Entered at Stationers' Hall.



OF literary performances, a work like the present, might be permitted to appear, without the accustomed ornament of a Preface; for what are MISCELLANIES, but a kind of Pre­faces? They are rather introduc­tions to subjects, than subjects them­selves; and like Prefaces, are fre­quently more pleasing, than the completer works.

In these pages I have arranged some of the materials of my ob­servation, and have blown into a little flame, some sparks of learning. [Page vi] To adorn criticism with imagery, and to establish observation by anec­dote, has, if I err not, a claim on the public indulgence; for it can­not be said that we have many books of this race. Of all Europe, we have excelled in the miscellaneous mode of writing; but our's has been generally addressed to the ima­gination, and not much to literary curiosity. A manner of composition very superior to that which this vo­lume exhibits; since the knowledge which regulates the passions of the heart, is more valuable than that which furnishes the ideas of the head; for virtue is permanent, but opinion is unstable. Writings which awaken our sensibility by fiction, must please more generally than books which only instruct our judgment by truths; for I have observed, that [Page vii] most are more wearied by idleness, than disturbed by ignorance.

In this book are sentiments which, ancient or new, judicious or erro­neous, may probably encounter con­troverters. The apparent errors of an author, sometimes proceed from the ambiguity, or imperfect expres­sion of his conceptions; but some­times from the prejudices and inabi­lities of his critics. Of literary opi­nions I shall not be unreasonably te­nacious; for whatever some authors may imagine, the concerns of mere literature, are not very material in the system of human life. They are objects, however, more innocent to discuss, than topics more prevalent. The opposite opinions of periodical critics have afforded me some amuse­ment, some instruction, and some indignation, and in want of a subject [Page viii] for this Preface, that of their cha­racter may not be uninteresting to the lover of literature.

When we abound with periodical critics, we must necessarily abound with erroneous criticism. Some have their old prejudices, some their new follies, and some their incura­ble imbecillity; for impotence is ra­dical. Rarely we find a critic whose extensive powers are familiar with what has been done, and what is doing; whose sagacity not only dis­covers the real abilities of an author, but, with a prescient discernment, can judge to what his future powers may be competent; and by his vi­gour of conception, and delicacy of taste, exhibit beauties kindred to the fine original he reviews.

Literary journals conducted by an intelligent editor, abound with the [Page ix] pleasures and the utilities of letters; but certainly with such an editor every Review is not provided. The personal irritation of men of genius has depreciated these records of lite­rature; and such errors have been strangely propagated, with the ad­ditional extravagancies of persons, not conversant with literary affairs. Some yet believe a Review to be com­posed by a junto, who, in black coats, and with grave faces, assemble around ‘"a board of green cloth."’ The in­terior of a Review has nothing of it's apparent complexity; the entire machine is revolved by a solitary hand, sometimes with experienced dexterity, and sometimes with ca­sual imbecillity.

It is certain, that the pleasure of running over fifty books in an hour, is a voluptuous indulgence for every [Page x] literary idler; and authors feel a great curiosity in taking in at a glance, what is performing by their contemporaries. To students remote from the metropolis, it is only by the intermediate aid of these period­ical pages, that they can form an ac­quaintance with the public taste. A review is a literary arena, where young writers learn to wrestle with their rivals.

When such is the interest and the sagacity of a conductor, that some of the literary characters of the age are invited to take a share in these works, they receive an addi­tional importance, and form a valu­able accession to the treasuries of li­terature. At a future day they are consulted to detect the vulnerable parts of our literary heroes; to ob­tain accounts of obscure publications [Page xi] often necessary in the history of let­ters; and to reflect on the manner in which the literary world received certain works, distinguished at their first appearance, by the novelties of their system.

It is observable, that men, whose decisions are regarded on the works of the first writers, are themselves unknown, and voluntarily preclude all reputation by their studied se­cresy. By some no additional repu­tation is wanted. Two interests sti­mulate the writers of reviews; the pleasure of examining new publica­cations; or the petty stipend of lite­rary pay, too often necessary for some men of genius. I am of opinion, that this obscurity is favourable to their powers. To whatever is known more by it's effects, than by it's cause, the imagination is friendly. [Page xii] If great names appeared to the arti­cles of a Review, the public and the author would abrogate their deci­sions; we should sometimes protect the meanest, that we might have the pleasure of humbling the greatest. It is not, therefore, with the deities of literature, as with those of reli­gion; to attract and fix the vulgar, it was necessary to inflame them with visible Gods; but here their invisi­bility is their omnipotence.

On the necessity of anonymous criticism, a more serious observation occurs. If this secresy were unre­garded, it would be often fatal to the critic. Motley, indeed, is that vast collection of men, who enlist under the banners of literature, and our Republic of Letters is disgraced with numerous Sans-culottes. While the decisions of criticism are received [Page xiii] with resignation, by the modest, the desperate would accompany them with an "Appendix" on the weak frame of a Reviewer. I knew a wild Highlander, just escaped from the Orkneys, who threatened extermina­tion to his Reviewers, and watched through the cold moonshine of De­cember, at the door of his critic, who was then fortunately retained in his apartment by the gout; while another, with less inhumanity, commenced a suit at law, for having been taxed with plagiarisms and scot­ticisms.

To young writers, and to general readers, who are always young in li­terature, a Reviewer may offer an important instruction, when at the appearance of a work of magnitude, he commences his article with con­densing the chief rules of composi­tion, [Page xiv] relating to the work he exa­mines, and with characters of the preceding writers. Of this happy mode of Reviewing, many beauti­ful specimens are exhibited in the Monthly Review. As models, I recollect two recent instances; the Reviews of Murphy's Tacitus, and Beresford's Virgil.

The defects of periodical criticism are more numerous, than can be reasonably allowed, to men of learn­ing and candour; it is evident, in­deed, that our critics have sometimes neither learning nor candour. A friend, an adversary, or the author himself, are all bad critics. It is a cruel process of critical alchemy, when a Reviewer plays his game on the principles of what is technically termed at whist, a see-saw. Two suits are made to answer each other; [Page xv] and praise and censure are so skilfully contrasted, that one would defeat the other, did not the censure of an author ever cause a stronger sensa­tion than all his praise. Thus to scatter eulogiums, is like the ancient priest, who wreathed with flowers and gilded, the horns of the victim he conducted to bleed on the altar. Sometimes we are informed that an author is lively and ingenious, but not profound and learned. Such in­sidious detractions are certain of in­juring his literary character. It is necessary to tell the public, what an author is; endless were it to enume­rate what he is not; it is describing a non-entity. Such literary contrasts are unjust; because they imply defi­ciencies, which are not deficiencies; they are only qualities incompatible with the dispositions of the author. [Page xvi] Sometimes a Reviewer, perceiving his inability to decide on a work, forms an article in the manner of an enigma, with a dark and intricate ingenuity; he decides on nothing, but appears very decisive; nor is that criticism more useful, which presents to a reader an idea of a work, in the express terms employed by an au­thor in his Preface; it is well known, than an author ever indulges his pas­sion for the ‘"beau ideal,"’ in his explanation of his work. Every thing there is perfect in theory; and the critic who will accept the pro­fessions of authors, will find innu­merable perfect works. Lavishly to censure the peculiarities of a writer, is a defect in criticism; to delineate his manner, is a duty. Point and antithesis, sparkling imagery, and varieties of diction, are not adapted [Page xvii] to every taste; but to a critic who should reprobate them, I would say, does any man of taste censure Vol­taire and Johnson? Would you de­spoil an author of his manner? You would then make Voltaire, not Vol­taire, and Johnson, not Johnson. Egregious critic! to make him please the world, you would have him re­semble yourself!—The world and you have not agreed on the same model. Some critics incapable of forming opinions of their own, seise any prevalent one; their heads are continually changing principles, like those towns in Flanders, which are as often under the government of the Republicans, as the Imperialists. In echoing the public voice there is no individual merit. Does such a criticism deserve publication? No! it is a criticism already published. An [Page xviii] intelligent Reviewer anticipates the public opinion.

To form a Review into an instru­ment of torture, sportively to lace­rate the sensibilities of men of ge­nius, was the artifice of the Frerons, and the Des Fontaines; when their Journals lay on the shelf, they aug­mented their malignancy in the en­suing month, and when the writers were fairly lodged in the Bastile, the sale was considerable. Kenrick wrote with a poisoned and remorse­less pen. This violation of the mo­rality of criticism, extinguishes the genius of the modest student. Such critics resemble the Remora, that petty fish, which the ancients ima­gined could impede a ship under full sail.

A Review, conducted with skill, should present the literary physiog­nomy [Page xix] of the century. In an age of refinement, the public taste is in a state of vacillation; and no mean art, or limited knowledge, can catch, with faithful resemblance, ‘"the Cynthia of the minute."’ We abound with literary fashions, and have no other mode of recording and perpe­tuating our prevalent tastes, but in these useful archives of literature. It is necessary that the state of Eng­lish literature, of former, as well as of the present times, be familiar to a Reviewer, for incidental ob­servations, and appropriate anec­dotes, variegate with flowers the thorns of criticism, and, not merely delightful, exhibit an intelligent and connective series. Above all, a pe­riodical critic should divest himself of the rancour of faction; and that Reviewer, is as devoid of taste, as [Page xx] of the morals of a critic, who, in the retired groves of Academus, would place a pillory, or erect a gal­lows.

I proposed, at the close of this Preface, having been lately honoured by certain calumnies, to repel such insolent accusations; but I have con­sidered, that this might give them, and myself, an importance to which neither is entitled. It is one of the inconveniencies attached to litera­ture, that, in contending times like the present, every ingenuous writer must inevitably offend the two vast divisions, in which we may now class the European public. As every thing in this world revolves in a circle, and our follies, and our er­rors, are dull repetitions of former follies, and former errors; this, also, was a complaint of that amiable lite­rary [Page xxi] character, Erasmus, who, in his stormy age of revolutions, tells us, that works of mere literature, were always confounded by the one party, as aids to Luther, or by the other, as servilities to the Court of Rome. A writer on literary topics, is now placed on a sharp precipice between politics and religion; and the public reward of all his anxieties, and all his toils, consists in the mutual de­nounciations of two dishonest fac­tions. Literary investigation is allied neither to politics nor religion; it is a science consecrated to the few; abstracted from all the factions on earth; and independent of popular discontents, and popular delusions. Men of letters, of all professions, are alone privileged to repeat the verses of a philosophic poet,

[Page xxii]
—Nous y sommes
CONTEMPORAINS de tous les hommes,
Et CITOYENS de tous les lieux.*
De la Motte.


  • ON STYLE 37
  • ON READING 189
  • ADDENDA 413



HAD I the genius, I would deline­ate the character of a Miscellanist; of whom I have formed an idea, perfect, though by some it may be deemed er­roneous. When Cicero described the character of an accomplished orator, he formed it from a perfect imagina­tion of oratory, which, like the fine ideal of Raphael, existed no where but in his own admirable conceptions. Every writer of genius, when he has pourtrayed the requisites for an artist, in his favourite art, in the same man­ner raises and adorns them, by ex­cellencies, of which the necessity can be felt by few, and the powers at­tained [Page 2] by none. Critics, of ordinary sagacity, have therefore often disturbed the vision, by censuring it's exquisite­ness and decreeing it's impossibility. To such, we may observe, that though we can rarely traverse an expansive horizon, who, endowed with a vigor­ous vision, delights not to expatiate along it's extremities? and while a sensation of delight aggrandises the soul of such a spectator, he will turn contemptuously from the pitiful obser­vation of him, who with meaner op­tics, gravely admonishes, of impassable forests, and unnavigable rivers. Per­fection though unattainable, must still be the frequent object of our contem­plation; because every kind of excel­lence is a portion of perfection, and no portion can be accurately appreci­ated, if we are incapable of forming some idea of the whole.

I give some observations on Miscel­lanies, which, like their subject, may [Page 3] perhaps require an apology for their unconnected state. The Miscellanists satirise the Pedants; and the Pedants abuse the Miscellanists; but little has hitherto been gained by this inglorious contest; since Pedants will always be read by Pedants, and the Miscellanists by the tasteful, the volatile, and the amiable.

Literary essays are classed under philological studies; but philology for­merly consisted rather of the labours of arid grammarians, and conjectural critics, than of that more elegant phi­losophy which has been lately intro­duced into literature, and which by it's graces and investigation, can aug­ment the beauties of original genius, by beauties of it's own.

It has been observed that philologi­cal pursuits inflate the mind with a great swell of vanity, and have carried some men of learning to a curious and ridiculous extravagance. Perhaps this [Page 4] literary orgasm may arise from two causes. Philologists are apt to form too exalted an opinion of the nature of their studies, while they often make their peculiar taste, a standard by which they judge of the sentiments of others. It is not thus with the scien­tific and the moral writer; Science is modest and cautious, Morality is hum­ble and resigned, while Philology alone is arrogant and positive. A fact in science is found with infinite labour, and may be overturned by a new dis­covery; and an action in morality may be so mingled with human passions, that we hesitate to pronounce it perfect, and analyse it with tranquillity. But it is not difficult with some to persuade themselves that Virgil is an immacu­late author, and that they are men of exquisite taste. The Pedants of the last age exercised a vanity and ferocity revived by those critics, who have been called Warburtonians. They [Page 5] employed similar language in their de­cisions to that of Du Moulin, a great lawyer of those days who always pre­fixed to his consultations, this defiance, ‘"I who yield to no person, and whom no person can teach any thing."’

By one of these was Montaigne, the venerable father of modern Miscella­nies, called ‘"a bold ignorant fellow."’ To thinking readers, this critical sum­mary will appear mysterious; for Mon­taigne had imbibed the spirit of all the moral writers of antiquity; and although he has made a capricious complaint of a defective memory, we cannot but wish the complaint had been more real; for we discover in his works nearly as much compilement, as reflection, and he is one of those authors who should quote rarely, but who deserves to be often quoted. Montaigne was censured by Scaliger, as Addison was censured by Warbur­ton; because both, like Socrates, per­ceived [Page 6] and reprobated that mere eru­dition, which consists of knowing the thoughts of others, and having no thoughts of our own. To weigh syl­lables, and to arrange dates, to adjust texts, and to heap annotations, has generally proved the absence of the higher faculties. But when a more adventurous spirit, of this herd, at­tempted some novel discovery, often men of taste beheld, with indignation, the perversions of their understanding; and a Bentley in his Milton, or a War­burton on a Virgil, had either a sin­gular imbecillity concealed under the arrogance of the Scholar, or they did not believe what they told the Public; the one in his extraordinary invention of an interpolating editor, and the other in his more extraordinary ex­planation of the Eleusinian mysteries. But what was still worse, the froth of the head became venom, when it reached the heart.

[Page 7] Montaigne has also been censured for an apparent vanity, in making him­self the idol of his lucubrations. If he had not done this, he had not per­formed the promise he makes at the commencement of his preface. An engaging tenderness prevails in these naive expressions, which shall not be injured by a version. ‘"Je l'ay voué à la commodité particuliere de mes Pa­rens et Amis; à ce que m'ayans perdu (ce qu'ils ont à faire bientost) ils y puissent retrouver quelques traicts de mes humeurs, et que par ce moyen ils nourrissent plus entiere et plus vifue la conoissance qu'ils ont eu de moi.'*

Those authors who appear some­times to forget they are writers, and remember they are men, will be our favourites. He who writes from the heart, will write to the heart; every one is enabled to decide on his merits, [Page 8] and they will not be referred to more learned heads, or a more distant pe­riod. We are I think little interested if an author displays sublimity, but we should be much concerned to know whether he has sincerity.

Are the periods grand and asiatic? compressed and laconic? neat and attic? I approve an author's indus­try, or I like his taste; but the arti­fices of style, in an age of refinement may be considered only as the varnish which beautifies, but must not be mis­taken, as it sometimes is, for the ob­ject beautified. But are his sentiments fervid? his diction varied? his fancy easy? his judgment penetrative? does he sometimes touch his subject with airiness, and sometimes sooth by a graceful amenity? Should not this author ever assume a fantastic air of novelty, I will trust to every senti­ment, I will assimilate his sensations with my own, and I will look into his [Page 9] works, as into my own heart. Why, says Boileau, are my verses read by all? it is only because they speak truths, and that I am convinced of the truths I write. This is his meaning, finely amplified in these lines.

Sais tu pourquoi mes vers sont lus dans les provinces
Sont recherchés du peuple, et reçus ches les princes?
Cé n'est pas que leur sons agreables, nombreux,
Soient toujours á l'oreille également heureux;
Qu'en plus d'un lieu le sens n'y gene la mesure,
Et qu'en mot quelquefois n'y brave la cesure.
Mais c'est qu'en eux le Vrai, du mensonge vainqueur,
Par tout se montre aux yeux, et va saisir le Coeur;
Que le bien et le mal, y sont prisés au juste,
Que jamais un Faquin n'y tient un rang auguste,
Et que mon Coeur, toujours conduisant mon esprit,
Ne dit rien aux Lecteurs qu'a soi-meme il n'ait dit.
Say why my verse the village reader moves
The Town applauds it, and the Court approves?
Not that it's tones, to harmony so dear,
Can always happy charm the attic ear;
That the free thought not mars the measured chain;
The pause oft broken in the fervid strain.
But 'tis that Truth, uplifts the mask of art,
Lives thro' the page, and instant, strikes the heart.
[Page 10] That moral good, is valued in the Rhime
That wastes on idiot Peers, no note sublime;
And still my heart, the honest mind that led
Says nought, but to itself what first it said.

Why it may be enquired have some of our fine writers interested more than others, who have not displayed infe­rior talents? because they have raised no artificial emotions, but poured forth the vigorous expressions of a heart, which seemed relieved from an oppres­sion of sensibility, as it's ardent senti­ments animated every period. Mon­taigne therefore preferred those of the ancients, who appear to write under a conviction of what they said; the elo­quent Cicero declaims but coldly on liberty, while in the impetuous Brutus may be perceived a man, who is re­solved to purchase it with his life. We know little of Plutarch; yet there is a spirit of honesty and persuasion in his works, which expresses a philosophical character, that is not alone capable [Page 11] of admiring, but of imitating the vir­tues he records. Why is Addison still the first of our essayists? he has some­times been excelled in criticisms more philosophical, in topics more interest­ing, and in diction more coloured. But there is a pathetic charm in the character he has assumed, in his peri­odical Miscellanies, which is felt with such a gentle force, that we scarce advert to it. He has painted forth his little humours, his individual feelings, and eternised himself to his readers. Johnson and Hawkesworth we receive with respect, and we dismiss with awe; we come from their writings as from public lectures, and from Addi­son's as from private conversations.

Sterne perhaps derives a portion of his celebrity from the same influence; he interests us in his minutest motions, for he tells us all he feels. Richardson was sensible of the power with which these minute strokes of description [Page 12] enter the heart, and which are so many fastenings to which the imagi­nation clings. He says ‘"If I give speeches and conversations I ought to give them justly; for the humours and characters of persons cannot be known, unless I repeat what they say, and their manner of saying."’ I con­fess I am infinitely pleased when Sir William Temple acquaints us with the size of his orange trees, and with the flavour of his peaches and grapes, con­fessed by Frenchmen to equal those of France; with his having had the honour to naturalize in this country four kinds of grapes, with his liberal distribution of them because ‘"he ever thought all things of this kind the commoner they are the better."’ In a word with his passionate attachment to his gar­den, of his desire to escape from great employments, and having past five years without going to town, where, by the way, ‘"he had a large house [Page 13] always ready to receive him."’ Dry­den has interspersed many of these little particulars in his prosaic compo­sitions, and I think, that his character and dispositions, may be more correctly acquired by uniting these scattered no­tices, than by any biographical ac­count which can now be given of this man of genius.

But we must now reject this pleasing egotism, that often relates to us all; this vanity, that has often so much simplicity; this self-flattery that has often so much modesty. As refinement prevails we seek to conceal ourselves from too familiar an inspection; simpli­city of manners passes away with sim­plicity of style. When we write with sparkling antithesis, and solemn ca­dences, with elaborate elegancies and studied graces, an author is little desi­rous of painting himself in domestic negligence. Our writings resemble our fashions, various in their manner, [Page 14] but never simple, and our authors, like their fellow-citizens, are vying with each other in pomp and dignity. Hence, the personal acquaintance of a modern author, is always to his dis­advantage; he has published himself a superior being; we approach and dis­cover the imposture. The readers of Montaigne, had they met with him, would have felt differently; they would have found a friend complaining like themselves of his infirmities, and smi­ling with them, at the folly of his complaints.

From this agreeable mode of com­position, a species of Miscellanies may be discriminated, which, above all others, becomes precious in the collec­tions of a reader of taste. To the com­position of these little works, which are often discovered in a fugitive state, their authors are prompted by the fine impulses of genius, derived from the peculiarity of their situation, or the [Page 15] enthusiasm of their prevailing passion. Dictated by the heart, or polished with the fondness of delight, these produc­tions are impressed by the seductive eloquence of genius, or attach us by the sensibility of taste. The object thus selected, is no task, imposed on the mind of the writer, for the mere ambition of literature; but is generally a voluntary effusion, warm with all the sensations of a pathetic writer. In a word they are the compositions of genius, on a subject in which it is most deeply interested; which it revolves on all it's sides, which it paints in all it's tints, and which it finishes with the same ardour it began. Among such works may be placed the exiled Bolingbroke's "Reflections upon Ex­ile," The retired Petrarch and Zim­merman's Essays on "Solitude." The imprisoned Boethius's "Consolations of Philosophy." The oppressed Pie­rius Valerianus's Catalogue of "Lite­rary [Page 16] Calamities." The deformed Hay's Essay on "Deformity." The projecting De Foe's "Essays on Pro­jects." And the liberal Shenstone's Poem on "Economy."*

We may respect the profound ge­nius of voluminous writers; they are a kind of painters who occupy great room, and fill up, as a satirist expresses it, ‘"an acre of canvass."’ But we must prefer those delicate pieces which the Graces lay on the altar of taste. A groupe of Cupids, a Venus emerging from the waves, a Psyche or an Aglaia, embellish the cabinet of the man of taste, who connects these little pieces by wreaths of roses. A Miscellanist should imitate two painters; the mo­dern Albano, celebrated for painting the smallest and the most beautiful [Page 17] figures; and the ancient Parrhasius, who was ever in such good humour with himself as to sing at his labours, which happy circumstance, it is sup­posed, imparted so much gaiety to his compositions.

But however exquisitely these lit­tle pieces may be formed, there is a race of students who fail not to con­temn elegance as frivolity, and instruc­tive knowledge as superficial erudi­tion. The ponderous scholars have facetiously expressed their contempt by calling the agreeable writers ‘"empty bottles."’ Usbek, the Persian of Montesquieu, is one of the profound­est philosophers; his letters are how­ever but concise pages. Rochefou­cault and La Bruyere are not super­ficial observers of human nature, al­though they have only written senten­ces. Of Tacitus it has been finely remarked by Montesquieu, that ‘"he abridged every thing because he saw [Page 18] every thing,"’ and I have ever ad­mired the character of Timanthes, the painter, of whom it is recorded that he expressed more than he painted by an instructive and comprehensive reservedness.

It should indeed be the characteristic of good Miscellanies, to be multifa­rious and concise. Montaigne ap­proves of Plutarch and Seneca, be­cause their loose papers were suited to his dispositions, and where knowledge is acquired without a tedious study. It is, says he, no great attempt to take one in hand, and I give over at plea­sure, for they have no sequel or con­nection. There are writers, as well as readers, who only consult books for their amusement; and they alike are sensible, that four things are written and read with greater pleasure, than one, though that one should be shorter than the four. If Literature is only with some a mere amusement, I think [Page 19] it will not diminish it's importance in the affairs of human life; and Dryden confesses, though he is pleased to add to his shame, that he never read any thing but for his pleasure; he might have added, however, that the plea­sures of Literature are the most in­structive pleasures.

Montaigne's works have been called by a Cardinal ‘"the Breviary of Idlers."’ It is therefore the book of Man; for all Men are Idlers; we have hours which we pass with lamentation, and which we know are always returning. At those moments Miscellanists are conformable to all our humours, and often are so congruous to our mental tone, that they illuminate in many a critical moment. We dart along their airy and concise page, and their lively anecdote, or their profound observa­tion are so many interstitial pleasures in our listless hours.

[Page 20] We find, in these literary miniatures qualities incompatible with more vo­luminous performances. Sometimes a bolder, and sometimes a firmer touch; for they are allowed but a few strokes; and should not always trace an ele­gant phrase, but grave a forcible senti­ment. They are permitted every kind of ornament, for how can the dimi­nutive please unless it charms by it's finished decorations, it's elaborate ni­ceties, and it's exquisite polish? A con­cise work preserves a common subject from insipidity, and an uncommon one from error. An essayist expresses himself with a more real enthusiasm, than the writer of a volume; for I have observed that the most fervid genius is apt to cool in a quarto. Race horses appear only to display their agile ra­pidity in the course, while on the road, they soon become spiritless and tame.

The ancients were great admirers of Miscellanies; and this with some pro­found [Page 21] students who affect to contemn these light and beautiful compositions, might be a solid argument to evince their bad taste. Aulus Gellius has preserved a copious list of titles of such works. These titles are so numerous and include such gay and pleasing de­scriptions, that we may infer by their number that they were greatly admi­red by the public, and by their titles that they prove the great delight their authors experienced in their composi­tion. Among the titles are a basket of flowers; an embroidered mantle; and a variegated meadow.

The Troubadours, Conteurs, and Jongleurs practised what is yet called in the southern parts of France, Le guay Saber, or the gay science. I con­sider these as the Miscellanists of their day; they had their grave moralities, their tragical histories, and their spor­tive tales; their verse and their prose. The village was in motion at their ap­proach; [Page 22] the castle was opened to the ambulatory poets, and the feudal hy­pochondriac listened to their solemn instruction and their airy fancy. I would call miscellaneous composition LE GUAY SABER, and I would have every miscellaneous writer as solemn and as gay, as various and as pleasing as these lively artists of versatility.

Nature herself is most delightful in her miscellaneous scenes. When I hold a volume of Miscellanies, and run over with avidity the titles of it's con­tents, my mind is enchanted, as if it were placed among the landscapes of Valais, which Rousseau has described with such picturesque beauty. I fancy myself seated in a cottage amid those mountains, those vallies, those rocks, encircled by the enchantments of optical illusion. I look, and behold at once the united seasons. ‘"All cli­mates in one place, all seasons in one instant."’ I gaze at once on a [Page 23] hundred rainbows, and trace the ro­mantic figures of the shifting clouds. I seem to be in a temple dedicated to the service of the Goddess VARIETY.


IT has been often said that a Poet alone should decide on a Poem, and a Painter on a Picture; but this must not be accepted as an incontrovertible maxim. It may be observed with great truth, that the Professors of an Art, are frequently the most incompe­tent judges of a new performance; and that the truth of criticism exists no where, but among those Men of Taste, who without aspiring to the dangerous glory of being Artists, have devoted themselves to a liberal and comprehensive affection for Art.

Many are the prejudices which vi­tiate the decision of an Artist. The fever of envy will disorder the finest vision, and the chillness of personal dislike will freeze the faculties into a [Page 25] fatal torpor. There are local, and there are national prejudices; but al­luding to none of these obvious causes, we will consider an excelling Artist, as an honest man, and that he comes to the examination of a new production, with that candour which pardons hu­man imperfections, and with that dis­position to be pleased, without which no man can receive pleasure; and with these favourable propensities his deci­sion may be unjust.

This defect in the criticisms of Ar­tists, has not escaped the animadver­sion of reflecting minds; but is still susceptible of investigation, and forms an important detection in the critical Art. We encounter in the history of literature and taste, perplexities which embarrass, but which examined will disappear. Artists are often arraigned for envy or vanity, when innocent of the passions; and Men of Taste often vacillate in their own just notions, [Page 26] among the opposing sentiments of great Artists.

Every superior Artist addicts himself to some peculiar Manner;* long loved, long pursued, and at length obtained, this enamoured object of his passion, excludes by it's constancy every devi­ation from the established excellence; to dissimilar beauty, he often becomes insensible, and he forms his compara­tive merit, on any performance, from it's alliance, or it's foreignness, to his favourite manner. Without recurring to the degrading passions, we may thus account for the very opposite and erroneous opinions of great Artists, on their different labours. It is not pro­bable that Milton envied the genius of Dryden, when he contemptuously called him a Rhimer; but it is more evident that Milton's ideas of poetry were not congenial to the manner of [Page 27] Dryden. I shall place here some in­stances which I have remarked. The witty Cowley despised the natural Chaucer; the classical Boileau the rough sublimity of Crebillon; the for­cible Corneille the tender Racine; the refined Marivaux the familiar Moliere; the artificial Gray the simple Shen­stone; and the plain and unadorned Montaigne the rich and eloquent Ci­cero. Each enslaved to his peculiar manner, was incapable of viewing the diversifications of beauty, but attached himself to a partial and endeared por­tion.

Whenever an uncommon species of composition appears, which displays a new mode of excellence, and places a new model in the school of taste, the slowest and the last, to chaunt their peans to that Artist, will be Artists themselves. To envy this cannot al­ways be attributed, but will be gene­rally derived from a want of the pro­per [Page 28] taste for that manner, which taste can only be gradually formed. One reason, perhaps, why Artists some­times are inimical to a foreign excel­lence may be attributed to what the French denominate la jalousie de me­tier, the jealousy of trade; because every novel manner is a kind of hosti­lity against those already established. But some Artists are not always in­fluenced by this prejudice, and yet are equally inimical to the new pro­duction.

Of our own times, we may refer to two poets, who it cannot be denied, have created an original manner, and at their first appearance in public, ap­pear to have met a similar fate among Artists. When Gray's Odes were pub­lished, they delighted two men of poetical taste,* while they were ridi­culed by two men of poetical genius. At a still later period, Churchill ani­madverted [Page 29] with severity on the poetry of Gray; and Goldsmith and Johnson were as inimical to that manner as Churchill himself, though by no means admirers of the genius of Churchill. That manner has now become fixed, and is justly appreciated by men of taste. Far from applauding the sub­jects of Peter Pindar, we must admire a copiousness of imagery, and a faci­lity of wit, which variegate his early productions with a constant variety. At their first appearance the critics received them with a stoical apathy. The personality of satire alone enabled them to escape the menaced oblivion. The manner once established, the taste became formed; and critics now give copious panegyrics of performances, which formerly were placed in the ob­scurest parts of the records of litera­ture. In neither of these instances can the critics be justly censured; but it may confirm the judicious observation [Page 30] of Johnson, that after all the refine­ments of criticism, the sinal decision must be left to common readers unper­verted by literary prejudices.

The same error frequently induces an Artist, when he contrasts his la­bours with another, to consider him­self as the superior, and of course to be stigmatized with the most unrea­sonable vanity. I shall exemplify the observation by the character of Gold­smith; and it may then appear that that pleasing writer might have con­trasted his powers with those of John­son, and without any perversion of in­tellect, or inflation of vanity, might according to his own ideas have con­sidered himself, as not inferior to his more celebrated and learned rival.

Goldsmith might have preferred the felicity of his own genius, which like a native stream flowed from a natu­ral source to the elaborate powers of Johnson, which in some respect may [Page 31] be compared to those artificial waters which throw their sparkling currents in the air, to fall into marble basons. He might have considered that he had embellished philosophy with poetical elegance, and have preferred the paintings of his descriptions, to the terse versification and the pointed sen­tences of Johnson. He might have been more pleased with the faithful representations of English manners in his Vicar of Wakefield, than with the borrowed grandeur, and the exotic fancy of the oriental Rasselas. He might have believed, what many ex­cellent critics have believed, that in this age comedy requires more ge­nius than tragedy, and with his au­dience he might have infinitely more esteemed his own original humour, than Johnson's turgid declamation. He might have thought that with in­ferior literature he displayed superior genius, and with less profundity, more [Page 30] [...] [Page 31] [...] [Page 32] gaiety. He might have considered that the facility and vivacity of his pleasing compositions were preferable to that Art, that habitual pomp, and that ostentatious eloquence which pre­vail in the operose labours of Johnson. No one might be more sensible than himself, that he, according to the happy expression of Johnson (when his rival was in the grave) ‘"tetigit et ornavit"’ Goldsmith therefore with­out any singular vanity, might have concluded from his own reasonings, that he was not an inferior writer to Johnson; all this not having been considered, he has come down to pos­terity as the vainest and the most jea­lous of writers; he whose dispositions were the most inoffensive, whose bene­volence was the most extensive, and whose amiableness of heart, has been concealed by it's artlessness, and passed over in the sarcasms and sneers of a more eloquent rival, and his submis­sive [Page 33] partizans. This character of Gold­smith may however explain that spe­cies of critical comparison which one great writer makes of his manner, with that of a rival.

We can hardly censure Artists for this attachment to their favourite ex­cellence. Who, but an Artist, can value the ceaseless inquietudes of ar­duous perfection; can trace the re­mote possibilities combined in a close union; the happy arrangement and the novel variation? he not only is af­fected by the performance like the man of taste, but is influenced by a peculiar sensation, for while he con­templates the apparent beauties, he often traces in his own mind those in­visible corrections, by which the final beauty was accomplished; it is the practical hand alone that is versed in, and the eye of genius alone that can discriminate many daring felicities, many concealments of art, and many [Page 34] difficulties overcome. Hence, it is observed, that Artists do not always prefer those effects which influence an unprejudiced, and uncorrupted taste; but rather those refinements which form the secret exultation of Art; and the minuter excellencies which consist in the mechanical (as a critic of taste terms it) are often preferred to those more elevated ones which arise from the ideal. It is this indulgence for the refinements, which at length termi­nate in corrupting Art.

But a partiality for selecting one branch of Art in preference to another, is perhaps the only ascent to it's sum­mit. We must not therefore calum­niate Artists, if they neglect the vari­ous schools of beauty. It is not diffi­cult for a man of taste whose hand reposes, while his head ever thinks; whose creative powers are quiescent, but whose perceptive faculties are ha­bitually invigorated; and who in the [Page 35] tranquillity of his cabinet, has only to gaze at pictures, but not to blend co­lours, and to meditate on poems, but not to compose verses; it is not diffi­cult for this elegant idler to form the most various views of beauty in Art; to trace with the same lively gratifica­tion it's diversities, and to feel no dis­pleasure from the most incongruous manners. Such an one, may be sup­posed to hover with extasy round the ideal of a Raphael, and a Pope, or to mix with the grotesque caricatures of a Hogarth or a Butler. This versati­lity of taste is generally denied to the man of genius; and while men of taste, are often unanimous in their opinions, we shall frequently observe, that the greatest Artists give the most discordant decisions. Johnson said that his notions on MSS. proved gene­rally erroneous; and this circumstance has happened to many eminent writers.

[Page 36] It would therefore seem that the most unfit person to decide on a per­formance is an Artist himself; and that the genuine merits of a work are can­didly adjusted and correctly appreci­ated by men of taste, and rarely by men of genius.


THE History of English Style since it's first elegance may, perhaps, be traced in the following concise manner.

When the national literature has at­tained to a certain point, there arises a simple elegance of Style, which in it's progress displays richer ornaments, and often becomes refined to a vicious excess. It may be traced through four schools.

The first writers who attempt ele­gance, and polish the asperities of a language, excel in a natural sweetness and amiable simplicity. But the Style is not yet castigated, for it still retains many colloquial terms and many neg­ligent expressions, which either were not such in their day, or their ear, not being yet accustomed to a continued [Page 38] elegance, received no pain from fami­liar and unstudied expressions. In time these defects become sensible; yet as these writers are placed among the first classics of their nation, they are regarded with veneration, and often pointed out as the model for young writers. Among such authors we may place Tillotson, Swift, and Addison.

