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of all the rules of art, than in the works of a little genius, who not only knows, but scrupulously observes them,
First, We may often take notice of men who are perfectly acquainted with all the rules of good writing, and uotwithstanding choose to depart from them on extraordinary occasions. I could give instances out of all the tragic writers of antiquity who bave shown their judgment in this particular; and purposely receded from an established rule of the drama, when it has made way for a much higher beauty than the ob. servation of such a rule would have been. Those who have surveyed the noblest pieces of architecture and statuary, both ancient and modern, know very well that there are frequent deviations from art in the works of the greatest masters, which have produced a much nobler effect than a more accurate and exact way of proceeding could have done. This often arises from what the Italians call the Gusto grande in these arts, which is what we call the sublime in writing.
In the next place, our critics do not seem sensible that there is more beauty in the works of a great ge. nius who is ignorant of the rules of art, than in those of a little genius who knows and observes them. It is of these men of genius that Terence speaks, in opposi. tion to the little artificial cavillers of his time;
Quorum amulari exoptat negligentiam
“ Whose negligence he would rather imitate than
these men's obscure diligence.”
A critic may have the same consolation in the illsuccess of his play, as Dr. South tells us a physician has at the death of a patient, that he was killed secundum artem. Our inimitable Shakspeare is a stambling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid critics. Who would not rather read one of his plays, where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them violated ? Shakspeare was indeed born with all the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone in Pyrrhus's ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the nine Muses in the veins of it, produced by the spontaneous band of nature, without any help from art.
Quantum a rerum turpitudine abes, tantum te a verborum libertate se jungas.
We should be as careful of our words as our ac.
tions; and as far from speaking, as from doing ill.
IT: is a certain sign of an ill heart to be inclined to
defamation. They who are harmless and innocent, can have no gratification that way; but it ever arises from a peglect of wbat is laudable in a man's self, and an impatience of seeing it in another. Else why should Virtue provoke? Why should Beauty displease in such a degree, that a man given to scandal never lets the mention of either pass by him without offering some. thing to the diminution of it? A lady the other day at a visit being attacked somewhat rudely by one, whose own character has been very roughly treated, answered a great deal of heat and intemperance very calmly, “ Good madam, spare me, who am none of your match; I speak ill of nobody, and it is a new thing to me to be spoken ill off.” Little minds think fame consists in the number of votes they have on their side among the multitude, whereas it is really the inseparable follower of good and worthy actions.
Fame is as natural a follower of merit, as a shadow is of a body. It is true, when crowds press upon you, this shadow cannot be seen, but when they separate. from around you, it will again appear. The lazy, the idle, and the froward, are the persons who are most pleased with the little tales which pass about the town to the disadvantage of the rest of the world. Were it not for the pleasure of speaking ill, there are numbers of people who are too lazy to go out of their own houses, and too ill-natured to open their hips in conversation. It was not a little diverting the other day to observe a lady reading a post-letter, and at these words, “ After all her airs, he has heard some story or other, and the match is broke off,” give orders in the midst of her reading, Put to the horses. That a young woman of merit has missed an advantageous settlement, was news not to be delayed, lest somebody else should have given her malicious acquaintance that satisfaction before her. The unwillingness to receive good tidings is a quality as inseparable from a scandal bearer, as the readiness to divulge bad. But, alas,, how wretchedly low and contemptible is that state of mind, that cannot be pleased but by what is the subject of lamentation. This temper has ever been in the highest degree odious to gallant spirits. The Persian soldier, who was beard reviling Alexander the Great, was well admonished by his officer: “Sir, yon are paid to fight against Alexander, and not to rail at him."
Cicero in one of his pleadings, defending his client from general scandal, says very handsomely, and with much reason, " There are many who have particular engagements to the prosecutor: there are many who are known to have ill-will to him for whom I appear; there are many who are naturally addicted to defa. mation, and envious of any good to any man, who may have contributed to spread reports of this kind : for nothing is so swift as scandal, nothing is more easily sent abroad, nothing received with more wel. come, nothing diffuses itself so universally. I shall not desire, that if any report to our disadvantage has any ground for it, you would overlook or extenuate it: but if there be any thing advanced without a per. son who can say whence he had it, or which is attested by one who forgot who told him it, or who bad it from one of so little consideration that he did not then think it worth his notice, all such testimonies as these, I know, you will think too slight to have any credit against the innocence and honour of your fellow-citizen.” When an ill report is traced, it very often vanishes among such as the orator has here recit. ed. And how despicable creature must that be, who is in pain for what passes among so frivolous a people? There is a town in Warwickshire of good note, and formerly pretty famous for much animosity and dissention, the chief families of which have now turned all their whispers, backbitings, envies, and private malices, into mirth and entertainment, by means of a peevish old gentlewoman, known by the title of the Lady Bluemantle. This heroine had for many years together outdone the whole sisterhood of gossips, in ipven. tion, quick utterance, and unprovoked malice. This good body is of a lasting constitution, though extremely decayed in her eyes, and decrepit in her feet. The two circumstances of being always at home from her lameness, and very attentive from her blindness, make her lodgings the receptacle of all that passes in town, good or bad; but for the latter, she seems to have the better memory. There is another thing to be noted of her, which is, that as it is usual with old people, she has a livelier memory of things which passed when she was very young, than of late years. Add to all this, that she does not only not love any body, but she hates every body. The statue in Rome does not serve to vent malice half so well, as this old lady does to disappoint it. She does not know the author of any thing that is told her, but can readily repeat the matter itself; therefore, though she exposes all the whole town, she offends no one body in it. She is so exquisitely restless and peevish, that she quarrels with all abont her, and sometimes in a freak will instantly change her habitation. Tu indulge this humoar, she is led about the grounds belonging to the same house she is in, and the persons to whom she is to remove, being in the plot, and ready to receive her at her own chamber again. At stated times, the gentlewo. man at whose house she supposes she is at the time, is sent for to quarrel with, according to her common custom: when they have a mind to drive the jest, she is immediately arged to that degree, that she will board in a family with which she has never yet been; and away she will go this instant, and tell them all that the rest have been saying of them. By this means she bas been an inhabitant of every house in the place without stirring from the same habitation; and the many stories which every body furnishes her with to favour that deceit, make her the general iutelligencer of the town of all that can be said by one woman against an. other. Thus groundless stories die away, and sometimes truths are smothered under the general word: when they have a mind to discountenance a thing, Oh! that is in my Lady Bluemantle's memoirs.
Whoever receives impressions to the disadvantage of others without examination, is to be bad in no other credit for intelligence than this good Lady Bluemantle, who is subjected to have her ears imposed upon for want of other helps to better information. Add to this, that other scandal-bearers suspend the use of these faculties which she has lost, rather than apply them to do justice to their neighbours; and I think, for the service of my fair readers, to acquaint them, that there is a voluntary Lady Bluemantle at every visit in town.