The same reflection occurs to one in reading the article on Foundations. As I have already said, this carefully written and sagacious piece still remains the most masterly discussion we possess of the advantages and disadvantages of endowments. Even now, and in our own country, the most fertile and beneficent work to which a statesman of energy and courage could devote himself, would be an application of the wise principles which were established in the Encyclopaedia. Passing from Fondation to Foire in the same volume, also from the pen of Turgot, we see an almost equally striking example of the economic wisdom of the encyclopaedic school. The provincial fairs, with their privileges, exemptions, exclusions, were a conspicuous case of the mischief done by that "mania for regulating and guiding everything," which then infected commercial administration, and interrupted the natural course of trade by imbecile vexations of police. Another vicious example of the same principle is exposed in the article on Maitrises. This must have convinced every reader capable of rising above "the holy laws of prejudice," how bad faith, idleness, disorder, and all the other evils of monopoly were fomented by a system of jealous trade-guilds, carrying compulsory subdivision and restriction of all kinds of skilled labour down to a degree that would have been laughable enough, if it had only been less destructive.
One of the loudest cries in 1789 was for the destruction of game and the great manorial chases or capitaineries. "By game," says Arthur Young, "must be understood whole droves of wild boars, and herds of deer not confined by any wall or pale, but wandering at pleasure over the whole country to the destruction of crops, and to the peopling of the galleys by the wretched peasants who presumed to kill them, in order to save that food which was to support their helpless children." In the same place he enumerates the outrageous and incredible rules which ruined agriculture over hundreds of leagues of country, in order that the seigneurs might have sport. In most matters the seven volumes of the Encyclopaedia which were printed before 1757, are more reserved than the ten volumes which were conducted by Diderot alone after the great schism of 1759. On the subject of sport, however, the writer of the article Chasse enumerates all the considerations which a patriotic minister could desire to see impressed on public opinion. Some of the paragraphs startle us by their directness and freedom of complaint, and even a very cool reader would still be likely to feel some of the wrath that was stirred in the breast of our shrewd and sober Arthur Young a generation later (1787). "Go to the residence of these great nobles," he says, "wherever it may be, and you would probably find them in the midst of a forest, very well peopled with deer, wild boar, and wolves. Oh! if I were the legislator of France for a day, I would make such great lords skip!"
This brings us to what is perhaps the most striking of all the guiding sentiments of the book. Virgil's Georgics have been described as a glorification of labour. The Encyclopaedia seems inspired by the same motive, the same earnest enthusiasm for all the purposes, interests, and details of productive industry. Diderot, as has been justly said, himself the son of a cutler, might well bring handiwork into honour; assuredly he had inherited from his good father's workshop sympathy and regard for skill and labour. The illustrative plates to which Diderot gave the most laborious attention for a period of almost thirty years, are not only remarkable for their copiousness, their clearness, their finish—and in all these respects they are truly admirable—but they strike us even more by the semi-poetic feeling that transforms the mere representation of a process into an animated scene of human life, stirring the sympathy and touching the imagination of the onlooker as by something dramatic. The bustle, the dexterity, the alert force of the iron foundry, the glass furnace, the gunpowder mill, the silk calendry are as skilfully reproduced as the more tranquil toil of the dairywoman, the embroiderer, the confectioner, the setter of types, the compounder of drugs, the chaser of metals. The drawings recall that eager and personal interest in his work, that nimble complacency, which is so charming a trait in the best French craftsman. The animation of these great folios of plates is prodigious. They affect one like looking down on the world of Paris from the heights of Montmartre. To turn over volume after volume is like watching a splendid panorama of all the busy life of the time. Minute care is as striking in them as their comprehensiveness. The smallest tool, the knot in a thread, the ply in a cord, the curve of wrist or finger, each has special and proper delineation. The reader smiles at a complete and elaborate set of tailor's patterns. He shudders as he comes upon the knives, the probes, the bandages, the posture, of the wretch about to undergo the most dangerous operation in surgery. In all the chief departments of industry there are plates good enough to serve for practical specifications and working drawings. It has often been told how Diderot himself used to visit the workshops, to watch the men at work, to put a thousand questions, to sit down at the loom, to have the machine pulled to pieces and set together again before his eyes, to slave like any apprentice, and to do bad work, in order, as he says, to be able to instruct others how to do good work. That was no movement of empty rhetoric which made him cry out for the Encyclopaedia to become a sanctuary in which human knowledge might find shelter against time and revolutions. He actually took the pains to make it a complete storehouse of the arts, so perfect in detail that they could be at once reconstructed after a deluge in which everything had perished save a single copy of the Encyclopaedia. Such details, said D'Alembert, will perhaps seem extremely out of place to certain scholars, for whom a long dissertation on the cookery or the hair-dressing of the ancients, or on the site of a ruined hamlet, or on the baptismal name of some obscure writer of the tenth century, would be vastly interesting and precious. He suggests that details of economy, and of arts and trades, have as good a right to a place as the scholastic philosophy, or some system of rhetoric still in use, or the mysteries of heraldry. Yet none even of these had been passed over.
The importance given to physical science and the practical arts, in the Encyclopaedia, is the sign and exemplification of two elements of the great modern transition. It marks both a social and an intellectual revolution. We see in it, first, the distinct association with pacific labour, of honour and a kind of glory, such as had hitherto been reserved for knights and friars, for war and asceticism, for fighting and praying.
It is the definite recognition of the basis of a new society. If the nobles and the churchmen could only have understood, as clearly as Diderot and D'Alembert understood, the irresistible forces that were making against the maintenance of the worn-out system, all the worst of the evils attending the great political changes of the last decade of the century would have been avoided. That the nobles and churchmen would not see this, was the fatality of the Revolution. We have a glimpse of the profound transformation of social ideas which was at work in the five or six lines of the article, Journalier. "Journeyman—a workman who labours with his hands, and is paid day-wages. This description of men forms the great part of a nation; it is their lot which a good government ought to keep principally in sight. If the journeyman is miserable, the nation is miserable." And again: "The net profit of a society, if equally distributed, may be preferable to a larger profit, if it be distributed unequally, and have the effect of dividing the people into two classes, one gorged with riches, the other perishing in misery" (Homme).
The second element in the modern transition is only the intellectual side of the first. It is the substitution of interest in things for interest in words, of positive knowledge for verbal disputation. Few now dispute the services of the schoolmen to the intellectual development of Europe. But conditions had fully ripened, and it was time to complete the movement of Bacon and Descartes by finally placing verbal analysis, verbal definition, verbal inferences, in their right position. Form was no longer to take precedence of matter. The Encyclopaedists are never weary of contrasting their own age of practical rationalism with "the pusillanimous ages of taste." A great collection of books is described in one article (Bibliomanie) as a collection of material for the history of the blindness and infatuation of mankind. The gatherer of books is compared to one who should place five or six gems under a pile of common pebbles. If a man of sense buys a work in a dozen volumes, and finds that only half a dozen pages are worth reading, he does well to cut out the half dozen pages and fling the rest into the fire. Finally, it would be no unbecoming device for every great library to have inscribed over its portal, The Bedlam of the Human Mind. At this point one might perhaps suggest to D'Alembert that study of the pathology of the mind is no bad means of surprising the secrets of humanity and life. For his hour, however, the need was not knowledge of the thoughts, dreams, and mental methods of the past, but better mastery of the aids and instruments of active life. In any case Diderot was right when he expressed his preference for the essay over the treatise: "an essay where the writer throws me one or two ideas of genius, almost isolated, rather than a treatise where the precious gems are stifled beneath a mass of iteration.... A man had only one idea; the idea demanded no more than a phrase; this phrase, full of marrow and meaning, would have been seized with relish; washed out in a deluge of words, it wearies and disgusts." Rousseau himself does not surpass Diderot or D'Alembert in contempt for mere bookishness. We wholly misjudge the Encyclopaedia, if we treat it either as literature or philosophy.
The attitude of the Encyclopaedia to religion is almost universally misrepresented in the common accounts. We are always told that the aim of its conductors was to preach dogmatic atheism. Such a statement could not be made by any one who had read the theological articles, whether the more or the less important among them. Whether Diderot had himself advanced definitely to the dogma of atheism at this time or not, it is certain that the Encyclopaedia represents only the phase of rationalistic scepticism. That the criticism was destructive of much of the fabric of popular belief, and was designed to destroy it, is undeniable, as it was inevitable. But when the excesses of '93 and '94—and all the revolutionary excesses put together are but a drop compared with the oceans of bloodshed with which Catholicism and absolutism have made history crimson—when the crimes and confusion of the end of the century are traced by historians to the materialism and atheism of the Encyclopaedia, we can only say that such an account is a misrepresentation. The materialism and atheism are not there. The religious attack was prompted and guided by the same social feeling that inspired the economic articles. The priest was the enemy of society, the patron of indolence, the hater of knowledge, the mutineer against the civil laws, the unprofitable devourer of the national substance, the persecutor. Sacerdotalism is the object of the encyclopaedic attack. To undermine this, it was necessary first to establish the principle of toleration, because the priest claims to be recognised as the exclusive possessor of saving doctrine. Second, it was necessary to destroy the principle of miracle, because the priest professes himself in his daily rites the consecrated instrument of thaumaturgy. "Let a man," says Rosenkranz very truly, "turn over hundreds of histories of church, of state, of literature, and in every one of them he will read that the Encyclopaedia spread abroad an irreligious spirit. The accusation has only a relative truth, to the extent that the Encyclopaedia assailed the belief in miracles, and the oppression of conscience supported by a priestly aristocracy."
