Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/James Brucker
BRUCKER, James, theologian, historian, philologer, and biographer, was born at Augsburg on the 22d of January 1696. His father, who was a respectable burgher, destined him for the church; and his own inclinations according with his father's wishes, he was sent at the usual age to pursue his studies in the university of Jena. Here he took the degree of master of arts in 1718; and in the following year he published his Tentamen Introductionis in Historiam Doctrinæ de Ideis, in 4to,—a work which he afterwards amplified and completed, and republished under the title of Historia Philosophica Doctrinæ de Ideis, at Augsburg in 1723. He returned to his native city in 1720; but here his merit having attracted envy rather than recompense, he was induced to accept of the office of parish minister of Kaufbevern in 1723. In the same year he published a memoir De Vita et Scriptis Cl. Etringeri, Augs. 8vo. His reputation having been at length established by these learned works, in 1731 he was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences at Berlin; and soon afterwards he was invited to Augsburg to fill the honourable situation of pastor and senior minister of the church of St Ulric. He published in the same year three dissertations relating to the history of philosophy, under the title of Otium Vindelicum sive Meletematum Historico-philosophicorum Triga, Augsburg, 1731, 8vo. Besides several smaller dissertations on biography and literary history, printed at different times, and which he afterwards collected in his Miscellanea, he published at Ulm, in 1737, Neue Zusätze verschiedener Vermehrungen, &c., zu den kurtzen Fragen aus der philosophischen Historie, 7 vols. 12mo. This work being a history of philosophy in question and answer, contains many details, especially in the department of literary history, which he has chosen to omit in his greater work on the same subject. He was forced by the booksellers, in opposition to his own opinion, to adopt the erotematic method, which at that time had been rendered popular by the writings of Hubner and Rambach.
In 1741, at Leipsic, appeared the first volume of his great work, Historia Critica Philosophiæ, a mundi incunabulis ad nostram usque ætatem deducta. Four other ponderous quartos, completing the first edition of this elaborate history, followed in 1744. Such was the success of this publication, that the first impression, consisting of four thousand copies, was exhausted in twenty-three years, when a new and more perfect edition, the consummation of the labours of half a century devoted to the history of philosophy, was in 1767 given to the world in six volumes quarto. The sixth volume, consisting entirely of supplement and corrections, is applicable to the first as well as to the second edition. Of the merits of this work we shall speak in the sequel.
His attention, however, was not wholly occupied by this stupendous undertaking. The following books would of themselves have been sufficient to exhaust the industry of any ordinary author: Pinacotheca Scriptorum nostra ætate literis illustrium, &c., Ausgsburg, 1741–55, folio, in five decades. Ehrentempel der Deutschen Gelehrsamkeit in welchem die Bildnisse gelehrter Männer unter den Deutschen aus dem XV., XVI., und XVII. Jahrhundert aufgestellet, und ihre Geschichte, &c., entworfen sind, Augsburg, 1747–49, 4to, five decads. Institutiones Historiæ Philosophicæ, Leipsic, 1747, 8vo, second edition, ibid, 1756; a third has been published since Brucker's death, with a continuation by Professor Born of Leipsic, in 1790. Miscellanea Historiæ Philosophicæ Literariæ Criticæ olim sparsim edita, nunc uno fasce collecta, Augsburg, 1748, 8vo. Erste Anfangsgrunde der philosophischen Geschichte, als ein Auszug seiner grossern Werke, zweyte Ausgabe, Ulm, 1751, 8vo. He likewise superintended and corrected an edition of Luther's translation of the Old and New Testment, with a Commentary extracted from the writings of the English theologians, Leipsic, 1758–70, folio, six parts. His death ensued before the completion of this work, which has since been accomplished by Teller. He died at Augsburg in 1770; and he may be added to the catalogue of Huetius, to prove that literary labour is not incompatible with sound health and longevity. (See Saxii Onomasticon; Biographie Universelle; Gesner's Isagoge.)
It is only by his writings on the history of philosophy that Brucker is now known in the literature of Europe. In this study his great work forms an important era, and even at the present day it is the most extensive and elaborate upon the subject. It is, however, a work of which the defects are great, and its errors have been important in their consequences, in proportion to the authority it has acquired. We shall, therefore, hazard a few general observations on the defects which chiefly detract from the perfection and utility of the Critical History of Philosophy.
