Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

processions, and cavalcades, abbés turn shepherds, and shepherdesses, without sheep, indulge their innocent divertimenti !*

The Filosofi are entirely different from the former. As those pretend to have got their knowledge from conversing with the living and polite, so these boast of having theirs from books and study. Bred up all their lives in colleges, they have there learned to think in track, servilely to follow the leader of their sect, and only to adopt such opinions as their universities, or the inquisition, are pleased to allow. By these means, they are behind the rest of Europe in several modern improvements; afraid to think for themselves; and their universities seldom admit opinions as true, til universally received among the rest of mankind. In short, were I to personize my ideas of learning in this country, I would represent it in the tawdry habits of the stage, or else in the more homely guise of bearded school philosophy.t

* ["Perhaps, while I am writing, a shepherdess of threescore is listening to the pastoral lute of a French abbé: a warm imagination might paint her in all the splendor of ripened beauty, reclining on a pasteboard rock; might fancy her lover, with looks inexpressibly tender, ravishing a kiss from the snowy softness of one of her hands, while the other holds a crook according to pastoral decorum. Amidst such frippery as this, there was no place for friendless Metastasio ; he has left Italy, and the genius of nature seems to have left it with him."--First edit.]

+(Goldsmith is not singular in thinking that the literary character of Italy has declined ; that the pursuits of many of its men, not deficient in talents and erudition, are beneath their powers, if not absolutely frivolous, and that this declination is not of recent date. An eminent writer contrasts the age of Lorenzo de' Medici with even the following century: “when by an overstrained attention to the beauty of language the importance of the subject was frequent. ly neglected or forgotten, and the talents of the first men of the age, being de. voted rather to words than to things, were overwhelmed in a prolixity of language, that in the form of letters, orations, and critical dissertations, became the opprobrium of literature, and the destruction of true taste.”Roscoe's Lorenzo de' Medici, vol. ii. p. 156.)

CHAPTER V.

OF POLITE LEARNING IN GERMANY.

If we examine the state of learning in Germany, we shall find that the Germans early discovered a passion for polite literature; but unhappily, like conquerors, who, invading the dominions of others, leave their own to desolation, instead of studying the German tongue, they continue to write in Latin. Thus, while they cultivated an obsolete language, and vainly labored to apply it to modern manners, they neglected their own.

At the same time also, they began at the wrong end, I mean by being commentators; and though they have given many instances of their industry, they have scarcely afforded any of genius. If criticism could have improved the taste of a people, the Germans would have been the most polite nation alive. We shall nowhere behold the learned wear a more important appearance than here; nowhere more dignified with professorships, or dressed out in the fopperies of scholastic finery. However, they seem to earn all the honors of this kind which they enjoy. Their assiduity is unparalleled; and did they employ half those hours on study which they bestow on reading, we might be induced to pity as well as praise 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 never would write folios.*

*[“ Miles Davies has given his opinion of the advantages of little books with some wit and humor. • A big book,' he says, 'is a scarecrow to the head and pocket of the author, student, buyer, and seller, as well as a harbor of ignorance; hence the inaccessible masteries of the inexpugnable ignorance and superstition of the ancient heathens, degenerate Jews, and of the popish schoolmasters and canonists intrenched under the frightful bulk of huge, vast, and innumerable volumes ; such as the great folio that the Jewish rabbins fancied in a dream was given by the angel Raziel to his pupil Adam, containing all the celestial sciences, &c.”-D'ISRAELI.)

But let the Germans have their due; if chey are dull, no nation alive assumes a more laudable solemnity, or better understands all the decorums of stupidity. Let the discourse of a pro. fessor run on never so heavily, it cannot be irksome to his dozing 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 neighboring countries, it would have rendered the name of the donor immortal, and added to the real interests of society.*

* ["But let me cease from censure, since I have here so fine an opportunity

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 althcugh

he 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 a metropolis, but chosen front 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 nowhere 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 experiment, most frequently terminated by no resulting phenomena. 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

of praise. Even in the midst of Germany, true learning has found an asylum, and taste and genius have been på ronized by a prince, who,” &c.—First edit.

which, with a contempt of all collateral assistance, admits of members skilled in one science only, whatever their diligence or labor may be, will lose much time in the discovery of such truths as are we i 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 Society of London, the greatest, and perhaps 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 candor must allow there is but too much foundation. But the Berlin academy is subject to none of all these inconveniences, 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, un

« AnteriorContinuar »