It must be admitted that no consistent and definite language is adhered to from beginning to end. D'Alembert's prophecy that time would disclose to people what the writers really thought, behind what fear of the censorship compelled them to say, is only partially fulfilled.
The idea of miracle is sapped not by direct arguments, but by the indirect influences of science, and the exposition of the successes of scientific method. It was here that the Encyclopaedia exerted really destructive power, and it did so in the only way in which power of that kind can be exerted either wisely or effectually. The miracle of a divine revelation, of grace, of the mass, began to wear a different look in men's eyes, as they learned more of the physical processes of the universe. We should describe the work of the Encyclopaedia as being to make its readers lose their interest, rather than their belief, in mysteries. This is the normal process of theological dissolution. It unfolded a vast number of scientific conceptions in all branches of human activity, a surprising series of acquisitions, a vivid panorama of victories won by the ingenuity and travail of man. A contemplation of the wonders that man had wrought for himself, replaced meditation on the wonders that were alleged to have been wrought by the gods. The latter were not so much denied by the plain reader, as they were gradually left out of sight and forgotten. Nobody now cares to disprove Jupiter and Juno, Satyrs and Hamadryads.
Diderot constantly insists on the propriety, the importance, the indispensableness of keeping the provinces of science and philosophy apart from the province of theology. This separation is much sought in our own day as a means of saving theology. Diderot designed it to save philosophy. He felt that the distinct recognition of positive thought as supreme within the widest limits then covered by it, would ultimately lead to the banishment of theological thought to a region of its own, too distant and too infertile for men to weary themselves in pursuit of it. His conception was to supplant the old ways of thinking and the old objects of intellectual interest by new ones. He trusted to the intrinsic fitness and value of the new knowledge and new views of human life, to displace the old. This marks him for a constructive thinker. He replaced barren theological interests that had outlived their time, by all those great groups of living and fruitful interests which glow and sparkle in the volumes of the Encyclopaedia. Here was the effective damage that the Encyclopaedia inflicted on the church as the organ of a stationary superstition. Some of the articles remind us on what a strange borderland France stood in those days, between debasing credulity and wholesome light. We are so sensible of the new air that breathes impalpably over the book, that when the old theological fancies appear for form's sake, and are solemnly marshalled in orthodox state, the contrast and the incongruity are so marked that one is amused by what looks like a subtle irony, mocking the censor under his very eyes. Who can help smiling at the grave question, Adam, le premier de tous les hommes, a-t-il ete philosophe? Such disputes as whether it is proper to baptize abortions, ceased to interest a public that had begun to educate itself by discussions on the virtue of Inoculation.
Of the gross defects in the execution of the Encyclopaedia nobody was so sensible as Diderot himself. He drew up a truly formidable list of the departments where the work was badly done. But when the blunders and omissions in each subject were all counted, the value of the vast grouping of the subjects was hardly diminished. The union of all these secular acquisitions in a single colossal work invested them with something imposing. Secular knowledge was made to present a massive and sumptuous front. It was pictured before the curious eyes of that generation as a great city of glittering palaces and stately mansions; or else as an immense landscape, with mountains, plains, rocks, waters, forests, animals, and a thousand objects, glorious and beautiful in the sunlight. Theology became visibly a shrivelled thing. Men grew to be conscious of the vastness of the universe. At the same time and by the same process the Encyclopaedia gave them a key to the plan, a guiding thread in the immense labyrinth. The genealogical tree, or classification of arts and sciences, which with a few modifications was borrowed from Bacon and appeared at the end of the Prospectus, is seen to be faulty and inadequate. It distributes the various branches of knowledge with reference to faculties of the human understanding, instead of grouping them according to their objective relations to one another. This led to many awkward results, as when the art of printing is placed by the side of orthography as a subdivision of Logic, to which also is given the art of heraldry or emblazonment. There is awkwardness too in dividing architecture into three heads, and then placing civil architecture under national jurisprudence, and naval architecture under social jurisprudence, while under fine arts no kind of architecture has any place. But when we have multiplied these objections to the uttermost, the effect of the magnificence and vastness of the scheme remains exactly what it was.
Even more important than the exposition of human knowledge was the exposition of the degrees by which it had been slowly reared. The Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopaedia, of which by far the greater and more valuable portion was written by D'Alembert, contains a fine survey of the progress of science, thought, and letters since the revival of learning. It is a generous canonisation of the great heroes of secular knowledge. It is rapid, but the contributions of Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, Leibnitz are thrown into a series that penetrates the reader's mind with the idea of ordered growth and measured progress. This excited a vivid hopefulness of interest, which insensibly but most effectually pressed the sterile propositions of dogmatic theology into a dim and squalid background. Nor was this all. The Preliminary Discourse and the host of articles marshalled behind it, showed that the triumphs of knowledge and true opinion had all been gained on two conditions. The first of these conditions was a firm disregard of authority; the second was an abstention from the premature concoction of system. The reign of ignorance and prejudice was made inveterate by deference to tradition: the reign of truth was hindered by the artificial boundary-marks set mischievously deep by the authors of systems. As the whole spirit of theology is both essentially authoritative and essentially systematic, this disparagement was full of tolerably direct significance. It told in another way. The Sorbonne, the universities, the doctors, had identified orthodoxy with Cartesianism. "It is hard to believe," says D'Alembert in 1750, "that it is only within the last thirty years that people have even begun to renounce Cartesianism." He might have added that one of the most powerful of his contemporaries, Montesquieu himself, remained a rigid Cartesian to the end of his days. "Our nation," he says, "singularly eager as it is for novelties in all matters of taste, is in matters of science extremely attached to old opinions." This remark remains true of France to the present hour, and it would be an interesting digression, did time allow, to consider its significance. France can at all events count one master innovator, the founder of Cartesianism himself. D'Alembert points out that the disciples violate the first maxims of their chief. He describes the hypothesis of vortices and the doctrine of innate ideas as no longer tenable, and even as ridiculous; but do not let us forget, he says with a fine movement of candour, that it was Descartes who opened the way; he who set an example to men of intelligence, of shaking off the yoke of scholasticism, of opinion, of authority—in a word, of prejudices and barbarism. Those who remain faithful to his hypothetical system, while they abandon his method, may be the last of his partisans, but they would assuredly never have been the first of his disciples.
By system the Encyclopaedists meant more or less coherent bodies of frivolous conjecture. The true merit of the philosopher or the physicist is described as being to have the spirit of system, yet never to construct a system. The notion expressed in this sentence promises a union of the advantages of an organic synthesis, with the advantages of an open mind and unfettered inquiry. It would be ridiculous to think, says D'Alembert, that there is nothing more to discover in anatomy, because anatomists devote themselves to researches that may seem to be of no use, and yet often prove to be full of use in their consequences. Nor would it be less absurd to lay a ban on erudition, on the pretext that our learned men often give themselves up to matters of trivial import.
We are constantly struck in the Encyclopaedia by a genuine desire to reach the best opinion by the only right way, the way of abundant, many-sided, and liberal discussion. The article, for instance, on Fermes Generales contains an examination of the question whether it is more expedient that the taxes of a nation should be gathered by farmers of the revenue, or directly by the agents of the government acting on its behalf and under its supervision. Montesquieu had argued strongly in favour of a Regie, the second of these methods. The writer of the article sets out the nine considerations by which Montesquieu had endeavoured to establish his position, and then he offers on each of them the strongest observations that occur to him in support of the opposite conclusion. At the conclusion of the article, the editors of the Encyclopaedia append the following note: "Our professed impartiality and our desire to promote the discussion and clearing up of an important question, have induced us to insert this article. As the Encyclopaedia has for its principal aim the public advantage and instruction, we will insert in the article, Regie, without taking any side, all such reasons for and against, as people may he willing to submit to us, provided they are stated with due sense and moderation." Alas, when we turn to the article on Regie, the promise is unfulfilled, and a dozen meagre lines disappoint the seeker. But eight years of storm had passed, and many a beneficent intention had been wrecked. The announcement at least shows us the aim and spirit of the original scheme.
