صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

pher the Heathen mythology, and reconcile it to the history of natural causes, may have rewarded the trouble of such prea paratory application, must be gathered from the work itself: of which we shall endeavour to give our readers a general idea of the contents and design.

It is remarkable, (says Mr. Boulanger) that in turning over the histories both of ancient and modern times, we find almost every people upon earth possessed of traditions, concerning some extraordinary changes which have formerly happened in nature. Some tell us of deluges and inundations, that swept away the greater part of mankind; others of devouring confiagrations, equally destructive of our species ; and some even of alterations in the course of the sun, and the planets. These traditions, however dubious in regard to particulars, give sufficient cause in general for a suspicion, that there was a time when the face of things was very different from what it hath been for all known ages ; and that the physical revolutions of nature have given cause to as great variety of political revolutions in the state of society. The obscurity of these traditions, and the distance of time since the facts related are supposed to have happened, have rendered them very uninteresting to the generality of mankind. Nay so very indifferent are most persons with regard to such facts, that they not only call in question the reality, but even the possibility, of their having ever happened. What numbers, for instance, disbelieve entirely the relation of an universal deluge, an historical tenet which prevails only among the ignorant, who blindly adopt the traditions of their forefathers, or among those few of the learned who are accustomed to trace in nature itself, the evidence of its own history! The science of physics, is indeed become, with regard to the latter, as Fontenelle foresaw, a kind of theo'ogy; of whose principles and tenets they are the more tenacious, as here they seem to ground their faith on actual experience: and this will not easily admit of either scepticism or infidelity. We are not, however, to confound the naturalists with the populace. The latter believe, the former know. It is in their province therefore, to delineate the picture of those terrestrial revolutions, of which they every where meet with such undoubted proofs ; and to preserve their observations in the archives of the sciences, where they may serve as monuments of nature, to verify and correct historical relations : and may perhaps be themselves sometimes illustrated by tradition. This is the only method to discover that chain by which they are united, and to reconcile the precision of natural knowledge with the general history of faets.

. The most useful part of history, (says this author) is not A dry and barsen relation of particular manners, customs, and events; it is that which displays the general spirit of the times, or the circumstances wbich firit, established those customs and brought about such events. There must have been a motive for every established custom; which motive must be simply deduced from mere opinions or from facts ; nay even popular opinions themselves must be founded originally on facts. Eve‘ry custom therefore must have its particular history, or at least its particular fable ; as it must relate to some particular fact; and perhaps may have at the same tinic a secret connection with the general chain, that unites together all customs and all facts. The history of manners, therefore, joined to that of their motives, would only display a new method of writing the history of mankind. The difficulty of writing history in this method, Mr. Boulanger owns indeed to be extremely great ; but thinks it might be undertaken with success, if we recur no farther back than to a certain fact, whose verity is universally allowed. This fact he conceives to be the universal deluge; from the epoch of which he would set out, in tracing the natural and political history of mankind to the present times. • It is at the æra of the deluge, says he, that we must begin the history of society, and of all the nations now existing. If there be false and destructive religions in the world, we must recur to the deluge for their origin : if there be erroneous syftems of government, we must trace their source in the flood. In a word, it is to the deluge I jmpute all those numerous absurdities and incongruities in the manners, customs, and ceremonies, (moral, political, and religious) which prevail over the face of the earth : hinc prima mali labes.


As our author's plan is partly new, it will no doubt appear a little singular; but he says, it will seem exceptionable and paradoxical only to such as know not how to consider the globe we inhabit; or to those who cannot get rid of the prejudices acquired from the popular methods of writing and reading his. tory.

With regard to the present work, Mr. Boulanger seems to have intended it as a kind of introduction to a general history of man in a state of society; in which he hath attempted to withdraw that veil of time, which, he says, at present obscures and hides the face of true history. He hath divided his tract into four books; in the first of which he treats of the several institutions subsisting among different people, in commemoration of the general deluge. In the second, he treats of the funcreal solemnity that prevailed in the ancient festivals ; of the fecis of antiquity; and of the favage and erratic state «f the primitive societies, succeeding the deluge. Nothing can be more'mournful and deplorable, than the state in which mankind existed, according to our author, for many ages; their


[merged small][ocr errors]

religious services and ceremonies, thuogh very numerous, being full of fighs, tears, and mortifications : all which, Mr. Boulanger imputes to the forrowful remembrance that the deluge had left behind it. In this event, also, the ancient Pagans seem to have thought even the gods themselves to have been interested, and to have suffered by' it as well as man. Hence, says he, the reprehension of Zenophanes, recorded by Plutarch : when that philosopher observing the priests and the people in tears, he said to them, " Wherefore do you weep, if those whom you adore are really Gods ? or, if you thus bewail, them, why do you worship them as deities?' He observes, however, that the Gods of the ancient pagans were so little remov. ed in their ideas, above the condition of humanity, that it is no wonder they imagined even their deities affected by any confie derable revolution in the course of nature. It was for the same reason, doubtless, that they entertained the notion of the frequent intercourse of such deities with mankind, in the way of incarnation and personal appearance among them. A notion that encouraged numerous impostors, altho' the tenets they inculcated were not always immoral, or detrimental to society *. The doctrine of the great Fo, in particular, he observes to have been very sublime; as it teaches the annihilation of the man, in order to his being united to the deity. "Thou shalt abandon (said this pretended divinity) thy father and thy mother, to follow me: thou shalt forget thyself, and the gratification of thy own appetites, to pursue holiness in purity and perfection, and to arrive at eternal felicity.' But, notwithstanding the sublimity of the doctrines that were preached up by the sectaries of antiquity, it is confessed that their religious orders were over-run with vices and abuses, introduced, doubtless, by the ridiculous superstitions and fables, which were intermingled among the moral truths of their doctrines. This is the conftant effect of mysteries, and an affectation of talking in a strain superior to humanity. When man is desirous of fathoming unknown depths, or to raise himself above his natural sphere, he is soon obliged to descend again, and is often precipitated into the opposite extreme. Human nature is a middle state, to which men of the greatest genius and abilities, ought to confine both their wishes and expectations.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

