Page images
PDF
EPUB

agitated by a set of philosophers, who have taken upon

them the pleasing task of dispersing unbounded riches throughout the realm, and who fancy they know human nature more intimately than their predecessors. They have accordingly been endeavouring to establish a theory upon this subject extremely simple, and to them extremely practicable. The result of their arduous labours and deep consultations appears to be contained in this single proposition; namely, that all mankind are fools, except about a dozen or fourteen individuals, whose business it is to profit by their folly, and whose persuasion is, that mankind will never get wiser.

The lucubrations of these philosophers are regularly published twice or thrice within the space of a year, not through the slow and expensive medium of booksellers, who wait until books are called for, and then demand a price for them, but by every method of gratuitous dispersion. Their ingenious remarks appear in the shape of hand-bills, of posting-bills, of letters, of songs and anecdotes, sometimes elegantly printed, and “adorned with sculptures;” and are distributed not only in the repositories where they are written, but at the corners of the streets, at every turnpike, on every bridge, and every highway; and such is the impar. tiality of the authors, that these presentationcopies are expressly ordered to be given to all classes, especially the lower, including “serving men and maids.” And lest the persons appointed to disperse such valuable writings should negligently or wilfully overlook any individual whatsoever, every public edifice and dead wall is covered with them, printed in letters of such large dimensions, that the invalid may

read them from his bed-chamber window, and the near-sighted may not lament having forgot his spectacles in his other coat pocket.

This last contrivance cannot be sufficiently praised for its ingenuity. What can be more happily contrived for the benefit of those who are already half blind, or in a fair way to become so by poring over the pocket-editions of the works of these benevolent writers, and imbibing their principles ? Nay, that the heedless passengers may

be attracted in every way, the very hackney coaches are covered with large paper copies of these lucubrations, and we have seen a species of small carts decorated in like

manner.

Here, too, I must pause, to admire the metaphorical benevolence of these gentlemen, who by this striking imagery (far beyond the reach of our best poets) give their readers an idea, either of gratifying their ambition by a coach, or of gaining their end in a cart.

With an equally happy attention to the wisdom that speaks in hints, and in parables and allegories, they regularly publish very large editions of their works on the walls of Bedlam and St. Luke's : an illustration of cause and effect, which none of our fabulists ever hit

upon,

from Æsop to Dodsley. Indeed, I should have considered the two buildings just mentioned as admirably adapted for a course of lectures on the principles of those philosophers, had not our best judges determined that the Old Bailey is a more central situation.

From an attentive perusal of the works of these gentlemen for the last six weeks, I have been led to deduce that the position above stated is the foundation of all they have to advance, and the great encouragement to them as authors; namely, that all mankind are fools, except the writers of these very edifying and attractive addresses, remonstrances, and supplications. But, perhaps, it may be doubted, whether they are to be accounted very conclusive reasoners. There is one general error that runs through the whole of their premises ; and

;

a

where that is the case, it is surely not very philosophical to draw peremptory conclusions, and not very wise to confide in them. I observe, in particular, that veracity, which has by some been thought a very useful ingredient in

every kind of reasoning, has been entirely overlooked by these writers. In its room, indeed, they have substituted an article which the courtesy of our times calls modest assurance, but which is sometimes denominated by a single word far more intelligible and expressive; a word that I doubt not they would make use of themselves, if they could for a moment change places with their readers.

For these reasons I must take the liberty to differ with them, as to the grand division they have attempted, and the general opinion they entertain of mankind. Ingenious as they are, I cannot be induced to think that they have sorted us in exact proportions, when they take all the wisdom to themselves, and give all the folly to the rest of the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland. The proportion of fools

is a question which has perplexed writers of enlarged observation and experience in all ages. It would be too great a stretch of

. complaisance to allow that these gentlemen have resolved it, merely because they wish to

to rogues,

keep all wisdom to themselves, or because they tell us that they have taken out a licence for the

purpose, and are obliged to make all their calculations upon the presumption that mankind are every year becoming more foolish. It is a question which is not to be resolved by types of a foot in length, by processions of coaches and carts, nor by getting rid of veracity and argument; and it is certain that men cannot be made fools, merely by supposing them to be so already.

The proportion of rogues to fools is a question of great importance, particularly to the former. They never can begin business with any hope of success, unless they are able to make some calculation, or plausible conjecture on the subject. Indeed, it is perhaps to them only that the resolving of the question is interesting, for fools, in general, meet with rogues enough to do their business, and are therefore at no extraordinary pains to count the number. It is not, however, my intention, nor within my power, to offer much upon

the subject which will lead to a decision ; yet a few desultory remarks may not be inconsistent with the design of the present lucubration.

Το it will appear very surprizing, that this question has not been long ago settled.

many

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »