Page images

doctrine on every fide, and view it in almoft. every poffible light. He does not enter into the specific characters whereby wit and humour are difcriminated, which are the chief confiderations here. His defign leads him to confider rather those particulars wherein they all agree, than those wherein they differ. He treats of ludicrous objects and ludicrous writing, with a view to account for the fuperior copiousness and refinement of modern ridicule. When philofophical acuteness is happily united with so great richness of fancy and mastery in language, the obfcurity in which a fubject was formerly involved, vanishes entirely, and a reader unacquainted with all other theories and hypotheses, can hardly be perfuaded that there was ever any difficulty in the question. But there is reason to think, that the world will foon be favoured with an opportunity of judging for itself, in regard to the merits of that performance.

ONE reafon, though not the only one, which the Author has for mentioning the manner wherein the compofition of this Work has been conducted, and the time it has taken, is,

[ocr errors]

is, not to enhance its value with the Public, but to apologize in fome measure for that inequality in the execution and the style, with which, he is afraid, it will be thought chargeable. It is his purpose in this Work, on the one hand, to exhibit, he does not fay, a correct map, but a tolerable sketch of the human mind; and aided by the lights which the poet and the orator fo amply furnish, to difclose its fecret movements, tracing its principal channels of perception and action, as near as poffible, to their fource: and, on the other hand, from the fcience of human nature, to ascertain, with greater precifion, the radical principles of that art, whofe object it is, by the ufe of language, to operate on the foul of the hearer, in the way of informing, convincing, pleasing, moving, or perfuading. In the prosecution of a design fo extenfive, there are two extremes to be fhunned. One is, too much abftraction in inveftigating causes; the other, too much minutenefs in fpecifying effects. By the firft, the perfpicuity of a performance may be endangered; by the fecond, its dignity may be facrificed. The Author does not flatter himA 4 felf

felf fo far as to imagine, that he hath fucceeded perfectly in his endeavours to avoid either extreme. In a work of this kind, it is impoffible, that every thing should be alike perfpicuous to every reader, or that all the parts fhould be equally elevated. Variety in this refpect, as well as in others, is perhaps, on the whole, more pleafing and more inftructive, than too fcrupulous an uniformity. To the eye the interchange of hill and dale beautifies the prospect; and to the ear there is no mufic in monotony. The Author can truly fay, that he has endeavoured, as much as he could, in the most abftrufe questions, to avoid obfcurity; and in regard to fuch of his remarks as may be thought too minute and particular, if juft, they will not, he hopes, on a re-examination, be deemed of no confequence. Those may serve to illuftrate a general observation, which are fcarcely worth notice as fubjects either of cenfure or of praife. Nor is there any thing in this Book, which, in his opinion, will create even the smallest difficulty to perfons accustomed to inquire into the faculties of the mind. Indeed, the much greater part of

of it will, he is perfuaded, be level to the capacity of all those readers (not perhaps the most numerous class) who think reflection of some use in reading, and who do not read merely with the intention of killing time.

He begs leave to add, that, though his fubject be Eloquence, yet, as the nature of his work is didactical, wherein the underftanding only is addreffed, the ftyle in general admits no higher qualities than purity and perfpicuity. These were therefore his highest aim. The best ornaments out of place are not only unbecoming but offenfive. Nor can any thing be farther from his thoughts than to pretend to an exemption from fuch pofitive faults in expreffion, as, on the article of Elocution, he hath so freely criticized in the best English authors. He is entirely fenfible, that an impropriety or other negligence in style will efcape the notice of the writer, which hardly escapes that of any body elfe. Next to the purpose of illuftrating the principles and canons which he here fubmits to the judgment of the Public, the two following motives weighed moft with the Author, in inducing him to use fo much freedom in regard

what au

gard to the writings of those for whom he has the highest veneration. One is, to fhow that we ought in writing as in other things, carefully to beware of implicit attachment and fervile imitation, even when they feem to be claimed by the most celebrated names. The other is, to evince, that we are in danger of doing great injuftice to a work, by deciding haftily on its merit from a collection of fuch overfights. If the critic be rigorous in marking whatever is amifs in this way, thor may abide the trial? But though such flips are not to be regarded as the fole or even principal teft of demerit in literary produc-. tions, they ought not to be altogether overlooked. Whatever is faulty in any degree it were better to avoid. And there are confequences regarding the language in general, as well as the fuccefs of particular works, which fhould preferve verbal criticism from being confidered as beneath the attention of any author. An author fo far from having reason to be offended, is doubtless obliged to the man who, free from captious petulance, candidly points out his errors of what kind foever they be.


« PreviousContinue »