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afterwards antiquated and exploded, they may have liberty to receive whatever new ones they shall find occasion for; because then the old books will yet be always valuable according to their intrinsic worth, and not thrown aside on account of unintelligible words and phrases, which appear harsh and uncouth only because they are out of fashion. Had the Roman tongue continued vulgar in that city till this time, it would have been absolutely necessary, from the mighty changes that have been made in law and religion, from the many terms of art required in trade and in war, from the new inventions that have happened in the world, from the vast spreading of navigation and commerce, with many other obvious circumstances, to have made great additions to that language; yet the ancients would still have been read and understood with pleasure and ease. The Greek tongue received many enlargements between the time of Homer and that of Plutarch, yet the former author was probably as well understood in Trajan's time as the latter. What Horace says of words going off and perishing like leaves, the new ones coming in their place, is a misfortune he laments, rather than a thing he approves; but I cannot see why this should be absolutely necessary, or, if it were, what would have become of his monumentum acre perennius.
As barbarous and ignorant as we were in former centuries, there was more effectual care taken by our ancestors to preserve the memory of times and persons, than we find in this age of learning and politeness, as we are pleased to call it. The rude Latin of the monks is still very intelligible; whereas, had their records been delivered down only in the vulgar tongue,
so barren and so barbarous, so subject to continua succeeding changes, they could not now be understood unless by antiquaries who make it their study to expound them. And we must at this day have been content with such poor abstracts of our English story as laborious men of low genius would think fit to give us; and even these, in the next age, would be likewise swallowed up in succeeding collections. If things go on at this rate, all I can promise your lordship is, that about two hundred years hence some painful compiler, who will be at the trouble of studying old language, may inform the world that, in the reign of queen Anne, Robert earl of Oxford, a very wise and excellent man, was made high treasurer, and saved his country, which in those days was almost ruined by a foreign war and a domestic faction. Thus much he may be able to pick out, and willing to transfer into his new history; but the rest of your character, which I or any other writer may now value ourselves by drawing, and the particular account of the great things done under your ministry, for which you are already so celebrated in most parts of Europe, will probably be dropped, on account of the antiquated style and manner they are delivered in.
How, then, shall any man who has a genius for history equal to the best of the ancients be able to undertake such a work with spirit and cheerfulness, when he considers that he will be read with pleasure but a very few years, and in an age or two shall hardly be understood without an interpreter? This is like employing an excellent statuary to work upon mouldering stone. Those who apply their studies to preserve the memory of others will always have some concern for their own;
and I believe it is for this reason that so few writers among us of any distinction have turned their thoughts to such a discouraging employment; for the best English historian must lie under this mortification, that, when his style grows antiquated, he will be only considered as a tedious relater of facts, and perhaps consulted in his turn, among other neglected authors, to furnish materials for some future collector.
I doubt your lordship is but ill entertained with a few scattered thoughts upon a subject that deserves to be treated with ability and care. However, I must beg leave to add a few words more, perhaps not altogether foreign to the same matter. I know not whether that which I am going to say may pass for caution, advice, or reproach; any of which will be justly thought very improper from one in my station to one in yours. However, I must venture to affirm, that if genius and learning be not encouraged under your lordship's administration, you are the most inexcusable person alive. All your other virtues, my lord, will be defective without this; your affability, candour, and good nature; that perpetual agreeableness of conversation, so disengaged in the midst of such a weight of business and opposition; even your justice, prudence, and magnanimity, will shine less bright without it. Your lordship is universally allowed to possess a very large portion in most parts of literature; and to this you owe the cultivating of those many virtues which otherwise would have been less adorned or in lower perfection. Neither can you acquit yourself of these obligations without letting the arts, in their turn, share your influence and protection besides, who knows but some true genius
may happen to arise under your ministry, exortus ut æthereus sol. Every age might perhaps produce one or two of these to adorn it, if they were not sunk under the censure and obloquy of plodding, servile, imitating pedants. I do not mean, by a true genius, any bold writer who breaks through the rules of decency to distinguish himself by the singularity of his opinions; but one who, upon a deserving subject, is able to open new scenes, and discover a vein of true and noble thinking, which never entered into any imagination before; every stroke of whose pen is worth all the paper blotted by hundreds of others in the compass of their lives. I know, my lord, your friends will offer in your defence that in your private capacity you never refused your purse and credit to the service and support of learned or ingenious men ; and that, ever since you have been in public employment, you have constantly bestowed your favours to the most deserving persons. But I desire your lordship not to be deceived; we never will admit of these excuses, nor will allow your private liberality, as great as it is, to atone for your excessive public thrift. But here again, I am afraid, most good subjects will interpose in your defence, by alleging the desperate condition you found the nation in, and the necessity there was for so able and faithful a steward to retrieve it, if possible, by the utmost frugality. We grant all this, my lord; but then it ought likewise to be considered that you have already saved several millions to the public, and that what we ask is too inconsiderable to break into any rules of the strictest good husbandry. The French king bestows about half-a-dozen densions to learned men in several parts of Europe,
and perhaps a dozen in his own kingdom; which in the whole do probably not amount to half the income of many a private commoner in England, yet have more contributed to the glory of that prince than any million he has otherwise employed. For learning, like all true merit, is easily satisfied; while the false and counterfeit is perpetually craving, and never thinks it has enough. The smallest favour given by a great prince as a mark of esteem to reward the endowments of the mind, never fails to be returned with praise and gratitude, and loudly celebrated to the world.