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Thus far the subject of the dissertations is strictly connected with the treatise to which they are annexed. But when, in the succeeding chapter, we are presented with a general division of the kinds of knowledge, and of the liberal arts and sciences, and are afterwards entertained with a long speculation upon the foundations of morality, and the various modifications which it receives in the progreis of society, we confess that we lose light of the Historical View of the English Government, and can no longer trace any connexion between these speculations and the political condition of this country after the serciement on King William. Though these chapters contain nothing, perhaps, that is very original or important, they are written with great fpirit and sagacity, and have the merit of ftating some important truths in a very clear and striking point of view. What the author chiefly enforces is, that an opulent and commercial people are usually very deficient in the attribute of courage; that the higher orders among them become sober, but addicted to gallantry; and that justice, instead of generosity, becomes the reigning virtue of the whole nation.
In the succeeding chapter, which treats of the origin and progress of the sciences of law and government, we meet with a great number of remarks that are more judicious than original. The history of law is borrowed in a good degree from the writings of Montesquieu, Lord Kaims, and Mr Smith, though compressed and connected with much of Mr Millar's peculiar talent for fimplification. Of government, he observes that it is founded altogether on two principles : the one, which is in a manner instinctive and irrational, he denominates authority, and states as the primitive source of all the governments in the world : the other principle is, a perception of the utility of government, and does not, in general, emerge, till men have advanced pretty far in science and civilization. Under the appellation of authority, he comprehends all that deference and ad'miration that is excited by superior personal accomplishments, by riches, and by birth, which, when aided and confirmed by long continued habit, form the only foundation upon which the greater part of governments can even yet be said to sublitt. When gross abuses have been committed, however, and the faculties of men are called into action by their passions and necessities, they begin to wonder at their own blind submission to evils which they had it in their power to remove, and think of reforming their governments upon a view of their utility alone. The principle of authority, Mr Millar asserts, was the palladium of the partizans of the House of Stuart ; and the principle of utility, the guide and symbol of their opponents. The latter of
these these principles, Mr Millar concludes, is evidently destined to take precedence of the other, as men advance in the powers of reasoning and philosophy. Even the Tories have now abandoned, at least in their arguments, the untenable ground of authority, and contend for the enlargement of the regal power, upon no other principle, than its tendency to promote the good order and ultimate happiness of the community. Though the principle will not do to argue upon, Mr Millar is far from maintaining that it is either entirely superseded, or without its use in the regulation of human affairs. The sentiment expressed in the following passage is extremely liberal and judicious :
· Upon the whole, it is evident that the diffusion of knowledge tends more and more to encourage and bring forward the principle of utility in all political discussions ; but we must not thence conclude, that the influence of mere authority, operating without reflection, is entirely useless. From the dispositions of mankind to pay respect and submit. fion to superior personal qualities, and still more to a superiority of raok and Itation, together with that propensity which every one feels to continue in those modes of action to which he has long been accustomed, the great body of the people, who have commonly neither leisure nor capacity to weigh the advantages of public regulations, are prevented from indulging their unruly passions, and retained in subjection to the magistrate. The same dispositions contribute in some degree to restrain those rash and visionary projects, which proceed from the ambition of ftatesmen, or the wanton defire of innovation, and by which nations are exposed to the most dreadful calamities. Those feelings of the human mind, which give rise to authority, may be regarded as the wise provision of nature for supporting the order and government of society ; and they are only to be regretted and censured, when, by exceeding their proper bounds, they no longer act in subordination to the good of mankind, but are made, as happens indeed very often, the inftruments of tyranny and oppression.' Vol. IV. p. 309. 310.
The laft discourse is upon the subject of the fine arts, and is so far connected with the preceding dissertations, and the general subject of the work, that it treats of their gradual progress in the different stages of society, and of the changes which have been produced upon them by the introduction of wealth and manufactures. This essay was left unfinished: it proposed to treat of literary composition in general, under the heads of Poetry and Eloquence; but the history of poetry alone is completed, and the work concludes at the point where the discussion of eloquence should have begun. By poetry, Mr Millar means all those composicions, whether in a metrical form or not, the pri. mary end of which is delight or entertainment. Those he disides, somewhat loosely, into epic and dramatic, and endeavours,
VOL. III. NO. 5.
in a rapid and animated narrative, to trace the history of each in its progress through a rude and an improved state of society. His reprefentation of the epic poetry of early ages is like that of other critics. It is fublime, harsh, unconnected, extravagant, and unequal : by degrees it assumes more elegance and method; and at length, when the beauties of natural expression are exhausted, and the public ear becomes familiar with wonders, and disgusted with imitation, it sinks, through the desire of noveltv, into pointed expression, and correct, but ordinary sentiments. From this stage, Mr Millar alleges, the tranfition is easy to prose fictions and novels, which are more easily adapted to the occurrences of modern life ; and, by pretending to humbler excellences, are less apt to become ridiculous. This is the natural progress and order of things, when a nation runs its career by an interval impulse, and produces, itself, the models upon which it is continually attempting to improve. In modern Europe, however, the first steps were a little inverted : the writings of the Greeks and Romans became the subject of early imitation; and the childish taste of those ages was more captivated by the wild and fantastic efforts of their declining genius, than by the purer exertions of their earlier days. The gradual refinement of tafte corrected this error; and the poetry of Europe grew fimple, as well as regular, besore it began to die away before the paflon for novelty, and the increasing fastidiousness of a more enlightened public. In reality, we are very much inclined to agree with Mr Millar, that, in the present state of society in France and England, it is much to be doubted, whether a long epic poem, however excellent in its way, would be greatly relished by the generality of the people. The judgement and reasoning faculties of men have been improved lately, perhaps in fome degree at the expence of their poetical sensibility; and, in a work of any length, we rather believe that the general taste would require something that came nearer the language and incidents of real life, than the metaphors, and majesty, and machinery of an epic composition. Poetry was certainly meant for amusement; and yet, among those who read for amusement, the worst of Mr Lane's novels is perused with greater avidity than the finest passages of Milton.
