The Project Gutenberg EBook of Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 1 (of 3), by 
Isaac  D'Israeli

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Title: Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 1 (of 3)

Author: Isaac  D'Israeli

Editor: The Earl Of Beaconsfield

Release Date: May 26, 2007 [EBook #21615]
Last updated: January 16, 2009

Language: English

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A New Edition,







This is the first collected edition of a series of works which have separately attained to a great popularity: volumes that have been always delightful to the young and ardent inquirer after knowledge. They offer as a whole a diversified miscellany of literary, artistic, and political history, of critical disquisition and biographic anecdote, such as it is believed cannot be elsewhere found gathered together in a form so agreeable and so attainable. To this edition is appended a Life of the Author by his son, also original notes, which serve to illustrate or to correct the text, where more recent discoveries have brought to light facts unknown when these volumes were originally published.

London, 1881.[Pg vii]





The traditionary notion that the life of a man of letters is necessarily deficient in incident, appears to have originated in a misconception of the essential nature of human action. The life of every man is full of incidents, but the incidents are insignificant, because they do not affect his species; and in general the importance of every occurrence is to be measured by the degree with which it is recognised by mankind. An author may influence the fortunes of the world to as great an extent as a statesman or a warrior; and the deeds and performances by which this influence is created and exercised, may rank in their interest and importance with the decisions of great Congresses, or the skilful valour of a memorable field. M. de Voltaire was certainly a greater Frenchman than Cardinal Fleury, the Prime Minister of France in his time. His actions were more important; and it is certainly not too much to maintain that the exploits of Homer, Aristotle, Dante, or my Lord Bacon, were as considerable events as anything that occurred at Actium, Lepanto, or Blenheim. A Book may be as great a thing as a battle, and there are systems of philosophy that have produced as great revolutions as any that have disturbed even the social and political existence of our centuries.[Pg viii]

The life of the author, whose character and career we are venturing to review, extended far beyond the allotted term of man: and, perhaps, no existence of equal duration ever exhibited an uniformity more sustained. The strong bent of his infancy was pursued through youth, matured in manhood, and maintained without decay to an advanced old age. In the biographic spell, no ingredient is more magical than predisposition. How pure, and native, and indigenous it was in the character of this writer, can only be properly appreciated by an acquaintance with the circumstances amid which he was born, and by being able to estimate how far they could have directed or developed his earliest inclinations.

My grandfather, who became an English Denizen in 1748, was an Italian descendant from one of those Hebrew families whom the Inquisition forced to emigrate from the Spanish Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, and who found a refuge in the more tolerant territories of the Venetian Republic. His ancestors had dropped their Gothic surname on their settlement in the Terra Firma, and grateful to the God of Jacob who had sustained them through unprecedented trials and guarded them through unheard-of perils, they assumed the name of DISRAELI, a name never borne before or since by any other family, in order that their race might be for ever recognised. Undisturbed and unmolested, they flourished as merchants for more than two centuries under the protection of the lion of St. Mark, which was but just, as the patron saint of the Republic was himself a child of Israel. But towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the altered circumstances of England, favourable, as it was then supposed, to commerce and religious liberty, attracted the attention of my great-grandfather to this island, and he resolved that the youngest of his two sons, Benjamin, the "son of his right hand," should settle in a country where the dynasty seemed at length established,[Pg ix] through the recent failure of Prince Charles Edward, and where public opinion appeared definitively adverse to persecution on matters of creed and conscience.

The Jewish families who were then settled in England were few, though, from their wealth and other circumstances, they were far from unimportant. They were all of them Sephardim, that is to say, children of Israel, who had never quitted the shores of the Midland Ocean, until Torquamada had driven them from their pleasant residences and rich estates in Arragon, and Andalusia, and Portugal, to seek greater blessings, even than a clear atmosphere and a glowing sun, amid the marshes of Holland and the fogs of Britain. Most of these families, who held themselves aloof from the Hebrews of Northern Europe, then only occasionally stealing into England, as from an inferior caste, and whose synagogue was reserved only for Sephardim, are now extinct; while the branch of the great family, which, notwithstanding their own sufferings from prejudice, they had the hardihood to look down upon, have achieved an amount of wealth and consideration which the Sephardim, even with the patronage of Mr. Pelham, never could have contemplated. Nevertheless, at the time when my grandfather settled in England, and when Mr. Pelham, who was very favourable to the Jews, was Prime Minister, there might be found, among other Jewish families flourishing in this country, the Villa Reals, who brought wealth to these shores almost as great as their name, though that is the second in Portugal, and who have twice allied themselves with the English aristocracy, the Medinas—the Laras, who were our kinsmen—and the Mendez da Costas, who, I believe, still exist.

Whether it were that my grandfather, on his arrival, was not encouraged by those to whom he had a right to look up,—which is often our hard case in the outset of life,—or whether he was alarmed at the unexpected consequences of Mr. Pelham's favourable disposition to his countrymen in[Pg x] the disgraceful repeal of the Jew Bill, which occurred a very few years after his arrival in this country, I know not; but certainly he appears never to have cordially or intimately mixed with his community. This tendency to alienation was, no doubt, subsequently encouraged by his marriage, which took place in 1765. My grandmother, the beautiful daughter of a family who had suffered much from persecution, had imbibed that dislike for her race which the vain are too apt to adopt when they find that they are born to public contempt. The indignant feeling that should be reserved for the persecutor, in the mortification of their disturbed sensibility, is too often visited on the victim; and the cause of annoyance is recognised not in the ignorant malevolence of the powerful, but in the conscientious conviction of the innocent sufferer. Seventeen years, however, elapsed before my grandfather entered into this union, and during that interval he had not been idle. He was only eighteen when he commenced his career, and when a great responsibility devolved upon him. He was not unequal to it. He was a man of ardent character; sanguine, courageous, speculative, and fortunate; with a temper which no disappointment could disturb, and a brain, amid reverses, full of resource. He made his fortune in the midway of life, and settled near Enfield, where he formed an Italian garden, entertained his friends, played whist with Sir Horace Mann, who was his great acquaintance, and who had known his brother at Venice as a banker, eat macaroni which was dressed by the Venetian Consul, sang canzonettas, and notwithstanding a wife who never pardoned him for his name, and a son who disappointed all his plans, and who to the last hour of his life was an enigma to him, lived till he was nearly ninety, and then died in 1817, in the full enjoyment of prolonged existence.

My grandfather retired from active business on the eve of that great financial epoch, to grapple with which his talents[Pg xi] were well adapted; and when the wars and loans of the Revolution were about to create those families of millionaires, in which he might probably have enrolled his own. That, however, was not our destiny. My grandfather had only one child, and nature had disqualified him, from his cradle, for the busy pursuits of men.

A pale, pensive child, with large dark brown eyes, and flowing hair, such as may be beheld in one of the portraits annexed to these volumes, had grown up beneath this roof of worldly energy and enjoyment, indicating even in his infancy, by the whole carriage of his life, that he was of a different order from those among whom he lived. Timid, susceptible, lost in reverie, fond of solitude, or seeking no better company than a book, the years had stolen on, till he had arrived at that mournful period of boyhood when eccentricities excite attention and command no sympathy. In the chapter on Predisposition, in the most delightful of his works,[1] my father has drawn from his own, though his unacknowledged feelings, immortal truths. Then commenced the age of domestic criticism. His mother, not incapable of deep affections, but so mortified by her social position that she lived until eighty without indulging in a tender expression, did not recognise in her only offspring a being qualified to control or vanquish his impending fate. His existence only served to swell the aggregate of many humiliating particulars. It was not to her a source of joy, or sympathy, or solace. She foresaw for her child only a future of degradation. Having a strong, clear mind, without any imagination, she believed that she beheld an inevitable doom. The tart remark and the contemptuous comment on her part, elicited, on the other, all the irritability of the poetic idiosyncrasy. After frantic ebullitions, for which, when the circumstances were analysed by an ordinary mind,[Pg xii] there seemed no sufficient cause, my grandfather always interfered to soothe with good-tempered commonplaces, and promote peace. He was a man who thought that the only way to make people happy was to make them a present. He took it for granted that a boy in a passion wanted a toy or a guinea. At a later date, when my father ran away from home, and after some wanderings was brought back, found lying on a tombstone in Hackney churchyard, he embraced him, and gave him a pony.

In this state of affairs, being sent to school in the neighbourhood, was a rather agreeable incident. The school was kept by a Scotchman, one Morison, a good man, and not untinctured with scholarship, and it is possible that my father might have reaped some advantage from this change; but the school was too near home, and his mother, though she tormented his existence, was never content if he were out of her sight. His delicate health was an excuse for converting him, after a short interval, into a day scholar; then many days of attendance were omitted; finally, the solitary walk home through Mr. Mellish's park was dangerous to the sensibilities that too often exploded when they encountered on the arrival at the domestic hearth a scene which did not harmonise with the fairy-land of reverie.

The crisis arrived, when, after months of unusual abstraction and irritability, my father produced a poem. For the first time, my grandfather was seriously alarmed. The loss of one of his argosies, uninsured, could not have filled him with more blank dismay. His idea of a poet was formed from one of the prints of Hogarth hanging in his room, where an unfortunate wight in a garret was inditing an ode to riches, while dunned for his milk-score. Decisive measures were required to eradicate this evil, and to prevent future disgrace—so, as seems the custom when a person is in a scrape, it was resolved that my father should be sent abroad, where a new scene and a new language might divert his mind from the ignominious pursuit[Pg xiii] which so fatally attracted him. The unhappy poet was consigned like a bale of goods to my grandfather's correspondent at Amsterdam, who had instructions to place him at some collegium of repute in that city. Here were passed some years not without profit, though his tutor was a great impostor, very neglectful of his pupils, and both unable and disinclined to guide them in severe studies. This preceptor was a man of letters, though a wretched writer, with a good library, and a spirit inflamed with all the philosophy of the eighteenth century, then (1780-1) about to bring forth and bear its long-matured fruits. The intelligence and disposition of my father attracted his attention, and rather interested him. He taught his charge little, for he was himself generally occupied in writing bad odes, but he gave him free warren in his library, and before his pupil was fifteen, he had read the works of Voltaire and had dipped into Bayle. Strange that the characteristics of a writer so born and brought up should have been so essentially English; not merely from his mastery over our language, but from his keen and profound sympathy with all that concerned the literary and political history of our country at its most important epoch.

When he was eighteen, he returned to England a disciple of Rousseau. He had exercised his imagination during the voyage in idealizing the interview with his mother, which was to be conducted on both sides with sublime pathos. His other parent had frequently visited him during his absence. He was prepared to throw himself on his mother's bosom, to bedew her hands with his tears, and to stop her own with his lips; but, when he entered, his strange appearance, his gaunt figure, his excited manners, his long hair, and his unfashionable costume, only filled her with a sentiment of tender aversion; she broke into derisive laughter, and noticing his intolerable garments, she reluctantly lent him her cheek. Whereupon Emile, of course, went into heroics, wept, sobbed, and finally, shut up in his chamber, composed an impas[Pg xiv]sioned epistle. My grandfather, to soothe him, dwelt on the united solicitude of his parents for his welfare, and broke to him their intention, if it were agreeable to him, to place him in the establishment of a great merchant at Bordeaux. My father replied that he had written a poem of considerable length, which he wished to publish, against Commerce, which was the corrupter of man. In eight-and-forty hours confusion again reigned in this household, and all from a want of psychological perception in its master and mistress.

My father, who had lost the timidity of his childhood, who, by nature, was very impulsive, and indeed endowed with a degree of volatility which is only witnessed in the south of France, and which never deserted him to his last hour, was no longer to be controlled. His conduct was decisive. He enclosed his poem to Dr. Johnson, with an impassioned statement of his case, complaining, which he ever did, that he had never found a counsellor or literary friend. He left his packet himself at Bolt Court, where he was received by Mr. Francis Barber, the doctor's well-known black servant, and told to call again in a week. Be sure that he was very punctual; but the packet was returned to him unopened, with a message that the illustrious doctor was too ill to read anything. The unhappy and obscure aspirant, who received this disheartening message, accepted it, in his utter despondency, as a mechanical excuse. But, alas! the cause was too true; and, a few weeks after, on that bed, beside which the voice of Mr. Burke faltered, and the tender spirit of Benett Langton was ever vigilant, the great soul of Johnson quitted earth.

But the spirit of self-confidence, the resolution to struggle against his fate, the paramount desire to find some sympathising sage—some guide, philosopher, and friend—was so strong and rooted in my father, that I observed, a few weeks ago, in a magazine, an original letter, written by him about this time to Dr. Vicesimus Knox, full of high-flown sentiments, reading indeed like a romance of Scudery, and entreat[Pg xv]ing the learned critic to receive him in his family, and give him the advantage of his wisdom, his taste, and his erudition.

With a home that ought to have been happy, surrounded with more than comfort, with the most good-natured father in the world, and an agreeable man; and with a mother whose strong intellect, under ordinary circumstances, might have been of great importance to him; my father, though himself of a very sweet disposition, was most unhappy. His parents looked upon him as moonstruck, while he himself, whatever his aspirations, was conscious that he had done nothing to justify the eccentricity of his course, or the violation of all prudential considerations in which he daily indulged. In these perplexities, the usual alternative was again had recourse to—absence; he was sent abroad, to travel in France, which the peace then permitted, visit some friends, see Paris, and then proceed to Bordeaux if he felt inclined. My father travelled in France, and then proceeded to Paris, where he remained till the eve of great events in that capital. This was a visit recollected with satisfaction. He lived with learned men and moved in vast libraries, and returned in the earlier part of 1788, with some little knowledge of life, and with a considerable quantity of books.

At this time Peter Pindar flourished in all the wantonness of literary riot. He was at the height of his flagrant notoriety. The novelty and the boldness of his style carried the million with him. The most exalted station was not exempt from his audacious criticism, and learned institutions trembled at the sallies whose ribaldry often cloaked taste, intelligence, and good sense. His "Odes to the Academicians," which first secured him the ear of the town, were written by one who could himself guide the pencil with skill and feeling, and who, in the form of a mechanic's son, had even the felicity to discover the vigorous genius of Opie. The mock-heroic which invaded with success the sacred recesses of the palace, and which was fruitlessly menaced by Secretaries of[Pg xvi] State, proved a reckless intrepidity, which is apt to be popular with "the general." The powerful and the learned quailed beneath the lash with an affected contempt which scarcely veiled their tremor. In the meantime, as in the latter days of the Empire, the barbarian ravaged the country, while the pale-faced patricians were inactive within the walls. No one offered resistance.

There appeared about this time a satire "On the Abuse of Satire." The verses were polished and pointed; a happy echo of that style of Mr. Pope which still lingered in the spell-bound ear of the public. Peculiarly they offered a contrast to the irregular effusions of the popular assailant whom they in turn assailed, for the object of their indignant invective was the bard of the "Lousiad." The poem was anonymous, and was addressed to Dr. Warton in lines of even classic grace. Its publication was appropriate. There are moments when every one is inclined to praise, especially when the praise of a new pen may at the same time revenge the insults of an old one.

But if there could be any doubt of the success of this new hand, it was quickly removed by the conduct of Peter Pindar himself. As is not unusual with persons of his habits, Wolcot was extremely sensitive, and, brandishing a tomahawk, always himself shrank from a scratch. This was shown some years afterwards by his violent assault on Mr. Gifford, with a bludgeon, in a bookseller's shop, because the author of the "Baviad and Mæviad" had presumed to castigate the great lampooner of the age. In the present instance, the furious Wolcot leapt to the rash conclusion, that the author of the satire was no less a personage than Mr. Hayley, and he assailed the elegant author of the "Triumphs of Temper" in a virulent pasquinade. This ill-considered movement of his adversary of course achieved the complete success of the anonymous writer.

My father, who came up to town to read the newspapers at the St. James's Coffee-house, found their columns filled[Pg xvii] with extracts from the fortunate effusion of the hour, conjectures as to its writer, and much gossip respecting Wolcot and Hayley. He returned to Enfield laden with the journals, and, presenting them to his parents, broke to them the intelligence, that at length he was not only an author, but a successful one.

He was indebted to this slight effort for something almost as agreeable as the public recognition of his ability, and that was the acquaintance, and almost immediately the warm personal friendship, of Mr. Pye. Mr. Pye was the head of an ancient English family that figured in the Parliaments and struggles of the Stuarts; he was member for the County of Berkshire, where his ancestral seat of Faringdon was situate, and at a later period (1790) became Poet Laureat. In those days, when literary clubs did not exist, and when even political ones were extremely limited and exclusive in their character, the booksellers' shops were social rendezvous. Debrett's was the chief haunt of the Whigs; Hatchard's, I believe, of the Tories. It was at the latter house that my father made the acquaintance of Mr. Pye, then publishing his translation of Aristotle's Poetics, and so strong was party feeling at that period, that one day, walking together down Piccadilly, Mr. Pye, stopping at the door of Debrett, requested his companion to go in and purchase a particular pamphlet for him, adding that if he had the audacity to enter, more than one person would tread upon his toes.

My father at last had a friend. Mr. Pye, though double his age, was still a young man, and the literary sympathy between them was complete. Unfortunately, the member for Berkshire was a man rather of an elegant turn of mind, than one of that energy and vigour which a youth required for a companion at that moment. Their tastes and pursuits were perhaps a little too similar. They addressed poetical epistles to each other, and were, reciprocally, too gentle critics. But Mr. Pye was a most amiable and accomplished[Pg xviii] man, a fine classical scholar, and a master of correct versification. He paid a visit to Enfield, and by his influence hastened a conclusion at which my grandfather was just arriving, to wit, that he would no longer persist in the fruitless effort of converting a poet into a merchant, and that content with the independence he had realised, he would abandon his dreams of founding a dynasty of financiers. From this moment all disquietude ceased beneath this always well-meaning, though often perplexed, roof, while my father, enabled amply to gratify his darling passion of book-collecting, passed his days in tranquil study, and in the society of congenial spirits.

His new friend introduced him almost immediately to Mr. James Pettit Andrews, a Berkshire gentleman of literary pursuits, and whose hospitable table at Brompton was the resort of the best literary society of the day. Here my father was a frequent guest, and walking home one night together from this house, where they had both dined, he made the acquaintance of a young poet, which soon ripened into intimacy, and which throughout sixty years, notwithstanding many changes of life, never died away. This youthful poet had already gained laurels, though he was only three or four years older than my father, but I am not at this moment quite aware whether his brow was yet encircled with the amaranthine wreath of the "Pleasures of Memory."

Some years after this, great vicissitudes unhappily occurred in the family of Mr. Pye. He was obliged to retire from Parliament, and to sell his family estate of Faringdon. His Majesty had already, on the death of Thomas Warton, nominated him Poet Laureat, and after his retirement from Parliament, the government which he had supported, appointed him a Commissioner of Police. It was in these days that his friend, Mr. Penn, of Stoke Park, in Buckinghamshire, presented him with a cottage worthy of a poet on his beautiful estate; and it was thus my father became acquainted[Pg xix] with the amiable descendant of the most successful of colonisers, and with that classic domain which the genius of Gray, as it were, now haunts, and has for ever hallowed, and from which he beheld with fond and musing eye, those

Distant spires and antique towers,

that no one can now look upon without remembering him. It was amid these rambles in Stoke Park, amid the scenes of Gray's genius, the elegiac churchyard, and the picturesque fragments of the Long Story, talking over the deeds of "Great Rebellion" with the descendants of Cavaliers and Parliament-men, that my father first imbibed that feeling for the county of Buckingham, which induced him occasionally to be a dweller in its limits, and ultimately, more than a quarter of a century afterwards, to establish his household gods in its heart. And here, perhaps, I may be permitted to mention a circumstance, which is indeed trifling, and yet, as a coincidence, not, I think, without interest. Mr. Pye was the great-grandson of Sir Robert Pye, of Bradenham, who married Anne, the eldest daughter of Mr. Hampden. How little could my father dream, sixty years ago, that he would pass the last quarter of his life in the mansion-house of Bradenham; that his name would become intimately connected with the county of Buckingham; and that his own remains would be interred in the vault of the chancel of Bradenham Church, among the coffins of the descendants of the Hampdens and the Pyes. All which should teach us that whatever may be our natural bent, there is a power in the disposal of events greater than human will.

It was about two years after his first acquaintance with Mr. Pye, that my father, being then in his twenty-fifth year, influenced by the circle in which he then lived, gave an anonymous volume to the press, the fate of which he could little have foreseen. The taste for literary history was then of recent date in England. It was developed by Dr. Johnson[Pg xx] and the Wartons, who were the true founders of that elegant literature in which France had so richly preceded us. The fashion for literary anecdote prevailed at the end of the last century. Mr. Pettit Andrews, assisted by Mr. Pye and Captain Grose, and shortly afterwards, his friend, Mr. Seward, in his "Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons," had both of them produced ingenious works, which had experienced public favour. But these volumes were rather entertaining than substantial, and their interest in many instances was necessarily fleeting; all which made Mr. Rogers observe, that the world was far gone in its anecdotage.

While Mr. Andrews and his friend were hunting for personal details in the recollections of their contemporaries, my father maintained one day, that the most interesting of miscellanies might be drawn up by a well-read man from the library in which he lived. It was objected, on the other hand, that such a work would be a mere compilation, and could not succeed with its dead matter in interesting the public. To test the truth of this assertion, my father occupied himself in the preparation of an octavo volume, the principal materials of which were found in the diversified collections of the French Ana; but he enriched his subjects with as much of our own literature as his reading afforded, and he conveyed the result in that lively and entertaining style which he from the first commanded. This collection of "Anecdotes, Characters, Sketches, and Observations; Literary, Critical, and Historical," as the title-page of the first edition figures, he invested with the happy baptism of "Curiosities of Literature."

He sought by this publication neither reputation nor a coarser reward, for he published his work anonymously, and avowedly as a compilation; and he not only published the work at his own expense, but in his heedlessness made a present of the copyright to the bookseller, which three or four years afterwards he was fortunate enough to purchase at a[Pg xxi] public sale. The volume was an experiment whether a taste for literature could not be infused into the multitude. Its success was so decided, that its projector was tempted to add a second volume two years afterward, with a slight attempt at more original research; I observe that there was a second edition of both volumes in 1794. For twenty years the brother volumes remained favourites of the public; when after that long interval their writer, taking advantage of a popular title, poured forth all the riches of his matured intellect, his refined taste, and accumulated knowledge into their pages, and produced what may be fairly described as the most celebrated Miscellany of Modern Literature.

The moment that the name of the youthful author of the "Abuse of Satire" had transpired, Peter Pindar, faithful to the instinct of his nature, wrote a letter of congratulation and compliment to his assailant, and desired to make his acquaintance. The invitation was responded to, and until the death of Wolcot, they were intimate. My father always described Wolcot as a warm-hearted man; coarse in his manners, and rather rough, but eager to serve those whom he liked, of which, indeed, I might appropriately mention an instance.

It so happened, that about the year 1795, when he was in his 29th year there came over my father that mysterious illness to which the youth of men of sensibility, and especially literary men, is frequently subject—a failing of nervous energy, occasioned by study and too sedentary habits, early and habitual reverie, restless and indefinite purpose. The symptoms, physical and moral, are most distressing: lassitude and despondency. And it usually happens, as in the present instance, that the cause of suffering is not recognised; and that medical men, misled by the superficial symptoms, and not seeking to acquaint themselves with the psychology of their patients, arrive at erroneous, often fatal, conclusions. In this case, the most eminent of the faculty[Pg xxii] gave it as their opinion, that the disease was consumption. Dr. Turton, if I recollect right, was then the most considered physician of the day. An immediate visit to a warmer climate was his specific; and as the Continent was then disturbed and foreign residence out of the question, Dr. Turton recommended that his patient should establish himself without delay in Devonshire.

When my father communicated this impending change in his life to Wolcot, the modern Skelton shook his head. He did not believe that his friend was in a consumption, but being a Devonshire man, and loving very much his native province, he highly approved of the remedy. He gave my father several letters of introduction to persons of consideration at Exeter; among others, one whom he justly described as a poet and a physician, and the best of men, the late Dr. Hugh Downman. Provincial cities very often enjoy a transient term of intellectual distinction. An eminent man often collects around him congenial spirits, and the power of association sometimes produces distant effects which even an individual, however gifted, could scarcely have anticipated. A combination of circumstances had made at this time Exeter a literary metropolis. A number of distinguished men flourished there at the same moment: some of their names are even now remembered. Jackson of Exeter still survives as a native composer of original genius. He was also an author of high æsthetical speculation. The heroic poems of Hole are forgotten, but his essay on the Arabian Nights is still a cherished volume of elegant and learned criticism. Hayter was the classic antiquary who first discovered the art of unrolling the MSS. of Herculaneum. There were many others, noisier and more bustling, who are now forgotten, though they in some degree influenced the literary opinion of their time. It was said, and I believe truly, that the two principal, if not sole, organs of periodical criticism at that time, I think the "Critical Review" and the "Monthly[Pg xxiii] Review," were principally supported by Exeter contributions. No doubt this circumstance may account for a great deal of mutual praise and sympathetic opinion on literary subjects, which, by a convenient arrangement, appeared in the pages of publications otherwise professing contrary opinions on all others. Exeter had then even a learned society which published its Transactions.

With such companions, by whom he was received with a kindness and hospitality which to the last he often dwelt on, it may easily be supposed that the banishment of my father from the delights of literary London was not as productive a source of gloom as the exile of Ovid to the savage Pontus, even if it had not been his happy fortune to have been received on terms of intimate friendship by the accomplished family of Mr. Baring, who was then member for Exeter, and beneath whose roof he passed a great portion of the period of nearly three years during which he remained in Devonshire.

The illness of my father was relieved, but not removed, by this change of life. Dr. Downman was his physician, whose only remedies were port wine, horse-exercise, rowing on the neighbouring river, and the distraction of agreeable society. This wise physician recognised the temperament of his patient, and perceived that his physical derangement was an effect instead of a cause. My father instead of being in a consumption, was endowed with a frame of almost super-human strength, and which was destined for half a century of continuous labour and sedentary life. The vital principle in him, indeed, was so strong that when he left us at eighty-two, it was only as the victim of a violent epidemic, against whose virulence he struggled with so much power, that it was clear, but for this casualty, he might have been spared to this world even for several years.

I should think that this illness of his youth, and which, though of a fitful character, was of many years' duration,[Pg xxiv] arose from his inability to direct to a satisfactory end the intellectual power which he was conscious of possessing. He would mention the ten years of his life, from twenty-five to thirty-five years of age, as a period very deficient in self-contentedness. The fact is, with a poetic temperament, he had been born in an age when the poetic faith of which he was a votary had fallen into decrepitude, and had become only a form with the public, not yet gifted with sufficient fervour to discover a new creed. He was a pupil of Pope and Boileau, yet both from his native impulse and from the glowing influence of Rousseau, he felt the necessity and desire of infusing into the verse of the day more passion than might resound from the frigid lyre of Mr. Hayley. My father had fancy, sensibility, and an exquisite taste, but he had not that rare creative power, which the blended and simultaneous influence of the individual organisation and the spirit of the age, reciprocally acting upon each other, can alone, perhaps, perfectly develope; the absence of which, at periods of transition, is so universally recognised and deplored, and yet which always, when it does arrive, captivates us, as it were, by surprise. How much there was of freshness, and fancy, and natural pathos in his mind, may be discerned in his Persian romance of "The Loves of Mejnoon and Leila." We who have been accustomed to the great poets of the nineteenth century seeking their best inspiration in the climate and manners of the East; who are familiar with the land of the Sun from the isles of Ionia to the vales of Cashmere; can scarcely appreciate the literary originality of a writer who, fifty years ago, dared to devise a real Eastern story, and seeking inspiration in the pages of Oriental literature, compose it with reference to the Eastern mind, and customs, and landscape. One must have been familiar with the Almorans and Hamets, the Visions of Mirza and the kings of Ethiopia, and the other dull and monstrous masquerades of Orientalism then prevalent, to estimate such an enterprise, in which, however, one[Pg xxv] should not forget the author had the advantage of the guiding friendship of that distinguished Orientalist, Sir William Ouseley. The reception of this work by the public, and of other works of fiction which its author gave to them anonymously, was in every respect encouraging, and their success may impartially be registered as fairly proportionate to their merits; but it was not a success, or a proof of power, which, in my father's opinion, compensated for that life of literary research and study which their composition disturbed and enfeebled. It was at the ripe age of five-and-thirty that he renounced his dreams of being an author, and resolved to devote himself for the rest of his life to the acquisition of knowledge.

When my father, many years afterwards, made the acquaintance of Sir Walter Scott, the great poet saluted him by reciting a poem of half-a-dozen stanzas which my father had written in his early youth. Not altogether without agitation, surprise was expressed that these lines should have been known, still more that they should have been remembered. "Ah!" said Sir Walter, "if the writer of these lines had gone on, he would have been an English poet."[2]

It is possible; it is even probable that, if my father had devoted himself to the art, he might have become the author of some elegant and popular didactic poem, on some ordinary subject, which his fancy would have adorned with grace and his sensibility invested with sentiment; some small volume which might have reposed with a classic title upon our library shelves, and served as a prize volume at Ladies' Schools. This celebrity was not reserved for him: instead of this he was destined to give to his country a series of works illustrative of its literary and political history, full of new information and[Pg xxvi] new views, which time and opinion has ratified as just. But the poetical temperament was not thrown away upon him; it never is on any one; it was this great gift which prevented his being a mere literary antiquary; it was this which animated his page with picture and his narrative with interesting vivacity; above all, it was this temperament, which invested him with that sympathy with his subject, which made him the most delightful biographer in our language. In a word, it was because he was a poet, that he was a popular writer, and made belles-lettres charming to the multitude.

It was during the ten years that now occurred that he mainly acquired that store of facts which were the foundation of his future speculations. His pen was never idle, but it was to note and to register, not to compose. His researches were prosecuted every morning among the MSS. of the British Museum, while his own ample collections permitted him to pursue his investigation in his own library into the night. The materials which he accumulated during this period are only partially exhausted. At the end of ten years, during which, with the exception of one anonymous work, he never indulged in composition, the irresistible desire of communicating his conclusions to the world came over him, and after all his almost childish aspirations, his youth of reverie and hesitating and imperfect effort, he arrived at the mature age of forty-five before his career as a great author, influencing opinion, really commenced.

The next ten years passed entirely in production: from 1812 to 1822 the press abounded with his works. His "Calamities of Authors," his "Memoirs of Literary Controversy," in the manner of Bayle; his "Essay on the Literary Character," the most perfect of his compositions; were all chapters in that History of English Literature which he then commenced to meditate, and which it was fated should never be completed.[Pg xxvii]

It was during this period also that he published his "Inquiry into the Literary and Political Character of James the First," in which he first opened those views respecting the times and the conduct of the Stuarts, which were opposed to the long prevalent opinions of this country, but which with him were at least the result of unprejudiced research, and their promulgation, as he himself expressed it, "an affair of literary conscience."[3]

But what retarded his project of a History of our Literature at this time was the almost embarrassing success of his juvenile production, "The Curiosities of Literature." These two volumes had already reached five editions, and their author found himself, by the public demand, again called upon to sanction their re-appearance. Recognising in this circumstance some proof of their utility, he resolved to make the work more worthy of the favour which it enjoyed, and more calculated to produce the benefit which he desired. Without attempting materially to alter the character of the first two volumes, he revised and enriched them, while at the same time he added a third volume of a vein far more critical, and conveying the results of much original research. The success of this publication was so great, that its author, after much hesitation, resolved, as he was wont to say, to take advantage of a popular title, and pour forth the treasures of his mind in three additional volumes, which, unlike continuations in general, were at once greeted with the highest degree of popular delight and esteem. And, indeed, whether we[Pg xxviii] consider the choice variety of the subjects, the critical and philosophical speculation which pervades them, the amount of new and interesting information brought to bear, and the animated style in which all is conveyed, it is difficult to conceive miscellaneous literature in a garb more stimulating and attractive. These six volumes, after many editions, are now condensed into the form at present given to the public, and in which the development of the writer's mind for a quarter of a century may be completely traced.

Although my father had on the whole little cause to complain of unfair criticism, especially considering how isolated he always remained, it is not to be supposed that a success so eminent should have been exempt in so long a course from some captious comments. It has been alleged of late years by some critics, that he was in the habit of exaggerating the importance of his researches; that he was too fond of styling every accession to our knowledge, however slight, as a discovery; that there were some inaccuracies in his early volumes (not very wonderful in so multifarious a work), and that the foundation of his "secret history" was often only a single letter, or a passage in a solitary diary.

The sources of secret history at the present day are so rich and various; there is such an eagerness among their possessors to publish family papers, even sometimes in shapes, and at dates so recent, as scarcely to justify their appearance; that modern critics, in their embarrassment of manuscript wealth, are apt to view with too depreciating an eye the more limited resources of men of letters at the commencement of the century. Not five-and-twenty years ago, when preparing his work on King Charles the First, the application of my father to make some researches in the State Paper Office was refused by the Secretary of State of the day. Now, foreign potentates and ministers of State, and public corporations and the heads of great houses, feel honoured by such appeals, and respond to them with cordiality. It is not only the[Pg xxix] State Paper Office of England, but the Archives of France, that are open to the historical investigator. But what has produced this general and expanding taste for literary research in the world, and especially in England? The labours of our elder authors, whose taste and acuteness taught us the value of the materials which we in our ignorance neglected. When my father first frequented the reading-room of the British Museum at the end of the last century, his companions never numbered half-a-dozen; among them, if I remember rightly, were Mr. Pinkerton and Mr. Douce. Now these daily pilgrims of research may be counted by as many hundreds. Few writers have more contributed to form and diffuse this delightful and profitable taste for research than the author of the "Curiosities of Literature;" few writers have been more successful in inducing us to pause before we accepted without a scruple the traditionary opinion that has distorted a fact or calumniated a character; and independently of every other claim which he possesses to public respect, his literary discoveries, viewed in relation to the age and the means, were considerable. But he had other claims: a vital spirit in his page, kindred with the souls of a Bayle and a Montaigne. His innumerable imitators and their inevitable failure for half a century alone prove this, and might have made them suspect that there were some ingredients in the spell besides the accumulation of facts and a happy title. Many of their publications, perpetually appearing and constantly forgotten, were drawn up by persons of considerable acquirements, and were ludicrously mimetic of their prototype, even as to the size of the volume and the form of the page. What has become of these "Varieties of Literature," and "Delights of Literature," and "Delicacies of Literature," and "Relics of Literature,"—and the other Protean forms of uninspired compilation? Dead as they deserve to be: while the work, the idea of which occurred to its writer in his early youth, and which he lived virtually to execute in all[Pg xxx] the ripeness of his studious manhood, remains as fresh and popular as ever,—the Literary Miscellany of the English People.

