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we have none. In history, we have no modern narration so elegant, so picturesque, so animated, and interesting as those of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus and Sallust. Our dramas, with all their improvements, are inferior in poetry and sentiment to those of Sophocles and Euripides. We have no com. ic dialogue, that equals the correct, graceful, and ele. gant simplicity of Terence. The elegies of Tibullus, the pastorals of Theocritus, and the lyric poetry of Horace, are still unrivalled. By those, therefore, who wish to form their taste, and nourish their genius, the utmost attention must be paid to the ancient classics, both Greek and Roman.
After these reflections on the ancients and moderns, we proceed to critical examination of the most distinguished kinds of composition, and of the characters of those writers, whether ancient or modern, who have excelled in them. Of orations and public discourses, much has already, been said. The remaining prose compositions may be divided into historical writing, philosophical writing, epistolary writing, and fictitious history.
HISTORY is a record of truth for the instruction of mankind. Hence the great requisites in a historian are impartiality, fidelity, and accuracy.
In the conduct of historical detail, the first object of a historian should be, to give his work all possible unity. History should not consist of unconnected parts. Its portions should be united by some connecting principle, which will produce in the mind an impression of something that is one, whole, and entire. Polybius, though not an elegant writer, is remarkable for this quality.
A historian should trace actions and events to their sources. He should therefore be well acquainted with human nature and politics. His skill in the former. will enable him to describe the characters of individuals; and his knowledge of the latter to account for the revolutions of government, and the operation of politi*cal causes on public affairs. With regard to political knowledge, the ancients wanted some advantages which are enjoyed by the moderns. In ancient times there was less communication among neighbouring states ; no intercourse by established posts, nor by ambassadors at distant courts. Larger experience, too, of the different modes of government has improved the modern historian beyond the historian of antiquity.
It is, however, in the form of narrative, and not by dissertation, that the historian is to impart his political knowledge. Formal discussions expose him to suspi. cion of being willing to accommodate his facts to his theory. They have also an air of pedantry, and evi. dently result from want of art. For reflections, whether moral, political, or philosophical, may be insinuated in the body of a narrative.
Clearness, order, and connexion are primary virtues in historical narration. These are attained when the historian is complete master of his subject ; can see the whole at one view ; and comprehend the dependance of all its parts. History being a dignified species of composition, it should also be conspicuons for gravity. There should be nothing mean nor vulgar in the style ; no quaintness, no smartness, no affectation, no wit. A history should likewise be interesting; and this is the quality which chiefly distinguishes a writer of genius and eloquence.
To be interesting, a historian must preserve a medi. um between rapid recital and prolix detail. He should know when to be concise, and when to enlarge. He should make a proper selection of circumstances. These give life, body aod colouring to his narration. They constitute what is termed historical painting,
In all these virtues of narration, particularly in picturesque description, the ancients minently excel. Hence the pleasure of reading Thucydides, Livy, Sal
Just, and Tacitus. In historical painting there are great varieties. Livy and Tacitus, paint in very different ways. The descriptions of Livy are full, plain, and natural ; those of Tacitus are short and bold.
One embellishment, which the moderns have laid aside, was employed by the ancients. They put ora. tions into the mouths of celebrated personages. By these, they diversified their history, and conveyed both moral and political instruction. Thucydides was the first who adopted this method ; and the orations with which his history abounds, are valuable remains of an. tiquity. It is doubtful, however, whether this embel. lishment should be allowed to the historian ; for they form a mixture, unnatural to history, of truth and fic. tion. The moderns are more chaste when on great occasions the historian delivers in his own person the sentiments and reasonings of opposite parties.
Another splendid embellishment of history is the de. lineation of characters. These are considered as exbi. bitions of fine writing ; and hence the difficulty of ex. celling in this province. For characters may be too shining and laboured. The accomplished historian avoids here to dazzle too much. He is solicitous to give the resemblance in a style equally removed from meanness and affectatation. He studies the grandeur of simplicity.
Sound morality should always reign in history. A historian should ever show himself on the side of virtue. It is not, however, his province to deliver moral instructions in a formal manner. He should excite indignation against the designing and the vicious ; and by appeals to the passions, he will not only improve his reader, but take away from the natural coolness of his. torical narration.
In modern times historical genius has shone most in Italy. Acutenes, political sagacity, and wisdom, are all conspicuous in Machiavel, Guicciardin, Davila, Bentivoglio, and Father Paul. In Great Britain history has been fashionable only a few years. For, though Clarendon and Burnet are considerable historians, they are inferior to Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon.
The inferior kinds of historical compositions are annals, memoirs and lives. Annals are a collection of facts in chronological order ; and the properties of an annalist are fidelity and distinctness. Memoirs are a species of composition in which an author pretends not to give a complete detail of facts, but only to record what he himself knew, or was concerned in, or what il. lustrates the conduct of some person, or some transaction which he chooses for his subject. It is not therefore expected of such a writer, that he possess profound research, and those superior talents which are requisite in a historian. It is chiefly required of him, inat he be sprightly and interesting. The French during two centuries have poured forth a flood of memoirs ; the most of which are little more than agreeable trifles. We must, however, except from this censure the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz, and those of the duke of Sully. The former join to a lively narrative great knowledge of human nature. The latter deserve very particular praise. They approach to the usefulness and dignity of legitimate history. They are full of virtue and good sense ; and are well calculated to form both the heads and hearts of those who are designed for public business, and high stations in the world.
Biography is a very useful kind of composition ; less stately than history ; but perhaps not less instructive. It affords full opportunity of displaying the characters of eminent men, and of entering into a thorough acquaintance with them. In this kind of writing, Plutarch excels ; but bis matter is better than his man, ner ; he bas no peculiar beauty nor elegance.
His judgment and accuracy also are sometimes taxed. But he is a very humane writer ; and fond of displaying great men in the gentle lights of retirement.
Before we conclude this subject, it is proper to observe, that of late years a great improvement has been introduced into historical composition. More particular attention than formerly has been given to laws, customs, commerce, religion, literature, and to every thing that shows the spirit and genius of nations. It is now
conceived that a historian ought to illustrate manners as well as facts and events. Whatever displays the state of mankind in different periods ; whatever illustrates the progress of the human mind, is more useful chan details of sicges and battles.
PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING AND DIALOGUE.
OF philosophy, the professed design is instruction. With the philosopher, therefore, style, form and dress are inferior objects. But they must not be wholly neglected. The same truths and reasonings, delivered with elegance, will strike more, than in a dull and dry manner.
Beyond mere perspicuity, the strictest precision and accuracy are required in a philosophical writer ; and these qualities may be possessed without dryness. Philosophical writing admits a polished, neat and elegant style. It admits the calm figures of speech ; but rojects whatever is florid and tumid. Plato and Cice. to have left philosophical treatises, composed with much elegance and beauty. Seneca is too fond of an affected, brilliant ,sparkling manner. Locke's treatise on Human Understanding is a model of a clear and distinct pbilosophical style. In the writings of Shaftsbury, on the other hand, philosophy is dressed up with 100 much ornament and finery,
Among the ancients, philosophical writing often assumed the form of dialogue. Plato is eminent for the beauty of his dialogues. In richness of imagination no philosophic writer, ancient or modern, is equal to him. His only fault is the excessive fertility of his imagination, which sometimes obscures his judgment, and frequently carries him into allegory, fiction, enthusiasm, and the airy regions of mystical theology. Cicero's dialogues are not so spirited and characteristical as those of Plato. They are, however, agrecable, and well supported ; and show us conversation carried on among