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The Crisis of the European Mind

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1680-1715

Written by Paul HazardAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Paul Hazard
Translated by J. Lewis MayAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by J. Lewis May
Introduction by Anthony GraftonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anthony Grafton

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On Sale: April 09, 2013
Pages: 480 | ISBN: 978-1-59017-639-9
Published by : NYRB Classics New York Review Books
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Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Chapter I
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
Europe'!
 
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
King?
 
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
Persia?
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.
Praise

Praise

“Hazard’s thesis, according to present-day historians of ideas, has largely withstood the test of time. His enthusiasm, his wonderful erudition, his gift for synthesis, the focus on all of Europe rather than on France alone, the powerful yet elegant style of the book—all contribute to the air of general persuasiveness it exudes.” —H. Floris Cohen

“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

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