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A FARTHER DIGRESSION.
It is an unanswerable argument of a very refined age, the wonderful civilities that have passed of late years between the nation of authors and that of readers. There can hardly pop out a play, a pamphlet, or a poem, without a preface full of acknowledgment to the world for the general reception and applause they have given it, which the Lord knows where, or when, or how, or from whom it received. In due deference to so laudable a custom, I do here return my humble thanks to his Majesty, and both houses of Parliament; to the Lords of the King's Most Honourable Privy-council; to the reverend the Judges; to the clergy, and gentry, and yeomanry of this land; but in a more especial manner to my worthy brethren and friends at Will's coffeehouse, and Gresham-college, and Warwick-lane, and Moorfields, and Scotland-yard, and Westminster-hall, and Guildhall: in short, to all inhabitants and retainers whatsoever, either in court, or church, or camp, or city, or country, for their generous and universal acceptance of this divine treatise. I accept their approbation and good opinion with extreme gratitude, and, to the utmost of my poor capacity, shall take hold of all opportunities to return the obligation.
I am also happy, that fate has flung me into so blessed an age for the mutual felicity of booksellers and authors, whom I may safely affirm to be at this day the two only satisfied parties in England. Ask
an author how his last piece has succeeded; why, truly, he thanks his stars, the world has been very favourable, and he has not the least reason to complain and yet, by G-, he wrote it in a week, at bits and starts, when he could steal an hour from his urgent affairs; as it is a hundred to one, you may see farther in the preface, to which he refers you; and for the rest, to the bookseller. There you go as a customer, and make the same question : he blesses his God the thing takes wonderfully, he is just printing the second edition, and has but three left in his shop. You beat down the price: sir, we shall not differ; and, in hopes of your custom another time, lets you have it as reasonable as you please; and pray send as many of your acquaintance as you will, I shall, upon your account, furnish them all at the same rate.
Now, it is not well enough considered, to what accidents and occasions the world is indebted for the greatest part of those noble writings, which hourly start up to entertain it. If it were not for a rainy day, a drunken vigil, a fit of the spleen, a course of physic, a sleepy Sunday, an ill run at dice, a long tailor's bill, a beggar's purse, a factious head, a hot sun, costive diet, want of books, and a just contempt of learning: but for these events, I say, and some others too long to recite (especially a prudent neglect of taking brimstone inwardly) I doubt, the number of authors and of writings would dwindle away to a degree most woful to behold. To confirm this opinion, hear the words of the famous Troglodyte philosopher: It is certain, (said he,) some grains of folly are of course annexed, as part of the composition of human nature, only the choice is left us, whether we please to wear them inlaid or embossed: and we need not go very far to seek how that is usually determined, when we
remember it is with human faculties as with liquors, the lightest will be ever at the top.
There is in this famous island of Britain a certain paltry scribbler, very voluminous, whose character the reader cannot wholly be a stranger to. He deals in a pernicious kind of writings, called second parts; and usually passes under the name of the author of the first. I easily foresee, that as soon as I lay down my pen, this nimble operator will have stolen it, and treat me as inhumanly as he has already done Dr. Blackmore, Lestrange, and many others, who shall here be nameless; I therefore fly for justice and relief into the hands of that great rectifier of saddles, and lover of mankind, Dr. Bentley; begging he will take this enormous grievance into his most modern consideration: and if it should so happen, that the furniture of an ass, in the shape of a second part, must, for my sins, be clapped by a mistake upon my back, that he will immediately please, in the presence of the world, to lighten me of the burden, and take it home to his own house, till the true beast thinks fit to call for it.
In the meantime I do here give this public notice, that my resolutions are to circumscribe, within this discourse, the whole stock of matter I have been so many years providing. Since my vein is once opened, I am content to exhaust it all at a running, for the peculiar advantage of my dear country, and for the universal benefit of mankind. Therefore, hospitably considering the number of my guests, they shall have my whole entertainment at a meal ; and I scorn to set up the leavings in the cupboard. What the guests cannot eat, may be given to the
* Alluding to the trite phrase, "place the saddle on the right horse."-Bentley is ridiculed by Boyle, for making use of some such low and vernacular forms of expression.
poor; and the dogs* under the table may gnaw the bones. This I understand for a more generous proceeding, than to turn the company's stomach, by inviting them again to-morrow to a scurvy meal of
If the reader fairly considers the strength of what I have advanced in the foregoing section, I am convinced it will produce a wonderful revolution in his notions and opinions; and he will be abundantly better prepared to receive and to relish the concluding part of this miraculous treatise. Readers may be divided into three classes, the superficial, the ignorant, and the learned: and I have with much felicity fitted my pen to the genius and advantage of each. The superficial reader will be strangely provoked to laughter; which clears the breast and the lungs, is sovereign against the spleen, and the most innocent of all diuretics. The ignorant reader, between whom and the former the distinction is extremely nice, will find himself disposed to stare; which is an admirable remedy for ill eyes, serves to raise and enliven the spirits, and wonderfully helps perspiration. But the reader truly learned, chiefly for whose benefit I wake when others sleep, and sleep when others wake, will here find sufficient matter to employ his speculations for the rest of his life. It were much to be wished, and I do here humbly propose for an experiment, that every prince in Christendom will take seven of the deepest scholars in his dominions, and shut them up close for seven years in seven chambers, with a command to write seven ample commentaries on this comprehensive discourse. I shall venture to affirm, that whatever difference may be found in their several
* By dogs, the author means common injudicious critics, as he explains it himself before in his Digression upon Critics.-H.
conjectures, they will be all, without the least distortion, manifestly deducible from the text. Meantime, it is my earnest request, that so useful an undertaking may be entered upon, if their Majesties please, with all convenient speed; because I have a strong inclination, before I leave the world, to taste a blessing, which we mysterious writers can seldom reach, till we have gotten into our graves: whether it is, that fame, being a fruit grafted on the body, can hardly grow, and much less ripen, till the stock is in the earth: or, whether she be a bird of prey, and is lured, among the rest, to pursue after the scent of a carcase: or, whether she conceives her trumpet sounds best and farthest when she stands on a tomb, by the advantage of a rising ground, and the echo of a hollow vault.
It is true, indeed, the republic of dark authors, after they once found out this excellent expedient of dying, have been peculiarly happy in the variety, as well as extent of their reputation. For night being the universal mother of things, wise philosophers hold all writings to be fruitful, in the proportion they are dark; and therefore, the true illuminated (that is to say, the darkest of all) have met with such numberless commentators, whose scholastic midwifery has delivered them of meanings, that the authors themselves perhaps never conceived, and yet may very justly be allowed the lawful parents of them; the words of such writers being like seed, which, however scattered at random,
* A name of the Rosicrucians. These were fanatic alchemists, who, in search after the great secret, had invented a means altogether proportioned to their end: it was a kind of theological philosophy made up of almost equal mixtures of Pagan platonism, Christian quietism, and the Jewish cabala.-WARBURTON on the Rape of the Lock.