The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 7 out of 9
of corn became naturally a subject of discussion. The harvest in
that year had been so deficient, and corn had risen to so high a
price, that in the months of September and October there had been
many insurrections in the midland counties, to which Dr. Johnson
alludes; and which were of so alarming a kind, that it was necessary
to repress them by military force.
 This little essay on the Corn Laws was written by Dr. Johnson, which
is in the very best style of that great master of reason, so early
as the year 1766; and at a period when subjects of this kind were
but imperfectly understood, even by those who had devoted themselves
to their study. It is truly admirable to see with what vigorous
alacrity his powerful mind could apply itself to an investigation so
foreign from his habitual occupations. We do not know that a more
sound, enlightened argument, in favour of the bounty on exportation,
could be collected from all that has since been published on the
subject; and, convinced as we are of the radical insufficiency of
that argument, it is impossible not to be delighted with the
clearness and force of the statement. There are few of his smaller
productions that show the great range of Johnson's capacity in a
more striking light.--Edin. Review, October, 1809. p. 175.--Ed.
A COMPLETE VINDICATION OF THE
LICENSERS OF THE STAGE,
MALICIOUS AND SCANDALOUS ASPERSIONS
AUTHOR OF GUSTAVUS VASA;
WITH A PROPOSAL FOR MAKING THE OFFICE OF LICENSER MORE EXTENSIVE AND
BY AN IMPARTIAL HAND.[A]
It is generally agreed by the writers of all parties, that few crimes
are equal, in their degree of guilt, to that of calumniating a good and
gentle, or defending a wicked and oppressive administration.
It is, therefore, with the utmost satisfaction of mind, that I reflect
how often I have employed my pen in vindication of the present ministry,
and their dependants and adherents; how often I have detected the
specious fallacies of the advocates for independence; how often I have
softened the obstinacy of patriotism; and how often triumphed over the
clamour of opposition.
I have, indeed, observed but one set of men, upon whom all my arguments
have been thrown away; whom neither flattery can draw to compliance, nor
threats reduce to submission; and who have, notwithstanding all
expedients that either invention or experience could suggest, continued
to exert their abilities in a vigorous and constant opposition of all
The unaccountable behaviour of these men, the enthusiastick resolution
with which, after a hundred successive defeats, they still renewed their
attacks; the spirit with which they continued to repeat their arguments
in the senate, though they found a majority determined to condemn them;
and the inflexibility with which they rejected all offers of places and
preferments, at last excited my curiosity so far, that I applied myself
to inquire, with great diligence, into the real motives of their
conduct, and to discover what principle it was that had force to inspire
such unextinguishable zeal, and to animate such unwearied efforts.
For this reason I attempted to cultivate a nearer acquaintance with some
of the chiefs of that party, and imagined that it would be necessary,
for some time, to dissemble my sentiments, that I might learn theirs.
Dissimulation, to a true politician, is not difficult, and, therefore, I
readily assumed the character of a proselyte; but found, that their
principle of action was no other, than that which they make no scruple
of avowing in the most publick manner, notwithstanding the contempt and
ridicule to which it every day exposes them, and the loss of those
honours and profits from which it excludes them.
This wild passion, or principle, is a kind of fanaticism by which they
distinguish those of their own party, and which they look upon as a
certain indication of a great mind. _We_ have no name for it _at court_;
but, among themselves, they term it by a kind of cant phrase, "a regard
This passion seems to predominate in all their conduct, to regulate
every action of their lives, and sentiment of their minds: I have heard
L---- and P---- , when they have made a vigorous opposition, or
blasted the blossom of some ministerial scheme, cry out, in the height
of their exultations, "This will deserve the thanks of posterity!" And
when their adversaries, as it much more frequently falls out, have
outnumbered and overthrown them, they will say, with an air of revenge
and a kind of gloomy triumph, "Posterity will curse you for this."
It is common among men, under the influence of any kind of phrensy, to
believe that all the world has the same odd notions that disorder their
own imaginations. Did these unhappy men, these deluded patriots, know
how little we are concerned about posterity, they would never attempt to
fright us with their curses, or tempt us to a neglect of our own
interest by a prospect of their gratitude.
But so strong is their infatuation, that they seem to have forgotten
even the primary law of self-preservation; for they sacrifice, without
scruple, every flattering hope, every darling enjoyment, and every
satisfaction of life, to this ruling passion, and appear, in every step,
to consult not so much their own advantage, as that of posterity.
Strange delusion! that can confine all their thoughts to a race of men
whom they neither know, nor can know; from whom nothing is to be feared,
nor any thing expected; who cannot even bribe a special jury, nor have
so much as a single riband to bestow.
This fondness for posterity is a kind of madness which at Rome was once
almost epidemical, and infected even the women and the children. It
reigned there till the entire destruction of Carthage; after which it
began to be less general, and in a few years afterwards a remedy was
discovered, by which it was almost entirely extinguished.
In England it never prevailed in any such degree: some few of the
ancient barons seem, indeed, to have been disordered by it; but the
contagion has been, for the, most part, timely checked, and our ladies
have been generally free.
But there has been, in every age, a set of men, much admired and
reverenced, who have affected to be always talking of posterity, and
have laid out their lives upon the composition of poems, for the sake of
being applauded by this imaginary generation.
The present poets I reckon amongst the most inexorable enemies of our
most excellent ministry, and much doubt whether any method will effect
the cure of a distemper, which, in this class of men, may be termed, not
an accidental disease, but a defect in their original frame and
Mr. Brooke, a name I mention with all the detestation suitable to my
character, could not forbear discovering this depravity of his mind in
his very prologue, which is filled with sentiments so wild, and so much
unheard of among those who frequent levees and courts, that I much
doubt, whether the zealous licenser proceeded any further in his
examination of his performance.
He might easily perceive that a man,
Who bade his moral beam through every age,
was too much a bigot to exploded notions, to compose a play which he
could license without manifest hazard of his office, a hazard which no
man would incur untainted with the love of posterity.
We cannot, therefore, wonder that an author, wholly possessed by this
passion, should vent his resentment for the licenser's just refusal, in
virulent advertisements, insolent complaints, and scurrilous assertions
of his rights and privileges, and proceed, in defiance of authority, to
solicit a subscription.
This temper, which I have been describing, is almost always complicated
with ideas of the high prerogatives of human nature, of a sacred
unalienable birthright, which no man has conferred upon us, and which
neither kings can take, nor senates give away; which we may justly
assert whenever and by whomsoever it is attacked; and which, if ever it
should happen to be lost, we may take the first opportunity to recover.
The natural consequence of these chimeras is contempt of authority, and
an irreverence for any superiority but what is founded upon merit; and
their notions of merit are very peculiar, for it is among them no great
proof of merit to be wealthy and powerful, to wear a garter or a star,
to command a regiment or a senate, to have the ear of the minister or of
the king, or to possess any of those virtues and excellencies, which,
among us, entitle a man to little less than worship and prostration.
We may, therefore, easily conceive that Mr. Brooke thought himself
entitled to be importunate for a license, because, in his own opinion,
he deserved one, and to complain thus loudly at the repulse he met with.
His complaints will have, I hope, but little weight with the publick;
since the opinions of the sect in which he is enlisted are exposed, and
shown to be evidently and demonstrably opposite to that system of
subordination and dependence, to which we are indebted for the present
tranquillity of the nation, and that cheerfulness and readiness with
which the two houses concur in all our designs.
I shall, however, to silence him entirely, or at least to show those of
our party that he ought to be silent, consider singly every instance of
hardship and oppression which he has dared to publish in the papers, and
to publish in such a manner, that I hope no man will condemn me for want
of candour in becoming an advocate for the ministry, if I can consider
his advertisements as nothing less than AN APPEAL TO HIS COUNTRY.
Let me be forgiven if I cannot speak with temper of such insolence as
this: is a man without title, pension, or place, to suspect the
impartiality or the judgment of those who are entrusted with the
administration of publick affairs? Is he, when the law is not strictly
observed in regard to him, to think himself aggrieved, to tell his
sentiments in print, assert his claim to better usage, and fly for
redress to another tribunal?
If such practices are permitted, I will not venture to foretell the
effects of them; the ministry may soon be convinced, that such sufferers
will find compassion, and that it is safer not to bear hard upon them,
than to allow them to complain.
The power of licensing, in general, being firmly established by an act
of parliament, our poet has not attempted to call in question, but
contents himself with censuring the manner in which it has been
executed; so that I am not now engaged to assert the licenser's
authority, but to defend his conduct.
The poet seems to think himself aggrieved, because the licenser kept his
tragedy in his hands one-and-twenty days, whereas the law allows him to
detain it only fourteen. Where will the insolence of the malecontents
end? Or how are such unreasonable expectations possibly to be satisfied?
Was it ever known that a man exalted into a high station, dismissed a
suppliant in the time limited by law? Ought not Mr. Brooke to think
himself happy that his play was not detained longer? If he had been kept
a year in suspense, what redress could he have obtained? Let the poets
remember, when they appear before the licenser, or his deputy, that they
stand at the tribunal, from which there is no appeal permitted, and
where nothing will so well become them as reverence and submission.
Mr. Brooke mentions, in his preface, his knowledge of the laws of his
own country: had he extended his inquiries to the civil law, he could
have found a full justification of the licenser's conduct, "Boni judicis
est ampliare suam auctoritatem."
If then it be "the business of a good judge to enlarge his authority,"
was it not in the licenser the utmost clemency and forbearance, to
extend fourteen days only to twenty-one?
I suppose this great man's inclination to perform, at least, this duty
of a good judge, is not questioned by any, either of his friends or
enemies. I may, therefore, venture to hope, that he will extend his
power by proper degrees, and that I shall live to see a malecontent
writer earnestly soliciting for the copy of a play, which he had
delivered to the licenser twenty years before.
"I waited," says he, "often on the licenser, and with the utmost
importunity entreated an answer." Let Mr. Brooke consider, whether that
importunity was not a sufficient reason for the disappointment. Let him
reflect how much more decent it had been to have waited the leisure of a
great man, than to have pressed upon him with repeated petitions, and to
have intruded upon those precious moments which he has dedicated to the
service of his country.
Mr. Brooke was, doubtless, led into this improper manner of acting, by
an erroneous notion that the grant of a license was not an act of
favour, but of justice; a mistake into which he could not have fallen,
but from a supine inattention to the design of the statute, which was
only to bring poets into subjection and dependence, not to encourage
good writers, but to discourage all.
There lies no obligation upon the licenser to grant his sanction to a
play, however excellent; nor can Mr. Brooke demand any reparation,
whatever applause his performance may meet with.
Another grievance is, that the licenser assigned no reason for his
refusal. This is a higher strain of insolence than any of the former. Is
it for a poet to demand a licenser's reason for his proceedings? Is he
not rather to acquiesce in the decision of authority, and conclude, that
there are reasons which he cannot comprehend?
Unhappy would it be for men in power, were they always obliged to
publish the motives of their conduct. What is power, but the liberty of
acting without being accountable? The advocates for the licensing act
have alleged, that the lord chamberlain has always had authority to
prohibit the representation of a play for just reasons. Why then did we
call in all our force to procure an act of parliament? Was it to enable
him to do what he has always done? to confirm an authority which no man
attempted to impair, or pretended to dispute?
