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what less reluctancy, because it has been common to us with Pythagoras, Æsop, Socrates, and other of our predecessors.
However, that neither the world, nor ourselves, may any longer suffer by such misunderstandings, I have been prevailed on, after much importunity from my friends, to travel in a complete and laborious dissertation, upon the prime productions of our society; which, beside their beautiful externals, for the gratification of superficial readers, have darkly and deeply couched under them, the most finished and refined systems of all sciences and arts; as I do not doubt to lay open, by untwisting or unwinding, and either to draw up by exantlation, or display by incision.
This great work was entered upon some years ago, by one of our most eminent members: he began with the History of Reynard the Fox,* but neither lived to publish his essay, nor to proceed farther in so useful an attempt; which is very much to be lamented, because the discovery he made, and communicated with his friends, is now universally received; nor do I think any of the learned will dispute that famous treatise to be a complete body of civil knowledge, and the revelation, or rather the apocalypse, of all state arcana. But the progress I have made is much greater, having already finished my annotations upon several dozens; from some of
The "History of Reynart the Foxe" was originally written in German, and as Mr. Douce thinks, was composed long before the 12th century. Hearne calls it "An admirable thing, and the design very good," viz., to represent a wise and politic government. It was translated and printed by Caxton; but, having been often reprinted, had past into a mere popular story book, in which degraded light it is presented in the text. In 1701 it was reprinted, "newly corrected, and purged from all grossness in phrase and matter," with a moral exposition annexed.
which I shall impart a few hints to the candid reader, as far as will be necessary to the conclusion at which I aim.
The first piece I have handled is that of Tom Thumb, whose author was a Pythagorean philosopher. This dark treatise contains the whole scheme of the Metempsychosis, deducing the progress of the soul through all her stages.
The next is Dr. Faustus, penned by Artephius, an author bonæ notæ, and an adeptus; he published it in the nine-hundred-eighty-fourth year of his age;* this writer proceeds wholly by reincrudation, or in the via humida; and the marriage between Faustus and Helen does most conspicuously dilucidate the fermenting of the male and female dragon.
Whittington and his Cat is the work of that mysterious rabbi, Jehuda Hannasi, containing a defence of the gemara of the Jerusalem misna,t and its just preference to that of Babylon, contrary to the vulgar opinion.
The Hind and Panther.
This is the masterpiece of a famous writer now living, intended for a complete abstract of sixteen thousand school-men, from Scotus to Bellarmin.
Another piece, supposed by the same hand, by way of supplement to the former. The Wise Men of Gotham, cum appendice. This is a treatise of immense erudition, being the great original and fountain of those arguments, bandied
The chemists say of him in their books, that he prolonged his life to a thousand years, and then died voluntarily.-H.
†The gemara is the decision, explanation, or interpretation of the Jewish rabbis; and the misna is properly the code or body of the Jewish civil or common law.-H.
Viz., In the year 1697.-Original.
§ A popular ballad, then the favourite of the vulgar, now an object of ambition to the collectors of black-letter.
about, both in France and England, for a just defence of the moderns' learning and wit, against the presumption, the pride, and ignorance of the ancients. This unknown author has so exhausted the subject, that a penetrating reader will easily discover whatever has been written since upon that dispute, to be little more than repetition. An abstract of this treatise has been lately published by a worthy member of our society.
These notices may serve to give the learned reader an idea, as well as a taste, of what the whole work is likely to produce; wherein I have now altogether circumscribed my thoughts and my studies; and, if I can bring it to a perfection before I die, shall reckon I have well employed the poor remains of an unfortunate life. This, indeed, is more than I can justly expect, from a quill worn to the pith in the service of the state, in pros and cons upon Popish plots, and meal-tubs, and exclusion bills, and passive obedience, and addresses of lives and fortunes, and prerogative, and property,§ and liberty of conscience, and letters to a friend: from an understanding and a conscience thread-bare and ragged with perpetual turning; from a head broken in a hundred places by the malignants of the opposite factions; and from a body spent with poxes ill cured, by trusting to bawds and surgeons, who, as it after
* This I suppose to be understood of Mr. Wotton's discourse of ancient and modern learning.-H.
Here the author seems to personate L'Estrange, Dryden, and some others, who, after having passed their lives in vices, faction, and falsehood, have the impudence to talk of merit, and innocence, and sufferings.-H.
In King Charles the Second's time, there was an account of a Presbyterian plot, found in a tub, which then made much noise.-H.
§ First edition-popery.
wards appeared, were professed enemies to me and the government, and revenged their party's quarrel upon my nose and shins. Fourscore and eleven pamphlets have I written under three reigns, and for the service of six and thirty factions. But, finding the state has no farther occasion for me and my ink, I retire willingly to draw it out into speculations more becoming a philosopher; having, to my unspeakable comfort, passed a long life with a conscience void of offence.*
But to return. I am assured from the reader's candour, that the brief specimen I have given, will easily clear all the rest of our society's productions from an aspersion grown, as it is manifest, out of envy and ignorance; that they are of little farther use or value to mankind, beyond the common entertainments of their wit and their style; for these I am sure have never yet been disputed by our keenest adversaries in both which, as well as the more profound and mystical part, I have, throughout this treatise, closely followed the most applauded originals. And to render all complete, I have, with much thought and application of mind, so ordered, that the chief title prefixed to it, I mean that under which I design it shall pass in the common conversations of court and town, is modelled exactly after the manner peculiar to our society.
I confess to have been somewhat liberal in the business of titles,† having observed the humour of multiplying them, to bear great vogue among certain writers, whom I exceedingly reverence. And indeed
* The first edition adds to this sentence-towards God and towards men.
+ The title-page in the original was so torn, that it was not possible to recover several titles, which the author here speaks of.-Note by the Author.
it seems not unreasonable, that books, the children of the brain, should have the honour to be christened with variety of names, as well as other infants of quality. Our famous Dryden has ventured to proceed a point farther, endeavouring to introduce also a multiplicity of god-fathers; * which is an improvement of much more advantage upon a very obvious account. It is a pity this admirable invention has not been better cultivated, so as to grow by this time into general imitation, when such an authority serves it for a precedent. Nor have my endeavours been wanting to second so useful an example; but it seems there is an unhappy expense usually annexed to the calling of a god-father, which was clearly out of my head, as it is very reasonable to believe. Where the pinch lay, I cannot certainly affirm; but having employed a world of thoughts and pains to split my treatise into forty sections, and having entreated forty lords of my acquaintance, that they would do me the honour to stand, they all made it a matter of conscience, and sent me their excuses.
ONCE upon a time, there was a man who had three sons by one wife,† and all at a birth, neither could the midwife tell certainly, which was the eldest.
* See Virgil translated, &c. He dedicated the different parts of Virgil to different patrons.-H.
† By these three sons, Peter, Martin, and Jack, Popery, the Church of England and our Protestant dissenters, are designed. -W. WOTTON.