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May he who claims thy tender heart
Deserve its love, as I have done!
If so belov'd, thou'rt fairly won.
VICESIMUS KNOX, 1752-1821.
VICESIMUS Knox, son of the Rev. Vicesimus Knox, was born on the 8th of December, 1752. After completing the usual course of preparatory study, he entered St. John's College, Oxford. While here, and before he took his bachelor's degree, he wrote and published anonymously many of those “Essays" which have chiefly contributed to his fame. They were very much admired, and a second edition was soon called for, which he very much enlarged and prefixed his name to them, under the title of “ Essays, Moral and Literary." These essays are written in a forcible and elegant style, formed on the purest classical models, and contain most valuable directions for the cultivation of the understanding, and the con. duct of life; and what recommends them still more is the rich fund of classical and miscellaneous entertainment they afford.'
From college, afier having regularly taken the degrees of bachelor and master of arts, Mr. Knox was elected, in 1778, to succeed his father as head master of Tunbridge School. He held this post of honor and useful. ness for thirty. three years, or till 1811, when he, in turn, was succeeded by his son. His next publication was a work entitled “Liberal Education, or a Practical Treatise on the Methods of acquiring Useful and Polite Learning." This was well received, and was soon republished in our country, and was translated on the continent. In 1788, he published a series of miscellaneous papers under the title of “ Winter Evenings," which, though not equal, on the whole, to the “Essays," abound in fine writing and excellent moral instruction. In his introductory essay, he thus comments on the title he had chosen, and speaks in praise of
1 "Few publications have been more popular, and more deservedly so, than these instructive Essays, which have passed through sixteen editions. The subjects on which Dr. Knox has expatiated in these volumes are numerous and well chosen, and they uniformly possess a direct tendency either to improve the head or amend the heart. To persons of every description, but especially to young persons, the essays of our author are invaluable; their first praise is, that they recominend, in a most fascinating manner, all that is good and great; and secondly, they are in a high degree calculated to form the taste, and excite a spirit of literary enthusiasm."
Drake's Essays, vol. v. p. 368.
A WINTER EVENING.
Books enable the imagination to create a summer in the midst of frost and snow; and, with the assistance of culinary fire, whose comfortable warmth supplies, round the parlor hearth, the absence of the sun, I believe the winter is considered by few as less pleasurable, upon the whole, than the season of soft breezes and solar effulgence.
The student shuts the door while the chill wind whistles round his room, and the rain beats upon the tiles and pavements, stirs his fire, snuffs his candle, throws himself into his elbow chair, and defies the elements. If he chooses to transport himself to warm climates, to regions delightful as the vale of Tempé, or even to riot in all the enchanting scenes of Elysium, he has only to take a volume from his bookcase, and, with every comfort of ease and safety at home, he can richly feast his capacious imagination.
For myself, I must acknowledge that, though I have no objection to games in moderation, I have, at the same time, no taste for them. They appear to me too dull and unideal to afford a thinking man, who values his leisure, an adequate return of amusement for the time they engross. In a rural retirement, what could I do in the winter evenings, when no society interrupted, but read or write ? I have done both in a vicissitude pleasant to myself, and as my inclination or my ideas of propriety suggested. In these employments I have found my time pass away, not only innocently, but pleasantly; and most of these lucubrations are literally what their title insinuates, the produce of the Winter Evenings.
After “The Winter Evenings," appeared “ Letters to a Young Noble. man;" “ Christian Philosophy," in two vols. ; “ Considerations on the Lord's Supper," in one vol.; and a pamphlet “On the National Import. ance of Classical Education.” He also published, for the use of his school, expurgated editions of Horace and Juvenal, and that series of selections from the works of the best English authors, well known as “ Elegant Extracts" and " Elegant Epistles.” After a life of great usefulness and industry, he died at Tunbridge, on the 6th of September, 1821. His literary reputation was deservedly great; but, what is still better, his whole character was a model of Christian virtue, and all his works were calculated to improve the heart as well as inform the mind.
ON THE PERIODICAL ESSAYISTS.
I am not in the number of those politicians who estimate national good merely by extent of territory, richness of revenue, and commercial importance. I rather think that pure religion, good morals, fine taste, solid literature, and all those things which, while they contribute to elevate human nature, contribute also to render private life dignified and comfortable, constitute that true national good to which politics, war, and commerce are but subordinate and instrumental. Indeed, one cannot always say so much in their praise ; for, after all the noise wbich they make in the world, they are often injurious to everything for which society appears, in the eye of reason, to have been originally instituted.
