptions are false ones. The first proposition, all must admit, is applicable to themselves. I conceive a fact clearly and distinctly, and, despite all resistance, am compelled to accept that fact; and if that fact be accepted beyond doubt, no higher degree of certainty can be attained, That two and two are four—that I exist—are facts which I never doubt. The Cogito ergo Sum is irresistible, because indubitable; but Cogito ergo Deus est is a sentence requiring much consideration, and upon the face of it is no syllogism, but, on the contrary, is illogical. If Des Cartes meant "I" am conscious that I am not the whole of existence, he would be indisputable; but if he meant that "I" can be conscious of an existence entirely distinct, apart from, and external to, that very consciousness, then his whole reasoning from that point appears fallacious.
We use the word "I" as given by Des Cartes. Mill, in his "System of Logic," says, "The ambiguity in this case is in the pronoun I, by which in one place is to be understood my will: in another the laws of my nature. If the conception, existing as it does in my mind, had no original without, the conclusion would unquestionably follow that '1' had made it—that is, that the laws of my nature had spontaneously evolved it; but that my will made it would not follow. Now, when Des Cartes afterwards adds that I cannot unmake the conception, he means that I cannot get rid of it by an act of my will, which is true; but is not the proposition required. That what some of the laws of my nature have produced, other laws, or those same laws in other circumstances, might not subsequently efface, he would have found it difficult to establish."
Treating the existence of God as demonstrated from the a priori idea of perfection and infinity, and by the clearness of his idea of God's existence, Des Cartes then proceeds to deal with the distinction between body and soul. To prove this distinction was to him an easy matter. The fundamental and essential attribute of substance must be extension, because we can denude substance of every quality but that of extension; this we cannot touch without at the same time affecting the substance.. The fundamental attribute of mind is thought; it is in the act of thinking that the consciousness of existence is revealed; to be without thought would be to be without consciousness.
Des Cartes has given us, among others, the axiom "That two substances are really distinct when their ideas are complete, and no way imply each other. The idea of extension is complete and distinct from the idea of thought, which latter is also clear and distinct by itself. It follows, therefore, that substance and mind are distinct in essence."
Des Cartes has, from the vagueness of some of his statements, subjected himself to the charge of asserting the existence of innate ideas, and the following quotations will speak for themselves on the subject:—"When I said that the idea of God is innate in us, I never meant more than this, that Nature has endowed us with a faculty by which we may know God; but I have never either said or thought that such ideas had an actual existence, or even that they were a species distinct from the faculty of thinking.... Although the idea of God is so imprinted on our minds, that every person has within him the faculty of knowing him, it does not follow that there may not have been various individuals who have passed through life without ever making this idea a distinct object of apprehension; and, in truth, they who think they have an idea of a plurality of Gods, have no idea of God whatever." This seems explicit as negativing the charge of holding the doctrine of innate ideas; but in the Edinburgh Review several passages are given, amongst which is the following:—"By the word idea I understand all that can be in our thoughts; and I distinguish three sorts of ideas—adventitious, like the common idea of the sun, framed by the mind, such as that which astronomical reasoning gives of the sun; and innate, as the idea of God, mind, body, a triangle, and generally all those which represent true, immutable, and eternal essences." With regard to these rather opposite statements, Lewes says, "If Des Cartes, when pressed by objections, gave different explanations, we must only set it down to a want of a steady conception of the vital importance of innate ideas to his system. The fact remains that innate ideas form the necessary groundwork of the Cartesian doctrine.... The radical error of all ontological speculation lies in the assumption that we have ideas independent of experience; because experience can only tell us of ourselves or of phenomena; of noumena it can tell us nothing.... The fundamental question, then, of modern philosophy is this—Have we any ideas independent of experience?"
