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posed that the company should sit indiscriminately, the old gentleman, winking upon the rest of the every gentleman by his lady. This was received company, observed, that he was thinking of his with great approbation by all, excepting my wife, mistress: at which jest I thought the two Miss who, I could perceive, was not perfectly satisfied, Flamboroughs would have died with laughing. As as she expected to have had the pleasure of sitting soon as dinner was over, according to my old cusat the head of the table, and carving the meat for tom, I requested that the table might be taken away, all the company. But, notwithstanding this, it is to have the pleasure of seeing all my family assemimpossible to describe our good-humour. I can't bled once more by a cheerful fire-side. My two say whether we had more wit among us now than little ones sat upon each knee, the rest of the comusual; but I am certain we had more laughing, pany by their partners. I had nothing now on this which answered the end as well. One jest I par-side of the grave to wish for; all my cares were ticularly remember: old Mr. Wilmot drinking to over; my pleasure was unspeakable. It now only Moses, whose head was turned another way, my remained, that my gratitude in good fortune should on replied, “Madam, I thank you." Upon which exceed my former submission in adversity.



The Present State of Polite Learning.*

Εμοι προς φιλοσοφους εστι φίλια προς μεν τα σοφιστάς η γραμματιστας ουσε γυν εστι φίλια μητε υστερο αυτε γενοιτο.

Tolerabile si Edificia nostra diruerent Edificandi capaces.



conveys no instruction; all it teaches is, that the writer dislikes an age by which he is probably disregarded. The manner of being useful on the

It has been so long the practice to represent lit-subject, would be, to point out the symptoms, to inerature as declining, that every renewal of this vestigate the causes, and direct to the remedies of complaint now comes with diminished influence. the approaching decay. This is a subject hitherto The public has been so often excited by a false unattempted in criticism,—perhaps it is the only alarm, that at present the nearer we approach the subject in which criticism can be useful. 1 threatened period of decay, the more our security increases.

It will now probably be said, that, taking the decay of genius for granted, as I do, argues either resentment or partiality. The writer possessed of fame, it may be asserted, is willing to enjoy it without a rival, by lessening every competitor; or, if unsuccessful, he is desirous to turn upon others the contempt which is levelled at himself; and being convicted at the bar of literary justice, hopes for pardon by accusing every brother of the same profession.

How far the writer is equal to such an undertaking the reader must determine; yet perhaps his observations may be just, though his manner of expressing them should only serve as an example of the errors he undertakes to reprove.

Novelty, however, is not permitted to usurp the place of reason; it may attend, but it shall not conduct the inquiry. But it should be observed, that the more original any performance is, the more it is liable to deviate; for cautious stupidity is always in the right.


Sensible of this, I am at a loss where to find an apology for persisting to arraign the merit of the age; for joining in a cry which the judicious have long since left to be kept up by the vulgar; and for The Causes which contribute to the Decline of Learning. adopting the sentiments of the multitude, in a perIf we consider the revolutions which have hapformance that at best can please only a few. pensed in the commonwealth of letters, survey tho Complaints of our degeneracy in literature, as rapid progress of learning in one period of antiquiwell as in morals, I own, have been frequently ex-ty, or its amazing decline in another, we shall be hibited of late, but seem to be enforced more with almost induced to accuse nature of partiality; as the ardour of devious declamation than the calm- if she had exhausted all her efforts in adorning one ness of deliberate inquiry. The dullest critic, who age, while she left the succeeding entirely neglect strives at a reputation for delicacy, by showing heed. It is not to nature, however, but to ourselves can not be pleased, may pathetically assure us, that alone, that this partiality must be ascribed: the seeds our taste is upon the decline; may consign every of excellence are sown in every age, and it is wholly modern performance to oblivion, and bequeath no- owing to a wrong direction in the passions or purthing to posterity, except the labours of our ances-suits of mankind, that they have not received the tors, or his own. Such general invective, however, proper cultivation.

The first edition of this work appeared in 1759, and the second was printed in 1774.

