Reference > Quotations > S. Austin Allibone, comp. > Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
S. Austin Allibone, comp.  Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay.  1880.
 
Authors
 
  Among the mutilated poets of antiquity there is none whose fragments are so beautiful as those of Sappho. They give us a taste of her way of writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary character we find of her in the remarks of those great critics who were conversant with her works when they were entire. One may see by what is left of them that she followed nature in all her thoughts, without descending to those little points, conceits, and turns of wit with which many of our modern lyrics are so miserably infected. Her soul seems to have been made up of love and poetry. She felt the passion in all its warmth, and described it in all its symptoms. She is called by ancient authors the tenth muse; and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus, the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. I do not know by the character that is given of her works, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They are filled with such bewitching tenderness and rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a reading.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 223.    
  1
 
  Among the English, Shakspeare has incomparably excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader’s imagination; and made him capable of succeeding where he had nothing to support him besides the strength of his own genius. There is something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and the like imaginary persons, that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, though we have no rule by which to judge of them, and must confess, if there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable they should talk and act as he has represented them.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 419.    
  2
 
  It is a fine simile in one of Mr. Congreve’s prologues which compares a writer to a buttering gamester that stakes all his winning upon one cast; so that if he loses the last throw he is sure to be undone.
Joseph Addison.    
  3
 
  Towards those who communicate their thoughts in print I cannot but look with a friendly regard, provided there is no tendency in their writings to vice.
Joseph Addison.    
  4
 
  To consider an author as the subject of obloquy and detraction, we may observe with what pleasure a work is received by the invidious part of mankind in which a writer falls short of himself.
Joseph Addison.    
  5
 
  Authors who have thus drawn off the spirits of their thoughts should lie still for some time, till their minds have gathered fresh strength, and, by reading, reflecting, and conversation, laid in a new stock of elegancies, sentiments, and images of nature.
Joseph Addison.    
  6
 
  It would be well for all authors if they knew when to give over, and to desist from any further pursuits after fame.
Joseph Addison.    
  7
 
  I consider time as an immense ocean, into which many noble authors are entirely swallowed up, many very much shattered and damaged, some quite disjointed and broken into pieces.
Joseph Addison.    
  8
 
  Aristotle’s rules for epic poetry which he had drawn from his reflections upon Homer cannot be supposed to quadrate exactly with the heroic poems which have been made since his time; as it is plain his rules would have been still more perfect could he have perused the Æneid.
Joseph Addison.    
  9
 
  I mention Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero, the greatest philosopher, the most impartial historian, and the most consummate statesman, of all antiquity.
Joseph Addison.    
  10
 
  Who does not more admire Cicero as an author than as a consul of Rome, and does not oftener talk of the celebrated writers of our own country in former ages, than of any among their contemporaries?
Joseph Addison.    
  11
 
  The books of Varro concerning navigation have been lost, which would have given us great light in these matters.
John Arbuthnot.    
  12
 
  That immortal work of Niebubr which has left other writers nothing else to do except either to copy or abridge it.
Thomas Arnold.    
  13
 
  For all this good propriety of words and pureness of phrases in Terence, you must not follow him always in placing of them.
Roger Ascham.    
  14
 
  They who, by speech or writing, present to the ear or eye of modesty any of the indecencies I allude to, are pests of society.
James Beattie.    
  15
 
 
 
  Aristotle’s moral, rhetorical, and political writings, in which his excellent judgment is very little warped by logical subtleties, are far the most useful part of his philosophy.
James Beattie.    
  16
 
  I would recommend Sallust, rather than Tally’s epistles; which I think are not so extremely valuable. Besides, Sallust is indisputably one of the best historians among the Romans, both for the purity of his language and elegance of his style. He has, I think, a fine, easy, and diversified narrative, mixed with reflections, moral and political, neither very trite and obvious, nor out of the way and abstract; which is, I think, the true beauty of historical observation. Neither should I pass by his beautiful painting of characters. In short, he is an author that, on all accounts, I would recommend to you. As for Terence and Plautus, what I fancy you will chiefly get by them, as to the language, is some insight into the common manner of speech used by the Romans. One excels in the justness of his pieces, the other in the humour. I think a play in each will be sufficient. I would recommend to you Tully’s orations,—excellent indeed.
Edmund Burke, ætat. 18, to R. Shackleton.    
  17
 