I have ventured to enter into some details as to the earlier and obscurer years of my father's life, because I thought that they threw light upon human character, and that without them, indeed, a just appreciation of his career could hardly be formed. I am mistaken, if we do not recognise in his instance two very interesting qualities of life: predisposition and self-formation. There was a third, which I think is to be honoured, and that was his sympathy with his order. No one has written so much about authors, and so well. Indeed, before his time, the Literary Character had never been fairly placed before the world. He comprehended its idiosyncrasy: all its strength and all its weakness. He could soften, because he could explain, its infirmities; in the analysis and record of its power, he vindicated the right position of authors in the social scale. They stand between the governors and the governed, he impresses on us in the closing pages of his greatest work.[4] Though he shared none of the calamities, and scarcely any of the controversies, of literature, no one has sympathised so intimately with the sorrows, or so zealously and impartially registered the instructive disputes, of literary men. He loved to celebrate the exploits of great writers, and to show that, in these ages, the pen is a weapon as puissant as the sword. He was also the first writer who vindicated the position of the great artist in the history of genius. His pages are studded with pregnant instances and graceful details, borrowed from the life of Art and its votaries, and which his intimate and curious acquaintance with Italian letters readily and happily supplied. Above all writers, he has maintained the greatness of intellect, and the immortality of thought.[Pg xxxi]

He was himself a complete literary character, a man who really passed his life in his library. Even marriage produced no change in these habits; he rose to enter the chamber where he lived alone with his books, and at night his lamp was ever lit within the same walls. Nothing, indeed, was more remarkable than the isolation of this prolonged existence; and it could only be accounted for by the united influence of three causes: his birth, which brought him no relations or family acquaintance; the bent of his disposition; and the circumstance of his inheriting an independent fortune, which rendered unnecessary those exertions that would have broken up his self-reliance. He disliked business, and he never required relaxation; he was absorbed in his pursuits. In London his only amusement was to ramble among booksellers; if he entered a club, it was only to go into the library. In the country, he scarcely ever left his room but to saunter in abstraction upon a terrace; muse over a chapter, or coin a sentence. He had not a single passion or prejudice: all his convictions were the result of his own studies, and were often opposed to the impressions which he had early imbibed. He not only never entered into the politics of the day, but he could never understand them. He never was connected with any particular body or set of men; comrades of school or college, or confederates in that public life which, in England, is, perhaps, the only foundation of real friendship. In the consideration of a question, his mind was quite undisturbed by traditionary preconceptions; and it was this exemption from passion and prejudice which, although his intelligence was naturally somewhat too ingenious and fanciful for the conduct of close argument, enabled him, in investigation, often to show many of the highest attributes of the judicial mind, and particularly to sum up evidence with singular happiness and ability.

Although in private life he was of a timid nature, his moral courage as a writer was unimpeachable. Most certainly,[Pg xxxii] throughout his long career, he never wrote a sentence which he did not believe was true. He will generally be found to be the advocate of the discomfited and the oppressed. So his conclusions are often opposed to popular impressions. This was from no love of paradox, to which he was quite superior; but because in the conduct of his researches, he too often found that the unfortunate are calumniated. His vindication of King James the First, he has himself described as "an affair of literary conscience:" his greater work on the Life and Times of the son of the first Stuart arose from the same impulse. He had deeply studied our history during the first moiety of the seventeenth century; he looked upon it as a famous age; he was familiar with the works of its great writers, and there was scarcely one of its almost innumerable pamphlets with which he was not acquainted. During the thoughtful investigations of many years, he had arrived at results which were not adapted to please the passing multitude, but which, because he held them to be authentic, he was uneasy lest he should die without recording. Yet strong as were his convictions, although, notwithstanding his education in the revolutionary philosophy of the eighteenth century, his nature and his studies had made him a votary of loyalty and reverence, his pen was always prompt to do justice to those who might be looked upon as the adversaries of his own cause: and this was because his cause was really truth. If he has upheld Laud under unjust aspersions, the last labour of his literary life was to vindicate the character of Hugh Peters. If, from the recollection of the sufferings of his race, and from profound reflection on the principles of the Institution, he was hostile to the Papacy, no writer in our literature has done more complete justice to the conduct of the English Romanists. Who can read his history of Chidiock Titchbourne unmoved? or can refuse to sympathise with his account of the painful difficulties of the English Monarchs with their loyal subjects of the old faith? If in a[Pg xxxiii] parliamentary country he has dared to criticise the conduct of Parliaments, it was only because an impartial judgment had taught him, as he himself expresses it, that "Parliaments have their passions as well as individuals."

He was five years in the composition of his work on the "Life and Reign of Charles the First," and the five volumes appeared at intervals between 1828 and 1831. It was feared by his publisher, that the distracted epoch at which this work was issued, and the tendency of the times, apparently so adverse to his own views, might prove very injurious to its reception. But the effect of these circumstances was the reverse. The minds of men were inclined to the grave and national considerations that were involved in these investigations. The principles of political institutions, the rival claims of the two Houses of Parliament, the authority of the Established Church, the demands of religious sects, were, after a long lapse of years, anew the theme of public discussion. Men were attracted to a writer who traced the origin of the anti-monarchical principle in modern Europe; treated of the arts of insurgency; gave them, at the same time, a critical history of the Puritans, and a treatise on the genius of the Papacy; scrutinised the conduct of triumphant patriots, and vindicated a decapitated monarch. The success of this work was eminent; and its author appeared for the first and only time of his life in public, when amidst the cheers of under-graduates, and the applause of graver men, the solitary student received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford, a fitting homage, in the language of the great University, "OPTIMI REGIS OPTIMO VINDICI."

I cannot but recall a trait that happened on this occasion. After my father returned to his hotel from the theatre, a stranger requested an interview with him. A Swiss gentleman, travelling in England at the time, who had witnessed the scene just closed, begged to express the reason why he presumed thus personally and cordially to congratulate the[Pg xxxiv] new Doctor of Civil Law. He was the son of my grandfather's chief clerk, and remembered his parent's employer; whom he regretted did not survive to be aware of this honourable day. Thus, amid all the strange vicissitudes of life, we are ever, as it were, moving in a circle.

Notwithstanding he was now approaching his seventieth year, his health being unbroken and his constitution very robust, my father resolved vigorously to devote himself to the composition of the history of our vernacular Literature. He hesitated for a moment, whether he should at once address himself to this greater task, or whether he should first complete a Life of Pope, for which he had made great preparations, and which had long occupied his thoughts. His review of "Spence's Anecdotes" in the Quarterly, so far back as 1820, which gave rise to the celebrated Pope Controversy, in which Mr. Campbell, Lord Byron, Mr. Bowles, Mr. Roscoe, and others less eminent broke lances, would prove how well qualified, even at that distant date, the critic was to become the biographer of the great writer, whose literary excellency and moral conduct he, on that occasion, alike vindicated. But, unfortunately as it turned out, my father was persuaded to address himself to the weightier task. Hitherto, in his publications, he had always felt an extreme reluctance to travel over ground which others had previously visited. He liked to give new matter, and devote himself to detached points, on which he entertained different opinions from those prevalent. Thus his works are generally of a supplementary character, and assume in their readers a certain degree of preliminary knowledge. In the present instance he was induced to frame his undertaking on a different scale, and to prepare a history which should be complete in itself, and supply the reader with a perfect view of the gradual formation of our language and literature. He proposed to effect this in six volumes; though, I apprehend, he would not have succeeded in fulfilling his intentions within that limit. His[Pg xxxv] treatment of the period of Queen Anne would have been very ample, and he would also have accomplished in this general work a purpose which he had also long contemplated, and for which he had made curious and extensive collections, namely, a History of the English Freethinkers.

But all these great plans were destined to a terrible defeat. Towards the end of the year 1839, still in the full vigour of his health and intellect, he suffered a paralysis of the optic nerve; and that eye, which for so long a term had kindled with critical interest over the volumes of so many literatures and so many languages, was doomed to pursue its animated course no more. Considering the bitterness of such a calamity to one whose powers were otherwise not in the least impaired, he bore on the whole his fate with magnanimity, even with cheerfulness. Unhappily, his previous habits of study and composition rendered the habit of dictation intolerable, even impossible to him. But with the assistance of his daughter, whose intelligent solicitude he has commemorated in more than one grateful passage, he selected from his manuscripts three volumes, which he wished to have published under the becoming title of "A Fragment of a History of English Literature," but which were eventually given to the public under that of "Amenities of Literature."

He was also enabled during these last years of physical, though not of moral, gloom, to prepare a new edition of his work on the Life and Times of Charles the First, which had been for some time out of print. He contrived, though slowly, and with great labour, very carefully to revise, and improve, and enrich these volumes. He was wont to say that the best monument to an author was a good edition of his works: it is my purpose that he should possess this memorial. He has been described by a great authority as a writer sui generis; and indeed had he never written, it appears to me, that there would have been a gap in our libraries, which it would have been difficult to supply. Of him it might be[Pg xxxvi] added that, for an author, his end was an euthanasia, for on the day before he was seized by that fatal epidemic, of the danger of which, to the last moment, he was unconscious, he was apprised by his publishers, that all his works were out of print, and that their re-publication could no longer be delayed.

In this notice of the career of my father, I have ventured to draw attention to three circumstances which I thought would be esteemed interesting; namely, predisposition, self-formation, and sympathy with his order. There is yet another which completes and crowns the character,—constancy of purpose; and it is only in considering his course as a whole, that we see how harmonious and consistent have been that life and its labours, which, in a partial and brief view, might be supposed to have been somewhat desultory and fragmentary.

On his moral character I shall scarcely presume to dwell. The philosophic sweetness of his disposition, the serenity of his lot, and the elevating nature of his pursuits, combined to enable him to pass through life without an evil act, almost without an evil thought. As the world has always been fond of personal details respecting men who have been celebrated, I will mention that he was fair, with a Bourbon nose, and brown eyes of extraordinary beauty and lustre. He wore a small black velvet cap, but his white hair latterly touched his shoulders in curls almost as flowing as in his boyhood. His extremities were delicate and well-formed, and his leg, at his last hour, as shapely as in his youth, which showed the vigour of his frame. Latterly he had become corpulent. He did not excel in conversation, though in his domestic circle he was garrulous. Everything interested him; and blind, and eighty-two, he was still as susceptible as a child. One of his last acts was to compose some verses of gay gratitude to his daughter-in-law, who was his London correspondent, and to whose lively pen his last years were indebted for constant[Pg xxxvii] amusement. He had by nature a singular volatility which never deserted him. His feelings, though always amiable, were not painfully deep, and amid joy or sorrow, the philosophic vein was ever evident. He more resembled Goldsmith than any man that I can compare him to: in his conversation, his apparent confusion of ideas ending with some felicitous phrase of genius, his naïveté, his simplicity not untouched with a dash of sarcasm affecting innocence—one was often reminded of the gifted and interesting friend of Burke and Johnson. There was, however, one trait in which my father did not resemble Goldsmith: he had no vanity. Indeed, one of his few infirmities was rather a deficiency of self-esteem.

On the whole, I hope—nay I believe—that taking all into consideration—the integrity and completeness of his existence, the fact that, for sixty years, he largely contributed to form the taste, charm the leisure, and direct the studious dispositions, of the great body of the public, and that his works have extensively and curiously illustrated the literary and political history of our country, it will be conceded, that in his life and labours, he repaid England for the protection and the hospitality which this country accorded to his father a century ago.


Hughenden Manor,

Christmas, 1848.[Pg xxxviii]

[Pg xxxix]




[Pg xl]





Of a work which long has been placed on that shelf which Voltaire has discriminated as la Bibliothèque du Monde, it is never mistimed for the author to offer the many, who are familiar with its pages, a settled conception of its design.

The "Curiosities of Literature," commenced fifty years since, have been composed at various periods, and necessarily partake of those successive characters which mark the eras of the intellectual habits of the writer.

In my youth, the taste for modern literary history was only of recent date. The first elegant scholar who opened a richer vein in the mine of Modern Literature was Joseph Warton;—he had a fragmentary mind, and he was a rambler in discursive criticism. Dr. Johnson was a famished man for anecdotical literature, and sorely complained of the penury of our literary history.

Thomas Warton must have found, in the taste of his brother and the energy of Johnson, his happiest prototypes; but he had too frequently to wrestle with barren antiquarianism, and was lost to us at the gates of that paradise which had hardly opened on him. These were the true founders of that more elegant literature in which France had preceded us. These works created a more pleasing species of erudition:—the age of taste and genius had come; but the age of philosophical thinking was yet but in its dawn.[Pg xli]

Among my earliest literary friends, two distinguished themselves by their anecdotical literature: James Petit Andrews, by his "Anecdotes, Ancient and Modern," and William Seward, by his "Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons." These volumes were favourably received, and to such a degree, that a wit of that day, and who is still a wit as well as a poet, considered that we were far gone in our "Anecdotage."

I was a guest at the banquet, but it seemed to me to consist wholly of confectionery. I conceived the idea of a collection of a different complexion. I was then seeking for instruction in modern literature; and our language afforded no collection of the res litterariæ. In the diversified volumes of the French Ana, I found, among the best, materials to work on. I improved my subjects with as much of our own literature as my limited studies afforded. The volume, without a name, was left to its own unprotected condition. I had not miscalculated the wants of others by my own.

This first volume had reminded the learned of much which it is grateful to remember, and those who were restricted by their classical studies, or lounged only in perishable novelties, were in modern literature but dry wells, for which I had opened clear waters from a fresh spring. The work had effected its design in stimulating the literary curiosity of those, who, with a taste for its tranquil pursuits, are impeded in their acquirement. Imitations were numerous. My reading became more various, and the second volume of "Curiosities of Literature" appeared, with a slight effort at more original investigation. The two brother volumes remained favourites during an interval of twenty years.

It was as late as 1817 that I sent forth the third volume; without a word of preface. I had no longer anxieties to[Pg xlii] conceal or promises to perform. The subjects chosen were novel, and investigated with more original composition. The motto prefixed to this third volume from the Marquis of Halifax is lost in the republications, but expresses the peculiar delight of all literary researches for those who love them: "The struggling for knowledge hath a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman."

The notice which the third volume obtained, returned me to the dream of my youth. I considered that essay writing, from Addison to the successors of Johnson, which had formed one of the most original features of our national literature, would now fail in its attraction, even if some of those elegant writers themselves had appeared in a form which their own excellence had rendered familiar and deprived of all novelty. I was struck by an observation which Johnson has thrown out. That sage, himself an essayist and who had lived among our essayists, fancied that "mankind may come in time to write all aphoristically;" and so athirst was that first of our great moral biographers for the details of human life and the incidental characteristics of individuals, that he was desirous of obtaining anecdotes without preparation or connexion. "If a man," said this lover of literary anecdotes, "is to wait till he weaves anecdotes, we may be long in getting them, and get but few in comparison to what we might get." Another observation, of Lord Bolingbroke, had long dwelt in my mind, that "when examples are pointed out to us, there is a kind of appeal with which we are flattered made to our senses as well as our understandings." An induction from a variety of particulars seemed to me to combine that delight, which Johnson derived from anecdotes, with that philosophy which Bolingbroke founded on examples; and on this principle the last three volumes of the "Curiosities of[Pg xliii] Literature" were constructed, freed from the formality of dissertation, and the vagueness of the lighter essay.

These "Curiosities of Literature" have passed through a remarkable ordeal of time; they have survived a generation of rivals; they are found wherever books are bought, and they have been repeatedly reprinted at foreign presses, as well as translated. These volumes have imbued our youth with their first tastes for modern literature, have diffused a delight in critical and philosophical speculation among circles of readers who were not accustomed to literary topics; and finally, they have been honoured by eminent contemporaries, who have long consulted them and set their stamp on the metal.

A voluminous miscellany, composed at various periods, cannot be exempt from slight inadvertencies. Such a circuit of multifarious knowledge could not be traced were we to measure and count each step by some critical pedometer; life would be too short to effect any reasonable progress. Every work must be judged by its design, and is to be valued by its result.

Bradenham House,

March, 1839.[Pg xliv]



[Pg 1]


The passion for forming vast collections of books has necessarily existed in all periods of human curiosity; but long it required regal munificence to found a national library. It is only since the art of multiplying the productions of the mind has been discovered, that men of letters themselves have been enabled to rival this imperial and patriotic honour. The taste for books, so rare before the fifteenth century, has gradually become general only within these four hundred years: in that small space of time the public mind of Europe has been created.

Of Libraries, the following anecdotes seem most interesting, as they mark either the affection, or the veneration, which civilised men have ever felt for these perennial repositories of their minds. The first national library founded in Egypt seemed to have been placed under the protection of the divinities, for their statues magnificently adorned this temple, dedicated at once to religion and to literature. It was still further embellished by a well-known inscription, for ever grateful to the votary of literature; on the front was engraven,—"The nourishment of the soul;" or, according to Diodorus, "The medicine of the mind."

The Egyptian Ptolemies founded the vast library of Alexandria, which was afterwards the emulative labour of rival monarchs; the founder infused a soul into the vast body he was creating, by his choice of the librarian, Demetrius Phalereus, whose skilful industry amassed from all nations their choicest productions. Without such a librarian, a national library would be little more than a literary chaos; his well exercised memory and critical judgment are its best catalogue. One of the Ptolemies refused supplying the famished Athenians with wheat, until they presented him with the original manuscripts of Æschylus, Sophocles, and[Pg 2] Euripides; and in returning copies of these autographs, he allowed them to retain the fifteen talents which he had pledged with them as a princely security.

When tyrants, or usurpers, have possessed sense as well as courage, they have proved the most ardent patrons of literature; they know it is their interest to turn aside the public mind from political speculations, and to afford their subjects the inexhaustible occupations of curiosity, and the consoling pleasures of the imagination. Thus Pisistratus is said to have been among the earliest of the Greeks, who projected an immense collection of the works of the learned, and is supposed to have been the collector of the scattered works, which passed under the name of Homer.

The Romans, after six centuries of gradual dominion, must have possessed the vast and diversified collections of the writings of the nations they conquered: among the most valued spoils of their victories, we know that manuscripts were considered as more precious than vases of gold. Paulus Emilius, after the defeat of Perseus, king of Macedon, brought to Rome a great number which he had amassed in Greece, and which he now distributed among his sons, or presented to the Roman people. Sylla followed his example. Alter the siege of Athens, he discovered an entire library in the temple of Apollo, which having carried to Rome, he appears to have been the founder of the first Roman public library. After the taking of Carthage, the Roman senate rewarded the family of Regulus with the books found in that city. A library was a national gift, and the most honourable they could bestow. From the intercourse of the Romans with the Greeks, the passion for forming libraries rapidly increased, and individuals began to pride themselves on their private collections.

Of many illustrious Romans, their magnificent taste in their libraries has been recorded. Asinius Pollio, Crassus, Cæsar, and Cicero, have, among others, been celebrated for their literary splendor. Lucullus, whose incredible opulence exhausted itself on more than imperial luxuries, more honourably distinguished himself by his vast collections of books, and the happy use he made of them by the liberal access he allowed the learned. "It was a library," says Plutarch, "whose walks, galleries, and cabinets, were open to all visitors; and the ingenious Greeks, when at leisure, resorted to this abode of the Muses to hold literary conversations, in[Pg 3] which Lucullus himself loved to join." This library enlarged by others, Julius Cæsar once proposed to open for the public, having chosen the erudite Varro for its librarian; but the daggers of Brutus and his party prevented the meditated projects of Cæsar. In this museum, Cicero frequently pursued his studies, during the time his friend Faustus had the charge of it; which he describes to Atticus in his 4th Book, Epist. 9. Amidst his public occupations and his private studies, either of them sufficient to have immortalised one man, we are astonished at the minute attention Cicero paid to the formation of his libraries and his cabinets of antiquities.

The emperors were ambitious, at length, to give their names to the libraries they founded; they did not consider the purple as their chief ornament. Augustus was himself an author; and to one of those sumptuous buildings, called Thermæ, ornamented with porticos, galleries, and statues, with shady walks, and refreshing baths, testified his love of literature by adding a magnificent library. One of these libraries he fondly called by the name of his sister Octavia; and the other, the temple of Apollo, became the haunt of the poets, as Horace, Juvenal, and Persius have commemorated. The successors of Augustus imitated his example, and even Tiberius had an imperial library, chiefly consisting of works concerning the empire and the acts of its sovereigns. These Trajan augmented by the Ulpian library, denominated from his family name. In a word, we have accounts of the rich ornaments the ancients bestowed on their libraries; of their floors paved with marble, their walls covered with glass and ivory, and their shelves and desks of ebony and cedar.

The first public library in Italy was founded by a person of no considerable fortune: his credit, his frugality, and fortitude, were indeed equal to a treasury. Nicholas Niccoli, the son of a merchant, after the death of his father relinquished the beaten roads of gain, and devoted his soul to study, and his fortune to assist students. At his death, he left his library to the public, but his debts exceeding his effects, the princely generosity of Cosmo de' Medici realised the intention of its former possessor, and afterwards enriched it by the addition of an apartment, in which he placed the Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaic, and Indian MSS. The intrepid spirit of Nicholas V. laid the foundations of the Vatican; the affection of Cardinal Bessarion for his country first gave[Pg 4] Venice the rudiments of a public library; and to Sir T. Bodley we owe the invaluable one of Oxford. Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Dr. Birch, Mr. Cracherode, Mr. Douce, and others of this race of lovers of books, have all contributed to form these literary treasures, which our nation owe to the enthusiasm of individuals, who have consecrated their fortunes and their days to this great public object; or, which in the result produces the same public good, the collections of such men have been frequently purchased on their deaths, by government, and thus have been preserved entire in our national collections.[5]

Literature, like virtue, is often its own reward, and the enthusiasm some experience in the permanent enjoyments of a vast library has far outweighed the neglect or the calumny of the world, which some of its votaries have received. From the time that Cicero poured forth his feelings in his oration for the poet Archias, innumerable are the testimonies of men of letters of the pleasurable delirium of their researches. Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, and Chancellor of England so early as 1341, perhaps raised the first private library in our country. He purchased thirty or forty volumes of the Abbot of St. Albans for fifty pounds' weight of silver. He was so enamoured of his large collection, that he expressly composed a treatise on his love of books, under the title of Philobiblion; and which has been recently translated.[6]

He who passes much of his time amid such vast resources, and does not aspire to make some small addition to his library, were it only by a critical catalogue, must indeed be[Pg 5] not more animated than a leaden Mercury. He must be as indolent as that animal called the Sloth, who perishes on the tree he climbs, after he has eaten all its leaves.

Rantzau, the founder of the great library at Copenhagen, whose days were dissolved in the pleasures of reading, discovers his taste and ardour in the following elegant effusion:—

Salvete aureoli mei libelli,
Meæ deliciæ, mei lepores!
Quam vos sæpe oculis juvat videre,
Et tritos manibus tenere nostris!
Tot vos eximii, tot eruditi,
Prisci lumina sæculi et recentis,
Confecere viri, suasque vobis
Ausi credere lucubrationes:
Et sperare decus perenne scriptis;
Neque hæc irrita spes fefellit illos.
Golden volumes! richest treasures!
Objects of delicious pleasures!
You my eyes rejoicing please,
You my hands in rapture seize!
Brilliant wits, and musing sages,
Lights who beamed through many ages,
Left to your conscious leaves their story,
And dared to trust you with their glory;
And now their hope of fame achieved,
Dear volumes! you have not deceived!

This passion for the enjoyment of books has occasioned their lovers embellishing their outsides with costly ornaments;[7] a[Pg 6] fancy which ostentation may have abused; but when these volumes belong to the real man of letters, the most fanciful bindings are often the emblems of his taste and feelings. The great Thuanus procured the finest copies for his library, and his volumes are still eagerly purchased, bearing his autograph on the last page. A celebrated amateur was Grollier; the Muses themselves could not more ingeniously have ornamented their favourite works. I have seen several in the libraries of curious collectors. They are gilded and stamped with peculiar neatness; the compartments on the binding are drawn, and painted, with subjects analogous to the works themselves; and they are further adorned by that amiable inscription, Jo. Grollierii et amicorum!—purporting that these literary treasures were collected for himself and for his friends.

The family of the Fuggers had long felt an hereditary passion for the accumulation of literary treasures: and their portraits, with others in their picture gallery, form a curious quarto volume of 127 portraits, rare even in Germany, entitled "Fuggerorum Pinacotheca."[8] Wolfius, who daily haunted their celebrated library, pours out his gratitude in some Greek verses, and describes this bibliothèque as a literary heaven, furnished with as many books as there were stars in the firmament; or as a literary garden, in which he passed entire days in gathering fruit and flowers, delighting and instructing himself by perpetual occupation.

In 1364, the royal library of France did not exceed twenty volumes. Shortly after, Charles V. increased it to 900, which, by the fate of war, as much at least as by that of money, the Duke of Bedford afterwards purchased and transported to[Pg 7] London, where libraries were smaller than on the continent, about 1440. It is a circumstance worthy observation, that the French sovereign, Charles V. surnamed the Wise, ordered that thirty portable lights, with a silver lamp suspended from the centre, should be illuminated at night, that students might not find their pursuits interrupted at any hour. Many among us, at this moment, whose professional avocations admit not of morning studies, find that the resources of a public library are not accessible to them, from the omission of the regulation of the zealous Charles V. of France. An objection to night-studies in public libraries is the danger of fire, and in our own British Museum not a light is permitted to be carried about on any pretence whatever. The history of the "Bibliothèque du Roi" is a curious incident in literature; and the progress of the human mind and public opinion might be traced by its gradual accessions, noting the changeable qualities of its literary stores chiefly from theology, law, and medicine, to philosophy and elegant literature. It was first under Louis XIV. that the productions of the art of engraving were there collected and arranged; the great minister Colbert purchased the extensive collections of the Abbé de Marolles, who may be ranked among the fathers of our print-collectors. Two hundred and sixty-four ample portfolios laid the foundations, and the very catalogues of his collections, printed by Marolles himself, are rare and high-priced. Our own national print gallery is growing from its infant establishment.

Mr. Hallam has observed, that in 1440, England had made comparatively but little progress in learning—and Germany was probably still less advanced. However, in Germany, Trithemius, the celebrated abbot of Spanheim, who died in 1516, had amassed about two thousand manuscripts; a literary treasure which excited such general attention, that princes and eminent men travelled to visit Trithemius and his library. About this time, six or eight hundred volumes formed a royal collection, and their cost could only be furnished by a prince. This was indeed a great advancement in libraries, for at the beginning of the fourteenth century the library of Louis IX. contained only four classical authors; and that of Oxford, in 1300, consisted of "a few tracts kept in chests."

The pleasures of study are classed by Burton among those exercises or recreations of the mind which pass within doors. Looking about this "world of books," he exclaims, "I could[Pg 8] even live and die with such meditations, and take more delight and true content of mind in them than in all thy wealth and sport! There is a sweetness, which, as Circe's cup, bewitcheth a student: he cannot leave off, as well may witness those many laborious hours, days, and nights, spent in their voluminous treatises. So sweet is the delight of study. The last day is prioris discipulus. Heinsius was mewed up in the library of Leyden all the year long, and that which, to my thinking, should have bred a loathing, caused in him a greater liking. 'I no sooner,' saith he, 'come into the library, but I bolt the door to me, excluding Lust, Ambition, Avarice, and all such vices, whose nurse is Idleness, the mother of Ignorance and Melancholy. In the very lap of eternity, amongst so many divine souls, I take my seat with so lofty a spirit, and sweet content, that I pity all our great ones and rich men, that know not this happiness.'" Such is the incense of a votary who scatters it on the altar less for the ceremony than from the devotion.[9]

There is, however, an intemperance in study, incompatible often with our social or more active duties. The illustrious Grotius exposed himself to the reproaches of some of his contemporaries for having too warmly pursued his studies, to the detriment of his public station. It was the boast of Cicero that his philosophical studies had never interfered with the services he owed the republic, and that he had only dedicated to them the hours which others give to their walks, their repasts, and their pleasures. Looking on his voluminous labours, we are surprised at this observation;—how honourable is it to him, that his various philosophical works bear the titles of the different villas he possessed, which indicates that they were composed in these respective retirements! Cicero must have been an early riser; and practised that magic art in the employment of time, which multiplies our days.[Pg 9]


The preceding article is honourable to literature, yet even a passion for collecting books is not always a passion for literature.

The Bibliomania, or the collecting an enormous heap of books without intelligent curiosity, has, since libraries have existed, infected weak minds, who imagine that they themselves acquire knowledge when they keep it on their shelves. Their motley libraries have been called the madhouses of the Human mind; and again, the tomb of books, when the possessor will not communicate them, and coffins them up in the cases of his library. It was facetiously observed, these collections are not without a Lock on the Human Understanding.[10]

The Bibliomania never raged more violently than in our own times. It is fortunate that literature is in no ways injured by the follies of collectors, since though they preserve the worthless, they necessarily protect the good.[11]

Some collectors place all their fame on the view of a splendid library, where volumes, arrayed in all the pomp of lettering, silk linings, triple gold bands, and tinted leather, are locked up in wire cases, and secured from the vulgar hands of the mere reader, dazzling our eyes like eastern beauties peering through their jalousies![Pg 10]

La Bruyere has touched on this mania with humour:—"Of such a collector, as soon as I enter his house, I am ready to faint on the staircase, from a strong smell of Morocco leather. In vain he shows me fine editions, gold leaves, Etruscan bindings, and naming them one after another, as if he were showing a gallery of pictures! a gallery, by-the-bye, which he seldom traverses when alone, for he rarely reads; but me he offers to conduct through it! I thank him for his politeness, and as little as himself care to visit the tan-house, which he calls his library."

Lucian has composed a biting invective against an ignorant possessor of a vast library, like him, who in the present day, after turning over the pages of an old book, chiefly admires the date. Lucian compares him to a pilot, who was never taught the science of navigation; to a rider who cannot keep his seat on a spirited horse; to a man who, not having the use of his feet, would conceal the defect by wearing embroidered shoes; but, alas! he cannot stand in them! He ludicrously compares him to Thersites wearing the armour of Achilles, tottering at every step; leering with his little eyes under his enormous helmet, and his hunchback raising the cuirass above his shoulders. Why do you buy so many books? You have no hair, and you purchase a comb; you are blind, and you will have a grand mirror; you are deaf, and you will have fine musical instruments! Your costly bindings are only a source of vexation, and you are continually discharging your librarians for not preserving them from the silent invasion of the worms, and the nibbling triumphs of the rats!

Such collectors will contemptuously smile at the collection of the amiable Melancthon. He possessed in his library only four authors,—Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, and Ptolemy the geographer.

Ancillon was a great collector of curious books, and dexterously defended himself when accused of the Bibliomania. He gave a good reason for buying the most elegant editions; which he did not consider merely as a literary luxury.[12] The[Pg 11] less the eyes are fatigued in reading a work, the more liberty the mind feels to judge of it: and as we perceive more clearly the excellences and defects of a printed book than when in MS.; so we see them more plainly in good paper and clear type, than when the impression and paper are both bad. He always purchased first editions, and never waited for second ones; though it is the opinion of some that a first edition is only to be considered as an imperfect essay, which the author proposes to finish after he has tried the sentiments of the literary world. Bayle approves of Ancillon's plan. Those who wait for a book till it is reprinted, show plainly that they prefer the saving of a pistole to the acquisition of knowledge. With one of these persons, who waited for a second edition, which never appeared, a literary man argued, that it was better to have two editions of a book rather than to deprive himself of the advantage which the reading of the first might procure him. It has frequently happened, besides, that in second editions, the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons; the displeasing truths which he corrects, as he might call them, are so many losses incurred by Truth itself. There is an advantage in comparing the first and subsequent editions; among other things, we feel great satisfaction in tracing the variations of a work after its revision. There are also other secrets, well known to the intelligent curious, who are versed in affairs relating to books. Many first editions are not to be purchased for the treble value of later ones. The collector we have noticed frequently said, as is related of Virgil, "I collect gold from Ennius's dung." I find, in some neglected authors, particular things, not elsewhere to be found. He read many of these, but not with equal attention—"Sicut canis ad Nilum, bibens et fugiens;" like a dog at the Nile, drinking and running.

Fortunate are those who only consider a book for the utility and pleasure they may derive from its possession. Students, who know much, and still thirst to know more, may require this vast sea of books; yet in that sea they may suffer many shipwrecks.[Pg 12]

Great collections of books are subject to certain accidents besides the damp, the worms, and the rats; one not less common is that of the borrowers, not to say a word of the purloiners!


When writers were not numerous, and readers rare, the unsuccessful author fell insensibly into oblivion; he dissolved away in his own weakness. If he committed the private folly of printing what no one would purchase, he was not arraigned at the public tribunal—and the awful terrors of his day of judgment consisted only in the retributions of his publisher's final accounts. At length, a taste for literature spread through the body of the people; vanity induced the inexperienced and the ignorant to aspire to literary honours. To oppose these forcible entries into the haunts of the Muses, periodical criticism brandished its formidable weapon; and the fall of many, taught some of our greatest geniuses to rise. Multifarious writings produced multifarious strictures; and public criticism reached to such perfection, that taste was generally diffused, enlightening those whose occupations had otherwise never permitted them to judge of literary compositions.

The invention of Reviews, in the form which they have at length gradually assumed, could not have existed but in the most polished ages of literature: for without a constant supply of authors, and a refined spirit of criticism, they could not excite a perpetual interest among the lovers of literature. These publications were long the chronicles of taste and science, presenting the existing state of the public mind, while they formed a ready resource for those idle hours, which men of letters would not pass idly.

Their multiplicity has undoubtedly produced much evil; puerile critics and venal drudges manufacture reviews; hence that shameful discordance of opinion, which is the scorn and scandal of criticism. Passions hostile to the peaceful truths of literature have likewise made tremendous inroads in the republic, and every literary virtue has been lost! In "Calamities of Authors" I have given the history of a literary conspiracy, conducted by a solitary critic, Gilbert Stuart, against the historian Henry.

These works may disgust by vapid panegyric, or gross in[Pg 13]vective; weary by uniform dulness, or tantalise by superficial knowledge. Sometimes merely written to catch the public attention, a malignity is indulged against authors, to season the caustic leaves. A reviewer has admired those works in private, which he has condemned in his official capacity. But good sense, good temper, and good taste, will ever form an estimable journalist, who will inspire confidence, and give stability to his decisions.

To the lovers of literature these volumes, when they have outlived their year, are not unimportant. They constitute a great portion of literary history, and are indeed the annals of the republic.

To our own reviews, we must add the old foreign journals, which are perhaps even more valuable to the man of letters. Of these the variety is considerable; and many of their writers are now known. They delight our curiosity by opening new views, and light up in observing minds many projects of works, wanted in our own literature. Gibbon feasted on them; and while he turned them over with constant pleasure, derived accurate notions of works, which no student could himself have verified; of many works a notion is sufficient.

The origin of literary journals was the happy project of Denis de Sallo, a counsellor in the parliament of Paris. In 1665 appeared his Journal des Sçavans. He published his essay in the name of the Sieur de Hedouville, his footman! Was this a mere stroke of humour, or designed to insinuate that the freedom of criticism could only be allowed to his lacquey? The work, however, met with so favourable a reception, that Sallo had the satisfaction of seeing it, the following year, imitated throughout Europe, and his Journal, at the same time, translated into various languages. But as most authors lay themselves open to an acute critic, the animadversions of Sallo were given with such asperity of criticism, and such malignity of wit, that this new journal excited loud murmurs, and the most heart-moving complaints. The learned had their plagiarisms detected, and the wit had his claims disputed. Sarasin called the gazettes of this new Aristarchus, Hebdomadary Flams! Billevesées hebdomadaires! and Menage having published a law book, which Sallo had treated with severe raillery, he entered into a long argument to prove, according to Justinian, that a lawyer is not allowed to defame another lawyer, &c.: Sena[Pg 14]tori maledicere non licet, remaledicere jus fasque est. Others loudly declaimed against this new species of imperial tyranny, and this attempt to regulate the public opinion by that of an individual. Sallo, after having published only his third volume, felt the irritated wasps of literature thronging so thick about him, that he very gladly abdicated the throne of criticism. The journal is said to have suffered a short interruption by a remonstrance from the nuncio of the pope, for the energy with which Sallo had defended the liberties of the Gallican church.