No, certainly: our intention was to invest him with new privileges, and
to empower him to do that without reason, which with reason he could do
We have found, by long experience, that to lie under a necessity of
assigning reasons, is very troublesome, and that many an excellent
design has miscarried by the loss of time spent unnecessarily in
Always to call for reasons, and always to reject them, shows a strange
degree of perverseness; yet, such is the daily behaviour of our
adversaries, who have never yet been satisfied with any reasons that
have been offered by us.
They have made it their practice to demand, once a year, the reasons for
which we maintain a standing army.
One year we told them that it was necessary, because all the nations
round us were involved in war; this had no effect upon them, and,
therefore, resolving to do our utmost for their satisfaction, we told
them, the next year, that it was necessary, because all the nations
round us were at peace.
This reason finding no better reception than the other, we had recourse
to our apprehensions of an invasion from the Pretender, of an
insurrection in favour of gin, and of a general disaffection among the
But as they continue still impenetrable, and oblige us still to assign
our annual reasons, we shall spare no endeavour to procure such as may
be more satisfactory than any of the former.
The reason we once gave for building barracks was, for fear of the
plague; and we intend next year to propose the augmentation of our
troops, for fear of a famine.
The committee, by which the act for licensing the stage was drawn up,
had too long known the inconvenience of giving reasons, and were too
well acquainted with the characters of great men, to lay the lord
chamberlain, or his deputy, under any such tormenting obligation.
Yet, lest Mr. Brooke should imagine that a license was refused him
without just reasons, I shall condescend to treat him with more regard
than he can reasonably expect, and point out such sentiments, as not
only justly exposed him to that refusal, but would have provoked any
ministry less merciful than the present, to have inflicted some heavier
penalties upon him.
His prologue is filled with such insinuations, as no friend of our
excellent government can read without indignation and abhorrence, and
cannot but be owned to be a proper introduction to such scenes, as seem
designed to kindle in the audience a flame of opposition, patriotism,
publick spirit, and independency; that spirit which we have so long
endeavoured to suppress, and which cannot be revived without the entire
subversion of all our schemes.
The seditious poet, not content with making an open attack upon us, by
declaring, in plain terms, that he looks upon freedom as the only source
of publick happiness, and national security, has endeavoured with
subtilty, equal to his malice, to make us suspicious of our firmest
friends, to infect our consultations with distrust, and to ruin us by
This, indeed, will not be easily effected; an union founded upon
interest, and cemented by dependence, is naturally lasting; but
confederacies which owe their rise to virtue, or mere conformity of
sentiments, are quickly dissolved, since no individual has any thing
either to hope or fear for himself, and publick spirit is generally too
weak to combat with private passions.
The poet has, however, attempted to weaken our combination by an artful
and sly assertion, which, if suffered to remain unconfuted, may operate,
by degrees, upon our minds, in the days of leisure and retirement, which
are now approaching, and, perhaps, fill us with such surmises as may at
least very much embarrass our affairs.
The law by which the Swedes justified their opposition to the
encroachments of the king of Denmark, he not only calls
Great Nature's law, the law within the breast,
but proceeds to tell us, that it is
--stamp'd by heaven upon th' unletter'd mind.
By which he evidently intends to insinuate a maxim, which is, I hope, as
false as it is pernicious, that men are naturally fond of liberty till
those unborn ideas and desires are effaced by literature.
The author, if he be not a man mewed up in his solitary study, and
entirely unacquainted with the conduct of the present ministry, must
know that we have hitherto acted upon different principles. We have
always regarded letters as great obstructions to our scheme of
subordination, and have, therefore, when we have heard of any man
remarkably unlettered, carefully noted him down, as the most proper
person for any employments of trust or honour, and considered him as a
man, in whom we could safely repose our most important secrets.
From among the uneducated and unlettered, we have chosen not only our
ambassadors and other negotiators, but even our journalists and
pamphleteers; nor have we had any reason to change our measures, or to
repent of the confidence which we have placed in ignorance.
Are we now, therefore, to be told, that this law is
--stamp'd upon th' unletter'd mind?
Are we to suspect our placemen, our pensioners, our generals, our
lawyers, our best friends in both houses, all our adherents among the
atheists and infidels, and our very gazetteers, clerks, and court-pages,
as friends to independency? Doubtless this is the tendency of his
assertion, but we have known them too long to be thus imposed upon: the
unlettered have been our warmest and most constant defenders; nor have
we omitted any thing to deserve their favour, but have always
endeavoured to raise their reputation, extend their influence, and
increase their number.
In his first act he abounds with sentiments very inconsistent with the
ends for which the power of licensing was granted; to enumerate them all
would be to transcribe a great part of his play, a task which I shall
very willingly leave to others, who, though true friends to the
government, are not inflamed with zeal so fiery and impatient as mine,
and, therefore, do not feel the same emotions of rage and resentment at
the sight of those infamous passages, in which venality and dependence
are represented, as mean in themselves, and productive of remorse and
One line, which ought, in my opinion, to be erased from every copy, by a
special act of parliament, is mentioned by Anderson, as pronounced by
the hero in his sleep,
O Sweden! O my country! yet I'll save thee.
This line I have reason to believe thrown out as a kind of a watchword
for the opposing faction, who, when they meet in their seditious
assemblies, have been observed to lay their hands upon their breasts,
and cry out, with great vehemence of accent,
O B----! O my country! yet I'll save thee.
In the second scene he endeavours to fix epithets of contempt upon those
passions and desires, which have been always found most useful to the
ministry, and most opposite to the spirit of independency.
Base fear, the laziness of lust, gross appetites,
These are the ladders, and the grov'ling footstool
From whence the tyrant rises--
Secure and scepter'd in the soul's servility,
He has debauched the genius of our country,
And rides triumphant, while her captive sons
Await his nod, the silken slaves of pleasure,
Or fetter'd in their fears.--
Thus is that decent submission to our superiours, and that proper awe of
authority which we are taught in courts, termed base fear and the
servility of the soul. Thus are those gaieties and enjoyments, those
elegant amusements and lulling pleasures, which the followers of a court
are blessed with, as the just rewards of their attendance and
submission, degraded to lust, grossness, and debauchery. The author
ought to be told, that courts are not to be mentioned with so little
ceremony, and that though gallantries and amours are admitted there, it
is almost treason to suppose them infected with debauchery or lust.
It is observable, that, when this hateful writer has conceived any
thought of an uncommon malignity, a thought which tends, in a more
particular manner, to excite the love of liberty, animate the heat of
patriotism, or degrade the majesty of kings, he takes care to put it in
the mouth of his hero, that it may be more forcibly impressed upon his
reader. Thus Gustavus, speaking of his tatters, cries out,
--Yes, my Arvida,
Beyond the sweeping of the proudest train
That shades a monarch's heel, I prize these weeds;
For they are sacred to my country's freedom.
Here this abandoned son of liberty makes a full discovery of his
execrable principles, the tatters of Gustavus, the usual dress of the
assertors of these doctrines, are of more divinity, because they are
sacred to freedom, than the sumptuous and magnificent robes of regality
itself. Such sentiments are truly detestable, nor could any thing be an
aggravation of the author's guilt, except his ludicrous manner of
mentioning a monarch.
The heel of a monarch, or even the print of his heel, is a thing too
venerable and sacred to be treated with such levity, and placed in
contrast with rags and poverty. He, that will speak contemptuously of
the heel of a monarch, will, whenever he can with security, speak
contemptuously of his head.
These are the most glaring passages which have occurred, in the perusal
of the first pages; my indignation will not suffer me to proceed
farther, and I think much better of the licenser, than to believe he
went so far.
In the few remarks which I have set down, the reader will easily
observe, that I have strained no expression beyond its natural import,
and have divested myself of all heat, partiality, and prejudice.
So far, therefore, is Mr. Brooke from having received any hard or
unwarrantable treatment, that the licenser has only acted in pursuance
of that law to which he owes his power; a law, which every admirer of
the administration must own to be very necessary, and to have produced
very salutary effects.
I am, indeed, surprised that this great office is not drawn out into a
longer series of deputations; since it might afford a gainful and
reputable employment to a great number of the friends of the government;
and, I should think, instead of having immediate recourse to the
deputy-licenser himself, it might be sufficient honour for any poet,
except the laureate, to stand bareheaded in the presence of the deputy
of the deputy's deputy in the nineteenth subordination.
Such a number cannot but be thought necessary, if we take into
consideration the great work of drawing up an index expurgatorius to all
the old plays; which is, I hope, already undertaken, or, if it has been
hitherto unhappily neglected, I take this opportunity to recommend.
The productions of our old poets are crowded with passages very unfit
for the ears of an English audience, and which cannot be pronounced
without irritating the minds of the people.
This censure I do not confine to those lines in which liberty, natural
equality, wicked ministers, deluded kings, mean arts of negotiation,
venal senates, mercenary troops, oppressive officers, servile and
exorbitant taxes, universal corruption, the luxuries of a court, the
miseries of the people, the decline of trade, or the happiness of
independency, are directly mentioned. These are such glaring passages,
as cannot be suffered to pass without the most supine and criminal
negligence. I hope the vigilance of the licensers will extend to all
such speeches and soliloquies as tend to recommend the pleasures of
virtue, the tranquillity of an uncorrupted head, and the satisfactions
of conscious innocence; for though such strokes as these do not appear
to a common eye to threaten any danger to the government, yet it is well
known to more penetrating observers, that they have such consequences as
cannot be too diligently obviated, or too cautiously avoided.
A man, who becomes once enamoured of the charms of virtue, is apt to be
very little concerned about the acquisition of wealth or titles, and is,
therefore, not easily induced to act in a manner contrary to his real
sentiments, or to vote at the word of command; by contracting his
desires, and regulating his appetites, he wants much less than other
men; and every one versed in the arts of government can tell, that men
are more easily influenced, in proportion as they are more necessitous.
This is not the only reason why virtue should not receive too much
countenance from a licensed stage; her admirers and followers are not
only naturally independent, but learn such an uniform and consistent
manner of speaking and acting, that they frequently, by the mere force
of artless honesty, surmount all the obstacles which subtilty and
politicks can throw in their way, and obtain their ends, in spite of the
most profound and sagacious ministry.
Such, then, are the passages to be expunged by the licensers: in many
parts, indeed, the speeches will be imperfect, and the action appear not
regularly conducted, but the poet laureate may easily supply these
vacuities, by inserting some of his own verses in praise of wealth,
luxury, and venality.
But alas! all those pernicious sentiments which we shall banish from the
stage, will be vented from the press, and more studiously read, because
they are prohibited.
I cannot but earnestly implore the friends of the government to leave no
art untried, by which we may hope to succeed in our design of extending
the power of the licenser to the press, and of making it criminal to
publish any thing without an IMPRIMATUR.
How much would this single law lighten the mighty burden of state
affairs! With how much security might our ministers enjoy their honours,
their places, their reputations, and their admirers, could they once
suppress those malicious invectives which are, at present, so
industriously propagated, and so eagerly read; could they hinder any
arguments but their own from coming to the ears of the people, and stop
effectually the voice of cavil and inquiry!
