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- Præsens, absens ut sies.
IT is a hard and nice subject for a man to speak of
himself,” says Cowley; “ it grates his own heart to say any thing of disparagement, and the reader's ears to hear any thing of praise from him.” Let the tenour of his discourse be what it will upon this subject, it generally proceeds from vanity. An ostentatious man will rather relate a blunder or an absurdity he has committed, than be debarred of talking of his own dear person.
Some very great writers have been guilty of this fault. It is observed of Tully in particular, that his works run very much in the first person, and that he takes all occasions of doing himself justice. he think,” says Brutus, “ that his consulship deserves more applause than my putting Cæsar to death, be. cause I am not perpetually talking of the Ides of March, as he is of the Nones of December?” I need not acquaint my learned reader, that in the Ides of March, Brutus destroyed Cæsar, and that Cicero quashed the conspiracy of Catiline in the Calends of December. How shocking soever this great man's talking of himself might have been to his contempo. raries, I must confess I am never better pleased than when he is on this subject. Such openings of the heart give a man a thorough insight into his personal character, and illustrate several passages in the history of his life: besides that, there is sonie little pleasure in discovering the infirmity of a great man, and seeing how the opinion he has of bimself agrees with what the world entertains of bim.
The gentlemen of Port Royal, who were more eminent for their learning and for their humility than
any other in France, banished the way of speaking in the first person out of all their works, as rising from vain-glory and self conceit. To show their particular aversion to it, they branded this form of writing with the name of an egotism ; a figure not to be fonnd among the ancient rhetoricians.
The most violent egotism which I have met with in the course of ny reading, is that of Cardinal Wolsey, Ego et rex meus, “ I and my king;” as perhaps the most eminent egotist that ever appeared in the world, was Montaigne, the author of the celebrated essays. This lively old Gascon has woven all bis bodily infirmities into his works, and after baving spoken of the faults or virtues of any other men, immediately publishes to the world how it stands with himself in that particular. Had be kept his own counsel, he might have passed for a much better man, though perhaps he would not have been so diverting an author. The title of an essay promises perhaps a discourse upon Virgil or Julius Cæsar; but wben you look into it, you are sure to meet with more upon Monsieur Mon. taigne, than of either of them. The younger Scaliger, who seems to have been no great friend to this author, after having acquainted the world that his father sold berrings, adds these words; La grand fadaise de Montaigne, qui a ecrit qu'il aimoit mieux le vin hlanc-que diable a-t-on a faire de scavoir ce qu'il aime? “ For my part,” says Montaigne, “I am a great lover of your white wines."-" What the devil signifies it to the public,” says Scaliger, “ whether he is a lover of white wines, or of red wines?"
I cannot here forbear mentioning a tribe of egotists for whom I have always had a mortal aversion, I mean the authors of memoirs, who are never men. tioned in any works but their own, and who raise all their productions out of this siugle figure of speech.
Most of our modern prefaces favour very strongly of the egotism. Every insignificant author fancies it of importance to the world, to know that he writ his
book in the country, that he did it to pass away some of his idle hours, that it was published at the importunity of friends, or that his natural temper, studies, or conversations, directed him to the choice of his subject.
Id populus curat scilicet.
Such informations cannot but be highly improviug to the reader.
In works of hamour, especially when a man writes ander a tictitious persouage, the talking of one's self may give some diversion to the public; but I would advise every other writer, never to speak of bimself, unless there be something very considerable in his character: though I ain sensible this rule will be of little use in the world, because there is no man who fancies bis thoughts worth publishing, that does not look upon himself as a considerable person.
I shall close this paper with a remark upon such as are egotists in conversation : these are generally the vain or sballow part of mankind, people being naturally full of themselves when they have nothing else in them. There is one kind of egotists which is very common in the world, though I do not remember that any writer has taken notice of them; I mean those empty conceited fellows, who repeat as sayings of their own, or some of their particular friends, several jests which were made beiore they were born, and which every one, who has conversed in the world, bas heard a hundred times over. A forward young fellow of my acquaintance was very guilty of this absurdity: he would be always Jaying a new scene for some old piece of wil, and telling us, that as be and Jack Suche a-one were together, one or t’other of them had such a conceit on such an occasion; upon which he would laugh very heartily, and wonder the company did not join with him. When his mirth was over, I have often reprehended him out of Terence, Tuumne, oben secro te, hoc dictum erat ? vetus credidi. But finding him still incorrigible, and having a kindness for the young coxcomb, who was otherwise a good-natured fellow, I recommended to his perasal the Ox. ford and Cambridge jests, with several little pieces of pleasantry of the same nature. Upon the reading of them, he was ouder no small confusion to find that his Jokes had passed through several editions, and that what he thought was a new conceit, and had appro. priated to his own use, had appeared in print before he or his ingenious friends were ever heard of. This had so good an effect upon him, that he is content at present to pass for a man of plain sense in his conver. sation, and is never facetious but when he knows his company.
EPISTOLARY POETICAL WRITING.
Neque enim concludere versum Dixeris esse satis : neque siquis scribat, uti nos, Sermoni propiora, putes hunc esse poetam.
'Tis not enough the measur'd feet to close; Nor will you give a poet's name those Whose humble verse, like mine, approaches prose.
I INTEND to offer
some remarks upon the epistola: tory way of writing in verse. This is a species of poetry by itself; and tas not so much as beeu binied at in any of the arts of poetry, that have ever fallen into my hands : neither has it in any age, or in any nation, been so much cultivated, as the otber several kinds of poesy.
A man of genius may, if he pleases, write letters in verse upon all manner of subjects, that are capable of being embellished with wit and lan. guage, and may render them new and agreeable by
giving the proper turn to them. Bæt in speaking, at present, of epistolary poetry, I would be understood to meau-only such writings in this kind, as bave been in use among the ancients, and have been copied from them by some moderns. These may be reduced into two classes : in the one I shall range love-letters, letters of friendship, and letters upon 'mournful occasions: in the other I shall place such epistles in verse as may properly be called familiar, critical, and moral; to which may be added letters of mirth and hu. mour. Ovid for the first, and Horace for the latter, are the best originals we have left.
He that is ambitious of succeeding in the Ovidian way,
should first examine his heart well, and feel whether his passions (especially those of the gentler kind) play easy, since it is not bis wit, but the delicacy and tenderness of his sentiments, that will affect his read
His versification likewise should be soft, and all his numbers flowing and querulous. • The qualifications requisite for writing epistles, after the model given us by Horaoe, are of a quite different nature. He that would excel in this kind must have a good fund of strong masculine sense : to this there must be joined a thorough knowledge of mankind, to gether with an insight into the business, and the pre. vailing humours of the age. Our author must have bis mind well seasoned with the finest precepts of morality, and be filled with nice reflections upon the bright and dark sides of human life; he must be a master of refined raillery, and understand the delicacies as well as the absurdities of conversation. He must have a lively turn of wit, with an easy and concise manner of expression: every thing he says must be in a free aud disengaged manner. He must be guilty of nothing that betrays the air of a recluse, bnt appear a man of the world throughout. His illustrations, his comparisons, and the greatest part of bis images, must be drawn from common life. Strokes of satire and criticism, as well as parsegyric, judiciously thrown in,