Under this conviction, I cannot help thinking that such writers as an Addison and a Steele have caused a greater degree of national good than a Marlborough and a Walpole. They have successfully recommended such qualities as adorn human nature, and such as tend also, in their direct consequences, to give grandeur and stability to empire. For, in truth, it is personal merit and private virtue which can alone preserve a free country in a prosperous state, and indeed render its prosperity desirable. How are men really the better for national prosperity when, as a nation grows rich, its morals are corrupted, mutual confidence lost, and debauchery and excess of all kinds pursued with such general and unceasing ardor, as seduces the mind to a state of abject slavery and impotence? If I am born in a country where my mind and body are almost sure to be corrupted by the influence of universal example, and my soul deadened in all its nobler energies, what avails it that the country extends its dominion beyond the Atlantic and the Ganges ? It had been better for me that I had not been born than born in such a country.
Moralists, therefore, who have the art to convey their instruction successfully, are the most valuable patriots and the truest benefactors to their country. And among these I place in the highest rank, because of the more extensive diffusion of their labors, the successful writers of periodical lucubrations.
Among these, the “Tatler” is the first in the order of time who will claim attention. For those which preceded were entirely political and controversial, and soon sunk into oblivion when the violence of party which produced them had subsided. But the general purpose of the “Tatler," as Steele himself declares, was to
espose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and ostentation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, discourse, and behavior.
The general state of conversation and of literary improvement among those who called themselves gentlemen, at the time in which the “ Tatler” was written, was low and contemptible. The men who, from their rank, fortune, and appearance, claimed the title of gentlemen, affected a contempt for learning, and seemed to consider ignorance as a mark of gentility. The “ Tatler" gradually opened their understandings, and furnished matter for improving conversation.
Addison, who had appeared with peculiar lustre in the “ Tatler," was to shine again in the “Spectator" with still brighter and more permanent glory. The great charm of his diction, which has delighted readers of every class, appears to me to be a certain natural sweetness, ease, and delicacy, which no affectation can attain. Truths of all kinds, the sublime and the familiar, the serious and the comic, are taught in that peculiar style which raises in the mind a placid and equable flow of emotions; that placidness and equability which are in a particular manner adapted to give permanency to all our pleasurable feelings. A work which warms our passions, and hurries us on with the rapid vehemence of its style, may be read once or twice with pleasure; but it is the more tranquil style which is most frequently in unison with our minds, and which, therefore, on the tenth repetition, as Horace says, will afford fresh pleasure. Addison rejected that levity and medley of matter which often appeared disadvantageously in a single paper of the “Tatler,” and usually wrote regular treatises on the most important and most interesting subjects of taste and morality. Such subjects will never be out of date ; but the strictures on the dresses and diversions of the times, whatever merit they possessed, could not have rendered the work immortal. There are, indeed, many papers of very moderate merit; but it could not be otherwise when the publication was daily, and the whole number considerably more than half a thousand. Neither Addison's other engagements, nor his abilities, great as they confessedly were, could have allowed him to compose every speculation.
With respect to the “Rambler," if I have prejudices concerning it, they are all in its favor. I read it at a very early age with delight, and, I hope, with improvement. Everything laudable and useful in the conduct of life is recommended in it, often in a new manner, and always with energy, and with a dignity which commands attention. When I consider it with a view to
its effects on the generality of the people, on those who stand most in need of this mode of instruction, it appears greatly in. ferior to the easy and natural “ Spectator." Those elegant and expressive words derived from the Latin, which are called by common readers hard words, and which abound in the “Rambler," will prevent the greater number from entering on the perusal. And, indeed, with all my prepossessions in favor of this writer, I 'cannot but agree with the opinion of the public which has condemned in his style an affected appearance of pomposity.
The “ Adventurer” is an imitation of the “Rambler.” It is written with remarkable spirit, and with the benevolent design of promoting all that is good and amiable. The stories make a very conspicuous figure in this work, and tend to diffuse its influence among those readers who might probably have been deterred from reading it bad it consisted only of didactic discourses, written in a style approaching to the lexiphantic. Triplets were greatly in fashion when the “ Adventurer" was published, and it is, therefore, no wonder that they abound in it. Great indeed are its merits in every view; but I cannot discover, in the diction, the sweetness and the delicacy of Addison.
The “ World” is written in a style different from all the preceding. There is a certain gaiety and gentility diffused over it which gives it a peculiar grace when considered only as a book of amusement. That it inculcates morality with any peculiar force, cannot be said. But it gives many valuable instructions without assuming the solemn air of a severe moralist.
The “Connoisseur" abounds in wit and a very pleasant species of humor. The book, however, is rather diverting than improving; yet, under the form of irony, many useful truths are conveyed with great success. There is no elevation of sentiment, and no sublime discourses on religion and morality; but there is a great deal of good sense expressed with good-humored drollery. The authors were by nature possessed of wit, and had acquired a very considerable knowledge of the classics.
Every one of these works is calculated to promote good sense and virtue ; and whatever may be the defects of each, the variety of their manners is well suited to the variety of dispositions and of tastes which occur in the mass of mankind. They have been found experimentally to improve life as well as conversation. And, with respect to the improvement of conversation, “nothing is so proper for this purpose,” says the solid Johnson in his preface to Addison's Poems, “as the frequent publication of short papers which we read not as study but amusement. If the sub