  On the whole, though this father of the English learning [Beda] seems to have been but a genius of the middle class, neither elevated nor subtile, and one who wrote in a low style, simple, but not elegant, yet, when we reflect upon the time in which he lived, the place in which he spent his whole life, within the walls of a monastery, in so remote and wild a country, it is impossible to refuse him the praise of an incredible industry and a generous thirst of knowledge.
Edmund Burke: Abridgment of English History.    
  18
 
  Ovid, not content with catching the leading features of any scene or character, indulged himself in a thousand minutiæ of description, a thousand puerile prettinesses, which were in themselves uninteresting, and took off greatly from the effect of the whole; as the numberless suckers and straggling branches of a fruit tree, if permitted to shoot out unrestrained, while they are themselves barren and useless, diminish considerably the vigour of the parent stock. Ovid had more genius, but less judgment, than Virgil; Dryden more imagination, but less correctness, than Pope: had they not been deficient in these points, the former would certainly have equalled, the latter infinitely outshone, the merits of his countryman.
Rt. Hon. George Canning: Microcosm, No. 11.    
  19
 
  The same populace sits for hours listening to rhapsodists who recite Ariosto.  20
 
  It is absolutely necessary to recollect that the age in which Shakspeare lived was one of great abilities applied to individual and prudential purposes, and not an age of high moral feeling and lofty principle, which gives a man of genius the power of thinking of all things in reference to all. If, then, we should find that Shakspeare took these materials as they were presented to him, and yet to all effectual purposes produced the same grand result as others attempted to produce in an age so much more favourable, shall we not feel and acknowledge the purity and holiness of genius—a light which, however it might shine on a dunghill, was as pure as the divine influence which created all the beauty of nature?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge.    
  21
 
  The society of dead authors has this advantage over that of the living: they never flatter us to our faces, nor slander us behind our backs, nor intrude upon our privacy, nor quit their shelves until we take them down. Besides, it is always easy to shut a book, but not quite so easy to get rid of a lettered coxcomb. Living authors, therefore, are usually bad companions: if they have not gained a character, they seek to do so by methods often ridiculous, always disgusting; and if they have established a character, they are silent, for fear of losing by their tongue what they have acquired by their pen: for many authors converse much more foolishly than Goldsmith who have never written half so well.
Charles Caleb Colton: Lacon.    
  22
 
  Subtract from many modern poets all that may be found in Shakespeare, and trash will remain.
Charles Caleb Colton: Lacon.    
  23
 
  Shakespeare, Butler, and Bacon have rendered it extremely difficult for all who come after them to be sublime, witty, or profound.
Charles Caleb Colton: Lacon.    
  24
 
  It is a doubt whether mankind are most indebted to those who, like Bacon and Butler, dig the gold from the mine of literature, or to those who, like Paley, purify it, stamp it, fix its real value, and give it currency and utility. For all the practical purposes of life, truth might as well be in a prison as in the folio of a schoolman; and those who release her from her cobwebbed shelf, and teach her to live with men, have the merit of liberating, if not of discovering her.
Charles Caleb Colton: Lacon.    
  25
 
  Ariosto observed not moderation in the vastness of his draught.
John Dryden.    
  26
 
  Episodical ornaments, such as descriptions and narratives, were delivered to us from the observations of Aristotle.
John Dryden.    
  27
 
  He furnished me with all the passages in Aristotle and Horace used to explain the art of poetry by painting; which, if ever I retouch this essay, shall be inserted.
John Dryden.    
  28
 
  For the Italians, Dante had begun to file their language in verse before Boccace, who likewise received no little help from his master Petrarch; but the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace.
John Dryden.    
  29
 
  Boccace lived in the same age with Chaucer, had the same genius, and followed the same studies: both writ novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue.
John Dryden.    
  30
 
  When I took up Boccace unawares, I fell on the same argument of preferring virtue to nobility of blood and titles, in the story of Sigismunda.
John Dryden.    
  31
 
