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quadrumvirate, as they introduced a new form of government, thought proper, according to Machiavel's advice, to introduce new names; they therefore called themselves The Wits, a name which hath been affected since by the reigning monarchs in this empire.
The last of this quadrumvirate enjoyed the government alone, during his life ; after which the troubles that shortly after ensued, involved this lesser commonwealth in all the confusion and ruin of the greater, nor can any thing be found of it with sufficient certainty, till the Wits, in the reign of Charles the Second, after many struggles among themselves for superiority, at last agreed to elect John Dryden to be their king.
This king John had a very long reign, though a very unquiet one'; for there were several pretenders to the throne of wit in his time, who formed very considerablc parties against him, and gave him great uncasiness, of which his successor hath made mention in the following lines :
Pride, folly, malice, against Dryden rose,
In various shapes of parsons, critics, beaus. Besides which, his finances were in such disorder, that it is affirmed, his treasury was more than once entirely empty.
He died, nevertheless, in a good old age, possessed of the kingdom of wit, and was succeeded by king Alexander, surnamed Pope.
This prince enjoyed the crown many years, and is thought to have stretched the prerogative much farther than his predecessor : He is said to have been extremely jealous of the affections of his subjects, and to have employed various spies, by whom, if he was informed of the least suggestion against his title, he never failed of branding the accused person with the word dunce on his forehead in broad letters ; after which the unhappy culprit was obliged to lay by his pen for ever; for no bookseller would venture to print a word that he wrote.
He did indeed put a total restraint on the liberty, of the press; for no person durst read any thing which was writ without his licence and approbation; and this licence he granted only to four during his reign, namely, to the celebrated Dr. Swift, to the ingenious Dr. Young, to Dr. Arbuthnot, and to one Mr. Gay, four of his principal courtiers and favourites.
But without diring any deeper into his character, we must allow that king Alexander had great merit as a writer, and his title to the kingdom of wit was better founded at least than his enemies have pretended.
After the demise of king Alexander, the literary state relapsed again into democracy, or rather indeed, into downright anarchy; of which, as well as of the consequences, I shall treat in a future paper.
NUMB. 24. TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 1752.
Nimirum sapere est abjectis utile nugis,
And leaves to children all their childish play. THE mind of man is compared by Montaigne to a fertile field, which, though it be left entirely ..uncultivated, still retains all its genial powers; but instead of producing any thing lovely or profitable, sends forth only weeds and wild herbs of various kinds, which serve to no use or emolument whatsoever.
The human mind is, indeed, of too active a nature to content itself with a state of perfect rest or sloth. There are few men such arrant stocks or stones as to be always satisfied with idleness, or to come up to that description in Lucretius :
Mortua cui vita est prope jam vivo, atque videnti,
St. Paul describes these men better, when, writing to the Thessalonians, he says, some of them are μηδέν εργαζόμενοι, αλλα περιεργαζόμενοι: “Doing to
work, but busyirig themselves in impertinence.' Or, as the Latin author expresses the same sentiment; Gratis anhelans, multa' agendo nihil agens :
Puffing and sweating to no purpose; employed • about many things, and doing nothing.'
The original of diversions is certainly owing to this active temper; for to what purpose were they calculated, but as the very word in our language implies, to cast off idleness ? than which, to the generality of mankind, there is not, I believe, a much heavier burthen.
But if we look a little deeper into this matter, we shall find, that there is implanted in our nature a great love of business, and an equal abhorrence of idleness. This discovers itself very early in children; most of whom, as I have observed, are never better pleased, than when they are employed by their elders.
The same disposition we may perceive in "men, in those particularly to whom fortune hath made business unnecessary, and whom nature very plainly appears never to have designed for any. And yet, how common is it to see these men playing at business, if I may use the expression, and pleasing themselves all their lives with the imagination that they are not idle ?
From this busy temper may be derived almost all the works with which great men have obliged the world. Hence it was that the great artifex, Nero, arrived at so great skill, as he himself tells us he did, in music ; to which he applied with such unwearied industry on the stage, that several persons counterfeited death, in order to be carried out of the theatre from hearing him ; for it would have been very unsafe for the town of Rome to damn his performances.
If Domitian had not been of a busy, as well as a cruel temper, he would never have employed so many hours in the ingenious employment of flyspitting, which he is supposed to have brought to the highest degree of perfection of which the art is capable. Hence it is, so many industrious critics have spent their lives in all such reading as was never read, as Mr. Pope hath it ; witness the laborious and all-read Dr. Zachary Grey, who, to compile those wonderful notes to his Hudibras, musť have ransacked not only all the stalls, but all the trunks and bandboxes in the world.
Didymus, the grammarian, was another labourer of this kind. Seneca tells us, that he writ four
thousand books; in some of which he inquires into the country of Homer; in others, who was the true mother of Æneas ; whether Anacreon loved wenching or drinking most; whether Sappho was a common prostitute;' with other such learning, with which, if you had already stuffed your head, your study ought to be, how to get it out again.
Tiberius, wise as he was in policy, had a great inclination to this kind of knowledge. He pursued it,' says Suetonius, usque ad ineptias et
derișum, &c. to a degree of folly and ridicule ; for • he used to ask the grammarians, of whose company he was very fond, such kind of questions
as these: Who was the mother of Hecuba? • By what name Achilles passed among the daughters
of Lycomedes? What songs the Syrens used to • sing? &c.
Cardinal Chigi, who was afterwards Pope Alexander the Seventh, was a genius of this kind. He proclaimed a public prize for that learned man who could find a Latin word for the word Chaise. He likewise spent seven or eight days in searching whether Musca, a fly, came from Mosco, or Mosco from Musca. De Retz, from whose memoirs I have taken this story, says, That he had formerly discovered that the cardinal was Homme de minutiis ; for that the said cardinal, in a discourse on the studies of his youth, had told De Retz, that he had writ two years with the same pen.
I cannot omit the excellent remark of my author, though not to my present purpose.
• It is true, says he, this is but a trifle; but I have often ob• served, that little things afford us truer symptoms of the dispositions of men, than great ones.'
What, but the utmost impatience of idleness, could prompt men to employ great pains and trouble, and expence too, in making large collections of butterflies, pebbles, and such other wonderful productions; while others, from the same impatience, have been no less busy in hunting after monsters of every kind, as if they were at enmity with Nature, and desirous of exposing all her errors.
The Greeks have a word for this industry. They call it Kενοσπεδία ; and oftener Πολυπραίμοσύνη. Neither of which words I can translate without a periphrasis. By both is meant a vain curiosity and dili
gence in trifles.
I make no doubt, but that the same industry would often make a man of a moderate capacity a very competent master of some notable science, which hath made him a proficient in some contemptible art, or rather knack. The dexterous