페이지 이미지

of the reader, there is a total failure of that collateral interest which carries one forwards from subject to subject with a superadded curiosity and delight. Something to organise the parts into correspondence, and to constitute a whole; some common attraction to a general design; touches of moral painting that produce a sort of portrait of the writer, and clothes him with a conciliating parental character, a varied intertexture of narration and anecdote; and a polished freedom of general raillery; are, I think, among the essential requisites of this kind of composition; and a loose compilation of essays, having no cement or lining of this sort, must consequently fail of producing all this satisfaction in the reader's mind.

Thus much has been said on the requisites and perfections of a periodical paper, because it appears to have been treated too much as a branch of composition to which no rules were applicable, as dispensing with all order and design, and implying nothing more than a succession of detached essays, Sir Roger de Coverley, Will. Wimble, and the Short-faced Silent Man, are not characters necessary to a periodical paper; but they serve as illustrations of the principles and perfections alluded to; and true taste will condescend to imitation, and choose rather to proceed in the track already marked out by original excellence, than proudly to take a new course that justifies its departure from models by no hope or promise of compensation to the reader.

Great things are done by the gratuitous endowments of nature; but, if the richest in those endowments will choose a path where great geniuses have already trodden, they must bound their ambition to the praise of vigorous imitation.

As affording room for a great diversity of topic and instruction, and as a powerful agent of moral culture, Mr. OLIVE-BRANCH adopted the plan of a pe-, riodical paper; and the public are to assign him his portion of credit in the conduct of it. Happily for the success of his scheme, his own character, as it floats upon the surface of these papers, is well adapted to aid the impression of his morality; for something there surely is, in almost every heart of common goodness, that bespeaks attention to the mild admonitions of considerate age, where grey hairs are the blossoms of wisdom, and not the fruit of worldly anxieties.

These papers upon the whole, therefore, it must be said, owe much to the personal and complexional advantages of the writer: they have given an exterior comeliness to his lessons and persuasions, more efficacious by much than the decorations of an artificial style, or the agency of personal satire. His morality is grave and independent, and his good humour would be ill understood if construed into courtesy to fashionable vices; it is in him only the boon of temperance, and the health of an honest and cheerful mind. In respect to the matter of these volum-s, the reader will find that the vices of fashionable life, and the characteristic infirmities of the rich, are not endeavoured to be discountenanced by raising a fictitious contrast in the pretended exemptions of the poor. And the author seems to have thought, that the needy and the affluent, the vulgar and the great, are not distinguished in the substance of immorality, but in the modes; that profligacy is not the prerogative of the rich; and that sin and folly are not less in degree, because more honely in their practice, and less notorious in their career.

Vice is of a subtile and mutable na

ture, and contracts itself to every size of understanding or estate. His censures and reprobation are therefore fastened on the quality of the thing; and the inherent turpitude of base actions are exposed, in whatever guise they may appear.

On the other hand, it is a gross mistake to regard vice as less vicious, because it dazzles with the glitter of polished life; or that the tones of satire are to be softened into complaisance, because injustice and profligacy are decorated with ribands, and operate through the medium of softer habitudes. The pleasantry in which the Spectator abounds was not meant as indulgence to crime and infamy, or to alter the old rules of ethics by giving new names and notions to actions authentically virtuous or vicious. Mr. Addison employed that fine raillery of his, where severer treatment had been justified; because he felt that the first consideration with the writer was to attract readers ; and the votaries of pleasure and ease will only bear to hear the exposure of their own errors and immoralities, where the satire is sheathed in a courtesy of phrase; and where truth, in the disguise of raillery and ridicule, plays amusively about the heart, and penetrates by the avenues of pleasure to the seat of corruption.

The reader will perhaps think that Mr. OLIVEBRANCH is not without a share of this seasonable and sober sort of humour, where he has treated on subjects that called for the exercise of it; and perhaps he might be justified in a little less frequent use of it than some of his predecessors, because, in the present conjuncture, a hardihood, the effect of the spreading infidelity of the times, has entered into the vices of every class of society, which seems to require a robuster satire, and a less qualified exposure.

Politics and Religion are introduced with some reserve: and, I think, he should totally have declined them, as not suited to a light and popular production, if the attacks of the present innovators on those subjects had not been characterised by such a vulgar intrepidity, as to need no subtlety of argument to encounter them. The appeal from these fanatics is only to common sense and common nature. The LOOKER-ON, therefore, contains a few papers on the subjects of religion and politics. Religion, because it is the soul of morality, and the basis of every

felicity and grace of life : politics, because of the great question to which it is now generalised human society itself is become a part, and the interests of man are involved, not only as he is the memier of a corporation, but as a member of humanity ; not only as having a person and property to be protected, or civil rights to be maintained, but as having an understanding to be improved, passions to be restrained, a body to be nourished, and a soul to be saved. The particular state of these subjects brought home, as they are, to every man's bosom, seemed to make it necessary for Mr. OLIVE-BRANCH to bestow some consideration

upon them; to rescue them a little, according to his power, from mischievous misrepresentation ; to save them from the gripe of a mercenary philosophy, the hungry ravings of garretteers; and a little to resist the quackery, cant, and cunning of prostituted scribblers. To allure the reader to these graver matters, tales and fables, the common artifices of moralists, have been made use of. The good effects of this mode of instruction are happily illustrated in a scheme lately instituted for distributing cheap publications among the poor ; a labour of love above all praise, and a scheme fraught with more unequivocal good to mankind, as far as it goes, thap philanthropy or patriotism have yet devised.

To have been silent on the subjects of criticism and polite letters, might have looked like a disregard in the author for these interesting and important inquiries, and would have very much circumscribed that variety of matter by which a production of this sort requires to be diversified. The present state, however, of literature in the country, had given Mr. OLIVE-BRANCH a disrelish for this part of his undertaking. But little is furnished from modern exertions to exercise criticism or taste ; and the round of criticism on ancient authors, has been travelled almost to satiety. Every classic is half smothered in commentaries; and there is now but little encouragement to prosecute an inquiry where the theme no longer delights the fancy, or interests the curiosity of his contemporaries. The papers, therefore, which are bestowed on the subjects of literature, are generally of a desponding cast; they lament the sensible decay of learning and taste among us, and lament it the more, because our country is, perhaps, arrived at that period of its course, when the example of history hardly suffers us to hope that the age of genius will return. I own, for myself, I much doubt, whether that vigorous efflorescence of national maturity in science, and learning, and taste, can be recalled, when once the fated æra is passed, and things are returning in a descending climax to the slow consummation of national fortunes. Without being of the persuasion, that there is any necessity in the constitution of things, which carries nations along in a course analogous to the progress of individuals from infancy to decrepitude; I cannot but think, that, however different the things may be in their causes and their natures, there is sometimes a striking resemblance in procedure that gives a plausibis lity to these fanciful notions.

« 이전계속 »