“Hazard presented arguments with clarity and passion.” —Justin Champion, The Times (London)
“[Hazard] displays a profound, and contagious, sympathy for the intellectual movement he describes.” —History Workshop Journal
The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715by Paul Hazard
Paul Hazard’s magisterial, widely influential, and beloved intellectual history offers an unforgettable account of the birth of the modern European mind in all its dynamic, inquiring, and uncertain glory. Beginning his story in the latter half of the seventeenth century, while also looking back to the Renaissance and forward to the future, Hazard traces… See more details below
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Paul Hazard’s magisterial, widely influential, and beloved intellectual history offers an unforgettable account of the birth of the modern European mind in all its dynamic, inquiring, and uncertain glory. Beginning his story in the latter half of the seventeenth century, while also looking back to the Renaissance and forward to the future, Hazard traces the process by which new developments
in the sciences, arts, philosophy, and philology came to undermine the stable foundations of the classical world, with its commitment to tradition, stability, proportion, and settled usage. Hazard shows how travelers’ tales and archaeological investigation widened European awareness and acceptance of cultural difference; how the radical rationalism of Spinoza and Richard Simon’s new historical exegesis of the Bible called into question the revealed truths of religion; how the Huguenot Pierre Bayle’s critical dictionary of ideas paved the way for Voltaire and the Enlightenment, even as the empiricism of Locke encouraged a new attention to sensory experience that led to Rousseau and romanticism. Hazard’s range of knowledge is vast, and whether the subject is operas, excavations, or scientific experiments his brilliant style and powers of description bring to life the thinkers who thought up the modern world.
“Hazard presented arguments with clarity and passion.” —Justin Champion, The Times (London)
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The Ferment Begins
To preserve existing conditions, to keep things firm and steady, to avoid any change that might disturb an equilibrium so miraculously attained - such was the paramount preoccupation of the Classical Age. There was peril in those questionings that vex the restless spirit. And not only peril, but folly to boot. For let a man rush off to the utmost limits of the globe, what will he find there but what he brings, that is to say, himself? And even if he found anything else,
would he not have wasted his mental and spiritual riches in the effort?
Far better that he should concentrate his powers, and focus them on those eternal questions which are certainly not to be solved by aimlessly flitting about from place to place. Seneca has it that the hall-mark of a well-regulated mind is that it can call a halt when it will, and dwell at peace within itself; while Pascal lays it down that all the ills that afflict a man proceed from one sole cause, namely, that he has not learnt to sit quietly and contentedly in a room.
The classical mind, with the consciousness of its strength, loves stability,
nay, if it could, it would be stability. Now that the Renaissance and the Reformation - big adventures these! - were over, the time had come for a mental stock-taking, for an intellectual
'retreat'. Politics, religion, society, art – all had been rescued from the clutches of the ravening critics. Humanity’s storm-tossed barque had made port at last.
Long might it stay there? Long! Nay, let it stay there for ever!
Life was now a regular, well-ordered affair. Why, then, go outside this happy pale, to risk encounters that might unsettle everything? The Great Beyond was viewed with apprehension; it might contain some uncomfortable surprises. Nay, Time itself they would have made stand still, could they have stayed its flight. At Versailles, the visitor got the impression that the very waters had been arrested in their course, caught and controlled as they were,
and sent skywards again, and yet again, as though destined to do duty forever.
In Part II of Don Quixote, Cervantes presents to us a gentleman in a green cloth riding-coat whom the Knight of the Rueful Countenance encounters on the road. The gentleman in question is making his way towards home, where comfort and good cheer, on a modest scale, await him. He is of some estate, though possessed of no great wealth. He spends his time with his wife, his children, and his friends.
His favourite diversions are shooting and fishing, but he keeps neither hawks nor greyhounds, only some decoy partridges and a stout ferret. His library consists of some six dozen books, which are sufficient for his needs. Sometimes he dines with his neighbours and friends, and often invites them in return. His table is neat and clean, and not parsimoniously furnished. He likes freedom within limits,
and just-dealing, and good fellowship. He shares his substance with the poor, making no parade of his good works.
He always endeavours to make peace between those that are at variance. He is devoted to Our Lady, and ever trusts in the infinite mercy of God. Such is how he portrays himself,
and Sancho whose feelings completely carry him away,
leaps off his ass and falls to covering the gentleman’s feet with kisses. 'What mean you by this, brother?’ said the gendeman; 'why these embraces?' 'Suffer me to kiss your feet' cries Sancho, 'for verily your worship is the first saint on horseback I ever saw in all my life.'
