« AnteriorContinuar »
révolutions of public manners, and habits of thịnking, or rather habits of acting without thought. ANGER alone may be sub-divided so as to afford an infinite variety of expression, from foible to crime, many examples of which are happily illustrated in these volumes by characteristic sketches and portraits, which, perhaps, appear not less natural for being sometimes imaginary.
Philosophers and divines had treated the passions with the method and gravity becoming their respective professions; but they could not bring their precepts so closely home, as the EssayIST, who follows his pupil into domestic privacy, catches him in the moment of error, shews him its consequences, and administers a cure adapted to the immediate necessity. Philosophers and even poets could lay down the law respecting the extremity of wrath, and the savage horrors of revenge; and point out the danger of unrestrained fury to individuals, and to society; but they could not be expected to pourtray the many little objects which excite it, weigh their importance in the scales of ridicule or common sense, and exhibit the varieties it assumes in the different classes of rich and poor, learned and illiterate; nor could they with becoming gravity exemplify the whimsical effects of
petulance and irritability, provoked by trifles, exasperated by sullenness or contradiction, and appeased by flattery and servility.
To treat of Love is the peculiar province of the EssayIST*. That passion, although acknowledged to be the same in its effects in all ages and conditions, has nevertheless been more regulated by custom in its modes of address than
* What COWLEY says of Poets, may be applied to Essayists; they are scarce thought freemen of their company without paying some duties, or obliging themselves to be true to love,'
any other that can be mentioned. Of this we need no more convincing proof, than what is afforded by one of its revolutions, when the age of chivalry and pure affection was succeeded by that of settlements and pin-money, when those pretensions which were founded on valorous acts, long perseverance, and a time of rigid trial and probation, gave way to the intrigues and plots, stratagems and elopements, by which the lady was to be tricked out of her money, and the father compelled to surrender his consent. Instead of being regulated by certain and almost invariable formalities, courtships came to be practised, in a thousand various ways; and the transfer of affections being subjected to cool calculation and expedience, soon partook of the fate of other bargains, and was sometimes a lucky hit, and sometimes an unfortunate speculation. Our EssarISTS would naturally avail themselves of incidents like this, which every day produced, which were generally made public, and which afforded so happy a mixture of the serious and jocose, exhibited such a variety of characteristic foibles, so many traits of affectation, and such modifications of avarice, simplicity, skill and weakness, as do not appear in any other business of human life. Accordingly it will be found that a very great proportion of the papers before us are devoted to the service of the fair sex; and it is not too much to assert, that they have diffused a knowledge and experience respecting the dangers and embarrassments of love, and a sense of propriety and decorum, the benefits of which are incalculable, and have left the objects of their instructions with no other plea for frailty, than that which wisdom itself cannot always resist, the violence of passion, or the vigour of temptation.
JEALOUSY enters so deeply into every species of gallantry as to afford another very
fertile source of humorous character and observation, as well as of more grave and important discussion. When it has occupied a weak mind, or is unchecked by reflection, no passion leads to more serious evils, or has produced more varied scenes of domestic misery, The writers of tragedy and comedy have accordingly amply availed themselves of it, and there are few plots contrived by the latter without a mixture of this passion producing humorous perplexities and involutions of incident, which never fail to please on the stage.
MARRIAGE has been considered by our Essayists in every possible light. The various circumstances* which constitute its happiness or misery are illustrated by examples sketched with singular humour and acknowledged fidelity; and the operations of temper are displayed in a variety of relations, which all who are acquainted with mankind will acknowledge to be common and without exaggeration. The dignity of the state is at the same time vindicated from the sneers of libertines by fair argument and pathetic representation, as well as by powerful ridicule; and the miseries of illicit connexions are displayed with a force of conviction to which none can be insensible, but whose corrupted habits have placed them beyond all warning, and all instruction. So attentive have our authors been to the various circumstances which affect the
Johnson, in speaking of the objects of Pope's “Rape of the Lock,” and Boileau's “Lutrin," has a sentiment which I hope I shall be excused for transcribing. “The freaks, and humours, and spleen, and vanity of women, as they embroil families in discord, and fill houses with disquiet, do more to obstruct the the happiness of life in a year, than the ambition of the clergy in many centuries. It has been well observed, that the misery of man proceeds not from any single crush of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated."
happiness of the married state, and so copious are their examples and authorities, that perhaps few cases can be mentioned in more recent times, and under the prevalence of altered modes of thinking and acting, for which a precedent may not be found in these volumes.
The influence of FRIENDSHIP upon the state of society presents us with another series of characters and remarks, of great importance to those who are entering into life, and who are more liable to mistakes in forming early connexions, than to any other of the evils of inexperience. Its nature and properties are accordingly frequently discussed, and the various kinds of pretended attachments, and disguised selfishness, traced to their source, and exposed to contempt or ridicule. Such instructions supply a very necessary branch of that knowledge of the world which is generally purchased at a much higher expense, and which men of loose principles tell us can never be acquired without an association with the idle and the profligate, and a proportionate sacrifice of time and character. This subject, however, has certainly been better understood since the appearance of these works. The world is taught to distinguish between the attachments of real friendship and the many disguises which pass by the name. We now find fewer instances of romantic friend. ship, of unreasonable expectations from beings fallible and various in temper, or of those ill-founded hopes which, meeting with disappointment, introduce a species of misanthropy, and a dislike of life, merely because life cannot give more than it was intended to give. It must be confessed indeed that modern novels, a species of composition unknown to our Essayists, have produced affectations of feeling and sensibility that still require the chas
tisement of an humorous pen: but they are seldom of long duration, and, like other kinds of vanity, disappear when they fail in attracting notice. All affectation is made for show; and is something in the drawing-room or the park, but nothing in the closet.
Before the appearance of the ESSAYISTS, few moral writers had penetrated into DOMESTIC CIRCLES, but contented themselves with general dissuasives from the encouragement of the malevolent passions. Pride, envy, and revenge, were justly exposed, as pernicious to man and offensive to the Deity. But these instructors, as we have already observed in other cases, frequently failed to produce amendment, by being too general, and their works were not probably in many hands. The distribution of popular instruction, at stated times and at easy rates, is that which distinguishes the ESSAYISTS from all other writers, which has enabled them to go along with the age, and afforded them opportunities to simplify their subjects to the meanest comprehension. The early ESSAYISTS also selected specific cases, and applied them 'to the business and bosoms' of their readers; and shewed, by apt examples, in how many cases, envy, pride, and revenge, appear in the disguise of emulation, dignity, and justice. No general declamation could familiarize these truths to common minds. It was necessary to follow the reader to his closet, his counting-house, his family, and even to the pew and the altar. In this extensive range, topics of ridicule could never be wanting to men of such pregnant wit and turn for observation as the authors of the TATLER and SPECTATOR; and it will be found that the crimes or whims of pride, envy, and revenge, occupy no inconsiderable part of their lucubrations, and af ford some of the most striking pictures of real life, and displays of genuine humour.