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travelled much in search of learning, and conversed with priests, poets, and philosophers. They returned home full of discoveries, and fired by uncommon objects. Their enthusiasm was great
and few being stimulated to excel as authors, their fame was more intense and flattering. In modern times good writing is less prized. We write with less effort. Printing has so multiplied books, that assistance is easily procured. Hence mediocrity of genius prevails. To rise beyond this, and to soar above the crowd, is given to few.
In epic poetry, Homer and Virgil are still unrivalled; and orators, equal to Demosthenes and Cicero, we have none. In history, we have no modern narration so elegant, so picturesque, so animated, and interesting, as those of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus, and Sallust. Our dramas, with all their improvements, are inferior în poetry and sentiment to those of Sophocles and Euripides. We have no comic dialogue that equals the correct, graceful, and elegant simplicity of Terence. The elegies of Tibullus, the pastorals of Theocritus, and the lyrfc poetry of Horace, are still unrivalled. By those, therefore, who wish to form their taste, and nourish their genius, the utmost attention must be paid to the ancient classics, both Greek and Roman.
After these reflections on the ancients and moderns, we proceed to a critical examination of the most distinguished kinds of composition, and of the characters of those writers, whether ancient or modern, who have excelled in them. Of orations and public discourses, much has already been said. The remaining prose compositions
may be divided into historical writing, philo-, sophical writing, epistolary writing, and fictitious history.
HISTORICAL WRITING. ,
HISTORY is a record of truth for the instruction of mankind. Hence, the great requisites in a historian, are impartiality, fidelity, and accuracy.
In the conduct of historical detail, the first ob. ject of a historian should be, to give his work all possible upity. History should not consist of unconnected parts. Its portions should be uoited by some connecting principle, which will produce in the mind an impression of something that is one, whole and entire. Polybius, though not an elegant writer, is remarkable for this quality.
A historian should trace actions and events to their sources. He should, therefore, be well acquainted with human nature and politics. His skill in the former, will enable him to describe the characters of individuals; and his knowledge of the latter, to account for the revolutions of government, and the operation of political causes on public affairs. With regard to political knowledge, the ancients wanted some advantages, which are enjoyed by the moderns. In ancient times there was less communication among neighbouring states; no intercourse by established posts, nor by ambassadors at distant courts. Larger experience too, of the different modes of government has improved the modern historian, beyond the historian of antiquity.
It is however in the form of narrative, and not by dissertation, that the historian is to impart his political knowledge. Formal discussions expose him to suspicion of being willing to accommodate his facts to his theory. They have also an air of pedantry, and evidently result from want of art. For reflections, whether moral, political, or philosophical, may be insinuated in the body of a narrative.
Clearness, order, and connexion, are primary virtues in historical narration. These are attaioed when the historian is complete master of his subject; can see the whole at one view; and comprehend the dependance of all its parts. History being a dignified species of composition, it should also be conspicuous for gravity. There should be nothing mean nor vulgar in the style; no quaintness, no smartness, no affectation, no wit. A history should likewise be interesting; and this is the quality which chiefly distinguishes a writer of genius and eloquence.
To be interesting, a historian must preserve a medium between rapid recital, and prolix detail. He should kpow when to be concise, and when to enlarge. He should make a proper selection of circumstances. These give life, body, and colouring to his narration. They constitute what is termed historical painting.
In all these virtues of narration, particularly in picturesque description, the ancients eminently excel. Hence, the pleasure of reading Thacydides, Livy, Sallust and Tacitus. In bistorical painting there are great varieties. Livy and Tacitus paint in very different ways. The deso criptions of Livy are full, plain, and natural : those of Tacitus are short and bold.
One embellishment, which the moderns have laid aside, was employed by the ancients. They put orations into the mouths of celebrated personages. By these they diversified their history, and conveyed both moral and political instruction. Thucydides was the first, who adopted this method; and the orations, with which bis bistory abounds, are valuable remains of antiquity. It is doubtful, however, whether this embellishment should be allowed to the historian ; for they form a mixture, unnatural to history, of truth and fiction. The moderns are more chaste, when on great occasions, the historian delivers in his own person, the sentiments and reasonings of opposite parties.
Another splendid embellishment of history is the deliepation of characters. These are considered, as exhibitions of fine writing; and hence the difficulty of excelling in this province. For characters may
be too shining and laboured. The accomplished historian avoids here to dazzle too much. He is solicitous to give the resemblance in a style equally removed from meanness and affectation. He studies the grapdeur of simplicity.
Sourd morality should always reign in history. A historian should ever show himself on the side of virtue. It is not, however, his province, to deliver moral instructions in a formal manner. He should excite indignation against the designing and the vicious; and by appeals to the passions, he will not only improve his reader, but take away from the patural coolness of historical narration.
In modern times, historical genius has shone most in Italy. Acuteness, political sagacity, and wisdom, are all conspicuous in Machiavel, Guieciardin, Davila, Bentivoglio, and Father Paul. In Great Britain, history has been fashionable only a few years. For, though Clarendon and Burnet are considerable historians, they are inferior to Hume, Robertson and Gibbon.
The inferior kinds of historical composition, are annals, memoirs, and lives. Annals, are a collection of facts in chronological order; and the properties of an annalist are fidelity and distinctness. Memoirs are a species of composition, in which an author pretends not to give a complete detail of facts, but only to record what he himself knew, or was concerned in, or what illustrates the conduct of some person, or some transaction, which he chooses for his subject. It is not, therefore, expected of such a writer, that he possess the same profound research, and those superior talents, which are requisite in a historian. It is chiefly required of him, that he be sprightly and interesting. The French, during two centuries, have poured forth a flood of memoirs; the most of which are little more than agreeable trifles, We must, however, except from this censure, the memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz, and those of the Duke of Sully. The former join to a lively narrative, great knowledge of human nature. The latter deserve very particular praise. They approach to the usefulness and dignity of legitimate history. They are full of virtue and good sense; and are well calculated to form both the heads and hearts of those who are designed for public business, and high stations in the world.
Biography is a very useful kind of composition; less stately ihan history; but perhaps not less instructive. It affords full opportunity of display