restricted access Humanist, Artist, and Scientist. A review of La Pensée italienne au XVIe siècle et le courant libertin and L’Éthique de Giordano Bruno et le deuxième dialogue du Spaccio, by J.-Roger Charbonnel
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132 ] Humanist, Artist, and Scientist A review of La Pensée italienne au XVIe siècle et le courant libertin, by J.-Roger Charbonnel Paris: É. Champion, 1919. Pp. 720. L’Éthique de Giordano Bruno et le deuxième dialogue du Spaccio Traduction avec notes et commentaire, by J.-Roger Charbonnel Paris: É. Champion, 1919. Pp. 339.1 The Athenaeum, 4667 (10 Oct 1919) 1014-15 M. Charbonnel’s two volumes on the sixteenth century comprehend some 1,100 pages of large and small type; the learning, the apparent, the probable and the possible reading involved is overwhelming; and it cannot be supposed that the author has left much unsearched or unsaid in his subject of scholarship. To judge from the passages resuming the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, he is possessed of the French facility of generalized exposition , and the books are very readable for what they are; but even to read this digest of years of reading is a task of no common labour. So the first question that assails the reader, or more modestly the spectator, of these books, is whether the labour is worth while: not whether it was worth while for the author to write them, or worth while, abstractly, that they should be written, but whether it is worth while to read them, and as sustenance for what interest. The question becomes more insistent when we discover that almost the only name of permanent and general importance in the books is that of Machiavelli.2 Of all these philosophers, there is not one whom the contemporary philosopher will find necessary for his equipment. The contemporary philosopher, indeed, finds trouble enough if he will understand Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus, and a dozen other worthies from Descartes onward; and he does well if he does not somewhere in his work display an ignominious ignorance or misunderstanding of some capital point in the philosophy of one of these. The philosopher, in short, has no time for Bruno or Pomponazzi.3 The historian, or the student of literature, on the [ 133 humanist, artist, and scientist other hand, will shrink from the apparently needless infliction of fantastic cosmologies. But even if disdained by all of these, the study of sixteenthcentury philosophy has importance for anyone who is interested in the history of the European mind; a quite different thing from the biography of all of the interesting minds in European history. The one mind which epitomizes all or nearly all that is best in these forgotten speculations, so far as one mind can do it, is the mind of Montaigne; but Montaigne is so much himself, and also so representative of some permanent attitude of the human spirit, that we overlook, in reading him, the extent to which he is representative of his time, of the tone and of the conclusions of sixteenthcentury thought. And the sixteenth century was a chaotic period, which apparently has little to show for itself, but was doing the work that made the seventeenth century possible. Why the sixteenth century, which produced such ebullient thinking, produced so little philosophy of permanent value, remains to be defined. In the seventeenth there are Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche, Spinoza, to say nothing of the heavy-weight theologians. With the exception of Spinoza these men were perhaps not more gifted than their predecessors. Pomponazzi and Bruno and Vanini threw out as many suggestions; Pietro Zabarella, the greatest of all Aristotelian commentators , was at least their equal in subtlety and profundity.4 But there was some advantage of the time which lay with the man of the seventeenth. The world had shaken down into a kind of order: theology whisked off to its own libraries and cloisters, and art and science emerged. The sixteenth century is a period of restless and apparently futile activity . It is a period of remarkable men, of men of vast influence, of men above mediocrity. But the men were not men of single inspiration. The pure scientist had hardly appeared, had hardly made his influence felt. For pure art, there were too many distractions. For the philosopher, there was every distraction . There was too much and too heterogeneous reading available: neo-platonic universes which combined only too well with abracadabric superstitions; cabbalistic studies which were only fomented by genuinely scientific yearnings. Further, the philosopher was often distracted by the desire to give Platonic literary form to his writings. He was readily attacked, in that excited age, by the lust of universal knowledge. He lived...