Page images

A weak glimmer of the peripatetic logic, existing in the same periods, seems to have had little influence in correcting this abuse: the early writers of the church had condemned the writings of Aristotle as inconsistent with divine truth : and the only surviving remains of logical science seems to have been an imperfect system of dialectics ascribed to St Augustin, who was at one time an ardent follower of the Stoic philosophy. At length however an increased communication with Arabia, when about the twelfth century it became customary for learned men to travel in quest of knowledge, was the means of introducing Saracenic translations of the works of Aristotle. The immediate consequence was an infusion of new opinions into the church, founded upon new methods of reasoning.

The church, vigilant in the superintendence of opinion, soon found cause to check the growing evil.Several doctors tested by the jealous thermometer of orthodoxy, were found wanting in the standard shade of Platonism—they were cited before councils, and had their books publicly burned-fortunate in preceding by a few years the period when they might have shared a common fate with their offending volumes. A general prohibition of the writings of Aristotle quickly ensued.

At a somewhat earlier period such a prohibition would have been imperatively felt; but it was a time when a fresh impulse had been imparted to the human mind: the world was awaking from a long sleep, and men in every country of Europe began to look around for light: The orthodox bowed submission, but the schools were at the moment filled with the swarming race of a new generation, and the writings of Aristotle were zealously studied. The mind of the schools soon became largely infused with the elements of a new spirit; and the youth of the age grew up with a deeply imbued love of disputation and subtlety. The church itself felt and yielded to the strong reaction; and, when the growing evil could no longer be suppressed, with its ever admirable tact and sagacity, endeavoured to neutralize and gradually adopt the perilous instrument of human reason. Fortunately for its views, some steps of progress were still wanting to make the instrument dangerous. The love of logic grew; and it became the subject of loud complaint that disputation filled the schools with its noise, and occupied the place of all other study. Disputation became the pride and study of the scholar and the business of life-victory became the source of fame and the test of opinion. The consequence is easily inferred, for it was inevitable. Opinion thus became the end of all study, and took the place of the love of truth. The instincts of the mind were sophisticated; the subtle, word-splitting Scholastic was the fruit of this anomalous culture.

A few words must here be said on the writings, which were the foundation of this corruption of human reason. The writings of Aristotle were but imperfectly understood by their Arabian translators, and became additionally corrupt in the transfusion of a second medium. Originally obscure from the strictly scientific method of the Greek philosopher, and the total absence of those indirect artifices of style which are commonly used for illustration, an erroneous and fantastic commentary swelled the volume, and was received as the better part of its substance, so that to use the language of a historian, the students were as much indebted to Averroes as to Aristotle. A philosophy at the same time corrupt, obscure, and peculiarly unadapted to the state of human knowledge at the period, gradually filled the schools. Its effects were in no respect beneficial—a generation unacquainted with the uses of reasoning, and destitute of the first elements of real knowledge on which it must proceed, became smitten with a deep love of its forms. The syllogistic method—which accurately represents the operation of reasoning, * and offers both an excellent discipline to the intelleet, and a certain test to the value of inference from ascertained premises—was mistaken for something which it did not pretend to be. It became, in the hands of subtle ignorance, a superstition of the intellect—a sort of verbal magic by which any thing could be proved. The forms of reason were substituted in the place of reason, and words took the place of things: for nearly four hundred years the just progress of the human understanding was retarded by the quibbling and interminable jargon of men like Aquinas and Scotus, and the German doctor Albertus, through whom the European schools became acquainted with the writings of the Stagyrite.

Thus misunderstood and misapplied, Aristotle, from being first opposed by the policy of the church, soon acquired universal dominion.

“ And so far from falling under the censure of councils and popes, the Aristotelian and Saracenic philosophy became the main pillars of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In the year 1366, cardinals were appointed by Urban to settle the manner in which the writings of Aristotle should be studied in the university of Paris: and in the year 1462, Charles VII. ordered the works of Aristotle to be read and publicly explained in that university. Thus the union between the peripatetic philosophy and the Christian religion was confirmed, and Aristotle became not only the interpreter, but even the judge of St Paul.”I From this period to the Reformation, the church and the universities resounded with dispute and frothy contentions, long and difficult to specify by clear and intelligible distinction: the Thomist and Scotist, of whom we have mentioned the leading differences--the still more prolonged and vehement controversy of the Nominalists and Realists, which we shall fully state in our memoir of Bishop Berkeley, with half a dozen main shades of opinion, were contested with idle words and not idle hands, in foaming disputation and sanguinary fray.

The reformers in their turn produced a re-action, which, however salutary it must be admitted to have been in arresting the further advance of this state of philosophy, passed into the opposite extreme.

Though it introduced a sound exercise of reason, and a return to the legitimate field of facts, yet by the law of opposition, so universally discernible in human opinion, they confounded the instrument with the vitiated use to which it bad been applied. With the indiscriminate vigour of immature knowledge, in rejecting the doctrines they cast away all that was even accidentally in contact with them. In condemning the adversary, the house in which he lived, the garb he wore,

* See Whately's Logic for a satisfactory explanation on this long unnoticed fact,

+ Gillies' Introduction to Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Enfield's Abridgment of Brucker. VOL. II.