The second school introduces a more diffuse and verbose manner; these wri­ters solicit the ear by a numerous prose, and expand their ideas on a glittering surface. As elegance can only be obtained by diffusion, it's concomitant is feebleness, and an elegant writer enervates his sentiments. Beauty is inconsistent with Force. Elevated emo­tions these writers rarely awaken, but a graceful manner in composition is their peculiar charm. Genius may be supposed at this period, to be some­what impaired by the excursions of their predecessors, and they attempt [Page 39] to supply by the charms of amenity, and a copious diffusion of beautiful ex­pression, the demand for novelty, as well as that taste for elegance of dic­tion which the public now possess. Among these pleasing writers may be ranked Sir William Temple, though prior to Addison, Usher, Melmoth, &c.

Satiated with the nerveless beauty and the protracted period, a third school appears, the votaries of artifi­cial embellishment and elaborated dic­tion. At once, magisterially pompous, and familiarly pointed; concise and swelling; sparkling and solid; massy and light. Sometimes they condense ideas, by throwing into one vast thought, several intermediate ones; sometimes their rotundity of period is so arranged that the mind, with the ear, seems to rise on a regular ascent. The glare of art betrays itself; while sometimes the thoughts are more subtile than sub­stantial, more airy than penetrating; [Page 40] the expressions new, and the ideas old. This school abounds with man­nerists; such are Johnson, Hawkes­worth, Robertson, and Gibbon.

When this taste for ornamented prose prevails, a fourth school arises, composed of inferior writers. As it is less difficult to collect words, than to create ideas, this race becomes ver­sed in all the mysteries of diction; tri­vial thoughts are ridiculously invested by magnificent expressions, and they consider that blending the most glaring colours, without harmony or design, is an evidence of higher art. They colour like the distracted painter in Bedlam, who delighted in landscapes of golden earths, and vermilion skies. They tell us that their colours are vi­vid, and we reply that their figures are chimeras. These fantastic novelties flourish in the warmth of a fashionable circle, but once placed in the open air, they are killed by the popular gale. [Page 41] Writers of this class are not to be mentioned, as they are all dead au­thors who are yet living.

We may here observe that every pe­riod of literature has it's peculiar Style, derived from some author of reputa­tion; and the history of a language as an object of taste, might be traced through a collection of ample quota­tions, from the most celebrated authors of each period. We should as rarely find an original Style, as an original Genius; and we should be enabled to perceive the almost insensible varia­tions which at length produce an ori­ginal Style.

We must advert to the opinions of the public, during this progress of Style. Those who have long been at­tached to the first school of natural ele­gance, with all it's imperfections, re­volt from the ostentatious opulence of the third; and are more inclined to favour the second. The third school [Page 42] is however the most popular, for the public has greater refinement, than in the preceding periods.

Some distinguish between taste and refinement; this distinction is not very obvious. Refinement is only a supe­rior taste, according to those, who are fond of an embellished diction; but it is considered as a vicious taste, by the advocates for simplicity of lan­guage. They differ in their accepta­tion of the term, and the former there­fore smile, when the latter censure re­finement of diction.

Refinement in Style, is of no remote date. The prose of Pope is nearly as refined as his verse; and this taste he appears to have borrowed from some of the French writers, particularly from Fontenelle, whose reputation was then very high, and who has carried the bel esprit, to it's finest excess. By the bel esprit, I mean, a manner of writing which displays unexpected turns of [Page 43] thought; the art of half concealing a sentiment that the reader may have the pleasure of guessing it; brilliant allusions, epigrammatic points, and de­licate strokes. A mode of writing as dangerous, as it is pleasing; yet adapt­ed to concise compositions. No pro­saic writer, in Pope's day, approached his refinement; the best writers then, and for some time after, composed with colloquial barbarisms and feeble expressions. Steele, Tillotson, and others, have written, with carelessness and laxity; Addison and Dryden de­light by an agreeableness of manner, which no where accompanied the works of their cotemporaries; their superior genius seems to have given colour and form to their yet unformed and uncoloured language. When Ad­dison describes the powers of beauty, the suavity, the grace and the melli­fluence give a new idea of our lan­guage, and Dryden has a mellow rich­ness, [Page 44] an enchanting negligence, and a facility of ideas. They alike threw into their Style a gaiety of fancy, which is equivalent to all the charms of re­fined expressions. They alone of all the writers of their age, have secured the admiration of posterity; and will not be injured by any novel mode of language; for to real genius they uni­ted those subordinate graces which are imperishable. To Johnson may be at­tributed the establishment of our pre­sent refinement; and it is with truth he observes of his Rambler, ‘"that he had laboured to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licen­tious idioms, and irregular combina­tions, and that he has added to the elegance of it's construction and to the harmony of it's cadence."* This [Page 45] refinement in Style, Johnson appears partly to have borrowed from the most elegant French writers, whose beauties he has sometimes transposed and fre­quently imitated, as Gibbon has more apparently done. All the refinements of Style exist among that refining peo­ple, and the Lectures of Blair are often judicious repetitions of what may be found in their critics, or happy ex­amples which are drawn from their writers.

Refinement in Style, with many, in­cludes in the very expression, a cen­sureable quality in composition. But this criticism is unjust; refinement may indeed be vicious, as simplicity may [Page 46] itself be; refinement is not less offen­sive to a reader of taste, when it rises into affectation, than simplicity sinking into insipidity. But we must not con­found refinement of Style, with it's puerile excess; nor is it just to censure refinement because it differs from sim­plicity. Some perhaps will agree, that a writer cannot refine too much, pro­vided he flies not too remotely in search of it's ornaments; for that which ar­tistly employed, throws a new light, and gives a more agreeable position to an object, cannot be censured but by those whose organs are indifferent.

Amidst these complications of taste some argue in favour of a natural Style, and reiterate the opinion of many great critics, that proper ideas will be ac­companied by proper words. But this observation, though supported by the first authorities, is not perhaps suffici­ently clear. Writers may think justly, and write offensively; and a pleasing [Page 47] Style may convey a vacuity of thought. Does not this evident fact prove that Style and Thinking have not that inse­parable connection which many great writers have pronounced? Writing is justly called an Art; and Rousseau, says, it is not an art easily acquired. Thinking may be the foundation of Style; but it is not the superstructure; it is not the ornaments. The art of presenting our thoughts to another, is often a process of considerable time and labour; and the delicate task of correction, reserved only for writers of fine taste, proves, that there are seve­ral modes of presenting an idea; vul­gar readers are only susceptible of the rough and palpable stroke; but there are many shades of sentiment, which to seize on and to paint, is the pride and the labour of a fine writer.

In the third school we observe, a race of writers who are called MAN­NERISTS in Style. It must be confessed [Page 48] that such writers however great their powers, rather excite the admiration, than the affection of a man of taste; because their habitual art, dissipates that illusion of sincerity, which we love to believe is the impulse, which places the pen in the hand of an au­thor. Two eminent literary Manner­ists are Cicero and Johnson. We know these great men considered their elo­quence as a deceptive art;* of any subject it had been indifferent to them which side to adopt; and in reading their elaborate works, our ear is more frequently gratified by the ambitious magnificence of their diction, than our [Page 49] heart penetrated by the pathetic en­thusiasm of their sentiments. Writers who are not Mannerists, but who seize the appropriate tone of their subject, appear to feel a conviction of what they attempt to persuade their reader. It is observable, that it is impossible to imitate with uniform felicity the noble simplicity of a pathetic writer; while the peculiarities of a Mannerist, are so far from being difficult, that they are displayed with nice exactness by mid­ling writers, who although their own natural manner had nothing interest­ing, have attracted notice by such imi­tations. We may apply to some mo­notonous Mannerists these verses of Boileau.

Voulés vous du public meriter les amours?
Sans cesse en ecrivant varier vos discours.
On lit peu ces auteurs nés pour nous ennuier,
Qui toujours sur un ton semblent psalmodier.
Would you the public's envied favours gain?
Ceaseless in writing, variegate the strain;
The heavy author who the fancy calms
Seems in one tone, to chaunt his nasal psalms.

[Page 50] It may, perhaps, surprise some, that among the literary refinements of the present age, may be counted above forty different Styles, as appear by a Rhetorical Dictionary. The facility of acquiring a Style produces our nume­rous authors; and hence we abound with writers, but have few thinkers. A Style deficient in thinking cannot form a perfect composition; for we may compare STYLE to the MECHANIC or executive part of painting; while THINKING is the FINE IDEAL or in­ventive. And this distinction, if just, will settle a question long agitated, whether there is any distinction be­tween Style and Thinking. Raphael, who excelled in the ideal, was not so perfect in some part of the mechanic, as Titian; and, we might venture to say, that Johnson, who excelled in the mechanic, did not equal the ideal of Addison.

[Page 51] Mr. Webb, an advocate for simpli­city, has two lines on the Style of Hooker, the last of which has great felicity of conception.

"Thy language is chaste, without aims or pretence;
"'Tis a sweetness of breath, from a soundness of sense."

He accompanies them by a note, in which he censures refinement, as a studied advantage in the manner, inde­pendent on an adequate motive in the thought. Mr. Allison would consider every composition as faulty and defec­tive in which the expression of the art is more striking than the expression of the subject, or in which the beauty of design prevails over the beauty of cha­racter or expression. I shall add the observation of a friend, who has often delighted the public, that he would not have the Style withdraw the atten­tion from the Thought.

I mean not to oppose the opinions of the warm admirers of simplicity. [Page 52] A beautiful simplicity itself is a species of refinement; and no writer more solicitously corrected his works than Hume, who excels in this mode of composition. But is it not an evident error in men of taste to form a predi­lection for any peculiar Style; since all the intermediate species of diction be­tween simplicity and refinement are equally beautiful, when they form, the appropriate tone of the subject? We often enquire if an author's Style is beautiful or sublime; we should rather desire to know whether it was proper. These varieties of diction, which the advocates for simplicity consider as so many aberrations from rectitude of thinking, form on the contrary the very existence of just thought. Sim­plicity, however pure, can never cause the strong emotions of an ornamented diction; an ornamented diction can never give the rapid and lively graces of gaiety; nor can a rapid Style em­bellish [Page 53] flowery and brilliant concep­tions. Every Style is excellent, if it be proper, and that Style is most proper which can best convey the intentions of the author to his reader.

There appears in every Style, a cer­tain point, beyond which, or which not attained, it is defective. The sim­plicity of the first school degenerates into frigidity and vapidness; the beauty of the second protracts into languor and tediousness; and the grandeur of the third swells into turgidity and va­cuity. But though this point may be difficult to describe, a fine tact long practised, instantaneously discovers it. We soon decide on the Style of an author, but not on his thoughts; and we often find, that the one may be ex­cellent, while the other has nothing uncommon.

Hume, who has all the refinement of simplicity, highly approves of Ad­dison's definition of fine writing, who [Page 54] says, that it consists of sentiments which are natural, without being ob­vious. This is surely no definition of fine writing, but of fine thinking. The elegant author has omitted the magical graces of diction; the modu­lation of harmonious cadences, the art of expressing, with delicacy, delicate ideas, and painting sublime concep­tions in the magnificence of language. In my opinion Shenstone has ascer­tained the truth; for fine writing he de­fines to be generally the effect of spon­taneous thoughts and a laboured Style. Addison was not insensible to these charms, and he felt the seductive art of Cicero when he said, that ‘"there is as much difference in apprehend­ing a thought clothed in Cicero's language, and that of a common au­thor, as in seeing an object by the light of a taper, or by the light of the sun."’ This is not less true, than finely expressed; and what shews Style [Page 55] to be independent of thinking, is, that even common thoughts are found to give pleasure when adorned by ex­pression.

I must therefore dissent from the ad­mired definition of Addison, because it does not define it's object. In this age of taste, or refinement, if you please, a composition which should alone consist of natural, yet not obvi­ous, sentiments, would fail to attract, unadorned by the felicities of diction. But I shall be told by some, that our present taste, which I am here placing as the criterion of composition, is what they precisely arraign. I must reply, that it is what I applaud. Sim­plicity may be too obvious, and re­finement too obtrusive; whatever is obvious disgusts; whatever is obtru­sive offends. We may apply to Style in general, the beautiful description which Milton gives of Eve presenting herself to Adam,


[Page 56] It appears that the advocates for simplicity of Style are not sufficiently sensible to the varieties of diction. What, would they think, if we should venture to say, that Style may have a marvellous influence over the human mind? Longinus makes a musical ar­rangement of words a part of the sub­lime, and he adds, that many have ac­quired the reputation of fine writers, whose chief merit consisted in the charm of their periods. This observa­tion every man of taste knows to be just. We have writers, who, without exhibiting much vigour of conception, or energy of genius, delight by a ma­gical delicacy. An eloquent Style has a pathetic influence on the mind. Men of taste, who are unbiassed by any particular Style, can alone be sen­sible to it's finest strokes, and are often in raptures, when others are insen­sible. The practised eye in painting sees pictures the uninitiated can never [Page 57] behold. An ancient artist, contempla­ting the famous Helen of Zeuxis, felt all the enthusiasm of extreme sensibi­lity; when another wondered at his raptures, he said ‘"could you take my eyes, you would be as much de­lighted."’

After all, it is Style alone by which posterity will judge of a great work, for an author can have nothing truly his own but his Style; facts, scientific discoveries, and every kind of infor­mation may be seized by all, but an author's diction cannot be taken from him. Hence very learned writers have been neglected, while their learning has not been lost to the world, by hav­ing been given by finer writers. It is, therefore, the duty of an author, to learn to write as well as to learn to think; and this art can alone be ob­tained by familiarising himself to those felicitous expressions which paint and embellish his sensations; which give a [Page 58] tone congruous to the subject; and which invest our thoughts with all the illusion, the beauty and motion, of lively perception or pathetic elo­quence.


WE accustom ourselves to pay too liberal an admiration to the great Cha­racters recorded in modern, to say nothing of ancient, History. It seems often necessary to be reminded that the most interesting history, is generally the most elegantly written, and that whatever is adorned by elegance, is the composition of art. Charmed and seduced by the variegated tints of ima­gination, the scene is heightened, and the objects move into life; but while we yield ourselves to the captivating talent of the artist, we forget that the whole representation is but a picture, and that painters like poets, are in­dulged with a certain agreeable licen­tiousness. Hence we form false esti­mates [Page 60] of the human character, and while we exhaust our sensations in ar­tificial sympathies, amidst characters and circumstances almost fictitious, for the natural events and the natural calamities of life, we suppress those warmer emotions we otherwise should indulge. The human character ap­pears diminutive when compared with those we meet with in history; yet, am I persuaded, that domestic sorrows are not less poignant, and many of our as­sociates are characters not inferior to the elaborate delineations which so much interest in the deceptive page of history. The historian is a sculptor, who though he displays a correct sem­blance of nature, is not less solicitous of displaying the miracles of his art, and therefore enlarges his figures to a colossal dimension.

The ancient historians compiled pro­digies, to gratify the credulous curio­sity of their readers; but since prodi­gies [Page 61] have ceased, while the same avi­dity for the marvellous exists, modern historians have transferred the miracu­lous to their personages. Children read fables as histories, but the philo­sopher reads histories as fables. Fa­bulous narratives may however convey much instruction.

It is the pleasing labour of genius to amplify into vastness, to colour into beauty, and to arrange the objects which occupy his meditations, with a secret artifice of disposition. I think Voltaire in one of his Letters has let us into the mystery of the historical art; for he there tells us, that no wri­ters, but those who have composed tragedies, can throw any interest into a history; that we must know to paint and excite the passions; and that a history, like a dramatic piece, must have situation, intrigue, and catastro­phe. An observation which has great truth, but which shews that there can [Page 62] be but little truth in such agreeable narratives. Every historian communi­cates his character to his history; if he is profound and politic, his states­men resemble political deities, whose least motion is a stratagem, and whose plot contains the seeds of many plots. If he is a writer, more elegant than profound, he delights in descriptive grandeur; in the touching narratives of suffering beauty, and persecuted virtue. If he possesses a romantic turn, his heroes are so many Arthurs, and the actions he records, put a modest adventurer into despair. No writers more than the historian, and the pro­fessed Romancer, so sedulously prac­tice the artifice of awakening curio­sity, and feasting that appetency of the mind, which turns from wholesome truth, to spirited fiction. We love not what we are, because it wants the grace of novelty; we are pleased with the wanderings of fancy, because they [Page 63] shoot far above the sober limit of na­ture; we scarce glance at the glitter­ing of a star, but we gaze with delight on the corruscations of a meteor. We therefore suffer ourselves to become interested with those objects which should interest us least.

The historian seising this inclination of the mind, delights it with that imaginary force, and fantastic gran­deur, of which, while pleased with the emotions, we perceive not the ex­travagance. Popular prejudice assists the illusion, and because we are ac­customed to behold public characters occupy a situation in life, that few can experience, we are induced to believe that their capacities are more enlarg­ed, their passions more refined, and in a word, that nature has bestowed on them faculties, denied to obscurer men. But who, acquainted with hu­man nature, hesitates to acknowledge, that most of the characters in history [Page 64] were persons whom accident had seat­ed upon a throne, or placed with less favour around it? Had Alfred been a private person, like the Man of Ross, his various virtues might only accidentally have reached us; and had Richard III. been a citizen of London, he had been led unnoticed to the gibbet.

This pernicious prejudice, which peoples the mind with artificial beings, and enfeebles the sympathies of do­mestic life, will disappear when we come to those few facts in history, which the art of the historian can no longer disguise; and which, refusing the decorations of his fancy, present the sublime personages of history, in the nudity of truth. Let the monarch lose his crown, and the minister his place; let the casque fall from the hero, and the cap from the cardinal; it is then, these important personages speak in the voice of distress, are actu­ated [Page 65] by passions like our own, and come to us with no other claim on our feelings, than that common sensibility, which we owe to humanity. Here, indeed, the lessons of history, become instructive, because they teach that every other portion of history has re­ceived the romantic gilding of the pen­cil; that the sagacity of the statesman is not so adroit, as not to be entangled in it's own nets; that the ardour of the hero is often temerity which es­caped, and sometimes temerity chas­tised; and that in general great charac­ters, owe much more to Fortune, than to Nature; that singular coincidencies have formed singular events; but, that whenever the delusion of the historian ceases, these illustrious persons appear to have been actuated by passions simi­lar to our own, and that their talents are not superior to those whose ob­scure actions languish in a confined sphere. It is observed, by Montes­quieu, [Page 66] that ‘"most legislators have been men of limited capacities, whom chance placed at the head of others, and who have generally con­sulted merely their prejudices and their fancies."’

It is, indeed, useful to pause over those passages which give the very feelings of the illustrious persons to whom they relate, and if to some, these may seem to humble the great, they will also elevate us; or, rather, they will reinstate human nature in that just equality in which we are all placed. The phantom of history will vanish, but the human form will re­main palpable and true.

Few circumstances are more curious in history than the unadorned recitals of some memoirs. I am pleased with what Thomas Heywood in his "Eng­land's Elizabeth" has noticed rela­tive to the confinement of this Prin­cess. It is an instance that one of [Page 67] the most celebrated characters felt the same agitation, and expressed the same language, which an inferior prisoner would have experienced. This writer gives her meditations in the garden during her imprisonment, in which the natural passions are not entirely lost in the distortion of the language. Du­ring her confinement at Woodstock, hourly dreading assassination, she used to sit at the grate of her prison window morning and evening, listening and shedding tears at the light carolling of the passing milkmaids. Among other insults she received in travelling, the high winds having discomposed her dress, she desired to retire to some house to adjust herself; but this she was refused, and was compelled to make her toilette under a hedge! A kindred anecdote is mentioned by Sir Walter Rawlegh, of Charles V. who just after his resignation, having a pri­vate interview with some ambassador, [Page 68] and having prolonged it to a late hour after midnight, called for a servant to light the ambassador on the stairs; but they had all retired to rest; and the emperor, yet the terror of Europe, was obliged to snatch a candle and conduct the ambassador to the door. It is thus that majesty, unrobed of fac­titious powers, convinces even the slow apprehension of the vulgar, that the breast of grandeur only conceals passions like their own; and that Eli­zabeth dressing under a hedge, and Charles lighting the ambassador on the stairs, felt the same bitter indig­nity, which they are doomed to feel much oftener.

If it were possible to read the histo­ries of those who are doomed to have no historian, and to glance into domes­tic journals, as well as into national archives, we should then perceive the unjust prodigality of our sympathy to those few names, which eloquence [Page 69] has adorned with all the seduction of her graces. We should then acknow­ledge, that superior talents are not sufficient to obtain superiority, and that the full tide of opportunity, which often carries away the unworthy in triumph, leaves the worthy among the shoals. It is a curious speculation for observing men, to trace great charac­ters in little situations, and to detect real genius passing through life incog­nito. How many mothers of great characters, may address their sons in the words of the Mother of Brasidas; he was indeed a great and virtuous commander, but she observed that Sparta had many greater Brasidas. Some obscure men, whom the world will ne­ver notice, had they occupied the situa­tion of great personages, would have been even more illustrious. There are never wanting among a polished peo­ple, men of superior talents or superior virtues; every great revolution evinces [Page 70] this truth; indeed, at that perilous moment, they shew themselves in too great numbers, and become fatal to each other, by their rival abilities.

Robertson, who is so pleasing an historian, and therefore, whose vera­city becomes very suspicious, confesses, however, that ‘"in judging of the conduct of princes, we are apt to ascribe too much to political mo­tives, and too little to the passions which they feel in common with the rest of mankind. In order to ac­count for Elizabeth's present, as well as her subsequent conduct towards Mary, we must not always consider her as a queen, we must sometimes regard her merely as a woman."’ This is precisely what the refining in­genuity of this writer does as rarely as any historian; and Robertson appears to have been more adapted for a mi­nister of state, than the principal of a Scotch college. He explains projects [Page 71] that were unknown, and details stra­tagems which never took place. We often admire the fertile conceptions of the queen regent; of Elizabeth; and of Bothwell; when in truth, we are defrauding Robertson of whatever praise may be due to political inven­tion.

But we, who, however charmed with historic beauty, revere truth and hu­manity, must learn to reduce the ag­gravated magnitude of the illustrious dead, that we may perform an act of justice to the obscure living. The sym­pathy we give to a princess, ravished from her throne and dragged by trai­tors, to wet with tears, the iron grates of her dungeon, we may with no less propriety bestow on that unfortunate female, whom unfeeling creditors have snatched from maternal duties, or so­cial labours, to perish by the hour, in some loathsome prison. If we feel for the decapitation of a virtuous and long [Page 72] persecuted statesman, we are not to feel less for that more common object, a man of genius, condemned to lan­guish in obscurity, and perish in de­spair. A great general dies in the embrace of victory, and his character reaches posterity in immortal language; but he probably conducted hundreds whom nature intended for generals, but whom fortune made foot soldiers: what heroes may be found in hospi­tals! Katharine, the queen of Henry VIII. is an object of our tenderest sym­pathy, but why should our sensibility be diminished, when we look on those numerous females, not less gentle, nor less cruelly misused, who, without the consolations of sovereignty, are united to despots, not less arbitrary and bru­tal than Henry? The sorrows of the Scottish Mary, the refined insults of a rival sister, the grin of scorn, and the implication of infamy, may penetrate our hearts; but we forget that there [Page 73] are families, where scenes not less ter­rible, and sisters not less unrelenting, are hourly discovered; and that there are beauties, who without being con­fined to the melancholy magnificence of a castle, or led to the dismal honour of an axe, equally fall victims, or to fatal indiscretion, or to fatal persecu­tion. But he who has filled his mind with the grand strokes of historical characters, and who conceives their feelings of a more subtile texture, may urge, that such was the sensibility of grief in Mary, that her beautiful tresses had turned grey. Alas! how many are agonised by as sharp corrosives, yet who know not, as their sighs pass away unheard, that it is the settled melancholy of their soul, which has changed their hairs grey! If some consider that a queen is more wretch­ed, by contrast of situation, than an inferior female, it may be replied, that [Page 74] between two broken hearts, the grief must be much alike.

The fascination which thus takes possession of us in historical narratives, is therefore the artifice of the historian, assisted by those early prejudices of that superiority which we attach to great characters. He who possesses the talent of fine writing, is indeed in possession of a deceptive art; and I have often been tempted to think, that men of genius, who have ever ap­peared, by the energy of their com­plaints, to be endowed with a peculiar sensibility of sorrow, and who excel in the description of the passions, do not always feel more poignantly than others, who without the power of ex­pressing their sensations, expanding their sentiments, and perpetuating their anguish, are doomed to silent sorrow; to be crazed in love without venting effusions in verse, and to pe­rish [Page 75] in despair without leaving one me­morial of their exquisite torture.

But I will not close this essay with­out observing, that it is not to every illustrious character, recorded in his­tory, that we can pay too prodigal a tribute of admiration. There are men, who throw a new lustre on humanity, and hold a torch of instruction which brightens through the clouds of Time. It has been boldly said, by old Mon­taigne, that man differs more from man, than man from beast. But spe­culations on human nature must not be formed on such rare instances. Be­sides, even of characters like these, their equals may be found among ob­scure individuals, and some of the noblest actions have been performed by unknown persons; as that Miner, who in some Italian war, animated by patriotic fervour, to direct the explo­sion, rushed into the mine he had formed. This action is the summit of [Page 76] heroism; his name in the page of his­tory had been that of a hero; but the individual was so obscure, that noth­ing but the fact is recorded.

Familiar objects of distress, and fa­miliar characters of merit, want only to form a spectacle as interesting, as the pompous inflation of history can display, those powers of seducing elo­quence, which disguise the simplicity of truth, with the romantic grandeur of fiction. Nations have abounded with heroes and sages; but because they wanted historians, they are scarce known to us by name; and individuals have been heroes and sages in domestic life, whose talents and whose virtues are embellished in no historical record, but traced, in transient characters, on the feeble gratitude of the human heart.


WHATEVER be the consequence of this my solemn protestation, I de­clare myself infinitely delighted by a Preface. Is it exquisitely written? no literary morsel is more delicious. Is the author inveterately dull? it is a kind of preparatory information, which may be very useful. It argues a defi­ciency in taste to turn over an elabo­rate Preface unread; for it is the odour of the authors roses; every drop distil­led at an immense cost. It is the rea­son of the reasoning, and the folly of the foolish. I agree with the Italians, who call these little pieces La salfa del Libro; the sauce of the book.

I do not wish, however, to conceal, that several writers, as well as readers, have spoken very disrespectfully of this [Page 78] species of literature. That fine writer, Montesquieu, in closing the Preface to his Persian Letters, says, ‘"I do not praise my Persians; because it would be a very tedious thing, put in a place already very tedious of itself; I mean a Preface."’ Spence, in the Preface to his Polymetis, informs us, that ‘"there is not any sort of writing which he sits down to, with so much unwillingness, as that of Prefaces; and as he believes most people are not much fonder of reading them, than he is of writing them, he shall get over this as fast as he can; both for the readers sake and his own."’ An ingenious French writer likewise inveighs bitterly against the inventor of Prefaces, and condemns them as so much waste paper. Pelisson warmly protested against prefatory composi­tion; but when he published the works of Sarrasin, was wise enough to com­pose a very pleasing one. He indeed [Page 79] endeavoured to justify himself for act­ing against his own opinions, by this ingenious excuse, that like funeral honours, it is proper to shew the ut­most regard for them when given to others, but to be inattentive to them for ourselves.

Notwithstanding all this evidence, I have some good reasons for admiring Prefaces; and barren as the investiga­tion may appear, some literary amuse­ment can be gathered.

In the first place I observe, that a Prefacer is generally a most accom­plished liar. Is an author to be intro­duced to the public? the Preface is as genuine a panegyric, and nearly as long as one, as that of Pliny's on the Emperor Trajan. Such a Preface is ringing the alarum bell for an author. If we look closer into the characters of these masters of ceremony, who thus sport with and defy the judgment of their reader, and who, by their extra­vagant [Page 80] panegyric, do considerable in­jury to the cause of taste, we discover that some accidental occurrence has occasioned this vehement affection for the author, and which, like that of another kind of love, makes one com­mit so many extravagancies.

Prefaces are indeed rarely sincere. It is justly observed by Shenstone in his prefatory Essay to the Elegies, that ‘"discourses prefixed to poetry incul­cate such tenets as may exhibit the performance to the greatest advan­tage. The fabric is first raised, and the measures by which we are to judge of it, are afterwards adjusted."’ This observation might be exemplified by more instances than some readers might chuse to read. It will be suffi­cient to observe, with what art, both Pope and Fontenelle, have drawn up their Essays on the nature of Pastoral Poetry, that the rules they wished to establish might be adapted to their [Page 81] own pastorals. Has accident made some ingenious student apply himself to a subordinate branch of literature, or to some science which is not highly esteemed, look in the Preface for it's sublime panegyric. Collectors of coins, dresses, and butterflies, have astonished the world with eulogiums which would raise their particular studies into the first ranks of philosophy.

It would appear that there is no lie, to which a Prefacer is not tempted. I pass over the commodious Prefaces of Dryden, which were ever adapted to the poem, and not to poetry, to the author, and not to literature. The boldest Preface-liar was Aldus Manu­tius, who having printed an edition of Aristophanes, first published in the Preface, that Saint Chrysostom was accustomed to place this comic poet under his pillow, that he might always have his works at hand. As in that age, a saint was supposed to possess [Page 82] every human talent, good taste not excepted, Aristophanes thus recom­mended became a general favourite. The anecdote lasted for near two cen­turies; and what was of greater con­sequence to Aldus, quickened the sale of his Aristophanes. It was at length detected by Menage; and Monnoye, the commentator of Baillet, observes, that it is proper to undeceive the world respecting this ingenious invention of the Prefacer of Aristophanes.

The insincerity of Prefaces arises whenever an author would disguise his solicitude for his work, by appearing negligent and even undesirous of it's success. A writer will rarely conclude such a Preface without betraying him­self. I think, that even Dr. Johnson, forgot his sound dialectic in the admi­rable Preface to his Dictionary. In one part he says, ‘"having laboured this work with so much application, I cannot but have some degree of [Page 83] parental fondness."’ So far he evi­dently speaks the natural sentiments of every author. But in his conclusion, he tells us, ‘"I dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise."’ I deny the Doctor's ‘"frigidity."’ This polished period exhibits an affected stoicism, which no writer ever felt for a work, which was the anxious labour of a great portion of life, and which addressed itself, not merely to a class of readers, but to the almighty eye of literary Europe.

But if Prefaces are rarely sincere, or just, they are notwithstanding literary opuscula, in which the author is ma­terially concerned. A work with a poor Preface, like a person who comes with an indifferent recommendation, must display uncommon merit to mas­ter our prejudices, and to please us, as it were, in spite of ourselves. Works, ornamented by a finished Pre­face, [Page 84] such as Johnson not infrequently presented to his friends or his book­sellers, inspire us with awe; we ob­serve a veteran guard placed in the porch, and we are induced to conclude from this appearance, that some per­son of eminence resides in the place itself.

In Prefaces an affected haughtiness and an affected humility are alike des­picable. The first is called by the French, ‘"La morgue litteraire,"’ the surly pomposity of literature. This has been frequently practised by wri­ters, who have succeeded in one or two works, while the failure of their other productions appears to have given them a literary hypochondriasm. Such a Prefacer, first, informs us, that he is above the reach of censure; and censure therefore redoubles it's vigi­lance. Secondly, that he has already received the approbation of the dis­cerning; that is to say, five or six gen­tlemen, [Page 85] who he admits to his manu­script recitatives. And thirdly, that he cares very little for the mob; which is a kind expression for those who ex­change sterling money for counterfeit genius. To such, we may answer, that no writer can ever be placed above censure; that after all his self-eulogies and self-consolations, his readers, and not the five or six gentle­men, can alone give him a solid repu­tation. I shall notice, as a model of this ‘"morgue litteraire"’ Dr. Armstrong. His "Art of preserving Health" is one of the most terse, and classical compositions in the language; but most of his other verse, evinces noth­ing but barren labour. In his lively "Sketches," he acquaints us in the Preface, that ‘"he could give them much bolder strokes, as well as more delicate touches, but that he dreads the danger of writing too well, and feels the value of his own labour too [Page 86] sensibly, to bestow it upon the mo­bility."’ This is pure milk, com­pared to the gall, in the Preface to his Poems. There he very modestly tells us, that ‘"he has at last taken the trouble to collect them. What he has destroyed, would, probably enough, have been better received by the great majority of readers. But he has always most heartily despised their opinion."’ The truth is, he is only shewing an undue resentment for some unfortunate productions. To speak thus, is like a certain author, who, to excuse his miserable verses, said, his muse only sung for her own amusement; which really is no great crime, if she had not ventured to make herself ridiculous, by singing in the streets.

The public are treated with another kind of contempt, when an author, instead of ‘"destroying"’ like Dr. Arm­strong; professes to publish his pueri­lities. [Page 87] This Warburton did, in his pompous edition of Shakespeare. In the Preface he informed the public, that his notes ‘"were among his younger amusements, when he turned over these sort of writers."’ This ungra­cious compliment to Shakespeare and the public, merited that perfect scour­ging which our haughty commentator received from the sarcastic canons of criticisms. Scudery was a writer of some genius, and great variety. His Prefaces are remarkable for their gas­conades. In his Epic Poem of Alaric, he says, ‘"I have such a facility in wri­ting verses, and also in my inven­tion, that a poem of double it's length would have cost me little trou­ble. Although it contains only ele­ven thousand lines, I believe that longer epics do not exhibit more em­bellishments than mine."’ And, to conclude with one more student of this class, Amelot de la Houssaie in the [Page 88] Preface to his Translation of the Prince of Machiavel, instructs us, that ‘"he considers his copy as superior to the original, because it is every where intelligible, and Machiavel is fre­quently obscure."’ I have seen in the play bills of strollers, a very pom­pous description of the triumphant entry of Alexander into Babylon; had a prudent silence not anticipated ima­gination, the triumphant entry might have passed without exciting ridicule; and perhaps, one might not so mali­ciously have perceived how ill the four candle-snuffers crawled as elephants, and the triumphal car discovered it's want of a lid. But having pre-excited attention, we had full leisure to sharpen our eye. To these imprudent authors, and actors, we may apply a Spanish proverb, which has the peculiar quaint­ness of that people; Aviendo pregonado vino, venden vinagre; having cried up their wine, they sell us vinegar.

[Page 89] A ridiculous humility in a Preface, is not less despicable. Many idle apo­logies were formerly in vogue for pub­lication, and formed a literary cant, of which, now the meanest writers per­ceive the futility. A literary anecdote of the Romans has been preserved, which is sufficiently curious. One Albinus, in the Preface to his Roman History, intercedes for pardon for his numerous blunders of phraseology; observing that they were the more ex­cuseable, as he had composed his his­tory in the Greek language, with which he was not so familiar as his maternal tongue. Cato severely rallies him on this; and justly observes, that our Albinus had merited the pardon he solicits, if a decree of the senate had compelled him thus to have com­posed it, and provided he could not have obtained a dispensation. Are the commission of faults to be forgiven, which were voluntarily committed? [Page 90] The confession of the ignorance of the language we employ, is like that ex­cuse which some writers form for com­posing on topics, of which they ac­knowledge their inability. A reader's heart is not so easily mollified; and it is a melancholy truth for literary men, that the pleasure of abusing an author is generally superior to that of admi­ring him. One appears to display more critical acumen than the other, by shewing, that though we do not chuse to take the trouble of writing, we have infinitely more genius than the author. These suppliant Prefacers are described by Boileau.

