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cumstance, if true, as it appears to be, that Descartes was in England the year (1631) that Harriott's work appeared. Carcavi, a friend of Roberval, in a letter to Descartes in 1649, plainly intimates to him that he has only copied Harriott as to the nature of equations. (Euvres de Descartes, vol. x. p. 373.) To this accusation Descartes made no reply.
When charged with plagiarism, he so frequently affirmed ignorance of what had been written by others, that it could not but engender suspicion. Of Vieta, he said he had read little till after he had completed his own discoveries; of Galileo's writings, he hinted much the same. Descartes was happy in his discoveries; perhaps happy in what he read; but pre-eminently happy in what he did not read. It has been supposed by many, that an unworthy jealousy of Bacon is indicated in his comparative silence in relation to his great contemporary; but the suspicion seems to us unjust. So slight, however, are his references that M. Thomas, in his 'Eloge,' insinuates, on some unknown authorities, that Descartes had never perused the writings of Bacon; and Stewart, while combating the improbability of the assertion, himself shows that either he had not read the Letters or had forgotten Descartes' mention of Bacon in them; 'a solitary' mention of him, as some say: but, in fact, there are two references at least.
Both of the letters containing them are to Father Mersenne. From these it is evident that Descartes was acquainted with the philosophical writings of Bacon, and in neither reference does there appear anything of the spirit of depreciation. The former is, indeed, complimentary. In reply to his correspon
* Epist. tom. ii. Nos. 65. 67.
dent's wish to be told 'modum aliquem faciendi experimenta utilia,' Descartes says,-' Ad quod, nihil est quod dicam post Verulamium qui hac de re scripsit, nisi,' &c. Still, acquitting him of all jealousy in this instance, and further acknowledging that the vast interval between Bacon's system and his own (of which by and by) diminished the chances of frequent references, it is impossible not to feel that such a mind as that of Descartes could not peruse such a writer as Bacon without being deeply impressed with the amplitude of his stupendous genius, and that the scanty and meagre references to him are inadequate and ungraceful expressions of admiration. Something more ardent would assuredly have broken from a more frank and genial nature. How nobly cordial is the tone in which another great French philosopher, D'Alembert, speaks of Bacon. 'When one considers,' says he, the sound and enlarged views of this great man, the multitude of the objects to which his mind was turned and the boldness of his style, which unites the most sublime images with the most rigorous precision, one is disposed to regard him as the greatest, the most universal, and the most eloquent of philosophers.'
As Hallam has remarked, it is a formidable list of plagiarisms with which Leibnitz has taxed Descartes. The above critic has cited a part of the passage. The whole may be found in Leibnitzii Opera, tom. v. pp. 393-394. He sums up the long enumeration with the somewhat too severe remark, Descartes, as was long ago observed by learned men, and as is but too evident from his epistles, was an immoderate despiser of others, and, in his thirst for fame, did not abstain from artifices which it is impossible to regard as generous.' But it is an ungrateful subject, and we
care not to dwell on it. In Hallam*, the reader will find a characteristically calm and equitable statement of the imputed delinquencies. Mackintosh, too, has in an early volume of this Journal† touched on this subject in that comprehensive spirit of humanity which may well entitle him to be called the Melancthon of philosophical critics. 'Descartes,' says he, was among the unreading 'philosophers, who avoided books, lest they might stand between them and nature.' Nor must we in justice forget that when one asked Descartes, while pursuing his anatomical studies, where was his library? the philosopher contented himself with showing the querist a calf under dissection. It is also true, that when coincidences were pointed out between himself and others, he sometimes frankly acknowledged them. Thus he says to one of his correspondents, I am particularly obliged to you for those passages of Augustine, which serve to sustain my opinions by his authority. Some of my friends have pointed them out before, and I exceedingly rejoice that my thoughts should coincide with those of so pious and so eminent a man. For I am a stranger to the dispositions of those who are anxious that their opinions should seem new.' Few readers of Descartes, however, will agree in this last estimate of his character, or doubt that that great ethical text, 'Know thyself,' might still have been profitably pondered by him.
The style of Descartes has an indescribable charm; its perspicuity, whether he wrote in French or Latin, is even wonderful. His mastery of his native language, at least for philosophical purposes, the netteté
* Vol. iii. pp. 266–269.; and vol. iv. pp. 16-20.
† Vol. xxvii. p. 227.
of his style (the more remarkable as Pascal had not yet fully developed the resources of the French tongue and consecrated it to the uses of literature), render his compositions even now very agreeable reading. But the great charm, unquestionably, whether of his Latin or his French, is its inimitable clearness; and that is the effect of the clearness with which he usually thought. Not that we can deny (paradoxical though it may seem) that there is, as was the case with Locke, frequent unsteadiness in the use of particular terms at different times, and discrepant statements in different parts of his writings; and hence the disputes as to what was his precise theory of 'innate ideas,' as well as in relation to other subjects. This oscillation seems in part due to the fact that in the successive efforts to illustrate and explain his views, he sometimes modified them, without always having the magnanimity to say so; in part to his natural anxiety to diminish as much as possible the apparent interval between himself and his various critics- a disposition which often carries him further than perfect ingenuousness will warrant; and in part to that more deliberate and culpable spirit of compromise which his timidity dictated, and on which we have already animadverted. Still, for the most part, taking any single statement, all is lucid; the medium of ex pression is, as it ought to be, of most pure transparency. However deep down the thoughts may lie, the reader sees them as at the bottom of a clear stream. However abstract the subject, there is none of that haze and vagueness which we find in so many metaphysicians, especially of modern date; and which continually compel the reader to doubt whether he has got the author's meaning or not; or, what is even worse, partially to superinduce, as he reads on, a
meaning of his own on the mysterious symbols. This last process soon involves the mind in an impenetrable cloud; it being impossible to compound a clear sense out of a book to which we contribute only a halfmeaning of our own, and the author scarcely any meaning at all. One meets with no obstacle of this kind in Descartes; he does not give the unhappy reader eggs to hatch, or rather, egg-shaped stones, which the wretch is to sit upon in hopes of successful incubation. We often do not agree with him; we often doubt whether he agrees with himself; but whether we agree with him or not, we at least know in each single case what he means. However fallacious may be his criterion that 'whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived must be true,' it is evident that the reflex operation of this maxim on his own mind the constant attempt to attain definiteness of conception gave correspondent sharpness of outline to his expression; and to this, conjoined no doubt with the eminently mathematical character and habits of his intellect, must we attribute the admirable lucidity of his style.. It shows us what can be done even for the development of the most abstruse thoughts; and he who would be a great metaphysical writer would do well to revolve frequently the writings of Descartes.*
* It is much to the credit of the French that they seem fully disposed to do justice to the writings of this perhaps the greatest of their philosophers. The writings of Descartes have lately inspired or rather recovered a vivid interest, partly a cause, partly an effect of the salutary reaction from the long and deplorable ascendancy of the sensational philosophy: a happy omen! Within the last thirty years some of his most important works, namely, his Method' and his Meditations,' have been repeatedly reprinted. A neat little edition of the former, with a biographical preface, was published in 1824, and of the latter in 1825. Lately has appeared a cheap but handsome reprint of the 'Method' and