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It is useful to observe the effect of our early reading, in perpetuating false impressions, even among those who boast an emancipation from all prejudices of education. Hume's classical knowledge was too strong for his scepticism; for in one of his essays he supposes it probable, that such a scheme as that of the ancient mythology may have been carried into effect, at some period, in some part of the solar system. Camöens makes the Virgin Mary intercede with Jupiter, when the Portuguese are in danger, and seems as much attached to one religion as to the other. Vossius, of whom Charles 11. used to say, that he believed every thing but the Bible, was another instance of the ease with which men suffer the grossest impostures to gain upon them, when they are unhappily recommended by elegance and wit.* I am apt to imagine, that the extravagancies of the ancient poets, engraved on our minds by the rod, and too partially entertained by our relish of the more sober beauties of those authors, have sometimes deceived us in our estimate of human faculties, and have supported, unperceived, something of literary superstition and metaphysical mysticism, even to the present time. When we speak of a man who has made any considerable discovery in science or art, who has painted a good picture, written a fine poem, or a very good novel, we call him a man of genius, without understanding our own meaning. Books have been written, indeed, to explain the word genius, but speakers and readers have continued to doubt; for authors have agreed in the same error, of considering genius as a distinct power of the mind, while in reality, it originally denoted something totally independent of it.
* It is said, that when Vossius, who was a canon of Windsor, lay on his death-bed, the Dean came to persuade him to receive the sacrament. Vossius rejected the proposal with indignity : after some altercation, the Dean gravely said; “Mr. Vossius, if you will not receive it for the love of God, take it, at least, for the honour of the chapter,"
I know not whether weakness or pride contributed more to those delusions, which appropriated a divinity to preside over the most usual, and the least dignified of our natural functions, but if the ancients supposed themselves to be supernaturally assisted on such occasions, it is not won* derful that they should lay claim to superior protection, in the bright and enviable moments of literary success. They believed, that every man was under the direction of one of the smaller deities, or aërial dæmons; a sort of valets to the superior gods,* and according to Seneca, tutors
* Apuleius de Deo Socratis.—quædam di
of men; like the usual arrangement in families of distinction upon earth. Sepone in præsentia quæ quibusdam placent: unicuique nostrum pædagogum dari Deum, non quidem ordinarium, sed hunc inferioris notæ, ex eorum numero quos Ovidius ait de plebe deos.*
These obsequious inhabitants of the air, who at their leisure-hours chased swallows and crows, obtained the general name of genius. And some eminent men, in their atrabilious moments, have fancied that they discerned the presence of such attendants. It would appear, however, that Socrates and the Platonists, confined the influence of the genius chiefly to presages, and directions in religious ceremonies. The poets thought
vinæ mediæ potestates, inter summum æthera et infimas terras, ********* inter terricolas cælicolasque vectores,
preeum, inde donorum **** Horum enim munus et opera atque cura est, ut Annibali somnia orbitatem oculi comminarentur, Fla. minio extispicia periculum cladis prædicant, &c.
* Senec. Epist. cx.
themselves of sufficient importance to deserve a separate establishment, and made their genii stationary on Parnassus. But after the introduction of Christianity, when the learned embarrassed themselves, by retaining the Platonic doctrine of dæmons, to grace their systems of magic, the genius was not only considered as a supernatural attendant, but as a being possessed of most extensive knowledge, which he was disposed to communicate on certain considerations. Marinus, a biographer of Proclus, has asserted that Rufinus, a man of consequence, and no doubt a very able statesman, observed one day the head of Proclus surrounded with rays (such as we denominate a glory) while he was teaching; 66 ut divino signo,” says Brucker, 6 qualis in hoc corpore dæmon lateret, omnes intelligerent.* Non puduit itaque Marinum, vitæ hujus Compilatorem, divinæ inspirationis (bɛias ĚTLA VOIxs) participem eum fuisse, asserere,
* Hist. Critic. Philosph, tom. ii. p. 332.