Page images
PDF
EPUB

in business, without time for intellectual amusements ; he appeals to judges prepossessed by passions or corrupted by prejudices, which preclude their approbation of any new performance. Some are too indolent to read any thing, till its reputation is established ; others too envious to promote that fame which gives them pain by its increase. What is new is opposed, because most are unwilling to be taught ; and what is known is rejected, because it is not sufficently considered, that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed. The learned are afraid to declare their opinion early, lest they should put their reputation in hazard ; the ignorant always imagine themselves giving some proof of delicacy, when they refuse to be pleased : and he that finds his way to reputation through all these obstructions, must acknowledge that he is indebted to other causes besides his industry, his learning, or his wit.

[blocks in formation]

N° 3. TUESDAY, MARCH 27. 1750.

VIRTus, repulsæ nescia sordidæ,
Intaminatis fulger honoribus,

Nec sumit aut ponit secures
Arbitrio popularis auræ.

HOR:

Undisappointed in designs,
With native honours virtue shines,
Nor takes up pow'r, nor lays it down,
As giddy rabbles smile or frown.

FRANCIS. The task of an autḥor is, either to teach what is not known, or to recommend known truths by his manner of adorning them ; either to let new light in upon the mind, and open new scenes to the prospect, or to vary the dress and situation of common objects, so as to give them fresh grace and more powerful attractions, to spread such flowers over the regions through which the intellect has already made its progress, as may tempt it to return, and take a second view of things hastily passed over or negligently regarded.

Either ofthese labours is very difficult, because, that they may not be fruitless, men must not only be persuaded of their errors, but reconciled to their guide ; they must not only confess their ignorance, but, what is still less pleasing, must allow that he from whom they are to learn is more knowing than themselves.

It might be imagined that such an employment was in itself sufficiently irksome and hazardous; that none would be found so malevolent as wantonly to add weight to the stone of Sisyphus ; and that few endeavours would be used to obstruct those advances to reputation, which must be made at such an expence of time and thought, with so great hazard in the miscarriage, and with so little advantage from the success.

Yet there is a certain race of men, that either imagine it their duty, or make it their amusement, to hinder the reception of every work of learning er genius, who stand as centinels in the avenues of Fame, and value themselves upon giving IGNOKance and Envy the first notice of a prey.

To these men; who distinguish themselves by the appellation of Criticks, it is necessary for a new author to find some means of recommendation. It is probable, that the most malignant of these persecutors might be somewhat softened, and prevailed 6n, for a short time, to remit their fury. Having for this purpose considered many expedients, I find in the records of ancient times, that Argus was kulled by music and CERBERUS quieted with a sop; and am therefore inclined to believe that modern criticks, who, if they have not the eyes,

have the watchfulness of Argus, and can bark as loud as CERBERUS, though perhaps they cannot bite with equal force, might be subdued by methods of the same kind. I have heard how some have been pacified with claret and a supper, and others laid asleep with the soft notés of Aattery.

Though the nature of my undertaking gives me sufficient reason to dread the united attacks of this virulent generation, yet I have not hitherto persuaded myself to take any measures for flight or treaty. For I am in doubt whether they can act

a

[ocr errors]

against me by lawful authority, and suspect that they have presumed upon a forged commission, stiled themselves the ministers of CRITICISM, without any authentick evidence of delegation, and uttered their own determinations as the decrees of a higher judicature.

Criticism, from whom they derive their claim to decide the fate of writers, was the eldest daughter of Labour and of Truth: she was, at her birth, committed to the care of Justice, and brought up by her in the palace of Wisdom. Being soon distinguished by the celestials, for her uncommon qualities, she was appointed the governess of Fancy, and empowered to beat time to the chorus of the Muses when they sung before the throne of JUPITER.

When the Muses condescended to visit this lower world, they came accompanied by CritiCISM, to whom, upon her descent from her native regions, Justice gave a sceptre, to be carried aloft in her right hand,

one end of which was tinctured with ambrosia, and inwreathed with a golden foliage of amaranths and bays ; the other end was incircled with cypress, and poppies, and dipped in the waters of oblivion. In her left hand, she bore an unextinguishable torch, manufactured by LABOUR, and lighted by Truth, of which it was the particular quality immediately to shew every thing in its true form, however it might be disguised to common eyes. Whatever Art could complicate, or Folly could confound, was, upon the first gleam of the torch of Truth, exhibited in its distinct parts and original simplicity; it darts ed through the labyrinths of sophistry, and shewed

[ocr errors]

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 comınitted, 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 arvay, till it was at last totally destroyed.

« PreviousContinue »