I cannot but indulge myself a little while, by dwelling on this pleasing
scene, and imagining those halcyon days, in which no politicks shall be
read but those of the Gazetteer, nor any poetry but that of the
laureate; when we shall hear of nothing but the successful negotiations
of our ministers, and the great actions of--
How much happier would this state be, than those perpetual jealousies
and contentions which are inseparable from knowledge and liberty, and
which have, for many years, kept this nation in perpetual commotions!
But these are times, rather to be wished for than expected, for such is
the nature of our unquiet countrymen, that, if they are not admitted to
the knowledge of affairs, they are always suspecting their governours of
designs prejudicial to their interest; they have not the least notion of
the pleasing tranquillity of ignorance, nor can be brought to imagine,
that they are kept in the dark, lest too much light should hurt their
eyes. They have long claimed a right of directing their superiours, and
are exasperated at the least mention of secrets of state.
This temper makes them very readily encourage any writer or printer,
who, at the hazard of his life or fortune, will give them any
information: and, while this humour prevails, there never will be
wanting some daring adventurer who will write in defence of liberty, and
some zealous or avaricious printer who will disperse his papers.
It has never yet been found that any power, however vigilant or
despotick, has been able to prevent the publication of seditious
journals, ballads, essays, and dissertations; "Considerations on the
present state of affairs," and "Enquiries into the conduct of the
Yet I must confess, that, considering the success, with which the
present ministry has hitherto proceeded in their attempts to drive out
of the world the old prejudices of patriotism and publick spirit, I
cannot but entertain some hopes, that what has been so often attempted
by their predecessors, is reserved to be accomplished by their superiour
If I might presume to advise them upon this great affair, I should
dissuade them from any direct attempt upon the liberty of the press,
which is the darling of the common people, and, therefore, cannot be
attacked without immediate danger. They may proceed by a more sure and
silent way, and attain the desired end without noise, detraction, or
There are scattered over this kingdom several little seminaries, in
which the lower ranks of people, and the youngest sons of our nobility
and gentry are taught, from their earliest infancy, the pernicious arts
of spelling and reading, which they afterwards continue to practise,
very much to the disturbance of their own quiet, and the interruption of
These seminaries may, by an act of parliament, be, at once, suppressed;
and that our posterity be deprived of all means of reviving this corrupt
method of education, it may be made felony to teach to read without a
license from the lord chamberlain.
This expedient, which I hope will be carefully concealed from the
vulgar, must infallibly answer the great end proposed by it, and set the
power of the court not only above the insults of the poets, but, in a
short time, above the necessity of providing against them. The licenser,
having his authority thus extended, will, in time, enjoy the title and
the salary without the trouble of exercising his power, and the nation
will rest, at length, in ignorance and peace.
 This admirable piece of irony was first printed in the year 1739. A
comparison of its sarcastic strokes with the serious arguments of
lord Chesterfield's speech in the house of lords against the bill
for licensing the stage, will be both amusing and instructive.--Ed.
 Lyttelton and Pitt.
 Titles of pamphlets published at this juncture. The former by lord
Lyttelton. See his works, vol i.
PREFACE TO THE GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE,
The usual design of addresses of this sort is to implore the candour of
the publick: we have always had the more pleasing province of returning
thanks, and making our acknowledgments for the kind acceptance which our
monthly collections have met with.
This, it seems, did not sufficiently appear from the numerous sale and
repeated impressions of our books, which have, at once, exceeded our
merit and our expectation; but have been still more plainly attested by
the clamours, rage, and calumnies of our competitors, of whom we have
seldom taken any notice, not only because it is cruelty to insult the
depressed, and folly to engage with desperation, but because we consider
all their outcries, menaces, and boasts, as nothing more than
advertisements in our favour, being evidently drawn up with the
bitterness of baffled malice and disappointed hope; and almost
discovering, in plain terms, that the unhappy authors have seventy
thousand London Magazines mouldering in their warehouses, returned from
all parts of the kingdom, unsold, unread, and disregarded.
Our obligations for the encouragement we have so long continued to
receive, are so much the greater, as no artifices have been omitted to
supplant us. Our adversaries cannot be denied the praise of industry;
how far they can be celebrated for an honest industry, we leave to the
decision of the publick, and even of their brethren, the booksellers,
not including those whose advertisements they obliterated to paste their
invectives in our book.
The success of the Gentleman's Magazine has given rise to almost twenty
imitations of it, which are either all dead, or very little regarded by
the world. Before we had published sixteen months, we met with such a
general approbation, that a knot of enterprising geniuses, and sagacious
inventors, assembled from all parts of the town, agreed, with an
unanimity natural to understandings of the same size, to seize upon our
whole plan, without changing even the title. Some weak objections were,
indeed, made by one of them against the design, as having an air of
servility, dishonesty, and piracy; but it was concluded that all these
imputations might be avoided by giving the picture of St. Paul's instead
of St. John's gate; it was, however, thought indispensably necessary to
add, printed in St. John's street, though there was then no
printing-house in that place.
That these plagiaries should, after having thus stolen their whole
design from us, charge us with robbery, on any occasion, is a degree of
impudence scarcely to be matched, and certainly entitles them to the
first rank among false heroes. We have, therefore, inserted their
names, at length, in our February magazine, p. 61; being desirous
that every man should enjoy the reputation he deserves.
Another attack has been made upon us by the author of Common Sense, an
adversary equally malicious as the former, and equally despicable. What
were his views, or what his provocations, we know not, nor have thought
him considerable enough to inquire. To make him any further answer would
be to descend too low; but, as he is one of those happy writers, who are
best exposed by quoting their own words, we have given his elegant
remarks in our magazine for December, where the reader may entertain
himself, at his leisure, with an agreeable mixture of scurrility and
For the future, we shall rarely offend him by adopting any of his
performances, being unwilling to prolong the life of such pieces as
deserve no other fate than to be hissed, torn, and forgotten. However,
that the curiosity of our readers may not be disappointed, we shall,
whenever we find him a little excelling himself, perhaps print his
dissertations upon our blue covers, that they may be looked over, and
stripped off, without disgracing our collection, or swelling our
We are sorry that, by inserting some of his essays, we have filled the
head of this petty writer with idle chimeras of applause, laurels and
immortality, nor suspected the bad effect of our regard for him, till we
saw, in the postscript to one of his papers, a wild prediction of the
honours to be paid him by future ages. Should any mention of him be
made, or his writings, by posterity, it will, probably, be in words like
these: "In the Gentleman's Magazine are still preserved some essays,
under the specious and inviting title of Common Sense. How papers of so
little value came to be rescued from the common lot of dulness, we are,
at this distance of time, unable to conceive, but imagine, that personal
friendship prevailed with Urban to admit them in opposition to his
judgment. If this was the reason, he met afterwards with the treatment
which all deserve who patronise stupidity; for the writer, instead of
acknowledging his favours, complains of injustice, robbery, and
mutilation; but complains in a style so barbarous and indecent, as
sufficiently confutes his own calumnies."
In this manner must this author expect to be mentioned. But of him, and
our other adversaries, we beg the reader's pardon for having said so
much. We hope it will be remembered, in our favour, that it is sometimes
necessary to chastise insolence, and that there is a sort of men who
cannot distinguish between forbearance, and cowardice.
 The names are thus inserted--"The _gay_ and _learned_ C. Ackers, of
Swan-alley, printer; the _polite_ and _generous_ T. Cox, under the
Royal Exchange; the _eloquent_ and _courtly_ J. Clark, of Duck-lane;
and the _modest, civil_, and _judicious_ T. Astley, of St. Paul's
Church-yard, booksellers."--All these names appeared in the title of
the London Magazine, begun in 1732.
 Common Sense Journal, printed by Purser of Whitefriars, March 11,
1738. "I make no doubt but after some grave historian, three or four
hundred years hence, has described the corruption, the baseness, and
the flattery which men run into in these times, he will make the
following observation:--In the year 1737, a certain unknown author
published a writing under the title of Common Sense; this writing
came out weekly, in little detached essays, some of which are
political, some moral, and others humorous. By the best judgment
that can be formed of a work, the style and language of which is
become so obsolete that it is scarce intelligible, it answers the
title well," &c.
AN APPEAL TO THE PUBLICK.
From the Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1739.
Men' moveat cimex Pantilius? aut crucier, quod
Vellicet absentem Demetrius-- HOR.
Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
Meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc volo, nunc nobis carmina nostra placent. MARTIAL.
It is plain from the conduct of writers of the first class, that they
have esteemed it no derogation from their characters to defend
themselves against the censures of ignorance, or the calumnies of envy.
It is not reasonable to suppose, that they always judged their
adversaries worthy of a formal confutation; but they concluded it not
prudent to neglect the feeblest attacks; they knew that such men have
often done hurt, who had not abilities to do good; that the weakest
hand, if not timely disarmed, may stab a hero in his sleep; that a worm,
however small, may destroy a fleet in the acorn; and that citadels,
which have defied armies, have been blown up by rats.
In imitation of these great examples, we think it not absolutely
needless to vindicate ourselves from the virulent aspersions of the
Craftsman and Common Sense; because their accusations, though entirely
groundless, and without the least proof, are urged with an air of
confidence, which the unwary may mistake for consciousness of truth.
In order to set the proceedings of these calumniators in a proper light,
it is necessary to inform such of our readers, as are unacquainted with
the artifices of trade, that we originally incurred the displeasure of
the greatest part of the booksellers by keeping this magazine wholly in
our own hands, without admitting any of that fraternity into a share of
the property. For nothing is more criminal, in the opinion of many of
them, than for an author to enjoy more advantage from his own works than
they are disposed to allow him. This is a principle so well established
among them, that we can produce some who threatened printers with their
highest displeasure, for their having dared to print books for those
that wrote them.
Hinc irae, hinc odia.
This was the first ground of their animosity, which, for some time,
proceeded no farther than private murmurs and petty discouragements. At
length, determining to be no longer debarred from a share in so
beneficial a project, a knot of them combined to seize our whole plan;
and, without the least attempt to vary or improve it, began, with the
utmost vigour to print and circulate the London Magazine, with such
success, that in a few years, while we were printing the fifth edition
of some of our earliest numbers, they had seventy thousand of their
books returned, unsold, upon their hands.
It was then time to exert their utmost efforts to stop our progress, and
nothing was to be left unattempted that interest could suggest. It will
be easily imagined, that their influence, among those of their own
trade, was greater than ours, and that their collections were,
therefore, more industriously propagated by their brethren; but this,
being the natural consequence of such a relation, and, therefore,
excusable, is only mentioned to show the disadvantages against which we
are obliged to struggle, and, to convince the reader, that we who depend
so entirely upon his approbation, shall omit nothing to deserve it.
They then had recourse to advertisements, in which they, sometimes, made
faint attempts to be witty, and, sometimes, were content with being
merely scurrilous; but, finding that their attacks, while we had an
opportunity of returning hostilities, generally procured them such
treatment as very little contributed to their reputation, they came, at
last, to a resolution of excluding us from the newspapers in which they
have any influence: by this means they can, at present, insult us with
impunity, and without the least danger of confutation.
