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said to excel, and those which are translated into splendour. In other places learning has not yet French have peculiar merit. He was honoured been planted, or has suffered a total decay. To with nobility, and enriched by the bounty of the attempt amendment there, would be only like the king; so that a life begun in contempt and penury, application of remedies to an insensible or a morti. ended in opulence and esteem.
fied part, but here there is still life, and there is Thus we see in what a low state polite learning hope. And indeed the French themselves are so is in the countries I have mentioned; either past far from giving into any despondence of this kind, ils prime, or not yet arrived at maturity. And that on the contrary, they admire the progress they though the sketch I have drawn be general, yet it are daily making in every science. That levity, for was for the most part taken on the spot. I am sen- which we are apt to despise this nation, is probably sible, however, of the impropriety of national reflec- the principal source of their happiness. An agreetion; and did not truth bias me more than inclina-able oblivion of past pleasures, a freedom from solition in this particular, I should, instead of the account citude about future ones, and a poignant zest of already given, have presented the reader with a every present enjoyment, if they be not philosophy, panegyric on many of the individuals of every coun- are at least excellent substitutes. By this they are try, whose merits deserve the warmest strains of taught to regard the period in which they live with praise. Apostolo Zeno, Algarotti, Goldoni, Mu- admiration. The present manners, and the preratori, and Stay, in Italy; Haller, Klopstock, and sent conversation, surpass all that preceded. A Rabner, in Germany; Muschenbroek, and Gau- similar enthusiasm as strongly tinctures their learnbius, in Holland; all deserve the highest applause. ing and their taste. While we, with a despondence Men like these, united by one bond, pursuing one characteristic of our nature, are for removing back design, spend their labour and their lives in making British excellence to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, their fellow-creatures happy, and in repairing the our more happy rivals of the continent cry up the breaches caused by ambition. In this light, the writers of the present times with rapture, and remeanest philosopher, though all his possessions are gard the age of Louis XV. as the true Augustan his lamp or his cell, is more truly valuable than he age of France. whose name echoes to the shout of the million, and The truth is, their present writers have not fall who stands in all the glare of admiration. In this en so far short of the merits of their ancestors as light, though poverty and contemptuous neglect ours have done. That self-sufficiency now menare all the wages of his good-will froin mankind, tioned, may have been of service to them in this paryet the rectitude of his intention is an ample re- ticular. By fancying themselves superior to their compense; and self-applause for the present, and ancestors, they have been encouraged to enter the the alluring prospect of fame for futurity, reward lists with confidence; and by not being dazzled at his labours. The perspective of life brightens up- the splendour of another's reputation, have someon us, when terminated by an object so charming. times had sagacity to mark out an unbeaten path to Every intermediate image of want, banishment, or fame for themselves. sorrow, receives a lustre from its distant influence.
Other causes also may be assigned, that their With this in view, the patriot, philosopher, and second growth of genius is still more vigorous than poet, have often looked with calmness on disgrace ours. Their encouragements to merit are more and famine, and rested on their straw with cheer- skilfully directed, the link of patronage and learnful serenity. E the last terrors of departing ing still continues unbroken. The French nobility nature abate of their severity, and look kindly on have certainly a most pleasing way of satisfying the him who considers his sufferings as a passport to vanity of an author, without indulging his avarice. immortality, and lays his sorrows on the bed of A man of literary merit is sure of being caressed by fame.
the great, though seldom enriched. His pension from the crown just supplies half a competence, and the sale of his labours makes some small addi
tion to his circumstances. Thus the author leads CHAPTER VIL
a life of splendid poverty, and seldom becomes Of Polite Learning in France.
wealthy or indolent enough to discontinue an ex
ertion of those abilities by which he rose. With We have hitherto seen, that wherever the poet the English it is different. Our writers of rising was permitted to begin by improving his native merit are generally neglected, while the few of an language, polite learning flourished; but where the established reputation are overpaid by luxurious afcritic undertook the same task, it has never risen fluence. The young encounter every hardship to any degrec of perfection. Let us now examine which generally attends upon aspiring indigence; the merits of modern learning in France and Eng- the old enjoy the vulgar, and perhaps the more pruland; where, though it may be on the decline, yet dent, satisfaction, of putting riches in competition it is still capable of retrieving much of its fornier with fume. Those are often seen to spend their
youth in want and obscurity; these are sometimes are generally the result of much gooil-nature and found to lead an old age of indolence and avarice. little experience. But such treatment must naturally be expected from Piron, an author possessed of as much wit as Englishmen, whose national character it is to be any man alive, yet with as little prudence to turn it slow and cautious in making friends, but violent in to his own advantage. A comedy of his, called friendships once contracted. The English nobili- Lu Métromanie, is the best theatrical production ty, in short, are often known to give greater re- that has appeared of late in Europe. But I know wards to genius than the French, who, however, not whether I should most commend his genius or are much more judicious in the application of their censure his obscenity. His Ode à Priupe has just.. empty favours.
