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Singularity cenfured. [Adventurer, No. 131.]
ONTENELLE, in his panegyric on Sir Isaac
Newton, closes a long enumeration of that great philosopher's virtues and attainments, with an observation, that “ he was not distinguished from other men, “ by any fingularity either natural or affected.”
It is an eminent instance of Newton's superiority to the rest of mankind, that he was able to separate knowledge from those weaknesses by which knowledge is generaliy disgraced ; that he was able to excell in science and wisdom, without purchasing them by the neglect of little things ; and that he stood alone, merely because he had left the relt of mankind behind him, not because he deviated from the beaten tract.
Whoever, after the example of Plutarch, should compare the lives of illustrious men, might set this part
of Newton's character, to view with great advantage, by opposing it to that of Bacon, perhaps the only man of later ages, who has any pretentions to dispute with him the palm of genius or science.
Bacon, after he had added to a long and careful contemplation of almost every other object of knowledge a curious inspection into common life, and after having surveyed nature as a philosopher, had examined “ men's “ business and bofums” as a statesman ; yet failed fo much in the conduct of domestic affairs, that in the molt lucrative post to which a great and wealthy kingdom could advance him, he felt all the miferies of dir. tressful poverty, and committed all the crimes to which poverty incites. Such were at once his negligence and rapacity, that, as it is said, he would gain by unworthy practices that money, which, when so acquired, his servants might steal from one end of the table, while he sat studious and abstracted at the other.
As scarcely any man has reached the excellence, very few have fuok to the weakness of Bacon : but almost all the ftudious tribe, as they obtain any participation of his knowledge, feel likewise some contagion of his , defects; and obstruct the veneration which learning
would procure, by follies greater or less to which only learning could betray them.
It has been formerly remarked by the Guardian, that the world punishes with too great severity the error of those, who imagine that the ignorance of little things may be compensated by the knowledge of great ; for lo it is, that as more can detect petty failings than can distinguish or esteem great qualifications, and as mankind is in general more easily disposed to cenfure than to admiration, contempt is often incurred by flight mistakes, which real virtue or usefulness cannot counterbalance.
Yet such mistakes and inadvertencies, it is not easy for a man deeply immersed in ftudy to avoid ; no man can become qualified for the common intercourses of life, by private meditation ; the manners of the world are not a regular system, planned by philosophers upon settled principles, in which every cause has a congruous effect, and one part has a just reference to another. Of the fashions prevalent in every country, a few have arisen, perhaps, from particular temperatures of the climate, a few more from the constitution of the govern. ment; but the greater part have grown up by chance, been started by caprice, been contrived by affectation, or borrowed without any just motives of choice from other countries.
Of all these, the favage that hunts his prey upon the mountains, and the fage that speculates in his closet, must necessarily live in equal ignorance ; yet by the observation of these trifles it is, that the ranks of mankind are kept in order, that the address of one to another is regulated, and the general business of the world carried on with facility and method.
These things, therefore, though small in themselves, become great by their frequency; and he very much mistakes his own interest, who, to the unavoidable unkilfulness of abstraction and retirement, adds a volun. tary neglect of common forms, and increases the difad. vantages of a studious course of life by an arrogant contempt of those practices, by which others endeavour to gain favour and multiply friendships,
A real and interior disdain of fahion and ceremony,
is, differs hold
is, indeed, not very often to be found: much the greater part of those who pretend to laugh at foppery and formality, secretly wish to have possessed those qualifications which they pretend to despise ; and because they find it difficult to wash away the tincture which they have so deeply imbibed, endeavour to harden themselves in a sullen approbation of their own colour. Neutrality is a state, into which the busy passions of man cannot easily subside; and he who is in danger of the pangs of envy, is generally forced to recreate his imagination with an effort of contempt.