Their last, and, indeed, their most artful expedient, has been to hire
and incite the weekly journalists against us. The first weak attempt was
made by the Universal Spectator; but this we took not the least notice
of, as we did not imagine it would ever come to the knowledge of the
Whether there was then a confederacy between this journal and Common
Sense's, as at present, between Common Sense and the Craftsman; or
whether understandings of the same form receive, at certain times, the
same impressions from the planets, I know not; but about that time war
was, likewise, declared against us by the redoubted author of Common
Sense; an adversary not so much to be dreaded for his abilities, as for
the title of his paper, behind which he has the art of sheltering
himself in perfect security. He defeats all his enemies by calling them
"enemies to common sense," and silences the strongest objections and the
clearest reasonings by assuring his readers that, "they are contrary to
I must confess, to the immortal honour of this great writer, that I can
remember but two instances of a genius able to use a few syllables to
such great and so various purposes. One is, the old man in Shadwell, who
seems, by long time and experience, to have attained to equal perfection
with our author; for, "when a young fellow began to prate and be pert,"
says he, "I silenced him with my old word, Tace is Latin for a candle."
The other, who seems yet more to resemble this writer, was one Goodman,
a horsestealer, who being asked, after having been found guilty by the
jury, what he had to offer to prevent sentence of death from being
passed upon him, did not attempt to extenuate his crime, but entreated
the judge to beware of hanging a _Good man_.
This writer we thought, however injudiciously, worthy, not indeed of a
reply, but of some correction, and in our magazine for December, 1738,
and the preface to the supplement, treated him in such a manner as he
does not seem inclined to forget.
From that time, losing all patience, he has exhausted his stores of
scurrility upon us; but our readers will find, upon consulting the
passages above mentioned, that he has received too much provocation to
be admitted as an impartial critick.
In our magazine of January, p. 24, we made a remark upon the Craftsman,
and in p. 3, dropped some general observations upon the weekly writers,
by which we did not expect to make them more our friends. Nor, indeed,
did we imagine that this would have inflamed Caleb to so high a degree.
His resentment has risen so much above the provocation, that we cannot
but impute it more to what he fears than what he has felt. He has seen
the solecisms of his brother, Common Sense, exposed, and remembers that,
--tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet.
He imagines, that he shall soon fall under the same censure, and is
willing that our criticisms shall appear rather the effects of our
resentment than our judgment.
For this reason, I suppose, (for I can find no other,) he has joined
with Common Sense to charge us with partiality, and to recommend the
London Magazine, as drawn up with less regard to interest or party. A
favour, which the authors of that collection have endeavoured to deserve
from them by the most servile adulation.
But, as we have a higher opinion of the candour of our readers, than to
believe that they will condemn us without examination, or give up their
right of judging for themselves, we are not unconcerned at this charge,
though the most atrocious and malignant that can be brought against us.
We entreat only to be compared with our rivals, in full confidence, that
not only our innocence, but our superiority will appear.
 These prefaces are written with that warmth of zeal which
characterizes all Johnson's efforts in behalf of his friends. He
ever retained a grateful sense of the kindness shown to him by Cave,
his earliest patron; and, when engaged in his undertakings, he
regarded Cave's enemies or opposers as his own. We can only thus
vindicate his contemptuous references to the UNIVERSAL SPECTATOR,
which, though far inferior to that great work whose name it bears,
is very respectable; nor, on any other consideration, can we account
for his derision of COMMON SENSE, a periodical, enriched by the
contributions of lord Chesterfield and lord Lyttelton; or of the
CRAFTSMAN, which was conducted by Amhurst, the able associate of
Bolingbroke and Pulteney. Neither can we, without thus considering
his relative situation, acquit Johnson of inconsistency in his
strictures, who, in 1756, himself undertook the editorship of the
LITERARY MAGAZINE, a work which might be viewed as the most
formidable rival of the GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE. The full details of
his connexion with this now venerable publication are given in the
preface to the index of that work, published by Mr. Nichols.--Ed.
LETTER ON FIREWORKS.
Among the principal topicks of conversation which now furnish the places
of assembly with amusement, may be justly numbered the fireworks, which
are advancing, by such slow degrees, and with such costly preparation.
The first reflection, that naturally arises, is upon the inequality of
the effect to the cause. Here are vast sums expended, many hands, and
some heads, employed, from day to day, and from month to month; and the
whole nation is filled with expectations, by delineations and
narratives. And in what is all this to end? in a building, that is to
attract the admiration of ages? in a bridge, which may facilitate the
commerce of future generations? in a work of any kind, which may stand
as the model of beauty, or the pattern of virtue? To show the blessings
of the late change of our state by any monument of these kinds, were
a project worthy not only of wealth, and power, and greatness, but of
learning, wisdom, and virtue. But nothing of this kind is designed;
nothing more is projected, than a crowd, a shout, and a blaze: the
mighty work of artifice and contrivance is to be set on fire for no
other purpose that I can see, than to show how idle pyrotechnical
virtuosos have been busy. Four hours the sun will shine, and then fall
from his orb, and lose his memory and his lustre together; the
spectators will disperse, as their inclinations lead them, and wonder by
what strange infatuation they had been drawn together. In this will
consist the only propriety of this transient show, that it will resemble
the war of which it celebrates the period. The powers of this part of
the world, after long preparations, deep intrigues, and subtle schemes,
have set Europe in a flame, and, after having gazed awhile at their
fireworks, have laid themselves down where they rose, to inquire for
what they have been contending.
It is remarked, likewise, that this blaze, so transitory and so useless,
will be to be paid for, when it shines no longer: and many cannot
forbear observing, how many lasting advantages might be purchased, how
many acres might be drained, how many ways repaired, how many debtors
might be released, how many widows and orphans, whom the war has ruined,
might be relieved, by the expense which is now about to evaporate in
smoke, and to be scattered in rockets: and there are some who think not
only reason, but humanity offended, by such a trifling profusion, when
so many sailors are starving, and so many churches sinking into ruins.
It is no improper inquiry, by whom this expense is at last to be borne;
for certainly, nothing can be more unreasonable than to tax the nation
for a blaze, which will be extinguished before many of them know it has
been lighted; nor will it be consistent with the common practice, which
directs, that local advantages shall be procured at the expense of the
district that enjoys them. I never found, in any records, that any town
petitioned the parliament for a may-pole, a bull-ring, or a
skittle-ground; and, therefore, I should think, fireworks, as they are
less durable, and less useful, have, at least, as little claim to the
The fireworks are, I suppose, prepared, and, therefore, it is too late
to obviate the project; but I hope the generosity of the great is not so
far extinguished, as that they can, for their diversion, drain a nation
already exhausted, and make us pay for pictures in the fire, which none
will have the poor pleasure of beholding but themselves.
 Inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine, Jan. 1749.
 The peace of Aix la Chapelle, 1748.
PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING, BY SUBSCRIPTION, ESSAYS IN VERSE AND PROSE.
BY ANNA WILLIAMS.
 From the Gentleman's Magazine, Sept. 1750.
When a writer of my sex solicits the regard of the publick, some apology
seems always to be expected; and it is, unhappily, too much in my power
to satisfy this demand; since, how little soever I may be qualified,
either by nature or study, for furnishing the world with literary
entertainments, I have such motives for venturing my little performances
into the light, as are sufficient to counterbalance the censure of
arrogance, and to turn off my attention from the threats of criticism.
The world will, perhaps, be something softened, when it shall be known,
that my intention was to have lived by means more suited to my ability,
from which being now cut off by a total privation of sight, I have been
persuaded to suffer such essays, as I had formerly written, to be
collected and fitted, if they can be fitted, by the kindness of my
friends, for the press. The candour of those that have already
encouraged me, will, I hope, pardon the delays incident to a work which
must be performed by other eyes and other hands; and censure may,
surely, be content to spare the compositions of a woman, written for
amusement, and published for necessity.
FOR THE EMPLOYMENT OF AUTHORS.
TO THE VISITER.
I know not what apology to make for the little dissertation which I have
sent, and which I will not deny that I have sent with design that you
should print it. I know that admonition is very seldom grateful, and
that authors are eminently cholerick; yet, I hope, that you, and every
impartial reader, will be convinced, that I intend the benefit of the
publick, and the advancement of knowledge; and that every reader, into
whose hands this shall happen to fall, will rank himself among those who
are to be excepted from general censure.
I am, Sir, your humble servant.
Scire velim quare toties mihi, Naevole, tristis
Occurras, fronte obducta, ceu Marsya victus. JUV.
There is no gift of nature, or effect of art, however beneficial to
mankind, which, either by casual deviations, or foolish perversions, is
not sometimes mischievous. Whatever may be the cause of happiness, may
be made, likewise, the cause of misery. The medicine, which, rightly
applied, has power to cure, has, when rashness or ignorance prescribes
it, the same power to destroy.
I have computed, at some hours of leisure, the loss and gain of
literature, and set the pain which it produces against the pleasure.
Such calculations are, indeed, at a great distance from mathematical
exactness, as they arise from the induction of a few particulars, and
from observations made rather according to the temper of the computist,
than the nature of things. But such a narrow survey as can be taken,
will easily show that letters cause many blessings, and inflict many
calamities; that there is scarcely an individual who may not consider
them as immediately or mediately influencing his life, as they are chief
instruments of conveying knowledge, and transmitting sentiments; and
almost every man learns, by their means, all that is right or wrong in
his sentiments and conduct.
If letters were considered only as means of pleasure, it might well be
doubted, in what degree of estimation they should be held; but when they
are referred to necessity, the controversy is at an end; it soon
appears, that though they may sometimes incommode us, yet human life
would scarcely rise, without them, above the common existence of animal
nature; we might, indeed, breathe and eat in universal ignorance, but
must want all that gives pleasure or security, all the embellishments
and delights, and most of the conveniencies, and comforts of our present
Literature is a kind of intellectual light, which, like the light of the
sun, may sometimes enable us to see what we do not like; but who would
wish to escape unpleasing objects, by condemning himself to perpetual
Since, therefore, letters are thus indispensably necessary; since we
cannot persuade ourselves to lose their benefits, for the sake of
escaping their mischiefs, it is worth our serious inquiry, how their
benefits may be increased, and their mischiefs lessened; by what means
the harvest of our studies may afford us more corn and less chaff; and
how the roses of the gardens of science may gratify us more with their
fragrance, and prick us less with their thorns.
I shall not, at present, mention the more formidable evils which the
misapplication of literature produces, nor speak of churches infected
with heresy, states inflamed with sedition, or schools infatuated with
hypothetical fictions. These are evils which mankind have always
lamented, and which, till mankind grow wise and modest, they must, I am
afraid, continue to lament, without hope of remedy. I shall now touch
only on some lighter and less extensive evils, yet such, as are
sufficiently heavy to those that feel them, and are, of late, so widely
diffused, as to deserve, though, perhaps, not the notice of the
legislature, yet the consideration of those whose benevolence inclines
them to a voluntary care of publick happiness.
