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descend from us downwards : which if it be probable, we have reason then to be persuaded, that there are far more species of creatures above us, than there are beneath ; we being in degrees of perfection much more remote from the infinite being of God than we are from the lowest state of being, and that which approaches nearest to nothing. And yet of all those distinct species, we have no clear, distinct ideas."
In this system of being, there is no creature so wonderful in its nature, and which so much deserves our particular attention, as man, who fills up the middle space between the animal and intellectual nature, the visible and invisible world, and is that link in the chain of beings which has been often termed the Nexus utriusque Mundi. So that he, who in one respect being associated with angels and arch-angels, may look upon a Being of infinite perfection as his father, and the highest order of spirits as his brethren, may in another respect say to corruption, "Thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art
No. 523. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30.
-Nunc augur Apollo,
VIRG. I am always highly delighted with the discovery of any rising genius among my countrymen. For this reason I have read over, with great pleasure, the late miscellany published by Mr. Pope, in which there are many excellent compositions of that ingenious gentleman. I have had a pleasure of the same kind, in perusing a poem that is just published" On the Prospect of Peace," and which, I hope, will meet with such a reward from its patrons, as so noble a performance deserves. I was particularly well-pleased to find that the author had not amused himself with fables out of the Pagan theology, and that when he hints at anything of this nature, he alludes to it only as to a fable.
Many of our modern authors, whose learning very often extends no farther than Ovid’s Metamorphoses, do not know how to celebrate a great man, without mixing a parcel of
school-boy tales with the recital of his actions. If you read a poem on a fine woman, among the authors of this class, you shall see that it turns more upon Venus or Helen, than on the party concerned. I have known a copy of verses on a great hero bighly commended; but upon asking to hear some of the beautiful passages, the admirer of it has repeated to me a speech of Apollo, or description of Polypheme. At other times when I have searched for the actions of a great man who gave a subject to the writer, I have been entertained with the exploits of a river-god, or have been forced to attend a fury in her mischievous progress from one end of the poem to the other. When we are at school, it is necessary for us to be acquainted with the system of Pagan theology, and may be allowed to enliven a theme, or point an epigram, with a heathen god; but when we would write a manly panegyric, that should carry in it all the colours of truth, nothing can be more ridiculous than to have recourse to our Jupiters and Junos.)
No thought is beautiful which is not just, and no thought can be just which is not founded in truth, or at least in that which passes for such.2
In mock-heroic poems, the use of the heathen mythology is not only excusable but graceful, because it is the design of such compositions to divert, by adapting the fabulous machines of the ancients to low subjects, and at the same time by ridiculing such kinds of machinery in modern writers. If any are of opinion, that there is a necessity of admitting these classical legends into our serious compositions, in order to give them a more poetical turn, I would recommend to their consideration the Pastorals of Mr. Philips. One would have thought it impossible for this kind of poetry
! The way of writing, here very justly condemned, sprung up with the revival of letters; and was to be expected in that state of things, when every poet was in effect a school-boy; when those agreeable stories of the Pagan gods were new to most people, and the knowledge of them gave so much distinction. But this puerile mode of writing would not have continued to Mr. Addison's days, if Mr. Waller had not made it his own, and set it off with the utmost grace and ingenuity.
2 Or at least in that which passes for such.] This exception, which must be admitted, reduces the general rule of Bouhours and the French critics, from whom Mr. Addison took it, to just nothing: for what is that thought, which in the hands of an able writer may not be so turned as to pass for truth, with most readers ?
to have subsisted l without fauns and satyrs, wood-nymphs and water-nymphs, with all the tribe of rural deities. But we see he has given a new life, and a more natural beauty, to this way of writing, by substituting in the place of these antiquated fables, the superstitious mythology which prevails among the shepherds of our own country.
Virgil and Homer might compliment their heroes, by interweaving the actions of deities with their achievements; but for a Christian author to write in the Pagan creed, to make Prince Eugene a favourite of Mars, or to carry on a correspondence between Bellona and the Marshal de Villars, would be downright puerility, and unpardonable in a poet that is past sixteen. It is want of sufficient elevation in a genius to describe realities, and place them in a shining light that makes him have recourse to such trifling antiquated
as a man may write a fine description of Bacchus or Apollo, that does not know how to draw the character of any of his contemporaries.