As, in the best regulated societies, the very laws which at first give the government solidity, may in

the e-d contribute to its dissolution, so the efforts of former adventurers. All this may be performed which might have promoted learning in its feeble in a society of long continuance, but if the kingdom commencement, may, if continued, retard its pro- be but of short duration, as was the case of Arabia, gress. The paths of science, which were at first learning seems coeval, sympathizes with its politiintricate because untrodden, may at last grow toil-cal struggles, and is annihilated in its dissolution. some, because too much frequented. As learning But permanence in a state is not alone sufficient; advances, the candidates for its honours become it is requisite also for this end that it should be free. more numerous, and the acquisition of fame more Naturalists assure us, that all animals are sagac. uncertain: the modest may despair of attaining it, ous in proportion as they are removed from the and the opulent think it too precarious to pursue. tyranny of others. In native liberty, the elephant Thus the task of supporting the honour of the is a citizen, and the beaver an architect; but whentimes may at last devolve on indigence and effron- ever the tyrant man intrudes upon their communitery, while learning must partake of the contempt ty, their spirit is broken, they seem anxious only of its professors. for safety, and their intellects suffer an equal dimi

To illustrate these assertions, it may be proper nution with their prosperity. The parallel will hold to take a slight review of the decline of ancient with regard to mankind. Fear naturally represses learning; to consider how far its depravation was invention; benevolence, ambition: for in a nation owing to the impossibility of supporting continued of slaves, as in the despotic governments of the perfection; in what respects it proceeded from vol- East, to labour after fame is to be a candidate for untary corruption; and how far it was hastened on

by accident. If modern learning be compared with


To attain literary excellence also, it is requisite ancient, in these different lights, a parallel between that the soil and climate should, as much as possiboth, which has hitherto produced only vain dis-ble, conduce to happiness. The earth must suppute, may contribute to amusement, perhaps to in-ply man with the necessaries of life, before he has struction. We shall thus be enabled to perceive leisure or inclination to pursue more refined enjoywhat period of antiquity the present age most re-ments. The climate also must be equally indulgent; sembles, whether we are making advances towards for in too warm a region the mind is relaxed into excellence, or retiring again to primeval obscurity; languor, and by the opposite excess is chilled into we shall thus be taught to acquiesce in those de- torpid inactivity. fects which it is impossible to prevent, and reject | all faulty innovations, though offered under the specious titles of improvement.

These are the principal advantages which tend to the improvement of learning; and all these were united in the states of Greece and Rome.

We must now examine what hastens, or prevents its decline.

Learning, when planted in any country, is transient and fading, nor does it flourish till slow gradations of improvement have naturalized it to the Those who behold the phenomena of nature, soil. It makes feeble advances, begins among the and content themselves with the view without invulgar, and rises into reputation among the great. quiring into their causes, are perhaps wiser than is It can not be established in a state at once, by intro- generally imagined. In this manner our rude anducing the learned of other countries; these may cestors were acquainted with facts; and poetry, grace a court, but seldom enlighten a kingdom. which helped the imagination and the memory, was Ptolemy Philadelphus, Constantine Porphyroge- thought the most proper vehicle for conveying their neta, Alfred, or Charlemagne, might have invited knowledge to posterity. It was the poet who harlearned foreigners into their dominions, but could monized the ungrateful accents of his native dia not establish learning. While in the radiance of lect, who lifted it above common conversation, and roval favour, every art and science seemed to flour-shaped its rude combinations into order. From ish; but when that was withdrawn, they quickly him the orator formed a style: and though poetry felt the rigours of a strange climate, and with exotic constitutions perished by neglect.

first rose out of prose, in turn it gave birth to every prosaic excellence. Musical period, concise expression, and delicacy of sentiment, were all excellencies derived from the poet; in short, he not only preceded but formed the orator, philosopher, and historian.

As the arts and sciences are slow in coming to maturity, it is requisite, in order to their perfection, that the state should be permanent which gives them reception. There are numberless attempts without success, and experiments without conclu- When the observations of past ages were colsion, between the first rudiments of an art, and its lected, philosophy next began to examine their utmost perfection; between the outlines of a sha- causes. She had numberless facts from which to dow, and the picture of an Apelles. Leisure is re-draw proper inferences, and poetry had taught her quired to go through the tedious interval, to join the strongest expression to enforce them. Thus the experience of predecessors to our own, or en- the Greek philosophers, for instance, exerted all large our views, by building on the ruined attempts their happy talents in the investigation of truth.

