Page images

assistance he has given me in the beginning, the prosecution, and conclusion of my present studies, which are more happily performed than I could have promised to myself, when I laboured under such discouragements. For what I have done, imperfect as it is for want of health and leisure to correct it, will be judged in after ages, and possibly in the present, to be no dishonour to my native country, whose language and poetry would be more esteemed abroad, if they were better understood. Somewhat (give me leave to say) I have added to both of them in the choice of words and harmony of numbers, which were wanting (especially the last) in all our poets, even in those who, being endued with genius, yet have not cultivated their mother-tongue with sufficient care; or relying on the beauty of their thoughts, have judged the ornament of words and sweetness of sound unnecessary. One is for raking in Chaucer (our English Ennius) for antiquated words, which are never to be revived, but when sound or significancy is wanting in the present language. But many of his deserve not this redemption, any more than the crowds of men who daily die, or are slain for sixpence in a battle, merit to be restored to life, if a wish could revive them. Others have no ear for verse, nor choice of words, nor distinction of thoughts, but mingle farthings with their gold to make up the sum. Here is a field of satire open to me; but since the Revolution, I have wholly renounced that talent: for who would give physic to the great when he is uncalled-to do his patient no good, and endanger himself for his prescription? Neither am I ignorant but I may justly be condemned for many of those faults, of which I have too liberally arraigned others.

take occasion to write somewhat concerning history itself. But I think to commend it is unnecessary, for the profit and pleasure of that study are both se very obvious, that a quick reader will be beforehand with me, and imagine faster than I can write. Besides, that the post is taken up already; and few authors have travelled this way, but who have strewed it with rhetoric as they passed For my own part, who must confess it to my shame, that I never read anything but for pleasure, it has always been the most delightful entertainment of my life; but they who have employed the study of it, as they ought, for their instruction, for the regulation of their private manners, and the management of public affairs, must agree with me that it is the most pleasant school of wisdom. It is a familiarity with past ages, and an acquaintance with all the heroes of them; it is, if you will pardon the similitude, a prospective glass, carrying your soul to a vast distance, and taking in the farthest objects of antiquity. It informs the understanding by the memory; it helps us to judge of what will happen, by showing us the like revolutions of former times. For mankind being the same in all ages agitated by the same passions, and moved to action by the same interests, nothing can come to pass but some precedent of the like nature has already been produced; so that, having the causes before our eyes, we cannot easily be deceived in the effects, if we have judgment enough but to draw the parallel.

God, it is true, with his divine providence overrules and guides all actions to the secret end he has ordained them; but in the way of human causes, a wise man may easily discern that there is a natural connection betwixt them; and though he cannot foresee accidents, or all things that possibly can come, he may apply examples, and by them foretell that from

THE LAWS OF HISTORY AND the like counsels will probably succeed


IT may now be expected that, having written the life of a historian,* I should

* Plutarch.

the like events; and thereby in all concernments, and all offices of life, be instructed in the two main points on which depends our happiness—that is, what to avoid, and what to choose.

[blocks in formation]

IN all parts of biography, whether familiar or stately, whether sublime or low, whether serious or merry, Plutarch equally excelled. If we compare him to others, Dion Cassius is not so sincere ; Herodian, a lover of truth, is oftentimes deceived himself with what he had falsely heard reported; then, the time of his emperors exceeds not in all above sixty years, so that his whole history will scarce amount to three lives of Plutarch. Suetonius and Tacitus may be called alike either authors of histories or writers of lives; but the first of them runs too willingly into obscene descriptions, which he teaches, while he relates; the other, besides what has already been noted of him, often falls into obscurity; and both of them have made so unlucky a choice of times, that they are forced to describe rather monsters than men; and their emperors are either extravagant fools or tyrants, and most usually both. Our author, on the contrary, as he was more inclined to commend than to dispraise, has generally chosen such great men as were famous for their several virtues; at least such whose frailties or vices were overpoised by their excellences; such from whose examples we may have more to follow than to shun. Yet, as he was impartial, he disguised not the faults of any man, an example of which is in the life of Lucullus, where, after he has told us that the double benefit which his countrymen, the Charoneans, received from him, was the chiefest motive which he had to write his life, he afterwards rips up his luxury, and shows how he lost, through his mismanagement, his authority and his soldiers' love. Then he was more happy in his digressions than any we have named. I have always been pleased to see him, and his imitator Montaigne, when they strike a little out of the common road; for we are sure to be the better for their wandering. The best quarry lies not always in the open field; and who would not be content to follow a good huntsman over hedges and ditches, when he knows the game will reward his

