[Entered at Stationers' Hall.]


I PRESENT the Reader with an im­perfect attempt on an important topic. The materials designed for this Essay, with others, have been accidentally destroyed. The fol­lowing sketches are therefore not so numerous as I could wish, and as the subject appears to promise. They claim all the indulgence of the title.

I have long considered, what I ima­gine will be readily acknowledged, that there is a similarity in the cha­racters of Men of Genius, perceivable [Page iv] to a contemplative mind, and that reflections on their character may be exemplified by a sufficient number of facts. To seise the dispositions of the Literary Character, I looked therefore into Literary History, and my collections exceeded my hopes.

When Rousseau composed his Dis­sertation on the Equality of Man, this eloquent philosopher sought for facts, on which to found his reason­ings; these he collected from an extensive perusal of voyages and ac­counts of remote nations. I consi­dered that to form just reflections on Men of Genius, it was proper to collect facts from their biography, and their concatenation produced all my reflections.

[Page v] The more I meditate, the more I am persuaded that all speculations are illusory and unsatisfactory, unless they are established on prominent facts, which are to be first collected before we venture to indulge meta­physical disquisitions. It is an ob­servation of Bolingbroke, that ‘ab­stract or general propositions, though never so true, appear ob­scure or doubtful to us very often, till they are explained by exam­ples—when examples are pointed out to us, there is a kind of appeal, with which we are flattered, made to our senses, as well as our un­derstandings. The instruction comes then from our authority; we yield to fact, when we resist speculation. If we compare the [Page vi] labours of Machiavel with those of Montesquieu, we may observe, that the illustrious Frenchman had all the delicacy, the refinement, and the sensibility of his nation, and his gene­ral reflections are therefore brilliant, but often fallacious, because not built on the permanent base of experience. The crafty Florentine, versant in the manners of Princes, with sagacity equal to his genius, deduces all his reflections from those prominent facts which passed under his eye, or which he collected from the records of instructive history. Lord Bacon introduced that wise philosophy which is only founded on experi­ments; the study of Nature in her operations. And I believe every ju­dicious physician prefers the manner [Page vii] of Sydenham, who derives his medical fame from the vigilant observation, and the continued experience of tracing the progress of actual cases, in the operation of actual remedies, to that of some modern medical writers, who, dazzled by specula­tive phantoms, promulge paradoxes, which, unconfirmed by facts, produce much more serious consequence than literary paradoxes.*

The LITERARY CHARACTER has, in the present day, singularly degenerated in the public mind. The finest compositions appear with­out exciting any alarm of admiration, they are read, approved, and suc­ceeded [Page viii] by others; nor is the presence of the Author considered, as for­merly, as conferring honour on his companions; we pass our evenings sometimes with poets and historians, whom it is probable will be admired by posterity, with hardly any other sensation than we feel from inferior associates.

The youth who has more reading than experience, and a finer imagi­nation than a sound logic, will often be surprised when he compares the splendid facts stored in his memory, with the ordinary circumstances that pass under his eye. In the history of all ages, and of all nations, he ob­serves the highest honours paid to the Literary Character. Statues, tombs, festivals, and coronations, [Page ix] croud in glittering confusion, while, when he condescends to look around him, he perceives the brilliant en­chantment dissolved, and not a ves­tige remains of the festivals and the coronations.

Before I attempt to alledge a reason for a singular revolution in the human mind, I shall arrange a few striking facts of the numerous honours which have been paid to the Literary Cha­racter.

I must not dwell on the distinc­tions bestowed on the learned by the Greeks and the Romans; their tem­ples, their statues, their games, and fleets dispatched to invite the Stu­dent; these honours were more numerous and splendid than those of modern ages. I must not detail the [Page x] magnificent rewards and the high veneration paid by the Persians, the Turks, the Arabians, the Chinese, &c. The Persian Ferdosi received sacks of gold for his verses; the Arabs have sent ambassadors to con­gratulate poets on the success of their works; Mahomet took off his man­tle to present to an Author; and literature in China confers nobility. But I pass this romantic celebrity, to throw a rapid glance on our own Europe.

Not to commence more remotely than at the thirteenth century, when Nobles, and even Kings, aspi­red to literature. Authors, of course, were held in the highest estimation. Fauchet and Pasquier inform us, that the learned received magnificent [Page xi] dresses, steeds richly caparisoned, and arms resplendent with diamonds and gold. The Floral games at Toulouse were established; and three prizes of golden flowers were re­served for the happy poets. It was in the fourteenth century that the Ita­lians raised triumphal arches, tombs, and coronations, for distinguished Authors. Ravenna erected a marble tomb to the memory of Dante; Cer­taldo a statue to Boccaccio, and Pe­trarch was at once invited by the city of Rome and the court of France, to receive the crown of laurel. Rome was preferred, and there he was pub­lickly crowned with such magnifi­cence of pomp, and ceremonies so splendid and numerous, that his own imagination could not have surpassed [Page xii] the realities of this triumph.* Tasso died the evening of his coronation. In the fifteenth century, Sannazarius received from the Venetians for six verses, six hundred pistoles, and [Page xiii] poets were kissed by princesses. Later times saw the phlegmatic Hollander raise astatue to the excellent Erasmus. Let us not omit that Charles IX. of France reserved apartments in his palace, and even wrote a poetical epistle to Ronsard; and Baif received a silver image of Minerva from his native city. Charles V. and Francis I. in the sixteenth century, poured honours, preferments, and gifts, on the learned of their age. Literary merit was the road to promotion, and seignories and abbeys, seats in the state council, and ambassadorships were bestowed upon the Literary Character.

Since all this is truth, yet at present appears much like fiction, it may be enquired if our ancestors [Page xiv] were wiser than we, or we more wise than our ancestors.

It is to be recollected, that before the art of printing existed, great Authors were like their works, very rare; learning was then only ob­tained by the devotion of a life. It was long after the art of multiplying works at pleasure was discovered, that the people were capable of par­ticipating in the novel benefit; what Alexander feared, when he reproached Aristotle for rendering learning po­pular, has happened to modern lite­rature; learning and talents have ceased to be learning and talents, by an universal diffusion of books, and a continued exercise of the mind. Authors became numerous, but as the body of the people, till within [Page xv] the present century, was sufficiently unenlightened, their numbers were not yet found inconvenient; and as dic­tionaries were not yet formed, every man was happy to seise on whatever particles of knowledge accident of­fered; so late as the middle of this century, Translators were yet es­teemed, and Compilers were yet re­spected.

But since, with incessant industry, volumes have been multiplied, and their prices rendered them accessible to the lowest artisans, the Literary Character has gradually fallen into disrepute. It may be urged that a superior mind, long cultivated, and long exercised, adorned with polite, and enriched with solid letters, must still retain it's pre-eminence among [Page xvi] the inferior ranks of men; and there­fore may still exact the same respect from his fellow-citizens, and still continue the dignity of an Author with the same just claims as in pre­ceding ages.

I believe, however, that he who would be reverenced as an Author has only one resource; and that is, by paying to himself that reverence, which will be refused by the multi­tude. The respect which the higher classes shew to the Literary Character, proceeds from habitual politeness, and not from any sensibility of ad­miration; and that this is true, ap­pears from this circumstance, that, should the Literary Character, in re­turn, refuse to accommodate himself to their regulations, and have not the [Page xvii] art of discovering what quality they expect to be remarked in themselves, he will be soon forsaken; and he may say what Socrates did at the court of Cyprus, ‘what I know is not proper for this place, and what is proper for this place, I know not.’ Men of the world are curious to have a glance at a celebrated Author, as they would be at some uncommon animal; he is therefore sometimes exhibited, and spectators are invited. A croud of frivolists gaze at a Man of Letters, and catch the sounds of his ideas, as children regard the reflections of a magic lanthorn.*

[Page xviii] Nor will the Literary Character find a happier reception among others if he exacts an observance of his dignity. Authors are a multitude; and it requires no inconsiderable leisure and intelligence to adjust the claims of such numerous candidates.

De Foe called the last age, the age of Projectors, and Johnson has called the present, the age of Au­thors. But there is this difference between them; the epidemical folly of projecting in time cures itself, for men become weary with ruination; but writing is an interminable pur­suit, and the raptures of publication have a great chance of becoming a permanent fashion. When I reflect that every literary journal consists of 50 or 60 publications, and that of [Page xix] these, 5 or 6 at least are capital per­formances, and the greater part not contemptible, when I take the pen and attempt to calculate, by these given sums, the number of volumes which the next century must infal­libly produce, my feeble faculties wander in a perplexed series, and as I lose myself among billions, tril­lions, and quartillions, I am obliged to lay down my pen, and stop at in­finity.

‘Where all this will end, God only knows,’ is the reflection of a grave historian, in concluding the Memoirs of his Age. Nature has, no doubt, provided some concealed remedy for this future universal de­luge. Perhaps in the progress of science, some new senses may be dis­covered [Page xx] in the human character, and this superfluity of knowledge may be essential to the understanding, We are considerably indebted, doubtless, to the patriotic endeavours of our grocers and trunkmakers, whom I respect as the alchemists of literature; they annihilate the gross bodies, with­out injuring the finer spirits.

We are, however, sincerely to la­ment that the dignity of great Au­thors is at all impaired. Every kind of writers find a correspondent kind of readers, and the illiterate have their admirers, and are of some use. But it is time that we should distinguish be­tween Authors, and submit ourselves to respect those, from whom we ac­quire instruction, and to cherish those, from whom we derive the most ele­gant of our amusements.


  • CHAP. I. OF Literary Men Page 1
  • CHAP. II. Of Authors Page 3
  • CHAP. III. Of Men of Letters Page 11
  • CHAP. IV. On some Characteristics of a Youth of Genius Page 25
  • CHAP. V. Of the Domestic Life of a Man of Genius Page 52
  • CHAP. VI. Of Literary Solitude Page 61
  • CHAP. VII. On the Meditations and Conversations of Men of Genius Page 78
  • CHAP. VIII. Men of Genius limited in their Art Page 96
  • CHAP. IX. Some Observations respecting the In­firmities and Defects of Men of Genius Page 103
  • CHAP. X. Of Literary Friendships and Enmities Page 125
  • CHAP. XI. The Characters of Writers not disco­verable in their Writings Page 138
  • CHAP. XII. Of some private Advantages which induce Men of Letters to become Authors Page 150
  • CHAP. XIII. Of the Utility of Authors to Individuals Page 165
  • CHAP. XIV. Of the political Influence of Authors Page 175
  • CHAP. XV. On an Academy of polite Literature, Pensions, and Prizes Page 195


P. 24.
IT is, perhaps, unnecessary to remind the Reader that Cicero has written on Friend­ship and Glory—of his work on Glory, no­thing has reached us but the title; yet of his numerous compositions, this, as a production of eloquence, promised to be most grateful to the student of taste.
P. 141.
The county of Essex was distinguished by the Romans by the name of Tribonantes, and it was in this province that Seneca oppressed the inhabitants with the loan of immense sums at an immense interest.
P. 147.
I omitted to observe, that the impiety of Satan has actually been censured by Clarke. Johnson even applauds the observation of our Divine. I transcribe that great Biographer's words. ‘For there are thoughts, as he (Clarke) justly remarks, which no obser­vation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly permit them to pass, however transiently, through his own mind.’ Here we observe two of our most profound thinkers, deciding on a subject of taste; but their edict I presume is anti­poetical. Their piety was too ponderous for the exertion of their fancy. The divinity of Clarke, and the logic of Johnson, were alike fatal to certain delicious strokes in the arts of fancy; the most subtile particles of poetical refinement escaped their unelastic or­gans, and fell on the solidity of their minds, like seeds scattered upon rocks; where they must perish without germinating.


The Reader is requested to correct the following Errata with his pen; and to excuse several typographical errors, for which the severe indisposition of the Author will apologize.

  • PAGE 18 Last line, for unconnected, read unconcocted.
  • PAGE 74 L. 4, for exciting, read citing.
  • PAGE 104 L. 3, —after converse, place a comma.
  • PAGE 128 Dele *
  • PAGE 131 L. 7, from the bottom, for Que importent, read Que t'importent.
  • PAGE 135 L. 3, from ditto, for port, read part.
  • PAGE 142 L. 4, from ditto, for charity read chastity.

[Page]AN ESSAY, &c.

CHAP. I. Of Literary Men.

A NUMEROUS and an important body of men, diffused over enlightened Eu­rope, and classed under no particular profession, are, during the most arduous period of their life, unassisted and unre­garded; and while often devoting them selves to national purposes, are exposed not only to poverty, the fate of the many; to calumny, the portion of the great; but to an ugly family of peculiar misfor­tunes. These are men of letters; men whose particular genius often becomes [Page 2] that of a people; the sovereigns of rea­son; the legislators of morality; the ar­tificers of our most exquisite pleasures.

Every other body of ingenious men (whether the corporation of useful me­chanics, or the society of great artists) are allowed some common association; some domestic seat devoted to the genius of their profession, where they are mu­tually enlightened and consoled. Men of letters, in our country resemble ‘Houseless wanderers,’ scattered and solitary, disunited and lan­guid; whose talents are frequently un­known to their companions, and by the inertness of an unhappy situation, often unperceived by themselves.

It is remarkable that those men in the nation who are most familiar with each other's conceptions, and most capable of reciprocal esteem, are those who are often most estranged.

CHAP. II. Of Authors.

IT is necessary to distinguish between an Author, and a Writer; because, the descriptions which I propose to sketch of the situations to which genius is fre­quently exposed, will not happen to those whose productions are their occasional effusions; and who seldom propose in the puerile age, to become Authors. I shall consider that no Writer, has a just claim to the title of Author, whose CHIEF EMPLOYMENT is not that of STUDY and COMPOSITION. Richardson the no­velist, and Gessner the poet, were both printers, and this will, occasionally, ex­clude them from the idea I at present attach to an author. Hume and Bayle, Johnson and Voltaire, are students who assumed the profession of authors. The [Page 4] occasional productions of a man of genius are so many sportive offerings laid on the altar of the Graces; the more volu­minous labours of great authors, are so many trophies raised on a triumphal column.

I totally exclude from these specula­tions two kinds of writers. Those who disgrace letters and humanity by an ab­ject devotion to their private interests, and who like Atalanta, for the sake of the apples of gold, lose the glory of the race; and those who intrude on the public notice without adequate talents, whose vanity listens to a few encomiasts whose politeness is greater than their dis­cernment, or who applaud loudly and censure in whispers.

If we enquire into the character of an author, we find that every class of men entertains a different notion of his occu­pations. We perceive also that the lite­rary [Page 5] world are divided into parties; and that they are mutually unjust. Few are capable of honouring this character; in­dividuals err from various motives; the public only are enlightened and just.

The importance of an author in so­ciety, is yet so little known, that it is rarely apparent even to authors them­selves.

The fashionable circle conceive an au­thor must be an amusing companion; they consider his presence, like the other ornaments of their tables. It implies that they are persons of taste.

The busy part of mankind suppose an author to be a trader; and are only asto­nished to observe men persevere in an occupation so unprofitable.

The statesman only regards a philoso­phical writer as a man of dangerous spe­culations, who, if left in security, is daring, if attacked by persecution, is [Page 6] intrepid. One who makes him tremble in the darkness of his most secret coun­cils.

The man of science regards his pro­ductions with contempt, and at the most favourable view only as so many amusing futilities. He marks his superior success with a jealous eye; and complains of a frivolous public. A geometrician can draw no deductions, and sees nothing proved, by the finest verses of a poet; an antiquary marvels that an elegant his­torian should be preferred to a chrono­loger; and a metaphysician wonders at the delight communicated by faithful re­presentations of human life, written by one whom he thinks incapable of com­prehending a page of Locke.

It will surprise the young and virtuous reader, when I must also add that the character is sometimes considered as a kind of disgrace. To excel in those ac­complishments [Page 7] which enlighten or amuse a polished people, has ceased to be a merit with some, because of the nume­rous claimants for this honour. But it is with authors as with those military fops who frequent the theatres, and as­sume with their cockade, the title of captain. Enquire, and you find that the obstreperous gentleman has been only an ensign for a week, and often that he has no claims at all to the bor­rowed cockade. Thus with authors, if the pretenders are discerned, and the ranks distinguished, a man will reduce the number to a very inconsiderable por­tion of a numerous acquaintance. Every one who prints a book is not an author; publication is the test of literature, and there are an infinite number of works which are printed, but which all the in­ventive industry of the author could never publish.

[Page 8] Many of that class of society whose en­tire nights are rotations of inanity, and whose days are too short for necessary re­pose, blush for a friend who is an au­thor; and, as the daughter of Addison was taught, despise even a parent who had given to a fashionable and unworthy woman, an illustrious name. These are they who gaze in the silence of stupidity when an unusual topic glides into con­versation, and will pardon any species of rudeness, sooner than that of good sense.

Others know themselves incapacitated to become authors, and ficken at the re­collection of their abortions. Literary attainments are depreciated, to console their deficiencies; as bankrupts, out of mere envy, calumniate the successful merchant.

There is, however, a race of ingenious men, who derive their merit and their fortune from their studies, and yet con­temn [Page 9] literature and literary men. This is a paradox of the heart, of which the solution may appear difficult. Adrian VI. obtained the pontificate, as the re­ward of his learning; and men of letters, indulged the most golden hopes, at his accession; but on the contrary, he con­temned literature, and persecuted stu­dents. A living orator, whose chief merit consists in his literary powers, it has been said, performs in the present day, the part of Adrian. Such men treat science, as a barbarous son, who spurns at that parent, the milk of whose bosom nurtured him in infancy, and whose hand supported him in youth. A lite­rary friend observes, that the pope feared lest men of letters might shake the pon­tificate, and the orator, lest they might detect the errors of his politics; an ob­servation which shews the political in­fluence of authors.

[Page 10] Those to whom nature has bestowed callous organs, and who are really insen­sible to the charms of fancy, or the force of reason, we pardon; imbecillity must be accepted as an apology for errors, since it often is for crimes.

How hard is the fate of the author, who, when he once publishes, becomes in the minds of all, whatever they chuse to make him!

CHAP. III. Of Men of Letters.

WE distinguish two kinds of Men of Letters. Both alike make their prin­cipal occupation to consist in study; but the one are induced from many concur­ring circumstances not to publish their labours; and the other devote their life to communicate their speculations to the world. Few men of letters reject the honours of an author, out of modesty; but some are inert through terror, and some through ease. The French (rich in expressions relative to polite letters) distinguish these learned and tranquil students, by the happy title of littera­teurs.

The popular notion of a man of let­ters is as unsettled, as unjust. It is sup­posed that because a taylor makes a [Page 12] fashionable coat, and a builder erects a house according to modern taste, a man of letters must therefore produce a book, adapted to the reigning mode. It is not necessary that every man of letters should become an author, though it is the indispensible duty of an author to be a man of letters. Some suppose that it is sufficient when they commence au­thors, to study what they write, it would be advantageous if we write also what we study; for without learning, few works are valuable; and he who employs not a useful cement, will see his brilliant edifice scattered by the winds, in shining frag­ments.

The man of letters, is in general, a more amiable character than the author. His passions are more ferene, his studies more regular, his solitude more soothing. He encounters no concealed or public enemy, and his tranquillity is not a [Page 13] feather in the popular gale. Every dis­covery he makes is a happy conquest; every charm of taste a silent enjoyment.

