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I know not, Sir, whether among this fraternity of sorrow you will think any much to be pitied; nor indeed do many of them appear to folicit compaffion, for they generally applaud their own conduct, and defpife thofe whom want of taste or fpirit suffers to grow rich. It were happy if the prifons of the kingdom were filled only with characters like thefe, men whom profperity could not make useful, and whom ruin cannot make wife: but there are among us many who raise different fenfations, many that owe their prefent mifery to the feductions of treachery, the ftrokes of cafualty, or the tenderness of pity; many whofe fufferings difgrace fociety, and whofe virtues would adorn it: of thefe, when familiarity shall have enabled me to recount their stories without horror, you may expect another narrative from,


Your most humble fervant,


NUMB. 58. SATURDAY, May 25, 1753

Damnant quod non intelligunt.

They condemn what they do not understand.


EURIPIDES, having prefented Socrates with the writings of Heraclitus, a philofopher famed for involution and obfcurity, enquired afterwards his opinion of their merit. "What I understand," faid Socrates, "I find to be excellent; and, there"fore, believe that to be of equal value which I "cannot understand."

The reflection of every man who reads this paffage will fuggeft to him the difference between the practice of Socrates, and that of modern critics: Socrates, who had, by long obfervation upon himself and others, difcovered the weakness of the strongest, and the dimnefs of the most enlightened intellect, was afraid to decide haftily in his own favour, or to conclude that an author had written without meaning, because he could not immediately catch his ideas; he knew that the faults of books are often more justly imputable to the reader, who fometimes wants attention, and fometimes penetration; whofe understanding is often obftructed by prejudice, and often diffipated by remiffnefs; who comes fometimes to a new study, unfurnished with knowledge previously neceffary; and finds difficultles infuperable,

able, for want of ardour fufficient to encounter them.

Obfcurity and clearnefs are relative terms: to fome readers fcarce any book is eafy, to others not many are difficult: and furely they, whom neither any exuberant praise bestowed by others, nor any eminent conquefts over ftubborn problems, have entitled to exalt themselves above the common orders of mankind, might condefcend to imitate the candour of Socrates; and where they find inconteftible proofs of fuperior genius, be content to think that there is juftnefs in the connection which they cannot trace, and cogency in the reasoning which they cannot comprehend.

This diffidence is never more reasonable, than in the perufal of the authors of antiquity; of those whose works have been the delight of ages, and tranfmitted as the great inheritance of mankind from one generation to another: furely, no man can, without the utmost arrogance, imagine, that he brings any fuperiority of understanding to the perufal of thefe books which have been preferved in the devaftation of cities, and fnatched up from the wreck of nations; which those who fled before barbarians have been careful to carry off in the hurry of migration, and of which barbarians have repented the deftruction. If in books thus made venerable by the uniform attestation of fucceffive ages, any paffages fhall appear unworthy of that praife which they have formerly received; let us not immediately determine, that they owed their reputation to dulnefs or bigotry; but fufpect at least that our ancestors had fome reaVOL. IX.



fons for their opinions, and that our ignorance of thofe reafons makes us differ from them.

It often happens, that an author's reputation is endangered in fucceeding times, by that which raised the loudeft applaufe among his cotemporaries: nothing is read with greater pleasure than allufions to recent facts, reigning opinions, or prefent controverfies; but when facts are forgotten, and controverfies extinguished, these favourite touches lofe all their graces; and the author in his descent to pofterity must be left to the mercy of chance, without any power of afcertaining the memory of thofe things, to which he owed his luckieft thoughts and his kindeft reception.

On fuch occafions, every reader fhould remember the diffidence of Socrates, and repair by his candour the injuries of time; he fhould impute the feeming defects of his author to fome chafin of intelligence, and fuppofe, that the fenfe which is now weak was once forcible, and the expreffion which is now dubious formerly determinate.

How much the mutilation of ancient history has taken away from the beauty of poetical performances, may be conjectured from the light which a lucky commentator fometimes effufes, by the recovery of an incident that had been long forgotten: thus, in the third book of Horace, Juno's denunciations against those that should prefume to raife again the walls of Troy, could for many ages pleafe only by fplendid images and fwelling language, of which no man difcovered the ufe or propriety, till Le Fevre, by fhewing on what occafion the Ode was written, changed wonder to rational delight. Many paffages yet

yet undoubtedly remain in the fame author, which an exacter knowledge of the incidents of his time would clear from objections. Among thefe I have always numbered the following lines:

Aurum per medias ire fatellites,
Et perrumpere amat faxa, potentius
Itu fulmineo. Coneidit Auguris
Argivi domus ob lucrum
Demerfa excidio. Diffidit urbium
Portas vir Macedo, et fubruit æmulos
Reges muneribus. Munera navium
Sævos illaqueant duces.

Stronger than thunder's winged force,
All-powerful gold can fpread its course,
Thro' watchful guards its paffage make,
And loves through folid walls to break :
From gold the overwhelming woes,
That crufh'd the Grecian augur rofe:
Philip with gold thro' cities broke,
And rival monarchs felt his yoke;
Captains of ships to gold are flaves,
Tho' fierce as their own winds and waves.


The close of this paffage, by which every reader is now disappointed and offended, was probably the delight of the Roman court: it cannot be imagined, that Horace, after having given to gold the force of thunder, and told of its power to ftorm cities and to conquer kings, would have concluded his account of its efficacy with its influence over naval commanders, had he not alluded to fome fact then current in the mouths of men, and therefore more interesting for a time than the conquefts of Philip. Of the like D 2 kind

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