Imágenes de páginas

mulated merits must be sought for in the volumes it has published ; and, from a comparison established upon such grounds, it has nothing to apprehend from all the learned societies of Europe.

The Institute of France may be far more truly said to contain the essence of French science, than the Royal Society of London can be said to contain that of Britain. Its number is limited; and every vacancy is supposed to be filled by the next most deserving scavant of the nation. It professes at all times to select the most learned men of the whole country, and none other, for its members. But the Royal Society is free, and open.' Any well-informed, independent gentleman-any respectable, scientific artist, without reckoning how many superiors in science they may have may become a Fellow of it; and admission into it is not considered as indispensable to reputation. With the exception of those who stand at the very head of science, and who, in the Institute, as elsewhere, are comparatively few, it would be much easier to form a dozen Royal Societies in Britain, than a second Institute in France. We do, indeed, possess many men of great talent and learning, who never thought of becoming members of the Royal Society; and we have many societies, chartered and otherwise, for the promotion of knowledge, in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, and various other cities of the United Kingdoms, that have contributed, in no less a proportion, to advance the study of the sciences. But, out of the pale of the Institute, and those who aspire at its honours, there is infinitely little; and out of Paris, and its emanations, no science, or next to none.

The organization and nature of these two eminent bodies, · are in perfect conformity with the minds and habits of the respective countries. The Royal Society of London has all the characteristics of an association which grew, uncontrolled, out of the acquirements of a free and enlightened people; and a cordial meeting of independent men, whom a.congeniality of tastes and pursuits had drawn together. The Academy of France bears too many marks of a society the formation of which was demanded, not so much by the knowledge already attained, as by the ambition of that which was in expectancy ; and it was nursed in the hotbeds of despotic vanity, before general science was ripe enough to require its existence. In England, the study of Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, occupied the place which duly belongs to them in the progress of learning; and did not engage the attention of men, until long after other branches, more connected with their hap

piness, much more important, and which should naturally precede them, had been profoundly investigated. The moral and political sciences, those which have for their object men and nations, had long been studied in their most general principles. The Parliaments which sat under the two first of the Stuarts, were the schools in which these great themes were discussed; and our Revolution was a practical essay of their justness; an experiment, the most awful that can be imagined; and which, if it did not prove the speculations of our forefathers to be always mature, never failed to show in what their error consisted. But, in France, ethical inquiries were in their infancy when the exact sciences began to be cultivated; and many astronomers and geometricians had made themselves celebrated, while but one single political writer of permanent note could be counted. We can assert, upon the very first authority of this age, Mr Dugald Stewart, that, in questions connected with the philosophy of the human mind, the French are at least half a century behind the writers of this Island ; and what would this illustrious philosopher not have added, if a residence in France had shown him, how much further still behind us is the general population of the country, in acquaintance with mental philosophy! It was not till long after the Academy of Sciences had been established, that the Encyclopedists, shallow, visionary, and impious as they mostly were, began to call the attention of the French toward the nature of man and of society. One of the most eminent of these, d'Alembert, complains that, however alert and versatile his countrymen may be in matters of taste, they always lag in the pursuit of mental philosophy; and Mr de Geraudo, in his heavy pages, allows that the French philosophers of this age owe all their knowledge to Locke. Among the last things which a despot would recommend to his subjects, is the study of their owh rights and nature; and, if the people do not feel the necessity of political and moral researches, it certainly does not behove such a Government as that which fourteen centuries had naturalized in France, to point out the advantages to be derived from them. When the thirst after knowledge becomes uncontroulable, absolute monarchs are too fortunate if they can find means still to divert the minds of men from political speculations into some less dangerous channels, and give other employment to that curiosity which can no longer be repressed. The fine arts have more than once been prostituted to such debasing ends; and the exact sciences are still more deceitful means of duping nations into a belief that they are free and enlightenedl, obugh liberty and knowledge be denied them. Louis XIV, well knew.this artifice, and most insidiously practised it; and if ever despot made a more pernicious and successful use of it, Bonaparte was that despot. It would be a great error, indeed, to suppose, that the average of scientific acquirements, throughout France, bears the same proportion to the labours of the French Academy, as the average of scientific acquirements, in Britain, bears to our Royal Society; but it would be a still greater error to conclude, that the ratio between the sciences moral and political, and the exact sciences, was ever the same in both countries.


The contrast which the Institute forms to the general state of knowledge in France, is however not greater than the disproportion between the ostensible means of public instruction, in the higher branches of learning, and the effects produced. When the reign, commonly called of terror, but which we should rather characterize as the reign of blood, was over, some attempts were made to reinstate science; and, under the sucu ceeding Governments, many public institutions were disseminated over France with this intent. Under the dominion of Bonaparte, these establishments were apparently much favoured; but his object was to create gunners, engineers, officers, scavants; marks to shoot or stare at, food for powder or for wonder:but he knew his trade of tyrant too well, to instruct his vassals generally. He found that, next to arms, and with the same view to glory, science was admired; and as, by the former, he' had risen to power, so, by the latter, he aspired at consideration. He went accordingly to the Institute; took part in its discussions; mingled with the wise men of the capital; had himself well stuffed by his Imperial crammers; and, forming a kind of geometrical staircase of their heads, scrambled up like great Isosceles into his throne; or, tickling the lungs of his complaisant chemists, rose upon the wings of sublimation, like the philosophers' wool of Dioscorides, or the white eagle of Crollius. But he soon kicked away the lowly ladder of his young ambition; which, suddenly falling upon the noses of his deserted colleagues, led them to suspect they had been his dupes; and then, sticking a little piece of red riband in their button-holes, be sent them to dose in the Senate, or dream in the Council of State, the sleeping partners of his usurpation.

