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thofe, who by ftudy, or appearance of study, were fuppofed to have gained knowledge unattainable by the bufy part of mankind; but in thefe enlightened days, every man is qualified to inftruct every other man; and he that beats the anvil, or guides the plough, not content with fupplying corporal neceffities, amufes himself in the hours of leifure with providing intellectual pleafures for his country
It may be obferved, that of this, as of other evils, complaints have been inade by every generation: but though it may, perhaps, be true, that at all times more have been willing than have been able to write, yet there is no reafon for believing, that the dogmatical legions of the prefent race were ever equalled in number by any former period; for fo widely is fpread the itch of literary praife, that almoft every man is an author, either in act or in purpofe; has either beftowed his favours on the publick, or withholds them, that they may be more feasonably offered, or made more worthy of accept
In former times, the pen, like the fword, was confidered as configned by nature to the hands of men; the ladies contented themselves with private virtues and domeftick excellence; and a female writer, like a female warrior, was confidered as a kind of excentric being, that deviated, however illuftriously, from her due fphere of motion, and was, therefore, rather to be gazed at with wonder, than countenanced by imitation. But as the times past are said to have been a nation of Amazons, who drew the I 3 bow
bow and wielded the battle-axe, formed encampments and wafted nations; the revolution of years has now produced a generation of Amazons of the pen, who with the fpirit of their predeceffors have fet mafculine tyranny at defiance, afferted their claim to the regions of fcience, and feem refolved to conteft the ufurpations of virility.
Some, indeed, there are of both fexes, who are authors only in defire, but have not yet attained the power of executing their intentions; whofe performances have not arrived at bulk fufficient to form a volume, or who have not the confidence, however impatient of nameless obfcurity, to folicit openly the affiftance of the printer. Among thefe are the innumerable correfpondents of publick papers, who are always offering affiftance which no man will receive, and fuggefting hints that are never taken, and who complain loudly of the perverfenefs and arrogance of authors, lament their infenfibility of their own intereft, and fill the coffee-houfes with dark ftories of performances by eminent hands, which have been offered and rejected,
To what caufe this univerfal eagerness of writing can be properly afcribed, I have not yet been able to difcover. It is faid, that every art is propagated in proportion to the rewards conferred upon it; a pofition from which a ftranger would naturally infer, that literature was now bleffed with patronage far tranfcending the candour or munificence of the Auguftine age, that the road to greatness was open to none but authors, and that by writing alone riches and honour were to be obtained.
But fince it is true, that writers, like other competitors, are very little difpofed to favour one another, it is not to be expected, that at a time, when every man writes, any man will patronize; and, accordingly, there is not one that I can recollect at prefent, who profeffes the leaft regard for the votaries of fcience, invites the addreffes of learned men, or feems to hope for reputation from any pen but his own.
The caufe, therefore, of this epidemical confpiracy for the deftruction of paper, muft remain a fecret: nor can I difcover, whether we owe it to the influences of the conftellations, or the intemperature of feafons: whether the long continuance of the wind at any fingle point, or intoxicating vapours exhaled from the earth, have turned our nobles. and our peasants, our foldiers and traders, our men and women, all into wits, philofophers, and writers.
It is, indeed, of more importance to fearch out the cure than the cause of this intellectual malady, and he would deferve well of his country, who, inftead of amufing himself with conjectural fpeculations, should find means of perfuading the peer to infpect his steward's accounts, or repair the rural manfion of his ancestors, who could replace the tradefman behind his counter, and fend back the farmer to the mattock and the flail.
General irregularities are known in time to remedy themselves. By the conftitution of ancient Egypt, the priesthood was continually increafing, till at length there was no people befide themfelves; the
eftablishment was then diffolved, and the number of priests was reduced and limited. Thus among us, writers will, perhaps, be multiplied, till no readers will be found, and then the ambition of writing muit neceffarily ceafe.
But as it will be long before the cure is thus gradually effected, and the evil fhould be stopped, if it he poffible, before it rifes to fo great a height, I could wish that both fexes would fix their thoughts upon fome falutary confiderations, which might reprefs their ardour for that reputation which not one of many thoufands is fated to obtain.
Let it be deeply impreffed and frequently recolleted, that he who has not obtained the proper qualifications of an author, can have no excufe for the arrogance of writing, but the power of imparting to mankind fomething neceffary to be known. A man uneducated or unlettered may fometimes start a ufeful thought, or make a lucky difcovery, or obtain by chance fome fecret of nature, or fome intelligence of facts, of which the most enlightened Inind may be ignorant, and which it is better to reveal, though by a rude and unfkilful communication, than to lote for ever by fuppreffing it.
But few will be juftified by this plea; for of the ianumerable books and pamphlets that have overflowe i the nation, fearce one has made any addition to real knowledge, or contained more than a tranfpolition of common fentiments and a repetition of conmmon phrafes.
It will be naturally inquired, when the man who feels an inclination to write, may venture to fuppofe
himself properly qualified; and, fince every man is inclined to think weil of his own intellect, by what teft he may try his abilities, without hazarding the contempt or refentment of the publick.
The first qualification of a writer, is a perfect knowledge of the fubject which he undertakes to treat; fince we cannot teach what we do not know, nor can properly undertake to inftruct others while we are ourselves in want of inftruction. The next requifite is, that he be mafter of the language in which he delivers his fentiments; if he treats of fcience and demonftration, that he has attained a ftyle clear, pure, nervous, and expreffive; if his topicks be probable and perfuafory, that he be able to recommend them by the fuperaddition of elegance and imagery, to difplay the colours of varied diction, and pour forth the mufick of modulated periods.
If it be again inquired, upon what principles any man fhall conclude that he wants thefe powers, it may be readily anfwered, that no end is attained but by the proper means; he only can rationally prefume that he understands a subject, who has read and compared the writers that have hitherto difcuffed it, familiarized their arguments to himfelf by long meditation, confulted the foundations of different fyftems, and feparated truth from error by a rigorous examination.
In like manner, he only has a right to fuppofe that he can exprefs his thoughts, whatever they are, with perfpicuity or elegance, who has carefully perused the best authors, accurately noted their diverfities of ftyle, diligently felected the beft modes of