and the production of beauty. They saw, that ly give us still fainter resemblances of original beauthere was more excellence in captivating the judg- ty. It might still suggest, that explained wit makes ment, than in raising a momentary astonishment. but a feeble impression; that the observations of In their arts they imitated only such parts of nature others are soon forgotten, those made by ourselves as might please in the representation; in the sci- are permanent and useful. But it seems, underences, they cultivated such parts of knowledge as it standings of every size were to be mechanically inwas every man's duty to know. Thus learning structed in poetry. If the reader was too dull to was encouraged, protected, and honoured; and in relish the beauties of Virgil, the comment of Ser its turn it adorned, strengthened, and harmonized vius was ready to brighten his imagination; if Tethe community. rence could not raise him to a smile, Evantius was at hand, with a long-winded scholium to increase his titilation. Such rules are calculated to make blockheads talk, but all the lemmata of the Lyceum are unable to give him feeling.

But as the mind is vigorous and active, and experiment is dilatory and painful, the spirit of philosophy being excited, the reasoner, when destitute of experiment, had recourse to theory, and gave up what was useful for refinement.

But it would be endless to recount all the abCritics, sophists, grammarians, rhetoricians, and surdities which were hatched in the schools of commentators, now began to figure in the literary those specious idlers; be it sufficient to say, that commonwealth. In the dawn of science such are they increased as learning improved, but swarmed generally modest, and not entirely useless. Their on its decline. It was then that every work of performances serve to mark the progress of learn- taste was buried in long comments, every useful ing, though they seldom contribute to its improve- subject in morals was distinguished away into casument. But as nothing but speculation was required istry, and doubt and subtlety characterized the learnin making proficients in their respective depart- ing of the age. Metrodorus, Valerius Probus, ments, so neither the satire nor the contempt of the Aulus Gellius, Pedianus, Boethius, and a hundred wise, though Socrates was of the number, nor the others, to be acquainted with whom might show laws levelled at them by the state, though Cato much reading, and but little judgment; these, I was in the legislature, could prevent their ap- say, made choice each of an author, and delivered proaches. Possessed of all the advantages of un- all their load of learning on his back. Shame to feeling dulness, laborious, insensible, and persever- our ancestors! many of their works have reached ing, they still proceed mending and mending every our times entire, while Tacitus himself has sufferwork of genius, or, to speak without irony, under-ed mutilation.

mining all that was polite and useful. Libraries In a word, the commonwealth of literature was were loaded, but not enriched with their labours, at last wholly overrun by these studious triflers. while the fatigue of reading their explanatory com- Men of real genius were lost in the multitude, or, ments was tenfold that which might suffice for un- as in a world of fools it were folly to aim at being derstanding the original, and their works effectual-an only exception, obliged to conform to every prely increased our application, by professing to re- vailing absurdity of the times. Original producmove it. tions seldom appeared, and learning, as if grown superannuated, bestowed all its panegyric upon the vigour of its youth, and turned encomiast upon its former achievements.

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

It is to these, then, that the depravation of ancient polite learning is principally to be ascribed. By them it was separated from common sense, and made the proper employment of speculative idlers. Men bred up among books, and seeing nature only They now took upon them to teach poetry to by reflection, could do little, except hunt after perthose who wanted genius: and the power of dis- plexity and confusion. The public, therefore, with puting, to those who knew nothing of the subject reason, rejected learning, when thus rendered bar in debate. It was observed how some of the most ren, though voluminous; for we may be assured, admired poets had copied nature. From these they that the generality of mankind never lose a passion collected dry rules, dignified with long names, and for letters, while they continue to be either amus. such were obtruded upon the public for their im- ing or useful. provement. Common sense would be apt to sug- It was such writers as these, that rendered learngest, that the art might be studied more to advan- ing unfit for uniting and strengthening civil societage, rather by imitation than precept. It might ty, or for promoting the views of ambition. True suggest, that those rules were collected, not from philosophy had kept the Grecian states cemented nature, but a copy of nature, and would consequent- into one effective body, more than any law for that purpose; and the Etrurian philosophy, which pre

Vide Sueton. Hist. Gram.

vailed in the first ages of Rome, inspired those pa

But let us take a more distinct view of those


A View of the Obscure Ages.