It was long ago observed by Virgil, and, I suppose, by many before him,
that "bees do not make honey for their own use;" the sweets which they
collect in their laborious excursions, and store up in their hives with
so much skill, are seized by those who have contributed neither toil nor
art to the collection; and the poor animal is either destroyed by the
invader, or left to shift without a supply. The condition is nearly the
same of the gatherer of honey, and the gatherer of knowledge. The bee
and the author work alike for others, and often lose the profit of their
labour. The case, therefore, of authors, however hitherto neglected, may
claim regard. Every body of men is important, according to the joint
proportion of their usefulness and their number. Individuals, however
they may excel, cannot hope to be considered, singly, as of great weight
in the political balance; and multitudes, though they may, merely by
their bulk, demand some notice, are yet not of much value, unless they
contribute to ease the burden of society, by cooperating to its
Of the men, whose condition we are now examining, the usefulness never
was disputed; they are known to be the great disseminators of knowledge,
and guardians of the commonwealth; and, of late, their number has been
so much increased, that they are become a very conspicuous part of the
nation. It is not now, as in former times, when men studied long, and
passed through the severities of discipline, and the probation of
publick trials, before they presumed to think themselves qualified for
instructers of their countrymen; there is found a nearer way to fame and
erudition, and the inclosures of literature are thrown open to every man
whom idleness disposes to loiter, or whom pride inclines to set himself
to view. The sailor publishes his journal, the farmer writes the process
of his annual labour; he that succeeds in his trade, thinks his wealth a
proof of his understanding, and boldly tutors the publick; he that
fails, considers his miscarriage as the consequence of a capacity too
great for the business of a shop, and amuses himself in the Fleet with
writing or translating. The last century imagined, that a man, composing
in his chariot, was a new object of curiosity; but how much would the
wonder have been increased by a footman studying behind it! There is
now no class of men without its authors, from the peer to the thrasher;
nor can the sons of literature be confined any longer to Grub street or
Moorfields; they are spread over all the town, and all the country, and
fill every stage of habitation, from the cellar to the garret.
It is well known, that the price of commodities must always fall, as the
quantity is increased, and that no trade can allow its professors to be
multiplied beyond a certain number. The great misery of writers proceeds
from their multitude. We easily perceive, that in a nation of clothiers,
no man could have any cloth to make but for his own back; that in a
community of bakers every man must use his own bread; and what can be
the case of a nation of authors, but that every man must be content to
read his book to himself? For, surely, it is vain to hope, that of men
labouring at the same occupation, any will prefer the work of his
neighbour to his own; yet this expectation, wild as it is, seems to be
indulged by many of the writing race, and, therefore, it can be no
wonder, that like all other men, who suffer their minds to form
inconsiderate hopes, they are harassed and dejected with frequent
If I were to form an adage of misery, or fix the lowest point to which
humanity could fall, I should be tempted to name the life of an author.
Many universal comparisons there are by which misery is expressed. We
talk of a man teased like a bear at the stake, tormented like a toad
under a harrow, or hunted like a dog with a stick at his tail; all these
are, indeed, states of uneasiness, but what are they to the life of an
author; of an author worried by criticks, tormented by his bookseller,
and hunted by his creditors! Yet such must be the case of many among the
retailers of knowledge, while they continue thus to swarm over the land;
and, whether it be by propagation or contagion, produce new writers to
heighten the general distress, to increase confusion, and hasten famine.
Having long studied the varieties of life, I can guess by every man's
walk, or air, to what state of the community he belongs. Every man has
noted the legs of a tailor, and the gait of a seaman; and a little
extension of his physiognomical acquisitions will teach him to
distinguish the countenance of an author. It is my practice, when I am
in want of amusement, to place myself for an hour at Temple-bar, or any
other narrow pass much frequented, and examine, one by one, the looks of
the passengers; and I have commonly found, that, between the hours of
eleven and four, every sixth man is an author. They are seldom to be
seen very early in the morning, or late in the evening, but about dinner
time they are all in motion, and have one uniform eagerness in their
faces, which gives little opportunity of discerning their hopes or
fears, their pleasures or their pains.
But, in the afternoon, when they have all dined, or composed themselves
to pass the day without a dinner, their passions have full play, and I
can perceive one man wondering at the stupidity of the publick, by which
his new book has been totally neglected; another cursing the French who
fright away literary curiosity by their threats of an invasion; another
swearing at his bookseller, who will advance no money without copy;
another perusing, as he walks, his publisher's bill; another murmuring
at an unanswerable criticism; another determining to write no more to a
generation of barbarians; and another resolving to try, once again,
whether he cannot awaken the drowsy world to a sense of his merit.
It sometimes happens, that there may be remarked among them a smile of
complacence, or a strut of elevation; but, if these favourites of
fortune are carefully watched for a few days, they seldom fail to show
the transitoriness of human felicity; the crest falls, the gaiety is
ended, and there appear evident tokens of a successful rival, or a
But of all authors, those are the most wretched, who exhibit their
productions on the theatre, and who are to propitiate first the manager,
and then the publick. Many an humble visitant have I followed to the
doors of these lords of the drama, seen him touch the knocker with a
shaking hand, and, after long deliberation, adventure to solicit
entrance by a single knock; but I never staid to see them come out from
their audience, because my heart is tender, and being subject to frights
in bed, I would not willingly dream of an author.
That the number of authors is disproportionate to the maintenance, which
the publick seems willing to assign them; that there is neither praise
nor meat for all who write, is apparent from this; that, like wolves in
long winters, they are forced to prey on one another. The reviewers and
critical reviewers, the remarkers and examiners, can satisfy their
hunger only by devouring their brethren. I am far from imagining that
they are naturally more ravenous or blood-thirsty than those on whom
they fall with so much violence and fury; but they are hungry, and
hunger must be satisfied; and these savages, when their bellies are
full, will fawn on those whom they now bite.
The result of all these considerations amounts only to this, that the
number of writers must at last be lessened, but by what method this
great, design can be accomplished, is not easily discovered. It was
lately proposed, that every man who kept a dog should pay a certain tax,
which, as the contriver of ways and means very judiciously observed,
would either destroy the dogs, or bring in money. Perhaps, it might be
proper to lay some such tax upon authors, only the payment must be
lessened in proportion as the animal, upon which it is raised, is less
necessary; for many a man that would pay for his dog, will dismiss his
dedicator. Perhaps, if every one who employed or harboured an author,
was assessed a groat a year, it would sufficiently lessen the nuisance
without destroying the species.
But no great alteration is to be attempted rashly. We must consider how
the authors, which this tax shall exclude from their trade, are to be
employed. The nets used in the herring-fishery can furnish work but for
few, and not many can be employed as labourers at the foundation of the
new bridge. There must, therefore, be some other scheme formed for their
accommodation, which the present state of affairs may easily supply. It
is well known, that great efforts have been lately made to man the
fleet, and augment the army, and loud complaints are made of useful
hands forced away from their families into the service of the crown.
This offensive exertion of power may be easily avoided, by opening a few
houses for the entertainment of discarded authors, who would enter into
the service with great alacrity, as most of them are zealous friends of
every present government; many of them are men of able bodies, and
strong limbs, qualified, at least, as well for the musket as the pen;
they are, perhaps, at present a little emaciated and enfeebled, but
would soon recover their strength and flesh with good quarters and
There are some reasons for which they may seem particularly qualified
for a military life. They are used to suffer want of every kind; they
are accustomed to obey the word of command from their patrons and their
booksellers; they have always passed a life of hazard and adventure,
uncertain what may be their state on the next day; and, what is of yet
more importance, they have long made their minds familiar to danger, by
descriptions of bloody battles, daring undertakings, and wonderful
escapes. They have their memories stored with all the stratagems of war,
and have, over and over, practised, in their closets, the expedients of
distress, the exultation of triumph, and the resignation of heroes
sentenced to destruction.
Some, indeed, there are, who, by often changing sides in controversy,
may give just suspicion of their fidelity, and whom I should think
likely to desert for the pleasure of desertion, or for a farthing a
month advanced in their pay. Of these men I know not what use can be
made, for they can never be trusted, but with shackles on their legs.
There are others whom long depression, under supercilious patrons, has
so humbled and crushed, that they will never have steadiness to keep
their ranks. But for these men there may be found fifes and drums, and
they will be well enough pleased to inflame others to battle, if they
are not obliged to fight themselves.
It is more difficult to know what can be done with the ladies of the
pen, of whom this age has produced greater numbers than any former time.
It is, indeed, common for women to follow the camp, but no prudent
general will allow them in such numbers as the breed of authoresses
would furnish. Authoresses are seldom famous for clean linen, therefore,
they cannot make laundresses; they are rarely skilful at their needle,
and cannot mend a soldier's shirt; they will make bad sutlers, being not
much accustomed to eat. I must, therefore, propose, that they shall form
a regiment of themselves, and garrison the town which is supposed to be
in most danger of a French invasion. They will, probably, have no
enemies to encounter; but, if they are once shut up together, they will
soon disencumber the publick by tearing out the eyes of one another.
The great art of life is to play for much, and to stake little; which
rule I have kept in view through this whole project; for, if our authors
and authoresses defeat our enemies, we shall obtain all the usual
advantages of victory; and, if they should be destroyed in war, we shall
lose only those who had wearied the publick, and whom, whatever be their
fate, nobody will miss.
 From the Universal Visiter, April, 1756.
 Dodsley's Muse in Livery was composed under these circumstances.
Boswell's Life, ii.
PREFACE TO THE LITERARY MAGAZINE, 1756.
TO THE PUBLICK.
There are some practices which custom and prejudice have so unhappily
influenced, that to observe or neglect them is equally censurable. The
promises made by the undertakers of any new design, every man thinks
himself at liberty to deride, and yet every man expects, and expects
with reason, that he who solicits the publick attention, should give
some account of his pretensions.
We are about to exhibit to our countrymen a new monthly collection, to
which the well-deserved popularity of the first undertaking of this
kind, has now made it almost necessary to prefix the name of Magazine.
There are, already, many such periodical compilations, of which we do
not envy the reception, nor shall dispute the excellence. If the nature
of things would allow us to indulge our wishes, we should desire to
advance our own interest, without lessening that of any other; and to
excite the curiosity of the vacant, rather than withdraw that which
other writers have already engaged.
Our design is to give the history, political and literary, of every
month; and our pamphlets must consist, like other collections, of many
articles unconnected and independent on each other.
The chief political object of an Englishman's attention must be the
great council of the nation, and we shall, therefore, register all
publick proceedings with particular care. We shall not attempt to give
any regular series of debates, or to amuse our readers with senatorial
rhetorick. The speeches inserted in other papers have been long-known to
be fictitious, and produced sometimes by men who never heard the debate,
nor had any authentick information. We have no design to impose thus
grossly on our readers, and shall, therefore, give the naked arguments
used in the discussion of every question, and add, when they can be
obtained, the names of the speakers.
As the proceedings in parliament are unintelligible, without a knowledge
of the facts to which they relate, and of the state of the nations to
which they extend their influence, we shall exhibit monthly a view,
though contracted, yet distinct, of foreign affairs, and lay open the
designs and interests of those nations which are considered by the
English either as friends or enemies.