Don Diego de Miranda, he of the green cloth riding-coat,
was not a saint. He was merely a preliminary adumbration,
dating back to 1615, of the classical ideal of wisdom and moderation. He does not despise the Knight Errant; indeed,
he has a secret admiration for heroes and deeds of derring-do,
but he draws the line at taking the road himself. He knows that a man is never so happy as when his mind, his senses, and his heart are all working harmoniously together;
and having discovered that recipe for a contented life, he clings to it, and will do so till his dying day.
But times change, and fashions with them. That precious recipe of his won't count for much with the next generation,
and, when his grandsons arrive at man's estate, they will regard the Knight of the Green Coat as a very out-of-date old gentleman indeed. They will despise his placid,
contented outlook on life. No more, for them, of that spell of calm, when a man might go about his lawful occasions with a tranquil mind. Giving vent at last to his desires so long repressed, off they will hie them, up and down the world, looking for trouble. If, as time goes on, we see the itch for travel wax stronger, more widespread; if, quitting village, or town, or mother-land, explorers sally forth to learn how others live and have their being, we must recognize in this the first, faint hint of a change already brewing,
a change that, later on, will transform the whole complexion of society.
When Boileau was at Bourbon taking the waters, he felt as if he was at the other end of the earth; Auteuil was world enough for him. So was Paris, for Racine; and both of them,
Racine and Boileau, were terribly put about when they had to accompany the King on one of his expeditions. Bossuet never went to Rome; nor did Fénelon. Nor did Molière ever revisit that barber's shop at Pézenas. The great classics were not given to moving about; for the wanderers, we must wait for Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau. But, in between, some obscure forces had been at work, preparing the way for the impending change.
The fact is that by the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth the Italians had revived their taste for travel; and that the French were as mobile as quicksilver. If a contemporary observer speaks the truth about them, they were so enamoured of novelty that they even took care not to keep a friend too long. According to the same authority, they brought out some new fashion every day, and finding nothing but drabness and boredom at home, packed up their traps and set out for Asia, or it might be Africa, to get a little change of scene, and something to break the monotony. The Germans travelled as a matter of habit; indeed the thing was in their blood; it was a sort of mania with them. There was no keeping them at home. 'We are born travellers, every mother's son of us,
like our fathers before us, and nothing, no business, however urgent, ever keeps us back.' So say~sthe German that
Saint-Evremond brings on in that amusing comedy of his,
Sir Politick Would-be.
As soon as we have got hold of a bit of Latin, we prepare to start on our travels. The first thing we do is to procure an Itinerary,
showing the various routes we have to take; next, a handbook mentioning all the things that ought to be seen in the different countries. When our travellers are of a literary turn of mind, they invariably take with them a book consisting solely of blank pages, nicely bound, which they call an Album Amicorum.
Armed with this, they make a point of calling on the various learned men of the locality they happen to be visiting,
and beg them to inscribe their names in it.
This German of ours is not afraid of hard work. He must needs scale the highest peaks; track the course of the rivers,
from their source to the sea, carefully noting down all the fords, ferries, and bridges; explore the ruins of amphitheatres and temples, and, notebook in hand, visit all the churches, abbeys, convents, public buildings, town-halls,
aqueducts, forts, arsenals; he must make copies of the epitaphs on the tombs; he must not omit belfries, chimes,
church-clocks from his purview. Yet he will not hesitate to turn his back on it all, and rush off post-haste, at the first hint that the coronation of the King of France is about to take place, or that a new Emperor is to be elected.
The English travelled as a way of putting the finishing touch on their education. Young gentlemen just down from
Oxford or Cambridge, liberally furnished with funds, and attended by a staid and sober-minded tutor, crossed the Straits and set out to make the grand tour. They were birds
Iof every feather, these young men. Some thought they had done all that was expected of them when they had sampled the wines of Frontignan and Montefiascone, of Ay and
Arbois, of Bordeaux and Xeres. Others, bent on self-improvement,
conscientiously examined every cabinet of natural history specimens, every collection of antiques.
Every man to his taste!
The French usually travel to save money, so that they sometimes leave the places where they sojourn worse off than they found them. The English, on the other hand, come over with plenty of cash, plenty of gear, and servants to wait on them.
They throw their money about like lords. It is reckoned that in
Rome alone there are, in the ordinary way, upwards of six hundred English gentlemen, all with people in their pay, and that, taking everything into account, they spend at least two thousand crowns per head every year, so that Rome alone derives from England a yearly revenue of thirty thousand pistoles,
good and sound.
