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ON PARADOX AND COMMON-PLACE.
I HAVE been sometimes accused of a fondness for paradoxes, but I cannot in my own mind plead guilty to the charge. I do not indeed swear by an opinion, because it is old: but neither do I fall in love with every extravagance at first sight, because it is new. I conceive that a thing may have been repeated a thousand times, without being a bit more reasonable than it was the first time: and I also conceive that an argument or an observation may be very just, though it may so happen that it was never stated before. But I do not take it for granted that every prejudice is ill-founded; nor that every paradox is self-evident, merely because it contradicts the vulgar opinion. Sheridan once said of some speech in his acute, sarcastic way, that “it contained a great deal both of what was new and what was true: but that unfortunately what was new was not true, and what was true was not new.” This appears to me to express the whole sense of the question. I do not see much use in dwelling on a commonplace, however fashionable or well-established: nor am I very ambitious of starting the most specious novelty, unless I imagine I have reason on my side. Originality implies independence of opinion ; but differs as widely from mere singularity as from the tritest truism. It consists in seeing and thinking for one's-self: whereas singularity is only the affectation of saying something to contradict other people, without having any real opinion of one's own upon
the matter. Mr. Burke was an original, though an extravagant writer: Mr. Windham was a regular manufacturer of paradoxes.
The greatest number of minds seem utterly incapable of fixing on any conclusion, except from the pressure of custom and authority: opposed to these, there is another class less numerous but pretty formidable, who in all their opinions are equally under the influence of novelty and restless vanity. The prejudices of the one are counter-balanced by the paradoxes of the other; and folly, “putting in one scale a weight of ignorance, in that of pride,” might be said to “ smile delighted with the eternal poise.” A sincere and manly spirit of inquiry is neither blinded by example nor dazzled by