Nor are such characters as the multi­tude imagine unuseful in the republic of letters. To the elegant leisure of these students we are indebted for many of the ornaments of literature; and authors themselves have recourse to these sages, as their conductors, and sometimes as their patrons. These men of letters, like guides over the Alps, though no travel­lers themselves, warn the adventurous explorer of impending danger, and in­struct him in his passage.

No literary character is more fre­quently amiable than such a man of let­ters. The occupations he has chosen, are justly called the studies of humanity; and they communicate to his manners, his understanding, and his heart, that refined amenity, that lively sensibility, [Page 14] and that luminous acuteness which flow from a cultivated taste. He is an enthu­siast; but an enthusiast for elegance. He loves literature, like virtue, for the har­mony it diffuses over the passions; and perceives, that like religion, it has the singular art of communicating with an unknown and future state. For the love of posterity is cherished by these men of letters; and though they want the energy of genius to address the public, often for that public, they labour in silence. It is they who form public libraries; father neglected, and nurture infant genius; project and support benevolent institu­tions, and pour out the philanthropy of their heart, in that world, which they ap­pear to have forsaken.

Their mild dispositions first led them into the province of literature. They found in books an occupation congenial to their sentiments; labour without fa­tigue; [Page 15] repose with activity; an employ­ment, interrupted without inconvenience, and exhaustless without satiety. They remain ever attached to their studies; for to give a new direction to life, would require a vast effort, and of exertion they are incapable. Their library and their chamber are contiguous; and often in this contracted space, does the opulent owner consume his delicious hours.—His pursuits are ever changing, and he enlivens the austere by the lighter stu­dies. It was said of a great hunter, that he did not live, but hunted; and it may be said of the man of letters, that he does not live, but meditates. He feels that pleasing anxiety, which zests desire, arising from irritative curiosity; and he is that happy man who creates hourly wants, and enjoys the voluptuousness of immediate gratification. The world pity the man of letters inhumed among his [Page 16] books, and their mistaken wit inscribes on his door, ‘here lies the body of our friend!’ Yet unthinking men are not without excuse; his pleasures are silent and concealed. Whatever is not tran­quil alarms; whatever is serene attracts; he therefore becomes a Mecenas, but never a Virgil; protects letters, but never composes books; a lover of art, but never an artist.

These men of letters form penetrating critics, whose taste is habitual, and whose touch is firm and unerring. Criticism is happily adapted to their powers of action; because in criticism they par­take of the pleasures of genius, without the painful exertion of invention; and as they are incapable of exerting invention, and direct their studies to form and polish judgment, this latter faculty is often more cultivated, and more vigo­rous, than even that of men of genius. [Page 17] Few writers attain to any perfection un­assisted by such a connoisseur; the viva­city and enthusiasm of genius are indulged often in violations of delicacy and truth; and what the author wants is precisely what this critic can alone give. It is not to be doubted that the familiar ac­quaintance which existed between Racine, Boileau, and Moliere, was most precious to them. We know that they commu­nicated their arts of composition, and stood centinels over each other with the severest and most vigilant eye. Hence that equable power, and finished elegance which distinguish their productions.—Corneille, who associated with neither, and like a sultan would inspire awe, by concealing himself in solitary grandeur, lost these invaluable conferences, and indulged genius careless of the rasures of taste. Hence his gross defects and ir­regularities. In England, where such [Page 18] an union has been rare, we can trace the same effects. Pope, Swift, and Boling­broke, were of mutual advantage; Pope had not been a philosopher without the aid of Bolingbroke; and Swift, an in­ferior poet, without the salutary coun­sels of Pope. Milton, severed from all literary friends, has left in his sublime epics, too many traces of this separation; and it may be said that his greatest works contain his greatest blemishes. In the finished pieces of his youth, when he had a critical eye at every hour on every page, we find no want of corrective touches. Churchill, a great and irre­gular genius, with such friends had not only left his fatires more terfe, and more harmohious, but had been incapable, in his feeblest hours, to have so frequently composed, such a series of unconnected and prosaic rhimes.

[Page 19] Often, by an excellent discernment, these critics give a happy direction to the powers of a young writer. Such was the observation of Walsh, whose ad­vice to Pope, that correctness in our poetry was the only means which re­mained to distinguish himself, animated the poet, to form that prominent and beautiful feature in his poetical character.

To prove their great utility to men of genius, the following instance may serve. Not always he whose abilities are capable of adorning the page of history, is alike capable of discovering the hidden and perplexed tracks of learned research. Men of genius rarely read catalogues. To whom is the philosophic writer of mo­dern history to have recourse, but to such a man of letters? When Robertson pro­posed writing his various histories, he was ignorant of his subject, and irreso­lute in his designs. We had nearly lost [Page 20] his elegant compositions. He confessed in letters, which I have seen addressed to Dr. Birch, that ‘he had never access to copious libraries, nor an extensive knowledge of authors.’ Dr. Birch, who was an admirable litterateur, in his answer has given a copious and critical catalogue of proper authors, accompa­nied by valuable information, which is acknowledged by our elegant historian with warmth. It was certainly that kind of necessary knowledge, which only the learning of our scholar could supply, and without which the project of Robertson's histories must have perished in the con­ception. These students are therefore useful members in the republic of letters, and may be compared to those subterra­neous streams, which flow into spacious lakes, and which, though they flow in­visibly, enlarge the waters which attract the public eye.

[Page 21] Sometimes these men of letters dis­tinguish themselves by their productions; but though these may be excellent, they always rank in the inferior departments of literature; and they rarely occupy more than the first place in the second class. Their works are finished com­positions of taste, or eccentric researches of curiosity, seldom the fervid labours of high invention. They are ingenious men, not men of genius. If they pour forth their effusions in verse, we may have some delicate opuscula; elaborate beauties, but not of an original kind. Such are many of our minor poets, dis­tinguished for the refinements, but not the powers of their art. They may ex­cel in happy versions of a classic; of which we have many admirable proofs. Their inquiries may be learned, the fruits of incessant labour, and long leisure; and they sometimes chuse for their dis­sertations, [Page 22] sertations, uncommon topics. These they treat often with ingenuity, but chiefly enchant by a seductive manner. They have a certain glow, like a gentle and regular fire; but which never flashes and flames like a powerful inventive mind. It is rather the fire raised in a forge, than bursting from a natural vol­cano. Such writers are the authors of those little essays, which are precious to men of taste; on painting, and on poetry; on beauty, and on deformity. Elegant minds, that imbue with elegance light subjects; their strokes are not continued and grand, but occasional and brilliant; and if they rarely excite admiration by new combinations of reflection or ima­gery, often paint, with a mellow warmth, the beauty of sentiment. In such at­tempts they succeed; because they select their subject, with the fondness of a lover, and are familiar with its reserved [Page 23] graces. When unfortunately they at­tempt higher topics, which require ele­vated conceptions, and fervid genius, we perceive their feeble energies. Such writers, like the lark, must only rise on a playful wing, and resound their favou­rite notes; but a man of genius, like a hawk, elevates himself to discover the country, and to dart on his prey.

We shall elucidate these reflections by the character of M. Sacy. He was modest, ingenious, and sensitive. He cultivated his talents with ardour, and soothed the labours of the bar, with the studies of polite letters. He gave a version of Pliny, which has not injured the delicacy of the original. Admitted to the circle of the Marchioness de Lam­bert, he enjoyed the familiarity of men of genius; and by the sensibility of his heart, engaged the affections of the Marchioness more forcibly than even the [Page 24] genius of superior minds. Animated by his social enjoyments, he wrote with amenity, an interesting Essay on Friend­ship. In this he succeeded; for no mind could be more susceptible to it's soft and domestic raptures. He afterwards com­posed an Essay on Glory; but here he did not succeed. A man of genius alone can write on such a topic; it requires a mind that expands from the limits of a family to a nation; from a nation to the world; from the world to posterity. Vast and gigantic operation of the soul! This is no tranquil sentiment of taste, but an impetuous passion of genius. A Cicero, not a Sacy, should have written on Glory; but Cicero did not feel more exquisitely than the amiable Sacy, on the subject of Friendship.

CHAP. IV. On some Characteristics of a Youth of Genius.

I PROPOSE to sketch some of the mis­fortunes which often attend a writer, or an artist. Should my picture prove to be a faithful representation, my feelings will dispose me to lament my talent.

To what an unknown height might an adequate education elevate the human character, if it were possible at his birth to detect the future genius. The ostrich has the sagacity to discover in it's eggs, those which are worthy of her genial warmth, and separates them from the rest, which would have proved sterile to the solicitous cares of a mother. It is not thus with the human race. If we could perceive the man of genius, in "the na­tal hour," we might select him from the croud, and nourish the giant, with [Page 26] the aliment a giant may be supposed to require. At the age of twenty his ma­turity would appear; and he would have performed at thirty whatever a Horace or a Livy have done; while the vigour of life yet remained to shew us something more exquisite in fancy, and more com­plicate, yet clear in reasoning, than at present we can possibly conceive. But, alas! it is only the romantic eye of the poet, which can observe the graces wreathing his cradle with myrtles. I quit my fantastic man of genius to descend to nature and to experience.

It is rather singular that none but princes, and monsters, have the privi­lege or exciting public curiosity at their birth. A man of genius is dropt among the people, and has first to encounter the difficulties of ordinary men, without that confined talent which is adapted to a mean destimation. Parents, of honest [Page 27] dispositions, are the victims of the de­termined propensity of a son, to a Virgil or an Euclid; and the first step into life of a man of genius is disobedience and grief.

The frequent situation of such a man is described with great simplicity, by the astrologer Lilly, whether he were a man of genius or not, in the curious memoirs of his life. He there tells us, that having proposed to his father that he should try his fortune in London, where he hoped his learning and his talents might prove serviceable to him, he observes that his father (who was incapable of dis­covering his latent genius in his studious dispositions) very willingly consented to get rid of him, ‘for I could not work, drive the plough, or endure any coun­try labour; my father oft would say I was good for nothing.—The fathers of most of our men of genius have employed [Page 28] the same expressions as the father of Lilly.

An apparent indolence hangs about contemplative genius; he loves the re­pose of the body, and the activity of the mind. It is known that most men of great abilities in their puerile days, have retired from the sports of their mates, and while they were folded up in their little wild abstractions, have appeared dull to dunces. We often hear, from the early companions or intimates of a man of genius, that at school he had been remarkably heavy and unpromising; but, in truth, he was only remarkably pensive, and often pertinaciously assi­duous. The great Bossuet at school would never join with his young companions, but preferred plodding over a book.—They revenged themselves by a boyish jest of calling him, bos suetus aratro, an ox daily toiling in the plough. It is curious [Page 29] to observe, that the young painters, to ridicule the constant labours of Domeni­chino in his youth, did him the honour to distinguish him also by the title of great Ox. Chatterton offers still a better, though a more melancholy in­stance. It is in this manner that one man of genius generally resembles another.

This inaction of body, and activity of mind, they retain throughout life. A man of genius is rarely enamoured of common amusements. And the boy who was unadroit at marbles, and refused sca­ling the wall of an orchard, when a man, seldom excels as an agile hunter, or an elegant dancer. I am describing the en­thusiasm of talent, not it's uninteresting mediocrity. A man of genius is the surest testimony on this point. Let us attend to the minstrel of Dr. Beattie.

[Page 30]
Concourse, and noise, and toil he ever fled,
Nor cared to mingle in the clamorous fray
Of squabbling imps; but to the forest sped.

The exploit of strength, dexterity or speed,
To him nor vanity, nor joy could bring.

Would Edwin this majestic scene resign,
For aught the huntsman's puny craft supplies?

I repeat, his mind alone has activity.—The fire side in the winter, and some favourite tree in the summer, will be his seats; his amusements become studies, and his meditations are made in his walks, as well as in his chair. These are some of the marks which distinguish him from the man of the world.

We have been able to discover this disposition in youthful genius; the same characterises his age. It was thus when Mecenas, accompanied by Virgil and Horace, retired one day into the country, the minister amused himself with a ten­nis-ball; the two poets reposed on a vernal bank, beneath a delicious shade. [Page 31] Pliny was pleased with the Roman mode of hunting, which admitted him to sit a whole day with his tablets and stylus, that (he says) if I return with empty nets, my tablets may at least be full.

Among the inauspicious circumstances which frequently attend the first exertions of juvenile genius, is the want of sensi­bility and discernment, in the literary man or artist whose regard and counsels he solicits. Remote from the world of taste, he cultivates with ardour, but not with art, talents which tremble in the feebleness of infancy. When the intel­lectual offspring is struggling with pain, and fear, into existence, the hand that should aid it's delivery repels with an un­natural barbarity. As Churchill says, ‘They crush a Bard, just bursting from the shell!’ In these wild hours of youth and fancy, the juvenile writer roves like an insulated [Page 32] wanderer. Thrown on an enchanted isle, his ear listens with an artless impatience for the celestial tones of an Ariel. It is his unhappy fate to encounter a brutal and malicious Caliban. Such has been the situation of several men of genius when they first addressed themselves to an unworthy man of letters for their protector.

Another unfriendly influence over young genius is the want of discernment in those, who have the direction of their talents. Pope was often heard to say, that he could learn nothing from his masters, for they wanted sagacity to dis­cover the bent of his genius; and the preceptors of Thomson, reprimanded the poet, for being too poetical in some of his exercises. The judicious Quintilian observes, that it is not sufficient that a master instructs his scholars in science; but he should also cultivate those par­ticular [Page 33] good qualities nature has be­stowed on each; to add, to those which are deficient, to correct some, and to change others.

It is a melancholy truth, that the period at which men receive the colour of their life, is that which is generally least regarded. When we most want judgment, we have none; and age is often passed only in lamentations over youth. The eventful moment which determines our future years, is min­gled and lost among hours which can­not be recalled. Physicians tell us, that there is a certain point in youth, at which our constitution takes it's form, and on which the sanity of life revolves. The existence of genius, experiences a similar dangerous moment. Taste er­roneously directed, or genius unsubdued; feebleness not invigorated, or vigour not softened; are the accidents which render [Page 34] even a superior mind defective in it's best performances. Children by the neg­ligence of their parents become ricketty, and all their life retain some trace of the unhappy distortion of their limbs. The predominant blemishes of an author, if enquired into, will be found generally to originate in their indulgence at a time when they wanted a Quintilian, to deter them by exercising some contrary quality to that, of which they were vitiously en­amoured. The epigrammatic points, and swelling thoughts of Young; the remote conceits of Cowley, and the turgidity of Johnson, might probably have been avoided by their authors, had the bent of their mind at an early period, been moulded by a critic hand. Few literary vices are radical, unless permitted to strike deeply in the soil. Oaks, are but saplings, till they are suffered to become oaks.

[Page 35] The peculiarities of genius are often derived from local habits, or accidental circumstances; and this remark shews the unwearied vigilance necessary to be observed in the progress and formation of genius. Rembrandt is one instance; his peculiarity of shade was derived from the circumstance of his father's mill re­ceiving light from an aperture at the top, which habituated him afterwards to that singular manner of broad shades. The same analogy may be traced in the hu­man intellect. A man of genius is often determined to shape his mind into a par­ticular form, by the books of his youth. Dr. Franklin tells us, that when young, and wanting books, he accidentally found De Foe's Essay on Projects, from which work he thinks impressions were derived that afterwards influenced some of the principal events of his life. It was by a studious perusal of Plutarch's illustrious [Page 36] men, that Rousseau received that gran­deur of sentiment which distinguishes all his compositions, and created him that romantic and sensitive being he ever re­mained.

If we except some rare instances, no writer can display his talents so indispu­tably that the world shall be conscious of his exalted genius, at an early period. Du Bos and Helvetius have fixed that great hour in the short day of man, about the age of thirty; and I recollect an old Spanish writer lays it down as an axiom, that no author should publish a book under the age of thirty-five. It is cer­tain that many of our first geniuses, have not evinced their abilities till forty. Some indeed spring suddenly like a flower; while others expand gradually like a tree. Some are like diamonds which receive their fine polish from an ela­borate [Page 37] art, while others resemble pearls which are born with their beautiful lustre.

Is it enquired if during this long pe­riod a man of genius does not give some evident marks of his future powers? I answer that sometimes he does; some­times he does not; and sometimes they are dubious. They are frequently dubi­ous, because the grossest pedant attends to his studies, if not with the same af­fection, at least with as much constancy as the finest genius. Who can distinguish between pertinacity and genius? It is, perhaps, impossible to know if a young student will be a compiler, or an historian.

The first effusions of a man of genius may be so rude, as were those of Swift and Dryden, that no reasonable hope can be formed of his happy progress. The juvenile productions of many great writers evince nothing of that perfection they afterwards obtained; and probably [Page 38] Raphael when he first shadowed his rude man, on his father's earthenware, had not one stroke of that ideal beauty, which one day his head was to conceive, and his hand to attempt.

Sometimes a superior mind gives no evidence of it's great powers; genius may, like Aeneas, be veiled by a cloud, and remain unperceived even by it's as­sociates; as in the case of Goldsmith, whom even his literary companions re­garded as a compiler, not as a writer of taste. Hume was considered for his so­briety and assiduity, as capable of be­coming a good merchant; of Johnson it was said, that he would never offend in conversation, and of Boileau, that he had no great understanding, but would speak ill of no one. Farquhar, who afterwards joined to great knowledge of the world, the liveliest talents, was at college a heavy companion, and unreasonably dull. [Page 39] These, from numerous instances, will be sufficient. Again, when a superior mind evinces it's early genius, it is not always done with all it's energy; we have several who began versifiers, and concluded poets.

It happens, however, that sometimes genius unequivocally discovers itself in the puerile age. Some appear to have meditated on the art they love, on the bosom of their nurse; and they are pain­ters and poets before they know the names of their colours, and the fabric of their verse. Michael Angelo, as yet a child, wherever he went, employed him­self in drawing, which so much alarmed his noble parents, who were fearful their family might be dishonoured by a man of genius, that they mingled castigations with their reprimands. Angelo relin­quished the pencil, but it was only to take the brush. When he attempted statuary, his father blushed to think his [Page 40] son was a stone-cutter. Angelo persisted, and became a great man in opposition to his noble progenitors. Velasquez, a Spa­nish painter, when he performed his school tasks, filled them with sketches and drawings; and, as some write their names on their books, his were known by exhibiting specimens of his genius.

An observation may be introduced here which is due to the parents of a man of genius.

We never read the biography of a great character, whether he excelled in letters, or the fine arts, without repro­bating the domestic persecution of those, who opposed his inclinations, and en­deavoured to unfeather the tender pinion of juvenile genius. No poet but is roused with indignation, at the recollection of the Port Royal Society thrice burning the poetical romance, which Racine at length got by heart; no geometrician [Page 41] but bitterly criminates the father of Pascal for not suffering him to read Euclid, which he at length understood without reading; no painter, but exe­crates the parents of Angelo, for snatch­ing the pencil from his hand, though at length he became superior to every artist. All this is unjust.