Intimidated by the fate of Sallo, his successor, the Abbé Gallois, flourished in a milder reign. He contented himself with giving the titles of books, accompanied with extracts; and he was more useful than interesting. The public, who had been so much amused by the raillery and severity of the founder of this dynasty of new critics, now murmured at the want of that salt and acidity by which they had relished the fugitive collation. They were not satisfied with having the most beautiful, or the most curious parts of a new work brought together; they wished for the unreasonable entertainment of railing and raillery. At length another objection was conjured up against the review; mathematicians complained that they were neglected to make room for experiments in natural philosophy; the historian sickened over works of natural history; the antiquaries would have nothing but discoveries of MSS. or fragments of antiquity. Medical works were called for by one party, and reprobated by another. In a word, each reader wished only to have accounts of books, which were interesting to his profession or his taste. But a review is a work presented to the public at large, and written for more than one country. In spite of all these difficulties, this work was carried to a vast extent. An index to the Journal des Sçavans has been arranged on a critical plan, occupying ten volumes in quarto, which may be considered as a most useful instrument to obtain the science and literature of the entire century.

The next celebrated reviewer is Bayle, who undertook, in 1684, his Nouvelles de la République des Lettres. He possessed the art, acquired by habit, of reading a book by his fingers, as it has been happily expressed; and of comprising, in concise extracts, a just notion of a book, without the addition of irrelevant matter. Lively, neat, and full of that attic salt which gives a relish to the driest disquisitions, for[Pg 15] the first time the ladies and all the beau-monde took an interest in the labours of the critic. He wreathed the rod of criticism with roses. Yet even Bayle, who declared himself to be a reporter, and not a judge, Bayle, the discreet sceptic, could not long satisfy his readers. His panegyric was thought somewhat prodigal; his fluency of style somewhat too familiar; and others affected not to relish his gaiety. In his latter volumes, to still the clamour, he assumed the cold sobriety of an historian: and has bequeathed no mean legacy to the literary world, in thirty-six small volumes of criticism, closed in 1687. These were continued by Bernard, with inferior skill; and by Basnage more successfully, in his Histoire des Ouvrages des Sçavans.

The contemporary and the antagonist of Bayle was Le Clerc. His firm industry has produced three BibliothèquesUniverselle et Historique, Choisie, and Ancienne et Moderne; forming in all eighty-two volumes, which, complete, bear a high price. Inferior to Bayle in the more pleasing talents, he is perhaps superior in erudition, and shows great skill in analysis: but his hand drops no flowers! Gibbon resorted to Le Clerc's volumes at his leisure, "as an inexhaustible source of amusement and instruction." Apostolo Zeno's Giornale del Litterati d'Italia, from 1710 to 1733, is valuable.

Beausobre and L'Enfant, two learned Protestants, wrote a Bibliothèque Germanique, from 1720 to 1740, in 50 volumes. Our own literature is interested by the "Bibliothèque Britannique," written by some literary Frenchmen, noticed by La Croze, in his "Voyage Littéraire," who designates the writers in this most tantalising manner: "Les auteurs sont gens de mérite, et qui entendent tous parfaitement l'Anglois; Messrs. S.B., le M.D., et le savant Mr. D." Posterity has been partially let into the secret: De Missy was one of the contributors, and Warburton communicated his project of an edition of Velleius Patereulus. This useful account of English books begins in 1733, and closes in 1747, Hague, 23 vols.: to this we must add the Journal Britannique, in 18 vols., by Dr. Maty, a foreign physician residing in London; this Journal exhibits a view of the state of English literature from 1750 to 1755. Gibbon bestows a high character on the journalist, who sometimes "aspires to the character of a poet and a philosopher; one of the last disciples of the school of Fontenelle."[Pg 16]

Maty's son produced here a review known to the curious, his style and decisions often discover haste and heat, with some striking observations: alluding to his father, in his motto, Maty applies Virgil's description of the young Ascanius, "Sequitur patrem non passibus æquis." He says he only holds a monthly conversation with the public. His obstinate resolution of carrying on this review without an associate, has shown its folly and its danger; for a fatal illness produced a cessation, at once, of his periodical labours and his life.

Other reviews, are the Mémoires de Trevoux, written by the Jesuits. Their caustic censure and vivacity of style made them redoubtable in their day; they did not even spare their brothers. The Journal Littéraire, printed at the Hague, was chiefly composed by Prosper Marchand, Sallengre, and Van Effen, who were then young writers. This list may be augmented by other journals, which sometimes merit preservation in the history of modern literature.

Our early English journals notice only a few publications, with little acumen. Of these, the "Memoirs of Literature," and the "Present State of the Republic of Letters," are the best. The Monthly Review, the venerable (now the deceased) mother of our journals, commenced in 1749.

It is impossible to form a literary journal in a manner such as might be wished; it must be the work of many, of different tempers and talents. An individual, however versatile and extensive his genius, would soon be exhausted. Such a regular labour occasioned Bayle a dangerous illness, and Maty fell a victim to his Review. A prospect always extending as we proceed, the frequent novelty of the matter, the pride of considering one's self as the arbiter of literature, animate a journalist at the commencement of his career; but the literary Hercules becomes fatigued; and to supply his craving pages he gives copious extracts, till the journal becomes tedious, or fails in variety. The Abbé Gallois was frequently diverted from continuing his journal, and Fontenelle remarks, that this occupation was too restrictive for a mind so extensive as his; the Abbé could not resist the charms of revelling in a new work, and gratifying any sudden curiosity which seized him; this interrupted perpetually the regularity which the public expects from a journalist.

The character of a perfect journalist would be only an ideal portrait; there are, however, some acquirements which are[Pg 17] indispensable. He must be tolerably acquainted with the subjects he treats on; no common acquirement! He must possess the literary history of his own times; a science which, Fontenelle observes, is almost distinct from any other. It is the result of an active curiosity, which takes a lively interest in the tastes and pursuits of the age, while it saves the journalist from some ridiculous blunders. We often see the mind of a reviewer half a century remote from the work reviewed. A fine feeling of the various manners of writers, with a style adapted to fix the attention of the indolent, and to win the untractable, should be his study; but candour is the brightest gem of criticism! He ought not to throw everything into the crucible, nor should he suffer the whole to pass as if he trembled to touch it. Lampoons and satires in time will lose their effect, as well as panegyrics. He must learn to resist the seductions of his own pen: the pretension of composing a treatise on the subject, rather than on the book he criticises—proud of insinuating that he gives, in a dozen pages, what the author himself has not been able to perform in his volumes. Should he gain confidence by a popular delusion, and by unworthy conduct, he may chance to be mortified by the pardon or by the chastisement of insulted genius. The most noble criticism is that in which the critic is not the antagonist so much as the rival of the author.


Our ancient classics had a very narrow escape from total annihilation. Many have perished: many are but fragments; and chance, blind arbiter of the works of genius, has left us some, not of the highest value; which, however, have proved very useful, as a test to show the pedantry of those who adore antiquity not from true feeling, but from traditional prejudice.

We lost a great number of ancient authors by the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens, which deprived Europe of the use of the papyrus. They could find no substitute, and knew no other expedient but writing on parchment, which became every day more scarce and costly. Ignorance and barbarism unfortunately seized on Roman manuscripts, and industriously defaced pages once imagined to have been immortal! The most elegant compositions of classic Rome were converted into the psalms of a breviary, or the prayers of a missal. Livy and Tacitus[Pg 18] "hide their diminished heads" to preserve the legend of a saint, and immortal truths were converted into clumsy fictions. It happened that the most voluminous authors were the greatest sufferers; these were preferred, because their volume being the greatest, most profitably repaid their destroying industry, and furnished ampler scope for future transcription. A Livy or a Diodorus was preferred to the smaller works of Cicero or Horace; and it is to this circumstance that Juvenal, Persius, and Martial have come down to us entire, rather probably than to these pious personages preferring their obscenities, as some have accused them. At Rome, a part of a book of Livy was found, between the lines of a parchment but half effaced, on which they had substituted a book of the Bible; and a recent discovery of Cicero De Republicâ, which lay concealed under some monkish writing, shows the fate of ancient manuscripts.[13]

That the Monks had not in high veneration the profane authors, appears by a facetious anecdote. To read the classics was considered as a very idle recreation, and some held them in great horror. To distinguish them from other books, they invented a disgraceful sign: when a monk asked for a pagan author, after making the general sign they used in their manual and silent language when they wanted a book, he added a particular one, which consisted in scratching under his ear, as a dog, which feels an itching, scratches himself in that place with his paw—because, said they, an unbeliever is compared to a dog! In this manner they expressed an itching for those dogs Virgil or Horace![14]

There have been ages when, for the possession of a manuscript, some would transfer an estate, or leave in pawn for its loan hundreds of golden crowns; and when even the sale or loan of a manuscript was considered of such importance as to[Pg 19] have been solemnly registered by public acts. Absolute as was Louis XI. he could not obtain the MS. of Rasis, an Arabian writer, from the library of the Faculty of Paris, to have a copy made, without pledging a hundred golden crowns; and the president of his treasury, charged with this commission, sold part of his plate to make the deposit. For the loan of a volume of Avicenna, a Baron offered a pledge of ten marks of silver, which was refused: because it was not considered equal to the risk incurred of losing a volume of Avicenna! These events occurred in 1471. One cannot but smile, at an anterior period, when a Countess of Anjou bought a favourite book of homilies for two hundred sheep, some skins of martins, and bushels of wheat and rye.

In those times, manuscripts were important articles of commerce; they were excessively scarce, and preserved with the utmost care. Usurers themselves considered them as precious objects for pawn. A student of Pavia, who was reduced, raised a new fortune by leaving in pawn a manuscript of a body of law; and a grammarian, who was ruined by a fire, rebuilt his house with two small volumes of Cicero.

At the restoration of letters, the researches of literary men were chiefly directed to this point; every part of Europe and Greece was ransacked; and, the glorious end considered, there was something sublime in this humble industry, which often recovered a lost author of antiquity, and gave one more classic to the world. This occupation was carried on with enthusiasm, and a kind of mania possessed many, who exhausted their fortunes in distant voyages and profuse prices. In reading the correspondence of the learned Italians of these times, their adventures of manuscript-hunting are very amusing; and their raptures, their congratulations, or at times their condolence, and even their censures, are all immoderate. The acquisition of a province would not have given so much satisfaction as the discovery or an author little known, or not known at all. "Oh, great gain! Oh, unexpected felicity! I intreat you, my Poggio, send me the manuscript as soon as possible, that I may see it before I die!" exclaims Aretino, in a letter overflowing with enthusiasm, on Poggio's discovery of a copy of Quintilian. Some of the half-witted, who joined in this great hunt, were often thrown out, and some paid high for manuscripts not authentic; the knave played on the bungling amateur of manuscripts, whose credulity exceeded his purse. But even among the learned, much ill-blood was inflamed; he who had[Pg 20] been most successful in acquiring manuscripts was envied by the less fortunate, and the glory of possessing a manuscript of Cicero seemed to approximate to that of being its author. It is curious to observe that in these vast importations into Italy of manuscripts from Asia, John Aurispa, who brought many hundreds of Greek manuscripts, laments that he had chosen more profane than sacred writers; which circumstance he tells us was owing to the Greeks, who would not so easily part with theological works, but did not highly value profane writers!

These manuscripts were discovered in the obscurest recesses of monasteries; they were not always imprisoned in libraries, but rotting in dark unfrequented corners with rubbish. It required not less ingenuity to find out places where to grope in, than to understand the value of the acquisition. An universal ignorance then prevailed in the knowledge of ancient writers. A scholar of those times gave the first rank among the Latin writers to one Valerius, whether he meant Martial or Maximus is uncertain; he placed Plato and Tully among the poets, and imagined that Ennius and Statius were contemporaries. A library of six hundred volumes was then considered as an extraordinary collection.

Among those whose lives were devoted to this purpose, Poggio the Florentine stands distinguished; but he complains that his zeal was not assisted by the great. He found under a heap of rubbish in a decayed coffer, in a tower belonging to the monastery of St. Gallo, the work of Quintilian. He is indignant at its forlorn situation; at least, he cries, it should have been preserved in the library of the monks; but I found it in teterrimo quodam et obscuro carcere—and to his great joy drew it out of its grave! The monks have been complimented as the preservers of literature, but by facts, like the present, their real affection may be doubted.

The most valuable copy of Tacitus, of whom so much is wanting, was likewise discovered in a monastery of Westphalia. It is a curious circumstance in literary history, that we should owe Tacitus to this single copy; for the Roman emperor of that name had copies of the works of his illustrious ancestor placed in all the libraries of the empire, and every year had ten copies transcribed; but the Roman libraries seem to have been all destroyed, and the imperial protection availed nothing against the teeth of time.

The original manuscript of Justinian's Pandects was dis[Pg 21]covered by the Pisans, when they took a city in Calabria; that vast code of laws had been in a manner unknown from the time of that emperor. This curious book was brought to Pisa; and when Pisa was taken by the Florentines, was transferred to Florence, where it is still preserved.

It sometimes happened that manuscripts were discovered in the last agonies of existence. Papirius Masson found, in the house of a bookbinder of Lyons, the works of Agobard; the mechanic was on the point of using the manuscripts to line the covers of his books.[15] A page of the second decade of Livy, it is said, was found by a man of letters in the parchment of his battledore, while he was amusing himself in the country. He hastened to the maker of the battledore—but arrived too late! The man had finished the last page of Livy—about a week before.

Many works have undoubtedly perished in this manuscript state. By a petition of Dr. Dee to Queen Mary, in the Cotton library, it appears that Cicero's treatise De Republicâ was once extant in this country. Huet observes that Petronius was probably entire in the days of John of Salisbury, who quotes fragments, not now to be found in the remains of the Roman bard. Raimond Soranzo, a lawyer in the papal court, possessed two books of Cicero "on Glory," which he presented to Petrarch, who lent them to a poor aged man of letters, formerly his preceptor. Urged by extreme want, the old man pawned them, and returning home died suddenly without having revealed where he had left them. They have never been recovered. Petrarch speaks of them with ecstasy, and tells us that he had studied them perpetually. Two centuries afterwards, this treatise on Glory by Cicero was mentioned in a catalogue of books bequeathed to a monastery of nuns, but when inquired after was missing. It was supposed that Petrus Alcyonius, physician to that[Pg 22] household, purloined it, and after transcribing as much of it as he could into his own writings, had destroyed the original. Alcyonius, in his book De Exilio, the critics observed, had many splendid passages which stood isolated in his work, and were quite above his genius. The beggar, or in this case the thief, was detected by mending his rags with patches of purple and gold.

In this age of manuscript, there is reason to believe, that when a man of letters accidentally obtained an unknown work, he did not make the fairest use of it, but cautiously concealed it from his contemporaries. Leonard Aretino, a distinguished scholar at the dawn of modern literature, having found a Greek manuscript of Procopius De Bello Gothico, translated it into Latin, and published the work; but concealing the author's name, it passed as his own, till another manuscript of the same work being dug out of its grave, the fraud of Aretino was apparent. Barbosa, a bishop of Ugento, in 1649, has printed among his works a treatise, obtained by one of his domestics bringing in a fish rolled in a leaf of written paper, which his curiosity led him to examine. He was sufficiently interested to run out and search the fish market, till he found the manuscript out of which it had been torn. He published it, under the title De Officio Episcopi. Machiavelli acted more adroitly in a similar case; a manuscript of the Apophthegms of the Ancients by Plutarch having fallen into his hands, he selected those which pleased him, and put them into the mouth of his hero Castrucio Castricani.

In more recent times, we might collect many curious anecdotes concerning manuscripts. Sir Robert Cotton one day at his tailor's discovered that the man was holding in his hand, ready to cut up for measures—an original Magna Charta, with all its appendages of seals and signatures. This anecdote is told by Colomiés, who long resided in this country; and an original Magna Charta is preserved in the Cottonian library exhibiting marks of dilapidation.

Cardinal Granvelle[16] left behind him several chests filled with a prodigious quantity of letters written in different languages, commented, noted, and underlined by his own hand. These curious manuscripts, after his death, were left in a garret to the mercy of the rain and the rats. Five or[Pg 23] six of these chests the steward sold to the grocers. It was then that a discovery was made of this treasure. Several learned men occupied themselves in collecting sufficient of these literary relics to form eighty thick folios, consisting of original letters by all the crowned heads in Europe, with instructions for ambassadors, and other state-papers.

A valuable secret history by Sir George Mackenzie, the king's advocate in Scotland, was rescued from a mass of waste paper sold to a grocer, who had the good sense to discriminate it, and communicated this curious memorial to Dr. M'Crie. The original, in the handwriting of its author, has been deposited in the Advocate's Library. There is an hiatus, which contained the history of six years. This work excited inquiry after the rest of the MSS., which were found to be nothing more than the sweepings of an attorney's office.

Montaigne's Journal of his Travels into Italy has been but recently published. A prebendary of Perigord, travelling through this province to make researches relative to its history, arrived at the ancient château of Montaigne, in possession of a descendant of this great man. He inquired for the archives, if there had been any. He was shown an old worm-eaten coffer, which had long held papers untouched by the incurious generations of Montaigne. Stifled in clouds of dust, he drew out the original manuscript of the travels of Montaigne. Two-thirds of the work are in the handwriting of Montaigne, and the rest is written by a servant, who always speaks of his master in the third person. But he must have written what Montaigne dictated, as the expressions and the egotisms are all Montaigne's. The bad writing and orthography made it almost unintelligible. They confirmed Montaigne's own observation, that he was very negligent in the correction of his works.

Our ancestors were great hiders of manuscripts: Dr. Dee's singular MSS. were found in the secret drawer of a chest, which had passed through many hands undiscovered; and that vast collection of state-papers of Thurloe's, the secretary of Cromwell, which formed about seventy volumes in the original manuscripts, accidentally fell out of the false ceiling of some chambers in Lincoln's-Inn.

A considerable portion of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Letters I discovered in the hands of an attorney: family-papers are often consigned to offices of lawyers, where many[Pg 24] valuable manuscripts are buried. Posthumous publications of this kind are too frequently made from sordid motives: discernment and taste would only be detrimental to the views of bulky publishers.[17]


It may, perhaps, be some satisfaction to show the young writer, that the most celebrated ancients have been as rudely subjected to the tyranny of criticism as the moderns. Detraction has ever poured the "waters of bitterness."

It was given out, that Homer had stolen from anterior poets whatever was most remarkable in the Iliad and Odyssey. Naucrates even points out the source in the library at Memphis in a temple of Vulcan, which according to him the blind bard completely pillaged. Undoubtedly there were good poets before Homer; how absurd to conceive that an elaborate poem could be the first! We have indeed accounts of anterior poets, and apparently of epics, before Homer; Ælian notices Syagrus, who composed a poem on the Siege of Troy; and Suidas the poem of Corinnus, from which it is said Homer greatly borrowed. Why did Plato so severely condemn the great bard, and imitate him?

Sophocles was brought to trial by his children as a lunatic; and some, who censured the inequalities of this poet, have also condemned the vanity of Pindar; the rough verses of Æschylus; and Euripides, for the conduct of his plots.

Socrates, considered as the wisest and the most moral of men, Cicero treated as an usurer, and the pedant Athenæus as illiterate; the latter points out as a Socratic folly our philosopher disserting on the nature of justice before his judges, who were so many thieves. The malignant buffoonery of Aristophanes treats him much worse; but he, as Jortin says, was a great wit, but a great rascal.

Plato—who has been called, by Clement of Alexandria, the Moses of Athens; the philosopher of the Christians, by[Pg 25] Arnobius; and the god of philosophers, by Cicero—Athenæus accuses of envy; Theopompus of lying; Suidas of avarice; Aulus Gellius, of robbery; Porphyry, of incontinence; and Aristophanes, of impiety.

Aristotle, whose industry composed more than four hundred volumes, has not been less spared by the critics; Diogenes Laertius, Cicero, and Plutarch, have forgotten nothing that can tend to show his ignorance, his ambition, and his vanity.

It has been said, that Plato was so envious of the celebrity of Democritus, that he proposed burning all his works; but that Amydis and Clinias prevented it, by remonstrating that there were copies of them everywhere; and Aristotle was agitated by the same passion against all the philosophers his predecessors.

Virgil is destitute of invention, if we are to give credit to Pliny, Carbilius, and Seneca. Caligula has absolutely denied him even mediocrity; Herennus has marked his faults; and Perilius Faustinus has furnished a thick volume with his plagiarisms. Even the author of his apology has confessed, that he has stolen from Homer his greatest beauties; from Apollonius Rhodius, many of his pathetic passages; from Nicander, hints for his Georgies; and this does not terminate the catalogue.

Horace censures the coarse humour of Plautus; and Horace, in his turn, has been blamed for the free use he made of the Greek minor poets.

The majority of the critics regard Pliny's Natural History only as a heap of fables; and Pliny cannot bear with Diodorus and Vopiscus; and in one comprehensive criticism, treats all the historians as narrators of fables.

Livy has been reproached for his aversion to the Gauls; Dion, for his hatred of the republic; Velleius Paterculus, for speaking too kindly of the vices of Tiberius; and Herodotus and Plutarch, for their excessive partiality to their own country: while the latter has written an entire treatise on the malignity of Herodotus. Xenophon and Quintus Curtius have been considered rather as novelists than historians; and Tacitus has been censured for his audacity in pretending to discover the political springs and secret causes of events. Dionysius of Harlicarnassus has made an elaborate attack on Thucydides for the unskilful choice of his subject, and his manner of treating it. Dionysius would have nothing written but what tended to the glory of his country and the pleasure[Pg 26] of the reader—as if history were a song! adds Hobbes, who also shows a personal motive in this attack. The same Dionysius severely criticises the style of Xenophon, who, he says, in attempting to elevate his style, shows himself incapable of supporting it. Polybius has been blamed for his frequent introduction of reflections which interrupt the thread of his narrative; and Sallust has been blamed by Cato for indulging his own private passions, and studiously concealing many of the glorious actions of Cicero. The Jewish historian, Josephus, is accused of not having designed his history for his own people so much as for the Greeks and Romans, whom he takes the utmost care never to offend. Josephus assumes a Roman name, Flavius; and considering his nation as entirely subjugated, to make them appear dignified to their conquerors, alters what he himself calls the Holy books. It is well known how widely he differs from the scriptural accounts. Some have said of Cicero, that there is no connexion, and to adopt their own figures, no blood and nerves, in what his admirers so warmly extol. Cold in his extemporaneous effusions, artificial in his exordiums, trifling in his strained raillery, and tiresome in his digressions. This is saying a good deal about Cicero.

Quintilian does not spare Seneca; and Demosthenes, called by Cicero the prince of orators, has, according to Hermippus, more of art than of nature. To Demades, his orations appear too much laboured; others have thought him too dry; and, if we may trust Æschines, his language is by no means pure.

The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, and the Deipnosophists of Athenæus, while they have been extolled by one party, have been degraded by another. They have been considered as botchers of rags and remnants; their diligence has not been accompanied by judgment; and their taste inclined more to the frivolous than to the useful. Compilers, indeed, are liable to a hard fate, for little distinction is made in their ranks; a disagreeable situation, in which honest Burton seems to have been placed; for he says of his work, that some will cry out, "This is a thinge of meere industrie; a collection without wit or invention; a very toy! So men are valued; their labours vilified by fellowes of no worth themselves, as things of nought: Who could not have done as much? Some understande too little, and some too much."

Should we proceed with this list to our own country, and to our own times, it might be curiously augmented, and show[Pg 27] the world what men the Critics are! but, perhaps, enough has been said to soothe irritated genius, and to shame fastidious criticism. "I would beg the critics to remember," the Earl of Roscommon writes, in his preface to Horace's Art of Poetry, "that Horace owed his favour and his fortune to the character given of him by Virgil and Varus; that Fundanius and Pollio are still valued by what Horace says of them; and that, in their golden age, there was a good understanding among the ingenious; and those who were the most esteemed, were the best natured."


Those who have laboured most zealously to instruct mankind have been those who have suffered most from ignorance; and the discoverers of new arts and sciences have hardly ever lived to see them accepted by the world. With a noble perception of his own genius, Lord Bacon, in his prophetic Will, thus expresses himself: "For my name and memory, I leave it to men's charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next ages." Before the times of Galileo and Harvey the world believed in the stagnation of the blood, and the diurnal immovability of the earth; and for denying these the one was persecuted and the other ridiculed.

The intelligence and the virtue of Socrates were punished with death. Anaxagoras, when he attempted to propagate a just notion of the Supreme Being, was dragged to prison. Aristotle, after a long series of persecution, swallowed poison. Heraclitus, tormented by his countrymen, broke off all intercourse with men. The great geometricians and chemists, as Gerbert, Roger Bacon, and Cornelius Agrippa, were abhorred as magicians. Pope Gerbert, as Bishop Otho gravely relates, obtained the pontificate by having given himself up entirely to the devil: others suspected him, too, of holding an intercourse with demons; but this was indeed a devilish age!

Virgilius, Bishop of Saltzburg, having asserted that there existed antipodes, the Archbishop of Mentz declared him a heretic; and the Abbot Trithemius, who was fond of improving steganography or the art of secret writing, having published several curious works on this subject, they were condemned, as works full of diabolical mysteries; and[Pg 28] Frederic II., Elector Palatine, ordered Trithemius's original work, which was in his library, to be publicly burnt.

Galileo was condemned at Rome publicly to disavow sentiments, the truth of which must have been to him abundantly manifest. "Are these then my judges?" he exclaimed, in retiring from the inquisitors, whose ignorance astonished him. He was imprisoned, and visited by Milton, who tells us, he was then poor and old. The confessor of his widow, taking advantage of her piety, perused the MSS. of this great philosopher, and destroyed such as in his judgment were not fit to be known to the world!

Gabriel Naudé, in his apology for those great men who have been accused of magic, has recorded a melancholy number of the most eminent scholars, who have found, that to have been successful in their studies, was a success which harassed them with continual persecution—a prison or a grave!

Cornelius Agrippa was compelled to fly his country, and the enjoyment of a large income, merely for having displayed a few philosophical experiments, which now every school-boy can perform; but more particularly having attacked the then prevailing opinion, that St. Anne had three husbands, he was obliged to fly from place to place. The people beheld him as an object of horror; and when he walked, he found the streets empty at his approach.

In those times, it was a common opinion to suspect every great man of an intercourse with some familiar spirit. The favourite black dog of Agrippa was supposed to be a demon. When Urban Grandier, another victim to the age, was led to the stake, a large fly settled on his head: a monk, who had heard that Beelzebub signifies in Hebrew the God of Flies, reported that he saw this spirit come to take possession of him. M. de Langier, a French minister, who employed many spies, was frequently accused of diabolical communication. Sixtus the Fifth, Marechal Faber, Roger Bacon, Cæsar Borgia, his son Alexander VI., and others, like Socrates, had their diabolical attendant.

Cardan was believed to be a magician. An able naturalist, who happened to know something of the arcana of nature, was immediately suspected of magic. Even the learned themselves, who had not applied to natural philosophy, seem to have acted with the same feelings as the most ignorant; for when Albert, usually called the Great, an epithet it has been[Pg 29] said that he derived from his name De Groot, constructed a curious piece of mechanism, which sent forth distinct vocal sounds, Thomas Aquinas was so much terrified at it, that he struck it with his staff, and, to the mortification of Albert, annihilated the curious labour of thirty years!

Petrarch was less desirous of the laurel for the honour, than for the hope of being sheltered by it from the thunder of the priests, by whom both he and his brother poets were continually threatened. They could not imagine a poet, without supposing him to hold an intercourse with some demon. This was, as Abbé Resnel observes, having a most exalted idea of poetry, though a very bad one of poets. An anti-poetic Dominican was notorious for persecuting all verse-makers; whose power he attributed to the effects of heresy and magic. The lights of philosophy have dispersed all these accusations of magic, and have shown a dreadful chain of perjuries and conspiracies.

Descartes was horribly persecuted in Holland, when he first published his opinions. Voetius, a bigot of great influence at Utrecht, accused him of atheism, and had even projected in his mind to have this philosopher burnt at Utrecht in an extraordinary fire, which, kindled on an eminence, might be observed by the seven provinces. Mr. Hallam has observed, that "the ordeal of fire was the great purifier of books and men." This persecution of science and genius lasted till the close of the seventeenth century.

"If the metaphysician stood a chance of being burnt as a heretic, the natural philosopher was not in less jeopardy as a magician," is an observation of the same writer, which sums up the whole.


Fortune has rarely condescended to be the companion of genius: others find a hundred by-roads to her palace; there is but one open, and that a very indifferent one, for men of letters. Were we to erect an asylum for venerable genius, as we do for the brave and the helpless part of our citizens, it might be inscribed, "An Hospital for Incurables!" When even Fame will not protect the man of genius from Famine, Charity ought. Nor should such an act be considered as a debt incurred by the helpless member, but a just tribute we pay in his person[Pg 30] to Genius itself. Even in these enlightened times, many have lived in obscurity, while their reputation was widely spread, and have perished in poverty, while their works were enriching the booksellers.

Of the heroes of modern literature the accounts are as copious as they are sorrowful.

Xylander sold his notes on Dion Cassius for a dinner. He tells us that at the age of eighteen he studied to acquire glory, but at twenty-five he studied to get bread.

Cervantes, the immortal genius of Spain, is supposed to have wanted food; Camöens, the solitary pride of Portugal, deprived of the necessaries of life, perished in an hospital at Lisbon. This fact has been accidentally preserved in an entry in a copy of the first edition of the Lusiad, in the possession of Lord Holland. It is a note, written by a friar who must have been a witness of the dying scene of the poet, and probably received the volume which now preserves the sad memorial, and which recalled it to his mind, from the hands of the unhappy poet:—"What a lamentable thing to see so great a genius so ill rewarded! I saw him die in an hospital in Lisbon, without having a sheet or shroud, una sauana, to cover him, after having triumphed in the East Indies, and sailed 5500 leagues! What good advice for those who weary themselves night and day in study without profit!" Camöens, when some fidalgo complained that he had not performed his promise in writing some verses for him, replied, "When I wrote verses I was young, had sufficient food, was a lover, and beloved by many friends and by the ladies; then I felt poetical ardour: now I have no spirits, no peace of mind. See there my Javanese, who asks me for two pieces to purchase firing, and I have them not to give him." The Portuguese, after his death, bestowed on the man of genius they had starved, the appellation of Great![18] Vondel, the Dutch[Pg 31] Shakspeare, after composing a number of popular tragedies, lived in great poverty, and died at ninety years of age; then he had his coffin carried by fourteen poets, who without his genius probably partook of his wretchedness.

The great Tasso was reduced to such a dilemma that he was obliged to borrow a crown for a week's subsistence. He alludes to his distress when, entreating his cat to assist him, during the night, with the lustre of her eyes—"Non avendo candele per iscrivere i suoi versi!" having no candle to see to write his verses.

When the liberality of Alphonso enabled Ariosto to build a small house, it seems that it was but ill furnished. When told that such a building was not fit for one who had raised so many fine palaces in his writings, he answered, that the structure of words and that of stones was not the same thing. "Che pervi le pietre, e porvi le parole, non è il medesimo!" At Ferrari this house is still shown, "Parva sed apta" he calls it, but exults that it was paid for with his own money. This was in a moment of good humour, which he did not always enjoy; for in his Satires he bitterly complains of the bondage of dependence and poverty. Little thought the poet that the commune would order this small house to be purchased with their own funds, that it might be dedicated to his immortal memory.

Cardinal Bentivoglio, the ornament of Italy and of literature, languished, in his old age, in the most distressful poverty; and having sold his palace to satisfy his creditors, left nothing behind him but his reputation. The learned Pomponius Lætus lived in such a state of poverty, that his friend Platina, who wrote the lives of the popes, and also a book of cookery, introduces him into the cookery book by a facetious observation, that "If Pomponius Lætus should be robbed of a couple of eggs, he would not have wherewithal to purchase two other eggs." The history of Aldrovandus is noble and pathetic; having expended a large fortune in forming his collections of natural history, and employing the first artists in Europe, he was suffered to die in the hospital of that city, to whose fame he had eminently contributed.

Du Ryer, a celebrated French poet, was constrained to write with rapidity, and to live in the cottage of an obscure village. His bookseller bought his heroic verses for one hundred sols the hundred lines, and the smaller ones for fifty sols. What an interesting picture has a contemporary given[Pg 32] of a visit to this poor and ingenious author! "On a fine summer day we went to him, at some distance from town. He received us with joy, talked to us of his numerous projects, and showed us several of his works. But what more interested us was, that, though dreading to expose to us his poverty, he contrived to offer some refreshments. We seated ourselves under a wide oak, the table-cloth was spread on the grass, his wife brought us some milk, with fresh water and brown bread, and he picked a basket of cherries. He welcomed us with gaiety, but we could not take leave of this amiable man, now grown old, without tears, to see him so ill treated by fortune, and to have nothing left but literary honour!"

Vaugelas, the most polished writer of the French language, who devoted thirty years to his translation of Quintus Curtius, (a circumstance which modern translators can have no conception of), died possessed of nothing valuable but his precious manuscripts. This ingenious scholar left his corpse to the surgeons, for the benefit of his creditors!

Louis the Fourteenth honoured Racine and Boileau with a private monthly audience. One day the king asked what there was new in the literary world. Racine answered, that he had seen a melancholy spectacle in the house of Corneille, whom he found dying, deprived even of a little broth! The king preserved a profound silence; and sent the dying poet a sum of money.

Dryden, for less than three hundred pounds, sold Tonson ten thousand verses, as may be seen by the agreement.

Purchas, who in the reign of our first James, had spent his life in compiling his Relation of the World, when he gave it to the public, for the reward of his labours was thrown into prison, at the suit of his printer. Yet this was the book which, he informs Charles I. in his dedication, his father read every night with great profit and satisfaction.

The Marquis of Worcester, in a petition to parliament, in the reign of Charles II., offered to publish the hundred processes and machines, enumerated in his very curious "Centenary of Inventions," on condition that money should be granted to extricate him from the difficulties in which he had involved himself by the prosecution of useful discoveries. The petition does not appear to have been attended to! Many of these admirable inventions were lost. The steam-engine and the telegraph, may be traced among them.[Pg 33]

It appears by the Harleian MS. 7524, that Rushworth, the author of the "Historical Collections," passed the last years of his life in gaol, where indeed he died. After the Restoration, when he presented to the king several of the privy council's books, which he had preserved from ruin, he received for his only reward the thanks of his majesty.

Rymer, the collector of the Fœdera, must have been sadly reduced, by the following letter, I found addressed by Peter le Neve, Norroy, to the Earl of Oxford.

"I am desired by Mr. Rymer, historiographer, to lay before your lordship the circumstances of his affairs. He was forced some years back to part with all his choice printed books to subsist himself: and now, he says, he must be forced, for subsistence, to sell all his MS. collections to the best bidder, without your lordship will be pleased to buy them for the queen's library. They are fifty volumes in folio, of public affairs, which he hath collected, but not printed. The price he asks is five hundred pounds."

Simon Ockley, a learned student in Oriental literature, addresses a letter to the same earl, in which he paints his distresses in glowing colours. After having devoted his life to Asiatic researches, then very uncommon, he had the mortification of dating his preface to his great work from Cambridge Castle, where he was confined for debt; and, with an air of triumph, feels a martyr's enthusiasm in the cause for which he perishes.

He published his first volume of the History of the Saracens in 1708; and, ardently pursuing his oriental studies, published his second, ten years afterwards, without any patronage. Alluding to the encouragement necessary to bestow on youth, to remove the obstacles to such studies, he observes, that "young men will hardly come in on the prospect of finding leisure, in a prison, to transcribe those papers for the press, which they have collected with indefatigable labour, and oftentimes at the expense of their rest, and all the other conveniences of life, for the service of the public. No! though I were to assure them, from my own experience, that I have enjoyed more true liberty, more happy leisure, and more solid repose, in six months HERE, than in thrice the same number of years before. Evil is the condition of that historian who undertakes to write the lives of others, before he knows how to live himself.—Not that I speak thus as if I thought I had any just cause to be angry with the world—I[Pg 34] did always in my judgment give the possession of wisdom the preference to that of riches!"

