« AnteriorContinuar »
the most evident propositions into understandings frighted by their novelty, or hardened against them by accidental prejudice; it can scarcely be conceived, how frequently, in these extemporaneous controversies, the dull will be subtile, and the acute absurd; how often stupidity will elude the force of argument, by involving itself in its own gloom; and mistaken ingenuity will weave artful fallacies, which reason can scarcely find means to disentangle.
In these encounters the learning of the recluse usually fails him: nothing but long habit and frequent experiments can confer the power of changing a position into various forms, presenting it in dif. ferent points of view, connecting it with known and granted truths, fortifying it with intelligible arguments, and illustrating it by apt similicudes; and he, therefore, that has collected his knowledge in folitude, must learn its application by mixing with mankind.
But while the various opportunities of conversation invite us to try every mode of argument, and every art of recoinmending our sentiments, we are frequently betrayed to the use of such as are not in themselves strictly defensible: a man heated in talk, and eager of victory, takes advantage of the miscakes or ignorance of his adversary, lays hold of concessions to which he knows he has no right, and urges prooss likely to prevail on his opponent, though he knows hinself that they have no force : thus the severity of reason is relaxed, many topics are accumulated, but without just arrangement or distinction; we learn to satisfy ourselves with such
ratiocina. ratiocination as silences others; and seldom recal to a close examination, that discourse which has gra. cified our vanity with victory and applause.
Some caution, therefore, must be used, left copiousness and facility be made less valuable by inaccuracy and confusion. To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophisins, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others : in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them ; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint che grace of conversation.
To read, write, and converse in due proportions, is, therefore, the business of a man of letters. For all these there is not often equal opportunity; excellence, therefore, is not often attainable; and most men fail in one or other of the ends proposed, and are full without readiness, or ready without exactness. Some deficiency must be forgiven all, because all are men ; and more must be allowed to pass uncensured in the greater part of the world, because none can confer upon himself abilities, and few have the choice of licuations proper for the improvement of those which nature has bestowed: it is, however, reasonable, to have perfeЕtion in our eye; that we may always advance towards it, though, we know it never can be reached.
NUMB. 92. SATURDAY, September 22, 1753.
Cum tabulis animum cenforis fumet honesti.
To the ADVENTURER.
: SIR, IN the papers of criticisin which you have given 1 to the publick, I have remarked a spirit of candour and love of truth, equally remote from bia gotry and captiousness; a just distribution of praise amongst the ancients and the moderns; a sober deference to reputation long established, without a blind adoration of antiquity; and a willingness to favour later performances, without a light or puerile fondness for novely.
I shall, therefore, venture to lay before you, such observations as have risen to my mind in the consideration of Virgil's pastorals, without any inquiry how far my sentiments deviate from established rules or common opinions.
If we survey the ten pastorals in a general view, it will be found that Virgil can derive from them very little claim to the praise of an inventor. To search into the antiquity of this kind of poetry, is not my present purpose ; that it has long subsisted in the cast, the Sacred Fritings sufficiently inform
us; and we may conjecture, with great probability, that it was sometimes the devotion, and sometimes the entertainment of the first generations of mankind. Theocritus united elegance with simplicity; and taught his shepherds to sing with so much ease and harmony, that his countrymen despairing to excel, forbore to imitate him; and the Greeks, however vain or ambitious, left him in quier possession of the garlands which the wood-nymphs had be. ftowed upon him."
Virgil, however, taking advantage of another language, ventured to copy or to rival the Sicilian bard: he has written with greater splendor of diction, and elegation of sentiment: but as the magnificence of his performances was more, the simplicity was less; and, perhaps, where he excells Theocritus, he sometimes obtains his superiority by des viating from the pastoral character, and performing what Theocritus never attempted.
Yet, though I would willingly pay to Theocritus the honour which is always due to an original author, I am far from intending to depreciate Virgil; of whom Horace justly declares, that the rural muses have appropriated to him their elegance and sweetness, and who, as he copied Theocritus in his design, has resembled him likewise in his success; for, if we except Calphurnius, an obscure author of the lower ages, I know not that a single pastoral was written after hiin by any poet, till the revival of liferature. · But though his general merit has been universally acknowledged, I am far from thinking all the productions of his rural Thalia equally excellent : there F 3
is, indeed, in all his pastorals a strain of versification which it is vain to seek in any other poet; but if we except the first and the tenth, they seem liable either wholly or in part to considerable objections.
The second, though we should forget the great charge against it, which I ain afraid can never be refuted, might, I think, have perished, without any diminution of the praise of its author; for I know not that it contains one affecting sentiment or pleasing description, or one passage that strikes the imaginasion or awakens the passions.
The third contains a contest between two fhepherds, begun with a quarrel of which some particuJars might well be spared, carried on with sprightli. ness and elegance, and terminated at last in a reconciliation : but, surely, whether the invectives with which they attack each other be true or false, they are too much degraded from the dignity of pastoral innocence; and instead of rejoicing that they are both vi&torious, I should not have grieved could they have been both defeated.
The poem to Pollio is, indeed, of another kind: it is filled with images at once splendid and pleasing, and is elevated with grandeur of language worthy of the first of Roiran poets; but I am not able to reconcile myself to the disproportion, between the performance and the occasion that produced it: that the golden age should return because Pollio had a 1on, appears to wild a fiction, that I am ready to suspect the poet of having written, for some other purpose, what he took this opportunity of producing to the publick,