pains? But if we mark him more narrowly, we may observe that the great reason of his frequent starts is the variety of his learning; he knew so much of nature, was so vastly furnished with all the treasures of the mind, that he was uneasy to himself, and was forced, as I may say, to lay down some at every passage, and to scatter his riches as he went: like another Alexander or Adrian, he built a city, or planted a colony, in every part of his progress and left behind him some memorial of his greatness. Sparta, and Thebes, and Athens, and Rome, the mistress of the world, he has discovered in their foundations, their institutions, their growth, their height; the decay of the three first, and the alteration of the last. You see those several people in their different laws, and policies, and forms of government, in their warriors, and senators, and demagogues. Nor are the ornaments of poetry, and the illustrations of similitudes, forgotten by him; in both which he instructs, as well as pleases; or rather pleases, that he may instruct.—Miscellanies.

[ocr errors]


THOUGH invention be the mother of poetry, yet this child is, like all others, born naked, and must be nourished with care, clothed with exactness and elegance, educated with industry, instructed with art, improved by application, corrected with severity, and accomplished with labour and with time, before it arrives at any great perfection or growth: 'tis certain that no composition requires so many several ingredients, or of more different sorts than this; nor that, to excel in any qualities, there are necessary so many gifts of nature, and so many improvements of learning and of art. For there must be a universal genius, of great compass as well as great elevation. There must be a sprightly imagination or fancy,

fertile in a thousand productions, ranging over infinite ground, piercing into every corner, and, by the light of that true poetical fire, discovering a thousand little bodies or images in the world, and similitudes among them, unseen to common eyes, and which could not be discovered without the rays of that sun.

Besides the heat of invention and liveliness of wit, there must be the coldness of good sense and soundness of judgment, to distinguish between things and conceptions, which, at first sight, or upon short glances, seem alike; to choose, among infinite productions of wit and fancy, which are worth preserving and cultivating, and which are better stifled in the birth, or thrown away when they are born, as not worth bringing up. Without the forces of wit, all poetry is flat and languishing; without the succours of judgment, 'tis wild and extravagant. The true wit of poesy is, that such contraries must meet to compose it; a genius both penetrating and solid; in expression both delicacy and force; and the frame or fabric of a true poem must have something both sublime and just, amazing and agreeable. There must be a great agitation of mind to invent, a great calm to judge and correct; there must be upon the same tree, and at the same time, both flower and fruit. To work up this metal into exquisite figure, there must be employed the fire, the hammer, the chisel, and the file. There must be a general knowledge both of nature and of arts, and, to go the lowest that can be, there are required genius, judgment, and application; for, without this last, all the rest will not serve turn, and none ever was a great poet that applied himself much to anything else.

When I speak of poetry, I mean not an ode or an elegy, a song or a satire ; nor by a poet the composer of any of these, but of a just poem; and after all I have said, 'tis no wonder there should be so few that appeared in any parts or any ages of the world, or that such as have should be so much admired, and have almost divinity ascribed to them and to their works.-Essays.

[DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON. 1709-1784.] THE


IN hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest, to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add anything by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time; much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if, by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular, I have not promised to myself; a few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance into contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert, who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes

be hurried by eagerness to the end, and are empty sounds. I therefore dismiss it sometimes faint with weariness under a with frigid tranquillity, having little to task which Scaliger compares to the fear or hope from censure or from praise. labours of the anvil and the mine; that-Preface to his Dictionary of the English what is obvious is not always known, and Language. what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns, yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amid inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage

[DR. HUGH BLAIR. 1718-17 ]