Let us place ourselves in the situation of a parent of a man of genius, and we shall find another association of ideas concerning him than those we have at present. We see a great man, they a disobedient child; we see genius, they obstinacy. The career of genius is rarely that of fortune; and very often that of contempt. Even in it's most flattering aspect, what is it, but plucking a few brilliant flowers from precipices, while the reward terminates in the honour? The anxious parent is more desirous of his son's cultivating the low-lands where [Page 42] industry may reap, in silent peace, no precarious harvest. But I even confess that many parents are themselves not so insensible to glory, but that they would prefer a splendid poverty, to an obscure opulence; but who is to be certain that a young man is obeying the solicitation of true genius, or merely the fondness for an art, in which he must never be an artist? Literary men themselves fre­quently are averse to encourage the lite­rary dispositions of their children.

It is certain that a love for any art, in youth, is no evidence of genius. The casual perusal of Spenser, which might produce a Cowley, has no doubt given birth to a croud of unknown poets. We have a considerable number of minor artists, of all kinds, who never attain to any degree of eminence, and yet in their youth felt a warm inclination for their art. If the impulse of genius, and the [Page 43] perseverance of desire, if conception and imitation, could ever be accurately dis­tinguished in the philosophy of the mind, it would be one of the most useful of me­taphysical speculations. But philoso­phers have not yet agreed of the nature of genius, for while some conceive it to be a gift; others think it an acquisition.

We now proceed to some reflections on the friends of youthful genius.

The friends of a young writer are ge­nerally prejudicial. To find a sage Quintilian in a private circle, is as rare as to discover a silver mine in Devon­shire; it is supposed there are several, but it is difficult to know where nature has placed them.*

[Page 44] We may observe, that the productions of taste are much more unfortunate than those of reasoning. Every man has a tolerable degree of judgment, and with a slight exertion, atchieves the compre­hension of a piece of argument; but taste is of such rarity, that a long life may be passed by some, without ever meeting with a person of that cultured and sure taste, which can touch and feel [Page 45] the public opinion, before the public forms it's opinion.

When a young writer's first essay is shown, some, through mere inability of censure, see nothing but beauties; others, with equal imbecillity can see none; and others, out of pure malice, see nothing but faults. Few great writers have been born in that fortunate and rare circle, where every man has taste, and some have candour. A young writer, if he suffers his mind to float from uncertainty to uncertainty, will only lose many years before he discovers the imbecillity and defective taste of the narrow circle of his critics.

A young artist must banish despon­dence, even in the rudest efforts of art. He must obey the fervid impulse at the cost of the pleasures of his age, and the contempt of his associates. It may also be no improper habit to preserve his ju­venile [Page 46] compositions. By contemplating them he may perceive some of his pre­dominant errors; reflect on the gradual corrections; resume an old manner more happily, invent a new one from the old he had neglected; and often may find something so fine, among his most irre­gular productions, that it may serve to embellish his most finished compositions. I cannot but apply to this subject, a happy simile of Dryden, which a young writer, in the progress of his studies, should often recollect.

As those who unripe veins in mines explore,
On the rich bed, again, the warm turf lay,
Till time digests the yet imperfect ore,
And knows it will be gold another day.

Let him therefore at once supply the marble, and be himself the sculptor; he must learn to hew out, to form, and to polish his genius. He must appeal from a contracted circle, to the public; and [Page 47] throughout life, must hold this as a maxim, if he would preserve the neces­sary tranquillity to pursue his studies, that the opinion of an individual must be accounted as nothing; not even if this opinion should appear in print. Helve­tius justly observes, what does the opi­nion of any individual mean? Only, that if favourable, he entertains the same ideas as myself; and if unfavourable, that we differ.

Who but the public can arbitrate be­tween an artist and his critic? Should even the censures of the critic be just, and the artist notwithstanding please, it is an additional evidence, that he is among the greatest artists. It is thus with Shakespeare and Churchill.

If several of our first writers had at­tended to the sentiments of their friends, we should have lost some of our most precious compositions. The friends of [Page 48] Thomson could discern nothing but faults in his early productions, not ex­cepting his sublime Winter! This poet of humanity has left a vindictive epi­gram against one of these friends, and it is perhaps the only ill-natured lines, he ever wrote. He came with impatience to London, published, and made his genius known. Voltaire, when his Brutus was unsuccessful, was advised not to turn his attention to the stage. He replied to his friends by writing Zara, Alzire, and Mahomet. The Mirror when published in Edinburgh was "fastidiously" re­ceived; the authors appealed from Edin­burgh to London, and they have pro­duced the literary pleasures of thousands!

It is dangerous for a young writer to resign himself to the opinions of his friends; it is alike dangerous to pass them with inattention. What an em­barrassment! If he has not an excellent [Page 49] judgment he will not know what to re­ject and what to receive of those varying opinions; and if he has an excellent judgment, he wants little of their aid.

A young writer must long and dili­gently study his great models without venturing on the vanity of criticism. He who begins to analyse before he is ac­quainted with the nature of his materials, like an ignorant chymist, may suppose he is making experiments, when he is in the act of injuring his untutored and au­dacious hand. He must read for many years his authors, as some the gospels, with the same faith and the same admi­ration. For what he once wanted in­tellectual relish, he will come to admire, and what he admires he will imitate. He cannot too often peruse those many criti­cal performances which the philosophical taste of the age has produced. It should be considered, that by reading an excel­lent [Page 50] critic, he receives the knowledge of many years in a few hours. The dis­coveries of art are tardy, and criticism supplies this deficiency. The more ex­tensive an artist's knowledge of what has been done, the more vast will be his powers in knowing what to do. Those who do not read criticism, will not even merit to be criticised. Yet we have un­reflecting students who inquire of the utility of criticism? Nothing may be of happier consequence than a habit of comparing his thoughts and his style with the compositions of his masters. If in the comparison, the silent voice of sentiment exclaims in his heart, ‘I also am a painter,’ it is not improbable that the young artist may become a Cor­regio.* If in meditating on the con­fessions [Page 51] of Rousseau, he recollects that he has experienced the same sensations from the same circumstances, and that he has encountered the same difficulties, and vanquished them by the same means; he may hope one day that the world will re­ceive him as their benefactor. If in a constant perusal of the finest writers, he sees his sentiments sometimes anticipa­ted, and in the tumult of his mind as it comes in contact with their's, new ones arise, let him prosecute his studies, with ardour and intrepidity, with the fair hope, that one day, he may acquire the talents of a fine writer. Let him then,

—wake the strong divinity of soul,
That conquers chance and fate.—

CHAP. V. Of the domestic Life of a Man of Genius.

IF we contemplate the domestic life of a man of genius, we rarely observe him placed in a situation congenial to his pursuits.

The house of a man of letters should be the sanctuary of tranquillity and vir­tue. The moral duties he inculcates, the philosophic speculations he forms, and the refinements of taste he discloses, should be familiar to his domestic circle. It is then he is great without effort, and eloquent without art.

The porch and the academy of the ancients must have communicated an enthusiasm the moderns can never ex­perience. In the golden age of Greece, a Demosthenes saw himself encompassed by future orators; and Plato listened to [Page 53] the plaudits of future philosophers. It was a moment of delicious rapture, not felt in the solitary meditations of the modern philosopher, in whose mind sen­sations arise cold and artificial compared to their burst of sentiment and their fer­vour of passion.

Yet a virtuous citizen, amidst the dis­solution of manners, may give to his re­sidence a Roman austerity, and display the sublime in life, as well as in compo­sition. He may be seated at an attic supper, and, ‘Enjoy, spare feast! a radish and an egg. Cowper. Nor is such a purity of manners incom­patible with refined passions, and delicacy of sentiment; a penetrating glance, a tender pressure, a silent smile, may in­fuse into his heart those genuine emo­tions which are ever wanted and never [Page 54] found at tables more splendidly profuse, and more elegantly crouded. A vene­rable parent, a congenial friend, and a female susceptible of a kindred enthu­siasm, are perhaps the utmost number of happy companions, which a fortunate man could ever assemble around him.

Is he deprived of these social consola­tions, like Johnson, he calls those whose calamities have exiled them from so­ciety; and his house is an assemblage of the blind, the lame, and the poor. In the ardour of his emotions, he discovers that a word is wanting in the vocabulary of humanity, and like the Abbè de Saint Pierre, has the honour of fixing a new word in the language; a word that serves to explain his own actions—Bien­faisance.

His look is serene, for study, not for­tune, forms his sole occupation; and accident cannot injure the stability of his [Page 55] soul, for virtue has long been a habit. Is it enquired why this man appears an anomalous being among his fellow citi­zens?—Because he is the contemporary of the greatest men. He passes his morn­ings with Cicero and Demosthenes, and gives his nights to Socrates and Plato.

Such an one is the living exemplar of that sublime morality which we learn with our latin at school, and which, when we come into the world, we consider, like our latin, to be merely a dead lan­guage.

He renders poverty illustrious, and proves that every man may be indepen­dent. But we would be independent only, in commanding slaves. He who lives like a Spartan in voluptuous Sybaris, is, however, independent; and this age has produced men who passed the fer­vours of youth in a philosophical severity, and studied (as some study a language) [Page 56] to become great characters. Such were Franklin and Elliot, Chatham and Hume!

The actions and studies of such men are not the only utility they bestow on the world; they leave something of a more diffusive energy; they leave the eternal memory of their CHARACTER; they leave to remotest posterity their im­mortal vestiges, while virtuous youth contemplates them with enthusiasm, and follows them with confidence.

We close any further reflections on the character of a philosophic writer, and restrain ourselves to observations more obvious, and to facts more usual.

Too often we see the sublimest minds, and the tenderest hearts, sublime and tender only in their productions. They are not surrounded by persons of ana­logous ideas, who are alone capable of drawing forth their virtues and affec­tions; [Page 57] as the powers of the magnet re­main dormant unless applied to particles capable of attraction. We hear of seve­ral great men, that they were undutiful sons—because they displeased their fa­thers in becoming great men—that they were disagreeable companions—because dullness or impertinence wearied—that they were indifferent husbands—because they were united to women who did no honour to the sex. These are ordinary accusations, ever received, while it is forgotten that an accusation is not al­ways a crime.

It were not difficult to describe the domestic life of most men of genius, and to observe that their inmates have ren­dered their Lares but rugged deities. I would never draw conclusions from par­ticular circumstances, such as, that Ad­dison describes his lady under the character of Oceana, and Steele deline­ates [Page 58] his wife under that of Miss Prue; the one was a stormy ocean, and the other a stagnated stream. But I re­mark that many of the conspicuous blemishes of some of our great compo­sitions may reasonably be attributed to the domestic infelicities of their authors. The desultory life of Camoens probably occasioned the want of connection in his Epic; Milton's distracted family those numerous passages which escaped era­sure; and Cervantes may have been led, through the haste of publication, into those little slips of memory observable in his Satirical Romance. The best years of Meng's life were embittered by the harshness of his father; and it is probable that this domestic persecution, from which he was at length obliged to fly, gave him those morose and saturnine habits which he ever afterwards retained. Of Alonso Cano, a celebrated Spanish [Page 59] painter, it is observed by Mr. Cumber­land, that he would have carried his art much higher, had not the unceasing per­secution of the inquisitors deprived him of that tranquillity which is so necessary to the very existence of the fine arts. Our poetry had probably attained to it's acmè, before Pope, had the unfortu­nate circumstances of Dryden not occa­sioned his inequalities, his incorrectness, and his copious page.

It is therefore an interesting observa­tion for a man of letters, and an artist, to liberate himself early from domestic anxieties. Let him, like Rousseau, leave the rich financier, (though he might be­come one himself,) sell his watch, and issue from the palace, in independence and enthusiasm. He must also, if ne­cessary, like Crebillon, be satisfied with the respectable society of a considerable [Page 60] number of grey hounds,* The most ar­dent passion for glory can alone stimulate to such a retirement; and indeed it is only in solitude that the most eminent geniuses have been formed. Solitude is the nurse of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is the parent of genius. Literary solitude shall therefore form our next object for speculation.

CHAP. VI. On Literary Solitude.

MEN of Letters are reproached with an extreme passion for retirement; and some of the warmest philanthropists are calumniated as haters of the human race.

Literary Retirement can have no guilt, even if merely passed, in the uninter­rupted examination of the treasures of literature. When taste is formed, and curiosity becomes habitual, the mind will not forego gratifications at once sa­cile and exquisite. If it is said why the same ingenuity of mind, that loves to trace the cause, and to arrange the ef­fects, is not turned to the objects of the times, and thus render itself of more apparent utility, I answer, that in the contemplation of existing scenes, the mind finds not the same gratification as [Page 62] in those of the past. What is present is not yet terminated; the folly of the age is not yet folly, and judgment pauses over mysterious passions. But in the history of the human mind, to be calmly traced in the volumes of other times, every illusion is dissipated; and we re­ceive the same pleasure, as the spectator who beholds the catastrophe of the tra­gedy, or the comedy, which excited his curiosity. The history of the past yields a conclusion, and therefore a perfection which cannot accompany that of the present.

The horizon of Research is illimitable, and the discoveries of Truth are infinite. New materials serve but as the founda­tions of others; we do not remain sa­tisfied with building a house, a palace, or a street; but by impereeptible gra­dations we erect a city.

[Page 63] This, perhaps, may serve as an apo­logy for Men of Letters, who consume their days with innocence and philoso­phy; but who are frequently considered to withdraw from duties which those who live to bustle, and those who bustle to live, are very far themselves from practising. An active virtue, which in the present day may be called heroism, is frequently the amiable child of Soli­tude, but rarely the companion of the busy and the gay.

I propose to shew the necessity, the pleasures, and the inconveniencies of So­litude, to those who enlighten the world from the obscurity of their retirement.

Solitude is indispensable for literary pursuits. Every poet repeats,‘Carmina secessum scribentis et otia quaerunt.’ No considerable work has yet been com­posed, but it's author, like an ancient [Page 64] magician, retired first to the grove or the closet, to invocate his spirits. Every composition of genius is the production of enthusiasm; and while enthusiasm agitates the mind, the solitude of a man of letters resembles a scene of antient Greece; a grove becomes sacred, and in every retired spot a divinity appears.

But it's enchantments are reserved alone for him. When he sighs for the intellectual decencies, and the grace of fancy, and languishes in an irksome so­litude among crouds, that is the moment to fly into seclusion and meditation. He alone experiences the delights of that day, which is compressed into a few hours. Where can he indulge, but in solitude, the delicious romances of his soul? And where but in solitude can he occupy himself in useful dreams by night, and when the morning rises, fly, with­out interruption, to his unfinished la­bours? [Page 65] He finds many secret pleasures, and some glowing anticipations. There is a society, in the deepest solitude, to which a polished mind springs with ar­dour; it embraces a thousand congenial sentiments, and mingles with a thousand exquisite sensations. The solitude of retirement to the frivolous presents a vast and dreary desert; but to the man of genius it blooms like the enchanted gar­den of Armida.

Such is the situation in which the poet of sentiment and nature, amidst the works of his masters, exclaims‘First of your kind, Society divine! Thomson. In this stillness of soul, nature seems more beautiful, and more vast. We observe men of genius, in public situa­tions, sighing for this solitude; it is there only they feel their superiority, [Page 66] and live in a future age. Cicero was uneasy amidst applauding Rome, and he has distinguished his numerous works by the titles of his various villas, where they were composed. It will not be de­nied that Voltaire had talents and a taste for society; yet he not only withdrew by intervals, but at one period of his life passed five years in the most secret seclusion, and perseverance of study. Montesquieu quitted the brilliant circles of Paris for his books, his meditations, and for his immortal work; and for this he was ridiculed by the gay triflers he relinquished. Harrington, to compose his Oceana, severed himself from the society of his friends, and was so wrapt in abstraction, that he was pitied as a lunatic.

A heart thus disposed, tears itself, with reluctance, from it's contempla­tions, and comes into society without a [Page 67] possibility of receiving, or producing it's pleasures. It may be urged that several men of genius have found no difficulty to level themselves to ordinary under­standings. I have heard that Hume found great delight in the society of two old maids, at his evening whist; Fonte­nelle and La Motte would patiently listen to the frivolous and the dull; but Fontenelle and La Motte, whose genius our historian's greatly resembled, were two ingenious Frenchmen, celebrated for their politeness and their wit, not for their sensibility and enthusiasm.

When a man of letters seeks the con­solations of society, he would rest a mind enfeebled with one continued pur­suit; or exercise it by suffering it to take those infinite directions which the diver­sities of conversation offer. If it is wea­ried, the simplest actions please; it is a child that would sport with flowers and [Page 68] pebbles; if it issues in all it's force, it is an athlet that leaps in the arena, and calls for an adversary. It is Montaigne sporting with his cat, or Johnson main­taining a thesis amidst his marvelling friends.

In either case, ordinary society offers no charms, and can never be charmed. A feeble mind knows not to unbend, because it was never yet extended; nor can it elevate itself because the soul, ac­cording to the figure of Plato, has no wings.

Thus the mind of genius feels a con­tinued irritation in the croud. Let us attend to the expressions of genius, which can best describe it's peculiar sen­sibilities. Petrarch frequently with­drew to his immortal valley, alike dis­gusted with the grossness of the vulgar, and the frivolity of the courtier; he could not patiently suffer that Being, whom [Page 69] he calls 'un huom del vulgo!' Cowley regarded the common people as he did beasts, and was displeased as much with what he calls ‘the great as the little vulgar.’ Among the perverted images of a living orator, is that ‘of the hoofs of the swinish multitude,’ and a ve­nerable ancient prefers the society of his dog to such men. Fools (cries Du Clos) reconcile men of genius to each other; from the impossibility of living with fools. And to close our testimonies, with a fine expression from Milton,

Among unequals what society
Can sort, what harmony or true delight?

The interruption of visitors have been feelingly lamented by men of letters.—The mind, occupied in maturing it's speculations, feels the approach of the visitor by profession, as the sudden gales of an eastern blast, passing over the blos­soms [Page 70] of spring. We are afraid, said some of the visitors to Baxter, that we break in upon your time. To be sure you do, replied the disturbed and blunt scholar. Ursinus was laborious in his literary avocations, and to hint as gently as he could to his friends, that he was avaricious of time; he placed an in­scription over the door of his study, de­siring, that if any one chused to remain, they must join in his labours. The ami­able Melancthon, incapable of a harsh expression, when he received these idle visits, only noted down the time he had expended, that he might reanimate his industry, and not lose a day. Among the disturbers of domestic tranquillity, may be classed those unhappy wanderers who besiege the houses of their neigh­bours, and like the barbarian soldier, enter the apartment of an Archimedes, and murder him in the midst of his studies.

[Page 71] But I am how to sketch a different picture of literary solitude.

Zimmerman has composed an elabo­rate work on Solitude, in a general manner. His sentiments are glowing, and perhaps they are dangerous. Of solitude, men of genius must always be sufficiently enamoured, without having read that seducing description of it's sublime pleasures. Let us not, how­ever, forget nature in enthusiasm. A man of genius, though he addresses pos­terity, has sensibilities and desires which can only be gratified by his contempo­raries. When great minds cannot readily find that in the world they seek, they hasten into seclusion. The craving void remains unfilled; and for him who sighs for popularity in solitude, every hour sharpens desire, and aggravates disap­pointment.

[Page 72] The solitude which is sought by the young student is not borne without re­pining. To tame the fervid wildness of youth, to the strict regularities of study, is a sacrifice which requires all the en­thusiasm of the sincerest votary. The Academic Bower is not without it's rainy days. Milton, not apt to vent com­plaints, appears to have felt this irksome period of life. He employs these ex­pressions in the preface to Smectymnus. ‘It is but justice, not to defraud of due esteem the wearisome labours and studious watchings, wherein I have spent, and tired out, almost a whole youth.’

