« PrécédentContinuer »
heat of the argument told his father, that for his own part he expected to die like a dog. Upon which, the old man starting up in a very great paffion, cried out, Then, firrah, you fhall live like one; and taking his cane in his hand, cudgelled him out of his fyftem. This had fo good an effect upon him, that he took up from that day, fell to reading good books, and is now a bencher in the Middle Temple.
I do not mention this cudgelling part of the ftory with a design to engage the fecular arm in matters of this nature; but certainly, if it ever exerts itself in affairs of opinion and fpeculation, it ought to do it on fuch fhallow and defpicable pretenders to knowledge, who endeavour to give man dark and uncomfortable profpects of his being, and deftroy thofe principles which are the fupport, happinefs, and glory of all publick focieties, as well as private perfons.
I think it is one of Pythagoras's golden fayings, that a man fhould take care above all things to have a due reSpect for himself: and it is certain, that this licentious fort of authors, who are for depreciating mankind, endeavour to disappoint and undo what the moft refined fpirits have been labouring to advance fince the beginning of the world. The very defign of drefs, goodbreeding, outward ornaments and ceremony, were to lift up human nature, and fet it off to advantage. Architecture, painting, and ftatuary, were invented with the fame defign; as indeed every art and science that contributes to the embellishment of life, and to the wearing off and throwing into fhades the mean and low parts of our nature. Poetry carries on this great end more than all the reft, as may be feen in the following paffage, taken out of Sir Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning, which gives a true and better account of this art than all the volumes that were ever written upon it.
"Poetry, especially heroical, feems to be railed altogether from a noble foundation, which makes "much for the dignity of man's nature. For feeing this fenfible world is in dignity inferior to the foul
of man, poely feems to endow human nature with that which hiftory denies; and to give fatisfaction "to the mind, with at least the fhadow of things, "where the fubitance cannot be had. For if the mat
ter be thoroughly confidered, a ftrong argument may be drawn from poefy, that a more stately greatnefs of "things, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful "variety, delights the foul of man, than any way can "be found in nature fince the fall. Wherefore feeing "the acts and events, which are the subjects of true "history, are not of that amplitude as to content the "mind of man; poefy is ready at hand to feign acts "more heroical. Because true hiftory reports the fuc"ceffes of bufinefs not proportionable to the merit of "virtues and vices, poefy corrects it, and prefents " events and fortunes according to defert, and accord
ing to the law of providence: becaufe true hiftory, "through the frequent fatiety and fimilitude of things, "works a distaste and mifprifion in the mind of man; "poefy cheareth and refresheth the foul, chanting 66 things rare and various, and full of viciffitudes. So "as poefy ferveth and conferreth to delectation, mag
nanimity and morality; and therefore it may feem "deservedly to have fome participation of divineness, "because it doth raise the mind, and exalt the fpirit with
high raptures, by proportioning the fhews of things "to the defires of the mind, and not fubmitting the "mind to things as reafon and hiftory do. And by
thefe allurements and congruities, whereby it che "rifheth the foul of man, joined alfo with confort of "mufick, whereby it may more fweetly infinuate itfelf; "it hath won fuch accefs, that it hath been in estima*tion even in rude times, and barbarous nations, when our learning flood excluded."
But there is nothing which favours and falls in with this natural greatnefs and dignity of human nature fo much as religion, which does not only promise the entire refinement of the mind, but the glorifying of the body, and the immortality of both.
The Efficacy of Poetry upon the Mind.
N ingenious and worthy gentleman, my ancient friend, fell into difcourfe with me this evening, upon the force and efficacy which the writings of good poets have on the minds of their intelligent readers, and recommended to me his fenfe of the matter, thrown together in the following manner, which he defired me to communicate to the youth of Great Britain in my Effays; which I chufe to do in his own words.
I have always been of opinion (fays he) that virtue finks deepest into the heart of man, when it comes recommended by the powerful charms of poetry. The moft active principle in our mind is the imagination : to it a good poet makes his court perpetually, and by this faculty takes care to gain it first. Our paffions and inclinations come over next; and our reason surrenders itself with pleasure, in the end. Thus the whole foul is infenfibly betrayed into morality, by bribing the fancy with beautiful and agreeable images of thofe very things, that in the books of the philofophers appear auftere, and have at the best but a kind of forbidding aspect. In a word, the poets do, as it were, ftiew the rough paths of virtue fo full of flowers, that we are not fenfible of the uneafinefs of them, and imagine ourselves in the midft of pleasures, and the moft bewitching allurements, at the time we are making a progress in the fevereft duties of life.
All men agree, that licentious poems do of all writings fooneft corrupt the heart: and why should we not be as univerfally perfuaded, that the grave and ferious performances of fuch as write in the moft engaging manner, by a kind of divine impulfe, must be the most effectual perfuafives to goodness! If therefore I were bleffed with a fon, in order to the forming of his manners, (which is making him truly my fon) I fhould be continually putting into his hand fome fine poet. The graceful fentences, and the manly fentiments fo frequently to be met with in every great and fublime writer,
writer, are, in my judgment, the most ornamental and valuable furniture that can be for a young gentleman's head; methinks they fhew like fo much rich embroidery upon the brain. Let me add to this, that humanity and tenderness, (without which there can be no true greatnefs in the mind) are inspired by the muses in fuch pathetical language, that all we find in profe authors, towards the raifing and improving of these paffions, is in comparison but cold, or lukewarm, at the best. There is befides a certain elevation of foul, a fedate magnanimity, and a noble turn of virtue, that diftinguishes the hero from the plain, honeft man, to which verfe can only raife us. The bold metaphors and founding numbers, peculiar to the poets, rouze up all our fleeping faculties, and alarm the whole powers of the foul, much like that excellent trumpeter mentioned by Virgil:
Que non præftantior alter
Ere ciere Viros, Martemque accendere Cantu. I fell into this train of thinking this evening, upon reading a paffage in a Mask writ by Milton, where two brothers are introduced seeking after their fifter, whom they had loft in a dark night and thick wood. One of the brothers is apprehenfive left the wandering virgin should be overpowered with fears through the darkness and loneness of the time and place. This gives the other occafion to make the following reflections, which, as I read them, made me forget my age, and renewed in me the warm defires after virtue, fo natural to uncorrupted youth.
I do not think my fifter so to seek
And the fweet peace that goodness bofoms ever,
Where, with her best nurse, Contemplation,
Praise and Blame to be regarded only as relating to Things fridly true. [Tatler, N°.92.]
Know no manner of speaking fo offenfive as that of
proceeds (where men do not do it to introduce malice, and make calumny more effectual) from the common error of confidering man as a perfect creature. But if we rightly examine things, we fhall find, that there is a fort of economy in providence, that one shall excel where another is defective, in order to make men more useful to each other, and mix them in fociety. This man having this talent, and that man another, is as neceffary in converfation, as one profeffing one trade, and another another, is beneficial in commerce. The happiest climate does not produce all things; and it was fo ordered, that one part of the earth fhould want the product of another, for uniting mankind in a general correfpondence and good understanding. It is therefore want of good fenfe as well as good nature, to fay, Simplicius has a better judgment, but not fo much wit as Latius; for that thefe have not each other's capacities, is no more a diminution to either, than if you fhould fay, Simplicius is not Latius, or Latius not Simplicius. The heathen world had fo little notion that perfection was to be expected amongst men, that among them any one quality or endowment in an heroic degree made a god. Hercules had ftrength; but it was never objected to him that he wanted wit. Apollo prefided.