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at once all the absurdities to which they served for refuge ; it pierced through the robes which rhetorick often sold to falsehood, and detected the disproportion of parts, which artificial veils had been contrived to cover.
Thus furnished for the execution of her office, Criticism came down to survey the performances of those who professed themselves the votaries of the Muses. Whatever was brought before her, she beheld by the steady light of the torch of Truth; and when her examination had convinced her, that the laws of just writing had been observed, she touched it with the amaranthine end of the sceptre, and consigned it over to immortality.
But it more frequently happened, that in the works which required her inspection, there was some imposture attempted; that false colours were laboriously laid ; that some secret inequality was found between the words and sentiments, or some dissimilitude of the ideas and the original objects; that incongruities were linked together, or that some parts were of no use but to enlarge the appearance of the whole, without contributing to its beauty, solidity, or usefulness.
Wherever such discoveries were made, and they were made whenever these faults were committed, CRITICISM refused the touch which conferred the sanction of immortality; and, when the errors were frequent and gross, reversed the sceptre, and let drops of lethe distil from the poppies and cypress, a fatal mildew, which immediatly began to waste the work away, till it was at last totally destroyed.
There were some compositions brought to the test, in which, when the strongest light was thrown upon them, their beauties and faults appeared so equally mingled, that CRITICISM stood with her sceptre poised in her hand, in doubt whether to shed lethe or ambrosia upon them. These at last increased to so great a number, that she was weary of attending such doubtful claims; and, for fear of using improperly the sceptre of JUSTICE, referred the cause, to be considered by TIME.
The proceedings of Time, though very dilatory, were, some few caprices excepted, conformable to justice: and many who thought themselves secure by a short forbearance, have sunk under his scythe, as they were posting down with their volumes in triumph to futurity. It was observable that some were destroyed by little and little, and others crushed for ever by a single blow. Criticism having long kept her eye
fixed steadily upon Time, was at last so well satisfied with his conduct, that she withdrew from the earth with her patroness AsTREA, and left PREJUDICE and False Taste to ravage at large as the associates of Fraud and Mischief; contenting herself thenceforth to shed her influence from afar upon some select minds, fitted for its reception by learning and by virtue.
Before her departure she broke her sceptre, of which the shivers that formed the ambrosial end were caught up by Flattery, and those that had been infected with the waters of lethe were with equal haste seized by MALEVOLENCE. The followers of FLATTERY, to whom she distributed her part of the sceptre, neither had nor desired light,
but touched indiscriminately whatever Power or INTEREST happened to exhibit. The companions of MALEVOLENCE were supplied by the FURIES with a torch, 'which had this quality peculiar to infernal lustre, that its light feli only upon faults.
No light, but rather darkness visible,
Serv'd only to discover lights of woe. With these fragments of authority, the slaves of FLATTERY and MALEVOLENCE marched out, at the command of their mistresses, to confer immortality or condemn to oblivion. But the sceptre had now lost its power; and Time passes his sentence at leisure, without any regard to their determinations.
N° 4. SATURDAY, MARCH 31, 1750
Simul et jucunda et idonea dicere vite.
And join both profit and delight in one.
CREECH. The works of fiction, with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be fouud in conversing with mankind.
This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comick poetry. Its province is to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder : it is therefore precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroick romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.
I remember a remark made by Scaliger upon Pontanus, that all his writings are filled with the same images ; and that if you take from him his lilies and his roses, his satyrs and his dryads, he will have nothing left that can be called poetry. In like manner, almost all the fictions of the last age will vanish, if you deprive them of a hermit and a wood, a battle and a shipwreck.
Why this wild strain of imagination found reception so long, in polite and learned ages, it is not easy to conceive; but we cannot wonder that while readers could be procured, the authors were willing to continue it; for when a man had by practice gained some fluency of language, he had no further care than to retire to his closet, let loose his invention, and heat his mind with incredibilities; a book was thus produced without fear of criticism, without the toil of study, without knowledge of nature or acquaintance with life.
The task of our present writers is very different : it requires, together with that learning which is to be gained from books, that experience which can never be attained by solitary diligence, but must arise from general converse and accurate observation of the living world. Their performances have, as Horace expresses it, plus oneris quantum veniæ minus, little indulgence, and therefore more difficulty. They are engaged in portraits of which every one knows the original, and can detect any deviation from exactness of resemblance. Other writings are safe, except from the malice of learning, but these are in danger from every common reader; as the slipper ill executed was censured by a shoemaker who happened to stop in his way at the Venus of A pelles.
But the fear of not being approved as just copiers of human manners, is not the most important concern that an author of this sort ought to have before him. These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions ; not fixed by principles, and therefore casily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.
That the highest degree of reverence should be paid to youth, and that nothing indecent should be suffered to approach their eyes or ears ; are precepts extorted by sense and virtue from an ancient writer, by no means eminent for chastity of thought. The same kind, though not the same degree of caution is required in every thing which is laid before them, to secure them from unjust prejudices, perverse opinions, and incongruous combinations of images.
In the romances formerly written, every transaction and sentiment was so remote from all that passes among men, that the reader was in very little