Front Page Titles (by Subject) SKETCH IV: Origin and Progress of Arts 1 - Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 1
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SKETCH IV: Origin and Progress of Arts 1 - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 1 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 1.
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Origin and Progress of Arts1
Some useful arts must be nearly coeval with the human race; for food, cloathing, and habitation, even in their original simplicity, require some art. Many other arts are of such antiquity as to place the inventors beyond the reach of tradition. Several have gradually crept into existence, without an inventor. The busy mind however, accustomed to a beginning in things, cannot rest till it find or imagine a beginning to every art. Bacchus is said to have invented wine; and Staphylus the mixing water with wine. The bow and arrow are ascribed by tradition to Scythos, son of Jupiter, though a weapon all the world over. Spinning is so useful, that it must be honoured with some illustrious inventor: it was ascribed by the Egyptians to their goddess Isis; by the Greeks to Minerva; by the Peruvians to Mamma Ella, wife to their first sovereign Mango Capac; and by the Chinese to the wife of their Emperor Yao. Mark here by the way a connection of ideas: spinning is a female occupation, and it must have had a female inventor.*
In the hunter-state, men are wholly employed upon the procuring food, clothing, habitation, and other necessaries; and have no time nor zeal for studying conveniencies. The ease of the shepherd-state affords both time and inclination for useful arts; which are greatly promoted by numbers who are relieved by agriculture from bodily labour: the soil, by gradual improvements in husbandry, affords plenty with less labour than at first; and the surplus hands are employed, first, in useful arts, and, next, in those of amusement. Arts accordingly make the quickest progress in a fertile soil, which produces plenty with little labour. Arts flourished early in Egypt and Chaldea, countries extremely fertile.
When men, who originally lived in caves like some wild animals, began to think of a more commodious habitation, their first houses were extremely simple; witness those of the Canadian savages, than which none can be more simple, even at present. Their houses, says Charlevoix, are built with less art, neatness, and solidity, than those of the beavers; having neither chimneys nor windows: a hole only is left in the roof, for admitting light and emitting smoke. That hole must be stopped when it rains or snows; and, of course, the fire is put out, that the inhabitants may not be stifled with smoke. To have passed so many ages in that manner without thinking of any improvement, shows how greatly men are influenced by custom. The blacks of Jamaica are still more rude in their buildings: their huts are erected without even a hole in the roof; and, accordingly, at home they breathe nothing but smoke.
Revenge produced early hostile weapons. The club and the dart are obvious inventions: not so the bow and arrow; and for that reason it is not easy to say how that weapon came to be universal. As iron differs from other metals, being seldom found pure, it was a late discovery: at the siege of Troy, spears, darts, and arrows, were headed with brass. Menestheus, who succeeded Theseus in the kingdom of Athens, and led fifty ships to the siege of Troy, was reputed the first who marshalled an army in battle-array. Instruments of defence are made necessary by those of offence. Trunks of trees, interlaced with branches, and supported with earth, made the first fortifications; to which succeeded a wall finished with a parapet for shooting arrows at besiegers. As a parapet covers but half of the body, holes were left in the wall from space to space, no larger than to give passage to an arrow. Besiegers had no remedy but to beat down the wall: a battering ram was first used by Pericles the Athenian, and perfected by the Carthaginians at the siege of Gades. To oppose that formidable machine, the wall was built with advanced parapets for throwing stones and fire upon the enemy, which kept him at a distance. A wooden booth upon wheels, and pushed close to the wall, secured the men who wrought the battering ram. This invention was rendered ineffectual, by surrounding the wall with a deep and broad ditch. Besiegers were reduced to the necessity of inventing engines for throwing stones and javelins upon those who occupied the advanced parapets, in order to give opportunity for filling up the ditch; and ancient histories expatiate upon the powerful operation of the catapulta and balista. These engines suggested a new invention for defence: instead of a circular wall, it was built with salient angles, like the teeth of a saw, in order that one part might flank another. That form of a wall was afterwards improved, by raising round towers upon the salient angles; and the towers were improved by making them square. The ancients had no occasion for any form more complete, being sufficient for defending against all the missile weapons at that time known. The invention of cannon required a variation in military architecture. The first cannons were made of iron bars, forming a concave cylinder, united by rings of copper. The first cannon-balls were of stone, which required a very large aperture. A cannon was reduced to a smaller size, by using iron for balls instead of stone; and that destructive engine was perfected by making it of cast metal. To resist its force, bastions were invented, horn-works, crown-works, half-moons, &c. &c.; and military architecture became a system, governed by principles and general rules. But all in vain: it has indeed produced fortifications that have made sieges horridly bloody; but artillery, at the same time, has been carried to such perfection, and the art of attack so improved, that no fortification, it is thought, can be rendered impregnable. The only impregnable defence, is good neighbourhood among weak princes, ready to unite whenever one of them is attacked by a superior force. And nothing tends more effectually to promote such union, than constant experience that fortifications cannot be relied on.
With respect to naval architecture, the first vessels were beams joined together, and covered with planks, pushed along with poles in shallow water, and in deep water drawn by animals on the shore. To these succeeded trunks of trees cut hollow, termed by the Greeks monoxyles. The next were planks joined together in form of a monoxyle. The thought of imitating a fish advanced naval architecture. A prow was constructed in imitation of the head, a stern with a moveable helm in imitation of the tail, and oars in imitation of the fins. Sails were at last added; which invention was so early that the contriver is unknown. Before the year 1545, ships of war in England had no port-holes for guns, as at present: they had only a few cannon placed on the upper deck.
When Homer composed his poems, at least during the Trojan war, the Greeks had not acquired the art of gelding cattle: they eat the flesh of bulls and of rams. Kings and princes killed and cooked their victuals: spoons, forks, table-cloths, napkins, were unknown. They fed sitting, the custom of reclining upon beds being afterward copied from Asia; and, like other savages, they were great eaters. At the time mentioned, they had no chimneys, nor candles, nor lamps. Torches are frequently mentioned by Homer, but lamps never: a vase was placed upon a tripod, in which was burnt dry wood for giving light. Locks and keys were not common at that time. Bundles were secured with ropes intricately combined (a) ; and hence the famous Gordian knot. Shoes and stockings were not early known among them, nor buttons, nor saddles, nor stirrups. Plutarch reports, that Gracchus caused stones to be erected along the highways leading from Rome, for the convenience of mounting a horse; for at that time stirrups were unknown in Rome, though an obvious invention. Linen for shirts was not used in Rome for many years after the government became despotic. Even so late as the eighth century, it was not common in Europe. We are informed by Herodotus, that the Lydians were reputed to be the first who coined gold and silver money. This was probably after the Trojan war; for during that war the Greeks and Trojans trafficked by barter, as Homer relates: Priam weighs out the ten talents of gold which were the ransom of his son’s body.2
Thales, one of the seven wise men of Greece, about six hundred years before Christ, invented the following method for measuring the height of an Egyptian pyramid. He watched the progress of the sun, till his body and its shadow were of the same length; and at that instant measured the shadow of the pyramid, which consequently gave its height. Amasis King of Egypt, present at the operation, thought it a wonderful effort of genius; and the Greeks admired it highly. Geometry must have been in its cradle at that time. Anaximander, some ages before Christ, made the first map of the earth, as far as then known. About the end of the thirteenth century, spectacles for assisting the sight were invented by Alexander Spina, a monk of Pisa. So useful an invention cannot be too much extolled. At a period of life when the judgment is in maturity, and reading is of great benefit, the eyes begin to grow dim. One cannot help pitying the condition of bookish men before that invention, many of whom must have had their sight greatly impaired, while their appetite for reading was in vigour.
The origin and progress of writing make a capital article in the history of arts. To write, or, in other words, to exhibit thoughts to the eye, was early attempted in Egypt by hieroglyphics. But these were not confined to Egypt: figures composed of painted feathers were used in Mexico to express ideas; and by such figures Montezuma received intelligence of the Spanish invasion: in Peru, the only arithmetical figures known were knots of various colours, which served to cast up accounts. The second step naturally in the progress of the art of writing, is, to represent each word by a mark, termed a letter, which is the Chinese way of writing: they have about 11,000 of these marks or letters in common use; and, in matters of science, they employ to the number of 60,000. Our way is far more easy and commodious: instead of marks or letters for words, which are infinite, we represent by marks or letters, the articulate sounds that compose words: these sounds exceed not thirty in number; and consequently the same number of marks or letters are sufficient for writing. It was a lucky movement to pass at one step from hieroglyphics, the most imperfect mode of writing, to letters representing sounds, the most perfect; for there is no appearance that the Chinese mode was ever practised in this part of the world. With us, the learning to read is so easy as to be acquired in childhood; and we are ready for the sciences as soon as the mind is ripe for them: the Chinese mode, on the contrary, is an unsurmountable obstruction to knowledge; because, it being the work of a lifetime to read with ease, no time remains for studying the sciences. Our case was in some measure the same at the restoration of learning: it required an age to be familiarized with Greek and Latin; and too little time remained for gathering knowledge from books composed in these languages. The Chinese stand upon a more equal footing with respect to arts; for these may be acquired by imitation or oral instruction, without books.
The art of writing with letters representing sounds, is of all inventions the most important, and the least obvious. The way of writing in China makes so naturally the second step in the progress of the art, that our good fortune in stumbling upon a way so much more perfect cannot be sufficiently admired, when to it we are indebted for our superiority in literature above the Chinese. Their way of writing will for ever continue an unsurmountable obstruction to science; for it is so rivetted by inveterate practice, that the difficulty would not be greater to make them change their language than their letters. Hieroglyphics were a sort of writing, so miserably imperfect, as to make every improvement welcome; but as the Chinese make a tolerable shift with their own letters, they never dream of any improvement. Hence it may be pronounced with great certainty, that in China, the sciences, though still in infancy, will never arrive at maturity.
There is no appearance that writing was known in Greece so early as the time of Homer; for in none of his works is there any mention of it. This, it is true, is but negative evidence; but negative evidence must always command our assent, where no positive evidence stands in opposition. If it was known, it must have been newly introduced, and used probably to record laws, religious precepts, or other short compositions.3 Cyphers, invented in Hindostan, were brought into France from Arabia about the end of the tenth century. The art of printing made a great revolution in learning. In the days of William the Conqueror, books were extremely scarce. Grace Countess of Anjou paid for a collection of homilies two hundred sheep, a quarter of wheat, another of rye, and a third of millet, beside a number of martre skins.4
Husbandry made a progress from Egypt to Greece, and from Afric to Italy. Mago, a Carthaginian general, composed twenty-eight books upon husbandry, which were translated into Latin by order of the Roman senate. From these fine and fertile countries, it made its way to colder and less kindly climates. According to that progress, agriculture must have been practised more early in France than in Britain; and yet the English, at present, make a greater figure in that art than the French, inferiority in soil and climate notwith-standing. Before husbandry became an art in the northern parts of Europe, the French noblesse had deserted the country, fond of society in a town-life. Landed gentlemen in England, more rough, and delighting more in hunting and other country amusements, found leisure to practise agriculture. Skill in that art proceeded from them to their tenants, who now prosecute husbandry with success, though their landlords have generally betaken themselves to a town-life.
When Caesar invaded Britain, agriculture was unknown in the inner parts: the inhabitants fed upon milk and flesh, and were clothed with skins. Hollinshed, who wrote in the period of Queen Elisabeth, describes the rudeness of the preceding generation in the arts of life: “There were very few chimneys even in capital towns: the fire was laid to the wall, and the smoke issued out at the roof, or door, or window. The houses were wattled and plastered over with clay; and all the furniture and utensils were of wood. The people slept on straw-pallets, with a log of wood for a pillow.” Henry II. of France, at the marriage of the Duchess of Savoy, wore the first silk stockings that were made in France. Queen Elisabeth, the third year of her reign, received in a present a pair of black silk knit stockings; and Dr. Howel reports, that she never wore cloth hose any more. Before the conquest, there was a timber bridge upon the Thames between London and Southwark, which was repaired by King William Rufus, and was burnt by accident in the reign of Henry II. ann. 1176. At that time a stone bridge in place of it was projected, but not finished till the year 1212. The bridge of Notre-Dame over the Seine in Paris, was first of wood. It fell down anno 1499; and, as there was not in France a man who would undertake to rebuild it of stone, an Italian cordelier was employed, whose name was Joconde, the same upon whom Sanazarius made the following pun:
Two Genoese, Stephen Turquet and Bartholomew Narres, laid in 1536 the foundation of the silk manufacture at Lyons. The art of making glass was import-ed from France into England ann. 674, for the use of monasteries. Glass windows in private houses were rare even in the twelfth century, and held to be great luxury. King Edward III. invited three clockmakers of Delft in Holland to settle in England. In the former part of the reign of Henry VIII. there did not grow in England cabbage, carrot, turnip, or other edible root; and it has been noted, that even Queen Catharine herself could not command a salad for dinner, till the King brought over a gardener from the Netherlands. About the same time, the artichoke, the apricot, the damask rose, made their first appearance in England. Turkeys, carps, and hops, were first known there in the year 1524. The currant-shrub was brought from the island of Zant ann. 1533; and in the year 1540, cherry-trees from Flanders were first planted in Kent. It was in the year 1563 that knives were first made in England. Pocket-watches were brought there from Germany ann. 1577. About the year 1580, coaches were introduced; before which time Queen Elisabeth, on public occasions, rode behind her chamberlain. A saw-mill was erected near London ann. 1633, but afterward demolished, that it might not deprive the labouring poor of employment. How crude was the science of politics even in that late age? Coffee-houses were opened in London no sooner than the year 1652.6
People who are ignorant of weights and measures fall upon odd shifts to supply the defect. Howel Dha Prince of Wales, who died in the year 948, was a capital lawgiver. One of his laws is, “If any one kill or steal the cat that guards the Prince’s granary, he forfeits a milch ewe with her lamb; or as much wheat as will cover the cat when suspended by the tail, the head touching the ground.” By the same lawgiver a fine of twelve cows is enacted for a rape committed upon a maid, eighteen for a rape upon a matron. If the fact be proved after being denied, the criminal for his falsity pays as many shillings as will cover the woman’s posteriors. The measure of the mid stream for salmon among our forefathers is not less risible. It is, that the mid stream shall be so wide as that a swine may turn itself in it, without touching either side with its snout or tail.7
The negroes of the kingdom of Ardrah, in Guinea, have made great advances in arts. Their towns, for the most part, are fortified, and connected by great roads, kept in good repair. Deep canals from river to river are commonly filled with canoes, for pleasure some, and many for business. The vallies are pleasant, producing wheat, millet, yams, potatoes, lemons, oranges, cocoa-nuts, and dates. The marshy grounds near the sea are drained; and salt is made by evaporating the stagnating water. Salt is carried to the inland countries by the great canal of Ba, where numberless canoes are daily seen going with salt, and returning with gold dust or other commodities.