  Boileau’s numbers are excellent, his expressions noble, his thoughts just, his language pure, and his sense close.
John Dryden.    
  32
 
  Chaucer in many things resembled Ovid, and that with no disadvantage on the side of the modern author.
John Dryden.    
  33
 
  Shakspeare rather writ happily than knowingly and justly; and Jonson, who by studying Horace had been acquainted with the rules, yet seemed to envy to posterity that knowledge, and to make a monopoly of his learning.
John Dryden.    
  34
 
  Shakspeare was naturally learned: he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards and found her there.
John Dryden.    
  35
 
  Spenser endeavoured it [imitation] in the Shepherd’s Kalendar; but neither will it succeed in English.
John Dryden.    
  36
 
  Spenser has followed both Virgil and Theocritus in the charms which he employs for curing Britomartis of her love; but he had also our poet’s Ceiris in his eye.
John Dryden.    
  37
 
  I shall take care that they have the advantage of doing, in the regular progression of youthful study, what I have done even in the short intervals of laborious life;—that they shall transcribe with their own hands, from all the works of this most extraordinary person [Burke], the soundest truths of religion—the justest principles of morals, inculcated and rendered delightful by the most sublime eloquence—the highest reach of philosophy brought down to the level of common minds—the most enlightened observations on history, and the most copious collection of useful maxims from the experience of life.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech in Defence of John Horne Tooke, 1794.    
  38
 
  Dennis … declares with great patriotic vehemence, that he who allows Shakspeare learning, and a learning with the ancients, ought to be looked upon as a detractor from the glory of Great Britain.
Richard Farmer.    
  39
 
  Of all rewards, I grant, the most pleasing to a man of real merit is fame; but a polite age of all times is that in which scarcely any share of merit can acquire it. What numbers of fine writers in the latter empire of Rome, when refinement was carried to the highest pitch, have missed that fame and immortality which they had fondly arrogated to themselves! How many Greek authors, who wrote at the period when Constantinople was the refined mistress of the empire, now rest, either not printed, or not read, in the libraries of Europe! Those who came first, while either state as yet was barbarous, carried all the reputation away. Authors, as the age refined, became more numerous, and their numbers destroyed their fame. It is but natural, therefore, for the writer, when conscious that his works will not procure him fame hereafter, to endeavour to make them turn out to his temporal interest here.  40
  Whatever be the motives which induce men to write, whether avarice or fame, the country becomes most wise and happy in which they most serve for instructors.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXV.    
  41
 
  Homer is the first poet and beggar of note among the ancients; he was blind, and sung his ballads about the streets; but it is observed that his mouth was more frequently filled with verses than with bread. Plautus, the comic poet, was better off; he had two trades,—he was a poet for his diversion, and helped to turn a mill in order to gain a livelihood. Terence was a slave, and Boethius died in gaol.  42
  Among the Italians, Paulo Burghese, almost as good a poet as Tasso, knew fourteen different trades, and yet died because he could get employment in none. Tasso himself, who had the most amiable character of all poets, has often been obliged to borrow a crown from some friend, in order to pay for a month’s subsistence: he has left us a pretty sonnet, addressed to his cat, in which he begs the light of her eyes to write by, being too poor to afford himself a candle. But Bentivoglio, poor Bentivoglio! chiefly demands our pity. His comedies will last with the Italian language: he dissipated a noble fortune in acts of charity and benevolence; but, falling into misery in his old age, was refused to be admitted into an hospital which he himself had erected.  43
  In Spain, it is said, the great Cervantes died of hunger; and it is certain that the famous Camoens ended his days in a hospital.  44
  If we turn to France, we shall there find even stronger instances of the ingratitude of the public. Vaugelas, one of the politest writers and one of the honestest men of his time, was surnamed The Owl, from his being obliged to keep within all day, and venture out only by night, through fear of his creditors….  45
  But the sufferings of the poet in other countries is nothing when compared to his distresses here; the names of Spenser and Otway, Butler and Dryden, are every day mentioned as a national reproach: some of them lived in a state of precarious indigence, and others literally died of hunger.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXXIV.    
  46
 
