Page images
PDF
EPUB

to run within Temple-bar for patronage. There is a deplorable instance of this kind in the case of Mr. D'Urfey, who has dedicated his inimitable comedy, called • The Modern Prophets,' to a worthy knight, to whom, it seems, he had before communicated his plan, which was, “ To ridicule the ridiculers of our established doctrine.' I have elsewhere celebrated the contrivance of this excellent drama; but was not, until I read the dedication, wholly let into the religious design of it. I am afraid, it has suffered discontinuance at this gay end of the town, for no other reason but the piety of the purpose. There is, however, in this epistle, the true life of panegyrical performance; and I do not doubt, but if the patron would part with it, I can help him to others with good pretensions to it, viz. of uncommon understanding,' who will give him as much as he gave for it. I know perfectly well a noble person, whom these words (which are the body of the panegyric) would fit to a hair. • Your easiness of humour, or rather your

harmonious disposition, is so admirably mixed with your composure, that the rugged cares and disturbance that public affairs bring with it, which does so vexatiously affect the heads of other great men of business, &c. does scarce ever ruffle

your unclouded brow so much as with a frown. And what above all is praise-worthy, you are so far from thinking yourself better than others, that a flourishing and opulent fortune, which, by a certain natural corruption in its quality, seldom fails to infect other possessors with pride, seems in this case as if only providentially disposed to enlarge your humility.

• But I find, Sir, I am now got into a very large field, where though I could with great ease raise a number of plants in relation to your merit of this plauditory nature; yet, for fear of an author's general vice, and that the plain justice I have done you

* An extract from D'Urfey's dedication.

Upon

should by my proceeding, and other's mistaken judgment, be imagined flattery, a thing the bluntness of my nature does not care to be concerned with, and which I also know you abominate.

It is wonderful to see how many judges of these fine things spring up every day by the rise of stocks, and other elegant methods of abridging the way to learning and criticism. But I do hereby forbid all dedications to any persons within the city of London; except Sir Francis,* Sir Stephen, and the Bank, will take epigrams and epistles as value received for their notes; and the East India Company accept of heroic poems for their sealed bonds. which bottom our publishers have full power to treat with the city in behalf of us authors, to enable traders to become patrons and fellows of the Royal Society,t as well as to receive certain degrees of skill in the Latin and Greek tongues, according to the quantity of the commodities which they take off our hands.

Grecian Coffee-house, July 18. The learned have so long laboured under the imputation of dryness and dulness in their accounts of their phenomena, that an ingenious gentleman of our society has resolved to write a system of philosophy in a more lively method, both as to the matter and language, than has been hitherto attempted. He read to us the plan upon which he intends to proceed. I thought his account, by way of fable of the worlds about us, had so much vivacity in it, that I could not forbear transcribing his hypothesis, to

* Sir Francis and Sir Stephen were evidently bankers of the times; and of those the two most eminent were Sir Francis Child and Sir Stephen Evance. The latter was ruined, it is thought, in the South-sea year.

+ Mr. Whiston, alluded to in the following part of this paper, was at this time proposed as a Member of the Royal Society, and rejected. The pretended account of his hypothesis that follows is mere pleasantry, and not a quotation from his book, or any true account of his ‘Theory.'

give the reader a taste of

my

friends's treatise, which is now in the press.

• The inferior deities, having designed on a day to play a game at football, kneaded together a numberless collection of dancing atoms into the form of seven rolling globes : and, that nature might be kept from a dull inactivity, each separate particle is endued with a principle of motion, or a power of attraction, whereby all the several parcels of matter draw each other proportionably to their magnitudes and distances, into such a remarkable variety of different forms, as to produce all the wonderful appearances we now observe in empire, philosophy, and religion. But to proceed:

* At the beginning of the game, each of the globes, being struck forward with a vast violence, ran out of sight, and wandered in a straight line through the infinite spaces. The nimble deities pursue, breathless almost, and spent in the eager chace: each of them caught hold of one, and stamped it with his name; as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so of the rest. To prevent this inconvenience for the future, the seven are condemned to a precipitation, which in our inferior style we call gravity. Thus the tangential and centripetal forces, by their counterstruggle, make the celestial bodies describe exact elipsis.