In all he did, there was nothing which could make science general in France. Though even in the abuse he made of it, when he converted manyingenious scavants into very indifferent statesmen, there was every thing to induce a belief, among persons who saw the thing but cursorily, that the French were the greatest respecters of learning in Europe. The schools of France, however, at the head of which we place l'Ecole Polytechnique, be the fault in them, or in the people, or in both, have not produced effects at all proportioned to their means, or to the fuss that has been

made about them. The exact sciences are principally taught in them; yet it is impossible to know France, and not to be struck with the excessive rarity of scientific information, even in the branches which have been the most profoundly studied by the learned. The dearth of general mathematical instruction, for instance, is quite astonishing. In the Parisian world at large, and in the provinces, the slightest knowledge of Geometry is hardly ever to be found; and it seems as if the quintessence of the differential calculus, and analytic functions, had been coerced into a few heads, whence it never has vent again, except upon the most solemn occasions. But, in Britain, some knowledge of Euclid is essential to the education of every gentleman; and an acquaintance with such algebraical calculation as can find its daily application, is beyond comparison more common than in France. The average of our upper classes of workmen, overseers, builders, carpenters, millwrights, are infinitely better versed in the mathematics of their various trades, than the analogous classes in France; and, while in that country a profounder, but a rarer study of infinites, is confined to the very highest order of the learned, in this, a more general and more applicable acquaintance with the mathematics, is diffused throughout the population.

The state of mechanical science is nearly the same. Of all the works which have been written upon that subject, the most profound, that which considers it in its greatest generalities, and in which the most powerful methods of analysis have been applied to it, is the Méchanique Analytique of the Piedmontese philosopher, La Grange; and which, as he was long resident in France, that country claims as its own. To him, as a mechanical philosopher, may be added Prony, and one or two of minor note. But the rarity of mechanical instruction, in whatever branch, is quite deplorable through every class of society. Nothing can be more miserable, too, than the general state of machinery; and, at the very gates of their luxurious metropolis, may be found most pitiful examples of ignorance, in the use of machines, which, in this country, have been superseded a century since, by instruments more powerful and grand. The state of hydrostatics, hydraulics, is nothing better; and, in every science, the most remarkable thing is the excessively small number of those who are acquainted with it. Even when the rage for chemistry was highest; when rivality with England was the ruling passion; when Bonaparte was pushing on his scavants to discover, still no knowledge of it was diffused by its many lecturers, as in England; and, except among the schoolmen of the science, one might live for ever in society of all descriptions, and, amongs and educated individuals, not meet

with one who could converse upon the subject, even as the topic of the day. As to Classical instruction in France, not be ing a region of discovery, or a source of glory, its ratio of depth and of diffusion, compared with what it is in England, is even lower. We are pretty confident, that twice the number of good Latinists could not be found in France, as of equally good Grecians in England; and as to Greek in France, it may be as general as Hebrew in Britain. Bonaparte wished the memory of all conquerors but himself to be lost. The exclusives among the revolutionists profess, that the knowledge of all events preceding 1792 is useless. We have heard much of the rising literary generation of France; that which was formed under the Directory, and Bonaparte. We stand prepared lo give credit to its promise, as soon as it is performed; and, in the mean time, we hail the auspicious novelty of genius, planted by anarchy, and matured by despotism. • But this scantiness of knowledge is perceptible, not merely in the public at large. It pervades the professedly learned classes of society; and it is much more common to find, in France than in England, men deeply versed in one single branch of science, and possessing little knowledge of any other. Gem nerally speaking, it is after an Englishman has gone through the common process of a liberal education, and even made himself acquainted with the various themes of higher acquirements, that he fixes his thoughts, more especially, upon that branch of science which he finds the most attractive; and profound knowledge upon one subject, is rarely coupled with profound ignorance upon another. At least, whatever be his other learned pursuits, the moral and political sciences, the public affairs of his country, fill some portion of the daily thoughts of an Englishman; and, however scientific an assembly of French philosophers may be, an assembly of British philosophers is much more generally enlightened. A source of many misfortunes, during the Revolution of France, was, that her scavants imagined they could master human passions, as they could rake out the ashes of their Athanor; or govern the loosened wind of the cavern of Eolus, as easily as they could calculate their velocity.

It is an old practice, in France, for Government to consuit the scavants upon great occasions; and the practice has been held as wondrous wise. In England, we do not so much bow to their opinions; and this custom we conceive to be a still greater proof of wisdom. The fact is, that, in France, if the scavants are not consulted, those who want to obtain information VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.

D d

« AnteriorContinuar »