That part of the essay which treats of dramatic poetry, is written with uncommon spirit and facility. In tragedy, he observes, the great difficulty has always been, for the poet to forget himself, and speak uniformly in the character of his imaginary persons. This difficulty has been greatly increased in those countries that have not adopted blank verse, by the importance assigned to correct versification, and the consequent introduction of a new standard of excellence. Even in those countries, however, the evil has at length been felt; and the prose dramas of Mercier and Arnaud seem evidently intended to restore to the French stage the language of nature and feeling, and to reduce the mere beauties of composition to their proper subordinate ftation. In Germany, where they have begun in this way, the process will probably be reversed. In discoursing of comedy, Mr Millar attempts to adjust the long disputed boundaries of wit and humour by this obvious distinction ;-that humour is the talent of exhibiting contrasts and incongruities in human character and conduct; while wit is the talent of exhibiting fuch contrasts in objects that have no dependence on the behaviour of mankind. Although this description be very far from accurate, its incorrectness does not prevent Mr Millar from observing, with perfect propriety, that the introduction of refined manners has a tendency to diminish our relish for humour, and to increase our admiration of wit. The first part of this progress is delineated by Mr Millar with so much fpirit and characteristic method, that we shall beg leave to lay it before our readcrs in his own words:
. In Turkey, and in some other eastern countries, the contrast between a tall and short man is thought to be a reasonable cause of laughter ; and a dwarf is, therefore, a necessary appendage in the retinue of princes.
• Among our forefathers in Europe, the behaviour of a mere idiot was viewed in a similar light; and a person in those unfortunate circumtances was commonly kept, by men of wealth, as an object of ridicule. When people became too polite to laugh at a real idiot, they substituted in his place an artificial one with a motley coat, and with a cap and bells, to imitate the behaviour of a fimpleton, but with occasional strokes of ihrewdness and fagacity. This personage afforded entertainment, by appearing, according to the proverb, more knave than fool : and became at last a profesed jefter, upon whom the family in which be lived, and their guests, were accultomed to exercise their talents ; but who, at the same time, like the clown of a pantomime, could shew, by his occasional fallies, that he was himself no mean performer in the (cepe.
• Persons of education, however, becoming gradually more expert in this kind of diversion, began to undervalue the studied jokes of these pretended fools, and endeavoured to improve the entertainment by jefting with one another, and by assuming, upon occasion, any sort of character which might contribute to the mirth of the company. The practice of masquerading, which came to be universal through a great part of Europe, arose from this prevailing difpofition, and gave individuals a better opportunity of exercising their talents, by enabling them to use more frecdom with each other, and to appear unexpectedly in a
variety of fituations. Such was the style of amusement, which, having prevailed in that period of European manners described by Shakespeare, makes a conspicuous figure in the comic works of that author. As fashion is apt to produce fantastical imitation, it appears that the folly of individuals led them, in those times, to affume or counterfeit those humours in real life ; an affectation which had become so general, as to fall under the notice of the stage, and to produce a ridicule of the cheating, humour, the bragging humour, the melancholy humour, the quarrelling humour-exhibited by Shakespeare and Johnson, in the characters of Nym, of Pistol, of Master Stephen, or Master Matthew, and the Angry Boy.
· The higher advances of civilization and refinement, contributed not only to explode those ludicrous paftimes which had been the delight of a former age, but even to weaken the propensity to every species of hu. morous exhibition. Although humour be conimonly productive of more merriment than wit, it seldom procures to the poffeffor the same degree of respect. To sew in a strong light the follies, the defects, and the improprieties of mankind, they mult be exhibited with peculiar colouring. To excite ftrong ridicule, the picture muft be changed ; and the features, though like, must be exaggerated. The man who, in conversation, aims at the display of this talent, muft endeavour to represent, with peculiar heightening, the tone, the aspect, the gesture, the deportment of the person whom he ridicules. To paint folly, he must for the time appear foolish. To exhibit oddity and absurdity, he muft himself become odd and absurd. There is, in this attempt, something low and buffoonish ; and a degree of that meanncfs, which appeared in the person thus exposed, is likely, by a natural association, to remain with his representative. The latter is beheld in the light of a player, who degrades himself for our entertainment, and whom nothing but the highest excellence in his profession can fave from our contempt.' Vol. IV. p. 354–358.
The great exuberance of humour in the productions of Eng. lish writers, Mr Millar thinks, is to be ascribed principally to the great variety of professions and occupations which exit in this country among persons that are admitted into the same circles of society. Our humour, however, he is of opinion, is declining with the general improvement of our manners; and he is afraid that our ferious application to business and politics will prevent us from compensating that lofs by a proportionate improvement in wit.
Such is the substance of the volumes that are to carry down to posterity the reputation of a man, from whose conversation no one ever retired without information and delight, and in whom the faculties of just reasoning and animated discussion seemed at all times unimpaired and alert. The publication, we have already notieed, is scarcely equal to our expectations; but it has merits which