Page images
PDF
EPUB

crowns with this inscription—“ To the genius of the Augusti;" it was the emblem of immortality.

Wbat demonstrative proof have we at present, that the genii, so universally admitted by so many enlightened nations, are only phantoms of the imagination? All that can be said is reduced to this, I have never seen a genius, and no one of my acquaintance has ever seen one; Brutus has not written, that his genius appeared to him before the battle of Philippi ; neither Newton, Locke, nor even Descartes, who gave the reins to his imagination,-neither kings nor ministers of state have ever been suspected of communing with their genii ; therefore I do not believe a thing of which there is not the least proof. I confess their existence is not impossible; but the possibility is not a proof of the reality. It is possible that there may be satyrs, with little turned-up tails and goats' feet; but I must see several to believe in them; for if I saw but one, I should still doubt their existence.

GENIUS. OF genius or demon, we have already spoken in the article Angel. It is not easy to know precisely whether the peris of the Persians were invented before the demons of the Greeks, but it is very probable.

It may be, that the souls of the dead, called shades, manes, &c. passed for demons. Hercules, in Hesiod, says that a demon dictated his labours.

The demon of Socrates had so great a reputation, that Apuleius, the author of the" Golden Ass," who was himself a magician of good repute, says in his Treatise on the Genius of Socrates, that a man must be without religion who denies it. You see, that Apuleius reasons precisely like brothers Garasse and Bertier,-- Thou dost not believe that which I believe; thou art therefore without religion. And the jansenists have said as much of brother Bertier, as well as of all the world except themselves. These demons, says the

very religious and filthy Apuleius, are intermediate powers between ether and our lower region. They live in our

VOL. III.

2D

atmosphere, and bear our prayers and merits to the gods. They treat of succours and benefits, as interpreters and ambassadors. Plato says, that it is by their ministry that revelations, présages, and the miracles of magicians, are effected. « Cæterum sunt quædam divinæ mediæ potestates, inter summum æthera, et infimas terras, in isto intersitæ æris spatio, per quas et desideria nostra et merita ad deos commeant. Hos Græco nominæ demonias nuncupant. Inter terricolas cæli colasque vectores, hinc pecum, inde donorum: qui ultrò citroque portant, hinc petitiones, inde suppetias : ceu quidam utriusque interpretes, et salutigeri. Per hos eosdem, ut Plato in symposio autumat, cuncta denuntiata, et majorum varia miracula, omnesque præsagium species reguntur.”

St. Augustin has condescended to refute Apuleius in these words:

“ Itis impossible for us to say, that demons are neither mortal or eternal, for all that has life either lives eternally, or loses the breath of life by death ; and Apuleius has said, that as to time, the demons are eternal. What then remains, but that demons hold a medium situation, and have one quality higher and another lower than mankind; and as, of these two things, eternity is the only higher thing which they exclusively possess, to complete the allotted medium, what must be the lower, if not misery?"

This is powerful reasoning!

As I have never seen any genii, demons, peris, or hobgoblins, whether beneficent or mischievous, I cannot speak of them from knowledge. I only relate what has been said by people who have seen them.

Among the Romans the word genius was not used to express a rare talent, as with us : the term for that quality was ingenium. We use the word genius indifferently in speaking of the tutelar demon of a town of antiquity, or an artist, or musician. The term genius seems to have been intended to designate not great talents generally, but those into which invention enters. Invention, above every thing, appeared a gift from the gods--this-ingenium, quasi ingenitum, a kind of divine inspiration. Now an artist, however perfect he may be in his profession, if he have no invention, if he be not original, is not considered a genius. He is only inspired by the artists his predecessors, even when he surpasses them.

It is very probable that many people now play at chess better than the inventor of the game, and that they might gain the prize of corn promised him by the Indian king. But this inventor was a genius, and those who might now gain the prize would be no such thing. Le Poussin, who was a great painter before he had seen any good pictures, had a genius for painting. Lulli, who never saw any good musician in France, had a genius for music.