Spenser, the child of Fancy, languished out his life in misery, "Lord Burleigh," says Granger, "who it is said prevented the queen giving him a hundred pounds, seems to have thought the lowest clerk in his office a more deserving person." Mr. Malone attempts to show that Spenser had a small pension, but the poet's querulous verses must not be forgotten—

"Full little knowest thou, that hast not try'd,
What Hell it is, in suing long to bide."

To lose good days—to waste long nights—and, as he feelingly exclaims,

"To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To speed, to give, to want, to be undone!"

How affecting is the death of Sydenham, who had devoted his life to a laborious version of Plato! He died in a sponging-house, and it was his death which appears to have given rise to the Literary Fund "for the relief of distressed authors."[19]

Who will pursue important labours when they read these anecdotes? Dr. Edmund Castell spent a great part of his life in compiling his Lexicon Heptaglotton, on which he bestowed incredible pains, and expended on it no less than 12,000l., broke his constitution, and exhausted his fortune. At length it was printed, but the copies remained unsold on his hands. He exhibits a curious picture of literary labour in his preface. "As for myself, I have been unceasingly occupied for such a number of years in this mass," Molendino[Pg 35] he calls them, "that that day seemed, as it were, a holiday in which I have not laboured so much as sixteen or eighteen hours in these enlarging lexicons and Polyglot Bibles."

Le Sage resided in a little cottage while he supplied the world with their most agreeable novels, and appears to have derived the sources of his existence in his old age from the filial exertions of an excellent son, who was an actor of some genius. I wish, however, that every man of letters could apply to himself the epitaph of this delightful writer:—

"Sous ce tombeau git Le Sage, abattu Par le ciseau de la Parque importune; S'il ne fut pas ami de la fortune, Il fut toujours ami de la vertu."

Many years after this article had been written, I published "Calamities of Authors," confining myself to those of our own country; the catalogue is incomplete, but far too numerous.


Imprisonment has not always disturbed the man of letters in the progress of his studies, but has unquestionably greatly promoted them.

In prison Bœthius composed his work on the Consolations of Philosophy; and Grotius wrote his Commentary on Saint Matthew, with other works: the detail of his allotment of time to different studies, during his confinement, is very instructive.

Buchanan, in the dungeon of a monastery in Portugal, composed his excellent Paraphrases of the Psalms of David.

Cervantes composed the most agreeable book in the Spanish language during his captivity in Barbary.

Fleta, a well-known law production, was written by a person confined in the Fleet for debt; the name of the place, though not that of the author, has thus been preserved; and another work, "Fleta Minor, or the Laws of Art and Nature in, knowing the bodies of Metals, &c. by Sir John Pettus, 1683;" received its title from the circumstance of his having translated it from the German during his confinement in this prison.

Louis the Twelfth, when Duke of Orleans, was long imprisoned in the Tower of Bourges: applying himself to his[Pg 36] studies, which he had hitherto neglected, he became, in consequence, an enlightened monarch.

Margaret, queen of Henry the Fourth, King of France, confined in the Louvre, pursued very warmly the studies of elegant literature, and composed a very skilful apology for the irregularities of her conduct.

Sir Walter Raleigh's unfinished History of the World, which leaves us to regret that later ages had not been celebrated by his eloquence, was the fruits of eleven years of imprisonment. It was written for the use of Prince Henry, as he and Dallington, who also wrote "Aphorisms" for the same prince, have told us; the prince looked over the manuscript. Of Raleigh it is observed, to employ the language of Hume, "They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who, being educated amidst naval and military enterprises, had surpassed, in the pursuits of literature, even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which, at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him to undertake and execute so great a work, as his History of the World." He was assisted in this great work by the learning of several eminent persons, a circumstance which has not been usually noticed.

The plan of the "Henriade" was sketched, and the greater part composed, by Voltaire during his imprisonment in the Bastile; and "the Pilgrim's Progress" of Bunyan was performed in the circuit of a prison's walls.

Howell, the author of "Familiar Letters," wrote the chief part of them, and almost all his other works, during his long confinement in the Fleet prison: he employed his fertile pen for subsistence; and in all his books we find much entertainment.

Lydiat, while confined in the King's Bench for debt, wrote his Annotations on the Parian Chronicle, which were first published by Prideaux. He was the learned scholar alluded to by Johnson; an allusion not known to Boswell and others.

The learned Selden, committed to prison for his attacks on the divine right of tithes and the king's prerogative, prepared during his confinement his "History of Eadmer," enriched by his notes.

Cardinal Polignac formed the design of refuting the arguments of the sceptics which Bayle had been renewing in his dictionary; but his public occupations hindered him. Two[Pg 37] exiles at length fortunately gave him the leisure; and the Anti-Lucretius is the fruit of the court disgraces of its author.

Freret, when imprisoned in the Bastile, was permitted only to have Bayle for his companion. His dictionary was always before him, and his principles were got by heart. To this circumstance we owe his works, animated by all the powers of scepticism.

Sir William Davenant finished his poem of Gondibert during his confinement by the rebels in Carisbrook Castle. George Withers dedicates his "Shepherds Hunting," "To his friends, my visitants in the Marshalsea:" these "eclogues" having been printed in his imprisonment.[20]

De Foe, confined in Newgate for a political pamphlet, began his "Review;" a periodical paper, which was extended to nine thick volumes in quarto, and it has been supposed served as the model of the celebrated papers of Steele.

Wicquefort's curious work "on Ambassadors" is dated from his prison, where he had been confined for state affairs. He softened the rigour of those heavy hours by several historical works.

One of the most interesting facts of this kind is the fate of an Italian scholar, of the name of Maggi. Early addicted to the study of the sciences, and particularly to the mathematics, and military architecture, he successfully defended[Pg 38] Famagusta, besieged by the Turks, by inventing machines which destroyed their works. When that city was taken in 1571, they pillaged his library and carried him away in chains. Now a slave, after his daily labours he amused a great part of his nights by literary compositions; De Tintinnabulis, on Bells, a treatise still read by the curious, was actually composed by him when a slave in Turkey, without any other resource than the erudition of his own memory, and the genius of which adversity could not deprive him.


Among the Jesuits it was a standing rule of the order, that after an application to study for two hours, the mind of the student should be unbent by some relaxation, however trifling. When Petavius was employed in his Dogmata Theologica, a work of the most profound and extensive erudition, the great recreation of the learned father was, at the end of every second hour, to twirl his chair for five minutes. After protracted studies Spinosa would mix with the family-party where he lodged, and join in the most trivial conversations, or unbend his mind by setting spiders to fight each other; he observed their combats with so much interest, that he was often seized with immoderate fits of laughter. A continuity of labour deadens the soul, observes Seneca, in closing his treatise on "The Tranquillity of the Soul," and the mind must unbend itself by certain amusements. Socrates did not blush to play with children; Cato, over his bottle, found an alleviation from the fatigues of government; a circumstance, Seneca says in his manner, which rather gives honour to this defect, than the defect dishonours Cato. Some men of letters portioned out their day between repose and labour. Asinius Pollio would not suffer any business to occupy him beyond a stated hour; after that time he would not allow any letter to be opened, that his hours of recreation might not be interrupted by unforeseen labours. In the senate, after the tenth hour, it was not allowed to make any new motion.

Tycho Brahe diverted himself with polishing glasses for all kinds of spectacles, and making mathematical instruments; an employment too closely connected with his studies to be deemed an amusement.[Pg 39]

D'Andilly, the translator of Josephus, after seven or eight hours of study every day, amused himself in cultivating trees; Barclay, the author of the Argenis, in his leisure hours was a florist; Balzac amused himself with a collection of crayon portraits; Peirese found his amusement amongst his medals and antiquarian curiosities; the Abbé de Marolles with his prints; and Politian in singing airs to his lute. Descartes passed his afternoons in the conversation of a few friends, and in cultivating a little garden; in the morning, occupied by the system of the world, he relaxed his profound speculations by rearing delicate flowers.

Conrad ab Uffenbach, a learned German, recreated his mind, after severe studies, with a collection of prints of eminent persons, methodically arranged; he retained this ardour of the Grangerite to his last days.

Rohault wandered from shop to shop to observe the mechanics labour; Count Caylus passed his mornings in the studios of artists, and his evenings in writing his numerous works on art. This was the true life of an amateur.

Granville Sharp, amidst the severity of his studies, found a social relaxation in the amusement of a barge on the Thames, which was well known to the circle of his friends; there, was festive hospitality with musical delight. It was resorted to by men of the most eminent talents and rank. His little voyages to Putney, to Kew, and to Richmond, and the literary intercourse they produced, were singularly happy ones. "The history of his amusements cannot be told without adding to the dignity of his character," observes Prince Hoare, in the life of this great philanthropist.

Some have found amusement in composing treatises on odd subjects. Seneca wrote a burlesque narrative of Claudian's death. Pierius Valerianus has written an eulogium on beards; and we have had a learned one recently, with due gravity and pleasantry, entitled "Eloge de Perruques."

Holstein has written an eulogium on the North Wind; Heinsius, on "the Ass;" Menage, "the Transmigration of the Parasitical Pedant to a Parrot;" and also the "Petition of the Dictionaries."

Erasmus composed, to amuse himself when travelling, his panegyric on Moria, or folly; which, authorised by the pun, he dedicated to Sir Thomas More.

Sallengre, who would amuse himself like Erasmus, wrote, in imitation of his work, a panegyric on Ebriety. He says,[Pg 40] that he is willing to be thought as drunken a man as Erasmus was a foolish one. Synesius composed a Greek panegyric on Baldness. These burlesques were brought into great vogue by Erasmus's Moriæ Encomium.

It seems, Johnson observes in his life of Sir Thomas Browne, to have been in all ages the pride of art to show how it could exalt the low and amplify the little. To this ambition, perhaps, we owe the Frogs of Homer; the Gnat and the Bees of Virgil; the Butterfly of Spenser; the Shadow of Wowerus; and the Quincunx of Browne.

Cardinal de Richelieu, amongst all his great occupations, found a recreation in violent exercises; and he was once discovered jumping with his servant, to try who could reach the highest side of a wall. De Grammont, observing the cardinal to be jealous of his powers, offered to jump with him; and, in the true spirit of a courtier, having made some efforts which nearly reached the cardinal's, confessed the cardinal surpassed him. This was jumping like a politician; and by this means he is said to have ingratiated himself with the minister.

The great Samuel Clarke was fond of robust exercise; and this profound logician has been found leaping over tables and chairs. Once perceiving a pedantic fellow, he said, "Now we must desist, for a fool is coming in!"[21]

An eminent French lawyer, confined by his business to a Parisian life, amused himself with collecting from the classics all the passages which relate to a country life. The collection was published after his death.

Contemplative men seem to be fond of amusements which accord with their habits. The thoughtful game of chess, and the tranquil delight of angling, have been favourite recreations with the studious. Paley had himself painted with a rod and line in his hand; a strange characteristic for the author of "Natural Theology." Sir Henry Wotton called angling "idle time not idly spent:" we may suppose that his meditations and his amusements were carried on at the same moment.

The amusements of the great d'Aguesseau, chancellor of France, consisted in an interchange of studies; his relaxations were all the varieties of literature. "Le changement[Pg 41] de l'étude est mon seul délassement," said this great man; and "in the age of the passions, his only passion was study."

Seneca has observed on amusements proper for literary men, that, in regard to robust exercises, it is not decent to see a man of letters exult in the strength of his arm, or the breadth of his back! Such amusements diminish the activity of the mind. Too much fatigue exhausts the animal spirits, as too much food blunts the finer faculties: but elsewhere he allows his philosopher an occasional slight inebriation; an amusement which was very prevalent among our poets formerly, when they exclaimed:—

"Fetch me Ben Jonson's scull, and fill't with sack,
Rich as the same he drank, when the whole pack
Of jolly sisters pledged, and did agree
It was no sin to be as drunk as he!"

Seneca concludes admirably, "whatever be the amusements you choose, return not slowly from those of the body to the mind; exercise the latter night and day. The mind is nourished at a cheap rate; neither cold nor heat, nor age itself, can interrupt this exercise; give therefore all your cares to a possession which ameliorates even in its old age!"

An ingenious writer has observed, that "a garden just accommodates itself to the perambulations of a scholar, who would perhaps rather wish his walks abridged than extended." There is a good characteristic account of the mode in which the Literati may take exercise, in Pope's Letters. "I, like a poor squirrel, am continually in motion indeed, but it is but a cage of three foot! my little excursions are like those of a shopkeeper, who walks every day a mile or two before his own door, but minds his business all the while." A turn or two in a garden will often very happily close a fine period, mature an unripened thought, and raise up fresh associations, whenever the mind, like the body, becomes rigid by preserving the same posture. Buffon often quitted the old tower he studied in, which was placed in the midst of his garden, for a walk in it. Evelyn loved "books and a garden."[Pg 42]


With the ancients, it was undoubtedly a custom to place the portraits of authors before their works. Martial's 186th epigram of his fourteenth book is a mere play on words, concerning a little volume containing the works of Virgil, and which had his portrait prefixed to it. The volume and the characters must have been very diminutive.

Quam brevis immensum cepit membrana Maronem!
Ipsius Vultus prima tabella gerit.

Martial is not the only writer who takes notice of the ancients prefixing portraits to the works of authors. Seneca, in his ninth chapter on the Tranquillity of the Soul, complains of many of the luxurious great, who, like so many of our own collectors, possessed libraries as they did their estates and equipages. "It is melancholy to observe how the portraits of men of genius, and the works of their divine intelligence, are used only as the luxury and the ornaments of walls."

Pliny has nearly the same observation, lib. xxxv. cap. 2. He remarks, that the custom was rather modern in his time; and attributes to Asinius Pollio the honour of having introduced it into Rome. "In consecrating a library with the portraits of our illustrious authors, he has formed, if I may so express myself, a republic of the intellectual powers of men." To the richness of book-treasures, Asinius Pollio had associated a new source of pleasure, by placing the statues of their authors amidst them, inspiring the minds of the spectators, even by their eyes.

A taste for collecting portraits, or busts, was warmly pursued in the happier periods of Rome; for the celebrated Atticus, in a work he published of illustrious Romans, made it more delightful, by ornamenting it with the portraits of those great men; and the learned Varro, in his biography of Seven Hundred celebrated Men, by giving the world their true features and their physiognomy in some manner, aliquo modo imaginibus is Pliny's expression, showed that even their persons should not entirely be annihilated; they indeed, adds Pliny, form a spectacle which the gods themselves might contemplate; for if the gods sent those heroes to the earth, it is Varro who secured their immortality, and has so multi[Pg 43]plied and distributed them in all places, that we may carry them about us, place them wherever we choose, and fix our eyes on them with perpetual admiration. A spectacle that every day becomes more varied and interesting, as new heroes appear, and as works of this kind are spread abroad.

But as printing was unknown, to the ancients (though stamping an impression was daily practised, and, in fact, they possessed the art of printing without being aware of it[22]), how were these portraits of Varro so easily propagated? If copied with a pen, their correctness was in some danger, and their diffusion must have been very confined and slow; perhaps they were outlines. This passage of Pliny excites curiosity difficult to satisfy; I have in vain inquired of several scholars, particularly of the late Grecian, Dr. Burney.

A collection of the portraits of illustrious characters affords not only a source of entertainment and curiosity, but displays the different modes or habits of the time; and in settling our floating ideas upon the true features of famous persons, they also fix the chronological particulars of their birth, age, death, sometimes with short characters of them, besides the names of painter and engraver. It is thus a single print, by the hand of a skilful artist, may become a varied banquet. To this Granger adds, that in a collection of engraved portraits, the contents of many galleries are reduced into the narrow compass of a few volumes; and the portraits of eminent persons, who distinguished themselves through a long succession of ages, may be turned over in a few hours.

"Another advantage," Granger continues, "attending such an assemblage is, that the methodical arrangement has a surprising effect upon the memory. We see the celebrated contemporaries of every age almost at one view; and the mind is insensibly led to the history of that period. I may add to these, an important circumstance, which is, the power that such a collection will have in awakening genius. A skilful preceptor will presently perceive the true bent of the temper of his pupil, by his being struck with a Blake or a Boyle, a Hyde or a Milton."

A circumstance in the life of Cicero confirms this observa[Pg 44]tion. Atticus had a gallery adorned with the images or portraits of the great men of Rome, under each of which he had severally described their principal acts and honours, in a few concise verses of his own composition. It was by the contemplation of two of these portraits (the ancient Brutus and a venerable relative in one picture) that Cicero seems to have incited Brutus, by the example of these his great ancestors, to dissolve the tyranny of Cæsar. General Fairfax made a collection of engraved portraits of warriors. A story much in favour of portrait-collectors is that of the Athenian courtesan, who, in the midst of a riotous banquet with her lovers, accidentally casting her eyes on the portrait of a philosopher that hung opposite to her seat, the happy character of temperance and virtue struck her with so lively an image of her own unworthiness, that she suddenly retreated for ever from the scene of debauchery. The Orientalists have felt the same charm in their pictured memorials; for "the imperial Akber," says Mr. Forbes, in his Oriental Memoirs, "employed artists to make portraits of all the principal omrahs and officers in his court;" they were bound together in a thick volume, wherein, as the Ayeen Akbery, or the Institutes of Akber, expresses it, "The Past are kept in lively remembrance; and the Present are insured immortality."

Leonard Aretin, when young and in prison, found a portrait of Petrarch, on which his eyes were perpetually fixed; and this sort of contemplation inflamed the desire of imitating this great man. Buffon hung the portrait of Newton before his writing-table.

On this subject, Tacitus sublimely expresses himself at the close of his admired biography of Agricola: "I do not mean to censure the custom of preserving in brass or marble the shape and stature of eminent men; but busts and statues, like their originals, are frail and perishable. The soul is formed of finer elements, its inward form is not to be expressed by the hand of an artist with unconscious matter; our manners and our morals may in some degree trace the resemblance. All of Agricola that gained our love and raised our admiration still subsists, and ever will subsist, preserved in the minds of men, the register of ages and the records of fame."

What is more agreeable to the curiosity of the mind and the eye than the portraits of great characters? An old philosopher, whom Marville invited to see a collection of landscapes by a celebrated artist, replied, "Landscapes I prefer seeing in[Pg 45] the country itself, but I am fond of contemplating the pictures of illustrious men." This opinion has some truth; Lord Orford preferred an interesting portrait to either landscape or historical painting. "A landscape, however excellent in its distributions of wood, and water, and buildings, leaves not one trace in the memory; historical painting is perpetually false in a variety of ways, in the costume, the grouping, the portraits, and is nothing more than fabulous painting; but a real portrait is truth itself, and calls up so many collateral ideas as to fill an intelligent mind more than any other species."

Marville justly reprehends the fastidious feelings of those ingenious men who have resisted the solicitations of the artist, to sit for their portraits. In them it is sometimes as much pride as it is vanity in those who are less difficult in this respect. Of Gray, Fielding, and Akenside, we have no heads for which they sat; a circumstance regretted by their admirers, and by physiognomists.

To an arranged collection of Portraits, we owe several interesting works. Granger's justly esteemed volumes originated in such a collection. Perrault's Eloges of "the illustrious men of the seventeenth century" were drawn up to accompany the engraved portraits of the most celebrated characters of the age, which a fervent love of the fine arts and literature had had engraved as an elegant tribute to the fame of those great men. They are confined to his nation, as Granger's to ours. The parent of this race of books may perhaps be the Eulogiums of Paulus Jovius, which originated in a beautiful Cabinet, whose situation he has described with all its amenity.

Paulus Jovius had a country house, in an insular situation, of a most romantic aspect. Built on the ruins of the villa of Pliny, in his time the foundations were still to be traced. When the surrounding lake was calm, in its lucid bosom were still viewed sculptured marbles, the trunks of columns, and the fragments of those pyramids which had once adorned the residence of the friend of Trajan. Jovius was an enthusiast of literary leisure: an historian, with the imagination of a poet; a Christian prelate nourished on the sweet fictions of pagan mythology. His pen colours like a pencil. He paints rapturously his gardens bathed by the waters of the lake, the shade and freshness of his woods, his green hills, his sparkling fountains, the deep silence, and the calm of solitude.[Pg 46] He describes a statue raised in his gardens to Nature; in his hall an Apollo presided with his lyre, and the Muses with their attributes; his library was guarded by Mercury, and an apartment devoted to the three Graces was embellished by Doric columns, and paintings of the most pleasing kind. Such was the interior! Without, the pure and transparent lake spread its broad mirror, or rolled its voluminous windings, by banks richly covered with olives and laurels; and in the distance, towns, promontories, hills rising in an amphitheatre blushing with vines, and the elevations of the Alps covered with woods and pasturage, and sprinkled with herds and flocks.

In the centre of this enchanting habitation stood the Cabinet, where Paulus Jovius had collected, at great cost, the Portraits of celebrated men of the fourteenth and two succeeding centuries. The daily view of them animated his mind to compose their eulogiums. These are still curious, both for the facts they preserve, and the happy conciseness with which Jovius delineates a character. He had collected these portraits as others form a collection of natural history; and he pursued in their characters what others do in their experiments.

One caution in collecting portraits must not be forgotten; it respects their authenticity. We have too many supposititious heads, and ideal personages. Conrad ab Uffenbach, who seems to have been the first collector who projected a methodical arrangement, condemned those spurious portraits which were fit only for the amusement of children. The painter does not always give a correct likeness, or the engraver misses it in his copy. Goldsmith was a short thick man, with wan features and a vulgar appearance, but looks tall and fashionable in a bag-wig. Bayle's portrait does not resemble him, as one of his friends writes. Rousseau, in his Montero cap, is in the same predicament. Winkelmann's portrait does not preserve the striking physiognomy of the man, and in the last edition a new one is substituted. The faithful Vertue refused to engrave for Houbraken's set, because they did not authenticate their originals; and some of these are spurious, as that of Ben Jonson, Sir Edward Coke, and others. Busts are not so liable to these accidents. It is to be regretted that men of genius have not been careful to transmit their own portraits to their admirers: it forms a part of their character; a false delicacy has interfered. Erasmus did not like to have his own diminutive person sent down to posterity, but Holbein[Pg 47] was always affectionately painting his friend. Montesquieu once sat to Dassier the medallist, after repeated denials, won over by the ingenious argument of the artist; "Do you not think," said Dassier, "that there is as much pride in refusing my offer as in accepting it?"


The literary treasures of antiquity have suffered from the malice of Men as well as that of Time. It is remarkable that conquerors, in the moment of victory, or in the unsparing devastation of their rage, have not been satisfied with destroying men, but have even carried their vengeance to books.

The Persians, from hatred of the religion of the Phœnicians and the Egyptians, destroyed their books, of which Eusebius notices a great number. A Grecian library at Gnidus was burnt by the sect of Hippocrates, because the Gnidians refused to follow the doctrines of their master. If the followers of Hippocrates formed the majority, was it not very unorthodox in the Gnidians to prefer taking physic their own way? But Faction has often annihilated books.

The Romans burnt the books of the Jews, of the Christians, and the Philosophers; the Jews burnt the books of the Christians and the Pagans; and the Christians burnt the books of the Pagans and the Jews. The greater part of the books of Origen and other heretics were continually burnt by the orthodox party. Gibbon pathetically describes the empty library of Alexandria, after the Christians had destroyed it. "The valuable library of Alexandria was pillaged or destroyed; and near twenty years afterwards the appearance of the empty shelves excited the regret and indignation of every spectator, whose mind was not totally darkened by religious prejudice. The compositions of ancient genius, so many of which have irretrievably perished, might surely have been excepted from the wreck of idolatry, for the amusement and instruction of succeeding ages; and either the zeal or avarice of the archbishop might have been satiated with the richest spoils which were the rewards of his victory."

The pathetic narrative of Nicetas Choniates, of the ravages committed by the Christians of the thirteenth century in Constantinople, was fraudulently suppressed in the printed[Pg 48] editions. It has been preserved by Dr. Clarke; who observes, that the Turks have committed fewer injuries to the works of art than the barbarous Christians of that age.

The reading of the Jewish Talmud has been forbidden by various edicts, of the Emperor Justinian, of many of the French and Spanish kings, and numbers of Popes. All the copies were ordered to be burnt: the intrepid perseverance of the Jews themselves preserved that work from annihilation. In 1569 twelve thousand copies were thrown into the flames at Cremona. John Reuchlin interfered to stop this universal destruction of Talmuds; for which he became hated by the monks, and condemned by the Elector of Mentz, but appealing to Rome, the prosecution was stopped; and the traditions of the Jews were considered as not necessary to be destroyed.

Conquerors at first destroy with the rashest zeal the national records of the conquered people; hence it is that the Irish people deplore the irreparable losses of their most ancient national memorials, which their invaders have been too successful in annihilating. The same event occurred in the conquest of Mexico; and the interesting history of the New World must ever remain imperfect, in consequence of the unfortunate success of the first missionaries. Clavigero, the most authentic historian of Mexico, continually laments this affecting loss. Everything in that country had been painted, and painters abounded there as scribes in Europe. The first missionaries, suspicious that superstition was mixed with all their paintings, attacked the chief school of these artists, and collecting, in the market-place, a little mountain of these precious records, they set fire to it, and buried in the ashes the memory of many interesting events. Afterwards, sensible of their error, they tried to collect information from the mouths of the Indians; but the Indians were indignantly silent: when they attempted to collect the remains of these painted histories, the patriotic Mexican usually buried in concealment the fragmentary records of his country.

The story of the Caliph Omar proclaiming throughout the kingdom, at the taking of Alexandria, that the Koran contained everything which was useful to believe and to know, and therefore he commanded that all the books in the Alexandrian library should be distributed to the masters of the baths, amounting to 4000, to be used in heating their stoves during a period of six months, modern paradox would attempt[Pg 49] to deny. But the tale would not be singular even were it true: it perfectly suits the character of a bigot, a barbarian, and a blockhead. A similar event happened in Persia. When Abdoolah, who in the third century of the Mohammedan æra governed Khorassan, was presented at Nishapoor with a MS. which was shown as a literary curiosity, he asked the title of it—it was the tale of Wamick and Oozra, composed by the great poet Noshirwan. On this Abdoolah observed, that those of his country and faith had nothing to do with any other book than the Koran; and all Persian MSS. found within the circle of his government, as the works of idolaters, were to be burnt. Much of the most ancient poetry of the Persians perished by this fanatical edict.

When Buda was taken by the Turks, a Cardinal offered a vast sum to redeem the great library founded by Matthew Corvini, a literary monarch of Hungary: it was rich in Greek and Hebrew lore, and the classics of antiquity. Thirty amanuenses had been employed in copying MSS. and illuminating them by the finest art. The barbarians destroyed most of the books in tearing away their splendid covers and their silver bosses; an Hungarian soldier picked up a book as a prize: it proved to be the Ethiopics of Heliodorus, from which the first edition was printed in 1534.

Cardinal Ximenes seems to have retaliated a little on the Saracens; for at the taking of Granada, he condemned to the flames five thousand Korans.

The following anecdote respecting a Spanish missal, called St. Isidore's, is not incurious; hard fighting saved it from destruction. In the Moorish wars, all these missals had been destroyed, excepting those in the city of Toledo. There, in six churches, the Christians were allowed the free exercise of their religion. When the Moors were expelled several centuries afterwards from Toledo, Alphonsus the Sixth ordered the Roman missal to be used in those churches; but the people of Toledo insisted on having their own, as revised by St. Isidore. It seemed to them that Alphonsus was more tyrannical than the Turks. The contest between the Roman and the Toletan missals came to that height, that at length it was determined to decide their fate by single combat; the champion of the Toletan missal felled by one blow the knight of the Roman missal. Alphonsus still considered this battle as merely the effect of the heavy arm of the doughty Toletan, and ordered a fast to be proclaimed, and a great fire to be[Pg 50] prepared, into which, after his majesty and the people had joined in prayer for heavenly assistance in this ordeal, both the rivals (not the men, but the missals) were thrown into the flames—again St. Isidore's missal triumphed, and this iron book was then allowed to be orthodox by Alphonsus, and the good people of Toledo were allowed to say their prayers as they had long been used to do. However, the copies of this missal at length became very scarce; for now, when no one opposed the reading of St. Isidore's missal, none cared to use it. Cardinal Ximenes found it so difficult to obtain a copy, that he printed a large impression, and built a chapel, consecrated to St. Isidore, that this service might be daily chaunted as it had been by the ancient Christians.

The works of the ancients were frequently destroyed at the instigation of the monks. They appear sometimes to have mutilated them, for passages have not come down to us, which once evidently existed; and occasionally their interpolations and other forgeries formed a destruction in a new shape, by additions to the originals. They were indefatigable in erasing the best works of the most eminent Greek and Latin authors, in order to transcribe their ridiculous lives of saints on the obliterated vellum. One of the books of Livy is in the Vatican most painfully defaced by some pious father for the purpose of writing on it some missal or psalter, and there have been recently others discovered in the same state. Inflamed with the blindest zeal against everything pagan, Pope Gregory VII. ordered that the library of the Palatine Apollo, a treasury of literature formed by successive emperors, should be committed to the flames! He issued this order under the notion of confining the attention of the clergy to the holy scriptures! From that time all ancient learning which was not sanctioned by the authority of the church, has been emphatically distinguished as profane in opposition to sacred. This pope is said to have burnt the works of Varro, the learned Roman, that Saint Austin should escape from the charge of plagiarism, being deeply indebted to Varro for much of his great work "the City of God."

The Jesuits, sent by the emperor Ferdinand to proscribe Lutheranism from Bohemia, converted that flourishing kingdom comparatively into a desert. Convinced that an enlightened people could never be long subservient to a tyrant, they struck one fatal blow at the national literature: every book they condemned was destroyed, even those of antiquity;[Pg 51] the annals of the nation were forbidden to be read, and writers were not permitted even to compose on subjects of Bohemian literature. The mother-tongue was held out as a mark of vulgar obscurity, and domiciliary visits were made for the purpose of inspecting the libraries of the Bohemians. With their books and their language they lost their national character and their independence.

The destruction of libraries in the reign of Henry VIII. at the dissolution of the monasteries, is wept over by John Bale. Those who purchased the religious houses took the libraries as part of the booty, with which they scoured their furniture, or sold the books as waste paper, or sent them abroad in ship-loads to foreign bookbinders.[23]

The fear of destruction induced many to hide manuscripts under ground, and in old walls. At the Reformation popular rage exhausted itself on illuminated books, or MSS. that had red letters in the title page: any work that was decorated was sure to be thrown into the flames as a superstitious one. Red letters and embellished figures were sure marks of being papistical and diabolical. We still find such volumes mutilated of their gilt letters and elegant initials. Many have been found underground, having been forgotten; what escaped the flames were obliterated by the damp: such is the deplorable fate of books during a persecution!

The puritans burned everything they found which bore the vestige of popish origin. We have on record many curious accounts of their pious depredations, of their maiming images and erasing pictures. The heroic expeditions of one[Pg 52] Dowsing are journalised by himself: a fanatical Quixote, to whose intrepid arm many of our noseless saints, sculptured on our Cathedrals, owe their misfortunes.

The following are some details from the diary of this redoubtable Goth, during his rage for reformation. His entries are expressed with a laconic conciseness, and it would seem with a little dry humour. "At Sunbury, we brake down ten mighty great angels in glass. At Barham, brake down the twelve apostles in the chancel, and six superstitious pictures more there; and eight in the church, one a lamb with a cross (+) on the back; and digged down the steps and took up four superstitious inscriptions in brass," &c. "Lady Bruce's house, the chapel, a picture of God the Father, of the Trinity, of Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the cloven tongues, which we gave orders to take down, and the lady promised to do it." At another place they "brake six hundred superstitious pictures, eight Holy Ghosts, and three of the Son." And in this manner he and his deputies scoured one hundred and fifty parishes! It has been humorously conjectured, that from this ruthless devastator originated the phrase to give a Dowsing. Bishop Hall saved the windows of his chapel at Norwich from destruction, by taking out the heads of the figures; and this accounts for the many faces in church windows which we see supplied by white glass.

In the various civil wars in our country, numerous libraries have suffered both in MSS. and printed books. "I dare maintain," says Fuller, "that the wars betwixt York and Lancaster, which lasted sixty years, were not so destructive as our modern wars in six years." He alludes to the parliamentary feuds in the reign of Charles I. "For during the former their differences agreed in the same religion, impressing them with reverence to all allowed muniments! whilst our civil wars, founded in faction and variety of pretended religions, exposed all naked church records a prey to armed violence; a sad vacuum, which will be sensible in our English historie."

When it was proposed to the great Gustavus of Sweden to destroy the palace of the Dukes of Bavaria, that hero nobly refused; observing, "Let us not copy the example of our unlettered ancestors, who, by waging war against every production of genius, have rendered the name of GOTH universally proverbial of the rudest state of barbarity."

Even the civilisation of the eighteenth century could not preserve from the destructive fury of an infuriated mob, in[Pg 53] the most polished city of Europe, the valuable MSS. of the great Earl of Mansfield, which were madly consigned to the flames during the riots of 1780; as those of Dr. Priestley were consumed by the mob at Birmingham.

In the year 1599, the Hall of the Stationers underwent as great a purgation as was carried on in Don Quixote's library. Warton gives a list of the best writers who were ordered for immediate conflagration by the prelates Whitgift and Bancroft, urged by the Puritanical and Calvinistic factions. Like thieves and outlaws, they were ordered to be taken wheresoever they may be found.—"It was also decreed that no satires or epigrams should be printed for the future. No plays were to be printed without the inspection and permission of the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London; nor any English historyes, I suppose novels and romances, without the sanction of the privy council. Any pieces of this nature, unlicensed, or now at large and wandering abroad, were to be diligently sought, recalled, and delivered over to the ecclesiastical arm at London-house."

At a later period, and by an opposite party, among other extravagant motions made in parliament, one was to destroy the Records in the Tower, and to settle the nation on a new foundation! The very same principle was attempted to be acted on in the French Revolution by the "true sans-culottes." With us Sir Matthew Hale showed the weakness of the project, and while he drew on his side "all sober persons, stopped even the mouths of the frantic people themselves."

To descend to the losses incurred by individuals, whose names ought to have served as an amulet to charm away the demons of literary destruction. One of the most interesting is the fate of Aristotle's library; he who by a Greek term was first saluted as a collector of books! His works have come down to us accidentally, but not without irreparable injuries, and with no slight suspicion respecting their authenticity. The story is told by Strabo, in his thirteenth book. The books of Aristotle came from his scholar Theophrastus to Neleus, whose posterity, an illiterate race, kept them locked up without using them, buried in the earth! Apellion, a curious collector, purchased them, but finding the MSS. injured by age and moisture, conjecturally supplied their deficiencies. It is impossible to know how far Apellion has corrupted and obscured the text. But the mischief did not end here; when Sylla at the taking of Athens brought[Pg 54] them to Rome, he consigned them to the care of Tyrannio, a grammarian, who employed scribes to copy them; he suffered them to pass through his hands without correction, and took great freedoms with them; the words of Strabo are strong: "Ibique Tyrannionem grammaticum iis usum atque (ut fama est) intercidisse, aut invertisse." He gives it indeed as a report; but the fact seems confirmed by the state in which we find these works: Averroes declared that he read Aristotle forty times over before he succeeded in perfectly understanding him; he pretends he did at the one-and-fortieth time! And to prove this, has published five folios of commentary!

