From the PREFACE.
Up to the present little attention has been paid to Gassendi. The want of a reliable account of his philosophy has caused him to be neglected, for the nature of his own writings is such as would naturally obscure the value of his message. Hallam, in his Introduction to the Literature of Europe (Part IV. chap, iii.), indicates the extent to which Gassendi has been neglected and also the reasons. He refers to Gassendi's "prolixity of statement," "prodigality of learning," and "display of erudition," characteristics which have all militated against recognition of his real merits. In consequence he is little more than a name, or is known as the original of Bernier's work, and is either misunderstood or pushed aside as one who challenged Descartes from an antiquated and untenable standpoint.
To remedy this error and supply what is undoubtedly a page in the history of philosophy I have tried in this book to express briefly the main lines of Gassendi's thought. It has been necessary to condense the matter ruthlessly, but this could be done with all the less danger because so much of the contents of the volumes is historical. None the less it is natural that there should arise the feeling that a process which condenses chapters into phrases and whole sections into sentences, is an injustice to an author. The atmosphere of comprehensive learning which gives a peculiar charm to these volumes cannot be reproduced elsewhere: it is the breath of an age which every day puts further from us. In compensation for this loss I can only plead the advantages of conciseness. Time works toward the setting forth of the skeleton with the destruction of all else, and in the world of books we take an optimistic view of this unavoidable process and trust that it leaves us what is most enduring and most essential.
That Gassendi deserves honorable mention in the history of philosophy will hardly be doubted. How far he is able to help in the solution of its problems is a point that the reader will estimate for himself. Now that we are recovering somewhat from that disturbance of equilibrium which characterized the development of Cartesianism, such work as that of Gassendi has an opportunity of asserting itself more effectively. If we pause to ask what is the true and abiding characteristic of a philosophic mind we shall see that it is comprehensiveness of view, breadth of vision, combined with a power to see, and not merely look at, the vast array of the knowable. This comprehensiveness makes greatness: through it a man may be the spectator of all times and places. But he must not hope to gain this comprehensive outlook by occupying one solitary peak: he must not flatter himself that there is an essence of all essences, that he can condense all life and thought into one magic drop. On the contrary he must keep the original wealth of material undiminished if he would have a world in which 'life's garden blows'; if he abstracts and simplifies the product is an 'essence,' a drop of scent in place of the living flower....
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