The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715 (New York Review Books Classics)
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.
individual existences which alone, strictly speaking, can be said to live.” That Père Malebranche was a modest man, that his intentions were excellent, he did not deny; nevertheless, he, Bossuet, knew perfectly well that his disciples were heading straight for heresy. When you manage to find your way through the fearsome jargon in which he envelops himself, you discover that his philosophy is based on a theory of life which wholly excludes the supernatural, and that same theory is itself
never ceased to replenish its stock of facts, ideas, sentiments and human interests. From a mind that gave itself no rest, mingling together and brewing all manner of fresh additions to its stock, there issued, as time went by, practical inventions, philosophical systems, noble dreams. In the end, he came to possess all the sciences, all the arts, to say nothing of the inexhaustible materials whereof his dreams were woven. He was, as someone described him, “mathematician, physicist,
our bloodstream, and that, in turn, is determined by the air we breathe, particularly in our earlier and formative years. This no doubt explains how it is that people living in different climates vary so widely in their tastes and tone of mind. Dubos stops there. But what a distance he has travelled, and how clear is the signal he gives of the coming revolt! It is a dual revolt, an uprising against academic dogmatism on the one hand, and rationalistic theorizing on the other. In the days when
Historians, he said, tell us what other people thought, without troubling to think for themselves. Adam in the Garden of Eden was possessed of perfect knowledge. Did Adam know history? Obviously he did not. Therefore perfect knowledge was not history. For his own part, he, Malebranche, was content to know what Adam knew. Truth, for such minds as that, is not something which one must go out and seek in the high-ways and by-ways, it comes to a man from within, from meditation. Truth is not a matter
manner, as his own right and property for the future. As the child grows up, the effect of these superstitions grows with it. His nurses tell him stories about werewolves: the servants tell him fairy-tales; his schoolmasters talk to him of Genii, of Nymphs, of Satyrs, Metamorphoses and all manner of other strange or miraculous things. They make him read the poets, fabulists and orators, all of them adepts in the art of lying. When they go up to the university they get no better, no wiser.