Of the line of argument taken in the Encyclopaedia as to Toleration we need say nothing. The Encyclopaedists were the most ardent propagators of the modern principles of tolerance. No one has to be reminded that this was something more than an abstract discussion among the doctors of social philosophy, in a country where youths were broken on the wheel for levity in face of an ecclesiastical procession, where nearly every considerable man of the century had been either banished or imprisoned for daring to use his mind, and which had been half ruined by the great proscription of Protestants more than once renewed. The article Tolerance was greatly admired in its day, and it is an eloquent and earnest reproduction of the pleas of Locke. One rather curious feature in it is the reproduction of the passage from the Social Contract, in which Rousseau explains the right of the magistrate to banish any citizen who has not got religion enough to make him do his duties, and who will not make a profession of civil faith. The writer of the article interprets this as implying that "atheists in particular, who remove from the powerful the only rein, and from the weak their only hope," have no right to claim toleration. This is an unexpected stroke in a work that is vulgarly supposed to be a violent manifesto on behalf of atheism.
Diderot himself in an earlier article (Intolerance) had treated the subject with more trenchant energy. He does not argue his points systematically, but launches a series of maxims, as with set teeth, clenched hands, and a brow like a thundercloud. He hails the oppressors of his life, the priests and the parliaments, with a pungency that is exhilarating, and winds up with a description of the intolerant as one who forgets that a man is his fellow, and for holding a different opinion, treats him like a ravening brute; as one who sacrifices the spirit and precepts of his religion to his pride; as the rash fool who thinks that the arch can only be upheld by his hands; as a man who is generally without religion, and to whom it comes easier to have zeal than morals. Every page of the Encyclopaedia was, in fact, a plea for toleration. This embittered the hostility of the churchmen to the work more than its attack upon dogma. For most ecclesiastics valued power more dearly than truth. And in power they valued most dearly the atrocious right of silencing, by foul means or fair, all opinions that were not official.
Having thus described the general character and purport of the Encyclopaedia, we have still to look at a special portion of it from a more particular point of view. We have already shown how multifarious were Diderot's labours as editor. It remains to give a short account of his labours as a contributor. Everything was on the same vast scale. His industry in writing would have been in itself most astonishing, even if it had not been accompanied by the more depressing fatigue of revising what others had written. Diderot's articles fill more than four of the large volumes of his collected works.
The confusion is immense. The spirit is sometimes historical, sometimes controversial; now critical, now dogmatic. In one place Diderot speaks in his own proper person, in another as the neutral scribe writing to the dictation of an unseen authority. There is no rigorous measure and ordered proportion. We constantly pass from a serious treatise to a sally, from an elaborate history to a caprice. There are not a few pages where we know that Diderot is saying what he does not think. Some of the articles seem only to have found a place because Diderot happened to have taken an interest in their subjects at the moment. After reading Voltaire's concise account of Imagination, we are amazed to find Diderot devoting a larger space than Voltaire had needed for the subject at large, to so subordinate and remote a branch of the matter as the Power of the Imagination in Pregnant Women upon the Unborn Young. The article on Theosophs would hardly have been so disproportionately long as it is, merely for the sake of Paracelsus and Van Helmont and Poiret and the Rosicrucians, unless Diderot happened to be curiously and half-sympathetically brooding over the mixture of inspiration and madness, of charlatanry and generous aim, of which these semi-mystic, semi-scientific characters were composed.
Many of Diderot's articles, again, have no rightful place in an Encyclopaedia. Genius, for instance, is dealt with in what is neither more nor less than a literary essay, vigorous, suggestive, diffuse; and containing, by the way, the curious assertion that, although there are few errors in Locke and too few truths in Shaftesbury, yet Locke is only an acute and comprehensive intelligence, while Shaftesbury is a genius of the first order.
Under the word Laborious, we have only a dozen lines of angry reproach against the despotism that makes men idle by making property uncertain. Under such words as Frivolous, Gallantry, Perfection, Importance, Politeness, Melancholy, Glorieux, the reader is amused and edified by miniature essays on manners and character, seldom ending without some pithy sentence and pointed moral. Sometimes (e.g. Grandeur) we have a charming piece after the manner of La Bruyere. Under the verb Naitre, which is placed in the department of grammar, we find a passage so far removed from grammar as the following:—
"The terms of life and death have nothing absolute; they only designate the successive states of one and the same being; for him who has been strongly nourished in this philosophy, the urn that contains the ashes of a father, a mother, a husband, a mistress, is truly a touching object. There still remains in it life and warmth; these ashes may perhaps even yet feel our tears and give them response; who knows if the movement that our tears stir, as they water those ashes, is wholly without sensibility?"
This little burst of grotesque sentimentalism is one of the pieces that justify the description of Diderot as the most German of all the French. Equally characteristic and more sensible is the writer's outbreak against Formalists. "The formalist knows exactly the proper interval between receiving and returning a visit; he expects you on the exact day at the exact time; if you fail, he thinks himself neglected and takes offence. A single man of this stamp is enough to chill and embarrass a whole company. There is nothing so repugnant to simple and upright souls as formalities; as such people have within themselves the consciousness of the good-will they bear to everybody, they neither plague themselves to be constantly displaying a sentiment that is habitual, nor to be constantly on the watch for it in others." This is analogous to his contempt for the pedants who object to the use of a hybrid word: "If it happens that a composite of a Greek word and a Latin word renders the idea as well, and is easier to pronounce or pleasanter to the ear than a compound of two Greek words and two Latin words, why prefer the latter?" (Hibrides). Some articles are simply diatribes against the enemy. Pardon, for instance: "It needs much attention, much modesty, much skill to wring from others pardon for our superiority. The men who have executed a foolish work, have never been able to pardon us for projecting a better. We could have got from them pardon for a crime, but never for a good action." And so forth, with much magnanimous acrimony. Prostitution is only introduced for the pleasure of applying the unsavoury word to certain critics "of whom we have so many in these days, and of whom we say that they prostitute their pens to money, to favour, to lying, and to all the vices most unworthy of an honourable man."
We are constantly being puzzled and diverted by Diderot's ingenuity in wandering away from the topic nominally in hand, to insinuate some of those doctrines of tolerance, of suspended judgment, or of liberty, which lay so much nearer to his heart than any point of mere erudition. There is a little article on Aius-Locutius, the Announcing Speaker, one of the minor Roman gods. Diderot begins by a few lines describing the rise of the deity into repute. He then quotes Cicero's pleasantry on the friendly divinity, that when nobody in the world had ever heard of him, he delivered a salutary oracle, but after people had built him a fine temple, then the god of speech fell dumb. This suggests to Diderot to wonder with edifying innocence how so religious a people as the Romans endured these irreverent jests in their philosophers. By an easy step we pass to the conditions on which modern philosophers should be allowed by authority to publish their speculations. Diderot throws out the curious hint that it would be best to forbid any writing against government and religion in the vulgar tongue, and to allow those who write in a learned tongue to publish what they please. And so we bid farewell to Aius-Locutius. In passing, we ask ourselves whether Diderot's suggestion is not available in the discussion of certain questions, where freedom of speech in the vernacular tongue is scarcely compatible with the reverentia quae debetur pueris?
Diderot is never prevented by any mistaken sense of the dignity of his enterprise from interspersing his disquisitions on science and philosophy with such practical thoughts on the common matters of daily life as come into his ingenious head. He suggests, for instance, by way of preventing the frauds of cab-drivers on their masters and on the public, that all payments of fares should be made to appointed officers at the various cab-stations, and that no driver should take up a fare except at one of these stations. In writing about lackeys, after a word on their insolence and on the wretched case in which most of them end their days, he points out that the multitude of them is causing the depopulation of the fields. They are countrymen who have thronged to Paris to avoid military service. Peasants turned lackeys to escape the conscription, just as in our own days they turn priests. Then, says Diderot, this evil ought to be checked by a tax upon liveries; but such a tax is far too sensible ever to be imposed.
Yet, notwithstanding the practical and fervid temper of his understanding, Diderot is not above literary trifling when the humour seizes him. If he can write an exhaustive article on Encyclopaedia, or Spinosa, or Academies, or Weaving, he can also stoop to Anagrams, and can tell us that the letters of Frere Jacques Clement, the assassin of Henry III., make up the sinister words, C'est l'enfer qui m'a cree. He can write a couple of amusing pages on Onomatomancy, or divination of a man's fortune from his name; and can record with neutral gravity how frequently great empires have been destroyed under princes bearing the same name as their first founders; how, again, certain names are unlucky for princes, as Cains among the Romans, John in France, England, and Scotland, and Henry in France.
