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NUMB. 131. TUESDAY, February 5, 1754.
Ergo aliquid noftris de moribus.
And mingle fomething of our times to please.
FONTENELLE, in his panegyrick on Sir Ifaac Newton, clofes a long enumeration of that great philofopher's virtues and attainments, with an obfervation, that he was not diftinguished from other "men, by any fingularity either natural or af"fected."
It is an eminent inftance of Newton's fuperiority to the rest of mankind, that he was able to feparate knowledge from thofe weakneffes by which knowledge is generally difgraced; that he was able to excel in fcience and wifdom, without purchafing them by the neglect of little things; and that he stood alone, merely because he had left the rest of mankind behind him, not because he deviated from the beaten track.
Whoever, after the example of Plutarch, fhould compare the lives of illuftrious men, might fet this part of Newton's character to view with great advantage, by oppofing it to that of Bacon, perhaps the only man of later ages, who has any pretenfions to difpute with him the palm of genius or science.
Bacon, after he had added to a long and careful contemplation of almost every other object of knowledge a curious infpection into common life, and, after having surveyed nature as a philofopher, had examined" men's business and bofoms" as a statef man; yet failed fo much in the conduct of domestick affairs, that, in the most lucrative post to which a great and wealthy kingdom could advance him, he felt all the miferies of diftressful poverty, and committed all the crimes to which poverty incites. Such were at once his negligence and rapacity, that, as it is faid, he would gain by unworthy practices that money, which, when fo acquired, his fervants might steal from one end of the table, while he fat ftudious and abstracted at the other.
As fcarcely any man has reached the excellence, very few have funk to the weakness of Bacon: but almost all the ftudious tribe, as they obtain any participation of his knowledge, feel likewife fome con❤ tagion of his defects; and obftruct the veneration which learning would procure, by follies greater or lefs to which only learning could betray them.
It has been formerly remarked by The Guardian, that the world punishes with too great feverity the error of those, who imagine that the ignorance of little things may be compensated by the knowledge of great ; for fo it is, that as more can detect petty failings than can distinguish or esteem great qualifications, and as mankind is in general more easily disposed to cenfure than to admiration, contempt is often incurred by flight mistakes, which real virtue or usefulness cannot counterbalance.
Yet fuch mistakes and inadvertencies, it is not eafy for a man deeply immerfed in ftudy to avoid; no man can become qualified for the common intercourfes of life, by private meditation; the manners of the world are not a regular fyftem, planned by philofophers upon fettled principles, in which every caufe has a congruous effect, and one part has a just reference to another. Of the fashions prevalent in every country, a few have arifen, perhaps, from particular temperatures of the climate; a few more from the conftitution of the government; but the greater part have grown up by chance; been started by caprice, been contrived by affectation, or borrowed without any juft motives of choice from other
Of all thefe, the favage that hunts his prey upon the mountains, and the fage that fpeculates in his clofet, muft neceffarily live in equal ignorance; yet by the obfervation of thefe trifles it is, that the ranks of mankind are kept in order, that the addrefs of one to another is regulated, and the general bufinefs of the world carried on with facility and method.
Thefe things, therefore, though finall in themfelves, become great by their frequency; and he very much mistakes his own intereft, who, to the unavoidable unfkilfulness of abstraction and retirement, adds a voluntary neglect of common forms, and increases the difadvantages of a ftudious courfe of life by an arrogant contempt of thofe practices, by which others endeavour to gain favour and multiply friendships.
A real and interior difdain of fashion and ceremony, is, indeed, not very often to be found: much the
the greater part of those who pretend to laugh at foppery and formality, fecretly wish to have poffeffed thofe qualifications which they pretend to defpife; and because they find it difficult to wash away the tincture which they have fo deeply imbibed, endeavour to harden themselves in a fullen approbation of their own colour. Neutrality is a ftate, into which the bufy paffions of man cannot eafily fubfide; and he who is in danger of the pangs of envy, is generally forced to recreate his imagination with an effort of comfort.
Some, however, may be found, who, fupported by the consciousness of great abilities, and elevated by a long course of reputation and applaufe, voluntarily confign themselves to fingularity, affect to crofs the roads of life because they know that they fhall not be juftled, and indulge a boundless gratification of will because they perceive that they shall be quietly obeyed. Men of this kind are generally known by the name of Humourifts, an appellation by which he that has obtained it, and can be contented to keep it, is fet free at once from the fhackles of fashion; and can go in or out, fit or ftand, be talkative or filent, gloomy or merry, advance absurdities or oppose demonstration, without any other reprehenfion from mankind, than that it is his way, that he is an odd fellow, and must be let alone.
This feems to many, an easy passport through the various factions of mankind; and thofe on whom it is bestowed, appear too frequently to confider the patience with which their caprices are fuffered as an undoubted evidence of their own importance, of a genius to which fubmiffion is univerfally paid, and VOL. IX. whofe
whofe irregularities are only confidered as confequences of its vigour. Thefe peculiarities, however, are always found to fpot a character, though they may not totally obfcure it; and he who expects from mankind, that they fhould give up established customs in compliance with his fingle will, and exacts that deference which he does not pay, may be endured, but can never be approved. '
Singularity is, I think, in its own nature univerfally and invariably difpleafing. In whatever pect a man differs from others, he must be conby them as either worfe or better: by being heel known that a man gains admiration oftener than love, fince all approbation of his practice muft neceffarily condemn him that gives it; and though a man often pleafes by inferiority, there are few who defire to give fuch pleafure. Yet the truth is, that fingularity is almost always regarded as a brand of flight reproach; and where it is affociated with acknowledged merit, ferves as an abatement or an allay of excellence, by which weak eyes are reconciled to its luftre, and by which, though kindnefs is not gained, at least envy is averted.
But let no man be in hafte to conclude his own merit fo great or confpicuous, as to require or juftify fingularity it is as hazardous for a moderate understanding to ufurp the prerogatives of genius, as for a common form to play over the airs of uncontefted beauty. The pride of men will not patiently endure to fee one, whofe underftanding or attainments are but level with their own, break the rules by which they have confented to be bound, or forfake the dition which they fubmiffively follow. All viola