Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

ind to Shakespeare and Milton in without either loss or alloy; while England; especially to the last, whose baser metals are corrupted by earth, writings are more unmixed in this re- air, water, fire, and assimilated to the

various elements through which theypass.

This circumstance then may be justly regarded as sufficient to vindicate the composition of the sacred scriptures; as it is at once their chief excellence, arid greatest security. It is their excellence, as it renders them intelligible and useful to all; it is their security,

Ipect, and who had formed himself entirely on the simple model of the best Greek writers and thesaCred scriptures. As it appears from these instances, that simplicity is the only universal characteristic of just writing; so the superior eminence of the sacred scriptures in this prime quality hath been generally acknowledged. One of the greatest critics in antiquity, himself as it prevents their being disguised by

the false and capricious ornaments of vain or weak translators.

We may safely appeal to experience and fact far the confirmation of these remarks on the superior simplicity, utility, and excellence os the style of the holy scripture. Is there any book in the world so perfectly adapted to all capacities? that contains such sublime ■and exalted precepts, conveyed in such an artless and intelligible strain? that can be read with such pleasure and adT vantage by the lettered sage and the unlettefed peasant f Ibid.

§ 89. Simplicity JbotilJ be preferred Refinement in Writing.

Fine writing, according to Mr. Addison, consists of sentiments which are natural, without being obvious. There cannot be a juster, arid more concise definition of sine writing.

Sentiments which are merely natural, affect not the mind with any pleasure, and seem not worthy to engage our attention. The pleasantries of a waterman, the observations of a peasant, the ribaldry of a porter or hackney coachman; all these are natural, and disagreeable. What an insipid comedy should we make of the chit-chat of the tea-table, copied faithfully and at full bn theparticular construction oftohgues, lengths Nothing can please persons of no change of tongue cart destroy. Hence taste, but nature drawn with all her the bible composition preserves its na- graces and ornaments, la belle nature; live beauty and strength alike in every or if we copy low-life, the strokes must language, by the sole energy of uri- be strong and remarkable, and must adorned phrase, natural images, weight convey a lively image to the mind, of sentiment, and great simplicity. The absurd naivete of Sancho Pancha

It is in this respect like a rich is represented in such inimitable covein of gold, which, under the severest lours by Cervantes, that it entertains as trials ot heat, cold, and moisture, re- much as the picture of the most magnatains its original weight and splendor, nimious hero or softest lover.

3 B The

conspicuous in the sublime and simple manner, hath borne this testimony to the Writings of Mofcs and St. Paul; and by parity of reason we must conclude, that had he been conversant with the other satred writers, his taste and Candour would have allowed them the same encomium. Brown's Ejsuy.

- 5 88. Simplicity conspicuous in the Scriptures.

It hath been often observed, even by writers of no mean rank, that the *' scriptures suffer in their credit by the disadvantage of a literal version, while other ancient writings enjoy the advantage of a free and embelliflied translation." But in reality these gentlemen's concern is ill placed and

■groundless. For the truth is, " That most other writings are indeed impaired

'by a literal translation; whereas, giving only a due regard to the idioms of dif

, ferent languages, the sacred writings, when literally translated, are then in their fall perfectiori."

Now this is an internal proof, that in all other writings there is a mixture of local, relative, exterior ornament; which is often lost in the transfusion from one language to another. Bnt the internal beauties, which depend not

The case is the fame with orators, philosophers, critics, or any author, who speaks in his own person, without introducing other speakers or actors. If his language be not elegant, his observations uncommon, his fense strong and masculine, he will in vain boast his nature and simplicity. He may be correct; but he never will be agreeable. 'Tis the unhappiness of such authors, that they are never blamed nor censured. The good fortune of a book, and that of a man, are not the same. The secret deceiving path of life, which Horace talks of, sallentis femita vitie, may be the hapgiett lot of the one ; but is the greatest misfortune that the other can possibly fall into.

