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and will give their judgment on a book as soon as the title of it is mentioned, for they would not willingly seem ignorant of any thing that others know. And especially if they happen to have any superior character or possessions in this world, they fancy they have a right to talk freely upon every thing that stirs or appears, though they have no other pretence to this freedom, Divito is worth forty thousand pounds; Politulus is a fine young gentlemen, who sparkles in all the shining things of dress and equipage; Aulinus is a small attendant on a minister of state, and is at court almost every day. These three happened to meet in a visit, where an excellent book of warm and refined devotions lay in the window. What dull stuff is here ! said Divito, I never read so much nonsense in one page in my life, nor would I give a shilling for a thousand such treatises. Auli. Bus, though a courtier, and not used to speak roughly, yet would not allow there was a line of good sense in the book, and pronounced bim a madman that wrote it in his secret retirement, and declared him a fool that published it after lris death. Politulus had more manners than to differ from men of such a rank and character, and therefore he sneered at the devout expres. sions as he heard them read, and made the divine treatise a matter of scorn and ridicule; and yet it was well known, that neither this fige gentleman, nor the courtier, nor the man ef wealth, had a grain of devotion in them beyond their horses that waited at the door with their gilded chariots. But this is the way of the world : blind men will talk of the beauty of colours, and of the barmony or disproportion of figures in paioting; the deaf will prate of discords in music; and those who have nothing to do with religion, will arraign the best treatise on divine subjects, though they do not understand the very language of the scripture, nor the common terms or phrases used in christianity.
VII. I might here name another sort of judges, who will set themselves up to decide in favour of an author, or will probounce him a mere blunderer, according to the company they have kept, and the judgment they have heard past upon a book by others of their own stamp or size, though they have no knowledge or taste of the subject themselves. These with a fluent and voluble tongue become mere echos of the praises or censures of other men. Sonillus happened to be in the room where the three gentlemen just mentioned gave out their thoughts so freely upon an admirable book of devotion; and two days afterwards he wet with some friends of bis where this book was the subject of conversation and praise. Sonillus wondered at their dulness, and repeated the jests which he bad heard cast upon the weakness of the author. His knowledge of the book and his decision upon it was all from hearsay, for he had never seen it: and if he bad read it through, be had no manner of right to judge about the things of religion, having no more knowledge, nor taste of any ibing of inward piety, than a hedgehog or a bear has of of politeness.
When I had written these remarks, Probus, who knew all these four gentlemen, wished they might have opportunity to read their own character as it is represented here. Alas! Probus, I fear it would do them very little good, though it may guard others against their folly : for there is never a one of them would find their own name in these characters if they read them, though all their acquaintance would acknowledge the features immediately, and see the persons almost alive in the picture.
VIII. There is yet another mischievous principle which prevails among some persons in passing a judgment on the writings of others, and that is, when from the secret stimulation of vanity, pride or envy, they despise a valuable book, and throw contempt upon it by wholesale : and if you ask them the reason of their severe censure, they will tell you perhaps, they have found a mistake or two in it, or there are a few sentiments or expresions not suited to their tooth and humour. Bavius cries down an admirable treatise of philosophy, and says there is athcism in it, because there are a few sentences that seem to suppose brutes to be mere machines. Under the same influence, Momus will not allow Paradise Lost to be a good poem, because he had read some flat and heavy lines in it, and be thought Milton had too much honour done him. It is a paltry humour that inclines a man to rail at any human performance because it is not absolutely perfect. Horace would give us a better example.
Sunt delicta quibus nos ignovisse velimus,
Hor. de Art. Poet.
Roscommon. This noble translator of Horace, whom I here cite, has a very honourable opinion of Homer in the main, yet he allows bim to be justly censured for some grosser spots and blemishes in him.
For who without aversion ever look'd
Such wise and just distinctions ought to be made when we pass a judgment on mortal things, but envy condemns by wholesale. Ency is a cursed plant ; some fibres of it are rooted almost in every man's nature, and it works in a sly and impercep. tible manner, and that even in some persons who in the main are men of wisdom and piety. They know not how to bear the praises that are given to an ingenious author, especially if he be living and of their profession, and therefore they will, if possible, find some blemish in his writings, that they may pibble and bark at it. They will endeayour to diminish the honour of the best treatise that has been written on any subject, and to render it useless by their censures, rather than suffer their envy to lie asleep, and the little mistakes of that author to pass unexposed. Perhaps they will commend the work in general with a pretended air of candour, but pass so many sly and in vidious remarks upon it afterward, as shall effectually destroy all their cold and formal praises*.
IX. When a person feels any thing of this invidious humour working in bim, he may by the following considerations attempt the correction of it. Let him think with himself how inany are the beauties of such an author whom he censures, in comparison of his blemishes, and remember that it is a much more honourable and good-natured thing to find out peculiar beauties than faults: true and undisguised candour is a much more amiable and divine talent than accusation. Let him reflect again, what an easy matter it is to find a mistake in all human authors, who are necessarily fallible and imperfect.
