Tolerabile si Aedificia nostra diruerent Aedifi­candi capaces.



LONDON: Printed for R. and J. DODSLEY, in Pall-Mall. M.DCC.LIX.


  • CHAP. II. Of the decline of ancient learning, p. 8
  • CHAP. III. A view of the obscure ages, p. 31
  • [Page vi] CHAP. IV. A parallel between ancient and modern learning, p. 41
  • CHAP. V. Of the present state of polite learning in Italy, p. 45
  • CHAP. VI. Concerning the decline of ancient and modern learning, p. 74
  • CHAP. VII. The polite learning of England and France incapable of comparison, p. 82
  • [Page vii] CHAP. VIII. The present state of polite learning in France, p. 98
  • CHAP. IX. Of learning in Great Britain, p. 117
  • CHAP. X. Of the encouragement of learning, p. 121
  • CHAP. XI. Of Criticism, p. 147.
  • CHAP. XII. Of the Stage, p. 159
  • [Page viii] CHAP. XIII. Of Universities, p. 179
  • CHAP. XIV. The Conclusion, p. 195



IT has been so long the practice to repre­sent literature as declining, that every renewal of this complaint now comes with diminish'd influence. The publick has been often excited by a false alarm, so that at pre­sent the nearer we approach the threatned period of decay, the more our fatal security increases.

[Page 2] TO deplore the prostitution of learning, and despise cotemporary merit, it must be owned, have too often been the resource of the envious or disappointed, the dictates of resentment not impartiality. The writer, possessed of fame, is willing to enjoy it with­out a rival, by lessening every competitor; the unsuccessful author is desirous to turn upon others the contempt which is levelled at himself, and being convicted at the bar of literary justice, vainly hopes for pardon by accusing every brother of the same profession.

SENSIBLE of this; the writer of the fol­lowing essay is at a loss where to find an apology for his conduct, in still persisting to arraign the merit of the age; for joining in a cry which the judicious have long since left to be kept up by the vulgar, and for adopting the sentiments of the multitude [Page 3] in a performance that at best can please only the Few.

COMPLAINTS of our degeneracy in litera­ture as well as in morals, I own have been frequently exhibited of late; but seem to be enforced more with the ardour of devious declamation, than the calmness of delibe­rate enquiry. The dullest critic, who strives at a reputation for delicacy, by shew­ing he cannot be pleased, may pathetically assure us that our taste is upon the decline, may consign every modern performance to oblivion, and bequeath nothing to posterity except the labours of our ancestors, and his own. Such general invective, however, con­veys no instruction; all it teaches is, that the writer dislikes an age by which he is proba­bly disregarded. The manner of being use­ful on the subject would be to point out the symptoms, to investigate the causes, and [Page 4] direct to the remedies of the approaching decay. This is a subject hitherto unat­tempted in criticism, perhaps it is the only subject in which criticism can be useful.

TO mark out, therefore, the corruptions that have found way into the republick of letters, to attempt the rescuing of genius from the shackles of pedantry and criticism, to distinguish the decay, naturally consequent on an age like ours grown old in literature, from every erroneous innovation which admits a remedy, to take a view of those societies which profess the advancement of polite learning, and by a mutual opposition of their excellencies and defects to attempt the improvement of each, is the design of this essay.

HOW far the writer is equal to such an undertaking the reader must determine; but [Page 5] this may be asserted without the imputation of vanity, that he enters the lists with no disappointments to biass his judgment, nor will he ever reprove but with a desire to reform. The defects of his execution may be compensated by the usefulness of his de­sign, his observations may be just, tho' his manner of expressing them should only serve as an example of the errors he under­takes to reprove.

IF the present enquiry were a topick of speculative curiosity, calculated to fill up a few vacant moments in literary indolence, I should think my labour ill bestowed. To rank in the same despicable class with the dissertations, aenigma's, problems, and other periodical compilations with which even idleness is cloyed at present, is by no means my ambition. True learning and true morality are closely connected; to im­prove [Page 6] the head will insensibly influence the heart, a deficiency of taste and a corrup­tion of manners are sometimes found mutu­ally to produce each other.

DISSENTING from received opinions may frequently render this essay liable to correc­tion, yet the reader may be assured that a passion for singularity never gives rise to the error. Novelty is not permitted to usurp the place of reason; it may attend, but shall not conduct the enquiry. The more original however any performance is, the more it is liable to deviate; for cautious stupidity is always in the right. In literature as in commerce the value of the acquisition is generally proportioned to the hazard of the adventure. I shall think therefore with freedom, and bear correction with candour. It is but just that he who dissents from others [Page 7] should not be displeased if others differ from him. The applause of a few, a very few, will satisfy ambition, and even ill-nature must confess that I have been willing to ad­vance the reputation of the age at the hazard of my own.

CHAP. II. Of the decline of ancient learning.

IF we consider the revolutions which have happened in the common wealth of letters, survey the rapid progress of learn­ing in one period of antiquity, or its amazing decline in another, we shall be al­most induc'd to accuse nature of partiality, as if she had exhausted all her efforts in adorning one age, while she left the succeed­ing entirely neglected. It is not to nature, however, but to ourselves alone that this partiality must be ascrib'd; the seeds of ex­cellence are sown in every age, and it is wholly owing to a wrong direction in the passions or pursuits of mankind that they have not received the proper cultivation. It is not nature that is fatigued with pro­ducing [Page 9] her wonders so much as we that are satiated with admiration.

AS in the best regulated societies, the very laws which at first give the govern­ment solidity, may in the end contribute to its dissolution, so the efforts which might have promoted learning in its feeble com­mencement may, if continued, retard its progress. The paths of science which were at first intricate because untrodden, may at last grow toilsome because too much frequented. As learning advances, the candidates for its honours may become more numerous, and the acquisition of fame more uncertain; the modest may despair of attaining it, and the opulent think it too precarious to pursue; thus the task of supporting the honour of the times may at last devolve on indigence and [Page 10] effrontery, and learning partake the con­tempt of its professors.

TO illustrate these assertions it may be proper to take a slight review of the decline of ancient learning; to consider how far its depravation was owing to the impossibility of supporting continued perfection; in what respects it proceeded from voluntary cor­ruption; and how far it was hastened on by accidental event. If Modern learning be compared with Ancient in these different lights, a parallel between both, which has hi­therto produced only vain dispute, may con­tribute to amusement, perhaps, instruction. We shall thus be enabled to perceive what period of antiquity the present age most resembles, whether we are making advances towards excellence or retiring again to pri­meval obscurity; we shall, by their exam­ple, [Page 11] be taught to acquiesce in those defects which it is impossible to prevent; and reject all faulty innovations tho' offered under the specious titles of improvement.

IN early ages when man was employed in acquiring necessary subsistance, or in defend­ing his acquisitions, when without laws or society he led a precarious life, while even the savage rivalled him in the dominion of the forest; in such times of fatigue and dark­ness we must not look for the origin of arts or learning, which are the offspring of secu­rity, opulence and ease. When experience taught the advantages of society, when na­tive freedom was exchanged for social secu­rity, when man began to feel the benefit of laws, and the mind had leisure for the con­templation of nature and itself, then, pro­bably, the sciences might have been culti­vated [Page 12] to add strength to the rising com­munity, and the polite arts introduced to promote its enjoyments.

LEARNING, when planted in any coun­try, is transient and fading, nor does it flourish till slow gradations of improve­ment have naturalized it to the soil. It makes feeble advances, begins among the vulgar, and rises into reputation among the great. It cannot be established in a state at once, by introducing the learned of other countries; these may grace a court, but seldom enlighten a kingdom. Ptolemy Philadelphus, Constantine Por­phyriogeneta, Alfred, or Charlemagne, might have invited learned foreigners in­to their dominions, but could not establish learning. While in the radiance of royal favour, every art and science seemed to [Page 13] flourish, but when that was withdrawn, they quickly felt the rigours of a strange climate, and with exotic constitutions pe­rished by neglect.

As the arts and sciences are slow in com­ing to maturity, it is requisite in order to their perfection, that the state should be permanent, which gives them reception. There are numberless attempts without suc­cess, and experiments without conclusion, between the first rudiments of an art, and its utmost perfection, between the outlines of a shadow, and the picture of an Apel­les. Leisure is required to go through the tedious interval, to join the experience of predecessors to our own, or enlarge our views, by building on the ruined attempts of former adventurers. All this may be performed in a society of long continuance; [Page 14] but if the kingdom be but of short dura­tion, as was the case of Arabia, learning seems coeval, sympathizes with its politi­cal struggles, and is annihilated in its dis­solution.

BUT permanence in a state, is not alone sufficient, it is requisite also for this end that it should be free. Naturalists assure us, that all animals are sagacious in propor­tion as they are removed from the tyran­ny of others; in native liberty, the ele­phant is a citizen, and the beaver, an ar­chitect; but whenever the tyrant man in­trudes upon their community, their spirit is broken, they seem anxious only for safety, and their intellects suffer an equal diminu­tion with their prosperity. The parallel will hold with regard to mankind; fear na­turally represses invention, benevolence, [Page 15] ambition; for in a nation of slaves, as in the despotic governments of the east, to labour after fame is to be a candidate for danger.

FOR a state to attain literary excellence, besides, it is requisite, that the soil and cli­mate should, as much as possible, conduce to happiness. The earth must supply man with the necessaries of life, before he has leisure, or inclination, to pursue its more re­fined enjoyments. The climate also must be equally indulgent, for, in too warm a region, the mind is relaxed into languors, and by the opposite excess, is chilled into torpid inactivity.

These are the principal advantages which tend to the improvement of learning. En­couragement from the Great is useful in pre­venting its decline.

[Page 16] THOSE who behold the phaenomena of na­ture, and content themselves with the view without enquiring into their causes, are per­haps wiser than is generally imagined. In this manner our rude ancestors were acquaint­ed with facts, and Poetry, which helped the imagination, and the memory was thought the most proper vehicle for conveying their knowledge to posterity. It was the poet, who harmonized the ungrateful accents of his native dialect, who lifted it above common conversation, and shaped its rude combi­nations into order. From him the orator formed a stile, and though poetry first rose out of prose, in turn, it gave birth to every prosaic excellence. Musical period, con­cise expression, and delicacy of sentiment, were all excellencies derived from the poet; in short, he not only preceded, but formed the orator, philosopher, and historian.

[Page 17] WHEN the observations of past ages were collected, philosophy began to examine their causes. She had numberless facts from which to draw proper inferences, and poetry had taught her the strongest expres­sion to enforce them. The Greeks, (for we know little of the Egyptian learning) now exerted all their happy talents in the investigation of truth, and the production of beauty. Before this, the works of art were remarkable only for the vastness of design, and seemed the productions of giants, not of ordinary men; learning was another name for magic, or to give it its real ap­pellation, imposture. But those improvers saw there was more excellence in capti­vating the judgment, than in raising a momentary astonishment: in their arts they imitated only such parts of nature, as might please in the representation; in the sciences, [Page 18] they cultivated such parts of knowlege, as it was every man's duty to be acquaint­ed with. Unity, variety, and proportion, charmed in all their designs; liberty, pa­triotism, and a subjection to the laws were, what all their true philosophers strove to inculcate. Thus learning was encouraged, protected, honoured, and in its turn, it adorned, strengthened and harmonized the community.

FROM being the disciple of Greece, Rome soon became its rival, and was as much esteemed for its improvements in the arts of peace, as feared for its atchieve­ments in those of war. The Romans un­derstood, perhaps, better than their masters, the manner of blending art and science for their mutual improvement. By this means their philosophy acquired more grace, and [Page 19] their poetry more sentiment. They entire­ly banished that magical obscurity, which the Greeks first borrowed from other na­tions, and some part of which, their most admired writers thought proper still to re­tain. The learning of the Romans might justly be stiled, the truest refinement on common sense, it was therefore, a proper instrument in the hands of ambition. Their most powerful men, not only encouraged, but became themselves, the finest models of literary perfection. Thus the arts and sciences went on together, and reasoning proceeded no farther, than where experi­ment pointed out the way.

BUT as the operations of body are slow, those of the mind vigorous and active, as experiment is dilatory and painful, specula­tion quick and amusing, the spirit of phi­losophy [Page 20] being excited, the reasoner, when des­titute of experiment, had recourse to theory, and gave up what was useful for refinement.

CRITICS, sophists, grammarians, rheto­ricians, and commentators, now began to figure in the literary commonwealth. In the dawn of science, such are generally mo­dest, and not entirely useless; their perfor­mances serve to mark the progress of learn­ing, tho' they seldom contribute to its im­provement. But as nothing but labour is required in making proficients, in their re­spective departments; so neither the satyr, nor the contempt of the wise, though So­crates was of the number, nor the laws le­velled at them by the state, though Cato was in the legislature, could prevent their approaches. Possessed of all the advanta­ges of unfeeling dullness, laborious, insen­sible, [Page 21] shameless and persevering, they still proceeded mending, and mending every work of genius, or to speak without irony, undermining all that was polite and useful. Libraries were crammed, but not enriched with their labours, while the fatigues of reading their explanatory comments was ten-fold that which might suffice for un­derstanding the original. Their works effectually encreased our application, by professing to remove it.

AGAINST so obstinate and irrefragable an enemy, what could avail the unsupport­ed sallies of genius, or the opposition of transitory resentment? In short, they con­quered by persevering, claimed the right of dictating upon every work of taste, sen­timent, or genius, and at last, when desti­tute of other employment, like the super­numerary [Page 22] domestics of the great, made work for each other.

THEY now took upon them to teach poetry, to those who wanted genius, and the power of disputing, to those who knew nothing of the subject in debate. It was observed, how some of the most admired poets had copied nature. From these, they collected dry rules, dignified with long names, and such were obtruded upon the public for their improvement. Common sense would be apt to suggest, that the art might be studied to more advantage, rather by imitation than precept. It might suggest, that those rules were collected, not from nature, but a copy of nature, and would consequently give us still fainter resemblances of original beauty. It might still suggest, that explained wit, makes but a feeble impression, that the obser­vations [Page 23] of others, are soon forgotten, those, made by ourselves, are permanent and use­ful. But, it seems, understandings of every size were to be mechanically instructed in poetry. If the reader was too dull to re­lish the beauties of Virgil, the comment of Servius was ready to brighten his ima­gination; if Terence could not raise him to a smile, Evantius was at hand, with a long-winded scholium to encrease his titil­lation. Such rules are calculated to make blockheads talk, but all the lemmata of the Lyceum are unable to give him feeling.

