صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

their painful pre-eminence. But guilty of a fault too common to great readers, they write through volumes, while they do not think through a page. Never fatigued themselves, they think the reader can never be, weary; so they drone on, saying all that can be said on the subject, not selecting what may be advanced to the purpose. Were angels to write books they nerer would write folios.

But let the Germans have their due ;if they are dull, no nation alive assumes a more laudable solemnity, or better understands all the decorums of stupidity. Let the discourse of a professor run on never so heavily, it cannot be irksome to his dosing pupils, who frequently lend him sympathetic nods of approbation. I have sometimes attended their disputes at gradation. On this occasion they often dispense with their gravity, and seem really all alive. The disputes are managed between the followers of Cartesius, whose exploded system, they continue to call the new philosophy, and those of Aristotle. Though both parties are in the wrong, they argue with an obstinacy worthy the cause of truth; Nego, Probo, and Distinguo, grow loud; the disputants become warm, the moderator cannot be heard, the audience take part in the debate, till at last the whole hall buzzes with sophistry and error.

There are, it is true, several societies in this country, which are chiefly calculated to promote knowledge. His late majesty, as elector of Hanover, has established one at Gottingen, at an expense of not less than a hundred thousand pounds. This university has already pickled monsters, and dissected live puppies, without number. Their transactions have been published in the learned world, at proper intervals, since their institution ; and will, it is hoped, one day give them just reputation. But had the fourth part of

the immense sum above mentioned been given in proper rewards to genius, in some neighbouring countries, it would have rendered the name of the donor: immortal, and added to the real interests of society.

Yet it ought to be observed, that of late learning has been patronized here by a prince, who, in the humblest station, would have been the first of mankind. The society established by the king of Prussia, at Berlin, is one of the finest literary institutions, that any age or nation has produced. This academy, comprehends all the sciences, under four different classes; and although the object of each is different, and admits of being separately treated, yet these classes mutually influence the progress of each other, and concur in the same general design. Experimental philosophy, mathematics, metaphysics, and polite literature, are here carried on together. The members are not collected from among the students of some obscure seminary, or the wits of the metropolis, but chosen from all the literati of Europe, supported by the bounty, and ornamented by the productions of their royal founder. We can easily discern, how much such an institution excels any other now subsisting. One fundamental error among societies of this kind, is their addicting themselves to one branch of science, or some particular part of polite learning. Thus in Germany, there are no where so many establishments of this nature ; but as they generally profess the promotion of natural or medical knowledge, he who reads their Acta, will only find an obscure farago of experiments, most frequently terminated by no resulting phænomena.

To make experiments, is, I own, the only way to promote natural knowledge; but to treasure up every unsuccessful inquiry into nature, or to communicate every experiment without conclusion, is not to promote science, but oppress it.

Had the members of these societies enlarged their plans, and taken in art as well as science, one part of knowledge would have repressed any faulty luxuriance in the other, and all would have mutually assisted each other's promotion. Besides, the society which, with a contempt of all collateral assistance, admits of members skilled in one science only, whatever their diligence or labour may be, will lose much time in the discovery of such truths as are well known already to the learned, in a different line : consequently, their progress must be slow, in gaining a proper eminence from which to view their subject, and their strength will be exhausted, in attaining the station whence they should have set out. With regard to the Royal Soci. ety of London, the greatest, and aps the oldest institution of the kind, had it widened the basis of its institution, though they might not have propagated more discoveries, they would probably have delivered them in a more pleasing and compendious form. They would have been free from the contempt of the ill-natured, and the raillery of the wit, for which, even candour must allow, there is but too much foundation. But the Berlin academy, is subject to none of all these inconveniencies, but every one of its individuals, is in a capacity of deriving more from the common stock than he contributes to it, while each academician, serves as a check upon the rest of his fellows.

Yet, very probably, even this fine institution, will soon decay. As it rose, so it will decline, with its great encourager. The society, if I may so speak, is artificially supported; the introduction of foreigners of learning, was right; but in adopting a foreign language also, I mean the French, in which all the transactions are to be published, and questions debated : in this there was an error. As I have already hinted, the language of the natives of every country, should

be also the language of its polite learning. To figure in polite learning, every country should make their own language from their own manners ; nor will they ever succeed by introducing that of another, which has been formed from manners, which are different. Besides, an academy composed of foreigners, must still be recruited from abroad, unless all the natives of the country to which it belongs, are in a capacity of becoming candidates for its honours or rewards. While France, therefore, continues to supply Berlin, polite learning will flourish; but when royal favour is withdrawn, learning will return to its natural country.


Of polite learning in Holland, and some other countričs

of Europe.

[ocr errors]

HOLLAND, at first view, appears to have some pretensions to polite learning. It may be regarded as the great emporium, not less of literature, than of every other commodity. Here, though destitute of what may be properly called a language of their own, all the languages are understood, cultivated, and spoken. All useful inventions in arts, and new discoveries in science, are published here alınost as soon as at the places which first produced them. Its individuals have the same faults, however, with the Germans, of making more use of their memory, than their judgment. The chief employment of their literati, is to criticise, or answer the new performances, which appear elsewhere.

A dearth of wit in France or England, naturally produces a scarcity in Holland. What Ovid says of Echo, may be applied here, Nec loqui prius ipsa didicit nec reticere loquenti. They wait till something new comes out from others; examine its merits and reject it, or make it reverberate through the rest of Europe.

After all, I know not whether they should be allow. ed any national character for polite learning. All their taste is derived to them from neighbouring nations, and that in a language not their own. They somewhat resemble their brokers, who trade for immense sums without having any capital.

The other countries of Europe may be considered as immersed in ignorance, or making but feeble efforts to rise. Spain has long fallen from amazing Europe with her wit, to amusing them with the greatness of her catholic credulity. Rome considers her as the most favourite of all her children, and schooldivinity still reigns there in triumph. In spite of all attempts of the Marquis D'Ensanada, who saw with regret the barbarity of his countrymen, and bravely offered to oppose it, by introducing new systems of learning, and suppressing the seminaries of monastic ignorance, in spite of the ingenuity of Padrć Feio, whose book of vulgar errors so finely exposes the monkish stupidity of the times, the religious have prevailed. Ensanada has been banished, and now lives in exile ; Feio has incurred the hatred and contempt of every bigot whose errors he has attempted to oppose, and feels no doubt the unremitting displeasure of the priesthood. Persecution is a tribute the Great must ever pay for pre-eminence.

It is a little extraordinary, liowever, how Spain, whose genius is naturally fine, should be so much behind the rest of Europe in this particular ; or why school-divinity should hold its ground there for nearly

« السابقةمتابعة »