Bruno, Jordan

, an Italian writer to whom atheism has been generally, but unjustly, imputed, was born atNola in the kingdom of Naples, about the middle of the sixteenth century. His talents are said to have been considerable, but this is hardly discoverable from his works: he early, however, set up for an inquirer and innovator, and very naturally found many things in the philosophy and theology then taught in Italy, which he could not comprehend. Being fond of retirement and study, he entered into a monastery of Dominicans, but the freedom of his opinions, and particularly of his censures on the irregularities of the fraternity, rendered it soon necessary to leave his order and his country. In 1582, he withdrew to | Geneva, where his heretical opinions gave offence to Calvin and Beza, and he was soon obliged to provide for his safety by flight. After a short stay at Lyons he came to Paris, and his innovating spirit recommended him to the notice of multitudes, who at this time declared open hostilities against the authority of Aristotle. In a public disputation, held in the royal academy, in 1586, he defended, three days successively, certain propositions concerning nature and the world, which, together with brief heads of the arguments, he afterwards published in Saxony, under the title of “Acrotismus,” or “Reasons of the physical articles proposed against the Peripatetics at Paris.” The contempt with which Bruno, in the course of these debates, treated Aristotle, exposed him to the resentment of the academic professors, who were zealous advocates for the old system; and he found it expedientto leave thekingdom of France. According to some writers, he now visited England, in the train of the French ambassador Castelneau, wherehe was hospitably received by sir Philip Sydney and sir Fulke Gre.ville, and was introduced to queen Elizabeth. But though it is certain from his writings that he was in England, he probably made this visit in some other part of his life, and we should suppose before this, in 1583 or 1584. For, about the middle of the same year in which he was at Paris, we find him, at Wittenburg, a zealous adherent of Luther. In this city he met with a liberal reception, and full permission to propagate his doctrines: but the severity with which he inveighed against Aristotle, the latitude of his opinions in religion as well as philosophy, and the contempt with which he treated the masters of the public schools, excited new jealousies; and complaints were lodged against him before the senate of the university. To escape the disgrace which threatened him, Bruno, after two years residence in Wittenburg, left that place, and took refuge in Helmstadt, where the known liberality of the duke of Brunswick encouraged him to hope for a secure asylum. But either through the restlessness of his disposition, or through unexpected opposition, he went next year to Francfort, to superintend an edition of his works, but before it was completed was obliged again, probably from fear of persecution, to quit that city. His next residence was at Padua; where the boldness with which h.e taught his new doctrines, and inveighed against the court of Rome, caused him to be apprehended and brought before | the inquisition at Venice. There he was tried, and convicted of his errors. Forty days being allowed him to deliberate, he promised to retract them, and as at the expiration of that term, he still maintained his errors, he obtained a further respite for forty days. At last, it appearing that he imposed upon the pope in order to prolong his life, sentence was finally passed upon him on the 9th of February 1600. He made no offer to retract during the week that was allowed him afterwards for that purpose, but underwent his punishment on the 17th, by being burnt at a stake.

Many modern writers have very successfully wiped off the aspersion of Bruno’s being an atheist; but, whatever he was with respect to religion, his character appears never to have risen much higher than that of a dealer in paradoxes. Brucker, who seems to have examined his works, and whose history we have chiefly followed in the preceding account, says, that a luxuriant imagination supplied him with wonderful conceptions, intelligible only to a few, which were never formed into a system. Not possessing that cool and solid judgment, and that habit of patient attention, which are necessary to a thorough investigation of subjects, he frequently embraced trifling and doubtful propositions as certain truths. His ideas are for the most part wild and fantastic, and he indulged himself in a most unbounded liberty of speech. Some of his original conceptions are indeed more luminous and satisfactory, and nearly coincide with the principles of philosophy afterwards received by Des Cartes, Leibnitz, and others. But these sparks of truth are buried in a confused mass of extravagant and trifling dogmas, expressed in a metaphorical and intricate style, and immethodically arranged. Brucker thinks that his doctrine was not founded, as Bayle and La Croze maintain, on the principles of Spinozism, but on the ancient and absurd doctrine of emanation.

His most celebrated philosophical pieces are the following: l. De Umbris Idearum, “On Shadows of Ideas.” 2. De rinfmito, Universe, et Mondi, “Of Infinity, the Universe, and World.” 3. Spaccio della Bestia triomfante, “Dispatches from the Triumphant Beast.” 4. Oratio valedictoria habita in Academia Wittebergensi, “A farewell Oration delivered in the University of Wittenberg.” 5. De Monade, Numero, et Figura, “Of Monad, Number, and Figure.” 6. Summa Terminorum Metaphysicorum, “Summary of Metaphysical Terms.” Of these | the satirical work, “Dispatches from the Beast triumphant,” is the mot celebrated. Dr. Warton, in a note upon Pope’s Works, asserts on the authority of Toland, that sir Philip Sidney was “the intimate friend and patron of the famous atheist Giordano Bruno, who was in a secret club with him and sir Fulk Greville, held in London in 1587, and that the” Spaccio“was at that time composed and printed in London, and dedicated to sir Philip.” But, besides that this date must be wrong, sir Philip Sidney having died the preceding year, it appears evidently from the account of the “Spaccio” given in the Spectator, No. 389*, that it was a very harmless production, founded upon a poetical fiction, and little adapted to make any man a convert to atheism. We refer, however, to Dr. Zouch’s Memoirs of Sir Philip Sidney for an ample defence both of sir Philip, and Bruno, whose greatest crime, in the eyes of the inquisition, was rather Lutheranism than atheism. 1


Brucker. Gen. Dict. —Moreri. Zouch’s Memoirs of Sir Philip Sidney, p. 537, &c. Nichols’s Bowyer.