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prose writer has been ever found to follow the poet, (mour in this, as it is an accident to which human it must consequently banish in both all that agreea- nature is subject, and may be any man's case : but ble trifling, which, if I may so express it, often should I represent this man without his nose as deceives us into instruction. The finest senti- extremely curious in the choice of his snuff-box, ment and the most weighty truth may put on a we here see him guilty of an absurdity of which pleasant face, and it is even virtuous to jest when we imagine it impossible for ourselves to be guilty, serious advice must be disgusting. But instead of and therefore applaud our own good sense on the this, the most trifling performance among us now comparison. Thus, then, the pleasure we receive assumes all the didactic stiffness of wisdom. The from wit turns to the admiration of another; that most diminutive son of fame or of famine has his which we feel from humour, centres in the admiwe and his us, his firstlys and his secondlys, as ration of ourselves. The poet, therefore, must methodical as if bound in cow-hide, and closed with place the object he would have the subject of huclasps of brass. Were these monthly reviews and mour in a state of inferiority; in other words, the magazines frothy, pert, or absurd, they might find subject of humour must be low. some pardon; but to be dull and dronish is an en- The solemnity worn by many of our modern croachment on the prerogative of a fo.io. These writers, is, I fear, often the mask of dulness; for things should be considered as pills to purge melan- certain it is, it seems to fit every author who pleases choly; they should be made up in our splenetic cli- to put it on. By the complexion of many of our mate to be taken as physic, and not so as to be used late publications, one might be apt to cry out with when we take it.
Cicero, Cirem mehercule non puto esse qui his However, by the power of one single monosyl- temporibus ridere possit : on my conscience, I belable, our critics have almost got the victory over lieve we have all forgot to laugh in these days. Such humour amongst us. Does the poet paint the ab- writers probably make no distinction between what surdities of the vulgar, then he is low; does he ex- is praised and what is pleasing: between those comaggerate the features of folly, to render it more mendations which the reader pays his own discernthoroughly ridiculous, he is then very low. In ment, and those which are the genuine result of short, they have proscribed the comic or satirical his sensations. It were to be wished, therefore, muse from every walk but high life, which, though that we no longer found pleasure with the inflated abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, style that has for some years been looked upon is by no means so fruitful in absurdity. Among as fine writing, and which every young writer is well-bred fools we may despise much, but have lit- now obliged to adopt, if he chooses to be read. Wo tle to laugh at; nature seems to present us with a should now dispense with loaded epithet and dressuniversal blank of silk, ribands, smiles, and whis- ing up trifles with dignity. For, to use an obvipers. Absurdity is the poet's game, and good- ous instance, it is not those who make the greatest brceding is the nice concealment of absurdities. noise with their wares in the streets that have most The truth is, the critic generally mistakes hu- to sell. Let us, instead of writing finely, try to mour for wit, which is a very different excellence. write naturally; not hunt after lofty expressions to Wit raises human nature above its level; humour deliver mean ideas, nor be for ever gaping, when acts a contrary part, and equally depresses it. To we only mean to deliver a whisper. expect exalted humour is a contradiction in terms; and the critic, by demanding an impossibility from the comic poet, has, in effect, banished new comedy
CHAPTER XI. from the stage. But to put the same thought in a different light, when an unexpected similitude in
or the Stage. two objects strikes the imagination; in other words, Our theatre has been generally confessed to when a thing is wittily expressed, all our pleasure share in this general decline, though partaking of turns into admiration of the artist, who had fancy the show and decoration of the Italian opera with enough to draw the picture. When a thing is the propriety and declamation of French performhumorously described, our burst of laughter pro- ance. The stage also is more magnificent with us ceeds from a very different cause; we compare the than any other in Europe, and the people in geneabsurdity of the character represented with our own, ral fonder of theatrical entertainment. Yet still, as and triumph in our conscious superiority. . No na- our pleasures, as well as more important concerns, tural defect can be a cause of laughter, because it are generally managed by party, the stage has felt is a misfortune to which ourselves are liable. A its influence. The managers, and all who espouse defect of this kind changes the passion into pity or their side, are for decoration and ornament; the horror. We only laugh at those instances of mo- critic, and all who have studied French decorum, ral absurdity, to which we are conscious we our are for regularity and declamation. Thus it is al. selves are not liable. For instance, should I de- most impossible to please both parties; and the po scribe a man as wanting his nose, there is no hu-'et, by attempting it, finds himself often incapable of
pleasing either. If he introduces stage pomp, the much as they deserve, but could wish, for the honcritic consigns his performance to the vulgar; if he our of our country, and for his honour too, that indulges in recital and simplicity, it is accused of many of his scenes were forgotten. A man blind insipidity, or dry affectation.