Perhaps solitude in a later period of life, or rather the neglect which attends that solitude, is felt with more sensibi­lity. It was thus that Cowley, that en­thusiast for rural seclusion, in his retire­ment called himself "the melancholy Cowley;" and Mr. Mason has judici­ously [Page 73] transferred the same epither to Gray. Can we read his letters, and not feel it's justness? we lament also, the loss of Cowley's correspondence, through the mistaken notion of Sprat, a loss cer­tainly as invaluable, as irrecoverable. These are the best memoirs of a man's heart; the register of his feelings. But Shenstone has filled his pages with the cries of an amiable heart that bleeds in the oblivion of solitude. In one of his letters, are these melancholy expres­sions: "Now I am come from a visit, every little uneasiness is sufficient to in­troduce my whole train of melancholy considerations, and to make me utterly dissatisfied with the life I now lead, and the life I foresee I shall lead. I am an­gry, and envious, and dejected, and fran­tic, and disregard all present things as becomes a madman to do. I am infi­nitely pleased (though it is a gloomy joy) [Page 74] with the application of Dr. Swift's com­plaint, that he is forced to die in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole." Without exciting similar passages in prose, let the lover of solitude muse on it's picture throughout the year, in the following stanza.

Tedious again to curse the drizzling day!
Again to trace the wintery tracks of snow!
Or soothed by vernal airs again survey,
The self-same hawthorns bud, and cowslips blow.

Swift's letters paint a terrifying picture of solitude, and at length his despair closed with idiotism. The amiable Gresset, could not sport with the bril­liant wings of his fancy, without some querulous expressions of an irksome soli­tude. In his "Epistle to his Muse," he thus exquisitely paints the situation of men of genius.

—Je les vois, victimes du genie,
Au foible prix d'un eclat passager,
Vivre isolès sans jouir de la vie.

[Page 75] And afterwards he adds,‘Vingt ans d'Ennuis pour quelque jours de gloire!’

The following anecdote may amuse the reader. When Menage was attacked by some, and abandoned by others, in a splenetic humour, he retreated into the country, and gave up his famous Mer­curiales, when the literati assembled at his house. He expected to find that tranquillity in the country which he had frequently described in his verses; but, as he was only a poetical plagiarist, it is not wonderful that he was greatly dis­appointed. Some malicious person hav­ing killed his pigeons, it gave him more vexation than his critics. He hastened his return to Paris. It is better, he cried, since we are born to suffer, to feel only reasonable sorrows.

It is reasonably to be suspected, that he only prefers solitude, who cannot ac­complish [Page 76] his wishes in society. I have not yet been able to discover a great ge­nius, who, courted by an attentive world, persisted in his retirement. Voltaire, when his reputation was not yet esta­blished, sees only happiness in seclusion; all his letters abound with quotations from the poets, of the raptures of soli­tude. When his tragedies gave him ce­lebrity, then his letters sound a different strain, and he hesitates not to declare to his friends, how unhappy was his situ­ation; constrained to remain in solitude while his tragedies were acting every night at Paris.

To have stood insulated amidst society has been the hard fate of some whose presence would have embellished the most select. This neglect of the world has inspired their compositions with a querulous sensibility; a softening charm, that whatever it may have cost their [Page 77] feelings, renders their beautiful lamenta­tions more interesting. The tender shades of melancholy throw a grace amidst the brilliant lights of their fancy. It is said that the nightingale, with a thorn in her breast, does not sing with a less enchanting melody. Is not the voice of the heart heard in these verses?

Poor moralist! and what art thou?
A solitary fly.
No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets.

On the whole it may be said, that a great experience of the world, united with a great love of virtue, render soli­tude desirable. When they exist sepa­rately, it becomes irksome. A great experience of the world, without virtue, will pine in solitude, to exert it's talent on those who are simple and unexperi­enced. A great love of virtue, without experience of the world, forms in the leisure of retirement, those utopian pro­jects, which it pants to call into existence.

CHAP. VII. On the Meditations and Conversations of Men of Genius.

A CONTINUITY of attention is one of the grand characteristics of genius, and in proportion to the degree of the in­tenseness of abstraction are it's powers often obtained. A work on ABSTRAC­TION, or the ART OF MEDITATION, is a desideratum. It would be a valuable present to all, and might prove of im­mense advantage to him, who never had more than one solitary idea.

Among the regulations of this art, it might not be improper to recommend darkness. Several profound thinkers, could never pursue the operations of their minds, in the distraction of light, when the least remission of thought pro­duces a new object, and an extraneous [Page 79] idea. Mallebranche and others, closed their shutters when they wished to ab­stract themselves. That darkness is a great aid to thinking, would appear from what most men experience relative to their thoughts during the night. The silence and obscurity of that time are most friendly to abstraction, and often when sleep forsakes us, and we muse, our thoughts surprise by the vividness of fancy. If at that moment, in the words of one of our most elegant poems, we do not, ‘Snatch the faithless fugitives to light. Pleasures of Memory. If Memory does not chain the children of Imagination, they are scattered, and fly the beams of the morning. Our mind, among a tumultuous croud, suddenly finds itself forsaken and solitary. It is at that unregarded period of our existence, [Page 80] that men of moderate capacities feel an extraordinary expansion, and men of genius some of their most original com­binations. Yet then, how few, like Pope, have an old woman at hand, to bring pens and paper!

Men of genius must consider them­selves as so many vigilant guardians of the infinity of nature. So treacherous is Recollection, and so capriciously does Memory supply her treasures to Fancy, that some of the happiest conceptions of genius are fortuitous; they come, we do not know from where, and spring we do not know how; but if not seised at the moment of perception, they are like autumnal clouds, whose romantic figures dissolve, as we gaze.

It is said that collections have been made, small ones no doubt, of bon mots by persons who never said but one good thing; it would form no incurious mis­cellany, [Page 81] if it were possible to select some of those thoughts of great thinkers, which were never written. We should find many admirable ones. The painters have this advantage over writers, their slightest sketches are immediately siesed, and become as valuable to posterity as their more complete labours.

The ART OF MEDITATION is an art which we may incessantly exercise, and need not remit for long intervals of re­pose, as every other art. And yet, not­withstanding the facility of practice, and we should suppose the hourly skill we might obtain, every manual art, is brought to perfection, while of the art of the mind, millions are yet ignorant of the first rudiments. Quintilian finely observes, that men of genius command it at all times, and in all places. In their walks, at table, and at assemblies, they turn their eye inwards, and can [Page 82] form an artificial solitude. The powers of abstraction, which some men have exercised, appear to puny thinkers to have something of the marvellous; in the regions of the mind, they look like so many Gullivers among a million of Lilliputians. Of Socrates it is said, that he would frequently remain an entire day and night in the same attitude, absorbed in meditation; and why shall we doubt this when we know that La Fontaine and Thomson, Descartes and Newton, experienced the same abstraction? In Cicero's Treatise on Old Age, Cato praises Caius Sulpitius Gallus, who, when he sat down to write in the morn­ing, was surprised by the evening, and when he took up his pen in the evening, was surprised by the appearance of the morning. Of the Italian poet Marini, it is said, that he was once so absorbed in the revision of his Adonis, that he [Page 83] suffered his leg to be burnt, for some time, without any sensibility.

This enthusiasm renders every thing that surrounds us as distant as if an im­mense interval separated us from the scene. It is related of a modern astro­nomer, that one summer night when he was withdrawing to his chamber, the brightness of the heavens shewed a phe­nomenon. He passed the whole night in observing it, and when they came to him early in the morning and found him in the same attitude, he said, like one who had been recollecting his thoughts for a few moments, ‘it must be thus; but I'll go to bed before 'tis late.’ He had gazed the entire night in meditation and did not know it.

Enthusiasm, which is active genius, presents an object more singular than genius in it's quiescent meditations. The flowing stream is lost in an ocean rolling [Page 84] impetuously. This phrenzy of abstrac­tion, and wonderful agitation of the soul, is required not only in the fine arts, but wherever a great exertion must be employed. It was felt by Gray in his loftiest excursions; and is it not the same power which impels the villager, when to astonish his rivals, in a contest for leaping, he retires back some steps, ferments his mind to a fervent resolu­tion, and clears the eventful bound? It was a maxim with one of our ancient and great Admirals, in the reign of Eliza­beth, that a height of passion, amounting to phrenzy, was necessary to qualify a man for that place. A variety of in­stances might be given of this fine en­thusiasm, which has ever accompanied the artist, at the moment he produced excellencies.

It has sometimes arisen into a delirium. The soul of Rousseau was bewildered in [Page 85] the delusions of fancy, and the momen­tary dispositions of his mind coloured exterior objects. Petrarch in that mi­nute narrative of a vision in which Laura appeared to him, and Tasso in the con­versations with his invisible spirit, ex­panded their sublime imaginations to a dangerous phrenzy. This delicious ine­briation of the heart, occasions so intense a delight, that to describe this character of the soul, requires, what one of these exquisite minds has called ‘Thoughts that breathe and words that burn!’ The ancients saw nothing short of a di­vine inspiration in this agitation of the mind. It affects men of genius physi­cally. Fielding says, ‘I do not doubt but that the most pathetic and affecting scenes have been writ with tears!’ He, perhaps, would have been pleased to have confirmed his observation, by [Page 86] the following circumstance. Metastasio has written a beautiful Sonnet, on occa­sion of having shed tears in writing an Opera.* When the first idea of the Essay on the Arts and Sciences rushed on the contemplation of Rousseau, it oc­casioned such a fever of the mind, and trembling of his frame, that it ap­proached to a delirium. The tremors of Dryden, after having written an Ode, (a circumstance accidentally handed to us by tradition) were probably not un­usual with him.

Chance has preserved but a few of similar instances; this enthusiasm, in­deed, can only be observed by men of genius themselves; but when it most powerfully agitates them, they can least perceive it. At that moment of exqui­site extravagance, like a religious visi­onary, they pierce into "the heaven of [Page 87] heavens," and when they return to their chair and their table, the effect has ceased, and the golden hour of sublime rapture must terminate like other hours, in vulgar appetites that offend Fancy and gratify Nature.

This irritability of mind has some­times rendered society displeasing to se­veral men of genius. Whenever Rousseau passed a morning in company, he says, it was observed that in the evening he was dissatisfied and disturbed. Rousseau may be considered by some, as a mind too peculiar, to be taken as a guide in our examination into the character of men of genius. If our young authors, however, would meditate on certain parts of his character, their virtues might be more elevated, and their style more exquisite, than the model which any other literary character of this age pre­sents to them.

[Page 88] Absorbed in his meditations, the man of genius lives in one continued series of reflection; always himself, seldom ano­ther; frequently the real artist loves nothing but his art, and his very amuse­ments and relaxations receive the im­pression of this enthusiasm. Not without an apparent haughtiness, which often is but the natural and dignified expression of an elevated mind; and he appears awkward or ignorant of those petty at­tentions which form the science of those who have no science. A great Princess was desirous of seeing one of the first Literary Characters of the age; her dis­appointment was inconceivable; he sat awkwardly and silently on his chair, and made the most perplexed bow, she had yet seen.

We often view the man of real genius insulated in a brilliant circle; while the intriguing and fashionable author, whose [Page 89] heart is more corrupt than his head, is admired because he has discovered the art of admiring. The triflers consider him to be a man of genius; he employs their own ideas; both are therefore gratified.

It is however certain, that this ab­straction and awkwardness which render a man of genius ridiculous and incon­siderable in the private circle, are the cause of his success with the public. Often his private defects are the source of his public qualities; his bluntness may be a lively perception of truth; his cold­ness a rigid candour; his tedious dis­cussion may be an accuracy of reasoning, and his disagreeable warmth the ardour which animates his works with the pub­lic. It was the excessive vanity and self-love of Cicero and Voltaire, that gave birth to all their vast designs. To please the public, and his circle is incompa­tible [Page 90] —to this the frivolous will not assent—when of their numerous body one ac­complished trifler shall be acknowledged as a great genius, this observation shall be deemed erroneous. But to close a dispute of the most ancient date, I shall quote the remark of a Lord. Shaftes­bury (for nobility loses it's title and often it's rank in the republic of letters) has said, ‘that it may happen that a person may be so much the worse author for being the finer gentleman.’

Many reasons may be alledged why genius is defective in ordinary conver­sation; one may be sufficient; the want of analogous ideas. The spirit of fashi­onable society and that of study, are in­compatible. The language of the politest circle may be defined the art of speaking idly to an idler. To speak idly, is not an acquirement of facility. A man of ge­nius is rarely versant in the fashionable [Page 91] vocabulary, and in a dialogue of elegant inanity, which should be rapid and various, he hesitates to find a remote idea, and stops to correct an imperfect expression. How often will it be fortu­nate for him if he escapes being un­derstood! It is rather singular that our polished society should bear so close a resemblance to the conversations of the Hottentots—of the Hottentots?—Yes! for we are told that they consider think­ing as the scourge of human nature.

The refined sensibility of men of ge­nius, renders them uneasy companions. They discover a character too early, and too sagaciously, for the interests of con­versation. Dunces are excellent com­panions for dunces; the same ideas, and the same judgments; the opacity of the intellect is no detriment, for, like the blind, they can perform their stated rounds in the night without incon­venience.

[Page 92] A man of genius can rarely be a fa­vourite with such a party, even if they should have some taste and some infor­mation. His works they applaud, be­cause that is fashionable, but they neg­lect the author, who may happen to be very unfashionable.

The frivolist author will be the even­ing favourite; he sports not without grace on the brilliant surface of the soul; but is irrecoverably lost when he passes over it's depths; the swan that grace­fully glides down rivers, would perish on seas. The man of genius sits like a me­lancholy eagle whose pinions are clip­ped, and who is placed to roost among domestic fowls.

A man of genius utters many things in conversation which appear extrava­gant or absurd; when printed they are found admirable. How often the public differs from the individual; there may [Page 93] be a century's opinion betwixt them. This reflection reminds me of an Athe­nian anecdote. A statuary at Athens, made a figure of Minerva. Those friends who were admitted into his shop (an ancient custom the moderns preserve) were surprised at it's rough strokes and colossal features. Before the artist they trembled for him; behind him they ca­lumniated. The man of genius smiled at the one, and forgave the other. When the figure was fixed in a public place, and inspected by the city, and not merely by individuals, the attic judges admired the softness of the traits, and the majesty of the figure. We must never forget that there is a certain distance, at which opinions, as well as statues, are to be viewed; and he who addresses an attic public, knows, that it's enlightened sen­timents, are rarely to be found in a pri­vate circle.

[Page 94] It is not necessary to produce instances of the deficiencies of men of genius in conversation. It is sufficient to observe, that the sublime Dante was taciturn or satirical; Addison and Moliere were silent; Corneille and Dryden were no amusing companions. Vaucanson was said to be as much a machine as any he made.

To the intimates of these superior men, who complained of their defects, I would thus have replied—Do their productions not delight and surprise you?—You are silent; I beg your pardon. The public has informed you of a great name; you would not otherwise have perceived the precious talent of your neighbour.—You have examined his compositions; and would you have him resemble yourselves? You know nothing of your friend but his name.

[Page 95] A man of genius may, however, be rendered the most agreeable companion. Few artists but are eloquent on the art in which they excel. He is an exquisite instrument if the hand of the performer knows to call forth the rich confluence of his sounds. If,‘The flying fingers touch into a voice. D'Avenant.

If you love the man of letters, seek him in the privacies of his study; or if he be a man of virtue, take him to your bosom. It is in the hour of confidence and tranquillity, his genius may elicit a ray of intelligence, more fervid than the labours of polished composition.

CHAP. VIII. Men of Genius limited in their Art.

WE have examined in the preceding Chapter several reasons why men of ge­nius are often incapable of pleasing in the versatile conversation of a mixed so­ciety. Another observation offers; their powers of pleasing are even limited in the art in which they excel. They are confined (says Du Bos) to particular branches in that art.

This observation, reiterated without effect, has become trite, while it would appear by most authors, considering themselves universal geniuses, that it was on the contrary, a dangerous novelty. Literary history continually confirms it's verity; and these failures of eminent men are so many instructions which Nature dictates; but her pupils receive her ad­monitions with contempt.

[Page 97] Nature is "a jealous God," and seve­ral of our great writers when they have risen in rebellion against her, have only suffered by the violation. Fielding, ex­cellent in his novels, when his aid was required for the theatre, could never write a tolerable drama. Congreve, ce­lebrated for his pointed wit, when he took up the reigning topic, wrote the feeblest verse; Rowe, successful in the soft tones of tragedy, is remarkable for a miserable failure in comedy; La Fon­taine, that exquisite fabulist, found that his opera was hissed. The absurdities of Voltaire, the most successful of universal writers, are only forgiven for his inex­haustible wit and happy irony.

The most original genius of our age, with discernment equal to his wit, con­fines himself to that species of poetry in which he can fear no rival. Songs, more delicious than the odes of Anacreon, and [Page 98] satires, more pungent than those of Horace; compositions more admirable than imitable; these are the limits which, like a great politician, he draws round his empire. He has no disposition to rival Milton in an epic, or Shakespeare in a tragedy. Peter Pindar will never, therefore, experience the fate of Louis the Great; to make brilliant conquests in the prime of life, and view his repu­tation die before himself, by a vain at­tempt at universal monarchy.

But some ingenious men are willing to oppose this precept, and presume to think that Nature is never ungrateful, when she receives the proper attentions. It is not difficult to find some ingenious artists, who shew abilities in various modes of composition; but to evince abilities, and to display genius, are re­moved at a long interval from each other. True genius has rarely this suppleness; [Page 99] but what the French call le bel esprit, has it often in a wonderful degree. Wri­ters endowed with the bel esprit, can compose history and romance, and moral and poetical essays, with the same in­genuity. A man of genius will only write a history, or a romance; moral, or poe­tical essays; but his performances remain with the language, while the reputation of a bel esprit, like some artificial fires, become suddenly extinct. And it is cu­rious to observe, that the very ingenious Du Clos is denied by the French critics, to be a man of genius, because he wrote equally well on a variety of subjects.

Nor is it surprising that even a man of genius should fail in preserving an equal power over every province of his art; the genius of man being necessarily limited compared to art itself; and he who raises admiration by his skill in one depart­ment, will never equal his faculty in an­other. [Page 100] He who excels, like a Butler in wit and satire, will find it impossible to excel like a Milton, in sentiment and imagination. The minds of men are so many different soils; and the great art consists in planting the trees adapted to the soil.

I know no instance to shew that a great poet excelled as a painter, or that a great musician excelled as a statuary. But it is not difficult to prove, that the most eminent men of genius have found their talent confined to their art, and even to departments of their art.

The ancients therefore wisely addicted themselves only to one species of com­position. The poet was not an historian, nor the historian a poet; but the poet was a poet, and the historian an historian.

I have been induced to touch on this critical admonition, because it is some­times denied; and I think the error [Page 101] arises from not distinguishing the grand compositions of genius, from the pretty curiosities of the bel esprit, which may be defined mimetic genius. Whenever this well-known verse shall be contro­verted, it will be fatal to the progress of genius, ‘One science only will one genius fit. Pope.

