Page images

we display the faults or virtues of him whose public conduct has made almost every man his enemy or his friend. To the quick circulation of such productions all the motives of interest and vanity concur; the disputant enlarges his knowledge, the zealoc animates his passion, and every man is desirous to inform. himself concerning affairs fo vehemently agitated and variously represented.

It is scarcely to be imagined, through how many fubordinations of interest the ardour of party is diffused ; and what multitudes fancy themselves affected by every satire or panegyrick on a man of eminence. Whoever has, at any time, taken occasion to mention him with praise or blame, whoever happens to love or hate any of his adherents, as he wishes to confirm his opinion, and to strengthen his party, will diligently peruse every paper from which he can hope for sentiments like his own. An object, how ever small in itself, if placed near to the eye, will engross all the rays of light ; and a transaction, however trivial, swells into importance when it preffes immediately on our attention. He that shall peruse the political pamphlets of any past reign, will wonder why they were so eagerly read, or so loudly praised. Many of the performances which had power to infiame factions, and fill a kingdom with confusion, have now very little effect upon a frigid critick; and the time is coming, when the compofitions of later hirelings shall lie equally despised. In proportion as those who write on temporary subjects are exalted above their merit at first, they are afterwards depressed below it; nor can the brightest elegance of di&ion, or most artful subtilty of reasoning, hope


for so much esteem from those whose regard is no longer quickened by curiosity or pride.

It is, indeed, the fate of controvertists, even when they contend for philofophical or theological truth, to be foon laid aside and flighted. Either the question is decided, and there is no more place for doubt and opposition, or mankind despair of understanding it; and grow weary of disturbance, content themselves with quiet ignorance, and refuse to be harassed with labours which they have no hopes of recompensing with knowledge.

The authors of new discoveries may surely expect to be reckoned among those whofe writings are secure of veneration : yet it often happens that the general reception of a doctrine obscures the books in which it was delivered. When any tenet is generally received and adopted as an incontrovertible principle, we seldom look back to the arguments upon which it was first established, or can bear that tediousness of deduction, and multiplicity of evi. dence, by which its author was forced to reconcile it to prejudice, and fortify it in the weakness of novelty against obstinacy and envy.

It is well known how much of our philosophy is derived from Boyle's discovery of the qualities of the air ; yet of those who now adopt or enlarge his theory, very few have read the detail of his experiments. His name is, indeed, reverenced; but his works are neglected : we are contented to know, that he conquered his opponents, without inquiring what cavils were produced against him, or by what proofs they were confuted. Vol. V.


Some writers apply themselves to ftudies boundless and inexhaustible, as experiments in natural philosophy. These are always lost in successive compilations, as new advances are made, and former ob. fervations become more familiar.

Others spend their lives in remarks on language, or explanations of antiquities, and only afford materials for lexicographers and commentators, who are themselves overwhelmed by subsequent collectors, that equally destroy the memory of their predecessors by amplification, transposition, or contraction. Every new system of nature gives birth to a swarm of expositors, whose business is to explain and illustrate it, and who can hope to exist no longer than the founder of their fect preserves his reputation.'

There are, indeed, few kinds of composition from which an author, however learned or ingenious, can hope a long continuance of fame. He who has carefully studied human nature, and can well describe it, may with most reason flatter his ambition. Bacon, among all his pretensions to the regard of posterity, seems to have pleased himself chiefly with his Essays, which come home to men's 'business and boomis, and of which, therefore, he declares his expectation, that they will live as long as books last. It may, however, satisfy an honest and benevolent mind to have been useful, though less conspicuous; nor will he that extends his hope to higher rewards, be so much anxious to obtain praise, as to discharge the duty which Providence assigns him.

NUMB. 107. TUESDAY, March 26, 1751.

Alternis igitur contendere versibus ambo
Capere : alternos mufæ meminisse volebant.


On themes akternate now the swains recite ;
The muses in alternate themes delight.


AM MONG the various censures, which the un

avoidable comparison of my performances with those of my predecessors has produced, there is none more general than that of uniformity. Many of my readers remark the want of those changes of colours, which formerly fed the attention with unexhausted novelty, and of that intermixture of subjects, or alternation of manner, by which other writers relieved weariness, and awakened expectation.

I have, indeed, hitherto avoided the practice of uniting gay and folemn subjects in the same paper, because it seems absurd for an author to counteract himself, to press at once with equal force upon both parts of the intellectual balance, or give medicines, which, like the double poison of Dryden, destroy the force of one another. I have endeavoured fometimes to divert, and sometimes to elevate ; but have ima. gined it an useless attempt to disturb merriment by solemnity, or interrupt seriousness by drollery. Yet I shall this day publish two letters of very different tendency, which I hope, like tragi.comedy, may chance to please even when they are not critically approved.



H O U G H, ás my mamma tells me, I am too

young to talk at the table, I have great pleasure in listening to the conversation of learned men, especially when they discourse of things which I do not understand ; and have, therefore, been of late particularly delighted with many disputes about the alteration of the stile, which, they say, is to be made by act of parliament.

One day when my mamma was gone out of the room, I asked a very great scholar what the stile was ? He told me, he was afraid I should hardly understand him when he informed me, that it was the stated and established method of computing time. It was not, indeed, likely that I should understand him ; for I never yet knew time computed in my life, nor can imagine why we should be at so much trouble to count what we cannot keep. He did not tell me whether we are to count the time past, or the time to come; but I have considered them both by myself, and think it as foolish to count time that is

gone, as money that is spent ; and as for the time which is to come, it only seems farther off by counting; and, therefore, when aný pleasure is promised me, I always think of the time as little as I can.

I have since listened very attentively to every one that talked upon this subject, of whom the greater part seem not to understand it better than myself; for though they often hint how much the nation has been mistaken, and rejoice that we are at last growing wiser than our ancestors, I have never been


« PreviousContinue »