of one eye should always be painted in profile. Let From the nature, therefore, of our theatre, and the spectator, who assists at any of these newly-rethe genius of our country, it is extremely difficult vived pieces, only ask himself whether he would for a dramatic poet to please his audience. But approve such a performance if written by a modern happy would he be, were these the only difficulties poet? I fear he will find that much of his applause he had to encounter; there are many other more proceeds merely from the sound of a name, and an dangerous combinations against the little wit of the empty veneration for antiquity. In fact, the reviage. Our poet's performance must undergo a pro- val of those pieces of forced humour, far-fetched cess truly chemical before it is presented to the pub- conceit, and unnatural hyperbole, which have been lic. It must be tried in the manager's fire, strain- ascribed to Shakspeare, is rather gibbeting than ed through a licenser, suffer from repeated correc- raising a statue to his memory; it is rather a trick tions, till it may be a mere caput mortuum when it to the actor, who thinks it safest acting in exaggearrives before the public.
rated characters, and who, by outstepping nature, The success, however, of pieces upon the stage chooses to exhibit the ridiculous outré of a harlewould be of little moment, did it not influence the quin under the sanction of that venerable name. success of the same piece in the closet. Nay, 1 What strange vamped comedies, farcical tragethink it would be more for the interests of virtue, dies, or what shall I call them, speaking pantoif stage performances were read, not acted; made mimes, have we not of late seen? No matter what rather our companions in the cabinet than on the the play may be, it is the actor who draws an auditheatre. While we are readers, every moral senti- ence. He throws life into all ; all are in spirits and ment strikes us in all its beauty, but the love scenes merry, in at one door and out at another; the are frigid, tawdry, and disgusting. When we are spectator, in a fool's paradise, knows not what all spectators, all the persuasives to vice receive an ad- this means, till the last act concludes in matrimoditional lustre. The love scene is aggravated, the ny. The piece pleases our critics, because it talks obscenity heightened, the best actors figure in the old English; and it pleases the galleries, because it most debauched characters, while the parts of mo- has ribaldry, True taste or even common sense rality, as they are called, are thrown to some mouth- are out of the question. ing machine, who puts even virtue out of counte. But great art must be sometimes used before they nance by his wretched imitation.
can thus impose upon the public. To this purpose, But whatever be the incentives to vice which are a prologue written with some spirit generally prefound at the theatre, public pleasures are generally cedes the piece, to inform us that it was composed less guilty than solitary ones. To make our soli- by Shakspeare, or old Ben, or somebody else who tary satisfactions truly innocent, the actor is useful, took them for his model. A face of iron could not as by his means the poet's work makes its way have the assurance to avow dislike; the theatre has from the stage to the closet; for all must allow, that its partisans who understand the force of combinathe reader receives more benefit by perusing a well-tions, trained up to vociferation, clapping of hands written play, than by seeing it acted.
and clattering of sticks: and though a man might But how is this rule inverted on our theatres at have strength sufficient to overcome a lion in sinpresent? Old pieces are revived, and scarcely any gle combat, he may run the risk of being devoured new ones admitted. The actor is ever in our eye, by an army of ants. and the poet seldom permitted to appear; the pub- I am not insensible, that third nights are disalic are again obliged to ruminate over those hashes greeable drawbacks upon the annual profits of of absurdity, which were disgusting to our ances- the stage. I am confident it is much more to the tors even in an age of ignorance; and the stage, in- manager's advantage to furbish up all the lumber stead of serving the people, is made subservient to which the good sense of our ancestors, but for his the interests of avarice.