ly excluded him from a place in the academy of BelThe fair sex in France have also not a little con- les-Lettres. However, the good-natured Montestributed to prevent the decline of taste and literature, quieu, by his interest, procured the starving bard a by expecting such qualifications in their admirers. trifling pension. His own epitaph was all the reA man of fashion at Paris, however contemptible venge he took upon the academy for being repulsed. we may think him here, must be acquainted with Ci.git Piron, qui ne sui jamais rien, the reigning modes of philosophy as well as of dress, Pas meme académicien. to be able to entertain his mistress agreeably. The Crebillon, junior, a writer of real merit, but guilsprightly pedants are not to be caught by dumb ty of the same indelicate faults with the former. show, by the squeeze of the hand, or the ogling of Wit employed in dressing up obscenity is like the a broad eye; but must be pursued at once through art used in painting a corpse; it may be thus renall the labyrinths of the Newtonian system, or the dered tolerable to one sense, but fails not quickly metaphysics of Locke. I have seen as bright a cir- to offend some other. cle of beauty at the chemical lectures of Rouelle as Gresset is agreeable and easy. His comedy callgracing the court of Versailles. And indeed wis-ed the Méchant, and a humorous poem entitled dom never appears so charming as when graced Ververt, have original merit. He was bred a and protected by beauty.
but his wit procured his dismission from the To these advantages may be added, the recep- society. This last work particularly could expect tion of their language in the different courts of Eu- no pardon from the Convent, being a satire against rope. An author who excels is sure of having all nunneries! the polite for admirers, and is encouraged to write D'Alembert has united an extensive skill in sciby the pleasing expectation of universal fame. Add entifical learning with the most refined taste for to this, that those countries who can make nothing the polite arts. His excellence in both has procurgood from their own language, have lately began ed him a seat in each academy. to write in this, some of whose productions contri- Diderot is an elegant writer and subtle reasoner, bute to support the present literary reputation of He is the supposed author of the famous Thesis France.
which the abbé Prade sustained before the doctors There are, therefore, many among the French of the Sorbonne. It was levelled against Chriswho do honour to the present age, and whose writ- tianity, and the Sorbonne too hastily gave it their ings will be transmitted to posterity with an ample sanction. They perceived its purport, however, share of fame; some of the most celebrated are as when it was too late. The college was brought infollow :
to some contempt, and the abbé obliged to take Voltaire, whose voluminous, yet spirited produc- refuge at the court of Berlin. tions are too well known to require an eulogy. The Marquis D'Argens attempts to add the Does he not resemble the champion mentioned by character of a philosopher to the vices of a debauXenophon, of great reputation in all the gymnastic chee. exercises united, but inferior to each champion The catalogue might be increased with several singly, who excels only in one?
other authors of merit, such as Marivaux, Lefranc, Montesquieu, a name equally deserving fame Saint-Foix, Destouches, and Modonville; but let it with the former. The Spirit of Laws is an instance suffice to say, that by these the character of the how much genius is able to lead learning. His sys- present age is tolerably supported. Though their tem has been adopted by the literati; and yet, is it poets seldom rise to fine enthusiasm, they never not possible for opinions equally plausible to be sink into absurdity; though they fail to astonish, formed upon opposite principles, if a genius like they are generally possessed of talents to please. his could be found to attempt such an undertaking? The age of Louis XIV, notwithstanding these He seems more a poet than a philosopher. respectable names, is still vastly superior. For be.