It will admit of a doubt, however, whether doctrines that teach mankind to neglect themselves, to entertain a contempt for the things of this life, and to look upon it as a state of misery, be not among those whose natural tendency is detrimental to society. Perhaps human na. ture never displays so many virtues, as among those people who are caught to have a proper idea of their own dignity and importance in the creation, and who esteem their exislence here as no mean object in the fyftem of an all-wise and over-ruling Providence,


Among various absurd notions, which our author imputeś to the mournful ftate of primitivé fociety, was their aversion to the propagation of their species : hence, he conceives, arose the several institutions in civilized countries, in favour of celibacy; and the laws enacted to punish the breach of it. To the same destructive principles it is, that he attributes several customs, which have heretofore prevailed, and still prevail, in many of the savage nations. We are told by Strabo, that there were several societies of men in Thrace, who lived an austere life, without having any converse with women. The same historian tells us, that it was the custom among the Celteberians, for the husband to take to his bed, when his wife was delivered of a child; a custom which Diodorus Siculus says, prevailed in the island of Corsica; and, as we are told by modern travelJers, ftill prevails among some favage nations in Tartary and in America. Mr. Boulanger endeavours to account for this whimfical custom on the foregoing principle. It feems, says he, that we ought to look upon this behaviour in the husband, as a kind of penance, founded on his penitence and sorrow, for having occafioned the birth of a being of his own species. This conjecture, says he, seems to be not ill-founded, if we may credit what is advanced on this subject, in the 24th volume of the Lettres edifantes, where it is said, that the husband observes, in this case, a very severe fast, abstaining both from meat and drink, till he be very considerably emaciated. History affords us, he observes, still more cruel and extraordinary proofs of this averfion, in the primitive ages, to the propagation of out fpecies * ; which he conceives owes its preservation to an involuntary desire implanted in our nature ; a propensity that hath proved sufficiently powerful to counteract the melancholy ideas entertained by men terrified at the past misfortunes of the world.

Mr.Boulanger conceives farther, that the custom ofcircumcifion, practised by lo many various countries, and that of mutilation in use among the Hottentots, at first arose from the same principle ; but it is needless, says he, to hazard conjectures, wheni

: * In the island of Formosa, says he, no woman is permitted to be delivered of a live chid, till Me be feven and thirty years of age; a priestels procuring abortions to those who are pregnant before they arrive at that age. To this example, he adds that of the women inhabiting the banks of the river Oronooko ; of whom father Gumilla relates, that all the exhortations of the millionaries could not eradicate the barba. rous custom of murderirg their female children as soon as they were born ; a custom which they attemp?ed to justify by saying it was to prevent their future sufferings in life. We ose apprehensive the above authorities will be thought 100 fulpicious, to serve as proper foundation for the argumenis which our author atiempts to build on them.


we have so many undoubted testimonies of the disgust at life, which prevailed, or was openly affected at least, by the ancient nations.

In our author's third book, he treats of the Eleusinian, and other ancient mysteries, with the motives of their institution; of the Sybilline oracles, and of the astrological theology, or natural religion of antiquity.

In the fourth and last book, he treats of what he calls the Esprit Cyclique of antiquity, or the notions of the ancients regarding astronomical revolutions, and the approaching period of the world : of the moral and religious tenets to which those notions, gave rise, and the customs which prevailed accordingly. His observations on all these subjects are for the most .part novel and ingenious : but how far they are justified by authentic history, we pretend not to determine...

garding world ofile, and on all how far cho

Histoire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences et Belles Lettres de Berlin. The History of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Bellas

Lettres at Berlin, for the Year 1758. 4to. Berlin 1765.

M H E publication of the history of the academy of sciences

at Berlin, having been interrupted by the late war; the materials, arising from the constant application of its members, have accumulated to such a degree that the academy now propose to publish two volumes yearly till they make up the deficiency to the current year. In consequence of this resolution, we are promised, in the present publication, the speedy appearance also of the volume for the year 1764.

Our Readers will doubuless recollect the order in which the memoirs of this academy are published, agreeably to the four classes, into which it is itself divided ; viz. Physics or experimental Philosophy, geometry or the mathematics, metaphysics, or speculative philosophy, and literature or the Belles Lettres. : Under the first head, we have in the prefent volume, eight papers, the first, containing a chemical enquiry into the effects of the alkali of common iait on the regulus of antimony, by the celebrated Mr. Marggraff. It is well known that antimony is compounded of a metalline subftance that forms the regulus, and of sulphur: the separation of these two substances is effected by various methods, as by means of other metals, falt and alkaline earths. In the first case the metallic part of the antimony always retains some impurity, proceeding from the metal made use of in the separation ; in the others it comes out


« السابقةمتابعة »