We have lost much valuable literature by the illiberal or malignant descendants of learned and ingenious persons. Many of Lady Mary Wortley Montague's letters have been destroyed, I am informed, by her daughter, who imagined that the family honours were lowered by the addition of those of literature: some of her best letters, recently published, were found buried in an old trunk. It would have mortified her ladyship's daughter to have heard, that her mother was the Sévigné of Britain.

At the death of the learned Peiresc, a chamber in his house filled with letters from the most eminent scholars of the age was discovered: the learned in Europe had addressed Peiresc in their difficulties, who was hence called "the attorney-general of the republic of letters." The niggardly niece, although repeatedly entreated to permit them to be published, preferred to use these learned epistles occasionally to light her fires![24]

The MSS. of Leonardo da Vinci have equally suffered from his relatives. When a curious collector discovered some, he generously brought them to a descendant of the great painter, who coldly observed, that "he had a great deal more[Pg 55] in the garret, which had lain there for many years, if the rats had not destroyed them!" Nothing which this great artist wrote but showed an inventive genius.

Menage observes on a friend having had his library destroyed by fire, in which several valuable MSS. had perished, that such a loss is one of the greatest misfortunes that can happen to a man of letters. This gentleman afterwards consoled himself by composing a little treatise De Bibliothecæ incendio. It must have been sufficiently curious. Even in the present day men of letters are subject to similar misfortunes; for though the fire-offices will insure books, they will not allow authors to value their own manuscripts.

A fire in the Cottonian library shrivelled and destroyed many Anglo-Saxon MSS.—a loss now irreparable. The antiquary is doomed to spell hard and hardly at the baked fragments that crumble in his hand.[25]

Meninsky's famous Persian dictionary met with a sad fate. Its excessive rarity is owing to the siege of Vienna by the Turks: a bomb fell on the author's house, and consumed the principal part of his indefatigable labours. There are few sets of this high-priced work which do not bear evident proofs of the bomb; while many parts are stained with the water sent to quench the flames.

The sufferings of an author for the loss of his manuscripts strongly appear in the case of Anthony Urceus, a great scholar of the fifteenth century. The loss of his papers seems immediately to have been followed by madness. At Forli, he had an apartment in the palace, and had prepared an important work for publication. His room was dark, and he generally wrote by lamp-light. Having gone out, he left the lamp burning; the papers soon kindled, and his library was reduced to ashes. As soon as he heard the news, he ran furiously to the palace, and knocking his head violently against the gate, uttered this blasphemous language: "Jesus Christ, what[Pg 56] great crime have I done! who of those who believed in you have I ever treated so cruelly? Hear what I am saying, for I am in earnest, and am resolved. If by chance I should be so weak as to address myself to you at the point of death, don't hear me, for I will not be with you, but prefer hell and its eternity of torments." To which, by the by, he gave little credit. Those who heard these ravings, vainly tried to console him. He quitted the town, and lived franticly, wandering about the woods!

Ben Jonson's Execration on Vulcan was composed on a like occasion; the fruits of twenty years' study were consumed in one short hour; our literature suffered, for among some works of imagination there were many philosophical collections, a commentary on the poetics, a complete critical grammar, a life of Henry V., his journey into Scotland, with all his adventures in that poetical pilgrimage, and a poem on the ladies of Great Britain. What a catalogue of losses!

Castelvetro, the Italian commentator on Aristotle, having heard that his house was on fire, ran through the streets exclaiming to the people, alla Poetica! alla Poetica! To the Poetic! To the Poetic! He was then writing his commentary on the Poetics of Aristotle.

Several men of letters have been known to have risen from their death-bed to destroy their MSS. So solicitous have they been not to venture their posthumous reputation in the hands of undiscerning friends. Colardeau, the elegant versifier of Pope's epistle of Eliosa to Abelard, had not yet destroyed what he had written of a translation of Tasso. At the approach of death, he recollected his unfinished labour; he knew that his friends would not have the courage to annihilate one of his works; this was reserved for him. Dying, he raised himself, and as if animated by an honourable action, he dragged himself along, and with trembling hands seized his papers, and consumed them in one sacrifice.—I recollect another instance of a man of letters, of our own country, who acted the same part. He had passed his life in constant study, and it was observed that he had written several folio volumes, which his modest fears would not permit him to expose to the eye even of his critical friends. He promised to leave his labours to posterity; and he seemed sometimes, with a glow on his countenance, to exult that they would not be unworthy of their acceptance. At his death his sensibility took the alarm; he had the folios brought to his bed; no one[Pg 57] could open them, for they were closely locked. At the sight of his favourite and mysterious labours, he paused; he seemed disturbed in his mind, while he felt at every moment his strength decaying; suddenly he raised his feeble hands by an effort of firm resolve, burnt his papers, and smiled as the greedy Vulcan licked up every page. The task exhausted his remaining strength, and he soon afterwards expired. The late Mrs. Inchbald had written her life in several volumes; on her death-bed, from a motive perhaps of too much delicacy to admit of any argument, she requested a friend to cut them into pieces before her eyes—not having sufficient strength left herself to perform this funereal office. These are instances of what may be called the heroism of authors.

The republic of letters has suffered irreparable losses by shipwrecks. Guarino Veronese, one of those learned Italians who travelled through Greece for the recovery of MSS., had his perseverance repaid by the acquisition of many valuable works. On his return to Italy he was shipwrecked, and lost his treasures! So poignant was his grief on this occasion that, according to the relation of one of his countrymen, his hair turned suddenly white.

About the year 1700, Hudde, an opulent burgomaster of Middleburgh, animated solely by literary curiosity, went to China to instruct himself in the language, and in whatever was remarkable in this singular people. He acquired the skill of a mandarine in that difficult language; nor did the form of his Dutch face undeceive the physiognomists of China. He succeeded to the dignity of a mandarine; he travelled through the provinces under this character, and returned to Europe with a collection of observations, the cherished labour of thirty years, and all these were sunk in the bottomless sea.

The great Pinellian library, after the death of its illustrious possessor, filled three vessels to be conveyed to Naples. Pursued by corsairs, one of the vessels was taken; but the pirates finding nothing on board but books, they threw them all into the sea: such was the fate of a great portion of this famous library.[26] National libraries have often perished at sea, from the circumstance of conquerors transporting them into their own kingdoms.[Pg 58]


Although it is the opinion of some critics that our literary losses do not amount to the extent which others imagine, they are however much greater than they allow. Our severest losses are felt in the historical province, and particularly in the earliest records, which might not have been the least interesting to philosophical curiosity.

The history of Phœnicia by Sanchoniathon, supposed to be a contemporary with Solomon, now consists of only a few valuable fragments preserved by Eusebius. The same ill fortune attends Manetho's history of Egypt, and Berosu's history of Chaldea. The histories of these most ancient nations, however veiled in fables, would have presented to the philosopher singular objects of contemplation.

Of the history of Polybios, which once contained forty books, we have now only five; of the historical library of Diodorus Siculus fifteen books only remain out of forty; and half of the Roman antiquities of Dionysius Helicarnassensis has perished. Of the eighty books of the history of Dion Cassius, twenty-five only remain. The present opening book of Ammianus Marcellinus is entitled the fourteenth. Livy's history consisted of one hundred and forty books, and we only possess thirty-five of that pleasing historian. What a treasure has been lost in the thirty books of Tacitus! little more than four remain. Murphy elegantly observes, that "the reign of Titus, the delight of human kind, is totally lost, and Domitian has escaped the vengeance of the historian's pen." Yet Tacitus in fragments is still the colossal torso of history. Velleius Paterculas, of whom a fragment only has[Pg 59] reached us, we owe to a single copy: no other having ever been discovered, and which has occasioned the text of this historian to remain incurably corrupt. Taste and criticism have certainly incurred an irreparable loss in that Treatise on the Causes of the Corruption of Eloquence, by Quintilian; which he has himself noticed with so much satisfaction in his "Institutes." Petrarch declares, that in his youth he had seen the works of Varro, and the second Decad of Livy; but all his endeavours to recover them were fruitless.

These are only some of the most known losses; but in reading contemporary writers we are perpetually discovering many important ones. We have lost two precious works in ancient biography: Varro wrote the lives of seven hundred illustrious Romans; and Atticus, the friend of Cicero, composed another, on the acts of the great men among the Romans. When we consider that these writers lived familiarly with the finest geniuses of their times, and were opulent, hospitable, and lovers of the fine arts, their biography and their portraits, which are said to have accompanied them, are felt as an irreparable loss to literature. I suspect likewise we have had great losses of which we are not always aware; for in that curious letter in which the younger Pliny describes in so interesting a manner the sublime industry, for it seems sublime by its magnitude, of his Uncle,[27] it appears that his Natural History, that vast register of the wisdom and the credulity of the ancients, was not his only great labour; for among his other works was a history in twenty books, which has entirely perished. We discover also the works of writers, which, by the accounts of them, appear to have equalled in genius those which have descended to us. Pliny has feelingly described a poet of whom he tells us, "his works are never out of my hands; and whether I sit down to write anything myself, or to revise what I have already wrote, or am in a disposition to amuse myself, I constantly take up this agreeable author; and as often as I do so, he is still new."[28] He had before compared this poet to Catullus; and in a critic of so fine a taste as Pliny, to have cherished so constant an intercourse with the writings of this author, indicates high powers. Instances of this kind frequently occur. Who does not regret the loss of the Anticato of Cæsar?[Pg 60]

The losses which the poetical world has sustained are sufficiently known by those who are conversant with the few invaluable fragments of Menander, who might have interested us perhaps more than Homer: for he was evidently the domestic poet, and the lyre he touched was formed of the strings of the human heart. He was the painter of passions, and the historian of the manners. The opinion of Quintilian is confirmed by the golden fragments preserved for the English reader in the elegant versions of Cumberland. Even of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who each wrote about one hundred dramas, seven only have been preserved of Æschylus and of Sophocles, and nineteen of Euripides. Of the one hundred and thirty comedies of Plautus, we only inherit twenty imperfect ones. The remainder of Ovid's Fasti has never been recovered.

I believe that a philosopher would consent to lose any poet to regain an historian; nor is this unjust, for some future poet may arise to supply the vacant place of a lost poet, but it is not so with the historian. Fancy may be supplied; but Truth once lost in the annals of mankind leaves a chasm never to be filled.


The scholastic questions were called Questiones Quodlibeticæ; and they were generally so ridiculous that we have retained the word Quodlibet in our vernacular style, to express anything ridiculously subtile; something which comes at length to be distinguished into nothingness,

"With all the rash dexterity of wit."

The history of the scholastic philosophy furnishes an instructive theme; it enters into the history of the human mind, and fills a niche in our literary annals. The works of the scholastics, with the debates of these Quodlibetarians, at once show the greatness and the littleness of the human intellect; for though they often degenerate into incredible absurdities, those who have examined the works of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus have confessed their admiration of the Herculean texture of brain which they exhausted in demolishing their aërial fabrics.

The following is a slight sketch of the school divinity.[Pg 61]

The christian doctrines in the primitive ages of the gospel were adapted to the simple comprehension of the multitude; metaphysical subtilties were not even employed by the Fathers, of whom several are eloquent. The Homilies explained, by an obvious interpretation, some scriptural point, or inferred, by artless illustration, some moral doctrine. When the Arabians became the only learned people, and their empire extended over the greater part of the known world, they impressed their own genius on those nations with whom they were allied as friends, or reverenced as masters. The Arabian genius was fond of abstruse studies; it was highly metaphysical and mathematical, for the fine arts their religion did not permit them to cultivate; and the first knowledge which modern Europe obtained of Euclid and Aristotle was through the medium of Latin translations of Arabic versions. The Christians in the west received their first lessons from the Arabians in the east; and Aristotle, with his Arabic commentaries, was enthroned in the schools of Christendom.

Then burst into birth, from the dark cave of metaphysics, a numerous and ugly spawn of monstrous sects; unnatural children of the same foul mother, who never met but for mutual destruction. Religion became what is called the study of Theology; and they all attempted to reduce the worship of God into a system! and the creed into a thesis! Every point relating to religion was debated through an endless chain of infinite questions, incomprehensible distinctions, with differences mediate and immediate, the concrete and the abstract, a perpetual civil war carried on against common sense in all the Aristotelian severity. There existed a rage for Aristotle; and Melancthon complains that in sacred assemblies the ethics of Aristotle were read to the people instead of the gospel. Aristotle was placed a-head of St. Paul; and St. Thomas Aquinas in his works distinguishes him by the title of "The Philosopher;" inferring, doubtless, that no other man could possibly be a philosopher who disagreed with Aristotle. Of the blind rites paid to Aristotle, the anecdotes of the Nominalists and Realists are noticed in the article "Literary Controversy" in this work.

Had their subtile questions and perpetual wranglings only been addressed to the metaphysician in his closet, and had nothing but strokes of the pen occurred, the scholastic divinity would only have formed an episode in the calm narrative[Pg 62] of literary history; but it has claims to be registered in political annals, from the numerous persecutions and tragical events with which they too long perplexed their followers, and disturbed the repose of Europe. The Thomists, and the Scotists, the Occamites, and many others, soared into the regions of mysticism.

Peter Lombard had laboriously compiled, after the celebrated Abelard's "Introduction to Divinity," his four books of "Sentences," from the writings of the Fathers; and for this he is called "The Master of Sentences." These Sentences, on which we have so many commentaries, are a collection of passages from the Fathers, the real or apparent contradictions of whom he endeavours to reconcile. But his successors were not satisfied to be mere commentators on these "sentences," which they now only made use of as a row of pegs to hang on their fine-spun metaphysical cobwebs. They at length collected all these quodlibetical questions into enormous volumes, under the terrifying form, for those who have seen them, of Summaries of Divinity! They contrived, by their chimerical speculations, to question the plainest truths; to wrest the simple meaning of the Holy Scriptures, and give some appearance of truth to the most ridiculous and monstrous opinions.

One of the subtile questions which agitated the world in the tenth century, relating to dialectics, was concerning universals (as for example, man, horse, dog, &c.) signifying not this or that in particular, but all in general. They distinguished universals, or what we call abstract terms, by the genera and species rerum; and they never could decide whether these were substances—or names! That is, whether the abstract idea we form of a horse was not really a being as much as the horse we ride! All this, and some congenial points respecting the origin of our ideas, and what ideas were, and whether we really had an idea of a thing before we discovered the thing itself—in a word, what they called universals, and the essence of universals; of all this nonsense, on which they at length proceeded to accusations of heresy, and for which many learned men were excommunicated, stoned, and what not, the whole was derived from the reveries of Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno, about the nature of ideas, than which subject to the present day no discussion ever degenerated into such insanity. A modern metaphysician infers that we have no ideas at all![Pg 63]

Of the scholastic divines, the most illustrious was Saint Thomas Aquinas, styled the Angelical Doctor. Seventeen folio volumes not only testify his industry but even his genius. He was a great man, busied all his life with making the charades of metaphysics.

My learned friend Sharon Turner has favoured me with a notice of his greatest work—his "Sum of all Theology," Summa totius Theologiæ, Paris, 1615. It is a metaphysicological treatise, or the most abstruse metaphysics of theology. It occupies above 1250 folio pages, of very small close print in double columns. It may be worth noticing that to this work are appended 19 folio pages of double columns of errata, and about 200 of additional index!

The whole is thrown into an Aristotelian form; the difficulties or questions are proposed first, and the answers are then appended. There are 168 articles on Love—358 on Angels—200 on the Soul—85 on Demons—151 on the Intellect—134 on Law—3 on the Catamenia—237 on Sins—17 on Virginity, and others on a variety of topics.

The scholastic tree is covered with prodigal foliage, but is barren of fruit; and when the scholastics employed themselves in solving the deepest mysteries, their philosophy became nothing more than an instrument in the hands of the Roman Pontiff. Aquinas has composed 358 articles on angels, of which a few of the heads have been culled for the reader.

He treats of angels, their substance, orders, offices, natures, habits, &c., as if he himself had been an old experienced angel!

Angels were not before the world!

Angels might have been before the world!

Angels were created by God—They were created immediately by Him—They were created in the Empyrean sky—They were created in grace—They were created in imperfect beatitude. After a severe chain of reasoning, he shows that angels are incorporeal compared to us, but corporeal compared to God.

An angel is composed of action and potentiality; the more superior he is, he has the less potentiality. They have not matter properly. Every angel differs from another angel in species. An angel is of the same species as a soul. Angels have not naturally a body united to them. They may assume bodies; but they do not want to assume bodies for themselves, but for us.[Pg 64]

The bodies assumed by angels are of thick air.

The bodies they assume have not the natural virtues which they show, nor the operations of life, but those which are common to inanimate things.

An angel may be the same with a body.

In the same body there are, the soul formally giving being, and operating natural operations; and the angel operating supernatural operations.

Angels administer and govern every corporeal creature.

God, an angel, and the soul, are not contained in space, but contain it.

Many angels cannot be in the same space.

The motion of an angel in space is nothing else than different contacts of different successive places.

The motion of an angel is a succession of his different operations.

His motion may be continuous and discontinuous as he will.

The continuous motion of an angel is necessary through every medium, but may be discontinuous without a medium.

The velocity of the motion of an angel is not according to the quantity of his strength, but according to his will.

The motion of the illumination of an angel is threefold, or circular, straight, and oblique.

In this account of the motion of an angel we are reminded of the beautiful description of Milton, who marks it by a continuous motion,

"Smooth-sliding without step."

The reader desirous of being merry with Aquinas's angels may find them in Martinus Scriblerus, in Ch. VII. who inquires if angels pass from one extreme to another without going through the middle? And if angels know things more clearly in a morning? How many angels can dance on the point of a very fine needle, without jostling one another?

All the questions in Aquinas are answered with a subtlety of distinction more difficult to comprehend and remember than many problems in Euclid; and perhaps a few of the best might still be selected for youth as curious exercises of the understanding. However, a great part of these peculiar productions are loaded with the most trifling, irreverent, and even scandalous discussions. Even Aquinas could gravely debate, Whether Christ was not an hermaphrodite? Whe[Pg 65]ther there are excrements in Paradise? Whether the pious at the resurrection will rise with their bowels? Others again debated—Whether the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the shape of a serpent, of a dove, of a man, or of a woman? Did he seem to be young or old? In what dress was he? Was his garment white or of two colours? Was his linen clean or foul? Did he appear in the morning, noon, or evening? What was the colour of the Virgin Mary's hair? Was she acquainted with the mechanic and liberal arts? Had she a thorough knowledge of the Book of Sentences, and all it contains? that is, Peter Lombard's compilation from the works of the Fathers, written 1200 years after her death.—But these are only trifling matters: they also agitated, Whether when during her conception the Virgin was seated, Christ too was seated; and whether when she lay down, Christ also lay down? The following question was a favourite topic for discussion, and the acutest logicians never resolved it: "When a hog is carried to market with a rope tied about his neck, which is held at the other end by a man, whether is the hog carried to market by the rope or the man?"

In the tenth century[29], after long and ineffectual controversy about the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, they at length universally agreed to sign a peace. This mutual forbearance must not, however, be ascribed to the prudence and virtue of those times. It was mere ignorance and incapacity of reasoning which kept the peace, and deterred them from entering into debates to which they at length found themselves unequal!

Lord Lyttleton, in his Life of Henry II., laments the unhappy effects of the scholastic philosophy on the progress of the human mind. The minds of men were turned from classical studies to the subtilties of school divinity, which Rome encouraged, as more profitable for the maintenance of her doctrines. It was a great misfortune to religion and to learning, that men of such acute understandings as Abelard and Lombard, who might have done much to reform the errors of the church, and to restore science in Europe, should have depraved both, by applying their admirable parts to weave those cobwebs of sophistry, and to confound the clear simplicity of evangelical truths, by a false philosophy and a captious logic.[Pg 66]


All men are fond of glory, and even those philosophers who write against that noble passion prefix their names to their own works. It is worthy of observation that the authors of two religious books, universally received, have concealed their names from the world. The "Imitation of Christ" is attributed, without any authority, to Thomas A'Kempis; and the author of the "Whole Duty of Man" still remains undiscovered. Millions of their books have been dispersed in the Christian world.

To have revealed their names would have given them as much worldly fame as any moralist has obtained—but they contemned it! Their religion was raised above all worldly passions! Some profane writers, indeed, have also concealed their names to great works, but their motives were of a very different cast.


Nothing is so capable of disordering the intellects as an intense application to any one of these six things: the Quadrature of the Circle; the Multiplication of the Cube; the Perpetual Motion; the Philosophical Stone; Magic; and Judicial Astrology. "It is proper, however," Fontenelle remarks, "to apply one's self to these inquiries; because we find, as we proceed, many valuable discoveries of which we were before ignorant." The same thought Cowley has applied, in an address to his mistress, thus—

"Although I think thou never wilt be found,
Yet I'm resolved to search for thee:
The search itself rewards the pains.
So though the chymist his great secret miss,
(For neither it in art nor nature is)
Yet things well worth his toil he gains;
And does his charge and labour pay
With good unsought experiments by the way."

The same thought is in Donne; perhaps Cowley did not suspect that he was an imitator; Fontenelle could not have read either; he struck out the thought by his own reflection, Glauber searched long and deeply for the philosopher's stone, which though he did not find, yet in his researches he discovered a very useful purging salt, which bears his name.[Pg 67]

Maupertuis observes on the Philosophical Stone, that we cannot prove the impossibility of obtaining it, but we can easily see the folly of those who employ their time and money in seeking for it. This price is too great to counterbalance the little probability of succeeding in it. However, it is still a bantling of modern chemistry, who has nodded very affectionately on it!—Of the Perpetual Motion, he shows the impossibility, in the sense in which it is generally received. On the Quadrature of the Circle, he says he cannot decide if this problem be resolvable or not: but he observes, that it is very useless to search for it any more; since we have arrived by approximation to such a point of accuracy, that on a large circle, such as the orbit which the earth describes round the sun, the geometrician will not mistake by the thickness of a hair. The quadrature of the circle is still, however, a favourite game with some visionaries, and several are still imagining that they have discovered the perpetual motion; the Italians nickname them matto perpetuo: and Bekker tells us of the fate of one Hartmann, of Leipsic, who was in such despair at having passed his life so vainly, in studying the perpetual motion, that at length he hanged himself!


Some writers, usually pedants, imagine that they can supply, by the labours of industry, the deficiencies of nature. Paulus Manutius frequently spent a month in writing a single letter. He affected to imitate Cicero. But although he painfully attained to something of the elegance of his style, destitute of the native graces of unaffected composition, he was one of those whom Erasmus bantered in his Ciceronianus, as so slavishly devoted to Cicero's style, that they ridiculously employed the utmost precautions when they were seized by a Ciceronian fit. The Nosoponus of Erasmus tells of his devotion to Cicero; of his three indexes to all his words, and his never writing but in the dead of night, employing months upon a few lines; and his religious veneration for words, with his total indifference about the sense.

Le Brun, a Jesuit, was a singular instance of such unhappy imitation. He was a Latin poet, and his themes were religious. He formed the extravagant project of substituting a religious Virgil and Ovid merely by adapting his works to[Pg 68] their titles. His Christian Virgil consists, like the Pagan Virgil, of Eclogues, Georgics, and of an Epic of twelve books; with this difference, that devotional subjects are substituted for fabulous ones. His epic is the Ignaciad, or the pilgrimage of Saint Ignatius. His Christian Ovid, is in the same taste; everything wears a new face. His Epistles are pious ones; the Fasti are the six days of the Creation; the Elegies are the six Lamentations of Jeremiah; a poem on the Love of God is substituted for the Art of Love; and the history of some Conversions supplies the place of the Metamorphoses! This Jesuit would, no doubt, have approved of a family Shakspeare!

A poet of a far different character, the elegant Sannazarius, has done much the same thing in his poem De Partu Virginis. The same servile imitation of ancient taste appears. It professes to celebrate the birth of Christ, yet his name is not once mentioned in it! The Virgin herself is styled spes deorum! "The hope of the gods!" The Incarnation is predicted by Proteus! The Virgin, instead of consulting the sacred writings, reads the Sibylline oracles! Her attendants are dryads, nereids, &c. This monstrous mixture of polytheism with the mysteries of Christianity, appears in everything he had about him. In a chapel at one of his country seats he had two statues placed at his tomb, Apollo and Minerva; catholic piety found no difficulty in the present case, as well as in innumerable others of the same kind, to inscribe the statue of Apollo with the name of David, and that of Minerva with the female one of Judith!

Seneca, in his 114th Epistle, gives a curious literary anecdote of the sort of imitation by which an inferior mind becomes the monkey of an original writer. At Rome, when Sallust was the fashionable writer, short sentences, uncommon words, and an obscure brevity, were affected as so many elegances. Arruntius, who wrote the history of the Punic Wars, painfully laboured to imitate Sallust. Expressions which are rare in Sallust are frequent in Arruntius, and, of course, without the motive that induced Sallust to adopt them. What rose naturally under the pen of the great historian, the minor one must have run after with ridiculous anxiety. Seneca adds several instances of the servile affectation of Arruntius, which seem much like those we once had of Johnson, by the undiscerning herd of his apes.

One cannot but smile at these imitators; we have abounded[Pg 69] with them. In the days of Churchill, every month produced an effusion which tolerably imitated his slovenly versification, his coarse invective, and his careless mediocrity,—but the genius remained with the English Juvenal. Sterne had his countless multitude; and in Fielding's time, Tom Jones produced more bastards in wit than the author could ever suspect. To such literary echoes, the reply of Philip of Macedon to one who prided himself on imitating the notes of the nightingale may be applied: "I prefer the nightingale herself!" Even the most successful of this imitating tribe must be doomed to share the fate of Silius Italicus, in his cold imitation of Virgil, and Cawthorne in his empty harmony of Pope.

To all these imitators I must apply an Arabian anecdote. Ebn Saad, one of Mahomet's amanuenses, when writing what the prophet dictated, cried out by way of admiration—"Blessed be God, the best Creator!" Mahomet approved of the expression, and desired him to write those words down as part of the inspired passage.—The consequence was, that Ebn Saad began to think himself as great a prophet as his master, and took upon himself to imitate the Koran according to his fancy; but the imitator got himself into trouble, and only escaped with life by falling on his knees, and solemnly swearing he would never again imitate the Koran, for which he was sensible God had never created him.


"I should," says Menage, "have received great pleasure to have conversed with Cicero, had I lived in his time. He must have been a man very agreeable in conversation, since even Cæsar carefully collected his bons mots. Cicero has boasted of the great actions he has done for his country, because there is no vanity in exulting in the performance of our duties; but he has not boasted that he was the most eloquent orator of his age, though he certainly was; because nothing is more disgusting than to exult in our intellectual powers."

Whatever were the bons mots of Cicero, of which few have come down to us, it is certain that Cicero was an inveterate punster; and he seems to have been more ready with them than with repartees. He said to a senator, who was the son[Pg 70] of a tailor, "Rem acu tetigisti." You have touched it sharply; acu means sharpness as well as the point of a needle. To the son of a cook, "ego quoque tibi jure favebo." The ancients pronounced coce and quoque like co-ke, which alludes to the Latin cocus, cook, besides the ambiguity of jure, which applies to broth or law—jus. A Sicilian suspected of being a Jew, attempted to get the cause of Verres into his own hands; Cicero, who knew that he was a creature of the great culprit, opposed him, observing "What has a Jew to do with swine's flesh?" The Romans called a boar pig Verres. I regret to afford a respectable authority for forensic puns; however, to have degraded his adversaries by such petty personalities, only proves that Cicero's taste was not exquisite.

There is something very original in Montaigne's censure of Cicero. Cotton's translation is admirable.

"Boldly to confess the truth, his way of writing, and that of all other long-winded authors, appears to me very tedious; for his preface, definitions, divisions, and etymologies, take up the greatest part of his work; whatever there is of life and marrow, is smothered and lost in the preparation. When I have spent an hour in reading him, which is a great deal for me, and recollect what I have thence extracted of juice and substance, for the most part I find nothing but wind: for he is not yet come to the arguments that serve to his purpose, and the reasons that should properly help to loose the knot I would untie. For me, who only desired to become more wise, not more learned or eloquent, these logical or Aristotelian disquisitions of poets are of no use. I look for good and solid reasons at the first dash. I am for discourses that give the first charge into the heart of the doubt; his languish about the subject, and delay our expectation. Those are proper for the schools, for the bar, and for the pulpit, where we have leisure to nod, and may awake a quarter of an hour after, time enough to find again the thread of the discourse. It is necessary to speak after this manner to judges, whom a man has a design, right or wrong, to incline to favour his cause; to children and common people, to whom a man must say all he can. I would not have an author make it his business to render me attentive; or that he should cry out fifty times O yes! as the clerks and heralds do.

"As to Cicero, I am of the common opinion that, learning excepted, he had no great natural parts. He was a good[Pg 71] citizen, of an affable nature, as all fat heavy men—(gras et gausseurs are the words in the original, meaning perhaps broad jokers, for Cicero was not fat)—such as he was, usually are; but given to ease, and had a mighty share of vanity and ambition. Neither do I know how to excuse him for thinking his poetry fit to be published. 'Tis no great imperfection to write ill verses; but it is an imperfection not to be able to judge how unworthy bad verses were of the glory of his name. For what concerns his eloquence, that is totally out of comparison, and I believe will never be equalled."


A preface, being the entrance to a book, should invite by its beauty. An elegant porch announces the splendour of the interior. I have observed that ordinary readers skip over these little elaborate compositions. The ladies consider them as so many pages lost, which might better be employed in the addition of a picturesque scene, or a tender letter to their novels. For my part I always gather amusement from a preface, be it awkwardly or skilfully written; for dulness, or impertinence, may raise a laugh for a page or two. A preface is frequently a superior composition to the work itself: for, long before the days of Johnson, it had been a custom for many authors to solicit for this department of their work the ornamental contribution of a man of genius. Cicero tells his friend Atticus, that he had a volume of prefaces or introductions always ready by him to be used as circumstances required. These must have been like our periodical essays. A good preface is as essential to put the reader into good humour, as a good prologue is to a play, or a fine symphony to an opera, containing something analogous to the work itself; so that we may feel its want as a desire not elsewhere to be gratified. The Italians call the preface La salsa del libra, the sauce of the book, and if well seasoned it creates an appetite in the reader to devour the book itself. A preface badly composed prejudices the reader against the work. Authors are not equally fortunate in these little introductions; some can compose volumes more skilfully than prefaces, and others can finish a preface who could never be capable of finishing a book.

On a very elegant preface prefixed to an ill-written book, it[Pg 72] was observed that they ought never to have come together; but a sarcastic wit remarked that he considered such marriages were allowable, for they were not of kin.

In prefaces an affected haughtiness or an affected humility are alike despicable. There is a deficient dignity in Robertson's; but the haughtiness is now to our purpose. This is called by the French, "la morgue littéraire," the surly pomposity of literature. It is sometimes used by writers who have succeeded in their first work, while the failure of their subsequent productions appears to have given them a literary hypochondriasm. Dr. Armstrong, after his classical poem, never shook hands cordially with the public for not relishing his barren labours. In the preface to his lively "Sketches" he tells us, "he could give them much bolder strokes as well as more delicate touches, but that he dreads the danger of writing too well, and feels the value of his own labour too sensibly to bestow it upon the mobility." This is pure milk compared to the gall in the preface to his poems. There he tells us, "that at last he has taken the trouble to collect them! What he has destroyed would, probably enough, have been better received by the great majority of readers. But he has always most heartily despised their opinion." These prefaces remind one of the prologi galeati, prefaces with a helmet! as St. Jerome entitles the one to his Version of the Scriptures. These armed prefaces were formerly very common in the age of literary controversy; for half the business of an author consisted then, either in replying, or anticipating a reply, to the attacks of his opponent.

Prefaces ought to be dated; as these become, after a series of editions, leading and useful circumstances in literary history.

Fuller with quaint humour observes on Indexes—"An Index is a necessary implement, and no impediment of a book, except in the same sense wherein the carriages of an army are termed Impedimenta. Without this, a large author is but a labyrinth without a clue to direct the reader therein. I confess there is a lazy kind of learning which is only Indical; when scholars (like adders which only bite the horse's heels) nibble but at the tables, which are calces librorum, neglecting the body of the book. But though the idle deserve no crutches (let not a staff be used by them, but on them), pity it is the weary should be denied the benefit thereof, and industrious scholars prohibited the accommodation of an index, most used by those who most pretend to contemn it."[Pg 73]


There is some probability that this art originated in China, where it was practised long before it was known in Europe. Some European traveller might have imported the hint.[30] That the Romans did not practise the art of printing cannot but excite our astonishment, since they actually used it, unconscious of their rich possession. I have seen Roman stereotypes, or immoveable printing types, with which they stamped their pottery.[31] How in daily practising the art, though confined to this object, it did not occur to so ingenious a people to print their literary works, is not easily to be accounted for. Did the wise and grave senate dread those inconveniences which attend its indiscriminate use? Or perhaps they did not care to deprive so large a body of scribes of their business. Not a hint of the art itself appears in their writings.

When first the art of printing was discovered, they only made use of one side of a leaf; they had not yet found out the expedient of impressing the other. Afterwards they thought of pasting the blank sides, which made them appear like one leaf. Their blocks were made of soft woods, and their letters were carved; but frequently breaking, the expense and trouble of carving and gluing new letters suggested our moveable types which, have produced an almost miraculous celerity in this art. The modern stereotype, consisting of entire pages in solid blocks of metal, and, not being liable to break like the soft wood at first used, has been profitably employed for works which require to be frequently reprinted. Printing in carved blocks of wood must have greatly retarded the progress of universal knowledge: for one[Pg 74] set of types could only have produced one work, whereas it now serves for hundreds.

When their editions were intended to be curious, they omitted to print the initial letter of a chapter: they left that blank space to be painted or illuminated, to the fancy of the purchaser. Several ancient volumes of these early times have been found where these letters are wanting, as they neglected to have them painted.

The initial carved letter, which is generally a fine wood-cut, among our printed books, is evidently a remains or imitation of these ornaments.[32] Among the very earliest books printed, which were religious, the Poor Man's Bible has wooden cuts in a coarse style, without the least shadowing or crossing of strokes, and these they inelegantly daubed over with broad colours, which they termed illuminating, and sold at a cheap rate to those who could not afford to purchase costly missals elegantly written and painted on vellum. Specimens of these rude efforts of illuminated prints may be seen in Strutt's Dictionary of Engravers. The Bodleian library possesses the originals.[33][Pg 75]

In the productions of early printing may be distinguished the various splendid editions of Primers, or Prayer-books. These were embellished with cuts finished in a most elegant taste: many of them were grotesque or obscene. In one of them an angel is represented crowning the Virgin Mary, and God the Father himself assisting at the ceremony. Sometimes St. Michael is overcoming Satan; and sometimes St. Anthony is attacked by various devils of most clumsy forms—not of the grotesque and limber family of Callot!