care, had consigned to oblivion. It is not with him, We seem to be pretty much in the situation of therefore, but with the public I would expostulate; travellers at a Scotch inn;-vile entertainment is they have a right to demand respect, and surely served up, complained of, and sent down; up comes those newly-revived plays are no instances of the worse, and that also is changed; and every change manager's deference. makes our wretched cheer more unsavoury. What I have been informed that no new play can bo must be done ? only sit down contented, cry up all admitted upon our theatres unless the author that comes before us, and admire even the absurdi- chooses to wait some years, or, to use the phrase in ties of Shakspeare.
fashion, till it comes to be played in turn. A poet Let the reader suspend his censure. I admire thus can never expect to contract a familiarity with the beauties of this great father of our stage as the stage, by which alone he can hope to succeed;
nor can the most signal success relieve immediate pilgrim, who walks the grand tour on foot, will want. Our Saxon ancestors had but one name for form very different conclusions.* wit and witch. I will not dispute the propriety of To see Europe with advantage, a man should uniting those characters then, but the man who, appear in various circumstances of fortune, but the under the present discouragements, ventures to experiment would be too dangerous for young men. write for the stage, whatever claim he may have to There are many things relative to other counthe appellation of a wit, at least he has no right to tries which can be learned to more advantage at be called a conjuror.
home; their laws and policies are among the From all that has been said upon the state of our number. theatre, we may easily foresee whether it is likely The greatest advantages which result to youth to improve or decline; and whether the free-born from travel, are an easy address, the shaking off muse can bear to submit to those restrictions which national prejudices, and the finding nothing ridicuavarice or power would impose. For the future, lous in national peculiarities. it is somewhat unlikely, that he whose labours are The time spent in these acquisitions could have valuable, or who knows their value, will turn to the been more usefully employed at home. An edustage for either fame or subsistence, when he must cation in a college seems therefore preferable. at once flatter an actor and please an audience. We attribute to universities either too much or
too little. Some assert that they are the only proper places advance learning; while others
deny even their utility in forming an education. CHAPTER XII.
Both are erroneous.
Learning is most advanced in populous cities, On Universities.
where chance often conspires with industry to pro
mote it: where the members of this large univerInstead of losing myself in a subject of such sity, if I may so call it, catch manners as they rise, extent, I shall only offer a few thoughts as they study life not logic, and have the world for corresoccur, and leave their connexion to the reader. pondents.
We seem divided, whether an education formed The greatest number of universities have ever by travelling or by a sedentary life be preferable. been founded in times of the greatest ignorance. We see more of the world by travel, but more of New improvements in learning are seldom human nature by remaining at home; as in an in- adopted in colleges until admitted every where firmary, the student who only attends to the disor- else. And this is right; we should always be ders of a few patients, is more likely to understand cautious of teaching the rising generation uncerhis profession than he who indiscriminately exam- tainties for truth. Thus, though the professors in ines them all.
universities have been too frequently found to opA youth just landed at the Brille resembles a pose the advancement of learning; yet when once clown at a puppet-show; carries his amazement established, they are the properest persons to diffrom one miracle to another; from this cabinet of fuse it. curiosities to that collection of pictures : but won- There is more knowledge to be acquired from dering is not the way to grow wise.
one page of the volume of mankind, if the scholar Whatever resolutions we set ourselves, not to only knows how to read, than in volumes of antikeep company with our countrymen abroad, we quity. We grow learned, not wise, by too long a shall find them broken when once we leave home. continuance at college. Among strangers we consider ourselves as in a This points out the time at which we should solitude, and it is but natural to desire society. leave the university. Perhaps the age of twenty.