Un auteur a genoux dans une humble Preface
Au lecteur qu'il ennuie a beau demander grace;
Il ne gagnera rien sur ce juge irrité,
Qui lui fait son procès de pleine autorité.
Low in a humble Preface authors kneel;
In vain, the wearied reader's heart is steel.
Callous, the irritated judge is seen
To use him—as he used the magazine.

[Page 91] The most entertaining Prefaces in our language, are those of Dryden. They exhibit numberless graces of a facility of ideas, and roll on with a fluency of style, forming so many plea­sing conversations of the author with his reader. He occasionally intersper­ses little characteristical strokes of him­self, and interests us in his momentary quarrels and vanities; and though it is ill-naturedly said, by Swift, that they were merely formed,

"To raise the volume's price a shilling,"

yet these were the earliest commence­ments of English criticism, and the first attempt to restrain the capricious­ness of readers, and to form a national taste. Dryden has had the candour to acquaint us with his secret of prefa­tory composition; for in that one to his Tales, he says, ‘"the nature of preface-writing is rambling; never wholly out of the way, nor in it. This I have learnt from the practice [Page 92] of honest Montaigne."’ There is no great risk in establishing this observa­tion as an axiom in literature; but, perhaps, there may be some danger in following it. However, should a Pre­face loiter behind the reader's fancy, it is never difficult to ged rid of lame persons, by escaping from them. The reader may make a Preface as concise as he chuses.

It is possible for an author to paint himself in amiable colours, in this use­ful page, without incurring the con­tempt of egotism. After a writer has rendered himself conspicuous by his industry or his genius, his admirers are not displeased to hear something rela­tive to him, from himself. Mr. Hay­ley, in the Preface to his Poems, has conveyed an amiable feature in his per­sonal character, by giving the cause of his devotion to literature, as the only mode by which he could render him­self of some utility to his country. [Page 93] The animation of the whole passage is a testimony of the zeal of it's writer; and who, recollecting the perseve­rance of his studies, the justness of his taste, and the elegance of his verse, can refuse the wreath of poetical ho­nour? There is a modesty in the Pre­faces of Pope, even when this great poet collected his immortal works; and in several other writers of the most elevated genius, in a Hume and a Robertson, which becomes their happy successors to imitate, and infe­rior writers to contemplate with awe.

I conclude by observing, that there is in Prefaces a due respect to be shewn to the public, and to ourselves. He that has no sense of self-dignity, will not inspire any reverence in others; and the ebriety of vanity will be so­bered by the alacrity we all feel in disturbing the dreams of self-love. If we dare not attempt the rambling Pre­faces of a Dryden, we may still enter­tain [Page 94] the reader; and sooth him into good humour, for our own interest. This, perhaps, will be best obtained, by making the Preface (like a sym­phony to an opera) to contain some­thing analogous to the work itself. The mind thus attuned into a proper harmony of tone, will respond to the emotions we are preparing to excite, and feel the want of our work, as a desire not elsewhere to be gratified.


THE study of Biography is a recent taste in Britain. The art of writing lives has been but lately known; and it was, therefore, an usual complaint with the meagre Biographers of the last century, when their subject was a man of letters, that his life could not be deemed very interesting, since he, who had only been illustrious in his closet, could not be supposed to af­ford any materials for the historian. The life of a prime minister, or the memoirs of a general, as they con­tained the detail of political intrigues and political opposition; battles or stratagems; were considered to afford happier opportunities for a writer to [Page 96] display the ability of his literary pow­ers, the subtilty of his discernment, and the colouring of his descriptions.

But as the human mind became the great object of our inquiry, and to de­tect and separate the shades of the pas­sions the great aim of the Biographer; reflecting men perceived, that the phi­losopher, like other men, had his dis­tinct characteristics. The physical situ­ation of a human being influences his moral and metaphysical state; he who has consumed his years in solitude, will have another class of ideas than he who has been habituated to the fri­volous or busy ranks of men; he who has been always a lover, will have a character different from a satirist; he whose range of meditation has been circumscribed by mean occupations and little variety, whatever be the energy of his mind, will be a different being to that mortal who has enlarged the circle of his feelings; has stored [Page 97] his mind with infinite variations, and embraced and retained whatever he saw, wherever he went.

It has now become the labour of criticism, to compose the life of an au­thor; and no writer can now success­fully accomplish his Biographic at­tempts, unless he comes with a por­tion of that genius, the history of whose mind he records; he must pos­sess a flexibility of taste, which, like the cameleon, takes the colour of that object on which it rests.

Every man, in whatever department he moves, has passions, which will vary even from those who are acting the same part as himself. Our souls, like our faces, bear the general resem­blance of the species, but retain the particular form which is peculiar to the individual. He who studies his own mind, and has the industry to note down the fluctuations of his opi­nions, the fallacies of his passions, and [Page 98] the vacillations of his resolutions, will form a journal to himself peculiarly in­teresting, and probably, not undeser­ving the meditations of others. No­thing which presents a faithful rela­tion of humanity, is inconsiderable to a human being. I have often observed, with surprise, how some pass their days in noting the revolutions of the seasons, the rain and the sunshine; the more important occupations of be­coming acquainted with their own mind, has never once occurred to them, while they held the weather glass in their hand.

There once prevailed, and perhaps, it may not be yet quite abolished, the custom of a man's journalising his own life. Many of these journals yet re­main in their MS. state, and some, un­fortunately for journal-writing, have been published. We are not, how­ever, to decide on the nature of a work by the ineptitude of it's perform­ance [Page 99] The writers of these Diaries were not philosophers, for the age was not philosophic. Too often they were alchemists, and sometimes considered themselves as magicians. Some only registered the minutest events of do­mestic life. Dates of birth, and set­tlements of marriage, may be pardoned to the individual; but to give the im­portance of history to the progress of a purge, and to return divine thanks for the cutting of a corn, (and the edi­ted journal of Elias Ashmole contains few other facts,) is giving importance to objects which should only be ob­servable in the history of any other ani­mal, but man. I am acquainted with a worthy gentleman, who, for this half century, is performing the same labours. He can tell where he dined fifty years past, and accompany the information with no concise critique. When he takes one of these little vo­lumes down, he applies to himself the [Page 100] observation of Martial, and says, he has learnt the art of living life twice over. The pleasures of memory are delicious; it's objects must, however, be proportionate to the powers of vi­sion, and a poor, bad, or excellent dinner, is an object sufficiently delight­ful, or terrible, to give play to the recordatory organs of this Diarist. I have remarked, however, one thing from his contemptible narrative. He resolved to distinguish the happy cir­cumstances of his life in red ink. In looking over his Diaries, notwithstand­ing the obscurity of his situation, and the humility of his desires, I cannot find that his pen was often dipt in the crimson ink of felicity.

An observation may be made on the diurnal page. He who can, without reserve or hesitation, form such a jour­nal, may be safely pronounced an ho­nest man. Few great men, and no villain, can pursue, with any regula­rity, [Page 101] a series of their actions; not for want of patience, but of courage; could a Clive, or a Cromwell, have composed a Diary? Neither of these men could suffer solitude and dark­ness; at the scattered thoughts of casual reflection they started; what would they have done, had memory marshaled their crimes, and arranged them in the terrors of chronology? These Diaries form that other Self, which Shaftesbury has described every thinking being to possess; and which, to converse with, he justly accounts the highest wisdom. When Cato wishes that every man had a glass window in his breast, it is only a metaphorical expression for such a Diary.

There are two species of minor Bio­graphy which may be discriminated; detailing our own life, and pourtraying our own character. The writing our own life has been practised with vari­ous success; it is a delicate operation; [Page 102] a stroke too much may destroy the ef­fect of the whole. If once we detect an author deceiving or deceived, it is a livid spot which infects the entire body. To publish one's own life has sometimes been a poor artifice to bring obscurity into notice; it is the extra­vagance of vanity, and the delirium of egotism. When a great man leaves some memorial of his days, his death­bed sanctions the truth, and the grave consecrates the motive. There are certain things which relate to our­selves, which no one can know so well; a great genius obliges posterity when he records them. But they must be composed with calmness, with sim­plicity, and with sincerity; the Biogra­phic Sketch of Hume, written by him­self, is a model of attic simplicity. This is the only production of a man of ge­nius, which requires no graces of style or imagination. His pencil should give dignity to the common accidents [Page 103] of life, by it's clear and firm strokes; but he should be careful not to over­shade and adorn his sketch, by a pen­ciling too elaborate. If he is solici­tous of charming and dazzling, he is not writing his life, but pourtraying the ideal adventurer of a romance. If he attempts to draw a resemblance between himself and a superior genius, let him be fearful of incurring the ri­dicule of those modern artists, who have painted themselves in the dress of Raphael and Rubens; this self-admi­ration forms a fatal contrast. Simpli­city of language and thought, are sweet and natural graces, which every Self-biographer should study.

If, however, another Rousseau ap­pears, one in whom imagination is a habit, he will, no doubt, express feel­ings tremblingly alive, with a corres­pondent delicacy in language; he will effuse his inflammable soul in burning periods. But his Biography is elo­quence; [Page 104] it may, indeed, as it was with Rousseau, be only a natural har­mony from the voice of truth; but it may also be the artificial tones of de­ceit. What in Rousseau was nature, may in others be artifice. Self-biogra­phers, like Hume, who state facts with an attic simplicity, appear to speak unreservedly to the reader, and as if they proposed only to supply facts, for others to explain and embellish.

There is another species of minor Biography, which, I am willing to be­lieve, could only have been invented by the most refined and the vainest na­tion. A literary fashion formerly pre­vailed with authors, to present the public with their own Character. I do not recollect such a custom among our more modest writers. The French long cherished this darling egotism; and there is a collection of these lite­rary portraits in two bulky volumes. The brilliant Flechier, and the refined [Page 105] St. Evremond, have framed and glazed their portraits. Every writer then con­sidered his Character as necessary as his Preface. I confess myself much delighted with these self-descriptions of persons whom no one knows. I have formed a considerable collection of these portraits, and have placed them in my cabinet of curiosities, un­der the title of strong likenesses of un­known persons. Their vanity is too prominent to doubt their accuracy.

I shall not excite the reader's curio­sity, without attempting it's gratifica­tion; and if he chuses to see what now passes in the minds of many obscure writers, whom he never will know, let him attend to the following character, which may not be so singular as it ap­pears.

There was, as a book in my posses­sion will testify, a certain verse-maker, of the name of Cantenac, who, in 1662, published in the city of Paris, [Page 106] the above-mentioned volume, contain­ing some thousands of verses, which were, as his countrymen express it, de sa facon, after his own way. He fell so suddenly into the darkest and deepest pit of oblivion, that not a trace of his memory would have remained, had he not condescended to give ample in­formation of every particular relative to himself. He has acquainted us with his size, and tells us ‘"that it is rare to see a man smaller than himself. I have that in common with all dwarfs, that if my head only, were seen, I should be thought a large man."’ This atom in creation then describes his oval and full face; his fiery and eloquent eyes; his vermil lips; his robust constitution, and his efferves­cent passions. He appears to have been a most petulant, honest, and di­minutive being.

The description of his intellect, is the object of our curiosity, and I select the [Page 107] most striking traits in his own words. ‘"I am as ambitious as any person can be; but I would not sacrifice my ho­nour to my ambition. I am so sen­sible to contempt, that I bear a mor­tal and implacable hatred against those who contemn me, and I know I could never reconcile myself with them, but I spare no attentions for those I love; I would give them my fortune and my life. I sometimes lie; but generally in affairs of gallantry, where I voluntarily confirm false­hoods by oaths, without reflection, for swearing with me is a habit. I am told that my mind is brilliant, and that I have a certain manner in turn­ing a thought, which is quite my own. I am agreeable in conversation; though I confess I am often trouble­some; for I maintain paradoxes to display my genius, which savour too much of scholastic subterfuges. I speak too often and too long; and [Page 108] as I have some reading, and a copi­ous memory, I am fond of shewing whatever I know. My judgement is not so solid, as my wit is lively. I am often melancholy and unhappy; and this sombrous disposition pro­ceeds from my numerous disappoint­ments in life. My verse is preferred to my prose; and it has been of some use to me, in pleasing the fair sex; poetry is most adapted to persuade women; but otherwise it has been of no service to me, and has, I fear, rendered me unfit for many ad­vantageous occupations, in which I might have drudged. The esteem of the fair, has, however, charmed away my complaints. This good fortune has been obtained by me, at the cost of many cares, and an un­subdued patience; for I am one of those, who, in affairs of love, will suffer an entire year, to taste the pleasures of one day."’

[Page 109] This Character of Cantenac has some local features; for an English poet would hardly console himself with so much gaiety. The Frenchman's at­tachment to the ladies, seems to be equivalent to the advantageous occu­pations he had lost. But as the mise­ries of a literary man, without conspi­cuous talents, are always the same at Paris, as in London, there are some parts of this Character of Cantenac, which appear to describe them with truth. Cantenac was a man of ho­nour; as warm in his resentment as his gratitude; but deluded by literary vanity, he became a writer in prose and verse, and while he saw the prospects of life closing on him, pro­bably considered that the age was un­just. A melancholy example for cer­tain volatile, and fervent spirits, who, by becoming authors, either submit their felicity to the caprices of others, or annihilate the obscure comforts of [Page 110] life, and like him, having ‘"been told that their mind is brilliant, and that they have a certain manner in turn­ing a thought,"’ become poets, and complain that they are ‘"often melan­choly, owing to their numerous dis­appointments."’ Happy, however, if the obscure, yet too sensible writer, can suffer an entire year, for the enjoy­ment of a single day. But for this, a man must have been born in France.


IT is an observation frequently made, by men of letters in conversation, whenever some renowned critic is men­tioned, that ‘"he was a very ill-na­tured man."’ An observation which is fully verified by facts; so that some­times we are nearly tempted to suppose, that ill-nature is the spirit of criticism, The verbal or minor critics, are per­sons of the slenderest faculties, and the most irascible dispositions. What can we hope from men who have consumed thirty pages in quarto, on the signifi­cation of one little word, and after [Page 112] this insane discussion, have left the un­happy syllable to the mercy of future literary frenzy?

But there is a species of critics, who rather attach themselves to mo­dern, than to ancient writers; and who pursue and settle on a great ge­nius; as summer flies attack the tails of the best fed horses. The more fer­vid the season, and the plumper the horse, the livelier is the attack. They are born for the torment of the inge­nious, and the gratification of the ma­licious of their age. It has too often happened, that a superior writer has been mortified during his whole life, by such a painful shadow; and the wreath, which the public would not otherwise have refused, has been fre­quently with-held, till it only covered the monumental bust. The ancestors of these critics appear to have flou­rished in the days of Terence, and this poet has distinguished them by the ho­nourable [Page 113] title of the Malevoli. Zoilus, who has left them his name, the pa­triarch of ‘"true criticism,"’ as Swift calls their talent, fell a martyr to their cause; for this great man was either burnt, or crucified, or stoned.

In the person of Dennis, we may contemplate the character of these dis­turbers of literary repose. Of Dennis little appears to be known; this essay may, perhaps, add something to that little; for accident led me to an exa­mination of his writings; writings, which, though now rarely known, once made a considerable figure in English literature, and which lately have been recommended by Johnson, with more good-nature than good-taste.

The mind of Dennis was endowed, not with refinement, but with subtle­ty; not with correctness, but with minuteness; not with critical judg­ment, but with critical erudition. A [Page 114] prominent feature in his character, was that intellectual quality, called common sense, which would have ren­dered him an useful citizen. A virtue in a sadler, but a vice in a critic. In literature, common sense is a penuri­ous faculty, of which all the acquisi­tions are mean, and of little value. If we allow him these qualities, we must utterly deny him that sensibility of taste which feels the charms of an au­thor, by a congeniality of spirit; that quick apprehension which may occa­sionally point out the wanderings of genius, but which oftener confirms the pleasures we feel, by proving their propriety; nor had he that flexibility of intellect which yields to the touch of the object before him; before he ventured to be pleased, he was com­pelled to consult Aristotle.

His learning was the bigotry of lite­rature. It was ever Aristotle explain­ed by Dennis. But in the explanation [Page 115] of the obscure text of his master, he was led into such frivolous distinctions, and tasteless propositions, that his works deserve inspection, as examples of the manners of a true mechanical critic. While his admiration exhales itself in frigid raptures, amidst his ex­travagant panegyric, he appears fre­quently to be ignorant of the real value of the object he appreciates. Often, indeed, his pursuits conducted him to beautiful forms; but it would seem that they took a new and monstrous figure beneath his disordered vision; to every thing he examines, he adds something of his own; and the genius of Homer would sink, blended with the dullness of Dennis.

That our critic was much noticed by the public, would be a national accu­sation, which I am far from alledging. Several singular coincidencies alone gave the ephemeron critic his tempo­rary existence. Criticism was a no­velty [Page 116] at that period of our literature. He flattered some great men, and he abused three of the greatest; this was one mode of securing popularity; be­cause, by this contrivance, he divided the town into two parties; and the irascibility and satire of Pope and Swift, were not less serviceable to him, than the partial panegyrics of Dryden and Congreve. If insulted genius had not noticed Dennis, Dennis in vain would have insulted genius. Some­times his strictures, though virulent, were just; even Zoilus, doubtless, de­tected many defects in Homer. But such criticisms are only a kind of plate­powder, very useful to repolish the works of genius. The performances of our critic appear never to have been popular; and this fact is recorded by himself. Of the favourable opinion he entertained of his own powers, and the public neglect they received, when not supported by the malignant aid of [Page 117] satire, the following passages will suf­ficiently prove. In his dedication of his Miscellaneous Tracts to the Earl of Scarborough, he observes, ‘"if I had writ only the first treatise, I believe, that upon reading it, you will be of opinion, and far be presumption from that belief, that I had deserved better of the commonwealth of learning, than the authors of so many sonorous trifles, who have been too much encouraged, while I have been too much neglected. The position, which is the subject of it, viz. That religion is that which gives principally to great poetry it's spirit, it's sublimity, it's vehemence, and it's strongest enthusiasm, is very clearly proved."’

One more specimen may be neces­sary. He adds, ‘"that though criti­cism has flourished for 2000 years, descending from antient Greece and Rome, to modern France and Italy, yet that neither Greece, nor Rome, [Page 118] nor France, nor modern Italy, has treated of this important point; but that it was left for a person who has the honour of being your lordship's countryman, to assert it, and demonstrate it. If what I have said may seem to some persons, into whose hands these sheets may happen to fall, to have too great a tincture of vanity in it, your lordship knows very well, that persons so much and so long oppressed as I have been, have been always allowed to say things concerning themselves, which in others might be offensive."’

There is a degree of vanity and vex­ation in these extracts, of which the former is only excuseable for the latter. Excuseable, because the consideration is melancholy, that those who devote themselves to literary pursuits, and who may never know their deficien­cies, should become, in the imbecil­lity of age, the miserable victims of their unfortunate ignorance. His va­nity [Page 119] we know was excessive, and this oppression, of which he complains, might not be less imaginary than his alarm of being delivered over to the French, for the composition of a tra­gedy that could never be read. Den­nis undoubtedly had laboured with zeal, which could never meet a re­ward; and perhaps, amidst his critical labours, he turned often, with an ach­ing heart, from their barren contem­plation, to that of the social comforts he might have derived from his pater­nal saddles.

His occasional strictures on popular works had certainly a transient season. Such criticisms were assisted by the ac­tivity of envy, and by the supineness of indolence. These also were his best productions, but I must still affirm that they were the best productions of a dull writer. A beautiful tragedy may be composed, which may serve the purposes of the Dennises; and it's er­rors [Page 120] may fill their voluminous pamph­let; but also, it is very possible to con­struct a tragedy which would famish the Dennises, and at the same time be destitute of whatever can impart de­light to the lover of poetry. Connois­seurs are to be gratified; but there is a frivolity in connoisseurship, which could enchain the wing of an eagle with a slight texture of silk.

Dennis aspired also to original com­position; but after a very fair and pa­tient attempt to peruse his works, I desisted. His verse is the verse of one who has learnt poetry, as the blind we know may practice the art; a me­chanical operation performed by sub­stantives and adjectives. His senti­ments are wild, and his lines irregu­lar; turgid expressions in rumbling verse; the painful throes of a muse, who is made to produce monsters against the designs of nature. Such [Page 121] versifiers are well described by Denham in this line; their works are

"Not the effect of poetry, but pains."

One of his curious epithets of a pair of turtles, is ‘"venereal turtles,"’ for I suppose, the turtles of Venus. Yet Dryden, with the usual partiality of friendship, deludes Dennis by eulogies on his poetry, and, in one of his Let­ters, published by our author, advises him to apply himself to the pindaric. After this, I believe, Dennis produced his long rambling Ode in praise of Dry­den, which, perhaps, equals the worst of Cowley's.

His prose has little animation, ex­cept when he warms into abuse. His conceptions, indeed, were never deli­cate; but sometimes their grossness is striking; as what he says of Puns, in one of his Letters, ‘"there is as much difference between the silly satisfaction which we have from a quibble, and the ravishing pleasure which we re­ceive [Page 122] from a beautiful thought, as there is betwixt a faint salute, and fruition."’

His criticisms are often so many castles in the air, for almost in every work he is proposing and explaining some fantastical system. In his long treatise on modern poetry, he labours to shew, that the strong interest which the ancients felt in their poetry, was derived from that use of religion which their poets employed; and therefore, he concludes, that if religion is intro­duced into our poems, modern poetry will rival the ancient. But how false this system is, criticism and experience have now positively decided. Reli­gion is too aweful an object for the re­ligious to permit human inventions to sport with; and the philosopher will acknowledge, that excellence and om­nipotence not conceivable by finite fa­culties, are degraded and enfeebled by human ideas and human language. [Page 123] Polytheism was a religion well adapted to poetical fancies; since nothing can be more poetical than an endless train of beings, diversified in their charac­ters, and distinguished by their em­blems. The brilliancy of imagination, the gaieties of description, and the conflict of the passions, alike formed a human interest in the deities of the an­cients. But the unity of our religion teaches only the lesson of obedience, and throwing a veil over the mysteri­ous deity, would consider description as impiety, and silence, as the only ex­pression of the human passions.

Having concluded what I had to observe, on the literary character of Dennis, I shall now consider his moral one. The lesson may not prove unin­structive, for we shall have an oppor­tunity of contemplating how an ill-natured critic, is an ill-natured man, and that the perversions of the head, [Page 124] are so many particles of venom which fly from the heart.

The magisterial decisions of criti­cism, may, I suspect, communicate a personal importance to it's author. Accustomed to suspend the scourge over the heads of the first writers of the age, it appears, that Dennis could not sit at a table, or walk down a street, without exerting the despotic rudeness of a literary dictator. The brutal violence of his mind, was dis­coverable in his manners; an odd mix­ture of frantic enthusiasm, and gross dullness. Pride now elevated, and vaunting, now depressed and sore. How could the mind that devoted it­self to the contemplation of master pieces, only to reward it's industry, by detailing to the public, their human frailties, experience one hour of ame­nity, one idea of grace, one generous expression of sensibility? Pope's ce­lebrated description of the personal [Page 125] manners of our critic, is an exact re­presentation.

Lo! Appius reddens at each word you speak;
And stares tremendous with a threatening eye,
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry:

Dennis had so accustomed himself to asperity, and felt with such facility and force, the irritation he gave and he received, that without having left, on record but the suspicion of one im­moral action, (for it is said he stabbed a man at college) we suspect the im­probity of his heart, when we recol­lect the licentiousness of his pen. But this has ever been the characteristic of this race of critics. They attach to the writer they attack, an inveteracy, which is not permitted by common hu­manity. From their darkened closet, they suppose, that the affairs of civil life are suspended, in an aweful pause, for their decisions; and they think, that when they have discovered the want of unity in a tragedy, that, in [Page 126] consequence, the same want is imme­diately to take place among the public.

A critic resembling Dennis, was Gaçon, in France. This Zoilus re­proached La Motte with his blindness, and Dennis cruelly censured the feeble frame of Pope. Young, in his second Epistle to Pope, sarcastically alluded to Dennis, in these words,

"My narrow-minded satire can't extend
To Codrus' form, I'm not so much his friend;
Himself should publish that (the world agree)
Before his works, or in the pillory."

Gaçon wrote ‘"satyrical discourses on all kinds of subjects,"’ and compiled a volume of calumnies against the poet Rousseau, which he entitled an Anti-Rousseau; Anti was long a favourite title to the works of such critics. Whenever there appeared a great ge­nius, he immediately found an anti­pode.

An anecdote, little known relative to Dennis, will close his character. [Page 127] It appears, that the Provoked Hus­band was acted for his benefit, which procured him about a hundred pounds. Thomson and Pope generously sup­ported the old critic, and Savage, who had nothing but a verse to give, re­turned them poetical thanks, in the name of Dennis. When Dennis heard these lines repeated (for he was then blind) his critical severity, and his na­tural brutality, overcame that grateful sense he should have expressed, of their kindness and their elegance. He swore ‘"by G— they could be no one's but that fool Savage's."’ This, perhaps, was the last peevish snuff from the dis­mal torch of criticism, for two days after was the redoubted Dennis num­bered with ‘"the mighty dead."’

Criticism has thus been often only the natural effect of bad dispositions; when severe, if founded on truth, it is not blamed; but this truth includes the idea of a critic convincing his [Page 128] reader, that he has a just taste for the beauties of a composition; for that censure which only takes a partial re­view of a work, must be defective. There is a duty we owe to the public, when we defend the cause of taste, but at the same time, there is a duty we owe to the author. A skilful cen­sor will perform his task by a happy combination of humanity and criti­cism; and it is elegantly said of Boi­leau, by Voltaire, that the honey which this bee extracted from the flowers, softened the sharpness of the wound he inflicted.

A critic is only the footman of a man of genius, and should so far re­spect his master, as not to suffer the torch of criticism, which he carries before him, to scorch, but only to en­lighten.


IT is necessary to discriminate be­tween Men of Erudition, and Men of Philosophy. We must employ the French word Erudit, for want of a sy­nonimous appellative.

A numerous class of students devote their days to researches in almost every species of knowledge; and without any profundity of observation, or im­pulse of genius, collect bodies of facts, which may serve as materials for lite­rary speculation. But of these, few have invigorated their reason, impro­ved the finer sensations of the mind, or seised on those graces which delight in elegant composition. We are at once astonished and disgusted at their vast reading; they seem to know every thing that requires not to be known.

[Page 130] With them, persevering study stands in lieu of extensive genius, and a long memory in place of a bright fancy. It is not who has greater talents, but who has read most. Philosophy con­sists of reflection; Erudition of reading. As one man cannot read much more than another, in the same given time, the Erudits, at a certain period of life, are, therefore, all nearly equal, in point of ability. It is not so in Philo­sophy; there one man in a year may reach farther, than another in all his life; Time, therefore, may make an Erudit, but it is Genius only which can form a Philosopher.

When the elaborate labours of an Erudit, are at length published, it is discovered, that he has no skill in the art of composition. Such writers ne­ver become public favourites; their eye never dwells on an image which might enliven, or their ear on a ca­dence which might harmonise, a pe­riod [Page 131] This numerous race of literati, have no conception of that delight in composition, without which, the wri­ter is in vain learned. Some consider the pleasures of literature as not only superfluous, but criminal; and that a reflection, they might happen to make, would only insult their reader's under­standing. An annalist is therefore pre­ferred to an historian; Hume is cen­sured, for intermingling with his lucid narrative, his acute reflections; and they affirm that they are capable of re­flecting for themselves. But this is neither modesty nor truth.

Among reasoning men, such stu­dents have occasioned a great odium to literature; and if, as it cannot be denied, the pursuits of letters have been often satirised, it has been owing to their laborious trifling, and imper­tinent information. Montaigne has de­claimed against them, in various parts [Page 132] of his works;* and, I lament, has in this invective, involved the more ami­able studies. A writer of imagination can do whatever he chooses, but a reader of judgment will not approve of all that he finds in such a writer, no more probably, than the writer did himself. It is not, indeed, sufficient to write about, but to reason on anti­quity; and a student hardly merits the honours of learning, whose science consists in an arid knowledge of words, or customs, and who renders some of the most pleasing investigations repul­sive to men of taste. Erudition is a rod in the hand of a Prideaux, and a sceptre in the hand of a Gibbon.

Do we not abuse too often the word learning? He is honoured with the title, who has only retained by rote, obsolete customs, extinct characters, and whatever relates to past ages. But he who is more solicitous of fami­liarising [Page 133] himself to his own times, and is conversant with whatever relates to his own century, who has little by rote, and a great deal by thinking, him we degrade to a lower depart­ment, and we call him a man of read­ing. He who hazards not a word in his latinity, but which is authorised by the use of Cicero, is saluted as a scho­lar; yet should another not be quite so lexicographic in his composition, but as eloquent as Cicero, we should con­sider him as of inferior learning to his pedantic rival. If a classical scholar, versifies in Greek, an English poem, which, in the most favourable view, is only acting well the school-boy in the maturity of life, we dignify him with eulogies, which the true poet, he ver­sifies, could not more have merited. For my part, I only consider as learn­ing that which a man knows by reflec­tion; for that only is of any utility to the individual and the public. It is of [Page 134] no consequence to remember, that such a word is to be found in Cicero; that the name of one barbarian, succeed­ed the name of another barbarian, on barbarous thrones; that such fashi­ons prevailed in the reign of such a monarch; and all that multifarious minute trifling which constitutes what most term learning. To reason on such particulars is at least an attempt to en­lighten, but to remember them is no­thing. There is more ingenuity in unriddling enigmas, and in writing acrostics, than some, who are consi­dered as eminent scholars, exert in their literary labours. It is as rare to find among men of genius, an Erudit, as among Erudits to discover a man of genius.

Such are they who study fourteen hours a day, and indefatigably push on their heavy systems throughout life. Schioppius detected 500 blunders in 120 pages of Scaliger; and Holstenius [Page 135] discovered 8000 in Baronius! Ma­dame Dacier affirmed she had read Aristophanes 200 times; and one Ber­lugerius was so insane a reader of Ho­mer, that he was excommunicated for reading him at church. He at last, with restless impatience, undertook an excursion to the fields of Troy, but is supposed to have lost his way. One cannot but smile at the manner with which one of this venerable fraternity closes his History of the World; ‘"in my second book"’ (says he) ‘"the world may judge by my reflections and re­marks, whether I have discernment and genius."’ The school of low commen­tators is admirably depicted, by the terse and lively taste of Armstrong.

"The strong-built pedant, who both night and day
Feeds on the coarsest fare the schools bestow,
And crudely fattens at gross Burman's stall."

Many are familiar with the Latin and the Grecian compositions, whom the Latins and the Greeks, full of taste [Page 136] and sensibility, would never have ad­mitted into their society.

Men of an elevated fancy, have ever treated these industrious students with great contempt. Hobbes said, that had he read as much as some learned men, he had been as ignorant as them. The singular opinion of Descartes, and his pupil Malebranche, respecting Erudition, is one of their fanciful wan­derings. These celebrated metaphy­sicians assert, that the proper study of man is truth, considered as it relates to himself; that this can only be found in Philosophy, and that history only presents us with trivial or imperfect copies. They conceived more truth to be contained in a moral precept, than in an historical fact; and they, there­fore, preferred the cultivation of the understanding, to that of the memory.

This erroneous system has, indeed, been opposed; and Bolingbroke ob­serves from an ancient, that ‘"History [Page 137] is Philosophy teaching by Example."’ The censure of Malebranche will, however, be justly pointed at all histo­ries composed by the mere Erudits. A mass of minute facts may prove the author to be a profound antiquary, but a shallow philosopher; and it may be observed of historical composition, that the philosopher generally begins at those periods where the antiquary concludes.

These Erudits are characterised by an enormous passion for collecting books. They were once called Hellu­ones Librorum. But this book-gluttony is without digestion or taste.* An in­dulgence [Page 138] for the bibliomania, the taste for classing books, and the judg­ment shewn in their various editions, are doubtless innocent objects, till they render a man ridiculous. The owner becomes so deeply read in titles and indexes, that often he who had sufficient talent to form a catalogue, has conceived himself capable of ad­ding [Page 139] a volume of his own. To these dull possessors of rich libraries, we cannot but observe, that the acquisi­tion of the finest musical instruments, imparts not the art of the musician.

Such an one will, probably, be a man of mean talents, and slender judg­ment. He will collect every thing, till he embarrasses his feeble faculties; and amidst all the information possible, will stand irresolute and ignorant. Discordant opinions he perceives; but to elicit truth from their concussion, demands that skill and energy which few Erudits have possessed. When one is exercised in collecting facts, but a slight attention is required, and while the higher faculties are quies­cent, the infatuated compiler consi­ders them as active; but, in truth, it is only the hand that transcribes, not the head that thinks. The common­place book is crouded with facts, while the mind makes not the acquisition of [Page 140] one solitary idea. This Erudition is a gross lust of the mind; it seises on every thing indiscriminately, yet pro­duces nothing; it is passion without fruition.

A philosopher having the same to­pics, will select the leading circum­stances only as his chief authorities. The art of rejecting, is not less impor­tant than the art of accumulating; half, says Hesiod, is more than the whole. He who wearies all, without wearying himself, smothers the sparks of his fire, by the heaps of his fuel; but a philosopher lights a little wood with the clear and durable flame of genius. It is, perhaps, not too bold, to affirm that the discoveries of medi­tation, are more numerous than those of reading; for meditation can pene­trate into those ages where facts are unrecorded. It has been sometimes found, that a philosopher, without any other data than his own medita­tions, [Page 141] has accounted for circumstances, which have been confirmed by facts, long afterwards discovered by the tar­dy dullness of the torpid antiquary. Meditation anticipates evidence, or educes from evidence novel truths.

Let us contemplate these Erudits, as the critics of a classical author. Such critics are more delighted by an obscure expression in a fine sentence, than with the sentence itself; as ocu­lists are not displeased when their friends have infirm eyes. But even the humble province of annotation, by a philosophic genius, becomes no contemptible labour; and Johnson's notes, which are not the most esteemed by his unworthy fraternity, frequently appear like an accidental wave roll­ing with vehemence down a stagnant stream.

Those violent panegyrics with which they idolise an author, are as insincere, as they are disgustful. When a pe­dant [Page 142] throws an offering of flowers, on the altar of the Graces, he acts not with the ardour, but the hypocrisy of devotion. We have seen these Eru­dits bring forward some forgotten wri­ter, and who deserved to be so, with a pomp of eulogium that the greatest cannot merit; and even the legitimate applause due to celebrated authors, they render ridiculous. These pon­derous minds have been well described by Voltaire, when he observes of Da­cier, Qu'il connoissoit tout des anciens hors la grace et la finesse. Sensibility of taste rarely directs their choice of an au­thor; but merely the accidental col­lection of a number of notes, and often a more trivial circumstance. We have had new editions of obsolete writers, because their commentator was born in the same town, or in the same king­dom. Authors have been more fre­quently given for the notes, than what should be, the notes for the author. [Page 143] Thus Duchat published editions of se­veral obscure writers, because, having directed his researches to the middle ages, he was desirous to discharge his adversaria on the public. Scaliger prefered Virgil to Homer, because Virgil was his fellow-countryman, and Dacier prefered Homer to all past and future poets, because he was the most ancient.