Printing was gradually practised throughout Europe from the year 1440 to 1500. Caxton and his successor Wynkyn de Worde were our own earliest printers. Caxton was a wealthy merchant, who, in 1464, being sent by Edward IV. to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Duke of Burgundy, returned to his country with this invaluable art. Notwithstanding his mercantile habits, he possessed a literary taste, and his first work was a translation from a French historical miscellany.[34]

The tradition of the Devil and Dr. Faustus was said to have been derived from the odd circumstance in which the Bibles of the first printer, Fust, appeared to the world; but if Dr. Faustus and Faustus the printer are two different persons, the tradition becomes suspicious, though, in some respects, it has a foundation in truth. When Fust had discovered this new art, and printed off a considerable number of copies of the Bible to imitate those which were commonly sold as MSS., he undertook the sale of them at Paris. It was his interest to conceal this discovery, and to pass off his printed copies for MSS. But, enabled to sell his Bibles at sixty crowns, while the other scribes demanded five hundred, this raised universal astonishment; and still more when he produced copies as fast as they were wanted, and even lowered his price. The uniformity of the copies increased the wonder. Informations were given in to the magistrates against him as a magician; and in searching his lodgings a great number of copies were found. The red ink, and Fust's red ink is pecu[Pg 76]liarly brilliant, which embellished his copies, was said to be his blood; and it was solemnly adjudged that he was in league with the Infernals. Fust at length was obliged, to save himself from a bonfire, to reveal his art to the Parliament of Paris, who discharged him from all prosecution in consideration of the wonderful invention.

When the art of printing was established, it became the glory of the learned to be correctors of the press to eminent printers. Physicians, lawyers, and bishops themselves occupied this department. The printers then added frequently to their names those of the correctors of the press; and editions were then valued according to the abilities of the corrector.

The prices of books in these times were considered as an object worthy of the animadversions of the highest powers. This anxiety in favour of the studious appears from a privilege of Pope Leo X. to Aldus Manutius for printing Varro, dated 1553, signed Cardinal Bembo. Aldus is exhorted to put a moderate price on the work, lest the Pope should withdraw his privilege, and accord it to others.

Robert Stephens, one of the early printers, surpassed in correctness those who exercised the same profession.[35]

To render his editions immaculate, he hung up the proofs in public places, and generously recompensed those who were so fortunate as to detect any errata.

Plantin, though a learned man, is more famous as a printer. His printing-office was one of the wonders of Europe. This[Pg 77] grand building was the chief ornament of the city of Antwerp. Magnificent in its structure, it presented to the spectator a countless number of presses, characters of all figures and all sizes, matrixes to cast letters, and all other printing materials; which Baillet assures us amounted to immense sums.[36]

In Italy, the three Manutii were more solicitous of correctness and illustrations than of the beauty of their printing. They were ambitious of the character of the scholar, not of the printer.

It is much to be regretted that our publishers are not literary men, able to form their own critical decisions. Among the learned printers formerly, a book was valued because it came from the presses of an Aldus or a Stephens; and even in our own time the names of Bowyer and Dodsley sanctioned a work. Pelisson, in his history of the French Academy, mentions that Camusat was selected as their bookseller, from his reputation for publishing only valuable works. "He was a man of some literature and good sense, and rarely printed an indifferent work; and when we were young I recollect that we always made it a rule to purchase his publications. His name was a test of the goodness of the work." A publisher of this character would be of the greatest utility to the literary world: at home he would induce a number of ingenious men to become authors, for it would be honourable to be inscribed in his catalogue; and it would be a direction for the continental reader.

So valuable a union of learning and printing did not, unfortunately, last. The printers of the seventeenth century became less charmed with glory than with gain. Their correctors and their letters evinced as little delicacy of choice.

The invention of what is now called the Italic letter in printing was made by Aldus Manutius, to whom learning owes[Pg 78] much. He observed the many inconveniences resulting from the vast number of abbreviations, which were then so frequent among the printers, that a book was difficult to understand; a treatise was actually written on the art of reading a printed book, and this addressed to the learned! He contrived an expedient, by which these abbreviations might be entirely got rid of, and yet books suffer little increase in bulk. This he effected by introducing what is now called the Italic letter, though it formerly was distinguished by the name of the inventor, and called the Aldine.


Besides the ordinary errata, which happen in printing a work, others have been purposely committed, that the errata may contain what is not permitted to appear in the body of the work. Wherever the Inquisition had any power, particularly at Rome, it was not allowed to employ the word fatum, or fata, in any book. An author, desirous of using the latter word, adroitly invented this scheme; he had printed in his book facta, and, in the errata, he put, "For facta, read fata."

Scarron has done the same thing on another occasion. He had composed some verses, at the head of which he placed this dedication—A Guillemette, Chienne de ma Sœur; but having a quarrel with his sister, he maliciously put into the errata, "Instead of Chienne de ma Sœur, read ma Chienne de Sœur."

Lully, at the close of a bad prologue said, the word fin du prologue was an erratum, it should have been fi du prologue!

In a book, there was printed, le docte Morel. A wag put into the errata, "For le docte Morel, read le Docteur Morel." This Morel was not the first docteur not docte.

When a fanatic published a mystical work full of unintelligible raptures, and which he entitled Les Délices de l'Esprit, it was proposed to print in his errata, "For Délices read Délires."

The author of an idle and imperfect book ended with the usual phrase of cetera desiderantur, one altered it, Non desiderantur sed desunt; "The rest is wanting, but not wanted."

At the close of a silly book, the author as usual printed the[Pg 79] word Finis.—A wit put this among the errata, with this pointed couplet:—

Finis!—an error, or a lie, my friend!
In writing foolish books—there is no End!

In the year 1561 was printed a work, entitled "the Anatomy of the Mass." It is a thin octavo, of 172 pages, and it is accompanied by an Errata of 15 pages! The editor, a pious monk, informs us that a very serious reason induced him to undertake this task: for it is, says he, to forestal the artifices of Satan. He supposes that the Devil, to ruin the fruit of this work, employed two very malicious frauds: the first before it was printed, by drenching the MS. in a kennel, and having reduced it to a most pitiable state, rendered several parts illegible: the second, in obliging the printers to commit such numerous blunders, never yet equalled in so small a work. To combat this double machination of Satan he was obliged carefully to re-peruse the work, and to form this singular list of the blunders of printers under the influence of Satan. All this he relates in an advertisement prefixed to the Errata.

A furious controversy raged between two famous scholars from a very laughable but accidental Erratum, and threatened serious consequences to one of the parties. Flavigny wrote two letters, criticising rather freely a polyglot Bible edited by Abraham Ecchellensis. As this learned editor had sometimes censured the labours of a friend of Flavigny, this latter applied to him the third and fifth verses of the seventh chapter of St. Matthew, which he printed in Latin. Ver 3. Quid vides festucam in OCULO fratris tui, et trabem in OCULO tuo non vides? Ver. 5. Ejice primùm trabem de OCULO tuo, et tunc videbis ejicere festucam de OCULO fratris tui. Ecchellensis opens his reply by accusing Flavigny of an enormous crime committed in this passage; attempting to correct the sacred text of the Evangelist, and daring to reject a word, while he supplied its place by another as impious as obscene! This crime, exaggerated with all the virulence of an angry declaimer, closes with a dreadful accusation. Flavigny's morals are attacked, and his reputation overturned by a horrid imputation. Yet all this terrible reproach is only founded on an Erratum! The whole arose from the printer having negligently suffered the first letter of the word Oculo to have dropped from the form, when he happened to touch a line with his finger, which did not stand straight! He published another letter to do away[Pg 80] the imputation of Ecchellensis; but thirty years afterwards his rage against the negligent printer was not extinguished; the wits were always reminding him of it.

Of all literary blunders none equalled that of the edition of the Vulgate, by Sixtus V. His Holiness carefully superintended every sheet as it passed through the press; and, to the amazement of the world, the work remained without a rival—it swarmed with errata! A multitude of scraps were printed to paste over the erroneous passages, in order to give the true text. The book makes a whimsical appearance with these patches; and the heretics exulted in this demonstration of papal infallibility! The copies were called in, and violent attempts made to suppress it; a few still remain for the raptures of the biblical collectors; not long ago the bible of Sixtus V. fetched above sixty guineas—not too much for a mere book of blunders! The world was highly amused at the bull of the editorial Pope prefixed to the first volume, which excommunicates all printers who in reprinting the work should make any alteration in the text!

In the version of the Epistles of St. Paul into the Ethiopic language, which proved to be full of errors, the editors allege a good-humoured reason—"They who printed the work could not read, and we could not print; they helped us, and we helped them, as the blind helps the blind."

A printer's widow in Germany, while a new edition of the Bible was printing at her house, one night took an opportunity of stealing into the office, to alter that sentence of subjection to her husband, pronounced upon Eve in Genesis, chap. 3, v. 16. She took out the two first letters of the word Herr, and substituted Na in their place, thus altering the sentence from "and he shall be thy Lord" (Herr), to "and he shall be thy Fool" (Narr). It is said her life paid for this intentional erratum; and that some secreted copies of this edition have been bought up at enormous prices.

We have an edition of the Bible, known by the name of The Vinegar Bible; from the erratum in the title to the 20th chap. of St. Luke, in which "Parable of the Vineyard," is printed, "Parable of the Vinegar." It was printed in 1717, at the Clarendon press.

We have had another, where "Thou shalt commit adultery" was printed, omitting the negation; which occasioned the archbishop to lay one of the heaviest penalties on the[Pg 81] Company of Stationers that was ever recorded in the annals of literary history.[37]

Herbert Croft used to complain of the incorrectness of our English classics, as reprinted by the booksellers. It is evident some stupid printer often changes a whole text intentionally. The fine description by Akenside of the Pantheon, "Severely great," not being understood by the blockhead, was printed serenely great. Swift's own edition of "The City Shower," has "old Aches throb." Aches is two syllables, but modern printers, who had lost the right pronunciation, have aches as one syllable; and then, to complete the metre, have foisted in "aches will throb." Thus what the poet and the linguist wish to preserve is altered, and finally lost.[38]

It appears by a calculation made by the printer of Steevens's edition of Shakspeare, that every octavo page of that work, text and notes, contains 2680 distinct pieces of metal; which in a sheet amount to 42,880—the misplacing of any one of which would inevitably cause a blunder! With this curious fact before us, the accurate state of our printing, in general, is to be admired, and errata ought more freely to be pardoned than the fastidious minuteness of the insect eye of certain critics has allowed.

Whether such a miracle as an immaculate edition of a classical author does exist, I have never learnt; but an attempt[Pg 82] has been made to obtain this glorious singularity—and was as nearly realised as is perhaps possible in the magnificent edition of Os Lusiadas of Camoens, by Dom Joze Souza, in 1817. This amateur spared no prodigality of cost and labour, and flattered himself, that by the assistance of Didot, not a single typographical error should be found in that splendid volume. But an error was afterwards discovered in some of the copies, occasioned by one of the letters in the word Lusitano having got misplaced during the working of one of the sheets. It must be confessed that this was an accident or misfortune—rather than an Erratum!

One of the most remarkable complaints on ERRATA is that of Edw. Leigh, appended to his curious treatise on "Religion and Learning." It consists of two folio pages, in a very minute character, and exhibits an incalculable number of printers' blunders. "We have not," he says, "Plantin nor Stephens amongst us; and it is no easy task to specify the chiefest errata; false interpunctions there are too many; here a letter wanting, there a letter too much; a syllable too much, one letter for another; words parted where they should be joined; words joined which should be severed; words misplaced; chronological mistakes," &c. This unfortunate folio was printed in 1656. Are we to infer, by such frequent complaints of the authors of that day, that either they did not receive proofs from the printers, or that the printers never attended to the corrected proofs? Each single erratum seems to have been felt as a stab to the literary feelings of the poor author!


Authors have too frequently received ill treatment even from those to whom they dedicated their works.

Some who felt hurt at the shameless treatment of such mock Mæcenases have observed that no writer should dedicate his works but to his FRIENDS, as was practised by the ancients, who usually addressed those who had solicited their labours, or animated their progress. Theodosius Gaza had no other recompense for having inscribed to Sixtus IV. his translation of the book of Aristotle on the Nature of Animals, than the price of the binding, which this charitable father of the church munificently bestowed upon him.

Theocritus fills his Idylliums with loud complaints of the[Pg 83] neglect of his patrons; and Tasso was as little successful in his dedications.

Ariosto, in presenting his Orlando Furioso to the Cardinal d'Este, was gratified with the bitter sarcasm of—"Dove diavolo avete pigliato tante coglionerie?" Where the devil have you found all this nonsense?

When the French historian Dupleix, whose pen was indeed fertile, presented his book to the Duke d'Epernon, this Mæcenas, turning to the Pope's Nuncio, who was present, very coarsely exclaimed—"Cadedids! ce monsieur a un flux enragé, il chie un livre toutes les lunes!"

Thomson, the ardent author of the Seasons, having extravagantly praised a person of rank, who afterwards appeared to be undeserving of eulogiums, properly employed his pen in a solemn recantation of his error. A very different conduct from that of Dupleix, who always spoke highly of Queen Margaret of France for a little place he held in her household: but after her death, when the place became extinct, spoke of her with all the freedom of satire. Such is too often the character of some of the literati, who only dare to reveal the truth, when they have no interest to conceal it.

Poor Mickle, to whom we are indebted for so beautiful a version of Camoens' Lusiad, having dedicated this work, the continued labour of five years, to the Duke of Buccleugh, had the mortification to find, by the discovery of a friend, that he had kept it in his possession three weeks before he could collect sufficient intellectual desire to cut open the pages! The neglect of this nobleman reduced the poet to a state of despondency. This patron was a political economist, the pupil of Adam Smith! It is pleasing to add, in contrast with this frigid Scotch patron, that when Mickle went to Lisbon, where his translation had long preceded his visit, he found the Prince of Portugal waiting on the quay to be the first to receive the translator of his great national poem; and during a residence of six months, Mickle was warmly regarded by every Portuguese nobleman.

"Every man believes," writes Dr. Johnson to Baretti, "that mistresses are unfaithful, and patrons are capricious. But he excepts his own mistress, and his own patron."

A patron is sometimes oddly obtained. Benserade attached himself to Cardinal Mazarin; but his friendship produced nothing but civility. The poet every day indulged his easy and charming vein of amatory and panegyrical poetry, while[Pg 84] all the world read and admired his verses. One evening the cardinal, in conversation with the king, described his mode of life when at the papal court. He loved the sciences; but his chief occupation was the belles lettres, composing little pieces of poetry; he said that he was then in the court of Rome what Benserade was now in that of France. Some hours afterwards, the friends of the poet related to him the conversation of the cardinal. He quitted them abruptly, and ran to the apartment of his eminence, knocking with all his force, that he might be certain of being heard. The cardinal had just gone to bed; but he incessantly clamoured, demanding entrance; they were compelled to open the door. He ran to his eminence, fell upon his knees, almost pulled off the sheets of the bed in rapture, imploring a thousand pardons for thus disturbing him; but such was his joy in what he had just heard, which he repeated, that he could not refrain from immediately giving vent to his gratitude and his pride, to have been compared with his eminence for his poetical talents! Had the door not been immediately opened, he should have expired; he was not rich, it was true, but he should now die contented! The cardinal was pleased with his ardour, and probably never suspected his flattery; and the next week our new actor was pensioned.

On Cardinal Richelieu, another of his patrons, he gratefully made this epitaph:—

Cy gist, ouy gist, par la mort bleu,
Le Cardinal de Richelieu,
Et ce qui cause mon ennuy
Ma PENSION avec lui.
Here lies, egad, 'tis very true,
The illustrious Cardinal Richelieu:
My grief is genuine—void of whim!
Alas! my pension lies with him!

Le Brun, the great French artist, painted himself holding in his hand the portrait of his earliest patron. In this accompaniment the Artist may be said to have portrayed the features of his soul. If genius has too often complained of its patrons, has it not also often over-valued their protection?[Pg 85]


Accident has frequently occasioned the most eminent geniuses to display their powers. "It was at Rome," says Gibbon, "on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the City first started to my mind."

Father Malebranche having completed his studies in philosophy and theology without any other intention than devoting himself to some religious order, little expected the celebrity his works acquired for him. Loitering in an idle hour in the shop of a bookseller, and turning over a parcel of books, L'Homme de Descartes fell into his hands. Having dipt into parts, he read with such delight that the palpitations of his heart compelled him to lay the volume down. It was this circumstance that produced those profound contemplations which made him the Plato of his age.

Cowley became a poet by accident. In his mother's apartment he found, when very young, Spenser's Fairy Queen; and, by a continual study of poetry, he became so enchanted by the Muse, that he grew irrecoverably a poet.

Sir Joshua Reynolds had the first fondness for his art excited by the perusal of Richardson's Treatise.

Vaucanson displayed an uncommon genius for mechanics. His taste was first determined by an accident: when young, he frequently attended his mother to the residence of her confessor; and while she wept with repentance, he wept with weariness! In this state of disagreeable vacation, says Helvetius, he was struck with the uniform motion of the pendulum of the clock in the hall. His curiosity was roused; he approached the clock-case, and studied its mechanism; what he could not discover he guessed at. He then projected a similar machine; and gradually his genius produced a clock. Encouraged by this first success, he proceeded in his various attempts; and the genius, which thus could form a clock, in time formed a fluting automaton.

Accident determined the taste of Molière for the stage. His grandfather loved the theatre, and frequently carried him there. The young man lived in dissipation; the father observing it asked in anger, if his son was to be made an actor. "Would to God," replied the grandfather, "he were[Pg 86] as good an actor as Monrose." The words struck young Molière, he took a disgust to his tapestry trade, and it is to this circumstance France owes her greatest comic writer.

Corneille loved; he made verses for his mistress, became a poet, composed Mélite and afterwards his other celebrated works. The discreet Corneille had else remained a lawyer.

We owe the great discovery of Newton to a very trivial accident. When a student at Cambridge, he had retired during the time of the plague into the country. As he was reading under an apple-tree, one of the fruit fell, and struck him a smart blow on the head. When he observed the smallness of the apple, he was surprised at the force of the stroke. This led him to consider the accelerating motion of falling bodies; from whence he deduced the principle of gravity, and laid the foundation of his philosophy.

Ignatius Loyola was a Spanish gentleman, who was dangerously wounded at the siege of Pampeluna. Having heated his imagination by reading the Lives of the Saints during his illness, instead of a romance, he conceived a strong ambition to be the founder of a religious order; whence originated the celebrated society of the Jesuits.

Rousseau found his eccentric powers first awakened by the advertisement of the singular annual subject which the Academy of Dijon proposed for that year, in which he wrote his celebrated declamation against the arts and sciences. A circumstance which decided his future literary efforts.

La Fontaine, at the age of twenty-two, had not taken any profession, or devoted himself to any pursuit. Having accidentally heard some verses of Malherbe, he felt a sudden impulse, which directed his future life. He immediately bought a Malherbe, and was so exquisitely delighted with this poet that, after passing the nights in treasuring his verses in his memory, he would run in the day-time to the woods, where, concealing himself, he would recite his verses to the surrounding dryads.

Flamsteed was an astronomer by accident. He was taken from school on account of his illness, when Sacrobosco's book De Sphæra having been lent to him, he was so pleased with it that he immediately began a course of astronomic studies. Pennant's first propensity to natural history was the pleasure he received from an accidental perusal of Willoughby's work on birds. The same accident of finding, on the table of his professor, Reaumur's History of Insects, which he read more[Pg 87] than he attended to the lecture, and, having been refused the loan, gave such an instant turn to the mind of Bonnet, that he hastened to obtain a copy; after many difficulties in procuring this costly work, its possession gave an unalterable direction to his future life. This naturalist indeed lost the use of his sight by his devotion to the microscope.

Dr. Franklin attributes the cast of his genius to a similar accident. "I found a work of De Foe's, entitled an 'Essay on Projects,' from which perhaps I derived impressions that have since influenced some of the principal events of my life."

I shall add the incident which occasioned Roger Ascham to write his Schoolmaster, one of the few works among our elder writers, which we still read with pleasure.

At a dinner given by Sir William Cecil, at his apartments at Windsor, a number of ingenious men were invited. Secretary Cecil communicated the news of the morning, that several scholars at Eton had run away on account of their master's severity, which he condemned as a great error in the education of youth. Sir William Petre maintained the contrary; severe in his own temper, he pleaded warmly in defence of hard flogging. Dr. Wootton, in softer tones, sided with the secretary. Sir John Mason, adopting no side, bantered both. Mr. Haddon seconded the hard-hearted Sir William Petre, and adduced, as an evidence, that the best schoolmaster then in England was the hardest flogger. Then was it that Roger Ascham indignantly exclaimed, that if such a master had an able scholar it was owing to the boy's genius, and not the preceptor's rod. Secretary Cecil and others were pleased with Ascham's notions. Sir Richard Sackville was silent, but when Ascham after dinner went to the queen to read one of the orations of Demosthenes, he took him aside, and frankly told him that, though he had taken no part in the debate, he would not have been absent from that conversation for a great deal; that he knew to his cost the truth that Ascham had supported; for it was the perpetual flogging of such a schoolmaster that had given him an unconquerable aversion to study. And as he wished to remedy this defect in his own children, he earnestly exhorted Ascham to write his observations on so interesting a topic. Such was the circumstance which produced the admirable treatise of Roger Ascham.[Pg 88]


Singular inequalities are observable in the labours of genius; and particularly in those which admit great enthusiasm, as in poetry, in painting, and in music. Faultless mediocrity industry can preserve in one continued degree; but excellence, the daring and the happy, can only be attained, by human faculties, by starts.

Our poets who possess the greatest genius, with perhaps the least industry, have at the same time the most splendid and the worst passages of poetry. Shakspeare and Dryden are at once the greatest and the least of our poets. With some, their great fault consists in having none.

Carraccio sarcastically said of Tintoret—Ho veduto il Tintoretto hora eguale a Titiano, hora minore del Tintoretto—"I have seen Tintoret now equal to Titian, and now less than Tintoret."

Trublet justly observes—The more there are beauties and great beauties in a work, I am the less surprised to find faults and great faults. When you say of a work that it has many faults, that decides nothing: and I do not know by this, whether it is execrable or excellent. You tell me of another, that it is without any faults: if your account be just, it is certain the work cannot be excellent.

It was observed of one pleader, that he knew more than he said; and of another, that he said more than he knew.

Lucian happily describes the works of those who abound with the most luxuriant language, void of ideas. He calls their unmeaning verbosity "anemone-words;" for anemonies are flowers, which, however brilliant, only please the eye, leaving no fragrance. Pratt, who was a writer of flowing but nugatory verses, was compared to the daisy; a flower indeed common enough, and without odour.


There are many sciences, says Menage, on which we cannot indeed compose in a florid or elegant diction, such as geography, music, algebra, geometry, &c. When Atticus requested Cicero to write on geography, the latter excused himself, observing that its scenes were more adapted to please[Pg 89] the eye, than susceptible of the embellishments of style. However, in these kind of sciences, we may lend an ornament to their dryness by introducing occasionally some elegant allusion, or noticing some incident suggested by the object.

Thus when we notice some inconsiderable place, for instance Woodstock, we may recall attention to the residence of Chaucer, the parent of our poetry, or the romantic labyrinth of Rosamond; or as in "an Autumn on the Rhine," at Ingelheim, at the view of an old palace built by Charlemagne, the traveller adds, with "a hundred columns brought from Rome," and further it was "the scene of the romantic amours of that monarch's fair daughter, Ibertha, with Eginhard, his secretary:" and viewing the Gothic ruins on the banks of the Rhine, he noticed them as having been the haunts of those illustrious chevaliers voleurs whose chivalry consisted in pillaging the merchants and towns, till, in the thirteenth century, a citizen of Mayence persuaded the merchants of more than a hundred towns to form a league against these little princes and counts; the origin of the famous Rhenish league, which contributed so much to the commerce of Europe. This kind of erudition gives an interest to topography, by associating in our memory great events and personages with the localities.

The same principle of composition may be carried with the happiest effect into some dry investigations, though the profound antiquary may not approve of these sports of wit or fancy. Dr. Arbuthnot, in his Tables of Ancient Coins, Weights, and Measures, a topic extremely barren of amusement, takes every opportunity of enlivening the dulness of his task; even in these mathematical calculations he betrays his wit; and observes that "the polite Augustus, the emperor of the world, had neither any glass in his windows, nor a shirt to his back!" Those uses of glass and linen indeed were not known in his time. Our physician is not less curious and facetious in the account of the fees which the Roman physicians received.


Those ecclesiastical histories entitled Legends are said to have originated in the following circumstance.

Before colleges were established in the monasteries where the schools were held, the professors in rhetoric frequently[Pg 90] gave their pupils the life of some saint for a trial of their talent at amplification. The students, at a loss to furnish out their pages, invented most of these wonderful adventures. Jortin observes, that the Christians used to collect out of Ovid, Livy, and other pagan poets and historians, the miracles and portents to be found there, and accommodated them to their own monks and saints. The good fathers of that age, whose simplicity was not inferior to their devotion, were so delighted with these flowers of rhetoric, that they were induced to make a collection of these miraculous compositions; not imagining that, at some distant period, they would become matters of faith. Yet, when James de Voragine, Peter Nadal, and Peter Ribadeneira, wrote the Lives of the Saints, they sought for their materials in the libraries of the monasteries; and, awakening from the dust these manuscripts of amplification, imagined they made an invaluable present to the world, by laying before them these voluminous absurdities. The people received these pious fictions with all imaginable simplicity, and as these are adorned by a number of cuts, the miracles were perfectly intelligible to their eyes. Tillemont, Fleury, Baillet, Launoi, and Bollandus, cleared away much of the rubbish; the enviable title of Golden Legend, by which James de Voragine called his work, has been disputed; iron or lead might more aptly describe its character.

When the world began to be more critical in their reading, the monks gave a graver turn to their narratives; and became penurious of their absurdities. The faithful Catholic contends, that the line of tradition has been preserved unbroken; notwithstanding that the originals were lost in the general wreck of literature from the barbarians, or came down in a most imperfect state.

Baronius has given the lives of many apocryphal saints; for instance, of a Saint Xinoris, whom he calls a martyr of Antioch; but it appears that Baronius having read in Chrysostom this word, which signifies a couple or pair, he mistook it for the name of a saint, and contrived to give the most authentic biography of a saint who never existed![39] The Catholics confess this sort of blunder is not uncommon, but then it is only fools who laugh! As a specimen of the hap[Pg 91]pier inventions, one is given, embellished by the diction of Gibbon—

"Among the insipid legends of ecclesiastical history, I am tempted to distinguish the memorable fable of the Seven Sleepers; whose imaginary date corresponds with the reign of the younger Theodosius, and the conquest of Africa by the Vandals. When the Emperor Decius persecuted the Christians, seven noble youths of Ephesus concealed themselves in a spacious cavern on the side of an adjacent mountain; where they were doomed to perish by the tyrant, who gave orders that the entrance should be firmly secured with a pile of stones. They immediately fell into a deep slumber, which was miraculously prolonged, without injuring the powers of life, during a period of one hundred and eighty-seven years. At the end of that time the slaves of Adolius, to whom the inheritance of the mountain had descended, removed the stones to supply materials for some rustic edifice. The light of the sun darted into the cavern, and the Seven Sleepers were permitted to awake. After a slumber as they thought of a few hours, they were pressed by the calls of hunger; and resolved that Jamblichus, one of their number, should secretly return to the city to purchase bread for the use of his companions. The youth, if we may still employ that appellation, could no longer recognise the once familiar aspect of his native country; and his surprise was increased by the appearance of a large cross, triumphantly erected over the principal gate of Ephesus. His singular dress and obsolete language confounded the baker, to whom he offered an ancient medal of Decius as the current coin of the empire; and Jamblichus, on the suspicion of a secret treasure, was dragged before the judge. Their mutual inquiries produced the amazing discovery, that two centuries were almost elapsed since Jamblichus and his friends had escaped from the rage of a Pagan tyrant. The Bishop of Ephesus, the clergy, the magistrates, the people, and, it is said, the Emperor Theodosius himself, hastened to visit the cavern of the Seven Sleepers; who bestowed their benediction, related their story, and at the same instant peaceably expired.

"This popular tale Mahomet learned when he drove his camels to the fairs of Syria; and he has introduced it, as a divine revelation, into the Koran."—The same story has been adopted and adorned by the nations, from Bengal to Africa, who profess the Mahometan religion.[Pg 92]

The too curious reader may perhaps require other specimens of the more unlucky inventions of this "Golden Legend;" as characteristic of a certain class of minds, the philosopher will contemn these grotesque fictions.

These monks imagined that holiness was often proportioned to a saint's filthiness. St. Ignatius, say they, delighted to appear abroad with old dirty shoes; he never used a comb, but let his hair clot; and religiously abstained from paring his nails. One saint attained to such piety as to have near three hundred patches on his breeches; which, after his death, were hung up in public as an incentive to imitation. St. Francis discovered, by certain experience, that the devils were frightened away by such kinds of breeches, but were animated by clean clothing to tempt and seduce the wearers; and one of their heroes declares that the purest souls are in the dirtiest bodies. On this they tell a story which may not be very agreeable to fastidious delicacy. Brother Juniper was a gentleman perfectly pious, on this principle; indeed so great was his merit in this species of mortification, that a brother declared he could always nose Brother Juniper when within a mile of the monastery, provided the wind was at the due point. Once, when the blessed Juniper, for he was no saint, was a guest, his host, proud of the honour of entertaining so pious a personage, the intimate friend of St. Francis, provided an excellent bed, and the finest sheets. Brother Juniper abhorred such luxury. And this too evidently appeared after his sudden departure in the morning, unknown to his kind host. The great Juniper did this, says his biographer, having told us what he did, not so much from his habitual inclinations, for which he was so justly celebrated, as from his excessive piety, and as much as he could to mortify worldly pride, and to show how a true saint despised clean sheets.

In the life of St. Francis we find, among other grotesque miracles, that he preached a sermon in a desert, but he soon collected an immense audience. The birds shrilly warbled to every sentence, and stretched out their necks, opened their beaks, and when he finished, dispersed with a holy rapture into four companies, to report his sermon to all the birds in the universe. A grasshopper remained a week with St. Francis during the absence of the Virgin Mary, and pittered on his head. He grew so companionable with a nightingale, that when a nest of swallows began to babble, he hushed[Pg 93] them by desiring them not to tittle-tattle of their sister, the nightingale. Attacked by a wolf, with only the sign-manual of the cross, he held a long dialogue with his rabid assailant, till the wolf, meek as a lap-dog, stretched his paws in the hands of the saint, followed him through towns, and became half a Christian.

This same St. Francis had such a detestation of the good things of this world, that he would never suffer his followers to touch money. A friar having placed in a window some money collected at the altar, he desired him to take it in his mouth, and throw it on the dung of an ass! St. Philip Nerius was such a lover of poverty, that he frequently prayed that God would bring him to that state as to stand in need of a penny, and find nobody that would give him one!

But St. Macaire was so shocked at having killed a louse, that he endured seven years of penitence among the thorns and briars of a forest. A circumstance which seems to have reached Molière, who gives this stroke to the character of his Tartuffe:—

Il s'impute à péché la moindre bagatelle;
Jusques-là qu'il se vint, l'autre jour, s'accuser
D'avoir pris une puce en faisant sa prière,
Et de l'avoir tuée avec trop de colère!

I give a miraculous incident respecting two pious maidens. The night of the Nativity of Christ, after the first mass, they both retired into a solitary spot of their nunnery till the second mass was rung. One asked the other, "Why do you want two cushions, when I have only one?" The other replied, "I would place it between us, for the child Jesus; as the Evangelist says, where there are two or three persons assembled I am in the midst of them."—This being done, they sat down, feeling a most lively pleasure at their fancy; and there they remained, from the Nativity of Christ to that of John the Baptist; but this great interval of time passed with these saintly maidens as two hours would appear to others. The abbess and nuns were alarmed at their absence, for no one could give any account of them. In the eve of St. John, a cowherd, passing by them, beheld a beautiful child seated on a cushion between this pair of runaway nuns. He hastened to the abbess with news of these stray sheep; she came and beheld this lovely child playfully seated between these nymphs; they, with blushing countenances, inquired if the second bell had already rung? Both parties[Pg 94] were equally astonished to find our young devotees had been there from the Nativity of Jesus to that of St. John. The abbess inquired about the child who sat between them; they solemnly declared they saw no child between them! and persisted in their story!

Such is one of these miracles of "the Golden Legend," which a wicked wit might comment on, and see nothing extraordinary in the whole story. The two nuns might be missing between the Nativities, and be found at last with a child seated between them.—They might not choose to account either for their absence or their child—the only touch of miracle is that, they asseverated, they saw no child—that I confess is a little (child) too much.

The lives of the saints by Alban Butler is the most sensible history of these legends; Ribadeneira's lives of the saints exhibit more of the legendary spirit, for wanting judgment and not faith, he is more voluminous in his details. The antiquary may collect much curious philosophical information, concerning the manners of the times, from these singular narratives.


Every lover of letters has heard of this learned society, which contributed so greatly to establish in France a taste for just reasoning, simplicity of style, and philosophical method. Their "Logic, or the Art of Thinking," for its lucid, accurate, and diversified matter, is still an admirable work; notwithstanding the writers had to emancipate themselves from the barbarism of the scholastic logic. It was the conjoint labour of Arnauld and Nicolle. Europe has benefited by the labours of these learned men: but not many have attended to the origin and dissolution of this literary society.

In the year 1637, Le Maitre, a celebrated advocate, resigned the bar, and the honour of being Conseiller d'Etat, which his uncommon merit had obtained him, though then only twenty-eight years of age. His brother, De Sericourt, who had followed the military profession, quitted it at the same time. Consecrating themselves to the service of religion, they retired into a small house near the Port-Royal of Paris, where they were joined by their brothers De Sacy, De St. Elme, and De Valmont. Arnauld, one of their most illustrious associates,[Pg 95] was induced to enter into the Jansenist controversy, and then it was that they encountered the powerful persecution of the Jesuits. Constrained to remove from that spot, they fixed their residence at a few leagues from Paris, and called it Port-Royal des Champs.[40]

These illustrious recluses were joined by many distinguished persons who gave up their parks and houses to be appropriated to their schools; and this community was called the Society of Port-Royal.

Here were no rules, no vows, no constitution, and no cells formed. Prayer and study, and manual labour, were their only occupations. They applied themselves to the education of youth, and raised up little academies in the neighbourhood, where the members of Port-Royal, the most illustrious names of literary France, presided. None considered his birth entitled him to any exemption from their public offices, relieving the poor and attending on the sick, and employing themselves in their farms and gardens; they were carpenters, ploughmen, gardeners, and vine-dressers, as if they had practised nothing else; they studied physic, and surgery, and law; in truth, it seems that, from religious motives, these learned men attempted to form a community of primitive Christianity.

The Duchess of Longueville, once a political chief, sacrificed her ambition on the altar of Port-Royal, enlarged the monastic inclosure with spacious gardens and orchards, built a noble house, and often retreated to its seclusion. The learned D'Andilly, the translator of Josephus, after his studious hours, resorted to the cultivation of fruit-trees; and the fruit of Port-Royal became celebrated for its size and flavour. Presents were sent to the Queen-Mother of France, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin, who used to call it "fruit béni." It appears that "families of rank, affluence, and piety, who did not wish entirely to give up their avocations in the world, built themselves country-houses in the[Pg 96] valley of Port-Royal, in order to enjoy the society of its religious and literary inhabitants."

In the solitudes of Port-Royal Racine received his education; and, on his death-bed, desired to be buried in its cemetery, at the feet of his master Hamon. Arnauld, persecuted, and dying in a foreign country, still cast his lingering looks on this beloved retreat, and left the society his heart, which was there inurned.

The Duchess of Longueville, a princess of the blood-royal, was, during her life, the powerful patroness of these solitary and religious men: but her death, in 1679, was the fatal stroke which dispersed them for ever.