the many

the very ground he trode on, grew criminal in their eyes. Among

extrinsic adjuncts of Romanism thus condemned, the vast intellectual outwork of the scholastic philosophy could not hope to escape; and the works of Aristotle, unhappily confounded with this tumid and inane excrescence of human reason, were denounced.--“ With the light of the gospel,” writes Mr Gillies, “the champions of the Reformation dispelled the pestilent exhalations, and disparted the gorgeous but cloud-built castles with which the schoolmen had surrounded a fortress of adamant; for the genuine philosophy of Aristotle remained entire, unhurt, and alike concealed from the combatants on either side. The reformers, engaged in an infinitely greater undertaking, were not concerned in distinguishing the master from his unworthy scholars, and in separating the gold from the dross."* The violence of opposition, which was the speedy result of this indiscriminating but perfectly natural (and not unjustifiable) spirit, pursued the Stagyrite to his last retreats, the walls of colleges. The general reader of the present age, will easily indeed recall the reproaches of the light-armed and superficial skirmishers of modern reviews and pamphlets discharged against the university of Oxford, on the score of the assumed worship of Aristotle. His works, only known to some of the leading writers of the very last generation, through the same impure sources from which they were presented to Scotus and his clamorous fraternity, were ignorantly assailed, and as ignorantly defended. The profound and elementary comprehension of Bacon, the perspicacious common sense of the admirable Locke, handed down the same subtle errors to the essentially scholastic intellect of Hume. Kames, Harris, Monboddo, Reid, and Stewart, all combined, in more or less specious inaccuracy and misapprehension; and it seems to have remained for the latest writings which have proceeded from the universities of Dublin and Oxford, to dispel the false medium either by strong remonstrance or clear and demonstrative exposition. To the leading writers who might be noticed at length on this subject, we have given as much notice, as the summary character of our undertaking permits. We shall conclude this notice with an extract from one of the most distinguished writers of the age-ar

an illustrious ornament of our Irish university, whose memoir must hereafter give value and interest to our pages—the late worthy and able prelate, archbishop Magee. “It has been singularly the fate of the Greek philosopher, to be at one time superstitiously venerated, and at another contemptuously ridiculed, without sufficient pains taken, either by his adversaries or his admirers, to understand his meaning. It has been too frequently his misfortune to be judged from the opinions of his followers rather than his own. Even the celebrated Locke is not to be acquitted of this unfair treatment of his illustrious predecessor in the paths of metaphysics; although, perhaps, it is not too much to say of his well known essay, that there is scarcely to be found in it one valuable and important truth concerning the operations of the understanding, which may not be traced in Aristotle's writings; whilst, at the same time, they exhibit many results of deep thinking, which have entirely escaped Locke's perspicacity. Indeed, it may be generally pronounced of those who have, within the two last centuries, been occupied in the investigation of the intellectual powers of man, that had they studied Aristotle more, and (what would have been a necessary consequence) reviled bim less, they would have been more successful in their endeavours to extend the sphere of human knowledge."*

* Preface to Aristotle's Rhetoric, p. 23.

This curious transition of human knowledge has led us on to a length of remark which we do not consider due to Scotus; unless, perhaps, it be considered, that the eminence which he attained in the sophistry of his age, must still have been the result of some highly distinguished intellectual powers. They were unhappily wasted gifts. His voluminous works, too long for the narrow period assigned to human study, repose with monumental silence and oblivion on the shelves of learned libraries—the too quiet habitations of the unmolested spider, who builds in their safe obscurity, and emulates their labours with skill as fine and less abused. If in a listless moment the student casts his wandering eye over the ponderous masses of unopened lore which seem to encumber the shelves of neglected school divines, his mind may be crossed by a reflection on the vast toil of thought and earnest stress of passion, the years of study and ambitious hope to gain distinction, which were melted down in the accumulation of those most neglected labours. He may thus be conducted by a widely different track to the same feelings, which the moral poet has expressed in the most simply just and eloquent strain which human pen ever wrote, upon the vanities of this life of wasted faculties and fleeting duration:

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid,
Some mind once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands which the rod of empires might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.”


Angus Boe O'Daly.

A. D. 1350.

Among other poems written by O'Daly, one of four hundred and forty-eight verses is extant. The first portion of it is devoted to Adam and the patriarchs before the flood, and the remainder to the colonies which settled in Ireland, and possessed the island before the arrival of the Milesians. The time of his death is uncertain.

Giolla Brighide Mac Coinmhide.

A. D. 1350.

Mac COINMHIDE, or Conway, a poet of Ulster, and a retainer of the house of O'Donell, wrote a variety of poems in honour of that warlike race. A copy of one of them, addressed to Brian, son of Donald O'Donell, prince of Tirconell, is preserved in a very valuable volume of Irish historical poems, collected in the Netherlands, in the year 1656, by the Rev. Nicholas O’Gara. He also wrote in verse, the history of Moain, grandson of Niall of the nine hostages. From Moain are descended the Cineal Muain, one of the chief families of which are the O'Gormlys.

Giolla-na=Xaomh OʻWuidrin.

DIED A. D. 1420.

GIOLLA-NA-NAOMA O’HUIDRIN, a very learned historian, completed, as was before related, the topographical history in verse, begun by John O'Dugan; adding to it the chief portion descriptive of Leinster and its kings, and the entire of that respecting Munster. This addition consists of seven hundred and eighty verses, and a copy of it is in the handwriting of Cucoigariche O'Clery.

Faelan Mac a Gobhan.

DIED A. D. 1423.

Faclan Mac A GOBHAN is remarkable for having transcribed a great portion of that voluminous compilation called the Book of the O'Kellys ;* for which family it was originally collected from a great variety of authors, and remained in their possession until 1757. It is a large folio, written in vellum, and is at present in the possession of

See an account of this book in the “ Transactions of the Iberno-Celtic Soo ciety," a valuable work, which has furnished many facts in the preceding Lives.

« PreviousContinue »