« السابقةمتابعة »
Defunclus jam fum, nihil eft quod dicat mihi.
N all ages of the world men have been in
habits of praising the time paft at the expence of the time present. This was done even in the Augustan æra, and in that witty and celebrated period the laudator temporis acti must have been either a very splenetic, or a very silly character,
Our present grumblers may perhaps be better warranted; but, though there may not be the fame injustice in their cavilling complaints, there is, more than equal impolicy in them; for if by discouraging their contemporaries they mean to mend them, they take a very certain method of counteracting their own designs; and if they have any other meaning, it must be something worse than impolitic and they have more to answer for than a mere mistake.
Who but the meanest of mankind would wish to damp the spirit and degrade the genius of the country he belongs to ? Is any man lowered by the dignity of his own nation, by the talents
of his contemporaries? Who would not prefer to live in an enlightened and a rising age rather than in a dark and declining one? It is natural to take a pride in the excellence of our free conftitution, in the virtues of our Sovereign; is it not as natural to fympathize in the prosperity of our arts and sciences, in the reputation of our countrymen? But these fplenetic Dampers are for ever fighing over the decline of wit, the de'cline of genius, the decline of literature, when if there is any one thing that has declined rather than another, it is the wretched state of criticism, so far as they have to do with it.
As I was paffing from the city the other day 1 turned into a coffee-house, and took my feat at a table, next to which fome gentlemen had affembled, and were converfing over their coffee. A dispute was carried on between a little prattling volatile fellow and an old gentleman of a sulten, morose aspect, who in a dictatorial tone of voice was declaiming against the times, and treating them and their puisnyadvocate with more contempt than either one or the other seemed to deserve: Still the little fellow, who had abundance of zeal and no want of words, kept battling with might and main for the world as it goes againft the world as it had gone by, and I
could perceive he had an interest with the junior part of his hearers, whilst the fullen orator was no less popular amongst the elders of the party : The little fellow, who seemed to think it no good reason why any work should be decried only because the author of it was living, had been descanţing upon the merit of a recent publication, and had now shifted his ground from the fciences to the fine arts, where he seemed to have taken a strong poft and stood refolutely to it; his opponent, who was not a man to be tickled out of his spleen by a few fine dashes of arts merely elegant, did not relish this kind of skirmishing argument, and tauntingly cried out“ What tell you me of a parcel of gew-gaw ar4 tists, fit only to pick the pockets of a diffipated for trifling age? You talk of your painters and “ pourtrait-mongers, what use are they of? “ Where are the philofophers and the poets, 56 whose countenances might interest pofterity u to fit to them? Will they paint me a Bacon,
a Newton or a Locke? I defy them: There
are not three heads upon living shoulders in “ the kingdom worth the oil, that would be
wafted upon them. Will they or you find « me a Shakespear, a Milton, a Dryden, a Pope, an Addison? You cannot find a limb, a
« feature, or even the shadow of the least of « them : These were men worthy to be record« ed; poets, who reached the very topmolt sum« mits of Parnaffus ; our moderns are but « pismires crawling at its lowest root.”-This lofty defiance brought "our little advocate to a nonplus; the moment was embarrassing; the champion of time past was echoed by his party with a cry of
« No, No! there are no $ such men as these now living."-" I believe « not," he replied, “I believe not: I could “ give you a score of names more, but these « are enough: Honest Tom Durfey would be
more than a match for any poetaster now « breathing,"
In this stile he went on crowing and clapping his wings over a beaten cock, for our poor little champion seemed dead upon the pit: He muttered fomething between his teeth, as if struggling to pronounce some naine that stuck in his throat; but either there was in fact no contemporary, whom he thought it safe: to oppose to thefe Golials in the lifts, or none were present to his mind at this moment.
Alas! thought I, your caufe, my beloved contemporaries, is desperate: Ve Vietis ! You are but dust in the scale, while this Brennus
directs the beam. All that I have admired and applauded in my zeal for those with whom I have lived and still live; all that has hitherto made my heart expand with pride and reverence for the age and nation I belong to, will be immolated to the manes of these departed worthies, whom, though I revere, I cannot love and cherish with that sympathy of soul, which I feel towards you, my dear but degenerate contemporaries !
There was a young man, sitting at the elbow of the little crest-fallen fellow, with a round clerical curl, which tokened him to be a son of the church. Having silently awaited the full time for a rally, if any spirit of resurrection had been left in the fallen hero, and none such appearing, he addressed himself to the challenger with an air so modest, but withal so impressive, that it was impossible not to be prejudiced in his favour, before he opened his cause.
“ I cannot wonder,” said he, “ if the gen“ tleman, who has challenged us to produce a “ parallel to any one of the great names he has " enumerated, finds us unprepared with any “ living rival to those illustrious characters : “ Their fame, though the age in which they “ lived did not always appreciate it as it ought, “ hath yet been rising day by day in the esteem