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uneducated or unlettered may sometimes start a useful thought, or make a lucky discovery, or obtain by chance some secret of nature, or some intelligence of facts, of which the most enlightened mind may be ignorant, and which it is better to reveal, though by a rude and unskilful communication, than to lose for ever by suppressing it.
But few will be justified by this plea : for of the innumerable books and pamphlets that have overflowed the natiòn, scarce one has made any addition to real knowledge, or contained more than a transposition of common sentiments and a repetition of common phrases.
It will be naturally inquired, when the man who feels an inclination to write, may venture to suppose himself properly qualified; and, since every man is inclined to think well of his own intellect, by what test he may try his abilities, without hazarding the contempt or resentment of the public.
The first qualification of a writer, is a perfect knowledge of the subject which he undertakes to treat; since we cannot teach what we do not know, nor can properly undertake to instruct others while we are ourselves in want of instruction. The next requisite is, that he be master of the language in which he delivers his sentiments; if he treats of science and demonstration, that he has attained a style, clear, pure, nervous and expressive; if his topics be probable and persuasory, that he be able to recommend them by the superaddition of elegance and imagery, to display the colours of varied diction, and pour forth the music of modulated periods.
If it be again inquired, upon what principles any man shall conclude that he wants these powers, it may be readily answered, that no end is attained but by the proper means; he only can rationally presume that he understands a subject, who has read
and compared the writers that have hitherto discussed it, familiarized their arguments to himself by long meditation, consulted the foundations of different systems, and separated truth from error by a rigorous examination.
In like manner he only has a right to suppose that he can express his thoughts, whatever they are, with perspicuity. or elegance, who has carefully perused the best authors, accurately noted their diversities of style, diligently selected the best modes of diction, and familiarized them by long habits of attentive practice.
No man is a rhetorician or philosopher by chance. He who knows that he undertakes to write on questions which he has never studied, may without hesitation determine, that he is about to waste his own time and that of his reader, and expose himself to the derision of those whom he aspires to instruct: he that without forming his style by the study of the best models, hastens to obtrude his compositions on the public, may be certain, that whatever hope or flattery may suggest, he shall shock the learned ear with barbarisms, and contribute, wherever his work shall be received, to the depravation of taste and the coruption of language.
N° 116. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, 1753.
Rage boiling from the bottom of bis breast,
And love by jealousy to madness wrought. DRYDEN.
THUNDER and a ghost have been frequently introduced into tragedy by barren and mechanical playwrights, as proper objects to impress terror and astonishment, where the distress has not been important enough to render it probable that nature would interpose for the sake of the sufferers, and where these objects themselves have not been supported by suitable sentiments. Thunder has, however, been made use of with great judgment and good effect by Shakspeare, to heighten and impress the distresses of Lear.
The venerable and wretched old king is driven out by both his daughters, without necessaries and without attendants, not only in the night, but in the midst of a most dreadful storm, and on a bleak and barren heath. On his first appearance in this situation, he draws an artful and pathetic compa
rison betwixt the severity of the tempest and of his daughters :
Rumble thy belly full! spit, fire!, spout, rain!
The storm continuing with equal violence, he drops for a moment the consideration of his own miseries, and takes occasion to moralize on the terrors which such commotions of nature should raise in the breast of secret and unpunished villany:
-Tremble thou wretch,
-Close pent-up guilts
He adds with reference to his own case,
-I am a man More sinn'd against, than sinning. Kent most earnestly entreats him to enter a hovel which he had discovered on the heath; and on pressing him again and again to take shelter there, Lear exclaims,
Wilt break my heart
Much is contained in these four words; as if he had said, 'the kindness and the gratitude of this servant exceeds that of my own children. Though I have given them a kingdom, yet have they basely dis
craded me, and suffered a head so old and white as mine to be exposed to this terrible tempest, while this fellow pities and would protect me from its rage.
I cannot bear this kindness from a perfect stranger; it breaks my heart. All this seems to be included in that short exclamation, which another writer, less acquainted with nature, would have displayed at large: such a suppression of sentiments plainly implied, is judicious and affecting. The reflections that follow are drawn likewise from an intimate knowledge of man:
When the mind's free,
Here the remembrance of his daughters' behaviour rushes upon him, and he exclaims, full of the idea of its unparalleled cruelty,
-Filial ingratitude !
He then changes his style, and vows with impotent menaces, as if still in possession of the power he had resigned, to revenge himself on his
oppressors, and to steel his breast with fortitude:
But I'll punish home.
But the sense of his sufferings returns again, and he forgets the resolution he had formed the moment before:
In such a night,