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Αλλ' ώς παρέλαβαν την τέχνην παρά σου, το πρώτον μεν ευθύς
ARISTOPH. Ranz. 939.
IMITATION.* When I received the Muse from you, I found her puffed and pampered, With pompous sentences and terms, a cumbrous huge virago. My first attention was applied to make her look genteelly, And bring her to a moderate bulk by dint of lighter diet, I fed her with plain household phrase, and cool familiar salad, With water-gruel episode, with sentimental jelly, With moral mince-meat: till at length I brought her within compass.
In the preceding essay I named the present undertaking an experiment. The explanation will be found in the following letter, written to a correspondent during the first attempt, and before the plan was discontinued from an original error in the mode of circulation. .
TO When I first undertook the present publication for the sake and with the avowed object of referring men in all things to principles or fundamental truths, I was well aware of the obstacles which the plan itself would oppose to my success. For in
* This imitation is printed here by permission of the author, from a series of free translations of selected scenes from Aristophanes : a work, of which (should the author be persuaded to make it public) it is my deliberate judgment, that it will form an important epoch in English literature, and open out sources of metrical and rhythmical wealth in the very heart of our language, of which few, if any, among us are aware.
order to the regular attainment of this object, all the dryest and least attractive essays must appear in the beginning, and thus subject me to the necessity of demanding effort or soliciting patience in that part of the work, where it was most my interest to secure the confidence of my readers by winning their favor. Though I dared warrant for the pleasantness of the journey on the whole; though I might promise that the road would, for the far greater part of it, be found plain and easy, that it would pass through countries of various prospect, and that at every stage there would be a change of company ; it still remained a heavy disadvantage, that I had to start at the foot of a high and steep hill : and I foresaw, not without occasional feelings of despondency, that during the slow and laborious ascent it would require no common management to keep my passengers in good-humor with the vehicle and its driver. As far as this inconvenience could be palliated by sincerity and previous confession, I have no reason to accuse myself of neglect. In the prospectus* of The Friend, which for this cause I reprinted and annexed to the first essay, I felt it my duty to inform such as might be inclined to patronize the publication, that I must submit to be esteemed dull by those who sought chiefly for amusement: and this I hazarded as a general confession, though in my own mind I felt a cheerful confidence that it would apply almost exclusively to the earlier essays. “I could not therefore be surprised, however much I may have been depressed, by the frequency with which you hear The Friend complained of for its abstruseness and obscurity; nor did the highly flattering expressions, with which you accompanied your communication, prevent me from feeling its truth to the whole extent.
An author's pen, like children's legs, improves by exercise. That part of the blame which rests on myself, I am exerting my best faculties to remove. A man long accustomed to silent and solitary meditation, in proportion as he increases the power of thinking in long and connected trains, is apt to lose or lessen the talent of communicating his thoughts with grace and perspicuity. Doubtless too, I have in some measure injured my style, in respect to its facility and popularity, from having almost confined my reading, of late years, to the works of the ancients and those of the elder writers in the modern languages. We insensibly imitate
* See Appendix A.-Ed.
what we habitually admire ; and an aversion to the epigrammatic unconnected periods of the fashionable Anglo-Gallican taste has too often made me willing to forget, that the stately march and difficult evolutions, which characterize the eloquence of Hooker, Bacon, Milton, and Jeremy Taylor, åre, notwithstanding their intrinsic excellence, still less suited to a periodical essay. This fault I am now endeavoring to correct; though I can never so far sacrifice my judgment to the desire of being immediately popular, as to cast my sentences in the French moulds, or affect a style which an ancient critic would have deemed purposely invented for persons troubled with the asthma to read, and for those to comprehend who labor under the more pitiable asthma of a short-witted intellect. It can not but be injurious to the human mind never to be called into effort : the habit of receiving pleasure without any exertion of thought, by the mere excitement of curiosity and sensibility, may be justly ranked among the worst effects of habitual novel reading. It is true that these short and unconnected sentences are easily and instantly understood : but it is equally true, that wanting all the cement of thought as well as of style, all the connections, and (if you will forgive so trivial a metaphor) all the hooks-and-eyes of the memory, they are easily forgotten : or rather, it is scarcely possible that they should be remembered.-Nor is it less true, that those who confine their reading to such books dwarf their own faculties, and finally reduce their understandings to a deplorable imbecility : the fact you mention, and which I shall hereafter make use of, is a fair instance and a striking illustration. Like idle morning visitors, the brisk and breathless periods hurry in and hurry off in quick and profitless succession ; each indeed for the moments of its stay prevents the pain of vacancy, while it indulges the love of sloth ; but all together they leave the mistress of the house (the soul, I mean) flat and exhausted, incapable of attending to her own concerns, and unfitted for the conversation of more rational guests.
