- Giordano Bruno. An unsigned review of Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom, by William Boulting
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490 ] Giordano Bruno An unsigned review of Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom, by William Boulting London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1914. Pp. viii + 315. The New Statesman, 8 (21 Oct 1916) 68 Giordano Bruno is the Benvenuto Cellini of philosophy. The comparison may seem far-fetched, in view of the sanctity with which martyrdom has invested Bruno’s name, but a study of Mr. Boulting’s biography gives it some justification.1 Bruno’s life is more interesting than his work is important . A violent, somewhat undisciplined temperament, a life of varied wandering , a spectacular death, and a series of romantically attractive writings provide excellent material–of which Mr. Boulting has made the most. Bruno’s philosophy was not very clearly thought out, and its permanent value is slight, but the personality and career of the man are of enduring interest. Bruno’s wanderings are traced in full detail. He was born at Nola, near Naples, in 1548. From Naples to Genoa he drifted, from Genoa to Geneva, from Geneva to Toulouse and Paris, from Paris to England, from England to Germany, and back to Italy to face the Inquisition. Everywhere in his writings he leaves fragments of his life. Some of his most entertaining reminiscences are of Oxford and London. It was in 1583 that he crossed from Calais, and he went directly to Oxford, announcing himself by superb selfadvertisement . Of Oxford his impression was not favourable. He had come to a citadel of Aristotelianism to carry on his war against Aristotle, and the dons were not well pleased. The irascible Italian writes that the fellows and tutors “knew much more about beer than about Greek” . He says further “the happy country is ruled by a constellation of pedants” . His anti-Aristotelian lectures were suppressed. Returning to London, Bruno tookshelterwiththeFrenchAmbassador.Hewasnotamantomakefriends; he despised the English and refused to learn their language; and his overpowering conceit was quick to take offence. “England can boast a common people,” he wrote, “which will yield to none other in disrespect, outlandishness ,boorishness,savageryandbadbringingup”.IntheAshWednesday [ 491 Giordano Bruno Supper, a refutation of Aristotle’s Physics, Bruno introduces some amusing bits of autobiography, which Mr. Boulting does not scamp.2 Bruno starts out one evening with John Florio (the translator of Montaigne) for the house of Fulke Greville.3 They proceed by water. Yelling “Oars” we wasted as much time as it would have taken to go by land and do a trifle of business on the way. At length two boatmen answered from afar and slowly, slowly drew in. After much question and reply as to whence, where, why, how and when, they brought the prow to the foot of the stairs.  These boatmen, like some more modern carriers, refuse to go beyond their station; the voyagers scramble ashore, attempt to make their way in the dark,getcoveredwithLondonmud,arehustledbystreetroughsatCharing Cross, and arrive at Greville’s house to find the company at supper. We do not know whether Philip Sidney was there, but he might have been. In the ItalianateCourtofElizabeth,Brunowaswellreceived;afterhehadremoved to Germany he thought more kindly of England, and went so far as to praise the climate; but his philosophy made very little impression. The book is learned and painstakingly exact. It is weakest in its account of Bruno’s philosophy; as the method is strictly chronological, there is no systematic exposition, and the author extols rather than expounds. Mr. Boulting is undoubtedly right in asserting that Bruno contributed nothing to Leibniz, but his statement that the Monadology is “far more patently and extravagantly unsound” than Bruno’s theory of monads is certainly to be deprecated . And we read that Bruno “was instructed in the mathematics of his time” (26) while on page 235 we are told that Bruno “was by no means abreast with the mathematics of his own day.” Nevertheless, this is, on the whole, the best book on Bruno in English; the philosopher should find it useful for reference, and everyone should find it a fascinating picture of sixteenth-century society and a sixteenth-century humanist. Notes 1. The Florentine goldsmith and soldier Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) is best known for his racy and self-glorifying autobiography, posthumously published as La vita (1728). William Boulting (b. 1842), the author of several biographies of Italian Renaissances figures, presents Bruno as an equivalent master of self-promotion. 2. In The Ash Wednesday Supper (La cena de le ceneri, 1584), Bruno mocked the Oxford Aristotelians as...