Of transactions in our own country, curiosity will demand a more
particular account, and we shall record every remarkable event,
extraordinary casualty, uncommon performance, or striking novelty, and
shall apply our care to the discovery of truth, with very little
reliance on the daily historians.
The lists of births, marriages, deaths and burials, will be so drawn up
that, we hope, very few omissions or mistakes will be found, though some
must be expected to happen in so great a variety, where there is neither
leisure nor opportunity for minute information.
It is intended that lists shall be given of all the officers and persons
in publick employment; and that all the alterations shall be noted, as
they happen, by which our list will be a kind of court-register, always
The literary history necessarily contains an account of the labours of
the learned, in which, whether we shall show much judgment or sagacity,
must be left to our readers to determine; we can promise only justness
and candour. It is not to be expected, that we can insert extensive
extracts or critical examinations of all the writings, which this age of
writers may offer to our notice. A few only will deserve the distinction
of criticism, and a few only will obtain it. We shall try to select the
best and most important pieces, and are not without hope, that we may
sometimes influence the publick voice, and hasten the popularity of a
Our regard will not be confined to books; it will extend to all the
productions of science. Any new calculation, a commodious instrument,
the discovery of any property in nature, or any new method of bringing
known properties into use or view, shall be diligently treasured up,
In a paper designed for general perusal, it will be necessary to dwell
most upon things of general entertainment. The elegant trifles of
literature, the wild strains of fancy, the pleasing amusements of
harmless wit, shall, therefore, be considered as necessary to our
collection. Nor shall we omit researches into antiquity, explanation of
coins or inscriptions, disquisitions on controverted history,
conjectures on doubtful geography, or any other of those petty works
upon which learned ingenuity is sometimes employed.
To these accounts of temporary transactions and fugitive performances,
we shall add some dissertations on things more permanent and stable;
some inquiries into the history of nature, which has hitherto been
treated, as if mankind were afraid of exhausting it. There are, in our
own country, many things and places worthy of note that are yet little
known, and every day gives opportunities of new observations which are
made and forgotten. We hope to find means of extending and perpetuating
physiological discoveries; and with regard to this article, and all
others, entreat the assistance of curious and candid correspondents.
We shall labour to attain as much exactness as can be expected in such
variety, and shall give as much variety as can consist with reasonable
exactness; for this purpose, a selection has been made of men qualified
for the different parts of the work, and each has the employment
assigned him, which he is supposed most able to discharge.
A DISSERTATION UPON THE GREEK COMEDY,
TRANSLATED FROM BRUMOY.
I conclude this work, according to my promise, with an account of the
comick theatre, and entreat the reader, whether a favourer or an enemy
of the ancient drama, not to pass his censure upon the authors or upon
me, without a regular perusal of this whole work. For, though it seems
to be composed of pieces of which each may precede or follow without
dependence upon the other, yet all the parts, taken together, form a
system which would be destroyed by their disjunction. Which way shall we
come at the knowledge of the ancients' shows, but by comparing together
all that is left of them? The value and necessity of this comparison
determined me to publish all, or to publish nothing. Besides, the
reflections on each piece, and on the general taste of antiquity, which,
in my opinion, are not without importance, have a kind of obscure
gradation, which I have carefully endeavoured to preserve, and of which
the thread would be lost by him who should slightly glance sometimes
upon one piece, and sometimes upon another. It is a structure which I
have endeavoured to make as near to regularity as I could, and which
must be seen in its full extent, and in proper succession. The reader
who skips here and there over the book, might make a hundred objections
which are either anticipated, or answered in those pieces which he might
have overlooked. I have laid such stress upon the connexion of the parts
of this work, that I have declined to exhaust the subject, and have
suppressed many of my notions, that I might leave the judicious reader
to please himself by forming such conclusions as I supposed him like to
discover, as well as myself. I am not here attempting to prejudice the
reader by an apology either for the ancients, or my own manner. I have
not claimed a right of obliging others to determine, by my opinion, the
degrees of esteem which I think due to the authors of the Athenian
stage; nor do I think that their reputation, in the present time, ought
to depend upon my mode of thinking or expressing my thoughts, which I
leave entirely to the judgment of the publick.
A DISSERTATION &c.
1. REASONS WHY ARISTOPHANES MAY BE REVIEWED, WITH-OUT TRANSLATING HIM
I was in doubt a long time, whether I should meddle at all with the
Greek comedy, both because the pieces which remain are very few, the
licentiousness of Aristophanes, their author, is exorbitant; and it is
very difficult to draw, from the performances of a single poet, a just
idea of Greek comedy. Besides, it seemed that tragedy was sufficient to
employ all my attention, that I might give a complete representation of
that kind of writing, which was most esteemed by the Athenians and the
wiser Greeks, particularly by Socrates, who set no value upon comedy
or comick actors. But the very name of that drama, which in polite ages,
and above all others in our own, has been so much advanced, that it has
become equal to tragedy, if not preferable, inclines me to think that I
may be partly reproached with an imperfect work, if, after having gone,
as deep as I could, into the nature of Greek tragedy, I did not at least
sketch a draught of the comedy.
I then considered, that it was not wholly impossible to surmount, at
least in part, the difficulties which had stopped me, and to go somewhat
farther than the learned writers, who have published, in French, some
pieces of Aristophanes; not that I pretend to make large translations.
The same reasons, which have hindered with respect to the more noble
parts of the Greek drama, operate with double force upon my present
subject. Though ridicule, which is the business of comedy, be not less
uniform in all times, than the passions which are moved by tragick
compositions; yet, if diversity of manners may sometimes disguise the
passions themselves, how much greater change will be made in
jocularities! The truth is, that they are so much changed by the course
of time, that pleasantry and ridicule become dull and flat much more
easily than the pathetick becomes ridiculous.
That which is commonly known by the term jocular and comick, is nothing
but a turn of expression, an airy phantom, that must be caught at a
particular point. As we lose this point, we lose the jocularity, and
find nothing but dulness in its place. A lucky sally, which has filled a
company with laughter, will have no effect in print, because it is shown
single, and separate from the circumstance which gave it force. Many
satirical jests, found in ancient books, have had the same fate; their
spirit has evaporated by time, and have left nothing to us but
insipidity. None but the most biting passages have preserved their
But, besides this objection, which extends universally to all
translations of Aristophanes, and many allusions, of which time has
deprived us, there are loose expressions thrown out to the populace, to
raise laughter from corrupt passions, which are unworthy of the
curiosity of decent readers, and which ought to rest eternally in proper
obscurity. Not every thing, in this infancy of comedy, was excellent, at
least, it would not appear excellent at this distance of time, in
comparison of compositions of the same kind which lie before our eyes;
and this is reason enough to save me the trouble of translating, and the
reader that of perusing. As for that small number of writers, who
delight in those delicacies, they give themselves very little trouble
about translations, except it be to find fault with them; and the
majority of people of wit like comedies that may give them pleasure,
without much trouble of attention, and are not much disposed to find
beauties in that which requires long deductions to find it beautiful. If
Helen had not appeared beautiful to the Greeks and Trojans, but by force
of argument, we had never been told of the Trojan war.
On the other side, Aristophanes is an author more considerable than one
would imagine. The history of Greece could not pass over him, when it
comes to touch upon the people of Athens; this, alone, might procure him
respect, even when he was not considered as a comick poet. But, when his
writings are taken into view, we find him the only author from whom may
be drawn a just idea of the comedy of his age; and, farther, we find, in
his pieces, that he often makes attacks upon the tragick writers,
particularly upon the three chief, whose valuable remains we have had
under examination; and, what is yet worse, fell sometimes upon the
state, and upon the gods themselves.
2. THE CHIEF HEADS OF THIS DISCOURSE.
These considerations have determined me to follow, in my representation
of this writer, the same method which I have taken in several tragick
pieces, which is, that of giving an exact analysis, as far as the matter
would allow, from which I deduce four important systems. First, upon the
nature of the comedy of that age, without omitting that of Menander.
Secondly, upon the vices and government of the Athenians. Thirdly, upon
the notion we ought to entertain of Aristophanes, with respect to
Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Fourthly, upon the jest which he
makes upon the gods. These things will not be treated in order, as a
regular discourse seems to require, but will arise sometimes separately,
sometimes together, from the view of each particular comedy, and from
the reflections which this free manner of writing will allow. I shall
conclude with a short view of the whole, and so finish my design.
4. HISTORY OF COMEDY.
I shall not repeat here what Madame Dacier, and so many others before
her, have collected of all that can be known relating to the history of
comedy. Its beginnings are as obscure as those of tragedy, and there is
an appearance that we take these two words in a more extensive meaning:
they had both the same original; that is, they began among the festivals
of the vintage, and were not distinguished from one another, but by a
burlesque or serious chorus, which made all the soul, and all the body.
But, if we give these words a stricter sense, according to the notion
which has since been formed, comedy was produced after tragedy, and was,
in many respects, a sequel and imitation of the works of Eschylus. It
is, in reality, nothing more than an action set before the sight, by the
same artifice of representation. Nothing is different but the object,
which is merely ridicule. This original of true comedy will be easily
admitted, if we take the word of Horace, who must have known, better
than us, the true dates of dramatick works. This poet supports the
system, which I have endeavoured to establish in the second
discourse, so strongly, as to amount to demonstrative proof.
Horace expresses himself thus: "Thespis is said to have been the
first inventor of a species of tragedy, in which he carried about, in
carts, players smeared with the dregs of wine, of whom some sung and
others declaimed." This was the first attempt, both of tragedy and
comedy; for Thespis made use only of one speaker, without the least
appearance of dialogue. "Eschylus, afterwards, exhibited them with more
dignity. He placed them on a stage, somewhat above the ground, covered
their faces with masks, put buskins on their feet, dressed them in
trailing robes, and made them speak in a more lofty style." Horace omits
invention of dialogue, which we learn from Aristotle. But, however,
it may be well enough inferred from the following words of Horace; this
completion is mentioned while he speaks of Eschylus, and, therefore, to
Eschylus it must be ascribed: "Then first appeared the old comedy, with
great success in its beginning." Thus we see that the Greek comedy
arose after tragedy, and, by consequence, tragedy was its parent. It was
formed in imitation of Eschylus, the inventor of the tragick drama; or,
to go yet higher into antiquity, had its original from Homer, who was
the guide of Eschylus. For, if we credit Aristotle, comedy had its
birth from the Margites, a satirical poem of Homer, and tragedy from the
Iliad and Odyssey. Thus the design and artifice of comedy were drawn
from Homer and Eschylus. This will appear less surprising, since the
ideas of the human mind are always gradual, and arts are seldom invented
but by imitation.
The first idea contains the seed of the second; this second, expanding
itself, gives birth to a third; and so on. Such is the progress of the
mind of man; it proceeds in its productions, step by step, in the same
manner as nature multiplies her works by imitating, or repeating her own
act, when she seems most to run into variety. In this manner it was that
comedy had its birth, its increase, its improvement, its perfection, and
But the question is, who was the happy author of that imitation, and
that show, whether only one, like Eschylus of tragedy, or whether they
were several? for neither Horace, nor any before him, explained this.
