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I remember in that remarkable year when our country was delivered from the greatest fears and apprehensions, and raised to the greatest height of gladness it had ever felt since it was a nation; I mean the year of Blenheim, I had the copy of a letter sent me out of the country, which was written from a young gentleman in the army to his father, a man of good estate and plain sense : as the letter was very modishly chequered with this modern military eloquence, I shall present my reader with a
copy of it.
SIR, “ UPON 'the junction of the French and Bavarian armies they took post behind a great morass which they thought impracticable. Our general the next day sent a party of horse to reconnoitre them from a little hauteur, at about a quarter of an hour's distance from the army, who returned again to camp unobserved through several defiles, in one of which they met with a party of French that had been marauding, and made them all prisoners at discretion. The day after a drum arrived at our camp, with a message which he would communicate to none but the general ; he was followed by a trumpet, who they say behaved himself very saucily, with a message from the Duke of Bavaria. . The next morning our army being divided into two corps, made a movement towards the enemy: you will hear in the public prints how we treated them, with the other circumstances of that glorious day. I had the good fortune to be in the regiment that pushed the Gens d'Arms. Several French battalions, who some say were a Corps de Reserve, made a show of resistance; but it only proved a gasconade, for upon our preparing to fill up a little fossé, in order to attack_them, they beat the Chamade, and sent us Charte Blanche. Their commandant, with a great many other general officers, and troops without number, are made prisoners of war, and will, I believe, give you a visit in England, the cartel not being yet settled. Not questioning but these particulars will be very welcome to you, I congratulate you upon them, and am your most dutiful son,” &c.
The father of the young gentleman upon the perusal of the letter found it contained great news, but could not guess what it was. Heimmediately communicated it to the curate of the parish, who upon the reading of it, being vexed too see any thing he could not understand, fell into a kind of passion, and told him, that his son had sent him a letter that was neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring. I wish, said he, the captain may be compos mentis, he talks of a saucy trumpet, and a drum that carries messages; then who is this Charte Blanche ? he must either banter us, or he is out of his senses. The father, who always looked upon the curate as a learned man, began to fret inwardly at his son's usage, and producing a letter which he had written to him about three posts afore, You see here, says he, when he writes for money, he knows how to speak intelligibly enough; there is no man in England can express himself clearer, when he wants a new furniture for his horse. In short, the old man was so puzzled upon the point, that it might have fared ill with his son, had he not seen all the prints about three days after filled with the same terms of art, and that Charles only writ like other men.
* It is remarkable that most of the French terms inserted in this letter, in order to expose the affectation of the writer, are now grown so familiar among us, that few men would think of expressing them. selves on the like occasion, in any other.
No. 166. MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10.
Quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,
ARISTOTLE tells us, that the world is a copy or transcript of those ideas which are in the mind of the first being, and those ideas which are in the mind of man, are a transcript of the world : to this we may add, that words are the transcript of those ideas which are in the mind of man, and that writing or printing is the transcript of words.
As the Supreme Being has expressed, and as it were printed his ideas in the creation, men express their ideas in books, which by this great invention of these latter ages, may last as long as the sun and moon, and perish only in the general wreck of nature. Thus Cowley in his poem on the resurrection, mentioning the destruction of the universe, has those admirable lines.
Now all the wide extended sky,
And Virgil's sacred work shall die, There is no other method of fixing those thoughts which arise and disappear in the mind of man, and transmitting them to the last periods of time; no other method of giving a permanency to our ideas, and preserving the knowledge of any particular person, when his body is mixed with the common mass of matter, and his soul retired into the world of spirits. Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.
All other arts of perpetuating our ideas continue but a short time : statues can last but a few thousands of years, edifices fewer, and colours still fewer than edifices. Michael Angelo, Fontana, and Raphael, will
hereafter be what Phidias, Vitruvius, and Apelles are at present; the names of great statuaries, architects, and painters, whose works are lost. The several arts are expressed in mouldering materials; nature sinks under them, and is not able to support the ideas which are imprest upon it.
The circumstance which gives authors an advantage above all these great masters, is this, that they can multiply their originals; or rather can make copies of their works, to what number they please, which shall be as valuable as the originals themselves. This gives a great author something like a prospect of eternity, but at the same time deprives him of those other advantages which artists meet with. The artist finds greater returns in profit, as the author in fame. What an inestimable price would a Virgil or a Homer, a Cicero or an Aristotle bear, were their works like a statue, a building, or a picture, to be confined only in one place, and made the property of a single person.
If writings are thus durable, and may pass from age to age throughout the whole course of time, how careful should an author be of committing any thing to print that may corrupt posterity, and poison the minds of men with vice and error ? Writers of great talents, who employ their parts in propagating immorality, and seasoning vicious sentiments with wit and humour, are to be looked upon as the pest of society and the enemies of mankind : they leave books behind them (as it is said of those who die in distempers which breed an ill-will towards their own species) to scatter infection and destroy their posterity. They act the counter-parts of a Confucius or a Socrates; and seem to have been sent into the world to deprave human nature, and sink it into the condition of brutality.
I have seen some Roman Catholic authors, who tell us, that vicious writers continue in purgatory so long as the influence of their writings continues upon posterity: for purgatory, say they, is nothing else but a cleansing us of our sins, which cannot be said to be done away, so long as they continue to operate and corrupt mankind. The vicious author, say they, sins after death, and so long as he continues to sin, so long must he expect to be punished. Though the Roman Catholic notion of purgatory be indeed very ridiculous, one cannot but think that if the soul after death has any knowledge of what passes in this world, that of an immoral writer would receive much more regret from the sense of cor-. rupting, than satisfaction from the thought of pleasing, his surviving admirers.
To take off from the severity of this speculation, I shall conclude this paper with a story of an atheistical author, who, at a time when he lay dangerously sick, and had desired the assistance of a neighbouring curate, confessed to him with great contrition, that nothing sat more heavy at his heart than the sense of his having seduced the age by his writings, and that their evil influence was likely to continue even after his death. The curate, upon further examination, finding the penitent in the utmost agonies of despair, and being himself a man of learning, told him, that he hoped his case was not so desperate as he apprehended, since he found that he was so very sensible of his fault, and so sincerely repented of it. The penitent still urged the evil tendency of his book to subvert all religion, and the little ground of hope there could be for one whose writings would continue to do mischief when his body was laid in ashes. The curate finding no other way to comfort him, told him, that he did well in being afflicted for the evil design with which he published his book; but that he ought to be very thankful that there was no danger of its doing any hurt. That his cause was so very bad, and his arguments so weak, that he did not apprehend any ill effects of it. In short, that he might rest satisfied that his book could do no more mischief after his death, than it had done whilst he was living. To which he added, for his further satisfaction, that he did not believe any besides his particular friends and acquaintance had ever been at the pains of reading it, or, that any body after his death would ever inquire after it. The dying man had still so much of the frailty of an