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too well known to require an eulogy. Does he not resemble the champion mentioned by Xenophon, of great reputation in all the gymnastic exercises united, but inferior to each champion singly, who excels only in one?
Montesquieu, a name equally deserving fame with the former. The ‘Spirit of Laws' is an instance how much genius is able to lead learning. His system has been adopted by the literati; and yet, is it not possible for opinions equally plausible to be formed upon opposite principles, if a genius like his could be found to attempt such an undertaking f He seems more a poet than a philosopher.
Rousseau of Geneva, a professed man-hater, or more properly speaking, a philosopher enraged with one half of mankind, because they unavoidably make the other half unhappy. Such sentiments are generally the result of much goodnature and little experience.
Piron, an author possessed of as much wit as any man alive, yet with as little prudence to turn it to his own advantage.” A comedy of his, called “La Metromanie,” is the best theatrical production that has appeared of late in Europe. But I know not whether I should most commend his genius, or censure his obscenity. His “Ode à Priape, has justly excluded him from a place in the academy of Belles Lettres. However, the good-natured Montesquieu, by his interest, procured the starving bard a trifling pension.” His own epitaph was all the revenge he took upon the academy for being repulsed.
“Cy-git Piron, quine fut jamais rien:
(1) [“Some to whom heaven in wit has been profuse,
(2) LIt is also characterized by La Harpe, as “exceeding in plot, style, humour, and vivacity, almost every other composition of the kind.”—Cours de Littérature ) (3) [At the solicitation of Montesquieu, Louis the XVth settled on Piron a pension of a thousand livres. He died in 1773.}
Crébillon, junior, a writer of real merit, but guilty of the same indelicate faults with the former. Wit employed in dressing up obscenity, is like the art used in painting a corpse; it may be thus rendered tolerable to one sense, but fails not quickly to offend some other. Gresset is agreeable and easy. His comedy called the ‘Méchant,” and a humorous poem entitled ‘Wer-vert, have original merit. He was bred a Jesuit; but his wit procured his dismission from the society. This last work particularly could expect no pardon from the Convent, being a satire against nunneries (9) D'Alembert has united an extensive skill in scientifical learning with the most refined taste for the polite arts. His excellence in both has procured him a seat in each academy. Diderot is an elegant writer and subtile reasoner. He is the supposed author of the famous Thesis which the abbé Prade sustained before the doctors of the Sorbonne. It was levelled against Christianity, and the Sorbonne too hastily gave it their sanction. They perceived its spurport, however, when it was too late. The college was brought into some contempt, and the abbé obliged to take refuge at the court of Berlin. The Marquis D’Argens attempts to add the character of a philosopher to the vices of a debauchee. The catalogue might be increased with several other
(1) [“Le Méchant, of Gresset, is one of the most elegant productions of the comic muse, and presents an ingenious satire upon Parisian manners, as they existed previously to the revolution. The poetry is excellent, and there is no play of which so many lines have become proverbial, except, perhaps, La Métromanie."— Quart. Rev. vol. xii. p. 131.]
(2) l'I must again and again repeat, that it is on account of the exquisite skill, and humour and pleasantry of the use made of the machinery of the sylphs, that Pope's ‘Rape of the Lock’ has exceeded all the heroi-comic poems in all languages. The Ver-vert of Gresset, in point of delicate satire, is perhaps next to it.”—WARton.]
authors of merit, such as Marivaux, Le Franc, Saint Foix, Destouches, and Modonville; but let it suffice to say, that by these the character of the present age is tolerably supported. Though their poets seldom rise to fine enthusiasm, they never sink into absurdity; though they fail to astonish, they are generally possessed of talents to please. y The age of Louis XIV. notwithstanding these respectable names, is still vastly superior. For beside the general tendency of critical corruption, which shall be spoken of by and bye, there are other symptoms which indicate a decline. There is, for instance, a fondness of scepticism, which runs through the works of some of their most applauded writers, and which the numerous class of their imitators have contributed to diffuse. Nothing can be a more certain sign that genius is in the wane, than its being obliged to fly to paradox for support, and attempting to be erroneously agreeable. A man who, with all the impotence of wit, and all the eager desires of infidelity, writes against the religion of his country, may raise doubts, but will never give conviction; all he can do is to render society less happy than he found it. It was a good manner which the father of the late poet, Saint Foix, took to reclaim his son from this juvenile error. The young poet had shut himself up for some time in his study; and his father, willing to know what had engaged his attention so closely, upon entering found him busied in drawing up a new system of religion, and endeavouring to shew the absurdity of that already established. The old man knew by experience, that it was useless to endeavour to convince a vain young man by right reason, so only desired his company up stairs. When come into the father's apartment, he takes his son by the hand, and drawing back a curtain at one end of the room, discovered a crucifix exquisitely painted. “My son,” says he, “you desire to change the religion of your country, behold the fate of a reformer.”
The truth is, vanity is more apt to misguide men than false reasoning. As some would rather be conspicuous in a mob, than unnoticed even in a privy-council, so others choose rather to be foremost in the retinue of error, than follow in the train of truth. What influence the conduct of such writers may have on the morals of a people, is not my business here to determine. Certain I am, that it has a manifest tendency to subvert the literary merits of the country in view. The change of religion in every nation has hitherto produced barbarism and ignorance; and such will be probably its consequences in every future period. For when the laws and opinions of society are made to clash, harmony is dissolved, and all the parts of peace unavoidably crushed in the encounter. The writers of this country have also of late fallen into a method of considering every part of art and science as arising from simple principles. The success of Montesquieu, and one or two more, has induced all the subordinate ranks of genius into vicious imitation. To this end they turn to our view that side of the subject which contributes to support their hypothesis, while the objections are generally passed over in silence. Thus an universal system rises from a partial representation of the question; a whole is concluded from a part; a book appears entirely new, and the fancy-built fabric is styled for a short time very ingenious. In this manner, we have seen of late almost every subject in morals, natural history, politics, economy, and commerce treated. Subjects naturally proceeding on many principles, and some even opposite to each other, are all taught to proceed along the line of systematic simplicity, and continue, like other agreeable falsehoods, extremely pleasing till they are detected. I must still add another fault, of a nature somewhat similar to the former. As those above-mentioned are for contracting a single science into system, so those I am going to speak of, are for drawing up a system of all the sciences united. Such undertakings as these are carried on by different writers, cemented into one body, and concurring in the same design by the mediation of a bookseller. From these inauspicious combinations proceed those monsters of learning, the Trevoux, Encyclopédies, and Bibliothèques of the age. In making these, men of every rank in literature are employed, wits and dunces contribute their share, and Diderot, as well as Desmaretz, are candidates for oblivion. The genius of the first supplies the gale of favour, and the latter adds the useful ballast of stupidity. By such means, the enormous mass heavily makes its way among the public, and, to borrow a bookseller's phrase, “the whole impression moves off.” These great collections of learning may serve to make us inwardly repine at our own ignorance; may serve, when gilt and lettered, to adorn the lower shelves of a regular library; but woe to the reader, who, not daunted at the immense distance between one great pasteboard and the other, opens the volume, and explores his way through a region so extensive, but barren of entertainment | No unexpected landscape there to delight the imagination no diversity of prospect to cheat the painful journey ! He sees the wide extended desert lie before him : what is past only increases his terror of what is to come. His course is not half finished; he looks behind him with affright, and forward with despair. Perseverance is at last overcome, and a night of oblivion lends its friendly aid to terminate the perplexity.