He who writes on topics of different species, cannot meditate much on any; with him all is a beautiful distraction rather than an accomplished beauty; he can only repeat what has been already given, or give what will not merit to be repeated. Writers of mediocrity, by a long and patient devotion to one kind of composition, have often attained con­siderable merit; but how much more forcibly must this resolute perseverance act on a mind of original powers. We [Page 102] may compare those who write on dif­ferent arts, or multifarious topics, to excursive merchants, who make small fortunes in various places, and spend them there; writers who concentrate their powers on one object, are like those who incessantly accumulate, but exhaust their splendid opulence, in the proper place, at their native residence.

It is the observation of one of our best critics and poets, in his admirable pre­face to Homer, that ‘no author or man ever excelled all the world in more than one faculty.’ It is not, however, denied that a man of genius should be intimate with the principles of every art; in many he may become an esteemed artist, but in one only he can be a master.

On ne vit qu'a demi quand on n'a qu'un seul gout;
Le veritable esprit sait se plier à tout.

CHAP. IX. Some Observations respecting the Infirmities and Defects of Men of Genius.

THE modes of life of a man of genius are often tinctured with eccentricity and enthusiasm. These are in an eternal con­flict with the usages of common life. His occupations, his amusements, and his ardour, are discordant to daily pursuits, and prudential habits. It is the charac­teristic of genius to display no talent to ordinary men; and it is unjust to cen­sure the latter when they consider him as born for no human purpose. Their pleasures and their sorrows are not his pleasures and his sorrows. He often ap­pears to slumber in dishonourable ease, while his days are passed in labours, more constant and more painful than those of [Page 104] the manufacturer. The world are not always aware that to meditate, to com­pose, and even to converse with some, are great labours; and as Hawkesworth observes, that ‘weariness may be con­tracted in an arm chair.’

Such men are also censured for an ir­ritability of disposition. Many reasons might apologize for these unhappy vari­ations of humour. The occupation of making a great name, is, perhaps, more anxious and precarious than that of making a great fortune. We sympathise with the merchant when he communi­cates melancholy to the social circle in consequence of a bankruptcy, or when he feels the elation of prosperity at the success of a vast speculation. The au­thor is not less immersed in cares, or agitated by success, for literature has it's bankruptcies and it's speculations.

[Page 105] The anxieties and disappointments of an author, even of the most successful, are incalculable. If he is learned, learn­ing is the torment of unquenchable thirst, and his elaborate work is exposed to the accidental recollection of an inferior mind, as well as the fatal omissions of wearied vigilance. If he excels in the magic of diction, and the graces of fancy, his path is strewed with roses, but his feet bleed on invisible yet piercing thorns. Rousseau has given a glowing description of the ceaseless inquietudes by which he acquired skill in the arts of composition; and has said, that with whatever talent a man may be born, the art of writing is not easily obtained. The depressions and elevations of genius, are described by Pope

Who pants for glory finds but short repose,
A breath revives him, or a breath o'erthrows.

[Page 106] The anxious uncertainty of an author for his compositions, is like the state of the lover who writes to his mistress; he repents, and thinks he has written too much, and he recollects that he had omitted things of the greatest moment. When, indeed, his work is received with favour, he resembles Latona, as described by Ovid, who contemplated with secret joy, her daughter Diana, distinguished among the wood-nymphs, and whosc appearance was taller, and more lovely than her companions.

It is observed by M. La Harpe (an author by profession) that as it has been proved there are some maladies peculiar to artists, there are also sorrows which are peculiar to them; and which the world can neither pity nor soften, be­cause it cannot have their conceptions. We read not without a melancholy emo­tion, the querulous expressions of men of [Page 107] genius. We have a little catalogue de calamitate Litteratorum; we might add a volume by the addition of most of our own authors.* The too sensible Smollet has left this testimonial to posterity of his feelings. In one of his prefaces he says, ‘had some of those who were pleased to call themselves my friends, been at any pains to deserve the character, and told me ingenuously what I had to expect in the capacity of an Author, I should in all probability have spared myself the incredible labour and chagrin I have since undergone.’ This is a text which requires no commentary. Hume has given the history of his writings, and we find that it required to the full, all [Page 108] his patient philosophy to support his ill reception. The reasoning Hume pro­posed changing his name and his coun­try. Parties are formed against a man of genius, as happened to Corneille and Milton; and a Pradon and a Settle are preferred to a Racine and a Dryden. What must have been the agonies of the neglected Collins when he burnt his ex­quisite odes at the door of his publisher! The great Bacon bequeathed his name and his works to foreigners, and to a fu­ture age; nor must we forget the dig­nified complaints of the Rambler, with which he awefully closes his work in ap­pealing to posterity.

The votaries of the arts and sciencies, are called by Cicero, Heroes of Peace; their labours, their dangers, and their intrepidity, make them heroes; but peace is rarely the ornament of their fe­verish existence.

[Page 109] It is a mortification experienced by several men of genius, that they have never acquired that reputation they might have merited, by not having been en­abled to carry their genius to it's per­fection. A variety of circumstances may hinder such a writer from occupying the distinguished place his abilities promised. Some authors, of the first-rate genius, are neglected, because deficient in that taste, which is alone attained by long culture and an enlarged education. Piron was a writer of as great genius, and ori­ginal powers, as any of the French poets; but he has failed of securing himself a seat among the masters of the French Parnassus. He has himself, in some sketches of his life, assigned the reasons of this failure; till the age of twenty-five, he was confined to the narrow circle of unlettered friends; he passed ten or twelve years afterwards at Paris in [Page 110] obscurity; so that he was about forty, when by the advice of Crebillon, he es­sayed his powers on his fastidious the­atre, and though he has evinced high genius, he has only satisfied his refined nation by one performance.

Some are now only agreeable, who might have been great writers, had their application to study, and the modes of their life been different. In Mr. Greaves' lively recollections of his friend Shen­stone, are some judicious observations on this subject. He has drawn a compari­son between the elevated abilities of Gray, and the humble talents of Shenstone; and he has essayed to shew, that it was the accidental circumstances of Gray's place of birth, education, his admittance into some of the best circles, and his assiduous application to science, which gave him that superiority over the indo­lence, the retirement, and the inertion [Page 111] of a want of patronage, which made Shenstone, as Gray familiarly said, ‘hop round his walks’ like a bird in a string. I must again remind the reader of an­other apparent paradox of Helvetius, who says, that it is the different modes of education which influence men so wonderfully; and that genius may be ac­quired whenever a proper study is accom­panied by a fervent passion for any par­ticular art or science. This fervent pas­sion may be only another name for what is called genius. I believe, however, that Shenstone, who now occupies a subordi­nate seat, in the Temple of Fame, might have been placed among the higher classes. Perhaps most men are born with abilities nearly equal; and Mr. Greaves has more reason on his side than some may be aware, when he says, ‘of two persons, born to equal fortune, if one improves his stock by industry [Page 112] and traffic, and the other lives idly upon the principal, the consequence is obvious.’

Others, by an ignorance of a fine manner, or by a wrong direction long pursued, waste their talents, on the hum­bler departments of art, when they have sufficient genius to excel in the highest. This is the case among many of our provincial writers, who, with no incon­siderable talents, are placed often in situ­ations where they study authors whose taste is surpassed by the more modern. We often see ingenious writers, who are about half a century removed from the public taste. Among the painters, Al­bert Durer may serve as an instance. Vasari (quoted by Sir Joshua Reynolds) justly remarked, that he would have pro­bably been one of the first painters of his age, had he been initiated into the great principles of the art, so well un­derstood [Page 113] by his Italian contemporaries. And Sir Joshua adds, but unluckily hav­ing never seen or heard of any other manner, he considered his own, with­out doubt, as perfect.

Men of genius are often reverenced only where they are known by their wri­tings. In the romance of life they are divinities, in it's history they are men. From errors of the mind, and derelic­tions of the heart, they may not be ex­empt; these are perceived by their acquaintance, who can often discern only these qualities. The defects of great men are the consolation of the dunces.

Degrading vices and singular follies have dishonoured men of the highest genius. Than others, their passions are more effervescent, and their relish for enjoyment more keen. Genius is a pe­rilous gift of Nature; for it is acknow­ledged that the same materials she em­ploys [Page 114] to form a Cataline and a Cromwell, make a Cicero and a Bacon. Plato, in his visionary sketches of a man of genius, lays great stress on his having the most violent passions, with reason to restrain them. Helvetius, an accurate observer of men of genius, also enforces the idea of their inflammable and physical passi­ons. Glory and infamy is the same violent passion, but the direction is dif­ferent, and Voltaire has expressed this in one verse,‘Si Je n'etois Cesar, j'aurois etè Brutus.’ Genius, like a storm of wind in Arabia, either directs the myriads of locusts to the land, or with a friendly influence dis­perses them away.

For their foibles it appears more dif­ficult to account than for their vices; for a violent passion depends on it's direction to become either excellence or depra­vity; but why their exalted mind should [Page 115] not preserve them from the imbecillities of fools, appears a mere caprice of Na­ture. A curious list might be formed of ‘Fears of the brave and follies of the wise. Johnson. In the note underneath I have thrown to­gether a few facts which may be passed over by those who have no taste for literary anecdotes.*

[Page 116] But it is also necessary to acknowledge, that men of genius are often unjustly re­proached with foibles. The sports of a vacant mind, are misunderstood as fol­lies. The simplicity of truth may ap­pear vanity, and the consciousness of superiority, envy. Nothing is more usual than our surprise at some great writer or artist contemning the labours of another, whom the public cherish with equal ap­probation. We place it to the account of his envy, but perhaps this opinion is erroneous, and claims a concise investi­gation.

Every superior writer has a MANNER of his own, with which he has long been [Page 117] conversant, and too often inclines to judge of the merit of a performance by the degree it attains of his favourite manner. He errs, because impartial men of taste are addicted to no manner, but love whatever is exquisite. We often see readers draw their degree of compa­rative merit from the manner of their favourite author; an author does the same; that is, he draws it from himself. Such a partial standard of taste is erro­neous; but it is more excuseable in the author, than in the reader.

This observation will serve to explain several curious phenomena in literature. The witty Cowley despised the natural Chaucer; the classical Boileau, the rough sublimity of Crebillon; the forcible Cor­neille, the tender Racine; the affected Marivaux, the familiar Moliere; the ar­tificial Gray, the simple Shenstone. Each alike judged by that peculiar manner [Page 118] he had long formed. In a free conver­sation they might have contemned each other; and a dunce, who had listened without taste or understanding, if he had been a haberdasher in anecdotes, would have hastened to reposit in his ware­room of literary falsities, a long decla­mation on the vanity and envy of these great men.

But the charge of vanity has been urged with great appearance of truth against authors, for the complacence they experience in their works, and the high admiration of themselves. An author is pictured as a Narcissus.

It has long been acknowledged that every work of merit, the more it is ex­amined, the greater the merit will ap­pear. The most masterly touches, and the reserved graces, which form the pride of the artist, are not observable till after a familiar and constant meditation. [Page 119] What is most refined is least obvious; and to some must remain unperceived for ever. Churchill, in the opening of his second book of Gotham, justly ob­serves, that to form the beauties of composition,

—few can do, and scarcely one,
One critic in an age can find when done.

But ascending from these elaborate strokes in composition, to the views and designs of an author, the more profound and extensive these are, the more they elude the reader's apprehension. I re­fine not too much when I say, that the author is conscious of beauties, that are not in his composition. The happiest wri­ters are compelled to see some of their most magnificent ideas float along the immensity of mind, beyond the feeble grasp of expression. Compare the state of the author with that of the reader; how copious and overflowing is the mind [Page 120] of the one to the other; how more sen­sibly alive to a variety of exquisite strokes which the other has not yet perceived; the author is familiar with every part, and the reader has but a vague notion of the whole. How many noble conceptions of Rousseau are not yet mastered! How many profound reflections of Montesquieu are not yet understood! How many sub­tile lessons are yet in Locke, which no preceptor can teach!

Such, among others, are the reasons which may induce an author to express himself in language which may sound like vanity. To be admired, is the noble simplicity of the ancients, (imitated by a few elevated minds among the moderns) in expressing with ardour the conscious­ness of genius. We are not more dis­pleased with Dryden than with Cicero, when he acquaints us of the great things he has done, and those he purposes to [Page 121] do. Modern modesty might, perhaps, to some be more engaging, if it were modesty; but our artificial blushes are like the ladies' temporary rouge, ever ready to colour the face on any occasion. Some will not place their names to their books, yet prefix it to their advertise­ments; others pretend to be the editors of their own works; some compliment themselves in the third person; and many, concealed under the shade of ano­nymous criticism, form panegyrics, as elaborate and long as Pliny's on Trajan, of their works and themselves; yet in a conversation, start at a compliment, and quarrel at a quotation. Such modest au­thors resemble certain ladies, who in public are equally celebrated for the coldest chastity.

Consciousness of merit characterises men of genius; but it is to be lamented that the illusions of self-love, are not dis­tinguishable [Page 122] from the realities of consci­ousness.* Yet if we were to take from some their pride of exultation, we anni­hilate the germ of their excellence. The persuasion of a just posterity smoothed the sleepless pillow, and spread a sun­shine in the solitude of Bacon, Montes­quieu, and Newton; of Cervantes, Gray, and Milton. Men of genius anticipate their contemporaries, and know they are such, long before the tardy consent of the public.

They have also been accused of the meanest adulations; it is certain that many have had the weakness to praise [Page 123] unworthy men, and some the courage to erase what they have written. A young writer unknown, yet languishing for en­couragement, when he first finds the notice of a person of some eminence, has expressed himself in language which gra­titude, a finer reason than reason itself, inspired. Strongly has Milton expressed the sensations of this passion, ‘the debt immense of endless gratitude.’ Who ever pays an "immense debt" in small sums?

Even extravagant applauses may be excused. Every man of genius has left such honourable traces of his private af­fections; from Locke, whose dedication of his immortal treatise is more adulative than could be supposed from a temperate philosopher, to Churchill, whose eulo­gies on his friends form so beautiful a contrast with the acerbity of his satire. As their susceptibility is more ardent, [Page 124] and their penetration keener, than other men, it is not improbable that they often discover traits in the characters of those with whom they are familiar, unper­ceived and unknown to the world. The most illustrious of the ancients placed the name of some friend at the head of their works; we too often prefix the name of some patron; but the most graceful place is, perhaps, in the midst of a work, when a man of genius shows that he is not less mindful of his social affection than his fame.

CHAP. X. Of Literary Friendships and Enmities.

A DELIGHTFUL topic opens to our con­templation. I enter the scene, as Eneas the green Elysium, where he viewed the once illustrious inhabitants of the earth reposing in social felicity. Among the multitude, a Pythias and Damon are rare; for friendship appears too serious for the frivolous, and too romantic for the busy. The mutable passions of the frivolous oblige them to forsake those bosoms in which they have reposited their extinct passions; and the varying object of the varying hour requires a new set of associates. The busy suffer no in­timacies to intrude on their private views; the mysterious magnet of friend­ship is attached only by invisible atoms [Page 126] of sympathy, but falls without cohesion, on the solidity of gold.

It is honourable to Literature, that among the virtues it inspires, is that of ardent friendship, and it's history pre­sents no unfrequent instances of it's finest enthusiasm. The delirium of love is often too violent a passion for the student, and it's caprices are still more incom­patible with his pursuits than it's deli­rium. But friendship is not only delight­ful, but necessary to soothe a mind alter­nately elated and depressed; when infirm, it strengthens, when dubious, it en­lightens, when discouraged, it animates.

That however it should be rare in literature, will excite no surprise. The qualities necessary to constitute literary friendship, compared with those of men of the world, must render it's occasional appearance a singularity. Literary friend­ship has no convivial gaieties or factious [Page 127] assemblies. Two atoms must meet, out of the vast mass of nature, of so equal a form that when they once adhere, they shall appear as one, and resist the utmost force of separation. Their studies must be similar, and yet so far from becoming rivals, each must find reciprocal assis­tance; when one of them is at length found to excel, the other is to be the protector of his fame. Each must live for the other, decide with one judgment, and feel with one taste. In this inter­course of minds, the private passions are not to be gratified, but often to be cor­rected, and an energetic passion for study must alone be indulged. In their fami­liar conversations, learning is commu­nicated without study, and wit without art. What is given by one is improved by the other; fancy is enriched by me­mory: and to such conversations the world is indebted for many of it's hap­piest [Page 128] productions. The greatest incon­venience attending such a friendship, is to survive the friend; nor are there wanting instances in which this has not been suffered, and the violence of grief has operated like a voluntary death.

The friendships of men of the world are different both in their features and their complections. There we find with facility, men of analogous dispositions; but such intimacies terminate in com­plaint and contempt. A feeble mind acquires still more imbecillity with the feeble; a dissolute heart riots in guilt with the dissolute; and while we despise our companion, we in return have be­come despicable.

Among the most pleasing effusions of a man of genius, are those little pieces which he consecrates to the cause of friendship; and among his noblest ac­tions, are those fervid and spontaneous [Page 129] testimonies of affection, of which literary history affords many examples. I shall have no recourse to the abundant in­stances which the ancients have left; the moderns may be instructed by the mo­derns. To notice a few will be sufficient, and not to notice them, would be re­fusing the young reader no ordinary gratification. Such is the memorable friendship of Beaumont and Fletcher, that as they have so closely united their labours that we know not the productions of either; it is with equal difficulty bio­graphers compose the memoirs of one, without running into the life of the other. They pourtrayed the same characters, while they mingled sentiment with sen­timent, and their days were not more closely interwoven than their verses. The poem of Cowley, on the death of his friend Harvey, is not, indeed, free from some of his remote conceits; yet the fol­lowing [Page 130] stanza presents a pleasing picture of the employments of two young students.

Say, for you saw us ye immortal lights,
How oft unwearied have we spent the nights▪
Till the Ledaean stars, so famed for love,
Wond'red at us from above.
We spent them not in toys, in lust, or wine;
But search of deep philosophy,
Wit, eloquence, and poetry,
Arts which I loved, for they, my friend, were thine.

Milton has not only given the exquisite Lycidas to the memory of a young friend, but in his Epitaphium Damonis, to that of Deodatus, has poured forth some interesting sentiments. It has been versified by Langhorne. Now, says the poet,

To whom shall I my hopes and fears impart,
Or trust the cares and follies of my heart.

The elegy of Tickel, maliciously called by Steele, "prose in rhime," is alike inspired by affection and fancy; it has a [Page 131] melodious languor, and a melancholy grace. The sonnet of Gray, to the me­mory of West, is a beautiful effusion, and a model for English sonnets. Helvetius was the protector of men of genius, whom he assisted not only with his cri­ticism, but his fortune. At his death, M. Surin read in the French academy, an epistle to the manes of his friend. Saurin, wrestling with obscurity and po­verty, was drawn into literary existence by the supporting hand of Helvetius. Our poet thus addresses him in the warm tones of gratitude.

C'est toi qui me cherchant au sein de l'infortune
Relevas mon sort abattu,
Et scus me rendre chere, une vie importune.
* * *
Que 'importent ces pleurs—
O douleur impuissante! O regrets superflus!
Je vis, helas! Je vis, et mon ami n'est plus!
Thy friend, in Misery's haunts, thy bounties sieze,
And give an urgent life, some days of ease;
Ah! ye vain griefs, superfluous tears I chide!
I live, alas! I live, and thou hast died!

