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ROMAN LETTERS. ARISTIDES TO THALIA.
Three weeks have elapsed since I wrote my last letter, and an illness, with which! am attacked, is likely to confine me to my house for three weeks longer, if my physician is not more expert than he has hitherto proved. In the interim I have been perusing, with delightful attention, a work which is lately published by a person of the name of Publius Ovidius Naso. If his poetry were no better than his morals, I should have discharged it with disgust; but, indeed, there is such a vein of the richest poetry, as is equally astonishing as it is pleasing. The title of the book is the Metamorphoses. The wit, address, and ingenuity employed in this work is wonderful: all his stories are so connected, that, although they are all separate, yet they are blended with such art, that, if it is not difficult to separate them, such an attempt is, nevertheless, to be deprecated. It presents us with all the fables and history of the gods and heroes, that find their foundation in Homer or Hesiod.— Though Ovid is by no means moral himself, most of his tales convey a moral instruction, and may have as much influence, perhaps, as the excellent fables of the wise iEsop. I cannot give you a better idea of its nature, than by telling you it is written in imitation of the poem we have frequently admired, of Parthenius of Chios. His style is somewhat diffuse, and his Latinity inaccurate; but this ought to be attributed to the imprudent affection of his friends, who published it in his absence; his periods are not various ; he seldom suits the sound with the sense; he does not elevate his language with his subject; but he compensates all this by a gentle smoothness of language, which is beautiful. There is, however, one great fault in his descriptions—he is too minute—he leaves nothing for the imagination—he does not cast that pleasing obscurity over his descriptions, which makes them appear, to the mental eye, more important and significant :—how much Anacreon excels in thus raising the fancy, and touching the heart! I have sent you a copy, written with my own hand: it is gratifying to me to furnish you with an opportunity of first introducing it among the learned at Athens. Ovid, too, would be highly gratified in having such an introduction.
M. Metellus has called upon me, and received me with the greatest cordiality and affection; and, taking my illness into consideration, proposed,a party of literati to sup with me, to amuse my mind, insisting that the activity of the mind will reinstate the tone of corporal sensation. I consented, and several of his friends took supper with me. I was particularly struck with Lucius Menippus; he has travelled much, particularly in Syria, to which province he is upon the eve of being appointed proconsul. The conversation turned chiefly upon the golden age, and the origin of society. As I was too debilitated to bear an active part in the debate myself, I listened with pleasure to the opinion of Menippus. The earlier ages of mankind, said he, are enveloped in an obscurity that must ever remain so, and nothing but rational hypothesis can supply its place. All our knowledge, and our very affections, are the result of habit and education; for where there are no innate ideas of a first cause, there can be none of any thing else. What we know of most nations, and of our own in particular, is, that it gradually rose from ignorance to knowledge—from the most violent to the more temperate passions. Cicero has given us an animated picture of a savage state, and thence derives the origin of eloquence. The precipitancy of this idea makes it poetical: the first step towards civilization was probably the accidental association of two persons, of different sexes, who possessed nearly the same bodily strength, the same cruelty, and the same propensities. A little experience soon proved to them the advantages of such a compact. They found that two could always preserve the fruits of their labour from the violence of a third: what, therefore, was at first accident, became habit, and, at length, a necessity that its advantages by no means allowed them to dispense with. The children of such an union were the natural instruments of their will; early obedience begot a confused idea of duty; with duty was allied interest, and their ignorance at length led them to believe that their absolute existence depended upon the union and collective exertions of the whole family. Such was the origin of hordes.
Hitherto language was little more than a collection of words, expressive of particular wants, and in which man bore an analogy to brute animals; but though our ideas are not innate, nature has implanted instincts, and the faculty of improving those instincts into a thousand collateral desires, inclinations, and necessities, which, as they arise, awake the necessity of giving a definitive term; simple terms are lengthened into compounds, as one object, or one want, resembles another. Thus language became gradually more diffuse, and a more copious fund of language produced a wider range of idea.
Such, continued he, is the origin of society; the intermediate
distances between a partial union and a wider intercourse with others; between a limited and an extended society; between the accident that gives birth to one art, and the others which that art creates; between the birth of the vulgar, and the dawn of the fine, arts, and between those of the introduction of science, are not difficult to conceive. How much farther society and the arts can go, remains undecided; but it is rational to suppose, that, as man has been hitherto improving, he may continue improving, till he arrives at that period of felicitous refinement of manners, and noble culture of heart, which will form the golden age.
Such was the reasoning of a man who follows no sect of philosophy—who has nothing of superstition, but who has a considerable share of rational, piety, mixed with the incredulity of a sceptic.
The evening thus passed in rational argument and elegant conversation. These suppers, so frequent among the literary men of Rome, are very agreeable. Sometimes a servant reads the Iliad of Homer, or extracts from a philosophic poem of Lucretius. This fine poem, upon which I shall enlarge in some future letter, is founded upon the one of Empedocles, who treated of the Pythagorean phylosophy, and who, you remember, threw hiniself into the volcano of Etna, from the foolish idea of being esteemed a god.
