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government of a pacha, they may possibly be liars and evil disposed, but I cannot tell if they are slow of digestion : I sincerely hope however that they have sufficient to eat.
SOCIETY (ROYAL) OF LONDON, AND ACA
GREAT men have all been formed either before academies or independent of them. Homer and Phidias, Sophocles and Apelles, Virgil and Vitruvius, Ariosto and Michael Angelo, were none of them academicians. Tasso encountered only unjust criticism from the Academy della Crusca, and Newton was not indebted to the Royal Society of London for his discoveries in optics, upon gravitation, upon the integral calculus, and upon chronology. Of what use then are academies? To cherish the fire which great genius has kindled.*
The Royal Society of London was formed in 1660, six years before the French Academy of Sciences. It has no rewards like ours, but neither has it any of the disagreeable distinctions invented by the abbé Bignon, who divided the Academy of Sciences between those who paid, and honorary members who were not learned. The society of London being independent, and only self-encouraged, has been composed of members who have discovered the laws of light, of gravitation, of the aberration of the stars, the reflecting telescope, the fire engine, the solar microscope, and many other inventions, as useful as admirable. Could they have had greater men, had they admitted pensionaries or honorary members ?
* Scientific academies are still useful:-1. To hinder the public, and, above all, governments from being the dupes of pretenders in the sciences. 2. To execute certain labours, and undertake certain researches, the result of which will be of no utility until after the expiration of a considerable time, and which will produce little renown to those employed in these obscure labours, which require assiduity alone, and which prepare, for generations that follow, materials that lead to new discoveries.-French Ed.
The famous doctor Swift, in the last years of the reign of queen Anne, formed the design of establishing an academy for the English language, after the model of the Academie Française. This project was countenanced by the earl of Oxford, first lord of the treasury, and still more by lord Bolingbroke, secretary of state, who possessed the gift of speaking extempore in parliament with as much purity as doctor Swift composed in his closet, and who would have been the patron and ornament of this academy. The members likely to compose it were men whose works will last as long as the English language. Doctor Swift would have been one, and Mr. Prior, whom we had among us as a public minister, and who enjoyed a similar reputation in England to that of La Fontaine among ourselves. There were also Mr. Pope, the English Boileau, and Mr. Congreve, whom they call their Molière, and many more whose names escape my recollection. The queen however dying suddenly, the Whigs took it into their heads to occupy themselves in hanging the protectors of academies, a process which is very injurious to the belles-lettres. The members of this body would have enjoyed much greateradvantages
than were possessed by the first who composed the French academy. Swift, Prior, Congreve, Dryden, Pope, Addison, &c. had fixed the English language by their writings, whereas Chapelain, Colletet, Cassaigne, Faret, and Cotin, our first academicians, were a scandal to the nation; and their names have become so ridiculous, that if any author had the misfortune to be called Chapelain or Čotin at present, he would be obliged to change bis name.
Above all, the labours of the English academy would have materially differed from our own.
One day, a wit of that country asked me for the memoirs of the French academy. It composes no memoirs, I replied; but it has caused sixty or eighty volumes of compliments to be printed. He ran through one or two, but was not able to comprehend the style, although perfectly able to understand our best authors. All that I can learn by these fine compositions, said he to me, is, that the new member, having assured the body that his prede
cessor was a great man, cardinal Richelieu a very great man, and chancellor Seguier a tolerably great man. The president replies by a similar string of assurances, to which he adds a new one, implying that the new member is also a sort of great man; and as for himself, the president, he may also perchance possess a spice of pretension. It is easy to perceive by what fatality all the academical speeches are so little honourable to the body.“ Vitium est temporis, potius quam hominis.” It insensibly became a custom for every academician to repeat these eulogies at his reception; and thus the body imposed upon themselves a kind of obligation to fatigue the public.* If we wish to discover the reason why the most brilliant among the men of genius, who have been chosen of this body, have so frequently made the worst speeches, the cause may be easily explained. It is, that they have been anxious to shine, and to treat worn-out matter in a new way. The necessity of saying something; the embarrassment produced by the consciousness of
having nothing to say; and the desire to exhibit ability, are three things sufficient to render even a great man ridiculous. Unable to discover new thoughts, the new members fatigue themselves for novel terms of expression, and often speak without thinking; like men who, affecting to chew with nothing in their mouths, seem to eat while perishing with hunger. Instead of a law in the French academy to have these speeches printed, a law should be passed in prevention of that absurdity.
