« PreviousContinue »
performance may be endangered; by the second, its dignity may be sacrificed. The author does not flatter himself so far as to imagine, that he has succeeded perfectly in his endeavours to avoid either extreme. In a work of this kind, it is impossible that every thing should be alike perspicuous to every reader, or that all the parts should be equally elevated. Variety in this respect, as well as in others, is perhaps, on the whole, more pleasing and more instructive, than too scrupulous an uniformity. To the eye the interchange of hill and dale beautifies the prospect; and to the ear there is no music in monotony. The author can truly say, that he has endeavoured, as much as he could, in the most abstruse questions, to avoid obscurity; and, in regard to such of his remarks as may be thought too minute and particular, if just, they will not, he hopes, on a re examination, be deemed of no consequence. Those may serve to illustrate a general observation, which are scarcely worth notice as subjects either of censure or of praise. Nor is there any thing in this book, which, in his opinion, will create even the smallest difficulty to persons accustomed to enquire into the faculties of the mind. Indeed, the much greater part of it will, he is persuaded, be level to the capacity of all those readers (not perhaps the most numerous class) who think reflection of some uSe in reading, and who do not read merely with the intention of killing time.
He begs leave to add, that, though his subject be Eloquence, yet, as the nature of his work is didactical, wherein the understanding only is addressed, the style in general admits no higher qualities than purity and perspicuity. These were therefore his highest aim. The best ornaments out of place are not only unbecoming but offensive. Nor can any thing be farther from his thoughts than to pretend to an exemption from such positive faults in expression, as, on the article of Elocution, he hath so freely criticised in the best English authors. He is entirely sensible, that an impropriety, or other negligence in style, will escape the notice of the writer, which hardly escapes that of any body else. Next to the purpose of illustrating the principles and canons which he here submits to the judgment of the Public, the two following motives weighed most with the Author, in inducing him to use so much freedom in regard to the writings of those for whom he has the highest veneration. One is, to show that we ought in writing, as in other things, carefully to beware of implicit attachment and servile imitation, even when they seem to be claimed by the most celebrated names. The other is, to evince, that we are in danger of doing great injustice to a work,
by deciding hastily on its merit from a collection of such oversights. If the critic be rigorous in marking whatever is amiss in this way, what author may abide the trial? But though such slips are not to be regarded as the sole or even principal test of demerit in literary productions, they ought not to be altogether overlooked. Whatever is faulty in any degree it were better to avoid. And there are consequences regarding the language in general, as well as the success of particular works, which should preserve verbal criticism from being considered as beneath the attention of any author. An author, so far from having reason to be offended, is doubtless obliged to the man, who, free from captious petulance, candidly points out his errors, of what kind soever they be.