Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

an Academy merely for the polite arts is more judicious, as it prevents confusion, and the joining, in some measure, of heterogeneals, such as a differtation on the head-dresses of the Roman ladies, with an hundred or more new curves.

As there is very little order and regularity in the Royal Society, and not the least encouragement; and that the Academy of Paris is on a quite different foot, 'tis no wonder that our transactions are drawn up in a more just and beautiful manner than those of the English. Soldiers who are under a regular discipline, and besides well paid, must necessarily, at last, perform more glorious atchievements than others who are mere voluntiers. It muft indeed be confess'd that the Royal Society boalt their Newton, but then he did not owe his knowledge and discoveries to that body; so far from it, that the latter were intelligible to very few of his fellow-members. A genius like that of Sir Isaac belong‘d to all the academies in the world, because all had a thousand things to learn of him.

THE celebrated Dean Swift form'd a design, in the latter end of the late Queen's seign, to found an Academy for the English tongue upon the model of that of the French. This project was promoted by the late earl of Oxford, lord high treasurer, and much more by the lord Boling broke, se

cretary

cretary of state, who had the happy talert of speaking without premeditation in the parliament-house, with as much purity as Dean Swift writ in his closet, and who would have been the ornament and protector of that Academy. Those only would have been chosen members of it, whose works will last as long as the English tongue, such as Dean Swift, Mr. Prior, whom we saw here invested with a publick character, and whose fame in England is equal to that of La Fontaine in France; Mr. Pope the English Boilecu. Mr. Congreve who may be called their Moliere, and several other eminent persons whose names I have forgot; all these would have raised the glory of that body to a great height, even in its infancy. But Queen Anne being snatched suddenly from the world, the Whigs were resolved to ruin the protectors of the intended Academy, a circumstance that was of the most fatal consequence to polite literature. The members of this Academy would have had a very great advantage over those who first formed that of the French ; for Swift, Prior, Congreve, Dryden, Pope, Addison, &c. had fixed the English tongue by their writings; whereas Chapelain, Coltetet, Cassaigne, Faret, Perrin, Cotin, our first Academicians, were a disgrace to their country; and fo much' ridicule is now attached to their very names, that if an author of some genius in this age had the misfortune to be called Chapelain or Cotin, he would be under a necessity of changing it.

names,

ONE circumstance, to which the English Academy should especially have attended, is, to have prescribed to themselves occupations of a quite different kind from those with which our Academicians amuse themselves. A wit of this country asked me for the memoirs of the French Academy. I answered, they have no memoirs, but have printed threescore or fourscore volumes in quarto of compliments. The gentleman perused one or two of them, but without being able to nnderstand the style in which they were written, tho' he understood all our good authors perfectly. All, fays he, I see in these elegant discourses is, that the member elect having assured the audience that his predecessor was a great man, that cardinal Richelieu was a very great man, that the chancellor Seguier was a pretty great man, that Lewis the fourteenth was a more than great man ; the director anfwers in the very same strain, and adds, that the member elect may also be a fort of great man, and that himself, in quality of director, must also have some share in this greatness.

The cause why all these academical difcourses have unhappily done so little honour

to

to this body is evident enough. Vitium eft temporis potiùs quam hominis. (The fault is owing to the age rather than to particular persons. It grew up insensibly into a cuftom, for every Academician to repeat these elogiums at his reception ; 'twas laid down as a kind of law, that the publick should be indulged from time to time the fullen satisfaction of yawning over these productions. If the reason should afterwards be fought, why the greatest genius's who have been incorporated into that body have sometimes made the worst speeches ; I anfwer, that 'tis wholly owing to a strong propension the gentleman in question had to shine, and to display a thread-bare, wornout subject in a new and uncommon light,

The necessity of saying, something, the perplexity of having nothing to fay, and a desire of being witty, are three circumstances which alone are capable of making even the greatest write ridiculous. These gentlemen, not being ble to strike out any new thoughts, hunted after a new play of words, and delivered themselves without thinking at all ; in like manner as people who should seem to chew with great cagerness, and make as though they were eating, at the same time that they were just starved.

'Tis a law in the French Academy, to publifh all those discourses by which only

they they are known, but they should rather make a law never to print any of them.

But the Academy of the Belles Lettres have a more prudent and more useful object, which is, to present the publick with a collection of transactions that abound with curious researches and critiques. These transactions are already esteemed by foreigners ; and it were only to be wished, that some fubjects in them had been more thoroughly examined, and that others had not been treated at all. As for instance, we should have been very well fatisfied, had they omitted I know not what differtation on the prerogative of the right hand over the left; and fome others, which, though not published under so ridiculous a title, are yet written on subjects that are almost as frivolous and filly.

The Academy of Sciences, in fuch of their researches as are of a more difficult kind and a more sensible use, embrace the knowledge of nature and the improvements of the arts.

We may presume that such profound, such uninterrupted pursuits as these, such exact calculations, such refined discoveries, such extensive and exalted views, will, at last, produce something that may prove of advantage to the universe. Hitherto, as we have observed together, the most useful discoveries have been made in the most barbarous times.

One

« AnteriorContinuar »