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poses or abilities of writers, our language may be said to have continued to the time of Gower, whom Chaucer calls his master, and who, however obscured by his scholar's popularity, seems justly to claim the honour which has been hitherto denied him, of showing his countrymen that something more was to be desired, and that English verse might be exalted into poetry.
From the time of Gower and Chaucer, the English writers have studied elegance, and advanced their language, by successive improvements, to as much harmony as it can easily receive, and as much copiousness as human knowledge has hitherto required. These advances have not been made at all times with the same diligence or the same success. Negligence has suspended the course of improvement, or affectation turned it aside; time has elapsed with little change, or change has been made without amendment. But elegance has been long kept in view with attention as near to constancy as life permits, till every man now endeavours to excel others in accuracy, or outshine them in splendour of style ; and the danger is, lest care should too soon pass to affectation.
No. 64. SATURDAY, July 7, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
SIR-As nature has made every man desirous of happiness, I flatter myself, that you and your readers cannot but feel some curiosity to know the sequel of my story; for though, by trying the different schemes of pleasure, I have yet found nothing in which I could finally acquiesce; yet the narrative of my attempts will not be wholly without use, since we always approach nearer to truth as we detect more and more varieties of errour.
When I had sold my racers, and put the orders of architecture out of my head, my next resolution was to be a fine Gentleman.' I frequented the polite coffee-houses, grew ac. quainted with all the men of humour, and gained the right of bowing familiarly to half the nobility. In this new scene of life my great labour was to learn to laugh. I had been used to consider laughter as the effect of merriment; but I soon learned that it is one of the arts of adulation; and, from laughing only to show that I was pleased, I now began to laugh when I wished to please. This was at first very diflicult. I sometimes heard the story with dull indifference,
and, not exalting myself to merriment by due gradations, burst out suddenly into an awkward noise, which was not always favourably interpreted. Sometimes I was behind the rest of the company, and lost the grace of laughing by delay; and sometimes, when I began at the right time, was deficient in loudness or in length. But, by diligent imitation of the best models, I attained at last such flexibility of muscles, that I was always a welcome auditor of a story, and got the reputation of a good-natured fellow.
This was something ; but much more was to be done, that I might be universally allowed to be a fine gentleman. I appeared at court on all public days; betted at gaming-tables, and played at all the routs of eminence. I went every night to the opera, took a fiddler of disputed merit under my protection, became the head of a musical faction, and had sometimes concerts at my own house. I once thought to have attained the highest rank of elegance, by taking a foreign singer into keeping. But my favourite fiddler contrived to be arrested on the night of a concert, for a finer suit of clothes than I had ever presumed to wear, and I lost all the fame of patronage by refusing to bail him.
My next ambition was to sit for my picture. I spent a whole winter in going from painter to painter, to bespeak a whole length of one, and a half length of another; I talked of nothing but attitudes, draperies, and proper lights; took my friends to see the pictures after every sitting; heard every day of a wonderful performer in crayons and miniature, and sent my pictures to be copied; was told by the judges that they were not like, and was recommended to other artists. At length, being not able to please my friends, I grew less pleased myself, and at last resolved to think no more about it.
It was impossible to live in total idleness: and wandering about in search of something to do. I was invited to a weekly meeting of virtuosos, and felt myself instantaneously seized with an unextinguishable ardour for all natural curiosities. I ran from auction to auction, became a critic in shells and fossils, bought a Hortus siccus of inestimable value, and purchased a secret art of preserving insects, which made my collection the envy of the other philosophers. I found this pleasure mingled with much vexation. All the faults of my life were for nine months circulated through the town with the most active malignity, because I happened to catch a moth of peculiar variegation ; and because I once out-bid all the lovers of shells and carried off a Nautilus, it was hinted that the validity of my uncle's will ought to be disputed. I will not deny that I was very proud both of the moth and of the shell, and gratified myself with the envy of my companions, perhaps more than became a benevolent being. But in time I grew weary of being hated for that which produced no advantage, gave my shells to children that wanted play-things, and suppressed the art of drying butterflies, because I would not tempt idleness and cruelty to kill them.
I now began to feel life tedious, and wished to store myself with friends, with whom I might grow old in the interchange of benevolenee. I had observed that popularity was most easily gained by an open table, and therefore hired a French cook, furnished my side-board with great magnificence, filled my cellar with wines of pompous appellations, bought every thing that was dear before it was good, and invited all those who were most famous for judging of a dinner. In three weeks my cook gave me warning, and, upon inquiry, told me that Lord Queasy, who dined with me the day before, had sent him an offer of double wages. My pride prevailed, I raised his wages, and invited his lordship to another feast. I love plain meat, and was therefore soon weary of spreading a table of which I could not partake. I found that my guests, when they went away, criticised their entertainment, and censured my profusion; my cook thought himself necessary, and took upon him the direction of the house ; and I could not rid myself of flatterers, or break from slavery, but by shutting up my house, and declaring my resolution to live in lodgings.
