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ing the characters of eminent men, and of entering into a thorough acquaintance with them. In this kind of writing, Plutarch excels; but bis matter is better than his manner; he has no peculiar beauty nor elegance. His judgment and accuracy also are sometimes taxed. But he is a very humane writer, and fond of displaying great men in the gentle lights of retirement.
Before we conclude this subject, it is proper to observe, that of late years, a great improvement has been introduced into historical composition. More particular attention than formerly, has been given to laws, customs, commerce, religion, literature, and to every thing that shows the spirit and genius of nations. It is now conceived, that a historian ought to illustrate manners, as well as facts and events. Whatever displays the state of mankind in different periods; whatever illustrates the progress of the human mind, is more useful than details of seiges and battles.
PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING AND DIALOGUE.
OF philosophy the professed design is instruction. With the philosopher, therefore, style, form, and dress are inferior objects. But they must not be wholly neglected. The same truths and reasonings, delivered with elegance, will strike more than in a dull and dry manner.
Beyond mere perspicuity, the strictest, precision and accuracy are required in a philosophical writer; and these qualities may be possessed without dryness. Philosophical writing admits
a polished, neat, and elegant style. It admits the calm figures of speech; but rejects, whatever is florid and tumid. Plato and Cicero have left pbilosophicaltreatises,composed with much elegance and beauty. Seneca is too fond of an affected, brilliant, sparkling manner. Lock's Treatise on Human Understanding, is a model of a clear and distinct philosophical style. In the writings of Shaftsbury, on the other hand, philosophy is dressed up with too much ornament and finery.
Among the ancients, philosophical writing often assumed the form of dialogue. Plato is em inent for the beauty of his dialogues. In richness of imagination, no philosophic writer, ancient or modern, is equal to him. His only fault is the excessive fertility of his imagination, which sometimes obscures his judgment, and frequently carries him into allegory, fiction, enthusiasm, and the airy regions of mystical theology. Cicero's dialogues are not so spirited and characteristical as those of Plato. They are however, agreeable, and well supported; and show us conversation, carried on among some principal persons of ancient Rome, with freedom, good breeding, and dignity. Of the light and humorous dialogue, Lucian is a model; and he has been imitated by several modern writers. Fontenelle has written dialogues, which are sprightly and agreeable ; but his characters, whoever his personages be, all become Frenchmen. The divine dialogues of Dr. Henry More, amid the academic stiffness of the age, are often remarkable for character and vivacity. Bishop Berkley’s dialogues are abstract, yet perspicuous.
In epistolary writing we expect ease and familiarity; and much of its charm depends on its introducing us into some acquaintance with the writer. Its fundamental requisites, are nature and simplicity, sprightliness and wit. The style of letters, like that of conversation, should flow easily. It ought to be neat and correct, but no
Cicero's epistles are the inost valuable collection of letters, extant, in any language. They are composed with purity and elegance, but without the least affectation. Several letters of Lord Bolingbroke and of bishop Atterbury are masterly. In those of Pope there is generally too much study; and his letters to ladies, in par. ticular, are full of affectation. Those of Swift and Arbutboot, are written with ease and simplicity. Of a familiar correspondence, the most accomplished model, are the letters of Madame de Sevigne. They are easy, varied, lively and beautiful. The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, are perbaps more agreeable to the epistolary style, than any in the English language.
FICTITIOUS HISTORY. This species of composition includes a very pumerous, and in general a very insignificant class of writings, called romances and novels.
Of these, however, the influence is known to be great, both on the morals and taste of a nation. Notwithstanding the bad ends to which this mode of writing is applied, it might be employed for
purposes. Romances and novels describe human life and manners, and discover the errors into which we are betrayed by the passionsa Wise men in all ages have used fables and fictions as vehicles of knowledge; and it is an observation of Lord Bacon, that the common affairs of the world are insufficient to fill the mind of
He must create worlds of his own, and wander in the regions of imagination.
All nations whatsoever have discovered a love of fiction, ant talents for invention. The Indians, Persians, and Arabians, abounded in fables and parables. Among the Greeks, we hear of the Ionian and Milesian tales. During the dark ages, fiction assumed an unusual form, from the prevalence of chivalry. Romances arose, and car. ried the marvellous to its summit. Their knights were patterns not only of the most heroic courage, but of religion, generosity, courtesy and fidelity; and the heroines were no less distinguished for modesty, delicacy, and dignity of manners. Of these romances, the most perfect model is the Orlando Furioso. But, as magic and enchantment came to be disbelieved and ridiculed, the chivalerian romances were discontinued, and were succeeded by a new species of fictitious writing.
Of the second stage of romance writing, the Cleopatra of Madame Scuderi and the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sydney, are good examples. In these however, there was still too large a portion of the inarvellous; and the books were loo voluiminous and tedious. Romance writing appeared therefore, in a new form, and dwindled down to the familiar novel. Interesting situations in real life are the groundwork of novel writing. Upon
this plan, the French have produced some works of considerable merit. Such are the Gil Blas of Le Sage, and the Marrianne of Marivaux.
In this mode of writing the English are inferior to the French; yet in this kind there are some performances which discover the strength of the British gepius. No fiction was ever better supported, than the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Fielding's novels are highly distinguished for humour and boldness of character. Ricbardson, the author of Clarissa, is the most moral of all our novel writers; but he possesses the unfortunate talent of spinning out pieces of amusement into an immeasurable length.
The trivial performances which daily appear under the title of lives, adventures, and histories, by anonymous authors, are most insipid, and, it must be confessed often tend to deprave the morals, and to encourage dissipation and idleness.
NATURE OF POETRY. ITS ORIGIN AND PROG
RESS. VERSIFICATION. What, it may be asked, is poetry? and how does it differ from prose? Many disputes have been maintained
ques. tions. The essence of poetry is supposed by Aristotle, Plato, and others, to consist in fiction. But this is too limited a description. Many think the characteristic of poetry lies in imitation. , But imitation of manners and characters, may
be ried on in prose, as well as in poetry.
Perhaps the best definition is this, “poetry is the language of passion, or of enlivened imagina