GASSENDI, (PETER,) in biography, a very eminent philosopher and mathema tician, and one of the most illustrious orna ments of France, in the seventeenth cen tury, was born in the year 1592, at Chan terseir, about three miles from Digne, in Provence. He afforded early evidence that he possessed a lively and inquisitive genius, and a happy memory, which de termined his parents, though they were but in moderate circumstances, to bestow upon him the best education in their power. When he was only four years of age, in consequence of the pious impres sions which had been made on his mind, he was accustomed to act the preacher among his playmates ; and soon after wards he began to discover his taste for astronomy, by taking delight in gazing at the moon and stars, when the atmosphere was unclouded.
The pleasure which he took in con templating the heavens often led him to retire to unfrequented spots, where he might feast his eyes without being dis turbed; by which means his parents were frequently obliged to seek for him, under anxiety and apprehensions for his safety. When he was of a proper age to be sent to school, he was placed under the instructions of an excellent master at Digne, where he made a rapid progress in the knowledge of the Latin tongue, and also acquired a pre-eminence over his school-fellows in rhetorical exercises. Afterwards he was sent to study philoso phy for two years, under an able profes sor at Aix ; and at the expiration of that period returned to his father's house at Chantersier.
He had not been long at home, how ever, before he was invited to teach rhetoric at Digne, when not quite six teen years of age ; and about three years afterwards he was appointed to fill the vacant chair of philosophy in the Uni versity of Aix. During his residence at Digne, he had sedulously prosecuted his studies in the learned languages, mathe matics, and astronomy, and after a dili gent examination of the different sys tems of philosophy among the ancients, embraced that of Epicurus, of which he afterwards proved himself the most inge nious defender in modern times. When
he entered upon his philosophical pro fessorship at Aix, notwithstanding that the authority of Aristotle was still ac knowledged in almost all the public schools, Gassendi, after the examples of Vives, Ramus, and others, ventured pub licly to expose the defects of his system.
The lectures which contained his cen sures of the Aristotelian philosophy, de livered in the indirect form of para doxical problems, were published under the title of "Exercitationes Paradoxicx adversus Aristotelem." This work, which gave great offence to those who still re tained their predilection for scholastic subtlety, obtained the author no small degree of reputation with several learned men, particularly with Nicholas Peiresc, the president of the University at Aix, who determined to procure for him a situation in the church, in which he should be enabled to pursue his fa vourite studies at his leisure, and with out any molestation. After Gassendi had entered into holy orders, through the in terest of Peiresc, and Joseph Walter, prior of Vallette, he was promoted to a canonry in the cathedral church of Digne, and admitted to the degree of doctor of divinity ; and afterwards received the ap pointment of warden, or rector of the same church. In consequence of these promotions, he resigned his professor ship at Aix, and retiring to Digne, appli ed himself closely to his philosophical and astronomical pursuits.
Among his other works which he wrote in this place, was a second book of his " Exercitationes Paradoxicx," in tended to expose the futility of the Aris totelian logic. It was his first intention to pursue the plan still further ; but the violent opposition which he met with from some of the zealous and powerful advocates for the authority of Aristotle, induced him to desist from all direct at tacks upon his philosophy. Still, how ever, he professed his attachment to the system of Epicurus, and defended it with great learning and ability.