Rousseau of Geneva, a professed man-hater, or side the general tendency of critical corruption, more properly speaking, a philosopher enraged with which shall be spoken of by and by, there are other one half of mankind, because they unavoidably symptoms which indicato a decline. There is, for make the other half unhappy. Such sentiments instance. a fondness of scepticism, which runs
through the works of some of their most applauded on many principles, and some even opposite to writers, and which the numerous class of their imi- each other, are all taught to proceed along the line tators have contributed to diffuse. Nothing can of systematic simplicity, and continue, like other be a more certain sign that genius is in the wane, agreeable falsehoods, extremely pleasing till they than its being obliged to fly to paradox for support, are detected. and attempting to be erroneously agreeable. A I must still add another fault, of a nature some man who, with all the impotence of wit, and all the what similar to the former. As those above meneager desires of infidelity, writes against the religion tioned are for contracting a single science into of his country, may raise doubts, but will never system, so those I am going to speak of are for give conviction; all he can do is to render society drawing up a system of all the sciences united. less happy than he found it. It was a good man- Such undertakings as these are carried on by difner which the father of the late poet, Saint-Foix, ferent writers cemented into one body, and con. took to reclaim his son from this juvenile error. curring in the same design by the mediation of a The young poet had shut himself up for some time bookseller. From these inauspicious combinations in his study; and his father, willing to know what proceed those monsters of learning the Trevoux, had engaged his attention so closely, upon entering Encyclopédies, and Bibliothèques of the age. In found him busied in drawing up a new system of making these, men of every rank in literature are religion, and endeavouring to show the absurdity employed, wits and dunces contribute their share, of that already established. The old man knew and Diderot, as well as Desmaretz, are candidates by experience, that it was useless to endeavour to for oblivion. The genius of the first supplies the convince a vain young man by right reason, so gale of favour, and the latter adds the useful ballast only desired his company up stairs. When come of stupidity. By such means, the enormous mass into the father's apartment, he takes his son by the heavily makes its way among the public, and, to hand, and drawing back a curtain at one end of borrow a bookseller's phrase, the whole impression the room, discovered a crucifix exquisitely painted. moves off. These great collections of learning “My son," says he, "you desire to change the re- may serve to make us inwardly repine at our own ligion of your country,—behold the fate of a re-ignorance; may serve, when gilt and lettered, to former.” The truth is, vanity is more apt to mis- adorn the lower shelves of a regular library; but guide men than false reasoning. As some would wo to the reader, who, not daunted at the immense rather be conspicuous in a mob than unnoticed distance between one great pasteboard and the even in a privy-council, so others choose rather to other
, opens the volume, and explores his way be foremost in the retinue of error than follow in through a region so extensive, but barren of enter the train of truth. What influence the conduct tainment. No unexpected landscape there to de of such writers may have on the morals of a people, light the imagination; no diversity of prospect to is not my business here to determine. Certain i cheat the painful journey. He sees the wide exam, that it has a manifest tendency to subvert the tended desert lie before him : what is past, only in literary merits of the country in view. The change creases his terror of what is to come. His course of religion in every nation has hitherto produced is not half finished; he looks behind him with afbarbarism and ignorance; and such will be proba- fright, and forward with despair. Perseverance is bly its consequence in every future period. For at last overcome, and a night of oblivion lends its when the laws and opinions of society are made to friendly aid to terminate the perplexity. clash, harmony is dissolved, and all the parts of peace unavoidably crushed in the encounter. The writers of this country have also of late
CHAPTER vill. fallen into a method of considering every part of art and science as arising from simple principles. The
or Learning in Great Britain. success of Montesquieu, and one or two more, has To acquire a character for learning among the induced all the subordinate ranks of genius into vi- English at présent, it is necessary to know much cious imitation. To this end they turn to our view more than is either important or useful. It seems that side of the subject which contributes to sup- the spirit of the times for men here to exhaust their port their hypothesis, while the objections are gen- natural sagacity in exploring the intricacies of ano erally passed over in silence. Thus a universal ther man's thought, and thus never to have leisure system rises from a partial representation of the to think for themselves. Others have carried on question, a whole is concluded from a part, a book learning from that stage, where the good sense of appears entirely new, and the fancy-built fabric is our ancestors have thought it too minute or too styled for a short time very ingenious. In this speculative to instruct or amuse. By the industry manner, we have seen of late almost every subject of such, the sciences, which in themselves are easy in morals, natural history, politics, economy, and of access, affright the learner with the severity of commerce, treated. Subjects naturally proceeding their appearance. He sees them surrounded with speculation and subtlety, placed there by their pro- his easy chair, and sometimes, for the sake of conlessors, as if with a view of deterring his approach. versation, deplores the luxury of these degenerate Hence it happens, that the generality of readers fly days. from the scholar to the compiler, who offers them All encouragements to merit are therefore mis. a more safe and speedy conveyance.