  Who can withstand the fascination and magic of his eloquence? The excursions of his genius are immense. His imperial fancy has laid all nature under tribute, and has collected riches from every scene of the creation and every walk of art. His eulogium on the Queen of France is a masterpiece of pathetic composition: so select are its images, so fraught with tenderness, and so rich with colours “dipped in heaven,” that he who can read it without rapture may have merit as a reasoner, but must resign all pretensions to taste and sensibility. His imagination is, in truth, only too prolific: a world of itself, where he dwells in the midst of chimerical alarms, is the dupe of his own enchantments, and starts, like Prospero, at the spectres of his own creation.
Robert Hall: Apology for the Freedom of the Press, Sect. IV. (On Edmund Burke.)    
  47
 
  When, at the distance of more than half a century, Christianity was assaulted by a Woolston, a Tindal, and a Morgan, it was ably supported both by clergymen of the established church and writings among Protestant dissenters. The labours of a Clarke and a Butler were associated with those of a Doddridge, a Leland, and a Lardner, with such equal reputation and success as to make it evident that the intrinsic excellence of a religion needs not the aid of external appendages; but that, with or without a dowry, her charms are of sufficient power to fix and engage the heart.
Robert Hall: Modern Infidelity, Preface.    
  48
 
  He that endeavours after fame by writing solicits the regard of a multitude fluctuating in pleasures, or immersed in business, without time for intellectual amusements: he appeals to judges prepossessed by passions, or corrupted by prejudices, which preclude their approbation of any new performance. Some are too indolent to read anything till its reputation is established; others too envious to promote that fame which gives them pain by its increase. What is new is opposed, because most are unwilling to be taught; and what is known is rejected, because it is not sufficiently considered that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed. The learned are afraid to declare their opinion early, lest they should put their reputation in hazard; the ignorant always imagine themselves giving some proof of delicacy, when they refuse to be pleased; and he that finds his way to reputation through all these obstructions must acknowledge that he is indebted to other causes besides his industry, his learning, or his wit.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 2.    
  49
 
  If we look back into past times, we find innumerable names of authors once in high reputation, read perhaps by the beautiful, quoted by the witty, and commented on by the grave, but of whom we now know only that they existed. If we consider the distribution of literary fame in our own time, we shall find it a possession of very uncertain tenure; sometimes bestowed by a sudden caprice of the public, and again transferred to a new favourite, for no other reason than that he is new; sometimes refused to long labour and eminent desert, and sometimes granted to very slight pretensions; lost sometimes by security and negligence, and sometimes by too diligent endeavours to retain it.  50
  A successful author is equally in danger of the diminution of his fame, whether he continues or ceases to write. The regard of the public is not to be kept but by tribute, and the remembrance of past service will quickly languish unless successive performances frequently revive it. Yet in every new attempt there is new hazard, and there are few who do not, at some unlucky time, injure their own characters by attempting to enlarge them.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 21.    
  51
 
  It has been remarked, that authors are genus irritabile, a generation very easily put out of temper, and that they seldom fail of giving proofs of their irascibility upon the slightest attack of criticism, or the most gentle or modest offer of advice and information.  52
  Writers, being best acquainted with one another, have represented this character as prevailing among men of literature, which a more extensive view of the world would have shown them to be diffused through all human nature, to mingle itself with every species of ambition and desire of praise, and to discover its effects with greater or less restraint, and under disguises more or less artful, in all places and all conditions.  53
  The quarrels of writers, indeed, are more observed, because they necessarily appeal to the decision of the public. Their enmities are incited by applauses from their parties, and prolonged by treacherous encouragement for general diversion, and when the contest happens to rise higher between men of genius and learning, its memory is continued for the same reason as its vehemence was at first promoted, because it gratifies the malevolence or curiosity of readers, and relieves the vacancies of life with amusement and laughter. The personal disputes, therefore, of rivals in wit, are sometimes transmitted to posterity, when the grudges and the heart-burnings of men less conspicuous, though carried on with equal bitterness, and productive of greater evils, are exposed to the knowledge of those only whom they nearly affect, and suffered to pass off and be forgotten among common and casual transactions.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 40.    
  54
 