This poet only quotes three writers who had reputation in the old
comedy, Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes; of whom he says,
"That they, and others, who wrote in the same way, reprehended the
faults of particular persons with excessive liberty." These are,
probably, the poets of the greatest reputation, though they were not the
first, and we know the names of many others. Among these three we
may be sure that Aristophanes had the greatest character, since not only
the king of Persia expressed a high esteem of him to the Grecian
ambassadours, as of a man extremely useful to his country, and Plato
rated him so high, as to say that the Graces resided in his bosom; but,
likewise, because he is the only writer of whom any comedies have made
their way down to us, through the confusion of times. There are not,
indeed, any proofs that he was the inventor of comedy, properly so
called, especially, since he had not only predecessors who wrote in the
same kind, but it is, at least, a sign that he had contributed more than
any other to bring comedy to the perfection in which he left it. We
shall, therefore, not inquire farther, whether regular comedy was the
work of a single mind, which seems yet to be unsettled, or of several
contemporaries, such as these which Horace quotes. We must distinguish
three forms which comedy wore, in consequence of the genius of the
writers, or of the laws of the magistrates, and the change of the
government of many into that of few.
5. THE OLD, MIDDLE, AND NEW COMEDY.
That comedy, which Horace calls the ancient, and which, according to
his account, was after Eschylus, retained something of its original
state, and of the licentiousness which it practised, while it was yet
without regularity, and uttered loose jokes and abuse upon the
passers-by from the cart of Thespis. Though it was now properly modelled,
as might have been worthy of a great theatre, and a numerous audience,
and deserved the name of a regular comedy, it was not yet much nearer to
It was a representation of real actions, and exhibited the dress, the
motions, and the air, as far as could be done in a mask, of any one who
was thought proper to be sacrificed to publick scorn. In a city so free,
or, to say better, so licentious as Athens was, at that time, nobody was
spared, not even the chief magistrate, nor the very judges, by whose
voice comedies were allowed or prohibited. The insolence of those
performances reached to open impiety, and sport was made equally with
men and gods. These are the features by which the greatest part of
the compositions of Aristophanes will be known. In which, it may be
particularly observed, that not the least appearance of praise will be
found, and, therefore, certainly no trace of flattery or servility.
This licentiousness of the poets, to which, in some sort, Socrates fell
a sacrifice, at last was restrained by a law. For the government, which
was before shared by all the inhabitants, was now confined to a settled
number of citizens. It was ordered that no man's name should be
mentioned on the stage; but poetical malignity was not long in finding
the secret of defeating the purpose of the law, and of making themselves
ample compensation for the restraint laid upon authors, by the necessity
of inventing false names. They set themselves to work upon known and
real characters, so that they had now the advantage of giving a more
exquisite gratification to the vanity of poets, and the malice of
spectators. One had the refined pleasure of setting others to guess, and
the other that of guessing right by naming the masks. When pictures are
so like, that the name is not wanted, nobody inscribes it. The
consequence of the law, therefore, was nothing more than to make that
done with delicacy, which was done grossly before; and the art, which
was expected would be confined within the limits of duty, was only
partly transgressed with more ingenuity. Of this, Aristophanes, who was
comprehended in this law, gives us good examples in some of his poems.
Such was that which was afterwards called the middle comedy.
The new comedy, or that which followed, was again an excellent
refinement, prescribed by the magistrates, who, as they had before
forbid the use of real names, forbade afterwards, real subjects, and the
train of choruses too much given to abuse; so that the poets saw
themselves reduced to the necessity of bringing imaginary names and
subjects upon the stage, which, at once, purified and enriched the
theatre; for comedy, from that time, was no longer a fury armed with
torches, but a pleasing and innocent mirror of human life.
Chacun peint avec art dans ce nouveau miroir
S'y vit avec plaisir, ou crut ne s'y pas voir!
L'avare des premiers rit du tableau fidele
D'un avare souvent trace sur son modele;
Et mille fois un fat finement exprime
Meconnut le portrait sur lui-meme forme.
The comedy of Menander and Terence is, in propriety of speech, the fine
comedy. I do not repeat all this after so many writers, but just to
recall it to memory, and to add to what they have said, something which
they have omitted, a singular effect of publick edicts appearing in the
successive progress of the art. A naked history of poets and of poetry,
such as has been often given, is a mere body without soul, unless it be
enlivened with an account of the birth, progress, and perfection of the
art, and of the causes by which they were produced.
6. THE LATIN COMEDY.
To omit nothing essential which concerns this part, we shall say a word
of the Latin comedy. When the arts passed from Greece to Rome, comedy
took its turn among the rest; but the Romans applied themselves only to
the new species, without chorus or personal abuse; though, perhaps, they
might have played some translations of the old or the middle comedy; for
Pliny gives an account of one which was represented in his own time. But
the Roman comedy, which was modelled upon the last species of the Greek,
hath, nevertheless, its different ages, according as its authors were
rough or polished. The pieces of Livius Andronicus, more ancient,
and less refined than those of the writers who learned the art from him,
may be said to compose the first age, or the old Roman comedy and
tragedy. To him you must join Nevius, his contemporary, and Ennius, who
lived some years after him. The second age comprises Pacuvius, Cecilius,
Accius, and Plautus, unless it shall be thought better to reckon Plautus
with Terence, to make the third and highest age of the Latin comedy,
which may properly be called the new comedy, especially with regard to
Terence, who was the friend of Lelius, and the faithful copier of
But the Romans, without troubling themselves with this order of
succession, distinguished their comedies by the dresses of the
players. The robe, called praetexta, with large borders of purple, being
the formal dress of magistrates in their dignity, and in the exercise of
their office, the actors, who had this dress, gave its name to the
comedy. This is the same with that called trabeata, from trabea, the
dress of the consuls in peace, and the generals in triumph. The second
species introduced the senators, not in great offices, but as private
men; this was called togata, from toga. The last species was named
tabernaria, from the tunick, or the common dress of the people, or
rather from the mean houses which were painted on the scene. There is no
need of mentioning the farces, which took their name and original from
Atella, an ancient town of Campania, in Italy, because they differed
from the low comedy only by greater licentiousness; nor of those which
were called palliates, from the Greek, a cloak, in which the Greek
characters were dressed upon the Roman stage, because that habit only
distinguished the nation, not the dignity or character, like those which
have been mentioned before. To say truth, these are but trifling
distinctions; for, as we shall show in the following pages, comedy may
be more usefully and judiciously distinguished by the general nature of
its subjects. As to the Romans, whether they had, or had not, reason for
these names, they have left us so little upon the subject, which is come
down to us, that we need not trouble ourselves with a distinction which
affords us no solid satisfaction. Plautus and Terence, the only authors
of whom we are in possession, give us a fuller notion of the real nature
of their comedy, with respect, at least, to their own times, than can be
received from names and terms, from which we have no real
7. THE GREEK COMEDY IS REDUCED ONLY TO ARISTOPHANES.
Not to go too far out of our way, let us return to Aristophanes, the
only poet, in whom we can now find the Greek comedy. He is the single
writer whom the violence of time has, in some degree, spared, after
having buried in darkness, and almost in forgetfulness, so many great
men, of whom we have nothing but the names and a few fragments, and such
slight memorials, as are scarcely sufficient to defend them against the
enemies of the honour of antiquity; yet these memorials are like the
last glimmer of the setting sun, which scarce affords us a weak and
fading light; yet from this glimmer we must endeavour to collect rays of
sufficient strength to form a picture of the Greek comedy, approaching
as near as possible to the truth.
Of the personal character of Aristophanes little is known; what account
we can give of it must, therefore, be had from his comedies. It can
scarcely be said, with certainty, of what country he was: the invectives
of his enemies so often called in question his qualification as a
citizen, that they have made it doubtful. Some said, he was of Rhodes,
others of Egina, a little island in the neighbourhood, and all agreed
that he was a stranger. As to himself, he said, that he was the son of
Philip, and born in the Cydathenian quarter; but he confessed, that some
of his fortune was in Egina, which was, probably, the original seat of
his family. He was, however, formally declared a citizen of Athens, upon
evidence, whether good or bad, upon a decisive judgment, and this for
having made his judges merry by an application of a saying of
Telemachus, of which this is the sense: "I am, as my mother tells
me, the son of Philip: for my own part, I know little of the matter; for
what child knows his own father?" This piece of merriment did him as
much good, as Archias received from the oration of Cicero, who said
that that poet was a Roman citizen. An honour which, if he had not
inherited by birth, he deserved for his genius.
Aristophanes flourished in the age of the great men of Greece,
particularly of Socrates and Euripides, both of whom he outlived. He
made a great figure during the whole Peloponnesian war, not merely as a
comick poet, by whom the people were diverted, but as the censor of the
government, as a man kept in pay by the state to reform it, and almost
to act the part of the arbitrator of the publick. A particular
account of his comedies will best let us into his personal character as
a poet, and into the nature of his genius, which is what we are most
interested to know. It will, however, not be amiss to prepossess our
readers a little by the judgments that have been passed upon him by the
criticks of our own time, without forgetting one of the ancients that
deserves great respect.
8. ARISTOPHANES CENSURED AND PRAISED.
"Aristophanes," says father Rapin, "is not exact in the contrivance of
his fables; his fictions are not probable; he brings real characters
upon the stage too coarsely, and too openly. Socrates, whom he ridicules
so much in his plays, had a more delicate turn of burlesque than
himself, and had his merriment without his impudence. It is true, that
Aristophanes wrote amidst the confusion and licentiousness of the old
comedy, and he was well acquainted with the humour of the Athenians, to
whom uncommon merit always gave disgust, and, therefore, he made the
eminent men of his time the subject of his merriment. But the too great
desire which he had to delight the people, by exposing worthy characters
upon the stage, made him, at the same time, an unworthy man; and the
turn of his genius, to ridicule was disfigured and corrupted by the
indelicacy and outrageousness of his manners. After all, his pleasantry
consists chiefly in new-coined puffy language. The dish of twenty-six
syllables, which he gives, in his last scene of his Female Orators,
would please few tastes in our days. His language is sometimes obscure,
perplexed and vulgar; and his frequent play with words, his oppositions
of contradictory terms, his mixture of tragick and comick, of serious
and burlesque, are all flat; and his jocularity, if you examine it to
the bottom, is all false. Menander is diverting in a more elegant
manner; his style is pure, clear, elevated, and natural; he persuades
like an orator, and instructs like a philosopher; and, if we may venture
to judge upon the fragments which remain, it appears that his pictures
of civil life are pleasing, that he makes every one speak according to
his character, that every man may apply his pictures of life to himself,
because he always follows nature, and feels for the personages which he
brings upon the stage. To conclude, Plutarch, in his comparison of these
authors, says, that the muse of Aristophanes is an abandoned prostitute,
and that of Menander a modest woman."
It is evident that this whole character is taken from Plutarch. Let us
now go on with this remark of father Rapin, since we have already spoken
of the Latin comedy, of which he gives us a description.