We have now and then an anecdote that is worth reading and worth preserving. Thus, under Machiavellist: "I have heard that a philosopher, being asked by a great prince about a refutation of Machiavellism, which the latter had just published, replied, 'Sire, I fancy that the first lesson that Machiavelli would have given to his disciple would have been to refute his work.'" Whether Voltaire ever did say this to the great Frederick, is very questionable, but it would not have been ill said. After the reader has been taken through a short course of Arabian philosophy, he is enlivened by a selection of poetic sayings about human life from the Rose-garden of Sadi, and the whole article winds up with an eastern fable, of no particular relevancy, of three men finding a treasure, and of one of them poisoning the food for which the other two had sent him; on his return they suddenly fell on him and slew him, and then ate the poisoned food, and so the treasure fell to none of them.
We have spoken in the previous section of the contempt expressed by D'Alembert for mere literary antiquarianism—a very different thing, let us remember, from scientific inquiry into the origin and classification of institutions and social organs. Diderot's article on the Germans is an excellent illustration of this wholesome predominance of the scientific spirit over the superficialities of barren erudition. The word "Allemand," says Diderot, "has a great many etymologies, but they are so forced, that it is almost as well to know none of them, as to know them all. As for the origin of this famous stock, all that has been said on that matter, between Tacitus and Clovis, is simply a tissue of guesses without foundation." Of course in this some persons will see a shameful levity; others will regard it as showing very good sense, and a right estimate of what is knowable and worth knowing, and what is neither one nor the other. In the article on Celibacy we notice the same temper. A few sentences are enough for the antiquarianism of the subject, what the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans thought and ordained about celibacy. The substance of the article is a reproduction of the Abbe Saint Pierre's discussion of the advantages that would be gained for France, with her declining population, if her forty thousand cures were allowed to marry, and to bring into the world eighty thousand children. We may believe that Diderot smiled as he transcribed the Abbe's cunning suggestion that a dispensing power to relieve from the obligation of celibacy should be recognised in the Pope, and that the Roman court should receive a sum of money for every dispensation so granted.
Although, however, Diderot despised mere bookishness, his article on Libraries is one of the longest and most painstaking, furnishing a tolerably complete list of the most famous collections, from the beginning of books down to the latest additions to the King's Library in the Rue Vivienne. In the course of this article he quotes with seeming approval the quaint words in which old Richard of Bury, the author of the Philobiblon (1340), praised books as the best of masters, much as the immortal defender of the poet Archias had praised them: "Hi sunt magistri qui nos instruunt sine virgis et ferulis, sine cholera, sine pecunia; si accedis non dormiunt; si inquiris non se abscondunt; non obmurmurant si oberres; cachinnos nesciunt si ignores."
In literature proper, as in philosophy, Diderot loses no opportunity of insisting on the need of being content with suspended judgment. For instance, he blames historians of opinion for the readiness with which they attribute notions found in one or two rabbis to the whole of the Jews, or because two or three Fathers say something, boldly set this down as the sentiments of a whole century, although perhaps we have nothing else save these two or three Fathers left of the century, and although we do not know whether their writings were applauded, or were even widely known. "It were to be wished that people should speak less affirmatively, especially on particular points and remote consequences, and that they should only attribute them directly to those in whose writings they are actually to be found. I confess that the history of the sentiments of antiquity would not seem so complete, and that it would be necessary to speak in terms of doubt much more often than is common; but by acting otherwise we expose ourselves to the danger of taking false and uncertain conjectures for ascertained and unquestionable truths. The ordinary man of letters does not readily put up with suspensive expressions, any more than common people do so." All this is an odd digression to be found under the head of Hylopathianism, but it must always remain wholesome doctrine.
We cannot wonder at Diderot's admiration for Montaigne and for Bayle, who, with Hume, would make the great trinity of scepticism. "The work of Montaigne," said Diderot, "is the touchstone of a good intelligence; you may be sure that any one whom the reading of Montaigne displeases has some vice either of heart or understanding. As for Bayle, he has had few equals in the art of reasoning, and perhaps no superior; and though he piles doubt upon doubt, he always proceeds with order; an article of his is a living polypus, which divides itself into a number of polypuses, all living, engendered one from the other." Yet Diderot had a feeling of the necessity of advancing beyond the attitude of Bayle and Montaigne. Intellectual suspense and doubt was made difficult to him by his vehement and positive demand for emotional certainties.
Diderot is always ready to fling away his proper subject in a burst of moralising. The article on Man, as a branch of natural history, contains a correct if a rather superficial account of that curious animal; at length the writer comes to a table showing the probable duration of life at certain ages. "You will observe," he says, "1st, that the age of seven is that at which you may hope a longer life; 2d, that at twelve or thirteen you have lived a quarter of your life; at twenty-eight or twenty-nine you have lived half; at fifty more than three-quarters." And then he suddenly winds up the whole performance by the exclamation: "O ye who have laboured up to fifty, who are in the enjoyment of comfort, and who still have left to you health and strength, what then are you waiting for before you take rest? How long will you go on saying To-morrow, to-morrow?"
There are many casual brilliancies in the way of analogy and parallel, many aptnesses of thought and phrase. The Stoics are called the Jansenists of Paganism. "For a single blade of grass to grow, it is necessary that the whole of nature should co-operate." "A man comes to Pyrrhonism by one of two opposite ways; either because he does not know enough, or because he knows too much; the latter is not the most common way." And so forth.
If we turn to the group of articles dealing with theology, it is difficult for us to know exactly where we are. Sometimes Diderot writes of popular superstitions with the gravity proper to a dictionary of mythology. Sometimes he sews on to the sober gray of his scepticism a purple patch of theistic declamation. The article on Jesus Christ is obviously a mere piece of common form, and more than one passage in his article on Christianisme is undoubtedly insincere. When we come to his more careful article, Providence, we find it impossible to extract from it a body of coherent propositions of which we could confidently say that they represented his own creed, or the creed that he desired his readers to bear away in their minds.
It is hardly worth while to measure the more or the less of his adherence to Christianity, or even to Deism, as inferred from the Encyclopaedia. We need only turn to his private letters to find that he is in no degree nor kind an adherent, but the most hardy, contemptuous, and thoroughgoing of opponents. At the risk of shocking devout persons, I am bound to reproduce a passage from one of his letters, in which there can be no doubt that we have Diderot's true mind, as distinguished from what it was convenient to print. "The Christian religion," he says, "is to my mind the most absurd and atrocious in its dogmas; the most unintelligible, the most metaphysical, the most intertwisted and obscure, and consequently the most subject to divisions, sects, schisms, heresies; the most mischievous for the public tranquillity, the most dangerous to sovereigns by its hierarchic order, its persecutions, its discipline; the most flat, the most dreary, the most Gothic, and the most gloomy in its ceremonies; the most puerile and unsociable in its morality, considered not in what is common to it with universal morality, but in what is peculiarly its own, and constitutes it evangelical, apostolical, and Christian morality, which is the most intolerant of all. Lutheranism, freed from some absurdities, is preferable to Catholicism; Protestantism to Lutheranism, Socinianism to Protestantism, Deism, with temples and ceremonies, to Socinianism. Since it is necessary that man, being superstitious by nature, should have a fetish, the simplest and most harmless will be the best fetish." We need not discuss nor extend the quotation; enough has been said to relieve us from the duty of analysing or criticising articles in which Christianity is treated with all the formal respect that the secular authority insisted upon.
This formal respect is not incompatible with many veiled and secret sarcasms, which were as well understood as they were sharply enjoyed by those who read between the lines. It is not surprising that these sarcasms were constantly unjust and shallow. Even those of us who repudiate theology and all its works for ourselves, may feel a shock at the coarseness and impurity of innuendo which now and then disfigures Diderot's treatment of theological as of some other subjects. For this the attitude of the Church itself was much to blame; coarse, virulent, unspiritual as it was in France in those days. Voltaire, Diderot, Holbach, would have written in a very different spirit, even while maintaining and publishing the same attacks on theological opinion, if the Church of France had possessed such a school of teachers as the Church of England found in the Latitudinarians in the seventeenth century; or such as she finds now in the nineteenth century in those who have imported, partly from the poetry of Wordsworth, partly from the historic references of the Oxford Tracts, an equity, a breadth, an elevation, a pensive grace, that effectually forbid the use of those more brutal weapons of controversy which were the only weapons possible in France a century ago.