THEIR logical disputations seemed even to be the apotheosis of folly. In these the opponent had a right to affirm, whatever absurdity he thought proper. The defen­dant, though he saw the falshood almost by intuition, was not allowed to use his [Page 24] reason, but his art, in the debate. It was his business only to measure the assertion by one of his artificial instruments, and as it happen­ed to accord, or disagree, he found himself qualified to support, or obliged to disconti­nue, his defence; which seldom, however, happened, till fatigue or anger terminated the enquiry.

But it would be endless to recount all the insect-like absurdities, which were hatched in the schools of those specious idlers; be it sufficient to say, that they encreased as learning improved, but swarmed on its decline. It was then, that every work of taste was buried in long comments, every useful subject in mo­rals, was distinguished away into casuistry, and doubt and subtilty characterized the learning of the age. Metrodorus, Valeri­us [Page 25] Probus, Aulus Gellius, Pedianus, Boe­thius, and an hundred others, to be ac­quainted with whom, might shew much reading, and but little judgment; these, I say, made choice each of an author, and delivered all their load of learning on his back; shame to our ancestors, many of their works have reached our times entire, while Tacitus himself has suffered mutilation.

In a word, the commonwealth of li­terature, was at last wholly overrun by these studious triflers. Men of real ge­nius, were lost in the multitude, or, as in a world of fools, it were folly to aim at being an only exception, obliged to con­form to every prevailing absurdity of the times. Original productions seldom ap­peared, and learning, as if grown supera­nuated, bestowed all its panegyric upon [Page 26] the vigour of its youth, and turned enco­miast upon its former atchievements.

IT is to these, then, that the depravation of ancient polite learning, is principally to be ascribed. By them it was separated from common sense, and made the proper employment of speculative idlers. Men bred up among books, and seeing nature only by reflection, could do little, except hunt after perplexity and confusion. The public, therefore, with reason rejected learn­ing, when thus rendered barren, though voluminous, for we may be assured, that the generality of mankind never lose a passion for letters, while they continue to be either amusing or useful.

IT was such writers as these, that ren­dered learning unfit for uniting and strength­ening [Page 27] civil society, or for promoting the views of ambition. True philosophy had kept the Graecian states cemented into one effective body, more than any law for that purpose; and the Etrurian philosophy, which prevailed in the first ages of Rome, inspired those patriot virtues, which paved the way to universal empire. But by the labours of commentators, when philoso­phy became abstruse, or triflingly minute, when doubt was presented instead of know­ledge, when the orator was taught to charm the multitude with the music of his pe­riods, and pronounced a declamation, that might be sung as well as spoken, and often upon subjects wholly fictitious; in such cir­cumstances, learning was entirely unsuited to all the purposes of government, or the designs of the ambitious. As long as the sciences could influence the state, and its [Page 28] politics were strengthened by them, so long did the community give them countenance and protection. But the wiser part of man­kind would not be imposed upon by unin­telligible jargon, nor, like the knight in Pantagruel, swallow a chimera for a break­fast, though even cooked by Aristotle. As the philosopher grew useless in the state, he also became contemptible. In the times of Lucian, he was chiefly remarkable for his avarice, his impudence, and his beard.

UNDER the auspicious influence of genius, arts and sciences grew up to­gether, and mutually illustrated each other. But when once Pedants became law­givers, the sciences began to want grace, and the polite arts solidity; these grew crabbed and sowre, those meretrici­ous and gawdy; the philosopher became [Page 29] disgustingly precise, and the poet, ever straining after grace, caught only finery.

These men also contributed to obstruct the progress of wisdom, by addicting their readers to one particular sect, or some fa­vourite science. They generally carried on a petty traffic in some little creek; within that they busily plied about, and drove an insignificant trade; but never ventured out into the great ocean of knowlege, nor went beyond the bounds that chance, con­ceit, or laziness had first prescribed their enquiries. Their disciples, instead of aim­ing at being originals themselves, became imitators of that merit alone, which was constantly proposed for their admiration. In exercises of this kind, the most stupid are generally most successful; for there is not [Page 30] in nature, a more imitative animal than a dunce.

FROM hence ancient learning may be distinguished into three periods. Its com­mencement, or the age of poets; its ma­turity, or the age of philosophers; and its decline, or the age of critics. In the com­mencement of learning, commentators were very few, but might have, in some re­spects, been useful. In its maturity, their assistance must necessarily become obnoxi­ous, yet, as if the nearer we approached perfection, the more we stood in need of their directions, in this period they began to grow numerous. But when polite learn­ing was no more, then it was those lite­rary lawgivers made the most formidable appearance. Corruptissima republica, plu­rimae leges. TACIT.

CHAP. III. A view of the obscure ages.

WHATEVER the skill of any country may be in the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learn­ing alone, it must expect a character from posterity. The poet and the historian, are they who diffuse a lustre upon the age, and the philosopher scarce acquires any applause, unless his character be introduced to the vulgar by their mediation.

THE obscure ages which succeeded the decline of the Roman empire, are a strik­ing instance of the truth of this assertion. Whatever period of those ill-fated times we happen to turn to, we shall perceive more skill in the sciences among the pro­fessors [Page 32] of them, more abstruse and deeper enquiry into every philosophical subject, and a greater shew of subtilty and close reasoning, than in the most enlightened ages of all antiquity. But their writings were mere speculative amusements, and all their researches exhausted upon trifles. Unskil­led in the arts of adorning their knowlege, or adapting it to common sense, their vo­luminous productions rest peacefully in our libraries, or at best, are enquired after from motives of curiosity, and not of learn­ing, not by the scholar, but the virtuoso.

I AM not insensible, that several late French historians, have exhibited the ob­scure ages in a very different light; they have represented them, as utterly ignorant both of arts and sciences, buried in the profoundest darkness, or only illuminated [Page 33] with a feeble gleam, which, like an expir­ing taper, rose and sunk by intervals. Such assertions, however, though they serve to help out the declaimer, should be cauti­ously admitted by the historian. The tenth century is particularly distinguished by pos­terity, with the appellation of obscure. Yet even in this, the reader's memory may possibly suggest the names of some, whose works, still preserved, discover a most extensive erudition, tho' rendered almost useless by affectation and obscurity. A few of their names and writings may be mention­ed, which will serve at once to confirm what I assert, and give the reader an idea of what kind of learning an age declining into obscurity chiefly chuses to cultivate.

ABOUT the tenth century, flourished Leo the philosopher. We have seven volumes [Page 34] folio of his collections of laws, published at Paris, 1647. He wrote upon the art military, and understood also astronomy, and judicial astrology. He was seven times more voluminous than Plato.

SOLOMON, the German, wrote a most elegant dictionary of the Latin tongue, still preserved in the university of Louvain; Pantaleon, in the lives of his illustrious countrymen, speaks of it in the warmest strains of rapture. Dictionary writing was, at that time, much in fashion.

CONSTANTINE Porphyriogeneta, a man universally skilled in the sciences. His tracts on the administration of an empire, on tactics, on laws, &c. &c. were publish­ed some years since at Leyden. His court, for he was emperor of the east, was re­sorted [Page 35] to by the learned from all parts of the world.

LUITPRANDUS, a most voluminous his­torian, particularly famous for the history of his own times. In this he shews him­self a perfect matter of fact man, but, like some moderns, who only value themselves on the same qualification, he was a most notorious fabulist. The compliments paid him as a writer, are said to exceed even his own voluminous productions. I can­not pass over one of a latter date made him by a German divine. Luitprandus nun­quam Luitprando dissimilis. In English, None but himself could be his parallel.

ALFRIC composed several grammars and dictionaries still preserved among the curious.

[Page 36] POPE Sylvester the eleventh, wrote a treatise on the sphere, on arithmetic, and geometry, published some years since at Paris.

MICHAEL Psellus lived in this age, whose books in the sciences, I will not scruple to assert, contain more learning than those of any one of the earlier ages of antiquity: his erudition was indeed amaz­ing, and he was as voluminous as he was learned. The character given him by Al­latius has, perhaps, more truth in it than will be granted by those who have seen none of his productions. There was, says he, no science with which he was unac­quainted, none which he did not write something upon, and none which he did not leave better than he found it. To mention his works, would be endless. [Page 37] His commentaries on Aristotle alone a­mount to three folios.

BERTHOLDUS Teutonicus, a very volu­minous historian. He was a politician, and wrote against the government; but most of his writings, though not all, are lost.

CONSTANTINUS AFER, a philosopher and physician. We have remaining but two volumes folio of his philological perfor­mances. However, the historian, who prefixes the life of the author to his wroks, says, that he wrote many more, as he kept on writing during the course of a long life; and when he had thus compiled more than any man that ever went before him, he sell asleep. In domino obdormivit.

[Page 38] LAMBERTUS published an universal hi­story about this time, which has been printed at Francfort in folio. An univer­sal history in one folio! If he had consult­ed with his bookseller, he would have spun it out to ten at least; but Lambertus might have had too much modesty.

OLYMPIODORUS published commenta­ries upon Plato. Doctor Foster, in his late edition of the select dialogues of that philosopher, has often taken occasion to quote him, and mentions him with honour.

By this time, the reader perceives the spirit of learning, which at that time pre­vailed. The ignorance of the age was not owing to a dislike of knowledge, but a false standard of taste was erected, and a wrong direction given to philosophical [Page 39] enquiry. It was the fashion of the day to consult books, not nature, and to eva­porate in a folio, the spirit that could scarce have sufficed for an epigram. The most barbarous times had men of learning, if commentators, compilers, polemic divines, and intricate metaphysicians, deserved the title.

I HAVE mentioned but a very inconsi­derable number of the writers in this age of obscurity. The multiplicity of their publications can, at least, equal those of any similar period of the most polite an­tiquity. As, therefore, the writers of those times are almost entirely forgotten, we may infer, that the number of publica­tions alone will never secure any age whatsoever from oblivion. Nor can print­ing, contrary to what Mr. Baumelle has [Page 40] remarked, prevent literary decline for the future, since it only encreases the number of books, without advancing their intrin­sic merit.

CHAP. IV. A parallel between the rise and decline of ancient and modern learning.

FEW subjects have been more fre­quently and warmly debated, than the comparative superiority of the ancients and moderns. It is unaccountable how a dispute, so trifling, could be contested with so much virulence. A dispute of this nature, could have no other conse­quences, if decided, but to teach young writers to despise the one side or the other. A dispute, therefore, which, if de­termined, might tend rather to prejudice our taste, than improve it, should have been argued with good nature, as it could not with success. For mere critics to be guilty of such scholastic rage, is not un­common, [Page 42] but for men of the first rank of fame to be delinquent also, is, I own, surprizing.

THE reflecting reader need scarcely be informed, that this contested excellence can be decided in favour of neither. They have both copied from different originals, described the manners of different ages, have exhibited nature as they found her, and both are excellent in separate imita­tions. Homer describes his Gods as his countrymen believed them. Virgil, in a more enlightened age, describes his with a greater degree of respect; and Milton still rises infinitely above either. The ma­chinery of Homer is best adapted to an unenlightened idolator; that of the Roman poet, to a more refined heathen; and that of Milton, to a reader illuminated by re­velation. [Page 43] Had Homer wrote like Milton, his countrymen would have despised him; had Milton adopted the theology of the ancient bard, he had been truly ridicu­lous. Again, should I depreciate Plautus for not enlivening his pieces with the characters of a coquet, or a marquis, so humourous in modern comedy; or Moliere, for not introducing a legal bawd, or a parasitical boaster, so highly finished in the Roman poet; my censure in either case would be as absurd as his, who should dislike a geoprapher for not introducing more rivers, or promontories, into a coun­try, than nature had given it; or the natural historian, for not enlivening his description of a dead landscape with a torrent, a ca­taract, or a volcano.

[Page 44] THE parallel between antiquity and our selves can thrrefore be managed to advantage only by comparing the rise and progress of ancient and modern learning together, so that being appriz'd of the causes of cor­ruption in one, we may be upon our guard against any similar depravations in the other.

CHAP. V. Of the present state of polite learning in Italy.

DANTE, who wrote in the 13th cen­tury, was the first who attempted to bring learning from the cloister into the com­munity, and paint human nature in a lan­guage adapted to modern manners. He ad­dressed a barbarous people in a method suited to their apprehensions; united purgatory and the river Styx, St. Peter and Virgil, heaven and hell together, and shews a strange mix­ture of good sense and absurdity. The truth is, he owes most of his reputation to the obscurity of the times in which he liv'd. As in the land of Benin a man may pass for a prodigy of parts who can read, so in an age of barbarity a small degree of excellence ensures success. Be it his greatest merit [Page 46] therefore to have lifted up the standard of nature, in spite of all the opposition and the persecution he received from cotemporary criticism. To this standard every succeed­ing genius resorted; the germ of every art and science began to unfold, and to imitate nature was found to be the surest way of imitating antiquity. In a century or two after, modern Italy might justly boast of rivalling ancient Rome; equal in some branches of polite learning, and not far sur­passed in others.

THEY soon however fell from emulating the wonders of antiquity into simple admi­ration. As if the word had been given when Vida and Tasso wrote on the arts of poetry, the whole swarm of critics was up; the Spe­roni's of the age attempted to be awkward­ly merry; and the virtuosi and the Nascotti [Page 47] sat upon the merits of every contemporary performance. After the age of Clement VII. the Italians seem'd to think that there was more merit in praising or censuring well, than in writing well; almost every subse­quent performance being designed rather to shew the excellence of their taste than their genius.

BUT while I describe Italy as thus fallen from her former excellence, I cannot restrain the pleasure of mentioning one or two poets who seem born to redeem the honour of their country. Metastasio has restored na­ture in all her beauteous simplicity: no poet ever painted more conformably to truth, nor is there any whose characters speak a more heart-felt passion. His language also, if a foreigner may be allowed to determine, ex­cells even that of Tasso, and his scenery is [Page 48] infinitely superior. Maffei is the first who has introduced a tragedy among his coun­try-men without a love-plot. Perhaps the Sampson of Milton, and the Athalia of Racine, might have been his guides in such an attempt. Yet he seems as much inferior to either as a poet, as the subject of his Merope is more happily chosen.

TWO poets, however, in an age are not sufficient to revive the splendor of decaying genius; nor should we consider the few as the national standard, by which to characterize the many. Our measures of li­terary reputation must be taken rather from that numerous class of men who, placed above the vulgar, are yet beneath the great, and who confer fame on others with­out receiving any portion of it themselves.

