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antagonist before us was undervalued. Every wrong disposition of literary honors, Butler seems to have thought as a negative insult upon genius: he opposed the distribution with spirit, was tacitly approved, and left without a reward. How many plants of medicinal virtue do we not find growing among savages unacquainted with their effects !
The writing characters, as the editor remarks, was a kind of wit much in fashion in the beginning of the last century. Bruyère seemed to have led the mode, but, to confess the truth, has not been equalled by any succeeding imitator: he has the happy art of varying his manner; when the bare description of nature begins to disgust, he has recourse to a story, and when that has ceased to surprise, he finds refuge in a bon mot. The characters before us want that entertaining variety, and seem drawn rather after the designs of Theophrastus ; and we must do our countryman the justice to own, that his sketches are not inferior to those of the refined Grecian.
His character of a small poet, for instance, is as fine a piece of satire and criticism as we have seen united. To give the reader a specimen :
“ A small poet is one that would fain make himself that which nature never meant him ; like a fanatic that inspires himself with his own whimsies. He sets up haberdasher of small poetry, with a very small stock, and no credit. He believes it is invention enough to find out other men's wit; and whatsoever he lights upon, either in books or company, he makes bold with as his
This he puts together so untowardly, that you may perceive his own wit has the rickets, by the swelling disproportion of his joints. Imitation is the whole sum of him; and his vein is but an itch or clap, that he has catched of others; and his flame like that of charcoals, that were burnt before: but as he wants judgment to understand what is best, he naturally takes the worst, as being the most agreeable to his own talent. You may know his wit not to be nature, 'tis so unquiet and troublesome in him: for as those that have money but seldom, are always shaking their pockets when they have it ; so
does he, when he thinks he has got something, that will make him appear. He is a perpetual talker; aad you may know by the freedom of his discourse, that he came lightly by it, as thieves spend freely what they get. He measures other men’s wit by their modesty, and his own by his confidence. He makes nothing of writing plays, because he has not wit enough to understand the difficulty. This makes him venture to talk and scrib:le, as chowses do to play with cunning gamesters, until they are cheated and laughed at. He is always talking of wit, as those that have bad voices are always singing out of tune ; and those that cannot play delight to fumble on instruments. He grows the unwiser by other men's harms; for the worse other men write, he finds the more encouragement to do so too. His greediness of praise is so eager, that he swallows any thing that comes in the likeness of it, how notorious and palpable soever, and is as shot-free against any thing that may lessen his good opinion of himself. This renders him incurable, like diseases that grow insensible."
Were such a number of original thoughts in the possession of a German commentator, what folios might not be the result of his speculations! In short, this performance might serve as a common-place book* for such as find more difficulty in thinking than expression; a hundred sentiments may be stolen from it, and yet the plagiary be never detected.
What can be more just than his character of a libeller, whom he describes as one whose whole works treat but of two things, his own malice and the faults of another !
“ He is not much concerned whether what he writes be true or false ; that's nothing to his purpose, which aims only at filthy and bitter; and therefore his
*(“I have been informed by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester, that excellent editor of Butler's Reliques, that he could show something like Hudibras in prose. He has in his possession the common-place book, in which Butler reposited not such events and precepts as are gathered by reading, but such remarks, similitudes, allusions, assemblages, or inferences, as occasion prompted, or meditation produced, those thoughts that were generated in his own mind, and might be usefully applied to some future purpose. Such is the labor of those who write for immortality!"-JOHNSON, Life of Butler.]
language is, like pictures of the devil, the fouler the better. He robs a man of his good name, not for any good it will do him (for he dares no: own it), but merely, as a jackdaw steals money, for his pleasure. His malice has the same success with other men's charity, to be rewarded in private ; for all he gets is but his own private satisfaction, and the testimony of an evil conscience; for which, if it be discovered, he suffers the worst kind of martyrdom, and is paid with condign punishment, so that at the best he has but his labor for his pains. He deals with a man as the Spanish inquisition does with heretics, clothes him in a coat painted with hellish shapes of fiends, and so shows him to the rabble, to render him the more odious. He exposes his wit like a bastard, for the next comer to take up and put out to nurse, which it seldom fails of, so ready is every man to contribute to the infamy of another. He is like the devil that sows tares in the dark, and while a man sleeps, plants weeds among his corn. When he ventures to fall foul on the government or any great persons, if he has not a special care to keep himself, like a conjuror, safe in his circle, he raises a spirit that falls foul on himself, and carries him to limbo; where his neck is clapped up in the hole, out of which it is never released, until he has paid his ears down on the nail for fees. He is in a worse condition than a schoolboy; for when he is discovered, he is whipped for his exercise, whether it be well or ill-done ; so that he takes a wrong course to show his wit, when his best way to do so is to conceal it; otherwise he shows his folly instead of his wit, and pays dear for the mistake.”
