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when engaged in elucidating the productions of a more advanced stage of society, where genius is clothed in the panoply of profound and varied erudition. It is in this situation, where a few are truly learned, intimate with the best models of antiquity, and capable of emulating their proudest efforts, whilst the bulk of the people is still immersed in comparative ignorance, that the taste and judgment of the critic are most essentially necessary in familiarising and imparting a relish for excellence, which would otherwise neither be felt nor understood. This interesting and important service did Addison effectually perform for our sublime Milton, and, at the same time, presented his countrymen with the first specimen in their language of elegant systematic criticism.
To ascertain, however, with due precision, the great merits of Addison as a critic, it will be necessary to consider what steps had been previously taken in the island for the improvement of this branch of literature. Before we proceed, therefore, to estimate more particularly the value and utility of what our author has left us in this department, it will be proper to dwell, for a short time, on the origin and progress of English criticism, and to trace its course to the commencement of the eighteenth century.
Little attention had been paid to, and few
books of any worth published in English prose, before the middle of the sixteenth century. Those who aspired to the character of learning neglected the vernacular language for the Latin tongue, in which alone they could hope for a wide-extended circulation of their ideas. We may date indeed the first attempt to raise a model of English style from the Toxophilus of Roger Ascham, which appeared in the year 1545. It was composed professedly with the view of shewing with what elegance, purity, and precision the language might be written. The consequence of the attempt was such as the ingenious author had in view. In fact, English criticism owes its birth to this production; for, struck with the novelty and beauty of the experiment, the minds of the literati were immediately turned toward the construction and improvement of their native tongue; and eight years after the publication of the Toxophilus, appeared for the first time in our language a work which could with propriety be termed a book of criticism. This valuable treatise made its appearance in 1553, and is entitled “THE ARTE of Rhetorike for the use of all suche as are studious of Eloquence, sette forthe in Englishe by thoMAs wilson.” Wilson was the first scholar of his age, had been educated in King's College, and tutor to Henry and Charles Brandon, dukes of Suffolk. He took his degree of Doctor of Laws, and afterwards attained great eminence in the state. He was ambassador from Elizabeth to Mary Queen of Scots and the Low Countries, secretary of state, privy counsellor, and lastly, in 1579, Dean of Durham. The ARTE of Rhetorike not only contains rules for composing in English, but displays a most elegant and accomplished mind, and a perfect acquaintance with the best writers of antiquity. “It is liberal and discursive,” observes Warton, “illustrating the arts of eloquence by example, and examining and ascertaining the beauties of composition with the speculative skill and sagacity of a critic *.” It points out also, with great acuteness, the powers and compass of our language, the various energies and styles of which it is susceptible, and censures with just indignation those who attempt to corrupt it by the introduction of foreign words, or pedantic and affected phrases. In his third book, when treating of simplicity of style, he thus humourously ridicules these whimsical innovators. “Among other lessons this should first be learned, that we never affect any straunge ynke
horne termes, but to speake as is commonly received : neither seking to be overfine, nor yet living over carelesse, using our speache as moste men do, and ordering our wittes as the fewest have doen. Some seke so farre for outlandishe Englishe, that they forget altogether their mother's language. And I dare sweare this, if some of their mothers were alive, thei were not able to tel what thei saie : and yet these fine Englishe clerkes wil saie thei speake in their mother tongue, if a man should charge them for counterfeityng the kinge's Englishe. Some farre journied gentlemen at their returne home, like as thei love to go in forrein apparel, so thei will pouder their talke with over sea language. He that cometh lately out of Fraunce will talke Frenche Englishe, and never blushe at the matter. Another choppes in with Englishe Italianated, and applieth the Italian phrase to our Englishe speakyng, the whiche is, as if an Oration that professeth to utter his mynde in plaine Latine, would needes speake poetrie, and farre fetched colours of straunge antiquitie. The lawier will store his stomache with the prating of pedlars. The auditour, in makyng his accompt and reckenyng, cometh in with size sould, and cater demere, for vi S. and iiijd. The fine courtier will talke nothyng but chaucer. The misticall wisemen, and
poeticall clerkes, will speake nothyng but quainte proverbes, and blinde allegories; delightyng muche in their own darknesse, especially when none can tel what thei do saie. The unlearned or folishephantasticall, that smelles but of learnying (suche fellowes as have seene learned men in their daies) will so Latine their tongues, that the simple cannot but wonder at their talke, and thinke surely thei speake by some revelacion. I know them, that thinke Rhetorike to stande wholie upon darke wordes; and he that can
catche an ynke-horne terme by the taile, hym
thei compt to be a fine Englishman and a good
rhetorician. And the rather to set out this folie
I will adde here suche a letter as William Som
mer * himself, could not make a better for that
purpose, -devised by a Lincolneshire man for a
“TO THE LORDE CHANCEllor.
“Ponderyng, expendyng, and revolutyng with myself, your ingent affabilitie, and ingenious capacitie, for mundane affairs, I cannot but celebrate and extoll your magnificall dexteritie above all other. For how could you have adapted suche illustrate prerogative, and dominicall superioritie,
* King Henry's Jester.