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of history is more instructive and delighting, than the lives of great and worthy men: the shortness of them invites many readers; and there are such little and yet remarkable passages in tliem, too inconsiderable to be put in a general history of the age in which they lived, that all people are very desirous to know them. This makes Plutarch's lives to be more generally read than any of all the books which the an- » cient Greeks or Romans writ.
But the lives of heroes and princes, are commonly filled with the account of the great things done by them, which do rather belong toa general, than a particular history; and do rather amuse the reader's fancy with a splendid shes of greatness, than offer him what is really so useful to himself: and indeed the lives of princes are either writ with so much fattery by those who intended to merit by it at their own hands, or others concerned in them; or with fo much spite, by those who being ill used by them have revenged themselves on their memory, that there is not much to be built on them : and though the ill nature of many, makes what is fati. rically writ to be generally more read and believed, than when the Attory is visible and coarsc; yet certainly refentment may make the writer corrupt the truth of hi. story, as much as interest : and since all men have their blind sides, and commit errors, he that will industria oully lay thefe together, leaving out, or but Nightly touching what should be set against them, to ballance them, may make a very good man appear in very bad colours : so upon the whole matter, there is not that reason to expect ei her much truth, or great instruction, from what is written concerning heroes or princes; A 2
for few have been able to imitate the patterns Suetonius set the world in writing the lives of the Roman empefors, with the fame freedom that they had led them : but the lives of private men, tho’ feldom they entertain the reader with such a variety of passages as the other do; yet certainly they offer him things that are more imiiable, and do present wisdom and virtue to him, not only in a fair idea, which is often look'd on as a piece of the invention or fancy of the writer, but in such plain and familiar instances, as do both direct him better and perfuade him more; and there are not such temptations to biass those who write them, so that we may generally depend more on the truth of such relations as are given in them.
In the age in which we live, religion and virtue have been proposed and defended with such advantages, with that great force of reason, and those persuasions, that
ey can hardly be matched in former times; yet after all this, there are but few much wrought on by them, which perhaps fows from this, among other reasons, that there are not fo many excellent patterns fet out, as might both in a shorter, and more effetual maoner recommend that to the world, which discourses do but coldly; the wit and stile of the writer being more con fidered than the argument which they handle, and therefore the proposing virtue and religion in such a model, may perhaps operate more than the perspective of it can do, and for the history of learning, nothing does fo preserve and improve it, as the witting the lives of those who have been eminent in it.
There is no book the ancients have left us, which might have informed us more than Diogenes Laertius. his lives of the philosophers; if he had had the art of writing equal to that great subject which he undertook ; for if he had given the world such account of them, as Gafsendus has done of Peiruik, how great a llock of knowlege might we have had, which by his unfkilfulness is in a great measure lost; since we must now de.
pend only on him, because we have no other, or better author that has written on that argument,
For many ages there were no lives writ büt by Monks, through whose writings there runs such an incurable humour, of telling incredible and inimitable passages, that little in them can be believed or proposed as a pattern : Sulpitius Severus and Jerom Thewed too much credulity in the lives they writ, and raised Martin and Hilarion, beyond what can be reasonably believed: after them, Socrates, Theodoret, Sozomen, and Palladius, took a pleasure to tell uncouth stories of the Monks of Thebais, and Nitria : and those who came after them, scorned to fall short of them, but raised their faints above those of former ages, so that one would have thought that undecent way of writing could rife no higher; and this humour infected even thofe who had otherwise a: good sense of things, and a just apprehension of man-kind, as may appear in Matthew Paris, who tho' he was: a writer of great judgment and fidelity, yet he has cora rupted his history with much of that alloy. But when emulation and envy rose among the several orders or houfes, the they improved in that art of making romances, instead of writing lives, to that pitch, that the world became generally much sandalized with them : the Francilcans and Dominicans tried who could fay the most exo: travagant things of the founders, or other faints of their orders; and the Benedictines, who thought themselves poffess'd of the belief of the world, as well as of its wealth, endeavoured all that was possible still to keep up the dignity of their order, by out lyiag the others all they could; and whereas here or there, a miracle, a vision or trance, migkt have occured in the lives of for. mer saints; now every passage was full of those won-derful things.
Nor has the humour of writing in such'a maoner, been quite laid down in this age, tho' more awakened? and better enlightned, as appears in the life of Philip Nerius, and a great many more: and the Jesuits at Antwerpå are now taking care to load the world with a'. A