In all countries where the people are barbarous and illiterate, the progress of arts is wofully slow. It is vouched by an old French poem, that the virtues of the loadstone were known in France before 1180. The mariner’s compass was exhibited at Venice ann. 1260 by Paulus Venetus, as his own invention. John Goya of Amalphi was the first who, many years afterward, used it in navigation; and also passed for being the inventor. Though it was used in China for navigation long before it was known in Europe, yet to this day it is not so perfect as in Europe. Instead of suspending it in order to make it act freely, it is placed upon a bed of sand, by which every motion of the ship disturbs its operation. Hand-mills, termed querns, were early used for grinding corn; and when corn came to be raised in greater quantity, horse-mills succeeded. Water-mills for grinding corn are described by Vitruvius (a) . Wind-mills were known in Greece and in Arabia as early as the seventh century; and yet no mention is made of them in Italy till the fourteenth century. That they were not known in England in the reign of Henry VIII. appears from a household-book of an Earl of Northumberland, cotemporary with that King, stating an allowance for three mill-horses, “two to draw in the mill, and one to carry stuff to the mill and fro.” Water-mills for corn must in England have been of a later date. The ancients had mirror-glasses, and employed glass to imitate crystal vases and goblets: yet they never thought of using it in windows. In the thirteenth century, the Venetians were the only people who had the art of making crystal glass for mirrors. A clock that strikes the hours was unknown in Europe till the end of the twelth century. And hence the custom of employing men to proclaim the hours during night, which to this day continues in Germany, Flanders, and England. Galileo was the first who conceived an idea that a pendulum might be useful for measuring time; and Hughens was the first who put the idea in execution, by making a pendulum clock. Hook, in the year 1660, invented a spiral spring for a watch, though a watch was far from being a new invention. Paper was made no earlier than the fourteenth century; and the invention of printing was a century later. Silk manufactures were long established in Greece before silk-worms were introduced there. The manufacturers were provided with raw silk from Persia: but that commerce being frequently interrupted by war, two monks, in the reign of Justinian, brought eggs of the silk-worm from Hindostan, and taught their countrymen the method of managing them. The art of reading made a very slow progress. To encourage that art in England, the capital punishment for murder was remitted, if the criminal could but read, which in law-language is termed benefit of clergy. One would imagine that the art must have made a very rapid progress when so greatly favoured: but there is a signal proof of the contrary; for so small an edition of the Bible as six hundred copies, translated into English in the reign of Henry VIII. was not wholly sold off in three years. The people of England must have been profoundly ignorant in Queen Elisabeth’s time, when a forged clause added to the twentieth article of the English creed passed unnoticed till about forty years ago.* The Emperor Rodol-phus, anno 1281, appointed all public acts to be written in the German language, instead of Latin as formerly. This was imitated in France, but not till the year 1539. In Scotland to this day charters, seisins, precepts of Clare constat, and some other land-titles, continue to be in Latin, or rather in a sort of jargon. Ignorance is the mother of devotion, to the church and to lawyers.8
The discoveries of the Portuguese in the west coast of Africa, is a remarkable instance of the slow progress of arts. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, they were totally ignorant of that coast beyond Cape Non, 28 deg. north latitude. In 1410, the celebrated Prince Henry of Portugal fitted out a fleet for discoveries, which proceeded along the coast to Cape Bojadore, in 26 deg. but had not courage to double it. In 1418 Tristan Vaz discovered the island Porto Santo; and the year after, the island Madeira was discovered. In 1439 a Portuguese captain doubled Cape Bojadore; and the next year the Portuguese reached Cape Blanco, lat. 20 deg. In 1446 Nuna Tristan doubled Cape Verd, lat. 14° 40′. In 1448 Don Gonzallo Vallo took possession of the Azores. In 1449 the islands of Cape Verd were discovered for Don Henry. In 1471 Pedro d’Escovar discovered the island St. Thomas and Prince’s island. In 1484 Diego Cam discovered the kingdom of Congo. In 1486 Bartholomew Diaz, employed by John II. of Portugal, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, which he called Cabo Tormentoso, from the tempestuous weather he found in the passage.
More arts have been invented by accident than by investigation. The art of porcelain is more intricate than that of glass. The Chinese, however, have possessed the former many ages, without knowing any thing of the latter till they were taught by Europeans.9
The exertion of national spirit upon any particular art, promotes activity to prosecute other arts. The Romans, by constant study, came to excel in the art of war, which led them to improve upon other arts. Having in the progress of society acquired some degree of taste and polish, a talent for writing broke forth. Nevius composed in verse seven books of the Punic war, beside comedies, replete with bitter raillery against the nobility (a) . Ennius wrote annals, and an epic poem (b) . Lucius Andronicus was the father of dramatic poetry in Rome (c) . Pacuvius wrote tragedies (d) . Plautus and Terence wrote comedies. Lucilius composed satires, which Cicero esteems to be slight, and void of erudition (e) . Fabius Pictor, Cincius Alimentus, Piso Frugi, Valerius Antias, and Cato, were rather annalists than historians, confining themselves to naked facts, ranged in order of time. The genius of the Romans for the fine arts was much in-flamed by Greek learning, when free intercourse between the two nations was opened. Many of those who made the greatest figure in the Roman state commenced authors, Caesar, Cicero, &c. Sylla composed memoirs of his own transactions, a work much esteemed even in the days of Plutarch.
The progress of art seldom fails to be rapid, when a people happen to be roused out of a torpid state by some fortunate change of circumstances: prosperity contrasted with former abasement, gives to the mind a spring, which is vigorously exerted in every new pursuit. The Athenians made no figure under the tyranny of Pisistratus; but upon regaining freedom and independence, they became heroes. Miletus, a Greek city of Ionia, being destroyed by the King of Persia, and the inhabitants made slaves, the Athenians, deeply affected with the misery of their brethren, boldly attacked that King in his own dominions, and burnt the city of Sardis. In less than ten years after, they gained a signal victory over him at Marathon; and under Themistocles, made head against a prodigious army, with which Xerxes threatened utter ruin to Greece. Such prosperity produced its usual effect: arts flourished with arms, and Athens became the chief theatre for sciences as well as fine arts. The reign of Augustus Caesar, which put an end to the rancour of civil war, and restored peace to Rome with the comforts of society, proved an auspicious aera for literature; and produced a cloud of Latin historians, poets, and philosophers, to whom the moderns are indebted for their taste and talents. One who makes a figure rouses emulation in all: one catches fire from another, and the national spirit flourishes: classical works are composed, and useful discoveries made in every art and science. This fairly accounts for the following observation of Velleius Paterculus (a) , that eminent men generally appear in the same period of time. “One age,” says he, “produced Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who advanced tragedy to a great height. In another age the old comedy flourished under Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes; and the new was inven-ted by Menander, and his cotemporaries Diphilus and Philemon, whose compositions are so perfect that they have left to posterity no hope of rivalship. The philosophic sages of the Socratic school, appeared all about the time of Plato and Aristotle. And as to rhetoric, few excelled in that art before Isocrates, and as few after the second descent of his scholars.” The historian applies the same observation to the Romans, and extends it even to grammarians, painters, statuaries, and sculptors. With regard to Rome, it is true that the Roman government under Augustus was in effect despotic: but despotism, in that single instance, made no obstruction to literature, it having been the politic of that reign to hide power as much as possible. A similar revolution happened in Tuscany about three centuries ago. That country was divided into many small republics, which, by mutual hatred, usual between nations in close neighbourhood, became ferocious and bloody. These republics being united under the Great Duke of Tuscany, enjoyed the sweets of peace in a mild government. That comfortable revolution, which made the deeper impression by a retrospect to recent calamities, roused the national spirit, and produced ardent application to arts and literature. The restoration of the royal family in England, which put an end to a cruel and envenomed civil war, promoted improvements of every kind: arts and industry made a rapid progress among the people, though left to themselves by a weak and fluctuating administration. Had the nation, upon that favourable turn of fortune, been blessed with a succession of able and virtuous princes, to what a height might not arts and sciences have been carried! In Scotland, a favourable period for improvements was the reign of the first Robert, after shaking off the English yoke: but the domineering spirit of the feudal system rendered abortive every attempt. The restoration of the royal family, mentioned above, animated the legislature of Scotland to promote manufactures of various kinds: but in vain; for the union of the two crowns had introduced despotism into Scotland, which sunk the genius of the people, and rendered them heartless and indolent. Liberty, indeed, and many other advantages, were procured to them by the union of the two kingdoms; but these salutary effects were long suspended by mutual enmity, such as commonly subsists between neighbouring nations. Enmity wore away gradually, and the eyes of the Scots were opened to the advantages of their present condition: the national spirit was roused to emulate and to excel: talents were exerted, hitherto latent; and Scotland, at present, makes a figure in arts and sciences, above what it ever made while an independent kingdom.*
Another cause of activity and animation, is the being engaged in some important action of doubtful event, a struggle for liberty, the resisting a potent invader, or the like. Greece, divided into small states, frequently at war with each other, advanced literature and the fine arts to unrivalled perfection. The Corsicans, while engaged in a perilous war for defence of their liberties, exerted a vigorous national spirit: they founded an university for arts and sciences, a public library, and a public bank. After a long stupor during the dark ages of Christianity, arts and literature revived among the turbulent states of Italy. The royal society in London, and the academy of sciences in Paris, were both of them instituted after civil wars that had animated the people, and roused their activity.
An useful art is seldom lost, because it is in constant practice. And yet, though many useful arts were in perfection during the reign of Augustus Caesar, it is amazing how ignorant and stupid men became, after the Roman empire was shattered by northern barbarians: they degenerated into savages. So ignorant were the Spanish Christians during the eighth and ninth centuries, that Alphonsus the Great, King of Leon, was necessitated to employ Mahometan preceptors for educating his eldest son. Even Charlemagne could not sign his name: nor was he singular in that respect, being kept in countenance by several neighbouring princes.
As the progress of arts and sciences toward perfection is greatly promoted by emulation, nothing is more fatal to an art or science than to remove that spur, as where some extraordinary genius appears who soars above rivalship. Mathematics seem to be declining in Europe: the great Newton, having surpassed all the ancients, has not left to the moderns even the faintest hope of equalling him; and what man will enter the lists who despairs of victory?
In early times, the inventors of useful arts were remembered with fervent gratitude. Their history became fabulous by the many incredible exploits attributed to them. Diodorus Siculus mentions the Egyptian tradition of Osiris, that with a numerous army he traversed every inhabited part of the globe, in order to teach men the culture of wheat and of the vine. Beside the impracticability of supporting a numerous army where husbandry is unknown, no army could enable Osiris to introduce wheat or wine among stupid savages who live by hunting and fishing; which probably was the case, in that early period, of all the nations he visited.
In a country thinly peopled, where even necessary arts want hands, it is common to see one person exercising more arts than one: in several parts of Scotland, the same man serves as a physician, surgeon, and apothecary. In a very populous country, even simple arts are split into parts, and there is an artist for each part: in the populous towns of ancient Egypt, a physician was confined to a single disease. In mechanic arts, that mode is excellent. As a hand confined to a single operation becomes both expert and expeditious, a mechanic art is perfected by having its different operations distributed among the greatest number of hands: many hands are employed in making a watch; and a still greater number in manufacturing a web of woollen cloth. Various arts or operations carried on by the same man, envigorate his mind, because they exercise different faculties; and, as he cannot be equally expert in every art or operation, he is frequently reduced to supply want of skill by thought and invention. Constant application, on the contrary, to a single ope-ration, confines the mind to a single object, and excludes all thought and invention: in such a train of life, the operator becomes dull and stupid, like a beast of burden. The difference is visible in the manners of the people: in a country where, from want of hands, several occupations must be carried on by the same person, the people are knowing and conversable: in a populous country where manufactures flourish, they are ignorant and unsociable. The same effect is visible in countries where an art or manufacture is confined to a certain class of men. It is visible in Hindostan, where the people are divided into casts, which never mix even by marriage, and where every man follows his father’s trade. The Dutch lint-boors are a similar instance: the same families carry on the trade from generation to generation, and are accordingly ignorant and brutish even beyond other Dutch peasants. The inhabitants of Buckhaven, a sea-port in the county of Fife, were originally a colony of foreigners, invited hither to teach our people the art of fishing. They continue fishers to this day, marry among themselves, have little intercourse with their neighbours, and are dull and stupid to a proverb.*
A gentleman of a moderate fortune passed his time while husbandry was asleep, like a Birmingham workman who hammers a button from morning to evening. A certain gentleman, for example, who lived on his estate, issued forth to walk as the clock struck eleven. Every day he trod the same path, leading to an eminence which opened a view of the sea. A rock on the summit was his seat, where, after resting an hour, he returned home at leisure. It is not a little singular, that this exercise was repeated day after day for forty-three years, without interruption for the last twenty years of the gentleman’s life. And though he has been long dead, the impression of his heels in the sod remains visible to this day. Men by inaction degenerate into oysters.10
Progress of Taste and of the fine Arts.
The sense by which we perceive right and wrong in actions, is termed the moral sense: the sense by which we perceive beauty and deformity in objects, is termed taste. Perfection in the moral sense consists in perceiving the minutest differences between right and wrong: perfection in taste consists in perceiving the minutest differences between beauty and deformity; and such perfection is termed delicacy of taste(a) .
The moral sense is born with us; and so is taste: yet both of them require much cultivation. Among savages, the moral sense is faint and obscure; and taste still more so.* Even in the most enlightened ages, it requires in a judge both education and experience to perceive accurately the various modifications of right and wrong: and to acquire delicacy of taste, a man must grow old in examining beauties and deformities. In Rome, abounding with productions of the fine arts, an illiterate shopkeeper is a more correct judge of statues, of pictures, and of buildings, than the best educated citizen of London (b) . Thus taste goes hand in hand with the moral sense in their progress toward maturity; and they ripen equally by the same sort of culture. Want, a barren soil, cramps the growth of both: sensuality, a soil too fat, corrupts both: the middle state, equally distant from dispiriting poverty and luxurious sensuality, is the soil in which both of them flourish.
As the fine arts are intimately connected with taste, it is impracticable, in tracing their progress, to separate them by accurate limits. I join therefore the progress of the fine arts to that of taste, where the former depends entirely on the latter; and I handle separately the progress of the fine arts, where that progress is influenced by other circumstances beside taste.
During the infancy of taste, imagination is suffered to roam, as in sleep, without control. Wonder is the passion of savages and of rustics; to raise which, nothing is necessary but to invent giants and magicians, fairy-land and inchantment. The earliest exploits recorded of warlike nations, are giants mowing down whole armies, and little men overcoming giants; witness Joannes Magnus, Torfeus, and other Scandinavian writers. Hence the absurd romances that delighted the world for ages, which are now sunk into contempt every where. The more supernatural the facts related are, the more is wonder raised; and in proportion to the degree of wonder, is the tendency to belief among the vulgar (a) . Madame de la Fayette led the way to novels in the present mode. She was the first who introduced sentiments instead of wonderful adventures, and amiable men instead of bloody heroes. In substituting distresses to prodigies, she made a discovery, that persons of taste and feeling are more attached by compassion than by wonder.
By the improvement of our rational faculties, truth and nature came to bear sway: incredible fictions were banished: a remaining bias, however, for wonder paved the way to bombast language, turgid similes, and forced metaphors. The Song of Solomon, and many other Asiatic compositions, afford examples without end of such figures. These are commonly attributed to force of imagination in a warm climate; but a more extensive view will show this to be a mistake. In every climate, hot and cold, the figurative style is carried to extravagance, during a certain period in the progress of writing; a style that is relished by all at first, and continues to delight many, till it yield to a taste polished by long experience (b) . Even in the bitter-cold country of Iceland, we are at no loss for examples. A rainbow is termed Bridge of the gods: gold, Tears of Frya: the earth is termed Daughter of Night, the vessel that floats upon Ages; and herbs and plants are her hair, or her fleece. Ice is termed the great bridge: a ship, horse of the floods. Many authors foolishly conjecture, that the Hurons and some other neighbouring nations, are of Asiatic extraction; because, like the Asiatics, their discourse is highly figurative.
The national progress of morality is slow: the national progress of taste is slower. In proportion as a nation polishes and improves in the arts of peace, taste ripens. The Chinese had long enjoyed a regular system of government, while the Europeans were comparatively in a chaos; and accordingly literary compositions in China were brought to perfection more early than in Europe. In their poetry they indulge no incredible fables, like those of Ariosto or the Arabian Tales; but commonly select such as afford a good moral. Their novels, like those of the most approved kind among us, treat of misfortunes unforeseen, unexpected good luck, and persons finding out their real parents. The Orphan of China, composed in the fourteenth century, surpasses far any European play of that early period. But good writing has made a more rapid progress with us; not from superiority of talents, but from the great labour the Chinese must undergo, in learning to read and write their own language. The Chinese tragedy is indeed languid, and not sufficiently interesting, which M. Voltaire ascribes to want of genius. With better reason he might have ascribed it to the nature of their government, so well contrived for preserving peace and order, as to afford few examples of surprising events, and little opportunity for exerting manly talents.