At the end of these two volumes, for which the public are so much obliged to the editor, are subjoined thoughts upon various subjects, still superior to any thing in the foregoing collection. In these the author's peculiar talent shines conspicuously, since his principal merit consists in the strength and justness of his sentiments, without any peculiar skill in arrangement. Had all his works been published, like those of Mahomet, which, we are told, were delivered in single sentences, it is probable his fame would have suffered no diminution. To give an example of his talent this way:
“ This age will serve to make a very pretty farce for the next; if it have any wit at all to make use of it."
“ 'The preferment of fools and undeserving persons, is not so much an honor to them, as infamy and dishonor to those that raise them; for when a prince confers honor on those that do not deserve it, he throws it away out of his own stock, and leaves himself so much the less, as he parts with to those that want merit to pretend to it; and by that ill husbandry in time leaves himself none at all, to pay those to whom it is due.”
“ The worst governments are the best, when they light in good hands; and the best the worst, when they fall into bad ones.”
“ The vices of tyrants run in a circle, and produce one another, begin with luxury and prodigality, which cannot be supplied but by rapine. Rapine produces hate in the people, and that hate fear in the prince ; fear, cruelty ; cruelty, despair ; and despair, destruction.”
“ It is both the wisest and safest way in the world to keep at a convenient distance with all men. For when men converse too closely, they commonly, like those that meet in crowds, offend one another.”
“ There is a kind of physiognomy in the title of books, no less than in the faces of men, by which a skilful observer will as well know what to expect from the one as the other."
“ Men of the greatest apprehension and aptest geniuses to any thing they undertake do not always prove the greatest masters in it: for there is more patience and phlegm required in those that attain to any degree of perfection, than is commonly found in the temper of active and ready wits, that soon tire, and will not hold out; as the swiftest race-horse will not perform a long journey so well as a sturdy dull jade. Hence it is that Virgil, who wanted much of that natural easiness of wit that Ovid had, did nevertheless, with hard labor and long study, arrive at a higher perfection, than the other, with all his dexterity of wit, but less industry, could attain to. The same we may observe of Jonson and Shakspeare ; for he that is able to think long, and judge well, will be sure to find out better things, than another man can hit upon suddenly, though of more quick and ready parts; which is commonly but chance, and the other art and judgment.”
How works of such merit have been so long suppressed as
those before us, is indeed somewhat surprising; or how the author himself, in his needy hours, was never induced to turn them to profit, is what we cannot account for: perhaps the rewards of copy-money, as it is called, were not so high then as they are now, and fame might have been the only incentive to publication.
[From the Critical Review, 1759. “ The Twentieth Epistle of
Horace to his Book, modernized by the Author of Female Conduct, and applied to his own Book, and intended as an Answer to the Remarks on his Book, made by the writer of
the Critical Review. 8vo. Owen.” See p. 451.] It was once a debate among casuists, which we could wish to see revived, whether the contempt offered to great men in disguise ought justly to be resented by them as injurious. After much reasoning upon the matter, Escobar* at length determined, that as men they have a right to resent; but as great men they are obliged to forgiveness. This last part of the argument is so applicable to our present purpose, that we cannot avoid urging it in the strongest manner, in expostulating with the great man with whom we are at present unhappily embroiled. We have a right to be forgiven, because we now at last acknowledge the dignity of him from whom (impressed with terror as we are) we ask forgiveness. A few months ago a poem entitled “Female Conduct" came from the press, published in the usual manner, without one single mark of the author's importance; and we,
* (A Spanish Jesuit, born at Seville in 1588, and died, while a missionary at Lima, in 1669. His works were printed in twenty-six folio volumes. See vol. ii. p. 13.1