The envy and the fears of the Jesuits, and their rancour against Arnauld, who with such ability had exposed their designs, occasioned the destruction of the Port-Royal Society. Exinanite, exinanite usque ad fundamentum in ea!—"Annihilate it, annihilate it, to its very foundations!" Such are the terms of the Jesuitic decree. The Jesuits had long called the little schools of Port-Royal the hot-beds of heresy. The Jesuits obtained by their intrigues an order from government to dissolve that virtuous society. They razed the buildings, and ploughed up the very foundation; they exhausted their hatred even on the stones, and profaned even the sanctuary of the dead; the corpses were torn out of their graves, and dogs were suffered to contend for the rags of their shrouds. The memory of that asylum of innocence and learning was still kept alive by those who collected the engravings representing the place by Mademoiselle Hortemels. The police, under Jesuitic influence, at length seized on the plates in the cabinet of the fair artist.—Caustic was the retort courteous which Arnauld gave the Jesuits—"I do not fear your pen, but its knife."

These were men whom the love of retirement had united to cultivate literature, in the midst of solitude, of peace, and of piety. Alike occupied on sacred, as on profane writers, their writings fixed the French language. The example of these solitaries shows how retirement is favourable to penetrate into the sanctuary of the Muses.

An interesting anecdote is related of Arnauld on the occasion of the dissolution of this society. The dispersion of these great men, and their young scholars, was lamented by every one but their enemies. Many persons of the highest rank participated in their sorrows. The excellent Arnauld,[Pg 97] in that moment, was as closely pursued as if he had been a felon.

It was then the Duchess of Longueville concealed Arnauld in an obscure lodging, who assumed the dress of a layman, wearing a sword and full-bottomed wig. Arnauld was attacked by a fever, and in the course of conversation with his physician, he inquired after news. "They talk of a new book of the Port-Royal," replied the doctor, "ascribed to Arnauld or to Sacy; but I do not believe it comes from Sacy; he does not write so well."—"How, sir!" exclaimed the philosopher, forgetting his sword and wig; "believe me, my nephew writes better than I do."—The physician eyed his patient with amazement—he hastened to the duchess, and told her, "The malady of the gentleman you sent me to is not very serious, provided you do not suffer him to see any one, and insist on his holding his tongue." The duchess, alarmed, immediately had Arnauld conveyed to her palace. She concealed him in an apartment, and persisted to attend him herself.—"Ask," she said, "what you want of the servant, but it shall be myself who shall bring it to you."

How honourable is it to the female character, that, in many similar occurrences, their fortitude has proved to be equal to their sensibility! But the Duchess of Longueville contemplated in Arnauld a model of human fortitude which martyrs never excelled. His remarkable reply to Nicolle, when they were hunted from place to place, should never be forgotten: Arnauld wished Nicolle to assist him in a new work, when the latter observed, "We are now old, is it not time to rest?" "Rest!" returned Arnauld, "have we not all Eternity to rest in?" The whole of the Arnauld family were the most extraordinary instance of that hereditary character, which is continued through certain families: here it was a sublime, and, perhaps, singular union of learning with religion. The Arnaulds, Sacy, Pascal, Tillemont, with other illustrious names, to whom literary Europe will owe perpetual obligations, combined the life of the monastery with that of the library.[Pg 98]


Of the pleasures derivable from the cultivation of the arts, sciences, and literature, time will not abate the growing passion; for old men still cherish an affection and feel a youthful enthusiasm in those pursuits, when all others have ceased to interest. Dr. Reid, to his last day, retained a most active curiosity in his various studies, and particularly in the revolutions of modern chemistry. In advanced life we may resume our former studies with a new pleasure, and in old age we may enjoy them with the same relish with which more youthful students commence. Adam Smith observed to Dugald Stewart, that "of all the amusements of old age, the most grateful and soothing is a renewal of acquaintance with the favourite studies and favourite authors of youth—a remark, adds Stewart, which, in his own case, seemed to be more particularly exemplified while he was reperusing, with the enthusiasm of a student, the tragic poets of ancient Greece. I have heard him repeat the observation more than once, while Sophocles and Euripides lay open on his table."

Socrates learnt to play on musical instruments in his old age; Cato, at eighty, thought proper to learn Greek; and Plutarch, almost as late in his life, Latin.

Theophrastus began his admirable work on the Characters of Men at the extreme age of ninety. He only terminated his literary labours by his death.

Ronsard, one of the fathers of French poetry, applied himself late to study. His acute genius, and ardent application, rivalled those poetic models which he admired; and Boccaccio was thirty-five years of age when he commenced his studies in polite literature.

The great Arnauld retained the vigour of his genius, and the command of his pen, to the age of eighty-two, and was still the great Arnauld.

Sir Henry Spelman neglected the sciences in his youth, but cultivated them at fifty years of age. His early years were chiefly passed in farming, which greatly diverted him from his studies; but a remarkable disappointment respecting a contested estate disgusted him with these rustic occupations: resolved to attach himself to regular studies, and literary society, he sold his farms, and became the most learned antiquary and lawyer.[Pg 99]

Colbert, the famous French minister, almost at sixty, returned to his Latin and law studies.

Dr. Johnson applied himself to the Dutch language but a few years before his death. The Marquis de Saint Aulaire, at the age of seventy, began to court the Muses, and they crowned him with their freshest flowers. The verses of this French Anacreon are full of fire, delicacy, and sweetness.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were the composition of his latest years: they were begun in his fifty-fourth year, and finished in his sixty-first.

Ludovico Monaldesco, at the extraordinary age of 115, wrote the memoirs of his times. A singular exertion, noticed by Voltaire; who himself is one of the most remarkable instances of the progress of age in new studies.

The most delightful of autobiographies for artists is that of Benvenuto Cellini; a work of great originality, which was not begun till "the clock of his age had struck fifty-eight."

Koornhert began at forty to learn the Latin and Greek languages, of which he became a master; several students, who afterwards distinguished themselves, have commenced as late in life their literary pursuits. Ogilby, the translator of Homer and Virgil, knew little of Latin or Greek till he was past fifty; and Franklin's philosophical pursuits began when he had nearly reached his fiftieth year.

Accorso, a great lawyer, being asked why he began the study of the law so late, answered, beginning it late, he should master it the sooner.

Dryden's complete works form the largest body of poetry from the pen of a single writer in the English language; yet he gave no public testimony of poetic abilities till his twenty-seventh year. In his sixty-eighth year he proposed to translate the whole Iliad: and his most pleasing productions were written in his old age.

Michael Angelo preserved his creative genius even in extreme old age: there is a device said to be invented by him, of an old man represented in a go-cart, with an hour-glass upon it; the inscription Ancora imparo!Yet I am Learning!

We have a literary curiosity in a favourite treatise with Erasmus and men of letters of that period, De Ratione Studii, by Joachim Sterck, otherwise Fortius de Ringelberg. The enthusiasm of the writer often carries him to the verge of ridicule; but something must be conceded to his peculiar[Pg 100] situation and feelings; for Baillet tells us that this method of studying had been formed entirely from his own practical knowledge and hard experience: at a late period of life he had commenced his studies, and at length he imagined that he had discovered a more perpendicular mode of ascending the hill of science than by its usual circuitous windings. His work has been compared to the sounding of a trumpet.

Menage, in his Anti-Baillet, has a very curious apology for writing verses in his old age, by showing how many poets amused themselves notwithstanding their grey hairs, and wrote sonnets or epigrams at ninety.

La Casa, in one of his letters, humorously said, Io credo ch'io farò Sonnetti venti cinque anni, o trenta, pio che io sarò morto.—"I think I may make sonnets twenty-five, or perhaps thirty years, after I shall be dead!" Petau tells us that he wrote verses to solace the evils of old age—

—— Petavius æger
Cantabat veteris quærens solatia morbi.

Malherbe declares the honours of genius were his, yet young—

Je les posseday jeune, et les possède encore
A la fin de mes jours!


Pere Bouhours observes, that the Spanish poets display an extravagant imagination, which is by no means destitute of esprit—shall we say wit? but which evinces little taste or judgment.

Their verses are much in the style of our Cowley—trivial points, monstrous metaphors, and quaint conceits. It is evident that the Spanish poets imported this taste from the time of Marino in Italy; but the warmth of the Spanish climate appears to have redoubled it, and to have blown the kindled sparks of chimerical fancy to the heat of a Vulcanian forge.

Lopez de Vega, in describing an afflicted shepherdess, in one of his pastorals, who is represented weeping near the sea-side, says, "That the sea joyfully advances to gather her tears; and that, having enclosed them in shells, it converts them into pearls."[Pg 101]

"Y el mar como imbidioso
A tierra por las lagrimas salia,
Y alegre de cogerlas
Las guarda en conchas, y convierte en perlas."

Villegas addresses a stream—"Thou who runnest over sands of gold, with feet of silver," more elegant than our Shakspeare's—"Thy silver skin laced with thy golden blood," which possibly he may not have written. Villegas monstrously exclaims, "Touch my breast, if you doubt the power of Lydia's eyes—you will find it turned to ashes." Again—"Thou art so great that thou canst only imitate thyself with thy own greatness;" much like our "None but himself can be his parallel."

Gongora, whom the Spaniards once greatly admired, and distinguished by the epithet of The Wonderful, abounds with these conceits.

He imagines that a nightingale, who enchantingly varied her notes, and sang in different manners, had a hundred thousand other nightingales in her breast, which alternately sang through her throat—

"Con diferancia tal, con gracia tanta,
A quel ruysenor llora, que sospecho
Que tiene otros cien mil dentro del pecho,
Que alterno su dolor por su garganta."

Of a young and beautiful lady he says, that she has but a few years of life, but many ages of beauty.

"Muchos siglos de hermosura
En pocos anos de edad."

Many ages of beauty is a false thought, for beauty becomes not more beautiful from its age; it would be only a superannuated beauty. A face of two or three ages old could have but few charms.

In one of his odes he addresses the River of Madrid by the title of the Duke of Streams, and the Viscount of Rivers

"Mançanares, Mançanares,
Os que en todo el aguatismo,
Estois Duque de Arroyos,
Y Visconde de los Rios."

He did not venture to call it a Spanish Grandee, for, in fact, it is but a shallow and dirty stream; and as Quevedo wittily informs us, "Mançanares is reduced, during the summer season, to the melancholy condition of the wicked rich[Pg 102] man, who asks for water in the depths of hell." Though so small, this stream in the time of a flood spreads itself over the neighbouring fields; for this reason Philip the Second built a bridge eleven hundred feet long!—A Spaniard passing it one day, when it was perfectly dry, observing this superb bridge, archly remarked, "That it would be proper that the bridge should be sold to purchase water."—Es menester, vender la puente, par comprar agua.

The following elegant translation of a Spanish madrigal of the kind here criticised I found in a newspaper, but it is evidently by a master-hand.

On the green margin of the land,
Where Guadalhorce winds his way,
My lady lay:
With golden key Sleep's gentle hand
Had closed her eyes so bright—
Her eyes, two suns of light—
And bade his balmy dews
Her rosy cheeks suffuse.
The River God in slumber saw her laid:
He raised his dripping head,
With weeds o'erspread,
Clad in his wat'ry robes approach'd the maid,
And with cold kiss, like death,
Drank the rich perfume of the maiden's breath.
The maiden felt that icy kiss:
Her suns unclosed, their flame
Full and unclouded on th' intruder came.
Amazed th' intruder felt
His frothy body melt
And heard the radiance on his bosom hiss;
And, forced in blind confusion to retire,
Leapt in the water to escape the fire.


The portrait of St. Evremond is delineated by his own hand.

In his day it was a literary fashion for writers to give their own portraits; a fashion that seems to have passed over into our country, for Farquhar has drawn his own character in a letter to a lady. Others of our writers have given these self-miniatures. Such painters are, no doubt, great flatterers, and it is rather their ingenuity, than their truth, which we admire in these cabinet-pictures.

"I am a philosopher, as far removed from superstition as from impiety; a voluptuary, who has not less abhorrence of[Pg 103] debauchery than inclination for pleasure; a man who has never known want nor abundance. I occupy that station of life which is contemned by those who possess everything; envied by those who have nothing; and only relished by those who make their felicity consist in the exercise of their reason. Young, I hated dissipation; convinced that man must possess wealth to provide for the comforts of a long life. Old, I disliked economy; as I believe that we need not greatly dread want, when we have but a short time to be miserable. I am satisfied with what nature has done for me, nor do I repine at fortune. I do not seek in men what they have of evil, that I may censure; I only discover what they have ridiculous, that I may be amused. I feel a pleasure in detecting their follies; I should feel a greater in communicating my discoveries, did not my prudence restrain me. Life is too short, according to my ideas, to read all kinds of books, and to load our memories with an endless number of things at the cost of our judgment. I do not attach myself to the observations of scientific men to acquire science; but to the most rational, that I may strengthen my reason. Sometimes I seek for more delicate minds, that my taste may imbibe their delicacy; sometimes for the gayer, that I may enrich my genius with their gaiety; and, although I constantly read, I make it less my occupation than my pleasure. In religion, and in friendship, I have only to paint myself such as I am—in friendship more tender than a philosopher; and in religion, as constant and as sincere as a youth who has more simplicity than experience. My piety is composed more of justice and charity than of penitence. I rest my confidence on God, and hope everything from His benevolence. In the bosom of Providence I find my repose, and my felicity."


The student or the artist who may shine a luminary of learning and of genius, in his works, is found, not rarely, to lie obscured beneath a heavy cloud in colloquial discourse.

If you love the man of letters, seek him in the privacies of his study. It is in the hour of confidence and tranquillity that his genius shall elicit a ray of intelligence more fervid than the labours of polished composition.

The great Peter Corneille, whose genius resembled that of[Pg 104] our Shakspeare, and who has so forcibly expressed the sublime sentiments of the hero, had nothing in his exterior that indicated his genius; his conversation was so insipid that it never failed of wearying. Nature, who had lavished on him the gifts of genius, had forgotten to blend with them her more ordinary ones. He did not even speak correctly that language of which he was such a master. When his friends represented to him how much more he might please by not disdaining to correct these trivial errors, he would smile, and say—"I am not the less Peter Corneille!"

Descartes, whose habits were formed in solitude and meditation, was silent in mixed company; it was said that he had received his intellectual wealth from nature in solid bars, but not in current coin; or as Addison expressed the same idea, by comparing himself to a banker who possessed the wealth of his friends at home, though he carried none of it in his pocket; or as that judicious moralist Nicolle, of the Port-Royal Society, said of a scintillant wit—"He conquers me in the drawing-room, but he surrenders to me at discretion on the staircase." Such may say with Themistocles, when asked to play on a lute—"I cannot fiddle, but I can make a little village a great city."

The deficiencies of Addison in conversation are well known. He preserved a rigid silence amongst strangers; but if he was silent, it was the silence of meditation. How often, at that moment, he laboured at some future Spectator!

Mediocrity can talk; but it is for genius to observe.

The cynical Mandeville compared Addison, after having passed an evening in his company, to "a silent parson in a tie-wig."

Virgil was heavy in conversation, and resembled more an ordinary man than an enchanting poet.

La Fontaine, says La Bruyère, appeared coarse, heavy, and stupid; he could not speak or describe what he had just seen; but when he wrote he was a model of poetry.

It is very easy, said a humorous observer on La Fontaine, to be a man of wit, or a fool; but to be both, and that too in the extreme degree, is indeed admirable, and only to be found in him. This observation applies to that fine natural genius Goldsmith. Chaucer was more facetious in his tales than in his conversation, and the Countess of Pembroke used to rally him by saying, that his silence was more agreeable to her than his conversation.[Pg 105]

Isocrates, celebrated for his beautiful oratorical compositions, was of so timid a disposition, that he never ventured to speak in public. He compared himself to the whetstone which will not cut, but enables other things to do so; for his productions served as models to other orators. Vaucanson was said to be as much a machine as any he had made.

Dryden says of himself—"My conversation is slow and dull, my humour saturnine and reserved. In short, I am none of those who endeavour to break jests in company, or make repartees."[41]


What a consolation for an aged parent to see his child, by the efforts of his own merits, attain from the humblest obscurity to distinguished eminence! What a transport for the man of sensibility to return to the obscure dwelling of his parent, and to embrace him, adorned with public honours! Poor Vida was deprived of this satisfaction; but he is placed higher in our esteem by the present anecdote, than even by that classic composition, which rivals the Art of Poetry of his great master.

Jerome Vida, after having long served two Popes, at length attained to the episcopacy. Arrayed in the robes of his new dignity, he prepared to visit his aged parents, and felicitated himself with the raptures which the old couple would feel in embracing their son as their bishop. When he arrived at their village, he learnt that it was but a few days since they were no more. His sensibilities were exquisitely pained. The muse dictated some elegiac verse, and in the solemn pathos deplored the death and the disappointment of his parents.


Bien heureux Scudery, dont la fertile plume
Peut tous les mois sans peine enfanter un volume.

Boileau has written this couplet on the Scuderies, the brother and sister, both famous in their day for composing romances, which they sometimes extended to ten or twelve[Pg 106] volumes. It was the favourite literature of that period, as novels are now. Our nobility not unfrequently condescended to translate these voluminous compositions.

The diminutive size of our modern novels is undoubtedly an improvement: but, in resembling the size of primers, it were to be wished that their contents had also resembled their inoffensive pages. Our great-grandmothers were incommoded with overgrown folios; and, instead of finishing the eventful history of two lovers at one or two sittings, it was sometimes six months, including Sundays, before they could get quit of their Clelias, their Cyrus's, and Parthenissas.

Mademoiselle Scudery had composed ninety volumes! She had even finished another romance, which she would not give the public, whose taste, she perceived, no more relished this kind of works. She was one of those unfortunate authors who, living to more than ninety years of age, survive their own celebrity.

She had her panegyrists in her day: Menage observes—"What a pleasing description has Mademoiselle Scudery made, in her Cyrus, of the little court at Rambouillet! A thousand things in the romances of this learned lady render them inestimable. She has drawn from the ancients their happiest passages, and has even improved upon them; like the prince in the fable, whatever she touches becomes gold. We may read her works with great profit, if we possess a correct taste, and love instruction. Those who censure their length only show the littleness of their judgment; as if Homer and Virgil were to be despised, because many of their books were filled with episodes and incidents that necessarily retard the conclusion. It does not require much penetration to observe that Cyrus and Clelia are a species of the epic poem. The epic must embrace a number of events to suspend the course of the narrative; which, only taking in a part of the life of the hero, would terminate too soon to display the skill of the poet. Without this artifice, the charm of uniting the greater part of the episodes to the principal subject of the romance would be lost. Mademoiselle de Scudery has so well treated them, and so aptly introduced a variety of beautiful passages, that nothing in this kind is comparable to her productions. Some expressions, and certain turns, have become somewhat obsolete; all the rest[Pg 107] will last for ever, and outlive the criticisms they have undergone."

Menage has here certainly uttered a false prophecy. The curious only look over her romances. They contain doubtless many beautiful inventions; the misfortune is, that time and patience are rare requisites for the enjoyment of these Iliads in prose.

"The misfortune of her having written too abundantly has occasioned an unjust contempt," says a French critic. "We confess there are many heavy and tedious passages in her voluminous romances; but if we consider that in the Clelia and the Artamene are to be found inimitable delicate touches, and many splendid parts, which would do honour to some of our living writers, we must acknowledge that the great defects of all her works arise from her not writing in an age when taste had reached the acmé of cultivation. Such is her erudition, that the French place her next to the celebrated Madame Dacier. Her works, containing many secret intrigues of the court and city, her readers must have keenly relished on their early publication."

Her Artamene, or the Great Cyrus, and principally her Clelia, are representations of what then passed at the court of France. The Map of the Kingdom of Tenderness, in Clelia, appeared, at the time, as one of the happiest inventions. This once celebrated map is an allegory which distinguishes the different kinds of Tenderness, which are reduced to Esteem, Gratitude, and Inclination. The map represents three rivers, which have these three names, and on which are situated three towns called Tenderness: Tenderness on Inclination; Tenderness on Esteem; and Tenderness on Gratitude. Pleasing Attentions, or, Petits Soins, is a village very beautifully situated. Mademoiselle de Scudery was extremely proud of this little allegorical map; and had a terrible controversy with another writer about its originality.

George Scudery, her brother, and inferior in genius, had a striking singularity of character:—he was one of the most complete votaries to the universal divinity, Vanity. With a heated imagination, entirely destitute of judgment, his military character was continually exhibiting itself by that peaceful instrument the pen, so that he exhibits a most amusing contrast of ardent feelings in a cool situation; not liberally[Pg 108] endowed with genius, but abounding with its semblance in the fire of eccentric gasconade; no man has portrayed his own character with a bolder colouring than himself, in his numerous prefaces and addresses; surrounded by a thousand self-illusions of the most sublime class, everything that related to himself had an Homeric grandeur of conception.

In an epistle to the Duke of Montmorency, Scudery says, "I will learn to write with my left hand, that my right hand may more nobly be devoted to your service;" and alluding to his pen (plume), declares "he comes from a family who never used one, but to stick in their hats." When he solicits small favours from the great, he assures them "that princes must not think him importunate, and that his writings are merely inspired by his own individual interest; no! (he exclaims) I am studious only of your glory, while I am careless of my own fortune." And indeed, to do him justice, he acted up to these romantic feelings. After he had published his epic of Alaric, Christina of Sweden proposed to honour him with a chain of gold of the value of five hundred pounds, provided he would expunge from his epic the eulogiums he bestowed on the Count of Gardie, whom she had disgraced. The epical soul of Scudery magnanimously scorned the bribe, and replied, that "If the chain of gold should be as weighty as that chain mentioned in the history of the Incas, I will never destroy any altar on which I have sacrificed!"

Proud of his boasted nobility and erratic life, he thus addresses the reader: "You will lightly pass over any faults in my work, if you reflect that I have employed the greater part of my life in seeing the finest parts of Europe, and that I have passed more days in the camp than in the library. I have used more matches to light my musket than to light my candles; I know better to arrange columns in the field than those on paper; and to square battalions better than to round periods." In his first publication, he began his literary career perfectly in character, by a challenge to his critics!

He is the author of sixteen plays, chiefly heroic tragedies; children who all bear the features of their father. He first introduced, in his "L'Amour Tyrannique," a strict observance of the Aristotelian unities of time and place; and the necessity and advantages of this regulation are insisted on, which only shows that Aristotle's art goes but little to the composition of a pathetic tragedy. In his last drama, "Arminius,"[Pg 109] he extravagantly scatters his panegyrics on its fifteen predecessors; but of the present one he has the most exalted notion: it is the quintessence of Scudery! An ingenious critic calls it "The downfall of mediocrity!" It is amusing to listen to this blazing preface:—"At length, reader, nothing remains for me but to mention the great Arminius which I now present to you, and by which I have resolved to close my long and laborious course. It is indeed my masterpiece! and the most finished work that ever came from my pen; for whether we examine the fable, the manners, the sentiments, or the versification, it is certain that I never performed anything so just, so great, nor more beautiful; and if my labours could ever deserve a crown, I would claim it for this work!"

The actions of this singular personage were in unison with his writings: he gives a pompous description of a most unimportant government which he obtained near Marseilles, but all the grandeur existed only in our author's heated imagination. Bachaumont and De la Chapelle describe it, in their playful "Voyage:"

Mais il faut vous parler du fort,
Qui sans doute est une merveille;
C'est notre dame de la garde!
Gouvernement commode et beau,
A qui suffit pour tout garde,
Un Suisse avec sa hallebarde
Peint sur la porte du château!

A fort very commodiously guarded; only requiring one sentinel with his halbert—painted on the door!

In a poem on his disgust with the world, he tells us how intimate he has been with princes: Europe has known him through all her provinces; he ventured everything in a thousand combats:

L'on me vit obeïr, l'on me vit commander,
Et mon poil tout poudreux a blanchi sons les armes;
Il est peu de beaux arts où je ne sois instruit;
En prose et en vers, mon nom fit quelque bruit;
Et par plus d'un chemin je parvins à la gloire.
Princes were proud my friendship to proclaim,
And Europe gazed, where'er her hero came!
I grasp'd the laurels of heroic strife,
The thousand perils of a soldier's life;
Obedient in the ranks each toilful day!
Though heroes soon command, they first obey.[Pg 110]
'Twas not for me, too long a time to yield!
Born for a chieftain in the tented field!
Around my plumed helm, my silvery hair
Hung like an honour'd wreath of age and care!
The finer arts have charm'd my studious hours,
Versed in their mysteries, skilful in their powers;
In verse and prose my equal genius glow'd,
Pursuing glory by no single road!

Such was the vain George Scudery! whose heart, however, was warm: poverty could never degrade him; adversity never broke down his magnanimous spirit!


The maxims of this noble author are in the hands of every one. To those who choose to derive every motive and every action from the solitary principle of self-love, they are inestimable. They form one continued satire on human nature; but they are not reconcilable to the feelings of the man of better sympathies, or to him who passes through life with the firm integrity of virtue. Even at court we find a Sully, a Malesherbes, and a Clarendon, as well as a Rouchefoucault and a Chesterfield.

The Duke de la Rochefoucault, says Segrais, had not studied; but he was endowed with a wonderful degree of discernment, and knew the world perfectly well. This afforded him opportunities of making reflections, and reducing into maxims those discoveries which he had made in the heart of man, of which he displayed an admirable knowledge.

It is perhaps worthy of observation, that this celebrated French duke could never summon resolution, at his election, to address the Academy. Although chosen a member, he never entered, for such was his timidity, that he could not face an audience and deliver the usual compliment on his introduction; he whose courage, whose birth, and whose genius were alike distinguished. The fact is, as appears by Mad. de Sévigné, that Rochefoucault lived a close domestic life; there must be at least as much theoretical as practical knowledge in the opinions of such a retired philosopher.

Chesterfield, our English Rochefoucault, we are also informed, possessed an admirable knowledge of the heart of man; and he, too, has drawn a similar picture of human[Pg 111] nature. These are two noble authors whose chief studies seem to have been made in courts. May it not be possible, allowing these authors not to have written a sentence of apocrypha, that the fault lies not so much in human nature as in the satellites of Power breathing their corrupt atmosphere?


Were we to investigate the genealogy of our best modern stories, we should often discover the illegitimacy of our favourites; and retrace them frequently to the East. My well-read friend Douce had collected materials for such a work. The genealogies of tales would have gratified the curious in literature.

The story of the ring of Hans Carvel is of very ancient standing, as are most of the tales of this kind.

Menage says that Poggius, who died in 1459, has the merit of its invention; but I suspect he only related a very popular story.

Rabelais, who has given it in his peculiar manner, changed its original name of Philelphus to that of Hans Carvel.

This title is likewise in the eleventh of Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles collected in 1461, for the amusement of Louis XI. when Dauphin, and living in solitude.

Ariosto has borrowed it, at the end of his fifth Satire; but has fairly appropriated it by his pleasant manner.

In a collection of novels at Lyons, in 1555, it is introduced into the eleventh novel.

Celio Malespini has it again in page 288 of the second part of his Two Hundred Novels, printed at Venice in 1609.

Fontaine has prettily set it off, and an anonymous writer has composed it in Latin Anacreontic verses; and at length our Prior has given it with equal gaiety and freedom. After Ariosto, La Fontaine, and Prior, let us hear of it no more; yet this has been done, in a manner, however, which here cannot be told.

Voltaire has a curious essay to show that most of our best modern stories and plots originally belonged to the eastern nations, a fact which has been made more evident by recent researches. The Amphitryon of Molière was an imitation of Plautus, who borrowed it from the Greeks, and they took it from the Indians! It is given by Dow in his History of[Pg 112] Hindostan. In Captain Scott's Tales and Anecdotes from Arabian writers, we are surprised at finding so many of our favourites very ancient orientalists.—The Ephesian Matron, versified by La Fontaine, was borrowed from the Italians; it is to be found in Petronius, and Petronius had it from the Greeks. But where did the Greeks find it? In the Arabian Tales! And from whence did the Arabian fabulists borrow it? From the Chinese! It is found in Du Halde, who collected it from the Versions of the Jesuits.


A man of letters, more intent on the acquisitions of literature than on the intrigues of politics, or the speculations of commerce, may find a deeper solitude in a populous metropolis than in the seclusion of the country.

The student, who is no flatterer of the little passions of men, will not be much incommoded by their presence. Gibbon paints his own situation in the heart of the fashionable world:—"I had not been endowed by art or nature with those happy gifts of confidence and address which unlock every door and every bosom. While coaches were rattling through Bond-street, I have passed many a solitary evening in my lodging with my books. I withdrew without reluctance from the noisy and extensive scene of crowds without company, and dissipation without pleasure." And even after he had published the first volume of his History, he observes that in London his confinement was solitary and sad; "the many forgot my existence when they saw me no longer at Brookes's, and the few who sometimes had a thought on their friend were detained by business or pleasure, and I was proud and happy if I could prevail on my bookseller, Elmsly, to enliven the dulness of the evening."

A situation, very elegantly described in the beautifully polished verses of Mr. Rogers, in his "Epistle to a Friend:"

When from his classic dreams the student steals
Amid the buzz of crowds, the whirl of wheels,
To muse unnoticed, while around him press
The meteor-forms of equipage and dress;
Alone in wonder lost, he seems to stand
A very stranger in his native land.

He compares the student to one of the seven sleepers in the ancient legend.[Pg 113]

Descartes residing in the commercial city of Amsterdam, writing to Balzac, illustrates these descriptions with great force and vivacity.

"You wish to retire; and your intention is to seek the solitude of the Chartreux, or, possibly, some of the most beautiful provinces of France and Italy. I would rather advise you, if you wish to observe mankind, and at the same time to lose yourself in the deepest solitude, to join me in Amsterdam. I prefer this situation to that even of your delicious villa, where I spent so great a part of the last year; for, however agreeable a country-house may be, a thousand little conveniences are wanted, which can only be found in a city. One is not alone so frequently in the country as one could wish: a number of impertinent visitors are continually besieging you. Here, as all the world, except myself, is occupied in commerce, it depends merely on myself to live unknown to the world. I walk every day amongst immense ranks of people, with as much tranquillity as you do in your green alleys. The men I meet with make the same impression on my mind as would the trees of your forests, or the flocks of sheep grazing on your common. The busy hum too of these merchants does not disturb one more than the purling of your brooks. If sometimes I amuse myself in contemplating their anxious motions, I receive the same pleasure which you do in observing those men who cultivate your land; for I reflect that the end of all their labours is to embellish the city which I inhabit, and to anticipate all my wants. If you contemplate with delight the fruits of your orchards, with all the rich promises of abundance, do you think I feel less in observing so many fleets that convey to me the productions of either India? What spot on earth could you find, which, like this, can so interest your vanity and gratify your taste?"


The Jews have their Talmud; the Catholics their Legends of Saints; and the Turks their Sonnah. The Protestant has nothing but his Bible. The former are three kindred works. Men have imagined that the more there is to be believed, the more are the merits of the believer. Hence all traditionists formed the orthodox and the[Pg 114] strongest party. The word of God is lost amidst those heaps of human inventions, sanctioned by an order of men connected with religious duties; they ought now, however, to be regarded rather as Curiosities of Literature. I give a sufficiently ample account of the Talmud and the Legends; but of the Sonnah I only know that it is a collection of the traditional opinions of the Turkish prophets, directing the observance of petty superstitions not mentioned in the Koran.

The Talmud is a collection of Jewish traditions which have been orally preserved. It comprises the Mishna, which is the text; and the Gemara, its commentary. The whole forms a complete system of the learning, ceremonies, civil and canon laws of the Jews; treating indeed on all subjects; even gardening, manual arts, &c. The rigid Jews persuaded themselves that these traditional explications are of divine origin. The Pentateuch, say they, was written out by their legislator before his death in thirteen copies, distributed among the twelve tribes, and the remaining one deposited in the ark. The oral law Moses continually taught in the Sanhedrim, to the elders and the rest of the people. The law was repeated four times; but the interpretation was delivered only by word of mouth from generation to generation. In the fortieth year of the flight from Egypt, the memory of the people became treacherous, and Moses was constrained to repeat this oral law, which had been conveyed by successive traditionists. Such is the account of honest David Levi; it is the creed of every rabbin.—David believed in everything but in Jesus.

This history of the Talmud some inclined to suppose apocryphal, even among a few of the Jews themselves. When these traditions first appeared, the keenest controversy has never been able to determine. It cannot be denied that there existed traditions among the Jews in the time of Jesus Christ. About the second century, they were industriously collected by Rabbi Juda the Holy, the prince of the rabbins, who enjoyed the favour of Antoninus Pius. He has the merit of giving some order to this multifarious collection.

It appears that the Talmud was compiled by certain Jewish doctors, who were solicited for this purpose by their nation, that they might have something to oppose to their Christian adversaries.

The learned W. Wotton, in his curious "Discourses" on[Pg 115] the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, supplies an analysis of this vast collection; he has translated entire two divisions of this code of traditional laws, with the original text and the notes.

There are two Talmuds: the Jerusalem and the Babylonian. The last is the most esteemed, because it is the most bulky.

R. Juda, the prince of the rabbins, committed to writing all these traditions, and arranged them under six general heads, called orders or classes. The subjects are indeed curious for philosophical inquirers, and multifarious as the events of civil life. Every order is formed of treatises; every treatise is divided into chapters, every chapter into mishnas, which word means mixtures or miscellanies, in the form of aphorisms. In the first part is discussed what relates to seeds, fruits, and trees; in the second, feasts; in the third, women, their duties, their disorders, marriages, divorces, contracts, and nuptials; in the fourth, are treated the damages or losses sustained by beasts or men; of things found; deposits; usuries; rents; farms; partnerships in commerce; inheritance; sales and purchases; oaths; witnesses; arrests; idolatry; and here are named those by whom the oral law was received and preserved. In the fifth part are noticed sacrifices and holy things; and the sixth treats of purifications; vessels; furniture; clothes; houses; leprosy; baths; and numerous other articles. All this forms the Mishna.

The Gemara, that is, the complement or perfection, contains the Disputes and the Opinions of the Rabbins on the oral traditions. Their last decisions. It must be confessed that absurdities are sometimes elucidated by other absurdities; but there are many admirable things in this vast repository. The Jews have such veneration for this compilation, that they compare the holy writings to water, and the Talmud to wine; the text of Moses to pepper, but the Talmud to aromatics. Of the twelve hours of which the day is composed, they tell us that God employs nine to study the Talmud, and only three to read the written law!

St. Jerome appears evidently to allude to this work, and notices its "Old Wives' Tales," and the filthiness of some of its matters. The truth is, that the rabbins resembled the Jesuits and Casuists; and Sanchez's work on "Matrimonio" is well known to agitate matters with such scrupulous niceties as to become the most offensive thing possible. But as among[Pg 116] the schoolmen and casuists there have been great men, the same happened to these Gemaraists. Maimonides was a pillar of light among their darkness. The antiquity of this work is of itself sufficient to make it very curious.

A specimen of the topics may be shown from the table and contents of "Mishnic Titles." In the order of seeds, we find the following heads, which present no uninteresting picture of the pastoral and pious ceremonies of the ancient Jews.

The Mishna, entitled the Corner, i.e. of the field. The laws of gleaning are commanded according to Leviticus; xix. 9, 10. Of the corner to be left in a corn-field. When the corner is due and when not. Of the forgotten sheaf. Of the ears of corn left in gathering. Of grapes left upon the vine. Of olives left upon the trees. When and where the poor may lawfully glean. What sheaf, or olives, or grapes, may be looked upon to be forgotten, and what not. Who are the proper witnesses concerning the poor's due, to exempt it from tithing, &c. They distinguished uncircumcised fruit:—it is unlawful to eat of the fruit of any tree till the fifth year of its growth: the first three years of its bearing, it is called uncircumcised; the fourth is offered to God; and the fifth may be eaten.