I confess where an author sets up himself to ridicule divine writers and things sacred, and yet assumes an air of sovereignty and dictatorship, to exalt and almost deify all the Pagan ancients, and casts his scorn upon all the moderns, especially if they do but savour of miracles and the gospel, it is fit the admirers of this author should know that nature and these ancients are not the same, though some writers always unite them. Reason and nature never made these ancient heathens their standard, either of art or genius, of writing or heroism. Sir Richard Steele in his little essay, called The Christian Hero, has shewn our Saviour and St. Paul in a more glorious and transcendent light, than a Virgil or a Homer could do for their Achilles, Ulysses, or Æneas; and I am persuaded if Moses and David had not been inspired writers, these very men would have rank. ed them at least with Herodotu's and Horace, if not given thein the superior place.
* | graot when wisdom itself censures a weak and foolish performance, it will pass its severe geotence, and yet with an air of candour, if the author bas soy thing valuable in him : but envy will ofteotimes imit te the same favourable airs, in order to make its false cavils appear more just add credible, when it bas a mind to saarl at some of the brighiest performances of a bumaa writer.
But where an author has many beauties consistent with virtue, piety, and truth, let not litile critics exalt themselves, and shower down their ill-nature upon him, without bounds or measure; but rather stretch their own powers of soul till they write a treatise superior to that which they condeinn. This is the noblest and surest manner of suppressing what they
A little wit, or a little learning, with a good degree of vanity and ill-nature, will teach a man to pour out whole pages of remark and reproach upon one real or fancied mistake of a great and good author : and this may be dressed up by the same talents, and made entertaining enough to the world, who love reproach and scandal : but if the remarker would but once make this attempt, and try to outsbine the author by writing a better book on the same subject; he would soon be convinced of his own insufficiency, and perhaps might learn to judge more justly and favourably of the performance of other men. A cobler or a shoe-maker may find some little fault with the latchet of a shoe that an Apelles had painted, and perhaps with justice too ; when the whole figure and portraiture is such as none but Apelles could paint. Every poor low gevius may cavil at what the richest and the noblest hath performed; but it is a sign of envy and malice, added to the littleness and poverty of genius, when such a cavil becomes a sufficient reason to pronounce at once against a bright author and a whole valuable treatise.
X. Another, and that a very frequent fault in passing a judgment upon books, is this, that persons spread the same praises or the same reproaches over a whole treatise, and all the chapters in it, which are due only to some of them. They judge as it where by wholesale, without making a due distinction be. tween the several parts or sections of the performance; and this is ready to lead those wlio hear them talk into a dangerous mistake. Florus is a great and just admirer of the late archbishop of Cambray, and mightily commends every thing he has written, and will allow no blemish in him : whereas the writings of that excellent man are not all of a piece, nor are those very books of his, which have a good number of beautiful and valuable seni.. ments in them, to be recommended throughout, or all at once without distinction. Tbere is his Dernonstration of the Existence and Attributes of God, which has justly gained an universal esteem, for bringing down some new and noble tboughts of the wisdoin of the creation to the understanding of the unlearned, and they are such as well deserve the perusal of the men of science, perlaps as far as the 50th Section; but there are many of the following Sections which are very weakly written, and some of them built upon an enthusiastical and mistaken scheme,
a-kin to the peculiar opinions of father Malebranche ; such as Sect. 51, 53. That we know the finite only by the ideas of the infinite. Sect. 55, 60. That the superior reason in man, is God himself acting in him. Sect. 61, 62. That the idea of unity cannot be taken from creatures but from God only: and several of his Sections, from 65 to 68, upon the doctrine of liberty, seem to be inconsistent. Again, toward the end of his book lie spends more time and pains than are needful in refuting the Epicurean fancy of atoms moving eternally through infinite changes, which might be done effectually in a much shorter and
better way .
So in his Posthumous Essays, and bis Letters, there are many admirable thoughts in practical and experimental religion, and very beautiful and divine sentiments io devotion ; but sometimes in large paragraphs, or in whole chapters together, you find him in the clouds of mystic divinity, and he never descends within the reach of common ideas or common
But remember this also, that there are but few such weak authors as this great man, who talks so very weakly sometimes, and yet in other places is so much superior to the greatest part of writers.
There are other instances of this kind where men of good sense in the main set up for judges, but they carry too many of their passions about them, and then like lovers, they are in rapture at the name of their fair idol : they lavish out all their incense upon that shrine, and cannot bear the thought of admitting a blespish in them.
You shall hear Altisino not only admire Casimire of Poland in his lyrics, as the utmost purity and perfection of Latin pocsv. but he will allow nothing in him to be extravagant or faulty, and will vindicate every line : por can I much wonder at it, when I have heard him pronounce Lucan the best of the ancient Latitis, and idolize his very weaknesses and mistakes. I will readily acknowledge the odes of Casimire to have more spirit and force, more magnificence and fire in them, and in twenty places arise 10 more dignity and beauty than I could ever meet with in any of onr modern poets : yet I am afraid to say, that Palla sutilise luce bas dignity enough in it for a robe made for the Almighty, lib. 4. Od. 7. 1. 37. or that the man of virtue in Od. 3. l. 41. uidder the ruins of heaven and earth, will bear up the fragments of the fullen world with a comely wound on his shoulders.
Interque cæli fragmina Yet I must needs confess also, that it is hardly possible a man should rise to su exalted and sublime a vein of poesy as