Some, however, may be found, who supported by the consciousness of great abilities and elevated by a long course of reputation and applause, voluntarily consign themselves to fingularity, affect to cross the roads of life because they know that they shall not be juftled, and indulge a boundless gratification of will because they perceive that they shall be quietly obeyed. Men of this kind are generally known by the name of HUMOURISTS, an appellation by which he that has obtained it, and can be contented to keep it, is set free at once from the shackles of fashion ; and can go in or out, fit or stand, be talkative or silent, gloomy or merry, advance absurdities or oppose demonstration, without any other reprehenfion from mankind, than that it is his way, that he is an odd fellow, and must be let alone.
This seems to many, an easy pasiport through the various factions of mankind; and those on whom it is bestowed, appear too frequently to consider the patience with which their caprices are suffered, as an undoubted evidence of their own importance, of a genius to which submission is universally paid, and whose irregularities are only considered as consequences of its vigour. These peculiarities, however, are always found to spot a character though they may not totally obscure it: and he who expects from mankind, that they should give up established customs in compliance with his single will, and exacts that deference which he does not pay, may be endured, but can never be approved.
Singularity is, I think, in its own nature universally and invariably displeasing : in whatever respect a man K2
differs from others, he must be considered by them as either worse or better. By being better, it is well known that a man gains admiration oftener than love, fince all approbation of his practice muft necessarily condemn him that gives it ; and though a man often pleases by inferiority, there are few who desire to give such pleafure. Yet the truth is, that fingularity is almost always regarded as a brand of sight reproach ; and where it is affociated with acknowledged merit, ferves as an abatement or an allay of excellence, by which weak eyes are reconciled to its luitre, and by which though kindness is not gained, at least envy is averted.
But let no man be in häfte to conclude his own merit fo great or conspicuous, as to require or justify fingularity: it is as hazardous for a moderate understanding to usurp the prerogatives of genius, as for a common form to play over the airs of unconteited beauty. The pride of men will not patiently endure to see one, whose understanding or attainments are but level with their own, break the rules by which they have confented to be bound, or forsake the direction which they submisfively follow. All violation of established practice, implies in its own nature a rejection of the common opinion, a defiance of common censure, and an appeal from general laws to private judgment : he, therefore, who differs from others without apparent advantage, ought not to be angry if his arrogance is punished with ridicule ; if those, whose example he fuperciliously overlooks, point him out to derision, and hoot him, back again into the common road.
The pride of singularity is often exerted in little things, where right and wrong are indeterminable, and where, therefore, vanity is without excufe. But there are occasions on which it is noble to dare to stand alone. To be pious among infidels, to be difinterefted in a time of general venality, to lead a life of virtue and reafon in the midst of sensualifts, is a proof of a mind intent on nobler things than the praise or blame of men, of a foul fixed in the contemplation of the highest good, and superior to the tyranny of custom or example. In moral and religious questions only, a wise man will hold no consultations with fashion, because these duties are constant and immutable, and depend not on the notions of men, but the commands of Heaven : yet even of these, the external mode is to be in some mea. fure regulated by the prevailing tafte of the age in which we live ; for he is certainly no friend to virtue, who neglects to give it any lawful attraction, or suffers it to displease the eye or alienate the affections for want of innocent compliance with faihionable decorations,
It is yet remembered of the learned and pious Nelson, that he was remarkably elegant in his manners, and fplendid in his dress. He knew, that the eminence of his character drew many eyes upon him; and he was careful not to drive the young or gay away from religion, by representing it as an enemy to any distinction or enjoyment, in which human nature may innocently delight.
In this censure of fingularity, I have, therefore, no intention to subject realon or conscience to custom and example. To comply with the notions and practices of mankind, is in some degree the duty of a social being ; because by compliance only he can please, and by pleafing only he can become useful: but as the end is not to be loft for the sake of the means, we are not to give up virtue to complaisance ; for the end of complaisance is only, to gain the kindness of ou fellow beings, whose kindness is desirable only as instrumental to happiness, and happiness must be always loft by departure from virtue.
No life pleasing to God, that is not useful to man.
[Advent. No. 38.] T pleased our mighty fovereign Abbas Carascan,
from whom the kings of the earth derive honour and dominion, to set Mirza his servant oyer the province of Tauris. În the hand of Mirza, the balance of distribution was suspended with impartiality; and unK. 3