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We hope none of our gay readers, with whom method and dulness are almost synonimous, with be deterred by its title from the following paper. They will, we think, find much of that unadorned, manly, and dignified sense which we see in the philosophical writings of the ages of Anne and the first George, which antithesis and metaphor have of late almost succeed
td in banishing.
FOR THE AWTHOLOGY.
METhon is despised by some, and its utility exaggerated by others. Many writers consider rules as shackles of genius. Others believe them a great assistance; but they choose them so injudiciously, and multiply them to such excess, that they render them useless and even pernicious. All are equally in the wrong : the former for undervaluing method, because they are not masters of a good one ; the latter for believing it necessary, when they understand none that is not very defective.
A work, without order, may. succeed by its details, and place its author among the good writers : but a better arrangement would render it more worthy of success. In matters of reasoning; it is impossible that the light should be diffused equally over all the parts, if method is wanting ; in things of amusement, at least, it is certain, that every thing, which is not in its place, loses some part of its beauty. But without loitering in all these discussions, let us define method, and the necessity of it will be demonstrated. I say then, that method is the art of reconciling the greatest perspicuity and the greatest precision with all the beauties, of which a subject is susceptible.
There are writers, who know not how to confine themselves within their subject. They lose themselves in digressions without number, and they find themselves again, only to repeat what they had said : it seems as if thy be
lieved, that by rambles and repetitions they might supply the things which they know not how to say. Others change their style, without consulting the nature of the subject which they treat. They pique themselves on their eloquence, when they ought to be contented with reasoning. They give you an analysis, when they ought to give a description ; and their imagination grows hot, and grows cold, almost always in the wrong place. That we may not wander in the course of a work, and that we may say every thing in its proper place and express it conveniently, it is absolutely necessary, to embrace our object in a general view. Obscurity, when it is rare, may proceed from inadvertence ; but when it is frequent, it arises certainly from the confused manner, in which we seize the subject of which we treat. We judge not well, of the proportions of each part,but when we see the whole at Once. Poets and orators early felt the utility of method. Among them, accordingly, it made the most rapid progress. They had the advantage of making trials of their productions upon a whole people : witnesses of the impressions they made, they had opportunities of observing what was wanting in their works. The philosophers had not the advantage of the same admonis tions. Thinking it below them to write for the multitude, they made it, for a long time, a duty to be unintelligible. Frequently it was nothing more than a fetch of their vanity ; they wished to conceal their ignorance from themselves, and it was sufficient for thern to appear to be informed in the eyes bf the people, who, better qualified to admire than to judge, very willingly believed them on their word. The philosophers then, having for judges only their disciples, who blindly adopted their opinions, could not suspect their method to be defective: they could only believe, on the contrary, that whoever did not understand them wanted intelligence. This is one reason, that their labours have produced so many frivolous disputes, and contributed so little to the progress of the art of reading. The first poems were only histories, woven together, without art: many ambiguous expressions, many rambles, and repetitions without number. Facts, so ill digested, could not easily be preserved in the memory, and experience taught insensibly how to disentangle them and present them with more precision. When they knew how to place the facts in order, they wished to add ornaments, and they loaded them with fictions. To write history they composed romances in verse, that is to say, poems. Since prose has been Consecrated to history, there has been the same propensity to fictions. They have therefore made poems in prose, that is, romances. It is thus that romances and poems have sprung from history. When they began to compose ems, they soon perceived the importance of interesting. It was remarked, that the interest increases in proportion as it is less divided ; and it was acknowledged, Vol. III. No. 3. Q
that unity of action is necessary, Other observations discovered other rules, and the poets had, concerning method, ideas so exact, that it was reserved for them to give lessons to the philosophers. Although their rules are the fruit of experience and reflexions some writers have combatted them, as if they were only old prejudices. They have thought to establish new opinions by reviving the erröurs of the first artists, and restoring the arts to their original barbarity. It is not to render service to genius to disengage it from subjection to method. It is, for them, what the laws are to a freeman. Poems will please, only in proportion as these rules are observed. If we find attractions in episodes, it is because each of them is one ; and by consequence separated from the work, with which it is not connected, has its beauty, All together, they compose a poem in which are beautiful things, but make not a beautiful poem : in fact, if, descending from details to details, we perceive not unity in any part, the entire work will be but a chaos. All the parts, then, ought to form a single whole. The rules are the same for eloquence; but while experience guided the orators and poets, who cultivated their arts without affecting to give precepts, the philosophers wrote in a method which they had not discovered, and of which they believed they gave the first lessons. They have composed trea” tises on rhetorick, on poetry, and on logick. Without being poets or orators; they have known the rules of poetry and eloquence, because they have sought for them in models, where the examples were to be found. If they had been possessed early of equal models of philosophy, they would not have been so slow in acquiring the art of reading. It is because they have been deprived of this aid, that they have inserted in their logick so few of useful things and so many subtilties. The method, which teaches to make a whole, is common to all kinds. It is, above all, necessary in works of reasoning ; for the attention diminishes in proportion as it is divided, and the mind seizes nothing, when it is distracted by too great a number of objects. But the unity of action in works intended to interest us, and the unity of object in such as are composed to instruct us, equally demand, that all the parts among themselves should be in exact proportion, and that, subordinate the one to the others, they relate all to the same end. By this, unity brings us to the principle of the greatest connexion of ideas; upon this it depends. In truth, this connexion being found, the beginning, the end, and the intermediate parts, are determined : every thing which alters the proportions is cut off; and we can no longer lop, or displace any thing, without injury to the connexion or the pleasure. - To discover this connexion it is necessary to fix our object, until we can determine the principal parts of it, and comprehend them all in the general division. We must avoid divisions merely arbitrary, and even preliminary divisions, by which we decompose an object in all its parts ; the mind of the reader would be fatigued from the first entrance of the work ; things which would be most essential to him to retain, would escape him, and the precautions, which the author should have