  The chief glory of every people arises from its authors.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to his Dictionary.    
  55
 
  Every other author may aspire to praise: the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach; and even this negative recompense has been granted to very few.
Dr. Samuel Johnson.    
  56
 
  Was there ever anything written by mere man that was wished longer by its renders, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim’s Progress?
Dr. Samuel Johnson.    
  57
 
  Out of the reach of danger, he [Junius] has been bold; out of the reach of shame, he has been confident.
Dr. Samuel Johnson.    
  58
 
  Few books have been perused by me with greater pleasure than his [Watts’s] “Improvement of the Mind.”
Dr. Samuel Johnson.    
  59
 
  I am the sole depositary of my own secret, and it shall perish with me.
Junius.    
  60
 
  Simonides was an excellent poet, insomuch that he made his fortune by it.
Roger L’Estrange.    
  61
 
  No writings we need to be solicitous about the meaning of but those that contain truths we are to believe or laws we are to obey: we may be less anxious about the sense of other authors.
John Locke.    
  62
 
  We are beholden to judicious writers of all ages for those discoveries and discourses they have left behind them for our instruction.
John Locke.    
  63
 
  Aristotle’s large views, acuteness and penetration of thought, and strength of judgment, few have equalled.
John Locke.    
  64
 
  There have been times when men of letters looked, not to the public, but to the government, or to a few great men, for the reward of their exertions. It was thus in the time of Mæcenas and Pollio at Rome, of the Medici at Florence, of Louis the Fourteenth in France, of Lord Halifax and Lord Oxford in this country. Now, Sir, I well know that there are cases in which it is fit and graceful, nay, in which it is a sacred duty, to reward the merits or to relieve the distresses of men of genius by the exercise of this species of liberality. But these cases are exceptions. I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favour of ministers and nobles. I can conceive no system more certain to turn those minds which are formed by nature to be the blessings and ornaments of our species into public scandals and pests.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Speech on Copyright, Feb. 5, 1841.    
  65
 
  In an age in which there are so few readers that a writer cannot subsist on the sum arising from the sale of his works, no man who has not an independent fortune can devote himself to literary pursuits unless he is assisted by patronage. In such an age, accordingly, men of letters too often pass their lives in dangling at the heels of the wealthy and powerful; and all the faults which dependence tends to produce, pass into their character. They become the parasites and slaves of the great. It is melancholy to think how many of the highest and most exquisitely formed of human intellects have been condemned to the ignominious labour of disposing the commonplaces of adulation in new forms and brightening them into new splendour. Horace invoking Augustus in the most enthusiastic language of religious veneration. Statius flattering a tyrant, and the minion of a tyrant, for a morsel of bread, Ariosto versifying the whole genealogy of a niggardly patron, Tasso extolling the heroic virtues of the wretched creature who locked him up in a mad-house, these are but a few of the instances which might easily be given of the degradation to which those must submit who, not possessing a competent fortune, are resolved to write when there are scarcely any who read.  66
  This evil the progress of the human mind tends to remove. As a taste for books becomes more and more common, the patronage of individuals becomes less and less necessary. In the middle of the last century a marked change took place. The tone of literary men, both in this country and in France, became higher and more independent. Pope boasted that he was the “one poet” who had “pleased by manly ways;” he derided the soft dedications with which Halifax had been fed, asserted his own superiority over the pensioned Boileau, and gloried in being not the follower, but the friend, of nobles and princes. The explanation of all this is very simple. Pope was the first Englishman who by the mere sale of his writings realized a sum which enabled him to live in comfort and in perfect independence. Johnson extols him for the magnanimity which he showed in inscribing his Iliad not to a minister or a peer, but to Congreve. In our time this would scarcely be a subject for praise. Nobody is astonished when Mr. Moore pays a compliment of this kind to Sir Walter Scott, or Sir Walter Scott to Mr. Moore. The idea of either of those gentlemen looking out for some lord who would be likely to give him a few guineas in return for a fulsome dedication seems laughably incongruous. Yet this is exactly what Dryden or Otway would have done; and it would be hard to blame him for it. Otway is said to have been choked with a piece of bread which he devoured in the rage of hunger; and, whether this story be true or false, he was beyond all question miserably poor. Dryden, at near seventy, when at the head of the literary men of England, without equal or second, received three hundred pounds for his Fables, a collection of ten thousand verses, and of such verses as no man then living, except himself, could have produced. Pope, at thirty, had laid up between six and seven thousand pounds, the fruits of his poetry. It was not, we suspect, because he had a higher spirit or a more scrupulous conscience than his predecessors, but because he had a larger income, that he kept up the dignity of the literary character so much better than they had done.  67
  From the time of Pope to the present day the readers have been constantly becoming more and more numerous, and the writers, consequently, more and more independent. It is assuredly a great evil that men fitted by their talents and acquirements to enlighten and charm the world should be reduced to the necessity of flattering wicked and foolish patrons in return for the sustenance of life. But, though we heartily rejoice that this evil is removed, we cannot but see with concern that another evil has succeeded to it. The public is now the patron, and a most liberal patron. All that the rich and powerful bestowed on authors from the time of Mæcenas to that of Harley would not, we apprehend, make up a sum equal to that which has been paid by English booksellers to fifty-three authors during the last fifty years. Men of letters have accordingly ceased to court individuals, and have begun to court the public. They formerly used flattery. They now use puffing.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mr. Robert Montgomery’s Poems, April, 1830.    
  68
 