applied, which make the author too rich to con From this fault also arises that mutual contempt tinue his profession. There can be nothing more between the scholar and the man of the world, of just than the old observation, that authors, like which every day's experience furnishes instances. running horses, should be fed but not fattened. If
The man of taste, however, stands neutral in we would continue them in our service, we should this controversy. He seems placed in a middle sta- reward them with a little money and a great deal tion, between the world and the cell, between learn- of praise, still keeping their avarice subservient to ing and common sense. He teaches the vulgar on their ambition. Not that I think a writer incapawhat part of a character to lay the emphasis of ble of filling an employment with dignity: I would praise, and the scholar where to point his applica- only insinuate, that when made a bishop or statestion so as to deserve it. By his means, even the man, he will continue to please us as a writer no philosopher acquires popular applause, and all that longer; as, to resume a former allusion, the running are truly great the admiration of posterity. By horse, when fattened, will still be fit for very useful means of polite learning alone, the patriot and the purposes, though unqualified for a courser. hero, the man who praises virtue, and he who prac
No nation gives greater encouragements to learntises it, who fights successfully for his country, or ing than we do; yet, at the same time, none are so who dies in its defence, becomes immortal. But injudicious in the application. We seem to confer this taste now seems cultivated with less ardour than them with the same view that statesmen have been formerly, and consequently the public must one day known to grant employments at court, rather as expect to see the advantages arising from it, and bribes to silence than incentives to emulation. the exquisite pleasures it affords our leisure, en- Upon this principle, all our magnificent endowtirely annihilated. For if, as it should seem, the ments of colleges are erroneous; and at best more rewards of genius are improperly directed; if those frequently enrich the prudent than reward the inwho are capable of supporting the honour of the genuous. A lad whose passions are not strong times by their writings prefer opulence to fame; if enough in youth to mislead him from that path of the stage should be shut to writers of merit, and science which his tutors, and not his inclinations, open only to interest or intrigue ;—if such should have chalked out, by four or five years' perseverance happen to be the vile complexion of the times (and may probably obtain every advantage and honour that it is nearly so we shall shortly see), the very his college can bestow. I forget whether the simile virtue of the age will be forgotten by posterity, and has been used before, but I would compare the man, nothing remembered, except our filling a chasm in whose youth has been thus passed in the tranthe registers of time, or having served to continue quillity of dispassionate prudence, to liquors which the species.
never ferment, and consequently continue always muddy. Passions may raise a commotion in the youthful breast, but they disturb only to refine it.
However this be, mean talents are often rewarded CHAPTER IX.
in colleges with an easy subsistence. The candiOr rewarding Genius in England.
dates for preferments of this kind often regard their
admission as a patent for future indolence; so that There is nothing authors are more apt to lament a life begun in studious labour is often continued than want of encouragement from the age. What- in luxurious indolence. ever their differences in other respects, they are all Among the universities abroad, I have ever obready to unite in this complaint, and each indirectly served their riches and their learning in a reciprooffers himself as an instance of the truth of his as: cal proportion, their stupidity and pride increasing sertion.