He who has grown hoary in Erudi­tion, becomes untractable by his va­nity. He regards his hourly discove­ries with a spirit of self-exultation, which places him far above the attain­ments of the philosopher. He who is directed by reason, and relies more on his thinking, than his Erudition, makes few, and often late, discoveries; he who cultivates taste, often turns, with displeasure, from unimportant topics; but he who collects and ar­ranges facts, felicitates himself with new and facile acquirements, and as [Page 144] he explores the interminable desert of Erudition, amasses a vast and min­gled treasure, and exults in an appa­rent splendour. Milton describes the Erudit, who, he says,

"Uncertain and unsettled still remains;
Deep verst in books, and shallow in himself;
Crude, or intoxicate, collecting toys,
As children gathering pebbles on the shore.
Paradise Regained.

Whenever learning is made to con­sist in words or facts, it is amusing to observe it's effects operating on it's votarists. The insolence of an anti­quary has no parallel, whenever a sub­ject congenial to his studies is agitated; because, having, with much commen­dable pains, and many patient years, traced the object through all it's possi­ble connections, he knows whatever can be urged, and is conscious that the speaker cannot have acquired more than himself.* This gives birth to [Page 145] many extravagancies of lettered vani­ty; and I have observed two recondite antiquaries, kindling in dispute, while one had, perhaps, only a month's, or a day's more reading than his adver­sary. It is thus also with linguists. No class of students have more exalted notions of their talents, than good lin­guists; for having perfected themselves in the verbal science, they consider that words are science itself, and do not recollect that they are but the keys of the gates. I knew a linguist who affected to speak lightly of Voltaire, because he could not pronounce Eng­lish, as well as our master of languages; and another, who having compiled a grammar, dedicated it to the nation, who honour original genius, and boast of a Newton.

Such is the character of those who would place a convenient limit to the [Page 146] human faculties, and satisfied with digging out from the graves of time, some dead fact, consider knowledge to be obtainable by the pertinacity of mechanical labour. But as a linguist may combine and know every word in a language, and yet never attain to any skill in composition, so the Erudit may heap fact upon fact, and, not­withstanding, never enlighten. Phi­losophy alone can throw the creative beam of light over the dark chaos of Erudition, and awaken into order and beauty the surrounding mass.

But even Philosophy will not be suf­ficient to render learning attractive; we must also employ the elegancies of composition, and cover the aridity of research with the freshest roses of taste. Most of the French academicians, in their learned memoirs, have claims on our applause and imitation; they in­struct us to give the bloom of youth to the wrinkles of learning, and while [Page 147] we form an accurate and lucid reci­tal of facts, to interweave reflections which interest, and to embellish with a style which enchants. We must have learning to collect facts; judgment to seise on those which converge to one point, and a brilliant taste to animate and adorn.


PLINY, in an Epistle to Tuscus, ad­vises him to intermix among his seve­rer studies, the softening charms of poetry; and notices a species of poe­tical composition, which merits criti­cal animadversion. I shall quote Pliny, in the language of his celebrated trans­lator. He says, ‘"these pieces com­monly go under the title of Poetical Amusements; but these amusements have sometimes gained as much repu­tation to their authors, as works of a more serious nature. It is surprising how much the mind is entertained and enlivened by these little poetical compositions, as they turn upon sub­jects of gallantry, satire, tenderness, politeness, and every thing, in short, [Page 149] that concerns life, and the affairs of the world."’

This species of poetry can only exist in an age when refinement is introdu­ced into literature, as well as into every thing else. We must, therefore, look for it, in the present day, among a people the most refined among it's neighbours; and we observe, that it has been carried to it's utmost perfec­tion, by the French. It has been dis­criminated by them, from the mass of poetry, under the apt title of "La Po­esie legere," and sometimes it has been significantly called "Vers de Societé." The French writers have formed a body of this fugitive poetry, which no european nation can rival; and to which both the language and genius, of that once gay and polished people, appear to be greatly favourable.

The "Poesies legeres" are not, as their title would appear to import, merely compositions of a light and gay [Page 150] turn, but are equally employed as a vehicle for tender and pathetic senti­ment. They are never long, for they are consecrated to the amusement and delight of society. Their subjects are illimitable; but it is required, that since the author is indulged to sport in small extent, and on a variety of to­pics, that the undescribable power of originality, gives a value to every little production. The author appears to have composed them for his pleasure, not for his glory; and he charms his readers, because he seems careless of their approbation.

The versification cannot be too re­fined; melodious and glowing, it should display all the graces of poetry. Every delicacy of sentiment, must find it's de­licacy of style, and every tenderness of thought, must be softened by the ten­derest tones. Sometimes they should enchant by discovering the most volup­tuous air, sometimes they should at­tract [Page 151] by displaying the splendid orna­ments of diction, and sometimes they may please by the natural simplicity of ingenuousness. Nothing trite or trivial, either in the expression or the thought, must enfeeble and chill the imagination; nor must the ear be de­nied it's gratification, by a rough or careless verse. In these works nothing is pardoned; a word may disturb, a line may destroy the charm.

The passions of the poet, may form the subjects of his verse. It is in these writings he delineates himself; he re­flects his tastes, his desires, his hu­mours, his amours, and even his de­fects. In other poems, the poet dis­appears under the feigned character he assumes; here alone he speaks, here he acts. He makes a confident of the reader, interests him in his hopes, and his sorrows; we admire the poet, and conclude with esteeming the man. In these effusions the lover may not un­successfully [Page 152] urge his complaints; his mistress, at least, will have the conso­lation of not being wearied by volu­minous grief. They may form a com­pliment for a patron, or a congratula­tion for an artist; a vow of friendship, or a hymn of gratitude.

These poems have often, with great success, displayed pictures of Manners; domestic descriptions are ever pleasing; and it is here that the poet colours the objects with all the hues of life, and the variations of nature. Reflections must, however, be artfully interwo­ven, in a compressed and rapid man­ner. Moral instruction must not be amplified; these are pieces devoted to the fancy; and while reflection is in­dulged, the imagination feels itself defrauded; a scene may be painted throughout the poem; a sentiment must be conveyed in a verse. In the Grongar Hill of Dyer, we discover some strokes which may serve to ex­emplify [Page 153] this criticism. The poet con­templating the distant landscape, ob­serves,

"A step methinks may pass the stream,
So little, distant dangers seem;
So we mistake the future's face,
Ey'd thro' Hope's deluding glass."

Moral reflections, which are usually obvious and tedious, if thus naturally educed, and rapidly struck off, con­trast with great beauty the lighter and more airy parts.

It must not be supposed, that be­cause these productions are concise, they have, therefore, the more facility; we must not consider the genius of a poet diminutive, because his pieces are so; nor must we call them, as a fine sonnet has been called, a difficult trifle. A circle may be very small, yet it may be as mathematically beau­tiful and perfect as a larger one. To such compositions we may apply the observation of an ancient critic, that [Page 154] though a little thing gives perfection, yet perfection is not a little thing. These compositions may, by the skill of the poet, be made to contain beau­ties of every kind; but what is even superior to beauty, and in what some of our finest poets have failed, is that grace, that colouring of fancy, that harmony of ideas, that deliciousness of sentiment, which, pervading every particle of the composition, is per­ceived by the sensibility of taste, while it eludes the analysing touch of criti­cism. These little pieces are suscepti­ble of all the variety of poetical ex­pression; from the silver notes of the pastoral flute, to the sonorous swell of the epic trumpet. They may be all delicacy, or all grandeur.

The poet, to succeed in these ha­zardous pieces, must be an amiable voluptuary; alike polished by an in­tercourse with the world, as with the studies of taste; to whom labour is [Page 155] negligence; refinement a science, and art a nature. Genius will not always be sufficient to impart that grace of amenity which seems peculiar to those, who, among other advantages, are accustomed to the elegance of the higher classes of society; I mean, how­ever, among the few enlightened in­dividuals of this description. Many of the French nobility, who cultivated poetry, have, therefore, often excelled in these poetical amusements, the at­tempts of some professed poets. France once delighted, and placed in the first rank of poetical taste, the amiable and ennobled names of Nivernois, Bouf­flers, and St. Aignan; they have not been considered as unworthy rivals of Chaulieu and Bernard, of Voltaire and Gresset. But these productions are more the effusions of taste, than ge­nius; and it is not sufficient that the poet is inspired by the muse, but he must also suffer his concise page to be [Page 156] polished by the hand of the Graces. He must not hope to be crowned with laurels, but he may receive a wreath of flowers.

All the minor odes of Horace, and the entire Anacreon, are compositions of this kind; effusions of the heart, and pictures of the imagination, which were produced in the convivial, the amatory, and the pensive hour. Our nation has not always been successful in these performances; they have not been kindred to it's genius. With Charles II. something of a gayer and more airy taste was communicated to our poetry; but it was desultory, in­correct, and wild. It was the awk­ward essays towards refinement, which a rustic may be supposed to make. Among the minor poets of that period, we occasionally trace the versatile spi­rit of these poems. Waller, both by his habits, and his genius, was well adapted to excel in this lighter poetry; [Page 157] and he has often attained the perfec­tion which the state of the language then permitted. Prior has a variety of sallies; but his humour is sometimes gross, and his versification is sometimes heavy and embarrassed. He knew the value of these charming pieces; and he had drank of this burgundy in the vineyard itself. He has some transla­tions, and some plagiarisms; but some of his verses to Chloe are eminently airy and pleasing. We have few wri­of this class, who can be proposed as models. A popular poet of this age has often delighted us with the deli­cate graces of his muse; and while we admire the felicity of his closes, he teaches us the value of a happy thought. But those minor poems, re­lating to domestic passions, and domes­tic manners, which might merit to be distinguished by the title of "VERS DE SOCIETE," appear still to be wanted; and a poet who should com­pose [Page 158] these fugitive pieces with feli­city, might, even in the present day, be regarded as a new ornament to English poetry.


RICHARDSON makes a pleasing comparison of national virtues, which, says he, are first like the seed, which produces the blade, then the green ear, and lastly the ripe corn. A pro­gressive state is observable in the moral, like that in the natural world, and may also be traced in the character of an individual, as well as in that of a people.

But it is not with the human head, as with the human heart. The per­fection of any virtue is obtainable, but perhaps never that of knowledge; the actions of a hero are perfect, but the works of a scholar may in time be found erroneous; Alexander is still our hero, but Aristotle has ceased to [Page 160] be our preceptor. Learning is variable and uncertain, virtue is similar and permanent; an action of benevolence, or heroism, can never change in it's nature, but a system of philosophy, or a school of taste, must be annihilated by new philosophies and new tastes.

Some speculative moderns have formed extravagant notions of that al­most unimaginable perfection, to which human knowledge is rapidly conduct­ing us. Hartley, in one of his sublime and incomprehensible imaginations, leaves it to the knowledge of the next age to trace and comprehend. Some living philosophers, who are only ad­ding the English density of thinking to the French subtilty of fancy, conjec­ture that we may so improve our or­ganisation, as to extend our duration; that the mind may attain an infinite perfectibility; and that the intellectual faculties are transmissible from the parent to the son, as sometimes are [Page 161] the features and the habits. Philoso­phical conjecture rolling with this oscillatory motion, is merely an inebri­ation of poetry.

We are, however, incessantly re­minded of the enlightened state of the public; but the testimony of authors becomes suspicious, for in persuading us that we are thus illuminated, they infer by implication that they are singu­larly so, since they give us very useful instruction. The expression was, I think, first the happy coinage of Vol­taire, made current by his numerous disciples; Voltaire adored the public and himself; and this artful expression is at once imprinted with adulation and egotism.

It is certain that in former periods the human mind shot from a radical vigour, and flourished in the richest luxuriance. Among the ancients, not­withstanding they were heathens, the fine and mechanical arts have been [Page 162] considered to have exceeded our hap­piest efforts; and as for the intellectual powers and the moral duties, though most of the compositions of these ancients have been lost, yet enough have remained to serve as models for our greatest poets; to instruct our orators in the arts of eloquence; our historians in the composition of history, and to leave nothing for our moralists, but an expansion of the observations of Seneca and Epictetus.

Had one of our modern philosophers lived in those ages, would he not, in the enthusiasm of his meditations, have expressed the flattering sentiment now so prevalent; and throwing his glance into remote futurity, have prognosti­cated a saturnian age, when every citizen should be a philosopher, and the universe one entire Rome? But it is the error of men, who, presuming to describe at so vast an interval, imagine circumstances and connexions which [Page 163] have no existence; as it is often found that lands, which appeared united when observed remotely, are in reality eternally separated by the ocean.

Among the most sanguine, and the most singular of modern philosophers, is the worthy Abbè de Saint Pierre. The honesty of his heart exceeded the rectitude of his understanding. His project of ‘"An Universal Peace,"’ by the infelicity of his style, could find no readers; a philanthropist as singu­lar, but more eloquent, the celebrated Rousseau, embellished the neglected labour, enabled us to read the per­formance, and perceive it's humane imbecillity. It was no dull conception of a Dutch trader, who having in­scribed on his sign the words ‘"Perpe­tual Peace,"’ had painted under it, a church-yard. Our good Abbè had a notion that an age was not distant, when such would be the progress of that mass of light, which was daily [Page 164] gathering, that it would influence every species of knowledge, and pe­netrate to the lowest orders of society. This future generation is to be re­markable for the force of it's reason, and the severity of it's truth. It is therefore only to permit works of uti­lity; to contemn the ornaments of eloquence, and the charms of poetry; but it may be necessary to observe, that our prophet was neither an orator, nor a poet. A literary anecdote is re­corded, which at least proves his firm persuasion of this future age; and per­haps he was one of the very few pro­phets who believed in their own pre­dictions. He was once present at the recitation of one of those works which are only valued for the graces of their composition, and the felicity of their manner. A performance of such taste would not therefore be read by the more reasonable beings of his meta­physical age. He appeared frigid and [Page 165] unmoved, while the audience was en­raptured. His opinion was asked; he smiled, and said—‘"It is a thing which is YET thought to be fine!"’

Another of these chimerical, yet grand speculators, appears to me to have been the celebrated Leibnitz, who conceived the extravagant notion of forming one nation of all Europe; for he proposed to reduce Europe un­der one temporal power, in the Em­peror, and under one spiritual, in the Pope; and to construct an universal philosophical language. This great scholar is an example of the fatal at­tachment which a superior mind may experience for a system of which it is blindly enamoured, and to which it sacrifices it's own sensations, and it's own convictions. Leibnitz was a ge­nuine philosopher, and a friend to humanity; his project of an universal language evinces this; but having once fixed on a system, he yielded up [Page 166] that dearest interest to a philosopher, the prosperity of the human mind; for what tyrant could have forged more permanent chains for intellectual free­dom, than placing man under two such powers? If this project had been possible to effect, the other of the phi­losophical language had been useless; philosophy then would not have been allowed a language.

He who thinks, will perceive in every enlightened nation, three kinds of people; an inconsiderable number instructed by reason, and glowing with humanity; a countless multitude, bar­barous and ignorant, intolerant and inhospitable; and a vacillating people with some reason and humanity, but with great prejudices, at once the half-echoes of philosophy, and the adherents of popular opinion. Can the public be denominated enlightened? Take an extensive view among the various orders of society, and observe [Page 167] how folly still wantons in the vigour of youth, and prejudice still stalks in the stubbornness of age.

To trace the human mind as it ex­ists in a people, would be the only method to detect this fallacious ex­pression. The unenlightened numbers, who are totally uninfluenced by the few, live in a foul world of their own creation. The moral arithmetician, as he looks for the sum total of the un­enlightened public, must resemble the algebraist, who riots in incalculable quantities, and who smiles at the sim­ple savage, whose arithmetic extends not further than the number of three.

In a metropolis, we contemplate the human mind in all it's inflections. If we were to judge of men by the condition of their minds, (which per­haps is the most impartial manner of judging) we should not consult the year of their birth, to date their ages; and an intellectual register might be [Page 168] drawn up, on a totally different plan from our parochial ones. A person may, according to the vulgar era, be in the maturity of life, when by our philosophical epocha he is born in the tenth century. That degree of mind which regulated the bigotry of a monk in the middle ages, may be discovered in a modern rector. An adventurous spirit in a red coat, who is almost as desirous (to use the wit of South) to receive a kiss from the mouth of a cannon, as from that of his mistress, belongs to the age of chivalry, and if he should compose verses, and be mag­nificently prodigal, he is a gay and noble troubadour. A sarcastic philo­sopher, who instructs his fellow citi­zens, and retires from their society, is a contemporary with Diogenes; and he who reforming the world, graces instruction with amenity, may be placed in the days of Plato. Our vul­gar politicians must be arranged among [Page 169] the Roundheads and Olivers, and Tom Paine himself is so very ancient as to be a contemporary of Shimei. The result of our calculations would be, that the enlightened public form an inconsiderable number.

It must however be confessed, that what knowledge has been accumu­lated by modern philosophy, cannot easily perish; the art of printing has imparted stability to our intellectual structures, in what depends on the me­chanical preservation. Human science can no more be annihilated by an Omar. A singular spectacle has, there­fore, been exhibited; and it is some­times urged by those who contemplate, with pleasing astonishment, the actual progress of the human mind, as a proof of the immutability of truth, that in the present day, every enlightened in­dividual, whether he resides at Paris, at Madrid, or at London, now thinks alike; no variation of climate, no re­moteness [Page 170] of place, not even national prejudices, more variable and more remote than either, destroy that una­nimity of opinion, which they feel on certain topics essential to human wel­fare.

This appears to be a specious argu­ment in favour of the enlightened pub­lic. But we should recollect, that this unanimity of opinion, which so frequently excites surprise, is owing to their deriving their ideas from the same sources; at Paris, at Madrid, and at London, the same authors are read, and, therefore, the same opi­nions are formed.

Thus we account for this unanimity of opinion; and we may now reason­ably enquire if unanimity of opinion al­ways indicates permanent truth? It is certain that very extravagant opinions were once universally received; it be­comes not an individual to affirm that some of our modern opinions are mar­vellously [Page 171] extravagant; we must leave them for the decision of posterity. We may, however, say to the greatest genius, look at what your equals have done, and observe how frequently they have erred. Reflect, that whenever an Aristotle, a Descartes, and a New­ton appeared, they formed a new epo­cha in the annals of human know­ledge; it is not unreasonable to add one, among your thousand conjec­tures, and say, that their future rivals may trace new connections, and col­lect new facts, which may tend to an­nihilate the systems of their predeces­sors. Is not opinion often local, and ever disguised by custom? is not what we call truth often error? and are not the passions and ideas of men of so very temporary a nature, that they scarce endure with their century? This en­lightened public may discover that their notions become obsolete, and that with new systems of knowledge, [Page 172] and new modes of existence, their books may be closed for their succes­sors, and only consulted by the curi­ous of a future generation, as we now examine Aristotle and Descartes, Aris­tophanes and Chaucer. Our learning may no more be their learning, than our fashions will be their fashions. Every thing in this world is fashion.

It may also be conjectured, that amidst the multitude of future disco­veries, the original authors of our own age, the Newtons and the Lockes, may have their conceptions become so long familiarised, as to be incorporated with the novel discoveries, as truths so incontestible, that very few shall even be acquainted with their first dis­coverers. It would therefore appear, that the justness, as well as the extra­vagance of our authors, are alike ini­mical to their future celebrity.

But this instability never attends the noble exertions of virtue. Whoever [Page 173] chuses to immortalise his name, by an action of patriotism, or of philan­thropy, will meet the certain admira­tion of posterity. To render a service to another is in the power of the meanest individual; but to aggrandise the gentle affections into sublime pas­sions, to rise from the social circle to the public weal, to extend our ordi­nary life through years of glory, is performing that which once raised men into demi-gods; but which, in the present age, would not only find little imitation, but much ridicule. Do I not use a very ridiculous ex­pression, when I desire, that ‘"the En­lightened Public"’ may be worthy of the title of ‘"the Virtuous Public?"’


IN the history of human oppression, a prominent event will be that of the employing of a vigilant centinel on the thoughts, as well as on the bodies of authors. The institution of Licensers of the Press, or Censors of Books, was the last hope of despairing bigotry; and not only, for a considerable time, retarded the acceleration of philoso­phy, but may be said to have effected a temporary annihilation; for what author has so little vanity as to write what must be refused the honours of publication?

Had not several accidental circum­stances established the freedom of the press, it might be difficult, by a retro­grade calculation, to fix on that low degree, at which, to the present mo­ment, [Page 175] popular opinion, with a somni­ferous stability, had rested. Europe had now been more barbarous than in her cloudiest ages; for the press had become an instrument, not to restrain, but to extend; not to undermine, but to prop; not to wrestle with, but to cherish those inhuman prejudices which were once dignified by the holy titles of Religion and Politics. A Locke and a Montesquieu had never existed for the world, and at this day we should have admired, like our pre­decessors, the subtilties of an Aquinas, and the doctrines of a Filmer. Our ideas had been fabricated in an inqui­sitorial forge, and though they would not have consisted of a variety of forms, they would not have wanted that heat which might have given durabi­lity.

The Inquisitors having long exa­mined and deprecated a vast multitude of publications, which the freedom of [Page 176] foreign presses allowed, and their cri­tical occupations after the revolution of Luther, becoming greater and more important at every hour, they were desirous of assisting those of their nu­merous adherents, who were fearful of employing their own eyes, and trusting to their own sensations, by preserving them in their antiquated cecity. It was now they invented the scheme of printing catalogues of pro­hibited books, which they called EX­PURGATORY INDEXES. Almost every new work augmented these volumi­nous catalogues; and, perhaps, in some respect, they invited readers to publications which might not other­wise have attracted notice. It is cu­rious to reflect on the use which the two parties made of them; for while the pious catholic crossed himself at every title, and frequently breathed an orison for the eternal damnation of the authors, the Heretics on the contrary [Page 177] would purchase no book which had not been inserted in these indexes. The Heretic had certainly a finer taste, and a more lively entertainment in reading, than the pious catholic; for the most animated and the most va­luable authors, have found their way into these indexes. Nothing then, but orthodoxical dullness, was exempt from censure. Among the cruel ab­surdities of that day, is an edict from the French King, to forbid the unfor­tunate professor Ramus the reading of his own works, and which, so very frequently, is the only real pleasure some writers receive from their la­bours.

The venerable authors of these in­dexes, long, indeed, had reason to suppose, that a submissive credulity was attached to the human character; and, therefore, they considered that the publications of their adversaries re­quired no other answer, than an in­sertion [Page 178] in their indexes. Literary con­troversy was threatened to be eternally annihilated, by this concise and com­modious mode. They multiplied edi­tions throughout Europe; but the He­retics as industriously reprinted them with ample prefaces, and useful anno­tations. In our country, Dr. James, of Oxford, republished an index, with proper animadversions. One of their portions included, a list of those He­retics whose heads were condemned as well as their works. It is curious to observe, that as these indexes were formed in different countries, the opi­nions were diametrically opposite to each other; the examiners in Italy, under the title of the Council of Trent, prohibited what those in the Nether­lands admitted; and some inquisitors, who complained of the partial conduct of these catalogues, were, in their turn, placed by the confraternity in their indexes; retaliation succeeded [Page 179] retaliation. To the present moment such indexes are formed in Spain, and at Rome, where, in these archives of the dotage of bigotry, may be read, the names of every modern philoso­pher who has written to the present hour.

When these insertions were found of no other use, than to disperse the criminal volumes, the ecclesiastical arm was employed in burning them in public places; and among several anecdotes of sending authors to the flames before their time, Monnoie dis­covered in one of these sepulchral fires, that an edition of Josephus had been burnt, not, says he, because the an­cient author was a jew, but that the translator was a jansenist. These lite­rary conflagrations served the purposes of booksellers; and the publisher of Erasmus's Colloquies intrigued for the burning of the work, on purpose to raise the sale; and he sold 24,000. [Page 180] The curiosity of man is raised by diffi­culties, and it is with the freedom of the mind, as with that herb, which the more it is trodden on, grows the more vigorously.

The fancy of the poet, and the ve­racity of the historian, were alike am­putated, by censors of books; a simile, or even an epithet, might send the im­mortal bard to the galleys, and as for the discernment and freedom to be ex­pected in an historian, whose genius was first to be closeted with such an examiner, we may form an idea, by quoting the usual expression in the pri­vileges. In Nani's History of Venice, it is allowed to be printed, because it contained nothing against princes. This mode of approbation shews either that princes were immaculate, or historians were ignorant or false. A book in Spain passes through six courts before it can be published; and in Portugal, it is said, through seven. A book in [Page 181] those countries is supposed to recom­mend itself to the reader, by the in­formation that it is published with all the necessary privileges. The works of Locke and Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau, &c. are at the present moment prohibited throughout Italy, and, I believe, in every catholic coun­try; the favourite authors of Europe, must be obtained by secrecy, and read in concealment.

Our literary history has been so little perpetuated, either by tradition, or by record, that there are few individual topics which can be pursued through a concatenation of events. We glean facts in the scattered notices of foreign literature; but when we come to our own country, we find that a taste for this pleasing species of erudition, has never been much cultivated, though there have been periods which must have afforded ample materials. John­son, who loved as much as the great [Page 182] Leibnitz, the events of literature, has commenced his lives of the poets, with a complaint of ‘"the penury of English biography."’ Our authors have groaned under the leaden arm of Li­censers of the Press, and no doubt many interesting facts have perished, which would have instructed the pre­sent generation. I shall ever preserve, with a religious care, one durable mark of that tyranny which once fixed it's talons on the English press. The Poems of Lord Brooke, if they cannot delight, accidentally instruct posterity in the value of freedom of thinking. In this book one is surprised at finding twenty of it's first pages deficient. Mr. Malone, by an entry in the MSS. of the Master of the Revels, has disco­vered that these pages contained a poem on religion, which was can­celled by the order of Archbishop Laud, who probably considered that re­ligion [Page 183] ligion could not be secure in the hands of any one but an Archbishop.

The ignorance and stupidity of these censors, became as remarkable as their exterminating spirit. The noble simile of Milton, of Satan with the rising-sun, in the first book of the Paradise Lost, we happen to know, had almost oc­casioned the suppression of that immor­tal epic. It was supposed to contain treason. The French have retained many curious facts of the singular in­eptitude of these censors. Malle­branche said, that he could never ob­tain an approbation for his Research after Truth, because it was unintelli­gible to his censors; and at length Me­zeray, the historian, approved of it as a book of geometry. Latterly in France, it is said, that the greatest geniuses were obliged to submit their works to the critical understanding of persons who had formerly been low dependants on some man of quality, [Page 184] and who appear to have brought the same servility of mind to the examina­tion of works of genius. There is something, which, on the principles of incongruity and contrast, becomes exquisitely ludicrous, in observing the works of such writers as Voltaire, d'Alembert, Marmontel, and Raynal, allowed to be printed, and even com­mended, by certain persons, who had never printed any thing themselves but their names. One of these gentlemen suppressed a work because it contained principles of government, which ap­peared to him not conformable to the laws of Moses. Another said to a ge­ometrician, ‘"I cannot permit the pub­lication of your book; you dare to say, that between two given points, the shortest line is the straight line. Do you think me such an idiot as not to perceive your allusion? If your work appeared, I should make enemies of all those who find, by crooked ways, [Page 185] an easier admittance into court, than by a straight line. Consider their number!"’—I cannot vouch for the above anecdote; but I have heard, that one of these censors erased from a comedy of Beaumarchais, the asse­veration ma foi, and instituted in it's place, morbleu; because, observed the profound critic, religion is less of­fended by this word than by the other. These appear trifling minutiae; and yet, like a hair in a watch, that ut­terly destroys it's progress, these little ineptiae obliged writers to have re­course to foreign presses; compelled a Montesquieu to write with a concealed ambiguity of phrase, and Helvetius to sign a retractation of his principles, which, adjoined to his celebrated work, L'Esprit, is at once an evidence which marks not less dishonour on timid phi­losophy, than on arrogant bigotry.

With the revolution, ceased, in England, the licences for the press; [Page 186] but it's liberty did not commence till 1694, when every restraint was taken off, by the firm and decisive tone of the Commons. It was granted, says our philosophic Hume, ‘"to the great displeasure of the King and his Minis­ters, who, seeing no where, in any go­vernment during present or past ages, any example of such unlimited free­dom, doubted much of it's salutary ef­fects, and probably thought, that no books or writings would ever so much improve the general understanding of men, as to render it safe to entrust them with an indulgence so easily abused."’

And the present moment verifies the prescient conjecture of the philoso­pher. Such, indeed, is the existing li­centiousness of our press, that some, not perhaps the most hostile to the cause of freedom, would not be averse to manacle authors once more with an IMPRIMATUR. It may be honestly [Page 187] urged, that the worst abuse of the press, is more tolerable than would be such a violation of national liberty; but this is certain, that it is not any more in the power of a despotic Mi­nister to annihilate this freedom; be­cause if the great instructors of man­kind could find no other redress against the capricious tyranny of an Imprima­tur, they would fly to foreign presses, and it would then happen, that Eng­land, which first diffused a spirit of true freedom in Europe, would be necessi­tated to receive it from those very na­tions on whom she had bestowed it. The profound Hume has declared, that ‘"THE LIBERTY OF BRITAIN IS GONE FOR EVER when such attempts shall succeed."’ But I venture to as­sert, that this Liberty may become a beloved exile, but never an abdicated monarch; banish her from Britain, but while there exists an open press in America, and even among our cruel [Page 188] rivals the French, she will be reve­renced at a distance, and will, at some future day, be received again on her natal shores, as our natural sovereign.

A virtuous monarch, like a virtuous author, will consider the freedom of the press as the organ of his people's felicity; for by that organ alone can the voice of truth resound to his throne. He will respect the language of the philosopher; and he will leave calum­niators to the fate of all calumny; a fate similar to those, who having over­charged their arms, with the fellest intentions, find, that the death they intended for others, only in bursting, annihilates themselves.


SINCE writing is justly denominated an art, I think that reading claims the same distinction. To adorn ideas with elegance, is an act of the mind, supe­rior to that of receiving them, and is the province of genius; but to receive them with a happy discrimination, is a task not less useful, and can only be the effect of a just taste.

Yet it will be found that a just taste is not sufficient to obtain the proper end of reading. Two persons of equal taste rise from the perusal of the same book with very different notions; the one will not only have the ideas of the author at command, and strongly im­bibe his manner, but will have en­riched his own mind by a new acces­sion of matter, and find a new train [Page 190] of sentiment awakened and in action. The other quits his author in a plea­sing distraction, but of the pleasures of reading, nothing remains but a tu­multuous sensation. He has only de­lighted himself with the brilliant co­louring, and the mingled shadows of a variety of objects, while the other re­ceives the impression not only of the colours and the shades, but the dis­tinct grace, and the accurate forms of the objects.

To account for these different effects, we must have recourse to a logical dis­tinction, which appears to reveal one of the great mysteries in the art of reading. Logicians distinguish be­tween perceptions and ideas. Percep­tion is that faculty of the mind which notices the simple impression of ob­jects; but when these objects exist in the mind, and are there treasured and arranged as materials for reflection, then they are called ideas. A percep­tion [Page 191] is like a transient sun-beam, which just shews the object, but leaves nei­ther light nor warmth; while an idea is like the fervid beam of noon, which throws a settled and powerful light.

Many ingenious readers complain that their memory is defective, and their studies unfruitful. This defect, however, arises from their indulging the facile pleasures of perceptions, to the laborious habit of forming them into ideas. We must not deceive our­selves. Perceptions require only the sensibility of taste, and their pleasures are continuous, easy, and exquisite. Ideas not only require the same power of taste, but an art of combination, and an exertion of the reasoning pow­ers, which form no mean operation of the mind. Ideas are therefore la­bours; and for those who will not un­dergo the fatigue of labour, it is unjust to complain, if they come from the har­vest with scarce a sheaf in their hands.

[Page 192] The numerous class of readers of taste, who only prefer a book to the odd trick at whist, have, therefore, no reason to murmur, if that which is only taken up as an amusement, should terminate like all amusements, in tem­porary pleasure. To be wiser and bet­ter, is rarely the intention of the gay and the frivolous; the complaints of the gay and the frivolous, are nothing but a new manner of displaying gaiety and frivolity; they are lamentations full of mirth.

There are secrets in the art of read­ing, which tend to facilitate its pur­poses, by assisting the memory, and augmenting intellectual opulence. Some, our own ingenuity must form, and perhaps every student, has an ar­tificial manner of recollection, and a peculiar arrangement; as, in short hand, almost every writer has a system of his own. There are, however, some regulations which appear of general [Page 193] utility, and the few, my own observa­tions have produced, I shall venture to communicate.

It is an observation of the elder Pliny, (who, having been a volumi­nous compiler, must have had great experience in the art of reading) that there was no book so bad, but which contained something good. It is ne­cessary, however, to observe, that just and obvious as this reading axiom may appear, it requires a commentary to be understood. To read every book would be fatal to the interest of most readers; they who only seek in study for mere pleasure, would be continu­ally disappointed; for the observation is only adapted to that phlegmatic perseverance which seems to find plea­sure in mere study. He who only seeks for information, must be con­tented to pick it up in obscure paths, to mount rugged rocks for a few flow­ers, and to pass many days bewildered [Page 194] in dark forests, and wild deserts. The reader of erudition may therefore read every book. But he who only desires to gratify a more delicate sensation, who would only fill his heart with de­licious sentiment, and his fancy with bright imagery, in a word, the reader of taste must be contented to range in more contracted limits, and to restrict himself to the paths of cultured plea­sure grounds. Without this distinc­tion in reading, study becomes a la­bour painful and interminable; and hence readers of taste complain that there is no term to reading, and read­ers of erudition that books contain no­thing but phrases. When the former confine themselves to works of taste, their complaints cease, and when the latter keep to books of facts, they fix on the proper aliment for their insati­able curiosity.

Nor is it always necessary, in the pursuits of learning, to read every [Page 195] book entire. Perhaps this task has now become an impossibility, notwith­standing those ostentatious erudits, who, by their infinite and exact quo­tations, appear to have read and di­gested every thing; readers, artless and honest, have conceived from such writers, an illusive idea of the power and extensiveness of the human facul­ties. Of many books it is sufficient to seise the plan, and to examine some of it's portions. The quackery of the learned, has been often exposed; and the art of quoting fifty books in a morning, is a task neither difficult nor tedious. There is a little supplement placed at the close of every volume, of which few readers conceive the utility; but some of the most eminent writers in Europe, have been great adepts in the art of index-reading. An index-reader is, indeed, more let into the se­crets of an author, than the other who attends him with all the tedious forms [Page 196] of ceremony; as those Courtiers who pay their public devoirs at court, are less familiar with the Minister, than the few who merely enter the cham­ber of audience, and who generally steal up the back stairs, and hold their secret consultations with the Minister himself. I, for my part, venerate the inventor of indexes; and I know not to whom to yield the preference, either to Hippocrates, who was the first great anatomiser of the human body, or to that unknown labourer in literature, who first laid open the nerves and ar­teries of a book.

It may be unnecessary also, to read all the works of an author, but only to attach ourselves to those which have received the approbation of posterity. By this scheme we become acquainted with the finest compositions in half the time those employ, who, attempting to read every thing, are often little ac­quainted with, and even ignorant of [Page 197] the most interesting performances. Thus of Machiavel, it may be suffici­ent to read his Prince and his History of Florence; of Milton nearly all his Poetry, little of his Prose, and nothing of his History; of Fielding's twelve volumes, six may be sufficient; and of Voltaire's ninety, perhaps thirty may satisfy. Of Lord Chesterfield's Let­ters, the third volume is the essential one, and concentrates the whole sys­tem. A reader is too often a prisoner attached to the triumphal car of an author of great celebrity, and when he ventures not to judge for himself, conceives, while he is reading the in­different works of great authors, that the languor which he experiences, arises from his own defective taste. But the best writers, when they are voluminous, have a great deal of me­diocrity; for whenever an author at­tains to a facility in composition, the success of his preceding labours, not [Page 198] only stimulate him to new perfor­mances, but prejudice the public in their favour; and it is often no short period before the public, or the au­thor, are sensible of the mediocrity of the performances.

