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It is usual for the booksellers here, when a book has given universal pleasure upon one subject, to bring out several more upon the same plan ; which are sure to have purchasers and readers from that desire which all men have to view a pleasing object on every side. The first performance serves rather to awaken than satisfy attention : and when that is once moved, the slightest effort serves to continue its progression; the merit of the first diffuses a light sufficient to illuminate the succeeding efforts ; and no other subject can be relished, till that is exhausted. A stupid work coming thus immediately in the train of an applauded performance, weans the mind from the object of its pleasure ; and resembles the sponge thrust into the mouth of a discharged culverin, in order to adapt it for a new explosion.
This manner, however, of drawing off a subject, or a peculiar mode of writing to the dregs, effectually precludes a revival of that subject or manner for some time for the future ; the sated reader turns from it with a kind of literary nausea ; and though the titles of books are the part of them most read, yet he has scarcely perseverance enough to wade through the
. Of this number I own myself one; I am now grown callous to several subjects, and different kinds of composition; whether such originally pleased, I will not take upon me to determine ; but at present I spurn a new book merely upon seeing its name in an advertisement; nor have the smallest curiosity to look
beyond the first leaf, even though in the second the author promises his own face neatly engraved on copper.
I am become a perfect epicure in reading; plain becf or solid mutton, will never do. I am for a Chi. nese dish of bear's claws, and bird's nests. I am for sauce strong with assafætida, or fuming with garlic. For this reason there are a hundred very wise, learned, virtuous, well-intended productions that have no charms for me. Thus, for the soul of me, I could never find courage nor grace enough to wade above two pages deep into Thoughts upon God and Nature, or Thoughts upon Providence, or Thoughts upon free Grace, or indeed, into Thoughts upon any thing at all. I can no longer meditate with Meditations for
every day in the year ; Essays upon divers subjects cannot allure
me, though never so interesting; and as for Funeral Sermons, or even Thanksgiving Sermons, I can neither weep with the one, nor rejoice with the other.
But it is chiefly in gentle poetry, where I seldom look further than the title. The truth is, I take up books to be told something new; but here, as it is now managed, the reader is told nothing. He opens the book and there finds very good words truly, and much exactness of rhyme, but no information. A parcel of gaudy images pass on before his imagination like the figures in a dream; but curiosity, induction, reason, and the whole train of affections are fast asleep. The jucunda et idonea vite ; those sallies which mend the heart while they amuse the fancy, are quite forgotten: so that a reader who would take up some modern applauded performances of this kind, must, in order to be pleased, first leave his good sense behind him, take for his recompense and guide bloated and compound epithet, and dwell on paintings, just indeed, because laboured with minute exactness.
If we examine, however, our internal sensations, we shall find ourselves but little pleased with such laboured vanities; we shall find that our applause rather proceeds from a kind of contagion caught up from others, and which we contribute to diffuse, than from what we privately feel. There are some subjects of which almost all the world perceive the futility; yet all combine in imposing upon each other, as worthy of praise. But chiefly this imposition obtains in literature, where men publicly contemn what they relish with rapture in private, and approve abroad what has given them disgust at home. The truth is, we deliver those criticisms in public which are supposed to be best calculated not to do justice to the author, but to impress others with an opinion of our superior discern
But let works of this kind, which have already come off with such applause, enjoy it all. It is neither my wish to diminish, as I was never considerable enough to add to their fame. But for the future I fear there are many poems, of which I shall find spirits to read but the title. In the first place, all odes upon winter or summer, or autumn ; in short all odes, epodes, and monodies whatsoever shall hereafter be deemed too polite, classical, obscure, and refined to be read, and entirely above human comprehension. Pastorals are pretty enough—for those that like them—but to me Thyrsis is one of the most insipid fellows I ever conversed with; and as for Corydon, I do not choose his company. Elegies and epistles are very fine to those to whom they are addressed ; and as for epic poems, I am generally able to discover the whole plan in reading the two first pages.
Tragedies, however, as they are now made, are good instructive moral sermons enough ; and it would be a fault not to be pleased with good things. There I learn several great truths ; as, that it is impossible to see into the ways of futurity; that punishment always attends the villain, that love is the fond soother of the human breast, that we should not resist heaven's will, for in resisting heaven's will heaven's will is resisted; with several other sentiments equally new, delicate and striking. Every new tragedy therefore I shall go to see ; for reflections of this nature make a tolerable harmony, when mixed up with a proper quantity of drum, trumpet, thunder, lightning, or the scene shifter's whistle.
From Lien Chi Altangi to Fum Hoam, first President of
the Ceremonial Academy at Pekin, in China.
I HAD some intentions lately of going to visit Bedlam, the place where those who go mad are confined. I went to wait upon the man in black to be my conductor, but I found him preparing to go to Westminster-hall, where the English hold their courts of jus. tice. It gave me some surprise to find my friend engaged in a law-suit, but more so, when he informed me that it had been depending for several years. How is it possible, cried I, for a man who knows the world to go to law ; I am well acquainted with the courts of justice in China, they resemble rat-traps every one of them, nothing more easy than to get in, but to get out again is attended with some difficulty, and more cunning than rats are generally found to possess !
Faith, replied my friend, I should not have gone to law but that I was assured of success before I began: things were presented to me in so alluring a light, that I thought by barely declaring myself a candidate for the prize, I had nothing more to do than to enjoy the fruits of the victory. Thus have I been upon the eve of an imaginary triumph every term these ten years, have travelled forward with victory ever in my view,
, but ever out of reach ; however, at present I fancy we have hampered our antagonist in such a manner, that without some unforseen demur, we shall this day lay him fairly on his back.
If things be so situated, said I, I do not care if I attend you to the courts and partake in the pleasure of
But prithee, continued I, as we set forward, what reasons have you to think an affair at last concluded, which has given so many former disappointments ? My lawyer tells me, returned he, that I have Salkeld and Ventris strong in my favour, and that there are no less than fifteen cases in point. I understand, said I, those are two of your judges who have already declared their opinions. Pardon me, replied my friend, Salkeld and Ventris are lawyers who some hundred years ago gave their opinions on cases similar to mine ; these opinions which make for me, my lawyer is to cite, and those opinions which look another way are cited by the lawyer employed by my antagonist; as I observed, I have Salkeld and Ventris for he has Coke and Hale for him, and he that has most opinions is most likely to carry his cause. But where is the necessity, cried I, of prolonging a suit by citing the opinions and reports of others, since the same good sense which determined lawyers in former ages may serve to guide your judges at this day. They at that time gave their opinions only from the light of reason, your judges have the same light at present to direct them; let me even add a greater, as in former ages there were many prejudices from which the present is happily free. If arguing from authorities be exploded