« FöregåendeFortsätt »
struction; not so much to show the reader this or that fact, as to kindle his own torch for him, and leave it to himself to choose the particular objects, which he might wish to examine by its light. The Friend does not indeed exclude from his plan occasional interludes, and vacations of innocent entertainment and promiscuous information, but still in the main he proposes to himself the communication of such delight as rewards the march of truth, rather than to collect the flowers which diversify its track, in order to present them apart from the homely, yet foodful or medicinal herbs, among which they had grown. To refer men's opinions to their absolute principles, and thence their feelings to the appropriate objects, and in their due degrees; and finally, to apply the principles thus ascertained, to the formation of steadfast convictions concerning the most important questions of politics, morality, and religion—these are to be the objects and the contents of his work.
Themes like these not even the genius of a Plato or a Bacon could render intelligible, without demanding from the reader thought sometimes, and attention generally. By thought I here mean the voluntary production in our own minds of those states of consciousness, to which, as to his fundamental facts, the writer has referred us : while attention has for its object the order and connection of thoughts and images, each of which is in itself already and familiarly known. Thus the elements of geometry require attention only; but the analysis of our primary faculties, and the investigation of all the absolute grounds of religion and morals, are impossible without energies of thought in addition to the effort of attention. The Friend will not attempt to disguise from his readers that both attention and thought are efforts, and the latter a most difficult and laborious effort; nor from himself, that to require it often or for any continuance of time, is incompatible with the nature of the present publication, even were it less incongruous than it unfortunately is with the present habits and pursuits of Englishmen. Accordingly I shall be on my guard to make the essays as few as possible, which would require from a well-educated reader any energy of thought and voluntary abstraction.
But attention, I confess, will be requisite throughout, except in the excursive and miscellaneous essays that will be found interposed between each of the three main divisions of the work. On whatever subject the mind feels a lively interest, attention, though always an effort, becomes a delightful effort. I should be quite at ease, could I secure for the whole work as much of it, as a card party of earnest whist-players often expend in a single evening, or a lady in the making-up of a fashionable dress. But where no interest previously exists, attention (as every schoolmaster knows) can be procured only by terror : which is the true reason why the majority of mankind learn nothing systematically, except as school-boys or apprentices.
Happy shall I be, from other motives besides those of self-interest, if no fault or deficiency on my part shall prevent the work from furnishing a presumptive proof, that there are still to be found among us a respectable number of readers who are desirous to derive pleasure from the consciousness of being instructed or meliorated : and who feel a sufficient interest as to the foundations of their own opinions in literature, politics, morals, and religion, to afford that degree of attention, without which, however men may deceive themselves, no actual progress ever was or ever can be made in that knowledge, which supplies at once both strength and nourishment.
Αλλ' ώς παρέλαβον την τέχνην παρά σου, το πρώτον μεν ευθύς
ARISTOPH. RANÆ. 939.
When I received the Muse from you, I found her puffed and pampered,
In the preceding essay I named the present undertaking an experiment. The explanation will be found in the following letter, written to a correspondent during the first attempt, and before the plan was discontinued from an original error in the mode of circulation.
When I first undertook the present publication for the sake and with the avowed object of referring men in all things to principles or fundamental truths, I was well aware of the obstacles which the plan itself would oppose to my success.
For in * This imitation is printed here by permission of the author, from a series of free translations of selected seenes from Aristophanes : a work, of which (should the author be persuaded to make it public) it is my deliberate judgment, that it will form an important epoch in English literature, and open out sources of metrical and rhythmical wealth in the very heart of our language, of which few, if any, among us are aware.
order to the regular attainment of this object, all the dryest and least attractive essays must appear in the beginning, and thus subject me to the necessity of demanding effort or soliciting patience in that part of the work, where it was most my interest to secure the confidence of my readers by winning their favor. Though I dared warrant for the pleasantness of the journey on the whole; though I might promise that the road would, for the far greater part of it, be found plain and easy, that it would pass through countries of various prospect, and that at every stage there would be a change of company; it still remained a heavy disadvantage, that I had to start at the foot of a high and steep hill : and I foresaw, not without occasional feelings of despondency, that during the slow and laborious ascent it would require no common management to keep my passengers in good-humor with the vehicle and its driver. As far as this inconvenience could be palliated by sincerity and previous confession, I have no reason to accuse myself of neglect. In the prospectus* of The Friend, which for this cause I reprinted and annexed to the first essay, I felt it my duty to inform such as might be inclined to patronize the publication, that I must submit to be esteemed dull by those who sought chiefly for amusement: and this I hazarded as a general confession, though in my own mind I felt a cheerful confidence that it would apply almost exclusively to the earlier essays. I could not therefore be surprised, however much I may have been depressed, by the frequency with which you hear The Friend complained of for its abstruseness and obscurity; nor did the highly flattering expressions, with which you accompanied your communication, prevent me from feeling its truth to the whole extent.
An author's pen, like children's legs, improves by exercise. That part of the blame which rests on myself, I am exerting my best faculties to remove. A man long accustomed to silent and solitary meditation, in proportion as he increases the power of thinking in long and connected trains, is apt to lose or lessen the talent of communicating his thoughts with grace and perspicuity. Doubtless too, I have in some measure injured my style, in respect to its facility and popularity, from having almost confined my reading, of late years, to the works of the ancients and those of the elder writers in the modern languages. We insensibly imitate what we habitually admire ; and an aversion to the epigrammatic unconnected periods of the fashionable Anglo-Gallican taste has too often made me willing to forget, that the stately march and difficult evolutions, which characterize the eloquence of Hooker, Bacon, Milton, and Jeremy Taylor, are, notwithstanding their intrinsic excellence, still less suited to a periodical essay. This fault I am now endeavoring to correct; though I can never so far sacrifice my judgment to the desire of being immediately popular, as to cast my sentences in the French moulds, or affect a style which an ancient critic would have deemed purposely invented for persons troubled with the asthma to read, and for those to comprehend who labor under the more pitiable asthma of a short-witted intellect. It can not but be injurious to the human mind never to be called into effort : the habit of receiving pleasure without any exertion of thought, by the mere excitement of curiosity and sensibility, may be justly ranked among the worst effects of habitual novel reading. It is true that these short and unconnected sentences are easily and instantly understood : but it is equally true, that wanting all the cement of thought as well as of style, all the connections, and (if you will forgive so trivial a metaphor) all the hooks-and-eyes of the memory, they are easily forgotten : or rather, it is scarcely possible that they should be remembered.--Nor is it less true, that those who confine their reading to such books dwarf their own faculties, and finally reduce their understandings to a deplorable imbecility : the fact you mention, and which I shall hereafter make use of, is a fair instance and a striking illustration. Like idle morning visitors, the brisk and breathless periods hurry in and hurry off in quick and profitless succession ; each indeed for the moments of its stay prevents the pain of vacancy, while it indulges the love of sloth ; but all together they leave the mistress of the house (the soul, I mean) flat and exhausted, incapable of attending to her own concerns, and unfitted for the conversation of more rational guests.
* See Appendix A. -Ed.
I know you will not suspect me of fostering so idle a hope, as that of obtaining acquittal by recrimination; or think that I am attacking one fault, in order that its opposite may escape notice in the noise and smoke of the battery. On the contrary, I shall do my best, and even make all allowable sacrifices, to render my manner more attractive and my matter more generally interesting. In the establishment of principles and fundamental doc