Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chap. 1. CHAPTER I: Of the Nature, Rise, and Establishment of Miscellanys. —— The Subject of these which follow. —— Intention of the Writer. - Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vol. 3
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Chap. 1. CHAPTER I: Of the Nature, Rise, and Establishment of Miscellanys. —— The Subject of these which follow. —— Intention of the Writer. - Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vol. 3 
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Douglas den Uyl (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001). 3 vols. Vol. 3.
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Chap. 1.CHAPTER I
Of the Nature, Rise, and Establishment ofMiscellanys.——The Subject of these which follow.——Intention of the Writer.
PEACE be with the Soul of that charitable and courteous Author, who for the common Benefit of his Fellow-Authors, introduc’d the ingenious way of MiscellaneousWriting!—It must be own’d that since this happy Method was establish’d, the Harvest of Wit has been more plentiful, and the Labourers more in number than heretofore. ’Tis well known to the able Practitioners in the writing Art; “That as easy as it is to conceive Wit, ’tis the hardest thing imaginable to be deliver’d of It, upon certain Terms.” Nothing cou’d be more severe or rigid than the Conditions formerly prescrib’d to Writers; when Criticism took place, and Regularity and Order were thought essential in a Treatise. The Notion of a genuine Work, a legitimate and just Piece, has certainly been the Occasion of great Timidity and Backwardness among the Adventurers in Wit: And the Imposition of such strict Laws and Rules of Composition, has set heavy on the free Spirits and forward Genius’s of Mankind. ’Twas a Yoke, it seems, which our Forefathers bore; but which, for our parts, we have generously thrown off. In effect, the invidious Distinctions of Bastardy and Legitimacy being at length remov’d; the natural and lawful Issue of the Brain comes with like advantage into the World: And Wit (mereWit) is well receiv’d; without examination of the Kind, or censure of the Form.
This the MiscellaneousManner of Writing, it must be own’d, has happily effected. It has render’d almost every Soil productive. It has disclos’d those various Seeds of Wit, which lay suppress’d in many a Bosom; and has rear’d numberless Conceits and curious Fancys, which the natural Rudeness and Asperity of their native Soil wou’d have with-held, or at least not have permitted to rise above the ground. From every Field, from every Hedge or Hillock, we now gather as delicious Fruits and fragrant Flowers, as of old from the richest and best-cultivated Gardens. Miserable were those antient Planters, who understanding not how to conform themselves to the rude Taste of unpolish’d Mankind, made it so difficult a Task to serve the World with intellectual Entertainments, and furnish out the Repasts of Literature and Science.
There was certainly a time when the Name of Author stood for something considerable in the World. To succeed happily in such a Labour as that of writing a Treatise or a Poem, was taken as a sure mark of Understanding and Good Sense. The Task was painful: But, it seems, ’twas honourable. How the Case happen’d, in process of time, to be so much revers’d, is hard to say. The primitive Authors perhaps being few in number, and highly respected for their Art, fell under the weight of Envy. Being sensible of their Misfortune in this respect, and being excited, as ’tis probable, by the Example of some popular Genius; they quitted their regular Schemes and accurate Forms of Workmanship, in favour of those Wits who could not possibly be receiv’d as Authors upon such difficult Terms. ’Twas necessary, it seems, that the Bottom of Wit shou’d be enlarg’d. ’Twas advisable that more Hands shou’d be taken into the Work. And nothing cou’d better serve this popular purpose, than the way of Miscellany, or commonEssay; in which the most confus’d Head, if fraught with a little Invention, and provided with Common-place-Book Learning, might exert itself to as much advantage, as the most orderly and well-settled Judgment.
To explain the better how this Revolution in Letters has been effected, it may not perhaps be indecent, shou’d we offer to compare our Writing-Artists, to the Manufacturers in Stuff or Silk. For among These ’tis esteem’d a principal piece of Skill, to frame a Pattern, or Plan of Workmanship, in which the several Colours are agreeably dispos’d; with such proportionable Adjustment of the various Figures and Devices, as may, in the whole, create a kind of Harmony to the Eye. According to this Method, each Piece must be, in reality, an Original. For to copy what has gone before, can be of no use. The Fraud wou’d easily be perceiv’d. On the other side, to work originally, and in a manner create each time anew, must be a matter of pressing weight, and fitted to the Strength and Capacity of none besides the choicest Workmen.
