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The chief end proposed by the author of this treatise in making it public, has been to excite his readers to curiosity and inquiry; not to teach them himself by prolix and formal lectures, (from the efficacy of which he has little expectation, but to induce them, if possible, to become teachers to themselves, by an impartial use of their own understandings. He thinks nothing more absurd than the common notion of instruction, as if science were to be poured into the mind like water into a cistern, that passively waits to receive all that comes. The growth of knowledge he rather thinks to resemble the growth of fruit ; however external causes may in some degree cooperate, it is the internal vigour and virtue of the tree that must ripen the juices to their just maturity.
This, then, namely, the exciting men to inquire for themselves into subjects worthy of their contemplation, this the author declares to have been his first and principal motive for appearing in print. Next to that, as he has always been a lover of letters, he would willingly approve his studies to the liberal and ingenuous. He has particularly named these, in distinction to others, because, as his studies were never prosecuted with the least regard to lucre, so they are no way calculated for any lucrative end. The liberal, therefore, and ingenuous, (whom he has mentioned already,) are those to whose perusal he offers what he has written. Should they judge favourably of his attempt, he may not, perhaps, hesitate to confess,
Hoc juvat et melli est. For though he hopes he cannot be charged with the foolish love of vain praise, he has no desire to be thought indifferent or insensible to honest fame.
From the influence of these sentiments, he has endeavoured to treat his subject with as much order, correctness, and
perspicuity as in his power; and if he has failed, he can safely say, (according to the vulgar phrase,) that the failure has been his misfortune, and not his fault. He scorns those trite and contemptible methods of anticipating pardon for a bad performance, that "it was the hasty fruits of a few idle hours; written merely for private amusement; never revised; published against consent, at the importunity of friends, copies (God knows how) having by stealth gotten abroad;” with other stale jargon of equal falsehood and inanity. May we not ask such prefacers, If what they allege be true, what has the world to do with them and their crudities?
As to the book itself, it can say this in its behalf, that it does not merely confine itself to what its title promises, but expatiates freely into whatever is collateral; aiming on every occasion to rise in its inquiries, and to pass, as far as possible, from small matters to the greatest. Nor is it formed merely upon sentiments that are now in fashion, or supported only by such authorities as are modern. Many authors are quoted that nowa-days are but little studied; and some, perhaps, whose very names are hardly known.
The fate, indeed, of ancient authors (as we have happened to mention them) is not unworthy of our notice. A few of them survive in the libraries of the learned, where some venerable folio, that still goes by their name, just suffices to give them a kind of nominal existence. The rest have long fallen into a deeper obscurity; their very names, when mentioned, affecting us as little as the names, when we read them, of those subordinate heroes, Alcandrumque, Haliumque, Noemonaque, Prytanimque.
Now if an author, not content with the more eminent of ancient writers, should venture to bring his reader into such company as these last, among people in the fashionable phrase) that nobody knows, what usage, what quarter can he have reason to expect? Should the author of these speculations have done this, (and it is to be feared he has,) what method had he best take in a circumstance so critical ?—Let us suppose him to apologize in the best manner he can, and in consequence of this to suggest as follows:
He hopes there will be found a pleasure in the contemplation of ancient sentiments; as the view of ancient architecture, though in ruins, has something venerable. Add to this, what from its antiquity is but little known has from that very circumstance the recommendation of novelty; so that here, as in other instances, extremes may be said to meet. Further still, as the authors whom he has quoted lived in various ages, and in distant countries, some in the full maturity of Grecian and Roman literature, some in its declension, and others in periods still more barbarous and depraved, it may afford, perhaps, no unpleasing speculation, to see how the same reason has at all times prevailed; how there is one truth, like one sun, that has enlightened human intelligence through every age, and saved it from the darkness both of sophistry and error.
Nothing can more tend to enlarge the mind, than these extensive views of men, and human knowledge; nothing can more effectually take us off from the foolish admiration of what is immediately before our eyes, and help us to a juster estimate both of present men, and present literature.
It is, perhaps, too much the case with the multitude in every nation, that as they know little beyond themselves and their own affairs, so out of this narrow sphere of knowledge they think nothing worth knowing. As we Britons, by our situation, live divided from the whole world, this, perhaps, will be found to be more remarkably our case. And hence the reason that our studies are usually satisfied in the works of our own countrymen ; that in philosophy, in poetry, in every kind of subject, whether serious or ludicrous, whether sacred or profane, we think perfection with ourselves, and that it is superfluous to search further.
The author of this treatise would by no means detract from the just honours due to those of his countrymen, who, either in the present or preceding age, have so illustriously adorned it. But though he can with pleasure and sincerity join in celebrating their deserts, he would not have the admiration of these, or of any other few, to pass through blind excess into a contempt of all others. Were such adıniration to become universal, an odd event would follow; a few learned men, without any fault of their own, would contribute in a manner to the extinction of letters.
A like evil to that of admiring only the authors of our own age, is that of admiring only the authors of one particular