We have already said so much of the great and important group of articles on arts and trades, that it is unnecessary to add anything further as to Diderot's particular share in them. He visited all the workshops in Paris; he sent for information and specifications to the most important seats of manufacture in the kingdom; he sometimes summoned workmen from the provinces to describe to him the paper works of Montargis, and the silk works and velvet works of Lyons. Much of Diderot's work, even on great practical subjects, was, no doubt, the reproduction of mere book-knowledge acquired at second-hand. Take, for instance, Agriculture, which was undoubtedly the most important of all subjects for France at that date, as indeed at every other date. There are a dozen pages of practical precepts, for which Diderot was probably indebted to one of the farmers at Grandval. After this, he fills up the article with about twenty pages in which he gives an account of the new system of husbandry, which our English Jethro Tull described to an unbelieving public between 1731 and 1751. Tull's volume was translated into French by Duhamel, with notes and the record of experiments of his own; from this volume Diderot drew the pith of his article. Diderot's only merit in the matter—and it is hardly an inconsiderable one in a world of routine—is that he should have been at the pains to seek the newest lights, and above all that he should have urged the value of fresh experiments in agriculture. Tull was not the safest authority in the world, but it is to be remembered that the shrewd-witted Cobbett thought his ideas on husbandry worth reproducing, seventy years after Diderot had thought them worth compiling into an article.
It was not merely in the details of the practical arts that Diderot wrote from material acquired at second-hand. The article on the Zend-Avesta is taken from the Annual Register for 1762. The long series of articles on the history of philosophy is in effect a reproduction of what he found in Bayle, in Deslandes, and in Brucker. There are one or two considerable exceptions. Perhaps the most important is under the heading of Spinosa, to which we shall return presently. The article on Hobbisme contains an analysis, evidently made by the writer's own hand, of the bulk of Hobbes's propositions; it is scarcely, however, illuminated by a word of criticism. If we turn to the article on Societe, it is true, we find Hobbes's view of the relations between the civil and temporal powers tolerably effectively combated, but even here Diderot hardly does more than arm himself with the weapons of Locke.
Of course, he honestly refers his readers to these sources of wider information. All that we can say of the articles on the history of philosophy is that the series is very complete; that Diderot used his matter with intelligence and the spirit of criticism, and that he often throws in luminous remarks and far-reaching suggestions of his own. This was all that the purpose of his book required. To imitate the laborious literary search of Bayle or of Brucker, and to attempt to compile an independent history of philosophy, would have been to sacrifice the Encyclopaedia as a whole, to the superfluous perfection of a minor part. There is only one imperative condition in such a case, namely, that the writer should pass the accepted material through his own mind before reproducing it. With this condition it was impossible for a man of Diderot's indefatigable energy of spirit, not as a rule to comply.
But this rule too had exceptions. There were cases in which he reproduced, as any mere bookmaker might have done, the thought of his authority, without an attempt to make it his own. Of the confusion and inequalities in which Diderot was landed by this method of mingling the thoughts of other people with his own, there is a curious example in the two articles on Philosopher and Philosophy. In the first we have an essentially social and practical description of what the philosopher should be; in the second we have a definition of philosophy, which takes us into the regions most remote from what is social and practical. We soar to the airiest heights of verbal analysis and pure formalism. Nothing can be better, so far as it goes, than the picture of the philosopher. Diderot begins by contrasting him with the crowd of people, and clever people, who insist on passing judgment all day long. "They ignore the scope and limits of the human mind; they think it capable of knowing everything; hence they think it a disgrace not to pronounce judgment, and imagine that intelligence consists in that and nothing else. The philosopher believes that it consists in judging rightly. He is better pleased with himself when he has suspended his faculty of coming to a conclusion, than if he had come to a conclusion without the proper grounds. He prefers to brilliancy the pains of rightly distinguishing his ideas, of finding their true extent and exact connection. He is never so attached to a system as not to feel all the force of the objections to it. Most men are so strongly given over to their opinions that they do not take any trouble to make out those of others. The philosopher, on the other hand, understands what he rejects, with the same breadth and the same accuracy as he understands what he adopts." Then Diderot turns characteristically from the intellectual to the social side. "Our philosopher does not count himself an exile in the world; he does not suppose himself in an enemy's country; he would fain find pleasure with others, and to find it he must give it; he is a worthy man who wishes to please and to make himself useful. The ordinary philosophers who meditate too much, or rather who meditate to wrong purpose, are as surly and arrogant to all the world as great people are to those whom they do not think their equals; they flee men, and men avoid them. But our philosopher who knows how to divide himself between retreat and the commerce of men is full of humanity. Civil society is, so to say, a divinity for him on the earth; he honours it by his probity, by an exact attention to his duties, and by a sincere desire not to be a useless or an embarrassing member of it. The sage has the leaven of order and rule; he is full of the ideas connected with the good of civil society. What experience shows us every day is that the more reason and light people have, the better fitted they are and the more to be relied on for the common intercourse of life."
The transition is startling from this conception of
Philosopher as a very high kind of man of the world, to the definition of Philosophy as "the science of possibles qua possibles." Diderot's own reflection comes back to us, Combien cette maudite metaphysique fait des fous! We are abruptly plunged from a Baconian into a Leibnitzian atmosphere. We should naturally have expected some such account of Philosophy as that it begins with a limitation of the questions to which men can hope for an answer, and ends in an ordered arrangement of the principles of knowledge, with ultimate reference to the conditions of morals and the structure of civil societies. We should naturally have expected to find, what indeed we do find, that the characteristic of the philosopher is to "admit nothing without proof, never to acquiesce in illusory notions; to draw rigorously the dividing lines of the certain, the probable, the doubtful; above all things never to pay himself with mere words." But then these wholesome prescriptions come in an article whose definitions and distribution of philosophy are simply a reproduction from Christian Wolff, and the methods and dialect of Wolff are as essentially alien from the positive spirit of the Encyclopaedia as they were from the mystic spirit of Jacobi.
Wolff's place in the philosophical succession of German speculation (1679-1754) is between Leibnitz and Kant, and until Kant came his system was dominant in the country of metaphysics. It is from Wolff that Diderot borrows and throws unassimilated into the pages of the Encyclopaedia propositions so fundamentally incongruous as this, that "among all possibles there must of necessity be a Being subsisting by himself; otherwise there would be possible things, of the possibility of which no account could be given, an assertion that could never be made." It is a curious thing, and it illustrates again the strangely miscellaneous quality of Diderot's compilation, that the very article which begins by this incorporation of the author of a philosophical system expounded in a score of quartos, ends by a vigorous denunciation of the introduction of the systematic spirit into philosophy.
I shall venture to quote a hardy passage from another article (Pyrrhonienne) which some will think a measure of Diderot's philosophical incompetency, and others will think a measure of his good sense. "We will conclude," he says, "for our part that as all in nature is bound together, there is nothing, properly speaking, of which man has perfect, absolute, and complete knowledge, because for that he would need knowledge of all. Now as all is bound together, it inevitably happens that, from discussion to discussion, he must come to something unknown: then in starting again from this unknown point, we shall be justified in pleading against him the ignorance or the obscurity or the uncertainty of the point preceding, and of that preceding this, and so forth, up to the most evident principle. So we must admit a sort of sobriety in the use of reason. When step by step I have brought a man to some evident proposition, I shall cease to dispute. I will listen no longer to a man who goes on to deny the existence of bodies, the rules of logic, the testimony of the senses, the difference between good and evil, true and false, etc. etc. I will turn my back on everybody who tries to lead me away from a simple question, to embark me in discussion as to the nature of matter, of the understanding of thought, and other subjects shoreless and bottomless." Whatever else may be said of this, we have to recognise that it is exactly characteristic of the author. But then why have written on metaphysics at all?
We have mentioned the article on Spinosa. It is characteristic both of the good and the bad sides of Diderot's work. Half of it is merely a reproduction of Bayle's criticisms on Spinosa and his system. The other half consists of original objections propounded by Diderot with marked vigour of thrust against Spinosa, but there is no evidence that he had gone deeper into Spinosa than the first book of the Ethics. There is no certain sign that he had read anything else, or that he had more of that before him than the extracts that were furnished by Bayle. Such treatment of a serious subject hardly conforms to the modern requirements of the literary conscience, for in truth the literary conscience has now turned specialist and shrinks from the encyclopaedic. Diderot's objections are, as we have said, pushed with marked energy of speech. "However short away," he says, "you penetrate into the thick darkness in which Spinosa has wrapped himself up, you discover a succession of abysses into which this audacious reasoner has precipitated himself, of propositions either evidently false or evidently doubtful, of arbitrary principles, substituted for natural principles and sensible truths; an abuse of terms taken for the most part in a wrong sense, a mass of deceptive equivocations, a cloud of palpable contradictions." The system is monstrous, it is absurd and ridiculous. It is Spinosa's plausible method that has deceived people; they supposed that one who employed geometry, and proceeded by way of axioms and definitions, must be on the track of truth. They did not see that these axioms were nothing better than very vague and very uncertain propositions; that the definitions were inexact, defective, and bizarre.
