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Abruptness, however, may be considered a distinguishing characteristic of the work before us. The author has aimed straight at the object in view, namely, a history of the deeds of his ancestor. With this intent he strikes into the commencement of his story without a word of introduction, and goes from incident to incident with no other interruption than occasionally a pathetic appeal to the justice of the conquerors. But, as we have said, beauty of composition is not requisite in a work of this description. Robertson and others have eloquently described the war, and the Spanish writers have lent it the aid of poetic diction : but Ixtlilxochitl has supplied a blank that all others had left, and has given a faithful detail of the actions and power of the allies, whom preceding historians had scarcely mentioned, and to whom the conquest of Mexico is mainly to be attributed.
Art. VI.-1, Cuvres complètes de J. J. Rousseau, avec des
Notes Historiques. 4 Tom. 8vo. Paris. 1837. 2. Euvres de V. Hugo. 11 Tom. 8vo. Bruxelles. 1840. 3. uvres de George Sand. 11 et demi Tom. 8vo. Bruxelles.
1840. NOTHING once cast into the wide abyss of time is ever lost. This observation, which ought in this age to have become a truism, is equally correct in all its manifold bearings, whether physical, spiritual, moral or political, and perhaps even more so in the three latter than in the first. Theories however abstract, unless violently checked at first, will not only reach their highest degree of developement, and go far beyond what their authors intended, but they will also clothe themselves in palpable living forms: for this is an integral part of their nature. They will even in process of time become, as it were, whole nations, and muster forth mighty legions, which in most cases will “ shoot black horror" into the fair abode of man. The ancients, who knew many things much better than we do now, aware of the wonderful or fatal power of human speech, worshipped, by way of palliation, the idol of Silence. However objectionable any idol worship may be, still that of Silence was by far preferable to the idol of Mammon, “the least erected spirit that fell from Heaven;" or to the idol of Scribbling, both of which are adored by the present generation. For our own parts, we are well inclined to go so far as to propose the re-establishment of the worship of Silence; being entirely of the opinion of a contemporary of ours, who laments that in this age every body writes, and nobody takes the trouble of thinking. From so corrupt a source many evils must necessarily spring up in the appointed hour; as is already the case amongst our French neighbours, who, together with all continental Europe, would have been spared “ a universe of death" had their so-called philosophes of the last century, the heroes of the Encyclopedia, worshipped the idol of Silence, and bethought themselves well of what they were about to do, before they made use of their envenomed tongue.
In order to trace the origin of the unbelief and sophistry which spread so generally during the last century amongst all classes of society, from the philosophising prince on the throne to the proletaire, it will be sufficient to catch the thread of that opinion at one extremity of Europe, by which to uuravel the intricate web of the whole system. Take France for Europe, Paris for France, and for Paris one saloon, that of the Baron d'Holbach, the focus of that philosophy, whence, as from a centre, it spread far and wide, blasting, like the Roman mal-aria, whatever it met with on its way—religion, morals, generous sentiments, and every venerable social custom. The respective characters of the frequenters (les habitués) of this saloon, their station in society, their mutual relations, are reflected in every part of their doctrine. It may be said indeed that the drama enacted by these heroes of the Encyclopedia was framed with strict accuracy as regards the scene of action, the time and the dramatis personæ. A few characters sufficed for the plot. The chief character, the monarch of the piece, was Voltaire, a man of genius, but of a malignant and scornful disposition;—a philosopher who looked askance on nature, though a favourite of fortune; an open enemy of Christianity, though he had never suffered persecution in Christian countries; a destroyer of the monarchical principle, and yet finding admirers and friends amongst crowned heads; scorning at nobility and birth, and yet servile to the great and covetous of the prerogatives which it was his trade to bring into contempt. Voltaire was the personification of that superficial, unprincipled sect of reformers who depreciate what others possess from lust to appropriate it to themselves ; in short, of that egotism and materialism which were the Alpha and Omega of French philosophy in the eighteenth century, disguised under the long toga of the philosophers of ancient times. Besides this idol of the Salon d'Holbach, who, whether present or absent, always presided there in spirit, the daily company was made up of Diderot, an enthusiast by nature, a cynic and a sophist by profession; of d'Alembert; of the malicious Marmontel; of the philosopher Helvetius, proud of dining with gentlemen and ladies of bon ton; of the would-be sentimentalist Grimm; and finally of the baron himself, the host of la raison encyclopedique. Secondary parts were taken by affiliated members, such as Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Walpole, and Tronchin, a Swiss. The female characters were acted by ladies whose respective saloons were so many offices for the sale of wit. These were Mesdames Geoffrin, Du Deffand, and Mlle. de l'Espinasse-the admirers of Ninon de l'Enclos, the modern Aspasia. Mesdames d'Houdetôt and de l'Epinnai, la belle et bonne, had the more sentimental parts allotted to them. Frederick the Great was the Mars of the piece. The chorusses were easily got up of the women and idlers wandering in the streets of Paris, or of any other capital; and amongst them were even some aristocrats and courtiers, who considered it bon ton and a pleasant pastime to ridicule their own privileges, little suspecting that all this would one day lead to a serious result. Finally the spectators, and enthusiastie spectators too, of this drama, were the whole population of France, rushing rapidly, though unconscious of it, into a most horrible revolution.
