« AnteriorContinuar »
to present the solemn disquisition or scholastic tome, but to insinuate, under the garb of entertainment, a relish for and a love of letters, and to meliorate or remove by ridicule those minuter vices and follies on which neither law nor religion has fixed. It was in this stage of society, when refinement and general knowledge had made a very partial progress, that our earliest periodical papers were written; when the chief difficulty was to induce the gay, the thoughtless, and the busy, to read even a short essay. He who would have trembled at the idea of commencing a volume, mustered courage, however, to peruse a single sheet, which terminating the subject discussed, and occupying no greater portion of time than could conveniently be spared during the intervals of business or dissipation, offered attractions which no publication in the general walk of literature had hitherto displayed. To allure those who were not otherwise to be acquired, politics were at first mingled with the miscellaneous matter, until the attention being by various means once gained, and the heart and imagination awakened, all the benevolent purposes which these admirable compositions were intended to effect were at length happily obtained.
"To introduce, therefore, and support a taste for elegant literature; to paint virtue in her most alluring form; to inculcate attention to the decencies, proprieties, and minuter graces of domestic life, and to dissipate by well-turned ridicule and humour those fashionable follies and lighter shades of vice, which, though apparently trivial, undermine the foundations of our happiness, form the legitimate objects of a periodical paper. That these, however, may produce their full effect, no common-rate ability is demanded on the part of the author. To beauty, accuracy, and vivacity of composition, must be added strength of imagination and versatility of style. The tale, the allegory, the vision, should relieve or clothe the dryness of didactic precept; and the pages animated by the glow of sentiment, or the brilliancy of description, should be succeeded by the smile of satire, and the pleasantries of comic painting.
"Mere fancy and erudition, however exalted or however profound, will be found unequal to the production of a work such as we have now described. The labour of the closet, where taste is not wanting, may indeed accumulate and display with critical acumen the beauties of a d
Homer or a Virgil, or may raise an original fabric, the offspring of luxuriant imagination; but in vain shall we seek for that intimacy with the human heart, that just discrimination of character, so vitally essential to the popularity and utility of a periodical paper. For these the author must have mixed in the motley world around him, and marked with a penetrating eye the different classes and individuals of mankind, in order to select with judgment, for censure or for praise, their more prominent features, and with a view toward furnishing that dramatic form which alone can give birth to the exquisite conceptions of humour.
"A series of papers thus constituted, and forming a whole, replete with wit, fancy, and instruction, has been proved by long experience not only the most useful but the most interesting and popular of publications. Each sex, every rank, and every stage of society, have been alike amused and benefitted by these productions. Courtesy, etiquette, and dress, as well as morals, criticism, and philosophy, have learnt to obey their dictates; and many important truths, many sage lessons for life, have, by approaching under the disguise of a trivial and
fashionable topic, found their way to, and made their due impression upon, those whom no other channel could reach.
"Even in the present age, when literature is to a certain degree diffused through almost every department, and when refinement nearly borders upon excess, essays constructed in the original mould still charm. Though the rudeness, the grossness, and improprieties, which called forth the wit or the invective of our early essayists, no longer exist, there is still a most abundant crop of petty vice and folly, of vanity and affectation, which, though assuming a more polished surface, as loudly demands excision. Our manners too, though somewhat softened down and amalgamated by the progress of civilization, still bear strongly the marks of individual modification, and still furnish to the attentive and experienced observer numerous original and high-wrought characters; whilst, at the same time, the taste for cadence of period and harmony of style, for the luxuries of fiction and the elegancies of critical discussion, now so widely disseminated, presents an ample field for variety and grace. In proof of these remarks it be observed, that from the first appearance of the Tatler to the present day, no period
has been absolutely devoid of periodical essays; and it can with equal justice be affirmed, that they form a most splendid and highly valuable branch of our national literature. The greatest, masters of our language, the classical writers of their age, have exerted the noblest efforts of their genius, and afforded us the finest specimens of their composition, whilst employed in the execution of those beautiful designs, which, if considered for a moment in the light of highly finished pictures, how vividly do they express the style and manner of their respective artists! In Addison we discern the amenity and ideal grace of Raphael; in Johnson the strength and energy of Michael Angelo; in Hawkesworth the rich colouring and warmth of Titian; the legerity and frolic elegance of Albani in the productions of Moore, Thornton, and Colman; the pathetic sweetness of Guido in the draughts of Mackenzie; and the fertility and harmonious colouring of Annibale Caracci in the vivid sketches of Cumberland.
"From such an assemblage of diversified excellence, he must be fastidious indeed who receives not the most pleasurable emotions; and incapable of instruction, if he leaves it not a better nor a wiser man. The grave, the gay,