Des Cartes's disciples are of two classes, the "mathematical cultivators of physic," and the "deductive cultivators of philosophy." The first class of disciples are far in advance of their chief, and can only be considered as having received an impulse in a true direction. The second class unhesitatingly accepted his principles, and continued his thinking, although they developed his system in a different manner, and arrived at stronger conclusions than Des Cartes's courage would have supported. Some of the physical speculations of Des Cartes have been much ridiculed by subsequent writers; but many reasons may be urged, not only against that ridicule, but also against the more moderate censure which several able critics have dealt out against the intellectual character of Des Cartes. It should be remembered that the theories of all his predecessors were mere conjectural speculations respecting the places and paths of celestial bodies, etc. Innumerable hypotheses had been formed and found useless; and we ought rather to look to what Des Cartes did accomplish under the many difficulties of his position, in respect to the then, state of scientific knowledge, than to judge harshly of those speculations, which, though attended with no beneficial result to humanity at large, were doubtless well intended by their author. He was the first man who brought optical science under the command of mathematics, by the discovery of the law of refraction of the ordinary ray through diaphanous bodies; and probably there is scarcely a name on record, the bearer of which has given a greater impulse to mathematical and philosophical inquiry than Des Cartes. Although, as a mathematician, he published but little, yet in every subject which he has treated he has opened, not only a new field lor investigation, but also a new road for the investigators to proceed by. His discovery of the simple application of the notation of indices to algebraical powers, has totally remodelled the whole science of algebra. His conception of expressing the fundamental property of curve lines and curve surfaces by equations between the co-ordinates has led to an almost total supersedence of the geometry of the ancients. Contemporary with Galileo, and with a knowledge of the persecution to which that father of physics was being subjected by the Church, we are tempted to express our surprise that Des Cartes did not extend the right hand of fellowship, help, and sympathy to his brother philosopher; but it is, nevertheless, the fact, that either jealous of the fame of Galileo (as some have alleged.) or from a fear of being involved in the same persecutions, Des Cartes abstained from visiting the astronomer, although travelling for some time near his place of abode in Italy. Lewes, in his "Life of Des Cartes," says, "Des Cartes was a great thinker; but having said this we have almost exhausted the praise we can bestow on him as a man. In disposition he was timid to servility. While promulgating the proofs of the existence of the Deity, he was in evident alarm lest the Church should see something objectionable in them. He had also written an astronomical treatise; but hearing of the fate of Galileo he refrained from publishing, and always used some chicanery in speaking of the world's movement. He was not a brave man; he was also not an affectionate one. There was in him a deficiency of all finer feelings. But he was even-tempered, and studious of not giving offence."
We are tempted, after a careful perusal of the life and writings of Des Cartes and his contemporaries, to be of opinion that he was a man who wished to be considered the chief thinker of his day, and who shunned and rejected the offers of friendship from other philosophers, lest they, by being associated with him, should jointly wear laurels which he was cultivating solely to form a crown for himself. Despite all, his brow still bears a crown, and his fame has a freshness that we might all be justly proud of, if appertaining to ourselves.
We trust that in these few pages we have succeeded in presenting Des Cartes, to such of our readers who were unacquainted with his writings, sufficiently well to enable them to appreciate him, and to induce them to search further; and at the same time we hope that those better acquainted with him will not blame as for the omission of much which they may consider more important than the matter which appears in this little tract. We have endeavored to picture Des Cartes as the founder of the deductive method, as having the foundation-stone of all his reasoning in his consciousness.
M. DE VOLTAIRE.
Francois Marie Arouet, better known by the name of Voltaire, was born at Chatenay, on the 20th of February, 1694. By assuming the name of Voltaire, young Arouet followed the custom, at that time generally practiced by the rich citizens and younger sons, who, leaving the family name to the heir, assumed that of a fief, or perhaps of a country house. The father of M. de Voltaire was treasurer to the Chamber of Accounts, and his mother, Margaret d'Aumart, was of a noble family of Poitou. The fortune which the father enjoyed, enabled him to bestow a first-class education upon the young Arouet, who was sent to the Jesuits' College, where the sons of the nobility received their education. While at school, Voltaire began to write poetry, and gave signs of a remarkable genius. His tutors, Fathers Poree and Jay, from the boldness and independence of his mind predicted that he would become the apostle of Deism in France. This prediction he fulfilled. "Voltaire was," says Lord Brougham, "through his whole life, a sincere believer in the existence and attributes of the Deity. He was a firm and decided, and an openly declared unbeliever in Christianity; but he was, without any hesitation or any intermission, a Theist." His open declaration of disbelief in the inspiration of the Bible, and his total rejection of the dogmas of Christianity, laid him open to the malignant attacks and misrepresentations of the priesthood and the bigots of Europe; and so strong were they, that his life was continually in danger. Lord Brougham, in his "Men of Letters of the Time of George III.." says:—"Voltaire's name is so intimately connected in the minds of all men with Infidelity, in the minds of most men with irreligion, and, in the minds of all who are not well-informed, with these qualities alone, that whoever undertakes to write his life and examine his claims to the vast reputation which all the hostile feelings excited by him against himself have never been able to destroy, or even materially to impair, has to labor under a great load of prejudice, and can hardly expect, by any detail of particulars, to obtain for his subject even common justice at the hands of the general reader."
Voltaire was born in a corrupt age, and in a capital where it was fashionable to be immoral. When he left College, he was introduced by his own godfather, the Abbe de Chateauneuf, to the notorious Ninon de l'Enclos, who, at her death, left him by will two thousand livres to purchase books. In estimating the character of Voltaire, a due consideration must be had for the period in which he lived, and of the nature of the society amidst which he was reared. He lived twenty, years under the reign of Louis XIV., and during the whole of the reign of the infamous Louis XV., when kings, courtiers, and priests set the example of the grossest immorality. It was then, as Voltaire said, "that to make the smallest fortune, it was better to say four words to the mistress of a king, than to write a hundred volumes."