A nation cannot acquire a taste for ridicule till it emerges out of the savage state. Ridicule, however, is too rough for refined manners: Cicero discovers in Plautus a happy talent for ridicule, and peculiar delicacy of wit; but Horace, who figured in the court of Augustus, eminent for delicacy of taste, declares against the low roughness of that author’s raillery (a) . The same Cicero, in a letter to Papirius Poetus, complains that by the influx of foreigners the true Roman humour was lost. It was not the influx of foreigners, but the gradual progress of manners from the rough to the polished.11 The high burlesque style prevails commonly in the period between barbarity and politeness, in which a taste somewhat improved discovers the ridicule of former manners. Rabelais in France, and Butler in England, are illustrious examples. Dr. Swift is our latest burlesque writer, and probably is the last.
Emulation among a multitude of small states in Greece, was enflamed by their public games: by that means taste ripened, and the fine arts were promoted. Taste refines gradually, and is advanced toward perfection by a diligent study of beautiful productions. Rome was indebted to Greece for that delicacy of taste which figured during the reign of Augustus, especially in literary compositions. But taste could not long flourish in a despotic government: so low had the Roman taste fallen in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, that nothing would please him but to suppress Homer, and in his place to install a silly Greek poet, named Antimachus.
The northern barbarians who desolated the Roman empire, and revived in some measure the savage state, occasioned a woful decay of taste. Pope Gregory the Great, struck with the beauty of some Saxon youths exposed to sale in Rome, asked to what country they belonged. Being told they were Angles, he said that they ought more properly to be denominated angels; and that it was a pity so beautiful a countenance should cover a mind devoid of grace. Hearing that the name of their province was Deïri, a division of Northumberland, “Deïri!” replied he, “excellent: they are called to the mercy of God from his anger [de ira ].” Being also told, that Alla was the king of that province, “Alleluia,” cried he, “we must endeavour that the praises of God be sung in their country.” Puns and conundrums passed in ignorant times for sterling wit.12 Pope Gregory VII. anno 1080, presented to the Emperor Rodolph a crown of gold, with the following inscription, Petra dedit Petro, Petrus diadema Rodolpho.13 Miserably low must taste have been in that period, when a childish play of words was relished as a proper decoration for a serious solemnity.
Pope Innocent III. anno 1207, made a present of jewels to John King of England, accompanied with the following letter, praised by Pere Orleans as full of spirit and beauty.
Consider this present with respect to form, number, matter, and colour. The circular figure of the ring denotes eternity, which has neither beginning nor end. And by that figure your mind will be elevated from things terrestrial to things celestial. The number of four, making a square, denotes the firmness of a heart, proof against both adversity and prosperity, especially when supported by the four cardinal virtues, justice, strength, prudence, and temperance. By the gold, which is the metal of the ring, is denoted wisdom, which excels among the gifts of Heaven, as gold does among metals. Thus it is said of the Messiah, that the spirit of wisdom shall rest upon him: nor is there any thing more necessary to a king, which made Solomon request it from God preferably to all other goods. As to the colour of the stones, the green of the emerald denotes faith; the purity of the saphire, hope; the red of the granite, charity; the clearness of the topaz, good works. You have therefore in the emerald what will increase your faith; in the saphire, what will encourage you to hope; in the granite, what will prompt you to love; in the topaz, what will excite you to act; till, having mounted by degrees to the perfection of all the virtues, you come at last to see the God of gods in the celestial Sion.14
The famous golden bull of Germany, digested anno 1356 by Bartolus, a celebrated lawyer, and intended for a master-piece of composition, is replete with wild conceptions, without the least regard to truth, propriety, or connection. It begins with an apostrophe to Pride, to Satan, to Choler, and to Luxury: it asserts, that there must be seven electors for opposing the seven mortal sins: the fall of the angels, terrestrial paradise, Pompey, and Caesar, are introduced; and it is said, that Germany is founded on the Trinity, and on the three theological virtues. What can be more puerile! A sermon preached by the Bishop of Bitonto, at the opening of the council of Trent, excels in that mode of composition. He proves that a council is necessary; because several councils have extirpated heresy, and deposed kings and emperors; because the poets assemble councils of the gods; because Moses writes, that at the creation of man, and at confounding the language of the giants, God acted in the manner of a council; because religion has three heads, doctrine, sacraments, and charity, and that these three are termed a council. He exhorts the members of the council to strict unity, like the heroes in the Trojan horse. He asserts, that the gates of paradise and of the council are the same; that the holy fathers should sprinkle their dry hearts with the living water that flowed from it; and that otherwise the Holy Ghost would open their mouths like those of Balaam and Caiaphas (a) . James I. of Britain dedicates his Declaration against Vorstius to our Saviour, in the following words: “To the honour of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, the only Theanthropos, mediator, and reconciler of mankind; in sign of thankfulness, his most humble and obliged servant, James, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, doth dedicate and consecrate this his Declaration.” Funeral orations were some time ago in fashion. Regnard, who was in Stockholm about the year 1680, heard a funeral oration at the burial of a servant-maid. The priest, after mentioning her parents and the place of her birth, praised her as an excellent cook, and enlarged upon every ragout that she made in perfection. She had but one fault, he said, which was the salting her dishes too much; but that she showed thereby her prudence, of which salt is the symbol; a stroke of wit that probably was admired by the audience. Funeral orations are out of fashion: the futility of a trite panegyric purchased with money, and indecent flattery in circumstances that require sincerity and truth, could not long stand against improved taste. The yearly feast of the ass that carried the mother of God into Egypt, was a most ridiculous farce, highly relished in the dark ages of Christianity. See the description of that feast in Voltaire’s General History (b) .
The public amusements of our forefathers, show the grossness of their taste after they were reduced to barbarism by the Goths and Vandals. The plays termed Mysteries, because they were borrowed from the scriptures, indicate gross man-ners, as well as infantine taste; and yet in France, not farther back than three or four centuries, these Mysteries were such favourites as constantly to make a part at every public festival. In a Spanish play or mystery, Jesus Christ and the devil, ridiculously dressed, enter into a dispute about some point of controversy, are enflamed, proceed to blows, and finish the entertainment with a saraband. The reformation of religion, which roused a spirit of inquiry, banished that amusement, not only as low but as indecent. A sort of plays succeeded, termed Moralities, less indecent indeed, but little preferable in point of composition. These Moralities have also been long banished, except in Spain, where they still continue in vogue. The devil is commonly the hero: nor do the Spaniards make any difficulty, even in their more regular plays, to introduce supernatural and allegorical beings upon the same stage with men and women. The Cardinal Colonna carried into Spain a beautiful bust of the Emperor Caligula. In the war about the succession of Spain, after the death of its king Charles II., Lord Gallway, upon a painful search, found that bust serving as a weight to a church-clock.
In the days of our unpolished forefathers, who were governed by pride as well as by hatred, princes and men of rank entertained a changeling, distinguished by the name of fool; who being the butt of their silly jokes, flattered their self-conceit. Such amusement, no less gross than inhuman, could not show its face even in the dawn of taste: it was rendered less insipid and less inhuman, by entertaining one of real wit, who, under disguise of a fool, was indulged in the most satirical truths. Upon a further purification of taste, it was discovered, that to draw amusement from folly, real or pretended, is below the dignity of human nature. More refined amusements were invented, such as balls, public spectacles, gaming, and society with women. Parasites, described by Plautus and Terence, were of such a rank as to be permitted to dine with gentlemen; and yet were so despicable as to be the butt of every man’s joke. They were placed at the lower end of the table; and the guests diverted themselves with daubing their faces, and even kicking and cuffing them; all which was patiently borne for the sake of a plentiful meal. They resembled the fools and clowns of later times, being equally intended to be laughed at: but the parasite profession shows grosser manners; it being shockingly indelicate in a company of gentlemen to abuse one of their own number, however contemptible in point of character.
Pride, which introduced fools, brought dwarfs also into fashion. In Italy, that taste was carried to extravagance. “Being at Rome in the year 1566,” says a French writer, “I was invited by Cardinal Vitelli to a feast, where we were served by no fewer than thirty-four dwarfs, most of them horribly distorted.” Was not the taste of that Cardinal horribly distorted? The same author adds, that Francis I. and Henry II. Kings of France, had many dwarfs: one named Great John, was the least ever had been seen, except a dwarf at Milan, who was carried about in a cage.
In the eighth and ninth centuries, no sort of commerce was carried on in Europe but in markets and fairs. Artificers and manufacturers were dispersed through the country, and so were monasteries; the towns being inhabited by none but clergymen, and those who immediately depended on them. The nobility lived on their estates, unless when they followed the court. The low people were not at liberty to desert the place of their birth: the villain was annexed to the estate, and the slave to the person of his lord. Slavery fostered rough manners; and there could be no improvement in manners, nor in taste, where there was no society. Of all the polite nations in Europe, the English were the latest of taking to a town-life; and their progress in taste and manners has been proportionally slow.15
Our celebrated poet Ben Johnson lived at a time, when turgid conceptions and bombast language were highly relished; and his compositions are in the perfection of that taste, witness the quotations from him in Elements of Criticism (a) . He was but too faithfully imitated by Beaumont and Fletcher, and other writers of that age. We owe to Dryden the dawn of a better taste. For though the mode of writing in his time led him to the bombast, yet a just imitation of nature frequently breaks forth, especially in his later compositions. And, as nature will always at last prevail, the copies of nature given by that eminent writer were highly relished, produced many happy imitations, and in time brought about a total revolution of taste, which kept pace with that of government, both equally happy for this nation. Here is a fair deduction of the progress of taste in Britain. But, according to that progress, what shall be said of the immortal Shakespeare, in whose works is displayed the perfection of taste? Was not his appearance at least a century too early? Such events happen sometimes contrary to the ordinary progress. This was the case of Roger Bacon, as well as of Shakespeare: they were blazing stars that gave but a temporary lustre, and left the world as void of light as before.16 Ben Johnson, accordingly, and even Beaumont and Fletcher, were greater national favourites than Shakespeare; and, in the same manner, the age before, Lucan was ranked above Virgil by every critic. By the same bad taste, the true sublime of Milton was little relished for more than half a century after Paradise Lost was published. Ill-fated Shakespeare! who appeared in an age unworthy of him. That divine writer, who, merely by force of genius, so far surpassed his cotemporaries, how far would he have surpassed even himself, had he been animated with the praises so justly bestowed on him in later times?17 We have Dryden’s authority, that taste in his time was considerably refined:
The high opinion Dryden had of himself and of his age, breaks out in every line. Johnson probably had the same opinion of himself and of his age: the present age is not exempted from that bias; nor will the next age be, though probably maturity in taste will be still later. We humble ourselves before the ancients, who are far removed from us; but not to soar above our immediate predecessors, would be a sad mortification. Many scenes in Dryden’s plays, if not lower than Cobb’s Tankard or Otter’s Horse, are more out of place. In the Wild Gallant, the hero is a wretch constantly employed, not only in cheating his creditors, but in cheating his mistress, a lady of high rank and fortune. And how absurd is the scene, where he convinces the father of his mistress, that the devil had got him with child! The character of Sir Martin Marall is below contempt. The scenes in the same play, of a bawd instructing one of her novices how to behave to her gallants, and of the novice practising her lessons, are perhaps not lower than Cobb’s Tankard or Otter’s Horse, but surely they are less innocent.
It is common to see people fond of a new fashion, vainly imagining that taste is greatly improved. Disguised dishes are a sort of bastard wit, like turrets jutting out at the top of a building. Such dishes were lately in high fashion, without having even the slender merit of being a new fashion. They prevailed in the days of Charles II. as we learn from one of Dryden’s plays. “Ay, it look’d like variety, till we came to taste it; there were twenty several dishes to the eye, but in the palate nothing but spices. I had a mind to eat of a pheasant; and, so soon as I got it into my mouth, I found I was chewing a limb of cinnamon; then I went to cut a piece of kid, and no sooner it had touched my lips, but it turn’d to red pepper: at last I began to think myself another kind of Midas, that every thing I had touched should be turned to spice.”19
Portugal was rising in power and splendor when Camoens wrote the Lusiad; and, with respect to the music of verse, it has merit. The author, however, is far from shining in point of taste. He makes a strange jumble of Heathen and Christian Deities. “Gama,” observes Voltaire, “in a storm addresses his prayers to Christ, but it is Venus who comes to his relief.”20 Voltaire’s observation is but too well founded. In the first book, Jove summons a council of the gods, which is described at great length, for no earthly purpose but to show that he favoured the Portuguese. Bacchus, on the other hand, declares against them upon the following account, that he himself had gained immortal glory, as conqueror of the Indies; which would be eclipsed if the Portuguese should also conquer them. A Moorish commander having received Gama with smiles, but with hatred in his heart, the poet brings down Bacchus from heaven to confirm the Moor in his wicked purposes; which would have been perpetrated, had not Venus interposed in Gama’s behalf. In the second canto, Bacchus feigns himself to be a Christian, in order to deceive the Portuguese; but Venus implores her father Jupiter to protect them. And yet, after all, I am loth to condemn an early writer for introducing Heathen Deities as actors in a real history, when, in the age of Lewis XIV. celebrated for refinement of taste, we find French writers, Boileau in particular, guilty sometimes of the same absurdity (a) .
At the meeting ann. 1520 near Calais between Francis I. of France and Henry VIII. of England, it is observed by several French writers, that the French nobility displayed more magnificence, the English more taste. If so, the alteration is great since that time: France at present gives the law to the rest of Europe in every matter of taste, gardening alone excepted.21 At the same time, though taste in France is more correct than in any other country, it will bear still some purification. The scene of a clyster-pipe in Moliere is too low even for a farce; and yet to this day it is acted, with a few softenings, before the most polite audience in Europe.*
In Elements of Criticism (a) several cau-ses are mentioned that may retard taste in its progress toward maturity, and that may give it a retrograde motion when it is in maturity. There are many biasses, both natural and acquired, that tend to mislead persons even of the best taste. Of the latter, instances are without number. I select one or two, to show what influence even the slightest circumstances have on taste. The only tree beautiful at all seasons is the holly: in winter, its deep and shining green entitles it to be the queen of the grove: in summer, this colour completes the harmonious mixture of shades, so pleasing in that season! Mrs. D—— is lively and sociable. She is eminent above most of her sex for a correct taste, displayed not only within doors but in the garden and in the field. Having become mistress of a great house by matrimony, the most honourable of all titles, a group of tall hollies, which had long obscured one of the capital rooms, soon attracted her eye. She took an aversion to a holly, and was not at ease till the group was extirpated. Such a bias is perfectly harmless. What follows is not so. The Oxonians disliked the great Newton, because he was educated at Cambridge; and they favoured every book writ against him. That bias, I hope, has not come down to the present time.
Refinement of taste in a nation, is always accompanied with refinement of manners: people accustomed to behold order and elegance in public buildings and public gardens, acquire urbanity in private. But it is irksome to trudge long in a beaten track, familiar to all the world; and therefore, leaving what is said above, like a statue curtailed of legs and arms, I hasten to the history of the fine arts.