  Just such is the feeling which a man of liberal education naturally entertains towards the great minds of former ages. The debt which he owes to them is incalculable. They have guided him to truth. They have filled his mind with noble and graceful images. They have stood by him in all vicissitudes, comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude. These friendships are exposed to no danger from the occurrences by which other attachments are weakened or dissolved. Time glides on; fortune is inconstant; tempers are soured; bonds which seemed indissoluble are daily sundered by interest, by emulation, or by caprice. But no such cause can affect the silent converse which we hold with the highest of human intellects. That placid intercourse is disturbed by no jealousies or resentments. These are the old friends who are never seen with new faces, who are the same in wealth and in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. With the dead there is no rivalry. In the dead there is no change. Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the honor of Bossuet.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Lord Bacon, July, 1837.    
  69
 
  A most idle and contemptible controversy had arisen in France touching the comparative merit of the ancient and modern writers. It was certainly not to be expected that in that age the question would be tried according to those large and philosophical principles of criticism which guided the judgments of Lessing and of Herder. But it might have been expected that those who undertook to decide the point would at least take the trouble to read and understand the authors on whose merits they were to pronounce. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that among the disputants who clamoured, some for the ancients and some for the moderns, very few were decently acquainted with either ancient or modern literature, and hardly one was well acquainted with both. In Racine’s amusing preface to the Iphigénie the reader may find noticed a most ridiculous mistake into which one of the champions of the moderns fell about a passage in the Alcestis of Euripides. Another writer is so inconceivably ignorant as to blame Homer for mixing the four Greek dialects, Doric, Ionic, Æolic, and Attic, just, says he, as if a French poet were to put Gascon phrases and Picard phrases into the midst of his pure Parisian writing. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say that the defenders of the ancients were entirely unacquainted with the greatest productions of later times; nor, indeed, were the defenders of the moderns better informed. The parallels which were instituted in the course of this dispute are inexpressibly ludicrous. Balzac was selected as the rival of Cicero. Corneille was said to unite the merits of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. We should like to see a Prometheus after Corneille’s fashion. The Provincial Letters, masterpieces undoubtedly of reasoning, wit, and eloquence, were pronounced to be superior to all the writings of Plato, Cicero, and Lucian together, particularly in the art of dialogue; an art in which, as it happens, Plato far excelled all men, and in which Pascal, great and admirable in other respects, is notoriously very deficient.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Sir William Temple, Oct. 1838.    
  70
 