[Page 49] IN Italy, then, we shall no where find a stronger passion for art or science, yet no country making more feeble efforts to pro­mote either. The Virtuosi and Filosofi seem to have divided the Encyclopedia between each other. Both inviolably attach'd to their respective pursuits, and from an oppo­sition of character, each holding the other in the most sovereign contempt. The Vir­tuosi professed critics of beauty in the works of art, judge of medals by the smell, and the merit of a picture by feeling. In statuary hang over a fragment with the most ardent gaze of admiration, tho' wanting the head and the other extremities, if dug from a ruin the Torse becomes inestimable. An unintelligible monument of Etruscan barba­rity cannot be sufficiently prized; and any thing from Herculanean becomes rapturous. When the intellectual taste is thus decayed, [Page 50] its relishes become false, and, like that of sense, nothing will satisfy, but what is best suited to palliate or feed the disease.

POETRY is no longer among them the imitation of what we see, but of what a visionary might wish. The zephyr breathes the most exquisite perfume, the trees wear eternal verdure; fauns, and dryads, and hamadryads, stand ready to fan the sul­try shepherdess, who has forgot indeed the prettinesses, with which former Italian shepherdesses have been reproached, but is so simple and innocent, as often to have no meaning. Happy country, where the pasto­ral age begins to revive! Where the wits even of Rome are united into a rural groupe of nymphs and swains, under the appellation of modern Arcadians. Where in the midst of porticos, processions, and cavalcades, [Page 51] abbes turn'd into shepherds, and shepherd­esses without sheep, indulge their inno­cent divertimenti. Perhaps, while I am writing, a shepherdess of threescore is listening to the pastoral tale of a French abbe; a warm imagination might paint her in all the splendor of ripened beauty, reclin­ed on a paste-board rock; might fancy her lover, with looks inexpressibly tender, ravish­ing a kiss from the snowy softness of one of her hands, while the other holds a crook according to pastoral decorum. Amidst such frippery as this, there was no place for friendless Metastasio; he has left Italy, and the genius of nature seems to have left it with him.

THE Filosofi are entirely different from the former. As those pretend to have [Page 52] got their knowlege from conversing with the living and polite, so these boast of hav­ing theirs from books and study. Bred up all their lives in colleges, they have there learned to think in track, servilely to follow the leader of their fect, and only to adopt such opinions, as their univer­sities, or the inquisition, are pleased to allow. By this means, they are behind the rest of Europe, in several modern improvements. Afraid to think for them­selves; and universities seldom admit opi­nions as true, till universally received a­mong the rest of mankind. In short, were I to personize my ideas of learning in this country, I would either represent it in the tawdry habits of the stage, or else in the more homely guise of bearded school-philosophy.

[Page 53] THE Germans early discovered a passion for polite literature; but unhappily, like conquerors, who invading the dominions of others, leave their own to desolation, instead of studying the German tongue, they wrote in Latin; thus, while they cul­tivated an obsolete language, and vainly la­boured to apply it to modern customs, they neglected their own. At the same time, they began also, by being commentators, and tho' they have given many instances of their in­dustry, they have scarce afforded any of ge­nius. If criticism could have improved the taste of a people, the Germans would have been the most polite nation alive. We shall no where behold the learned wear a more im­portant appearance than here; no where more dignified with professorships, or dressed out in the fopperies of scholastic finery. However, they seem to earn all the honours of this [Page 54] kind they enjoy. Their assiduity is un­parallelled; and did the learned of this country employ half those hours on study, which they bestow on reading, we might be induced to pity, as well as praise, their painful preheminence. But guilty of a fault, too common to great readers, they write through volumes, while they do not think through a page. Never fatigued them­selves, they think the reader can never be weary; so they drone on, saying all that can be said on the subject, not selecting what may be advanced to the purpose. Were angels to write books, they would never write folios.

BUT let the Germans have their due; if they are often a little dull, no nation alive assumes a more laudable solemnity, or better understands all the little decorums [Page 55] of stupidity. Let the discourse of a pro­fessor run on never so heavily, it cannot be irksome to his dosing pupils, who fre­quently lend him their sympathetic nods of approbation. I have sometimes at­tended their disputes at gradation. On this occasion, they often dispense with learned gravity, and seem really all alive. The disputes are managed between the followers of Cartesius, whose exploded sy­stem they call the new philosophy, and those of Aristotle. Though both parties are wrong, they argue with an obstinacy worthy the cause of truth; Nego, Probo, and Distinguo, grow loud. The dispu­tants become warm, the moderator can­not be heard, the audience take part in the debate, till at last, the whole hall buzzes with erroneous philosophy.

[Page 56] THERE are, it is true, several societies in this country, which are chiefly calcu­lated to promote natural knowlege. The elector of Hanover has established one at Gottingen, at an expence of not less than an hundred thousand pound. This uni­versity has already pickled monsters, and dissected live puppies without number. Their transactions of this kind have been published in the learned world at proper intervals, since their institution; and will, it is hoped, one day give them a just re­putation. Had the fourth part of the im­mense sum above mentioned, been given in proper rewards to genius, in some neigh­bouring countries, it would have rendered the name of the donor immortal, and ad­ded to the real interests of society.

[Page 57] BUT let me cease from censure, since I have here so fine an opportunity of praise. Even in the midst of Germany, true learning has found an assylum, and taste, and genius, have been patronized by a prince, who, in the humblest station, had been the first of mankind. The society established by the king of Prussia at Ber­lin, is one of the finest literary institutions that any age or nation has produced. This academy comprehends all the sciences under four different classes; and although the object of each is different, and ad­mits of being separately treated, yet these classes mutually influence the progress of each other, and concur in the same general de­sign. Experimental philosophy, mathema­tics, metaphysics, and polite literature, are here carried on together, and mutually il­lustrate, and strengthen, and adorn each [Page 58] other. The members are not collected from among the students of some obscure seminary, or the wits of a metropolis, but chosen from all the literati of Europe, supported by the bounty, and ornamented by the productions of their royal founder. We can easily discern, how much such an institution excells any other now sub­sisting. One fundamental error among societies of this kind, is their addicting themselves to one branch of science, or some particular part of polite learning. Thus, in Germany, there are no where so many establishments of this nature; but as they generally profess the promotion of natural or medical knowlege, he who reads their Acta, will only find an obscure far­rago of experiments, most frequently ter­minated by no resulting phaenomena. To make experiments is, I own, the only way [Page 59] to promote natural knowlege; but to trea­sure up every unsuccessful enquiry into nature, or to communicate every experi­ment without conclusion, is not to pro­mote science, but confuse it; not to lift learning from obscurity, but with additio­nal weight to oppress it. Had the mem­bers of these societies enlarged their plans, and taken in art as well as science, one part of knowlege would have repressed any faulty luxuriance in the other, and all would have mutually assisted each others promotion.

ADD to this, the society which, with a con­tempt of all collateral assistance, admits of members skilled in one science only, what­ever their diligence, or labour may be, will lose much time in the discovery of such truths as are well known already to the [Page 60] learned in a different line, consequently their progress must be slow in gaining a proper eminence, from which to view their subject, and their strength will be exhaust­ed in attaining the station from whence they should have set out. With regard to the Royal Society of London, the greatest, perhaps, the oldest institution of the kind, had it widened the basis of its institution, though they might not have pro [...]agated more discoveries, at least, they would have delivered them in a more plea­sing and compendious form. They would have been hitherto free from the contempt of the ill-natured, and the raillery of the wit, for which, even candour must allow, there is but too much foundation.

THE Berlin academy is subject to none of the inconveniencies above mentioned, but [Page 61] every one of its individuals is in a capacity of deriving more from the common stock than he contributes to it, while each aca­demician serves as a check upon the rest of his fellows. Yet, perhaps, even this fine institution will soon decay. As it rose, so it will probably decline, with its great encourager. The society, if I may so speak, is artificially supported; the in­troduction of foreigners of learning was right; but in adopting a foreign language also, I mean the French, in which all the transactions are to be published, and ques­tions debated; in this there might have been an error. As I have already hinted, the language of the natives of every coun­try, should be also the language of its polite learning, I may be supposed to carry the thought too far, when I say, that to figure in polite learning, every [Page 62] country should make their own language, from their own manners; nor will they ever succeed by introducing that of an­other, which has been formed from man­ners which are different. Besides, an aca­demy composed of foreigners, must still be recruited from abroad, unless all the natives of the country, to which it be­longs, are in a capacity to become can­didates for its honours, or rewards. While France continues to supply Berlin, polite learning will flourish; when royal favour is withdrawn, learning will return to its natural country.

HOLLAND, at first view, appears to have some pretensions to polite learning. It may be regarded as the great emporium, not less of literature, than of every com­modity. Here, though destitute of what [Page 63] may be properly called a language of their own, all the languages are under­stood, cultivated and spoken. All useful inventions in arts, and new discoveries in science, are published here almost as soon as at the places which first produced them. Its individuals have the same faults, how­ever, with the Germans, of making more use of their memory, than their judg­ment. The chief employment of their literati is to criticise, or answer the new performances which appear elsewhere.

A DEARTH of wit in France or England, naturally produces a scarcity in Holland. What Ovid says of Eccho, may be ap­plied here, Nec loqui prius ipsa didicit nec reticere loquenti. They wait till something new comes out from others, examine its merits, and reject it, or make it rever­berate through the rest of Europe.

[Page 64] AFTER all, I know not whether the [...] should be allowed any national character fo [...] polite learning. All their taste is derived t [...] them from neighbouring nations, and tha [...] in a language not their own. They some­what resemble their brokers, who trade for immense sums, without having any capital.

THE other countries of Europe may be considered as immersed in ignorance, or making but feeble efforts to rise. Spain has long fallen from amazing Europe with her wit, to amusing them with the greatness of her catholic credulity. Rome considers her as the most favourite of all her children, and school-divinity still reigns there in triumph. In spite of all attempts of the marquis D'ensanada, who [Page 65] saw with regret, the barbarity of his country­men, and bravely offered to oppose it, by introducing new systems of learning, and sup­pressing the seminaries of monastic ignorance, in spite of the ingenuity of Padré Frejo, whose book of vulgar errors so finely exposes the monkish stupidity of the times, the religious have prevailed. Ensanada has been banished, and now lives in exile; Frejo has incurred the hatred and contempt of every bigot, whose errors he has attempted to op­pose, and feels, no doubt, the unremitting displeasure of the priesthood. Persecution is a tribute, the Great must ever pay for pre­heminence.

IT is a little extraordinary, however, why Spain, whose genius is naturally fine, should be so much behind the rest of Europe, in this particular; or why school divinity should [Page 66] hold its ground there, for near 600 years. The reason, perhaps, may be, that philoso­phical opinions, tho' in themselves tran­sient, acquire stability in proportion, as they are connected with religion, and philoso­phy and religion have no where been so closely united as here.

SWEDEN has of late made some attempts in polite learning, in its own language. Count Tessin's instructions to the prince his pupil, are no bad beginning. If the muses can fix their residence so far north­ward, perhaps, no country bids so fair for their reception. They have, I am told, a lan­guage rude, but energetic; if so, it will bear a polish; they have also a jealous sense of liberty, and that strength of thinking, pecu­liar to northern climates, without its atten­dant ferocity. They will certainly in time, [Page 67] produce somewhat great, if their intestine divisions do not unhappily prevent them.

THE history of polite learning in Den­mark, may be comprized in the life of one single man; it rose and fell with the late famous baron Holberg. This was, perhaps, one of the most extraordi­nary personages that has done honour to the present century. His being the son of a private centinel, did not abate the ardour of his ambition, for he learned to read, though without a master. Upon the death of his father, being left entirely de­stitute, he was involved in all that distress, which is common among the poor, and of which the Great have scarce any idea. However, though only a boy of nine years old, he still persisted in pursuing his stu­dies, travelled about from school to school, [Page 68] and begg'd his learning and his bread. When at the age of seventeen, instead of applying himself to any of the lower oc­cupations, which seem best adapted to such circumstances, he was resolved to tra­vel for improvement, from Norway the place of his birth, to Copenhagen the ca­pital city of Denmark. He lived here by teaching French, at the same time, avoid­ing no opportunity of improvement, that his scanty funds could permit. But his ambition was not to be restrained, or his thirst of knowledge satisfied, until he had seen the world. Without money, recom­mendations or friends, he undertook to set out upon his travels, and make the tour of Europe on foot. A good voice, and a trifling skill in musick, were the only finances he had to support an undertaking so extensive; so he travelled by day, and at night sung at the [Page 69] doors of peasants houses, to get himself a lodging. In this manner, young Holberg passed thro' France, Germany, and Holland, and coming over to England, took up his residence for two years in the university of Oxford. Here, he subsisted by teaching French and music, and wrote his universal history, his earliest, but worst performance. Furnished with all the learning of Europe, he at last thought proper to return to Copen­hagen, where his ingenious productions quickly gained him that favour he deserved. He composed not less than 18 comedies; those in his own language are said to ex­cel, and those which are wrote in French have peculiar merit. He was honoured with nobility, and enriched by the bounty of the king; so that a life begun in con­tempt and penury, ended in opulence and esteem.

[Page 70] THUS we see, in what a low state po­lite learning is in the countries I have mentioned. Though the sketch I have drawn be general, yet it was, for the most part, taken upon the spot, nor are the assertions hazarded at random. I am sen­sible, however, of the impropriety of na­tional reflection; and did not truth biass me more than inclination in this parti­cular, I should, instead of the account al­ready given, have presented the reader with a panegyric on many of the indivi­duals of every country, whose merits de­serve the warmest strains of praise. Apo­stol Zeno, Muratori, and Stay, in Italy; Haller, Klopstock, and Rabner, in Germa­ny; Muschenbrook, and Gaubius, in Hol­land; all deserve the highest applause. But it was my design, rather to give an idea of the spirit of learning in these [Page 71] countries, than a dry catalogue of authors names and writings.

BUT, let me cease a moment from con­sidering this worthy, however erroneous, part of mankind, on that side alone, on which they are exposed to censure, and survey them, as the friends of man.

WHILE the great, and the avaricious of this world, are contriving means to ag­gravate national hatred; and, perhaps, fonder of satisfying vanity than justice, are willing to make the world uneasy, because themselves are so; these harmless instruments of peace, united by one bond, pursuing one design, spend their labour, and their lives, in making their fellow-creatures happy, and repairing the breaches caused by ambition. In this [Page 72] light the meanest philosopher, though al [...] his possessions are his lamp or his cell, is more truly valuable than he, whose name ecchoes to the shout of the million, and who stands in all the glare of admi­ration. In this light, though poverty and contemptuous neglect are all the wages of his good will from mankind, yet the rectitude of his intention is an ample re­compence, and self applause for the pre­sent, and the alluring prospect of fame for futurity reward his labours. The per­spective of life brightens, when termina­ted by an object so charming. Every in­termediate image of want, banishment, or sorrow, receives a lustre from its distant influence. With this in view, the pa­triot, philosopher, and poet, have often looked with calmness on disgrace and fa­mine, and rested on their straw with chear­ful [Page 73] serenity. Even the last terrors of de­parting nature abate of their severity, and look kindly on him, who considers his sufferings as a passport to immortality, and lays his sorrows on the bed of fame.

