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the perusal of the greatest of men ; but when no moral, no lesson, no instruction, is conveyed to the reader, where the whole design of the composition is no more than to make us laugh, the writer comes very near to the character of a buffoon; and his admirers, if an old Latin proverb be true, deserve no great compliments to be paid to their wisdom.
After what I have here advanced I cannot fairly, I think, be represented as an enemy to laughter, or to all those kinds of writing that are apt to promote it. On the contrary, few men, I believe, do more admire the works of those great masters who have sent their satire (if I may use the expression) laughing into the world. Such are that great triumvi. rate, Lucian, Cervantes, and Swift. These authors I shall ever hold in the highest degree of esteem ; not indeed for that wit and humour alone which they all so eminently possessed, but because they all endeavoured, with the utmost force of their wit and humour, to expose and extirpate those follies and vices which chiefly prevailed in their several countries.
I would not be thought to confine wit and humour to these writers. Shakspeare, Moliere, and some other authors, have been blessed with the same talents, and have employed them to the same purposes. There are some, however, who, though not void of these talents, have made so wretched a use of them, that, had the consecration of their labours been committed to the hands of the hangman, no good man would have regretted their loss ; nor am I afraid to mention Rabelais, and Aristophanes himself in this number. For, if I may speak my opinion freely of these two last writers, and of their works, their design appears to me very plainly to have been to ridicule all sobriety, modesty, decency, virtue, and religion, out of the world. Now, whoever reads over the five great writers first mentioned in this paragraph, must either have a very bad head, or a very bad heart, if he doth not become both a wiser and a better man.
In the exercise of the mind, as well as in the exercise of the body, diversion is a secondary consideration, and designed only to make that agreeable, which is at the sanje time useful, to such noble purposes as health and wisdom. But what should we say to a man who mounted his chamber hobby, or fought with his own shadow for his amusement only? how much more absurd and weak would he appear, who swallowed poison because it was sweet?
How differently did Horace think of study from our modern readers ! Quid verum atque decens curo et rogo, et omnis in hoc
Sum : Condo et compono, quæ mox depromere possim, ? Truth and decency are my whole care and in! quiry.
In this study I am entirely occupied ; these I am always laying up, and so disposing that I can at any time draw forth my stores for
my imincdiate use.' The whole epistle indeed, from which I have paraphrased this passage, is a comment upon it, and affords many useful lessons of philosophy
When we are employed in reading a great and good author, we ought to consider ourselves as searching after treasures, which, if well and regularly laid up in the mind, will be of use to us on sundry occasions in our lives. If a man, for instance, should be overloaded with prosperity or adversity (both of which cases are liable to happen to us), who is there so very wise, or so very foolish, that, if he was a master of Seneca and Plutarch, could not find great matter of comfort and utility from their doctrines? I mention these rather than Plato and Aristotle, as the works of the latter are not, I think, yet completely made English ; and, consequently, are less within the reach of most of my countrymen.
But, perhaps, it may be asked, will Seneca'or Plutarch make us laugh? perhaps not; but if you are not a fool, my worthy friend, which I can hardly with civility suspect, they will both (the latter especially) please you more than if they did. For my own part, I declare, I have not read even Lucian himself with more delight than I have Plutarch; but surely it is astonishing, that such scriblers as Tom Brown, Tom D'Urfey, and the wits of our age, should find readers, while the writings of so excelļent, so entertaining, and so voluminous an author as Plutarch remain in the world, and, as I apprehend, are very little known.
The truth I am afraid is, that real taste is a quality with which human nature is very slenderly gifted. It is indeed so very rare, and so little known, that scarce two authors have agreed in their notions of it ; and those who have endeavoured to explain it to others seem to have succeeded only in shewing us that they knew it not themselves. If I might be allowed to give my own sentiments, I should derive it from a nice harmony between the imagination and the judgment; and hence perhaps it is, that so few have ever possessed this talent in any eminent degree. Neither of these will alone bestow it; nothing is indeed inore common than to see men of very bright imaginations, and of very accurate learning (which can hardly be acquired without judgment) who are entirely devoid of taste; and Longinus, who of all men seems most exquisitely to have possessed it, will puzzle his reader very much if he should attempt to decide whether imagination or judgment shine the brighter in that inimitable critic.
But as for the bulk of mankind, they are clearly void of any degree of taste. It is a quality in which they advance very little beyond a state of infancy, The first thing a child is fond of in a book is a
picture; the second is a story; and the third a jest, Here then is the true Pons Asinorum, which very few readers ever get over.
From what I have said it may perhaps be thought to appear, that true taste is the real gift of nature only; and if so, some may ask, to what purpose have I endeavoured to shew men that they are without a blessing, which it is impossible for them to attain ?
Now, though it is certain that to the highest consummation of taste, as well as of every other excellence, nature must lend much assistance ; yet great is the power of art almost of itself, or at best with only slender aids from nature ; and, to say the truth, there are very few who have not in their ninds some small seeds of taste.
• All men,' says Cicero, ' have a sort of tacit sense of what is right or wrong
in arts and sciences, even without the help of arts.' This surely it is in the power of art very greatly to improve.
That most therefore proceed no farther than as I have above declared, is owing either to the want of any, or (which is perhaps yet worse) to an improper education.
I shall probably, therefore, in a future paper, endeavour to lay down some rules by which all men may acquire, at least, some degree of taste. In the mean while, I shall (according to the method observed in inoculation) recommend to my readers, as a preparative for their receiving my instructions, a total abstinence from all bad books. I do therefore most earnestly intreat all my young readers, that they would cautiously avoid the perusal of any niodern book till it hath first had the sanction of some wise and learned man; and the same caution I propose to all fathers, mothers, and guardians.
• Evil communications corrupt good manners, is a quotation of St. Paul from Menander. Evil books corrupt at once. both our manners and our taste.
NUMB. 17. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 1752.
Let posterity take my word for it,
It is a common expression with historians That
such and such facts will hardly be believed by
posterity ;' and yet these facts are delivered by them as undoubted truths, and very often affirmed upon their own knowledge.
But, what is much more astonishing, many of those very instances, which are represented as difficult articles of truth by future ages, did most probably pass as common occurrences at the time when they happened, and might seem scarce worthy of any notice to the generality of people who were eyewitnesses to the transactions.
The Cardinal de Retz, after relating the almost incredible distress of the then.queen of England, who was likewise the daughter of France, and had not credit at Paris for a faggot to warm herself in the month of January, proceeds thus : Nous avons • horreur, en lisant les histoires, de lachetez moins
monstreuses que cella-là ; et le peu de sentiment
que je trouvais dans la plupart des esprits sur ce « fait m'a obligé de faire, je crois, plus de mille • fois cette reflexion : que les exemples du passé • touchent sans comparaison plus les hommes que
ceux de leurs siecles. Nous nous accoutumons à tout ce que nous voions; et je vous ai dit quelquefois, que je ne sais si le consulat du cheval de Caligula nous auroit autant surpris que nous nous l'imaginons.'-'We are shocked, in reading history, at many less scandalous instances than this; and the little impression which I observed this 'made in the generality of men's minds at that time,