  This childish controversy [touching the comparative merit of the ancient and modern writers] spread to England; and some mischievous dæmon suggested to Temple the thought of undertaking the defence of the ancients. As to his qualifications for the task, it is sufficient to say that he knew not a word of Greek. But his vanity, which, when he was engaged in the conflicts of active life and surrounded by rivals, had been kept in tolerable order by his discretion, now, when he had long lived in seclusion, and had become accustomed to regard himself as by far the first man of his circle, rendered him blind to his own deficiencies. In an evil hour he published an Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning. The style of this treatise is very good, the matter ludicrous and contemptible to the last degree. There we read how Lycurgus travelled into India, and brought the Spartan laws from that country; how Orpheus made voyages in search of Knowledge, and attained to a depth of learning which has made him renowned in all succeeding ages; how Pythagoras passed twenty-two years in Egypt, and, after graduating there, spent twelve years more at Babylon, where the Magi admitted him ad eundem; how the ancient brahmins lived two hundred years; how the earliest Greek philosophers foretold earthquakes and plagues, and put down riots by magic; and how much Ninus surpassed in abilities any of his successors on the throne of Assyria. The moderns, Sir William owns, have found out the circulation of the blood; but, on the other hand, they have quite lost the art of conjuring; nor can any modern fiddler enchant fishes, fowls, and serpents by his performance. He tells us that “Thales, Pythagoras, Democritus, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus made greater progresses in the several empires of science than any of their successors have since been able to reach;” which is just as absurd as if he had said that the greatest names in British science are Merlin, Michael Scot, Dr. Sydenham, and Lord Bacon. Indeed, the manner in which Temple mixes the historical and the fabulous reminds us of those classical dictionaries, intended for the use of schools, in which Narcissus the lover of himself and Narcissus the freedman of Claudius, Pollux the son of Jupiter and Pollux the author of the Onomasticon, are ranged under the same headings and treated as personages equally real. The effect of this arrangement resembles that which would be produced by a dictionary of modern names consisting of such articles as the following; “Jones, William, an eminent Orientalist, and one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Bengal—Davy, a fiend, who destroys ships—Thomas, a foundling, brought up by Mr. Allworthy.” It is from such sources as these that Temple seems to have learned all that he knew about the ancients. He puts the story of Orpheus between the Olympic games and the battle of Arbela: as if we had exactly the same reasons for believing that Orpheus led beasts with his lyre which we have for believing that there were races at Pisa, or that Alexander conquered Darius.  71
  He manages little better when he comes to the moderns. He gives us a catalogue of those whom he regards as the greatest writers of later times. It is sufficient to say that in his list of Italians he has omitted Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso; in his list of Spaniards, Lope and Calderon; in his list of French, Pascal, Bossuet, Molière, Corneille, Racine, and Boileau; and in his list of English, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Sir William Temple.    
  72
 
  Bute, who had always been considered as a man of taste and reading, affected from the moment of his elevation the character of a Mæcenas. If he expected to conciliate the public by encouraging literature and art, he was grievously mistaken. Indeed, none of the objects of his munificence, with the single exception of Johnson, can be said to have been well selected; and the public, not unnaturally, ascribed the selection of Johnson rather to the Doctor’s political prejudices than to his literary merits: for a wretched scribbler named Shebbeare, who had nothing in common with Johnson except violent Jacobitism, and who had stood in the pillory for a libel on the Revolution, was honoured with a mark of royal approbation similar to that which was bestowed on the author of the English Dictionary and of the Vanity of Human Wishes. It was remarked that Adam, a Scotchman, was the court architect; and that Ramsay, a Scotchman, was the court painter, and was preferred to Reynolds. Mallet, a Scotchman, of no high literary fame, and of infamous character, partook largely of the liberality of the government. John Home, a Scotchman, was rewarded for the tragedy of Douglas, both with a pension and with a sinecure place. But when the author of The Bard and of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard ventured to ask for a Professorship, the emoluments of which he much needed, and for the duties of which he was, in many respects, better qualified than any man living, he was refused; and the post was bestowed on the pedagogue under whose care the favourite’s son-in-law, Sir James Lowther, had made such signal proficiency in the graces and in the humane virtues.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Earl of Chatham, Oct. 1844.    
  73
 