CHAP. VI. A parallel between the decline of ancient and modern learning.

THE similitude between the rise and decline of ancient and modern learn­ing is so obvious, that it scarcely requires an illustration. We may have seen, that wherever the poet was permitted to improve his native language, polite learning flourish­ed; where the critic undertook the same task, it never rose to any degree of perfection. We have seen the genius of every country make more feeble advances to excellence in proportion, as the number of critics was great, and learning become more loquacious as it was less improving.

AN encrease of criticism is, however, the natural consequence of learning's be­coming [Page 75] universal. There are propor­tionably a greater number of learned men without any natural genius in every country, when the love of science is diffused among all ranks of people, than in its incipient state, when this passion influences only the ambi­tious; but it is ten to one, that every man of learning without genius becomes a critic, therefore critics must be proportionably more numerous when learning is diffus'd through all the degrees of mankind.

IF critics, therefore, or all such as judge by rule, and not by feelings, must necessarily become more numerous in the maturity of learning, than in its beginning; and if they have been always found by experience to in­jure it; I may be permitted to call criticism, the natural decay of politeness. A decay which may be deplored, but cannot be prevent­ed, [Page 76] since it encreases as the love of learning is diffused. It cannot be remedied by rule, for every prescription encreases the disease, since the man who writes against the critics, is o­bliged to add himself to the number. Other depravations in the republic of letters, such as affectation in some popular writer, leading others into vicious imitation; po­litical struggles in the state; a depravity of morals among the people; ill directed encouragement, or no encouragement from the Great, these have been often found to co­operate in the decline of literature; and it has sometimes declined, as in modern Italy, without them; but an encrease of criticism has always portended a decay. Of all misfortunes, therefore, in the common­wealth of letters, this of judging from rule, and not from feeling, is the most se­vere. At such a tribunal, no work of ori­ginal [Page 77] merit can please. Sublimity, if carried to an exalted height, approaches burlesque, and humour sinks into vulgarity; the person who cannot feel, may ridicule both as such, and bring rules to corroborate his assertion. There is, in short, no excellence in writing, that such judges may not place among the neighbouring defects. Rules render the rea­der more difficult to be pleased, and abridge the author's power of pleasing.

IF we turn to England and France, we shall perceive evident symptoms of this natural decay beginning to appear. Up­on a moderate calculation, there seems to be as many volumes of criticism publish­ed in those countries, as of all other kinds of polite erudition united. Paris sends forth not less than four literary journals every month, the Anné-literaire, and the Fuille [Page 78] by Freron, the Journal Etrangere by the Chevalier D'Arc, and Le Mercure by Marmontel. We have two literary re­views in London, with critical news-pa­pers and magazines without number. The compilers of these resemble the com­moners of Rome, they are all for levelling property, not by encreasing their own, but by diminishing that of others. The man who has any good nature in his disposition must, however, be somewhat displeased to see distinguished reputations often the sport of ignorance. To see by one false plea­santry, the future peace of a worthy man's life disturbed, and this only because he has unsuccessfully attempted to instruct or a­muse us. Tho' ill nature is far from being wit, yet it is generally laughed at as such. The critic enjoys the triumph, and ascribes to his parts, what is only due to his effrontery.

[Page 79] IF there be any, however, among these writers, who being bred gentlemen and scholars, are obliged to have recourse to such an employment for subsistence, I wish them one more suited to their inclinations; but for such who, wholly destitute of edu­cation and genius, indent to the press, and turn mere book-makers, they deserve the severest censure. These add to the sin of criticism the sin of ignorance also. Their trade is a bad one, and they are bad workmen in the trade.

WHEN I consider those industrious men as indebted to the works of other authors for a precarious subsistence, when I see them coming down at stated intervals to rummage the bookseller's compter for mate­rials to work upon; it raises a smile, tho' mixed with pity. It reminds me of an [Page 80] animal called by naturalists the soldier. This little creature, says the historian, is passionately fond of a shell, but not being supplied with one by nature, has recourse to the deserted shell of some other. I have seen these harmless reptiles, conti­nues he, come down once a-year from the mountains, rank and file, cover the whole shoar and ply busily about, each in quest of a shell to please it. Nothing can be more amusing than their industry upon this occasion. One shell is too big, another too little, they enter and keep pos­session sometimes for a good while until one is, at last, found entirely to please. When all are thus properly equipped, they march up again to the mountains, and live in their new acquisition, till under a new necessity of changing.

[Page 81] BUT to leave this subject, let us pro­ceed to consider those corruptions which admit of correction. Let us examine the merits of modern learning in England and in France; where, though it may be on the decline, yet it is still capable of retrieving much of its former splen­dor. In other places, a decay has already taken place, here it is only beginning. To attempt the amendment of Italy or Germany, would be only like the applica­tion of remedies to a part mortified, but here, still there is life, and there is hope.

CHAP. VII. The polite learning of England and France incapable of comparison.

WHATEVER preference the vul­gar of every nation may think due to their own in particular, the learn­ed who look beyond the bounds of na­tional prejudice, and are citizens of the world, seem unanimous in regarding the English and French, as the principal literary supporters of the present age. Their emu­lation in learning as well as in power, have divided the wits not less than the armies of Europe. A niuno è nascosto, says a mo­dern writer, come la Francia e l'Inghilterra sono rivali nella politica, nel commercio, nella gloria delle armi e delle lettere.

[Page 83] THIS acknowleged superiority was, how­ever, no easy conquest over that national pride, with which every country is more or less tinctured. Every part of Europe was at one time or another candidates for this preheminence, which though they had not the good fortune to obtain, their at­tempts served in a subordinate degree to assist and refine the taste of their cotem­poraries. Thus Spain exhibited fine ex­amples of humour; Italy of delicacy; and Holland of freedom in enquiry. But to blend these excellencies and arrive at perfection, seemed reserved for the poets and philosophers of England and France in the illustrious reigns of Queen Anne and Lewis XIV. The writers of that pe­riod, not only did honour to their respec­tive countries, but even to human nature. Like stars lost in each others brightness, tho' [Page 84] no single writer attracts our attention alone, yet their conjunction diffuses such bright­ness upon the age, as will give the minutest actions of those two reigns an importance, which the revolutions of empire will want that were transacted in greater obscurity.

YET that excellence which now excites the admiration of Europe, served at that pe­riod of which I am speaking, only to pro­mote envy in the respective writers of those two countries. They both took every me­thod to depreciate the merit of each other; the French seldom mentioned the English but with disrespect, put themselves foremost in every literary contest, and to leave the English no colour of competi­tion, placed the Italians in the second rank. The English, on the other hand, regard­ed the French as triflers, accused the [Page 85] flymsy texture of their stile, and the false brilliancy of their sentiments. Yet, while each thus loaded the other with contempt, it seemed as if done with a view of hav­ing their mutual plagiarism pass with less suspicion. In works of entertainment, we borrowed from the French unsparingly; and they plundered our serious performances with as little compunction. Europe, how­ever, regarded the contest with impartia­lity, and the debate seems at last determin­ed. Their writings are allowed to have more taste, ours more truth. We are al­lowed the honour of striking out senti­ments, they of dressing them in the most pleasing form. If we have produc'd reasoners who have refin'd mankind, it is by means of French translations and abstracts that they are generally known in Europe. Their lan­guage has prevailed, and our philosophy.

[Page 86] AND this, indeed, is all the English had a right to expect in a contest of this na­ture, nor have they any just reason to re­gret not being chosen supreme in taste as well as truth; for if we only consi­der, how different our manners are from those of every other nation on the con­tinent; how little we are visited by tra­vellers of discernment; how ignorant our neighbours are of our various absurdities and humours; if we consider this, it can­not be expected, that our works of taste, which imitate our peculiar manners, can please those that are unacquainted with the originals themselves. Though our descrip­tions and characters are drawn from na­ture, yet they may appear exaggerated, or faintly copied, to those, who, unacquainted with the peculiarities of our island, have [Page 87] no standard by which to make the com­parison.

THE French are much more fortunate than us in this particular. An universal sameness of character appears to spread it­self over the whole continent, particular­ly the fools and coxcombs of every coun­try abroad seem almost cast in the same mold. The battered beau, who affects the boy at threescore, or the petit maitre, who would be a man at fifteen, are cha­racters which may be seen in every cof­fee-house out of England. The French pic­tures therefore of life and manners are immediately allowed to be just, because foreigners are acquainted with the models from whence they are copied. The Mar­quis of Moliere strikes all Europe. Sir [Page 88] John Falstaff, with all the merry men of Eastcheap, are entirely of England, and please the English alone.

LET us then be satisfied, the world has allowed us superiority in the strength and justness of our sentiments, for it hath truth as a standard by which to compare them; we are placed inferior in regard to taste, for in this there is no standard to judge of our desert, our manners being unknown. Truth is a positive, taste a relative excel­lence. We may justly appeal from the the sentence of our judges; though we must do them the justice to own that their verdict has been impartial.

BUT it may be objected, that this is setting up a particular standard of taste in [Page 89] every country; this is removing that uni­versal one, which has hitherto united the armies and enforced the commands of criticism; by this reasoning the critics of one country, will not be proper guides to the writers of another; Grecian or Roman rules will not be generally binding in France or England; but the laws designed to im­prove our taste, by this reasoning, must be a­dapted to the genius of every people, as much as those enacted to promote morality.

WHAT I propose as objections, are real­ly the sentiments I mean to prove, not to obviate. I must own it as my opinion, that if criticism be at all requisite to pro­mote the interests of learning, its rules should be taken from among the inha­bitants, and adapted to the genius and temper of the country it attempts to re­fine. [Page 90] I must own it, though, perhaps, by this opinion's prevailing, many a scho­lium of the ancients, and many a folio of criticism translated from the French, now in repute among us, would infallibly sink into oblivion. English taste, like English liberty, should be restrained only by laws of its own promoting.

BUT to use argument as well as as­sertion, let us take a nearer view of what is called taste, examine its standard, see if foreign critics are just in setting up theirs as a model to us, or whether we be right in adopting their proffered improvements. As the disquisition, however, is dry, I shall study conciseness.

ALL objects affect us with pleasure one of these two ways, either by immediately [Page 91] gratifying the senses with pleasing sensations, or by being thought in a secondary manner capable of making other objects contribute to this effect. The pleasures of immediate sensation are coeval with our senses, and, per­haps, most vivid in infancy; the secon­dary source of pleasure results from ex­perience only, from considering the ana­logy of nature, or the capacity a part has to unite to an whole. The pleasures of the first sort, are derived from the beau­ty of the object, those of the second, from a consideration of its use. The first are natural, no art can encrease them without mending the organ which was to give them admission. The second are artificial, and continually altering, as whim, climate, or seasons direct. To illustrate my meaning. The beauty of a guinea, for instance, its re­gular figure, and shining colour, are equally [Page 92] obvious to the senses in every country and climate, these qualities please the wildest savage as much as the most polished Eu­ropean; as far as it affects the senses, the pleasure a guinea gives is therefore in every country the same.

BUT the consideration of the uses it can be turned to, are another source of pleasure, which is different in different countries. A native of Madagascar prefers to it a glass bead; a native of Holland pre­fers it to every thing else. The pleasure then of its sensible qualities are every where the same; those of its secondary qualities every where different. He, whom na­ture has furnished with the most vivid perceptions of beauty, and to whom ex­perience has suggested the greatest num­ber of uses, in the contemplation of any [Page 93] object, may be said to receive the greatest pleasure that object is capable of afford­ing. Thus the Barbarian finds some small pleasure in the contemplation of a guinea; the enlightened European who is acquainted with its uses, still more than him; the chymist, who besides this, knows the peculiar fixedness and malleability of the metal, most of all. This capacity of receiving pleasure, may be called Taste in the objects of nature. The polite arts in all their variety are only an imitation of nature. He then must excel in them, who is capable of inspiring us at once with the most vivid perceptions of beau­ty, and with the greatest number of ex­perimental uses in any object described. But as the artist, to give vivid percep­tions must be perspicuous and concise, and yet to exhibit usefulness requires mi­nuteness; [Page 94] here are two opposite qualities required in the writer, in one of which his imagination, in the other his reason­ing faculty is every moment liable to offend; what has he in this case to guide him? Taste is, perhaps, his only direc­tor. Taste in writing, is the exhibition of the greatest quantity of beauty and of use, that may be admitted into any description without counteracting each other.

THE perfection of taste therefore pro­ceeds from a knowledge of what is beauti­ful and useful. Criticism professes to en­crease our taste. But our taste cannot be encreased with regard to beauty, be­cause, as has been shewn, our perceptions of this kind cannot be encreased, but are most vivid in infancy. Criticism then can only improve our taste in the useful. But this, [Page 95] as was observed, is different in every cli­mate and country; what is useful in one climate being often noxious in another; therefore criticism must understand the na­ture of the climate and country, &c. be­fore it gives rules to direct Taste. In other words, every country should have a na­tional system of criticism.

IN fact, nothing can be more absurd than rules to direct the taste of one coun­try drawn from the manners of another. There may be some general marks in na­ture, by which all writers are to proceed; these, however, are obvious and might as well have never been pointed out, but to trace the sources of our passions, to mark the evanescent boundaries between satiety and disgust, and how far elegance differs from finery, requires a thorough know­lege [Page 96] of the people to whom the criticism is directed.

IF, for instance, the English be a people who look upon death as an incident no way terrible, but sometimes fly to it for refuge from the calamities of life, why should a Frenchman be disgusted at our bloody stage? there is nothing hideous in the representation to one of us, whatever there might be to him.

WE have long been characteriz'd as a nation of spleen, and our rivals on the con­tinent as a land of levity. Ought they to be offended at the melancholly air which many of our modern poets assume, or ought we to be displeased with them for all their harmless trifling upon pin­cushions, parrots, and pretty faces. What is rational with us, becomes with them [Page 97] formality; and what is fancy, at Paris, is at London, phantastical. Critics should, therefore, imitate physicians, and consider every country as having a peculiar con­stitution, and consequently requiring a pe­culiar regimen.

CHAP. VIII. The present state of polite learning in France.

THAT levity for which we are apt to despise the French, is probably the principal source of their happiness. An agreeable oblivion of past pleasures, a freedom from solicitude about future ones, and a poignant zest of every immediate enjoyment, if they be not philosophy, are at least excellent substitutes in its room. By this they are taught to regard the pre­sent period with admiration. The present manners, and the present conversation, surpass all that preceded; a Frenchman is as little displeased with every thing about him, as with his own person or existence.

