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logues of LUCIAN) though many of their serious compositions are altogether inimitable. HORACE condemns the coarse railleries and cold jests of PLAUTUS: But, though the most easy, agreeable, and judicious writer in the world, is his own talent for ridicule yery striking or refined? This, therefore, is one considerable improvement, which the polite arts have received from gallantry, and from courts, where it first arose.
But, to return from this digression, I shall advance it as a fourth obseryation on this subject, of the rise and progress of the arts and sciences, That when the arts and sciences come to perfection in any state, from that moment they naturally, or rather necessarily decline, and seldom or never revive in that nation, where they formerly flourished.
It must be confessed, that this maxim, though con. formable to experience, may, at first sight, be esteemed contrary to reason. If the natural genius of mankind be the same in all ages, and in almost all countries, (as seems to be the truth) it must very much forward and cultivate this genius, to be possessed of patterns in every art, which may regulate the taste, and fix the objects of imitation. The models left us by the ancients gave birth to all the arts about 200 years ago, and have mightily advanced their progress in every country of EUROPE : Why had they not a like effect during the reign of TRAJAN and his successors; when they were much more entire, and were still admired and studied by the whole world? So late as the emperor JUSTINIAN, the Poes, by way of distinction, was understood, among the GREEKS, to be HOMER; among the Romans, VIRGIL. Such admiration ftill remained for these divine geniuses ; though no poet had appeared for many cenqurįes, who could justly pretend to uavę imitated them.
A man's genius is always, in the beginning of life, as much unknown to himself as to others, and it is only after frequent trials, attended with success, that he dares think himself equal to those undertakings, in which those who have succeeded, have fixed the ad. miration of mankind. If his own nation be already possessed of many models of eloquence, he naturally com. pares his own juvenile exercises with thefe ; and being sensible of the great disproportion, is discouraged from any farther attempts, and never aims at a rivalfhip with those authors, whom he fo much admires. A noble emulation is the source of every excellence. Admiration and modesty naturally extinguish this emulation. And no one is fo liable to an excess of admiration and modesty, as a truly great genius.
Next to emulation, the greatest encourager of the noble arts is praise and glory. A writer is animated with new force, when he hears the applauses of the world for his former productions; and, being roused by such a motive, he often reaches a pitch of perfection, which is equally surprizing to himself and to his readers. But when the posts of honour are all occupied, his first attempts are but coldly received by the public; being compared to productions, which are both in themselves more excellent, and have already the advantage of an established reputation. Were Moliere and CORNEILLE to bring upon the stage at present their early productions, which were formerly so well received, it would discourage the young poets, to see the indifference and disdain of the public. The ignorance of the age alone could have given admission to the Prince of Tyre; but it is to that we owe the Moor: Had Every man in his humour been rejected, we had never seen VOLPONE.
Perhaps, it may not be for the advantage of any nation to have the arts imported from their neighbours in too great perfe&tion. This extinguishes emulation, and links the ardour of the generous youth. So many models of ITALIAN painting brought into Britain, instead of exciting our artists, is the cause of their small progress in that noble art. The same, perhaps, was the case of Rome, when it received the arts from GREECE. That multitude of polite productions in the French language, dispersed all over GERMANY and the NORTH, hinder these nations from cultivating their own language, and keep them ftill dependent on their neighbours for those elegant entertainments.
It is true, the ancients had left us models in every kind of writing, which are highly worthy of admiration. But besides that they were written in languages, known only to the learned; besides this, I say, the comparison is not so perfect or entire between modern wits, and those who lived in so remote an age. Had Waller been born in Rome, during the reign of TIBERIUS, his first productions had been despised, when compared to the finished odes of Horace. But in this island the superiority of the Roman poet diminished nothing from the fame of the ENGLISH. We esteemed ourselves sufficiently happy, that our climate and language could produce but a faint copy of fo excellent an original.
In short, the arts and sciences, like some plants, require a fresh foil , and however rich the land may be, and however you may recruit it by art or care, it will never, when once exhausted, produce any thing that is perfeet or finished in the kind.
The EPICURE AN*.
T is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that
his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature's productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman, and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those fpecies, which come from the hand of the master, Some of the drapery may be of his drawing; but he is not allowed to touch the principal figure. Art may make a suit of clothes : But nature must produce a man.
Even in those productions, commonly denominated works of art, we find that the noblest of the kind are beholden for their chief beauty to the force and happy influence of nature. To the native enthusiasm of the poets, we owe whatever is admirable in their productions. The greatest genius, where nature at any time fails him, (for she is not equal) throws aside the lyre, and hopes not, from the rules of art, to reach that divine harmony,
* Or, The man of elegance and pleasure. The intention of this and the three following effays is not so much, to explain accurately the fentiments of the ancient fects of philosophy, as to deliver the sentiments of seats, that naturally form themselves in the world, and entertain different ideas of human life and of happiness. I have given each of them the name of the philofu phical fect, to which it bears the greatest affinity.