Martin, Saint-marquis Louis Claude De
Martin, Saint-Marquis Louis Claude De, called "the Unknown Philosopher," a noted French mystic, was born at Amboise (Touraine) Jan. 18,1743; was educated for the bar; preferred a military life, and, through the influence of M. de Choiseul, obtained a commission. The regiment to which he was assigned contained several officers who had been initiated into a sort of mystical freemasonry by the Portuguese mystic Martinez Pasqualis; he soon became enamored with mystical doctrines, and read largely in that line. Mysticism, however, was at that time confined to rather narrow limits in France; the mind of nearly the whole country was absorbed in the rising school of materialism, and to combat the latter became the task of our obscure officer of the regiment of Foix. Saint-Martin soon threw up his commission, and gave himself wholly to writing and meditation, bent to crush, by every means in his power, the cold, heartless form of speculation which was then everywhere the order of the day. First he translated the works of Jacob Boehne; but finally he originated a religious mysticism, which, according to Morell (Hist. of Philos. in the 19th Cent. p. 208), consisted of the principles of the Cambridge Platonist Henry More, "reared up under the guidance of a versatile and enthusiastic spirit, as a barrier against the philosophical sensationalism of Condillac and the religious skepticism of Voltaire." But as all mystical schools have sooner or later found their natural issue in fanaticism, so Saint-Martin also struck against this self-same rock, and, despite the guarded manner in which he handled theological questions, the heresies contained in his writings are neither few nor small. Yet, notwithstanding many feats and vagaries of an ultra eccentric description, Saint-Martin has left us one of the best refutations of sensualist errors on record, and his influence against the materialism of the 18th century has to our very day failed to receive the recognition deserved. With his eyes fixed upon the invisible world, he passed unscathed through all the horrors of the French Revolution; he saw the Reign of Terror, the Directory, the Consulate, and quietly and happily closed a life of great literary activity at Aulnav, near Paris, Oct. 13,1803.
Among Saint-Martin's achievements, his victory over the sensationalist Garat deserves especial notice. "The legislators of the first French Revolution, in their attempt to remodel society after the Reign of Terror, had taken as their code of laws, and as their universal panacea, a debasing theory, which they, however, imagined would regenerate the world, and according to which they most naturally therefore wished to train the new generation. Such was the origin of the Ecole Normale, subsequently remodeled and organized by Napoleon, and still rendering the greatest services as a seminary of teachers. Saint-Martin had been sent by the district he inhabited to attend the lectures delivered in that school, and, of course, was expected to receive as sound gospel the teaching of the celebrated philosopher Garat, whose prelections on 'ideology' were scarcely anything else but a rechauffe of Condillac, dressed up with much taste, but still more assurance. A disciple of Jacob Bcehme, the young mystic, felt that what society required was not the deification of matter, nor the Encyclopadie made easy; he boldly rose up to refute the professor, and, by a reference to the third volume of the Debats des Ecoles Normales, the reader can follow all the circumstances of a discussion which ended in Garat's discomfiture. M. Caro (Saint-Martin's biographer) has supplied a valuable resume of the whole affair — an extremely important epoch in the life of Saint-Martin." M. Caro, in his Essai sur lea vie et la Doctrine de Saint-Martin (Paris, 1856), has given a complete list of Saint-Martin's works. They are rather numerous. The best are the following: Des Erreurs et de la Versits, ou les hornmes rappeles au Principe universel de la Science (1775); L'Homme de Desir; and De l'Esprit des Choses, ou coup d'oeil Philosophiques sur la nature des etres, et sur l'objet de leur existence (1800, 2 vols. 8vo). These supply a clue to the main features of the author's character, and by a careful study of them we are enabled to ascertain the exact position he occupies in the gallery of modern metaphysicians.
M. Damiron, in reviewing the life and works of Saint-Martin (Archives Litteraires, 1804), affords us the following resume of Saint-Martin's views: "The system of Saint-Martin aims at explaining everything by means of man. Man is to him the key to every phenomenon, and the image of all truth. Taking, therefore, literally the famous oracle of Delphi, 'Nosce te ipsum,' he maintains that, if we would fall into no mistakes respecting existence, and the harmony of all beings in the universe, we have only to understand ourselves, inasmuch as the body of man has a necessary relation to everything visible, and his spirit is the type of everything that is invisible. What we should study, then, are the physical faculties, whose exercise is often influenced by the senses and exterior objects, and the moral faculties or the conscience, which supposes free-will. It is in this study that we must seek for truth, and we shall find in ourselves all the necessary means of arriving at it:" this it is which our author calls natural revelation. For example: "The smallest attention," he says, "suffices to assure us that we can neither communicate nor form any idea without its being preceded by a picture or image of it, engendered by our own understanding; in this way it is that we originate the plan of a building or any other work. Our creative faculty is vast, active, inexhaustible; but, in examining it closely, we see that it is only secondary, temporary, dependent, i.e. that it owes its origin to a creative faculty, which is superior, independent, and universal, of which ours is but a feeble copy. Man, therefore, is a type, which must have a prototype, and that prototype is God." This extract affords a fair insight, we think, into the philosophical mysticism by which Saint-Martin attempted to supplant the shallow materialism and growing infidelity of his age, and to induce his countrymen to take a deeper insight into the constitution of the human mind, and its close connection with the divine. See, besides M. Caro's work above alluded to, Damiron, Memnoirespour servir a l'histoire dephilosophie au 18e siecle, vol. i; Malter, Saint-Martin, Le Philosophe inconnu (1862); Morell, History of Modern Philosophy, p. 208, 209; London Quarterly Review, 1856 (Jan.); 1857 (April), p. 177; Methodist Quarterly Review, 1863 (April), p. 339. (J. H. W.)