And in Paris, too, 'where there is never any lack of English visitors; an English business man assured me the other day that he had paid out to Englishmen in France a hundred and thirty thousand crowns in a single year, and he was by no means one of the biggest bankers either'. It is
Gregorio Leti who tells us that, Gregorio Leti, adventurer and globe-trotter, who had at least five countries he could call his own. Born at Milan, he turned Calvinist at Geneva,
became Louis XIV's panegyrist in Paris, England's historian in London, and government pamphleteer in Holland,
where he died in 1701. Men of learning added to their stores of erudition as they journeyed from city to city, like that
Antonio Conti, for example, a native of Padua, who, in
1713, was in Paris, and two years later in London, where he took part in the controversy concerning the infinitesimal calculus. After that, he went to Hanover to confer with
Leibniz, and on his way through Holland did not fail to pay a visit to Leeuwenhoek. Philosophers went abroad, not to go and meditate in peace in some quiet retreat, but to see the wonders of the world. Such were Locke and Leibniz.
Monarchs, too, indulged in foreign travel; Christina of
Sweden died at Rome in 1689; and Peter the Great set out for Europe in 1696.
Travel literature, with its indeterminate frontiers, provided a convenient reservoir for the most diverse material,
from the dissertations of the learned, to museum-catalogues and love-stories, and so it came to the fore. It might take the shape of a weighty discourse chock-full of the most erudite matter; it might be a study in psychology; it might be a plain, straightforward novel; or it might be a combination of all three. It had its eulogIsts; it had its detractors: But,
praise or blame, both made clear the important place it had come to occupy, and indicated that it was not thing to be ignored. The same tendencies that fostered its popularity necessarily entailed the production of guide-books, itineraries, and the like . There was a large assortment to choose from: Le Gentilhomme étranger voyageur en
France; Il Burattino veridico, ovvero Istruzione generale
per chi, viaggia; Guia de los caminos para ir por todas las provincias de España, Francia, Italia, y Alemania. Cities and towns of outstanding historic importance are treated in separate volumes, e.g. The City and republic of Venice; Description of Rome for the use of foreigners; A Guide for the use of foreigners desirous of seeing and understanding the most notable things in the royal city of Naples; An
up-to-date description of all the most remarkable features
of the city of Paris. There is one alluring title that makes you feel as if you were already glimpsing the fair scenes which it promises and that you really must book your seat on the coach 'Delight' is the operative word.
The 'Delights', or the 'Charms, of this country and of that - of Italy, of Denmark and Norway, of Great Britain and Ireland, of Switzerland. Finally, when all these
'Delights' are rolled into one, we have The Wonders of
Attractive as these things were, the 'Wonders of the
World' outdid them. Indeed, from this time forth, Europe never ceased to explore and exploit the world at large; the seventeenth century thus resuming the task which the sixteenth had bequeathed it. As far back as 1619, an obscure writer, P. Bergeron by name, and a little later, in 1636,
Tommaso Campanella, were putting forth this sort of thing:
'The exploration of the globe having resulted in discoveries that have destroyed many of the data on which ancient philosophy reposed, a new conception of things will inevitably be called for.' This idea, which at first gained ground but slowly, received a marked impetus when the Dutch not only opened up trade with the East Indies, but gave picturesque accounts of the strange things they found there;
when the English not only displayed their flag in all the oceans of the globe, but described their voyages in the most marvellously circumstantial literature of the kind the world had ever seen; when Colbert told the French people of rich territories and treasures in lands beyond the seas, and recommended them as fitting fields for enterprise. How many were the glowing reports and stirring tales, compiled by order of the king, that came to France from 'over yonder'! How little did His Majesty dream that from those very tales would spring ideas calculated to unsettle some of the beliefs he held most dear, beliefs essential to the maintenance of his royal authority.
Thus the spate of travel-books, Narratives, Descriptions,
Reports, Collections, Series, Miscellanea, continued to swell till it overflowed all reasonable limits. Gentlemen sitting comfortably at home by the fireside learnt all there was to know about the Great American Lakes, the Gardens of
Malabar, the Pagodas of China, and a host of things they would never behold at first hand. The good fathers of the
Foreign Missions, Capuchins, Franciscans, Recollets, Jesuits,
told of the conversion of the heathen; escaped captives from
Tunis, Algiers, or Morocco gave harrowing descriptions of the tortures they had suffered for their faith. Medical men in the service of the trading companies duly reported results of their scientific observations. Navigators gave the most vivid accounts of their voyages round the world, and the names of Dampier, Gemelli Carreri, Woodes-Rogers were household words for all. It was a sign of the times when that adventurous band of Protestant refugees embarked at
Amsterdam that 10th day of July in the year 1690 and,
bidding farewell to a thankless Europe, set sail for the East
Indies in search of an Eden where they might begin a new life. They never found that Eden.