taken to make himself understood; would often render him unintelligible. To begin by divisions without number, to make a great shew of method, is to bewilder ourselves in an obscure labyrinth. in order to arrive at the light. Method never proclaims itself less, than when there is most of it. The beginning of a work, then, cannot be too simple, nor too entirely disengaged from every thing which occasions any difficulty. The general division being made, we ought to search for the order in which the parts contribute the most to diffuse upon each other light and attraction. By this, als will be in the greatest connexion. Afterwards each part should be considered in particular, and subdivided as often as it includes objects, each of which can constitute a little whole. Nothing should be admitted into these subdivisions, which can alter the unity of them ; and the parts know no other order, than that which is indicated by a gradation the most obvious. In works composed to interest us, it is the gradation of sentiment ; in others it is the gradation of evidence. But to conduct ourselves surely, it is necessary to know how to choose annong our ideas, which present themselves : the choice is necessary, that we may adopt nothing, which contributes not to the strictest connexion of ideas. Every thing that is not attached to the subject we treat, ought to be rejected ; even things which have some connexion with it, deserve not always to be employed. This right belongs only to those things, which can con: ect themselves the most sensibly to the end which we propose. The subject, and the end, are the two points of view, which ought to regulate us. Thus, where an idea occurs, we have to consider whether, being connected with our subject, it developes it in relation to the end, for which we treat it ; and whether it conducts us to that end by the shortest course. In taking our subject for the only fixed point, we may extend ourselves indifferently on all sides. Then, the farther we ramble, the less the details, among which our thoughts wander, have relation to one another ; we no longer know where we are to stop, and we appear to undertake several works, without accomplishing any. But when we have, for a second point fixed, an end well determined, the road is marked ; every step contributes to a still greater developement, and we arrive at the conclusion without having ever gone out of our way. If the whole work has a subject and an end, every chapter has equally both the one and the other ; and so has every section, and every phrase. It is therefore necessary to pursue the same conduct in the details, By this, the work will be one in the whole and in every part, and all will be in the greatest possible connexion. By conforming to the principle of the greatest connex, ion, a work will be reduced to the smallest number of chapters, the chapters to the smallest number of sections, the sections to the smallest number of periods, and the periods to the smallest number of words. In nature all objects are connected in the formation of a single whole. This is the reason, it is so natural to us to pass lightly from one thing to another, We are, even in our greatest excursions, always conducted by some sort of connexion. We ought therefore continually to watch over ourselves, that we may not go out of the sub
ject we have chosen. It is neces. sary to give so much more attention to this, because always in combat with ourselves to prescribe limits and to overleap them. We think ourselves authorized, under the smallest pretext, in our greatest departures. It often seems, that we are more curious to shew that we know a great deal, than to make it appear we know well those things we treat.
Digressions are not permitted, but when we find not in the subject, on which we write, materials to present it with all the advantages we desire. Then we look elsewhere for that, which it does not afford ; but it is with the design to return to it soon, and with the hope of diffusing over it more light and ornament. Digressions and episodes ought not therefore ever to make us forget the principal subject. They must have in that subject their beginning, their end, . they must incessantly return to it. A good writer is like a traveller, who has the prudence never to quit his path, except to enter again with accommodations proper to enable him to continue his journey more happily. A great work is to be considered like a discourse of a few pages, or periods ; for the method is the same for the one and the other,
We may labour, on the different parts of a work, according to the order in which we have distributed them ; and we may also, when the plan has been well digested, pass indifferently from the commencement to the end, or to the middle, and, instead of subjecting ourselves to any order, consult only the impulse or inclination, which prompts us to seize the moment, in which . we are more prepared to treat of one part than another.
THERE is a word on every one's tongue, to limit the meaning of which however, by an indisputable definition, seems scarcely less difficult, than to “tell you where focy’s bred.” It is taste ;...something about which every one talks, because nobody is willing to be. lieve he is ignorant of what all the rest of the world knows. Yet, when curiously examined, it appears to be something so aerial and volatile in its nature, that it can scarcely be grasped by the metaphysician, and which, at the sight pf the chains of logick, $preads its light wings, and in a moment flies.
'The principles by which it is regulated are supposed to be as variable, as its nature is mysterious. Not only does the taste of every age apparently differ ; but in every nation of the same age, and I had almost said in every individual of the same nation, does this Proteus assume new forms, and frolick in new caprices. That taste has no law is commonly supposed to be one of those universal and
indisputable truths, which, like the maxims of the schools, must equally silence the cavils of the ignorant and the wise.
Still, however, there are some difficulties attending the common opinion of the mutability of taste, which seem to me almost to make heresy pardonable. We believe, after all, that taste is a word of some significance. We even ascribe to its influence all that is beautiful and lovely in art, and tho' its nature, like the musick of Ariel, is unseen and incomprehensible, yet we cannpt forbear to hear its harmony above and around us.
But if the opinion we mention is correct, these conclusions are all fallacious. If taste be thus lawless and capricious, he, who calls himself the man of taste, has little cause of self complacency. His assumption of some fixed principles of judgment is perfectly gratuitous ; and if we refuse to concede them, there are no statutes of reasoning on which he can extort our belief, To talk of the canons of criticism,