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likely to receive, adulation. But posterity is not a very accessible personage; he knows the high value of that which he gives, he therefore is extremely particular as to what he receives. Very few of the presents that are directed to him, reach their destination. Some are too light, others too heavy, since it is as difficult to throw a straw any distance, as a ton-I have addressed this volume to those who think, and some may accuse me of an ostentatious independence, in presuming to inscribe a book to so small a minority. But a volume addressed to those who think, is in fact addressed to all the world; for although the proportion of those who do think, be extremely small, yet every individual flatters himself that he is one of the number. In the present rage for all that is marvellous and interesting, when writers of undoubted talent, consider only what will sell, and readers only what will please, it is perhaps a bold experiment to send a volume into the world, whose very faults, (manifold as I fear they are,) will cost more pains to detect, than sciolists would feel inclined to bestow, even if they were sure of discovering nothing but beauties. Some also of my conclusions will no doubt be condemned by those who will not take the trouble of looking into the postulata; for the soundest argument will produce no more conviction in an empty head, than the most superficial declamation; as a feather and a guinea fall with equal velocity in a vacuum.
The following pages, such as they are, have cost
me some thought to write, and they may possibly cost others some to read them. Like Demosthenes, who talked Greek to the waves, I have continued my task, with the hope of instructing others, with the certainty of improving myself. "Labor ipse voluptas." It is much safer to think what we say, than to say what we think; I have attempted both. This is a work of no party, and my sole wish is, that truth may prevail in the church, and integrity in the state, and that in both the old adage may be verified, that" the men of principle may be the principal men." Knowledge indeed is as necessary as light, and in this coming age most fairly promises to be as common as water, and as free as air. But as it has been wisely ordained, that light should have no colour, water no taste, and air no odour, so knowledge also should be equally pure, and without admixture. If it comes to us through the medium of prejudice, it will be discoloured; through the channels of custom, it will be adulterated; through the gothic walls of the college, or of the cloister, it will smell of the lamp.
He that studies books alone, will know how things ought to be; and he that studies men will know how things are; and it would have been impossible to have written these pages, without mixing some what more freely with the world, than inclination might prompt, or judgment approve. For observations made in the cloister, or in the desert, will generally be as obscure as the one, and as barren as the other but he that would paint with his
pen, no less than he that would paint with his pencil, must study originals, and not be overfearful of a little dust. In fact, every author is a far better judge of the pains that his efforts have cost him, than any reader can possibly be; but to what purpose he has taken those pains, this is a question on which his readers will not allow the author a voice, nor even an opinion; from the tribunal of the public there is no appeal, and it is fit that it should be so, otherwise we should not only have rivers of ink expended in bad writing, but oceans more in defending it; for he that writes in a bad style, is sure to retort in a worse.
I have availed myself of examples both ancient and modern, wherever they appeared likely to illustrate or strengthen my positions; but I am not so sanguine as to expect that all will draw the same conclusions from the same premises. I have not forgotten the observation of him who said, that "in the same meadow, the ox seeks the herbage; the dog, the hare; and the stork, the lizard." Times also of profound peace and tranquillity are most propitious to every literary pursuit. "Satur est, cum dicit Horatius Euge.” We know that Malherbe, on hearing a prose work of great merit much extolled, drily asked if it would reduce the price of bread! neither was his appreciation of poetry much higher, when he observed, that a good poet was of no more service to the church or the state, than a good player at nine pins!!
The anecdotes, that are interspersed in these
pages, have seldom been cited for their own sake, but chiefly for their application, ‘Ιστωρια Φιλόσοφια παραδειγμάτων, nor can I see why the Moralist should be denied those examples so useful to the Historian. The lover of variety will be fastidious, if he finds nothing here to his taste; but like him who wrote a book "de omnibus rebus, et quibusdam aliis," I may be perhaps accused of looking into every thing, but of seeing into nothing.
There are two things cheap and common enough when separated, but as costly in value, as irresistible in power, when combined-truth and novelty. Their union is like that of steam and of fire, which nothing can overcome. Truth and novelty, when united, must overthrow the whole superincumbent pressure of error and of prejudice, whatever be its weight; and the effects will be proportionate to the resistance. But the moral earthquake, unlike the natural, while it convulses the nations, reforms them too. On subjects indeed, on which mankind have been thinking for so many thousands of years, it will often happen that whatever is absolutely new, may have the misfortune to be absolutely false. It is a melancholy consideration for authors, that there is very little " Terra Incognita” in literature, and there now remain to us moderns, only two roads to success: discovery and conquest. If indeed we can advance any propositions that are both true and new, these are indisputably our own, by right of discovery; and if we can repeat what is old, more briefly and brightly than
others, this also becomes our own by right of conquest. The pointed propriety of Pope, was to all his readers originality, and even the lawful possessors could not always recognize their own property in his hands. Few have borrowed more freely than Gray and Milton, but with a princely prodigality, they have repaid the obscure thoughts of others, with far brighter of their own; like the ocean, which drinks up the muddy water of the rivers, from the flood, but replenishes them with the clearest from the shower. These reflections, however they may tend to shew the difficulties all must encounter, who aim at originality, will nevertheless in no wise tend to diminish the number of those who will attempt to surmount them since" fools rush in, where angels fear to tread." In good truth, we should have a glorious conflagration, if all who cannot put fire into their works, would only consent to put their works into the fire. But this is an age of economy, as well as of illumination, and a considerate author will not rashly condemn his volumes to that devouring element, "flammis emendatioribus," who reflects that the Pastry-cook and the Confectioner are sure to put good things into his pages, if he fail to do it himself.
With respect to the style I have adopted in the following sheets, I have attempted to make it vary with the subject; avoiding all pomp of words, where there was no corresponding elevation. of ideas; for such turgidity although it may be as aspiring as that of the balloon, is also as useless.