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ing from Vesuvius in many places, so as to illuminate the night with their dazzling glare. He consulted with his friends whether it were better to remain in the house or to flee to the open fields ; for the buildings were shaken by frequent and violent shocks, so as to reel backwards and forwards, and in the open air they were not less in danger from the cinders. However, they chose to go forth, as the hazardous alternative, covering their heads with pillows, to protect them from the stones. It was now morning, but the country was enveloped by thick darkness. He proceeded towards the shore by the light of torches, but the sea was still so much agitated that he could not embark; and, seating himself on a sail which was spread for him, he asked for some water, of which he drank a little. The approach of flames, preceded by the smell of sulphur, put his companions to flight, excepting two slaves, who assisted him to rise, when he seems to have im. mediately fallen, suffocated by the vapours and ashes. On the following day, his body was found in the same place without marks of external violence, and resembling a person asleep rather than one who had suffered death. This event took place on the 24th Au-, gust, in the seventy-ninth year of the Christian era, and a few months after the demise of Vespasian.
As in the case of almost every writer of eminence, so in that of Pliny, we find panegyrists, whose admiration leads them to lavish the most extravagant praise, and calumniators, who seem resolved to leave nothing to be admired. It is astonishing, says one, that in every department he is equally great. Elevation of ideas, and grandeur of style, give additional exaltation to his profound erudi. tion. Not only was he acquainted with all that was known in his time, but he possessed that facility of forming comprehensive conceptions, which multiplies science; he possessed that delicacy of reflection on which depend elegance and taste; and he communicates to his readers a certain freedom of mind, a boldness of thought, which is the germ of philosophy. His work, which is as varied as Nature, paints her always in a favourable light. It may be said to be a compilation of all that had previously been written, a copy of every thing useful and excellent that existed ; but in this copy the execution is so bold,-in this compilation the materials are disposed in a manner so new, that it is preferable to the greater part of the originals which treat of the same topics.*
The judgment of a recent author, founded also on an extensive view of his character, is perhaps more worthy of our confidence. It were impossible, it is remarked, that in handling, even in the briefest manner, so prodigious a number of subjects, he should not have made known a multitude of facts, which are not only in themselves remarkable, but so much the more valuable to us, that he is the only author who has made mention of them. Unfortunately, the manner in which he has collected and expounded them detracts much from their value ; while, from the mixture of truth and falsehood, but more especially from the difficulty, and even in some cases the impossibility, of making out the objects of which he speaks, the reader is often left in the dark. Pliny was not such an observer as Aristotle; much less was he a man of genius
Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, tome i. p. 54, edit. 1785.
like that great philosopher, capable of apprehending the laws and relations according to which Nature has disposed her productions. He was in general merely a compiler, and even in many instances a compiler who, not having himself any knowledge of the objects concerning which he collected the testimony of others, was unable to appreciate the truth of these testimonies, or even in all cases to comprehend their precise meaning. He is in short an author destitute of critical acumen, who, after occupying a great deal of time in making his extracts and arranging them in certain chapters, has added to them reflections which have no relation to science properly so called, but present alternately the most superstitious impressions, or the declamations of a peevish philosophy, which is continually accusing man, nature, and the gods themselves. The facts which he accumulates ought not, therefore, to be considered in connexion with the opinion which he forms of them; but, on the contrary, ought to be restored in imagination to the writers from whom he has derived them ; and the rules of criticism should be applied agreeably to what we know of those writers, and the circumstances in which they were placed. Studied in this manner, the Natural History of Pliny is one of the richest stores ; it being, according to his own statement, composed of extracts from more than 2000 volumes, written by authors of all kinds, travellers, historians, geographers, philosophers, and physicians,-authors of whom there remain to us only about forty, and of several of whom we have merely fragments, or works different from those which Pliny used ; and, even of those whose labours are lost to us, there are many whose names have escaped
from oblivion only through the quotations which he has made from them.
On comparing his extracts with such originals as we still have, and in particular with Aristotle, we find that he was by no means accustomed to select the parts that were most important or most correct. In general, he fixes upon the singular or marvellous ; upon those circumstances which answer best for the contrasts which he is fond of mak, ing, or for the reproaches which he so often prefers against Providence. He certainly does not place the same confidence in all that he relates ; but his doubts and affirmations are made at random, and the most childish stories are not those that most excite his incredulity. For example, there are none of the fables of the Grecian travellers, about head. less and mouthless men, men with only one foot, or men with large ears, that he does not place in his seventh book, and with so much confidence in their truth, that he concludes his enumeration with this remark: Hæc atque talia ex hominum genere,
ludibria sibi, nobis miracula, ingeniosa fecit natura : “ See how nature is disposed for the nones to devise full wittily in this and such like pastimes to play with mankind, thereby not onely to make herselfe merrie, but to set us a wondering at such strange miracles.” Any one may judge, from this creduli. ty in respect to the absurd fables about the human species, of the little discernment which he must have exercised in selecting testimonies respecting exotic or little-known animals. Accordingly, the most fabulous creatures, manticores, with the head of a man and the tail of a scorpion, winged horses, catoblepas, the mere sight of which caused death, occupy their station by the side of the elephant and lion. However, all is not false even in those articles which are most replete with falsehoods. We can sometimes come at the truths which have given rise to them, by recollecting that they are extracts from travellers, and supposing that the ignorance of the ancient tourists, and their love of the mar. vellous, betrayed them into the same exaggerations, and dictated the same vague and superficial descriptions, with which we are shocked in so many of their modern successors. It may likewise be said of Pliny, that he does not always give the true sense of the authors whom he translates, especially when treating of the designation of species. Although we have now very few means of judging with certainty respecting errors of this kind, it is easy to prove, that on several occasions he has substituted for the Greek word which denoted a particular animal in Aristotle, a Latin word which belongs to another species. It is true that one of the great difficulties experienced by the ancients was that of fixing a nomenclature ; and the defects of their systems are more perceptible in Pliny than in any other writer. The descriptions, or rather the imperfect indications, which he gives, are almost always insufficient for recognising the species, when tradition has not preserved the names; and there is even a very great number, of which he mentions the names without joining to them any character, or affording any means by which they may be distinguished. Could there be any longer a doubt as to the advantages of the systems invented by the moderns, it would be dissipated by finding that all that the ancients have said of the virtues of their plants is lost to us, from