Page images
PDF
EPUB

nothing which does not reflect their own crude and superficial ideas and conclusions, of what avail can be literature but to cover their errors with flowers ; and to give countenance to their uninformed conceit by deluding sophistries ?

Providence has ordered that learning and wisdom should, like all other earthly benefits , be the fruit of labour, culture, and skill. The body of the people, who are engaged in providing the necessaries of life, have not the time and opportunity to attain it. To flatter them into the reliance on their own taste and their own judgment,

is as mischievous to theinselves as to the cause of erudition, philosophy, taste, genius, and rectitude of thinking!

If we admit mob-intelligence to rule, cunning will be substituted for reason; and simulation and dissimulation, for moral principle. The ties of Society are, consequently, in a rapid state of dissolution all over the world: and it is but 100 probable, that in less than a century a chaos will come again ! »

The history of literature proves, that there never was a time when mankind were so fetlered, as not to be able to call in question tenets which were really erroneous or doubtful. And that we are better reasoners or more accurate thinkers than our ancestors, the blind alone will dare to assert! In scholarship 1 presume that our co

temporaries will not attempt a rivalry. In criticism they are supposed to have become more acute and more brilliant with what justice he who has read with taste upon an enlarged scale , will easily decide.

In the present day success does not depend on writing up to the scale of qualified and genuine judges : but on writing doan to the standard of the multitude ; and of the charlatan critics , who get their bread by pandering to their appetites ! Whatever puts the common mind to shame ; whatever shews its nakedness or its weakness, is rejected as unpalatable. Wit and learning are never praised, unless when they are perverted to bring into ridicule ancientlyreceived opinions.

But Truth will prevail at last. All that is sound in moral reasoning and in sentiment ; all that is vigorously conceived and forcibly expressed , will make its way at last to those who are capable of appreciating its merit. The little meteors of the day will fade into oblivion; and that, which is ære perennius , will stand forth in its unclouded light. « We all remember , » says Dr. Warton, «when Churchill's Satires were more » popular, than Gray's sublime Odes ! »

There was a time when ten editions of COWLEY were sold , for one of Milton. -- And no poem was more popular in its day, than that piece of

rapid and contemptible common-place. Pomfret's Choice! How many works of the last twenty years, which were of temporary demand, have become saste paper!

Supported by these sentiments, I have hitherto pursued my path in literature firmly and resolutely. But at length the symptoms of decay have come upon me with a rapidity, which warns me that my labours are coming to an end. It is with difficulty that I have waded through the toil even of correcting the last sheets of this volume. I have stood up for long circles of years against Misfortune and Injustice: but incessant effort and incessant agitation would at length wear out a giant's frame. Debility of body brings on debility of mind : my memory is feeble , and uncertain ; my attention flighty ; and my fancy dim.

I must now leave what I have done to its fate. Hitherto I had always hoped that I might yet effect something more satisfactory to myself: that for what was done in hurry and despair , amends might be made in something more matured, and executed in hours of more calmness , leisure, and self-confidence. Those expected hours have , alas, never arrived ! And now I am on the verge of sixty; and the day darkens; and the night is coming on; and all my toils must rest in the grave!

This is a strain, of which I am aware that my readers are in the habit of disapproving.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

I know that I am called querulous; and fancifully dissatisfied. The word querulous is surely not justly applied to him, who has real and strong grounds of complaint. The favourites of fortune alvays set up prosperity as a proof of merit, and deem ill success to be nothing else than the proper punishment of the world for ill conduct. These wise and arrogant people think that all virtue consists in its semblance; that the dark

passions of the malignant heart; that uncharitable motives; and uncharitable judgments; that secret crimes ; selfishness, and fraud, and hidden hatred, are all nothing. But that a word of hasty anger spoken, though it vanish with the breath that speaks it, is an inexpiable wrong, not to be wiped out but by the perdition of the offender!

Yet all real virtue lies in the heart. What is the worth of a good deed done from a selfish motive? Smiles, which cloak a wily intention , are a trick upon benevolence; and calculated to bring it into contempt. We know hov to defend ourselves against the open enemy: it is the plotter and miner and supper, against whom we cannot guard! Yet these are the men with whom the world

Fair-spoken people, who make every one happy ; and themselves most of all! never threatening a violent or cruel thing against those

goes well!

[ocr errors]

me ,

to whom they have engendered secret revenge, but only executing it:* effecting their deadly purpose, like an air-gun , without report!

A man , who is frank and sincere, is one , whom these advocates of plausibility designate as wanting judgment, or, (as others phrase it,) common sense. The world, they say, would be a bear-garden, were these plain-spoken people to prevail : and they alledge, that they know nothing of a man's heart; but can only form their opinions from his overt actions. «lf,» they cry, « a man tells me he will hurm I take him upon his own confession! and why am I not then entitled to give him an opprobrious name? But I feel justified in repelling a charge against the intentions of my heurt: for who can tell, what passes there ? »

These people, who thus believe all virtue to be a mere external covering, have a hatred to all intellect, which is not applied to over-reach others, and advance themselves! They hate the art of the Poet, because it aims to delineate the beuuties of the mind. Sir Robert Walpole said: «I hate history; for I know that must be a lie ! » Thus these exclaim : «I hate beautiful pictures of the mind : for I know, THEY must be lies!»

These beings have the wisdom of the Serpent: and as with the Serpent they came in ; so with the Serpent may they go out! They are per

« PreviousContinue »