make it stand upon its feet, made him an incomparable historian. And it may be said that he has enlarged the domain of history by admitting into it the history of religions.
If Renan was not a creator in the domain of learning, neither was he an innovator in the domain of philosophy. His theological studies, while they developed in him the qualities of the critic and the savant, tended to disgust him with metaphysical systems. He was too much a historian to see in these systems anything but the dreams of human ignorance amid an assemblage of things it could not understand, the successive mirages thrown up before the mind by the changing spectacle of the world. But if he was not a philosopher, he was a great thinker. He flung broadcast on every subject he touched—on art or politics as on science or religion—the most original and the most pregnant ideas.
As to his skepticism and his so-called dilettanteism, they were but the consequence of his sincerity. Afraid, above all things, of deceiving or being deceived, he had no fear of proposing contradictory hypotheses on subjects where he believed certainty to be impossible. People have wondered that the same man who wished to have the words "Veritatem dilexi" placed upon his tomb should so often have asked with Pilate, "What is truth?" But these questions, not unmingled with irony, were themselves a homage to the truth. He perceived that for most men the love of the truth means intolerance, fanaticism, particular opinions received by tradition or born of the imagination, always destitute of proof and destructive of freedom of thought. To assert opinions which he could not prove seemed to him an insufferable impertinence, an infringement of intellectual liberty, a want of sincerity toward himself and others. And he bore himself this testimony: That he had never consciously uttered a lie. He regarded it as stoicism, not skepticism, to go on in the practice of duty without knowing whether it had any objective reality; to live for the ideal without believing in a personal God or in any future life.
And now, if we are to ask what is the special characteristic by which Renan must take rank among the great writers and great thinkers of the world, we shall find that his supremacy resides in his peculiar gift of seeing Nature and history in their infinite variety. He recreated the universe in his own brain; he thought it out again, so to speak; and that in a variety of versions. The spectacle that he thus inwardly conceived and contemplated it was given him to communicate to others by a sort of enchantment of persuasive speech. This power of creative contemplation was the main source of the continual gladness which illumined his life, and of the serenity with which he accepted the approach of death.