After all this, tell me, dear Idler, what I must do next. I have health, I have money, and hope that I have understand. ing; yet, with all these, I have never yet been able to pass a single day which I did not wish at an end before sun-set. Tell me, dear Idler, what I shall do. I am
Your humble servant,
No. 65. SATURDAY, July 14, 1759.
THE Sequel of Clarendon's History, at last happily published, is an accession to English literature equally agreeable to the admirers of elegance and the lovers of truth; many doubtful facts may now be ascertained, and many questions, after long debate, may be determined by decisive authority. He that records transactions in which himself
was engaged, has not only an opportunity of knowing innumerable particulars which escape spectators, but has his natural powers exalted by that ardour which always rises at the remembrance of our own importance, and by which every man is enabled to relate his own actions better than another's.
The difficulties through which this work has struggled into light, and the delays with which our hopes have been long mocked, naturally lead the mind to the consideration of the common fate of posthumous compositions.
He who sees himself surrounded by admirers, and whose vanity is hourly feasted with all the luxuries of studied praise, is easily persuaded that his influence will be extended beyond his life ; that they who cringe in his presence will reverence his memory ; and that those who are proud to be numbered among his friends will endeavour to vindicate his choice by zeal for his reputation.
With hopes like these, to the executors of Swift was committed the history of the last years of Queen Anne, and to those of Pope the works which remained unprinted in his closet. The performances of Pope were burnt by those whom he had perhaps selected from all mankind as most likely to publish them; and the history had likewise perished, had not a straggling transcript fallen into busy hands.
The papers left in the closet of Peiresc supplied his heirs with a whole winter's fuel ; and many of the labours of the learned Bishop Lloyd were consumed in the kitchen of his descendants.
Some works, indeed, have escaped total destruction, but yet have had reason to lament the fate of orphans exposed to the frauds of unfaithful guardians. How Hale would have born the mutilations which his Pleas of the Crown” have suffered from the editor, they who know his character will easily conceive.
The original copy of Burnet's History, though promised to some public Library,* has been never given ; and who then can prove the fidelity of the publication, when the authenticity of Clarendon's History, though printed with the sanction of one of the first universities of the world, had not an unexpected manuscript been håppily discovered, would, with the help of factious credulity, have been brought into question by the two lowest of all human beings, a scribbler for a party, and a commissioner of excise ?
• It would be proper to reposite, in some public place, the manuscript of Clarendon, which has not escaped all suspicion of unfaithful publication.
Vanity is often no less mischievous than negligence or dishonesty. He that possesses a valuable manuscript, hopes to raise its esteem by concealment, and delights in the distinction which he imagines himself to obtain by keeping he key of a treasure which he neither uses nor imparts. From him it falls to some other owner, less vain but more negligent, who considers it as useless lumber, and rids himself of the incumbrance.
Yet there are some works which the authors must consiga unpublished to posterity, however uncertain be the event, however hopeless be the trust. He that writes the history of his own times, if he adheres steadily to truth, will write that which his own times will not easily endure. He must be content to reposite his book till all private passions shall ccase, and love and hatred give way to curiosity.
But many leave the labours of half their life to their executors and to chance, because they will not send them abroad unfinished, and are unable to finish them, having prescribed to themselves such a degree of exactness as human diligence can scarcely attain. Lloyd,' says Burnet, did not lay out his learning with the same diligence as he laid it in. He was always hesitating and inquiring, raising objections and removing them, and waiting for clearer light and fuller discovery. Baker, after many years past in biography, left his manuscripts to be buried in a library, because that was impertect which could never be perfected.
of these learned men, let those who aspire to the same praise, imitate the diligence and avoid the scrupulosity. Let it be always remembered that life is short, that knowledge is endless, and that many doubts deserve not to be cleared. Let those whom nature and study have qualified to teach mankind, tell us what they have learned while they are yet able to tell it, and trust their reputation only to themselves.
No. 66. SATURDAY, June 21, 1759.
No complaint is more frequently repea'ed among the learned, than that of the waste made by time among the labours of Antiquity. Of those who once filled the civilized world with their renown, nothing is now left but their names; which are left only to raise desires that never can be satisfied, and sorrow which never can be comforted.