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Poor, must you bring an infant to the light
The last reproach which our unfortunate poet addresses to the authors of his days falls very lamentably upon the manners of the age. It is thus that we all aim at soaring above the rank to which nature had destined us. Led on by this universal error, the honest mechanic res. trains his scanty portion of bread that he may give his children a learned education; an education which too often leads them only to despise their families. Genius is besides very rare. Uudoubtedly a man of superior talents is sometimes to be found in the humbler walks of life, but how many estimable artisans taken from their mechanical labours would prove nothing but wretched authors. Society then finds itself overcharged with useless citizens, who, tormented by their own self-love harass both the government and the people at large with their vain systems and idle speculations. Nothing is so dangerous as a man of moderate talents whosé only occupa. tion is to make books.
Nay, although a parent should be convinced that his child is born with a decided talent for letters is it certain that he seeks the happiness of that child in opening to him this barren career? Oh let him recollect these lines of of the poet now in question.
How many a hapless author, wretched doom !
Let him think of Gilbert himself, extended upon the bed of death, breathing out his last sigh with the following melancholy reflection.
At life's fair banquet an unhappy guest
One day I sat, now see me on my bier.
No mourner e'er shall come to drop one tcar.
Would not Gilbert, a simple labourer, cherished by his neighbours, beloved by his wife, dying full of years surrounded by his children, under the humble roof of his fathers, have been much more happy than Gilbert hated by men, abandoned by his friends, breathing at the age of thirty, his last sigh on the wretched bed of an hospital, deprived through chagrin of that reason to which alone he looked for any claim to superiority ;--of reason, that weak compensation which heaven grants to men of talent, for the sorrows to which they are subjected.
It will doubtless be here objected against what I that if Gilbert was unhappy he had no one but himself to reproach for it. True it is indeed that satire is not the path which leads to the acquisition of friends, and conciliates the public esteem and beneficence. But, in our age, this species of poetry has been too much decried. While the reigning faction in literature has been prodigal of the appellations of toad-eaters, sycophants, fools, sneakers, and the like, to all who were not of their own opinions, it has regarded the least attempt at retaliation as a heinous crime ;. complaining of it to the echoes, wearying the ears of the sovereign with their cries, wanting all who dared attack the apostles of the new doctrine to be prosecuted as libellers: “Ah, my good Alembert,” said the King of Prusia, endeavouring to console this great man,
if you were King of England you would experience mortifications of a very different kind which your good subjects would provide to exercise your patience.” And in another letter he says: “ You charge me with a commission so much the more embarrassing, as I am neither a corrector of the press, nor a censor of the gazettes. As
to the gazetteer of the Lower Rhine, the family of Maulé. on must think it right that it should not be molésted, since without freedom in writing, men's minds must remain in darkness, and since the Encyclopædists, whose zealous disciple I am, deprecate all censure, and insist that the press ought to be entirely free, that every one should be permitted to'write whatever may be dictated by his pecu. liar mode of thinking.”
One can never enough admire all the wit, the talents, the irony, and the good sense that reign throughout the letters of Frederick. Satire is not in itself a crime, it máy be very useful to correct fools and rogues, when it is rèstrained within due bounds : Ride si sapis. But it must be acknowledged that poets sometimes go too far, and, instead of ridicule, run into calumny. Satire should be thë lists in which each champion, as in the pastimes of Chivalry, should aim determined strokes at his advesary, but avoiding to strike either at the head or the heart.
If ever the subject could justify the satire, this un. doubtedly, was the case in that chosen by M. Gilbert. The misfortunes which have been brought upon us by the vices and the opinions with which the poet reproaches the eighteenth century, shew how much he was in the fight to sound the cry of alarm. He predicted the disasters we have experienced, and verses where formerly we found exaggeration we are now obliged to confess contain nothing but simple truths. "A monster rises up, and strengthens' himself in Paris'; whơ, clothed in the mantle of philosophy or rather falsely clothed under that assumed garb, stifles talent and destroys virtuě. A dan . gerous innovator, he seeks by his cruel system to chase the Supreme Being from heaven, and dooming the soul to the same fate as the expiring body, would annihilate mari by a double death. Yet this monster carries not with
him a fierce and savage air, and has the sound of virtue
a always in his mouth.”
It is indeed a most remarkable thing in history that the attempt should ever be made to introduce atheism a. mong a whole people under the name of virtue. The word liberty was incessantly in the mouths of these people who crouched at the feet of the great, and who, not satisfied with the contempt of the first court in the kingdom, chose to swallow large draughts of it from a second. They were fanatics crying out against fanaticism ; men triply wicked, for they combined with the vices of the atheist, the intolerance of the sectary, and the self-conceit of the author.
.-M. Gilbert was so much the more courageous in his attacks upon philosophism, because not sparing any party, he painted with energy the vices of the great, and of the clergy, which served as an excuse to the innovation, and which they alleged in justification of their principles ;
See where with steps enervated by sloth,
Could we escape a fearful destruction. From the days of the regency, to the end of the reign of Louis XV, intrigue every day made and unmade statesmen. Thence that continual change of systems, of projects, of views. These ephemeral ministers were followed by a crowd of flatterers, of clerks, of actors, of mistresses ; all, beings of a moment, were eager to suck the blood of the miserable, and were soon trampled on by another generation of favourites as fugitive and as voracious as the former. Thus, while the imbecility and folly of the government irritated the minds of the people, the moral disorders of the country reached their utmost height. The man
who no longer found happiness in the bosom of his family, accustomed himself to seek his happiness in ways that were independent of others. Repelled by the manners of the age from the bosom of nature, he wrapped himself up in a harsh and cold egotism, which withered all virtue in its very bud.
To complete our misfortunes, these sophists, in des : troying happiness upon the earth, sought also to deprive man of the hopes of a better life. In this position, alone in the midst of the universe, having nothing to feed on, but the chagrins of a vacant and solitary heart, which never felt another heart beat in unison with it, was it very: astonishing that so many Frenchmen were ready to seize the first phantom which presented a new world to their imaginations. For the rest, was M. Gilbert the only person who saw through the innovators of his age
? Was he to be singled out as a mark against which all their cries of atrocity were to be directed because he had given so faithful a picture of them in his verses. If some severe strokes were aimed against that passion of thinking and that geometrical rage which had seized all France, did he go farther than Frederick II, whose words may well be quoted here as a commentary upon, and an excuse for our poet.
In a dialogue of the dead, where this royal author brings together Prince Eugene, General Lichtenstein, and the Duke of Marlborough, he draws this picture of the Encyclopædists. “ These people,” he says, “ are a sect which have arisen in our days assuming themselves to be philosophers. To the effrontery of Cynics they add the noble impudence of putting forth all the paradoxes that come into their heads : they pride themselves upon their geometry, and maintain that those who have not studied this science cannot have correct ideas, consequently that they themselves alone have the faculty of reasoning. If