Minds and consciences were deeply stirred by this startling influx of new ideas, and, by the time the century was drawing to its close, the effect of it was plainly visible. Sir
William Temple, having relinquished the cares and preoccupations of political life, was free now to devote himself to the cultivation of his beautiful gardens at Moor Park,
and also of his mind. Let us follow him into his study, and essay to catch the trend of his meditations.
What countries, [we can imagine him saying to himself] what countries hitherto unknown to us, or looked upon as rude and barbarous, are now revealed as they really are in the accounts of them brought home by traders, seafarers and pioneers. In those regions that have recently been brought within our ken, and are now the subject of discussion among men of learning, discoveries have been made no less fruitful, deeds have been wrought no less remarkable, than those on which our minds have traditionally been nourished. It is not only their vast extent, the peculiar qualities of their soil, their various climates, their divers products,
which engage our interest and compel our attention, but their laws, their systems of government, their empires.
And so Sir William betakes himself to studying the moral and political history of China, Peru, Tartary, and Arabia.
With an eye on a map of the New World, he examines once again the principles that governed and directed the Old.
Often enough, if truth be told, the traveller who came back with an idea he took to be new, had really had it already packed up in his baggage when he went away. But if he was mistaken about its novelty, he was perfectly right about its impressiveness. For when he brought it back again to Amsterdam, or London, or Paris, or wherever it might be, the 'sea-change' had made it a much more imposing thing, far more telling than it had been to begin with. It is perfectly correct to say that all the fundamental concepts,
such as Property, Freedom, Justice, and so on, were brought under discussion again as a result of the conditions in which they were seen to operate in far-off countries, in the first place because, instead of all differences being referred to one universal archetype, the emphasis was now on the particular, the irreducible, the individual; in the second,
because notions hitherto taken for granted could now be checked in the light of facts ascertained by actual experience,
facts readily available to all inquiring minds. Proofs,
for which an opponent of this dogma or of that had had laboriously to rummage about in the storehouses of antiquity,
were now reinforced by additional ones, brand-new and highly coloured. See them just arrived from abroad, all ready for use! Pierre Bayle is constantly adducing as evidence the statements of these up-to-date authorities: 'M.
Bernier, in his interesting account of the territory of the
Great Mogul ...', 'We learn from M. Tavernier's description of his travels ...', 'What we read about China makes it clear ...', 'Vide what the Dutch Trading Company has to say about Japan ...'. As touching that business about delivering the moon from bondage, he says,
The Persians still observe this preposterous custom, if we are to credit the report of Pietro della Valle. It is also practised in the kingdom of Tonkin, where the moon is supposed to struggle with a dragon; see recent accounts by M. Tavernier .... The observations I have just made regarding the prevalence of immodesty among Christians, reminds me of something I recently came across in M. Rycaut's work. … M. Rycaut's book has created too much stir to have escaped your notice.
And when he desires to show - a matter of first-rate importance,
this - that the existence of God is not a matter of universal consent, it is travel literature again that obligingly supplies him with his argument.
What, I wonder, would you say if I cited to you the various atheistic races of which Strabo makes mention, and those others which recent explorers have discovered in Africa and America?
Of all the lessons derived from the idea of space, perhaps the latest had to do with relativity. Perspectives changed.
Concepts which had occupied the lofty sphere of the transcendental were brought down to the level of things governed by circumstance. Practices deemed to be based on reason were found to be mere matters of custom, and,
inversely, certain habits which, at a distance, had appeared preposterous and absurd, took on an apparently logical aspect once they were examined in the light of their origin and local circumstances. We let our hair grow and shave our faces. The Turks shave their heads and grow beards on their faces. We offer our right hand to a friend; a Turk, his
left. There's no arguing about the right or the wrong of these opposing customs. We simply have to accept them. A
Siamese turns his back to a woman as he passes her. He thinks he is showing his respect by not allowing his gaze to fall on her. We think otherwise. Who is right? Who wrong?
When the Chinese judge our manners and customs according to their ideas, ideas which took shape four thousand years ago, what wonder if they look on us as barbarians?
And what wonder if we, when we judge the ways of the
Chinese, look on them as fantastic and absurd? Father le
Comte who thus expresses himself in his book On the Ceremonies
of the Chinese, draws this philosophical conclusion:
'We, too, deceive ourselves, because the prejudices of our childhood prevent us from realizing that the majority of human actions are indifferent in themselves, and that they only derive their significance from the meaning the various races of people arbitrarily attached to them when they were first instituted.' Maxims such as that take us a long way,
take us, indeed, to nothing short of universal relativity.