with their opulence. Happening once, in converThe beneficed divine, whose wants are only ima- sation with Gaubius of Leyden, to mention the ginary, expostulates as bitterly as the poorest au- college of Edinburgh, he began by complaining, thor. Should interest or good fortune advance the that all the English students which formerly came divine to a bishopric, or the poor son of Parnassus to his university now went entirely there ; and the into that place which the other has resigned, both fact surprised him more, as Leyden was now as are authors no longer; the one goes to prayers once well as ever furnished with masters excellent in a-day, kneels upon cushions of velvet, and thanks their respective professions. He concluded by askgracious Heaven for having made the circumstances ing, if the professors of Edinburgh were rich? I of all mankind so extremely happy; the other bat- replied, that the salary of a professor there seldom tens on all the delicacies of life, enjovs his wife and amounted to more than thirty pounds a year. Poor
men, says he, I heartily wish they were better pro- say, that a dinner with his lordship has procured vided for; until they become rich, we can have no him invitations for the whole week following; that expectation of English students at Leyden. an airing in his patron's chariot has supplied him
Premiums also, proposed for literary excellence, with a citizen's coach on every future occasion. For when given as encouragements to boys, may be who would not be proud to entertain a man who useful; but when designed as rewards to men, are kept so much good company? certainly misapplied. We have seldom seen a per- But this link now seems entirely broken. Since formance of any great merit, in consequence of re- the days of a certain prime minister of inglorious wards proposed in this manner. Who has ever memory, the learned have been kept pretty much observed a writer of any eminence a candidate in at a distance. A jockey, or a laced player, supso precarious a contest? The man who knows the plies the place of the scholar, poet, or the man of real value of his own genius, will no more venture virtue. Those conversations, once the result of it upon an uncertainty, than he who knows the true wisdom, wit, and innocence, are now turned to use of a guinea will stake it with a sharper. humbler topics, little more being expected from a
Every encouragement given to stupidity, when companion than a laced coat, a pliant bow, and an known to be such, is also a negative insult upon immoderate friendship for a well-served table. genius. This appears in nothing more evident than Wit, when neglected by the great, is generally the undistinguished success of those who solicit sub- despised by the vulgar. Those who are unacquaintscriptions. When first brought into fashion, sub- ed with the world, are apt to fancy the man of wit ecriptions were conferred upon the ingenious alone, as leading a very agreeable life. They conclude, or those who were reputed such. But at present, perhaps, that he is attended to with silent admirawe see them made a resource of indigence, and re- tion, and dictates to the rest of mankind with all quested, not as rewards of merit, but as a relief of the eloquence of conscious superiority. Very difdistress. If tradesmen happen to want skill in con- ferent is his present situation. He is called an ducting their own business, yet they are able to author, and all know that an author is a thing only write a book: if mechanics want money, or ladies to be laughed at. His person, not his jest, becomes shame, they write books and solicit subscriptions. the mirth of the company. At his approach, the Scarcely a morning passes, that proposals of this most fat unthinking face brightens into malicious nature are not thrust into the half-opening doors meaning. Even aldermen laugh, and revenge on of the rich, with, perhaps, a paltry petition, show- him the ridicule which was lavished on their foreing the author's wants, but not his merits. I would fathers: not willingly prevent that pity which is due to in- Etiam victis redit in præcordia virtus, digence; but while the streams of liberality are thus Victoresque cadunt. dislused, they must, in the end, become proportiona- It is indeed a reflection somewhat mortifying to bly shallow,
the author, who breaks his ranks, and singles out What then are the proper encouragements of for public favour, to think that he must combat genius? I answer, subsistence and respect; for these contempt before he can arrive at glory. That he are rewards congenial to its nature. Every animal must expect to have all the fools of society united has an aliment peculiarly suited to its constitution. against him, before he can hope for the applause The heavy ox seeks nourishment from earth; the of the judicious. For this, however, he must prelight cameleon has been supposed to exist on air; pare beforehand; as those who have no idea of the a sparer diet even than this will satisfy the man of difficulty of his employment, will be apt to regard true genius, for he makes a luxurious banquet upon his inactivity as idleness, and not having a notion empty applause. It is this alone which has in- of the pangs of uncomplying thought in themselves, spired all that ever was truly great and noble among it is not to be expected they should have any deus. It is, as Cicero finely calls it, the echo of virtue. sire of rewarding it in others. Avarice is the passion of inferior natures; money Voltaire has tinely described the hardships a the pay of the common herd. The author who man must encounter who writes for the public. I draws his quill merely to take a purse, no more de- need make no apology for the length of the quotaserves success than he who presents a pistol. tion.
When the link between patronage and learning “Your fate, my dear Le Fevre, is too strongly was entire, then all who deserved famne were in a marked to permit your retiring. The bee must capacity of attaining ii. When the great Somers toil in making honey, the silk-worm must spin, tho was at the helm, patronage was fashionable among philosopher must dissect them, and you are born to our nobility. The middle ranks of mankind, who sing of their labours. You must be a poet and a generally imitate the great, then followed their ex- scholar, even though your inclinations should reample, and applauded from fashion if not from feel- sist: nature is too strong for inclination. But hope ing. I have heard an old poet* of that glorious age not, my friend, to find tranquillity in the employ. 'Dr. Young.
ment you are going to pursue. The route of genius