Useful arts paved the way to fine arts. Men upon whom the former had bestowed every convenience, turned their thoughts to the latter. Beauty was studied in objects of sight; and men of taste attached themselves to the fine arts, which multiplied their enjoyments and improved their benevolence. Sculpture and painting made an early figure in Greece; which afforded plenty of beautiful originals to be copied in these imitative arts. Statuary, a more simple imitation than painting, was sooner brought to perfection: the statue of Jupiter by Phidias, and of Juno by Polycletes, though the admiration of all the world, were executed long before the art of light and shade was known. Appollodorus, and Zeuxis his disciple, who flourished in the fifteenth Olympiad, were the first who figured in that art. Another cause concurred to advance statuary before painting in Greece, namely, a great demand for statues of their gods. Architecture, as a fine art, made a slower progress. Proportions, upon which its elegance chiefly depends, cannot be accurately ascertained but by an infinity of trials in great buildings: a model cannot be relied on; for a large and a small building, even of the same form, require different proportions. Gardening made a still slower progress than architecture: the palace of Alcinoous, in the seventh book of the Odyssey, is grand, and highly ornamented; but his garden is no better than what we term a kitchen-garden. Gardening has made a great progress in England. In France, na-ture is sacrificed to conceit. The gardens of Versailles deviate from nature no less than the hanging gardens at Babylon. In Scotland, a taste is happily commenced for neat houses and ornamented fields; and the circumstances of the people make it probable, that taste there will improve gradually till it arrive at perfection. Few gentlemen in Scotland can afford the expence of London; and supposing them to pass the winter in a provincial town, they return to the occupations of the country with redoubled ardor. As they are safe from the corruption of opulence, nature will be their guide in every plan; and the very face of their country will oblige them to follow nature; being diversified with hills and plains, rocks and rivers, that require nothing but polishing. It is no unpleasing prospect, that Scotland may in a century, or sooner, compare with England; not, indeed, in magnificence of country-seats, but in sweetness and variety of concordant parts.22
The ancient churches in this island cannot be our own invention, being unfit for a cold climate. The vast space they occupy, quantity of stone, and gloominess by excluding the sun, afford a refreshing coolness, and fit them for a hot climate. It is highly probable that they have been copied from the mosques in the south of Spain, erected there by the Saracens. Spain, when possessed by that people, was the centre of arts and sciences, and led the fashion in every thing beautiful and magnificent.
From the fine arts mentioned, we proceed to literature. It is agreed among all antiquaries, that the first writings were in verse, and that prose was of a much later date. The first Greek who wrote in prose, was Pherecides Syrus: the first Roman, was Appius Caecus, who composed a declamation against Pyrrhus. The four books of Chatah Bhade, the sacred book of Hindostan, are composed in verse stanzas; and the Arabian compositions in prose followed long after those in verse. To account for that singular fact, many learned pens have been employed; but without success. By some it has been urged, that as memory is the only record of events where writing is unknown, history originally was composed in verse for the sake of memory. This is not satisfactory. To undertake the painful task of composing in verse for the sake of memory, would require more foresight than ever was exerted by a barbarian; not to mention that other means were used for preserving the memory of remarkable events, a heap of stones, a pillar, or other object that catches the eye. The account given by Longinus is more ingenious. In a fragment of his treatise on verse, the only part that remains, he observes, “that measure or verse belongs to poetry, because poetry represents the various passions with their language; for which reason the ancients, in their ordinary discourse, delivered their thoughts in verse rather than in prose.” Longinus thought, that anciently men were more exposed to accidents and dangers, than when they were protected by good government and by fortified cities. But he seems not to have considered, that fear and grief, inspired by dangers and misfortunes, are better suited to humble prose than to elevated verse. I add, that however natural poetical diction may be when one is animated with any vivid passion, it is not supposable that the ancients never wrote nor spoke but when excited by passion. Their history, their laws, their covenants, were certainly not composed in that tone of mind.
An important article in the progress of the fine arts, which writers have not sufficiently attended to, will, if I mistake not, explain this mystery. The article is the profession of a bard, which sprung up in early times before writing was known, and died away gradually as writing turned more and more common. The curiosity of men is great with respect to the transactions of their forefathers; and when such transactions are described in verse, accompanied with music, the performance is enchanting. An ear, a voice, skill in instrumental music, and above all a poetical genius, are requisite to excel in that complicated art. As such talents are rare, the few that possessed them were highly esteemed; and hence the profession of a bard, which, beside natural talents, required more culture and exercise than any other known art. Bards were capital persons at every festival and at every solemnity. Their songs, which, by recording the atchievements of kings and heroes, a-nimated every hearer, must have been the entertainment of every warlike nation. We have Hesiod’s authority, that in his time bards were as common as potters or joiners, and as liable to envy. Demodocus is mentioned by Homer as a celebrated bard (a) ; and Phemius, another bard, is introduced by him deprecating the wrath of Ulysses, in the following words:
Cicero reports, that at Roman festivals anciently, the virtues and exploits of their great men were sung (b) . The same custom prevailed in Peru and Mexico, as we learn from Garcilasso and other authors. Strabo (c) gives a very particular account of the Gallic bards. The following quotation is from Ammianus Marcellinus (d) “Bardi quidem fortia virorum illustrium facta, heroicis composita versibus, cum dulcibus lyrae modulis, cantitarunt.”23 We have for our authority Father Gobien, that even the inhabitants of the Marian islands have bards, who are greatly admired, because in their songs are celebrated the feats of their ancestors. There are traces of the same kind among the Apalachites in North America.* And we shall see afterward (a) , that in no other part of the world were bards more honoured than in Britain and Scandinavia.
Bards were the only historians before writing was introduced. Tacitus (b) says, that the songs of the German bards were their only annals. And Joannes Magnus, Archbishop of Upsal, acknowledges, that in compiling his history of the ancient Goths, he had no other records but the songs of the bards. As these songs made an illustrious figure at every festival, they were conveyed in every family by parents to their children; and in that manner were kept alive before writing was known.
The invention of writing made a change in the bard-profession. It is now an agreed point, that no poetry is fit to be accompanied with music, but what is simple: a complicated thought or description requires the utmost attention, and leaves none for the music; or if it divide the attention, it makes but a faint impression (c) . The simple operas of Quinault bear away the palm from every thing of the kind composed by Boileau or Racine. But when a language, in its progress to maturity, is enriched with variety of phrases fit to express the most elevated thoughts, men of genius aspire to the higher strains of poetry, leaving music and song to the bards: which distinguishes the profession of a poet from that of a bard. Homer, in a lax sense, may be termed a bard; for in that character he strolled from feast to feast. But he was not a bard in the original sense: he indeed recited his poems to crowded audiences; but his poems are too complex for music, and he probably did not sing them, nor accompany them with the lyre. The Trovadores of Provence were bards in the original sense; and made a capital figure in days of ignorance, when few could read, and fewer write. In later times the songs of the bards were taken down in writing, which gave every one access to them without a bard; and the profession sunk by degrees into oblivion. Among the highlanders of Scotland, reading and writing in their own tongue is not common even at present; and that circumstance supported long the bard-profession among them, after being forgot among neighbouring nations. Ossian was the most celebrated bard in Caledonia, as Homer was in Greece.*
From the foregoing historical deduction, the reader will discover without my assistance why the first writings were in verse. The songs of the bards, being universal favourites, were certainly the first compositions that writing was employed upon: they would be carefully collected by the most skilful writers, in order to preserve them in perpetual remembrance. The following part of the progress is equally obvious. People acquainted with no written compositions but what were in verse, composed in verse their laws, their religious ceremonies, and every memorable transaction. But when subjects of writing multiplied, and became more and more involved, when people began to reason, to teach, and to harangue, they were obliged to descend to humble prose: for to confine a writer or speaker to verse in handling subjects of that nature, would be a burden unsupportable.
The prose compositions of early historians are all of them dramatic. A writer destitute of art is naturally prompted to relate facts as he saw them performed: he introduces his personages as speaking and conferring; and relates only what was acted and not spoken.* The historical books of the Old Testament are composed in that mode; and so addicted to the dra-matic are the authors of these books, that they frequently introduce God himself into the dialogue. At the same time, the simplicity of that mode is happily suited to the poverty of every language in its early periods. The dramatic mode has a delicious effect in expressing sentiments, and every thing that is simple and tender (a) . Take the following instance of a low incident becoming by that means not a little interesting. Naomi having lost her husband and her two sons in foreign parts, and purposing to return to the land of her forefathers, said to her two daughters-in-law,
Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them: and they lift up their voice and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more husbands in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have an husband: if I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also to night, and should also bear sons; would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. And they lift up their voice and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law. And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley-harvest.
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.
And behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you: and they answered him, The Lord bless thee. Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi, out of the country of Moab: and she said, I pray you, let me glean, and gather after the reapers, amongst the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house. Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens. Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men, that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn. Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldst take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord, for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens. And Boaz said unto her, At meal-time come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left. And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not. And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not. So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.
And she took it up, and went into the city: and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved, after she was sufficed. And her mother-in-law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned to day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man’s name with whom I wrought to day, is Boaz. And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law, Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen. And Ruth the Moabitess said, He said unto me al-so, Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest. And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughter-in-law, It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field. So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean, unto the end of barley-harvest, and of wheat-harvest; and dwelt with her mother-in-law.
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshing-floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down, and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me, I will do.
And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.
And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid, for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end, than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not, I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know, that thou art a virtuous woman. And now it is true, that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well, let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the Lord liveth: lie down until the morning.
And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor. Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother-in-law. Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.
Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake, came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one, turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down. And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s. And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it; but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee, and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it. Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thy self, for I cannot redeem it. Now this was the manner in former time in Israel, concerning redeeming, and concerning changing, for to confirm all things: A man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee: so he drew off his shoe. And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s, and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day. And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders said, We are witnesses: The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house, like Rachel, and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Beth-lehem. And let thy house be like the house of Pharez (whom Tamar bare unto Judah) of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman.
So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son. And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter-in-law which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it (a) .
The dramatic mode is far from being so agreeable in relating bare historical facts. Take the following example.
Wherefore Nathan spake unto Bath-sheba the mother of Solomon, saying, Hast thou not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith doth reign, and David our lord knoweth it not? Now therefore come, let me, I pray thee, give thee counsel, that thou mayst save thine own life, and the life of thy son Solomon. Go, and get thee in unto king David, and say unto him, Didst not thou, my lord O king, swear unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne? Why then doth Adonijah reign? Behold, while thou yet talkest there with the king, I will also come in after thee, and confirm thy words.
And Bath-sheba went in unto the king, into the chamber: and the king was very old; and Abishag the Shunammite ministered unto the king. And Bath-sheba bowed, and did obeisance unto the king: and the king said, What wouldst thou? And she said unto him, My lord, thou swarest by the Lord thy God unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne: and now behold, Adonijah reigneth; and now my lord the king, thou know-est it not. And he hath slain oxen, and fat cattle, and sheep in abundance, and hath called all the sons of the king, and Abiathar the priest, and Joab the captain of the host: but Solomon thy servant hath he not called. And thou, my lord O king, the eyes of all Israel are upon thee, that thou shouldst tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it shall come to pass, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders.
And lo, while she yet talked with the king, Nathan the prophet also came in. And they told the king, saying, Behold, Nathan the prophet. And when he was come in before the king, he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, my lord O king, hast thou said, Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne? For he is gone down this day, and hath slain oxen, and fat cattle, and sheep in abundance, and hath called all the king’s sons, and the captains of the host, and Abiathar the priest; and behold, they eat and drink before him, and say, God save king Adonijah. But me, even me thy servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and thy servant Solomon hath he not called. Is this thing done by my lord the king, and thou hast not shewed it unto thy servant who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?
Then king David answered and said, Call me Bath-sheba: and she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king. And the king sware, and said, As the Lord liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress, even as I sware unto thee by the Lord God of Israel, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day. Then Bath-sheba bowed with her face to the earth, and did reverence to the king, and said, Let my lord king David live for ever.
And king David said, Call me Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada. And they came before the king. The king also said unto them, Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, anoint him there king over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save king Solomon. Then ye shall come up after him, that he may come and sit upon my throne; for he shall be king in my stead: and I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel, and over Judah. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, Amen: the Lord God of my lord the king say so too. As the Lord hath been with my lord the king, even so be he with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord king David. So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. And Zadok the priest took an horn of oyl out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon: and they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, God save king Solomon. And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoyced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.
And Adonijah, and all the guests that were with him, heard it, as they had made an end of eating: and when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, Wherefore is this noise of the city, being in an uprore? And while he yet spake, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came, and Adonijah said unto him, Come in, for thou art a valiant man, and bringest good tidings. And Jonathan answered and said to Adonijah, Verily our lord king David hath made Solomon King. And the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and they have caused him to ride upon the king’s mule. And Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king in Gihon: and they are come up from thence rejoycing, so that the city rang again: this is the noise that ye have heard. And also Solomon sitteth on the throne of the kingdom. And moreover the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, God make the name of Solomon better than thy name, and make his throne greater than thy throne: and the king bowed himself upon the bed. And also thus said the king, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which hath given one to sit on my throne this day, mine eyes even seeing it. And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way (a) .
In the example here given are found frequent repetitions; not however by the same person, but by different persons who have occasion in the course of the incidents to say the same things; which is natural in the dramatic mode, where things are represented precisely as they were transacted. In that view, Homer’s repetitions are a beauty, not a blemish; for they are confined to the dramatic part, and never occur in the narrative. In the 24th chapter of Genesis, there is a repetition precisely in the manner of Homer.
But the dramatic mode of composition, however pleasing, is tedious and intolerable in a long history. In the progress of society, new appetites and new passions arise; men come to be involved with each other in various connections; incidents and events multiply, and history becomes intricate by an endless variety of circumstances. Dialogue, accordingly, is more sparingly used, and in history plain narration is mixed with it. Narration is as it were the ground-work, and dialogue is raised upon it, like flowers in embroidery. Homer is admitted by all to be the great master in that mode of composition. Nothing can be more perfect in that respect than the Iliad. The Odyssey is far inferior; and to guard myself against the censure of the undistinguishing admirers of Homer, a tribe extremely formidable, I call to my aid a celebrated critic, whose superior taste and judgment never was disputed. “The Odyssey,” says Longinus, “shows how natural it is for a writer of a great genius, in his declining age, to sink down to fabulous narration; for that Homer composed the Odyssey after the Iliad, is evident from many circumstances. As the Iliad was composed while his genius was in its greatest vigour, the structure of that work is dramatic and full of action; the Odyssey, on the contrary, is mostly employed in narration, proceeding from the coldness of old age. In that later composition, Homer may be compared to the setting sun, which has still the same greatness, but not the same ardor or force. We see not in the Odyssey that sublime of the Iliad, which constantly proceeds in the same animated tone, that strong tide of motions and passions flowing successively like waves in a storm. But Homer, like the ocean, is great, even when he ebbs, and loses himself in narration and incredible fictions; witness his description of tempests, the adventures of Ulysses with Polyphemus the Cyclops, and many others.”*
The narrative mode came in time so to prevail, that in a long chain of history, the writer commonly leaves off dialogue altogether. Early writers of that kind appear to have had very little judgment in distinguishing capital facts from minute circumstances, such as can be supplied by the reader without being mentioned. The history of the Trojan war by Dares Phrygius is a curious instance of that cold and creeping manner of composition. Take the following passage. Hercules having made a descent upon Troy, slew King Laomedon, and made a present of Hesione, the king’s daughter, to Telamon his companion. Priamus, who succeeded to the kingdom of Troy upon the death of his father Laomedon, sent Antenor to demand his sister Hesione. Our author proceeds in the following manner:
Antenor, as commanded by Priamus, took shipping, and sailed to Magnesia, where Peleus resided. Peleus entertained him hospitably three days, and the fourth day de-manded whence he came. Antenor said, that he was ordered by Priamus to demand from the Greeks, that they should restore Hesione. When Peleus heard this he was angry, because it concerned his family, Telamon being his brother; and ordered the ambassador to depart. Antenor, without delay, retired to his ship, and sailed to Salamis, where Telamon resided, and demanded of him, that he should restore Hesione to her brother Priamus, as it was unjust to detain so long in servitude a young woman of royal birth. Telamon answered, that he had done nothing to Priamus; and that he would not restore what he had received as a reward for his valour; and ordered Antenor to leave the island. Antenor went to Achaia; and sailing from thence to Castor and Pollux, demanded of them to satisfy Priamus, by restoring to him his sister Hesione. Castor and Pollux denied that they had done any injury to Priamus, but that Laomedon had first injured them; ordering Antenor to depart. From thence he sailed to Nestor in Pylus, telling him the cause of his coming; which when Nestor heard, he begun to exclaim, how Antenor durst set his foot in Greece, seeing the Greeks were first injured by the Phrygians. When Antenor found that he had obtained nothing, and that Priamus was contumeliously treated, he went on shipboard, and returned home.
