Page images

• I suspect, Caustic,' said my friend, Mr. S ‘ you and I are not quite competent judges of this matter. Were the partners of our dancing days to make their appearance here, with their humble foretops and brown unpowdered ringlets - Why, what then, Mr. S—Why, I think those high heads would overtop them a little, that's all. Why, as for the panache,' replied the colonel, I have no objection to the ornament itself; there is something in the waving movement of it that is graceful, and not undignified; but in every sort of dress there is a certain character, a certain relation which it holds to the wearer. Yonder now, you'll forgive me, sir, (turning to me), yonder is a set of girls, I suppose, from their looks and from their giggling, but a few weeks from the nursery, whose feathers are in such agitation, whisked about, high and low, on this side and on that.'—Why, sir, 'tis like the Countess of Cassowar's managerie scared by the entrance of her lap-dog.

As to dress, indeed, in general, continued the colonel, that of a man or woman of fashion should be such as to mark some attention to appearance, some deference to society. The young men I see here look as if they had just had time to throw off their boots after a fox-chase. But yet dress is only an accessory, that should seem to belong to the wearer, and not the wearer to it. Some of the

young ladies opposite to us are so made up of ornaments, so stuck round with finery, that'an ill-natured observer might say, their milliner had sent them hither, as she places her doll in her shop-window, to exhibit her wares to the company. Mr.

Swas going to reply, when he was stopped by the noise of a hundred tongues, which approached like a gathering storm from the card-room. 'Twas

[ocr errors]

my friend S.

my Lady Rumpus, with a crowd of women and a mob of men in her suite.

They were people of too much consequence to have any of that deference for society which the colonel talked of. My nerves, and those of

though not remarkably weak, could barely stand their approach ; but Colonel Caustic's were quite overpowered.-We accompanied him in his retreat out of the dancing-room; and after drinking a dish of tea by way of sedative, as the physicians phrase it, he called for his chair, and went home.

While we were sitting in the tea-room, Mr. S-undertook the apology of my Lady Rumpus and her followers. • We must make allowance,' said he, 'for the fashion of the times. In these days, precision of manners is exploded, and ease is the mode.' - Ease!' said the colonel, wiping his forehead. Why, in your days,' said Mr. S and I may say in mine too, for I believe there is not much betwixt us, were there not sometimes fantastic modes, which people of rank had brought into use, and which were called genteel because such people practised them, though the word might not justly apply to them in the abstract ? • I understood you, s said the colonel, there were such things; some irregularities that broke out now and then. There were mad-caps of both sexes, that would venture on strange things; but they were in a style somewhat above the canaille: ridiculous enough, I grant you, but not perfectly absurd : coarse it might be, but not downright vulgar. In all ages, I suppose, people of condition did sometimes entrench themselves behind their titles or their high birth, and committed offences against what lesser folks would call decorum, and yet were allowed to be well-bred all the while; were sometimes a little gross, and called it witty; and a little rude, and called it raillery: but 'twas false coinago, and never passed long. In

deed, I have generally remarked, that people did so only because they could not do better ; 'tis sike pleading privilege for a debt which a man's own funds do not enable him to pay. A great man may perhaps be well-bred in a manner which little people do not understand; but, trust me, he is a greater man who is well bred in a manner that every body understands.'


No. 5. SATURDAY, MARCH 5, 1785.

Historiæ decus est, et quasi anima, ut cum eventis causæ cow pulentur.

BACON, De Augm. Scient,

Of the various kinds of literary composition there hardly any which has been at all times more cultivated than that of HISTORY. A desire to recount remarkable events, and a curiosity to hear the relation of them, are propensities inherent in human nature; and hence historians have abounded in every age, in the rudest and simplest, as well as in the most polished and refined. The first poets were historians; and Homer and Ossian, when the light of the song arose,' but recounted the virtues and exploits of their countrymen.

From poetic numbers, History at length descended to

prose; but she was still of the family of the Muses, and long retained many features of the race from whence she sprung. Historia, says Quintilian, est proxima poetis, et quodammodo carmen solutum. She professed, indeed, that her purpose was to instruct,

not less than to please ; yet such was her hereditary propensity, that for many successivé ages she continued more studious to cultivate the means of pleasing than anxious to gather the materials of instruction. But when all her arts of pleasing had been exhausted; when the charms of novelty and the blossom of youth were gone, she began to feel the decay of her power. În her distress she looked around for aid, and wisely embraced an union with Philosophy, who taught her the value of the rich field of instruction she had so long neglected, showed her how she might add new graces to her powers of giving delight, how she might not only recover, but extend her empire, and be crowned with honours that should never fade.

To drop the allegory: The truth is, that although to afford pleasure and to convey instruction have been ever the professed ends of history, yet they have not always been mingled in due proportion. The former has been the object of the greater part of historians; and their aim of instruction has seldom gone

farther than to illustrate some moral precept, and to improve the heart by exhibiting bright and illustrious examples of virtue. It is of late only that history, by taking a wider range, has assumed a different form; and with the relation of splendid events uniting an investigation of their causes, has exhibited a view of those great circumstances in the situation of any people, which can alone yield solid instruction.

Historians therefore be divided into two kinds, according to the methods they have followed, and the ends they have chiefly had in view in their composition. The first class, and which is by far the most numerous, consists of those who have confined themselves to the mere relation of public transactions ; who have made it their principal aim to interest the


affections; and who, in assigning any causes of events, have seldom gone beyond those immediately connected with the particular characters of the persons whose actions they describe. The second class comprehends the very

few historians who have viewed it as their chief business to unfold the more remote and general causes of public events, and have considered the giving an account of the rise, progress, perfection, and decline of government, of manners, of art, and of science, as the only true means of rendering history instructive.

In the former of these classes we must rank almost all the celebrated historians of ancient Greece and Rome. In general they merely relate distinguished events; but to search out and reflect upon the general causes of them they seldom attempt; and to mark the state of government, of laws, of manners, or of arts, seems not to have been thought of by them as falling within the province of history. To delight the imagination seems to have been their favourite aim; and accordingly, from the superior effects of recent events in interesting the passions, we find that many of the most distinguished historians of this class have chosen for their subjects, either transactions of which they were themselves witnesses, or that were very near their own times. Thucydides and Xenophon record little but the events of their own day, and in which they themselves bore a part; Cæsar gives us nothing but memoirs of his own exploits; and Tacitus confines himself very nearly to his own times. Even Herodotus, who takes a larger range, is, in general, only a relator of facts which he either saw himself, or reports on the testimony of others; and Livy, who commences his history with the foundation of Rome, scarce thinks of any thing beyond a mere detail of wars and revolutions,

« PreviousContinue »