« السابقةمتابعة »
times found to lead an old age of indolence and avarice But such treatment must naturally be expected from Englishmen, whose national character it is to be slow and cautious in making friends, but violent in friendships once contracted. The English nobility, in short, are often known to give greater rewards to genius, than the French; who, however, are much more judicious in the application of their empty favours.
The fair sex in France, have also not a little contributed to prevent the decline of taste and literature, by expecting such qualifications in their admirers. A man of fashion at Paris, however contemptible we may think him here, must be acquainted with the reigning modes of philosophy, as well as of dress, to be able to entertain his mistress agreeably. The sprightly pedants are not to be caught by dumb show, by the squeeze of a hand, or the ogling of a broad eye : but must be pursued at once through all the labarynths of the Newtonian system, or the metaphysics of Locke. I have seen as bright a circle of beauty at the chymical lectures of Rouelle, as gracing the court at Versailles. And indeed wisdom never appears so charming, as when graced and protected by beauty.
To these advantages may be added the reception of their language in the different courts of Europe. An author who excels is sure of having all the polite for admirers, and is encouraged to write by the pleasing expectation of universal fame. Add to this, that those countries, who can make nothing good from their own language, have lately begun to write in this, some of whose productions contribute to support the present literary reputation of France.
There are therefore many among the French who do honour to the present age, and whose writings will
be transmitted to posterity with an ample share of fame ; some of the most celebrated are as follow :
Voltaire, whose voluminous, yet spririted productions, are too well known to require an exlogy; 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 literari : 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 ? 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 good nature and little experience.
Pyron, 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 ()de 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 Pyron qui ne fut jamais rien
Crebillon, 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 Mechant, and an humorous poem entitled Ververt, 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!
'Dalembert 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 subtil 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 purport, 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 debauchée.
The catalogue might be increased with several other 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.
The age of Louis XIV. notwithstanding these re
spectable names, is still vastly superior. For beside the general tendency of critical corruption, which shall be spoken of by and by, there are other symptoms which indicate a decline. There is, for instance, a fondness for 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 St. 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 show 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 had 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 the 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, an 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 cominerce, 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 abovementioned 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 ce