The Roman histories before the time of Cicero are chronicles merely. Cato, Fabius Pictor, and Piso, confined themselves to naked facts (a) In the Augustae Historiae scriptores we find nothing but a jejune narrative of facts, commonly very little interesting, concerning a degenerate people, without a single incident that can rouse the imagination, or exercise the judgment. The monkish histories are all of them composed in the same manner.*
The dry narrative manner being very little interesting or agreeable, a taste for embellishment prompted some writers to be copious and verbose. Saxo Grammaticus, who in the 12th century composed in Latin a history of Denmark, surprisingly pure for that early period, is extremely verbose, and full of tautologies. Such a style, at any rate unpleasant, is intolerable in a modern tongue, before it is enriched with a stock of phrases for expressing aptly the great variety of incidents that enter into history. Take the following example out of an endless number. Henry VII. of England, having the young Queen of Naples in view for a wife, deputed three men, in character of ambassadors, to visit her, and to answer certain questions contained in curious and exquisite instructions for taking a survey of her person, complexion, &c. as expressed by Bacon in his life of that prince. One of the instructions was, to procure a picture of the Queen, which one would think could not require many words, yet behold the instruction itself.
The King’s said servants shall also, at their comyng to the parties of Spayne, diligently enquere for some conynge paynter having good experience in making and paynting of visages and portretures, and suche oon they shall take with them to the place where the said Quuins make their abode, to the intent that the said paynter maye draw a picture of the visage and semblance of the said young Quine, as like unto her as it can or may be conveniently doon, which picture and image they shall substantially note, and marke in every pounte and circumstance, soo that it agree in similitude and likenesse as near as it may possible to the veray visage, countenance, and semblance of the said Quine; and in case they may perceyve that the paynter, at the furst or second making thereof, hath not made the same perfaite to her similytude and likenesse, or that he hath omitted any feiture or circumstance, either in colours, or other proporcions of the said visage, then they shall cause the same paynter, or some other the most conyng paynter that they can gete soo oftentimes to renewe and reforme the same picture, till it be made perfaite, and agreeable in every behalfe, with the very image and visage of the said Quine.*
After this specimen so much approved by his Lordship, one will not be surprised at the flatness of the historical style during that period. By that flatness of style Lord Bacon’s history of Henry VII. sinks below the gravity and dignity of history; particularly in his similes, metaphors, and allusions, no less distant than flat. Of Perkin Warbeck and his followers, he says, “that they were now like sand without lime, ill bound together.” Again, “But Perkin, advised to keep his fire, which hitherto burned as it were upon green wood, alive with continual blowing, sailed again into Ireland.” Again, “As in the tides of people once up, there want not commonly stirring winds to make them more rough, so this people did light upon two ringleaders or captains.” Again, speaking of the Cornish insurgents, and of the causes that inflamed them, “But now these bubbles by much stirring began to meet, as they used to do on the top of water.” Again, speaking of Perkin, “And as it fareth with smoak, that never loseth itself till it be at the highest, he did now before his end raise his stile, intytling himself no more Richard Duke of York, but Richard the Fourth, King of England.” He descends sometimes so low as to play upon words; witness the following speech made for Perkin to the King of Scotland. “High and mighty King! your Grace may be pleased benignly to bow your ears to hear the tragedy of a young man that by right ought to hold in his hand the ball of a kingdom, but by fortune is made himself a ball, tossed from misery to misery, and from place to place.” The following is a strangely forced allusion. Talking of Margaret Duchess of Burgundy, who had patronized Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, he says, “It is the strangest thing in the world, that the Lady Margaret should now, when other women give over child-bearing, bring forth two such monsters, being, at birth, not of nine or ten months, but of many years. And whereas other natural mothers bring furth children weak, and not able to help themselves, she bringeth furth tall striplings, able, soon after their coming into the world, to bid battle to mighty kings.” I should not have given so many instances of puerilities in composition, were they not the performance of a great philosopher. Low indeed must have been the taste of that age, when it infected its greatest genius.
The perfection of historical composition, which writers at last attain to after wandering through various imperfect modes, is a relation of interesting facts connected with their motives and consequences. A history of that kind is truly a chain of causes and effects. The history of Thucydides, and still more that of Tacitus, are shining instances of that mode. There was not a book written in France correct in its style before the year 1654, when the Lettres Provinciales appeared; nor a book in a good historical style before the history of the conspiracy against Venice by the Abbé St. Real.24
A language in its original poverty, being deficient in strength and variety, has nothing at command for enforcing a thought but to redouble the expression. Instances are without number in the Old Testament. “And they say, How doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High?” Again, “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell to the children of Israel.” Again, “I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.” Again, “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom.” “She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.” “Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eye-lids look straight before thee.”
Eloquence was of a later date than the art of literary composition; for till the latter was improved, there were no models for studying the former. Cicero’s oration for Roscius is composed in a style diffuse and highly ornamented; which, says Plutarch, was universally approved, because at that time the style of Asia, introduced into Rome with its luxury, was in high vogue. But Cicero, in a journey to Greece, where he leisurely studied Greek authors, was taught to prune off superfluities, and to purify his style, which he did to a high degree of refinement. He introduced into his native tongue a sweetness, a grace, a Majesty, that surprised the world, and even the Romans themselves. Cicero observes with great regret, that if ambition for power had not drawn Julius Caesar from the bar to command legions, he would have become the most complete orator in the world. So partial are men to the profession in which they excel. Eloquence triumphs in a popular assembly, makes some figure in a court of law composed of many judges; very little where there is but a single judge, and none at all in a despotic government. Eloquence flourished in the republics of Athens and of Rome; and makes some figure at present in a British House of Commons.
In Athens eloquence could not but flourish. In an assembly of the people, consisting of 5000 and upward, where every individual was entitled to give his opinion, the certainty of employing the talent of eloquence, was a strong motive with every young man of ambition to study that art. In Britain, very few are certain of obtaining a seat in the house of Commons; and that man must have great perseverance who can bestow years in acquiring an art that he may never have occasion to exercise. The eldest sons of peers have indeed a nearer prospect of a seat in the upper house: but young men of quality are commonly too much addicted to pleasure; and many of them come not to be peers till the fire of youth is spent. I am sorry to add another reason. Eloquence can never make a capital figure, but where patriotism is the ruling passion; for what can it avail among men who are deaf to every motive but what contributes to the interest or ambition of their party? When Demosthenes commenced his career of eloquence, patriotism made a figure in Athens, though it was on the decline. Had that great orator appeared more early, his authority in Athens would have been supreme.*25
The Greek stage has been justly admired among all polite nations. The tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides in particular are by all critics held to be perfect in their kind, excellent models for imitation, but far above rivalship. If the Greek stage was so early brought to maturity, it is a phenomenon not a little singular in the progress of arts. The Greek tragedy made a rapid progress from Thespes to Sophocles and Euripides, whose compositions are indeed the most complete that ever were exhibited in Greece: but whether they be really such masterpieces as is generally thought, will admit some doubt. The subject is curious: and the candid reader will give attention.
No human voice could fill the Greek theatre, which was so spacious as to contain several thousands without crowding. A brass pipe was invented to strengthen the voice; but that invention destroyed the melody of pronunciation, by confining the voice to a harsh monotony. The pipe was not the only unpleasant circumstance: every actor wore a mask; for what end or purpose is not explained. It may be true, that the expressions of the countenance could not be distinctly seen by those who occupied the back rows; and a mask possibly was thought necessary in order to put all the citizens upon a level. But without prying into the cause, let us only figure an actor with a mask and a pipe. He may represent tolerably a simple incident or plain thought, such as are the materials of an Italian opera; but the voice, countenance, and gestures, are indispensable in expressing refined sentiments, and the more delicate tones of passion.
Where then lies the charm in ancient tragedies that captivated all ranks of men? Greek tragedies are more active than sentimental: they contain many judicious reflections on morals, manners, and upon life in general; but no sentiments except what are plain and obvious. The subjects are of the simplest kind, such as give rise to the passions of hope, fear, love, hatred, envy, and revenge, in their most ordinary exertions: no intricate nor delicate situation to occasion any singular emotion; no gradual swelling and subsiding of passion; and seldom any conflict between different passions. I would not however be understood as meaning to depreciate Greek tragedies. They are indeed wonderful productions of genius, considering that the Greeks at that period were but beginning to emerge from roughness and barbarity into a taste for literature. The compositions of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, must have been highly relished among a people who had no idea of any thing more perfect: we judge by comparison, and every work is held to be perfect that has no rival. It ought at the same time to be kept in view, that it was not the dialogue which chiefly enchanted the Athenians, nor variety in the passions represented, nor perfection in the actors, but machinery and pompous decoration, accompanied with exquisite music. That these particulars were carried to the greatest height, we may with certainty conclude from the extravagant sums bestowed on them: the exhibiting a single tragedy was more expensive to the Athenians than their fleet or their army in any single campaign.
One would imagine, however, that these compositions are too simple to enchant for ever; as without variety in action, sentiment, and passion, the stage will not continue long a favourite entertainment: and yet we find not a single improvement attempted after the days of Sophocles and Euripides. This may appear a matter of wonder at first view. But the wonder vanishes upon considering, that the manner of performance prevented absolutely any improvement. A fluctuation of passion and refined sentiments would have made no figure on the Greek stage. Imagine the discording scene between Brutus and Cassius, in Julius Caesar, to be there exhibited, or the handkerchief in the Moor of Venice: how slight would be their effect, when pronounced in a mask, and through a pipe? The workings of nature upon the countenance and the flections of voice expressive of various feelings, so deeply affecting in modern representation, would have been entirely lost. If a great genius had arisen with talents for composing a pathetic tragedy in perfection, he would have made no figure in Greece. An edifice must have been erected of a moderate size: new players must have been trained to act without a mask, and to pronounce in their own voice. And, after all, there remained a greater miracle still to be wrought, namely, a total reformation of taste in the people of Athens. In one word, the simplicity of the Greek tragedy was suited to the manner of acting, and that manner excluded all improvements.
In composing a tragedy, the Grecian writers seem to have had no aim but to exhibit on the stage some known event as it was supposed to have happened. To give a distinct notion of the event beforehand, a person introduced on the stage related every incident to the audience; and that person sometimes gave a particular account of all that was to happen during the action, which seems to me a very idle thing. This speech was termed the prologue. There was no notion of an in-vented fable, by which the audience might be kept in suspense during the action. In a word, a Greek tragedy resembles in every respect a history-picture, in which is represented some event known to all the world. Thus we see the same subject handled by different tragic writers, each showing his genius in the manner of representing it. Shakespeare’s historical plays are all of the same kind. But the entertainment afforded by such a composition is far inferior to what arises from an unknown story, where every incident is new, where the hopes and fears of the audience are kept in constant agitation, and where all is suspended till the final conclusion.26
From these premises an inference may with certainty be drawn, that delicacy of taste and feeling were but faintly known among the Greeks, even when they made the greatest figure. Music, indeed, may be successfully employed in a sentimental tragedy; but pomp and splendour avail nothing. A spectator deeply affected is regardless of decoration. I appeal to the reproving scene between Hamlet and the Queen his mother: does any man of taste give the slightest attention to the beauty of the scenery? It would, however, be rash to involve in the same censure every Athenian. Do not pantomime-show, rope-dancing, and other such fashionable spectacles, draw multitudes from the deepest tragedies? And yet among us there are persons of taste, not a few, who despise such spectacles as fit only for the mob, persons who never bowed the knee to Baal. And, if there were such persons in Athens, of which we have no reason to doubt, it evinces the superiority of their taste: they had no example of more refined compositions than were exhibited on their stage; we have many.
With respect to comedy, it does not appear that the Greek comedy surpassed the tragedy, in its progress toward perfection. Horace mentions three stages of Greek comedy. The first was well suited to the rough and coarse manners of the Greeks when Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes wrote. These authors were not ashamed to represent on the stage real persons, not even disguising their names; of which we have a striking instance in a comedy of Aristophanes, called The Clouds, where So-crates is introduced, and most contemptuously treated. This sort of comedy, sparing neither gods nor men, was restrained by the magistrates of Athens forbidding persons to be named on the stage. This led writers to do what is imitated by us: the characters and manners of known persons were painted so much to the life, that there could be no mistake. The satire was indeed heightened by this regulation, as every one contributed to the satire by detecting the persons who were meant in the representation. This was termed the middle comedy. But, as there still remained too great scope for obloquy and licentiousness, a law was made, prohibiting real events or incidents to be introduced upon the stage. This law happily banished satire against individuals, and confined it to manners and customs in general. Obedient to this law are the comedies of Menander, Philemon, and Diphilus, who flourished about 300 years before the Christian aera. And this is termed the third stage of Greek comedy. The comedies of Aristophanes, which still remain, err no less against taste than against decency. But we have good ground to believe, that the Greek comedy was considerably refined by Menander and his cotemporaries; tho’ we must rely upon collateral evidence, having very few remains of them. Their works, however, were far from perfection, if we can draw any conjecture from their imitator Plautus, who wrote about a century later. Plautus was a writer of genius; and it may reasonably be supposed that his copies did not fall greatly short of the originals, in matters at least that can be faithfully copied. At that rate, they must have been extremely defective in their subjects, as well as in the conduct of their pieces; for he shows very little art in either. With respect to the former, his plots are wondrous simple, very little varied, and very little interesting. The subject of almost every piece is a young man in love with a music-girl, desiring to purchase her from the procurer, and employing a favourite slave to cheat his father out of the price; and the different ways of accomplishing the cheat, is all the variety we find. In some few of his comedies, the story rises to a higher tone, the music-girl being discovered to be the daughter of a free man, which removes every obstruc-tion to a marriage between her and her lover. With respect to the conduct of his pieces, there is a miserable defect of art. Instead of unfolding the subject in the progress of the action, as is done by Terence and by every modern writer, Plautus introduces an actor, for no better purpose than to explain the story to the audience. In one of his comedies, a household-god is so obliging as not only to unfold the subject, but to relate beforehand every particular that is to be represented, not excepting the catastrophe. Did not Plautus know, that it is pleasant to have our curiosity raised about what will happen next? In the course of the action, persons are frequently introduced who are heard talking to themselves on the open street. One would imagine the Greeks to have been great babblers, when they could not refrain soliloquies even in public. Could Plautus have been so artless in the conduct of his pieces, had a more perfect model been exhibited to him by Menander or the other authors mentioned?
It is observed in Elements of Criticism (a) , that when a language has received some polish, and the meaning of words is tolerably ascertained, then it is that a play of words comes to be relished. At that period of the Roman language, Plautus wrote. His wit consists almost entirely in a play of words, an eternal jingle, words brought together that have nearly the same sound, with different meanings, and words of different sounds that have the same meaning. As the Greek language had arrived to its perfection many years before, such false wit may be justly ascribed to Plautus himself, not to the Greeks from whom he copied. What was the period of that bastard wit in Greece, I know not; but it appears not to have been antiquated in Homer’s days, witness the joke in the Odyssey, where Ulysses imposed upon Polyphemus, by calling him Houtis or No-man. Nor seems it to have been antiquated in the days of Euripides, who in his Cyclops repeats the same silly joke. The Roman genius soon purged their compositions of such infantine beauties; for in Terence, who wrote about fifty years later than Plautus, there is scarce a vestige of them. The dialogue beside of Terence is more natural and correct, not a word but to the purpose: Plautus is full of tautologies, and digressions very little to the purpose. In a word, considering the slow progress of arts, the Roman theatre, from the time of Plautus to that of Terence, made as rapid a progress as perhaps ever happened in any country. Aristotle defines comedy to be an imitation of light and trivial subjects provoking laughter. The comedies of Plautus correspond accurately to that definition: those of Terence rise to a higher tone.