On the other hand, productions which are merely surprising, without being natural, can never give any lasting entertainment to the mind. .To draw chimeras is not, properly speaking,, to copy ,pr imitate. The justness .of the representation is lost, and the mind is displeased to find a picture, which bears no resemblance to any original. Nor are such excessive refinements more agreeable in the epistolary or philosophic style than in the epic or tragic. Too much ornament is a fault in every kind of production. Uncommon expressions, strong flashes of wit, pointed similies, end epigrammatic turns, especially when laid too thick, are a disfigurement rather than any embellishment of discourse. As the eye, in surveying a Gothic building, is distracted by the multiplicity of ornaments, and loses the whole by its minute attention to the parts; so the mind, in perusing a work overstocked with wit, is fatigued and disgusted with the constant endeavour to shine and surprise. This is the cafe where a writer overabounds in wit, even though that wit should be just and agreeable. But it commonly happens to such writers, that they seek for their favourite ornaments, even where the subject affords them not; and by that means, have twenty insipid conceits for one thought that is really beautiful.

There 19 no subject in critical learning UL9K copious thaa this of the just

mixture of simplicity and refinement in writing ; and therefore, not to wander in too large a field, I shall confine myself to a few general observations on that head.

First, I observe, 'That though excesses of both kinds are to be avoided, and though a proper medium ought to be studied in all productions; yet this medium lies not in a point, but admits of a very considerable latitude.' Consider the wide distance, in this respect, betwixt Mr. Pope and Lucretius. These seem to lie in the two greatest extremes" of refinement and simplicity, which a poet can indulge himself in, without being guilty of any blameable excess. All this interval may be filled with poets, who may differ from each other, but may bo equally admirable,' each in his peculiar style and manner. Corneille and Congreve, who carry, their wit and refinement somewhat farther than Mr. Pope (if poets of so different a kind can be compared together) and Sophocles and Terence, who are more simple than 'Lucretius, seem to have gone out of that medium, wherein the most perfect productions are to be found, and are guilty of some excess in these opposite characters. Of all the great poets, Virgil and Racine, in my opinion, lie nearest the center, and are the farthest removed from both the extremities.

My second observation on this head is, • That it is very difficult, if not impossible, to explain, by words, wherein the just medium betwixt the excesses of simplicity and refinement consists, or to give any rule, by which we can know precisely the bounds betwixt the fault and the beauty.' A critic may not only discourse very judiciously on this head, without instructing his readers, but even without understanding the matter perfectly himself. There is not in the world a finer piece of criticism than Fontenellc's Dissertatioa on Pastorals; wherein, by a number of reflections and philosophical reasonings, he endeavours to fix the just medium which is suitable to that species of writing. But let any one read 'the pastoral* of that author, and he Will be convinced, that this judicious critic, notwithstanding his fine reasonings, had a false taste, and fixed the point of perfection much nearer the extreme osrefineraent, than pastoral poetry will admit of. The sentiments of his shepherds are better suited to the toilets of Paris, than to the forests of Arcadia. But this it is impossible .to discover from his critical reasonings. He blames all excessive painting and ornament as much as Virgil could have done, had he wrote a dissertation on this species of poetry. However different the tastes of men may be, their general discourses on these subjects are commonly the fame. No criticism can be very instructive, which descends not to particulars, and is not full of examples and illustrations. 'Tis allowed on all hands, that beauty, as well as virtue, lies always in a medium; but where this medium is placed, is the great question, and can never be sufficiently explained by general reasonings.

I shall deliver it as a third observation on this subject, 'That we ought to be more on our guard against the excess of refinement than that of simplicity; and that because the former excess is both less beautiful and more dangerous than the latter.'

It is a certain rule, that wit and passion are intirely inconsistent. When the affections are moved, there is no place for the imagination. The mind of man being naturally limited, it is impossible all its faculties can operate at once: and the more any one predominates, the less room is there for the others to exert their vigour. For this reason, a greater degree of simplicity is required in all compositions, where men, and actions, and passions are painted, than in such as consist of reflections and observations. And as the former species of writing is the more engaging and beautiful, one may safely, upon this account, give the preference to the extreme of simplicity above that of refinement.

