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His Metaphysics. God being the first mover, he gives motion to the soul. But what is God, and what is the soul, according to him? The soul is an entelechia.* It is, says he, a principle and an act-a nourishing, feeling, and reasoning power. This can only mean that we have the faculties of nourishing ourselves, of feeling, and of reasoning. The Greeks no more knew what an telechia was than the South-sea islanders; nor have our doctors any more knowledge of what a soul is.
His Morals. Aristotle's morals, like all others, are very good; for there are not two systems of morality. Those of Confucius, of Zoroaster, of Pythagoras, of Aristotle, of Epictetus, of Antonine, are absolutely the same. God has placed in every breast the knowledge of good, with some inclination for evil.
Aristotle says, that to be virtuous, three things are necessary-nature, reason, and habit; and nothing is more true. Without a good disposition, virtue is too difficult: reason strengthens it; and habit renders good actions as familiar as a daily exercise to which one is accustomed,
He enumerates all the virtues, and does not fail to place friendship among them. He distinguishes friend ship between equals, between relatives, between guests, and between lovers. Friendship springing from the rights of hospitality is no longer known amongst us, That which among the ancients was the sacred bond of society, is, with us, nothing but an innkeeper's reckoning; and as for lovers, it is very rarely now-a-days that virtue has any thing to do with love. We think we owe nothing to a woman to whom we have a thou. sand times promised everything.
It is a melancholy reflection, that our first doctors have never ranked friendship among the virtues—have scarcely ever recommended friendship; but, on the contrary, have often seemed to breathe enmity, like tyrants, who dread all associations.
* Book ii, chap. 2.
It is, moreover, with very good reason that Aristotle fixes all the virtues between the two extremes. He was, perhaps, the first who assigned them this place.
He expressly says, that piety is the medium between atheism and superstition.
His Rhetoric. It was, probably, his rules for rhetoric and poetry that Cicero and Quintilian had in view. Cicero, in his Orator, says, that “ no one had more science, sagacity, invention, or judgment." Quintilian goes so far as to praise, not only the extent of his knowledge, but also the suavity of his elocution-suavitatem eloquendi.
Aristotle would have an orator well-informed respecting laws, finances, treaties, fortresses, garrisons, provisions, and merchandise. The orators in the par. liaments of England, the diets of Poland, the states of Sweden, the pregadi of Venice, &c. would not find these lessons of Aristotle unprofitable; to other nations, perhaps, they would be so.
He would have his orator know the passions and manners of men, and the humours of every condition.
I do not think there is a single nicety of the art which has escaped him. He particularly recommends the citing of instances where public affairs are spoken of; nothing has so great an effect on the minds of
What he says on this subject proves that he wrote his Rhetoric long before Alexander was appointed captain-general of the Greeks against the Great King.
If, says he, any one had to prove to the Greeks that it is their interest to oppose the enterprises of the King of Persia, and to prevent him from making himself master of Egypt, he should first remind them, that Darius Ochus would not attack Greece until Egypt was in his power; he should remark that Xerxes had pursued the same course; he should add, that it was
not to be doubted that Darius Çodomannus would do the same; and that, therefore, they must not suffer him to take possession of Egypt.
He even permits, in speeches delivered to great assemblies, the introduction of parables and fables: they always strike the multitude. He relates some very ingenious ones, which are of the highest antiquity, as the horse that implored the assistance of man to revenge himself on the stag, and became a slave through having sought a protector.
It may be remarked that, in the second book, where he treats of arguing from the greater to the less, he gives an example which plainly shows what was the opinion of Greece, and probably of Asia, respecting the extent of the power of the gods.
“ If,” says he," it be true that the gods themselves, enlightened as they are, cannot know everything, much less can men.” This passage clearly proves, that omniscience was not then attributed to the Divinity. It was conceived that the gods could not know what was not; the future was not; therefore, it seemed impossible that they should know it. This is the opinion of the Socinians at the present day.
But to return to Aristotle's Rhetoric.—What I shali chiefly remark on in his book on Elocution and Diction is, the good sense with which he condemns those who would be poets in prose. He would have pathos; but he banishes bombast, and proscribes useless epithets. Indeed, Demosthenes and Cicero, who followed his precepts, never affected the poetic style in their speeches. The style, says Aristotle, must always be conformable to the subject.
Nothing can be more misplaced than to speak of physics poetically, and lavish figure and ornament where there should be only method, clearness, and truth: it is the quackery of a man who would pass off false systems under cover of an empty noise of words. Weak minds are caught by the bait, and strong minds disdain it.
Amongst us, the funeral oration has taken posses
sion of the poetic style in prose; but this branch of oratory consisting almost entirely of exaggeration, it seems privileged to borrow the ornaments of poetry.
The writers of romances have sometimes taken this licence. La Calprenède was, I think, the first who thus transposed the limits of the arts and abused this facility. The author of Telemachus was pardoned through consideration for Homer, whom he imitated, though he could not make verses, and still more in consideration of his morality, in which he infinitely surpasses Homer, who has none at all. But he owed his popularity chiefly to the criticism on the pride of Louis XIV. and the harshness of Louvois, which, it was thought, were discoverable in Telemachus.
Be this as it may, nothing can be a better proof of Aristotle's good sense and good taste, than his having assigned to everything its proper place.
Aristotle on Poetry. Where, in our modern nations, shall we find a natural philosopher, a geometrician, a metaphysician, or even a moralist, who has spoken well on the subject of poetry? They teem with the names of Homer, Virgil, Sophocles, Ariosto, Tasso, and so many others, who have charmed the world by the harmonious productions of their genius, but they feel not their beauties; or if they feel them, they would annihilate them.
How ridiculous is it in Pascal, to say
“ As we say poetical beauty, we should likewise say geometrical beauty, and medicinal beauty. Yet we do not say so; and the reason is, that we well know what is the object of geometry, and what is the object of medicine, but we do not know in what the peculiar charm, which is the object of poetry, consists. We know not what that natural model is, which must be imitated; and for want of this knowledge, we have invented certain fantastic terms, as age of gold, wonder of the age, fatal wreath, fair star, &c. And this jargon we call poetic beauty."
The pitifulness of this passage is sufficiently obvious. We know that there is nothing beautiful in a medicine,
nor in the properties of a triangle; and that we apply the term beautiful only to that which raises admiration in our minds and gives pleasure to our senses. Thus reasons Aristotle; and Pascal here reasons very ill. Fatal wreath, fair star, have never been poetic beauties. If he wished to know what is poetic beauty, he had only to read.
Nicole wrote against the stage, about which he had not a single idea ; and was seconded by one Dubois, who was as ignorant of the belles-lettres as himself.
Even Montesquieu, in his amusing Persian Letters, has the petty vanity to think that Homer and Virgil are nothing in comparison with one who imitates with spirit and success Dufréni's Siamois, and fills his book with bold assertions, without which it would not have been read. "What," says he, "are epic poems? I know them not. I despise the lyric as much as I esteem the tragic poets. He should not, however, have despised Pindar and Horace quite so much. Aristotle did not despise Pindar.
Descartes did, it is true, write for Queen Christina a little divertissement in verse, which was quite worthy of his matière cannelée.
Mallebranche could not distinguish Corneille's “ Qu'il mourât,” from a line of Jodèle's or Garnier's.
What a man, then, was Aristotle, who traced the rules of tragedy with the same hand with which he had laid down those of dialectics, of morals, of politics, and lifted, as far as he found it possible, the great veil of nature!
To his fourth chapter on poetry, Boileau is indebted for these fine lines
Il n'est point de serpent, ni de monstre odieux