  Epicurus, we are told, left behind him three hundred volumes of his own works, wherein he had not inserted a single quotation; and we have it upon the authority of Varro’s own words that he himself composed four hundred and ninety books. Seneca assures us that Didymus the grammarian wrote no less than four thousand; but Origen, it seems, was yet more prolific, and extended his performances even to six thousand treatises. It is obvious to imagine with what sort of materials the productions of such expeditious workmen were wrought up: sound thoughts and well-matured reflections could have no share, we may be sure, in these hasty performances. Thus are books multiplied, whilst authors are scarce; and so much easier is it to write than to think! But shall I not myself, Palamedes, prove an instance that it is so, if I suspend any longer your own more important reflections by interrupting you with such as mine?
William Melmoth: Letters by Sir T. Fitzosborne.    
  74
 
  In this last part of his imaginary travels, Swift has indulged a misanthropy that is intolerable.
Lord Orrery.    
  75
 
  The crowded, yet clear and luminous, galaxies of imagery diffused through the works of Bishop Taylor.
Dr. Samuel Parr.    
  76
 
  Scaliger willeth us to admire Plautus as a comedian, but Terence as a pure and elegant speaker.
Henry Peacham: Of Poetry.    
  77
 
  The worst authors might endeavour to please us; and in that endeavour deserve something at our hands.
Alexander Pope.    
  78
 
  It is a very unlucky circumstance to be obliged to retaliate the injuries of such authors, whose works are so soon forgotten that we are in danger already of appearing the first transgressors.
Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.    
  79
 
  An author is in the condition of a culprit; the public are his judges: by allowing too much, and condescending too far, he may injure his own cause; and by pleading and asserting too boldly he may displease the court.
Matthew Prior.    
  80
 
  We know the highest pleasure our minds are capable of enjoying with composure, when we read sublime thoughts communicated to us by men of great genius and eloquence. Such is the entertainment we meet with in the philosophic parts of Cicero’s writings. Truth and good sense have there so charming a dress, that they could hardly be more agreeably represented with the addition of poetical fiction and the power of numbers.
Sir Richard Steele: Spectator, No. 146.    
  81
 
  These look up to you with reverence, and would be animated by the sight of him at whose soul they have taken fire in his writings.
Jonathan Swift: To Pope.    
  82
 
  They do but trace over the paths that have been beaten by the ancients; or comment, critic, and flourish upon them.
Sir William Temple.    
  83
 
  I am sure there are few who would not shrink from affirming, at least if they at all realized the words they were using, that they comprehended Shakspeare, however much they apprehend in him.
Richard C. Trench.    
  84
 
  There is in Shaftesbury’s works a lively pertness and a parade of literature; but it is hard that we should be bound to admire the reveries.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  85
 
  The laboured works of Master Johnson; the no less worthy composures of the both worthily excellent Master Beaumont and Master Fletcher.
John Webster, 1612.    
  86
 
  He [Bacon] is throughout, and especially in his Essays, one of the most suggestive authors that ever wrote.
Richard Whately.    
  87
 
  Tacitus, who is one of the most antithetical, is … one of the least periodic, of all the Latin writers.
Richard Whately.    
  88
 
  Those works of fiction are worse than unprofitable that inculcate morality, with an exclusion of all reference to religious principle. This is obviously and notoriously the character of Miss Edgeworth’s Moral Tales. And so entire and resolute is this exclusion, that it is maintained at the expense of what may be called poetical truth: it destroys, in many instances, the probability of the tale, and the naturalness of the characters. That Christianity does exist, every one must believe as an incontrovertible truth; nor can any one deny that, whether true or false, it does exercise—at least is supposed to exercise—an influence on the feelings and conduct of some of the believers in it. To represent, therefore, persons of various ages, sex, country, and station in life, as practising, on the most trying occasions, every kind of duty, and encountering every kind of danger, difficulty, and hardship, while none of them ever makes the least reference to a religious motive, is as decidedly at variance with reality—what is called in works of fiction unnatural—as it would be to represent Mahomet’s enthusiastic followers as rushing into battle without any thought of his promised paradise.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacon’s Essay, Of Studies.    
  89
 
 
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors