Billeder på siden

which we not often meet in the same person, the greatest strength of good sense, and the most exquisite taste of politeness. Without the first

, learning is but an incumbrance; and, without the last, is ungraceful. My Lord Somers was master of these two qualifications in so eminent a degree, that all the parts of knowledge appeared in him with such an additional strength and beauty, as they want in the possession of others. If he delivered his opinion of a piece of poetry, a statue, or a picture, there was something so just and delicate in his observations, as naturally produced pleasure and assent in those who heard him.

His solidity and elegance, improved by the reading of the finest authors, both of the learned and modern languages, discovered itself in all his productions. His oratory was masculine and persuasive, free from every thing trivial and affected. His style in writing was chaste and pure, but, at the same time, full of spirit and politeness; and fit to convey the most intricate business to the understanding of the reader, with the utmost clearness and perspicuity. And here it is to be lamented, that this extraordinary person, out of his natural aversion to vain-glory, wrote several pieces, as well as performed several actions, which he did not assume the honour of: though, at the same time, so many works of this nature have appeared, which every one has ascribed to him, that, I believe, no author of the greatest eminence would deny my Lord Somers to have been the best writer of the age in which he lived.

This noble lord, for the great extent of his knowledge and capacity, has been often compared with the Lord Verulam, who had also been chancellor of England. But the conduct of these two extraordinary persons, under the same circumstànces, was vastly different. They were both impeached by a House of Commons. One of them, as he had given just occasion for it, sunk under it; and was reduced to such an abject submission, as very much diminished the lustre of so exalted a character: but my Lord Somers VOL. IV.


was too well fortified in his integrity to fear the impotence of an attempt upon his reputation; and though his accusers would gladly have dropped their impeachment, he was instant with them for the prosecution of it, and would not let that matter rest till it was brought to an issue. For the same virtue and greatness of mind which gave him a disregard of fame, made him impatient of an undeserved reproach.

There is no question, but this wonderful man will make one of the most distinguished figures in the history of the present age; but we cannot expect that his merit will shine out in its proper light, since he wrote marry things which are not published in his name; was at the bottom of many excellent counsels, in which he did not appear; did offices of friendship to many persons, who knew not from whom they were derived ; and performed great services to his country, the glory of which was transferred to others: in short, since he made it his endeavour, rather to do worthy actions than to gain an illustrious character.

No. 40. MONDAY, MAY 7.

Urit enim fulgore suo qui prægravat' artes
Infira se positas : extinctus umabitur idem.

HOR It requires no small degree of resolution, to be ar author in a country so facetious and satirical as this of Great Britain. Such a one raises a kind of alarm among his fellow subjects, and, by pretending to distinguish himself from the herd, becomes a mark of public censure, and sometimes a standing object of raillery and ridicule. Writing is, indeed, a provocation to the envious, and an affront to the ignorant. How often do we see a person, whose intentions are visibly to do good by the works which he publishes, treated in as scurrilous a manner as if he were au enemy to mankind ? All the little scramblers after fame fall upon him, publish every blot in his life, depend upon hear-say to defame him, and have recourse to their own invention, rather than suffer him to erect himself into an author with impunity. Even those who write on the most indifferent subjects, and are conversant only in works of taste, are looked upon as men that make a kind of insult upon society, and ought to be humbled as disturbers of the public tranquillity. Not only the dull and the malicious, which make a formidable party in our island, but the whole fraternity of writers, rise up in arms against every new intruder into the world of fame; and a thousand to one, before they have done, prove him not only to be a fool, but a knave. Successful authors do what they can to exclude a competitor, while the unsuccessful, with as much eagerness, lay in their claim to him as a brother. This natural antipathy to a man who breaks his ranks, and endeavours to signalize his parts in the world, has very probably hindered many persons from making their appearance in print, who might have enriched our country with better productions, in all kinds, than any that are now extant. The truth of it is, the active part of mankind, as they do most for the good of their contemporaries, very deservedly gain the greatest share in their applauses; whilst men of speculative endowments, who employ their talents in writing, as they may equally benefit or amuse succeeding ages, have generally the greatest share in the admiration of posterity. Both good and bad writers may receive great satisfaction from the prospects of futurity; as in after ages the former will be remembered, and the latter forgotten.

Among all sets of authors, there are none who draw upon themselves more displeasure, than those who deal in political matters, which, indeed, is very often too justly incurred; considering that spirit of rancour and virulence, with which works of this nature generally abound. These are not only regarded as authors, but as partisans, and are sure to exasperate at least one half of their readers. Other writers offend only the stupid or jealous among their countrymen; but these, let their cause be ever so just, must expect to irritate a supernumerary party of the self-interested, prejudiced, and ambitious. They may, however, comfort themselves with considering, that if they gain any unjust reproach from one side, they generally acquire more praise than they deserve from the other; and that writings of this kind, if conducted with candour and impartiality, have a more particular tendency to the good of their country, and of the present age, than any other compositions whatsoever.

To consider an author farther, as the subject of obloquy and detraction. We may observe with what pleasure a work is received by the invidious part of inankind, in which a writer falls short of himself, and does not answer the character which he has acquired by his former productions. It is a fine simile in one of Mr. Congreve's prologues, which compares a writer to a buttering gamester, that stakes all his winnings upon every cast; so that if he loses the last throw, he is sure to be undone. It would be well for all authors, if, like that gentleman, they knew when to give over, and to desist from any farther pursuits after fame, whilst they are in the full possession of it. On the other hand, there is not a more melancholy object in the learned world, than a man who has written himself down. As the public is more disposed to censure than to praise, his readers will ridicule him for his last works, when they have forgot to applaud those which preceded them. In this case, where a man has lost his spirit by old age and infirmity, one could wish that his friends and relations would keep him from the use of pen, ink, and paper,

if he is not to be reclaimed by any other methods.

The author, indeed, often grows old before the man, especially if he treats on subjects of invention, or such es arise from reflections upon human nature: for, in this case, neither his own strength of mind, nor those parts of life which are commonly unobserved, will furnish him with sufficient materials, to be, at the same time, both pleasing and voluminous. We find even in the outward dress of poetry, that men, who write much without taking breath, very often return to the same phrases and forms of expression, as well as to the same manner of thinking. Authors, who have thus drawn off the spirit of their thoughts, should lie still for some time, till their minds have gathered fresh strength, and, by reading, reflection, and conversation, laid in a new stock of elegancies, sentiments, and images of nature. The soil that is worn with too frequent culture, must lie fallow for a while, till it has recruited its exhausted salts, and again enriched itself by the ventilations of air, the dews of heaven, and kindly influences of the sun.

For my own part, notwithstanding this general malevolence towards those who communicate their thoughts in print, I cannot but look with a friendly regard on such as do it, providing there is no tendency in their writings to vice and profaneness. If the thoughts of such authors have nothing in them, they at least do no harm, and show an honest industry and a good intention in the composer. If they teach me any thing I did not know before, I cannot but look upon myself as obliged to the writer, and consider him as my particular benefactor, if he conveys to me one of the greatest gifts that is in the power of man to bestow, an improvement of my understanding, an innocent amusement, or an incentive to some moral virtue. Were not men of abilities thus communicative, their wisdom would be, in a great measure, useless, and their experience uninstructive. There would be no business in solitude, nor proper relaxations in business. By these assistances the retired man lives in the world, if not above it; passion is composed; thought hindered from being barren, and the mind from preying upon itself. That esteem, indeed, which is paid to

« ForrigeFortsæt »