« ПредишнаНапред »
great men; all fancying themselves known to the rest of the world, and complimenting each other upon their extensive reputation. It is amusing enough when two of those domestic prodigies of learning mount the stage of ceremony, and give and take praise from each other. I have been present when a German doctor, for having pronounced a panegyric upon a certain monk, was thought the most ingenious man in the world ; till the monk soon after divided this reputation by returning the compliment ; by which means they both marched off with universal applause.
The same degree of undeserved adulation that attends our great men while living, often also follows him to the tomb. It frequently happens that one of his little admirers sits down big with the important subject, and is delivered of the history of his life and writings. This may properly be called the revolutions of a life between the fireside, and the easy-chair. In this we learn, the year in which he was born, at what an early age he gave symptoms of uncommon genius and application, together with some of his smart sayings, collected by his aunt and mother, while yet but a boy. The next book introduces him to the university, where we are informed of his amazing progress in learning, his excellent skill in darning stockings, and his new invention for papering books to save the covers. He next makes his appearance in the republic of letters, and publishes his folio. Now the colossus is reared, his works are eagerly bought up by all the purchasers of scarce books. The learned societies invite him to become a member; he disputes against some foreigner with a long Latin name, conquers in the controversy, is complimented by several authors of gravity and importance, is excessively fond of egg-sauce with his pig, becomes president of
a literary club, and dies in the meridian of his glory. Happy they, who thus have some little faithful attendant, who never forsakes them, but prepares to wrangle and to praise against every opposer; at once ready to increase their pride while living, and their character when dead. For you and I, my friend, who have no humble admirer thus to attend us; we, who neither are, nor never will be, great men, and who do not much care whether we are great men or no, at least let us strive to be honest men, and to have common sense.
FROM THE SAME.
THERE are numbers in this city who live by writing new books; and yet there are thousands of volumes in every large library unread and forgotten. This upon my arrival, was one of those contradictions which I was unable to account for. Is it possible, said I, that there should be any demand for new books, before those already published are read? Can there be so many employed in producing a commodity with which the market is already overstocked; and with goods also better than any of modern manufacture !
What at first view appeared an inconsistence, is a proof at once of this people's wisdom and refinement. Even allowing the works of their ancestors better written than theirs, yet those of the moderts acquire a real value, by being marked with the impression of the times. Antiquity has been in the possession of others; the present is our own : let us first therefore learn to know what belongs to ourselves, and then, if we have leisure, 'cast our reflections back to the reign
of Shonou, who governed twenty thousand years before the creation of the moon.
The volumes of antiquity, like medals, may very well serve to amuse the curious; but the works of the moderns, like the current coin of a kingdom, are much better for immediate use; the former are often prized above their intrinsic value, and kept with care, the latter seldom pass for more than they are worth, and are often subject to the merciless hands of sweating critics, and clipping compilers; the works of antiquity were ever praised, those of the moderns read ; the treasures of our ancestors have our esteem, and we boast the passion; those of contemporary genius engage our heart, although we blush to own it. The visits we pay the former resemble those we pay the great; the ceremony is troublesome, and yet such as we would not choose to forego; our acquaintance with modern books is like sitting with a friend ; our pride is not flattered in the interview, but it gives more internal satisfaction.
In proportion as society refines, new books must ever become more necessary. Savage rusticity is reclaimed by oral admonition alone ; but the elegant excesses of refinement are best corrected by the still voice of a studious inquiry. In a polite age almost every person becomes a reader, and receives more instruction from the press than the pulpit. The preaching Bonse may instruct the
illiterate peasant: but nothing less than the insinuating address of a fine writer can win its way to an heart already relaxed in all the effeminacy of refinement. Books are necessary to correct the vices of the polite, but those vices are ever changing, and the antidote should be changed accordingly; should still be new,
Instead therefore of thinking the number of new publications here too great, I could wish it still great
er, as they are the most useful instruments of reformation. Every country must be instructed either by writers or preachers; but as the number of readers increases, the number of hearers is proportionably diminished, the writer becomes more useful, and the preaching Bonse less necessary.
Instead therefore of complaining that writers are overpaid, when their works procure them a bare subsistence, I should imagine it the duty of a state, not only to encourage their numbers, but their industry. A Bonse is rewarded with immense riches for instructing only a few, even of the most ignorant of the people ; and sure the poor scholar should not beg his bread, who is capable of instructing a million.
Of all rewards, I grant, the most pleasing to a man of real merit, is fame ; but a polite age, of all times, is that in which scarcely any share of merit can acquire it.
What numbers of fine writers in the latter empire of Rome, when refinement was carried to the highest pitch, have missed that fame and immortality which they had fondly arrogated to themselves ? How many Greek authors who wrote at that period when Constantinople was the refined mistress of the empire, now rest either not printed, or not read, in the libraries of Europe ! Those who came first, while either state as yet was barbarous, carried all the repu
Authors, as the age refined, became more numerous, and their numbers destroyed their fame. It is but natural, therefore, for the writer, when conscious that his works will not procure him fame hereafter, to endeavour to make them turn out to his temporal interest here.
Whatever be the motives which induce men to write, whether avarice or fame, the country becomes most wise and happy, in which they most serve for instructors. The countries, where sacerdotal instruc
tion alone is permitted, remain in ignorance, superstition, and hopeless slavery. In England, where there are as many new books published as in all the rest of Europe together, a spirit of freedom and reason reigns among the people; they have been often known to act like fools, they are generally found to think like men.
The only danger that attends a multiplicity of publications, is that some of them may be calculated to injure, rather than benefit society. But where writers are numerous, they also serve as a check upon each other; and perhaps a literary inquisition is the most terrible punishment that can be conceived, to a literary transgressor.
But to do the English justice, there are but few offenders of this kind ; their publications in general aim at mending either the heart, or improving the common weal. The dullest writer talks of virtue, and liberty, and benevolence with esteem; tells his true story, filled with good and wholesome advice ; warns against slavery, bribery, or the bite of a mad dog, and dresses up his little useful magazine of knowledge and entertainment, at least with a good intention. The dunces of France, on the other hand, who have less encouragement, are more vicious. Tender hearts, languishing eyes, Leonora in love at thirteen, extatic transports, stolen blisses are the frivolous subjects of their frivolous memoirs. In England, if a bawdy blockhead thus breaks in on the community, he sets his whole fraternity in a roar; nor can he escape, even though he should fly to nobility for shelter.
Thus even dunces, my friend, may make themselves useful. But there are others whom Nature has blest with talents above the rest of mankind; men capable of thinking with precision, and impressing their thoughts with rapidity. Beings who diffuse those re