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FROM THE SAME.
THE disputes among the learned here are now car
ried on in a much more compendious manner than formerly. There was a time when folio was brought to oppose folio, and a champion was often listed for life under the banners of a single sorites. At present the controversy is decided in a summary way; an epigram or an acrostic finishes the debate, and the combatant, like the incursive Tartar, advances, and retires with a single blow.
An important literary debate at present engrosses the attention of the town. It is carried on with sharpness, and a proper share of this epigrammatical fury. An author, it seems, has taken an aversion to the faces of several players, and has written verses to prove his dislike; the players fall upon the author, and assure the town he must be dull, and their faces must be good, because he wants a dinner; a critic comes to the poet's assistance, asserting that the verses were per fectly original, and so smart that he could never have written them without the assistance of friends; the friends upon this arraign the critic, and plainly prove the verses to be all the author's own. So at it they are all four together by the ears, the friends at the critic, the critic at the players, the players at the author, and the author at the players again. It is im possible to determine how this many-sided contest will end, or which party to adhere to. The town,
without siding with any, views the combat in sus pense, like the fabled hero of antiquity, who beheld the earth-born brothers give and receive mutual wounds, and fall by indiscriminate destruction.
This is in some measure a state of the present dispute; but the combatants here differ in one respect from the champions of the fable. Every new wound only gives vigour for another blow; though they appear to strike, they are in fact mutually swelling themselves into consideration, and thus advertising each other away into fame. To-day, says one, my name shall be in the Gazette, the next day my rival's; people will naturally inquire about us; thus we shall at least make a noise in the streets, though we have got nothing to sell. I have read of a dispute of a similar nature, which was managed here about twenty years ago. Hildebrand Jacob, as I think he was called, and Charles Johnson were poets, both at that time possessed of great reputation, for Johnson had written eleven plays acted with great success, and Jacob, though he had written but five, had five times thanked the town for their unmerited applause.They soon became mutually enamoured of each other's talents; they wrote, they felt, they challenged the town for each other. Johnson assured the public that no poet alive had the easy simplicity of Jacob, and Jacob exhibited Johnson as a master-piece in the pathetic. Their mutual praise was not without effect. The town saw their plays, were in raptures, read, and without censuring them, forgot them. So formidable an union, however, was soon opposed by Tibbald. Tibbald asserted that the tragedies of one had faults, and the comedies of the other substi tuted wit for vivacity; the combined champions flew at him like tygers, arraigned the censurer's judgment,
and impeached his sincerity. It was a long time a dispute among the learned, which was in fact the greatest man, Jacob, Johnson, or Tibbald; they had all written for the stage with great success, their names were seen in almost every paper, and their Works in every coffee-house. However, in the hottest of the dispute, a fourth combatant made his appearance, and swept away the three combatants, tragedy, comedy, and all into undistinguished ruin.
From this time they seemed consigned into the hands of criticism, scarcely a day passed in which they were not arraigned as detested writers. The Critics, these enemies of Dryden and Pope, were their enemies. So Jacob and Johnson, instead of mending by criticism, called it envy, and because Dryden and Pope were censured, they compared themselves to Dryden and Pope.
But to return, the weapon chiefly used in the present controversy is epigram, and certainly never was a keener made use of. They have discovered surprising sharpness on both sides. The first that came out upon this occasion was a kind of new composition in this way, and might more properly be called an epigrammatic thesis, than an epigram. It consists, first, of an argument in prose; next follows a motto from Roscommon; then comes the epigram; and lastly notes serving to explain the epigram. But you shall have it with all its decorations.
Addressed to the Gentlemen reflected on in the
Worry'd with debts, and past all hopes of bail,
"Let not the hungry Bavius' angry stroke
The last lines are certainly executed in a very masterly manner. It is of that species of It is of that species of argumentation, called the perplexing. It effectually flings the anta gonist into a mist; there is no answering it: the laugh is raised against him, while he is endeavouring to find out the jest. At once he shows, that the author has a kennel, and that this kennel is putrid, and that this putrid kennel overflows. But why does it overflow? It overflows, because the author happens to have low pockets!
To G. C. and R. L.
"Twas you, or I, or he, or all together, " "Twas one, both, three of them, they know not whether. "This I believe, between us great or small, "You, I, he, wrote it not-'twas Churchill's all."
There, there is a perplex! I could have wished, to make it quite perfect, the author, as in the case before, had added notes. Almost every word admits a scholium, and a long one too. I, YOU, HE! Suppose a stranger should ask, and who are you? Here are three obscure persons spoken of, that may in a short time be utterly forgotten. Their names should have consequently been mentioned in notes at the bottom. But when the reader comes to the words great and small, the maze is inextricable. Here the stranger may dive for a mystery, without ever reaching the bottom. Let him know then, that small is a word purely introduced to make good rhyme, and great was a very proper word to keep small company.
Yet by being thus a spectator of others dangers, I must own I begin to tremble in this literary contest for my own. I begin to fear that my challenge to Doctor Rock was unadvised, and has procured me more antagonists than I had at first expected. I have received private letters from several of the literati here, that fill my soul with apprehension. I may safely aver, that I never gave any creature in this good city offence, except only my rival Doctor Rock, yet by the letters I every day receive, and by some I haye seen printed, I am arraigned at one time as being a dull fellow, at another as being pert; I am here petulant, there I am heavy; by the head of my an