In order, therefore, to put a stop to this absurd practice, I shall publish the following edict, by virtue of that spectatorial authority with which I stand invested.
“WHEREAS the time of a general peace is, in all appearance, drawing near, being informed that there are several ingenious persons who intend to show their talents on so happy an occasion, and being willing, as much as in me lies, to prevent that effusion of nonsense which we have good cause to apprehend; I do hereby strictly require every person, who shall write on this subject, to remember that he is a Christian, and not to sacrifice his catechism to his poetry. In order to it, I do expect of him in the
first place, to make his own poem without depending upon Phæbus for any part of it, or calling out for aid upon any one of the muses by name. I do likewise positively forbid the sending of Mercury with any particular message or despatch relating to the peace; and shall by no means suffer Minerva to take upon her the shape of any plenipotentiary concerned in this great work. I do further declare, that I shall not allow the Destinies to have had a hand in the deaths of the several thousands who have been slain in the late war, being of opinion that all such deaths
very well accounted for by the Christian system of powder and ball. I do therefore strictly forbid the Fates to cut the thread of man's life upon any pretence whatsoever, unless it be for the sake of the rhyme. And whereas I have good reason to fear, that Neptune will have a great deal of business on his hands, in several poems which we may now suppose are upon the anvil," I do also prohibit his appearance, unless it be done in metaphor, simile, or any very short allusion, and that even here he be not permitted to enter, but with great caution and circumspection. I desire that the same rule may be extended to his whole fraternity of heathen gods, it being my design to condemn every poem to the flames in which Jupiter thunders, or exercises any other act of authority which does not belong to him : in short, I expect that no Pagan agent shall be introduced, or any fact related which a man cannot give credit to with a good conscience. Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall extend, or be constructed to extend, to several of the female poets in this nation, who shall be still left in full possession of their gods and goddesses, in the same manner as if this paper had never been written.”
1 Without doubt, " to subsist.”
No. 529. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6.
Singula quæque locum teneant sortita decenter. Hor. UPON the hearing of several late disputes concerning rank and precedence, I could not forbear amusing myself with some observations, which I have made upon the learned world, as to this great particular. By the learned world I here mean at large, all those who are any way concerned in works of literature, whether in the writing, printing, or repeating part. To begin with the writers; I have observed that the author of a folio, in all companies and conversations, sets himself above the author of a quarto; the author of a quarto above the author of an octavo; and so on, by a gradual descent and subordination, to an author in twenty-fours. This distinction is so well observed, that in an assembly of the learned, I have seen a folio writer place himself in an elbowchair, when the author of duodecimo has, out of a just defer
· Upon the stocks, had been better in this place, for an obvious reason.
ence to his superior quality, seated himself upon a squab. In a word, authors are usually ranged in company after the same manner as their works are upon a shelf.
The most minute pocket-author hath beneath him the writers of all pamphlets, or works that are only stitched. As for a pamphleteer, he takes place of none but of the authors of single sheets, and of that fraternity who publish their labours on certain days, or on every day of the week. I do not find that the precedency among the individuals, in this latter class of writers, is yet settled."
For my own part, I have had so strict a regard to the ceremonial which prevails in the learned world, that I never presumed to take place of a pamphleteer till my daily papers were gathered into those two first volumes which have already appeared. After which I naturally jumped over the heads not only of all pamphleteers, but of every octavo writer in Great Britain that had written but one book. I am also informed by my bookseller, that six octavos have at all times been looked upon as an equivalent to a folio, which I take notice of, the rather, because I would not have the learned world surprised, if, after the publication of half a dozen volumes, I take my place accordingly. When my scattered forces are thus rallied, and reduced into regular bodies, I flatter myself that I shall make no despicable figure at the head of them.
Whether these rules, which have been received time out of mind in the commonwealth of letters, were not originally established with an eye to our paper manufacture, I shall leave to the discussion of others, and shall only remark further in this place, that all printers and booksellers take the wall of one another, according to the above-mentioned merits of the authors to whom they respectively belong.
I come now to that point of precedency which is settled among the three learned professions, by the wisdom of our laws. I need not here take notice of the rank which is allotted to every doctor in each of these professions, who are all of them, though not so high as knights, yet a degree above squires ; this last order of men being the illiterate body of the nation, are consequently thrown together into a
1 Is yet settled.] Humorously, perhaps modestly, said. But there was no doubt in the writer's time about that precedency; at least, there can be none now.