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sure you for endeavouring, if you could publish better examples, to obtrude on your countrymen such as were defective. I rejoice. at the preference which they give to perfect and unallayed virtue; and as I shall ever retain a high veneration for the illustrious men of every age, I should be glad you would give me some account of those persons, who in wisdom, justice, valour, patriotism, have eclipsed my Solon, Numa, Camillus, and other boasts of Greece or Rome.
Why, master Plutarch, you are talking Greek indeed. That work which repaired the loss I sustained by the costly edition of your books, was, The Lives of the Highwaymen: but I should never have grown rich, if it had not been by publishing, the Lives of men that never lived. You must know, that though in all times it was possible to have a great deal of learning and very little wisdom, yet it is only by a modern improvement in the art of writing, that a man may read all his life and have no learning or knowledge at all; which begins to be an advantage of the greatest importance. There
is as natural a war between your men of science and fools, as between the cranes
and the pigmies of old. men having deserted to
Most of our young the fools, the party
of the learned is near being beaten out of the field; and I hope in a little while they will not dare to peep out of their forts and fastnesses at Oxford and Cambridge. There let them stay and study old musty moralists, till one falls in love with the Greek, another with the Roman virtue: but our men of the world should read our new books, which teach them to have no virtue at all. No book is fit for a gentleman's reading, which is not void of facts and of doctrines, that he may not grow a pedant in his morals or conversation. I look upon history (I mean real history) to be one of the worst kinds of study. Whatever has happened, may happen again; and a well-bred man may unwarily mention a parallel instance he had met with in history, and be betrayed into the awkwardness of introducing into his discourse a Greek, a Roman, or even a Gothic name. But when a gentleman has spent his time in reading adventures that never
occurred, exploits that never were achieved, and events that not only never did, but never can happen, it is impossible that in life or in discourse he should ever apply them. A secret history, in which there is no secret and no history, cannot tempt indiscretion to blab or vanity to quote; and by this means modern conversation flows gentle and easy, unincumbered with matter and unburthened of instruction. As the present studies throw no weight or gravity into discourse and manners, the women are not afraid to read our books; which not only dispose to gallantry and coquetry, but give rules for them. Cæsar's Commentaries, and the account of Xenophon's Expedition, are not more studied by military commanders, than our novels are by the fair; to a different purpose indeed: for their military maxims teach to conquer, our's to yield; those inflame the vain and idle love of glory, these inculcate a noble contempt of reputation. The women have greater obligations to our writers than the men. By the commerce of the world, men might learn much of what they get from books; but the poor women, who in their early youth are confined and re
strained, if it were not for the friendly assistance of books, would remain long in an insipid purity of mind, with a discouraging reserve of behaviour.
As to your men who have quitted the study of virtue for the study of vice, useful truth for absurd fancy, and real history for monstrous fiction, I have neither regard nor compassion for them: but I am concerned for the women, who are betrayed into these dangerous studies: and I wish for their sakes I had expatiated more on the character of Lucretia and some other heroines.
I tell you, our women do not read in order to live or to die like Lucretia. If you would inform us, that a billet-doux was found in her cabinet after her death, or give a hint as if Tarquin really saw her in the arms of a slave, and that she killed herself not to suffer the shame of a discovery, such anecdotes would sell very well. Or if even by tradition, but better still, if by papers in the Portian family, you could shew some probability that Portia died of dram-drinking; you would oblige the world very much;
for you must know, that next to new-invented characters, we are fond of new lights upon ancient characters; I mean such lights. as shew a reputed honest man to have been a concealed knave; an illustrious hero a pitiful coward, &c. Nay, we are so fond of this kind of information, as to be pleased sometimes to see a character cleared from a vice or crime it has been charged with, provided the person concerned be actually dead. But in this case the evidence must be authentic, and amount to a demonstration; in the other a detection is not necessary; a slight suspicion will do, if it concerns a really good and great character.
I am the more surprized at what you say of the taste of your contemporaries, as I met with a Frenchman who assured me, that less than a century ago he had written a much-admired life of Cyrus under the name of Artamenes, in which he ascribed to him far greater actions than those recorded of him by Xenophon and Herodotus; and that many of the great heroes of history had been treated in the same manner; that emU