[Page 132] The literary friendship of a father with his son, is one of the most rare alliances in the republic of letters. We have had a remarkable instance in the two Richard­sons; and the father, in his fine original and warm manner, has employed the most glowing language to express his sentiments on this affection. He says, ‘my time of learning was employed in business; but after all I have the Greek and Latin tongues, because a part of me possesses them, to whom I can recur at pleasure, just as I have a hand when I would write or paint, feet to walk, and eyes to see. My son is my learning, as I am that to him which he has not; we make one man, and such a compound man may probably pro­duce what no single man can.’ And further, ‘I always think it my peculiar happiness to be as it were enlarged, ex­panded, made another man by the [Page 133] acquisition of my son, and he thinks in the same manner concerning my union with him.’ All this is as cu­rious as it is uncommon.

But it must not be supposed that men of genius have remained satisfied with only giving a few verses to the duties of friendship. The elevation of their minds has raised them into domestic heroes, whose actions are often only recorded in the unpublished register of private life. Some for their friend have died, pene­trated with inconsolable grief; some have sacrificed their character to his own; some have shared their limited fortune; and some have remained attached to their friend in the worst season of ad­versity. In the note underneath I adduce my proofs of what is so honourable to literature.*

[Page 134] I shall be concise on the subject of their enmities; for what could even ingenuity [Page 135] urge to distinguish literary calumny from any other kind? The reflection should humiliate men of genius, that when they condescend to asperse with rage and malignity, another artist, they are only doing what the worst part of so­ciety can perform, as well as themselves.

[Page 136] But reason trembles when wit is united with malice, and malice with wan­tonness. Churchill says, ‘When Reason's for me, God is for me too.’ But how rarely are satirists conducted by reason! Our laws offer no protection from a bitter epigram, and an artful satire. Irony is not denominated by an attorney a libel; by an honest man it may be felt as something much worse. Fortune has been lost, reputation destroyed, and every charity of life been extinguished by witty malice. To debase a man in the circle of his acquaintance, if unfortunately his sensibility is exquisite, has not infre­quently been committing a less crime than murder. The Abbè Cassagne felt so acutely the caustic verse of Boileau, that, in the prime of life, he became melancholy, and died insane. A modern painter fell the victim of the criticism [Page 137] and the wit of a satirist, who shall be nameless on this occasion. Dr. Johnson related of Cummyns, a celebrated quaker, that he confessed he died of an anony­mous letter in a public paper, which said, he ‘fastened on my heart, and threw me into this slow fever.’ Some, like Racine, have died of a simple re­buke; and some by an epigram as well as a satire.

CHAP. XI. The Characters of Writers not discoverable in their Writings.

IT has long been a cherished notion among men of taste, that the dispositions of an artist appear in his works; and the sublime Angelo, and the graceful Ra­phael, are produced as splendid instances. It has also been a very ancient opinion, that the character of an author is dis­coverable in his writings. The echo from biographers has been constant, and often they pourtray the man, by the mirror of his works.* The anecdote which Dr. [Page 139] Johnson has given of Thomson, has served at least to suspect it's fallibility. The subject, however, demands investi­gation, and perhaps may be finally ter­minated by the facts I now adduce.

We enquire whether he is a moral man who composes moral essays; incon­tinent, who writes lascivious poems; malignant, who publishes bitter satires; and savage, whose imagination delights in terror and in blood.

It is one characteristic of genius to say things for their ingenuity, and to display the felicity of fancy, than from any utility which may be drawn from them. Of many obscene poets, the greater part have led chaste lives; and this topic has engaged the acute examination of Bayle. La Mothe le Váier wrote two works of a free nature; yet his life was the unble­mished life of a retired sage. Of many of the ancient poets, it appears that the li­centiousness [Page 140] of their verse, was by no means communicated to their manners. Their page was lascivious, and their life pure, for the fancy may be debauched, and the heart austere.

The licentious tales of La Fontaine are well known, but not a single amour has been recorded of the "bon homme." Bayle is a remarkable instance; no writer is more ample in his detail of impurity, but he resisted the pollution of the senses as much as Newton. He painted his scenes of lewdness merely as a faithful historian, and an exact compiler. Smol­let's character is immaculate, yet what a description has he given of one of his heroes with Lord Straddle. I cannot but observe on such scenes, that their delineation answers no good purpose. Modesty cannot read, and is morality interested? He assumed the character of Petronius Arbiter; we applaud and [Page 141] we censure this mere playfulness of fancy. It is certain, however, by these instances, that licentious writers may be very chaste men.

We now turn to those works which, by their cast, promise that the authors were pious and moral men. Two celebrated ancients must not be passed over in this enumeration, Seneca and Sallust. The first is an admirable stoic, elaborate in his delineation of the moral duties; but his essays on the advantages of poverty, were written on a table of gold, and his admonitions of supporting pain, on vo­luptuous sophas, and in fragrant baths. This moral declaimer ruined my county. Essex, by the most exorbitant usuries, and inculcated the comforts of poverty with a fortune of seven millions. Sallust elegantly declaims against the licentious manners of his age, but we happen to know that he was repeatedly accused in [Page 142] the senate for public and habitual de­baucheries. He inveighs against the spoilers of countries, yet, when he at­tained to a remote government, he be­came a Verres. Lucian, in his early productions, declaims against the friend­ships of the great, as another name for servitude; when his talents made him known, he accepted a place under the Emperor. He has attempted to apolo­gize for his conduct, by comparing him­self to those quacks, who, indisposed with a severe cough, sell infallible reme­dies for it's cure. At the moment the poet Rousseau was giving versions of the psalms, he was occupied on the most in­famous epigrams. A living painter, whose pictures only represent acts of be­nevolence and charity, is as little generous as he is chaste.

We have been told that the sensibility of Sterne was more that of the author [Page 143] than the man; perhaps those who gave the information were incompetent jud­ges; but I do not find this any more difficult to credit, than a circumstance which happened to Klopstock. This votary of Zion's muse astonished and warmed the sage Bodmer, who supposing him a poet of an advanced age, and an enthusiast for retirement, invited him to his residence; but when the epic poet arrived, he was found no proper associate for the grave professor; he had all the levity and volatility of youth. So very erroneous is the conception often of the form and manners of a distant author.

Johnson would not believe that Horace was a happy man, because his verses were chearful; no more than he could think Pope was so, because he is con­tinually informing us of it. He observed that Dr. Young, who pined for prefer­ment, contemns it in his writings. It [Page 144] is singular that the sombrous author of the night thoughts, was the first to propose a subscription for the balls at Wellwyn.* Young was as chearful in conversation as he was gloomy in his compositions, and when a lady expressed her surprise at his social converse, he replied, ‘there is much difference be­tween writing and talking.’ Are we to credit the good fortune with which some poets so often felicitate themselves, any more than their despondence and menaces? Thomson paints the scenes of domestic love with all the splendid de­corations of fancy, but knew nothing of it's reality but a casual and gross in­dulgence.

[Page 145] Inconstant men will write on constancy, and licentious minds will elevate them­selves into poetry and religion. Moral men will venture to write what they would not act, while others of inferior honesty will act what they will not ven­ture to write.

To prove that the writings of an au­thor give no indication of his personal character, we have instances so multifa­rious, that to bring them forward might weary the most patient curiosity. I con­sult my interest, by repressing the desire of displaying my detections.

It is necessary, however, to adduce a few, that the reader may not flatter himself that he has discovered the dis­positions of an author, either by his style, his mode of thinking, or any other lite­rary appearance he may assume. Balzac and Voiture are so well known, that I prefer them to shew the illusions of style. [Page 146] The letters of the first are pompous and inflated; but his conversation was light and agreeable. Voiture, who affected gaiety and gracefulness in his compo­sitions, was in his domestic language, harsh and stiff, for having frequented the nobility, he ever assumed the Seigneur.* Writers of great genius have felt them­selves in awkward situations, when the extraordinary sentiments they make their dramatis personae utter, are malici­ously applied to their own character. An enemy of Shakespeare, might have re­proached him with his forcible deline­ation of the villain Iago. Crebillon, indeed, complains in the preface to one of his tragedies, of something similar. He says, ‘they charge me with all the [Page 147] iniquities of Atreus; and they regard me, in some places, as a wretch with whom it is unfit to associate; as if all which the mind invents, must be de­rived from the heart.’ Our poet is, indeed, a striking instance of the little alliance between the literary and personal dispositions of an author. In his Atreus, the father drinks the blood of his son; in Rhadamistus, the son expires by the hand of the father; and in his Electra, the son assassinates his mother; yet was Crebillon the gentlest and most amiable of men, and who exulted on his entrance into the French academy, that he had never tinged his pen with the gall of satire. The impiety of Satan, might equally be attributed to the poet; and Dr. Moore might be supposed the worst of men, by his forcible delineation of Zeluco. A poet is a painter of the soul; if he seizes it's deformities, he is a great artist, but not therefore a bad man.

[Page 148] I spare the reader a number of in­stances that croud on the memory, and shall give only a few reflections which offer themselves. One may display with artful elegance, the moral brilliancy of the mind, and with strokes of sentiment, interest the heart by an animated elo­quence. But this may proceed from a felicity of manner, and a flexible, versa­tile, and happy genius. The writer's heart may be as little penetrated by the charms and virtues he describes, as the tragic poet would be incapable of com­mitting the assassinations and massacres he commands in a verse, or details in a scene.

Montagne appears to have been sen­sible of this fact in the literary character. Of authors, he says, that he likes to read their little anecdotes and private passions, and adds, ‘Car j'ai une singuliére cu­riositè de connoitrE l'ame et les naifs [Page 149] jugemens de mes auteurs. Il faut bien juger leur suffisance, mais non pas leurs moeurs, ni eux, par cette montre de leurs ecrits qu'ils etalent au theatre du monde.* This is very just; and I am not yet persuaded that the simplicity of this old and admirable favourite of Eu­rope might not have been a theatrical gesture, as much as the sensibility of Sterne.

I conclude by observing, that if we consider that he who paints vice with energy is therefore vicious, we may in­jure an honest man; and if we imagine that he who celebrates virtue is therefore virtuous, we may happen to deceive our­selves in reposing on a polluted heart.

CHAP. XII. Of some private Advantages which induce Men of Letters to become Authors.

SOME private interest enters into his view who assumes the profession of an author. Such a motive fortunately ex­ists; for no reasoning man would volun­tarily place himself in a situation, fraught with burning anxieties, and with sick­ening disgusts; with hope mingling with despondence; with felicity so variable, that the utmost happiness of an author is as transient and rare, as those fine Italian skies we sometimes see in our unsettled climate.

Many are the motives which induce to become authors; their motives, like their misfortunes, are peculiar to them­selves; but the utility they produce ap­pertains to the public.

[Page 151] Some enter the perilous and brilliant career of letters, as the only means of distinguishing their abilities, and meriting public esteem. To any other pursuit, their situation, or their dispositions, may be incompatible. The restless activity of genius torments their repose; and they feel like a young Columbus, con­fined to a petty port. These are men to whom glory becomes a kind of aliment, deprived of which, their passions, like a concealed fire, would secretly consume the frail machine of humanity. For such, it is as impossible to remain silent, as it is for some to be eloquent. They give a voice to their feelings in their works.

Others become authors, as the only relief they find from the taedium of life. Helvetius has maintained the singular paradox, that Ennui produced many of our superior writers. Several authors have [Page 152] invented their works, as so many schemes to escape from the pressure of life. It was an assertion drawn, perhaps, from his own feelings. A financier, luxuria­ting in splendid opulence, courted by each seductive form of voluptuousness, already acknowledged as an elegant wri­ter and a liberal Mecenas, could only have been induced by this motive to encounter the close meditation, the la­borious arrangement, and the elaborate elegance of a work which he resolved should be posthumous. It is to Ennui we owe that numerous race of opulent scribblers, who after reiterated ill suc­cess, still pour their plenteous volumes on a wearied and incurious public. Ma­rolles persisted to the last in his uninter­rupted amusement of printing books, and his readers having long ceased, he was compelled to present them to his friends, who, however, were not his [Page 153] readers. There are many writers who pass their days in amazing labours, and are veterans without being known as vo­lunteers. Of some, a private press is the literary horizon; composition pre­serves their mind from what a French writer pleasantly calls "the horrors of digestion." It is well if they would only take their physic in private. These are the Shakespeares whose plays have been refused, and the Addisons whose spectators have never been read.

Others follow the avocations of an au­thor as a means of subsisting on the produce of virtuous talents; their mo­derate and precarious existence is more honourable than a ducal revenue, and more precious than a contractor's loan. When we know that such a writer has never violated the dignity of human na­ture, but has rigidly reverenced virtue, and an elevation of soul has taught him [Page 154] to repel the insulting familiarity of the great, his works receive a new and ac­cidental value. We pursue our medi­tations with confidence, and we dwell on those fervid strokes which are the natural expressions of a great genius, wrestling with a heavy and oppressive fortune.

Literature is, indeed, the only refuge for genius, placed in obscure situations. It is an avenue to glory, open for those ingenious men, who, deprived of ho­nours or of wealth, may by their medi­tations, sometimes obtain both; or if they do not obtain either, may be ren­dered superior to them. To many young writers the idea may be consolatory and animating, that the greater part of our first authors have ennobled themselves, and owed nothing to their parents. The great Grecian orator, was the son of a sinith; the prince of Latin poets, of a potter; the finest satirist and ode writer [Page 155] of antiquity, of a franchised man; the brilliant Flechier, of a tallow chandler; the eloquent Massillon, of a tanner; and the philosophers Rousseau and Diderot, of a watch-maker and a cutler; in Eng­land, the most nervous of moral essayists, was the son of one who kept a book stall; the author of the Pleasures of Imagina­tion, was the son of a butcher; and the greater author of the American Revolu­tion, of a tallow chandler.

Genius has the prerogative of raising the inferior ranks of men to the higher classes of society. This once obtained, the age is just; and the higher classes become inferior.

We must not pass over in silence, ad­vantages better known, attending the occupations of literary men. Those de­rived from studious habits, would be suf­ficient to attach the elegant mind to literature, if reason had much power [Page 156] over the passions; the attraction is irre­sistible, when reason itself becomes a passion.

The pleasures of literature have long been a favourite amplification of elo­quence; and I quote not the admirable reflections or of Cicero, or of Pliny, fa­miliar to every man of taste. He who consecrates himself to letters, escapes from the restless desires of the multitude. The mephitic air of vulgar passions can­not reach him; as, we are informed of the pernicious vapour of the lake of the dogs in Italy, that if a person does not bend downwards, it cannot affect him. Is he opulent? he has sufficient firmness to remain enamoured of literary labour. Is he poor? he has sufficient intrepidity to become illustrious. The first effect of a love of letters communicates virtue and independence; for he has silenced many [Page 157] private passions, and inhabits the inte­rior, not the superficies of his soul.

It is a curious observation of one Martinelli, an Italian, who, to prove that Study softens the manners, says, that rarely men of letters are assassins in Italy, duellists in France, or suicides in Eng­land. It is true we want not the opinion of Martinelli, because it has been ele­gantly said by Horace, repeated by the thinking Hume, and is to be found in every book of rhetoric, in the first chapter.

Literature is the only consolation in those terrible afflictions, when we are re­duced by the privation of a sense, to take our last refuge under the domestic roof. Blindness itself is no impediment to ge­nius; fatal to all, it is an advantage to an active imagination. It's powers collect more forcibly and burn more intensely. It is possible to form a catalogue of men [Page 158] of learning who have projected and finished considerable works in this situ­ation. Often, too, has the gate of the prison been the porch of fame, and a slight indisposition conferred immorta­lity. A man of letters can never be said to be exiled or imprisoned.

It is even to be supposed, against the popular opinion, that study is friendly to the constitution. A life of letters is calm and uniform, and cherishes the mild af­fections. An author, if he feels not too sensibly an occasional disappointment, and can forgive the malice of an enemy, finds his studies produce a happy influ­ence over his health. Hourly acquisi­tions bring new delights, and thought from thought is pursued with tranquil­lity; and delight and tranquillity are medicines to the soul, and promoters of health. Every production of taste re­spires a softening balm, which sweetens [Page 159] that continuity of attention only expe­rienced by men of study. If an anatomist could describe accurately the sensations of a man of taste, and explain this pla­cable and harmonious play of the nerves, no state of existence might, perhaps, be found more friendly to the human frame. Every one in the habits of study has per­ceived the influence of the mind over the body; and Addison has noticed the pleasures of the imagination as conducive to health.* The greater number of emi­nent writers have attained to an advanced age. In an essay by Dr. Rushworth, a number of ages of great students are col­lected, and his opinion is confirmed by sufficient testimonies. Bayle still pro­ceeds [Page 160] further, by saying, that study is not hurtful to the constitution even in early youth. Shenstone has, however, echoed in one of his elegies, the vulgar opinion,‘But soon the paths of health and and fame divide.’ If by the path of fame, our amiable wri­ter meant study, his ill health was never occasioned by profound learning.

Some, perhaps, will not deem as one of the inferior advantages of an author, that of his admission among the higher circles. If in the present age, no writer [Page 161] can reasonably hope that his studies will open the golden gate of preferment, or of fortune, he may at least, when he at­tains to eminence, be certain of receiving the tribute which opulent vanity pays to his talents. But an author is little in­debted to such notice; the attentions of a brilliant circle are ill-timed; it is, per­haps, twenty years too late. It is also to be observed, that few men of taste can accustom themselves to the refinements of opulent grandeur, without creating artificial wants, which they can never gratify; and their future life may feel the irritation of pleasures not to be pur­chased, and elegance not to be found. To such may often be applied the ex­clamation of Milton's Adam, when obli­ged to exile himself from paradise—

—How shall I breathe in other air
Less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits?

The society of the great is little flatter­ing; [Page 162] for it requires a painful vigilance to preserve dignity with such associates. D'Alembert has written an admired essay on the connection between literary men, and these men. A man of letters who had the misfortune of living with a lord, finely said of him, ‘he would familiarise himself with me; but I repel him re­spectfully.’ An anecdote related of Piron is not less interesting. This man of genius had formed the most elevated notion of the dignity of a man of letters; nor would suffer the literary character to be lowered in his presence. Entering the apartment of a nobleman, who was con­ducting another peer to the stairs, the noble stopped to make way for Piron, pass on, my lord, said the noble master, pass, he is only a poet.—Piron replied, ‘since our qualities are declared, I shall take my rank,’ and he placed himself before the lord.

[Page 163] If the voice of an individual can weigh with an author, it is when it speaks in a foreign accent. The enquiry of an in­telligent foreigner sounds like the distant plaudit of posterity. Fontenelle was never more gratified than when a Swede, ar­riving at the gates of Paris, enquired of the officers of the customs where Fon­tenelle resided, and expressed his indig­nation that none of them should have ever heard of his name.

There are some hours in the life of a man of genius, which, it may be sup­posed, communicate an exquisite sensa­tion to his feelings. It is when he perceives the world spontaneously pay their tribute of respect to his abilities. It is said of Corneille, that he had his particular seat in the theatre, and that when he entered, the audience rose to salute him. We know what excess of honours was paid (the expression will be [Page 164] pardoned by men of taste) to the match­less Voltaire. Spinosa, while he gained a humble livelihood by grinding glasses at an obscure village in Holland, was visited by the first general in Europe, who, for this conference, suspended the march of his army, and traversed a dis­tant province. Rousseau attracted a croud as he passed the streets; and the people followed him with tears of affection, as the apostles of genius and humanity. Lavater, receives daily the tribute of pos­terity in the personal admiration of every traveller of sensibility and taste. Such are the voluntary honours of the human heart; honours which no monarch can receive, unless he is that singular mo­narch— a man of letters on the throne.

