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guess wrong; and, perhaps, may fix on one of his best friends; which will be doing him a very great injury, and wilị, consequently, give great pleasure to,
Iaco: I cannot dismiss this letter without observing, that if there be really such a person as this writer describes himself, the possession of his own bad mind is a worse curse to him than he himself will ever be able to in flict on the happy Axylus.
NUMB. 23. SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 1759.
Ούκ αγαθόν πολυκοιρανίη είς κoίρανα: έσω,
THOUGH of the three forms of government acknowledged in the schools all have been very warmly opposed, and as warmly defended; yet, in this point, the different advocates will, I believe, yery readily agree, that there is not one of the three which is not greatly to be preferred to a total anarchy, a state in which there is no subordination, no lawful power, and no settled government; þut where every man is af liberty to act in whatever manner it pleaseth him best.
As this is in reality a most deplorable state, I have long lamented, with great anguish of heart, that it is at present the case of a very large body of people in this kingdom. An assertion which, as it may surprise most of my readers, I will maké haste to explain, by declaring, that I mean the fraternity of the quill, that body of men to whom the publick assign the name of authors.
However absurd politicians may have been pleased to represent the imperium in imperio, it will here, I doubt not, be found on a strict examination to be extremely necessary. The commonwealth of literature being, indeed, totally distinct from the greater commonwealth, and no more dependent upon it, than the kingdom of England is on that of France. Of this our legislature seems to have been at all times sensible, as they have never attempted any provision for the regulation or correction of this body. In one instance, it is true, there are (I should rather, I believe, say there were) some laws to restrain them; for writers, if I am not mistaken, have been formerly punished for blasphemy against God, and libels against the government; nay, I have been told, that 'to slander the reputation of private perşons, was once thought unlawful here as well as among the Romans, who, as Horace tells us, had a severe law for this purpose.
In promulging these laws (whatever may be the reason of suffering them to grow obsolete) the state seems to have acted very wisely'; as such kind of writings are really of most mischievous consequence to the publick ; but alas ! there are many abuses, many horrid evils, daily springing up in the commonwealth of literature, which appear to affect only that commonwealth, at least immediately, of whích none of the political legislators have ever taken any notice ; nor hath any civil court of judicature ever pretended to any cognizance of them. Nonsense and dulness are no crimes in foro civili: No man can be questioned for bad verses in Westminster-hall; and amongst the many indictments for battery, not one can be produced for breaking poor Priscian's head, though it is done almost every day.
But though immediately, as I have said, these evils do not affect the greater commonwealth ; yet as they tend to the utter ruin of the lesser, so they have a remote evil consequence, even on the state itself; which seems, by having left them unprovided for, to have remitted them, for the sake of convenience, to the government of laws, and to the superintendence of magistrates of this lesser commonwealth ; and never to have foreseen or suspected that dreadful state of anarchy, which at present prevails in this lesser empires an empire which hath formerly made so great a figure in this kingdom, and that, indeed, almost within our own memories.
It may appear strange, that none of our English historians have spoken clearly and distinctly of this lesser empire ; but this may be well accounted for, when we consider that all these histories have been written by two sorts of persons; that is to say, either politicians or lawyers. Now the former of these have had their imaginations so entirely filled with the affairs of the greater empire, that it is no wonder the business of the lesser should have totally escaped their observation. And as to the lawyers, they are well known to have been very little acquainted with the commonwealth of literature, and to have always acted and written in defiance to its laws.
From these reasong it is very difficult to fix, with certainty, the exact period when this commonwealth first began among us. Indeed, if the originals of all the greater empires upon earth, and even of our own, be wrapped in such obscurity that they elude the inquiries of the most diligent sifters of antiquity, we cannot be surprised that this fate should attend our little empire, opposed as it hath been by the pen of the lawyer, overlooked by the cye of the historian, and never once smelt after by the nose of the antiquary.
In the earliest ages, the literary state seems to have been an ecclesiastical democracy; for the clergy are then said to have had all the learning among them; and the great reverence paid at that time to it by the laity, appears from hence, that whoever could prove in a court of justice that he belonged to this state, by only reading a single yerse in the Testament, was vested with the highest privileges, and might do almost what he pleased; even commit murder with impunity. And this privilege was called the benefit of the clergy.
This commonwealth, however, can scarce be said to haye been in any flourishing state of old time, even among the clergy themselves; inasmuch as we are told, that a rector of a parish going to law with his parishioners, about paving the church, quoted this authority from St. Peter, Paveant illi, non paveam ego.
Which he construed thus : They are to pave the church, and not !!' And this by a judge, who was likewise an ecclesiastic, was allowed to be very good law.
The nobility had clearly no antient connection with this commonwealth, nor would submit to be bound by any of its laws, witness that provision in an old act of parliament : ! That a nobleman shal!
be entitled to the benefit of his clergy (the pri*vilege above-mentioned) even though he cannog 6 read: Nay, the whole body
body of the laity, though they gaye şuch honours to tặis commonwealth, appear to have been very few of them under its jurisdiction; as appears by a law cited by judge Rolls in his Abridgment, with the reason which he gives for it: The command of the sheriff, says this writer, to his officer, by word of mouth, and without writing, is good; for it may be, that
6 neither the 'sheriff nor his officer can write or « read.'
But not to dwell on these obscure times, when so very little authentic can be found concerning this commonwealth, let us come at once to the days of Henry the Eighth, when no less a revolution happened in the lesser than in the greater empire; for the literary government became absolute, together with the political, in the hands of one and the same monarch; who was himself a writer, and dictated, not only law, but common sense too, to all his people ; suffering no one to write or speak, bạt according to his own will and pleasure.
After this King's demise, the literary commonwealth was again separated from the political ; for I do not find that his successor on the greater throne succeeded him likewise in the lesser. Nor did either of the two Queens, as I can learn, pretend to any authority in this empire, in which the Salique law hath universally prevailed; for though there have been some considerable subjects of the female sex in the literary commonwealth, I never remember to have read of a Queen.
It is not easy to say with any great exactness, what form of government was preserved in this commonwealth, during the reigns of Edward VI. queen Mary, and queen Elizabeth; for though there were some great men in those times, none of them seemed to have affected the throne of wit : Nay, Shakspeare, who flourished in the latter end of the last seign, and who seemed so justly qualified to enjoy this crown, never thought of chal, lenging it.
In the reign of James I. the literary government was an aristocracy, for I do not choose to give it the evil name of oligarchy, though it consisted only of four, namely, Master William Shakspeare, Master Benjamin Jonson, Master John Fletcher, and Master Francis Beaumont. This