Beside the disadvantages of the mask and pipe mentioned above, there are two causes that tended to keep back the Greek and Roman comedy from the perfection of its kind. The first is the slow progress of society among these nations, occasioned by separating from the female sex. Where women are excluded from society, it never can arrive at any degree of refinement, not to talk of perfection. In a society of men and women, every one endeavours to shine: every latent talent, and every variety of character, are brought to light. To judge from ancient writers, man was a very plain being. Tacitus wrote when society between the sexes was abundantly free; and in no author before him is to be found any thing beyond the outlines of character. In ancient comedies there are misers, lovers, parasites, procurers; but the individuals of each class are cast in the same mould. In the Rudens of Plautus, it is true, a miser is painted with much anxiety about his hidden treasure, every trifling incident being converted by him into a cause of suspicion; but he is still the same miser that is painted by others, without any shade or singularity in the character. Homer is the only ancient that deserves to be excepted: his heroes have all courage; but courage in each is clearly of a distinct kind. Knowledge of an endless variety of character in the human species, acquired from unrestrained society, has enabled the moderns to enrich the theatre with new characters without end. What else is it but defect of knowledge in the dispositions of men, that has confined the comedies of Plautus and Terence, like those of Italy, to a very few characters?
Nothing is more evident, than the superiority of Terence above Plautus in the art of writing; and, considering that Terence is a later writer, nothing would ap-pear more natural, if they did not copy the same originals. It may be owing to genius that Terence excels in purity of language, and propriety of dialogue; but how account for his superiority over Plautus in the construction and conduct of a play? It will not certainly be thought, that Plautus would copy the worst models, leaving the best to future writers. This difficulty has not occurred to any of the commentators, as far as I can recollect.27 If it be fair to judge of Menander and of his cotemporaries from Plautus their imitator, the talents of Terence must have been great, to excel all of them so much both in the construction and conduct of his plays.
Homer, for more than two thousand years, has been held the prince of poets. Such perfection in an author who flourished when arts were far short of maturity, would be surprising, would be miraculous. An author of genius (a) has endeavoured to account for this extraordinary phaenomenon; and I willingly acknowledge, that he has exerted much industry, as well as invention; but, in my apprehension, with-out giving satisfaction. The new light that is thrown above upon the Greek theatre, has emboldened me to attempt a criticism on the Iliad, in order to judge whether Homer has so far anticipated the ordinary progress of nature, as in a very early period to have arrived at the perfection of his art.
To form a good writer, genius and judgment must concur. Nature supplies the former; but, to the latter, instruction and imitation are essential. Shakespeare lived in an age that afforded him little opportunity to cultivate or improve his judgment; and, though inimitable in every article that depends on genius, there are found many defects in the conduct of his plays, and in other particulars, that require judgment ripened by experience. Homer lived in a rude age, little advanced in useful arts, and still less in civilization and enlarged benevolence. The nations engaged in the Trojan war, are described by him as in a progress from the shepherd-state to that of agriculture. In the Iliad, many eminent men are said to be shepherds. Andromaché, in particular (a) , mentions seven of her brethren, who were slain by Achilles as they tended their father’s flocks and herds. In that state, garments of woollen cloth were used; but the skins of beasts, the original clothing, were still worn as an upper garment: every chief in the Iliad appears in that dress. Such, indeed, was the simplicity of this early period, that a black ewe was promised by each chief to the man who would undertake to be a spy. In such times, literature could not be far advanced; and it is a great doubt, whether there was at that time a single poem of the epic kind, for Homer to imitate or improve upon. Homer is undoubtedly a wonderful genius, perhaps the greatest that ever existed: his fire, and the boldness of his conceptions, are inimitable. But, in that early age, it would fall little short of a real miracle, to find such ripeness of judgment and correctness of execution, as in modern writers are the fruits of long experience and progressive improvements, during the course of many centuries. Homer is far from being so ripe, or so correct. I shall mention but two or three particulars; for, to dwell upon the imperfections of so il-lustrious an author, is not pleasant. The first is, that he reduces his heroes to be little better than puppets. Not one of them performs an action of eclat, but with the assistance of some deity: even Achilles himself is every where aided by superior powers. It is Jupiter who inspires Hector with boldness to perform the heroic actions so finely described in the 15th book; and it is Jupiter who, changing sides, fills his heart with dismay. Glaucus, desperately wounded, supplicates Apollo, is miraculously healed, and returns to the battle perfectly sound. Hector, struck to the ground with a stone, and at the point of giving up the ghost, is cured by Apollo, and sent back to the battle with redoubled vigour. Homer resembles a sect of Christians, who hold, that a man can do nothing of himself, and that he is merely an instrument which God employs, as we do a spade or a hatchet. Can Homer’s admirers be so blind as not to perceive, that this sort of machinery detracts from the dignity of his heroes, renders them less interesting, and less worthy of admiration? Homer, however, is deservedly such a favourite, that we are prone to admit any excuse. In days of ignorance, people are much addicted to the marvellous. Homer himself, it may be justly supposed, was infected with that weakness; and he certainly knew, that his hearers would be enchanted with every thing wonderful, and out of the common course of nature. Another particular is his digressions without end, which draw our attention from the principal subject. I wish some apology could be made for them. Diomedes (a) , for instance, meeting with Glaucus in the field of battle, and doubting, from his majestic air, whether he might not be an immortal, inquires who he was, declaring that he would not fight with a god. Glaucus lays hold of this very slight opportunity, in the heat of action, to give a long history of his family. In the mean time, the reader’s patience is put to a trial, and his ardor cools. Agamemnon (b) desiring advice how to resist the Trojans, Diomedes springs forward; but, before he offers advice, gives the history of all his progenitors, and of their characters, in a long train. And, after all, what was the sage advice that required such a preface? It was, that Agamemnon should exhort the Greeks to fight bravely. At any rate, was Diomedes so little known, as to make it proper to suspend the action at so critical a juncture for a genealogical history! A third particular, is an endless number of minute circumstances, especially in the description of battles, where they are the least tolerable. One capital beauty of an epic poem, is the selection of such incidents and circumstances as make a deep impression, keeping out of view every thing low or familiar (a) . An account of a single battle employs the whole fifth book of the Iliad, and a great part of the sixth: yet in the whole there is no general action; but warriors, whom we never heard of before, killed at a distance with an arrow or a javelin; and every wound described with anatomical accuracy. The whole seventeenth book is employed in the contest about the dead body of Patroclus, stuffed with minute circumstances below the dignity of an epic poem: the reader fatigued, has nothing to relieve him but the melody of Homer’s versification. Gratitude would prompt an apology for an author who affords so much entertainment: Homer had no good models to copy after; and, without good models, we cannot expect maturity of judgment. In a word, Homer was a blazing star, and the more to be admired, because he blazed in an obscure age. But that he should, in no degree, be tainted with the imperfections of such an age, is a wild thought: it is scarce possible, but by supposing him to be more than man.
Particular causes that advance the progress of fine arts, as well as of useful arts, are mentioned in the first part of this Sketch, and to these I refer.
Having traced the progress of the fine arts toward maturity in a summary way, the decline of these arts comes next in order. A useful art seldom turns retrograde, because every one has an interest to preserve it in perfection. Fine arts depend on more slender principles than those of utility; and therefore the judgment formed of them is more fluctuating. The variety of form that is admitted into the fine arts by such fluctuation of judgment, excites artists to indulge their love of no-velty.28 Restless man knows no golden mean, but will be attempting innovations without end. Such innovations do well in an art distant from perfection: but they are commonly the cause of degeneracy in arts that are in perfection; for an artist ambitious to excel, aims always to be an original, and cannot submit to be an imitator. This is the plain meaning of a florid passage of Velleius Paterculus (Roman history, lib. 1). “Naturaque, quod summo studio petitum est, ascendit in summum; difficilisque in perfecto mora est; naturaliterque, quod procedere non potest, recedit.”29 Which may pass in a learned language, but will never do in our own tongue. “The idea,” says Winckelmann, “of beauty could not be made more perfect; and those arts that cannot advance farther, become retrograde, by a fatality attending all human things, that if they cannot mount, they must fall down, because stability is not a quality of any created thing.” I shall endeavour to illustrate the cause assigned by me above for decline of the fine arts, beginning with architecture. The Ionic was the favourite order when archi-tecture was in its height of glory. The Corinthian order came next; which, in attempting greater perfection, has deviated from the true simplicity of nature: and the deviation is still greater in the Composite order (a) .
With respect to literary productions, the first essays of the Romans were very imperfect. We may judge of this from Plautus, whose compositions are abundantly rude, though much admired by his cotemporaries, being the best that existed at that time in Rome. The exalted spirit of the Romans hurried them on to the grand and beautiful; and literary productions of all kinds were in perfection when Augustus reigned. In attempting still greater perfection, the Roman compositions became a strange jumble of inconsistent parts: they were tumid and pompous, and at the same time full of antitheses, conceit, and tinsel wit. Every thing new in a fine art pleases; and, for that reason, such compositions were relished. We see not by what gradual steps writers after the time of Augustus devia-ted from the patterns that were before them; for no book of any moment, from the death of that Emperor, is preserved till we come down to Seneca, in whose works nature and simplicity give place to quaint thought, and bastard wit. He was a great corrupter of the Roman taste; and after him nothing was relished but brilliant strokes of fancy, with very little regard to sentiment: even Virgil and Cicero made no figure in comparison. Lucan has a strained elevation of thought and style, very difficult to be supported: he sinks often into puerile reflections; witness his encomium on the river Po, which, says he, would equal the Danube, had it the same number of tributary streams. Quintilian, a writer of true and classical taste, who was protected and encouraged by Vespasian, attempted to stem the tide of false writing. His rhetoric is composed in an elegant style; and his observations contain every delicacy of the critical art. At the same time flourished Tacitus, possessing a more extensive knowledge of human nature than any other author ancient or modern, if Shakespeare be not excepted. His style is original, concise, com-pact, and comprehensive; and, in what is properly called his history, perfectly correct and beautiful. He has been imitated by several, but never equalled by any. Brutus is said to be the last of the Romans for love of liberty: Quintilian and Tacitus may be said to be the last of the Romans for literary genius. Pliny the younger is no exception: his style is affected, turgid, and full of childish brilliancy. Seneca and Pliny are proper examples of writers who study show more than substance, and who make sense yield to sound.30
Whether music be or be not on the decline, seems a doubtful point, as the virtuosi are divided about it. In Greece, celebrated for taste, music was a theatrical entertainment, and had a dignified office, that of enlivening or enforcing the impressions made on the audience by the action. In that office, harmony being of little use, was little cultivated: nor did the musical instruments at that time known, afford great scope for harmony. Among us, harmony is brought to perfection; and, in modern compositions, it commonly is the chief part. To have melody and harmony both in perfection, they can never be united in the same piece. The heart, swoln by a melancholy strain, is regardless of harmony; and, when subdued by a delightful strain of whatever kind, it has no leisure for complicated harmony. Rich harmony, on the other hand, engrossing the whole attention, leaves the heart in a measure vacant.* The Greeks excelled in melody: the moderns excel in harmony. A just comparison between these, with respect to their effects on the hearer, will give instruction, and perhaps may enable us to determine whether music be or be not on the decline.
Nature, kindly to its favourite man, has furnished him with five external senses, not only for supporting animal life, but for procuring to him variety of enjoyments. A towering hill as an object of sight, a blushing rose as an object of smell, a pine-apple as an object of taste, a fine fur as an object of touch, do every one of them produce a pleasant feeling. With respect to the sense of hearing in particular, certain sounds heard at the same instant raise a pleasant feeling; and certain sounds heard in succession raise another pleasant feeling; the former termed harmony, the latter melody. Harmony, like the pleasure of tasting or of smelling, affects us at the organ of sense only, and ceases when its object is removed. But melody is not confined to the organ of sense: it pierces to the heart, and produces different emotions, according to the nature of the modulation. An emotion so raised, such as that of gaiety, of melancholy, of pity, of courage, of benevolence, subsists after the music ceases, and even swells into a passion where it meets with a proper object. An air, sweet and melting, raises an emotion in the tone of love, and readily is elevated to the passion of love on the sight of a beautiful object. An air, slow and plaintive, produces an emotion in the tone of pity or grief, which, on the appearance of a person in distress, becomes a passion. A lively and animating strain produces an emotion of courage: the hearer exalted to a hero, longs for an opportunity to exert his prowess.
Can harmony produce an effect in any degree similar? The greatest admirer of harmony will not affirm that it can. The emotion raised by harmony has no affinity to passion or sentiment, more than the smell of a tuberose, or the taste of an ortolan; and it vanishes instantaneously with the concordant sounds that produced it.
Hence it may fairly be concluded, that, as far as melody is superior to harmony, as far was Greek music superior to the generality of what is now in practice. Exceptions there are undoubtedly that rival whatever could be performed by the ancients: but they are not many in number; the talent of composing music in the tone of a passion, seems in a great measure to lie dormant. The Italian opera resembles in form the Greek tragedy, from which evidently it is copied, but very little in substance. In the latter, the dialogue maintains its superior station; and music, confined to its proper place, has the strong-est effect that music can produce. In the former, music usurping the superior station, commands attention by a storm of sound, leaving the dialogue languid and uninteresting. This unnatural disjunction of sound from sense, has introduced a sort of bastard music, termed recitative. Suffering the words to pass, though abundantly flat and languid,* I object to the execution, an unnatural movement between pro nouncing and singing, that cannot be agreeable but to those who have been long accustomed to it. Of one thing I am certain, that graceful pronunciation, whether in the calm narrative tone, or in the warm tone of passion, is far more pleasant. What puts the preference of the Greek model far beyond a doubt, is, that the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were for a long course of time the delight of the most refined nation that ever existed: an Italian opera, on the contrary, never runs above a season; and, after being once laid aside, is never revived. But this slight and superficial taste for harmony above melody, can-not be lasting: nature may be wrested, but soon or late resumes its empire. Sentimental music will be seriously cultivated, and restored to the place in the theatre it anciently possessed with dignity and propriety. Then it is that we may hope to rival the Greeks in music as in other arts. Upon the whole, music undoubtedly is much improved with respect to its theory; but, with respect to the practical part, there appears as little doubt of a woeful degeneracy.32
I lay hold of this opportunity to add a short article concerning the history of music, which regard to my native country will not suffer me to omit. We have in Scotland a multitude of songs tender and pathetic, expressive of love in its varieties, of hope, fear, success, despondence, and despair. The style of the music is wild and irregular, extremely pleasing to the natives, but little relished by the bulk of those who are accustomed to the regularity of the Italian style. None but men of genius, who follow nature and break loose from the thraldom of custom, esteem that music. It was a favourite of the late Geminiani, whose compositions show deli-cacy of taste equal to the superiority of his genius; and it is warmly praised by Alessandro Tassoni, the celebrated author of Secchia Rapita. Discoursing of ancient and modern music, and quoting from various authors the wonderful effects produced by some modern compositions, he subjoins the following passage. “Noi ancora possiamo connumerar trà nostri, Iacopo Rè de Scozia, che non pur cose sacre compose in tanto, ma trovò da sestesso una nuovo musica lamentevole e mesta, differente da tutte l’atre. Nel che poi è stato imitato da Carlo Gesualdo Principe di Venosa, che in questa nostra età ha illustrata anch’ egli la musica con nuova mirabili invenzioni” (a) .* The king mentioned must be James I. of Scotland, the only one of our kings who seems to have had any remarkable taste in the fine arts; and the music can be no other than the songs mentioned above. These are commonly attributed to David Rizzio, because he was an Italian and a musician; but erroneously, as we now discover from Tassoni. Our James I. was eminent for poetry no less than for music. He is praised for the former by Bishop Leslie, one of our historians, in the following words: “Patrii carminis gloria nulli secundus.”33 We have many poems ascribed by tradition to that king; one in particular, Christ’s kirk on the green, is a ludicrous poem, describing low manners with no less propriety than sprightliness.
