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You likewise establish that asymptotes will approach one another without ever meeting; but it is under the supposition that they are lines having length without breadth-things which have only a speculative existence.
So, also, we represent unity by a line, and divide this line and this unity into as many fractions as you please; but this infinity of fractions will never be any other than our unity and our line.
It is not strictly demonstrated that atoms are indivisible; but it appears that they are not divided by the laws of nature.
AVARITIES, amor habendi,-desire of having, avidity, covetousness.
Properly speaking, avarice is the desire of accumulating, whether in grain, moveables, money, or curiosities. There were avaricious men long before coin was invented.
We do not call a man avaricious, who has four-andtwenty coach-horses, yet will not lend one to his friend; or who, having two thousand bottles of Burgundy in his cellar, will not send you half-a-dozen, when he knows you to be in want of them. If he show you a hundred thousand crowns' worth of diamonds, you do not think of asking him to present you with one worth twenty livres; you consider him as a man of great magnificence, but not at all avaricious.
He who in finance, in army contracts, and great undertakings, gained two millions each year, and who, when possessed of forty-three millions, besides his houses at Paris and his moveables, expended fifty thousand crowns per annum for his table, and sometimes lent money to noblemen at five per cent. interest, did not pass, in the minds of the people, for an avaricious man. He had, however, all his life burned with the thirst of gain; the demon of covetousness was perpetually tormenting him; he continued to accumulate to the last day of his life. This passion, which was constantly gratified, has never been called avarice. He did not expend a tenth part of his income; yet
he had the reputation of a generous man, too fond of splendour.
A father of a family who, with an income of twenty thousand livres, expends only five or six, and accumulates his savings to portion his children, has the reputation among his neighbours of being avaricious, mean, stingy, a niggard, a miser, a gripe-farthing; and every abusive epithet that can be thought of is bestowed upon him.
Nevertheless, this good citizen is much more to be honoured than the Croesus I have just mentioned: he expends three times as much in proportion. But the cause of the great difference between their reputations is this:
Men hate the individual whom they call avaricious, only because there is nothing to be gained by him. The physician, the apothecary, the wine-merchant, the draper, the grocer, the saddler, and a few girls, gain a good deal by our Croesus, who is truly avaricious. But with our close and economical citizen, there is nothing to be done; therefore he is loaded with maledictions.
As for those among the avaricious who deprive themselves of the necessaries of life, we leave them to Plautus and Molière.
MUST not a man be very thoroughly possessed by the demon of etymology to say, with Pezron and others, that the Roman word augurium came from the Celtic words au and gur? According to these learned men, au must, among the Basques and Bas-Bretons, have signified the liver; because asu, which (say they) signified left, doubtless stood for the liver, which is on the right side and gur meant man, or yellow, or red, in that Celtic tongue of which we have not one memorial. Truly, this is powerful reasoning.
Absurd curiosity (for we must call things by their right names) has been carried so far as to seek Hebrew and Chaldee derivations for certain Teutonic and Celtic words. This, Bochart never fails to do.
It is astonishing with what confidence these men of genius have proved that expressions used on the banks of the Tyber were borrowed from the patois of the savages of Biscay. Nay, they even assert that this patois was one of the first idioms of the primitive language the parent of all other languages throughout the world. They have only to proceed, and say that all the various notes of birds come from the cry of the two first parrots, from which every other species of birds has been produced.
The religious folly of auguries was originally founded on very sound and natural observations. The birds of passage have always marked the progress of the seasons; we see them come in flocks in the spring, and return in the autumn. The cuckoo is heard only in fine weather, which his note seems to invite. The swallows, skimming along the ground, announce rain. Each climate has its bird, which is in effect its augury. Among the observing part of mankind there were, no doubt, knaves who persuaded fools that there was something divine in these animals, and that their flight presaged our destinies, which were written on the wings of a sparrow just as clearly as in the stars.
The commentators on the allegorical and interesting story of Joseph sold by his brethren, and made Pharaoh's prime minister for having explained his dreams, infer that Joseph was skilled in the science of auguries, from the circumstance that Joseph's steward is commanded to say to his brethren, "Is not this it," (the silver cup) "in which my lord drinketh? and whereby indeed he divineth? Joseph, having caused his brethren to be brought back before him, says to them, "What deed is this that ye have done? Wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?"+
Judah acknowledges, in the name of his brethren, that Joseph is a great diviner, and that God has inspired him" God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants." At that time they took Joseph for an
* Genesis, chap. xliv. v. 5.
Ibid. chap. xliv. v. 16.
Egyptian lord. It is evident from the text, that they believed the God of the Egyptians and of the Jews, had discovered to this minister the theft of his cup.
Here then we have auguries or divination clearly established in the book of Genesis; so clearly, that it is afterwards forbidden in Leviticus.-" Ye shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment nor observe times. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."*
As for the superstition of seeing the future in a cup, it still exists, and is called seeing in the glass. The individual must never have known pollution; he must turn towards the east, and pronounce the words " Abraxa per dominum nostrum,"-after which he will see in a glass of water whatever he pleases. Children were usually chosen for this operation. They must retain their hair: a shaven head, or one wearing a wig, can see nothing in the glass. This pastime was much in Vogue in France, during the regency of the Duke of Orleans, and still more so in the times preceding.
As for auguries, they perished with the Roman empire. Only the bishops have retained the augurial staff, called the crosier, which was the distinctive mark of the dignity of augur; so that the symbol of falsehood has become the symbol of truth.
There were innumerable kinds of divinations, of which several have reached our latter ages. This curiosity to read the future, is a malady which only philosophy can cure; for the weak minds that still practise these pretended arts of divination, even the fools who give themselves to the Devil, all make religion subservient to these profanations, by which it is outraged.
It is an observation worthy of the wise, that Cicero, who was one of the college of augurs, wrote a book for the sole purpose of turning auguries into ridicule; but they have likewise remarked that Cicero, at the end of his book says, that "superstition should be destroyed, but not religion. For," he adds, "the
* Genesis, chap. xix. v. 26—7.
beauty of the universe, and the order of the heavenly bodies, force us to acknowledge an eternal and powerful nature. We must maintain the religion which is joined with the knowledge of this nature, by utterly extirpating superstition; for it is a monster which pursues and presses us on every side. The meeting with a pretended diviner, a presage, an immolated victim, a bird, a Chaldean, an aruspice, a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, an event accidentally corresponding with what has been foretold to us, everything disturbs and makes us uneasy; sleep itself, which should make us forget all these pains and fears, serves but to redouble them by frightful images."
Cicero thought he was addressing only a few Romans; but he was speaking to all men and all ages.
Most of the great men of Rome no more believed in auguries, than Alexander VI. Julius II. and Leo X. believed in Our Lady of Loretto and the blood of St. Januarius. However, Suetonius relates that Octavius, surnamed Augustus, was so weak, as to believe that a fish, which leaped from the sea upon the shore at Actium, foreboded that he should gain the battle. He adds, that having afterwards met an ass-driver, he asked him the name of his ass; and the man having answered that his ass was named Nicholas, which signifies conqueror of nations, he had no longer any doubts about the victory; and that he afterwards had brazen statues erected to the ass-driver, the ass, and the jumping fish. He further assures us, that these statues were placed in the Capitol.
It is very likely that this able tyrant laughed at the superstitions of the Romans, and that his ass, the driver, and the fish, were nothing more than a joke. But it is no less likely that, while he despised all the follies of the vulgar, he had a few of his own. The barbarous and dissimulating Louis XI. had a firm faith in the cross of St. Louis. Almost all princes, excepting such as have had time to read, and read to advantage, are in some degree infected with superstition.