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ceiling of a spacious hall, as it were beyond the reach of inferior accidents? When, lo! some vile, unthrifty chamber-maid cometh with her anti-Christian Pope's head-brush, and sweepeth down the weaver and his web together.
Such, I fear, will become the downfa!l and undoing of these my lofty lucubrations, disconcerted, and broken by the callous and clumsy hands of witlings and word-catchers, who from damned poetry have turned their heads to foul criticism, as folks convert their cast coach-horses to dung-carts.
“Little will it avail me, that, independent of external aid, I have spun the materials out of my own brains, and labored whole days and nights in bringing the work to perfection, when the delicate and tender texture, instead of standing the test, will not even abide the touch.
“ The dung-carts and their criticisms may pass well enough together; and, lest they should object against this comparison of myself to an insect, as mean and creeping, let them hear what Pliny saith of such industrious and neat spinsters : : Arancarum genus eruditâ operatione conspicuum.' The family of spiders are very notable for their curious housewifery. But in case they should spare the spider, they will arraign the retailer of this homely similitude for an arrant plagiary: to quash which indictment I can offer no fairer plea than an honest confession, that I borrowed the thought, with very little variation, from a voluminous Latin and English poem, written purely for the benefit of their fraternity many years ago, although not yet publish ed. It is dedicated to your lordship, and must, I believe, pass for mine, till they can lay it before the door of a better father.
“Here would I willingly halt, and spread a veil over the poet and spider, but murder and truth will at some odd time or other ebulliate. Much it irketh me to conceive any thing that might cast the least unsavory note of aspersion on any member of our
society. But what I am going to mention is rather a matter of compassion and pity, than reproach or shame; a distemper which frequently seizes the body poetical with sudden fits and starts, and, what is most extraordinary, the violence of the paroxysm, instead of heating, chills the whole mass of blood, ties the tongue, and sinks the spirits. Some naturalists have ascribed it to the malign influence of a planet, and look upon it as the consequent and concomitant effect of a versifying itch: but I should rather attribute it to mere sublunary causes; and such accidents will happen, while there are such unclassical things upon earth, as paltry debts, insolent writs, and rude bailiffs ; for, although poets may take great licenses, yet, alas ! Grub-street is no place of privilege." Who could have thought, to speak sincerely, that such indif
should come from the man who is author of many pretty poetical pieces, among which, this of Lawson's Obsequies is not the worst. The following lines, for instance, are not despicable:
“But should he fall ? And shall the mighty muse
“We laugh'd at fops, fantastically gay,
We laugh'd with Johnson, of ungenerous heart,
There runs, however, through the poem an affectation which it is not easy to excuse, as when the poet has manful eloquence' for manly eloquence,' the 'museful powers, for the muses:' such errors, though trifling, give an air of vanity to the whole. The man who is bred at a distance from the centre of learning and politeness, must have a great deal of modesty or understanding, who does not give a loose to some vanities which are apt to render him ridiculous every where but at home. Bred among men of talents inferior to himself, he is too apt to assume the lead, as well from the press as in conversation, and to overrate his own abilities. His oddities among his friends are only regarded as the excrescences of a superior genius; among those who live beyond the sphere of his importance, they are considered as instances of folly or ignorance. There is scarcely a trifling city or university in Europe which has not its great men; characters, who are taught by adulation to fancy themselves figuring in the republic of letters, and leaving monuments of their merit to remote posterity. If there should happen to be two of this character in the same city, the compliments they mutually bestow on each other are pleasant enough: they attempt to raise each other's reputation by mutual flattery, and establish their little dominion within the circle of all their acquaintance.
A traveller passing through the city of Burgos in Spain, was desirous of knowing who were their most learned men, and applied to one of the inhabitants for information. “What !" replied the Spaniard, who happened to be a scholar, “have you never heard
of the admirable Brandellius, or the ingenious Mogusius ? one the
eye and the other the heart of our university, known all over the world ?” “Never," cries the traveller; "but pray inform me what Brandellius is particularly remarkable for ?" “ You must be very little acquainted in the republic of letters,” says the other, " to ask such a question. Brandellius has written a most sublime panegyric on Mogusius.” “And prithee, what has Mogusius done to deserve so great a favor ?" “ He has written an excellent poem in praise of Brandellius.” “ Well! and what does the public, I mean those who are out of the university, say of those mutual compliments ?" “ The public are a parcel of blockheads, and all blockheads are critics, and all critics are spiders, and spiders are a set of reptiles that all the world despises."
XXIII.—GOGUET ON THE ORIGIN AND PROGRESS OF LAWS,
ARTS, AND SCIENCES.
[From the Critical Review, 1759. “ De l' Origine des Loix, des
Arts, et des Sciences ; et de leurs Progrès chez les Anciens Peuples. Par M. Le Président Goguet.* 3 Vols. in 4to. Paris."]
There is a prettiness, a neatness, and symmetry of parts in the plan of most French books, which we admire, even while we hold the abilities of the author in contempt. Their specious manner we often mistake for solid erudition, and the superficial elegance of a gentleman frequently passes for the depth, labor, and judgment of the scholar. Such is the happy genius of this lively nation, that the most profound speculations are treated by
[Antoine-Yves Goguet was born at Paris in 1716, and died there in 1758.)
them with the freedom of a novel; and Descartes and Newton so refined and polished, as to make no ungrateful appearance in the drawing room. This has its good as well as bad effects; it gives lustre to the other accomplishments of the man of fashion, but it banishes true science into cells and cloisters. We should gladly see their writers studied by our beaux, but less closely copied by our authors. It is the privilege of a Frenchman to usher his solemn trifles with the grave visage of philosophy. Their very bagatelles have in them something pleasing, that arrests the judgment, and leaves the reader in suspense whether most to applaud or condemn. This art we may admire, but never imitate. The British writer, who affects formality and method, without profound learning, betrays his ignorance and becomes ridiculous. Nor is he more successful in his attempts to be lively, without a native fund of humor. But the Frenchman, with no great share of either, is sure of being agreeable in both. Energy, accuracy, and industry would seem to characterize the one; beauty, and elegance of drapery, with a certain happiness of design, are the distinguishing marks of the other. By the former, a thought is scrupulously examined in every light; by the latter it is placed with little trouble in the most striking. The one separates, compares, and pursues his subject with pain; the other playfully skims over the surface, but with an eye so piercing, as, without removing the veil, seems at one glance to dive into the deeps of science. Here a writer is strained and tortured into all the distortions on the Pythian goddess, to utter what he knows; there he talks with a decisive dignity and a graceful eloquence, upon subjects of which he is totally ignorant; nay he almost persuades us that his facility arises from his knowledge.* The author before us will, in some measure, illustrate the truth of these remarks.
* We would here be understood to speak of the general characters of. writers; which supposes numberless exceptions on both sides.