If Brucker had carried into this study a penetration equal to his diligence, and had his general comprehension of the scope and nature of the subject corresponded with the elaborate minuteness of his details, he would have left us a work which might have had some pretensions to be considered as a rational history of human opinion. He lived, however, at a period when these different qualities were only beginning to be conjoined, and when as yet the history of philosophy had been written merely as a chronicle of the passing theories of individuals and sects. To give to the science of history a regular and connected form, and to arrange the narrative of successive events, and still more of successive opinions, according to the relation they bear to principles of established influence, was an attempt of which few in that age had any conception, and of which Brucker certainly had none. In civil history it was then believed that the historian had fulfilled all the duties of his office if he strung together the events which were known or believed to have occurred, in good language, and garnished them occasionally by a few general reflections on the absolute motives of human action. A very different notion is now held of the functions of the historian. He who at present attempts to write the history of any country must reflect, before he begins, what were the chief occurrences in that history, and what were the revolutions which the manners and constitution of that particular nation have undergone. He must bear with him, from the commencement to the conclusion of his labours, a constant impression that every occurrence should be more or less considered, not only as it took place, and as it bore an influence on contemporary affairs, but as it may have remotely contributed to the events, and the opinions, and the character of succeeding times. But if this be true in regard to the histories of particular nations, it is evident that, by how much the traces of opinions are more light and evanescent than those of events, by how much the speculations of philosophers whose writings have either perished or come down to us mutilated and obscure are more difficult to be appreciated in their causes, and connections, and consequences, than the actions of warriors and statesmen,—by so much the more is it necessary in philosophical than in civil history to combine reasoning with erudition, and to substitute the researches of the philosopher for the details of the chronicler. History and philosophy are two different things; and he who would write the history of philosophy must excel in both. Bacon had long ago required this union, and had pointed out the manner in which the historian of literature should endeavour to establish those principles of connection which constitute the soul and charm of such a history; how, by detecting the union of effects and causes, he might be enabled to determine the circumstances favourable or adverse to the sciences; and how, in short, by a species of enchantment, he might evoke the literary genius of each different age. The fulfilment of this plan was, however, far beyond the capacity of Brucker, and was an undertaking of which he had even no conception. Better qualified by nature and education for amassing than arranging materials, he devoted his principal attention to a confused compilation of facts, leaving to others their application, the discovery of their mutual connections, and the formation of the scattered fragments into a whole.
The merit of his great work consists entirely in the ample collection of materials. The reader who would extract any rational view of the progress of opinion must peruse it with a perpetual commentary of his own thoughts. He will find no assistance from his author in forming any general views, or in tracing the mutual dependencies of the different parts of the subject. Brucker has discovered the fountains of history, but he has made us drink of them without purifying the draught. Even in this respect his merit has been greatly overrated. Vast as is the body of materials which he has collected, we are always missing those very things which we might reasonably have expected would have been the first objects of a rational inquirer, and we are continually disappointed of the information we are most anxious to acquire. The idle and slavish attention which he has bestowed on previous compilers has frequently diverted him from the study of the original authors themselves. Quoting the passages of the ancients from others, or trusting perhaps to the reference of an index, he has frequently overlooked those very testimonies which could have given us the most authentic knowledge of the opinions or characters of ages and individuals. He has often presented the authorities he has adduced, mutilated or misapplied; and this either from not having sufficiently studied these passages in their general connection with the system they illustrate, or from having been unable to withdraw them from the obscurity in which they were involved. He has shown no critical sagacity in distinguishing the spurious from the authentic, or in balancing the comparative weight of his authorities. He has frequently transcribed where he ought to have explained the words of the original authors; and, without taking into account the different value of the same term in different nations and ages, he has left us to apply a doubtful or erroneous meaning to words which might have been easily rendered by other expressions, and to suppose a distinction in the sense where there only existed a difference in the language. The glaring errors, even, which occasionally occur in his expositions of the Grecian philosophy, while they are inconsistent with any critical knowledge of the tongue, would make us suspect that he was in the habit of relying on the treacherous aid of translations. In short, if we knew nothing more of the ancient philosophers than what we acquire from Brucker, we should be often obliged to attribute to them opinions so obscure, or so absurd, that we must either believe ourselves wrong in the interpretation, or be unable to comprehend the cause of all the admiration and reverence they have received.
He has discovered little skill in his analysis of the different systems of philosophy; and the confusion of what is essential and principal with what is accidental and subordinate clearly evinces that these abridgments were thrown together while acquiring, in detail, a knowledge expressly for the purpose, instead of being the consummation of a long and familiar meditation on the subjects in all their modifications and dependencies. He has dwelt with the most irksome minuteness on every unimportant and doubtful circumstance in the lives of the philosophers; but he has too often overlooked the particular and general causes that produced an influence on the destinies of their philosophy. The aphoristic method which he has adopted prevents him from following a consecutive argument throughout its various windings. The most convincing reasoning in his hands loses much of its demonstration and beauty; and every ingenious paradox comes forth from his alembic a mere caput mortuum,—a residue from which every finer principle has been expelled. Where the genius of the philosopher is discovered more in the exposition and defence than in the original selection and intrinsic stability of his tenets, Brucker has not found the art of doing justice both to the philosopher and to his opinions, or of conveying to the reader any conception of the general value of the original. This last defect, it must, however, be acknowledged, is more or less inseparable from every abstract of opinions, where it is always necessary to separate in some degree what is essential to the subject from what is peculiar to the man. He has relieved the sterility of his analysis by none of the elegancies of which the subject was susceptible. Without any pretension to purity, his diction is defective even in precision; and his sentences, at all times void of harmony and grace, are abrupt, and often intricate in their structure.