Which is the most desirable to possess, a genius without a master, or the attainment of perfection by imitating and surpassing the masters which precede us?

If you put this question to artists, they will perhaps be divided; if you put it to the public, it will not hesitate. Do you like a beautiful Gobelin tapestry better than one made in Flanders at the commencement of the arts? Do you prefer modern masterpieces of engraving to the first wood-cuts ? the music of the present day to the first airs, which resembled the Gregorian chaunt? the makers of the artillery of our time to the genius which invented the first cannon ? Every body will answer yes. All purchasers will say,

I that the inventor of the shuttle had more genius than the manufacturer who made my cloth, but my cloth is worth more than that of the inventor.

In short, every one in conscience will confess, that we respect the geniuses who invented the arts, but that minds which perfect them are of more present benefit.

SECTION II. The article Genius' has been treated of, in the Encyclopedia, by men who possess it. We shall hazard very little after them.

Every town, every man possessed a genius. It was imagined that those who performed extraordinary

own

things were inspired by their genius. The nine muses were nine genii

, whom it was necessary to invoke; therefore Ovid says:

Et Deus in nobis, agitante calescimus illo.

The God within us, he the mind inspires. But, properly speaking, is genius anything but capability? What is capability but a disposition to succeed in an art? Why do we say the genius of a language? It is, that every language, by its terminations, articles, participles, and shorter or longer words, will necessarily have exclusive properties of its own.

By the genius of a nation is meant the character, manners, talents, and even vices, which distinguish one people from another. It is sufficient to see the French, English, and Spanish people, to feel this difference,

We have said, that the particular genius of a man for an art is a different thing from his general talent; but this name is only given to a very superior ability. How many people have

talent for poetry, music, and painting; yet it would be ridiculous to call them geniuses.

Genius, conducted by taste, will never commit a gross fault. Racine, since his Andromache, Le Poussin, and Rameau, have never committed one.

Genius, without taste, will often commit enormous errors; and, what is worse, it will not be sensible of them.

GEOGRAPHY.* GEOGRAPHY is one of those sciences which will always require to be perfected.

Notwithstanding the pains that have been taken, it has hitherto been impossible to have an exact description of the earth. For this great work, it would be necessary that all sovereigns should come to an understanding, and lend mutual assistance. But they have ever taken more pains to ravage the world than to measure it.

* The greater part of this article is taken up with a detail of the deficiencies of the elementary works on geography in use when Voltaire wrote : a few characteristic passages only are retained.-T.

No one has yet been able to make an exact map of Upper Egypt, nor of the regions bordering on the Red Sea nor of the vast country of Arabia. · Of Africa we know only the coasts: all the interior is no more known than it was in the times of Atlas and Hercules. There is not a single well-detailed map of all the Grand Turk's possessions in Asia; all is placed at random, excepting some few large towns, the crumbling remains of which are still existing. In the states of the Great Mogul something is known of the relative positions of Agra and Delhi; but from thence to the kingdom of Golconda everything is laid down at a venture.

It is known that Japan extends from about the thirtieth to the fortieth degree of north latitude; there cannot be an error of more than two degrees, which are about fifty leagues; so that, relying on one of our best maps, a pilot would be in danger of losing his track or his life.

As for the longitude, the first maps of the jesuits determined it between the hundred and fifty-seventh and the hundred and seventy-fifth degree; whereas, it is now determined between the hundred and fortysixth and the hundred and sixtieth.

::China is the only Asiatic country of which we have an exact measurement; because the emperor Kam-hi employed some astronomical jesuits to draw exact maps, which is the best thing the jesuits have done. Had they been content with measuring the earth, they would never have been proscribed.

In our western world, Italy, France, Russia, England, and the principal towns of the other states, have been measured by the same method which was employed in China ; but it was not until a very few years ago, that in France it was undertaken to form an entire topography. A company taken from the Academy of Sciences dispatched engineers or surveyors into every corner of the kingdom, to lay down even the meanest ħamlet, the

« PreviousContinue »