'There is nothing', says Bernier, 'that opinion, prejudice,
custom, hope, a sense of honour cannot do.' 'Climate', says
Chardin, 'the climate of each particular race is, in my judgement,
always the primary cause of the inclinations and customs of its people.' 'Doubt', he goes on, 'is the beginning of science: he who doubts nothing, examines nothing; he who examines nothing, discovers nothing; he who discovers nothing is blind and remains blind.' As we read these highly pregnant remarks, we realize the force of what La Bruyère says in his chapter on the Free-thinkers: 'Some complete their demoralization by extensive travel, and lose whatever shreds of religion remained to them. Every day they see a new religion, new customs, new rites.'
They arrived, these apostles from distant lands, with their strange beliefs and customs, their laws, their own peculiar sense of values. They made a deep impression on a Europe only too eager to question them on their history and their religion. They made answer, each for himself.
The aboriginal American was a problem. Lost to sight in the midst of his continent, a continent so long undiscovered,
he was the son not of Shem, nor of Ham, nor of Japheth:
Then whose son was he? That was the question. Pagans born before the coming of Christ at least had their share of
Original sin, since they were all descended from Adam. But these Americans? And here is another mystery. How did they escape the Flood? Nor was that all. The Americans, of course, were savages as everyone was aware. When people wanted to give you an idea of what man was like before he acquired the habit of living in community with his fellows,
they took these Americans, a horde of creatures wandering about stark-naked, as their examples. But now a very dIfferent possibility was beginning to take shape. Was a savage necessarily such an inferior and pitiable sort of creature after all? Weren't there savages who were happy enough?
Just as the old-fashioned cartographers used to embellish their maps with pictures of plants, and animals, and natives,
so, on the intellectual map of the world, we must give a place to the Happy Savage. Not that he is so absolutely new, eaher. We have met him before. Nevertheless, it was about now, about the period we have selected for this study,
between the two centuries, that he took definite shape and determined to stand up for himself. A lot of preliminary work had been done already. The missionaries of the various religious orders, extolling merits in him which were calculated to set him off to advantage, had not paused to ask themselves whether the virtues which they praised so highly were, or were not, the mark of a Christian. With a somewhat impetuous zeal, they belauded the simplicity of these savages, declaring that they derived it from nature; they spoke of their kindliness, their generosity, virtues not invariably conspicuous among Europeans. When these ideas had well sunk in, there came on the scene, as is so often the case, a man who found that all he had to do was to drive them home, and to do so with spirit, with vehemence, and,
most important of all, with talent. The individual in question was a born rebel, by name the Baron de Lahontan.
Having somehow or other found his way into the King's forces, where he was a very square peg in a round hole, he landed, in the year 1683, on the shores of Quebec. His first idea was to carve out a career for himself in Canada, for he lacked neither brains nor courage. He took part in the expedition against the Iroquois; but, impatient of discipline,
disgruntled, and forever getting into scrapes, he finally deserted, and came back to Europe where he dragged out the existence of a man who had missed his vocation. When,
however, in 1703 he published his Travels, his Mémoires,
and his Dialogues, he left behind him a monument far more enduring than he can have supposed, although he thought no small beer of himself.
Adario the savage is having an argument with Lahontan the civilized man, and the civilized man has decidedly the worst of it. As against the Gospel, Adario triumphantly sings the praises of Natural Religion. As against European laws, which only aim at keeping a man on the right path by fear of the punishment he will incur if he transgresses, the savage belauds what he calls Natural Morality. As against
Society, he puts forward a sort of primitive Communism, of which the certain fruits are Justice and a happy life. So,
'Hurrah for the Huron!' He looks with compassion on poor civilized man - no courage, no strength, incapable of providing himself with food and shelter; a degenerate, a moral cretin, a figure of fun in his blue coat, his red hose his black hat, his white plume, and his green ribands. He never really lives because he is always torturing the life out of himself to clutch at wealth and honours which even if he wins them, will prove to be but glittering illusions. Sturdy,
untiring on his feet, skilled in the chase, inured to fatigue and privation, what a magnificent fellow is your savage!
How noble in comparison! His very ignorance is an asset.
Unable either to read or write, what a host of evils he e.scapes! For science and the arts are the parents of corruption.
The savage obeys the will of Nature, his kindly mother,
therefore he is happy. It is the civilized folk who are the real barbarians. Let them profit by the example of the savage and so regain man's birthright of dignity and freedom.
But now, alongside the Good Savage, the Wise Egyptian claims his place. But he is not yet quite ready to come on;
he is still putting a few finishing touches to his make-up.