The Academy of Belles Lettres imposed upon itself a task more judicious and useful,—that of presenting to the public a collection of memoirs comprising the most critical and curious disquisitions and researches. These memoirs are already held in great esteem by foreigners. It is only desirable, that some subjects were treated more profoundly, and others not treated of at all. They might, for example, very well dispense
* This absurd practice has been gradually abolished, and it has recently been customary to confine this homage to a compliment to the predecessor, and the monarch protecting the academy. French Ed.
with dissertations upon the prerogative of the right hand over the left; and of other enquiries which, under a less ridiculous title, are not less frivolous. The Academy of Sciences, in its more difficult and useful investigation, embraces a study of nature, and the improvement of the arts; and it is to be expected, that studies so profound and perseveringly pursued, calculations so exact, and discoveries so refined, will in the end produce a correspondent benefit to the world at large.
As to the French Academy, what services might it not render to letters, to the language, and the nation, if, instead of printing volumes of compliments every year, it would reprint the best works of the age of Louis XIV. purified from all the faults of language which have crept into them !* Corneille and Molière are full of them, and they swarm in La Fontaine, Those which could not be corrected might at least be marked, and Europe at large, which reads these authors, would then learn our language with certainty, and its purity would be for ever fixed. Good French books, printed with care at the expense of the king, would be one of the most glorious monuments of the nation. I have heard say, that M. Despreaux once made this proposal, which has since been renewed by a man, whose wit, wisdom, and sound criticism, are generally acknowledged; but this idea has met with the fate of many other useful projects—that of being approved and neglected.
SOCINIANS, ARIANS, OR ANTI-TRINITARIANS.
THERE is in England a small sect, composed of ecclesiastics, and some very learned laymen, who take
This a truly French proposal ; all French writers, not even excepting Voltaire, are for reducing language to a standard, without reflecting that by so doing they would operate upon thought also. Such a reform as that proposed in the text would possibly be less injurious in the French ihan in any other language; but philosophy forbid its application to the standard works of England! To think of Shakspeare and Milton in the hands of such an academy-to say nothing of Dryden and Pope !--T.
120 SOCINIANS, ARIANS, OR ANTI-TRINITARIANS. neither the name of Arians, nor of Socinians, but who are altogether opposed to St. Athanasius on the subject of the Trinity, and who assert unequivocally, that the Father is greater than the Son.
You have heard of a certain orthodox bishop, who, in order to convince an emperor of consubstantiality, chucked the son of the emperor under the chin, and pulled his nose in the presence of his sacred majesty. The
emperor was about to throw the bishop out of the window, when the good man addressed to him this very pleasant and convincing speech;—“Sire, if your majesty is so angry at my failure in respect to your son, how do you think God will treat those who refuse to Jesus Christ the titles which are due to him?” The people of whom I speak say, that the holy bishop was very ill-advised; that his argument was anything but conclusive: and that the emperor should have replied to him,-Learn that there are two modes of failing in proper respect; the first is to be wanting in honour to my son, and the second to pay him the homage which is due to me.
However this may be, the party of Arius is beginning to revive in England, in Holland, and in Poland. The great Newton has done this opinion the honour to favour it. This philosopher was of opinion, that the Unitarians reasoned more geometrically than we do. The firmest patron of the Arian doctrine, however, was the illustrious doctor Clarke. This man of rigid virtue and gentle character, who loved his opinions better even than making proselytes, solely occupied in calculations and demonstrations, and blind to everything else, was a sort of reasoning machine. It is he who is the author of a book little read, but in some estimation, “Upon the Existence of God," and of another more intelligible, but much disregarded “On the Truth of the Christian Religion.” He did not engage in those refined and scholastic disputes which our friend calls venerable nonsense, but contented himself with causing a book to be printed, which contains all the testimonies of the early centuries, for and against