trict virtues which paved the way to universal em- ages of ignorance in which false refinement had inpire. But by the labours of commentators, when volved mankind, and see how far they resemble our philosophy became abstruse, or triflingly minute, own. when doubt was presented instead of knowledge, when the orator was taught to charm the multitude with the music of his periods, and pronounced a declamation that might be sung as well as spoken, and often upon subjects wholly fictitious; in such circumstances, learning was entirely unsuited to all the purposes of government, or the designs of the WHATEVER the skill of any country may be in ambitious. As long as the sciences could influence the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learnthe state, and its politics were strengthened by them, ing alone, that it must expect a character from posto long did the community give them countenance terity. The poet and the historian are they who and protection. But the wiser part of mankind diffuse a lustre upon the age, and the philosopher would not be imposed upon by unintelligible jar- scarcely acquires any applause, unless his characgon, nor, like the knight in Pantagruel, swallow a ter be introduced to the vulgar by their mediation. chimera for a breakfast, though even cooked by The obscure ages, which succeeded the decline Aristotle. As the philosopher grew useless in the of the Roman empire, are a striking instance of state, he also became contemptible. In the times the truth of this assertion. Whatever period of of Lucian, he was chiefly remarkable for his ava- those ill-fated times we happen to turn to, we shall rice, his impudence, and his beard. perceive more skill in the sciences among the proUnder the auspicious influence of genius, arts fessors of them, more abstruse and deeper inquiry and sciences grew up together, and mutually illus- into every philosophical subject, and a greater trated each other. But when once pedants became show of subtlety and close reasoning, than in the lawgivers, the sciences began to want grace, and most enlightened ages of all antiquity. But their the polite arts solidity; these grew crabbed and writings were mere speculative amusements, and sour, those meretricious and gaudy; the philosopher all their researches exhausted upon trifles. Unbecame disgustingly precise, and the poet, ever skilled in the arts of adorning their knowledge, or straining after grace, caught only finery.

adapting it to common sense, their voluminous productions rest peacefully in our libraries, or at best are inquired after from motives of curiosity, not by the scholar, but the virtuoso.

These men also contributed to obstruct the progress of wisdom, by addicting their readers to one particular sect, or some favourite science. They generally carried on a petty traffic in some little I am not insensible, that several late French creek: within that they busily plied about, and historians have exhibited the obscure ages in a drove an insignificant trade; but never ventured very different light. They have represented them out into the great ocean of knowledge, nor went as utterly ignorant both of arts and sciences, buried beyond the bounds that chance, conceit, or laziness, in the profoundest darkness, or only illuminated had first prescribed their inquiries. Their disci- with a feeble gleam, which, like an expiring taper, ples, instead of aiming at being originals them- rose and sunk by intervals. Such assertions, howselves, became imitators of that merit alone which ever, though they serve to help out the declaimer, was constantly proposed for their admiration. In should be cautiously admitted by the historian. exercises of this kind, the most stupid are generally For instance, the tenth century, is particularly dismost successful; for there is not in nature a more tinguished by posterity, with the appellation of imitative animal than a dunce. obscure. Yet, even in this, the reader's memory Hence ancient learning may be distinguished may possibly suggest the names of some, whose into three periods. Its commencement, or the age works, still preserved, discover a most extensive of poets; its maturity, or the age of philosophers; erudition, though rendered almost useless by affecand its decline, or the age of critics. In the poeti- tation and obscurity. A few of their names and cal age commentators were very few, but might writings may be mentioned, which will serve at have in some respects been useful. In its philoso- once to confirm what I assert, and give the reader phical, their assistance must necessarily become an idea of what kind of learning an age declining obnoxious; yet, as if the nearer we approached into obscurity chiefly chooses to cultivate. perfection the more we stood in need of their direc- About the tenth century flourished Leo the phitions, in this period they began to grow numerous.losopher. We have seven volumes folio of his colBut when polite learning was no more, then it lections of laws, published at Paris, 1617. He was those literary lawgivers made the most formi-wrote upon the art military, and understood also dable appearance. Corruptissima republica, plu- astronomy and judicial astrology. He was seven rimæ leges. TACIT. times more voluminous than Plato.

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