I know you will not suspect me of fostering so idle a hope, as that of obtaining acquittal by recrimination ; or think that I am attacking one fault, in order that its opposite may escape notice in the noise and smoke of the battery. On the contrary, I shall do my best, and even make all allowable sacrifices, to render my manner more attractive and my matter more generally interesting. In the establishment of principles and fundamental doc
trines, I must of necessity require the attention of my reader to become my fellow-laborer. The primary facts essential to the intelligibility of my principles I can prove to others only as far as I can prevail on them to retire into themselves and make their own minds the objects of their steadfast attention. But, on the other hand, I feel too deeply the importance of the convictions, which first impelled me to the present undertaking, to leave unattempted any honorable means of recommending them to as wide a circle as possible.
Hitherto I have been employed in laying the foundation of my work. But the proper merit of a foundation is its massiveness and solidity. The conveniences and ornaments, the gilding and stucco work, the sunshine and sunny prospects, will come with the superstructure. Yet I dare not flatter myself, that any endeavors of mine, compatible with the duty I owe to truth and the hope of permanent utility, will render The Friend agreeable to the majority of what is called the reading public. I never expected it. How indeed could I, when I was to borrow so little from the influence of passing events, and when I had absolutely excluded from my plan all appeals to personal curiosity and personal interests? Yet even this is not my greatest impediment. No real information can be conveyed, no important errors rectified, no widely injurious prejudices rooted up, without requiring some effort of thought on the part of the reader. But the obstinate (and toward a contemporary writer, the contemptuous) aversion to intellectual effort is the mother evil of all which I had proposed to war against, the queen bee in the hive of our errors and misfortunes, both private and national. To solicit the attention of those, on whom these debilitating causes have acted to their full extent, would be no less absurd than to recommend exercise with the dumb-bells, as the only mode of cure, to a patient paralytic in both arms. You well know, that my expectations were more modest as well as more rational. I hoped, that my readers in general would be aware of the impracticability of suiting every essay to every taste in any period of the work ; and that they would not attribute wholly to the author, but in part to the necessity of his plan, the austerity and absence of the lighter graces in the first fifteen or twenty numbers. In my cheerful moods I sometimes flattered myself, that a few even among those, who foresaw that my lucubrations would at all times require more attention than from the nature of their own employments they could afford them, might yet find a pleasure in supporting The Friend during its infancy, so as to give it a chance of attracting the notice of others, to whom its style and subjects might be better adapted. But my main anchor was the hope, that when circumstances gradually enabled me to adopt the ordinary means of making the publication generally known, there might be found throughout the kingdom a sufficient number of meditative minds, who, entertaining similar convictions with myself, and gratified by the prospect of seeing them reduced to form and system, would take a warm interest in the work from the very circumstance, that it wanted those allurements of transitory interests, which render particular patronage superfluous, and for the brief season of their blow and fragrance attract the eye of thousands, who would pass unregarded
In these three introductory essays, the Friend has endeavored to realize his promise of giving an honest bill of fare, both as to the objects and the style of the work. With reference to both I conclude with a prophecy of Simon Grynæus, from his premonition to the candid reader, prefixed to Ficinus's translation of Plato, published at Leyden, 1557. How far it has been gradually fulfilled in this country since the Revolution in 1688, I leave to my candid and intelligent readers to determine :
Ac dolet mihi quidem deliciis literarum inescatos subito jam homines adeo esse, præsertim qui Christianos se profitentur, ut legere nisi quod ad presentem gustum facit, sustineant nihil: unde et disciplinæ et philosophia ipsa jam fere prorsus etiam a doctis negliguntur. Quod quidem propositum studiorum nisi mature corrigetur, tam magnum rebus incommodum dabit, quam dedit barbaries olim. Pertinax res barbaries est, fateor ; sed minus potest tamen, quam illa persuasa prudentia literarum si ratione caret, sapientiæ virtutisque specie misere lectores circumducens. - * * *
Succedet igitur, ut arbitror, haud ita multo post, pro rusti