TASTE AND GENIUS. TASTE and genius are two words frequently joined together, and therefore, by inaccurate thinkers, confounded. They signify, however, two quite different things. The difference between them can be clearly pointed out, and it is of importance to remember it. Taste consists in the power of judging; genius in the power of executing. One may have a considerable degree of taste in poetry, eloquence, or any of the fine arts, who has little or hardly any genius for composition, or execution in any of these arts; but genius cannot be found without including taste also. Genius, therefore, deserves to be considered as a higher power of the mind than taste. Genius always imports something inventive or creative, which does not rest in mere sensibility to beauty where it is perceived, but which can, moreover, produce new beauties, and exhibit them in such a manner as strongly to impress the minds of others. Refined taste forms a good critic; but genius is further necessary to form the poet or the orator.

It is proper also to observe, that genius is a word which, in common acceptation, extends much further than to the objects of taste. It is used to signify that talent or aptitude which we receive from nature for excelling in any one thing whatever. Thus, we speak of a genius for mathematics, as well as a genius for poetry-of a genius for war, for politics, or for any mechanical employment.

This talent or aptitude for excelling in some one particular is, I have said, what we receive from nature. By art and study, no doubt, it may be greatly im proved, but by them alone it cannot be acquired. As genius is a higher faculty than taste, it is ever, according to the

usual frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations. It is not uncommon to meet with persons who have an excellent taste in several of the polite arts, such as music, poetry, painting, and eloquence, all together; but to find one who is an excellent performer in all these arts is much more rare, or rather, indeed, such a one is not to be looked for. A sort of universal genius, or one who is equally and indifferently turned towards several different professions and arts, is not likely to excel in any; although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it holds, that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed towards some one object, exclusive in a manner of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that, whatever it be. The rays must converge to a point, in order to glow intensely. -Lectures.



THE subject of this discourse will be IMITATION, as far as a painter is concerned in it. By imitation, I do not mean imitation in its largest sense, but simply the following of other masters, and the advantage to be drawn from the study of their works.

Those who have undertaken to write on our art, and have represented it as a kind of inspiration, as a gift bestowed upon peculiar favourites at their birth, seem to ensure a much favourable disposition from their readers, and have a much more captivating and liberal air, than he who attempts to examine, coldly, whether there are any means by which this art may be acquired; how the mind may be strengthened and expanded, and what guides will show the way to eminence.

It is very natural for those who are unacquainted with the cause of anything extraordinary to be astonished at the effect, and to consider it as a kind of magic. They who have never observed the gradation by which art is acquired, who see only what is the full result of long labour |

and application of an infinite number and infinite variety of acts, are apt to conclude from their entire inability to do the same at once, that it is not only inaccessible to themselves, but can be done by those only who have some gift of the nature of inspiration bestowed upon them.

The travellers into the East tell us that, when the ignorant inhabitants of those countries are asked concerning the ruins. of stately edifices yet remaining amongst them, the melancholy monuments of their former grandeur and long-lost science, they always answer that they were built by magicians. The untaught mind finds a vast gulf between its own powers and those works of complicated art, which it is utterly unable to fathom; and it supposes that such a void can be passed only by supernatural powers.

And as for artists themselves, it is by no means their interest to undeceive such judges, however conscious they may be of the very natural means by which their extraordinary powers were acquired; though our art, being intrinsically imitative, rejects this idea of inspiration, more perhaps than any other.

It is to avoid this plain confession of truth, as it should seem, that this imitation of masters, indeed almost all imitation, which implies a more regular and progressive method of attaining the ends of painting, has ever been particularly inveighed against with great keenness, both by ancient and modern writers.

To derive all from native power, to owe nothing to another, is the praise which men, who do not much think on what they are saying, bestow sometimes upon others, and sometimes on themselves; and their imaginary dignity is naturally heightened by a supercilious censure of the low, the barren, the grovelling, the servile imitator. It would be no wonder if a student, frightened by these terrific and disgraceful epithets, with which the poor imitators are so often loaded, should let fall his pencil in mere despair (conscious, as he must be, how much he has been indebted to the labours of others, how little, how very little, of his art was born with him); and consider it as hop

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »