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(as cited by Stewart) say, that he 'began by believing nothing, and ended with believing every thing.'* He took revenge for his transient fit of scepticism by a subsequent most voracious dogmatism. In the former condition he was like a great boa constrictor in a state of inanition;-his throat looks as if it could swallow nothing; but no sooner does he begin to eat, than down go stags and goats,—horns and all!
Nothing is more evident, however, than that he was truly animated, both during his too doubtful 'doubts' and amidst all his sincere presumptions, by a most cordial and consuming thirst for truth. It was the wish, whether wisely or unwisely prosecuted, to lay a more solid foundation of opinions that led him to his transient scepticism; he felt nothing of what the genuine sceptic ever feels,a love of doubt itself, -a prejudice in favour of the 'nothing true.'
We heartily wish it could be added that Descartes' evidently intense desire of philosophic truth for himself was accompanied by an equal courage and frankness in proclaiming it to the world. But we fear it must be said that his moral greatness was somewhat behind his intellectual. He was deficient in magnaspiritibus animalibus. 4. De causâ somni.' On the last he observes that he thinks sleep is occasioned by a less active flow of 'animal spirits' into the brain, so as to fail to fill all its 'pores'; just as we see the sails of a ship collapse when the wind falls. It is not without reason that he closes by expressing a fear lest the tediousness of his letter should occasion sleep rather than account for it; though, as he is writing 'ad magnatem quendam,' he winds up like a courtier, by saying that he can never feel sleepy when he hopes he can do anything to gratify his Excellency.'
* D'Alembert does in effect say this; yet it must in fairness be added that the tone of the sentence, 'S'il a fini par croire tout expliquer, il a du moins commencé par douter de tout,' is apologetic, and occurs in the midst of an apology. So much depends on the very turn of a sentence !
nimity. Not only was there a little envy and jealousy of the fame of others, and now and then a little confusion as to the 'meum' and 'tuum' in asserting his claims to inventions and discoveries (as seen in the cases of Snellius and Pascal); but there was, and that throughout all his life, a dread of authority and a professed deference to its decisions amounting to pusillanimity. There cannot be a greater contrast than that between the independence of intellectual authority which is characteristic of his philosophy, and for which it is now so highly eulogised, and the obsequiousness of its author. He was at once the most audacious and the most timid of innovators. Like the ostrich, he deposited his eggs in the sand, and left it to the sun to hatch them. Nothing can be more absolute than his declaration of submission to the decrees of the Church, in the closing paragraph of his ' Principia';-'Nihil affirmo; sed hæc omnia Ecclesiæ Catholicæ auctoritati . . . submitto.' A similar deprecatory tone is found in his 'Meditations,' and in many passages of his letters; often even an unworthy alacrity in adopting any alterations or verbal compromises which may satisfy the criticism of bigotry.
Early taught caution by the persecution of Galileo, he suppressed, for a while, his system of the world; and when he did publish his physics, temporised on the subject of the Copernican theory with even a ludicrous vacillation: he was determined that the earth should move, and equally determined that it should stand still; it was to move to please himself, and it was to stand still to please the Church! Hence, also, his continual assertion of his purely hypothetical solutions of phenomena, when he evidently believes them the true ones. In short, he did as all men
in the same predicament are apt to do; practised the customary arts of reserve in the communication of knowledge,' whether 'religious,' or 'philosophical;' used venerable and familiar terms with an esoteric meaning; availed himself of little artifices of verbal conjuration, and affirmed in the letter what he denied in the spirit. Nothing is more amusing than the prudential directions to Regius, who had embraced Cartesian principles, and felt inclined, as Descartes thought, to hazard a too violent opposition to the venerable errors of the older philosophy *; nor is it possible to read, without a smile, perhaps it was not written without one, his submissive letter to the Sorbonne (prefixed to the Meditations'), in which he begs their patronage of a philosophy which, if fairly followed out, must blow them into the air. It is as though he had begged their kind acceptance of a small barrel of gunpowder, with a lighted match already attached to it.
Something, no doubt, is to be pardoned to his extreme love of quiet-the jealousy with which he regarded whatever threatened to break in upon that 'otium et tranquillitas,' for which he sought Holland, and of which he makes such frequent mention in his letters. But this cannot excuse his comparative apathy as to the progress of what he deemed truth, and still less his unmanly suppression or compromise
* ‘Vellem etiam quam maxime, ut nullas unquam novas opiniones proponeres, sed antiquis omnibus nomine tenus retentis, novas tantum rationes afferres; quod nemo posset reprehendere; et qui tuas rationes recte caperent, sponte iis ea quæ velles intelligi concluderent; ut de ipsis formis substantialibus, et qualitatibus realibus, quid opus tibi fuit eas palam rejicere? nunquid meministi me in meteoris editionis gallicæ expressissimis verbis monuisse ipsas nullomodo à me rejici, aut negari, sed tantummodo non requiri ad rationes meas explicandas?'
of it when distasteful to those in authority. He never seems to have got over the panic caused by the persecution of Galileo.
It is true that the persecutions which prompt unworthy and pusillanimous subterfuges on the part of philosophy, are infinitely more odious than the subterfuges themselves. Still it is humiliating to reflect that while almost any religion, however false, can animate multitudes of its votaries with inflexible courage, to suffer for it even to die for it,—scarcely any philosophy, however true, will inspire an equal enthusiasm. The apparent paradox, however, is easily explained; religion enters far more deeply into the human heart, and takes far stronger hold of its affections than philosophy ever did, will, or can; so that even religious error has usually more power to move human nature than philosophical truth. Hence, also, we may see the extreme folly of that conflict in which a false philosophy sometimes ventures to engage with religion, which it tauntingly pledges itself to overthrow and explode! Until philosophy can inspire her votaries with more magnanimity, even false religions would have little to fear even from a true philosophy; how much less has true religion from false philosophy! It is instructive to reflect that while the menace of persecution had power to make Galileo recant what he knew to be a most certain truth, and Descartes to refrain from expressing it, its fiercest fury has often been expended in vain on the votaries of the most abject superstition; simply because, superstition as it may be, it can do what philosophy rarely does take fast hold of man's conscience.
Descartes' knowledge and reading were extensive, but certainly far less so than those of many of his contemporaries--Bacon for example. Yet they were
greater than he cared to show; and it must be added that this reserve was not solely the effect of modesty. The benefits which he derived from authors and books he had not always the ingenuousness to acknowledge. It is true indeed that, like most original and inventive minds, he took greater delight in meditation than in acquisition in thinking for himself than in learning what others have thought. But there can be little doubt that Descartes was unduly anxious to impress the world with the idea of his self-derived intellectual wealth; a trait which was connected, as Leibnitz has repeatedly remarked, with a niggardly concession or even envious depreciation of the merits of others. When Pascal made his celebrated experiment in relation to the barometer, Descartes half insinuated he had first suggested it, declared he had long meditated it, and had intended to institute it.
This jealous disposition is still more painfully evident in the case of Snellius, whose title to the discovery of the constancy of the ratio of the refractive index for the same medium, is undoubted; Descartes having merely substituted the sines of the angles of incidence and refraction for a less convenient measure of those angles. Yet his name is not mentioned by Descartes when treating this subject, and it is a positive blot on his memory, The high honour of having bridged over the gulf between Algebra and Geometry must, as already said, be conceded to him; yet, whether his purely algebraical discoveries were not, to a great extent, due to Harriott remains a disputed point. 'The charge,' says Hallam, 'of plagiarism from Harriott was brought against Descartes in his lifetime : Roberval, when an English gentleman showed him the Artis Analytica Praxis, exclaimed eagerly, "Il l'a vu! Il l'a vu!" It is also a very suspicious cir