[Page 99] THIS agreeable enthusiasm, tinctures not only their manners, but their learning, and taste. While we with a despondence characteristic of our nation, are for re­moving back British excellence to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, our more hap­py rivals of the continent, cry up the writers of the present times with rapture, and regard the age of Lewis XV. as the true Augustan age of France.

THE truth is, their present writers have not fallen so far short of the merits of their ancestors, as ours have done. That self­sufficiency, now mentioned, may have been of service to them in this particular. By fancying themselves superior to their an­cestors, they have been encouraged to enter the lists with confidence, and by not being dazled at the splendor of ano­ther's [Page 100] reputation, have sometimes had sa­gacity to mark out an unbeaten path to fame, for themselves.

OTHER causes also may be assigned, that their second growth of genius is still more vigorous than ours. Their encou­ragements to merit are more skilfully di­rected, the link of patronage and learn­ing still continues unbroken. The French nobility have certainly a most pleasing way of satisfying the vanity of an author, without indulging his avarice. A man of literary merit, is sure of being caressed by the Great, though seldom en­riched. His pension from the crown just supplies half a competence, and the sale of his labours, makes some small addition to his circumstances; thus the author leads a life of splendid poverty, and seldom be­comes [Page 101] wealthy or indolent enough, to dis­continue an exertion of those abilities, by which he rose. With the English, it is different; our writers of rising me­rit are generally neglected; while the few of an established reputation, are over paid by a luxurious affluence. The first encounter every hardship which general­ly attends upon aspiring indigence; the latter, enjoy the vulgar, and, perhaps, the more prudent satisfaction of putting riches in competition with fame. Those are often seen to spend their youth in want and obscurity; these are sometimes found to lead an old age of indolence and avarice. But such treatment must naturally be expected from a people, whose national character it is, to be slow and cau­tious in making friends, but violent in friendships once contracted. The English [Page 102] nobility, in short, are often known to give greater rewards to genius than the French, who, however, are much more judicious in the application of their empty favours.

THE fair sex in France have also not a little contributed to prevent the decline of taste and literature, by expecting such qualifications in their admirers. A man of fashion at Paris, however contemptible we may think him here, must be acquaint­ed with the reigning modes of philoso­phy as well as of dress, to be able to enter­tain his mistress agreeably. The charm­ing pedants are not to be caught like some damsels to be seen in Holland, by dumb shew, by a squeeze of the hand, or the ogling of a broad eye: but must be pursued at once through all the labyrinths of the Newtonian system, the mazy me­taphysics [Page 103] of Locke, and still more, the va­riations of female inclination. I have seen as bright a circle of beauty at the chy­mical lectures of Ruelle, as gracing the court at Versailles. Wisdom never ap­pears so charming, as when graced and pro­tected by beauty.

TO these advantages may be added the reception of their language into the different courts of Europe. An author, who excels, is sure of having all the po­lite for admirers, and is encouraged to write by the pleasing expectation of universal fame. Added to this, those countries who can make nothing good in their own language, have lately begun to write in this, some of whose produc­tions contribute to support the present li­terary reputation of France.

[Page 104] THE age of Lewis the XIVth, notwith­standing these advantages, is still superior. It is indeed a misfortune for a fine writer to be born in a period so enlightened as ours. The harvest of wit is gathered in, and little is left for him, except to glean what others have thought unworthy their bring­ing away. Yet, there are still some among the French, who do honour to the age, and whose writings will be transmitted to posterity with an ample, though a subor­dinate share of fame: some of the most celebrated, are as follow;

VOLTAIRE, whose voluminous, yet spi­rited productions, are too well known to require an elogy; does he not resem­ble the champion mentioned by Xeno­phon, of great reputation in all the gym­nastic exercises united, but inferior to each [Page 105] champion singly, who excels only in one?

MONTESQUIEU, a name equally deserv­ing fame with the former. The Spirit of Laws is an instance, how much genius is able to lead learning. His system has been adopted by the literati; and yet is it not possible for opinions equally plau­sible to be formed upon opposite princi­ples, if a genius like his, could be found to attempt such an undertaking? He seems more a poet than a philosopher.

ROUSSEAU of Geneva. A professed man-hater, or more properly speaking, a philosopher enraged with one half of man­kind, because they unavoidably make the other half unhappy. Such sentiments are generally the result of much good nature, and little experience.

[Page 106] PYRON, an author possessed of as much wit as any man alive, yet with as little prudence, to turn it to his own advantage. A comedy of his, called La Metromanie, is incomparably the best theatrical pro­duction, that has appeared of late in Eu­rope. But I know not, whether I should most commend his genius, or censure his obscenity; his ode a Priape, has justly ex­cluded him from a place in the academy of Belles Lettrês. However, the good-natured Montesquieu, by his interest, pro­cured the starving bard a trifling pension. His own epitaph was all the revenge he took upon the academy for being re­pulsed.

Cy Git Pyron qui ne fut jamais rien
Pas même Accademicien.

[Page 107] CREBILLON, junior. A writer of real merit, but guilty of the same indelicate faults with the former. Wit employed in dressing up obscenity, is like the art used in painting a corpse; it may be thus rendered tolerable to one sense, but fails not quickly to offend some other.

GRESSET, agreeable and easy. His co­medy called the Mechant, and an hu­mourous poem, entitled Ver-vert, have original merit. He was bred a jesuit, but his wit procured his dismission from the so­ciety. This last work particularly, could expect no pardon from the Convent, be­ing a satyr against nunneries!

DALEMBERT, has united an extensive skill in scientifical learning, with the most [Page 108] refined taste for the polite arts. His ex­cellence in both, have procured him a seat in each academy.

DIDEROT, an elegant writer and subti [...] reasoner. He is the supposed author of the famous Thesis, which the abbé Prade sustained before the doctors of the Sor­bonne. It was levelled against Christia­nity, and the Sorbonne too hastily gave it their sanction. They perceived its pur­port, however, when it was too late. The college was brought into some contempt, and the abbé obliged to take refuge at the court of Berlin.

THE marquis D'Argens attempts to add the character of a philosopher to the vices of a debauchée.

[Page 109] THE catalogue might be encreased with several other authors of merit, such as Marivaux, Le Franc, Saint Foix, Des­touches, and Modonville, but let it suffice to say, that by these, the character of the present age is tolerably supported. Tho' their poets seldom rise to fine enthusiasm, they never sink into absurdity; though they fail to astonish, they are generally possessed of talents to please.

BUT altho' taste is still cultivated there with assiduity, I must not conceal those symptoms which seem manifestly tending to promote its decline. There is a fond­ness for scepticism, which runs through the works of some of their most applauded writers, and which the numerous class of their imitators have contributed to diffuse. Nothing can be a more certain sign, that [Page 110] genius is in the wane, than its being obliged to fly to paradox to support it, and attempt­ing to be erroneously agreeable. A man, who with all the impotence of wit, and all the eager desires of infidelity, writes against the religion of his country, may raise doubts, but will never give convic­tion; all he can do is to render society less happy than he found it. It was a fine manner, which the father of the late poet Saint Foix, took to reclaim his son from this juvenile error. The young poet had shut himself up for some time in his study, and his father, willing to know what had en­gaged his attention so closely, upon entering, found him busied in drawing up a new system of religion, and endeavouring to shew the absurdity of that already esta­blished. The old man knew by expe­rience, that it was useless to endeavour [Page 111] to convince a vain young man by rea­son; so only desired his company up stairs. When come into the father's apartment, he takes his son by the hand, and draw­ing back a curtain at one end of the room, discovered a crucifix exquisitely painted. ‘'My son, says he, you desire to change the religion of your country, be­hold the fate of an innovator.'’ The truth is, vanity is more apt to misguide men than false reasoning; as some had ra­ther be conspicuous in a mob, than unno­ticed even in privy council, so others chuse rather to be foremost in the reti­nue of error, than follow in the train of truth, and prefer the applause of pert stu­pidity, to that approbation which virtue ever pays itself. What influence the con­duct of such writers may have on the [Page 112] morals of a people, is not my business to determine. Certain I am, that it has a manifest tendency to subvert the litera­ry merits of the country in view. The change of religion in every nation, has hitherto produced barbarism and igno­rance, and such will be probably its con­sequences in every future period. For when the laws, and the opinions of so­ciety, are made to clash, harmony is dis­solved, and all the arts of peace unavoid­ably crushed in the encounter.

THE writers of this country have of late also fallen into a method of considering every part of art and science, as arising from simple principles. The success of Mon­tesquieu, and one or two more, has in­duced all the subordinate ranks of genius [Page 113] into vicious imitation. To this end they turn to our view that side of the subject, which contributes to support their hypo­thesis, while the objections are generally passed over in silence. Thus an univer­sal system rises from a partial representa­tion of the question, an Whole is concluded from a Part, a book appears entirely new, and the fancy-built fabric is stiled for a short time very ingenious. In this manner we have seen of late, almost every subject in morals, natural history, politics, oeconomy, and commerce treated; subjects naturally proceeding on many principles; and some even opposite to each other, are all taught to proceed along the line of systematic simplicity, and continue like other agree­able falshoods extremely pleasing, till they are detected.

[Page 114] I MUST still add another fault of a nature somewhat similar to the former. As those above mentioned are for con­tracting a single science into system, so those I am going to speak of are for draw­ing up a system of all the sciences united. Such undertakings as these are carried on by different writers cemented into one body, and concurring in the same design, by the mediation of a bookseller. From these in­auspicious combinations, proceed those mon­sters of learning, the Trevoux, Encyclo­pedie's, and Bibliotheques of the age. In making these, men of every rank in lite­rature are employed, wits and dunces con­tribute their share, and Diderot, as well as Desmaretz, are candidates for oblivion. The genius of the first, supplies the gale of favour; and the latter adds, the use­ful [Page 115] ballast of stupidity. By such means, the enormous mass heavily makes its way among the public, and to borrow a book­seller's phrase, the whole impression moves off. These great collections of learning, may serve to make us inwardly repine at our own ignorance, may serve when gilt and lettered, to adorn the lower shelves of a regular library; but woe to the reader, who not daunted at the immense distance between one great pasteboard and the other, opens the volume and explores his way through a region so extensive, but barren of entertainment. No unexpected land­schape there to delight the imagination; no diversity of prospect to cheat the painful journey; he sees the wide extended desart lie before him; what is past only en­creases his terror of what is to come. [Page 116] His course is not half finished, he looks behind him with affright, and forward with despair. Perseverance is at last overcome, and a night of oblivion lends its friendly aid to terminate the per­plexity.

CHAP. IX. Of learning in Great Britain.

TO acquire a character for learning among the English at present, it is necessary to know much more than is either important or useful. The ab­surd passion of being deemed profound, has done more injury to all kinds of science, than is generally imagined. Some thus exhaust their natural sagacity in ex­ploring the intricacies of another man's thought, and have never found leisure to think for themselves; others have carried on learning from that stage, where the good sense of our ancestors thought it too minute or too speculative to instruct or a­muse. By the industry of such, the sciences [Page 118] fciences which in themselves are easy of ac­cess, affright the learner with the severity of their appearance. He sees them surrounded with speculation and subtilty, placed there by their professors as if with a view of de­terring his approach. From hence it hap­pens, that the generality of readers fly from the scholar to the compiler, who offers them a more safe and speedy con­veyance.

FROM this fault also arises that mu­tual contempt between the scholar and the man of the world, of which every day's experience furnisheth instances.

THE man of taste, however, stands neu­ter in this controversy, he seems placed in a middle station, between the world and the cell, between learning and common [Page 119] sense. He teaches the vulgar on what part of a character to lay the emphasis of praise, and the scholar where to point his application so as to deserve it. By his means, even the philosopher, acquires po­pular applause, and all that are truly great the admiration of posterity. By means of polite learning alone, the patriot and the hero, the man who praiseth virtue, and he who practices it, who fights successfully for his country, or who dies in its defence, become immortal.

LET none affect to despise future fame, the actions of even the lowest part of man­kind testify a desire of this kind. Wealth, titles, and several paltry advantages, are secured for posterity, who can only give their applause in return. If all ranks, therefore, are inspired with this passion, [Page 120] how great should his encouragement be, who is capable of conferring it not only upon the most deserving, but even upon the age in which he lives?

YET this honest ambition of being ad­mired by posterity, cannot be gratified without continual efforts in the present age to deserve it. For if the rewards of genius are improperly directed; if those who are capable of supporting the honour of the times by their writing, preser opulence to fame; if the stage should be shut to writers of merit, and open only to interest or intrigue. If such should hap­pen to be the vile complexion of the times, the very virtues of the age will be forgotten by posterity; and nothing remembered, ex­cept our filling a chasm in the registers of time, or having served to continue the species.

CHAP. X. Of the encouragement of learning.

THERE is nothing authors are more apt to lament, than want of encouragement from the age. Whatever their differences in other respects may be, they are all ready to unite in this com­plaint, and each indirectly offers himself as an instance of the truth of his asser­tion.

THE beneficed divine, whose wants are only imaginary, expostulates as bitterly as the poorest author, that ever snuffed his candle with finger and thumb. Should interest or good sortune, advance the di­vine to a bishopric, or the poor son of [Page 122] Parnassus into that place which the other has resign'd; both are authors no longer, the one goes to prayers once a day, kneels upon cushions of velvet, and thanks gra­cious heaven for having made the circum­stances of all mankind so extremely happy; the other battens on all the delicacies of life, enjoys his wife and his easy chair, and some­times, for the sake of conversation, deplores the luxury of these degenerate days.

ALL encouragements to merit are mis­applied, which make the author too rich to continue his profession. There can be nothing more just than the old observa­tion, that authors, like running horses, should be fed but not fattened. If we would continue them in our service, we should reward them with a little money and a great deal of praise, still keeping [Page 123] their avarice subservient to their ambition. Not that I think a writer incapable of filling an employment with dignity, I would only insinuate, that when made a bishop or statesman, he will continue to please us as a writer no longer. As to resume a former allusion, the running horse, when fattened, will still be fit for very useful purposes, though unqualified for a courser.

No nation gives greater encouragements to learning than we do; yet, at the same time, none are so injudicious in the application. We seem to confer them with the same view, that statesmen have been known to grant employments at court, rather as bribes to silence, than incentives to emulation.

[Page 124] UPON this principle, all our magnifi­cent endowments of colleges are errone­ous, and at best, more frequently enrich the prudent than reward the ingenious. A lad whose passions are not strong enough in youth to mislead him from that path of science, which his tutors, and not his inclinations, have chalked out, by four or five years perseverance, will probably ob­tain every advantage and honour his col­lege can bestow. I forget whether the simile has been used before, but I would compare the man, whose youth has been thus past in the tranquility of dispassio­nate prudence, to liquors which never fer­ment, and consequently, continue always muddy. Passions may raise a commotion in the youthful breast, but they disturb only to refine it. However this be, mean talents are often rewarded in colleges, with [Page 125] an easy subsistence. The candidates for preferments of this kind, often regard their admission as a patent for future lazi­ness; so that a life begun in studious la­bour, is often continued in luxurious af­fluence.

