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ON THE PERIODICAL ESSAYISTS.
" THE PROPER STUDY OF MANKIND IS MAN."
I now come to speak of that sort of writing which has been so successfully cultivated in this country by our periodical Essayists, and which consists in applying the talents and resources of the mind to all that mixed mass of human affairs, which, though not included under the head of any regular art, science, or profession, falls under the cognizance of the writer, and “ comes home to the business and bosoms of men." Quicquid agunt homines nostri farrago libelli, is the general motto of this department of literature. It does not treat of minerals or fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does not meddle with forms of belief, or systems of philosophy, nor
with “ the web of our life, which is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” It inquires what human life is and has been, to shew what it ought to be. It follows it into courts and camps, into town and country, into rustic sports or learned disputations, into the various shades of prejudice or ignorance, of refinement or barbarism, into its private baunts or public pageants, into its weaknesses and littlenesses, its professions and its practices before it pretends to distinguish right from wrong, or one thing from another. How, indeed, should it do so otherwise?
« Quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non, Plenius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.”
The writers I speak of are, if not moral philsophers, moral historians, and that's better: or if they are both, they found the one character upon the other ; 'their premises precede their conclusions; and we put faith in their testimony, for we know that it is true.
Montaigne was the first person who in bis Essays led the way to this kind of writing among the moderns. The great merit of Montaigne then was, that he may be said to have been the first who had the courage to say as an author what he felt as a man. And as courage is generally the
rules and systems, but told us what he saw to like or dislike in them. He did not take his standard of excellence “ according to an exact scale” of Aristotle, or fall out with a work that was good for any thing, because “ not one of the angles at the four corners was a right one.” He was, in a word, the first author who was not a book-maker, and who wrote not to make converts of others to established creeds and prejudices, but to satisfy his own mind of the truth of things. In this respect we know not which to be most charmed with, the author or the man. There is an inexpressible frankness and sincerity, as well as power, in what he writes. There is no attempt at imposition or concealment, no juggling tricks or solemn mouthing, no laboured attempts at proving himself always in the right, and every body else in the wrong; he says what is uppermost, lays open what floats at the top or the bottom of his mind, and deserves Pope's character of him, where he professes to
" pour out all as plain
As downright Shippen, or as old Montaigne*.” He does not converse with us like a pedagogue with his pupil, whom he wishes to make as great
* Why Pope should say in reference to him, “ Or more wise Charron," is not easy to determine.