I observe that this chapter on the ad­vantages of men of genius, is short, and that it was with much trouble I could even give it this amplification.

CHAP. XIII. Of the Utility of Authors to Individuals.

WE have reason to believe, that wherever authors are virtuous and free, their nation partakes most of virtue and of freedom; as on the contrary, where they are dissolute and enslaved, their nation have as little morals as liberty. We want a dissertation on the influence of manners on taste, and of taste on manners. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in one of his discourses, observes, that ‘in the ornaments of the arts we find the cha­racteristical mark of a national taste, as by throwing up a feather, we know which way the wind blows, better than by a more heavy matter.’

The morals of a nation are oftener di­rected by authors, than by those modern apostles who possess vast incomes, and [Page 166] stolen sermons. Authors are the preach­ers of morality, and the arbiters of man­ners. They perform the office of the Censor Morum; and if they do not al­ways live like the Catos of their age, their works may effect the same benefi­cial influence; for, like the language of Cato, they are so many reprimands for folly, and remonstrances for vice.

An author sometimes appears, who gives a new direction to the national cha­racter. In mechanics, no impulsion, from a single hand, can communicate to a body the force of eternal movement. In morals it is different; for there an in­dividual power can for ever endow with action the TRUTH it impels. These are the few authors who form revolutions, not, perhaps, in the sublime sciences, which are reserved for the contemplation of a few, but in that happier knowledge which is of daily use, and addressed to [Page 167] those who most want instruction. These authors are not a Newton and a Locke; but an Addison and a Fontenelle. These two eminent writers shall illustrate this reflection. The Spectators introduced literature and morals in the nation; the young, the gay, and the fair, who flew from the terrific form of a folio, were at­tracted by the light graces of a fugitive page. Since that happy moment the dif­fusion of taste, and the curiosity of know­ledge, have produced readers who are now enabled to discern the shades of ele­gance; to appreciate compositions of genius; and to adjust the merits of in­genious competitors by the scale of phi­losophical taste. We have become a reading, and of course a critical nation. A refined writer is now certain of finding readers who can comprehend him. Of all our great men, whatever department they have illustrated, who has left to the [Page 168] nation a more valuable inheritance than Addison? Thousands hear the name of Marlborough, but the battle of Blenheim leaves no impression. The name of Ad­dison excites affection; and his Spectators remind the modest reader where he first gained instruction, and the great writer where he first felt the influence of taste, and where he still learns the art of com­position.

Fontenelle operated the same kind of revolution in France. Before his bril­liant wit and exact science were united, learning was the solitary enjoyment of the learned. Astronomy and erudition were reserved for the astronomer and the erudit. Each spoke his own language; Fontenelle was their interpreter. He explained vast totalities by gradual de­ductions, and sublime conceptions, by familiar ideas. The lady at her toilette described the motions of a heavenly body, [Page 169] while she was regulating her own; and the beau monde had a finer penetration into the nature of oracles, than the pedant Van Dale, who had written so co­piously, and whom no one could read.

These are the valued authors who de­light and soothe their fellow-citizens; the benefactors of every man. A mind happily disposed imbibes their felicity of character. We read, among the Persian fables of Sadi, of a swimmer, who, hav­ing found a piece of common earth, was astonished at it's fragrance, and enquired if it were musk or amber? ‘No,’ re­plied the perfumed mould, ‘I am no­thing but common earth; but roses were planted on my soil, and their odorous virtues have deliciously pene­trated through all my pores. I have retained the infusion of sweetness; I had otherwise been but common earth.’—Sadi ingeniously applies this [Page 170] poetical incident to the effect his mistress produces over him. We may also apply it to an essay of Addison, or a dialogue of Fontenelle, which, like the roses on the common earth, impregnate with in­tellectual sweetness an uncultivated mind.

Those who feel with enthusiasm the eloquence of a fine writer, insensibly re­ceive some particles from it; a virtuous writer communicates virtue; a refined writer, a subtile delicacy; a sublime writer, an elevation of sentiment. All these characters of the mind, in a few years, are diffused throughout the nation. Among us, what acute reasoners has the refined penetration of Hume formed; what amenity of manners has not Addison introduced; to how many virtuous youths have not the moral essays of Johnson im­parted fortitude, and illumined with re­flection?

[Page 171] It is presumed, that while they thus powerfully operate on the minds of their readers, their own minds, in the practice of their studies, are influenced in a simi­lar manner. One of the most pleasing passages in the platonic Shaftesbury, is to this purpose; and though we have al­ready proved it, not exactly conformable to facts, it is not entirely a brilliant re­verie. Our noble author, comparing the writer with the sculptor and the painter, says, that ‘there is this essential differ­ence between the artists of each kind; that they who design merely after bodies, and form the graces of this sort, can never, with all their accuracy, or correctness of design, be able to reform themselves, or grow a jot more shapely in their persons. But for those artists, who copy from another life, who study the graces and perfections of minds, and are real masters of those rules which [Page 172] constitute this latter science, 'tis impos­sible they should fail of being them­selves improved and amended in their better part.’ That delightful enthu­siast Richardson the father, in one of his fine dreams, insists (as others indeed have done) that great virtue is necessary even for painters; and that genius has been less or greater, as virtue and vice prevailed in the mind of the artist. When we read an amiable composition, and observe the character of the author to be the reverse, there appears an indecent opposition, which revolts our sensibility, and makes us contemn the writer as a miserable impostor.

This science of the mind, noticed by Shaftesbury, is not metaphysics, but what has been happily called "the proper study of mankind;" Man acting in society. The philosophic genius ex­cels in the study of the world; he de­rives [Page 173] this advantage from the obscurity of his situation, the versatility of his mind, and the habit of meditation. Those whose chief occupation is not re­flection, limit the knowledge of human nature to the particular society they are accustomed. A courtier, a lawyer, and a merchant, contemplate the human heart, in different lights; but nature is ill understood by those whose capacities are habituated to detect one principle among many. She has no character, but many characters; she is not to be sys­tematized, but to be pursued. The man of genius acts upon more general principles; and makes the human heart his amusement and his occupation. The theatre, conducted by such writers, would become a national school; but we must then have fewer pantomimes, and such operas and comedies as we have now, still fewer than pantomimes.

[Page 174] The philosophical traveller enters no town but he feels the regards of a citizen, and views no spot of earth on which the same sun does not shine, and the same affections kindle. As he gazes from the Alps, on the regions beneath, his eye suffused with tears of pleasure and hu­manity, he exclaims, ‘Creation's heir! the world, the world is mine. Goldsmith.

CHAP. XIV. Of the political Influence of Authors.

OPINION, says Sophocles, is stronger than Truth; Opinion is the sovereign of man; and authors, who are the propa­gators of her decrees, are some of the most important persons in society, and may be called the ministers of state to Opinion.

An author has the singular prerogative of uniting in himself the powers that are portioned among the higher orders of society. This reflection may appear fan­ciful to those who are destitute of fancy; and extravagant to those who consider paper and pens as the composition of the manufacturer, and who see nothing in them but rags and feathers.

An eloquent author, who writes in the immutable language of truth, will one [Page 176] day be superior to every power in the state. His influence is active, though hidden; every truth is an acorn which is laid in the earth, and which often the longer it takes to rise, the more vigorous and magnificent will be it's maturity. What has been long meditated in the silence of the study, will one day refound in the aweful voice of public opinion. The chief magistrate can command; the se­nator can persuade; the judge can de­cide; the soldier can conquer. A great author obtains these various purposes at once by his solitary labours. His truths command; his eloquence persuades; his reason decides; and his works inspire a rival nation with a more enduring re­spect, than even a victorious army.

An island, once inconsiderable in Eu­rope, now ranks among the first powers, arbitrates among other nations, and the very title of it's inhabitants ensures re­spect. [Page 177] Is this owing, alone, to her com­mercial prosperity and military force? One nation has the most flourishing mart of trade, and another is one of the most martial people; yet neither inspire man­kind with veneration or affection. To themselves is confined their rude lan­guage; studied, perhaps, by merchants, and corrupted as it is studied. It is more by an interchange of opinions, than of spices and specie, that a nation is esteemed.

Not thus with England; for she derives her splendour from her writers, as well as her soldiers, and her navigators. An empire merely founded on force, is sur­rounded by enemies, and often it's sin­cerest enemies are to be found in it's own unparental bosom. An empire distin­guished by it's literature, conceals it's martial iron under the sweetest flowers; extends her conquests, and diffuses her [Page 178] pleasures, and among hostile foreigners, acquires new friends.

This truth we ourselves have experi­enced. France preceded us in the stu­dies of humanity, and her polite litera­ture more forcibly operated on the world, than even her armies and her fleet; her civility and refinement vanquished, when these were defeated. At that period in society, when the intellectual tastes of men become so many wants, these gave an universal diffusion to her language. The nation that supplies a harvest for this appetency of the mind, extends it's dominions in the hearts of the subjects of other powers. Thus Pope, with equal sagacity and taste, writes

We conquered France, but felt our captive's charms,
Her arts victorious triumphed o'er our arms.

Let us now contemplate the reverse of the medal; and the reverse is more beau­tiful than the face. In the middle of the [Page 179] last century, our manners were as un­known as our language; and neither were yet formed and polished. We were nearly regarded as valorous barbarians, partaking of the glooms of our clime; and whom nature had benevolently sepa­rated, from neighbours more polished, and airs more serene. We now hold to Europe models of solid sense and pro­found reasoning. Our late admired writers have made a neglected language the study of reflecting foreigners; they calmed the national hatred of France, and compelled even our rivals incessantly to celebrate our merits, when, unlike themselves, we condescended not to ex­ult, but to perform our labours with a modest silence. Before our present un­happy dissentions, it was our nation they sighed to emulate; and the first writers of France passed into England to learn to think and write; or thought and [Page 180] wrote like Englishmen in France, undis­mayed by the terrors of a corrupted go­vernment. From our hands they received the germs of reflection, and the flower of liberty. This singular revolution in the human mind was produced not by our merchants or our admirals, but by our Lockes, our Popes, and our Addisons. They have subjugated the minds of mil­lions by the energy of an intellectual so­vereignty. The works of English authors are now printed at foreign presses, and this at least as much as the commerce and the force of England, proves the ascendancy of her genius.

The utility of men of letters to na­tional purposes is not attended to by every statesman; for few statesmen (like other men in office) are either worthy of, or competent to their employments. The author is considered by the great as a subordinate character in society; as if [Page 181] the art of instructing men, the art of a Socrates, was much inferior to that of governing them, the art, often of a Nero, or a Sardanapalus, and, according to Machiavel, of a Cesar Borgia.

Political theorists, however, appear to consider the worst actions of men, as of far less consequence than the propagation of their opinions. A dangerous man may infect his neighbours, but the dangerous writer spreads a contagion throughout a nation. Books, and sometimes their au­thors, have been burnt; but even this mode of criticism was found ineffectual. The flame which destroyed an indivi­dual, ever enlightened a people; and the burning of books, has not yet been con­sidered as their refutation.

If those who administer the public duties of government, were more closely allied with men of letters, the union would be happy for the people, and use­ful [Page 182] to both. It is unfortunate that those who govern are not always the most en­lightened.*

Authors stand between the governors and the governed; and they who practice the art of arranging their thoughts, and of agitating the passions, who at once [Page 183] penetrate by their reason, and inflame by their eloquence, are, among the nations of modern Europe, what the celebrated orators of ancient Rome and Athens were among the assembled citizens. They awaken, they terrify, they excite, they conduct the people.

Ministers are constrained to watch till vigilance is exhausted, and solicitude sleeps amidst the fluctuations of the pub­lic mind, and this public mind is the creation of the philosophical writer. Is it to be doubted, that since the immor­tal labour of Montesquieu, the old sys­tems of government have been often changed? It is certain the minds of the people have. Cromwell, the penetrating Cromwell, was justly alarmed when he saw the Oceana of Harrington, and seems to have dreaded the terrible effects of a little volume, much more than the plots of the royalists. The single thought [Page 184] of a man of genius has sometimes chan­ged the dispositions of a people, and even of an age.* With every creative genius that arises, a new day rises with him; it was Montesquieu that introduced in his nation a taste for the solid and pro­found, as well as the gayer and lighter studies.

Wherever the liberty of the press is established, authors form as powerful a class in society, as the highest. For the great, nothing remains but to annihilate the press, or to respect the authors. In Rome, a Persius may have been com­pelled to disguise the name of a Nero, but in England, the name of a tyrant [Page 185] will be hitched in rhime. Authors are most to be dreaded in that country where the liberty and licentiousness of the press, become a mere matter of sentiment, and not of discussion; and this sentiment is left to the people. We who enjoy the freedom of the press in it's extreme de­gree, have no reason to complain of any privileges of the great.

The people consider authors as their property; and not unjustly, since the great suffer them to depend on the people. The public are never slow to unite with authors, who, for the sake of preserving equality, must continually humble the great. The public, as pa­trons, are the most munificent; as abet­tors, the most formidable. Their favour is equitably obtained; they expect an author to be the bold interpreter of their secret sentiments, and the protector of their liberties, as well as the artist of [Page 186] their pleasures. If this author is perse­cuted, he is never forsaken; his cause becomes the cause of the people; but if he should prove a wretched adventurer; who artfully seised on an occasion to serve his private views, the author is justly neglected, and the cause alone pursued. We live in an age, in which an honest man begins to know his value; and ob­scurity and poverty, if adorned with in­tegrity and philosophy, are not injurious to the opinions of a great mind. We consider that personal merit, is superior to personal honour; because it now in­cludes personal honour. The contrary will not hold, nor has this always been so.

The public are not displeased when the great become the patrons of their emi­nent authors; it is a kind of homage paid to the sentiments of the people. But the author may be a considerable loser, if he values fame, more than he does a pension.

[Page 187] It is curious to observe the solitary man of letters in the concealment of his obscure study, separated from the croud, unknown to his contemporaries, col­lecting the materials of instruction from every age and every country; combining with the present the example of the past, and the prediction of the future; pouring forth the valuable secrets of his medita­tions to posterity; striking with the con­cussion of new light the public mind; and forming the manners, the opinions, the refinement, and the morals of his fellow-citizens.—It is curious, I say, to observe such a man, by some contemned, by others hated; by some degraded to an idler or an outcast, and by others raised to a fancied monster; a Briareus extending a hundred arms, and in every arm a brand of sedition; an Argus open­ing a hundred eyes, and tracing the vermin of corruption, creeping to their [Page 188] most hidden recesses; in a word, as awe­ful a figure as that of the vast mountain, to which the caprice of a tyrant attempted to give a Colossal form, by commanding the people to hew it to his immoderate fancy.

But the philosopher is not, as of late, too often represented this Colossal ini­quity. Legal authority is most secure when the people are most enlightened; a simple truth, which I leave to profound politicians to explain. I shall only cite the sentiment of an old poet.

—De la majestè des Loix,
Appuyant les pouvoirs supremes,
Fait demeurer les diademes
Fermes sur la tête des Rois.

It is a dreadful moment when the people and the great alike refuse the in­structions of the philosopher; whenever he appears terrible, some great corruption pervades the state, for he is only armed [Page 189] with truth. The occupations of the philosophical student, as connected with political speculations, are therefore du­ties of an exalted nature; some must give their hands, some their blood, and some their hours, to the various duties their country exacts; but there is a small portion of men, who appear marked out by nature, for the purpose of cultivating their thoughts in peace, and to give ac­tivity to their sentiments by disclosing them to the people. The physiognomy of their minds, wears all that shining lustre, which distinguished the prophet after his immediate conference with the Divinity; for in their compositions, good sense is embellished by eloquence, and before they persuade, they convince. None, but those who devote a life to me­ditation, can effect these great purposes; for they who govern a people, cannot at the same time enlighten them.

[Page 190] Legislators of extensive views, have ever protected and honoured men of letters. We have seen, in this age, two great powers in Europe testify their pub­lic utility, and who have been as soli­citous to assemble philosophers, as to form their armies. Prussia and Russia, under the government of two great sove­reigns, have shewn how far by their aid an obscure principality, and hordes of barbarians, may be elevated in the scale of humanity. The great Frederick in­vited to his court the persecuted and un­happy literati; and to this holy shrine of philosophy resorted many a literary pil­grim. The imperial Catharine has not only largely pensioned several illustrious writers, but honours and animates, by her gifts, the attempt of every philosopher who produces a public utility. If these sovereigns have displayed more art than humanity, in forging chains for the free­dom [Page 191] of men; it shews that an Antoninus and an Alfred, are more rare than a Frederick and a Catharine, as the love of philoso­phy is less difficult than practical philo­sophy; the only philosophy that merits the name.

It is the philosophical writer who alone reflects on what is not done, and on what may be done. He goads the sluggish veins of government, when a cold indo­lence spreads a torpor on it's unhealth­ful inactivity. He teaches philanthropy to direct it's bounties in proper channels, and this is no inconsiderable good; for the humanity which distinguishes our age, is often only retarded by an igno­rance of it's necessities; to perceive and pathetically to describe these necessities, is reserved for the sensitive philosopher. It is the characteristic of a man of genius, in such appeals to our bosoms, that his glowing mind pours forth those servid ex­pressions, [Page 192] that agitation of ideas, those pictures of truth, which communicate his own sensations, and animate with his exquisite soul, the souls of others. The people are a vast body, and men of genius are the eyes and hands.

The thousand public utilities, I speak not of the elegancies, derived from the multifarious divisions of science and of art, can alone be perfected by THE PHI­LOSOPHICAL GENIUS. Truth is a certain point in knowledge; ages succeed ages; and that point is passed, or not attained; a philosophical genius arises, seises and fixes it in the vast expanse of nature, se­cured by it's own weight from the mobi­lity of time. A Newton and a Locke ac­complish that in which an Aristotle and a Descartes failed. But these truths, which form so many epochs in the hu­man understanding, are covered in the sublime obscurity of nature; how is the [Page 193] veil to be lifted from Isis? A painful meditation alone elaborates them into existence. In the arts, important dis­coveries are obtained by accident; but the precious idea, which depends on a long train of reasoning, can never be formed by chance. Philosophers must meditate; and too often their medita­tions are pursued at the cost of their felicity.

Yet let us not confound true PHILOSO­PHERS with dreaming THEORISTS. They are not more engaged in cultivating the mind, than the earth; the annals of agri­culture are as valuable as the annals of history; and while they instruct some to think, they teach others to labour. PHILOSOPHY extends it's thoughts on whatever the eye has seen, or the hand has touched; it herbalises in fields; it sounds mines; it is on the waters, and in the forests; it is in the library, and [Page 194] the laboratory; it arranges the calcula­tions of finance; it invents the police of a city; it erects it's fortifications; it gives velocity to our fleets; in a word, it is alike in the solitude of deserts, as in the populousness of manufactories. The GENIUS of PHILOSOPHY pierces every where, and on whatever it rests, like the sun, it discovers what lay concealed, or matures what it found imperfect.

CHAP. XV. On an Academy of polite Literature, Pen­sions, and Prizes.