On the other side, readers must not imagine that all the pleasures of com­position depend on the author; for there is something which a reader him­self must bring to the book, that the book may please. There is a literary appetite which the author can no more impart, than the most skilful cook can give an appetency to the guests. When Cardinal Richelieu said to Go­deau, that he did not understand his verses, the honest poet replied, that it was not his fault. It would indeed be very unreasonable, when a painter exhibits his pictures in public, to ex­pect that he should provide spectacles for the use of the short-sighted. Every man must come prepared as well as he [Page 199] can. Simonides confessed himself in­capable of deceiving stupid persons; and Balzac remarked of the girls of his village, that they were too silly to be deceived by a man of wit. Dullness is impenetrable; and there are hours when the liveliest taste loses it's sensi­bility. The temporary tone of the mind may be unfavourable to taste a work properly, and we have had many erroneous criticisms from great men, which may often be attributed to this circumstance. The mind communi­cates it's infirm dispositions to the book, and an author has not only his own defects to account for, but also those of his reader. There is some­thing in composition, like the game of shuttlecock, where, if the reader does not quickly rebound the feathered cork, to the author, the game is de­stroyed, and the whole spirit of the work falls extinct.

[Page 200] A frequent impediment in reading, is a disinclination in the mind, to settle on the subject; agitated by incongru­ous and dissimilar ideas, it is with pain that we admit those of the author. But it is certain, that if we once apply ourselves, with a gentle violence, to the perusal of an interesting work, the mind soon assimilates the subject; the disinclination is no more, and like Homer's chariot wheels, we kindle as we roll. The ancient Rabbins, who passed their days in their madrasses or schools, and who certainly were great readers of their most voluminous Tal­mud, advised their young students to apply themselves to their readings, whether they felt an inclination or not, because, as they proceeded, they would find their disposition restored, and their curiosity awakened. Philo­sophy can easily account for this fact; it is so certain, and acts with such power, that even indifferent works are [Page 201] frequently finished, merely to gratify that curiosity which it's early pages have communicated. The ravenous appetite of Johnson for reading, is ex­pressed in a strong metaphor, by Mrs. Knowles, who said, ‘"he knows how to read better than any one; he gets at the substance of a book directly; he tears out the heart of it."’

We should hesitate to pronounce on a work of some merit, on the first pe­rusal, for that is rarely attended by a proper relish. It is with reading as with wine; for connoisseurs have ob­served, that the first glass is insufficient to decide on it's quality; it is necessary to imbue the palate, to give it that raciness of relish, which communicates every latent quality, and enables us to judge as keenly as the two uncles of Sancho.

There are some mechanical aids in reading, which may prove of great utility, and form a kind of rejuvenes­cene [Page 202] of our early studies. Montaigne placed at the end of those books which he intended not to reperuse, the time he had read it, with a concise decision on it's merits; that, says he, it may thus represent to me, the air and ge­neral idea I had conceived of the au­thor, in reading the work. He has obliged his admirers with giving seve­ral of these annotations. Of Young the poet, it is noticed, that whenever he came to a striking passage, he folded the leaf; and that at his death, books have been found in his library, which had long resisted the power of closing. A mode more easy than useful; for after a length of time, they must be again read to know why they were folded. This difficulty is obviated by those, who note in a blank leaf, the pages to be referred to, with a word of criticism. Nor let us consider these minute directions as unworthy the most enlarged minds; by these petty [Page 203] exertions at the most distant periods, may learning obtain it's authorities, and fancy combine it's ideas. Seneca, in sending some volumes to his friend Lucillius, accompanies them with notes of particular passages that, he observes, you who only aim at the useful, may be spared the trouble of examining them entire. I have seen books noted by Voltaire with a word of censure or approbation on the page itself, which was his usual practice; and these volumes are precious to every man of taste. Somebody com­plained that the books he lent Voltaire were returned always disfigured by his remarks; but he was a true German writer of the old class.

A professional student should divide his readings into an uniform reading which is useful, and into a diversified reading which is pleasant. Guy Patin, an eminent physician and man of let­ters, had a just notion of this manner; [Page 204] and I shall quote his words. He says, ‘"I daily read Hippocrates, Galen, Fernel, and other illustrious masters of my profession; this I call my profitable readings. I frequently read Ovid, Ju­venal, Horace, Seneca, Tacitus, and others, and these are my recreations."’ We must observe these distinctions, for it frequently happens that a lawyer or a physician, with great industry and love of study, by giving too much into his diversified readings, may utterly neglect what should be his uniform studies.

An author is often cruelly morti­fied to find his work reposing on a harpsichord or a table, with it's virgin pages. Among the mortifications of the elegant Mickle, was this, that the lord to whom he had dedicated his version of the Lusiad, had long the epic in his possession, in the state he had received it. How often also are authors mortified to perceive, that generally the first volume of their [Page 205] work is ever fouler than it's brother! It is, therefore, an advantage to com­pose in single volumes; for then they flatter themselves, a second would be acceptable; but most books are more read for curiosity, than for pleasure; and are often looked into, but rarely resumed. Authors are vain, but read­ers are capricious.

Readers may be classed into an infi­nite number of divisions; but an au­thor is a solitary being, who, for the same reason he pleases one, must con­sequently displease another. To have too exalted a genius, is more prejudi­cial for his celebrity, than to have a moderate one; for we shall find that the most popular works, are not of the highest value, but of the greatest use­fulness. I could mention some es­teemed writers, whose works have at­tained to a great number of editions, but whose minds were never yet in­flamed by an accidental fervour of ori­ginal [Page 206] genius. They instruct those who require instruction, and they please those, who are yet sufficiently ignorant to discover a novelty in their strictures; in a word they form taste, rather than impart genius. A Carlo Marat, is a Raphael to those who have not studied a Raphael. They may apply to them­selves the same observation Lucilius, the satirist, has made, that he did not write for Persius, for Scipio, and for Rutilius, persons eminent for their sci­ence, but for the Tarentines, the Con­sentines, and the Sicilians. Montaigne has complained that he found his read­ers too learned, or too ignorant, and that he could only please a middle class, who have just learning enough to comprehend him. Congreve says, ‘"there is in true beauty, something which vulgar souls cannot admire."’ And, we may add, there is something in exquisite composition, which ordi­nary readers can never understand.

[Page 207] Some will only read old books, as if there were no valuable truths to be discovered in modern publications, while others will only read new books, as if some valuable truths are not among the old. Some will not read a book, because they are acquainted with the author; by which the reader may be more injured than the author; others not only read the book, but would also read the man; by which the most ingenious author may be in­jured by the most impertinent reader.


ONE of the grand distinctions of poetry consists in a peculiarity of phrase, and novelty of expression; for no mechanical arrangements, not even sentiment or imagery, (for prose can retain all these qualities) can form the essential distinction between verse and and prose. The genuine diction of poetry is totally distinct from prosaic composition, and the charm arises from it's being removed from familiar lan­guage. From this established and ac­knowledged principle may be deduced the following facts.

Hence may be accounted the ex­treme delight found in the ancient classics, which, with some, has arisen to such an extravagance. A judicious critic will allow, that a passage in [Page 209] Pope, may rival one in Virgil; and it might happen, that the modern ex­celled the ancient parallel. But the pleasure may not be equal in the mo­dern as in the ancient; nor is this the mere effect of an artificial sensation ac­quired at the university, but on the contrary it is a natural emotion. The ancient enjoys the peculiar felicity of employing a diction, which to us must be immaculate; a magnificence of sound, and a novelty of combination, raise it to their language of the gods; we are offended by no feebleness of terms, and no familiarity of expression. And if the fancy of the Latin should fall, a turn of diction, which might have been but common, and in the pos­session of the most ordinary versifier in the days of Virgil, will support it; and it is thus that ideas which would excite no attention in a modern, may charm in an ancient. Hence too, modern poets, who write English verse, with­out [Page 210] genius or taste, have often com­posed in Latin with some powers. We no doubt discover a hundred beau­ties in Horace and Virgil, which could not have been such to their contempo­raries, because the language was not sufficiently remote from them. I shall give two very poetical expressions in Virgil, which I now recollect, and he has many similar ones. These felici­tous expressions, full of the true spirit of poetry, were probably no novelties when he wrote them. The poet says, ‘"Dum trepidant ALAE"’ and ‘"SONI­PES,"’ where, in the first, wings are un­derstood for birds, and in the second, sounding-feet for horses. The effect for the cause. An English poet, to de­scribe birds, has no novelty of term; three or four expressions offend by their frequent recurrence; and the mean sound of the noun itself diminishes the beauty of many a fine poetical passage, by making it wear a prosaic appear­ance. [Page 211] Our modern poets have not in­vented a poetical term for one of their most favourite objects. Dryden in versifying the celebrated simile of Vir­girl's Nightingale, has happily called the young, ‘"the unfeathered inno­cence."’

Virgil has also, in his Georgics, an expression so truely inimitable, that our language appears not to afford a correspondent delicacy, and exact tint of phrase. When the poet describes Eurydice, at the moment before she is wounded by the snake concealed in the grass, as if animated by a prescient fervour, he exclaims—‘"moritura puella"’ The reader of taste feels an emotion of surprise and curiosity. Translate this happy word literally into prose, and the grace must be as fugitive as Eury­dice herself, ‘"the maid about to die."’ The charm arises, if I may so express myself, from the concise amplitude of idea, the single word conveys. All [Page 212] our translators have failed in catching the evanescent beauty.

"The dying bride."

"She doomed to death."

"The fated maid."

In none of these is a similar emotion raised in the mind of the reader, which he receives from the "Moritura." Dryden's, indeed, is singularly excep­tionable, and Warton's the happiest; yet ‘"fated"’ is a general idea, and loses that delicate shade of appropria­tion, of the ‘"about to die."’

In an inferior degree, we may ex­tend our principle to modern lan­guages; for, to me, it has often ap­peared, that a passage from Tasso, has given to an English reader, a pleasure which a native cannot experience; the pleasure arising from a language whose graces have not become fami­liar by ordinary recurrence.

[Page 213] I conceive that the effect of the same principle may be traced in our own earlier writers. One of their peculiar charms is their ancient style; and cer­tain phrases, which are generally un­derstood, delight, like a painting which is just embrowned and mellowed by the hand of time. If we contrast a fine passage in Shakespeare, with a rival one in a modern poet, allowing them an equal force, we should not hesitate to give the preference to the elder bard. The lively pleasure with which some men of taste read Chaucer, may be ascribed to their sensibility of a language, which displays many graces, invested with that novelty of poetical expression, which would cease to strike were they familiar.

Hence we may deduce a curious fact; that one of the most difficult branches in modern poetry, or in the poetical art, in all ages of refinement, is, the formation of a new style, or [Page 214] poetical diction. This demands not only a superior genius, but a suspicion may arise that our language in this re­spect is nearly exhausted. And this will appear, if we examine the finest compositions published within the last thirty years; where one eminent de­fect will often be prevalent; that the general cast of the language has little variations; expressions are interwoven, which the poet nicely picked out of the performances of his predecessors, to embroider his own; and though, sometimes, a new combination of ideas, or a felicity of subject, render a poem interesting, yet the poetical treasury of diction receives but few accessions.

That this has been an effect felt by poets, who are not apt to investigate causes, appears by the following ob­servations and facts.

Milton, whose notions of poetry were of the most exalted nature, when he proposed composing an epic, per­ceived [Page 215] the necessity of constructing a new diction, or as himself expresses it,

"To build the lofty rime."

In his smaller productions he was sa­tisfied to employ the language of his contemporaries, because in a short composition he might form new com­binations of style, without pursuing any particular system. What, there­fore, has this great poet attempted? An introduction of all the happiest idioms of every language with which his extensive learning was acquainted. Hebraisms and Grecisms, Latinisms and Italianisms, poured themselves to his copious mind; and what Johnson has termed ‘"the pedantry of his style,"’ true taste will, perhaps, acknowledge as an attempt to seise on those felici­tous expressions which more nicely re­veal our sensations, bring the object closer to the eye of imagination, and which light and shade nature in her variety of hues. Dryden adorned his [Page 216] language also by many Latinisms; and Pope is acknowledged to have formed a diction, which in his day had all the attractions of novelty. Of all our poets, Gray had the liveliest sensibility for this beauty, which he has expressed by ‘"words that burn."’ It has ever appeared singular, that a poet of his ability has studied so much, and pro­duced so little. It is not improbable that he could not satisfy his own deli­cacy of taste, in the creation of a new poetical diction; and this, I think, ap­pears by those few exquisite perfor­mances he has left, which, like mosaic pavements, are richly inlaid, and most vividly painted, but are not the virgin veins of native marble from the quarry. Scarce an expression in the poetry of Gray but appears to have been imi­tated or borrowed from his predeces­sors. What he has given evinces his aim; and we may conclude that it is one of the grand characteristics of mo­dern [Page 217] poetry, and one of the greatest obstacles in that pleasing art.

Another observation may confirm this principle. Whenever, in the pro­gress of refinement, the poetical lan­guage becomes thus difficult, it is ob­servable that true genius, often weary with imitatively echoing the establish­ed diction, at once falls back into the manner of the earlier poets. Some ex­pressions of our elder writers have a marvellous effect in modern verse, when the writer appears to give them not with verbal affectation, but spon­taneous felicity. It has been thus in France, where the poet Rousseau has in many of his compositions essayed to seize on the naiveté of Marot, by co­pying his style, but his strained affec­tation produces a disagreeable effect. Churchill rejected an artificial diction, and too often versifies like Oldham; for an editor of this poet's works has contrasted passages from the modern [Page 218] satirist, which equal the discordance of Oldham's verse. When Churchill introduces a poetical expression from our elder poets, it has often a very pleasing effect. Mr. Cooper, and his imitators, can only be considered as having assumed the diction and the manner of our old poets; a critical feeling perceives, in their blank verse, the tones of Shakespeare. The style of a living poet in his satires, is the precise manner of some of our old poets; and in his delicate minor poems, where a poetical diction was unavoid­able, we discover few novel combina­tions of expression; their excellence consisting in the simplicity and tender­ness of the ideas.

It has been considered as a poetical beauty to aggrandise the minute by the pomp of expression. When objects, or circumstances, by their exility or meanness, would occasion no agree­able sensation, some have thought it [Page 219] an evidence of higher art, to dignify them by the grandeur of the style; in a word, as I heard a man of genius say of a painter, ‘"he knew to give dig­nity to a dunghill."’ But this has often been carried to excess, by a fastidious refinement. Boileau has been ap­plauded (because he first applauded himself, which is a certain way of se­curing the approbation of many) for having raised into poetical language, the simple idea of his wearing a wig at the age of fifty eight. The lines are thus,

"Mais adjourdhui, qu'enfin la viellesse est venue,
Sous mes faux cheveux blonds deja toute ohenue,
A jetté sur ma tête, avec ses doigts pesans,
Onze lustres complets, surchargés de trois ans."

To me there appears a puerility in these celebrated lines, notwithstanding the age of the venerable satirist; the description is exact, and the expres­sion beautiful; but the poet debases his art, for when the reader recollects [Page 220] the wig, must he not smile at this mock sublime? A pompous inanity which Velleius Paterculus employs, relative to a petty precaution made use of by Cesar, is a remarkable instance of difficulty of expression. When this great man was taken by the pirates, he lived among them like their con­queror, rather than their prisoner. The historian then proceeds in these words. ‘"Neque unquam aut nocte, aut die (cur enim quod vel maximum est, si narrari verbus speciosis non potest, omitta­tur?) aut excalcearetur, aut discingeretur."’ Which may be thus translated—Nor even by night, nor by day, (for should I silently omit a circumstance because not expressible in splendid terms) he quitted—his gown and slippers—Is not the affectation of the writer sensible? But this quotation may serve to inforce the subject of this essay; for to me it appears that the sonorous Latin terms of excalcearetur and discingeretur take [Page 221] much from the familiarity of the ex­pression. This tumid passage must have been more shocking to a man of taste, in the days of Paterculus, than it is now.

To prosaic composition we may also extend our principle. Purity of lan­guage is not a characteristic of style, in an age of refinement. The great writers will solicitously domiciliate the most elegant foreign idioms, and hence the latinisms of Johnson, and the gal­licisms of Gibbon. The more exqui­site our taste, the more desirous we are of expressing it's exquisiteness; no writer complains of paucity of expres­sion in the first progress of taste; for it is long before we are aware of the dif­ficulty of giving the delicacies of con­ception, and communicating the pre­cise quantity of our feelings. A re­fined writer is willing to lose some­thing of idiomatic language, to gain something of expressive language. [Page 222] Some of our finest idioms become com­mon; and a writer then attempts to give an equivalent in sense, that may not offend by it's commonness; and this attempt, perhaps, may rise into affectation. The more polished a lan­guage becomes, certain significant ex­pressions become obsolete; and this has been a complaint of some writers who were more solicitous of forcible, than of elegant expression. We are not to be cenfured too severely for an occasional adoption of a foreign turn of phrase; but I am sensible, how this permission may degenerate into licen­tiousness, with unskilful writers. Bo­lingbroke, and writers about his time, abound with pure French words.

From these observations on POETI­CAL EXPRESSION, we may deduce that we are at present very deficient in it's diction, and that we may reason­ably suspect it is an unsurmountable difficulty. It is a misfortune attending [Page 223] the progress of art; and if it is true, that we have attained to perfection, in the poetical art, the charms of a ju­dicious novelty in diction is almost a hopeless labour. It is our opulence that produces this poverty; for we may say with the ancient Romans, alluding to their numerous conquests, ‘"we perish, because of our abundance."’


TWO things in human life are at continual variance; and if we cannot escape from the one, we must be sepa­rated from the other; ennui and plea­sure. Ennui is an afflicting sensation, if we may thus express it, from a want of sensation; and pleasure, is more pleasure, according to the quantity of sensation. Let us invent a scheme, by which at once we repel ennui, and acquire and augment pleasure. Sen­sation is received according to the ca­pability of our organs; our organs may be almost incredibly improved by practice;* intense devotion to an ob­ject, [Page 239] must therefore present means of deriving more numerous and keener pleasures from that object.

Hence the poet, long employed on a poem, has received a quantity of pleasure, which no reader can ever feel; and hence one reader receives a quantity of pleasure, unfelt by ano­ther. In the progress of any particular pursuit, there are a hundred delicious sensations, which are too intellectual, to be embodied into language. Every artist knows what uncommon combi­nations his meditations produce; and though some too imperfect, or too sub­tile, resist his powers of displaying to the world, yet between the thought that first gave rise to his design, and each one which appears in it, there are innumerable intermediate evanes­cencies of sensation (so to express my­self) which no man felt but himself. These are pleasures, which are in number, according to the intenseness [Page 240] of his faculties, and the quantity of his labour.

Although the above remark alludes to works of art, I would not confine it to these pursuits only; for any parti­cular pursuit, from the manufacturing of pins, to the construction of philoso­phical systems, appears susceptible of similar pleasures. We shall see, that every individual can exert that quan­tity of mind necessary to his wants, and adapted to his situation; and that the quality of pleasure is nothing in the present question. For I think that we are mistaken concerning the grada­tions of human felicity. It does at first appear, that an astronomer rapt in ab­straction, while he gazes on a star, must feel a more exquisite delight, than a farmer who is conducting his team; or a poet must experience a higher gratification in modulating verses, than a trader in arranging sums. To this we may reply, that the happi­ness [Page 241] of the ploughman and the trader, may be as satisfactory as that of the astronomer and the poet. Our mind can only be conversant with those sen­sations which surround us, and posses­sing the skill of managing them, we can form an artificial felicity; it is cer­tain, that what the soul does not feel, no more affects it, than what the eye does not see. It is thus that the mean trader, habituated to low pursuits, can never be unhappy, because he is not the general of an army; for this idea of felicity he has never received. The philosopher who gives his entire years to the elevated purfuits of mind, is never unhappy, because he is not in possession of an Indian opulence, for the idea of accumulating this exotic splendour has never entered the range of his desires. Nature, an impartial mother, renders felicity as perfect in the school-boy who scourges his top, as in the astronomer who regulates his [Page 242] star. The thing contained can only be equal to the container; a full glass, is as full, as a full bottle; and a hu­man soul may be as much satisfied, in the lowest of human beings, as in the highest.

In this devotion to a particular ob­ject, what philosophers call the ASSO­CIATING IDEA, exists in all it's acti­vity and energy; and it may be ren­dered productive of the sensations we desire; for, when attached to one par­ticular pursuit, this idea will generally point and conduct our thoughts to it. The associating power is a sovereign seated on his throne, while all our other ideas bend towards it, and obey it's mandates. Hence the following persons experience their completest happiness. A student in the midst of his books; an artist among his pro­ductions; a farmer amidst his lands; a merchant in his trade; a horseman in his menagerie; a captain in his ship, [Page 243] &c. These are all persons who re­spectively enjoy more real felicity at those hours, than in any other portion of their lives.

Many peculiar advantages attend the cultivation of one master passion, or occupation. In superior minds it is a sovereign that exiles others, and in inferior minds it enfeebles perni­cious propensities. It may render us useful to our fellow citizens, and what is of great consequence, it imparts the most perfect independance to the indi­vidual. The more also, the sovereign passion is composed of intellectual gra­tifications, the more exalted and per­fect is it's independence. It is justly observed, by a great mathematician, that a geometrician might not be un­happy in a desert.

We might therefore recommend the same unity in life, which gives such a value when found in a picture or a poem. This unity of design, with a [Page 244] centripetal force, draws all the rays of our existence, and the more forcibly it draws, the more perfect is human fe­licity. But, if regardless of this, we yield ourselves to the distracting vari­ety of opposite pursuits with an equal passion, our soul is placed amidst a continual shock of ideas, and happi­ness is lost by mistakes. How often when accident has turned the mind firmly to one object, has it been disco­vered that it's occupation is another name for happiness; for this occupa­tion is a means of escaping from in­congruous sensations. It secures us from the dreadful and dark vacuity of soul, as well as from the terrible whirl­wind of ideas; reason itself is a pas­sion, but a passion full of serenity.

It is observable of those, who have devoted themselves to an individual object, that it's importance is incredi­bly enlarged to their sensations. In­tense attention magnifies like a micro­scope; [Page 245] but, it is possible to apologize for their apparent extravagance from the consideration, that they really ob­serve excellencies not perceived by others of inferior application. I con­fess, this passion has been carried to a curious violence of affection; literary history affords numerous instances. I shall just observe, that in reading Dr. Burney's Musical Travels, it would seem that music was the prime object of human life; that Richardson the painter, in his Treatise on his beloved Art, closes all, by affirming that ‘"Ra­phael is not only equal, but superior to a Virgil, or a Livy, or a Thucydides, or a Homer!"’ And he proceeds by ac­quainting the world, how painting can reform our manners, increase our opu­lence, honour and power.* Denina, [Page 246] in his Revolutions of Literature, tells us, that to excel in historical composi­tion, requires more ability than is ex­ercised by the excelling masters of any other art; because it requires not only the same erudition, genius, imagina­tion, taste, &c. necessary for a poet, a painter, or a philosopher, but the histo­rian must also have some peculiar qua­lifications.* I think it was after this publication, he became an historian. Helvetius, an enthusiast in the fine arts, and polite literature, has composed a Poem on Happiness; and imagines, that it consists in an exclusive love of the cultivation of letters and the arts. All this, perhaps, may shew that the more intensely we attach ourselves to an individual object, our sensations are [Page 247] more numerous, and more fervidly alive, than those, who break the force of their feelings, in attempting to strike on a variety of objects; and if this is true, we may conclude that it is one great source of human happiness.


WHEN the philosophy of an age is rude, whatever excellence is pro­duced, is immediately ascribed to an occult power; when men, after a lapse of ages, become minuter enquirers, and calmer reasoners, it is discovered how much Art has entered into every great composition; and at length, among artists themselves, it becomes a dubious point, whether art is not suffi­cient to produce similar effects to genius; or in other words, whether certain combinations of art, form not genius itself.

We still have a few writers who exult in some mystical power in their faculties; who hint at the solicitude of nature at their birth, and to employ the language of Milton, derived from [Page 249] the superstitious credulity of his age, who dissert with fluency, on

"The Stellar Virtue,"

which Boileau has made the first posi­tion in the art of poetry. Frail fe­males formerly denounced their stars as the cause of their incontinence; and we have idlers who apologise for their defects from no lower an influ­ence; a resolute love of virtue would have preserved the female chaste, and a resolute love of labour would have rendered the idler active.

While some have rejected this oc­cult influence of the stars, others enjoy equal extravagancies; genius has been regulated by the degree of longitude and latitude; it has been derived from the subtilty of the blood, and even from the refinements of cookery; others suppose that a writer of imagi­nation is incapable of learned research, and that for every particular study a peculiar construction of the intellec­tual [Page 250] powers becomes necessary; that the solidity of judgment impedes the vigour of fancy, and that the poet can­not investigate nature with the eye of philosophic science.*

[Page 251] With chilling fancies like these, have the minds of the most adventu­rous geniuses been rendered pusillani mous; and grand designs, conceived with ardent felicity, have suddenly ex­pired, because their affrighted parents refused to foster them with the vitality of industry. In an accomplished ge­nius, Horace, one of the most philo­sophical poets, allows that art must be united with nature; but we probably attach different ideas to this power of nature, than the philosophy of the age of Horace allowed him to acquire. Since his time, and even in the present day, some regard genius as nothing short of inspiration, and employ, in the sober disquisitions of philosophy, the fanciful expressions of poetry. We are told, that to attain to a superiority [Page 252] in any art, we must be born with a cer­tain susceptibility, or aptitude; we must be born a poet, or a painter; or as one painter complimented another, by say­ing, that he was a painter in his mo­ther's womb. Such are the mystic re­veries still indulged by the artist, who is interested in exciting the wonder of the ignorant; but such mysticism is not less injurious to art, than visionary fanaticism to religion.

Dryden traces the whole history of genius in a couplet,

"What in nature's dawn the child admired,
The youth endeavoured and the man ACQUIRED."

Yet is it not always necessary that this admiration should be felt in childhood, or in youth, since accidental causes have frequently directed the pursuits of genius.* Caresses and coercion also, have made many a youth, a bright genius; patronage and poverty have [Page 253] stimulated men to become illustrious artists.

In the history of genius we are pre­sented with wider prospects, by the late attentions bestowed on the studies of biography. In tracing the history of philosophers and poets, we have traced the genius of philosophy and poetry; we have observed that certain events produced certain consequences, and why men, with an equal aptitude for genius, have not always become men of genius. Illustrious characters are rare, owing to the rarity of those human coincidencies which produce illustrious characters. Man is so in­fluenced by moral causes, that the per­fection of his genius is ever propor­tioned to their effects. When men of letters reflected on the manner of their own attainments, and on those events of literary history which related to others, they discovered that the facul­ties of the mind, are not gifts from na­ture, [Page 254] but effects from human causes, or acquisitions of art,

Every man of common organisation has the power of becoming a man of genius, if to this be added a solitary devotion to art, and a vehement pas­sion for glory. It is the capacity of long attention, which, in the present day, must make one man superior to another. Physical sensibility may vary, and defective organs cannot be sup­plied by any artificial mode. But in general, nature has more impartiality than some of her children will allow; and it would be very difficult to find men, who have been so cruelly neg­lected by our common mother, as not to be endowed with sufficient powers to excel in some particular department, when, by examining their mental stores, they have the art of discovering the kind of study for which they are best adapted, and when having made this important discovery, moral and [Page 255] physical causes, are not inimical to their progress. An idiot is more rare than a man of genius.

The man of genius should ever exa­mine his physical and moral state; for to ameliorate their advantages, and supply their deficiencies, are of the greatest consequence to his success. A defect in physical sensibility, will disorder some portion of genius; and the purblind eye of Johnson, which denied him the taste for picturesque beauty, occasioned much erroneous criticism, without, however, diminish­ing his acquired faculties, on topics where this sensibility was not requisite. Defects in the moral state are innume­rable; sometimes they contract, some­times they enfeeble, and sometimes they annihilate genius. Shenstone, who devoted his days to poetry, equally with Pope, could never reach his pow­ers. But was his life not a series of discontent and listlessness; ever inca­pable [Page 256] of energy, and often sinking into torpidity? Without the vigour of hope, and without the exhilaration of enjoyment. Pope on the contrary was fortunate in every circumstance of early friendships, of augmenting indepen­dence, and of that continued fervour of disposition, which cherished by pa­tronage, knows no pause till the re­motest excellence is grasped. In other circumstances Dryden might have proved superior to Pope, and Otway had equalled Shakespeare. It is a most judicious observation made by Helve­tius, that it is not sufficient to possess genius, to obtain it's title. One dis­covers, another improves, a third ac­complishes, and this last is saluted as the genius; although he has really not advanced the art, in a greater proportion, than his less fortunate predecessors.

All that the finest organisation can impart in the present day, will never form one work of genius. The mere [Page 257] natural produce, of the most fertile in­dividual, will now be only a pitiable indigence; for the opulence of the mind can now only be formed by stor­ing it with acquired knowledge; and the most valuable productions will be those in which the industry of the mind has been most vigilantly exercised. The result of what we usually term natural abilities, will resemble the haws and berries which our ancient Britons might have considered as excellent fruit, but a modern Briton knows that the richness of our orchards has been borrowed from all the varieties of cli­mate. Hence, pertinacity of medita­tion, becomes a commerce of the mind; it assembles and combines the ideas of others, but the sensations it experiences are it's own. We learn to think, by being conversant with the thoughts of others; but this is denied, since it is asserted that the thoughts of others encumber our own. He, how­ever, [Page 258] who is not familiarised with the finest thoughts of the finest writers, will one day be mortified to observe, that his best thoughts are their indif­ferent ones. Nature respects a certain progression; she expands by a gradual amplification; she makes no leaps. But he who fondly dotes on what he terms his natural powers, audaciously imagines, that alone he can arrive at that point of knowledge, attained by the fraternal labours of the most emi­nent geniuses. To think with think­ing men, is to run with agile racers. But as this is not always attended to, we abound with writers who are far removed from an excellence they could have acquired; as he who, accustomed to run in a solitary course, felicitated himself as being one of the first racers, but received the public derision when he presented himself at the Olympic games.

[Page 259] In meditating on the characters, the modes of life, the slow formation, and the painful vigilance of some great writers, I have been of opinion, that their conspicuous labours, were the gradual acquisitions of art. Of these writers many have acknowledged that they could produce nothing valuable till a flame, caught by contact, had lighted up their minds; they resemble certain trees, which, though they could produce no valuable fruit of themselves, are excellent for grafting on. The minds, of such writers, are like a globe of glass, which, when ra­pidly revolved, and the hand applied to it's surface, will grow warm, emit light, and attract bodies. Among this class of writers, we might place Boi­leau and Racine; Pope and Gray; Akenside and Armstrong; Montes­quieu and Johnson. When Boileau asked Chapelle, a facile natural writer, an opinion of his poetry, Chapelle [Page 260] made this sarcastic comparison—You are a great ox, who, labouring slowly and painfully, make a deep furrow. Boileau has himself admirably descri­bed this act of the ox, and I shall ap­ply it to writers who resemble him.

—Un Boeuf pressé par l'aiguillon,
Traçat, d'un pas tardif, un penible sillon.
Urged by the goad, an ox, laborious, paced;
A painful furrow, slowly toiling, traced.

The French appear to have formed this distinction between great writers. They call Corneille, un homme de Genie, and Racine, un homme d' Esprit. The latter kind of writers are the more agreeable; for though they never sur­pass the former, yet they are rarely inferior, and can more happily adapt themselves to a variety of topics. Men of genius have stronger but more con­fined faculties.

The natural facility which some wri­ters appear to possess, forms no diffi­culty [Page 261] to this system. Such authors as a Fielding and a Goldsmith, a Sheri­dan and a Wolcot, are not supposed to have overwhelmed their minds by extraneous studies; and such wri­ters are often even very illiterate. They address themselves to the heart, and not to the head. But still from industry, and pertinacity of attention, is their rapidity of combination de­rived; and not from what marvelling ignorance sometimes regards as inspi­ration or organisation. They have given a strong direction to their mind, in the great system of human life; they therefore excel in that point, though they may be, and generally are, defi­cient in other literary qualities; for we shall always find that no man can know what he has not learnt, or know that suddenly which requires an habi­tual attention.

And indeed, if we attend to the pre­cious observations of those who have [Page 262] excelled in art or science, we shall hear of no romance of original powers, no inspirations from nature, no divine impulse that creates a world, at a word. The painter discovers that it is long before the pencil accomplishes those beauties which he has long me­ditated, and the poet that he consumes many years in verse, before a great poem is even attempted. The follow­ing facts trace the progressive powers of genius. Reynolds painted many hours every day during the long space of thirty years; Goldsmith composed his poems by slow and laborious ef­forts, and they are the finished pro­ductions of several years. Churchill was a versifier at fifteen, but was not known as a poet till after thirty. Sterne, who read at least as much as he thought, was not an original genius till at a late period of life. Addison, before he commenced his Spectators, had amassed materials with the assidu­ity [Page 263] of a student.* The immortal work of Montesquieu was the beloved oc­cupation of twenty years; the wit of Butler was not extemporaneous, but painfully elaborated from notes which he incessantly accumulated. And to close our testimonies, the Emi­lius of Rousseau was the fruit, to em­ploy the writer's own energetic lan­guage, of twenty years meditation, and of three years composition.

Among the advocates of our present system, we rank the first geniuses of the age. Johnson, Helvetius, and Reynolds, have ceaselessly enforced it's principles, have composed in the ar­dour of conviction, and have given stability to the beautiful structure they erected by the massiness of demonstra­tion. [Page 264] Authorities from periods more remote, are not wanting; Quintilian and Locke consider men to have an equal aptitude to mental capacity, and Pascal says, that what is called na­ture, is only our first habit; but what several great men have discerned con­fusedly through a mist, those who com­posed in a happier age, have viewed in the sunshine of biography.

In the Discourses of Reynolds, this principle is laid down as the founda­tion of all excellence in art. The pre­sident expresses himself in this man­ner. ‘"Not to enter into metaphysical discussions on the nature and essence of genius, I will venture to assert, that assiduity, unabated by difficulty, and a disposition eagerly directed to the object of it's pursuit, will produce effects similar to those which some call the result of natural powers."’ The opinion of Johnson not only appears in his conversations, but in his compositions; [Page 265] he has touched on this topic in the twenty-fifth and forty-third Ramblers, and in the person of Imlach, we are instructed, that when he resolved to make himself a poet, he tells us that ‘"he saw every thing with a new pur­pose."’ The entire work of L'Esprit of Helvetius inculcates the same prin­ciples.

On this delicate topic I shall hazard the following rapid glance. In the rude periods of society, when a writer can have but few predecessors, he will pour forth, what Milton elegantly and sweetly terms ‘"Virgin Fancies."’ He must then meditate on the great ori­ginal nature; the impressions must be vivid, though rude, and the combi­nations novel, though wild. Some, whose physical sensibility, improved by imperceptible habit, may receive sensations more lively than others, will exercise a facility and celerity of con­ception apparently supernatural to the [Page 266] vulgar and the ignorant. In the latter class even the highest minds must then be ranked; and it is not improbable that the artist himself is not less per­suaded than his admirers, that he is agitated by a certain impulse, and that his performances could not be pro­duced by human means. Est Deus in Nobis, exclaims the self wondering Ovid, at a later period indeed, but when the philosophy of the mind had made but little progress. Hence the origin of that fanciful interposition of nature in the case of men of genius; and it is then that poets are regarded as prophets, and philosophers as ma­gicians.

