Page images
PDF
EPUB

REFLECTIONS,

&c. &c.

We are not more ingenious in searching out bad motives for good actions, when per formed by others, than good motives for bad actions when performed by ourselves.* I

* As this volume opens with a double antithesis, I hope I may be permitted to offer a few remarks on this subject, in a note. In the first volume I observed, that with respect to the style I proposed to adopt in these pages, I should attempt to make it vary with the subject.

now find that I have succeeded, so far at least in this attempt, that some have doubted whether all the artieles came from the same pen. I can however assure my readers that, whatever faults Lacon may possess belong to me alone, and having said thus much, I believe i shall not have made a very good bargain, by claiming also whatever trifling merits may be found in the book. To those therefore that are disgusted with the abundance of the one, or dissatisfied from the scarcity of the other, I can only reply in the words of Euryalus,

Adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum.As to the frequent recurrence of antithesis, I admit that wherever this figure presents itself to my imagination, I never reject it, if the deductions proposed to be drawn from it, appear to me to be just. I have consulted authors ancient and modern on this subject, and they seem to be all agreed that the sententious, short, and apothegmatic style, so highly requisite in a book of 'maxims or aphorisms, is a style, to the force and spirit of which, antithesis is not only particularly advantageous but even absolutely necessary. A maxim, if it be worth

have observed elsewhere, that no swindler has assumed so many names as self-love, nor is so much ashamed of his own; self-love can gild the most nauseous pill, and can make the grossest venality, when tinselled over with the semblance of gratitude, sit easy on the weakest stomach. There is an anecdote of Sir Robert Walpole so much to my present purpose, that I cannot refrain from relating any thing, is worth remeinbering, and nothing is so likely to rivet it on the memory, as antithesis ; deprived of this powerful auxiliary, all works of the nature of that in which I am engaged, must droop and be dull.

If indeed I have blundered on some antitheses that lead to false conclusions, I admit that no mercy ought to be shown to these, and I consign them, without benefit of clergy, to the severest sentence of criticism. No candid reader, I presume, will accuse an author of adopting the antithetical style from laziness, and to those who would ask whether it be an easy style of writing, I would say with the celebrated Painter, i try.” That i can abandon antithesis, on subjects where it is not required, will I think, be allowed, by those who have read the notes to Hypocrisy, and my remarks on Don Juan. But to extirpate antithesis from literature altogether, would be to destroy at one stroke about eight-tenths of all the wit, ancient and modern, now existing in the world : and I fancy we shall never have the same excuse for such a measure, that the Dutch had for destroying their spices--the fear of a glut. Dunces, indeed, give antithesis no quarter, and to say the truth, it gives them none; if indeed it be a fault, it is one of the very few which such persons may exclaim against with some jus. tice, because they were never yet found capable of com. mitling it. Let any man try to recall to his memory all the pointed, epigrammatic, brief or severe things which he may have read or heard either at the Senate, the Bar, or the Stage, and he will see that I have not overrated the share wlich antithesis will be found to have had in their production. It is a figure capable not only of the greatest wit, but sometimes of the greatest beauty, and sometimes of the greatest sublimity. Millon, in his moral description of hell, says that it was a place which God "created evil, for evil only goed;

[ocr errors]

it, as I conceive that it will be considered apposite by all my readers, and may perhaps be new to some.

Sir Robert wished to carry a favourite measure in the House of Commons. None understood better than this minister, two grand secrets of state, the great power of principal, and the great weakness of principle. A day or two previous to the agitation of the measure, alluded to, be chanced upon a country member, who sometimes looked to the weight and value of an argument, rather than to its justice or its truth.. Sir Robert took him aside, and rather unceremoniously put a thousand pound bank note into his hand saying, I must have your vote and influence on such a day. Our Aristides from the country thus replied; Sir Robert, you have shown yourself my friend on many occasions, and on points where both my honour and my interest were nearly and dearly concerned ; 1 am also informed that it was owing to your good offices, that my wife lately met with so distinguished and flattering a reception at court; I should think myself therefore, continued he, putting however the note very carefully into his own pocket, I should think myself, Sir Robert, a perfect monster of ingratitude, if on this occasion I refused you my vote and influence. They parted : Sir Robert not a little surprised at having discovered a new page in the volume of man, and the other scarcely more pleased with the valuable reasoning of Sir Robert, than with his own specious rhetoric, which had so suddenly metamorphosed an act of the foulest corruption, into one of the sincerest gratitude.

where all life dies, death lives.” That it is capable of the greatest beauty, will be seen by the following translation from an Arabic poet, on the birth of a child :

" When born, in tears we saw thee drown'd,

While thiné assembled friends around

" With smiles their joy eonfest.
“So live, that at thy parting hour,
They may the flood of sorrow pour,

" And thou in smiles be drest." If these lines will not put my readers in good humour with antithesis, I must either give them up as incorrigible, or prescribe to them a regular course of reading disipline, administered by such writers as Herder or Gisborne, restricting them also most straightly from all such authors as Butler and Swift, where they will be of-len shocked with such lines as the following:

“ 'Tis said that Cæsar's horse would stoop
* To take his noble rider up,
"So Hudibras', 'tis well known,

Would often do to set him down."

II. As that gallant can best affect a pretended passion for one woman, who has no true love for another, so he that has no real esteem for any of the virtues, can best assume the appearance of them all.

III. True friendship is like sound health, the value of it is seldom known until it is lost.

IV. We are all greater dupes to our own weakness than to the skill of others; and the successes gained over us by the designing, are usually nothing more than the prey taken from those very snares.

we have laid ourselves. One man falls by bis ambition, another by his perfidy, a third by his avarice, and a fourth by his lust; what are these, but so many nets, watched indeed by the fowler, but woven by the victim ?

V. The inhabitants of all country towns, will respectively inform you that their own is the most scandalizing little spot in the universe ; but the plain fact is that all country towns are liable to this imputation, but that each individual has seen the most of this spirit, in that particular one in which he himself has most resided ; and just so it is with historians; they all descant upon the superlative depravity of their own particular age; but the plain fact is, that every age has had its depravity ; but historians have only beard and read of the depravity of other ages, but they have seen and felt that of their own ;

Segnius iritant animos demissa per aures, Quam quæ suat oculis subjecta fidelibus."

66

VI. Corruption is like a ball of snow, when once set a rolling it must increase. It gives momentum to the activity of the knave, but it cbills the honest man, and makes him almost weary of his calling; and all that corruption attracts, it also retains; for it is easier not to fall, than only to fall once, and not to yield a single inch, than having yielded, to regain it.

VII. Works of true merit are seldom very popular in their own day ; for knowledge is on

« PreviousContinue »