TO deliver any novel observations on an academy for the belles lettres is diffi­cult; but it is more difficult to pass such an object in silent regret.

The munificent hand of majesty has raised an institution to the mimetic art of painting; and this is a legitimate claim, which a prince, the commence­ment of whose reign was adorned by an honourable love of the arts, has to the estimation of posterity. But why polite literature, which forms the delight and the solace of a greater portion of the na­tion than this art, should have received no such distinguished approbation from the Brunswicks, is not to the philosopher, [Page 196] perhaps, so much an object of surprise as of sorrow.*

I begin these observations with a lite­ral transcription of the opening of Sir Joshua Reynolds's first discourse. The President says, ‘it is indeed difficult to give any other reason why an empire, like that of BRITAIN, should so long have wanted an ornament so suitable to it's greatness, than that slow pro­gression of things, which naturally makes elegance and refinement the last effect of opulence and power.’—Of [Page 197] opulence and power, have the higher classes of our nation a deficient measure? I doubt, indeed, if they really possess, as a body, or elegance or refinement. The philosopher is not dazzled by elegance and refinement in manners; he does not confound the brilliancy of equipages with the energies of the mind. To his con­templative eye it is possible that an opu­lent and splendid nation may be barba­rous and gross; as we observe in the individual, who, adorned by the insignia of honour, and loaded with incalculable wealth, may at the same time have all the barbarity of mind which marks and degrades the lowest of the populace. Should the greater part of the nobility of any country be more partial to pugilists and jockies, than to artists and philoso­phers, the historian would be justified in recording that the genius of it's nobility was barbarous and gross. It is almost [Page 198] peculiar to literature, that whenever it's professors feel themselves contemned or neglected, to vindicate their cause, they have only to record this contempt and this neglect.

I would ask why the art of writing is not deserving of the same regard as the art of painting? And then I would en­quire, what painting can urge in it's own cause, which will entitle it to a su­periority over the art of composition?

But it may be urged that an institution of this kind, while it has been recom­mended by some, has been opposed by others. Perhaps, in our country, it has never been examined with the attention such an object claims; often it's defects have been rendered prominent, and it's benefits omitted; it's inabilities have been displayed, and it's powers have been concealed; it has often been regarded as a common place for ridicule, not as a discussion for reason.

[Page 199] Johnson, in his Life of Swift, has given some plausible arguments against the academy which Swift proposed; the arguments of this great man, more spe­cious than just, relate not to our present subject; for the academy Swift was de­sirous of establishing, was merely an imi­tation of the French academy; for the polishing, refining, and embellishing the language. The English language now wants no academy for it's improvements; it has few acquisitions to make, but much to preserve.

A literary institution might be formed, in which the errors of former academies might be obviated, and the advanced genius of our times might add it's own valuable inventions. To improve the past is not difficult; but whether such an academy would be a national utility, is an important question, not, perhaps, difficult to resolve.

[Page 200] There is one kind of men, to whom no student would address himself on sub­jects of science and taste. At the siege of Athens, the barbarous Sylla com­manded the shady walks of the ACADEMY (that resort of the Muses which has left it's name to all future literary societies) to be torn up, and the hallowed trees to be converted into martial machines. I address myself not to the living Syllas, who are as inimical to a modern, as their ferocious model was to the first academy. The Omars of literature (the expression be pardoned) we know are the enemies of the Homers.

On the first glance we take of the sub­ject, the French academy, properly so distinguished, presents itself. It's la­bours have not been great; because it's object was limited to the cultivation of the language. But it obtained it's ob­ject with all it's possible accomplishment. [Page 201] I trace the history of French style, in the harangues of this academy. The first are cold, dry, and full of those common turns of expression, which were doubtless considered as the curiosa felicitas, but which, by their reiterated appearance, shew the barrenness of their diction, and the paucity of happy expressions. The language was not yet formed; and the academy had commenced with nearly an empty treasury. About the middle vo­lumes, eloquence occasionally appears, an accession of new turns enrich the ha­rangues, and if the style is not yet splen­did, it is not devoid of grace. The con­cluding volumes wear a brilliant appear­ance; a warmth of colouring, a boldness of expression, and all the seduction of animated eloquence. If these volumes owe something to happier topics, it is necessary to observe, that some subjects not less interesting, in the early volumes, have all the deficiencies of style.

[Page 202] Some will urge that an author can himself perform better than a society, and the dictionaries of Furetiere and Johnson, may be quoted as having been performed without the aid of an aca­demy.

I would not deny that one superior genius is capable of obtaining what forty inferior ones can never accomplish; and I even add, that one great author can perform better than forty great authors. No celebrated work has yet been com­posed by the united talents of several; but many great men have conjoined their abilities in vain, in various works.

The mechanical operation of compi­ling a dictionary, however, I believe, may be better effected by a society, than by an individual. The dictionary of Johnson, though perhaps it could not be more finely executed, might have been considerably augmented by a society. [Page 203] Does not this great man himself, hostile as he appears to academies, inconsciously acknowledge their utility, by complain­ing that his labour was not formed under "the shelter of academic bowers."

It appears to me, that the happiest effect is obtained when an academy and an individual unite their powers. I ex­plain myself by the following circum­stance.

D'Alembert, in his Eloge of the Abbè Desmarais, observes, that the long arti­cles of the French dictionary were written by him, and that the public considered them as more finished, and more satis­factory than the short ones. D'Alembert gives the reason. He observes, that ‘the brevity of articles of little extent, allowed of their being the work of the whole society; and that a society col­lected in a body, disturbed in it's de­cisions by twenty different opinions, [Page 204] which cross and destroy one another, must with difficulty attain to satisfy it­self and it's readers; but, on the con­trary, the great articles, indispensably given to the care of an individual, ac­quire, in passing through his hands, all the perfection which the self-love of the writer can give, animated also by the academical fervour.’

This judicious reflection of one of the most judicious writers of France, may serve to prove that a work is best per­formed by an individual; but that an individual, while he labours under the eye of a society, feels a stimulative in that society, which otherwise had been wanting.

And this is the great end and utility of such an institution. It's various advan­tages are, perhaps, sufficiently obvious; but the vast influence it has over writers, has not, perhaps, been sufficiently re­marked. [Page 205] It animates not only the indi­viduals of the society, but every indivi­dual who aspires to become a member of the society, and to wear, as Voltaire said, the blue ribband of literature. By a distribution of prizes, it diffuses an emulation to the remotest parts of the kingdom, and introduces to the public those ingenuous youths, whom their situ­ation conceals from the world. By it's own memoirs, written by the members, it forms the most valuable literary re­positories in a nation. To reflect on these advantages may not be useless.

Some of the inferior benefits attending such an institution, are indisputable. In these literary conferences, the taste of every associate would become more bril­liant, because it would continually re­ceive the attrition and contact, it is to be supposed, of the finest understandings [Page 206] in the nation.* In cases of emergency, recourse would be had to the academy, and a Robertson would not stand in such need, as we have seen, of the advice of an inferior mind. The paradoxes in poetry of a Johnson, would have been opposed before their publication, or at least, the work must have issued into the world [Page 207] without the sanction of the academy, which would have been a tacit censure. The society should be provided with as­sociates in the various classes of litera­ture; it should have it's grammarians, it's historians, and it's metaphysicians, as well as it's poets, it's orators, and it's philosophers. In this hive of literary bees, no indolent member should remain a member; all must be animation, all must be labour. And that no excuse may be framed of neglect to the cause of literature, pensions should be given to those who may stand in want of them; for pensions to all will not be wanted, since some will labour for glory, though some may also want bread.

But even LITERARY PENSIONS have been ridiculed; and it is not unnecessary to offer some reflections on them.

There are two opinions relative to the state of men of genius. One party ima­gine [Page 208] that no protection from the great, or a court, is necessary for the encou­ragement of artists; and the other are persuaded, that when honours and pen­sions are judiciously distributed, it ex­cites emulation in the young, and gives that leisure to those on whom they are bestowed, so necessary to some, to cul­tivate their talents. They think with Boileau, that ‘Un AUGUSTE aisement peut faire des VIRGILES.’

Lord Orford, honourably known un­der the name of Horace Walpole (a name that presents to the mind, taste, fancy, and learning) has said in his preface to his Anecdotes of Painting, ‘want of protection is the apology for want of genius. Milton and Fontaine did not write in the bask of court favour. A poet or a painter may want an equi­page, or a villa, by wanting protection: [Page 209] they can always afford to buy ink and paper, colours and pencil. Mr. Ho­garth has received no honours, but universal admiration.’

I reply to his Lordship, that it is true the favour of a court knighted Blackmore, and pensioned Quarles; and both were miserable poets; but if a court cannot convert dull men into men of genius, it may preserve men of genius from be­coming dull men. It might have af­forded Dryden that studious leisure which he ever wanted, and which has given us imperfect tragedies, and incorrect poems, in lieu of finished compositions, and the regular flights of a noble genius. It might have animated a Gainsborough to form an English school in landscape, which it is said was his favourite, but neglected pursuit. As for the equipage and villa of the poet or the painter, these they leave to the idle connoisseur and [Page 210] the vain actor. Nor must we consent to the insulting observation that they may always buy ink and paper, colours and pencils. Is it sufficient for a delicate and sensitive mind to have such implements to awaken the brilliancy of imagination? Is the picture uncommon to see a great genius with his pens or his pencils on the table, leaning over them in that secret agony of spirit, which murders fancy, and spreads a torpor on the soul? Had Chatterton been protected, not with an equipage or a villa, but with a pension, the youth had not perished; but this unhappy poet instructs us, that pens and paper are not the only requisites to cherish genius.

On the other side, so different are the opinions of even men of letters on this subject, the French writers (and the greatest of them received their pensions without any injury to their genius) con­tinually [Page 211] point to England as a model of literary protection. They tell us that Addison was Secretary of State; Newton and Locke, Commissioners; Swift al­most Prime Minister; and Prior an Ambassador.

If it is urged that the public are the best patrons, and that several popular authors have left fervid expressions as memorials of their gratitude; I reply, that the public are more munificent pa­trons than princes, provided that the genius of an author happens to take a popular turn. But of authors, few can be popular; for most of the departments in literature require the study of many years, and cannot be perfected till a late period. Such are all the exact sciences, and every species of erudition. The historian and the novelist may gratify the public taste, but what is to become of the antiquary and the mathematician?

[Page 212] It is one certain evil, consequent to the want of patronage, that a writer of great genius, when he discovers that he has nothing but his talents, and that the public attention must be roused by some extravagant novelty, will consult the worst dispositions of the public; because these are the most universal; and instead of composing a beautiful poem, he will write a dreadful satire; instead of a his­tory, a libel; and instead of a moral romance, some scandalous memoirs.

Men of genius, pensioned by a court, will be enabled to indulge their own manner, though it might not immedi­ately be popular. He who writes in the proper repose of mind, and with regu­larity of application, will give his own natural physiognomy, and not that arti­ficial countenance which those who court the mob are obliged to assume.

[Page 213] If I am told, that to accept pensions is not congenial to the free spirit of a Briton, I reply, that literary pensions, unlike others, are honourable to the donor, and the pensioner. There is surely less ser­vility in receiving a gratuitous gift from an enlightened monarch, than the wages of an inhuman bookseller.

There is, I think, a reward for litera­ture, of still greater utility than even pensions.

The distribution of PRIZES appears of greater utility than PENSIONS. A pension preserves one man of letters, but a prize may give birth to many. He who must satisfy a judge, and surpass a rival, will not satisfy himself till he has surpassed him­self; he will not try merely to give a good work, but the best; and the vigilance of ambition will sometimes supply the de­ficiencies of genius. If he is not yet crowned with the splendid reward, he [Page 214] may merit the animation of an honour­able notice; if he cannot obtain a tri­umph, an ovation may be reserved for him.* Useful topics, which might not have been attempted by an individual, are dispersed about the nation. We have seen lately, a prize in the Irish aca­demy produce a valuable "Essay on the best means of providing for the Poor." Subjects of national importance are not attempted because a vender of literature may not chuse to undertake them; a prize would bestow honour and assistance on the ingenious speculator. It is by her prizes, as well as by her academies, that France has always preceded us, and that her ingenuity is made to surpass our genius.

[Page 215] While this academy for polite litera­ture would be thus effecting a great na­tional utility, their own memoirs would be invaluable. The Academy of the Belles Lettres in France, has formed a collection of historical, critical, literary, and miscellaneous information, unequal­led in any nation. Our most accom­plished historians cite them as their [Page 216] authorities. The learning of a learned age is rendered instructive; and what becomes dull and insipid in a Salmasius and a Scaliger, delight with those who do not think knowledge consists in the heavy and unprofitable science of dates, unconnected facts, and titles of books; but in reflection and in taste. Know­ledge is only knowledge when it is render­ed accessible to the nation; it must be shewn to, and handled by the multitude, and not preserved like an useless piece of antiquity in the collections of the curious.

France had literary societies of every kind; her provincial academies were numerous; and I cannot but attribute her superiority in a fine and brilliant elo­quence; a language of criticism that analyses and paints our sensations; and their seductive art of composition to these lettered confraternities. Her reli­gion was friendly to retirement; and the [Page 217] retirement of studious men is rarely a barren leisure, and a proud indolence. It is a justice we owe to letters, and to an extinct order of men, to acknowledge the invaluable labours of many monastic societies of modern times. To the Port Royal the European youth were long in­debted for the initiatory books of learn­ing, and for versions of the ancients, not yet neglected. To the learned Benedictines we owe their extensive "Literary History of France," which, though carried to 13 volumes in 4to. reaches only to the 12th century. Many, not less interesting, nor vast, might be mentioned. Labours like these, can never be satisfactorily per­formed by any individual; One, may be permitted to devote himself to the com­position of the work, but many hands and many eyes must collect the materials, and must watch over the execution. We have no such Literary History of Eng­land; [Page 218] and I may venture to predict we never can, if an academy of polite lite­rature is not instituted.

There remains one observation to be made on the beneficial effect of literary societies dispersed in the kingdom. Wherever such exist, there will never appear in the vicinage a youth of genius, but the members will perceive his abi­lities, and will receive him or as a parent, or as a friend. A considerable number of the illustrious literati of France, were first induced to devote themselves to study by the penetration of their supe­riors, or having found an asylum in some monastery, indulged their prevailing dis­position.

The institution of literary societies is so much desired, and the want is so urgent, that the discernment of indivi­duals has of late attempted to supply this dishonourable deficiency by associations [Page 219] in the metropolis, as well as in some of our provincial towns. The Manchester society has merited the approbation of the public.*

But we cannot reasonably expect that a private society will ever answer the ideas of the public, and become of na­tional utility. De Foe, in his "Essay on Projects, (who projected millions for the nation, but was generally con­fined for his own debts) gives some ob­servations respecting the institution of an academy for polite literature, but he chiefly regards it in the view of refining and adjusting the language. He says, p. 229, that he was once a member of a society who attempted this noble de­sign, but it's failure he attributes to the greatness of the work and the modesty of [Page 220] the gentlemen; and concludes by saying that we want a Richelieu to commence such a work. I believe it was not the modesty of the members, nor the great­ness of the work, which occasioned it's failure; but many other reasons, which will always operate against private literary societies.

A society of friends find no great dif­ficulty to be pleased with the composi­tions of each other; many will be ad­mitted to such a society, more out of affection, than for their ability. It is the great requisite of an academy, that all the members should be professed stu­dents, whose SOLE OCCUPATION is litera­ture, and whose life is devoted to acade­demical functions. If PENSIONS and PRIZES are added to the establishment, we have then as perfect an ACADEMY, perhaps, as possibly can exist.

[Page 221] This grand and desirable object can alone be obtained, as such hitherto have been obtained, by the sanction of the Sovereign, and the applause of the People. Such an institution would not alone be a national ornament; for to hold out rewards to genius, and to dif­fuse among the people the humanising and peaceful pursuits of literature, has never yet been considered by politicians as a vain and an unimportant purpose.

Such is the wonderful influence of a love of letters in a nation, that it has often disguised the deformity of despo­tism, and rendered even a nation of slaves, a polished, a refined, and a happy people.

At the present melancholy moment, when Europe appears hostile to Reason, and to Humanity, let us indulge the hope, that this institution may become the ornament of PEACE—of a Peace, that [Page 222] by it's duration may resemble the vision of an admirable philanthropist and a poor politician, the vision of the Abbè de Saint Pierre,—AN UNIVERSAL PEACE. When the principle of Government is VIRTUE, the action of that Government will be PEACE; Governments are, how­ever, always in war.


Scrivendo l'Autore in Vienna l'anno 1733 la Sua Olimpiade, si senti Commosso fino alle lagrime nell' esprimere la divisione di due teneri amici: e meravigliandosi che un falso, e da lui inven­tato disastro potesse cagionargli una si vera pas­sione, si fece a riflettere quanto poco ragionevole e solido fondamento possano aver le altre che soglion frequentamente agitarci nel corso di nostra vita.

SOGNI, e favole io fingo; e pure in Carte
Mentre favole, e sogni orno, e disegno,
In lor, folle ch'io Son, prendon tal parte
Che del mal che inventai piango e mi Sdegno.
Maforse, allor che non m'inganna l'arte,
Più Saggio io Sono? El' agitato ingegno
Forse allor più tranquillo? O forse parte
Da più Salda cagion l'amor, lo Sdegno?
Ah che non sol quelle, chío canto, o scrivo
Favole Son; ma quanto temo, o spero,
Tutto é menzogna, e delierando io vivo!
Sogno della mia vita è il Corso intero.
Deh tu, Signor, quando a destarmi arrivo
Fa ch'io trovi riposo in Sen del VERO.

In 1733, the Author composing his Olympiad, felt himself suddenly moved, even to tears, in ex­pressing the separation of two tender Lovers. Surprised that a fictitious grief, invented too by himself, could raise so true a passion, he reflected how little reasonable and solid a foundation the others had, which so frequently agitated us in this state of our existence.


FABLES and dreams I feign; yet though but verse
The dreams and fables, I adorn and call;
Fool that I am!—I grieve as I rehearse;
Perhaps the dear delusion of my art
Is wisdom; and the agitated mind,
As still responding to each plaintive part,
With love and scorn, a tranquil hour can find.
Ah! not alone the tender RHIMES I give,
Are fictions; but my FEARS and HOPES I deem
Are FABLES all—deliriously I live—
And life's whole course is one protracted dream.
Eternal power! when shall I wake to rest
This wearied brain on TRUTH'S immortal breast?


I TAKE this opportunity of declaring, that having been repeatedly attacked in the most illiberal manner by WILLIAM GRAHAM, respecting an Anecdote of Mrs. MACAULEY'S mutilation of a Harleian MS. that no just reason has yet been assigned to afford me the pleasure of retracting this accusation against a Lady of her eminent talents.

At present, the mysterious note of Dr. MORTON remains unexplained, yet if it is allowed to have any meaning, it must convey a charge against the Historian, and as such will no doubt be received by impartial posterity.

This, however, I concede, that I cannot prove this circumstance, for I was not born when it took place. It rests not upon the floating reports of thirty years, but in the circumstantial evidence of the Note which has been inserted in it's unmutilated state, in several literary journals. I say unmutilated, for Mr. G. had the ingenuity to give it only in the state which was most adapted to his purpose.

I was induced to notice this singular occurrence, not by design, but by accident; with no other view than that of literary instruction, and for no other party than that of truth.



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.

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