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After declaring his respect for various branches of science and literature, the languages, history, eloquence, poetry, mathematics, theology, and at the same time his dissatisfaction with them all he thus speaks of philosophy.
Of philosophy I shall only say, that seeing it had been cultivated by the most powerful minds during many ages, and that, nevertheless, no single thing is to be found undisputed, and, consequently, which is not doubtful, I had not sufficient presumption to hope for better success than others; and that, considering how many different opinions may be held touching one and the same thing, all maintained by learned men, while it is not possible that there should be more than one true, I regarded nearly as false every thing which was only probable. For this reason, as soon as my age permitted me to escape from under my teachers, I quitted entirely the pursuit of learning, and resolving to seek no other science than that which might be found in myself, or rather in the great book of the world, I employed the rest of my youth in travel, in visiting courts and armies, in mingling with people of different humours and conditions, in collecting a varied experience, in making trial of myself in the situations in which fortune placed me, and in forming, perpetually, such judgments on what occurred as might be of advantage to me.
It is true that while employed only in considering the manners of other men, I scarcely found anything of which
the ably executed translation of the 'Method' (prefaced with a brief introduction), the title of which will be found at the head of this Article. In the short extracts we have given, we have used our own translation; not because we thought it better (unless it be as somewhat more literal), but because it was executed with a view to the possible requirements of this Article, long before the publication in question appeared. We are glad to find that the author proposes to add the translation of the Meditations' to that of the Method;' we would suggest that they should be accompanied by the 'Objections' and 'Replies.'
The Meditations' have since appeared.
I felt certain, and observed scarcely less diversity than I had before remarked in the opinions of philosophers; so that the greatest advantage I drew from it was, that seeing many things, which, however extravagant and ridiculous they may seem to us, are, nevertheless, commonly received and approved by other great nations, I learned not to think too positively of that of which I had been persuaded only by example and by custom; and thus I gradually liberated myself from many errors which have sufficient power to darken our natural light and incapacitate us from listening to reason. But after I had employed some years in thus studying the book of the world and in attempting to acquire some experience, I took one day a resolution of studying myself, and of employing all the force of my mind in determining those paths I ought to follow; which succeeded much better, it appears to me, than if I had never quitted my country or my books.'
We have here indications of that intensity and ardour with which Descartes pursued his philosophical vocation. It must be added in justice, that it was the pursuit of philosophical truth which thus animated him. It was not the stimulus or the pleasure of intense thought, not the luxury (for such it is to minds like his) of conscious activity of intellect, still less the vanity of intellectual distinction which thus possessed him; he evidently sighed, thirsted, panted for scientific and philosophic truth amidst those doubts and perplexities in which a retrospect of all previous speculation and his own profound meditations had involved him. Curious enough, this desire in the earlier period of his history was so fervent, that it transiently wrought in him some of the usual effects of a more vulgar enthusiasm, and made his reason the dupe of his imagination. Thus he himself tells us, that on one occasion (after prolonged meditation in absolute solitude-a tolerably sufficient explanation of the phenomenon) he had three dreams,
of so singular a character, that he could hardly avoid accepting them as an omen of success sent him from above! They occurred rather suspiciously, it is true, on a merry evening-St. Martin's Eve; but he gravely assures us that he went to bed perfectly sober. In the ordinary sense he no doubt was; but, as he tells us that he retired to rest in a rapture of hope at the first glimpses of the 'wonderful philosophy' he was meditating, he was, no question, intellectually as tipsy as ever nitrous oxide could have made him. Not only was he willing to accept an omen of success from these three dreams, but he superstitiously vowed a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin at Loretto, if she would but graciously smile upon his efforts! 'Philosophy,' a malicious wit might say, 'has often had its dreams, and at those we do not wonder; but who could have suspected it of being so devout?'
It is also affirmed by his biographers, that when a youth in Germany he sought to gain an introduction to the Rosicrusians, half hoping that they were as profound as they professed to be. He was even in some danger from evil 'tongues,' on account of his imputed intimacy with these illuminati. But he assured his friends, that when sought they had been true to their character, and had remained invisible.
Descartes' intense thirst for philosophic truth is also manifested in the patience with which he listened to objections to any part of his system, come from what quarter they might, and the strenuousness with which he endeavoured to meet them. His formal commission to Father Mersenne and others to obtain the remarks and criticisms of the most celebrated men in Europe on the unpublished manuscript of the 'Meditations,' is highly creditable to him. These
ample Objections,' and equally voluminous 'Replies,' fill considerably more than one volume out of the eleven, of which M. Cousin's edition of the entire works consists. But the same traits of character
appear as strikingly in his letters.
Any applications for information from any person, introduced or not, seem to have met with a courteous reception, and an endeavour, at least, to satisfy the querist. His correspondence, in this point of view, places his character as a man and a philosopher in a very amiable light. He maintains an almost uniform urbanity and dignity even when assailed with unworthy reproaches. Sometimes, indeed, he indulges in a quiet contempt of his opponents, and sometimes in a tone of unseemly arrogance; but there is at least none of the insolent scurrility so characteristic of the age. Only on one occasion do we recollect his dignity utterly failing him, and even then he contents himself with a transient sarcasm.*
But nothing proves more strongly Descartes' intense yearning for scientific truth his desire for something positive than that very scepticism (of which more hereafter) in which his philosophy originated. The reason of the initial doubt' itself,the impatience with which he endured it, and the precipitancy with which he proceeded to fill the void, -prove clearly enough that the mind of Descartes was anything but that of a sceptic. The doubt itself was avowedly only a preliminary to establishing a system of certainty, and was dictated by the hope of it. When we consider how brief that interval of scepticism was; its provisional character, even while
*Non est quod mittas cæteras ejus epistolas; habemus enim hic satis chartæ ad postremum usum ; ejus vero literæ ad hoc unum usui esse possunt.' (Epist. pars II. p. 214.)
it lasted; the temporary apparatus of quasi convictions, which were to supply the convictions thus nominally displaced; how rapidly the several deductions from the first and only unanswerable proposition,-'Je pense, donc je suis,'-conveniently follow one another; how increasingly precarious to the generality of minds are the successive links of the chain; how accelerated the speed with which he advances from one dogma to another, and that too precisely as the conclusions themselves become more doubtful, and the matter of investigation more difficult, it is easy to see the true character of Descartes' mind; that, in reality, it was much more nearly allied to dogmatism than to scepticism. He who had resolved to doubt of every thing except his own existence, even of his own body and its members, of all material objects, and of every other being but himself, ended in implicity receiving, by logical deductions of the most attenuated character, a series of most arbitrary and gratuitous assumptions in every department of philosophy. His theory of 'vortices;' the notion that the essence of matter is extension, and that therefore there is a universal plenum; that the seat of the soul is unquestionably the conarion, or pineal gland, for which his reasons are most exquisite ; that animals are destitute of all intelligence, and mere automata; that, had God so pleased, two and two might not have made four, and the three angles of a triangle have been not equal to two right angles, sufficiently prove that with him to believe was still more easy than to doubt.* Well might D'Alembert
* The reader may see in how concise a manner he disposes of some of the greatest mysteries of philosophy in one single letter. (Part I. p. 100.) Responsio ad quatuor quæstiones. 1. De causâ caloris in animalibus. 2. De causâ febris, ejusque horrore. 3. De