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WORLD OF MADMEN, plunged and rolled himself in the liquid poison, and came out as mad as, and not more wretched than, his neighbors and acquaintances.
The plan of The Friend is comprised in the motto to this essay. This tale or allegory seems to me to contain the objections to its practicability in all their strength. the skeptic, you are the blind offering to lead the blind, or you are talking the language of sight to those who do not possess the sense of seeing. If you mean to be read, try to entertain, and do not pretend to instruct. To such objections it would be amply sufficient, on my system of faith, to answer, that we are not all blind, but all subject to distempers of the mental sight, differing in kind and in degree; that though all men are in error, they are not all in the same error, nor at the same time; and that each, therefore, may possibly heal the other, even as two or more physicians, all diseased in their general health, yet under the immediate action of the disease on different days, may remove or alleviate the complaints of each other. But in respect to the entertainingness of moral writings, if in entertainment be included whatever delights the imagination or affects the generous passions, so far from rejecting such a mean of persuading the human soul, my very system compels me to defend not only the propriety, but the absolute necessity, of adopting it, if we really intend to render our fellow-creatures better or wiser.
But it is with dullness as with obscurity. It may be positive, and the author's fault; but it may likewise be relative, and if the author has presented his bill of fare at the portal, the reader has himself only to blame. The main question then is, of what class are the persons to be entertained ?“ One of the later school of the Grecians (says Lord Bacon) examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets ; nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I can not tell : this same truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily, as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day ; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt that if there were taken
from men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves ?!*
A melancholy, a too general, but not, I trust, a universal truth !—and even where it does apply, yet in many instances not irremediable. Such at least must have been my persuasion ; or the present volumes must have been wittingly written to no purpose. If I believed our nature fettered to all this wretchedness of head and heart by an absolute and innate necessity, at least by a necessity which no human power, no efforts of reason or eloquence, could remove or lessen; I should deem it even presumptuous to aim at other or higher object than that of amusing a small portion of the reading public.
And why not? whispers worldly prudence. To amuse, though only to amuse, our visitors is wisdom as well as good-nature, where it is presumption to attempt their amendment. And truly it would be most convenient to me in respects of no trifling importance, if I could persuade myself to take the advice. Released by these principles from all moral obligation, and ambitious of procuring pastime and self-oblivion for a race, which could have nothing noble to remember, nothing desirable to anticipate, I might aspire even to the praise of the critics and dilettanti of the higher circles of society ; of some trusty guide of blind fashion ; some pleasant analyst of taste, as it exists both in the palate and the soul ; some living gauge and mete-wand of past and present genius. But alas! my former studies would still have left a wrong bias! If instead of perplexing my common sense with the flights of Plato, and of stiffening over the meditations of the imperial Stoic, I had been laboring to imbibe the gay spirit of a Casti, or had employed my erudition, for the benefit of the favored few, in elucidating the interesting deformities of ancient Greece and India, what might I not have hoped from the suffrage of those, who turn in weariness from the Paradise Lost, because compared with the prurient heroes and grotesque monsters of Italian romance, or even with the narrative dialogues of the melodious Metastasio, that adventurous song,
Which justifies the ways of God to man,
* Essays. I. Of Truth.—Ed.
has been found a poor substitute for a Grimaldi, a most inapt medicine for an occasional propensity to yawn! For, as hath been decided, to fill up pleasantly the brief intervals of fashionable pleasures, and above all to charm away the dusky gnome of ennui, is the chief and appropriate business of the poet and the novelist! This duty unfulfilled, Apollo will have lavished his best gifts in vain ; and Urania henceforth must be content to inspire astronomers alone, and leave the sons of verse to more amusing patronesses. And yet-and yet-but it will be time to be serious, when my visitors have sat down.
Sic oportet ad librum, presertim miscellanei generis, legendum accedere lectorem, ut solet ad convivium conviva civilis. Convivator annititur omnibus satisfacere : et tamen si quid apponitur, quod hujus aut illius palato non respondeat, et hic et ille urbane dissimulant, et alia fercula probant, ne quid contristent convivatorem. Quis enim eum convivam ferat, qui tantum hoc animo veniat ad mensam, ut carpens quæ apponunter, nec vescatur ipse, nec alios vesci sinat ? Et tamen his quoque reperias inciviliores, qui palam, qui sine fine damnent ac lacerent opus, quod nunquam legerint. Ast hoc plusquam sycophanticum est damnare quod nescias.
ERASMUS. A reader should sit down to a book, especially of the miscellaneous kind, as a well-behaved visitor does to a banquet. The master of the feast exerts himself to satisfy all his guests; but if after all his care and pains there should still be something or other put on the table that does not suit this or that person's taste, they politely pass it over without noticing the circumstance, and commend other dishes, that they may not distress their kind host, or throw any damp on his spirits. For who could tolerate a guest that accepted an invitation to your table with no other purpose but that of finding fault with every thing put before him, neither eating himself, nor suffering others to eat in comfort. And yet you may fall in with a still worse set than even these, with churls that in all companies and without stop or stay, will condemn and pull to pieces a work which they have never read. But this sinks below the baseness of an informer, yea, though he were a false witness to boot! The man, who abuses a thing of which he is utterly ignorant, unites the infamy of both-and in addition to this, makes himself the pander and sycophant of his own and other men’s envy and ma. lignity.
The musician may tune his instrument in private, ere his audience have yet assembled ; the architect conceals the foundation of his building beneath the superstructure. But an author's harp must be tuned in the hearing of those, who are to understand its after-harmonies; the foundation stones of his edifice must lie open to common view, or his friends will hesitate to trust themselves beneath the roof. From periodical literature the general reader deems himself
entitled to expect amusement, and some degree of information, and if the writer can convey any instruction at the same time, and without demanding any additional thought (as the Irishman, in the hackneyed jest, is said to have passed off a light guinea between two good halfpence), this supererogatory merit will not perhaps be taken amiss. Now amusement in and for itself may be afforded by the gratification either of the curiosity or of the passions. I use the former word as distinguished from the love of knowledge, and the latter in distinction from those emotions which arise in well-ordered ininds, from the perception of truth or falsehood, virtue or vice :-emotions, which are always preceded by thought, and linked with improvement. Again, all information pursued without any wish of becoming wiser or better thereby, I class among the gratifications of mere curiosity, whether it be sought for in a light novel or a grave history. We may therefore omit the word information, as included either in amusement or instruction.
The present work is an experiment; not whether a writer may honestly overlook the one, or successfully omit the other, of the two elements themselves, which serious readers at least persuade themselves that they pursue ; but whether a change might not be hazarded of the usual order, in which periodical writers have in general attempted to convey them. Having myself experienced that no delight either in kind or degree is equal to that which accompanies the distinct perception of a fundamental truth, relative to our moral being; having, long after the completion of what is ordinarily called a learned education, discovered a new world of intellectual profit opening on me—not from any new opinions, but lying, as it were, at the roots of those which I had been taught in childhood in my catechism and spelling-book; there arose a soothing hope in my mind that a lesser public might be found, composed of persons susceptible of the same delight, and desirous of attaining it by the same pro
I heard a whisper too from within, (I trust that it proceeded from conscience, not vanity) that a duty was performed in the endeavor to render it as much easier to them, than it had been to me, as could be effected by the united efforts of my understanding and imagination.
Actuated by this impulse, the writer wishes, in the following essays, to convey not instruction merely, but fundamental in