AMONG the universities abroad, I have ever observed their riches and their learning in a reciprocal proportion, their stupidity and pride encreasing with their opulence. Happening once in conversation with Gau­bius of Leyden, to mention the college of Edinburgh, he began by complaining, that all the English students, which formerly came to his university, now went intirely there; and the fact surprized him more, as Leyden was now as well as ever furnish­ed with masters excellent in their respec­tive professions. He concluded by asking, [Page 126] if the professors of Edinburgh were rich. I reply'd, that the salary of a professor there seldom amounted to more than thirty pounds a year. Poor men, says he, I heartily wish they were better provided for, until they become rich, we can have no ex­pectation of English students at Leyden.

PREMIUMS also, proposed for literary excellence, when given as encourage­ments to boys may be useful, but when designed as rewards to men, are cer­tainly misapplied. We have seldom seen a performance of any great merit, in conse­quence of rewards proposed in this manner. Who has ever observed a writer of any eminence, a candidate in so precarious a contest? The man who knows the real value of his own genius, will no more venture it upon an uncertainty, than he [Page 127] who knows the true use of a guinea, will stake it with a sharper by throwing a main.

EVERY encouragement given to stupi­dity, when known to be such, is also a negative insult upon genius. This appears in nothing more evident, than the undis­tinguished success of those who sollicit sub­scriptions. When first brought into fa­shion, subscriptions were conferred upon the ingenious alone, or those who were re­puted such. But at present, we see them made a resource of indigence, and re­quested not as rewards of merit, but as a relief of distress. If tradesmen hap­pen to want skill in conducting their own business, yet they are able to write a book; if mechanics want money, or ladies shame, they write books and soli­cit subscriptions. Scarce a morning passes, [Page 128] that proposals of this nature are not thrust into the half-opening doors of the rich, with, perhaps, a paltry petition, shewing the author's wants, but not his merits. I would not willingly prevent that pity which is due to indigence, but while the streams of liberality are thus diffused, they must in the end become proportionably shallow.

WHAT then are the proper encourage­ments of genius? I answer, subsistance and respect, for these are rewards congenial to its nature. Every animal has an ali­ment peculiarly suited to its constitution. The heavy ox seeks nourishment from earth; the light cameleon has been supposed to exist on air; a sparer diet even than this, will satisfy the man of true genius, for he makes a luxurious banquet upon empty applause. It is this alone, which [Page 129] has inspired all that ever was truly great and noble among us. It is, as Cicero finely calls it the eccho of virtue. Avarice is the passion of inferior natures; money the pay of the common herd. The au­thor who draws his quill merely to take a purse, no more deserves success than he who presents a pistol.

WHEN the link between patronage and learning was entire, then all who deserved fame were in a capacity of attaining it. When the great Somers was at the helm, patronage was fashionable among our no­bility. The middle ranks of mankind, who generally imitate the Great, then followed their example; and applauded from fashion, if not from feeling. I have heard an old poet of that glorious age say, that a dinner with his lordship, has [Page 130] procured him invitations for the whole week following: that an airing in his patron's chariot, has supplied him with a citizen's coach on every future occasion. For who would not be proud to enter­tain a man who kept so much good com­pany?

BUT this link now seems entirely bro­ken. Since the days of a certain prime minister of inglorious memory, the learn­ed have been kept pretty much at a dis­tance. A jockey, or a laced player, sup­plies the place of the scholar, poet, or the man of virtue. Those conversations, once the result of wisdom, wit, and innocence, are now turned to humbler topics, little more being expected from a companion than a laced coat, a pliant bow, and an [Page 131] immoderate friendship for—a well-served table.

WIT, when neglected by the great, is generally despised by the vulgar. Those who are unacquainted with the world, are apt to fancy the man of wit, as leading a very agreeable life. They conclude, per­haps, that he is attended to with silent ad­miration, and dictates to the rest of man­kind, with all the eloquence of conscious superiority. Very different is his present situation. He is called an author, and all know that an author is a thing only to be laughed at. His person, not his jest, be­comes the mirth of the company. At his ap­proach, the most fat unthinking face, bright­ens into malicious meaning. Even alder­men laugh, and revenge on him, the ridi­cule which was lavish'd on their forefathers.

[Page 132]
Etiam victis redit in praecordia virtus,
Victoresque cadunt.

IT is indeed a reflection somewhat mor­tifying to the author, who breaks his ranks, and singles out for public favour to think that he must combat contempt, before he can arrive at glory. That he must expect to have all the fools of society united against him, before he can hope for the applause of the judicious. For this, however, he must prepare before­hand; as those who have no idea of the difficulty of his employment, will be apt to regard his inactivity as idleness, and not having a notion of the pangs of uncom­plying thought in themselves, it is not to be expected they should have any desire of rewarding by respecting them in others.

[Page 133] VOLTAIRE has finely described the hard­ships a man must encounter, who writes for the public. I need make no apology for the length of the quotation.

'YOUR fate, my dear Le Fevre, is too strongly marked to permit your retiring. The bee must toil in making honey, the silk-worm must spin, and the phi­losopher must dissect them, and you are born to sing of their labours. You must be a poet, and a scholar, even though your inclinations should resist; nature is too strong for inclination. But hope not, my friend, to find tranquillity in the employment you are going to pur­sue. The rout of genius is not less obstructed with disappointment, than that of ambition.

[Page 134] 'IF you have the misfortune not to excel in your profession as a poet, re­pentance must tincture all your future enjoyments. If you succeed, you make enemies. You tread a narrow path, con­tempt on one side, and hatred on the other, are ready to seize you upon the slightest deviation.

'BUT, why must I be hated, you will, perhaps, reply, why must I be persecut­ed for having wrote a pleasing poem, for having produced an applauded tra­gedy, or for otherwise instructing, or a­musing mankind, or myself.

'MY dear friend, these very successes shall render you miserable for life. Let me suppose your performance has merit, let me suppose you have surmounted [Page 135] the teizing employments of printing and publishing, how will you be able to lull the critics, who like Cerberus, are posted at all the avenues of literature, and who settle the merits of every new per­formance. How, I say, will you be able to make them open in your favour? There are always three or four literary journals in France, as many in Hol­land, each supporting opposite interests. The booksellers, who guide these perio­dical compilations, find their account in being severe; the authors employed by them, have wretchedness to add to their natural malignity. The majority may be in your favour, but you may de­pend on being torn by the rest. Load­ed with unmerited scurrility, perhaps you reply; they rejoin, both plead at the [Page 136] bar of the public, and both are condemn­ed to ridicule.

'BUT if you write for the stage, your case is still more worthy compassion. You are there to be judged by men, whom the custom of the times has ren­dered contemptible. Irritated by their own inferiority, they exert all their little tyranny upon you, revenging upon the author, the insults they receive from the public. From such men then you are to expect your sentence. Suppose your piece admitted, acted: one single ill-na­tured jest from the pit, is sufficient to cancel all your labours. But allowing that it succeeds. There are an hundred squibs flying all abroad to prove, that it should not have succeeded. You shall find your brightest scenes burlesqued by [Page 137] the ignorant; and the learned, who know a little Greek, and nothing of their na­tive language, affect to despise you.

'BUT, perhaps, with a panting heart, you carry your piece before a woman of quality. She gives the labours of your brain to her maid, to be cut into shreds for curling her hair; while the laced footman, who carries the gaudy livery of luxury, insults your appear­ance, who bear the livery of indigence.

'BUT granting your excellence has at last forced envy to confess, that your works have some merit; this then is all the reward you can expect while living. However, for this tribute of applause, you must expect persecution. You will be reputed the author of scandal which [Page 138] you have never seen, of verses you de­spise, and of sentiments directly contrary to your own. In short, you must em­bark in some one party, or all parties will be against you.

'THERE are among us, a number of learned societies, where a lady presides, whose wit begins to twinkle, when the splendour of her beauty begins to decline. One or two men of learning compose her ministers of state. These must be flattered, or made enemies by being neg­lected. Thus, though you had the merit of all antiquity united in your person, you grow old in misery and dis­grace. Every place designed for men of letters, is filled up by men of in­trigue. Some nobleman's private tutor, some court flatterer, shall bear away the [Page 139] prize, and leave you to anguish and to disappointment.'

YET it were well, if none but the dunces of society, were combined to render the profession of an author ridiculous or unhappy. Men of the first eminence are often found to indulge this illiberal vein of raillery. Two contending writers often by the opposition of their wit, render their profession contempti­ble in the eyes of ignorants, who should have been taught to admire. Whatever the reader may think of himself, it is at least two to one, but he is a greater blockhead than the most scribling dunce he affects to despise.

THE poet's poverty is a standing to­pic of contempt. His writing for bread is an unpardonable offence. Perhaps, of all mankind, an author, in these [Page 140] times, is used most hardly. We keep him poor, and yet revile his poverty. Like angry parents, who correct their children till they cry, and then correct them for crying, we reproach him for living by his wit, and yet allow him no other means to live.

HIS taking refuge in garrets and cellars, and living among vermin, have, of late, been violently objected to him, and that by men, who I dare hope, are more apt to pity than insult his distress. Is poverty the writer's fault? No doubt, he knows how to prefer a bottle of champaign, to the nectar of the neighbouring alehouse, or a venison pasty to a plate of potatoes. Want of delicacy is not in him, but in us, who deny him the opportunity of making an elegant choice.

[Page 141] WIT certainly is the property of those who have it, nor should we be displeased if it is the only property a man sometimes has. We must not under-rate him who uses it for subsistence, and flies from the ingratitude of the age, even to a book­seller for redress. If the profession of an author is to be laughed at by stupids, it is better sure to be contemptibly rich, than contemptibly poor. For all the wit that ever adorned the human mind, will at present no more shield the author's po­verty from ridicule, than his high topped gloves conceal the unavoidable omissions of his laundress.

TO be more serious, new fashions, follies, and vices, make new monitors ne­cessary in every age. An author may be considered as a merciful substitute to the [Page 142] legislature; he acts not by punishing crimes, but preventing them; however virtuous the present age, there may be still grow­ing employment for ridicule, or reproof, for persuasion, or satire. If the author be, therefore, still so necessary among us, let us treat him with proper considera­tion, as a child of the public, not a rent­charge on the community. And, indeed, a child of the public he is in all respects; for while so well able to direct others, how incapable is he frequently found of guiding himself. His simplicity exposes him to all the insidious approaches of cun­ning, his sensibility to the slightest inva­sions of contempt. Though possessed of fortitude to stand unmoved the expect­ed bursts of an earthquake, yet of feel­ings so exquisitely poignant, as to ago­nize under the slightest disappointment. [Page 143] Broken rest, tasteless meals, and causeless anxiety, shorten his life, or render it unfit for active employment; prolonged vigils, and intense application still farther con­tract his span, and make his time glide insensibly away. Let us not then aggra­vate those natural inconveniencies by neg­lect; we have had sufficient instances of this kind already. Sale, Savage, Amherst, More, will suffice for one age at least. But they are dead, and their sorrows are over. The neglected author of the Per­sian eclogues, which, however inaccurate, excel any in our language, is still alive. Happy, if insensible of our neglect, not raging at our ingratitude. It is enough, that the age has already yielded instances of men pressing foremost in the lists of fame, and worthy of better times, schooled by continued adversity into an hatred of [Page 144] their kind, flying from thought to drun­kenness, yielding to the united pressure of labour, penury, and sorrow, sinking un­heeded, without one friend to drop a tear on their unattended obsequies, and indebt­ed to charity for a grave among the dregs of mankind.

THE author, when unpatronized by the Great, has naturally recourse to the bookseller. There cannot be, perhaps, imagined a combination more prejudicial to taste than this. It is the interest of the one to allow as little for writing, and of the other to write as much as possible; accordingly, tedious compi­lations, and periodical magazines, are the result of their joint endeavours. In these circumstances, the author bids adieu to fame, writes for bread, and for that only. [Page 145] Imagination is seldom called in; he sits down to address the venal muse with the most phlegmatic apathy; and, as we are told of the Russian, courts his mistress by falling asleep in her lap. His repu­tation never spreads in a wider circle than that of the trade, who generally value him, not for the fineness of his compo­sition, but the quantity he works off in a given time.

A LONG habitude of writing for bread, thus turns the ambition of every author at last into avarice. He finds, that he has wrote many years, that the public are scarcely acquainted even with his name; he despairs of applause, and turns to pro­fit, which invites him. He finds that money procures all those advantages, that respect, and that ease, which he vainly [Page 146] expected from fame. Thus the man, who under the protection of the Great, might have done honour to humanity, when on­ly patronized by the bookseller, becomes a thing little superior to the fellow who works at the press.

Sint Maecenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones.

CHAP. XI. Upon Criticism.

BUT there are still some men, whom fortune has blessed with affluence, to whom the muse pays her morning visit, not like a creditor, but a friend: to this hap­py few, who have leisure to polish what they write, and liberty to chuse their own subjects, I would direct my advice, which consists in a few words: Write what you think, regardless of the critics. To per­suade to this, was the chief design of this essay. To break, or at least to loosen those bonds, first put on by caprice, and afterwards drawn hard by fashion, is my [Page 148] wish. I have assumed the critic only to dissuade from criticism.

THERE is scarce an error of which our present writers are guilty, that does not arise from this source. From this pro­ceeds the affected obscurity of our odes, the tuneless flow of our blank verse, the pom­pous epithet, laboured diction, and every other deviation from common sense, which procures the poet the applause of the con­noisseur; he is praised by all, read by a few, and soon forgotten.

THERE never was an unbeaten path trodden by the poet, that the critic did not endeavour to reclaim him, by calling his attempt innovation. This might be instanced in Dante, who first followed na­ture, [Page 149] and was persecuted by the critics as long as he lived. Thus novelty, one of the greatest beauties in poetry, must be avoid­ed, or the connoisseur be displeased. It is one of the chief privileges, however, of genius, to fly from the herd of imi­tators by some happy singularity; for should he stand still, his heavy pursuers will at length certainly come up, and fairly dispute the victory.

THE ingenious Mr. Hogarth used to assert, that every one, except the connois­seur, was a judge of painting. The same may be asserted of writing; the public in general set the whole piece in the pro­per point of view; the critic lays his eye close to all its minutenesses, and condemns or approves in detail. And this may be [Page 150] the reason why so many writers at pre­sent, are apt to appeal from the tribunal of criticism to that of the people.