We have no space to follow the reasoning by which Diderot supports this scornful estimate of the famous thinker, of whom it can never be settled whether he be pantheist, atheist, akosmist, or God-intoxicated man. He returns to the charge again and again, as if he felt a certain secret uneasiness lest for scorn so loudly expressed he had not brought forward adequate justification. And the reader feels that Diderot has scarcely hit the true line of cleavage that would have enabled him—from his own point of view—to shatter the Spinosist system. He tries various bouts of logic with Spinosa in connection with detached propositions. Thus he deals with Spinosa's third proposition, that, in the case of things that have nothing in common with one another, one cannot be the cause of the other. This proposition, Diderot contends, is false in all moral and occasional causes. The sound of the name of God has nothing in common with the idea of the Creator which that name produces in my mind. A misfortune that overtakes my friend has nothing in common with the grief that I feel in consequence. When I move my arm by an act of will, the movement has nothing in common in its nature with the act of my will; they are very different. I am not a triangle, yet I form the idea of one and I examine its properties. So with the fifth proposition, that there cannot be in the universe two or more substances of the same nature or the same attributes. If Spinosa is only talking of the essence of things or of their definition, what he says is naught; for it can only mean that there cannot be in the universe two different essences having the same essence. Who doubts it? But if Spinosa means that there cannot be an essence which is found in various single objects, in the same way as the essence of triangle is found in the triangle A and the triangle B, then he says what is manifestly untrue. It is not, however, until the last two or three pages that Diderot sets forth his dissent in its widest form.
"To refute Spinosa," he says at last, "all that is necessary is to stop him at the first step, without taking the trouble to follow him into a mass of consequences; all that we need do is to substitute for the obscure principle which he makes the base of his system, the following: namely, that there are several substances—a principle that in its own way is clear to the last degree. And, in fact, what proposition can be clearer, more striking, more close to the understanding and consciousness of man? I here seek no other judge than the most just impression of the common sense that is spread among the human race.... Now, since common sense revolts against each of Spinosa's propositions, no less than against the first, of which they are the pretended proofs, instead of stopping to reason on each of these proofs where common sense is lost, we should be right to say to him:—Your principle is contrary to common sense; from a principle in which common sense is lost, nothing can issue in which common sense is to be found again."
The passage sounds unpleasantly like an appeal to the crowd in a matter of science, which is as the sin against the Holy Ghost in these high concerns. What Diderot meant, probably, was to charge Spinosa with inventing a conception of substance which has no relation to objective experience; and further with giving fantastic answers to questions that were in themselves never worth asking, because the answers must always involve a violent wrench of the terms of experience into the sphere transcending experience, and because, moreover, they can never be verified. Whether he meant this or something else, and whether he would have been right or wrong in such an intention, we may admit that it would have been more satisfactory if in dealing with such a master-type of the metaphysical method as Spinosa, so acute a positive critic as Diderot had taken more pains to give to his objections the utmost breadth of which they were capable.
The article on Leibnitz has less original matter in it than that on Spinosa. The various speculations of that great and energetic intellect in metaphysic, logic, natural theology, natural law, are merely drawn out in a long table of succinct propositions, while the account of the life and character of Leibnitz is simply taken from the excellent eloge which had been published upon him by Fontenelle in 1716. Fontenelle's narrative is reproduced in a generous spirit of admiration and respect for a genius that was like Diderot's own in encyclopaedic variety of interest, while it was so far superior to Diderot's in concentration, in subtlety, in precision, in power of construction. If there could exist over our heads, says Diderot, a species of beings who could observe our works as we watch those of creatures at our feet, with what surprise would such beings have seen those four marvellous insects, Bayle, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Newton. And he then draws up a little calendar of the famous men, out of whom we must choose the name to be placed at the very head of the human race. The list contains, besides Julian the Apostate—who was inserted, we may presume, merely by way of playful insult to the ecclesiastical enemy—Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, Bacon, and the four great names that have just been cited. Germany derives as much honour from Leibnitz alone, he concludes with unconsidered enthusiasm, as Greece from Plato, Aristotle, and Archimedes, all put together. As we have said, however, there is no criticism, nor any other sign that Diderot had done more than survey the facade of the great Leibnitzian structure admiringly from without.
The article on Liberty would be extremely remarkable, appearing where it does, and coming from a thinker of Diderot's general capacity, if only we could be sure that Diderot was sincere. As it happens, there is good reason to suppose that he was wholly insincere. It is quite as shallow, from the point of view of philosophy, as his article on the Jews or on the Bible is from the point of view of erudition. One reason for this might not be far to seek. We have repeatedly observed how paramount the social aim and the social test are in Diderot's mind over all other considerations. But this reference of all subjects of discussion to the good of society, and this measurement of conclusions by their presumed effect on society, is a method that has its own dangers. The aversion of ecclesiastics to unfettered discussion, lest it should damage institutions and beliefs deemed useful to mankind, is the great leading example of this peril. Diderot, it might be said by those who should contend that he wrote what he thought, did not escape exactly the same predicament, as soon as ever he forgot that of all the things that are good for society, Truth is the best. Now, who will believe that it is Diderot, the persecuted editor of the Encyclopaedia, and the author of the manly article on Intolerance, who introduces such a passage as the following into the discussion of the everlasting controversy of Free Will and Necessity: "Take away Liberty, and you leave no more vice nor virtue nor merit in the world; rewards are ridiculous, and punishments unjust. The ruin of Liberty overthrows all order and all police, confounds vice and virtue, authorises every monstrous infamy, extinguishes the last spark of shame and remorse, degrades and disfigures beyond recovery the whole human race. A doctrine of such enormity as this ought not to be examined in the schools; it ought to be punished by the magistrates." Of course, this was exactly what the Jesuits said about a belief in God, about revelation, and about the institutions of the church. To take away these, they said, is to throw down the bulwarks of order, and an attempt to take them away, as by encyclopaedists or others, ought to be punished by the magistrates. Diderot had for the moment clearly lost himself.
We need hardly be surprised if an article conceived in this spirit contains no serious contribution to the difficult question with which it deals. Diderot had persuaded himself that, without Free Will, all those emotional moralities in the way of sympathy and benevolence and justice which he adored would be lowered to the level of mere mechanism. "If men are not free in what they do of good and evil, then," he cries, in what is surely a paroxysm of unreason, "good is no longer good, and evil no longer evil." As if the outward quality and effects of good and evil were not independent of the mental operations which precede human action. Murder would not cease to be an evil simply because it had been proved that the murderer's will to do a bad deed was the result of antecedents. Acts have marks and consequences of their own, good or bad, whatever may be the state of mind of those who do them. But Diderot does not seem to divine the true issue; he writes as if Necessarians or Determinists denied the existence of volitions, and as if the question were whether volitions do exist. Nobody denies that they exist; the real question is of the conditions under which they exist. Are they determined by antecedents, or are they self-determined, spontaneous, and unconnected? Is Will independent of cause?
Diderot's argumentation is, in fact, merely a protest that man is conscious of a Will. And just as in other parts of his article Diderot by Liberty means only the existence of Will, so by Liberty he means only the healthy condition of the soul, and not its independence of causation. We need not waste words on so dire a confusion, nor on the theory that Will is sometimes dependent on cerebral antecedents and sometimes not. The curious thing is that the writer should not have perceived that he was himself in this preposterous theory propounding the very principle which he denounced as destructive to virtue, ruinous to society, and worthy of punishment by the government. For it seems that, after all, the Will of those whose "dispositions are not moderate" is not free; and we may surely say that those whose dispositions are least moderate, are exactly the most violent malefactors against the common weal. One more passage is worth quoting to show how little the writer had seized the true meaning of the debate. "According to you," he says to Bayle, "it is not clear that it is at the pure choice of my will to move my arm or not to move it: if that be so, it is then necessarily determined that within a quarter of an hour from now I shall lift my hand three times together, or that I shall not. Now, if you seriously pretend that I am not free, you cannot refuse an offer that I make you; I will wager a thousand pistoles to one that I will do, in the matter of moving my hand, exactly the opposite to what you back; and you may take your choice. If you do think the wager fair, it can only be because of your necessary and invincible judgment that I am free." As if the will to move or not to move the arm would be uncaused and unaffected by antecedents, when you have just provided so strong an antecedent as the desire to save a thousand pistoles. It was, perhaps, well enough for Voltaire to content himself with vague poetical material for his poetical discourse on Liberty, but from Diderot, whether as editor or as writer, something better might have been expected than a clumsy reproduction of the reasoning by which men like Turretini had turned philosophy into the corrupted handmaid of theology.
The most extraordinary thing about this extraordinary article still remains to be told. It was written, we may suppose, between 1757 and 1762, or about that time. In June, 1756, Diderot wrote to a certain Landois, a fellow-worker on the Encyclopaedia, a letter containing the most emphatic possible repudiation of the whole doctrine of Liberty. "Liberty is a word void of sense; there are not and there never can have been free beings; we are only what fits in with the general order, with organisation, with education, and with the chain of events. We can no more conceive a being acting without a motive than we can conceive one of the arms of a balance acting without a weight; and the motive is always exterior and foreign to us, attached either by nature or by some cause or other that is not ourselves. There is only one sort of causes, properly speaking, and those are, physical causes." And so forth in the vein of hard and remorseless necessarianism, which we shall find presently in the pages of the System of Nature.
