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Characteristics Of Bayle
by [?]

To know Bayle as a man, we must not study him in the folio Life of Des Maizeaux, whose laborious pencil, without colour and without expression, loses, in its indistinctness, the individualising strokes of the portrait. Look for Bayle in his “Letters,” those true chronicles of a literary man, when they record his own pursuits.

The personal character of Bayle was unblemished even by calumny; his executor, Basnage, never could mention him without tears! With simplicity which approached to an infantine nature, but with the fortitude of a stoic, our literary philosopher, from his earliest days, dedicated himself to literature; the great sacrifice consisted of those two main objects of human pursuits, fortune and a family. Many an ascetic, who has headed an order, has not so religiously abstained from all worldly interests; yet let us not imagine that there was a sullenness in his stoicism,–an icy misanthropy, which shuts up the heart from its ebb and flow. His domestic affections through life were fervid. When his mother desired to receive his portrait, he opened for her a picture of his heart! Early in life the mind of Bayle was strengthening itself by a philosophical resignation to all human events!

“I am indeed of a disposition neither to fear bad fortune nor to have very ardent desires for good. Yet I lose this steadiness and indifference when I reflect that your love to me makes you feel for everything that happens to me. It is therefore from the consideration that my misfortunes would be a torment to you, that I wish to be happy; and when I think that my happiness would be all your joy, I should lament that my bad fortune should continue to persecute me; though, as to my own particular interest, I dare promise to myself that I shall never be very much affected by it.”

An instance occurred of those social affections in which a stoic is sometimes supposed to be deficient, which might have afforded a beautiful illustration to one of our most elegant poets. The remembrance of the happy moments which Bayle spent when young on the borders of the river Auriege, a short distance from his native town of Carlat, where he had been sent to recover from a fever occasioned by an excessive indulgence in reading, induced him many years afterwards to devote an article to it in his “Critical Dictionary,” for the sake of quoting the poet who had celebrated this obscure river. It was a “Pleasure of Memory!” a tender association of domestic feeling!

The first step which Bayle took in life is remarkable. He changed his religion and became a catholic. A year afterwards he returned to the creed of his fathers. Posterity might not have known the story, had it not been recorded in his Diary. The circumstance is thus curiously stated:–


Years of the Years
Christian of my
Era age.

1669. Tues., Mar. 19. 22. I changed my religion–next
day I resumed the study of

1670. Aug. 20. 23. I returned to the reformed
religion, and made a private
abjuration of the Romish
religion, in the hands
of four ministers.

His brother was one of these ministers; while a catholic, Bayle had attempted to convert him, by a letter long enough to evince his sincerity; but without his subscription we should not have ascribed it to Bayle.

For this vacillation in his religion has Bayle endured bitter censure. Gibbon, who himself changed his about the same “year of his age,” and for as short a period, sarcastically observes of the first entry, that “Bayle should have finished his logic before he changed his religion.” It may be retorted, that when he had learnt to reason, he renounced Catholicism. The true fact is, that when Bayle had only studied a few months at college, some books of controversial divinity by the catholics offered many a specious argument against the reformed doctrines. A young student was easily entangled in the nets of the Jesuits. But their passive obedience, and their transubstantiation, and other stuff woven in their looms, soon enabled such a man as Bayle to recover his senses. The promises and the caresses of the wily Jesuits were rejected; and the gush of tears of the brothers, on his return to the religion of his fathers, is one of the most pathetic incidents of domestic life.