Another cause that precipitates the downfal of every fine art, is despotism. The reason is obvious; and there was a dismal example of it in Rome, particularly with regard to eloquence. We learn from a dialogue accounting for the corruption of the Roman eloquence, that, in the decline of the art, it became fashionable to stuff harangues with impertinent poetical quotations, without any view but ornament merely; and this also was long fashionable in France. It happened unluckily for the Romans, and for the world, that the fine arts were at their height in Rome, and not much upon the decline in Greece, when despotism put an end to the republic. Augustus, it is true, retarded their fall, particularly that of literature; it being the policy of his reign to hide despotism, and to give his government an air of freedom. His court was a school of urbanity, where people of genius acquired that delicacy of taste, that elevation of sentiment, and that purity of expression, which characterize the writers of his time. He honoured men of learning, admitted them to his table, and was bountiful to them. It would be painful to follow the decline of the fine arts in Rome to their total extirpation. The tyranny of Tiberius and of subsequent emperors, broke at last the elevated and independent spirit of the brave Romans, reduced them to abject slavery, and left not a spark of genius.* The science of law is the only exception, as it flourished even in the worst of times: the Roman lawyers were a respectable body, and less the object of jealousy than men of power and extensive land property. Among the Greeks also, a conquered people, the fine arts decayed, but not so rapidly as at Rome: the Greeks, farther removed from the seat of government, were less within the reach of a Roman tyrant. During their depression, they were guilty of the most puerile conceits; witness verses composed in the form of an axe, an egg, wings, and such like. The style of Greek writers in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, is unequal, obscure, stiff, and affected. Lucian is the only exception I am acquainted with.
We need scarce look for any other cause but despotism, to account for the decline of statuary and painting in Greece. These arts had arrived at their utmost perfection about the time of Alexander the Great: from that time they declined gradually along with the vigour of a free people; for Greece was now enslaved by the Macedonian power. It may in general be observed, that when a nation becomes stationary in that degree of power and eminence which it acquires from its constitution and situation, the national spirit subsides, and men of talents become rare. It is still worse with a nation that is sunk below its former power and eminence; and worst of all when it is reduced to slavery. Other causes concurred to accelerate the downfal of the arts mentioned. Greece, in the days of Alexander, was filled with statues of excellent workmanship; and there being little demand for more, the later statuaries were reduced to heads and busts. At last the Romans put a total end both to statuary and painting in Greece, by plundering it of its finest pieces; and the Greeks, exposed to the avarice of the conquerors, bestowed no longer any money on the fine arts.34
The decline of the fine arts in Rome, is by a writer of taste and elegance ascribed to a cause different from any above mentioned, a cause equally destructive to manhood and to the fine arts; and that is opulence, joined with its constant attendants avarice and luxury. It would be doing injustice to that author to quote him in any words but his own.
Priscis temporibus, quum adhuc nuda virtus placeret, vigebant artes ingenuae; summumque certamen inter homines erat, ne quid profuturum seculis diu lateret. Itaque, Hercules! omnium herbarum succos Democritus expressit: et ne lapidum virgultorumque vis lateret, aetatem inter experimenta consumpsit. Eudoxus quidem in cacumine excelsissimi montis consenuit, ut astrorum coelique motus deprehenderet: et Chrysippus, ut ad inventionem sufficiret, ter helleboro animum detersit. Verum ut ad plastas convertar, Lysippum statuae unius lineamentis inhaerentem inopia extinxit: et Myron, qui penè hominum animas ferarumque aere comprehenderat, non invenit heredem. At nos, vino scortisque demersi, ne paratas quidem artes audemus cognoscere; sed accusatores antiquitatis, vitia tantum docemus, et discimus. Ubi est dialectica? ubi astronomia? ubi sapientiae consultissima via? Quis unquam venit in templum, et votum fecit si ad eloquentiam pervenisset? quis, si philosophiae fontem invenisset? Ac ne bonam quidem mentem, aut bonam valetudinem, petunt: sed statim, antequam limen capitolli tangunt, alius donum promittit si propinquum divitem extulerit; alius, si thesaurum effoderit; alius, si ad trecenties H——S. salvus pervenerit. Ipse senatus, recti bonique praeceptor, mille pondo auri capitolio promittere solet: et ne quis dubitet pecuniam concupiscere, Jovem quoque peculio exorat. Nolito ergo mirari, si pictura defecit, quum omnibus diis hominibusque formosior videatur massa auri, quam quidquid Apelles Phidiasve fecerunt (a) .*
In England, the fine arts are far from such perfection as to suffer by opulence. They are in a progress, it is true, toward ma-turity; but, gardening alone excepted, they proceed in a very slow pace.
There is a particular cause that never fails to undermine a fine art in a country where it is brought to perfection, abstracting from every one of the causes above mentioned. In the first part of the present sketch it is remarked, that nothing is more fatal to an art or to a science, than a performance so much superior to all of the kind, as to extinguish emulation. This remark is exemplified in the great Newton, who, having surpassed all the ancients, has not left to his countrymen even the faintest hope of rivalling him; and to that cause is attributed the visible decline of mathematical knowledge in Great Britain. The same cause would have been fatal to the arts of statuary and painting among the Greeks, even though they had continued a free people. The decay of painting in modern Italy, is probably owing to the same cause: Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, &c. are lofty oaks that keep down young plants in their neighbourhood, and intercept from them the sunshine of emulation. Had the art of painting made a slower progress in Italy, it might have there continued in vigour to this day. Velleius Paterculus says judiciously, “Ut primo ad consequendos quos priores ducimus accendimur; ita, ubi aut praeteriri aut aequari eos posse desperavimus, studium cum spe senescit; et quod adsequi non potest, sequi desinit: praeteritoque eo in quo eminere non possimus, aliquid in quo nitamur conquirimus.”*
The decline of an art or science proceeding from the foregoing cause, is the most rapid where a strict comparison can be instituted between the works of different masters. The superiority of Newton above every other mathematician, can be ascertained with precision; and hence the sudden decline of that science in Great Britain. In Italy, a talent for painting continued many years in vigour; because no painter appeared with such superiority of genius, as to carry perfection into every branch of the art. As one surpassed in design, one in colours, one in graceful attitudes, there was still scope for emulation. But when, in the progress of the art, there was not a single perfection but had been seized by one or other master, from that period the art began to languish. Architecture continued longer in vigour than painting, because the principles of comparison in the former are less precise than in the latter. The artist who could not rival his predecessors in an established mode, sought out a new mode for himself, which, though perhaps less elegant or perfect, was for a time supported by novelty.
Corruption of the Latin tongue makes a proper appendix to the decline of the fine arts in Rome. That the Latin tongue did not long continue in purity after the Emperor Augustus, is certain; and all writers agree, that the cause of its early corruption was a continual influx into Rome of men, to whom the Latin was a foreign language. The reason is plausible, but whether solid, may be doubted. In all countries, there are provincial dialects, which, however, tend not to corrupt the language of the capital, because they are carefully avoided by all who pretend to speak properly; and, accordingly, the multitude of provincials who flock to Paris and to London, have no influence to corrupt the language. The same probably was the case in old Rome, especially with respect to strangers whose native tongue was totally different from that of Rome: their imperfect manner of speaking Latin might be excused, but certainly was not imitated. Slaves in Rome had little conversation with their masters, except in receiving orders or reproof; which had no tendency to vitiate the Latin tongue. The corruption of that tongue, and at last its death and burial as a living language, were the result of two combined causes; of which the early prevalence of the Greek language in Rome is the first. Latin was native to the Romans only, and to the inhabitants of Latium. The languages of the rest of Italy were numerous: the Messapian was the mother-tongue in Apulia, the Hetruscan in Tuscany and Umbria, the Greek in Magna Graecia, the Celtic in Lombardy and Liguria, &c. &c. Latin had arrived at its purity not many years before the reign of Augustus, and had not taken deep root in those parts of Italy where it was not the mother-tongue, when Greek became the fashionable language among people of rank, as French is in Europe at present. Greek, the storehouse of learning, prevailed in Rome even in Cicero’s time; of which he himself bears testimony in his oration for the poet Archias: “Graeca leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus: Latina suis finibus, exiguis sane, continentur.”35 And, for that reason, Atticus is warmly solicited by him to write the history of his consulate in Greek. Thus Latin, justled by Greek out of its place, was left to inferiors, and probably would have sunk to utter oblivion, even though the republic had continued in vigour. But the chief cause was the despotism of the Roman government, which proved the destruction of the fine arts, and of literature in particular. In a country of so many different languages, the Latin tongue could not be preserved in purity, but by constant perusal of Roman classics: but these were left to rot in libraries, a dark cloud of ignorance having overspread the whole empire. Every person carelessly spoke the language acquired in the nursery; and people of different tongues being mixed under one government, without a common standard, fell gradually into a sort of mixed language, which every one made a shift to understand. The irruption of many barbarous nations into Italy, several of whom settled there, added to the jargon. And that jargon, composed of many heterogeneous parts, was in process of time purified to the tongue that is now native to all the inhabitants of Italy.
In a history of the Latin tongue, it ought not to be overlooked, that it continued long in purity among the Roman lawyers. The science of law was in Rome more cultivated than in any other country. The books written upon that science in Latin were numerous; and, being highly regarded, were the constant study of every man who aspired to be an eminent lawyer. Neither could such men have any bias to the Greek tongue, as law was little cultivated in Greece. Thus it happened, that the Latin tongue, as far as concerns law, was preserved in purity, even to the time of the Emperor Justinian.
Greek was preserved in purity much longer than Latin. The same language was spoken through all Greece, with some slight varieties in dialect. It was brought to great perfection and firmly rooted during the prosperous days of Greece. Its classics were numerous, and were studied by every person who pretended to literature.* Now, tho’ the free and manly spirit of the Greeks yielded to Roman despotism, yet while any appetite for literature remained, their invaluable classics were a standard, which preserved the language in purity. But ignorance at length became universal; and the Greek classics ceased to be a standard, being buried in libraries, as the Roman classics had been for centuries. In that state, the Greek tongue could not fail to degenerate among an ignorant and servile people, who had no longer any ambition to act well, write well, or speak well. And yet, after all, that beautiful tongue, far beyond a rival, has suffered less alteration than any other ever did in similiar circumstances; one cause of which is, that to this day the Greeks live separate from their masters the Turks, and have little commerce with them.
From the fate of the Latin tongue, an observation is drawn by many writers, that all languages are in a continual flux, changing from age to age without end. And such as are fond of fame, deplore it as a heavy misfortune, that the language in which they write will soon become obsolete and unintelligible. But it is a common error in reasoning, to found a general conclusion upon a single fact. In its progress toward perfection, a language is continually improving, and therefore continually changing. But supposing a language to have acquired its utmost perfec-tion, I see nothing that should necessarily occasion any change: on the contrary, the classical books in that language become a standard for writing and speaking, to which every man of taste and figure conforms himself. Such was the case of the Greek tongue, till the Greeks were brutified by despotism. The Italian has continued in perfection more than three centuries, and the French more than one. The Arabic has continued without change more than a thousand years: there is no book in that language held to be in a style more pure or perfect than the Koran.* The English language has not yet acquired all the purity it is susceptible of; but, when there is no place for further improvements, there seems little doubt of its becoming stationary, like the languages mentioned. I bar always such a revolution as eradi-cates knowledge, and reduces a people to a state of barbarity. In an event so dismal, the destruction of classical books and of a pure language, is not the greatest calamity: they will be little regretted in the universal wreck. In the mean time, to a writer of genius in a polished nation, it cannot but be a charming prospect, that his works will stand and fall with his country. To make such a writer exert his talents for purifying his mother-tongue, and for adding to the number and reputation of its classics, what nobler excitement, than the certainty of being transmitted to posterity, and admired by every person of taste through all ages!
As before the invention of printing, writers could have nothing in view but reputation and praise, they endeavoured to give the utmost perfection to their compositions. They at the same time studied brevity, in order that their works might pass through many hands; for the expence of transcribing great volumes, could not be afforded by every reader. The art of printing has made a great revolution: the opportunity it furnishes to mul-tiply copies, has degraded writing to be a lucrative employment. Authors now study to swell their works, in order to raise the price; and being in a hurry for money, they reject the precept of Horace, Nonum prematur in annum.36 Take for example the natural history of Aldrovandus, in many folio volumes. After filling his common-place book with passages from every author ancient and modern, to the purpose and not to the purpose; he sits down to compose, bent to transfuse into his book every article thus painfully collected. For example, when he introduces the ox, the cock, or any other animal; far from confining himself to its natural history, he omits nothing that has been said of it in books where it has been occasionally introduced, not even excepting tales for amusing children: he mentions all the superstitious notions concerning it, every poetical comparison drawn from it, the use it has served in hieroglyphics and in coats-armorial; in a word, all the histories and all the fables in which it has been named. Take another instance from a German or Dutch chronologer, whose name has escaped me, and which I give in a translation from the Latin, to prevent the bias that one has for a learned language.
Samson was the same with the Theban Hercules; which appears from the actions attributed to each of them, especially from the following, That Hercules, unarmed, is said to have suffocated the Nemean lion with a squeeze of his arms: Samson, unarmed, did the same, by tearing a lion to pieces: and Josephus says, that he did not tear the lion, but put out his breath with a squeeze; which could be done, and was done by Scutilius the wrestler, as reported by Suidas. David also, unarmed, tore to pieces a lion, 1 Samuel, chap. 17.; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada also slew a lion, 2 Sam. chap. 23. ver. 20. Moreover we read, that Samson having caught three hundred foxes, tied lighted firebrands to their tails, and drove them into the standing corn of the Philistines, by which both the shocks and standing corn, with the vineyards and olives, were burnt up. Many think it incredible, that three hundred foxes should be caught by one man; as the fox, being the most cunning of all animals, would not suffer itself to be easily taken. Accordingly Oppian, a Greek poet who writes upon hunting, asserts, that no fox will suffer itself to be taken in a gin or a net; though we are taught the contrary by Martial, lib. 10. epig. 37.
In India, eagles, hawks, and ravens, are taught to hunt foxes, as we are informed by Olianus, Var. hist. lib. 9. cap. 26. They are also caught by traps and snares, and in covered pits, as wolves are, and other large animals. Nor is it wonderful that such a multitude of foxes were caught by Samson, considering that Palestine abounded with foxes. He had hunters without number at command; and he was not confined in time. The fame of that exploit was spread far and near. Even among the Romans there were vestiges of it, as appears from Ovid, Fast. lib. 9. ver. 681. In one Roman festival, armed foxes were let loose in the circus; which Ovid, in the place quoted, says was done in memory of the Carsiolan fox, which, having destroyed many hens belonging to a country-woman, was caught by her, and punished as follows. She wrapped up the fox in hay, which she set fire to; and the fox being let go, fled through the standing corn and set it on fire. There can be no doubt but that this festival was a vestige of Samson’s foxes, not only from congruity of circumstances, but from the time of celebration, which was the month of April, the time of harvest in Palestine. See more about foxes in Burman’s works.
Not to mention the ridiculous arguments of this writer to prove Samson to be the same with the Theban Hercules, nor the childish wanderings from that subject; he has totally overlooked the chief difficulties. However well fixed the fire-brands might be, it is not easily conceivable, that the foxes, who would naturally fly to their lurking-holes, could much injure the corn, or the olive-trees. And it is as little conceivable, what should have moved Samson to employ foxes, when, by our author’s supposition, he had men at command, much better qualified than foxes for committing waste. This author would have saved himself much idle labour, had he embraced a very probable opinion, that, if the translation be not erroneous, the original text must be corrupted. But enough, and more than enough, of these writers. Maturity of taste has banished such absurdities; and at present, happily, books are less bulky, and more to the purpose, than formerly.