There is only one explanation of this flagrant contradiction. Diderot must have written on Liberty just as he wrote on Jesus Christ or the Bible. He cannot have said what he thought, but only what the persons in authority required him to pretend to think. We may he sure that a letter to an intimate would be more likely to contain his real opinion than an article published in the Encyclopaedia. That such mystifications are odious, are shameful, are almost too degrading a price to pay for the gains of such a work, we may all readily enough admit. All that we can do is to note so flagrant a case, as a striking example of the common artifices of the time. One other point we may note. The fervour and dexterity with which Diderot made what he knew to be the worse appear the better cause, make a still more striking example of his astonishing dramatic power of throwing himself, as dialectician, casuist, sophist, into a false and illusive part.
Turning from the philosophical to the political or social group of articles, we find little to add to what has been said in the previous section. One of the most excellent essays in this group is that on Luxury. Diderot opens ingeniously with a list of the propositions that state the supposed evils of luxury, and under each proposition he places the most striking case that he can find in history of its falseness. He goes through the same process with the propositions asserting the gains of luxury to society. Having thus effectually disposed of any wholesale way of dealing with the subject, he proceeds to make a number of observations on the gains and drawbacks of luxury; these are full of sense and freedom from commonplace. Such articles as Pouvoir, Souverain, Autorite, do little more than tell over again the old unhistoric story about a society surrendering a portion of its sovereign power to some individual or dynasty to hold in trust. It is worth remarking how little democratic were Diderot and his school in any Jacobinical, or anarchic, or even more respectable modern sense. There is in Diderot's contributions many a firm and manly plea for the self-respect of the common people, but not more than once or twice is there a syllable of the disorder which smoulders under the pages of Rousseau. Thus: "When the dwellers among the fields are well treated, the number of proprietors insensibly grows greater, the extreme distance and the vile dependence of poor on rich grow less; hence the people have courage, force of soul, and strength of body; they love their country, they respect the magistrates, they are attached to a prince, to an order, and to laws to which they owe their peace and well-being. And you will no longer see the son of the honourable tiller of the soil so ready to quit the noble calling of his forefathers, nor so ready to go and sully himself with the liveries and with the contempt of the man of wealth."
No one can find fault with democratic sentiment of this kind, nor with the generous commonplaces of the moralist, about virtue being the only claim to honour, and vice the only true source of shame and inferiority. But neither Diderot nor Voltaire ever allowed himself to flatter the crowd for qualities which the crowd can scarcely possess. The little article on Multitude seems merely inserted for the sake of buffeting unwarranted pretensions. "Distrust the judgment of the multitude in all matters of reasoning and philosophy; there its voice is the voice of malice, folly, inhumanity, irrationality, and prejudice. Distrust it again in things that suppose much knowledge or a fine taste. The multitude is ignorant and dulled. Distrust it in morality; it is not capable of strong and generous actions; it rather wonders at such actions than approves them; heroism is almost madness in its eyes. Distrust it in the things of sentiment; is delicacy of sentiment so common a thing that you can accord it to the multitude? In what then is the multitude right? In everything, but only at the end of a very long time, because then it has become an echo, repeating the judgment of a small number of sensible men who shape the judgment of posterity for it beforehand. If you have on your side the testimony of your conscience, and against you that of the multitude, take comfort and be assured that time does justice." It is far from being a universal gift among men of letters and others to unite this fastidious estimation of the incapacity of the crowd in the higher provinces of the intellectual judgment, with a fervid desire that the life of the crowd should be made worthy of self-respecting men.
The same hand that wrote the defiance of the populace that has just been quoted, wrote also this short article on Misery: "There are few souls so firm that misery does not in the long run cast them down and degrade them. The poor common people are incredibly stupid. I know not what false dazzling prestige closes their eyes to their present wretchedness, and to the still deeper wretchedness that awaits the years of old age. Misery is the mother of great crimes. It is the sovereigns who make the miserable, and it is they who shall answer in this world and the other for the crimes that misery has committed."
So far as the mechanism of government is concerned, Diderot writes much as Montesquieu had done. Under the head of Representants he proclaims the advantages, not exactly of government by a representative assembly, but of assisting and advising the royal government by means of such an assembly. There is no thought of universal suffrage. "It is property that makes the citizen; every man who has possessions in the state is interested in the state, and whatever be the rank that particular conventions may assign to him, it is always as a proprietor; it is by reason of his possessions that he ought to speak, and that he acquires the right of having himself represented." Yet this very definite statement does not save him from the standing difficulty of a democratic philosophy of politics. Nor can it be reconciled in point of logic with other propositions to which Diderot commits himself in the same article. For instance, he says that "no order of citizens is capable of stipulating for all; if one order had the right, it would very soon come to stipulate only for itself; each class ought to be represented by men who know its condition and its needs; these needs are only well known to those who actually feel them." But then, in that case, the poorest classes are those who have most need of direct representation; they are the most numerous, their needs are sharpest, they are the classes to which war, consumption of national capital and way of expending national income, equal laws, judicial administration, and the other concerns of a legislative assembly, come most close. The problem is to reconcile the sore interests of the multitude with the ignorance and the temper imputed in Diderot's own description of them.
An interesting study might be made, if the limits of our subject permitted such a digression, on the new political ideas which a century's experience in England, France, Germany, the American Union, has added to the publicist's stock. Diderot's article on the Legislator is a curious mixture of views which political thinkers have left behind, with views which the most enlightened statesmen have taken up. There is much talk after the fashion of Jean Jacques Rousseau about the admirable legislation of Lycurgus at Sparta, the philosophical government of the great empire of China, and the fine spirit of the institutions of Peru. We perceive that the same influences which made Rousseau's political sentimentalism so popular also brought even strong heads like Diderot to believe in the unbounded power of a government to mould men at its will, and to impose institutions at discretion. The idea that it is the main function of a government to make its people virtuous, is generally as strong in Diderot as it was in Rousseau, and as it became in Robespierre. He admires the emperors of China, because their edicts are as the exhortation of a father to his children. All edicts, he says, ought to instruct and to exhort as much as they command. Yet two years after the Encyclopaedia was finished (1774), when Turgot prefaced his reforming edicts by elaborate and reasoned statements of the grounds for them, it was found that his prefaces caused greater provocation than the very laws that they introduced.
Apart from the common form of enthusiasm for the "sublime legislation" of countries which the writer really knew nothing about, the article on the Legislator has some points worth noticing. We have seen how Diderot made the possession of property the true note of citizenship, and of a claim to share in the government. But he did not pay property this compliment for nothing. It is, he says, the business of the legislator to do his best to make up to mankind for the loss of that equality which was one of the comforts that men surrendered when they gave up the state of nature. Hence the legislator ought to take care that no one shall reach a position of extreme opulence otherwise than by an industry that enriches the state. "He must take care that the charges of society shall fall upon the rich, who enjoy the advantages of society." Even those who agree with Diderot, and are ready to vote for a graduated income-tax, will admit that he comes to his conclusion without knowing or reflecting about either the serious arguments for it, or the serious objections against it.
What is really interesting in this long article is its anticipation of those ideas which in England we associate with the name of Cobden. "All the men of all lands have become necessary to one another for the exchange of the fruits of industry and the products of the soil. Commerce is a new bond among men. Every nation has an interest in these days in the preservation by every other nation of its wealth, its industry, its banks, its luxury, its agriculture. The ruin of Leipsic, of Lisbon, and of Lima has led to bankruptcies on all the exchanges of Europe, and has affected the fortunes of many millions of persons." In the same spirit he foresees the decline of patriotism in its older and narrower sense, and the predominance of the international over the national sentiment. "All nations now have sufficiently just ideas of their neighbours, and consequently they have less enthusiasm for their country than in the old days of ignorance. There is little enthusiasm where there is much light; enthusiasm is nearly always the emotion of a soul that is more passionate than it is instructed. By comparing among all nations laws with laws, talents with talents, and manners with manners, nations will find so little reason to prefer themselves to others, that if they preserve for their own country that love which is the fruit of personal interest, at least they will lose that enthusiasm which is the fruit of an exclusive self-esteem."
Yet Diderot had the perspicacity to discern the drawbacks to such a revolution in the conditions of social climate. "Commerce, like enlightenment, lessens ferocity, but also, just as enlightenment takes away the enthusiasm of self-esteem, so perhaps commerce takes away the enthusiasm of virtue. It gradually extinguishes the spirit of magnanimous disinterestedness, and replaces it by that of hard justice. By turning men's minds rather to use than beauty, to prudence rather than to greatness, it may be that it injures the strength, the generosity, the nobleness of manners."