A Manner therefore is invented to confound this Simplicity and Conformity of Design. Patch-work is substituted. Cuttings and Shreds of Learning, with various Fragments, and Points of Wit, are drawn together, and tack’d in any fantastick form. If they chance to cast a Luster, and spread a sort of sprightly Glare; the Miscellany is approv’d, and the complex Form and Texture of the Work admir’d. The Eye, which before was to be won by Regularity, and had kept true to Measure and strict Proportion, is by this means pleasingly drawn aside, to commit a kind of Debauch, and amuse it-self in gaudy Colours, and disfigur’d Shapes of things. Custom, in the mean while, has not only tolerated this Licentiousness, but render’d it even commendable, and brought it into the highest repute. The Wild and Whimsical, under the name of the Odd and Pretty, succeed in the room of the Graceful and the Beautiful. Justness and Accuracy of Thought are set aside, as too constraining, and of too painful an aspect, to be endur’d in the agreeable and more easy Commerce of Gallantry, and modern Wit.
Now since it has been thought convenient, in these latter Ages, to distinguish the Provinces of Wit and Wisdom, and set apart the agreeable from the useful; ’tis evident there cou’d be nothing devis’d more sutable to the distinct and separate Interest of the former of these Provinces, than this complex manner of Performance which we call Miscellany. For whatever is capricious and odd, is sure to create Diversion, to those who look no further. And where there is nothing like Nature, there is no room for the troublesom part of Thought or Contemplation. ’Tis the Perfection of certain Grotesque-Painters, to keep as far from Nature as possible. To find a Likeness in their Works, is to find the greatest Fault imaginable. A natural Connexion is a Slur. A Coherence, a Design, a Meaning, is against their purpose, and destroys the very Spirit and Genius of their Workmanship.
I remember formerly when I was a Spectator in the French Theater, I found it the Custom, at the end of every grave and solemn Tragedy, to introduce a comick Farce, or Miscellany, which they call’d the little Piece. We have indeed a Method still more extraordinary upon our own Stage. For we think it agreeable and just, to mix the Little Piece or Farce with the main Plot or Fable, thro’ every Act. This perhaps may be the rather chosen, because our Tragedy is so much deeper and bloodier than that of the French, and therefore needs more immediate Refreshment from the elegant way of Drollery, and Burlesque-wit; which being thus closely interwoven with its opposite, makes that most accomplish’d kind of theatricalMiscellany, call’d by our Poets a Tragi-comedy.
I cou’d go further perhaps, and demonstrate from the Writings of many of our grave Divines, the Speeches of our Senators, and other principal Models of our national Erudition, “That the MiscellaneousManner is at present in the highest esteem.” But since my chief Intention in the following Sheets is to descant cursorily upon some late Pieces of a British Author; I will presume, That what I have said already on this Head is sufficient; and That it will not be judg’d improper or absurd in me, as I proceed, to take advantage of this miscellaneous Taste which now evidently prevails. According to this Method, whilst I serve as Critick or Interpreter to this new Writer, I may the better correct his Flegm, and give him more of the fashionable Air and Manner of the World; especially in what relates to the Subject and Manner of his two last Pieces, which are contain’d in his second Volume. For these being of the more regular and formal kind, may easily be oppressive to the airy Reader; and may therefore with the same assurance as Tragedy claim the necessary Relief of the little Piece or Farce above-mention’d.
Nor ought the Title of a MiscellaneousWriter to be deny’d me, on the account that I have grounded my Miscellanys upon a certain Set of Treatises already publish’d. Grounds and Foundations are of no moment in a kind of Work, which, according to modern Establishment, has properly neither Top nor Bottom, Beginning nor End. Besides, that I shall no-way confine myself to the precise Contents of these Treatises; but, like my Fellow-Miscellanarians, shall take occasion to vary often from my propos’d Subject, and make what Deviations or Excursions I shall think fit, as I proceed in my randomEssays.