It is observed above (a) , that in a country thinly peopled, where the same person must for bread undertake different employments, the people are knowing and conversable; but stupid and ignorant in a populous country where industry and manufactures abound. That observation holds not with respect to the fine arts. It requires so much genius to copy even a single figure, whether in painting or in sculpture, as to prevent the operator from degenerating into a brute. The great exertion of genius, as well as of invention, required in grouping figures, and in imitating human actions, tends to envigorate these faculties with respect to every subject, and of course to form a man of parts.
[1. ]In the 1st edition the arrangement of the argument of both sections of the present sketch differs slightly from that in the 2nd and 3rd editions.
[* ]The Ilinois are industrious above all their American neighbours. Their women are neat-handed: they spin the wool of their horned cattle, which is as fine as that of English sheep. The stuffs made of it are dyed black, yellow, or red, and cut into garments sewed with roe-buck sinews. After drying these sinews in the sun, and beating them, they draw out threads as white and fine as any that are made of flax, but much tougher.
[(a) ]Odyssey, b. 8. l. 483. Pope’s translation.
[2. ]“We are informed . . . his son’s body”: added in 2nd edition.
[3. ]In the 1st edition this paragraph begins: “The art of writing was known in Greece when Homer composed his two epics; for he gives somewhere a hint of it. It was at that time probably in its infancy, and used only for recording laws, religious precepts, or other short works” [1:93–94].
[4. ]“The art of . . . of martre skins”: added in 2nd edition.
[5. ]“Jocondus gave you an identical bridge [pontem ], Sequana; you can rightly call this one a high priest [pontificem ].” Sequana is the Latin name for the Seine; a cordelier is a strict Franciscan friar.
[6. ]“Coffee-houses were . . . the year 1652”: added in 2nd edition.
[7. ]“The measure of . . . snout or tail”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]L. 10. cap. 10.
[* ]In the act 13th Elisabeth, anno 1571, confirming the thirty-nine articles of the church of England, these articles are not engrossed, but referred to as comprised in a printed book, intitled, Articles agreed to by the whole clergy in the convocation holden at London 1562. The forged clause is, “The church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith.” That clause is not in the articles referred to; nor the slightest hint of any authority with respect to matters of faith. In the same year 1571, the articles were printed both in Latin and English, precisely as in the year 1562. But soon after came out spurious editions, in which the said clause was foisted into the twentieth article, and continues so to this day. A forgery so impudent would not pass at present; and its success shows great ignorance in the people of England at that period.
[8. ]“The Emperor Rodolphus . . . and to lawyers”: added in 2nd edition.
[9. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Titus Livius, lib. 7. c. 2.
[(b) ]Quintilian, lib. 10. c. 17.
[(c) ]Cicero De oratore, lib. 2. N° 72.
[(d) ]—— De oratore, lib. 2. N° 193.
[(e) ]—— De finibus, lib. 1. N° 7.
[(a) ]Historia Romana, lib. 1. in fine.
[* ]In Scotland, an innocent bankrupt imprisoned for debt, obtains liberty by a process termed cessio bonorum. From the year 1694 to the year 1744, there were but twenty-four processes of that kind, which shows how languidly trade was carried on while the people remained ignorant of their advantages by the union. From that time to the year 1771, there have been thrice that number every year, taking one year with another; an evident proof of the late rapid progress of commerce in Scotland. Every one is roused to venture his small stock, though every one cannot be successful.
[* ]Population has one advantage not commonly thought of, which is, that it banishes ghosts and apparitions. Such imaginary beings are never seen but by solitary persons in solitary places. In great towns they are unknown: you never hear of such a thing in Holland, which in effect is one great town. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[10. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 112. edit. 5.
[* ]Some Iroquois, after seeing all the beauties of Paris, admired nothing but the street De la Houchette, where they found a constant supply of eatables.
[(b) ]Elements of Criticism, chap. 25.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 163. edit. 5.
[(b) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 2. pp. 184. 284. edit. 5.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, chap. 2. part 2.
[11. ]“The same Cicero . . . to the polished”: added in 2nd edition.
[12. ]“Pope Gregory the . . . for sterling wit”: added in 2nd edition.
[13. ]“The rock (i.e., Christ) gave the crown to Peter, and Peter gives it to Rudolf.”
[14. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Father Paul’s history of Trent, lib. 1. [[Fra Paolo Sarpi’s Istoria del Concilio Tridentino.]]
[(b) ][[Essai sur l’histoire générale, Chap. 78.]]
[15. ]The 1st edition adds: “By no audience in the neighbouring kingdoms, would the following passage in one of Dryden’s plays have been endured. ‘Jack Sauce! if I say it is a tragedy, it shall be a tragedy in spite of you: teach your grandam how to piss.’ These plays are full of such coarse stuff, and yet continued favourites down to the Revolution. For a long time after the revival of the arts and sciences, Lucan was ranked above Virgil by every critic.”
[(a) ]Vol. 1. p. 244. edit. 5.
[16. ]“Our celebrated poet . . . light as before”: added in 2nd edition.
[17. ]“Ill-fated Shakespeare! . . . in later times”: added in 2nd edition.
[18. ]Epilogue to Part II of The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards, ll. 1–18.
[19. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[20. ]Voltaire criticizes Camoens in the Essai sur la poèsie épique.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, chap. 22.
[21. ]“At the meeting . . . gardening alone excepted”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]No nation equals the French in dress, household furniture, watches, snuff-boxes, and in toys of every kind. The Italians have always excelled in architecture and painting, the English in gardening. How are such national differences to be explained? A nation, like an individual, may be disposed to grand objects, which swell the mind. A nation, like an individual, may relish things neat, pretty, and elegant. And if a taste of any kind happen once to prevail among men of figure, it soon turns general. The verdure of the fields in England invites a polishing hand.
[(a) ]Chap. 25.
[22. ]“Gardening has made . . . of concordant parts”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Odyssey, b. 8.
[(b) ]Tusculan Questions, lib. 4. N° 3. & 4.
[(c) ]Lib. 4.
[(d) ]Lib. 15. cap. 9.
[23. ]“The Bards sang to the sweet strains of the lyre the valorous deeds of famous men composed in heroic verse.”
[* ]The first seal that a young Greenlander catches is made a feast for the family and neighbours. The young champion, during the repast, descants upon his address in catching the animal: the guests admire his dexterity, and extol the flavour of the meat. Their only music is a sort of drum, which accompanies a song in praise of seal-catching, in praise of their ancestors, or in welcoming the sun’s return to them. Here are the rudiments of the bard-profession. The song is made for a chorus, as many of our ancient songs are. Take the following example:
The bard sings the first and third lines, accompanying it with his drum, and with a sort of dance. The other lines, termed the burden of the song, are sung by the guests.
[(a) ]Sketch 6. Progress of Manners.
[(b) ]De Moribus Germanorum, cap. 2.
[(c) ]See Elements of Criticism, vol. 2. Appendix, article 33.
[* ]The multitude are struck with what is new and splendid, but seldom continue long in a wrong taste. Voltaire holds it to be a strong testimony for the Gierusaleme Liberata, that even the gondoliers in Venice have it mostly by heart; and that one no sooner pronounces a stanza than another carries it on. Ossian has the same testimony in his favour: there are not many highlanders, even of the lowest rank, but can repeat long passages out of his works.
[* ]Low people to this day tell their story in dialogue, as ancient writers did, and for the same reason. They relate things as they saw and heard them. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]See Elements of Criticism, chap. 22.
[(a) ]Ruth i. 8.–iv. 16.
[(a) ]1 Kings, i. 11.–49.
[* ]The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Robinson Crusoe, great favourites of the vulgar, are composed in a style, enlivened like that of Homer, by a proper mixture of the dramatic and narrative; and upon that account, chiefly, have been translated into several European languages.
[(a) ]Cicero de Oratore, lib. 2. N° 5.
[* ]Euripides, in his Phoenicians, introduces Oedipus, under sentence of banishment, and blind, calling for his staff, his daughter Antigone putting it in his hand, and directing every step, to keep him from stumbling. Such minute circumstances, like what are frequent in Richardson’s novels, tend indeed to make the reader conceive himself to be a spectator (b) : but whether that advantage be not more than overbalanced by the languor of a creeping narrative, may be justly doubted.
[* ]The following passage, copied from an Edinburgh news-paper, may almost rival this eloquent piece. After observing that the frost was intense, which, says the writer, renders travelling very dangerous either in town or country, he proceeds thus: “We would therefore recommend it to shopkeepers, and those whose houses are close upon the streets or lanes, to scatter ashes opposite to their doors, as it may be a means of preventing passengers from falling, which they are in great danger of doing at present, from the slippiness of the streets, where that practice is not followed.”
[24. ]“There was not . . . Abbé St. Real”: added in 2nd edition.
[* ]Eloquence is necessary to those only who request, not to those who command. The Spartans, a bold and firm people, were decisive in their resolutions, and of few words; whence the laconic style. Take a modern instance of that style. In the year 1487, causes of discontent arising between O’Neal and Tirconnel, two Irish chieftains, the former wrote to the latter, “Send me tribute, or else.” The latter answered, “I owe you none, and if.”
[25. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[26. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Chap. 13.
[27. ]In the 1st edition the paragraph ends: “Had the works of Menander and of his cotemporaries been preserved, they probably would have explained the mystery; which for want of that light will probably remain a mystery for ever.”
[(a) ][[Thomas Parnell, Essay on the life and writings of Homer.]]
[(a) ]Book 6.
[(a) ]Book 6.
[(b) ]Book 14.
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 232. edit. 5.
[28. ]“A useful art . . . love of novelty”: added in 2nd edition. In 1st edition: “An art, in its progress towards maturity, is greatly promoted by emulation; and after arriving at maturity, its downfal is not less promoted by it. It is difficult to judge of perfection but by comparison; and an artist, ambitious to outstrip his predecessors, cannot submit to be an imitator, but must strike out something new, which in an art advanced to ripeness, seldom fails to be a degeneracy. This cause of the decline of the fine arts, I shall endeavour to illustrate by various instances.”
[29. ]“And in the nature of things, that which is cultivated with the highest zeal advances to the highest perfection; but it is difficult to continue to the point of perfection, and naturally that which cannot advance must recede.”
[(a) ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 206. edit. 5.
[30. ]In the 1st edition the paragraph continues: “Music among the Greeks limited itself to the employment to which it is destin’d by nature, viz. to be the handmaid of sense, to enforce, enliven, or sweeten, a sentiment. In the Italian opera the mistress is degraded to be the handmaid; and harmony triumphs, with very little regard to sentiment” [1:53].
[* ]Corelli excels in combining harmony with melody. His melody could not be richer without impoverishing his harmony; nor his harmony richer without impoverishing his melody.
[31. ]“And prays that amid the timorous herds a foaming boar may be granted to his vows or a tawny lion come down from the mountains”: Virgil, Aeneid, bk. IV, ll. 158–59.
[* ]No person will suspect that under this censure is comprehended the celebrated Metastasio.
[32. ]This and the preceding two paragraphs added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Pensieri diversi, lib. 10. cap. 23.
[* ]“We may reckon among the composers of the moderns James King of Scotland, who not only composed sacred songs, but was himself the inventor of a new style of music, plaintive and pathetic, different from all others. In this manner of composition, he has been imitated in our times by Carlo Gesualdo Prince of Venosa, who has illustrated that style of music with new and wonderful invention.”
[33. ]“Second to none in the glory of the songs of the Father.”
[* ]A singular persecution was carried on by Pope Gregory, most improperly surnamed the Great, against the works of Cicero, Titus Livius, and Cornelius Tacitus, which in every corner of Christendom were publicly burnt; and from that time, there has not been seen a complete copy of any of these authors. This happened in the sixth century: so soon had the Romans fallen from the perfection of taste and knowledge to the most humbling barbarity. Nor was that the only persecution of books on the score of religion. Many centuries before, a similar instance happened in China, directed by a foolish emperor. The Alexandrian library was twice consumed by fire, once in the time of Julius Caesar, and once in the time of the Calif Omar. What a profusion of knowledge was lost past redemption! And yet, upon the whole, it seems doubtful, whether the moderns have suffered by these events. At what corner of a library shall a man begin where he sees an infinity of books, choice ones too? He will turn his back to the library, and begin at no corner.
[34. ]In the 1st edition the paragraph continues: “Winckelmann, overlooking the causes mentioned, borrows from Velleius Paterculus a reason for the decline of the fine arts in Greece, not a little ridiculous” [1:55].
[(a) ]Petronius Arbiter.
[* ]“In ancient times, when naked virtue had her admirers, the liberal arts were in their highest vigour; and there was a generous contest among men, that nothing of real and permanent advantage should long remain undiscovered. Democritus extracted the juice of every herb and plant; and, lest the virtue of a single stone or twig should escape him, he consumed a lifetime in experiments. Eudoxus, immersed in the study of astronomy, spent his age upon the top of a mountain. Chrysippus, to stimulate his inventive faculty, thrice purified his genius with hellebore. To turn to the imitative arts: Lysippus, while labouring on the forms of a single statue, perished from want. Myron, whose powerful hand gave to the brass almost the soul of man, and animals,—at his death found not an heir! Of us of modern times what shall we say? Immersed in drunkenness and debauchery, we want the spirit to cultivate those arts which we possess. We inveigh against the manners of antiquity; we study vice alone; and vice is all we teach. Where now is the art of reasoning? where astronomy? where is the right path of wisdom? What man now a-days is heard in our temples to make a vow for the attainment of eloquence, or for the discovery of the fountain of true philosophy? Nor do we even pray for health of body, or a sound understanding. One, while he has scarce entered the porch of the temple, devotes a gift in the event of the death of a rich relation; another prays for the discovery of a treasure; a third for a ministerial fortune. The senate itself, the exemplary preceptor of what is good and laudable, has promised a thousand pounds of gold to the capitol; and, to remove all reproach from the crime of avarice, has offered a bribe to Jupiter himself. How should we wonder that the art of painting has declined, when, in the eyes both of the gods and men, there is more beauty in a mass of gold, than in all the works of Phidias and Apelles?”
[* ]“As at first we are excited to emulate those superior models, so, when once we have lost the hope of excelling, or even of equalling them, our ambition fails us with our hopes: we cease to pursue what we cannot attain; and, neglecting that study in which we are debarred from arriving at excellence, we search for a different field of emulation.”
[35. ]“Greek literature is read in nearly every nation under heaven, while the vogue of Latin is confined to its own boundaries, and they are, we must grant, narrow.”
[* ]There still remain about three thousand Greek books; of Latin books not above sixty.
[* ]I am far from thinking, that the language of the Arabians, an illiterate people in the days of their prophet Mahomet, was at that time carried to such purity and perfection as not to be susceptible of improvement. The fixing that language was undoubtedly owing to the Koran, which was held the word of God delivered to Mahomet by the angel Gabriel, and consequently was piously judged to be the standard of perfection. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[36. ]“Let it not be published until the ninth year”: Ars Poetica, l. 388.
[37. ]“Here you will clamorously drive a malodorous vixen into your toils.”
[(a) ]First section of the present Sketch.
[* ]Euripides, in his Phoenicians, introduces Oedipus, under sentence of banishment, and blind, calling for his staff, his daughter Antigone putting it in his hand, and directing every step, to keep him from stumbling. Such minute circumstances, like what are frequent in Richardson’s novels, tend indeed to make the reader conceive himself to be a spectator (b) : but whether that advantage be not more than overbalanced by the languor of a creeping narrative, may be justly doubted.
[(b) ]See Elements of Criticism, ch. 2. part 1. sect. 7.