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HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL

PREFACE

TO

THE TATLER, 1803.

The commencement of the Eighteenth Century was distinguished by the appearance of a class of writers so eminent for wit, elegance, and taste, that the period in which they fourished has, almost by universal consent, been recorded as the Augustan age of English literature; criticism, however, has since endeavoured to explode a term which, while it consigned the past to oblivion, might check the hope of future improvement: yet, if we fairly estimate the writings of the principal ornaments of that time, we must at least allow that they formed a combination which has not often graced the annals of literature, and that they have bestowed upon the world labours whose intrinsic worth must be great,

since they have outlived many revolutions of taste, and have attained unrivalled popularity and classic fame, while multitudes of their contemporaries, successors, and imitators, have perished, with the accidents, or caprice, or fashion, which procured them any share of public attention.

To this pre-eminence the Essayists whose works are now before us, seem justly entitled from the importance of the task they undertook, and the manner in which they executed what has seldom been attempted but with a repulsive and unaccommodating sternness. The more serious duties of religion had not been neglected by those who wrote to reform the age; but for common life and manners, no precepts were laid down, except what were too general or too precise. The instructions contained in the systematic writers on morality, were not devoid of force, or argument; but their style was unpolished, and with the gay and idle their tediousness was ill-calculated to agree.

Abuses crept in, which were beneath the attention of the pulpit, or the bar. Public amusements, which are not indifferent to the manners of a nation, became disgraced by absurdities, which impeded their usefulness even as vehicles of mere entertainment. Though purified from much of their licentiousness by the indefatigable zeal of Collier, they were not yet rational; and beyond the waste of an hour, which to the idle is certainly of great importance, their influence was unperceived. The conductors of public amusements have, indeed, seldom been ambitious of a rank among the reformers of mankind; and the history of the stage would be a barren detail, if it excluded the schemes of avarice and the intrigues of licentiousness.

In all changes of English manners, a foreign influence has long been predominant. The earliest accounts inform us, that those who were allowed to prescribe the modes in dress, language, or sentiment, collected their knowledge on their travels, and were not ashamed of being conquered by the follies of a nation whose arms they despised. About the time we now treat of, foreign fopperies, ignorance of the rules of propriety, and indecorous affectations, bad introduced many absurdities into public and private life, for which no remedy was provided in the funds of general instruction, and which consequently prevailed with impunity until the appearance of the Essayists. This useful and intelligent class of writers, struck with the necessity of supplying the lesser wants of society, determined to subdivide instruction into such

portions as might suit those temporary demands, and casual exigencies, which were overlooked by graver writers, and more bulky theorists : or, in the language of Addison,' to bring philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses.'

Of the origin of this species of writing Dr. Johnson has given a sketch which it were to be wished he had illustrated by research. Yet though written in advanced life, when inquiry became irksome, it is too highly valuable for elegance of diction, and justice of criticism, to be omitted in this place.

"To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances, which if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, was first attempted by Casa, in his book of Manners, and 'Castiglione in his Courtier; two books yet celebrated in Italy for purity and elegance, and which, if they are now less read, are neglected only because they have effected that reformation which their authors intended, and their precepts now are no longer wanted. Their usefulness to the age in which they were written is sufficiently attested by the translations which almost all the nations of Europe were in haste to obtain.

This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced by the French : among whom La BRUYERE's Manners of the Age, though, as BOILEAU remarked, it is written without connection, certainly deserves great praise, for liveliness of description, and justness of observation.

Before the TATLER and SPECTATOR, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, Eng

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