In all the great towns of Europe there are to be one, when at our universities the first degree is found English men residing either from interest or generally taken, is the proper period. choice. These generally lead a life of continued The universities of Europe may be divided into debauchery. Such are the countrymen a traveller three classes. Those upon the old scholastic esis likely to meet with.
tablishment, where the pupils are immured, talk This may be the reason why Englishmen are all nothing but Latin, and support every day syllothought to be mad or melancholy by the vulgar gistical disputations in school philosophy. Would abroad. Their money is giddily and merrily spent not one be apt to imagine this was the proper eduamong sharpers of their own country; and when cation to make a man a fool? Such are the unithat is gone, of all nations the English bear worst versities of Prague, Louvain, and Padua. The that disorder called the maladie de poche. second is, where the pupils are under few restric
Countries wear very different appearances to travellers of different circumstances. A man who * In the first edition our author added, Haud inexpertus is whirled through Europe in a post-chaise, and the loquor ; for he travelled through France etc. on fool
tions, where all scholastic jargon is banished, where Teaching by lecture, as at Edinburgh, may make they take a degree when they think proper, and men scholars, if they think proper; but instructing live not in the college but the city. Such are Ed- by examination, as at Oxford, will make them so inburgh, Leyden, Gottingen, Geneva. The third often against their inclination. Is a mixture of the two former, where the pupils are Edinburgh only disposes the student to receive restrained but not confined; where many, though learning; Oxford often makes him actually learnnot all of the absurdities of scholastic philosophy ed. are suppressed, and where the first degree is taken In a word, were I poor, I should send my son to after four years' matriculation. Such are Oxford, Leyden or Edinburgh, though the annual expense Cambridge, and Dublin.
in each, particularly in the first, is very great As for the first class, their absurdities are too ap- Were I rich, I would send him to one of our own parent to admit of a parallel. It is disputed which universities. By an education received in the first, of the two last are more conducive to national im- he has the best likelihood of living; by that receiv. provement.
ed in the latter, he has the best chance of becoming Skill in the professions is acquired more by prac- great. tice than study; two or three years may be suffi- We have of late heard much of the necessity of cient for learning their rudiments. The universi- studying oratory. Vespasian was the first who ties of Edinburgh, etc. grant a license for practising paid professors of rhetoric for publicly instructing them when the student thinks proper, which our youth at Rome. However, those pedants never universities refuse till after a residence of several made an orator. years.
The best orations that ever were spoken were The dignity of the professions may be supported pronounced in the parliaments of King Charles the by this dilatory proceeding; but many men of learn- First. These men never studied the rules of oraing are thus too long excluded from the lucrative tory. advantages which superior skill has a right to ex- Mathematics are, perhaps, too much studied at pect.
our universities. This seems a science to which Those universities must certainly be most fre- the meanest intellects are equal. I forget who it quented which promise to give in two years the is that says, “All men might understand matheadvantages which others will not under twelve. matics if they would.“
The man who has studied a profession for three The most methodical manner of lecturing, wheyears, and practised it for nine more, will certainly ther on morals or nature, is first rationally to exknow more of his business than he who has only plain, and then produce the experiment. The studied it for twelve.
most instructive method is to show the experiment The universities of Edinburgh, etc. must certain- first; curiosity is then excited, and attention awaly be most proper for the study of those professions kened to every subsequent deduction. Hence it is in which men choose to turn their learning to pro- evident, that in a well formed education a course fit as soon as possible.
of history should ever precede a course of ethics. The universities of Oxford, etc. are improper for The sons of our nobility are permitted to enjoy this, since they keep the student from the world, greater liberties in our universities than those of which, after a certain time, is the only true school private men. I should blush to ask the men of of improvement.
learning and virtue who preside in our seminaries When a degree in the professions can be taken the reason of such a prejudicial distinction. Our only by men of independent fortunes, the number youth should there be inspired with a love of phiof candidates in learning is lessened, and conse-losophy; and the first maxim among philosophers quently the advancement of learning retarded. is, That merit only makes distinction.