The Monkish ages blended many of the absurdities of polytheism with their peculiar ones; and it was in this pe­riod, Erasmus informs us, that that gothic adage was formed worthy of Monkish taste, and Monkish credulity; poeta nascitur, non fit; which an excel­lent [Page 267] judge of poetry contradicts, by af­firming, that a poet may be made, as well as born. But a great revolution appears in the world of taste; the flame of investigation rises gradually in the most secret retirements of nature. She comes, in all her simplicity, and all her solitary majesty, unaccompa­nied by the adventitious splendour of fancy, the grotesque chimeras of asto­nishment, and the terrific forms of su­perstition. When we understand na­ture, what becomes of apparitions, of witchery, of prophecy, and the inspi­ration of genius?

Genius may now be divided into an enthusiasm caught from nature, and an enthusiasm received from art.

The enthusiasm from nature is dis­tinguished by it's facility, celerity, and vividness; sufficient to form an ardent effusion in the early periods of society. Such are the relicks of all antient poetry. But as the sphere of poetical [Page 268] invention must then be very circum­scribed, we observe, in such compo­sitions, a recurrence of the same ob­jects and the same ideas. Man creates by imitation; but he creates little in the infancy of society, because he has scarcely any thing to imitate. When we examine the effusions of the Bards, the wild poetry of the Indians, and even Ossian, who probably has re­ceived many modern embellishments, we perceive that paucity of ideas, which must be natural at this period of society.*

This enthusiasm from nature dimi­nishes in the progress of refinement. Artists not infrequently complain that nature is nearly exhausted, and not [Page 269] without reason; for it would, perhaps, astonish some, if they were shown how very few original notions form the great treasury of human invention. Nature is regular in her grand characteristics. She is ever the same universal power; but in the progress of society, a great variation obtains in the human pas­sions. We all think alike on certain objects in their general conception, but most think differently in their in­dividual examination; hence criticism has observed, that the beauties of art are sometimes local, and sometimes universal. But not to wander into metaphysical discussion, we may re­mark, that pure nature will disgust by it's obviousness and it's facility; ele­gance, the characteristic of refinement, means a selection, and, at this period we disguise and raise the offensive rudeness of truth, by the attractive graces of verisimilitude. A noble sen­timent occupies the soul of the artist, [Page 270] and he toils after an ideal perfection. The richest combinations throw their dazzling light on his imagination; emulation rivals and surpasses; in this glorious strife, individual is opposed to individual, and people to people. Our galleries are filled with pictures, and our libraries with poems.

A diversity of genius becomes more distinguishable, as taste becomes more exquisite. One kind is peculiar to this age; the genius of several can now be made to produce an original one. A student, to borrow an expression from chemistry, amalgamates the character­istics of preceding masters. The his­tory of the orders in architecture, is the history of genius. We have the severe Tuscan, the chaste Doric, the elegant Ionic, the light Corinthian, and at length appears the Composite uniting these varieties.

Models are now proposed by critics; for Art is now suspended on a point; [Page 271] if by our dexterity we preserve not the equilibrium, if we pass or decline from the point, we slide into barba­rism. In vain some daring spirits scorn the mandates of taste; Time is the avenger of neglected criticism.

At this period some, enamoured of the illusive idea of original powers, pre­tend to draw merely from the native fountains of nature. Uneducated ar­tists occasionally appear, among the lower occasionally appear, among the lower occupations of life, who are im­mediately received as original geniuses. But it is at length perceived, that the genuine requisites of poetry, at this period of refinement, are not only be­yond their reach, but often beyond their comprehension. These inspired geniuses have never survived the tran­sient season of popular wonder, and derive their mediocrity from the faci­lity of consulting the finished compo­sitions of true genius.

[Page 272] Nor must we conceive that that vein of imitation, which must ever run through the works of great artists, is a mechanical process. By an intense study of preceding masters, they are taught the enchantments of art; mar­vellous and exquisite strokes which exist not in nature. A fine copy of nature affects their organs more than a real scene. On examination, it will be found that the most capital produc­tions of our first artists, are really com­posed in this manner. A Raphael borrowed as freely from other pain­ters, as a Milton from other poets.

It may now be enquired, that since we acknowledge there are causes which may disenable a genuine student from acquiring genius, what is gained by this new system? We reply an use­ful knowledge of truth, and a con­tempt for that popular prejudice, which ever echoes the pernicious no­tion, that an artist must be born with a [Page 273] peculiar genius, or intellectual construc­tion.

An ardent and aspiring youth is dismayed at the first difficulties of art, because he easily imagines that a maxim which has been so long re­ceived as incontestable, is therefore incontrovertable. I believe that the success of an artist oftener depends on good luck, than on organisation. Aristotle has said, that to become eminent in any profession, three things are re­quisite, nature, study, and practice. How often does it become necessary to erase the word nature, and supply it's place by good fortune! We often lose much, when we inform a young artist, that he must have been born a poet, or a painter; since it is impossi­ble to decide whether he is born such unless he practises the arts; and it is certain that no excellence in art can be acquired without long and unwea­ried industry. Artists who have evin­ced [Page 274] nothing of this birth-right in their early attempts, have sometimes con­cluded by being great artists. Indus­try, whether it consist in an incessant exercise of the faculties, by medita­ting on the labours of others, or in observations on what passes around us, is the surest path that conducts to the seats of fame; but such intervening obstacles as may oppose with fatal and deadly effects, are in the power, not of philosophy, but of fortune.

I shall enforce these observations, by transcribing a sentiment of Johnson. ‘"Every man who purposes to grow eminent by learning, should carry in his mind at once, the difficulty of ex­cellence, and the force of industry, and remember that fame is not con­ferred, but as the recompence of la­bour, and that labour, vigorously con­tinued, has not often failed of it's re­ward."’

[Page 275] The following essay offers some re­flections on LITERARY INDUSTRY, which, perhaps, may confirm the present.


WHEN youthful genius meditates on a great composition, he does not usually reflect on the mode of it's per­formance; his despair is equal to his admiration; and there is danger that he may resemble the young arithmeti­cian, who resigned his art, because in the first lessons, he had observed the total amount of an immense series, which he could not suppose he was born to comprehend.

If a Savage wandering in his woods, accustomed to no other habitation than his dark cave, or ill-constructed hovel, should discover an edifice, con­siderable in it's magnitude, and regu­lar in it's arrangement, he would im­mediately conclude that it was the re­sidence of a divine being, constructed [Page 277] by divine power. He would consider that no human hand could raise the columns, and no human design could invent an order so beautiful. If the Savage, however, becomes instructed, he discovers that it's author was a be­ing of his own species, that the hand which erected, was superior in skill, but not in strength, to his own; and that if he would submit to the same directions which conducted the other, he might himself be capable of pro­ducing a similar composition. This Savage is the unreflecting reader, or that simple youth, whose admiration closes with despair.

Few works of magnitude presented themselves at once in full extent, to their authors; patiently were they examined, and insensibly were they formed. We often observe this cir­cumstance noticed in their prefaces. Writers have proposed to themselves a little piece of two acts, and the farce [Page 278] has become a comedy of five; an essay swells into a treatise, and a treatise into volumes.

Let us trace the progression of the mind in the formation of it's specula­tions. At the first glance a man of genius throws around a subject, he perceives not more than one or two striking circumstances, unobserved by another. As he revolves the subject, the whole mind is gradually agitated, and it is then, that acquiring force by exertion, he discovers talents that he knew not he possessed. At first he saw (except the few leading objects which invited his contemplation) every thing dimly; to the studious eye of genius, every thing becomes orderly and dis­tinct; the twilight gradually disperses, and every form shines in the brilliant light of imagination. It is then he is excursive and unweary; it is then that all is beauty to his eye, all is har­mony to his ear. It is like viewing a [Page 279] landscape at an early hour in a sum­mer morning; the rising sun perhaps only rests on a particular object, and the scene is wrapt in mist; as the hight and warmth increase, the mists fade, and the scene assumes it's varied charms.

Such is the feebleness of human fa­culties, that, it is probable, if they could perceive at the first view the whole of the subject, they would re­main inert in indolence, and reject with despondence it's final accomplish­ment. In the preceding essay we have observed that the greatest works have been insensibly formed; and to prove that the slightest conceptions may serve for the leading circumstances of even works of magnitude, I shall notice three modern compositions of great and kindred merit. That exquisite poem, Les Jardins of the Abbé de Lille, derives it's existence from the simple circumstance of a lady asking [Page 280] for a few verses on rural topics. His specimens pleased, and the poet, ani­mated by a smile, heaped sketches on sketches, till he found himself ena­bled to weave them into a concording whole, which forms one of the finest didactic poems in the language. "The botanic garden" was at first only a few loose descriptions of flowers, which casually excited the poet's philosophi­cal curiosity; and we have only to la­ment that the English bard wanted the address, or the industry of the French poet: A deficiency of inte­resting order is the radical defect of that composition. "The pleasures of memory" was the slow and perfect pro­duction of ten years; the poet at first proposed a simple description in a few lines, but imperceptibly conducted by his meditations, from these few verses, was at length composed a poem, im­portant alike for it's extent, it's inves­tigation, and it's beauty. Similar cir­cumstances [Page 281] gave the origin of the Lu­trin; and the Dunciad is an amplifica­tion of the Mac Flecnoe of Dryden. The Henriade of Voltaire was at first only intended for a poem on the League, and it's want of unity of design, as an epic, arose from this circumstance.

MEDITATION may be defined the industry of the mind. On it's habitual exertion depend all our great efforts; for literary industry to obtain it's pur­pose must become habitual. It is then, whereever we go, whatever we see, from what we read, and what we hear, some acquisitions are brought to adorn our favourite topics. I am much pleased, and much instructed, by that anecdote of an ancient general, who, in the profoundest peace, practi­sed stratagems of war, and when walk­ing with his friends, and arriving at some remarkable spot, was accustomed to consult with them, on a mode of defence or attack. Hence he derived [Page 282] the rare talent of ever being accompa­nied by his genius, and to this general the victories of war were obtained by the labours of peace. The great poet, and the great painter, are alike intent on their respective objects; and do, no less than this general, pass their remarkable spots, without bringing home sentiments and images, forms and colours.

The greatest works have been de­rived from petty commencements, and always formed by slow and gradual re­novations of industry. Industry, in­deed, is but a mean word, and ap­pears more appropriate to mechanical labours, than to the operations of ge­nius. If genius is to be considered as inspiration, the philosophers of this li­terary age will acknowledge that we have produced no works of genius; and that even the liveliest conceptions of our poets are rarely formed by that celerity, and fury, which some are yet [Page 283] so credulous, and so ignorant as to suppose. The manuscripts of one of our most original living bards, would astonish some of his admirers by their numerous rasures; but every blot on them is like the artful patches on the face of a beauty, which improve it's charms. The industry which we are now to understand, resembles, but little, mechanical assiduity; it is a continued exercise of the noblest faculties, which expand as they are used; a resolute intellectual labour; a combination of many means to obtain one end. It is study invigorated by meditation; it is criticism, which, if we may so express ourselves, is a continuation or supple­ment of the spirit of the original au­thor. This industry is that art, which seises, as if it were by the rapidity of inspiration, whatever it discovers in the works of others, which may en­rich it's own stores; which knows by a quick apprehension, what to exa­mine [Page 284] and what to imbibe; and which receives an atom of intelligence, from the minds of others on it's own mind, as an accidental spark falling on a heap of nitre, is sussicient to raise a powerful blaze.

If we look into literary biography, we perceive that every illustrious wri­ter, in one mode or another, was an indefatigable student. Tillotson ob­serves, that whenever the ancient his­torians describe an eminent character, they ever employ these expressions, that he was incredibili industria, diligentia singulari. Cicero and Pliny, to habi­tuate themselves to the graces of the Grecian writers, even at a remote pe­riod of life, practised the labours of translation; and there was no mode or art they omitted proper for correction. They read their work to a few friends, they recited it to an audience, and even sent it to their distant friends for emendation. This unwearied zeal has [Page 285] rendered their works immortal, and capable of equalling whatever the am­bition of the moderns can oppose. Voltaire, lively as he may appear, was an indefatigable student, and never read, even at the close of life, without a pen in his hand. The immortal and voluminous labours of the philosophic Buffon, are derived from the simple circumstance of early rising; he long strove against a natural indulgence of ease, and used severe precautions. It is not I who attribute his works to this petty circumstance, it is himself. The most original genius of this age, car­ries a little book for hints, for hemis­ticks, and any occasional observation. which may start in all it's warmth from the inspection of a present object. Perhaps no student was more labori­ous than Milton, and his industry was even equal to his genius. Observe the modest and remarkable expression he employs, in one of his prose works, [Page 286] alluding to his intention of composing an epic. After mentioning Tasso, he adds, ‘"It haply would be no rashness from an equal diligence and inclination to present the like."’ Such was the vigi­lant industry of Pope, that he appears to have derived his genius from this characteristic.

These observations will hold through all ages, and still more in ages of re­finement, than in the earlier periods of society; for it is a truth of some im­portance in literature to be known, that the farther progress we make in knowledge, renders study more neces­sary; that as taste is more refined, la­bour becomes more essential; and that however modern writers must lose something of originality, they have, even if their subject is preocoupied, more difficulties to overcome, more art to display, more labour to exercise, more novelty to court, than their ancestors, who wrote with the licentious spirit of [Page 287] their age; and who, though not supe­rior in point of courage, handled their pen with a ferocity, not permitted to their more polished descendants.


AMONG the follies of the wise, may be ranked that system which cir­cumscribes the energies of the human mind, by the influence of climate. It has been confuted, and is still believed, for there are some whom no confuta­tions can confute. We shall form an enquiry into it's origin, with some no­tices of that fanciful chain it has thrown over the intellects of the most vigorous geniuses, and we shall incul­cate the independence of the intellec­tual powers.

This extravagant system derives it's modern rejuvenescence from a writer whose talents are the most brilliant and seductive, modern literature dis­plays. Montesquieu, ever vigilant in [Page 289] striking the mind by novelties, disco­vered in the writings of some of the ancients, a few fanciful and casual conjectures on the influence of climate on the human mind, and which he also extended to manners. Curious absur­dities, not less eccentric, remain yet for some future Montesquieu to adopt. These slight conjectures he seized with avidity, amplified with ingenuity, de corated by the graces of fancy, and divulged with the triumphant air of a modern discovery.

Baillet, who wrote at the close of the last century, without a solitary charm of Montesquieu's fancy, was well acquainted with this extravagant notion. It is probable, that to this compiler Montesquieu, with some kin­dred geniuses, were indebted for the seminal heat of all their variegated flowers. In his volume on National Prejudices, he adverts to this system, and quotes Hippocrates, Plato, Aris­totle, [Page 290] Seneca, and others, who had conceived that the temperature of the air contributes something to the natu­ral dispositions of the mind. Long an­terior to Montesquieu, our own Mil­ton expressed this prejudice;* and as Filangieri observes, Chardin, Fonte­nelle, Du Bos, and others, had ex­plained [Page 291] and adopted the notion. But what the reasoning of Chardin, the wit of Fontenelle, and the ingenuity of Du Bos, failed to establish, was fixed by the seductive eloquence of Montesquieu. His brilliant strokes dazzled the eyes of Europe, and iced, with an additional frost, the heart of many a literary Russian and Dane. It is thus follies are hereditary among writers, and one generation perpetu­ates or revives the extinct follies of another.

It was the talent of exquisite com­position that gave to Montesquieu the power of disguising an exploded the­ory. Who can resist such poignant epigrams as these, allowing that every lively epigram is a conclusive argu­ment?—‘"The empire of climate is the first of all empires."’‘"As we distin­guish climates by degrees of latitude, we might distinguish them, thus to express myself, by degrees of sensibi­lity."’ [Page 292]‘"In those countries, instead of precepts, we must have padlocks."’—Such is the witty system of the presi­dent Montesquieu, which perhaps was first conceived with a smile, but con­ducted with ingenious gravity. We suffer our follies to become agreeable, when we suffer them to become fa­miliar.

When the "Spirit of laws" was first published, every literary centinel did not silently admit the enemy of intel­lectual freedom, nor was every genius rendered somniferous by the corrup­tions of wit. The alarm was given. This paradox kindled the philosophic indignation of Gray, and inspired his exquisite muse to commence a poem of considerable magnitude, designed to combat a position so fatal to intel­lectual exertion. Churchill revolted from the degrading notion; a line on genius conveys his idea, that it is not [Page 293] circumscribed by local situation, for, says he,

"It may hereafter, e'en in Holland rise."

Armstrong found it necessary to in­veigh with sarcastic acerbity against this system; but it was the philoso­phic Hume, who with solid arguments crushed the brilliant epigrams of Mon­tesquieu.

Filangieri,* who had all the advan­tage of posterior knowledge, united to an investigating genius, has marched between these systematisers and their adversaries, by attempting to shew that Climate influences the mind as a relative, not as an absolute cause, and that the difference is not perceptible in temperate climates. But one of his political reveries is that of drying marshes, and felling woods to change the character of a people. I much [Page 294] fear that the Italian, (for his nation are most politic refiners,) has only mistaken the national humour of Addison, who tells us, that ‘"a famous university in this land, was formerly very much in­fested with puns; but whether or no this might not arise from the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skilful naturalists."’

As France is a very extensive coun­try, and has great variation of climate, it offered an ample circuit for these systematisers to verify their favourite positions, by tracing the effects of cli­mate through that diversified country. The inhabitants of Picardy being placed in a colder situation than the other provinces, were imagined to be eminent for their indefatigable labour, and their writers were supposed to be students of great erudition. But here, as almost in every instance, where facts [Page 295] are produced to confirm this fanci­ful theory, we shall find that moral are often taken for physical effects. Baillet remarks on this observation concerning Picardy, that the industry of it's writers is owing to those devas­tations of war, which, having injured the fortunes of the natives, induced them rather to apply to useful than to agreeable compositions, as a means of ameliorating their fortune. Normandy having great inequality of climate, was supposed to occasion a similar inequal­ity in the literary productions of it's authors; and Auvergne having high mountains and deep vallies, was con­jectured to produce both men of great genius and great dullness; for those born on the mountains were said to have more delicate organs, and a more aetherial spirit, than the gross and stu­pid students of the valleys. Such are the materials, which, with many others, [Page 296] might be employed in a history of the follies of philosophy.*

But if an Englishman is amused by these airy fancies, he will come at length to resent, with a due spirit of in­dignation, the national attacks which these fantastic systematisers have con­stantly levelled at our country. Bri­tain has been considered by them as a Beotia. Profound disquisitions, and sarcastic exultations, have been made concerning our foggy island; but the same fogs remain, while the finest com­positions now enrich our language. The classics of England exhibit models of the purest taste to literary Europe; but moral causes long impeded the progress of taste in our country; when individuals want patronage, they often want genius; our monarchs have been torpid and parsimonious, but our pub­lic [Page 297] at length has been rapid and mag­nificent. We may resound our tri­umphs to the manes of Du Bos,* of Montesquieu, and Winckelman, who have affirmed that we could have no genius for the fine arts, because they informed the world that the sensibility of taste was obstructed by an obnox­ious clime. Such are the sentiments which have been echoed from one writer to another, till even some of our own have been pleased to calum­niate themselves.

Among many curious criticisms of foreigners, I must not pass silently Winckelman's notion concerning Mil­ton. He tells us, that all the descrip­tions in the Paradise Lost, excepting the amorous and delicate scenes of the primeval pair, are like well-painted gorgons, which resemble each other, but are always frightful; and this he [Page 298] attributes to the climate. But what is here attempted to be depreciated, every critic of taste will conceive to be the terrible graces of a sublime po­esy; a sublimity (the grandest charac­teristic of a poet) unrivalled in modern or in ancient times. As the subject is peculiar, and of the most elevated na­ture, so it found in Milton a genius as peculiar, and faculties the most ele­vated. If the English Muse has sur­passed her sisters in loftiness, she yields not in the more delicate and sweeter portions of her art. Of late we have excelled in picturesque description; the most pleasing paintings of nature variegate the verse of Thomson, who, as a shrewd observer remarks, was born more northerly than Milton. Goldsmith has cultivated the same powers, and they have proved so at­tractive to the public taste, that Eng­lish verse can now exhibit some of the most exchanting and the most vivid [Page 299] scenery in poetry. The Muse was con­sidered to be under ‘"a skiey influ­ence;"’ but whenever a national impe­diment is removed, and Time, in every polished nation, subverts such causes, that people will not fail of equalling the efforts of those who have been placed in happier circumstances.

Men of genius cease to be such, when like the common people, they precipitate themselves on one another with the stupid docility of a flock of sheep, who follow the one who hap­pens to be the foremost. Writers have yielded up their sensations and their reflections to this favourite theory. Spence has accounted for the turgidity of Lucan, on the principles of this system. He says, ‘"The swellings in his poem may be partly accounted for, perhaps, from his being born in Spain, and in that part of it which was farthest removed from Greece and Rome."’ But the following instance will parallel any [Page 300] literary extravagance. When Dyer gave the "Fleece," he acquainted the world, to apologize for the defects of the poem, that ‘"It was published un­der some disadvantages; for many of it's faults must be imputed to the air of a fenny country, where I have been for the most part above these five years."’ Such criticisms remind me of a couplet of the ingenious De Foe, whose good sense appears also to have wandered wildly into these fancies. In one of his Political Poems, he says of his hero William,

"Batavian climates nourished him a-while,
Too great a genius for so damp a soil."

It is evident, that when Milton first proposed to himself the composition of his epic, this sublime genius felt a full conviction of this prejudice of his age, respecting the influence of climate on the human mind. He tells us in one of his prose works, that he intends to write an epic ‘"out of our own an­cient [Page 301] stories; if there be nothing ad­verse in our climate, or the fate of this age."’ At a more remote period, when he was near the conclusion of his im­mortal labour, he adorns these erro­neous notions by the charms of his verse, and lays a peculiar stress on the word cold. These are the lines,

"—higher argument
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years damp my intended wing."

Even Young, in "The Merchant," complains, that ‘"his poetic vein runs slow in this cold climate."’

The notion of this influence of the climate was indeed so universal in those days, that Descartes feared that the warmth of the climate in France would too much exalt his imagination, and disturb that temperate state of the mind necessary for philosophical disco­veries. He therefore took refuge from the sun, in Holland. All the frost of [Page 302] the northern climates could never ren­der his burning imagination tepid; the visionary would have dreamt on a pil­low of snow.

Such have been the imbecillities of great men; and on such foundations rested the brilliant edifice which the hand of Montesquieu did not construct, but only adorned. It is to be lamented that some superior minds prefer the little vanity of temporary novelties to the infinite glory of enduring truths. Every error of this kind long links an additional fetter on the human mind, and half the wisdom of man now con­sists in destroying the chains of his own fabrication. Age succeeds to age, and the human mind, as it calculates it's genuine acquisitions, wonders at the petty amount; while, if we scru­tinise most of our former attempts, we perceive with a sigh, that philosophy has been more curious than knowing, more active than progressive, more [Page 303] specious than solid; that it has gene­rally consisted in becoming familiar with the incongruous opinions of others, and having no opinions of our own; and that while we run after the capricious coquetry of a meretricious fancy, Truth has often past by, in sober and unadorned beauty, unsolicited, undesired, but rarely unseen.

Let us view this topic in a more in­structive manner. Aristotle, in his Politics, observes, that the northern nations, and generally all Europe, are naturally courageous and robust, but are improper for mental exertion, without powers for meditation, and without industry for the arts; on the contrary, the Asiatics have great ta­lents for works of genius, are inclined to reasoning and meditation, and skil­ful in the invention and perfection of arts. The reverse of all this, in the present age, is the truth. Aristotle drew this representation from the ex­isting [Page 304] scene; but had that acute mind happened to reflect on the powers which the customs and the government of a people have over the human mind, he had then perceived that not the frosts and snows of the northern realms made men addict themselves to war, but that predatory genius which must prevail in a people, who were con­stantly distressed by poverty and fa­mine. When a new civilization had taken place, and the severities of the climate were mitigated by the benefi­cial influence of art and science; when the descendants of these men employed their armaments in commerce, as well as in war; when their iron was plun­ged into the reluctant bosom of earth; when, in their cities, universities were erected, academies instituted, and the peaceful occupations of genius che­rished; then, while the same climate existed, the national characters be­came changed. Heroic and polished [Page 305] Greece and Rome are now barbarous and pusillanimous; and the gravity and superstition of the Spaniard, the po­litic and assassinating spirit of the Ita­lian, the diligence and suppleness of the Scotchman, and the suspiciousness and profundity of the Englifhman, are derived from their manners and go­vernments. MAN is a mere imitative CREATURE, and the wise LEGISLATOR may be a powerful CREATOR.

It was once enquired why Paris and Toulouse produced so many eminent lawyers. It was long attributed to the climate; till some reasonable being discovered, that the universities of those cities offered opportunities and en­couragements for that study which others did not. The Germans have long been an injured literary nation. A taste for science and erudition having been diffused among that industrious people, they were constantly aspersed by their lively neighbours, for invete­rate [Page 306] dullness and sterile imaginations. The eminent success of the French in the Belles Lettres, placed the fright­ened genius of that nation in a volun­tary seclusion; of late awakened from their stupor, they begin to rank high in polite letters; and although their productions have not yet attained that novelty of combination, which is the effect of long industry and multifarious composition, yet have they already produced some spirited and affecting works of imagination which can fear no rivals.

Men of genius, at London, or at Petersburgh, in the retirement of their cabinet, if employed on the same to­pic, and equal in their acquisitions, will think and write alike. The man­ners of a people occasion some varia­tions in national tastes; there is an ar­bitrary and an ideal beautiful; or, in other words, a local and an universal sensation. The present systematisers [Page 307] not having sufficiently investigated the causes of arbitrary or local sensations, in perceiving them, they at once re­ferred them to the influence of CLI­MATE, and not to the influence of GOVERNMENT.

From this and the two preceding essays, we may, perhaps, conclude, that it is with a people, as with an in­dividual, and with an individual, as with a people. The human mind is indeed influenced not by climate, but by government; not by soils, but by customs; not by heat and cold, but by servitude and freedom. A happy edu­cation, an elegant leisure, and a pas­sion for glory, must form a great man; as an excellent government, an or­derly liberty, and a popular felicity, must form a great people. But for these purposes, numerous conjunctures must succeed each other, which, in the position of human affairs, can be but rare; and to the present moment [Page 308] no system of education for the indivi­dual, or system of government for the people, has been discovered, which can satisfy the philosophical mind; a great people, like a great man, must therefore become a singularity; yet, as the characteristic of man is imitation, when one excels, there exists a con­tagion of excellence. Nourished by persevering industry, a diffusion of emulation is propagated from indivi­dual to individual, and from nation to nation. Whenever, through moral causes, this emulation cannot exist, industry must be extinct, and excel­lence unacquired.

INDUSTRY is the vital principle of excellence; but we must not, there­fore, suppose, that the advice of a preceptor, or the mandate of a sove­reign, can produce an instantaneous effect; there is a regular progression in human affairs; and no power, less than omnipotence, could have pro­duced [Page 309] that singular operation of com­manding light, and there was light. Miracles have departed from this phi­losophic age; but INDUSTRY is left to us, which may be said, to perform miracles.


A MODERN reader, amidst the abundance of his books, resembles Xerxes, who, satiated with his plea­sures, promised a reward to him who should allure by the invention of a new one. This capricious complaint only shews an abundance of objects, and a disordered taste; the fault is not in the pleasures and the books, but in Xerxes and the Reader.

‘"All is said,"’ exclaims the lively Bruyere, but at the same moment, by his own admirable reflections, confutes the dreary system he would establish. An opinion of the exhausted state of literature, has been a popular preju­dice of remote existence; and an un­happy idea of a wise ancient, who, even in his day, laments, that ‘"of [Page 311] books there is no end,"’ has been tran­scribed by great authors, who, how­ever, cannot be deemed great politi­cians. Perhaps, in the age of Solo­mon, readers were perplexed by peri­odical publications, and the Jewish Magazines might have been manufac­tured with as little skill as our own.

This opinion serves for the apology of the idle, and the consolation of the disappointed; but it is to be lamented that it extinguishes the ardour of the ingenious. Had not genius felt itself superior to this malicious dictum, the world had wanted nearly all it's va­lued compositions. The popular no­tion of literary novelty is an idea more fanciful than exact. Of these unre­flecting censurers, many are yet to learn that their admired originals are not such as they mistake them to be, either in the parts or the design of their works. We shall shew how the plans of the most original performances [Page 312] have been borrowed; and of the thoughts of the most admired compo­sitions, some readers are yet to be in­structed that they are not wonderful discoveries, but only truths, of whieh themselves felt the conviction, before the ingenuity of the author had ar­ranged the intermediate and accessory ideas, by lucidly unfolding that con­fused sentiment, which those experi­ence who are not accustomed to think with depth or accuracy.

Batteux employs a judicious figure, when he compares genius to the earth, which produces nothing, unless it has first received the seeds. This has no tendency to impoverish the talents of the artist, for it displays the source of exhaustless treasures, of infinite varia­tions, and limits not less than the uni­verse itself. There is an affinity in all the works of genius, because they are imitations of nature; similar they are, yet not the same; as all earths are ter­rene [Page 313] substances, but their qualities are various. Novelty, in it's rigid accep­tation, will not be found in any judi­cious production. I am not, therefore, surprised, at a literary incident which happened to a friend. To relieve the tedium of a temporary retirement, he took with him seven epic poems; he amused his solitude by comparing them with each other; and the result was, that he found how much each had been indebted to the others. The same incidents had been transplanted, and the same characters had assumed a different name; but every poet had his peculiar colouring and disposition, and had created while he imitated.

Voltaire, as a critic of taste, is of the greatest authority. He looked on every thing as imitation. He observes that the most original writers bor­rowed one from another, and says that the instruction we gather from books, is like fire; we fetch it from our neigh­bours, [Page 314] kindle it at home, and com­municate it to others, till it becomes the property of all. He has a curious passage, in which he traces some of the finest compositions to the fountain head; and the reader smiles when he perceives that they have travelled in regular succession through China, In­dia, Arabia, and Greece, to France and to England.

To the obscurity of time are the an­cients indebted for that originality in which they are imagined to excel. We know how frequently they accuse each other; and to have borrowed co­piously from preceding writers, was not considered criminal by such illus­trious authors as Plato and Cicero. It has been observed of the Eneid of Virgil, that not only little invention is displayed in the Incidents, for it unites the plan of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but even as to many of the particular lines, and certainly is very deficient in [Page 315] the variety of it's characters.* But on writers so well known as the clas­sical, we shall not dwell.

Our own early writers have not more originality than modern genius may aspire to reach, To imitate and to rival the Italians and the French formed their devotion. Chaucer, Gower, and Gawin Douglas, were all spirited imitators, and frequently only masterly translators. Spenser, the fa­ther of so many poets, is himself the child of the Ausonian Muse; in bor­rowing the fancy of the Italian poe­try, he unhappily adopted it's form. Shakespeare has liberally honoured [Page 316] many writers by unsparing imitations; he has availed himself of their senti­ments, their style, and their incidents. His Oberon was taken from a French Romance, and his Fairies are no more his own original invention, than the Sylphs are of Pope. Milton is inces­santly borrowing from the poetry of his day. In the beautiful Mask of Comus he preserved all the circum­stances of the work he imitated. The Paradise Lost is believed to have been conceived from a mystery, and many of it's most striking passages are taken from other poets. Tasso opened for him the Tartarean Gulph; the sub­lime description of the bridge may be found in Sadi, who borrowed it from the Turkish theology; the paradise of fools is a wild flower, transplanted from the wilderness of Ariosto. Jon­son was the servile slave of his ancient masters; and the rich poetry of Gray is a wonderful tissue, woven on the [Page 317] frames, and composed with the gold threads of others. To Cervantes we owe Butler; and the united abilities of three great wits, in their Martinus Scriblerus, could find no other mode of conveying their powers, but by imi­tating at once, Don Quixote and Mon­sieur Oufle. Pope, like Boileau, had all the ancients and moderns in his pay; the contributions he levied were not the pillages of a bandit, but the taxes of a monarch. Swift is much indebted for the plans of his two very original performances. The Travels of Gulliver, to the Voyages of Cyrano de Bergerac, to the Sun and Moon; a writer, who, without the acuteness of Swift, has wilder flashes of fancy. Dr. Warton has observed many of his strokes in Bishop Godwin's Man in the Moon, who, in his turn, must have borrowed his work from Cyrano. The Tale of a Tub is an imitation of the once popular allegory of the three [Page 318] invisible rings which a father bequeath­ed his children, and which were the Jewish, Christian, and Mahommedan religions; as this tale is also of the History of Fontenelle's Mero and Enegue. (Rome and Geneve). Dr. Feriar's Essay on the Imitations of Sterne might be considerably augment­ed; the Englishman may be tracked in many obscure paths; in such neglected volumes, as Le Moyen de Parvenir, and the Ana; besides Burton and Mar­tinus Scriblerus. Such are the writers, however, who imitate, but are inimi­table!

We will now, quitting Britain, make a short excursion round the rest of Europe, and visit some of our neigh­bours, that we may not imagine they enjoy a superiority over our own fellow citizens. Montaigne, with honest naiveté, compares his writings to a thread that binds the flowers of others; and that by incessantly pouring the [Page 319] waters of a few good old authors into his sieve, some drops fall upon his paper. The good old man elsewhere acquaints us with a certain stratagem of his own invention, consisting of his inserting whole sentences from the ancients, without acknowledgement, that the critics might blunder, by giv­ing Nazardes to Seneca and Plutarch, while they imagined they tweaked his nose. Petrarch, who is not the in­ventor of that tender poetry of which he is the model, and Boccaccio, called the father of Italian novels, have alike profited by a studious perusal of wri­ters, who are now only read by those who have more curiosity than taste. Boiardo has imitated Pulci, and Ari­osto, Boiardo. The madness of Orlan­do Furioso, though it wears, by it's extravagance, a very original air, is only imitated from Sir Launcelot in the old Romance of Mort Arthur, with which the late Mr. Warton ob­serves, [Page 320] it agrees in every leading cir­cumstance. Tasso has imitated the Iliad, and enriched his poem with episodes from the Eneid. It is curious to observe, that even Dante, wild and original as he appears, when he meets Virgil in the Inferno, warmly expresses his gratitude for the many fine passages for which he was indebted to his works, and on which he says he had ‘"long meditated."’ Moliere and La Fontaine are considered to possess as much originality as any of the French writers; yet the learned Menage calls Moliere ‘"un grand et habile pico­reur,"’ and Boileau tells us, that La Fontaine borrowed his style and mat­ter from Marot and Rabelais, and took his subjects from Boccaccio, Poggius, and Ariosto. Nor was the eccentric Rabelais the inventor of most of his burlesque narratives, and he is a very close imitator of Folengo, the inventor of the macaronic poetry, and not a [Page 321] little indebted to the old Facezie of the Italians. Indeed Marot, Villon, as well as those we have noticed, profited by the authors, anterior to the age of Francis I. Bruyere incorporates whole passages of Publius Syrus in his work, as the translator of the latter abun­dantly shews. To the Turkish spy was Montesquieu beholden for his Per­sian Letters, and a numerous croud are indebted to Montesquieu. Cor­neille made a liberal use of Spanish li­terature; and the pure waters of Ra­cine flowed from the fountains of So­phocles and Euripides.