FROM a desire in the critic of grafting the spirit of ancient languages upon the English, has proceeded of late several disagreeable in­stances of pedantry. Among the number, I think we may reckon blank verse. No­thing but the greatest sublimity of sub­ject can render such a measure pleasing; however, we now see it used upon the most trivial occasions; it has particularly found way into our didactic poetry, and is likely to bring that species of composition into disrepute, for which the English are de­servedly famous.

THOSE who are acquainted with writ­ing, know that our language runs almost [Page 151] naturally into blank verse. The writers of our novels, romances, and all of this class, who have no notion of stile, natu­rally hobble into this unharmonious mea­sure. If rhymes, therefore, be more dif­ficult, for that very reason, I would have our poets write in rhyme. Such a restric­tion upon the thought of a good poet, often lifts and encreases the vehemence of every sentiment; for fancy, like a foun­tain, plays highest by diminishing the aperture. But rhymes, it will be said, are a remnant of monkish stupidity, an in­novation upon the poetry of the ancients. They are but indifferently acquainted with antiquity, who make the assertion. Rhymes are probably of older date than either the Greek or Latin dactyl and spondé. The Celtic, which is allowed to be the first language spoken in Europe, has ever [Page 152] preserved them, as we may find in the Edda of Iceland, and the Irish carrols still sung among the original inhabitants of that island. Olaus Wormius gives us some of the Teutonic poetry in this way; and Pantoppidan, bishop of Bergen, some of the Norwegian; in short, this jingle of sounds is almost natural to mankind, at least, it is so to our language, if we may judge from many unsuccessful attempts to throw it off.

I SHOULD not have employed so much time in opposing this erroneous inno­vation, if it were not apt to intro­duce another in its train: I mean, a disgusting solemnity of manner into our poetry; and as the prose writer has been ever found to follow the poet, it must consequently banish in both, all that agree­able [Page 153] trifling, which, if I may so ex­press it, often deceives us into instruction. Dry reasoning, and dull morality, have no force with the wild fantastic libertine. He must be met with smiles, and courted with the allurements of gaiety. He must be taught to believe, that he is in pur­suit of pleasure, and be surprized into re­formation. The finest sentiment, and the most weighty truth, may put on a pleas­ing face, and it is even virtuous to jest when serious advice might be disgust­ing. But instead of this, the most tri­fling performance among us now, assumes all the didactic stiffness of wisdom. The most diminutive son of fame, or of fa­mine, has his we and his us, his firstlys and his secondlys as methodical, as if bound in cow-hide, and closed with clasps of brass. Were these Monthly Reviews [Page 154] and Magazines frothy, pert, or absurd, they might find some pardon; but to be dull and dronish, is an encroachment on the prerogative of a folio.

THESE pamphlets should be considered as pills to purge melancholly; they should be made up in our splenetic climate, to be taken as physic, and not so as to be used when we take it. Some such law should be enacted in the republic of let­ters, as we find take place in the house of commons. As no man there can shew his wisdom, unless first qualified by three hundred pounds a year, so none here should profess gravity, unless his work amounted to three hundred pages.

HOWEVER, by the power of one single monosyllable, our critics have almost got the victory over humour amongst us. [Page 155] Does the poet paint the absurdities of the vulgar; then he is low: does he exaggerate the features of folly, to render it more thorough­ly ridiculous, he is then very low. In short, they have proscribed the comic or satyrical muse from every walk but high life, which, though abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, is by no means so fruit­ful in absurdity. Among well-bred fools we may despise much, but have little to laugh at; nature seems to present us with an universal blank of silk, ribbands, smiles and whispers; absurdity is the poet's game, and good breeding is the nice concealment of absurdities. The truth is, the critic generally mistakes humour for wit, which is a very different excellence. Wit raises human na­ture above its level; humour acts a contrary part, and equally depresses it. To expect ex­alted humour, is a contradiction in terms; [Page 156] and the critic, by demanding an impossibility from the comic poet, has, in effect, banished new comedy from the stage. But to put the same thought in a different light:

WHEN an unexpected similitude in two objects strikes the imagination; in other words, when a thing is wittily expressed, all our pleasure turns into admiration of the artist, who had fancy enough to draw the picture. When a thing is humour­ously described, our burst of laughter pro­ceeds from a very different cause; we com­pare the absurdity of the character repre­sented with our own, and triumph in our conscious superiority. No natural defect can be a cause of laughter, because it is a misfortune to which ourselves are lia­ble; a defect of this kind, changes the passion into pity or horror; we only laugh at those instances of moral absur­dity, [Page 157] to which we are conscious that we our­selves are not liable. For instance, should I describe a man as wanting his nose, there is no humour in this, as it is an accident to which human nature is subject, and may be any man's case: but should I repre­sent this man without his nose, as extreme­ly curious in the choice of his snuff-box, we here see him guilty of an absurdity of which we imagine ourselves can never be guilty, and therefore applaud our own good sense on the comparison. Thus, then, the pleasure we receive from wit, turns on the admiration of another; that we feel from humour, centers in the admiration of our­selves. The poet, therefore, must place the object he would have the subject of humour in a state of inferiority; in other words, the subject of humour must be low.

[Page 158] THE solemnity worn by many of our modern writers is, I fear, often the mask of dulness; for certain it is, it seems to fit every author who pleases to put it on. By the complexion of many of our late publications, one might be apt to cry out with Cicero, Civem mehercule non puto esse qui his temporibus ridere possit. On my conscience, I believe we have all forgot to laugh in these days. Such writers pro­bably make no distinction between what is praised, and what is pleasing; between those commendations which the reader pays his own discernment, and those which are the genuine result of his sensations.

AS our gentlemen writers have it there­fore so much in their power to lead the taste of the times, they may now part with the inflated stile that has for some [Page 159] years been looked upon as fine writing, and which every young writer is now obliged to adopt, if he chuses to be read. They may now dispense with loaded epi­thet, and dressing up of trifles with dig­nity. For to use an obvious instance, it is not those who make the greatest noise with their wares in the streets, that have most to sell. Let us, instead of writ­ing finely, try to write naturally. Not hunt after lofty expressions to deliver mean ideas; nor be for ever gaping, when we only mean to deliver a whisper.


OUR Theatre may be regarded as partaking of the shew and decora­tion of the Italian opera, with the pro­priety and declamation of French perfor­mance. Our stage is more magnificent than any other in Europe, and the peo­ple in general fonder of theatrical enter­tainment. But as our pleasures, as well as more important concerns, are general­ly managed by party, the stage is subject to its influence. The managers, and all who espouse their side, are for decoration and ornament; the critic, and all who have studied French decorum, are for re­gularity and declamation. Thus it is al­most [Page 161] impossible to please both parties, and the poet, by attempting it, finds him­self often incapable of pleasing either. If he introduces stage pomp, the critic con­signs his performance to the vulgar; if he indulges in recital, and simplicity, he is accused of insipidity or dry af­fectation.

FROM the nature therefore of our thea­tre, and the genius of our country, it is extremely difficult for a dramatic poet to please his audience. But happy would he be were these the only difficulties he had to encounter; there are many other more dangerous combinations against the little wit of the age. Our poet's performance must undergo a process truly chymical before it is presented to the public. It must be tried in the manager's fire, strain­ed [Page 162] through a licenser, and purified in the Review, or the news-paper of the day. At this rate, before it can come to a private ta­ble, it may probably be a mere caput mor­tuum, and only proper entertainment for the licenser, manager, or critic himself. But it may be answered, that we have a sufficient number of plays upon our theatres already, and therefore there is no need of new ones. But are they sufficiently good? And is the credit of our age nothing? Must our present times pass away unnoticed by posterity? We are desirous of leaving them liberty, wealth, and titles, and we can have no recom­pence but their applause. The title of Learned given to an age, is the most glori­ous applause, and shall this be disregarded? Our reputation among foreigners will quick­ly be discontinued, when we discontinue our efforts to deserve it, and shall we despise their [Page 163] praise? Are our new absurdities, with which no nation more abounds, to be left unno­ticed? Is the pleasure such performances give upon the perusal, to be entirely given up? If these are all matters of indifference, it then signifies nothing, whether we are to be entertained with the actor or the poet, with fine sentiments, or painted canvas, or whether the dancer, or the carpenter, be constituted master of the ceremonies.

BUT they are not matters of indiffe­rence. Every age produces new follies and new vices, and one absurdity is often displaced in order to make room for ano­ther. The dramatic poet, however, who should be, and has often been, a firm champion in the cause of virtue, detects all the new machinations of vice, levels his satire at the rising structures of folly, [Page 164] or drives her from behind the retrench­ments of fashion. Thus far then, the poet is useful; but how far the actor, that dear favourite of the public, may be so, is a question, next to be deter­mined.

AS the poet's merit is often not suf­ficient to introduce his performance among the public with proper dignity, he is often obliged to call in the assistance of decoration and dress to contribute to this effect. By this means a performance, which pleases on the stage, often instructs in the closet, and for one who has seen it acted, hundreds will be readers. The actor then is useful, by introducing the works of the poet to the public with becoming splen­dor; but when these have once become po­pular, I must confess myself so much a scep­tic, [Page 165] as to think it would be more for the in­terests of virtue, if such performances were read, not acted; made rather our compa­nions in the closet, than on the theatre. While we are readers, every moral sen­timent strikes us in all its beauty, but the love scenes are frigid, tawdry, and disgusting. When we are spectators, all the persuasives to vice receive an additional lustre. The love scene is ag­gravated, the obscenity heightened, the best actors figure in the most debauched characters, while the parts of dull mora­lity, as they are called, are thrown to some mouthing machine, who puts even virtue out of countenance, by his wretch­ed imitation. The principal performers find their interest in chusing such parts as tend to promote, not the benefit of society, but their own reputation; and in [Page 166] using arts which inspire emotions very dif­ferent from those of morality. How many young men go to the playhouse speculative­ly in love with the rule of right, but return home actually enamour'd of an actress?

I HAVE often attended to the reflec­tions of the company upon leaving the theatre; one actor had the finest pipe, but the other the most melodious voice; one was a bewitching creature, another a charming devil; and such are generally our acquisitions at the play-house: It brings to my remembrance an old lady, who being passionately fond of a famous preacher, went every Sunday to church, but, struck only with his graceful manner of delivery, disregarded and forgot the truths of his discourse.

[Page 167] BUT it is needless to mention the incen­tives to vice which are found at the theatre, or the immorality of some of the per­formers. Such impeachments, though true, would be regarded as cant, while their ex­hibitions continue to amuse. I would only infer from hence, that an actor is chiefly useful in introducing new performances upon the stage, since the reader receives more benefit by perusing a well written play in his closet, than by seeing it acted. I would also infer, that to the poet is to be ascribed all the good that attends seeing plays, and to the actor all the harm.

BUT how is this rule inverted on our thea­tres at present? Old pieces are revived, and scarce any new ones admitted; the actor is ever in our eye, and the poet seldom per­mitted to appear; the public are again [Page 168] obliged to ruminate those hashes of ab­surdity, which were disgusting to our an­cestors, even in an age of ignorance; and the stage, instead of serving the people, is made subservient to the interests of an avaricious few. We must now tamely see the literary honours of our country suppressed that an actor may dine with elegance; we must tamely sit and see the celestial muse made a slave to the histrio­nic Daemon.

WE seem to be pretty much in the situation of travellers at a Scotch inn, vile entertainment is served up, complained of and sent down, up comes worse, and that also is changed, and every change makes our wretched cheer more unsavoury. What must be done? only sit down contented, [Page 169] cry up all that comes before us, and ad­mire even the absurdities of Shakespear.

LET the reader suspend his censure; I ad­mire the beauties of this great father of our stage as much as they deserve, but could wish, for the honour of our country, and for his honour too, that many of his scenes were forgotten. A man blind of one eye, should always be painted in pro­file. Let the spectator who assists at any of these new revived pieces, only ask him­self, whether he would approve such a performance if written by a modern poet; if he would not, then his applause proceeds merely from the sound of a name and an empty veneration for antiquity. In fact, the revival of those pieces of forced humour, far fetch'd conceit, and unnatural hyper­bole, which have been ascribed to Shake­spear, [Page 170] is rather gibbeting than raising a statue to his memory; it is rather a trick of the actor, who thinks it safest acting in exagge­rated characters, and who by out-stepping nature, chuses to exhibit the ridiculous outre of an harlequin under the sanction of this venerable name.

WHAT strange vamp'd comedies, farcical tragedies, or what shall I call them, speak­ing pantomimes, have we not of late seen. No matter what the play may be, it is the actor who draws an audience. He throws life into all; all are in spirits and merry, in at one door and out at another; the spectator, in a fool's paradise, knows not what all this means till the last act concludes in matrimo­ny. The piece pleases our critics, because it talks old English; and it pleases the galle­ries, because it has fun. True taste, or even common sense, are out of the question.

[Page 171] BUT great art must be sometimes used be­fore they can thus impose upon the public. To this purpose, a prologue written with some spirit generally precedes the piece, to inform us that it was composed by Shake­spear, or old Ben, or somebody else, who took them for his model. A face of iron could not have the assurance to avow dislike; the theatre has its partizans who under­stand the force of combinations, trained up to vociferation, clapping of hands, and clattering of sticks; and tho' a man might have strength sufficient to overcome a lion in single combat, by an army even of mice, he may run the risk of being eaten up mar­row-bones and all.

I AM not insensible that third nights are disagreeable drawbacks upon the annual pro­fits of the stage; I am confident, it is much [Page 172] more to the manager's advantage to furbish up all the lumber, which the good sense of our ancestors, but for his care, had con­sign'd to oblivion; it is not with him therefore, but with the public I would ex­postulate; they have a right to demand respect, and sure those new revived plays are no instances of the manager's defe­rence.

I HAVE been informed, that no new play can be admitted upon our theatre unless the author chuses to wait some years, or to use the phrase in fashion, till it comes to be played in turn. A poet thus can never expect to contract a fami­liarity with the stage, by which alone he can hope to succeed, nor can the most signal success relieve immediate want. Our Saxon ancestors had but one name for a [Page 173] wit and a witch. I will not dispute the propriety of uniting those characters then; but the man who under the present dis­couragements ventures to write for the stage now, whatever claim he may have to the appellation of a wit, at least, he has no right to be called a conjuror.

YET getting a play on even in three or four years, is a privilege reserved only for the happy few who have the arts of court­ing the manager as well as the muse: who have adulation to please his vanity, powerful patrons to support their merit, or money to indemnify disappointment. The poet must act like our beggars at Christmas, who lay the first shilling on the plate for themselves. Thus all wit is banished from the stage, except it be supported by friends, or fortune, and poets are seldom over-burthen­ed with either.

