English Essayist, Poet, Playwright and Politician
English Essayist, Poet, Playwright and Politician
Even the greatest actions of a celebrated person labor under this disadvantage, that however surprising and extraordinary they may be, they are no more than what are expected from him.
Falsehood and fraud shoot up in every soil the product of all climes.
From social intercourse are derived some of the highest enjoyments of life; where there is a free interchange of sentiments the mind acquires new ideas, and by frequent exercise of its powers, the understanding gains fresh vigor.
A contemplation of God's works, a generous concern for the good of mankind, and the unfeigned exercise of humility only, denominate men great and glorious.
A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body; it preserves a constant ease and serenity within us, and move than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can possibly befall us [from without]. I know nothing so hard for a generous mind to get over as calumny and reproach, and cannot find any method of quieting the soul under them, besides this single one, of our being conscious to ourselves that we do not deserve them.
A man who cannot write with wit on a proper subject is dull and stupid; but one who shows it in an improper place is as impertinent and absurd.
A reader cannot be more rationally entertained than by comparing and drawing a parallel between his own private character and that of other persons.
A vast space naturally raises in my thoughts the idea of an Almighty Being.
After these Reflections on Modesty, as it is a Virtue; I must observe, that there is a vicious Modesty, which justly deserves to be ridiculed, and which those Persons very often discover, who value themselves most upon a well-bred Confidence. This happens when a Man is ashamed to act up to his Reason, and would not upon any Consideration be surprised in the Practice of those Duties, for the Performance of which he was sent into the World. Many an impudent Libertine would blush to be caught in a serious Discourse, and would scarce be able to show his Head, after having disclosed a religious Thought. Decency of Behavior, all outward Show of Virtue, and Abhorrence of Vice, are carefully avoided by this Set of Shame-faced People, as what would disparage their Gayety of Temper, and infallibly bring them to Dishonor. This is such a Poorness of Spirit, such a despicable Cowardice, such a degenerate abject State of Mind, as one would think Human Nature incapable of, did we not meet with frequent Instances of it in ordinary Conversation.
Among the mutilated poets of antiquity there is none whose fragments are so beautiful as those of Sappho. They give us a taste of her way of writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary character we find of her in the remarks of those great critics who were conversant with her works when they were entire. One may see by what is left of them that she followed nature in all her thoughts, without descending to those little points, conceits, and turns of wit with which many of our modern lyrics are so miserably infected. Her soul seems to have been made up of love and poetry. She felt the passion in all its warmth, and described it in all its symptoms. She is called by ancient authors the tenth muse; and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus, the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. I do not know by the character that is given of her works, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They are filled with such bewitching tenderness and rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a reading.
And here give me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so very well enlarged upon in the preface to his works, that wit and fine writing do not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace?s Art of Poetry, he will find but very few precepts in it which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age.
Arnobius asserts that men of the finest parts and learning,?rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians,?despising the sentiments they had once been fond of, took up their rest in the Christian religion.
As the Supreme Being is the only proper judge of our perfections, so he is the only fit rewarder of them. This is a consideration that comes home to our interest, as the other adapts itself to our ambition. And what could the most aspiring or the most selfish man desire more, were he to form the notion of a Being to whom he would recommend himself, than such a knowledge as can discover the least appearance of perfection in him, and such a goodness as will proportion a reward to it?
Before I made this remark, I wondered to see the Roman poets in their description of a beautiful man so often mention the turn of his neck and arms.
But in all despotic governments, though a particular prince may favor arts and letters, there is a natural degeneracy of mankind, as you may observe from Augustus?s reign, how the Romans lost themselves by degrees until they fell to an equality with the most barbarous nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free states, and you would think its inhabitants lived in different climates and under different heavens from those at present, so different are the geniuses which are formed under Turkish slavery, and Grecian liberty.
But, to consider this subject in its most ridiculous lights, advertisements are of great use to the vulgar. First of all, as they are instruments of ambition. A man that is by no means big enough for the Gazette may easily creep into the advertisements; by which means we often see an apothecary in the same paper of news with a plenipotentiary, or a running footman with an ambassador. An advertisement from Piccadilly goes down to posterity with an article from Madrid, and John Bartlett of Goodman?s-fields is celebrated in the same paper with the Emperor of Germany. Thus the fable tells us that the wren mounted as high as the eagle, by getting upon his back.
Cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.
Cunning is only the mimic of discretion, and may pass upon weak men in the same manner as vivacity is often mistaken for wit, and gravity for wisdom.
Every man in the time of courtship, and in the first entrance of marriage, puts on a behavior like my correspondent?s holiday suit.
Fame is a good so wholly foreign to our natures that we have no faculty in the soul adapted to it, nor any organ in the body to relish it; an object of desire placed out of the possibility of fruition.
From theme to theme with secret pleasure tossed.