Having thus traced that vein of imi­tation which runs through the produc­tions of our greatest authors,* it re­mains to ascertain an accurate notion of literary novelty.

[Page 322] Denina's little book on the Revolu­tions of Literature, is formed on this principle; that there being a great uniformity in nature, when the per­fection of those arts, which express the passions, is at length acquired, nature becomes exhausted; and that at this period, to succeed in poetry or in elo­quence, it would require either to ex­tend nature, or to create new passions, which are alike impossible. If this were true, literary novelty might be, in the present refinement of the Belles Lettres, a hopeless project. We must, therefore, controvert this hypothesis, or burn our pens.*

What is a new thought? The ques­tion has been resolved by Boileau. It is not, says he, what the ignorant ima­gine; [Page 323] that is, a thought which no one ever conceived, or could have possibly conceived. On the contrary, it is a thought that might have occurred to any one, but that somebody has first expressed. It is what every one thinks, but is said in a lively, fine, and new manner. Pope, no doubt, borrowed his definition of wit, or genius, from this remark. It is, as he says,

"What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."

It is, perhaps, with writing as with shooting; the art consists in the aim of the sportsman, but the objects are al­ways the same. Good sense has been so in all ages, says Pope elsewhere, who, perhaps, had more good sense than any poet. If we analyse the most striking passages of our most original writers, we shall find that the naked idea had nothing uncommon. The finest thoughts derive their beauty from the glow and colouring of imagina­tion. I have seen a MS. by a friend [Page 324] of great taste, where, in examining and comparing the natural sentiments of two dialogues of vulgar courtship, in the Exmoor dialect, with congenial and similar ideas in poetical language, he has discovered that the ground­work of the human mind is always the same; and that all men think alike, but express themselves very differently. This essay, probably, only intended as a literary amusement, may, however, be made to elucidate a philosophical truth.

Hence the most forcible passages of Shakespeare, are only delightful or energetic expressions of our own feel­ings. Great writers must, therefore, bear an affinity with each other; and will eagerly adopt the images, the sen­timents, and the very expressions of a kindred genius. We may account, on this principle, for those similar pas­sages which we meet with in different works, although we are certain that [Page 325] no connection existed between the writers. Hence sometimes an Eng­lishman finds in Corneille, an expres­sion which he exclaims is worthy of Shakespeare; and a Frenchman disco­vers in Shakespeare, a sentiment which he knows to be equal to the eloquence of Corneille.

It would, therefore, appear, that there is a MANNER IN EXPRESSION, which may impart novelty to literary composition; and I add also, that there is another MANNER OF CHARACTER, which every writer of genius exhibits.

The Italians describe a certain sen­sation by their un non sò che; the French by their je ne sçai quoi; and we fre­quently say ‘"a certain something."’ The foreign writers have composed a great deal concerning this quality; and per­haps they have obscured, what is not obscure in itself; for what is this oc­cult sensation but MANNER? It accom­panies every interesting object; it is [Page 326] the inexpressible charm which creates sympathy, or the unknown something which produces antipathy. Do we not observe the most essential truths, on the most interesting topics, enfeebled, and even rendered repulsive? And do we not sometimes admire the most tri­vial objects, when they are touched with all the felicity of manner? It arises from the absence or the use of this prominent quality, which bestows novelty on the most familiar, and de­light on the most arid topics. The French and Italians have a species of writing almost peculiar to themselves. It is called by the former, Rajeunisse­ment, and by the latter, Refaccimento. This is nothing but a rejuvenescence of their ancient authors, such as are the versions by Dryden and Pope, of some of Chaucer's Tales. Every one is not equally successful in this em­ployment; and writers who possess a happiness of manner, have displayed [Page 327] in these works it's full force; they have given, by master-touches, all the plea­sure the originals once gave. In the hands of inferior writers, the same thoughts have been as vigilantly pre­served, but not as attractively. Seve­ral works of importance might be no­ticed, which could never be perused in the manner of their original authors; but since they have been re-written by men of genius, every one peruses them. Manner is the first acquirement of ge­nius; it renders a sonnet more precious than a long poem, and has made some authors more celebrated for ten pages, than others who in vain have written ten volumes. Observe in two of the most popular French writers, a great contrast of manner; Voltaire is a wit, and takes us by surprise; Rousseau is an orator, and insinuates his soul into our own; one points his polished epi­grams, and the other steals on us by his pathetic sentiments; our mind is [Page 328] the aim of Voltaire, but we yield our heart to Rousseau. It is this manner which enchants in Addison, pleases in Melmoth, and sooths in Hawkesworth; which sparkles in the brilliant periods of Shaftesbury, rises into majesty in the grand tones of Bolingbroke, and awes in the solemn cadencies of Johnson.*

[Page 329] Another source of literary novelty may be derived from IMITATION. A servile imitation is inimical to the pro­gress of art, but nothing is more ne­cessary to preserve the refinement of art, than a frequent recurrence to it's models. To literary echoes, we may apply the sensible observation of Philip of Macedon, made to one who prided himself with imitating the notes of the nightingale; ‘"I prefer the nightin­gale herself."’ We must first learn to follow our predecessors, that we may reach them, and if we have the adroit­ness, we may then outstrip them; a vulgar mind can only copy, a superior mind in copying, always becomes ori­ginal. Among literary fashions, there once prevailed the custom of imitating Cicero, it was carried to a laughable extravagance, and the correspondence of men of letters was often long inter­rupted, because some would require three or four months to write a letter [Page 330] of three or four pages.* Servile imi­tation is censured by the very expres­sion; that to which I now allude, is of a very different kind, and I proceed to describe it.

[Page 331] This imitation is peculiar to an age of taste. It is an enthusiasm caught from the incessant study of the masters in composition; a sensibility and ver­satility of taste, which receives the manners of every writer, and which re­produces their intermingled graces, in it's own compositions. A writer who possesses this magical power, combines the varieties of his predecessors, and without being one of them, is all of them. He rarely finds a reader wor­thy of himself, for to relish such an au­thor, requires a delicacy and percep­tion equal to his own, and it is less difficult to taste the mere mannerist, who has only one character, than the writer who combines several. A wri­ter of this description is indefatigable in the arrangement of his composition. A cultured imagination heightens his natural feelings, and in every part he exhibits the lighter graces and glow­ing [Page 332] strokes of a brilliant art. He be­stows a freshness and bloom on what­ever has been frequently touched. No thought appears feeble or vulgar, be­cause it is invested with an elegant dress, and an easy air. The effects of such a composition are not immedi­ately perceived, for much of the art of refinement consists in concealing, and not in obtruding. It is a silent beauty that steals on insensibly; it is Venus gradually rising from the sea, wave falls upon wave, beauty succeeds to beauty, till the whole enchantment of the figure is revealed.

A writer of this class catches inspi­ration, in his solitary closet, from the labours of others. He is the student who hastens to Rome to meditate at the feet of it's statues; he is the archi­tect who combines in the edifices with which he adorns his native city, those [Page 333] graces, which his eye had appropri­ated in foreign countries.*

The able vindicator of Milton against the infamous Lauder, has this admi­rable observation on the present sub­ject. ‘"There may be such a thing as an original work without invention; and a writer may be an imitator of others without plagiarism."’ Among painters it is not only permitted, but even applauded, to insert a figure, or [Page 334] groupe of figures, borrowed from ano­ther artist. Raphael, no more than Pope, passed over a happy hint, or he­sitated to seize on whatever he found to be exquisite. I know of no reason why writers are to be less favoured than painters.

Literary novelty appears, therefore, possible to be imparted to works of taste, while there shall be preserved a manner in expression, a manner in character; and a skilful imitation. But two obser­vations remain to be made; that there are a false novelty, and exhausted turns of expression.

The popular kind of novelty is gra­tified by irregular sallies of the imagi­nation. To this incessant demand of the tasteless public, many ingenious and great writers have fallen the vic­tims. We have too frequently, in our country, pardoned eccentricity and in­correctness, for some irregular corus­cations of genius. An affectation of [Page 335] novelty has often been calamitous to great minds. It has been a fertile source in science, of pernicious para­doxes, and in literature, of monstrous inventions. Pere Hardouin, known for his strange opinions, was used to say, to excuse them, that he did not rise at four every morning to repeat what others had said. He might have rose much later, and still have been as ridiculous, for to follow the extrava­gancies of an idle imagination, has great facility. Camoens, in his Lusi­ad, by a mixture of the fabulous dei­ties with the christian theology, and Davenant, in his Gondibert, by the in­vention of a plan, repugnant to Ho­mer and nature, are eminent instances. The temporary taste of a vicious age, has been fatal to genius, and we have lost a fine poet in Cowley. To sur­prise is the great aim of art; but it is to be remembered, that surprise is alike excited by beauty and deformity. [Page 336] We are surprised at the softened graces of a Raphael; we are surprised at the fantastical strokes of a Chinese painter. But which, insinuate themselves into our hearts, assume at every inspection new charms, and create an enchanting and eternal delusion?

That the turns of expression may be ex­hausted, is felt most in an age of lite­rary refinement. Some of our happiest modes of diction occur at length so frequently, that their beauty is lost in their familiarity. At this period, it is, that the manners of a nation, are lux­urious and refined, and their defects are communicated to their style. To invent new thoughts, is now most rare, and to invent new expressions, is now most hazardous. Perhaps letters are verging to their decline, and can only be preserved pure in the care of those few, who retain a passion for the sim­plicity of their ancient authors, and at the same time, a taste for the refine­ments [Page 337] of the moderns. Such is the usual history of the progress of letters; whether this describes our present state, I would not decide, fearful lest from the investigation we might de­duce a conclusion not favourable to our future efforts. When the nation becomes more virtuous, we shall have a more unblemished style.

Let it be sufficient to observe, that while we deviate not too widely from the models of art, novelty may be communicated to our productions, and an originality be impressed on the most common objects. I give an instance. Equestrian statues are commonly raised on a polished mass of marble, and sur­rounded by allegorical figures. When Falconet was invited to Petersburgh, to form such a statue of Peter the Great, he represented the Emperor on a fiery courser. This idea an inferior sculptor might have seised. But it remained for this artist to throw over the perfor­mance [Page 338] the lustre of genius. He has placed the horse in the act of leaping from a rude, unhewed rock. Here we see expressed the sublime genius of Peter and the artist. Give an ordinary sculptor the same marble. Patient in­dustry will polish the limbs, trace with minute beauty the hairs of the mane, while Peter, encumbered by an alle­gorical pomp, will stand unnoticed. While genius can give a new attitude, it will not want for new expression; and it is one source of that NOVELTY, which now seduces and captivates in the productions of art. The art of writing is the art of exciting powerful sensations.


AMONG the various arguments de­duced in favour of an equality in the intellectual faculties of the sexes, I know not if it has been remarked, that there are certain powers, which, to be more perfect, require that station in society occupied by the fair. I shall add also, that any deficiency in other qualities, has been often compensated by the seductions of their personal charms.

We shall perceive upon investiga­tion, that in religion and in politics, their influence has been infinitely greater, than appears in historical re­cords; and it is one great objection to the verity of history, that the female [Page 340] character rarely makes any figure in scenes which, by some other means, we often discover to have been planned by females with inventive felicity, and conducted with peculiar address. We are apt to be surprised when we con­template some of the greatest revolu­tions, that they derived their origin from the fair; that a government or a religion have been established by a fe­male, and that while an invasion takes place, a monarch is assassinated, or an inquisition erected, the motive power of this vast machine, is a little unper­ceived spring, touched and played upon by the dexterity of a woman.

That the female character may ex­cel the masculine ability, in what is termed a knowledge of the world, and that there is a sexual distinction in this not contemptible science, is a fact, which an observer may discover in his private circle. Bruyere is a character more extraordinary among men, than [Page 341] it would be among women; for I am persuaded, that there are many female Bruyeres not accustomed to write down their observations, and pourtray the characters of their acquaintance. Women, of even a mediocrity of ta­lent, excel in the knowledge of their circle; and we may account for this curious circumstance, on the principle of their stationary situation in society, where their opportunities for observa­tion are more frequent, and where their perception becomes more exact, by an attention, which, though fre­quently interrupted by it's vivacity, is never entirely suspended. I cannot affirm that they view distantly, or pe­netrate deeply. Their eye is a plea­sing microscope, which detects the mi­nutest stroke, if placed near, though in­capable of tracing an object remotely. Many experience, and some acknow­ledge, what Rousseau relates of his Theresa. This woman, whom he de­scribes [Page 342] otherwise as heavy and dull, afforded him excellent advice in the most trying occasions. ‘"Often"’ (says he) ‘"in Switzerland, in England, and in France, amidst the catastrophes I found myself, she saw what I did not see myself; she afforded me the best counsels to follow, and extricated me from dangers in which I blindly pre­cipitated myself."’

If, therefore, the female displays a superior acuteness, derivable from the peculiarity of her situation, those authoresses who appear jealous of cer­tain privileges attached to the wander­ing and active sex, cannot be deemed as the able advocates of their own; because if woman (from the natural feebleness of whose organs is derived her beauty) were capable of exerting the same corporeal vigour as man, yet by becoming his rival, she would not only lose that feminine sweetness, that amiable debility, and that retiring [Page 343] modesty which lend so much eloquent persuasion to her actions, but what would not be compensated by this vio­lent and unnatural change, she would lose her actual position in the social order which imparts her present supe­riority, by enabling her to detect the secret foibles of man. To this, her sta­tionary situation, I would attribute her acknowledged superiority in conversa­tion, and in epistolary composition. To both, the female imparts a peculiar delicacy, and a charm of ease, which masters of style can neither imitate nor rival. These excellencies consist in a volubility of happy expression, and a choice of sprightly ideas; on the bo­som of society the female genius is first nurtured; the human scene be­comes her school; and hence she de­rives this facility of language, and this liveliness and selection of ideas.

A more obvious advantage in the female character, is that susceptibility [Page 344] of feeling, or facility of imagination, which, without doubt, is peculiar to the irritable delicacy of their fibres. The heart is the great province of the female; if we would attract their re­gard, we must learn to reach the heart; all their finer qualities are so many sen­sations of the heart; and it is the heart which imbues with it's softness, their every excellence. Their favourite amusements are works of imagination and taste, not of memory and reason; their logic consists not of arguments, but of sentiments; and I think that some ladies of extreme refinement, can put as much fancy, and exert as rich an imagination, in the ornaments of a favourite dress, as the poet employs in his most florid descriptions.

In every surrounding object they ex­press their love of the beautiful; their most useful instruments have a charac­ter of delicacy; and in a word, women would effeminate even the roughness [Page 345] of steel, and the solidity of wood; man is subjugated by these adventi­tious elegancies, and the fair, love to see that beauty admired in inanimate objects, which they know must be much more in themselves.

I am not surprised, that in all na­tions, civilised or rude, whenever su­perstition prevailed, the female cha­racter has been regarded as an instru­ment of the divinity. That peculiar animation which vivifies their lively perceptions, has been considered as something supernatural, and we can easily conceive that the afflatus of pro­phecy must ever have displayed a more touching illusion in the agitated and picturesque countenance of a woman, than in the more hard and labouring visage of a prophet; I conceive that the Grecian Pythia, the Roman Sybil, and the Pythonissa of the Hebrews, must have communicated a more ce­lestial inspiration with their copious [Page 346] tresses luxuriating on their palpitating bosom, their vivacious eyes, and their snowy arms, than even a passionate Isaiah, or a weeping Jeremiah.

But to history, and not to declama­tion, I appeal. If we throw a philo­sophical glance on it's instructive re­cords, and have the discernment to read what often is not in history, we shall observe that the female character has ever had a singular influence on most of the great characters and great events of human life. One of the most favourite portions of the historic art, with historians, is an elaborate deli­neation of the characters of monarchs. We should comprehend these much better if we were acquainted with those of the Queens. Many important resolutions of state councils have been first made in the royal bed. It is an observation of the judicious Du Fres­noy, that a Queen has an influence on the King her husband, and the King [Page 347] her son. And would it be difficult to shew, that if the whole affairs of go­vernment depend on a Minister, he would be impregnable against the at­tacks of a mistress? A person must be very ignorant of secret history, whose memory cannot at this moment place, in ridiculous and humiliating attitudes, some of the most illustrious statesmen.* [Page 348] The most celebrated men have been influenced by the female's powers; nor has that influence terminated in the domestic circle, but animating the most complicated intrigues it has im­pelled, and decided on the fate of a people.

Saint Evremond and Chesterfield, who, to the practical knowledge of life, united the wider theories of me­ditation, have expressed themselves very forcibly on female influence at court. A French author has disco­vered, that under the regency of Anne of Austria, every thing was conducted by women, and he calls this, a singu­lar epocha. The same happened un­der our own Anne. But all this is so far from being singular, that I would enquire what epocha has not been go­verned [Page 349] by women? I confess that the female character has as seldom been heard on the public scene, as the prompter of a theatre; or as rarely been visible as the scene-shifters. But miserable were that philosophy which confounds invisibility with non-exis­tence; the female character, like some other objects, derives all it's influence from concealment; in politics, woman is terrible, not in the rash imbecillity of the storm, but in the sudden explo­sion of the mine.

Ancient and contemporary history will ever abound with multifarious in­stances of this kind; and I shall just observe, that even in the severe re­publics of Greece and Rome, the fe­male character had the same influence; the celebrated confession of Themisto­cles remarkably confirms this observa­tion. That little boy (said he, point­ing to his son) is the arbiter of Greece; for he governs his mother, his mother [Page 350] governs me, I govern the Athenians, and the Athenians govern the Gre­cians. Themistocles was a profound and honest philosopher. I have no doubt that even the modern republic of France must experience the same despotism, and that the fiercest repub­lican must be contented to remain in his sabine farm, unless he submits to address some proud and ambitious woman; for whatever the French may imagine respecting their salique law, they have been more governed by fe­males, than any other nation.

A learned friend observes, that these observations tend to prove, that wo­men command men, because men love women; but I take leave to add, that women command men frequently, be­cause men fear women. The excess of their sensibility is observable in all their great passions; and the ancients appear to instruct us, when they pic­ture their furies, as well as their [Page 351] graces, in the forms of women.* From the same enthusiasm is derived their excellent, as well as their exe­crable qualities; their sensations ad­mit of no cold mediocrity; they are at once, more or less, than human; they listen to the voice of adulation, till they sink into idiotism; or they are animated by a fervour of glory, till they are elevated into heroines.

When the love of glory warms the sensitive soul of a female, she is, per­haps, actuated by a stronger impulse than that which directs our less deli­cate feelings. A being agitated by a tumultuous and inflamed imagination, [Page 352] experiencing sensations, perhaps, un­known to us, half conscious of her debility, yet conducted by a daring pride; burning to reach that beau idéal which we so liberally bestow on her; to what height is such a being not ca­pable of soaring? Even her deficien­cies become so many tender graces, and her very failings extort our ap­plause. Some men of the greatest ge­nius have been remarkable for their extreme vanity, if we thus must term their love of glory; the same passion exists in all it's force in every great female character; and it is a doubt with me, whether genius receives the characteristics of female sensibility, or whether extreme female sensibility re­sembles genius. It is, perhaps, a nice shade to discriminate; but it is evident that this glowing sentiment is derived from an amplitude of soul. To what, but this passion for glory, can we at­tribute their partiality for men of ge­nius? [Page 353] Their remarkable attachment to officers, has formed a severe accu­sation against the sex; some have con­sidered that it proceeded from their timid dispositions, which make them regard with fondness the protecting arm of a brave man; but a sensible female has lately censured it, because she supposes that as these triflers are remarkable for their frivolous accom­plishments, and a deficiency in mental ability, they are therefore more on a level with women, than any other class of men. The observation will oftener be true than false; yet we may some­times attribute the female's passion for military men, to her violent love of glory. The observation is Bayle's; but it is given by Fielding, who at the same time adduces the sentiment of the heroine of the Odyssey, who ‘"as­signs the glory of her husband as the only source of her affection towards him."’

[Page 354] Women have been also frequently accused of an imprudent discovery of their concerns; but an important in­terest engages their silence. No great enterprise will suffer, because a sensi­ble female unites her aid, and stimu­lates by her vivacity, the torpid pru­dence of men. We want not for ex­amples to prove that some of the greatest conspiracies have been con­fided to women; fostered by their care, and accomplished by their zeal. Du Fresnoy, a very learned researcher of history, has shewn that several great conspiracies have failed, because they were not confided to females; and has adduced numerous evidences, to prove, that whenever they were em­ployed, they conferred success on the enterprise. I am persuaded, that a female may not only have the faculty of preserving a secret, but also the dexterity of inventing what is worthy of being kept secret, at the cost of life.

[Page 355] Such has been the influence of the female character in politics; nor has it been less apparent in religion.

The ladies have been more closely connected with religion than perhaps they are aware of. A new religion is congenial to their dispositions, and not merely for it's novelty. There is a luxuriancy of fancy, and a progress to ideal perfection, which every new re­ligion displays; it is honourable to their finer sensibilities, that they are ever the first to incline to what appears so theoretically beautiful. It is not quite so honourable to those, who pre­tending to superior sanctity, and even to inspiration, have for the promotion of the system they wifhed to establish, artfully adopted the ideas most dan­gerous to the imaginations of women, and taught the love of God, according to the art of Ovid.

That the earliest propagators of new dogmas have had recourse to these in­visible, [Page 356] yet powerful wheels, in the machine of human nature, I mean wo­men, is not to be controverted. Let the fair sex be inveigled, and the re­ligion is established; a woman at least can bring her husband, a mistress the prime minister, a queen the sovereign.

It is a curious observation made by some, who pretend to singular pene­tration in the science of human nature, that the christian religion was greatly indebted to the patronage and the sen­sations of the sex. Voltaire, who is not so superficial as his adversaries would make us believe, says, that half of Europe owes it's christianity to wo­men, and Gibbons, who certainly had vast erudition, in his account of the monastic life, after having mentioned the several inducements for entering into this unnatural state, with more truth than politeness, adds, ‘"that these religious motives acted more for­cibly on the infirm minds of females."’ [Page 357] It is certain, that from the influence of the female character, we derive nearly all the prominent events of re­ligious history. The first dominions of the Pope, and consequently the origin of the papal power, are the gifts of a lady. Gregory VII. had so lively an interest in the heart of the Countess Mathilda, that she made a donation of all her states to the holy see. Insti­gated by the eloquence of St. Jerome, the illustrious Paula forsook Rome, re­tired to the sacred village of Bethlem, and founded several monasteries. To Torquemada, who had taken possession of the mind of Isabella of Spain (the best Spanish estate he could have seised on) the world is indebted for the cruel inquisition. And in a word, christi­anity in England is derived from a French princess, who having married Ethelbert, first stipulated for the free exercise of her religion, and soon had such influence on her husband, as to [Page 358] christianise his idolatrous Saxons. To conclude in the words of the poet,

And gospel light, first beamed from Bullen's eyes.

It is thus that the female character has ever had an invisible influence on two of the most important branches of human events, politics and religion. A superiority of talent, in one respect, has produced this unvaried result. This talent consists in a great know­ledge of man, a susceptibility of im­pression, and a peculiarity of situation. In the domestic circle, the female is incessantly occupied in disintangling, or combining the passions she observes or she inflames. Her sedentary life, and her quietness of mind, are little interrupted by that variety of pursuits to which the busier sex are devoted. Her circle is her empire; her com­mands, says Rousseau, are her caresses, and her threats are her tears. Inca­pable, perhaps, of patient designs, her [Page 359] plans are rapidly conceived, and often fail, if they require a tedious process of elaborate events. They are not deeply laid, but are adapted for temporary effect. The female attends to those minute particulars, often unperceived, and generally carelessly considered as unworthy of an elevated mind, but which often adroitly managed, give a new and sudden turn to important ob­jects; and she appears to know much better than man, that little passions can produce great effects. For sur­rounding objects her perceptions are vivid; but she cannot, with the pre­scient eye of philosophy, distinctly trace objects at a remote period. Her intellectual arithmetic can calculate as far as days and months, but extends not to years. She excels man in ob­taining a present purpose; her inven­tion is prompt, her boldness happy, and her execution facile; manly per­severance proceeds with a cautious, [Page 360] firm, and gradual progression. Let us consider the sexual advantages. The female can excite by legitimate eulo­giums, and can correct by severe pa­negyrics; she makes man exult or blush; she can allure by a smile, she can enchant by a touch, she can sub­due by her endearments. She over­turns, or produces in an hour, the la­bour of years. She has ever something reserved for the last effort; something which has often degraded wisdom into folly, and elevated folly into wisdom, and which, while it can render activity torpid, imparts action to indolence.* [Page 361] [Page 362]


IT has been remarked that there is a frame of mind, so constituted, that it becomes naturally religious; as it is certain that there are some tempera­ments which are naturally amorous. Religion has kindled it's brightest fer­vours in those persons who unite these sensations, and the purity of devotion has been deplorably corrupted, by the admixture of a violent passion for the sex. He who loves religion, as reli­gion should be loved, deprived of the adventitious politics of men, and un­soiled by those voluptuous imaginations which degrade the divinity, will not censure this attempt to expose the danger which a feeling and feminine heart too frequently incurs, and which, [Page 364] while it appears to aspire to celestial perfection, is only the more firmly in­tangled in terrestrial licentiousness.

Has religion been attacked in her sanctuary? Have the virtuous united with the criminal? Has the voice of nations sanctioned the declamations of the impious? It is because priests and religionists have destroyed the edifice they were to guard and to inhabit. Among the terrible disorders with which these have polluted ‘"the holy of holies,"’ one of the most striking is this mixture of love with religion. This monstrous union, even in the pre­sent day, perverts psalms into philtres, and conventicles into brothels; yet, as the same cause produces different ef­fects on various minds, what inflames the pious with a burning devotion, only warms the wit into grave raillery, while it animates the instructive exe­cration of the philosopher.

[Page 365] Poets are amorous, lovers are poe­tical, but saints are both. Religion, love, and poetry, are streams from the same fountain; they are alike charac­terised by a certain tender melancholy, which ever accompanies the quiet in­tervals of an enthusiastic fancy; while often there is a stage in these passions, at which reason disappears, and a con­tinued or a temporary insanity is pre­valent; and among lunatics the greater part will frequently be discovered to be religious, poetical, or amorous. The incurables unite the three passions. But, without further discussion, I shall arrange those facts, relative to the pre­sent subject, which I have collected with some care and some curiosity.

The passion the deity inspires, is ac­cording to the conceptions we form of the deity. The christian religion in the persons of Jesus and the Virgin, set afloat a new train of ideas; and the amatory passions have been kin­dled, [Page 366] and the amatory language has been adopted.

In the preceding essay on the influ­ence of the female character in reli­gion and in politics, some observations, and some historical evidence, are in­troduced on the amatorial intimacy of the early propagators of religion with the ladies. The genius of those pious men, survived in their modern descen­dants, and women, it is scarce neces­sary to add, are always women. Those handsome seraphs in France, who were called directors, and who had nothing ghostly about them but their functions, retained the same extraor­dinary influence, and have performed miracles in the cause of religion and gallantry. The young devotees of our numerous sects are not less sensitive; and while they blend with an excess of devotion, all the intemperance of love, soften the groans of religious [Page 367] affliction, with the sighs of amorous pleasure.

The Catholic religion is an academy of love. The effusions of a Spaniard to the Virgin, and a repentant frail one, addressing her prototype Mary Magdalen, with an ‘"ora pro nobis,"’ employ language which comports as little with piety as modesty. I have even heard a pretty Arian speak, with some conviction, of the divinity of Jesus, after having read the beautiful description of his person in Josephus; and which was interpolated by some monk, who well knew that even the son of God would come recommended to the ladies, by the charms of his person. The illustrious pious are al­ways represented as beautiful; from the oriental obscenities of Solomon, the Jewish Ovid, to the grossness of Zinzendorff, and the indecencies of Whitfield.

[Page 368] The union existing between love and religion no where appears clearer, than by the confession said to be made by Mahomet; that the pleasures of the sex rendered him more fervent in prayer. In love, as well as religion, he must have been an adequate judge; for he was a Turk, and a prophet; the first supposing a great experience in sensual pleasures, and the other in spiritual delights. He promised for the reward of piety, a bevy of immor­tal beauties; every prophet, like every physician, has recommended that sys­tem to their patients which they found most agreeable to their own feelings. But I cannot perceive that the opinion of Mahomet at all differed from that of a Christian Saint, Catharine, who observed, ‘"how unhappy must be the state of the damned, since they are no longer capable of loving."’

To pursue our speculation with something like historical regularity, we [Page 369] may observe, that David and his son are not less celebrated for the number of their Psalms and Proverbs, than for their Concubines. It is fortunate for them, that we have no secret memoirs of those days; we know, however, sufficient; and indeed we could not expect great regularity of manners in men, who were at once poets, lovers, and saints. Glancing into the early ages of christianity, I pass over an anecdote of no less a person than the author of the Christian Creed, who is said to have concealed himself, for a considerable time, in the embraces of a favourite devotee; but Saint Atha­nasius assures us, that during the whole time, he lay hid in an empty jar. Pro­ceeding to a later period we discover the amatorial spirit to be so congenial to religion, that public marriages were solemnised between some eminent cha­racters, and a favourite saint. Pope Pius V. was publicly united in matri­mony [Page 368] [...] [Page 369] [...] [Page 370] to Saint Catharine; and the au­thor of his life assures us, that this ancient lady kissed him, and presented him with a ring of her own hair. Tan­chelm of Antwerp publicly espoused an image of the Virgin Mary, and with no inconsiderable portion; for having placed two boxes near her, to receive the voluntary contributions of the nu­merous spectators, the women were so fascinated with the idea of a nuptial ceremony, that, alike animated by love and religion, they tore their neck­laces and ear-rings, to present them to the Virgin and her Tanchelm.

Descending to a later period we ob­serve the same cause operating the same effects. The singular institutions of chivalry, illustrate the alliance be­tween the two passions. The learned Saint Palaye has observed, that the first lessons of chivalry related to the love of God and the ladies; that is, reli­gion and gallantry. ‘"The ladies,"’ he [Page 371] says, ‘"taught them, at the same time, their catechism and the art of love."’ It was in the genuine spirit of chivalry, that Boccaccio returned thanks to God and the ladies, for the success of his agreeable and licentious tales. Boc­caccio at length became so voluptuous in his indulgence for love, poetry, and religion, that this unfortunate man of genius was seised by the terrors of the priests, and appears to have closed his days in the lunacy of catholicism.

From the twelfth century to no re­mote period, nothing pleased in devo­tion, but what was combined with love. Romances were filled with reli­gion, as well as religion with roman­ces. They hastened to confession to find lovers, and having found lovers, probably perceived it necessary to re­turn to confession. The learned Leng­let du Fresnoy comes here to my assis­tance. Writing on the romances of this period, he observes, that ‘"Jesus [Page 372] Christ and Apollo, Cupid and the Holy Ghost, Venus and the Virgin, went hand in hand in the early productions of this kind."’ Of these works one only is printed, which is the celebrated Roman de la Rose.

The primers of the pious were at one period so many votive offerings to love. In the reign of Henry III. of France, most great men had these re­ligious manuals illuminated with sub­jects, from the sacred writings, in which were introduced the portraits of their favourite minions and mistresses. Charles V. had a missal painted for his mistress, of a similar description; it was ornamented by figures depicted by Albert Durer, and the subjects were not less extravagant than licentious. So possible is it to be servent at once in love and religion, that the Queen of Navarre, in one of her novels, no­tices a Prince, who, going to his usual assignation with the lady of a counsel­lor, [Page 373] always stopped to pray in a Church which he passed; her Majesty highly applauds his devotion, as well as his passion; and advises all true lovers not to neglect the duties of religion.

Several curious publications might be mentioned, composed by pious per­sons. Of these modern works, none is more singular than the life of Marie à la Coque, not inelegantly written by an Archbishop of Sens. This woman was a visionary, who, having over­heated her brain, by the perusal of re­ligious works, and the rigours of peni­tential fasts, betrothed herself to Jesus. From her own narrative the Archbi­shop composed this pious romance, in which the whole progress of her celes­tial amour is traced in the style of a circulating-library novel. We have a copy of amatory verses, which Jesus wrote to his new spouse, and scenes are described with great lubricity of imagination. It is certain this inge­nious [Page 374] Archbishop could not have be­lieved the reveries he wrote; but he well knew that such fictions, delivered as truths, would have a great offect with the devotees, and it must be con­fessed, that the Parisian Belle was charmed to worship a deity, so much resembling un homme du grand monde. Similar publications abound in French and Spanish literature, and it has been observed, by some of their casuists, that they always found the greatest sinners made the greatest saints; the reason is not difficult to discern, since such sanctity is in proportion to the criminal imaginations of the religionist.

Even the ceremonies of religion, both in ancient and in modern times, have exhibited the grossest indecencies. Priests, in all ages, have been the suc­cessful panders of the human heart, and have introduced in the solemn wor­ship of the divinity, incitements, gra­tifications, and representations, which [Page 375] the pen of the historian must refuse to describe. Often has the sensible Ca­tholic blushed amidst his devotions; and I have seen Chapels surrounded by pictures of lascivious attitudes, and the obsolete amours of saints revived by the pencil of some Aretine. At this moment there exists a considerable trafic of certain waxen figures, in some parts of Calabria, which a royal edict in vain attempted to abolish; and it is urged in it's favour, by the priests of the neighbourhood, that in no part of Italy are the young devotees so fervent in prayer, and so obsequious to the instructions of the priest.

In religious solitude, these confused notions of love and religion perplexed the wavering and debilitated heart of the pious Recluse. On the burning pillow of the Monk hovered phantoms of melancholy lust; his fancy was the scourge of the furies, and of the innu­merable visions with which these men [Page 376] were disturbed, they were ever accom­panied by the seducing form of a beau­tiful female, and the day was passed in contrition for the temptations of the nightly demon. Their homilies were manuals of love, and the more reli­gious they became, the more depraved were their imaginations. In the nun­nery, the love of Jesus was the most abandoned of passions, and the ideal espousal was indulged at the cost of the feeble heart of many a solitary beauty. Several manuscript diaries have been preserved of these amiable fanatics, in which the embraces and sensations of spiritual love are not dif­tinguishable from those of a material nature. An eternal meditation on the same object, terminated frequently in the horrors of delirium; and when the soul, by a ceaseless inquietude, had accustomed itself to be penetrated with the love of Jesus, while all other ideas faded and vanished from the mind, it [Page 377] sunk in the stupor of imbecillity, and could alone occupy itself by this soli­tary idea. Tissot has given a case of this nature; a young woman having yielded herself up to all the extrava­gance of love and religion, during six months that he attended her, she could only articulate at intervals, ‘"my beloved lamb, come to my arms."’

We must now turn our observations to a considerable portion of the reli­gious world, who, known under va­rious denominations, may be classed under the generic title of Mystics. The ancient Platonists appear to have resembled the modern Mystics; they carried these united passions to a great perfection; yet, it is clear, that the Platonists trembled to gather the ce­lestial palms of religion, on the preci­pices of love. John Norris, a cele­brated English Platonist, in his "The­ory and Regulation of Love," consi­dering all vices and virtues, as the [Page 378] various modifications and irregularities of love, maintains this principle, that the love of God ought to be entire, and exclusive of all other loves. This singular distnction could never have entered into the imagination of any person, excepting [...]hat or a lover and religionist; but, without doubt, the author had found it, among his female Platonists, as a principle very necessary to inculcate.