I am improved in health since I began this letter. Commend me to my friend Leontius, and think of Aristides as often as he mentions the name of Thalia.
There are persons who slide, insensibly, into an habit of contradiction. Their first endeavour, upon hearing any thing asserted in conversation, is to discover wherein it can possibly be disputed. This, they imagine, gives an air of sagacity; and, if they can mingU a jest with the contradiction, thay think they display a vast superiority. But we should take great precautions against the advances of this propensity. It renders us extremely disagreeable in society, which loses us friends, and is, in itself, a matter of no consequence,
What a pleasure it is to pay one* debts!—It seems to flow from a combination of circumstances; each of which is productive of pleasure. In the first place it removes uneasiness, which a true spirit feels from dependence and obligation. It affords pleasure to the.creditor, and therefore gratifies aur social affections.. It promotes that future confidence which is so very interesting to an honest mind. It opens a prospect of being readily supplied with what we want on future occasions. It leaves a consciousness of our own virtue: and it is a measure we know to be right, both in: point of justice and sound oeconomy. Finally, it is a main support of simple reputation.
The persons most to be despised are minor wits, and men of high station without probity.
The interval is much too short between the time of our being too young and too old.
People love their grandchildren better than their children, and this is, because they estimate the work of their children tolerably 'well. But their knowledge of their grandchildren being less perfect, they flatter themselves with vain hopes respecting them.
There is a fine saying of Seneca; "Sic praesentibus utaris vo-v luptatibus." Enjoy the present hour so as not to injure those that
The whole mystery of a courtly behaviour seems to be included in the power of making general favours appear to be particular ones.
Perhaps an acquaintance with men of genius is rather reputa-, ble than satisfactory. It is as accountable as it is certain, that fancy heightens sensibility; sensibility strengthens passion; and . passion makes people humourists. Poets seem to have fame in lieu of most temporal advantages. They are too little formed for , business to be respected; too often feared or envied to be beloved.
Jealousy jis the fear or apprehension of superiority: envy our uneasiness under it, ,
I Consider your very hasty people in the same light as I do a loaded gun. It may by accident go off, and kill one.
Ask to borrow sixpence of the Muses, and they will tell you " at present they are out of cash; but hereafter they will furnish you with 5000J."
The only kind of revenge a person of sense needs take of a . scoundrel, is by a series of worthy behaviour, to force his admiration amd esteem. Thus, as Sir John Falstaff says, "turning our quarrels to comnjudity."
THE ANTIQUITIES OF THE METROPOLIS.
The earliest account of this city was written in Latin, by William Fitz Stephens, native thereof, and monk of Canterbury, who died 1191, entitled, " Descriptio nobilissimae civitatis Londonije;" a translation of it is inserted in the folio editions of Stowe's Survey, and the original in the quarto ones; but since republished, with observations and notes, at the end of Leland's Itinerary, vol. viii. from a more correct MS. on vellum, given by Dr. Marshall to Hearne, and the only onehe ever saw. Robert Bale, recorder of London 1461, compiled a large account of its history and antiquities; butof his pieces, which were long preserved in the city library or archives, only the titles have come down to us. Alderman Fabian's Annals of London shared the same fate, unless we suppose, with Bishop Nicholson, that they are incorporated into his printed chronicle. Bagford persuades himself that Leland wrote a particular account of London, now lost, though it does not appear in the list of his works; he thinks Stowe was greatly beholden to it without acknowledgment. That honest industrious taylor, who" seeing the confused order of our late English chronicles, and the ignorant handling of ancient affaires, leaving his own peculiar ganes, consecrated himself to the searche of our famous antiquities," was the first that attempted a regular and particular description of this city. He began his studies with his annals about 1560, for which he travelled over the kingdom on foot, perusing and purchasing innumerable papers just before dispersed out of the monastic libraries, and sold for pennyworths. When he had almost ruined himself, he found an especial benefactor in Arch-bishop Parker. But pecuniary difficulties were not all he had to struggle with: his antiquarian collections and his younger brother's villany, brought his life into danger, on pretence of religion. His summary of the Chronicles of England was first published 1565, frequently reprinted, abridged, and continued to 1618. His large chronicle of annals, of which he printed only an abstract, leaving the entire work fitted for the press, passed into Sir Simon D'Ewes's hands, but seems to have been since lost. His curious and valuable account of this city, which cost him many years of close application, of which he spent eight in searching out ancient records relative to the subject, was first printed under the title of, "A Survey of London, contayning the originall antiquity, increase, moderne estate, and description of that citie; written in the year 1598, by John Stowe, citizen of London; also an apologie (or defence) against the opinion of some men, concerning that citie, R R—VOL. XVI.