We may also observe, that those compositions, which we read the oftenest, and which every man of taste has got by heart, have ihe recommendation of

simplicity, and have nothing surprising; in the thought, when divested of that elegance of expression, and harmony of numbers, with which it is cloathed. If the merit of the composition lies in a point of wit, it may strike at first ; but the mind anticipates the thought in. the second perusal, and is no longer affected by it. When I read an epigram of Martial, the first line recalls the whole; and I have no pleasure in. repeating to myself what I know already. But each line, each word in Catullus has its merit; and I am never tired with the perusal of him. It is sufficient to run over Cowley once: but ParneK after the fiftieth reading, is as fresh as at the first. Besides, it is with books as with women, where a certain plainness of manner and of dress is more engaging than that glare of paint and airs and apparel, which may dazzle the eye, but reaches not the affections. Terence is a modest and bashful beauty, to whom we grant every thing, because he assumes nothing, and whose purity and nature make a durable, though not a violent, impression upon us.

But refinement, as it is the less beautiful, so it is the more dangerous extreme, and what we are the aptest to fall into. Simplicity passes for dullness, when it is not accompanied with great elegancs and propriety. On the contrary, there is something surprising in a blaze of wit and conceit. Ordinary readers are mightily struck with it, and falsely imagine it to be the most difficult, as well as most excellent way of writing, Seneca abounds with agreeable faults, fays Quinctilian, abundat dulcibut wtiis; and for that reason is the more dangerous, and the more apt to pervert the taste of the young and inconsiderate.

I (hall add, that the excess of refinement is now more to be guarded against than ever ; because it Is the extreme, which men are the most apt to fall into, after learning has made great progress, and after eminent writers have appeared in every species of composition. The endeavour to please by novelty, leads men wide of simplicity and nature, and fills their writings with affectation and

3 B z conceit. conceit. It was thus the age of Claudius and Nero became so much inferior to that of Augustus in taste and genius: and perhaps there are, at present, some symptoms of a like degeneracy of taste, in France as well as in England.

Hume.

§ 90. An EJsay on Suicide. The last sessions deprived us of the only surviving member of a society, which (during its short existence) was equal both in principles and practice to the Mohocks and Hell-fire club of tremendous memory. This society was composed of a few broken gamesters and desperate young rakes, who threw the small remains of their bankrupt fortunes into one common stock, and thence assumed the name of the Last Guinea Club. (A short life and a merry one was their favourite maxim; and they determined, when their finances should be exhausted, to die as they had lived, like gentlemen. Some of their members had the luck to get a reprieve by a good run at cards, and others by snapping up a rich heiress or a dowager ; while the rest, who were not cut off in the natural way by duels or the gallows, very resolutely made their ■quietus with laudanum or the pistol. The last that remained of this society had very calmly prepared for his own execution: he had cocked his pistol, •deliberately placed the muzzle of it to his temple, and was just going to pull the trigger, when he bethought himself that he could employ it to better purpose upon Hounflow heath. This brave man, however, had but a very short respite, and was obliged to suffer the ignominy of going out of the world in the vulgar way, by an halter.

The enemies of play will perhaps consider those gentlemen-, who boldly stake their whole fortunes at the gaming table, in the fame view with these desperadoes; and they may even go so •far as to regard the polite and honourable assembly at White's as a kind of Last Guinea Club. Nothing, they will fay, is so fludtuaiingas the properly of a gamester, who (when luck runs against him) throws away whole acres at every cast of the dice, and whose

houses are as unsure a possession, as 1/ they were built with cards. Many, indeed, have been reduced to their last guinea at this genteel gaming-house; but the most inveterate enemies to White's must allow, that it is but now and then, that a gamester of quality, who looks upon it as an even bet whether there is another world, takes hit chance, and dispatches himself, when the odds are against him in this.