All this, whether it comes to much or little, is at least more true than Diderot's assurance that henceforth for any nation in Europe to make conquests must be a moral impossibility. Napoleon Bonaparte was then a child in arms. Whether his career was on the whole a fulfilment or a contradiction of Diderot's proposition, may be disputed.
And so our sketch of the great book must at length end. Let us make one concluding remark. Is it not surprising that a man of Diderot's speculative boldness and power should have failed to rise from the mechanical arrangement of thought and knowledge, up to some higher and more commanding conception of the relation between himself in the eighteenth century, or ourselves in the nineteenth, and all those great systems of thought, method, and belief, which in various epochs and over different spaces of the globe have given to men working answers to the questions that their leading spirits were moved to put to themselves and to the iron universe around them? We constantly feel how near Diderot is to the point of view that would have brought light. We feel how very nearly ready he was to see the mental experiences of the race in east and west, not as superstition, degradation, grovelling error, but as aspects of intellectual effort and aspiration richly worthy of human interest and scientific consideration, and in their aim as well as in their substance all of one piece with the newest science and the last voices of religious or anti-religious development. Diderot was the one member of the party of Philosophers who was capable of grasping such a thought. If this guiding idea of the unity of the intellectual history of man, and the organic integrity of thought, had happily come into Diderot's mind, we should have had an Encyclopaedia indeed; a survey and representation of all the questions and answers of the world, such as would in itself have suggested what questions are best worth putting, and at the same time have furnished its own answers.
For this the moment was not yet. An urgent social task lay before France and before Europe; it could not be postponed until the thinkers had worked out a scheme of philosophic completeness. The thinkers did not seriously make any effort after this completeness. The Encyclopaedia was the most serious attempt, and it did not wholly fail. As I replace in my shelves this mountain of volumes, "dusky and huge, enlarging on the sight," I have a presentiment that their pages will seldom again be disturbed by me or by others. They served a great purpose a hundred years ago. They are now a monumental ruin, clothed with all the profuse associations of history. It is no Ozymandias of Egypt, king of kings, whose wrecked shape of stone and sterile memories we contemplate. We think rather of the gray and crumbling walls of an ancient stronghold reared by the endeavour of stout hands and faithful, whence in its own day and generation a band once went forth against barbarous hordes, to strike a blow for humanity and truth.
SOCIAL LIFE (1759-1770).
Any one must be ignorant of the facts who supposes that the men of the eighteenth century who did not believe in God, and were as little continent as King David, were therefore no better than the reckless vagabonds of Grub Street. Diderot, after he had once settled down to his huge task, became a very orderly person. It is true that he had an attachment to a lady who was not his wife. Marriage was in those days, among the courtiers and the encyclopaedic circle, too habitually regarded as merely an official relation. Provided that there was no official desertion, and no scandal, the world had nothing to say. Diderot was no worse than his neighbours, though we may well be sorry that a man of his generous sympathies and fine impulse was no better than his neighbours. Mademoiselle Voland, after proper deduction made for the manners of the time, was of a respectable and sentimental type. Her family were of good position; she lived with her mother and sisters, and Diderot was on good terms with them all. We have a glimpse of the characteristics of the three ladies in a little dialogue between Diderot and some one whom he met, and who happened to have made their acquaintance. "He informed me that he had passed three months in the country where you are.—Three months, said he, is more than one needs to go mad about Madame Le Gendre.—True, but then she is so reserved.—I scarcely know any woman with such an amount of self-respect.—She is quite right.—Madame Voland is a woman of rare merit.—Yes, and her eldest daughter?—She has the cleverness of a very devil.—She is very clever, no doubt; but what I especially like is her frankness. I would lay a wager that she has never told a voluntary lie since she came to years of discretion." The relations between Diderot and Sophie Voland were therefore not at all on the common footing of a low amour with a coarse or frivolous woman of the world. All the proprieties of appearance were scrupulously observed. Their mutual passion, though once not wholly without its gallantries, soon took on that worthy and decorous quality into which the ardour of valiant youth is reluctantly softened by middle age, when we gravely comfort it with names of philosophical compliment.
One of the most interesting of all the documentary memorials of the century is to be found in the letters which Diderot wrote to Mademoiselle Voland. No doubt has ever been thrown on the authenticity of these letters, and they bear ample evidence of genuineness, so far as the substance of them is concerned, in their characteristic style. They were first published in 1830, from manuscripts sold to the bookseller the year before by a certain French man of letters, Jeudy-Dugour by name. He became a naturalised Russian, changed his name to Gouroff, and died in the position of councillor of state and director of the university of St. Petersburg. How he came by any papers of Diderot it is impossible to guess. It is assumed that when Mademoiselle Voland died her family gave his letters and other papers back to Diderot. These, along with other documents, are supposed to have been given by Diderot to Grimm. Thence they went to the Library of the Hermitage at St. Petersburg. Whether Jeudy-Dugour sold copies or originals, and whether he made the copies, if copies they were, from the Library, which was, however, rigorously closed during the reign of Nicholas I., are literary secrets which it is impossible to fathom. So far as Diderot is concerned, some of the spirit of mystification that haunted literature in the eighteenth century still hovers about it in the nineteenth. This we shall presently find in a still more interesting monument of Diderot than even his letters to Mademoiselle Voland.
They are not a continuous series. It was only when either Diderot was absent from Paris, or his correspondent was away at her mother's house in the country, that letter-writing was necessary. Diderot appears to have written to her openly and without disguise. The letters of Mademoiselle Voland in reply were for obvious reasons not sent to Diderot's house, but under cover to the office of Damilaville, so well known to the reader of Voltaire's correspondence. Damilaville was a commissioner in one of the revenue departments, and it is one among many instances of the connivance between authority and its foes, that most of the letters and packets of Voltaire, Diderot, and the rest of the group, should have been taken in, sent out, guarded, and franked by the head of a government office. The trouble that Damilaville willingly took in order to serve his friends is another example of what we have already remarked as the singular amiability and affectionate solicitude of those times. "Think of Damilaville's attention," says Diderot on one occasion: "to-day is Sunday, and he was obliged to leave his office. He was sure that I should come this evening, for I never fail when I hope for a letter from you. He left the key with two candles on a table, and between the two candles your little letter, and a pleasant note of his own." And by the light of the candles Diderot at once wrote a long answer.
We need not wonder if much is said in these letters of tardy couriers, missing answers, intolerable absences, dreary partings, delicious anticipations. All these are the old eternal talk of men and women, ever since the world began; without them we should hardly know that we are reading the words of man to woman. They are in our present case only the setting of a curiously frank and open picture of a man's life.
It is held by some that one of the best means of giving the sense of a little fixity to lives that are but as the evanescent fabric of a dream and the shadow of smoke, is to secure stability of topographical centre by abiding in the same house. Diderot is one of the few who complied with this condition. For thirty years he occupied the fourth and fifth floors of a house which was still standing not long ago, at the corner of the Rue Saint Benoit by the Rue Taranne, in that Paris which our tourists leave unexplored, but which is nevertheless the true Paris of the eighteenth century. Of the equipment of his room we have a charming picture by the hand of its occupant. It occurs in his playful Regrets on My Old Dressing-gown, so rich in happy and delightful touches.
"What induced me to part with it? It was made for me; I was made for it. It moulded itself to all the turns and outlines of my body without fretting me. I was picturesque and beautiful; its successor, so stiff, so heavy, makes a mere mannikin of me. There was no want to which, its complaisance did not lend itself, for indigence is ever obsequious. Was a book covered with dust, one of the lappets offered itself to wipe the dust away. Did the thick ink refuse to flow from the pen, it offered a fold. You saw traced in the long black lines upon it how many a service it had rendered me. Those long lines announced the man of letters, the writer, the workman. And now I have all the mien of a rich idler; you know not who I may be. I was the absolute master of my old robe; I am the slave of my new one. The dragon that guarded the golden fleece was not more restless than I. Care wraps me about.
"The old man who has delivered himself up bound hand and foot to the caprices of a young giddypate, says from morning to night: Ah, where is my old, my kind housekeeper? What demon possessed me the day that I dismissed her for this creature? Then he sighs, he weeps. I do not weep nor sigh; but at every moment I say: Cursed be the man who invented the art of making common stuff precious by dyeing it scarlet! Cursed be the costly robe that I stand in awe of! Where is my old, my humble, my obliging piece of homespun?
"That is not all, my friend. Hearken to the ravages of luxury—of a luxury that must needs be consistent with itself. My old gown was at one with the things about me. A straw-bottomed chair, a wooden table, a deal shelf that held a few books, and three or four engravings, dimmed by smoke, without a frame, nailed at the four corners to the wall. Among the engravings three or four casts in plaster were hung up; they formed, with my old dressing-gown, the most harmonious indigence. All has become discord. No more ensemble, no more unity, no more beauty.