"With respect, to the two Latin comick poets, Plautus is ingenious in
his designs, happy in his conceptions, and fruitful of invention. He
has, however, according to Horace, some low jocularities; and those
smart sayings, which made the vulgar laugh, made him be pitied by men of
higher taste. It is true, that some of his jests are extremely good, but
others, likewise, are very bad. To this every man is exposed, who is too
much determined to make sallies of merriment; they endeavour to raise
that laughter by hyperboles, which would not arise by a just
representation of things. Plautus is not quite so regular as Terence in
the scheme of his designs, or in the distribution of his acts, but he is
more simple in his plot; for the fables of Terence are commonly complex,
as may be seen in his Andria, which contains two amours. It was imputed,
as a fault to Terence, that, to bring more action upon the stage, he
made one Latin comedy out of two Greek: but then Terence unravels his
plot more naturally than Plautus, which Plautus did more naturally than
Aristophanes; and though Caesar calls Terence but one half of Menander,
because, though he had softness and delicacy, there was in him some want
of sprightliness and strength; yet he has written in a manner so natural
and so judicious, that, though he was then only a copy, he is now an
original. No author has ever had a more exact sense of pure nature. Of
Cecilius, since we have only a few fragments, I shall say nothing. All
that we know of him is told us by Varrus, that he was happy in the
choice of subjects."
Rapin omits many others for the same reason, that we have not enough of
their works to qualify us for judges. While we are upon this subject, it
will, perhaps, not displease the reader to see what that critick's
opinion is of Lopes de Vega and Moliere. It will appear, that with
respect to Lopes de Vega, he is rather too profuse of praise: that, in
speaking of Moliere, he is too parsimonious.
This piece will, however, be of use to our design, when we shall examine
to the bottom what it is that ought to make the character of comedy.
"No man has ever had a greater genius for comedy than Lopes de Vega, the
Spaniard. He had a fertility of wit, joined with great beauty of
conception, and a wonderful readiness of composition; for he has written
more than three hundred comedies. His name, alone, gave reputation to
his pieces; for his reputation was so well established, that a work,
which came from his hands, was sure to claim the approbation of the
publick. He had a mind too extensive to be subjected to rules, or
restrained by limits. For that reason he gave himself up to his own
genius, on which he could always depend with confidence. When he wrote,
he consulted no other laws than the taste of his auditors, and regulated
his manner more by the success of his work than by the rules of reason.
Thus he discarded all scruples of unity, and all the superstitions of
probability." (This is certainly not said with a design to praise him,
and must be connected with that which immediately follows.) "But as, for
the most part, he endeavours at too much jocularity, and carries
ridicule to too much refinement; his conceptions are often rather happy
than just, and rather wild than natural; for, by subtilizing merriment
too far, it becomes too nice to be true, and his beauties lose their
power of striking by being too delicate and acute.
"Among us, nobody has carried ridicule in comedy farther than Moliere.
Our ancient comick writers brought no characters higher than servants to
make sport upon the theatre; but we are diverted upon the theatre of
Moliere by marquises and people of quality. Others have exhibited, in
comedy, no species of life above that of a citizen; but Moliere shows us
all Paris, and the court. He is the only man amongst us, who has laid
open those features of nature by which he is exactly marked, and may be
accurately known. The beauties of his pictures are so natural, that they
are felt by persons of the least discernment, and his power of
pleasantry received half its force from his power of copying. His
Misanthrope is, in my opinion, the most complete, and, likewise, the
most singular character that has ever appeared upon the stage: but the
disposition of his comedies is always defective some way or another.
This is all which we can observe, in general, upon comedy."
Such are the thoughts of one of the most refined judges of works of
genius, from which, though they are not all oraculous, some advantages
may be drawn, as they always make some approaches to truth.
Madame Dacier, having her mind full of the merit of Aristophanes,
expresses herself in this manner: "No man had ever more discernment than
him, in finding out the ridiculous, nor a more ingenious manner of
showing it to others. His remarks are natural and easy, and, what very
rarely can be found, with great copiousness, he has great delicacy. To
say all at once, the Attick wit, of which the ancients made such boast,
appears more in Aristophanes than in any other that I know of in
antiquity. But what is most of all to be admired in him is, that he is
always so much master of the subject before him, that, without doing any
violence to himself, he finds a way to introduce, naturally, things
which, at first, appeared most distant from his purpose; and even the
most quick and unexpected of his desultory sallies appear the necessary
consequence of the foregoing incidents. This is that art which sets the
dialogues of Plato above imitation, which we must consider as so many
dramatick pieces, which are equally entertaining by the action, and by
the dialogue. The style of Aristophanes is no less pleasing than his
fancy; for, besides its clearness, its vigour and its sweetness, there
is in it a certain harmony, so delightful to the ear, that there is no
pleasure equal to that of reading it. When he applies himself to vulgar
mediocrity of style, he descends without meanness; when he attempts the
sublime, he is elevated without obscurity; and no man has ever had the
art of blending all the different kinds of writing so equally together.
After having studied all that is left us of Grecian learning, if we have
not read Aristophanes, we cannot yet know all the charms and beauties of
9. PLUTARCH'S SENTIMENTS UPON ARISTOPHANES AND MENANDER.
This is a pompous eulogium; but let us suspend our opinion, and hear
that of Plutarch, who, being an ancient, well deserves our attention, at
least, after we have heard the moderns before him. This is then the sum
of his judgment concerning Aristophanes and Menander. To Menander he
gives the preference, without allowing much competition. He objects to
Aristophanes, that he carries all his thoughts beyond nature; that he
writes rather to the crowd than to men of character; that he affects a
style obscure and licentious; tragical, pompous, and mean, sometimes
serious, and sometimes ludicrous, even to puerility; that he makes none
of his personages speak according to any distinct character, so that in
his scenes the son cannot be known from the father, the citizen from the
boor, the hero from the shopkeeper, or the divine from the serving-man.
Whereas, the diction of Menander, which is always uniform and pure, is
very justly adapted to different characters, rising, when it is
necessary, to vigorous and sprightly comedy, yet without transgressing
the proper limits, or losing sight of nature, in which Menander, says
Plutarch, has attained a perfection to which no other writer has
arrived. For, what man, besides himself, has ever found the art of
making a diction equally suitable to women and children, to old and
young, to divinities and heroes? Now Menander has found this happy
secret, in the equality and flexibility of his diction, which, though
always the same, is, nevertheless, different upon different occasions;
like a current of clear water, (to keep closely to the thoughts of
Plutarch,) which running through banks differently turned, complies with
all their turns backward and forward, without changing any thing of its
nature or its purity. Plutarch mentions it, as a part of the merit of
Menander, that he began very young, and was stopped only by old age, at
a time when he would have produced the greatest wonders, if death had
not prevented him. This, joined to a reflection, which he makes as he
returns to Aristophanes, shows that Aristophanes continued a long time
to display his powers: for his poetry, says Plutarch, is a strumpet that
affects sometimes the airs of a prude, but whose impudence cannot be
forgiven by the people, and whose affected modesty is despised by men of
decency. Menander, on the contrary, always shows himself a man agreeable
and witty, a companion desirable upon the stage, at table, and in gay
assemblies; an extract of all the treasures of Greece, who deserves
always to be read, and always to please. His irresistible power of
persuasion, and the reputation which he has had, of being the best
master of language of Greece, sufficiently shows the delightfulness of
his style. Upon this article of Menander, Plutarch does not know how to
make an end; he says, that he is the delight of philosophers, fatigued
with study; that they use his works as a meadow enamelled with flowers,
where a purer air gratifies the sense; that, notwithstanding the powers
of the other comick poets of Athens, Menander has always been considered
as possessing a salt peculiar to himself, drawn from the same waters
that gave birth to Venus. That, on the contrary, the salt of
Aristophanes is bitter, keen, coarse, and corrosive; that one cannot
tell whether his dexterity, which has been so much boasted, consists not
more in the characters than in the expression, for he is charged with
playing often upon words, with affecting antithetical allusions; that he
has spoiled the copies which he endeavoured to take after nature; that
artifice in his plays is wickedness, and simplicity brutishness; that
his jocularity ought to raise hisses rather than laughter; that his
amours have more impudence than gaiety; and that he has not so much
written for men of understanding, as for minds blackened with envy, and
corrupted with debauchery.
10. THE JUSTIFICATION OF ARISTOPHANES.
After such a character there seems no need of going further; and one
would think, that it would be better to bury, for ever, the memory of so
hateful a writer, that makes us so poor a recompense for the loss of
Menander, who cannot be recalled. But, without showing any mercy to the
indecent or malicious sallies of Aristophanes, any more than to Plautus,
his imitator, or, at least, the inheritor of his genius, may it not be
allowed us to do, with respect to him, what, if I mistake not,
Lucretius did to Ennius, from whose muddy verses he gathered jewels,
"Enni de stercore gemmas?"
Besides, we must not believe that Plutarch, who lived more than four
ages after Menander, and more than five after Aristophanes, has passed
so exact a judgment upon both, but that it may be fit to reexamine it.
Plato, the contemporary of Aristophanes, thought very differently, at
least, of his genius; for, in his piece called the Entertainment, he
gives that poet a distinguished place, and makes him speak, according to
his character, with Socrates himself, from which, by the way, it is
apparent that this dialogue of Plato was composed before the time that
Aristophanes wrote his Clouds, against Socrates. Plato is, likewise,
said to have sent a copy of Aristophanes to Dionysius the tyrant, with
advice to read it diligently, if he would attain a complete judgment of
the state of the Athenian republick.
Many other scholars have thought that they might depart somewhat from
the opinion of Plutarch. Frischlinus, for example, one of the
commentators upon Aristophanes, though he justly allows his taste to be
less pure than that of Menander, has yet undertaken his defence against
the outrageous censure of the ancient critick. In the first place, he
condemns, without mercy, his ribaldry and obscenity. But this part, so
worthy of contempt, and written only for the lower people, according to
the remark of Boivin, bad as it is, after all, is not the chief part
which is left of Aristophanes. I will not say, with Frischlinus, that
Plutarch seems in this to contradict himself, and, in reality, commends
the poet when he accuses him of having adapted his language to the
stage; by the stage, in this place, he meant the theatre of farces, on
which low mirth and buffoonery was exhibited. This plea of Frischlinus
is a mere cavil; and though the poet had obtained his end, which was to
divert a corrupted populace, he would not have been less a bad man, nor
less a despicable poet, notwithstanding the excuse of his defender. To
be able, in the highest degree, to divert fools and libertines, will not
make a poet: it is not, therefore, by this defence that we must justify
the character of Aristophanes. The depraved taste of the crowd, who once
drove away Cratinus and his company, because the scenes had not low
buffoonery enough for their taste, will not justify Aristophanes, since
Menander found a way of changing the taste by giving a sort of comedy,
not, indeed, so modest as Plutarch represents it, but less licentious
than before. Nor is Aristophanes better justified, by the reason which
he himself offers, when he says, that he exhibited debauchery upon the
stage, not to corrupt the morals, but to mend them. The sight of gross
faults is rather a poison than a remedy.
The apologist has forgot one reason, which appears to me to be essential
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