But however free the gentlemen of White's may be from any imputation of this kind, it must be confessed, that suicide begins to prevail so generally, that it is the most gallant exploit, by which our modern heroes chuse to signalize themselves ; and in this, indeed, they behave with uncommon prowess. From the days of Plato down to these, a suicide has always been compared to a soldier on guard deserting his post: but I should rather consider a set of these desperate men, who rush on certain, death, as a body of troops sent out on. the forlorn hope. They meet every face of death, however horrible, with the utmost resolution: some blow their brains out with a pistol; some expire, like Socrates, by poison ; some fall, like Cato, on the point of their own swords j and others, who have lived like Nero, affect to die like Seneca, and bleed to death. The most exalted geniuses I ever remember lo have heard of were a party of reduced gamesters, who bravely resolved to pledge each other in x bowl of laudanum. I was lately informed of a gentleman, who went among his usual companions at the gaming-table the day before he made away with himself, and coolly questioned them, which they thought the easiest and genteelest method of going out of the world: for there is aa much difference between a mean person and a man of quality in their manner of destroying themselves, as in their manner of living. The poor sneakingwretch, starving in a garret, tucks himself up in his list garters; a second, crost in Jove, drowns himself like a blind puppy in Rosamond's pond; and a third cuti his throat with his own razor. Bat the man of fashion almost always dies by a pistol; and even the cobler of any Ipirit goes off by a dose or two extraordinary of gin.'

But this false notion os courage, however noble it may appear to the desperate and abandoned, in reality amounts to no more than the resolution of the highwayman, who (hoots himseif with his own pistol, when he finds it impossible to avoid being taken. All practicable means, therefore, should be devised to extirpate such absurd bravery, and to make ic appear every way horrible, odious, contemptible, and ridiculous. From reading the public prints, a foreigner might be naturally ]ed to imagine, that we are the most lunatic people in the whole world. Almost every day informs us, that the coroster's inquest has fat on the body of time miserable suicide, and brought in their verdict lunacy; but it is very well known, that the enquiry has not been made into the state of mind of the deceased, but into his fortune and family. The law has indeed provided, the deliberate self-murderer should be treated like a brute, and denied the rites of burial: but among hundreds of lunatics by purchase, I never knew this sentence executed but on one poor cobler, who hanged himself in his own . stall, A pennyless poor wretch, who has not left enough to defray the funeral charges, may perhaps be excluded the church-yard; but self-murder by a pistol qualifies the polite owner for a sudden death, and entitles him to a pompous burial, and a monument setting forth his virtues in Westminster Abbey. Every man in his sober senses must wish, that the mostsevere laws that could possibly be contrived were enacted against suicides. This shocking bravado never did (and I am confident never will) prevail among the more delicate and tender sex in our own nation: though history informs us, that the Roman ladies were once so infatuated as to throw off the softness of their nature, and commit violence on themselves, tiil the madness was curbed by the exposing their naked bodies in the public streets. This, I think, would afford an hint for fixing the like ipark pf ignominy on our male suicides; and I would have every lower wretch

of this fort dragged- at the •cart's tail, and afterwards hung in chains at his own door, or have his quarters put up in terrorem in the most public places, as a rebel to his Maker. But, that the suicide of quality might be treated with more respect, he should be indulged in having his wounded corpse and shattered brains laid (as it were) in state for some days; of which dreadful spectacle we may conceive the horror from the following picture drawn byDryden:

The flayer of himself too sew I there;
The g >re congeal'd was clotted in his hair:
With eyes half clos'd, aud mouth wide ope he

lay,
And grim as when he breath'd his sullen soul

away.

The common murderer has his skeleton preserved at Surgeons-Hall, in order to deter others from being guilty of the fame crime; and I think it would not be improper to have a charnelhouse set apart to receive the bones of these more unnatural self-murderer*, in which monuments should be erected, giving an account of their deaths, and adorned with the glorious ensigns of their rashness, the rope, the knife, the sword, or the pistol.

The cause os these frequent selfmurders among us has been generally imputed to the peculiar temperature of our climate. Thus a dull day is looked upon as a natural order of execution, and Englishmen must necessarily shoot, hang, and drown themselves in November. That our spirits are in some measure influenced by the air cannot be defied; but we are not such mere barometers as to be driven to despair and death by the small degree of gloom that our winter brings with it. If we have not so much sunshine as some countries in the world, we have infinitely more than many others; and I do not hear that men dispatch thomseives by dozens in Russia or Sweden, or that they are unable to keep up their spirits even in the total darkness of Greenland. Our climate exempts us from many diseases, to which other more southern nations are naturally subject; and I can , never be persuaded, that being born near the north pole is a physical cause for self-murder.

3 6 J Despair,

« ZurückWeiter »