This slowness of conferring degrees is a rem. Whence has proceeded the vain magnificence of nant of scholastic barbarity. Paris, Louvain, and expensive architecture in our colleges? Is it thal those universities which still retain their ancient men study to more advantage in a palace than in a institutions, confer the doctor's degree slower even cell? One single performance of taste or genius than we.
confers more real honours on its parent university The statues of every university should be consi-than all the labours of the chisel. dered as adapted to the laws of its respective gov- Surely pride itself has dictated to the fellows of ernment. Those should alter as these happen to our colleges the absurd passion of being attended at fluctuate.
meals, and on other public occasions, by those poor Four years spent in the arts (as they are called men, who, willing to be scholars, come in upon in colleges) is perhaps laying too laborious a foun- some charitable foundation. It implies a contradation. Entering a profession without any previ- diction, for men to be at once learning the liberal ous acquisitions of this kind, is building too bold a arts, and at the same time treated as slates ; at once superstructure.
studying freedom, and practising servitude.
It is this difference of pursuit which marks the CHAPTER XIII.
morals and characters of mankind; which lays the
line between the enlightened philosopher and the Every subject acquires an adventitious import- half-taught citizen; between the civil citizen and ance to him who considers it with application. He illiterate peasant; between the law-obeying peasant finds it more closely connected with human happi- and the wandering savage of Africa, an animal less ness than the rest of mankind are apt to allow; he mischievous indeed than the tiger, because endued sees consequences resulting from it which do not with fewer powers of doing mischief. The man, strike others with equal conviction;and still pursuing the nation, must therefore be good, whose chiefest speculation beyond the bounds of reason, too fre- luxuries consist in the refinement of reason; and quently becomes ridiculously earnest in trifles or reason can never be universally cultivated, unless absurdity.
guided by taste, which may be considered as the It will perhaps be incurring this imputation, to link between science and common sense, the medideduce a universal degeneracy of manners from so um through which learning should ever be seen by slight an origin as the depravation of taste; to as- society. sert that, as a nation grows dull, it sinks into de- Taste will therefore often be a proper standard, bauchery. Yet such probably may be the conse- when others fail, to judge of a nation's improvequence of literary decay; or, not to stretch the ment or degeneracy in morals. We have often no thought beyond what it will bear, vice and stupidity permanent characteristics, by which to compare are always mutually productive of each other. the virtues or the vices of our ancestors with our
Life, at the greatest and best, has been compared own. A generation may rise and pass away withto a froward child, that must be humoured and out leaving any traces of what it really was; and played with till it falls asleep, and then all the care all complaints of our deterioration may be only is over. Our few years are laboured away in va- topics of declamation or the cavillings of disappointrying its pleasures; 'new amusements are pursued ment: but in taste we have standing evidence; we with studious attention; the most childish vanities can with precision compare the literary performanare dignified with titles of importance; and the ces of our fathers with our own, and from their exproudest boast of the most aspiring philosopher is cellence or defects determine the moral, as well as no more, than that he provides his little play-fellows the literary, merits of either. the greatest pastime with the greatest innocence. If, then, there ever comes a time when taste is
Thus the mind, ever wandering after amuse- so far depraved among us that critics shall load ment, when abridged of happiness on one part, every work of genius with unnecessary comment, endeavours to find it on another; when intellectual and quarter their empty performances with the pleasures are disagreeable, those of sense will take substantial merits of an author, both for subsistence the lead. The man who in this age is enamoured and applause; if there comes a time when censure of the tranquil joys of study and retirement, may shall spcak in storms, but praise be whispered in in the next, should learning be fashionable no long- the breeze, while real excellence often finds shiper, feel an ambition of being foremost at-a horse wreck in either; if there be a time when the Muse course; or, if such could be the absurdity of the shall seldom be heard, except in plaintive elegy, as times, of being himself a jockey. Reason and ap- if she wept her own decline, while lazy compilations petite are therefore masters of our revels in turn; supply the place of original thinking; should there and as we incline to the one, or pursue the other, ever be such a time, may succeeding critics, both we rival angels, or imitate the brutes. In the pur- for the honour of our morals, as well as our learnsuit of intellectual pleasure lies every virtue; of ing, say, that such a period bears no resemblance sensual, every vice.
to the present age!