One might imagine oneself looking on at the piecing-together of a mosaic: a few bits from Herodotus, a few more from Strabo; bits well-worn, but not worn-out; flattering testimony offered by the chronologists, which tends to deprive the Hebrew of his halo and confer it on the
Egyptian; narratives brought home by travellers. These latter call to mind that it was on the ancient soil of Egypt that music and geometry were born into the world; that it was on an Egyptian sky that the pathways of the stars had first been charted. Some magnificent passages from Bossuet,
from his Discours sur l’histoire universelle, come readily to mind. The Scythians and the Ethiopians were rude and barbarous races. It was left for Egypt to provide the pattern of a perfect civilization. The Egyptians were a grave and thoughtful people. The glorious tribute rendered them, the tribute which described them as being the most graceful people in the world, implied that they were also the most friendly. Egypt had not only made known the law; she had also kept it, which is far less common. She had called up the dead to judgement; according to the sentence passed on them by that august Assize she had separated the worthy from the unworthy, assigning to the former the honour of stately tombs, casting the latter into a nameless and unhonoured grave. She had suffered the waters of the Nile to flow over the land in order that it might bring forth fruit in abundance; she had built the Pyramids.
Now if Bossuet was carried away like that, the reason was that his imagination had been fired by memories of the past, and still more, perhaps, that he had read, pen in hand,
the narrative of those lowly Capuchin missionaries who had journeyed deep into Upper Egypt. Aglow with enthusiasm,
he hoped, on the strength of what they reported, that the day would come when the fair city of Thebes, Thebes with her Hundred Gates, would rise again in all her ancient glory. Was there not here an enterprise worthy of the Great
Had our travellers but pursued their way as far as the spot whereon the city stood of old, they would surely have found some priceless treasure amid the ruins there, for the works of the Egyptians were wrought to defy the ravages of time. Now that the King's name is penetrating into the remotest corners of the earth, and that His Majesty is extending far and wide the researches he has ordered to be made for all that is fairest in
Nature and in Art, would it not be a worthy object of this lofty curiosity to seek to lay bare the beauties which lie buried in the deserts of the Thebaid and to enrich the splendours of our buildings with all that ancient Egypt can supply?
But what he was not so willing to countenance was that a search should be made in those regions for a philosophy remarkable alike for its venerable antiquity and for its astounding novelty. There was a man of pregnant parts and quick, inventive brain, an adventurer, a free lance, one
Giovanni Paolo Marana by name, a native of Genoa who,
having quarrelled with the city of his birth, had come and taken service under Louis XIV, not, be it remarked, without a wary eye to his own advancement. Among other products of his enterprising imagination, this gentleman brought out, in the year 1696, a curious romance entitled Conversations
of a Philosopher with a Solitary about divers matters
appertaining to Morals and Erudition. This work depicts an aged man of ninety years who boasted a complexion more delicately pink and white than that of a young and comely maiden. What was the secret of this strangely youthful bloom? How was it thus preserved? The answer was that he had dwelt long years in Egypt. There, in Egypt, you may learn the secret of those magic potions which prolong a man's life far beyond the ordinary span. And there, above all, you may acquire the true philosophy, which philosophy,
be it noted, has nothing to do with Christianity. In this same romance, moreover, there figures a youthful Egyptian who is the very embodiment of virtue and of knowledge and is able to improvise on the spur of the moment the most marvellous dissertations on themes the most recondite and profound. Such is the wondrous quality of this pagan yet most favoured land.
Here let us skip a few years. We shall now find the figures on the stage more clearly defined, more richly caparisoned,
the scenery and accessories more elaborate - sistra, papyrus,
ibis, lotus - and now at last behold the Wise Man of Egypt,
the Sethos of the Abbé Terrasson, the destined idol of the eighteenth century! Sethos will turn out to be not a hero but a philosopher; not a king, but a guardian of tradition and the things of the past; not a Christian but an adept deeply versed in the mysteries of Eleusis; a pattern for rulers and all men to follow.
The Mohammedan Arab did not seem destined to enjoy a like good fortune, and Mohammed heard himself called by some rather ugly names: rogue; base impostor; barbarian,
who had laid waste the land with fire and sword;
heaven's sword of vengeance. But at this point, the men of learning arrived and brought their contribution, wherewith to supplement the tales of the explorers. These erudite gentlemen were particularly concerned with the science of chronology. To shedding a clearer light on the civilization of the East various men of eminence now devoted themselves;
for example, M. d'Herbelot, professor at the College
Royal, and his pupil M. Galland, who succeeded him in the professorial chair; Mr Pococke, professor of Arabian studies at Oxford; M. Reland, professor of Oriental languages and ecclesiastical archaeology at Utrecht; Mr Ockley, professor of Arabic at Cambridge. They studied the original texts and the result was that the Arab emerged in a completely new light.