Whilst the sect d'Holbach were preaching with unheard-of arrogance their dogmas of materialism and atheism, they discovered one day, to their great astonishinent, a false brother amongst them, a heretic to their new creed. This heretic was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Having with great difficulty emerged from the most obscure condition, being already forty years of age, poor and timid, he arrived in Paris a perfect stranger, and soon came in contact with some adepts of the sect d'Holbach. He was drawn towards them no less by his large sympathies of literary plebeism than by being in common with them of a low origin, in a capital of aristocracy and monarchy. But these ties were broken on the appearance of the first work of Rousseau, in which the d'Holbach coterie at once detected a spirit hostile to their own. They flattered themselves that they had tuned the opinion of all Europe to their philosophical strain, when suddenly they beard a voice proceed from amongst themselves, the strange sound of which struck them with horror. Their conduct towards him was at first full of cuvning, such as well beseemed the French philosophers of the eighteenth century. They did not cast off the mask of friendship, but endeavoured rather to destroy his talent in the bud. They resolved, by directing the sensitive mind of the enthusiast, to convert to their own use its weakness and aberration. Accordingly it was decreed amongst them that Rousseau should act the part of the clown of the English stage. They skilfully confirmed hiin in his misanthropic mood, and used every means to drive him into a most audacious cynicism. But when in spite of their baneful influence, the genius of Rousseau rose by its own energy, and shone bright through the clouds of gloom in which
they had involved him, and when his opinions proved more and more inimical to the tenets of their sect, their malignity burst forth, and from pretended friends they declared themselves his irreconcileable enemies. Had the Holy Inquisition been in the bands of these enemies of the Catholic Church, Rousseau would have been an auto-da-fè. “Ardent missionaries of atheisin,” says he," and very imperious dogmatists, they could not bear without anger that upon any point whatever a man should dare to think otherwise than themselves.”* Rousseau was worthy to fall a martyr to the fanatical egotism of these honey-tongued tyrants. His native profound genius overleapt at one bound the narrow limits of their doctrine. His heart, no less than his understanding, forced him to acknowledge that religion, of which they presumed to speak irreverently, as the foundation-stone of all morality and truth. He perceived at once the fatal results which the dissolute morals, and contempt of every duty and virtue, inculcated by the new philosophy, must inevitably produce. He predicted to them, at the very moment when they had reached the zenith of their success, the epoch when their fame and philosophy should be scattered to the winds. Rousseau in fact was in advance of bis age: he forms the first link of that spiritual philosophy which was destined to overthrow the materialism of the eighteenth cen. tury. Philosophers and poets after him combatted materialism, but they came in their appointed time; he was before his. From this cause, notwithstanding his great genius and good intentions, sprung many of his sophisms and errors, as also the envy which he excited and the persecution which he suffered and the misfortunes which persecuted him even to the grave.
Thrown into the midst of a society of unbelievers, who repudiated the idea of the divine origin of any institution, he discovered one day with amazement and terror that not an individual amongst them either believed, or felt, or thought like himself. He had thus no alternative left him but to fancy himself mad, or to arm himself as with “triple steel” with the faith which, for his misfortune, he did not possess in full measure. Plato, who himself lived in an age of sophists and unbelievers, said, that a man under similar circumstances could not be saved without a miracle, and that his very virtues would be the means of his destruction, “ For,” adds he," man can weither become great nor good without a great and good society to nurture bim.”+ But, on the other hand, ihis untimely appearance of Rousseau--the source of his errors and misfortunes--makes of his life and memory one of the most touching and sublime episodes in the spiritual history of
man. His eloquent commendation of good morals and of domestic virtues in an age of philosophical profligacy ;-his secret partiality for religious sentiments when boastful impiety was rife ;—his deep reverence for the Gospel and its divine Author at the time that the most blasphemous aspersions of Christianity teemed around him ;—whilst they show the depth of his intellectual capacity, have in themselves something pathetic and sublime.
“.... He kept his love, bis zeal;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
Though single It is as though we heard in a strange country some one just voice, pleading for those whom we love in our far distant native land. It ought not therefore to excite wonder that, according to the testimony of Rousseau himself,* some enlightened members of our Established Church, seeing in him the only defender of Deism, in the midst of the general Atheism that prevailed throughout France, were inclined to consider as a believer, the eloquent and persecuted philosopher, the citizen of that Geneva whence issued the first reformers of our Church. With his eloquent, nay, according to a modern historian,t with the most eloquent voice ever vouchsafed to a mortal, he pleaded the cause of religion and truth; at least of what he sincerely believed to be so; and if his voice was like a voice in the empty wilderness, as respected his own times, it was not without its effect upon succeeding generations. As the tree is judged by its fruit, so let Rousseau be judged at least by one of his pupils—Chateaubriand, who, whilst wandering in the wild forests of America, found in the works of Rousseau not only a solace for his exile, but imbibed from them that deep religious sentiment by which he is distinguished above all his countrymen. Many individuals subsequently rallied around him, and a religious party was formed by which alone the destinies of France may perhaps be saved. Voltaire, on the contrary, and his followers, not only wrapt for a quarter of a century the whole of Europe in smoke and fame, but transmitted to posterity a yet greater curse;-the French literature of the present day, well denominated by a critic “ La Littérature Extravagante;" to which, the human mind has never yet produced any thing equally monstrous :
“ Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things
Rousseau's Letter to M. Peyrou, written from England 14th March, 1766. + Hören's Geschichte der neueren Zeit.