Gerdil, Hyacinth Sigismond

, a Roman cardinal, and a metaphysician of very considerable talents, was born at Samoens, in one of the northern districts of the Piedmontese dominions, in 1718. He was first instructed by an uncle, who afterwards placed him in the royal college at Anneci. In 1732 he entered the Barnabite order, and as soon as his divinity studies were finished, removed to Bologna, where he so recommeuded himself to Benedict XIV. then archbishop of that city, as to be employed by him in making extracts, translating passages and collecting hints for the treatise on canonization which that pontiff published some years afterwards. In 1742 he became professor of philosophy in the convent of Macerata, and in 1747 published at Turin his best metaphysical work, a “Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul,” which originated in this expression of Locke, that “we shall never know whether God has not communicated the power of thinking to matter.” Gerdil, in opposition to this opinion, which it is well known occasioned the charge of irreligion against Locke, maintains that “the immateriality of the soul can be demonstrated from the same principles by which Locke argues the existence and immateriality of the | Supreme Being.” Those, however, who gave father Gerdil credit for his success in this argument, were less pleased with finding that in his next work, published at Turin in 1748, a “Treatise on the nature and origin of Ideas,” he maintained the opinions of Malebranche against those of Locke; and this his biographer considers as a retrograde step in metaphysics.

The reputation of, these two works, whatever may now be thought of them, procured him the professorship of philosophy in the university of Turin in 1750, and he was also appointed a fellow of the royal academy which was instituted at that time. Many excellent memoirs from his pen are printed in the first five volumes of its transactions, published in 1759. In 1757 he published what was thought the most useful of all his works, the “Introduction to the Study of Religion,” against the infidel writers of his day. The merit of this work induced the pope Benedict XIV. to recommend him to his Sardinian majesty, to be tutor to the prince royal, afterwards the late (abdicated) king of Sardinia. For the use of his royal pupil he wrote an excellent treatise on duels; and during the time he was employed in the court of Turin, published three works in confutation of some paradoxes of as many eminent French writers,Melon, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. He confuted Melon in his doctrine, that luxury contributes tcr the prosperity of nations; Montesquieu, in his principle that monarchic governments can subsist without virtue; and Rousseau, in the whole of his system of education, exhibited in the Emile. This last appears to be the best. Rousseau himself acknowledged that it was the only book written against him which he thought worthy of being read to the end, a compliment, however, as much to himself as to Gerdil, and containing more vanity than truth. This work was translated into English, and published at London in 1764, under the title “Reflections on Education; relative both to theory and practice,” &c. 2 vols. 12mo. Gerdil afterwards diminished in some degree his general reputation by publishing a work on the phenomena of capillary tubes, in which he combated the doctrine of attraction. On this occasion the late celebrated astronomer La Lande said, *' Gerdil is learned in many other branches of science; and his reputation may safely dispense with this work.“| In 1777, on the nomination of his Sardinian majesty, Gerdil was made a cardinal, and consequently left Turin for Rome, where, however, he lived in a state of comparative retirement, and is said to have been dissatisfied with the political conduct of the court of Rome, from which he foresaw many evils to the church. In 1801 he warmly opposed the intended negociations with the French consular government, and treated Buonaparte’s proposal for a concordate as an impudent hypocritical farce, and therefore openly dissented from it. It was generally reported that he told the late pope, Pius VI. that” by the signature of the concordate he had signed the destruction of religion," which in one sense was probably true. Gerdil was a catholic of the old school, and with him there was no religion but that of the church, and no power but that of the court of Rome. These predominant sentiments of his mind are not unfrequently discoverable in his works. He died at Rome, Aug. 17, 1802, much regretted by his admirers, by his colleagues, and by the public at large. He was buried by his own desire in the plainest manner, in the church of his convent of St. Charles, at Cattinari. The year after his death a complete edition of his works was published at Bologna, in 6 vols. 4to. They are written in Latin, Italian, and French. 1

1 Athenaeum, vol. V. from his Eloge, published at Rone. —Dict. Hist.