They pointed out, these learned men, that so vast a section of the human race would never have followed in the footsteps of Mohammed if he had been no more than a dreamer and an epileptic. Never would a religion, so crude and childish as his was reputed to be, have exhibited such vitality and have made such progress. If, instead of giving currency to the falsest and most misleading stories, people would go to the Arabs themselves for information, they would perceive that Mohammed and his followers were endowed with qualities of heart and mind that rendered them not a whit inferior to the most illustrious heroes of the other races of the world. Look at the evil things the Gentiles had reported of the Christian religion! Look at the absurdities that were promulgated concerning it! So it is always when things are judged solely from the outside. Doctrines which the Mohammedans never professed were triumphantly refuted, errors they never committed were exposed and condemned. But this sort of victory was too facile by half. In point of fact, their religion was as coherent as it was lofty and full of beauty. Nay more, their whole civilization was admirable. When the tide of barbarism swept over the face of the earth, who was it that had championed the cause of the mind and its culture? The Arabs ...
The change-over from repulsion to sympathy was the work of but a few years. By 1708, the process was complete.
Then it was that Simon Ockley gave utterance to an opinion which, whether it was true or whether it was false, was, two hundred years later, still regarded as a matter for debate.
Ockley denied that the West was to be regarded as superior to the East. The East has witnessed the birth of as many men of genius as the West; conditions of life are better in the East.
So far as the fear of God is concerned, the control of the appetites, prudence and sobriety in the conduct of life, decency and moderation in all circumstances - in regard to all these things (and, after all, they yield to none in importance) I declare that if the West has added one single iota to the accumulated wisdom of the East, my powers of perception have been strangely in abeyance.
This sort of thing gained ground. The Comte de Boulainvilliers,
with due acknowledgements to Herbelot, Po cocke,
Reland, and Ockley, compiled a Life of Mahomet in which the change of attitude is seen to be complete. 'Every nation',
he says, 'has its own peculiar types of wisdom. Mahomet symbolizes the wisdom of the Arabs. Christ symbolizes the wisdom of the Jews.'
The satirical observer of our national foibles, shortcomings,
and vices; the curious foreigner who saunters about our streets noting and criticizing everything he sees;
the 'quiz', at once amusing and exasperating, whose mission it is to remind a self-complacent nation that it does not monopolize the whole of truth nor enshrine all possible perfections, this character - indispensable apparently to
European authors, since they adopt him as one of their favourite types and make him do duty again and again ere they finally discard him - in what country are they now going to look for him? Will it be Turkey? Or will it be
It looked as if the choice was going to light on Turkey.
One side of it looked towards Europe, and it was more familiarly known. An Englishman, an ambassador's secretary,
Sir Paul Rycaut, had written such a vivid account of it that by 1666 his book had become a classic in the literature of travel. There was a constant stream of new editions.
Everybody was devouring it. Rycaut's book was followed by a number of others. That same Marana who had been so interested in Egypt next turned his attention to Turkey.
In 1684 he started bringing out what he called L'Espion du
grand seigneur, which had a tremendous success. It was the part of a numerous progeny of children and grandchildren.
Memet the Spy, who took the name of Titus of Moldavia, was a squat, ungainly individual, ill-favoured and niggard of speech. Retiring, unobtrusive, he attracted no particular attention and lived forty-five years in Paris without exciting suspicion. In the daytime he went about out of doors. When darkness came he retired to his room,
and there busied himself with writing to the Divan of
Constantinople, his chief; or to Haznabardassy, head, and chief curator, of His Highness's Treasury; or to the Agha of the Janissaries; or to Mehemet, eunuch-in-waiting to the dowager Sultana; or else to the invincible Vizir Azem. His letters were full of scurrilous remarks, either about political persons and affairs, or about the Army, or the Church.
Nothing escaped his ribald observations.
Nevertheless, the Persian turned the tables on his rival.
He regained the laurels, and he kept them. The reason for this was twofold. In the first place, nowhere are there to be found records of travel more engrossing, despite their leisurely style, than the narratives of Chardin. This man, a jeweller and the son of a jeweller, who went to Persia to look for a market for his watches, his bracelets, his necklaces,
and his rings, this Protestant who found himself an exile from France as a consequence of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was by nature of a roving disposition.