[Page 174] I AM not at present writing for a par­ty, but above theatrical connections in every sense of the expression; I have no particular spleen against the fellow who sweeps the stage with the besom, or the hero who brushes it with his train. It were a matter of indifference to me, whether our heroines are in keeping, or our candle-snuf­fers burn their fingers, did not such make a great part of public care, and polite con­versation. It is not these, but the age I would reproach: the vile complexion of the times, when those employ our most serious thoughts and seperate us into parties, whose business is only to amuse our idlest hours. I cannot help reproaching our meanness in this respect; for our stupidity, and our folly, will be remembered, when even the atti­tudes and eye-brows of a favourite actor shall be forgotten.

[Page 175] IN the times of Addison and Steele, players were held in greater contempt than, perhaps, they deserved. Honest Eastcourt, Verbruggen and Underhill, were extream­ly poor, and assumed no airs of insolence. They were contented with being merry at a city feast, with promoting the mirth of a set of cheerful companions, and gave their jest for their reckoning. At that time, it was kind to say something in de­sence of the poor good-natured creatures, if it were only to keep them in good hu­mour; but at present, such encouragements are unnecessary. Our actors assume all that state off the stage which they do on it; and to use an expression borrow'd from the Green Room, every one is up in his part. I am sorry to say it, they seem to forget their real characters; more provoking still, the pub­lic seems to forget them too.

[Page 176] MACROBIUS has preserved a prologue, spoken and written by the poet Laberius, a Roman knight, whom Caesar forced upon the stage, written with great ele­gance and spirit, which shews what opi­nion the Romans in general entertained of the profession of an actor.

Necessitas cujus cursus transversi impetum, &c.
What! no way left to shun th' inglorious stage,
And save from infamy my sinking age.
Scarce half alive, oppress'd with many a year,
What in the name of dotage drives me here?
A time there was, when glory was my guide,
Nor force nor fraud could turn my steps aside,
Unaw'd by pow'r and unappal'd by fear,
With honest thrift I held my honour dear,
[Page 177] But this vile hour disperses all my store,
And all my hoard of honour is no more.
For ah! too partial to my life's decline,
Caesar persuades, submission must be mine,
Him I obey, whom heaven itself obeys,
Hopeless of pleasing, yet inclin'd to please.
Here then at once, I welcome every shame,
And cancel at threescore a life of fame;
No more my titles shall my children tell,
The old buffoon will fit my name as well;
This day beyond its term my fate extends,
For life is ended when our honour ends.

FROM all that has been said upon the state of our theatre, we may easily fore­see, whether it is likely to improve or decline; and whether the free-born muse can bear to submit to those restrictions, which avarice or power would impose. For the future, it is somewhat unlikely, that he, [Page 178] whose labours are valuable, or who knows their value, will turn to the stage for either fame or subsistence, when he must at once flatter an actor, and please an au­dience.

LET no manager impute this to spleen, or disappointment. I only assert the claims of the public, and endeavour to vindicate a profession which has hitherto wanted a de­fender. A mean or mercenary conduct may continue for some time to triumph over opposition, but it is possible the public will at last be taught to vindicate their pri­vileges. Perhaps, there may come a time, when the poet will be at liberty to en­crease the entertainments of the people; but such a period may possibly not arise till our discouragements have banished poetry from the stage.


INSTEAD of losing myself in a subject of such extent, I shall only offer a few thoughts as they occur, and leave their connection to the reader.

WE seem divided, whether an educa­tion formed by travelling, or by a seden­tary life, be preferable. We see more of the world by travel, but more of human na­ture by remaining at home. As in an infirmary, the student who only attends to the disorders of a few patients, is more likely to understand his profession, than he who indiscriminately examines them all.

[Page 180] A YOUTH just landed at the Brille re­sembles a clown at a puppet-shew; car­ries his amazement from one miracle to another; from this cabinet of curiosities, to that collection of pictures: but won­dering is not the way to grow wise.

WHATEVER resolutions we set our­selves not to keep company with our countrymen abroad, we shall find them broken when once we leave home. A­mong strangers, we consider ourselves as in a solitude, and 'tis but natural to desire society.

IN all the great towns of Europe, there are to be found Englishmen residing either from interest or choice; these generally lead a life of continued debauchery; such are the [Page 181] countrymen a traveller is likely to meet with.

THIS may be the reason why English­men are all thought to be mad, or melan­cholly, by the vulgar abroad. Their money is giddily and merrily spent among sharpers of their own country, and when that is gone, of all nations, the English bear worst that disorder called the maladie du poche.

COUNTRIES wear very different appear­ances to travellers of different circum­stances. A man who is whirled through Europe in a post chaise, and the pilgrim who walks the grand tour on foot, will form very different conclusions.

Haud inexpertus loquor.

[Page 182] To see Europe with advantage, a man should appear in various circumstances of fortune, but the experiment would be too dangerous for young men.

THERE are many things relative to other countries, which can be learned to more advantage at home; their laws and policies are among the number.

THE greatest advantages which result to youth from travel, is an easy address, the wearing off national prejudices, and the finding nothing ridiculous in national pecu­liarities. The time spent in these acqui­sitions, could have been more usefully em­ployed at home. An education in a col­lege seems, therefore, preferable.

[Page 183] IT has lately been disputed, whether the arts and sciences do most benefit, or in­jury to mankind. Mere speculative tri­fling. Ask the house-breaker or highway­man, in what university they were bred. They will answer, In none.

WE attribute to universities either too much or too little. Some assert, that they are the only proper places to advance learn­ing; while others deny even their utility in forming an education. Both are er­roneous.

LEARNING is most advanced in popu­lous cities, where chance often conspires with industry to promote it; where the members of this larger university, if I may so call it, catch manners as they rise, [Page 184] study life, not logic, and have the world for correspondents.

THE greatest number of universities have ever been founded in times of the greatest ignorance.

NEW improvements in learning, are sel­dom adopted in colleges, until admitted every where else. And this is right; we should always be cautious of teaching the rising generation uncertainties for truth.

THOUGH the professors in universities have been too frequently found to op­pose the advancement of learning; yet when once established, they are the properest persons to diffuse it.

[Page 185] THE rudiments of learning are best im­planted in a college, the cultivation of it is best promoted in the world.

THERE is more knowlege to be ac­quired from one page of the volume of mankind, if the scholar only knows how to read, than in volumes of antiquity; we grow learned, not wise, by too long a con­tinuance at college.

THIS points out the time in which we should leave the university; perhaps, the age of twenty-one, when at our univer­sities the first degree is generally taken, is the proper period.

THE universities of Europe may be di­vided into three classes. Those upon the old scholastic establishment, where the pu­pils [Page 186] are immured, talk nothing but Latin, and support every day syllogistical dispu­tations in school philosophy. Would not one be apt to imagine, this was the proper education to make a man a fool! Such are the universities of Prague, Louvain, and Padua. The second is, where the pupils are under few restrictions; where all scholas­tic jargon is banished, where they take a de­gree when they think proper, and live not in the college but city. Such are Edinburgh, Leyden, Gottingen, Geneva. The third is a mixture of the two former, where the pupils are restrained, but not confined; where many, though not all, the absur­dities of scholastic philosophy are suppres­sed, and where the first degree is taken after four years matriculation. Such are Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin.

[Page 187] AS for the first class, their absurdities are too apparent to admit of a parallel. It is disputed, which of the two last are most conducive to national improvement

SKILL in the professions is acquired more by practice than study, two or three years may be sufficient for learning their rudiments. The universities of Edinburgh, &c. grant a licence for practising them, when the student thinks proper, which our universities refuse till after a residence of several years.

THE dignity of the professions may be supported by this dilatory proceeding, but many men of learning are thus too long excluded from the lucrative advantages, which superior skill has a right to expect.

[Page 188] THOSE universities must certainly be most frequented, who promise to give in two years the advantages, which others will not under twelve.

THE man who has studied a profession for three years, and practised it for nine more, will certainly know more of his business, than he who has only studied it for twelve.

THE universities of Edinburgh, &c. must certainly be most proper for the study of those professions, in which men chuse to turn their learning to profit as soon as possible.

THE universities of Oxford, &c. are improper for this, since they keep the stu­dent from the world, which, after a cer­tain [Page 189] time, is the only true school of im­provement.

WHEN a degree in the professions can be taken only by men of independent for­tune, the number of candidates in learn­ing is lessened, and consequently the ad­vancement of learning retarded.

THIS slowness of conferring degrees is a remnant of scholastic barbarity. Paris, Louvain, and those universities which still retain their ancient institutions, confer the doctor's degree slower even than we.

THE statutes of every university should be considered as adapted to the laws of its respective government. Those should alter as these happen to fluctuate.

[Page 190] FOUR years spent in the arts (as they are called in colleges) is, perhaps, laying too laborious a foundation. Entering a profession without any previous acquisi­tions of this kind, is building too bold a superstructure.

TEACHING by lecture, as at Edinburgh, may make men scholars, if they think proper; but instructing by examination, as at Oxford, will make them so, often against their inclination.

EDINBURGH only disposes the student to receive learning; Oxford often makes him actually learned.

IN a word, were I poor, I should send my son to Leyden, or Edinburgh, tho' the annual expence in either, particular­ly [Page 191] in the first, is very great. Were I rich, I would send him to one of our own universities. By an education re­ceived in the first, he has the best like­lihood of living; by that received in the latter, he has the best chance of becom­ing great.

WE have of late heard much of the necessity of studying oratory. Vespasian was the first who paid professors of rhe­toric, for publicly instructing youth at Rome. However those pedants never made an orator.

THE best orations that ever were spo­ken, were pronounced in the parlia­ments of King Charles the first. These men never studied the rules of oratory.

[Page 192] MATHEMATICS are, perhaps, too much studied at our universities. This seems a science, to which the meanest intellects are equal. I forget who it is that says, ‘'All men might understand mathematics, if they would.'’

THE most methodical manner of lec­turing, whether on morals or nature, is first rationally to explain, and then pro­duce the experiment. The most instruc­tive method is to shew the experiment first; curiosity is then excited and atten­tion awakened to every subsequent de­duction. From hence, it is evident, that in a well formed education, a course of history should ever precede a course of ethics.

[Page 193] THE sons of our nobility are permitted to enjoy greater liberties in our univer­sities, than those of private men. I should blush to ask the men of learning and vir­tue, who preside in our seminaries, the reason of such a prejudicial distinction. Our youth should there be inspired with a love of philosophy: and the first maxim among philosophers is, that merit only makes distinction.

WHENCE has proceeded the vain mag­nificence of expensive architecture in our colleges? Is it, that men study to more advantage in a palace than in a cell? One single performance of taste, or genius, confers more real honours on its parent university, than all the labours of the chissel.

[Page 194] SURE pride itself has dictated to the fellows of our colleges, the absurd passion of being attended at meals, and on other public occasions, by those poor men, who, willing to be scholars, come in upon some charitable foundation. It implies a contra­diction, for men to be at once learning the liberal arts, and at the same time treated as slaves, at once studying freedom, and prac­tising servitude.


EVERY subject acquires an adven­titious importance to him who con­siders it with application. He finds it more closely connected with human hap­piness, than the rest of mankind are apt to allow; he sees consequences resulting from it, which do not strike others with equal conviction, and still pursuing spe­culation beyond the bounds of reason, too frequently becomes ridiculously earnest in trifles, or absurdity.

IT will, perhaps, be incurring this im­putation, to deduce an universal degeneracy of manners, from so slîght an origin as the [Page 196] depravation of taste; to assert, that as a nation grows dull, it sinks into debauchery. Yet such, probably, may be the conse­quence of literary decay; or, not to stretch the thought beyond what it will bear, vice and stupidity are always mutually produc­tive of each other.

LIFE at the greatest and best, has been compared to a froward child, that must be humoured, and play'd with, till it falls asleep, and then all the care is over. Our few years are laboured away in varying its pleasures; new amusements are pursued with studious attention; the most childish vanities are dignified with titles of impor­tance; and the proudest boast of the most aspiring philosopher is no more than that he provides his little playfellows the greatest pastime with the greatest innocence.

[Page 197] THUS the mind ever wandering after a­musement, when abridged of happiness on one part, endeavours to find it on another, when intellectual pleasures are disagreeable, those of sense will take the lead. The man, who, in this age, is enamoured of the tranquil joys of study and retirement, may, in the next, should learning be fashionable no longer, feel an ambition of being foremost at an horse-course; or if such could be the ab­surdity of the times, of being himself a jockey. Reason and appetite are there­fore masters of our revels in turn; and as we incline to the one, or pursue the other, we rival angels, or imitate the brutes. In the pursuit of intellectual plea­sure, lies every virtue; of sensual, every vice.

IT is this difference of pursuit, which marks the morals and characters of man­kind; [Page 198] which lays the line between the enlightened philosopher, and the half­taught citizen; between the civil citizen and the illiterate peasant; between the law-obeying peasant, and the wandering sa­vage of Africa, an animal less mischievous indeed, than the tyger, because endued with fewer powers of doing mischief. The man, the nation, must therefore be good, whose chiefest luxuries consist in the re­finement of reason; and reason can never be universally cultivated unless guided by Taste, which may be considered as the link between science and common sense, the medium through which learning should ever be seen by society.

TASTE will, therefore, often be a pro­per standard, when others fail, to judge of a nation's improvement, or degeneracy [Page 199] in morals. We have often no permanent characteristics by which to compare the vir­tues or the vices of our ancestors with our own; a generation may rise and pass away, without leaving any traces of what it really was, and all complaints of our deterioration, may be only topics of declamation, or the cavillings of disappointment: but in taste, we have standing evidence, we can, with precision, compare the literary performances of our fathers with our own, and from their excellence, or defects, determine the moral, as well as the literary merits of either.

IF then, there ever comes a time, when taste is so far depraved among us, that critics shall load every work of genius with unnecessary comment, and quarter their empty performances, with the sub­stantial merit of an author, both for sub­sistence [Page 200] and applause; if there comes a time, when censure shall speak in storms, but praise be whispered in the breeze, while real excellence often finds shipwreck in either; if there be a time, when the muse shall seldom be heard, except in plaintive elegy, as if she wept her own decline, while lazy compilations supply the place of original thinking; should there ever be such a time, may succeeding critics, both for the honour of our morals as well as our learning, say, that such a period bears no resemblance to the present age.


This keyboarded and encoded edition of the work described above is co-owned by the institutions providing financial support to the Text Creation Partnership. This Phase I text is available for reuse, according to the terms of Creative Commons 0 1.0 Universal. The text can be copied, modified, distributed and performed, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.