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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/853

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SKETCH OF RENÉ DESCARTES.

SKETCH OF RENÉ DESCARTES.

PROF. HUXLEY, comparing the thoughts of men to the leaves, flowers, and fruit upon the branches of a few great stems bearing the names of the half-dozen men of strongest and clearest intellect, is of the opinion that "the thinker who more than any other stands in the relation of such a stem toward the philosophy and the science of the modern world is Rend Descartes. I mean," he adds, "that if you lay hold of any characteristic product of modern ways of thinking, either in the region of philosophy or in that of science, you find the spirit of that thought, if not its form, to have been present in the mind of the great Frenchman."

The London Spectator, reviewing Prof. Mahaffy's life of the philosopher, regards him as presenting the spectacle of a twofold life. "He was a man of society; he was a philosopher—the two were so completely distinct that they never came into collision. On the one side, he was inflexible, a pillar of intellect never deviating by a hair-breadth from rigid perpendicularity; on the other, he was all things to all men. For his intellect, the law was rejection of authority, assertion of absolute freedom; for the rest of him—for the man, distinguished from the philosopher—the law was courteous compliance all round."

René Descartes was born at La Haye, Touraine, France, March 31, 1596, and died in Stockholm, Sweden, February 11, 1650. He was the second son and third child of Joachim Descartes, who, having done some military service, had purchased a commission that gave him a place in the demi-noblesse. He inherited from his mother, who died at his birth, a feeble constitution, the marks of which he bore through life, and by reason of which the doctors predicted that he would die young; was baptized and brought up in the Roman Catholic faith; and betrayed from early infancy an insatiable curiosity and a disposition to inquire into the causes of things, which led his father to call him his philosopher. At eight years of age he was sent to the College of La Flêche, of the Jesuits, where he was remarked for his studious habits and the rapid progress he made in the knowledge of the ancients and in history. His delicate health seems to have contributed to his advance in scholarship, inclining him more to study than children of robust constitutions, and securing his exemption from morning duties, whereby he acquired the habit of meditating in bed. In that position a great part of the real work of his life was done. He accounted for his fondness for books by suggesting that the reading of good books was like a conversation with the brightest men