There will be added to this an appendix, in defence of the first day of the term according to the Oxford almanack, by a learned knight of this realm, with an apology for the said knight's manner of dress; proving, that his habit, according to this hypothesis, is the true modern and fashionable ; and that buckles are not to be worn by this system, until the tenth of March in the year 1714, which, according to the computation of some of our greatest divines, is to be the first year of the millenium ; in which blessed age all habits will be reduced to a primitive simplicity; and whoeun shall be found

an

[ocr errors]

to have persevered in a constancy of dress, in spite of all the allurements of prophane and heathen habits, shall be rewarded with a never-fading doublet of a thousand years. All points in the system, which are doubted, shall be attested by the knight's extemporary oath, for the satisfaction of his readers.

Will's Coffee-house, July 18. We were upon the heroic strain this evening; and the question was, “What is the true sublime ? Many very good discourses happened thereupon; after which a gentleman at the table, who is, it seems, writing on that subject, assumed the argument; and though he ran through many instances of sublimity from the ancient writers, said, he had hardly known an occasion wherein the true greatness of soul which animates a general in action is so well represented, with regard to the person of whom it was spoken, and the time in which it was writ, as in a few lines in a modern poem. There is,' continued he, 'nothing so forced and constrained, as what we frequently meet with in tragedies ; to make a man under the weight of great sorrow, or full of meditation upon what he is soon to execute, cast about for a simile to what he himself is, or the thing which he is going to act: but there is nothing more proper and natural for a poet, whose business is to describe, and who is spectator of one in that circumstance, when his mind is working upon a great image, and that the ideas hurry upon his imagination-I say, there is nothing so natural, as for a poet to relieve and clear himself from the burden of thought at that time, by uttering his conception in simile and metaphor. The highest act of the mind of man is to possess itself with tranquillity in imminent danger, and to have its thoughts so free, as to act at that time without perplexity. The ancient authors have compared this sedate courage to a rock that remain

immoveable amidst the rage of winds and waves;
but that is too stupid and inanimate a similitude,
and could do no credit to the hero. At other times
they are all of them wonderfully obliged to a Libyan
lion, which may give indeed very agreeable terrors
to a description, but is no compliment to the person
to whom it is applied : eagles, tigers, and wolves,
are made use of on the same occasion, and very
often with much beauty : but this is still an honour
done to the brute rather than the hero. Mars,
Pallas, Bacchus, and Hercules, have each of them
furnished very good similes in their time, and made,
doubtless, a greater impression on the mind of a
heathen, than they have on that of a modern reader.
But the sublime image that I am talking of, and
which I really think as great as ever entered into
the thought of man, is in the poem called “The
Campaigne* ;' where the simile of a ministering angel
sets forth the most sedate and the most active
courage, engaged in an uproar of nature, a confusion
of elements, and a scene of divine vengeance. Add
to all, that these lines compliment the general and
his queen at the same time, and have all the natural
horrors heightened by the image that was still fresh
in the mind of every reader :*
co 'Twas then great Marlbro's mighty soul was prov'd,

That, in the shock of charging hosts unmov'd,
Amidst confusion, horror and despair,
Examin'd all the dreadful scenes of war;
In peaceful thought the field of death survey'd,
To fainting squadrons sent the timely aid,
Inspir'd repuls'd battalions to engage,
And taught the doubtful battle where to rage.
So when an Angel, by divine command,
With rising tempests shakes a guilty land,
Such as of late o’er pale Britannia past,
Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;

* By Addison, published in 1704. * The author alludes here to the terrible tempests which happened in November, 1703, and made sad havoc in England, and in several other parts of Europe.

« PreviousContinue »