He knew Ispahan better than he knew Paris, and, what was more, he liked it better. The upshot of it all was that any man, however narrow and unimaginative, must have had it borne in upon him from his narrative that far away in distant Asia there were human beings in no way inferior to himself, however widely their mode of life might differ from his own. The notion of 'superiority' on which he had hitherto been brought up, as it were, was now no longer valid. Henceforth he must think in other terms. 'Difference'
not 'superiority' was now the appropriate word; a striking psychological readjustment. Yes, in Persia everything is different; those meals you take by the roadside, the strange remedies prescribed by the native physician, the caravansary where you put up for the night, everything is different
- clothes, festivals, funerals, religion, justice, laws, all different!
Now, these Persians are not barbarians. On the contrary,
they are people of extreme refinement, civilized, perhaps almost over-civilized, and, maybe, a little weary of having been so for so long. Chardin underlines the reality, the genuine characters of this 'other world'. He acquaints his reader 'with everything that merits the attention of this
Europe of ours concerning a country which we might well call another world, not only because it is far away, but also because its customs, its standards of life, are so different from our own'.
The second reason which enabled the Persian to oust the
Turk is so obviously sufficient that the mere mention of it renders any further explanation superfluous: after a number of 'try-outs', of preliminary sketches by various hands, there appeared on the scene, in order to work on material that was now ripe for development, not a man of talent merely, but a man of genius. His name was Montesquieu!
The Siamese, too, came very near to being added to the motley Oriental throng. Louis XIV was very anxious to open up trade relations with Siam and to encourage the spread of the true religion in that country. Feelers, pour-parlers, were put out to that end. In 1684, the people of Paris beheld the arrival of a deputation of Siamese mandarins. A
marvellous sight! In 1685, a French mission proceeded to
Siam. A year later, a second Siamese mission came to
France. Finally, in 1687, yet another French delegation visited Siam. Then came a number of narratives written by learned clerics and sundry diplomats engaged on the affair.
Public curiosity was thus brought to boiling point; and now,
by a psychological process which always functions with the regularity of clockwork, a highly advantageous presentment of the Siamese gained general currency: they were a god-fearing,
wisdom-loving, enlightened people, everyone of them! It was given out, for example, that when the King of
Siam was exhorted to become a convert of Christianity, his answer was that had it been the will of Divine Providence that a single religion should prevail in the world, nothing could have been easier for Divine Providence than to execute its design. Inasmuch, however, as it had pleased the
Almighty to suffer a host of dissimilar religions to flourish simultaneously, it was obvious that he preferred to be glorified by a prodigious number of his creatures, each worshipping him in his own way. When they heard this, men were filled with astonishment. What! had this Siamese,
completely ignorant as he was of European science - had he thus clearly and forcibly expressed the most telling argument against the One True Faith that was to be found in the whole Pagan armoury?
The conclusions which flow from things of that sort create an atmosphere highly favourable to the spread of heterodoxy. These Siamese allow a free field to all manner of religions, and their king gives Christian missionaries full leave to preach in all the towns and cities of his dominions.
Are Europeans as generous and as tolerant as that? What would they say if the Talapoins (such is the name they give their priests) were to take it into their heads to come and preach their religion in France? The Siamese religion is, of course, quite preposterous; they worshIp an absurd deity called Sommonokhodom; yet their morals are strict to the point of austerity. A Christian would discover nothing to find fault with in their way of life. Whence it may be inferred
- may it not? - that morals and religion are by no means necessarily connected.
Unfortunately, changes in Siamese government circles frustrated the efforts of the French envoys. The King of
Siam was not converted; the enterprise was abandoned; the
Talapoins were eclipsed by the Chinese Sage.
What People are saying about this
“ [Hazard] displays a profound, and contagious, sympathy for the intellectual movement he describes.” —History Workshop Journal
Meet the Author
Paul Hazard (1878–1944) was an eminent French historian of ideas and a pioneering scholar of comparative literature. After teaching at the University of Lyon and the Sorbonne, he was appointed to the chair of comparative literature at the Collège de France in 1925 and in 1940 was elected to the French Academy. From 1932 on Hazard also taught at regular intervals at Columbia University, and he was in New York when the Nazis occupied France in 1941. He immediately returned to France to assume the rectorship of the University of Paris but was rejected for the position by the Nazis. Hazard’s reputation rests on two major works of intellectual history: The Crisis of the European Mind, from 1935, and its sequel, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century: From Montesquieu to Lessing, published posthumously in 1946.
James Lewis May (b. 1873) was a British critic and translator, best known as a translator and biographer of Anatole France. His 1928 translation of Madame Bovary for The Bodley Head
was for many years the standard edition. In addition to translating The Crisis of the European Mind, May translated its sequel, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century.
Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University. His most recent book is The Culture of Correction in Renaissance
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