The Mystics were enamoured of the sweet union. Of these, Antoinette Bourignon is among the most celebra­ted. She persuaded some, and what is more strange, is supposed to have persuaded herself, that she received the visitations of the divine spirit. Her opinions became so fashionable, that they were propagated in this country, and Lesley thought proper to publish an elaborate refutation of her errors. We are told she was endowed with an extraordinary gift of chastity, and [Page 379] which, she informs us, had been fre­quently attempted; scandalous reports were on the wing, and the anticipated them. She, like other female saints aspiring to be espoused to the Son of God, was desirous the public should know, that she was not incapable of attracting several young men. The fascinating ardours of these Mystics prevailed over the gentle mind of the virtuous Fenelon, who once rendered a man of fine genius ridiculous to all Europe by his patronage of Madame Guyon. The sage author of Telema­chus wandered in his retirement, stu­dious of her ‘"spiritual guide,"’ her ‘"short way,"’ and her ‘"torrents."’ The imagination of this lady was not of the most chaste, nor of the most beautiful kind, yet it was certainly imagination, and it's wild fervours overpowered the susceptible soul of Fenelon. By the alchemy of his own fine genius, he turned obscenity into [Page 380] purity, and incoherence into regula­rity. How are we otherwise to ac­count for this singular fascination?

The same genius characterises our female Methodists, who hasten to their Chapel, as the fashionable to the front boxes of the Theatre. An ex­traordinary neatness of dress distin­guishes a devotee, and while she sings a tender psalm, the warmest tears, and the most voluptuous sighs, attest her sensibility. An intrigue too often com­mences in a pew; and I do not know why the magistrates, who are empow­ered to prosecute the venders of ob­scene publications, permit the hymns, the diaries, and other rapturous effu­sions of our fanatics. These are the Ovidian touches of the kitchen. Where are to be found, as among similar sects, an equal number of lovers? If one part of ascetic christianity threatened, if universally adopted, to depopulate the world, the other, of mystic chris­tianity, [Page 381] appears resolute in rectifying that political error; and perhaps no society so small as that of methodism, has produced to the State, so many additional members.

This close alliance between love and religion, many writers have noticed, without accounting for it; and the greater part have only ventured to ex­press their astonishment, and to doubt the fact. A great observer of the hu­man character, enquires if the heart can conciliate such opposite passions, and admit such incompatibilities? But we see that the passions are not oppo­site or incompatible; since libertinism has been one instrument which the hand of priests has employed for the purposes of religion. It is acutely ob­served by Montesquieu, that a Mystic is only mad, devout, and licentious. But we may also add, that the deli­rium has often only consisted in the expressions which these persons adopt; [Page 382] and all the extatic visions they notice, are sometimes only so many metaphors, by which they conceal their liber­tinism of mind. The Methodists of the last century (for methodism is an old folly with a new name) employed all this devotional cant. The father of our immortal dramatist, probably far gone in love and religion, thus ex­presses himself in his will, ‘"I be­queath my soul to be entombed in the sweet and amorous coffin of the side of Jesus Christ!"’ Even elegant minds, adding to the orgasm of poetry, that of religious extacy, employ the style of the most plaintive and tender lo­vers. Racine the son, in his Poem on Religion, has many such touches. He engraved under his crucifix, the very expressions Tibullus has addressed to his mistress. The Latin poet says,

Te spectem, suprema mihi cum venerit hora,
Te teneam moriens, deficiente manu.

[Page 383] Which Racine thus adopts, in addres­sing Jesus,

Que ta Croix dans mes mains soit à ma derniere heure,
Et que, les yeux sur toi, je t'embrasse et je meure.

In an epistle, supposed to be writ­ten by the famous Abbé Rancé, of La Trappe, the alliance between love and religion is well marked in the follow­ing verse,

Je n'avois plus d'Amante, il me fallut un Dieu.

Our sublime Milton, who, as he was a great poet, and no inconsiderable fanatic, must have been, no doubt, a warm lover, appears also to have con­ceived that the rewards of a future state, can only consist of amatorial pleasures. This curious passage is in the Paradise Lost, book v. verse 612. Adam is thus conversing with the angel,

"To love thou blamest me not, for love, thou sayst,
Leads up to heaven, is both the way and guide;
Bear with me then, if lawsul what I ask;
Love not the heavenly spirits; and how their love
Express they, by looks only", or do they mix
Irradiance, virtual or immediate touch?

[Page 384] I will not fatigue the reader with additional confirmations of what I have advanced. I shall only observe, that the enthusiast Rousseau, who cer­tainly was a poet, though he wrote in prose; a lover of exquisite sensibility, though he married his laundress; and pious, though he wrote against the clergy, perceived the union which has passed under our examination. In one of his notes to his delicious romance, he observes, ‘"That the enthusiasm of devotion borrows the language of loves the enthusiasm of love borrows the lan­guage of devotion."’

I conclude by observing, that one of the most dangerous corruptions, in­troduced into religion, by artful and atheistical priests, has been that of the most libidinous passions. How much, therefore, is it to the honour of our established Church, that it alone, of every branch of christianity, does not [Page 385] annihilate that chastity of mind, which is the female's peculiar and precious ornament.


AMONG the peculiar felicities of an Englishman, are to be accounted some of his literary enjoyments. He peruses with continued rapture, the works of Shakespeare and Milton. One must be accustomed from the most susceptible age, to accommodate one­self to their strong and versatile genius; as the Turks, habituated to their fa­vourite opium, feast deliciously on co­pious quantities, which would inebri­ate and disgust a foreigner.

An English critic detests French po­etry, as loyally, as he does French po­litics. The plenteous roses that grow on the borders of the Seine, passed through his alembic, yield but a few drops of odour; but I conceive this to [Page 387] be no defect of the roses, but of the alembic.

On the other side, a French critic cannot patiently endure ten pages of Shakespeare and Milton. The plea­sure is uncertain and fugitive, while the disgust is frequent and repulsive. He views a chaos of genius, where light and darkness are in continual op­position; elaborate deformities and misplaced beauties; grandeur neigh­bouring to meanness.

Such are the decisions of national critics; but it is possible to censure both parties, by applauding the com­positions of both.

It is evident that the genius of Eng­lish and French poetry is widely dif­ferent. Our theatre and our poems afford the proofs. The Cato of Addi­son, which by it's regularity of plot, and correctness of composition, has ever been a great favourite in France, is at home rarely acted, and is much [Page 388] more approved than applauded. The French say that we had no perfect tra­gedy till Cato appeared. Among a few kindred compositions, the Phaedra of Smith, one of the most elegant and classical of our dramatic pieces, was very ill received on the stage. The Temple of Fame, of Pope, one of his most elaborate, was his least popular poem; it never attracted notice, is rarely quoted, and the opinion of Steele at first augured it's ill success. Yet it is this poem which M. Yart in his selections of English poetry, gave as one of it's most precious com­positions, and this opinion has been confirmed by the French critics. Of the French poets, Corneille is the most attacked in his country, and the most admired in our own. He bears some affinity to the irregular force of Shakespeare; he has many of his de­fects, and sometimes his beauties. His characters are heroic; and he sacri­fices [Page 389] little to the sighing and amorous theatre of the French. The real emo­tions of love, Corneille appears never to have felt in poetry; all his females are heroines and politicians. What must we think of Emilia, in Cinna, who will not bestow her hand, unless she receives for the nuptial gift, the head of Augustus? Another heroine only unites herself to Sertorius, for the plea­sure of punishing Pompey. The cele­brated scenes between Chimene and Rodrigue discover little of the delicacy of the amatorial passion. But he is a hero, and Englishmen feel a congeni­ality of disposition. The love scenes in which Corneille has failed, would not have equally gratified us, had they possessed the continued elegance, the sweet volubility, and pervading softness of Racine. His defects, therefore, are not so sensibly felt in this country as in his own, and his beauties are much more. I found this criticism upon [Page 390] facts, and I think that Pope, in one line, has conveyed our national senti­ment respecting these two great rivals, and masters of the French drama;

"Exact Racine, and Corneille's noble fire."

Our national genius has ever been more vigorous than graceful, and more solid than refined. We are not less partial to the bizarre than the beauti­ful, and we are pleased with a Ho­garth, at least as often, as with a Ra­phael. The French preceded us in polite literature and polite criticism, and I much fear that we have not yet approached the eloquence of their finest compositions. We exult in the strength of our oaks, and contemp­tuously regard the delicacy of their vines; but, perhaps, we may yet be pleased to unite them on the same soil.

One circumstance in this variance of taste, long appeared to me mysterious. Classical literature is studiously culti­vated in England; no nation is so [Page 391] much attached to the Grecians and the Latins, as Englishmen; and it would therefore seem, that that which most approaches their manner, would be most adapted to gratify the national taste. But how is it that the reverse is the fact? We have few poets, ex­cepting Pope, who are professed imi­tators of the ancients, while in France, their eminent poets have enriched themselves with their spoils.

This national singularity, of students devoting themselves to the classical Muses, while the public at large are not delighted by a poet, who forms himself on the models of antiquity, may, perhaps, be accounted for in the following manner. The character of our earliest poetry is Gothic; our poetical infancy was nourished with Italian milk, and the venerable Chau­cer educated his Muse in the schools of Italian fancy. Spencer, Shakes­peare, and Milton, completed the na­tion's [Page 392] poetical taste. In the reign of Charles II. a new school was com­menced by Dryden, and since perfected by Pope, with which we are now fa­miliarised; but I conceive that there remains a certain licentiousness and boldness in the national poetical taste, which is inimical to regularity and correctness.

An independent spirit characterised the poets of the Gothic school; but like all independence, their manners have a mixture of the grand and the mean, the heroic and the puerile. Their daring and uncontrouled spirit often attained to a loftiness unknown to their classical rivals, but their opu­lence is

"Barbaric pearl and gold."

Their imagination wandered in a new creation; it was more abstracted, more wild, more lustrous. But it was fre­quently, [Page 393] as one of themselves ex­presses it,

"Dark with excessive light."

It cannot be said that these votarists of the imagination had the modest dig­nity, the clear conduct, and the sub­dued imagination of Virgil; but rather the originality, the spirit, and the ve­hemence of Homer. One need only have taste to receive the tranqull plea­sures of a classical poet, but the Go­thic writers are unintelligible, if we cannot assimilate our minds with their peculiar dispositions.

It is not, therefore, surprising, that Ariosto and Tasso, Spenser and Milton, and Shakespeare, who felicitously uni­ted their varied characters, to his own powerful conceptions of the human character, should have excited the wit, the reasoning, and the ridicule, of the critics of the opposite school. It is like censuring the manners of a [Page 394] distant nation, because they differ from our own. Yet it must not be denied, that in criticism, as in human nature, there are certain universal axioms, which are independent of every local custom. Order must ever be acknow­ledged superior to confusion, decency to licentiousness, and simplicity to af­fectation; the classical school has, therefore, successfully attacked many a vulnerable side of the Gothic poets. To these children of fancy, Fairy Land opened all it's gorgeous miracles, and as the dragon of criticism was not placed at the entrance of the poetical Hesperides, they plucked, at pleasure, the golden fruitage, and sported with the freedom, and sometimes with the licentiousness of revellers, who dis­dained the arm of the legislator. But it was not thus in France; criticism had flourished there at an early period, and the art of poetry had long exer­cised the colder and disquisitive genius [Page 395] of their wits; Aristotle became as great a favourite as Homer. And it is an acknowledged fact in literary investi­gation, that whenever criticism flou­rishes, a severe and minute taste will be formed, and the luxuriancies of imagination must be trimmed and lopped by the polishing steel of art.

Hence is it, that so many extraor­dinary criticisms have appeared by some eminent writers of both nations. Boileau and Racine, two most finished poets, have been often slightly appreci­ated in our country; the classical puri­ty, and the bitter causticity of Boileau, have sometimes been considered as only frigid imitation; and the equable flow, and concealed delicacy of Racine, have not been generally tasted in a country, where energy, rather than delicacy, is found most to please. Voltaire's Henriade has been little esteemed, and denied to be an epic, but I cannot ap­prove it the less, if it were merely to [Page 396] deserve the degrading distinction, of being only a very fine poem.

But the English Muses have fared much worse at Paris, than their French Sisters at London. Our brilliant mon­sters, as the works of Milton and Shakespeare have been called by Vol­taire, is a favourable distinction. The French have translated our best poets in prose and verse; and when we com­pare these versions with the originals, we shall be little surprised at the seve­rity of criticism. The brightest pas­sages in Shakespeare and Milton, are so closely attached to the force and genius of our language; so many se­cret charms are concealed in their numbers; so many marvellous words that are embrowned by the touch of antiquity; so many happy boldnesses of expression; and such a continuance of metaphorical diction; that I am persuaded no foreign student can ever taste them, like a native, in their ori­ginal. [Page 397] There are certain poets, who resist the nicest skill of translation; who refuse to speak in any other language than their own, and who have so con­structed their diction, by the idiom and manners of their own country, that not a sufficient number of equivalent phrases, or colours of diction, can be found by a foreigner in his own lan­guage. When by violence we tear away the sentiment or image, to place it in another language, it is like rend­ing the embroidered flower from a veil of gauze; the flower may be seised on, but the gauze which gave it it's peculiar beauty will be wanting.

What we have observed of this kind of imagination, extends also to works of humour. There is an idiom in the manners of men, as well as in their language. We are not less distin­guished by our national humour, than by our national imagination; and the finest strokes in the characters of Sir [Page 398] John Falstaff and Sir Roger de Cover­ley, I can speak from my own obser­vation, can never be relished by a man of letters in France; and I may add, that the wit of Moliere will not be certain of securing every Englishman as his admirer. It is not, therefore, surprising, that most of the French translators, have rescinded from many of our authors, those portions of their compositions, which are most valued by a native.

But to return to our present investi­gation. Writers of the Gothic cha­racter we have mentioned, add to these difficulties, that of opening a vein of purer poetry, which is unknown in the school of wit and correctness. The most enlightened critic of the severer, wants many sensations for the roman­tic poetry.

It has therefore happened, that some of our own eminent writers, in the character of critics, have delivered [Page 399] decisions on our own poetry, which to many have appeared extraordinary and unjust. Shaftesbury, whose taste was formed on the best models, and who respected the modern French writers, as well as the ancients, has sarcasti­cally observed, that ‘"An English au­thor would be all genius. The limae labor is the great grievance with our countrymen."’ He says, ‘"Our Muses have scarce arrived to any thing of shapeliness or person. They lisp as in their cradle; and their stammering tongues, their youth and rawness must excuse. Our dramatic Shakespeare, Fletcher, Jonson, and our epic Milton, preserve this stile."’ The critical stric­tures of Hume, on our poets, which I would not hesitate to adopt, have been frequently censured, and it has been supposed, that because his refined taste, quickly felt, and accurately traced, the grosser blemishes of Shakespeare and Milton, he was therefore deficient [Page 400] in poetical sensations. But does not the admirable writer of "The Epicu­rean," display a fine and chastised ima­gination, a delicacy of sentiment, and a liveliness of imagery, which will not easily be paralleled? Chesterfield who had read and admired the French cri­ticks, and the French writers, has also freely condemned some of the ebul­litions of our first poets; and the taste of Addison and Pope was deeply im­bued with the studies of French cri­tics, and richly nourished on French authors. Such respectable critics as Warburton, Hurd, and Warton,* are not penurious of their contempt of French critics; but it is certain that they have considerably profited by their use. They have acted the un­generous [Page 401] part of that russian traveller, who always pillaged or massacred un­der the hospitable roof that afforded him shelter and repose. Young, in his tasteless versification, whose fondness for conceit and floridness of wit, unite the defects of the inferior Italian poets, has been pleased to warn us, not to borrow any thing from the French, because, observes the profound wit,

"Britons are grave and solid; and a dance
Far better may import, than thoughts from France."
Young's Second Epistle to Pope.

If we are really so grave and solid, why did our poet compose his satires in a chain of twisted epigrams? And why did he study, admire, and feebly imitate, the solid and judicious Boi­leau? But Young is a writer, whose errors we must reprimand, but whose genius we revere.

Johnson was a lover of French lite­rature, and it's charms had for him the power of calming his national ha­tred, [Page 402] and extorting his warm applause. He admired their gay and airy man­ner; their decorated and sparkling pe­riods, their versatile talents, and their copiousness of subjects. He who has formed a taste, and he who has ma­tured his taste into a passion for literary history, and the wide circle of literary information, can no where gratify it, but in French literature; no European nation has yet equalled the varieties of their researches; the diversifications of their criticism; and the multitude of their anecdotes; for no one has yet felt an equal passion for the Belles Lettres. They have, indeed, the ho­nour of giving their title to polite lite­rature. We have but just escaped from the trammels of classical pedan­try, and we have yet only essayed to wear the flowery chains of the Graces of literature.

The introduction of French words has been censured with due indigna­tion; [Page 403] but it will be sometimes disco­vered, that however copious our vo­cabulary, our critical language is emi­nently defective, if compared with that of the French. Nor is the reason dif­ficult to assign. In an age of literary refinement, criticism constructs a lan­guage which often happily describes the feelings of taste. I must yield up my convictions, if I were to deny that the French language abounds with lively expressions, with acute distinc­tions, and with peculiar terms, which paint our literary sensations; because I repeat, that nation long preceded us in critical learning, and has been more attached to the cultivation of the Belles Lettres. It would be difficult, and if I may judge by my own at­tempts, I should say it is impossible, to translate some of their critiques; so peculiarly brilliant, so subtilly deli­cate, so appropriately just, are some [Page 404] of their expressions.* The beautiful and light ideas of taste are ever dimly seen through the twilight of language; and even this ingenious and literary people have complained of the defi­ciencies of their style. If we acknow­ledge that the English language boasts a rich abundance, is it requisite for the critic of taste to be informed, that the language of genius is yet barren in every nation?

[Page 405] But as general observation is of little value, unless elucidated by example, I shall notice a few French words, which, at present, offer themselves to my recollection, and of which I con­fess myself incapable of discovering adequate and exact parallels in our language. The words naiveté, a cri­tique, ennui, bizarre, and some others, have at length been made denizens; but certain critics put me often in de­spair, when I would introduce to their notice, some other foreigners, who I well know have considerable merit, and are by no means so insignificant as they imagine.—An Erudit is very diffe­rent from a pedant; because a pedant is universally understood to be a learn­ed fool, conversant only with the an­cient classicks; but an erudit is a learned fool, who has crouded his intellect with the minutiae of learning, and is familiar with the historical, and not with the philosophical part of a sub­ject. [Page 406] —A litterateur is a man of letters, and a prosateur a writer of prose; and I would prefer them, because they give a necessary and distinctive title, and have greater force than our feebler pa­raphrase.*—To express the wariness or circumspection of an author, who sup­presses what he thinks advantageous for his cause to suppress, the French employ the word reteniie. The Bishop of Worcester says ironically, ‘"It is plain that virtue hath not been very common amongst us, from our having [Page 407] no name to call it by."* Un style enjoué, literally is a chearful style, but that ex­pression would sound oddly in English, and it is wanted.—The Duke of Bur­gundy characterised Corneille as un homme de Genie, and Racine as un homme d' Esprit. This admirable distinction exists not in our language.—How often have I sighed to erase from my manu­scripts, the words les delices; artistement, which I venture to call artistly; the tact of criticism; which word has been lately employed by Mrs. Barbauld, in her Essay on Akenside.—The French language is the language of sentiment and delicacy; and when our great lex­icographer was desirous of forcibly ex­pressing himself, on a subject in which his sensations were fervidly alive, (the gift of his pension) he said that he was compelled to have recourse to the [Page 408] French word penetré. I will not weary the reader with this arid verbality; but conclude with one instance of the extreme delicacy and refinement of the French critical language. Their cri­tics employ nice discriminations of ex­pression, which it is hopeless for an Englishman to attempt; and I quote for an illustration, the DELICAT and the DELIE' in literature. These form no frivolous distinctions, but are per­ceptible shades to the sensations of a cultivated taste. The DELICAT con­sists of ideas united by an affinity not common; not immediately apparent; yet on examination, not too remote; it occasions an agreeable surprise, and skilfully awakens some secret and ac­cessory ideas of virtue, pleasure, love, &c. The DELIE' is a more refined de­licacy, where the artifice, the subtilty, and the writer's aim, seem studiously concealed. Writers of the DELICAT may be frequently DELIE' in their man­ner [Page 409] of expression; but writers of the DELIE' are rarely DELICATS. A sen­timental impression is communicated by the DELICAT, but the DELIE' has what we term ‘"more than meets the ear,"’ a kind of enigmatic elegance. One of their critics, writes thus on this distinction. ‘"Throw over a composi­tion delié the shade of sentiment, and you will render it delicat; imagine that he who writes with the delicat has some concealed and ambiguous design, and he will instantly become a writer delié."* And must we not be per­mitted [Page 410] to introduce such expressive distinctions? If we do not borrow them from the French, or invent parallel terms, a writer of exquisite taste will have to deplore, in his every composi­tion, the loss and injury of many beau­tiful ideas. Cicero, among the Latins, was applauded for domiciliating Gre­cian terms in his maternal language; and though I am sensible, very heavy restrictions should be laid on such in­novations, yet, like the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, there are times in which it may become neces­sary to transgress the genius of our lan­guage, as well as our constitution.* [Page 411] [Page 412]


PAGE 158.

I AM inclined to believe, that of those minor poems which I have de­scribed, a diligent selection among our fugitive poetry, might gather no in­considerable volume. I think, how­ever, that short compositions, relative to the domestic passions, are not fre­quent; and the Vers de Societé form a species of poetical composition, which might still be employed with great success.

PAGE 165.

I confess, however, that every phi­losopher is not so indifferent a prophet as the good Abbé de Saint Pierre. We have had several extracts from their writings, which have clearly pre­dicted [Page 414] the great revolution of France. To this number I could add many; I shall give a very singular prediction of Rousseau, who, whether the Church will allow it or not, is certainly a very great prophet.

In his Emilius, book iii. p. 88, he writes. ‘"We approach a state of crisis, and an age of revolutions. Who can answer what will then happen to you? What men have made, men can destroy; there are no other indelible characters than those formed by na­ture, and nature makes no princes, no rich, no lords. What then will your debased satrap do, who has been only habituated to grandeur?"’—He accom­panies the observation by this note.—‘"I consider it as impossible, that the great monarchies of Europe can last long; they have all shone, and every state that shines, is on the decline. I could maintain my opinion by reasons more particular than this maxim; but [Page 415] this is not the place to tell them."’ All this might appear very wonderful, if it were not certain that the revolu­tion in France had taken place, in the eye of the philosopher, thirty or forty years, ere it appeared in the streets of Paris. A revolution in a great king­dom has been long formed when it first appears to the common people. It would not be difficult, at the pre­sent moment, to offer some predictions respecting ourselves, which would not be of an agreeable nature. But I shall say with Rousseau, this is not their place; and men do not like to be in­formed even of inevitable disasters. It is with revolutions, as with thunder clouds; the danger has past when the noise is heard; while the people com­plain, there is some faint hope of quiet; when they are sullen and silent, it is then the lightning of vengeance darts it's fatal stroke. But while Bri­tons unite, they can have no reason to fear the lunacy of republicanism.

PAGE 186.

IT will not be denied, that Erasmus was a friend to the freedom of the press; who, indeed, had employed it more than himself? Yet he was so shocked at the licentiousness of Lu­ther's pen, that there was a time when he considered it as necessary to restrain the liberty of the press. He had in­deed been miserably calumniated, and expected future libels. I am glad, however, to observe, that he after­wards, on a more impartial investiga­tion, confessed that such a remedy was much more dangerous than the disease. To restrain the liberty of the press, can only be the interest of the individual, never that of the public.

PAGE 221.

THIS observation of the effect of ideas not rendered offensive, merely because the words are not familiar, may be further illustrated, by a pas­sage [Page 417] I have just discovered in the Notes on Pope's Odyssey. Homer has been ridiculed by certain critics, for having so minutely described the dog Argus, lying on a dung hill, nearly devoured by vermin.—The annotator then ob­serves, ‘"It is certain that the vermin which Homer mentions, would de­base our poetry; but in the Greek, that very word is noble and sonorous, [...]."’—Here then is a word which can give dignity to a circumstance very offensive in itself; but we cannot at present, I think, decide whether this word, which appears to us so noble and sonorous, affected an ancient Greek in the same manner. All that appears certain, is, that the [...] of Homer, and the excalcearetur and dis­cingeretur of Velleius Paterculus, are noble and sonorous terms to our ear, and abate from the familiarity of ex­pression.

[Page 418] Lord Kaimes, in his "Sketches of the History of Man," vol. iii. p. 242, has a curious observation, which seems to relate to this subject, though by him applied to a different purpose. He writes, ‘"A sea-prospect is charming, but we soon tire of an unbounded prospect. It would not give satisfac­tion to say, that it is too extensive; for why should not a prospect be relished, however extensive?"’ But employ a foreign term, and say that it is trop vaste, we enquire no further; a term that is not familiar, makes an impression, and cap­tivates weak reason. This observation accounts for a mode of writing for­merly in common use, that of stuffing our language with Latin words and phrases.

I only quote Lord Kaimes, for the purpose of shewing the effect of ex­pressions that are not familiar. His instance of the sea appears to me erro­neous; for we do not tire of the pros­pect [Page 419] of interminable waters, for the extensiveness, but the uniformity. The Alps, like the ocean, present extensive prospects, but delight, because they have also innumerable varieties.

The reader will please to observe, that the affectation I censure in Vel­leius, is not the words excalcearetur and discingeretur, but the pompous parenthesis, in which he apologises for mentioning these circumstances. I have misunder­stood the design of Cesar, and have erroneously called that ‘"a petty pre­caution,"’ which is really a very noble action. This mistake has been cor­rected by a learned friend. It does not affect my criticism, respecting the two words. I shall, however, give the translation of my friend, accompa­nied by some observations.

‘"Nor was he ever, either by night or day, (for why should any thing of the greatest kind be omitted, because it [Page 420] cannot be expressed in beautiful lan­guage?) unslippered or ungirdled."’

The historian has told us before, that when Cesar was threatened with death by the servile instruments of Sylla, he put on a mean habit, and escaped by night. This was a neces­sary measure. But among the pirates who treated him with respect, and where (as the historian expresses it) he was only guarded by the eye, he would not occasion them to suspect that he would make use of any disguise to escape. He therefore altered not the minutest article of his dress, but appeared before their eyes always the same. This circumstance was, there­fore, no ‘"petty precaution,"’ but an action which shewed Cesar's dignity of mind, and sensibility of honour, and was, as the historian terms it, ‘"quod vel maximum est."’

The affectation and obscurity of Velleius, may lead minds much more [Page 421] vigorous than my own astray. But it is a justice we owe to Cesar, to cor­rect even a misrepresentation as incon­siderable as the present. The reader will observe, that I have only erred in the conception of the historical fact; the criticism relative to Velleius re­mains uninjured.

PAGE 264.

ROUSSEAU is the adversary of this system; he adopts the popular notion that the aptitude of men, for the un­derstanding merely depends on their respective organisation, and their vir­tues, on their temperaments. The French Plato, it is well known, con­tradicts himself throughout his works; and on no subject so much as on the present. Helvetius has collected his contradictions; the surest and the most modest mode of confuting a writer of the finest genius. He has also thrown out an observation, which discloses [Page 422] the source of the errors of Rousseau. He says, ‘"The contradictions of this celebrated writer are not to be won­dered at. His observations are almost always just; and his principles almost always falfe and trite. From hence his errors. Little scrupulous in examin­ing opinions generally received, the number of those he adopts, impose on him."’

We see the opinion of Reynolds, on the genius for painting; we shall con­trast it with that of Rousseau; and we may then enquire, if, on this subject, the opinion of a philosopher and a painter is not to be preferred to him who only was a philosopher.

Rousseau, in his Emilius, book iii. p. 100, amuses his readers with an anecdote. He tells us, he was ac­quainted with a servant, who having frequently observed his master paint and design, felt a furious passion to become a painter and designer. He [Page 423] passed three years, nailed to his chair, in painting and designing; and nothing but attendance on his master, could take him away from his pleasing occupa­tions. At length favoured by his master, and assisted by the instructions of an artist, he quitted his livery, and lived by the produce of his pencil.—I shall now quote the very expressions our author employs, ‘"Till a certain point, perseverance suffices in lieu of genius; he has reached this point, and will never pass it. The constancy and emulation of this honest man are lau­dable; but he will never paint but for sign-posts."’ I refer the reader to the original for other observations, while I shall make one myself on this anec­dote.

It is with facts like these, that the system I have adopted is ever comba­ted; but I could never see in one of these facts, any thing which could suf­fer an investigation. Here is a young [Page 424] man, who has already attained a cer­tain age, who is in the daily service of his master, and who, without prepa­ratory instructions, or various models, feels ‘"the eager disposition,"’ and the necessary ‘"assiduity."’ But both the disposition and the assiduity are very imperfect. An artist who is inces­santly performing domestic business, must be classed among those, whose moral situation infallibly enfeebles, and almost annihilates, genius. This young man, had he known no other service, but his art, and no other master, but a Reynolds, it is not improbable, with his disposition and assiduity, might have become a great artist. All this only tends to prove, that the great dif­ficulty of becoming a man of genius, consists, among others, in his moral situation; and that no footman has any chance of becoming a great artist.

Respecting the idea of Rousseau, that our virtues or our vices are derived [Page 425] from our temperament; I must just ob­serve, that if sometimes they do, often many are acquired from moral causes. There appears nothing supernatural in the notion, that a son inherits the qua­lity of the blood of his parents. I have observed, a person born of a choleric father, and a saturnine mother, unite these qualities, seemingly incompati­ble; sometimes warm and generous as the father, and sometimes frigid and cautious as the mother. Yet, even in this instance, we might show that the effects of this character, can be derived from the manners and habits with which the son has long been familiar­ised. Another son of the same family, having been absent from home at an early period, and residing, for the greater part of his life, in France, was a being totally different from the ge­nerous father, the cautious mother, and the brother at once choleric and saturnine.

PAGE 300.

AFTER what is mentioned of Dyer, insert this paragraph.

Warburton, in his anonymous "Cri­tical and Philosophical Enquiry into the Prodigies, &c. of Historians," in a concluding note, alluding to the emi­nent success of the French, in transla­tions of the ancients, imagines that our little emulation, in this department of literature, may be attributed to the coldness of our climate. I transcribe his words. ‘"The Frenchman, vigorous and enterprising, is ambitious of pos­session; while we, with a false modesty and coldness, natural from our climate, content ourselves with a distant admi­ration."’

From this it would appear, that our climate has of late become much warmer, and therefore we, less modest; since we have enriched our language with some versions of the classics, which vie with the beauty of the originals. Mr. Mel­moth [Page 427] and Mr. Beloe have received the gratitude of the English reader. The ample and entertaining commentary which the latter has bestowed on Au­lus Gellius, gives a new value to this species of literature, and suggests this reflection on such translations. Wri­ters so exquisite as Pliny, require no other decorations than the eloquence which is inspired by the felicities of their diction; but authors not remark­able for their discernment or their deli­cacy, yet abounding with information, like Aulus Gellius, exact from their translators, the adventitious art of scat­tering an attractive amusement in co­pious notes. It is thus that a transla­tion may be rendered more valuable than the original.

Since I am on the subject of classical translations, I must observe, that a ju­dicious selection from Athenaeus re­mains a desideratum; and the French have both an ancient and modern ver­sion [Page 428] of this curious compilement of Grecian opinions, and Grecian man­ners.

A translation of Plutarch's Morals has long been rumoured. The Abbé Richard in 1783—1792—gave a version, accompanying each essay with philo­sophical summaries and useful notes. The present edition of Professor Wit­tenbach, will enable the English trans­lator to excel his predecessors in cor­rectness and lucidity. Of the French version, the learned Professor says, that the translator has so contrived with the corrupted passages, as to have rendered the version intelligible to the reader; the obscure passages he has laboured with greater care; having diligently sought out their meaning and occasionally explained them, from his knowledge of the subjects in a plausible way, adapted to the genius of those to whom he addressed himself, which merit he freely allows him.

PAGE 335.

AFTER what is mentioned of Pere Hardouin, insert this paragraph.

Warburton, whatever his learning, and however great his ability, owed his reputation to his bold paradoxes. What Dr. Leland has, among other scholars, pronounced of him, is now confirmed, not by the opinions of indi­viduals, but by the voice of the public. He said, that ‘"the Bishop's learned labours were distinguished by a bold opposition to the general opinions of mankind,"’ and again more forcibly ‘"by an hardy opposition to the gene­ral sense of mankind."’ Warburton, supported by his Warburtonians, long reigned a literary despot; but the ar­tificial fires of party fade in the light of truth. It is even said, that he out­lived his reputation, and he is now much better known by his name, than by his works; the certain fate of those [Page 430] ingenious and bold writers, who build their edifices on the sands of para­dox.


By the AUTHOR may be had,


CONTENTS. ANECDOTES seldom read with Reflection—They form the most agreeable parts of History—Mate­rials for the History of Manners—Various Anecdotes illustrating this Topic—History compared with Me­moirs—Anecdotes which reveal the Characters of eminent Men—By them we become acquainted with human Nature—Habituate the Mind to Reflection—Observations on Literary Anecdotes—Literary Topics greatly elucidated by their skilful Arrangement—Col­lections of Anecdotes serve as an excellent Substitute for the Conversations of eminent Writers—Observa­tions on the Delight of Literary History—Literary Biography cannot be accomplished without a copious Use of Anecdotes—Considered as a Source of Literary Amusement superior to Romances—The Instructions which an Artist may derive from Anecdotes—Of vari­ous Use to Writers—Anecdotes of an Author serve as Comments on his Work—Anecdotes of Historical Writers very necessary for the Readers of their Works—Addison's Observation on Anecdotes illustrated—A Writer of Talents sees Connexions in Anecdotes not perceived by others—A Model of Anecdotical Composition—Of frivolous Anecdotes—Trifling Anec­dotes sometimes to be excused—Character of a Writer of Anecdotes.


CONTENTS. OF Literary Men—Of Authors—Men of Letters—On some Characteristics of a Youth of Genius—Of Literary Solitude—On the Meditations and Con­versations of Men of Genius—Men of Genius limited in their Art—Some Observations respecting the Infir­mities and Defects of Men of Genius—Of Literary Friendships and Enmities—The Characters of Writers not discoverable in their Writings—Of some private Advantages which induce Men of Letters to become Authors—Of the Utility of Authors to Individuals—Of the Political Influence of Authors—On an Aca­demy of Polite Literature, Pensions, and Prizes.


  • Page 2 Line 6 FOR expansive FOR the expansion of.
  • Page 69 Line 17 FOR Brasidas READ Brasidas's.
  • Page 87 Line 11 FOR criticisms READ criticism.
  • Page 90 Erase the two last verses at the end of the page, and read these.
    Callous the irritated Judge, with awe
    Inflicts the penalties, and arms the law.
  • Page 98 Line 11 FOR occupations READ occupation.
  • Page 120 Line 9 FOR could READ would.
  • Page 136 Line 7 FOR them READ they.
  • Page 219 Line 15 FOR adjourdhui READ aujourdhui.
  • Page 220 Line 13 FOR verbus READ verbis.
  • Page 267 Line 9 FOR splendour READ splendours.
  • Page 268 Line 4 of the note, FOR scarce READ scarcely.
  • Page 271 Line 9 dele native.
  • Page 398 Line 2 dele can.
  • Page 409 Line 7 of the note, dele the subject of.
  • Page 418 Line 11 dele inverted commas, and place them at the close of the paragraph after "with Latin words and phrases."

☞ The Reader is requested to observe, that from page 224 to page 238, are deficient in this volume, but they form no inter­ruption of the work.

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.