The Mishna, entitled Heterogeneous Mixtures, contains several curious horticultural particulars. Of divisions between garden-beds and fields, that the produce of the several sorts of grains or seeds may appear distinct. Of the distance between every species. Distances between vines planted in corn-fields from one another and from the corn; between vines planted against hedges, walls, or espaliers, and anything sowed near them. Various cases relating to vineyards planted near any forbidden seeds.

In their seventh, or sabbatical year, in which the produce of all estates was given up to the poor, one of these regulations is on the different work which must not be omitted in the sixth year, lest (because the seventh being devoted to the poor) the produce should be unfairly diminished, and the public benefit arising from this law be frustrated. Of whatever is not perennial, and produced that year by the earth, no money may be made; but what is perennial may be sold.

On priests' tithes, we have a regulation concerning eating the fruits carried to the place where they are to be separated.

The order women is very copious. A husband is obliged to[Pg 117] forbid his wife to keep a particular man's company before two witnesses. Of the waters of jealousy by which a suspected woman is to be tried by drinking, we find ample particulars. The ceremonies of clothing the accused woman at her trial. Pregnant women, or who suckle, are not obliged to drink for the rabbins seem to be well convinced of the effects of the imagination. Of their divorces many are the laws; and care is taken to particularise bills of divorces written by men in delirium or dangerously ill. One party of the rabbins will not allow of any divorce, unless something light was found in the woman's character, while another (the Pharisees) allow divorces even when a woman has only been so unfortunate as to suffer her husband's soup to be burnt!

In the order of damages, containing rules how to tax the damages done by man or beast, or other casualties, their distinctions are as nice as their cases are numerous. What beasts are innocent and what convict. By the one they mean creatures not naturally used to do mischief in any particular way; and by the other, those that naturally, or by a vicious habit, are mischievous that way. The tooth of a beast is convict, when it is proved to eat its usual food, the property of another man, and full restitution must be made; but if a beast that is used to eat fruits and herbs gnaws clothes or damages tools, which are not its usual food, the owner of the beast shall pay but half the damage when committed on the property of the injured person; but if the injury is committed on the property of the person who does the damage, he is free, because the beast gnawed what was not its usual food. As thus; if the beast of A. gnaws or tears the clothes of B. in B.'s house or grounds, A. shall pay half the damages; but if B.'s clothes are injured in A.'s grounds by A.'s beast, A. is free, for what had B. to do to put his clothes in A.'s grounds? They made such subtile distinctions, as when an ox gores a man or beast, the law inquired into the habits of the beast; whether it was an ox that used to gore, or an ox that was not used to gore. However acute these niceties sometimes were, they were often ridiculous. No beast could be convicted of being vicious till evidence was given that he had done mischief three successive days; but if he leaves off those vicious tricks for three days more, he is innocent again. An ox may be convict of goring an ox and not a man, or of goring a man and not an ox: nay; of goring on the sabbath, and not on a working day. Their aim was to make the[Pg 118] punishment depend on the proofs of the design of the beast that did the injury; but this attempt evidently led them to distinctions much too subtile and obscure. Thus some rabbins say that the morning prayer of the Shemáh must be read at the time they can distinguish blue from white; but another, more indulgent, insists it may be when we can distinguish blue from green! which latter colours are so near akin as to require a stronger light. With the same remarkable acuteness in distinguishing things, is their law respecting not touching fire on the Sabbath. Among those which are specified in this constitution, the rabbins allow the minister to look over young children by lamp-light, but he shall not read himself. The minister is forbidden to read by lamp-light, lest he should trim his lamp; but he may direct the children where they should read, because that is quickly done, and there would be no danger of his trimming his lamp in their presence, or suffering any of them to do it in his. All these regulations, which some may conceive as minute and frivolous, show a great intimacy with the human heart, and a spirit of profound observation which had been capable of achieving great purposes.

The owner of an innocent beast only pays half the costs for the mischief incurred. Man is always convict, and for all mischief he does he must pay full costs. However there are casual damages,—as when a man pours water accidentally on another man; or makes a thorn-hedge which annoys his neighbour; or falling down, and another by stumbling on him incurs harm: how such compensations are to be made. He that has a vessel of another's in keeping, and removes it, but in the removal breaks it, must swear to his own integrity; i.e., that he had no design to break it. All offensive or noisy trades were to be carried on at a certain distance from a town. Where there is an estate, the sons inherit, and the daughters are maintained; but if there is not enough for all, the daughters are maintained, and the sons must get their living as they can, or even beg. The contrary to this excellent ordination has been observed in Europe.

These few titles may enable the reader to form a general notion of the several subjects on which the Mishna treats. The Gemara or Commentary is often overloaded with ineptitudes and ridiculous subtilties. For instance, in the article of "Negative Oaths." If a man swears he will eat no bread, and does eat all sorts of bread, in that case the perjury is but[Pg 119] one; but if he swears that he will eat neither barley, nor wheaten, nor rye-bread, the perjury is multiplied as he multiplies his eating of the several sorts.—Again, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had strong differences about touching the holy writings with their hands. The doctors ordained that whoever touched the book of the law must not eat of the truma (first fruits of the wrought produce of the ground), till they had washed their hands. The reason they gave was this. In times of persecution, they used to hide those sacred books in secret places, and good men would lay them out of the way when they had done reading them. It was possible, then, that these rolls of the law might be gnawed by mice. The hands then that touched these books when they took them out of the places where they had laid them up, were supposed to be unclean, so far as to disable them from eating the truma till they were washed. On that account they made this a general rule, that if any part of the Bible (except Ecclesiastes, because that excellent book their sagacity accounted less holy than the rest) or their phylacteries, or the strings of their phylacteries, were touched by one who had a right to eat the truma, he might not eat it till he had washed his hands. An evidence of that superstitious trifling, for which the Pharisees and the later Rabbins have been so justly reprobated.

They were absurdly minute in the literal observance of their vows, and as shamefully subtile in their artful evasion of them. The Pharisees could be easy enough to themselves when convenient, and always as hard and unrelenting as possible to all others. They quibbled, and dissolved their vows, with experienced casuistry. Jesus reproaches the Pharisees in Matthew xv. and Mark vii. for flagrantly violating the fifth commandment, by allowing the vow of a son, perhaps made in hasty anger, its full force, when he had sworn that his father should never be the better for him, or anything he had, and by which an indigent father might be suffered to starve. There is an express case to this purpose in the Mishna, in the title of Vows. The reader may be amused by the story:—A man made a vow that his father should not profit by him. This man afterwards made a wedding-feast for his son, and wishes his father should be present; but he cannot invite him, because he is tied up by his vow. He invented this expedient:—He makes a gift of the court in which the feast was to be kept, and of the feast itself, to a[Pg 120] third person in trust, that his father should be invited by that third person, with the other company whom he at first designed. This third person then says—If these things you thus have given me are mine, I will dedicate them to God, and then none of you can be the better for them. The son replied—I did not give them to you that you should consecrate them. Then the third man said—Yours was no donation, only you were willing to eat and drink with your father. Thus, says R. Juda, they dissolved each other's intentions; and when the case came before the rabbins, they decreed that a gift which may not be consecrated by the person to whom it is given is not a gift.

The following extract from the Talmud exhibits a subtile mode of reasoning, which the Jews adopted when the learned of Rome sought to persuade them to conform to their idolatry. It forms an entire Mishna, entitled Sedir Nezikin, Avoda Zara, iv. 7. on idolatrous worship, translated by Wotton.

"Some Roman senators examined the Jews in this manner:—If God hath no delight in the worship of idols, why did he not destroy them? The Jews made answer—If men had worshipped only things of which the world had had no need, he would have destroyed the object of their worship; but they also worship the sun and moon, stars and planets; and then he must have destroyed his world for the sake of these deluded men. But still, said the Romans, why does not God destroy the things which the world does not want, and leave those things which the world cannot be without? Because, replied the Jews, this would strengthen the hands of such as worship these necessary things, who would then say—Ye allow now that these are gods, since they are not destroyed."


The preceding article furnishes some of the more serious investigations to be found in the Talmud. Its levities may amuse. I leave untouched the gross obscenities and immoral decisions. The Talmud contains a vast collection of stories, apologues, and jests; many display a vein of pleasantry, and at times have a wildness of invention, which sufficiently mark the features of an eastern parent. Many extravagantly puerile were designed merely to recreate their young students. When a rabbin was asked the reason of so much nonsense, he replied[Pg 121] that the ancients had a custom of introducing music in their lectures, which accompaniment made them more agreeable; but that not having musical instruments in the schools, the rabbins invented these strange stories to arouse attention. This was ingeniously said; but they make miserable work when they pretend to give mystical interpretations to pure nonsense.

In 1711, a German professor of the Oriental languages, Dr. Eisenmenger, published in two large volumes quarto, his "Judaism Discovered," a ponderous labour, of which the scope was to ridicule the Jewish traditions.

I shall give a dangerous adventure into which King David was drawn by the devil. The king one day hunting, Satan appeared before him in the likeness of a roe. David discharged an arrow at him, but missed his aim. He pursued the feigned roe into the land of the Philistines. Ishbi, the brother of Goliath, instantly recognised the king as him who had slain that giant. He bound him, and bending him neck and heels, laid him under a wine-press in order to press him to death. A miracle saves David. The earth beneath him became soft, and Ishbi could not press wine out of him. That evening in the Jewish congregation a dove, whose wings were covered with silver, appeared in great perplexity; and evidently signified the king of Israel was in trouble. Abishai, one of the king's counsellors, inquiring for the king, and finding him absent, is at a loss to proceed, for according to the Mishna, no one may ride on the king's horse, nor sit upon his throne, nor use his sceptre. The school of the rabbins, however, allowed these things in time of danger. On this Abishai vaults on David's horse, and (with an Oriental metaphor) the land of the Philistines leaped to him instantly! Arrived at Ishbi's house, he beholds his mother Orpa spinning. Perceiving the Israelite, she snatched up her spinning-wheel and threw it at him, to kill him; but not hitting him, she desired him to bring the spinning-wheel to her. He did not do this exactly, but returned it to her in such a way that she never asked any more for her spinning-wheel. When Ishbi saw this, and recollecting that David, though tied up neck and heels, was still under the wine-press, he cried out. "There are now two who will destroy me!" So he threw David high up into the air, and stuck his spear into the ground, imagining that David would fall upon it and perish. But Abishai pronounced the magical name, which the Talmudists frequently[Pg 122] make use of, and it caused David to hover between earth and heaven, so that he fell not down! Both at length unite against Ishbi, and observing that two young lions should kill one lion, find no difficulty in getting rid of the brother of Goliath.

Of Solomon, another favourite hero of the Talmudists, a fine Arabian story is told. This king was an adept in necromancy, and a male and a female devil were always in waiting for an emergency. It is observable, that the Arabians, who have many stories concerning Solomon, always describe him as a magician. His adventures with Aschmedai, the prince of devils, are numerous; and they both (the king and the devil) served one another many a slippery trick. One of the most remarkable is when Aschmedai, who was prisoner to Solomon, the king having contrived to possess himself of the devil's seal-ring, and chained him, one day offered to answer an unholy question put to him by Solomon, provided he returned him his seal-ring and loosened his chain. The impertinent curiosity of Solomon induced him to commit this folly. Instantly Aschmedai swallowed the monarch; and stretching out his wings up to the firmament of heaven, one of his feet remaining on the earth, he spit out Solomon four hundred leagues from him. This was done so privately, that no one knew anything of the matter. Aschmedai then assumed the likeness of Solomon, and sat on his throne. From that hour did Solomon say, "This then is the reward of all my labour," according to Ecclesiasticus i. 3; which this means, one rabbin says, his walking-staff; and another insists was his ragged coat. For Solomon went a begging from door to door; and wherever he came he uttered these words; "I, the preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem." At length coming before the council, and still repeating these remarkable words, without addition or variation, the rabbins said, "This means something: for a fool is not constant in his tale!" They asked the chamberlain, if the king frequently saw him? and he replied to them, No! Then they sent to the queens, to ask if the king came into their apartments? and they answered, Yes! The rabbins then sent them a message to take notice of his feet; for the feet of devils are like the feet of cocks. The queens acquainted them that his majesty always came in slippers, but forced them to embrace at times forbidden by the law. He had attempted to lie with his mother Bathsheba, whom he had almost torn to pieces. At this the[Pg 123] rabbins assembled in great haste, and taking the beggar with them, they gave him the ring and the chain in which the great magical name was engraven, and led him to the palace. Asehmedai was sitting on the throne as the real Solomon entered; but instantly he shrieked and flew away. Yet to his last day was Solomon afraid of the prince of devils, and had his bed guarded by the valiant men of Israel, as is written in Cant. iii. 7, 8.

They frequently display much humour in their inventions, as in the following account of the manners and morals of an infamous town, which mocked at all justice. There were in Sodom four judges, who were liars, and deriders of justice. When any one had struck his neighbour's wife, and caused her to miscarry, these judges thus counselled the husband:—"Give her to the offender, that he may get her with child for thee." When any one had cut off an ear of his neighbour's ass, they said to the owner—"Let him have the ass till the ear is grown again, that it may be returned to thee as thou wishest." When any one had wounded his neighbour, they told the wounded man to "give him a fee for letting him blood." A toll was exacted in passing a certain bridge; but if any one chose to wade through the water, or walk round about to save it, he was condemned to a double toll. Eleasar, Abraham's servant, came thither, and they wounded him. When, before the judge, he was ordered to pay his fee for having his blood let, Eleasar flung a stone at the judge, and wounded him; on which the judge said to him—"What meaneth this?" Eleasar replied—"Give him who wounded me the fee that is due to myself for wounding thee." The people of this town had a bedstead on which they laid travellers who asked for rest. If any one was too long for it, they cut off his legs; and if he was shorter than the bedstead, they strained him to its head and foot. When a beggar came to this town, every one gave him a penny, on which was inscribed the donor's name; but they would sell him no bread, nor let him escape. When the beggar died from hunger, then they came about him, and each man took back his penny. These stories are curious inventions of keen mockery and malice, seasoned with humour. It is said some of the famous decisions of Sancho Panza are to be found in the Talmud.

Abraham is said to have been jealous of his wives, and built an enchanted city for them. He built an iron city and put[Pg 124] them in. The walls were so high and dark, the sun could not be seen in it. He gave them a bowl full of pearls and jewels, which sent forth a light in this dark city equal to the sun. Noah, it seems, when in the ark, had no other light than jewels and pearls. Abraham, in travelling to Egypt, brought with him a chest. At the custom-house the officers exacted the duties. Abraham would have readily paid, but desired they would not open the chest. They first insisted on the duty for clothes, which Abraham consented to pay; but then they thought, by his ready acquiescence, that it might be gold. Abraham consents to pay for gold. They now suspected it might be silk. Abraham was willing to pay for silk, or more costly pearls; and Abraham generously consented to pay as if the chest contained the most valuable of things. It was then they resolved to open and examine the chest; and, behold, as soon as that chest was opened, that great lustre of human beauty broke out which made such a noise in the land of Egypt; it was Sarah herself! The jealous Abraham, to conceal her beauty, had locked her up in this chest.

The whole creation in these rabbinical fancies is strangely gigantic and vast. The works of eastern nations are full of these descriptions; and Hesiod's Theogony, and Milton's battles of angels, are puny in comparison with these rabbinical heroes, or rabbinical things. Mountains are hurled, with all their woods, with great ease, and creatures start into existence too terrible for our conceptions. The winged monster in the "Arabian Nights," called the Roc, is evidently one of the creatures of rabbinical fancy; it would sometimes, when very hungry, seize and fly away with an elephant. Captain Cook found a bird's nest in an island near New Holland, built with sticks on the ground, six-and-twenty feet in circumference, and near three feet in height. But of the rabbinical birds, fish, and animals, it is not probable any circumnavigator will ever trace even the slightest vestige or resemblance.

One of their birds, when it spreads its wings, blots out the sun. An egg from another fell out of its nest, and the white thereof broke and glued about three hundred cedar-trees, and overflowed a village. One of them stands up to the lower joint of the leg in a river, and some mariners, imagining the water was not deep, were hastening to bathe, when a voice from heaven said—"Step not in there, for seven years ago there a carpenter dropped his axe, and it hath not yet reached the bottom."[Pg 125]

The following passage, concerning fat geese, is perfectly in the style of these rabbins:—"A rabbin once saw in a desert a flock of geese so fat that their feathers fell off, and the rivers flowed in fat. Then said I to them, shall we have part of you in the other world when the Messiah shall come? And one of them lifted up a wing, and another a leg, to signify these parts we should have. We should otherwise have had all parts of these geese; but we Israelites shall be called to an account touching these fat geese, because their sufferings are owing to us. It is our iniquities that have delayed the coming of the Messiah; and these geese suffer greatly by reason of their excessive fat, which daily and daily increases, and will increase till the Messiah comes!"

What the manna was which fell in the wilderness, has often been disputed, and still is disputable; it was sufficient for the rabbins to have found in the Bible that the taste of it was "as a wafer made with honey," to have raised their fancy to its pitch. They declare it was "like oil to children, honey to old men, and cakes to middle age." It had every kind of taste except that of cucumbers, melons, garlic, and onions, and leeks, for these were those Egyptian roots which the Israelites so much regretted to have lost. This manna had, however, the quality to accommodate itself to the palate of those who did not murmur in the wilderness; and to these it became fish, flesh, or fowl.

The rabbins never advance an absurdity without quoting a text in Scripture; and to substantiate this fact they quote Deut. ii. 7, where it is said, "Through this great wilderness these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee, and thou hast lacked nothing!" St. Austin repeats this explanation of the Rabbins, that the faithful found in this manna the taste of their favourite food! However, the Israelites could not have found all these benefits, as the rabbins tell us; for in Numbers xi. 6, they exclaim, "There is nothing at all besides this manna before our eyes!" They had just said that they remembered the melons, cucumbers, &c., which they had eaten of so freely in Egypt. One of the hyperboles of the rabbins is, that the manna fell in such mountains, that the kings of the east and the west beheld them; which they found on a passage in the 23rd Psalm; "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies!" These may serve as specimens of the forced interpretations on which their grotesque fables are founded.[Pg 126]

Their detestation of Titus, their great conqueror, appears by the following wild invention. After having narrated certain things too shameful to read, of a prince whom Josephus describes in far different colours, they tell us that on sea Titus tauntingly observed, in a great storm, that the God of the Jews was only powerful on the water, and that, therefore, he had succeeded in drowning Pharaoh and Sisera. "Had he been strong, he would have waged war with me in Jerusalem." On uttering this blasphemy, a voice from heaven said, "Wicked man! I have a little creature in the world which shall wage war with thee!" When Titus landed, a gnat entered his nostrils, and for seven years together made holes in his brains. When his skull was opened, the gnat was found to be as large as a pigeon: the mouth of the gnat was of copper, and the claws of iron. A collection which has recently appeared of these Talmudical stories has not been executed with any felicity of selection. That there are, however, some beautiful inventions in the Talmud, I refer to the story of Solomon and Sheba, in the present volume.


It is probable that this custom, so universally prevalent, originated in some ancient superstition; it seems to have excited inquiry among all nations.

"Some Catholics," says Father Feyjoo, "have attributed the origin of this custom to the ordinance of a pope, Saint Gregory, who is said to have instituted a short benediction to be used on such occasions, at a time when, during a pestilence, the crisis was attended by sneezing, and in most cases followed by death."

But the rabbins, who have a story for everything, say, that before Jacob men never sneezed but once, and then immediately died: they assure us that that patriarch was the first who died by natural disease; before him all men died by sneezing; the memory of which was ordered to be preserved in all nations, by a command of every prince to his subjects to employ some salutary exclamation after the act of sneezing. But these are Talmudical dreams, and only serve to prove that so familiar a custom has always excited inquiry.[Pg 127]

Even Aristotle has delivered some considerable nonsense on this custom; he says it is an honourable acknowledgment of the seat of good sense and genius—the head—to distinguish it from two other offensive eruptions of air, which are never accompanied by any benediction from the by-standers. The custom, at all events, existed long prior to Pope Gregory. The lover in Apuleius, Gyton in Petronius, and allusions to it in Pliny, prove its antiquity; and a memoir of the French Academy notices the practice in the New World, on the first discovery of America. Everywhere man is saluted for sneezing.

An amusing account of the ceremonies which attend the sneezing of a king of Monomotapa, shows what a national concern may be the sneeze of despotism.—Those who are near his person, when this happens, salute him in so loud a tone, that persons in the ante-chamber hear it, and join in the acclamation; in the adjoining apartments they do the same, till the noise reaches the street, and becomes propagated throughout the city; so that, at each sneeze of his majesty, results a most horrid cry from the salutations of many thousands of his vassals.

When the king of Sennaar sneezes, his courtiers immediately turn their backs on him, and give a loud slap on their right thigh.

With the ancients sneezing was ominous;[42] from the right it was considered auspicious; and Plutarch, in his Life of Themistocles, says, that before a naval battle it was a sign of conquest! Catullus, in his pleasing poem of Acmè and Septimus, makes this action from the deity of Love, from the left, the source of his fiction. The passage has been elegantly versified by a poetical friend, who finds authority that the gods sneezing on the right in heaven, is supposed to come to us on earth on the left.[Pg 128]

Cupid sneezing in his flight,
Once was heard upon the right,
Boding woe to lovers true;
But now upon the left he flew,
And with sporting sneeze divine,
Gave to joy the sacred sign.
Acmè bent her lovely face,
Flush'd with rapture's rosy grace,
And those eyes that swam in bliss,
Prest with many a breathing kiss;
Breathing, murmuring, soft, and low,
Thus might life for ever flow!
"Love of my life, and life of love!
Cupid rules our fates above,
Ever let us vow to join
In homage at his happy shrine."
Cupid heard the lovers true,
Again upon the left he flew,
And with sporting sneeze divine,
Renew'd of joy the sacred sign!


A happy art in the relation of a story is, doubtless, a very agreeable talent; it has obtained La Fontaine all the applause which his charming naïveté deserves.

Of "Bonaventure de Periers, Valet de Chambre de la Royne de Navarre," there are three little volumes of tales in prose, in the quaint or the coarse pleasantry of that day. The following is not given as the best, but as it introduces a novel etymology of a word in great use:—

"A student at law, who studied at Poitiers, had tolerably improved himself in cases of equity; not that he was over-burthened with learning; but his chief deficiency was a want of assurance and confidence to display his knowledge. His father, passing by Poitiers, recommended him to read aloud, and to render his memory more prompt by continued exercise. To obey the injunctions of his father, he determined to read at the Ministery. In order to obtain a certain quantity of assurance, he went every day into a garden, which was a very retired spot, being at a distance from any house, and where there grew a great number of fine large cabbages. Thus for a long time he pursued his studies, and repeated his lectures to these cabbages, addressing them by the title of gentlemen, and balancing his periods to them as if they had composed an audience of scholars. After a fort-night or three weeks' preparation, he thought it was high[Pg 129] time to take the chair; imagining that he should be able to lecture his scholars as well as he had before done his cabbages. He comes forward, he begins his oration—but before a dozen words his tongue freezes between his teeth! Confused, and hardly knowing where he was, all he could bring out was—Domini, Ego bene video quod non eslis caules; that is to say—for there are some who will have everything in plain English—Gentlemen, I now clearly see you are not cabbages! In the garden he could conceive the cabbages to be scholars; but in the chair, he could not conceive the scholars to be cabbages."

On this story La Monnoye has a note, which gives a new origin to a familiar term.

"The hall of the School of Equity at Poitiers, where the institutes were read, was called La Ministerie. On which head Florimond de Remond (book vii. ch. 11), speaking of Albert Babinot, one of the first disciples of Calvin, after having said he was called 'The good man,' adds, that because he had been a student of the institutes at this Ministerie of Poitiers, Calvin and others styled him Mr. Minister; from whence, afterwards Calvin took occasion to give the name of Ministers to the pastors of his church."


The Life of Grotius shows the singular felicity of a man of letters and a statesman, and how a student can pass his hours in the closest imprisonment. The gate of the prison has sometimes been the porch of fame.

Grotius, studious from his infancy, had also received from Nature the faculty of genius, and was so fortunate as to find in his father a tutor who formed his early taste and his moral feelings. The younger Grotius, in imitation of Horace, has celebrated his gratitude in verse.

One of the most interesting circumstances in the life of this great man, which strongly marks his genius and fortitude, is displayed in the manner in which he employed his time during his imprisonment. Other men, condemned to exile and captivity, if they survive, despair; the man of letters may reckon those days as the sweetest of his life.

When a prisoner at the Hague, he laboured on a Latin essay on the means of terminating religious disputes, which[Pg 130] occasion so many infelicities in the state, in the church, and in families; when he was carried to Louvenstein, he resumed his law studies, which other employments had interrupted. He gave a portion of his time to moral philosophy, which engaged him to translate the maxims of the ancient poets, collected by Stobæus, and the fragments of Menander and Philemon.

Every Sunday was devoted to the Scriptures, and to his Commentaries on the New Testament. In the course of the work he fell ill; but as soon as he recovered his health, he composed his treatise, in Dutch verse, on the Truth of the Christian Religion. Sacred and profane authors occupied him alternately. His only mode of refreshing his mind was to pass from one work to another. He sent to Vossius his observations on the Tragedies of Seneca. He wrote several other works—particularly a little Catechism, in verse, for his daughter Cornelia—and collected materials to form his Apology. Although he produced thus abundantly, his confinement was not more than two years. We may well exclaim here, that the mind of Grotius had never been imprisoned.

To these various labours we may add an extensive correspondence he held with the learned; his letters were often so many treatises, and there is a printed collection amounting to two thousand. Grotius had notes ready for every classical author of antiquity, whenever a new edition was prepared; an account of his plans and his performances might furnish a volume of themselves; yet he never published in haste, and was fond of revising them. We must recollect, notwithstanding such uninterrupted literary avocations, his hours were frequently devoted to the public functions of an ambassador:—"I only reserve for my studies the time which other ministers give to their pleasures, to conversations often useless, and to visits sometimes unnecessary." Such is the language of this great man!

I have seen this great student censured for neglecting his official duties; but, to decide on this accusation, it would be necessary to know the character of his accuser.[Pg 131]


I offer to the contemplation of those unfortunate mortals who are necessitated to undergo the criticisms of lords, this pair of anecdotes:—

Soderini, the Gonfalonière of Florence, having had a statue made by the great Michael Angelo, when it was finished, came to inspect it; and having for some time sagaciously considered it, poring now on the face, then on the arms, the knees, the form of the leg, and at length on the foot itself; the statue being of such perfect beauty, he found himself at a loss to display his powers of criticism, only by lavishing his praise. But only to praise might appear as if there had been an obtuseness in the keenness of his criticism. He trembled to find a fault, but a fault must be found. At length he ventured to mutter something concerning the nose—it might, he thought, be something more Grecian. Angelo differed from his Grace, but he said he would attempt to gratify his taste. He took up his chisel, and concealed some marble dust in his hand; feigning to re-touch the part, he adroitly let fall some of the dust he held concealed. The Cardinal observing it as it fell, transported at the idea of his critical acumen, exclaimed—"Ah, Angelo, you have now given an inimitable grace!"

When Pope was first introduced to read his Iliad to Lord Halifax, the noble critic did not venture to be dissatisfied with so perfect a composition; but, like the cardinal, this passage, and that word, this turn, and that expression, formed the broken cant of his criticisms. The honest poet was stung with vexation; for, in general, the parts at which his lordship hesitated were those with which he was most satisfied. As he returned home with Sir Samuel Garth, he revealed to him the anxiety of his mind. "Oh," replied Garth, laughing, "you are not so well acquainted with his lordship as myself; he must criticize. At your next visit, read to him those very passages as they now stand; tell him that you have recollected his criticisms; and I'll warrant you of his approbation of them. This is what I have done a hundred times myself." Pope made use of this stratagem; it took, like the marble dust of Angelo; and my lord, like the cardinal, exclaimed—"Dear Pope, they are now inimitable!"[Pg 132]


Some authors have practised singular impositions on the public. Varillas, the French historian, enjoyed for some time a great reputation in his own country for his historical compositions; but when they became more known, the scholars of other countries destroyed the reputation which he had unjustly acquired. His continual professions of sincerity prejudiced many in his favour, and made him pass for a writer who had penetrated into the inmost recesses of the cabinet; but the public were at length undeceived, and were convinced that the historical anecdotes which Varillas put off for authentic facts had no foundation, being wholly his own inventions—though he endeavoured to make them pass for realities by affected citations of titles, instructions, letters, memoirs, and relations, all of them imaginary! He had read almost everything historical, printed and manuscript; but his fertile political imagination gave his conjectures as facts, while he quoted at random his pretended authorities. Burnet's book against Varillas is a curious little volume.[43]

Gemelli Carreri, a Neapolitan gentleman, for many years never quitted his chamber; confined by a tedious indisposition, he amused himself with writing a Voyage round the World; giving characters of men, and descriptions of countries, as if he had really visited them: and his volumes are still very interesting. I preserve this anecdote as it has long come down to us; but Carreri, it has been recently ascertained, met the fate of Bruce—for he had visited the places he has described; Humboldt and Clavigero have con[Pg 133]firmed his local knowledge of Mexico and of China, and found his book useful and veracious. Du Halde, who has written so voluminous an account of China, compiled it from the Memoirs of the Missionaries, and never travelled ten leagues from Paris in his life,—though he appears, by his writings, to be familiar with Chinese scenery.

Damberger's Travels some years ago made a great sensation—and the public were duped; they proved to be the ideal voyages of a member of the German Grub-street, about his own garret. Too many of our "Travels" have been manufactured to fill a certain size; and some which bear names of great authority were not written by the professed authors.

There is an excellent observation of an anonymous author:—"Writers who never visited foreign countries, and travellers who have run through immense regions with fleeting pace, have given us long accounts of various countries and people; evidently collected from the idle reports and absurd traditions of the ignorant vulgar, from whom only they could have received those relations which we see accumulated with such undiscerning credulity."

Some authors have practised the singular imposition of announcing a variety of titles of works preparing for the press, but of which nothing but the titles were ever written.

Paschal, historiographer of France, had a reason for these ingenious inventions; he continually announced such titles, that his pension for writing on the history of France might not be stopped. When he died, his historical labours did not exceed six pages!

Gregorio Leti is an historian of much the same stamp as Varillas. He wrote with great facility, and hunger generally quickened his pen. He took everything too lightly; yet his works are sometimes looked into for many anecdotes of English history not to be found elsewhere; and perhaps ought not to have been there if truth had been consulted. His great aim was always to make a book: he swells his volumes with digressions, intersperses many ridiculous stories, and applies all the repartees he collected from old novel-writers to modern characters.

Such forgeries abound; the numerous "Testaments Politiques" of Colbert, Mazarin, and other great ministers, were forgeries usually from the Dutch press, as are many pretended political "Memoirs."[Pg 134]

Of our old translations from the Greek and Latin authors, many were taken from French versions.

The Travels, written in Hebrew, of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, of which we have a curious translation, are, I believe, apocryphal. He describes a journey, which, if ever he took, it must have been with his night-cap on; being a perfect dream! It is said that to inspirit and give importance to his nation, he pretended that he had travelled to all the synagogues in the East; he mentions places which he does not appear ever to have seen, and the different people he describes no one has known. He calculates that he has found near eight hundred thousand Jews, of which about half are independent, and not subjects of any Christian or Gentile sovereign. These fictitious travels have been a source of much trouble to the learned; particularly to those who in their zeal to authenticate them followed the aërial footsteps of the Hyppogriffe of Rabbi Benjamin. He affirms that the tomb of Ezekiel, with the library of the first and second temples, were to be seen in his time at a place on the banks of the river Euphrates; Wesselius of Groningen, and many other literati, travelled on purpose to Mesopotamia, to reach the tomb and examine the library; but the fairy treasures were never to be seen, nor even heard of!

The first on the list of impudent impostors is Annius of Viterbo, a Dominican, and master of the sacred palace under Alexander VI. He pretended he had discovered the entire works of Sanchoniatho, Manetho, Berosus, and others, of which only fragments are remaining. He published seventeen books of antiquities! But not having any MSS. to produce, though he declared he had found them buried in the earth, these literary fabrications occasioned great controversies; for the author died before he made up his mind to a confession. At their first publication universal joy was diffused among the learned. Suspicion soon rose, and detection followed. However, as the forger never would acknowledge himself as such, it has been ingeniously conjectured that he himself was imposed on, rather than that he was the impostor; or, as in the case of Chatterton, possibly all may not be fictitious. It has been said that a great volume in MS., anterior by two hundred years to the seventeen books of Annius, exists in the Bibliothèque Colbertine, in which these pretended histories were to be read; but as Annius would never point out the sources of his, the whole may be consi[Pg 135]dered as a very wonderful imposture. I refer the reader to Tyrwhitt's Vindication of his Appendix to Rowley's or Chatterton's Poems, p. 140, for some curious observations, and some facts of literary imposture.

An extraordinary literary imposture was that of one Joseph Vella, who, in 1794, was an adventurer in Sicily, and pretended that he possessed seventeen of the lost books of Livy in Arabic: he had received this literary treasure, he said, from a Frenchman, who had purloined it from a shelf in St. Sophia's church at Constantinople. As many of the Greek and Roman classics have been translated by the Arabians, and many were first known in Europe in their Arabic dress, there was nothing improbable in one part of his story. He was urged to publish these long-desired books; and Lady Spencer, then in Italy, offered to defray the expenses. He had the effrontery, by way of specimen, to edit an Italian translation of the sixtieth book, but that book took up no more than one octavo page! A professor of Oriental literature in Prussia introduced it in his work, never suspecting the fraud; it proved to be nothing more than the epitome of Florus. He also gave out that he possessed a code which he had picked up in the abbey of St. Martin, containing the ancient history of Sicily in the Arabic period, comprehending above two hundred years; and of which ages their own historians were entirely deficient in knowledge. Vella declared he had a genuine official correspondence between the Arabian governors of Sicily and their superiors in Africa, from the first landing of the Arabians in that island. Vella was now loaded with honours and pensions! It is true he showed Arabic MSS., which, however, did not contain a syllable of what he said. He pretended he was in continual correspondence with friends at Morocco and elsewhere. The King of Naples furnished him with money to assist his researches. Four volumes in quarto were at length published! Vella had the adroitness to change the Arabic MSS. he possessed, which entirely related to Mahomet, to matters relative to Sicily; he bestowed several weeks' labour to disfigure the whole, altering page for page, line for line, and word for word, but interspersed numberless dots, strokes, and flourishes; so that when he published a fac-simile, every one admired the learning of Vella, who could translate what no one else could read. He complained he had lost an eye in this minute labour; and every one thought his pension ought to have been increased. Every[Pg 136]thing prospered about him, except his eye, which some thought was not so bad neither. It was at length discovered by his blunders, &c., that the whole was a forgery: though it had now been patronised, translated, and extracted through Europe. When this MS. was examined by an Orientalist, it was discovered to be nothing but a history of Mahomet and his family. Vella was condemned to imprisonment.

The Spanish antiquary, Medina Conde, in order to favour the pretensions of the church in a great lawsuit, forged deeds and inscriptions, which he buried in the ground, where he knew they would shortly be dug up. Upon their being found, he published engravings of them, and gave explanations of their unknown characters, making them out to be so many authentic proofs and evidences of the contested assumptions of the clergy.

The Morocco ambassador purchased of him a copper bracelet of Fatima, which Medina proved by the Arabic inscription and many certificates to be genuine, and found among the ruins of the Alhambra, with other treasures of its last king, who had hid them there in hope of better days. This famous bracelet turned out afterwards to be the work of Medina's own hand, made out of an old brass candlestick!

George Psalmanazar, to whose labours we owe much of the great Universal History, exceeded in powers of deception any of the great impostors of learning. His Island of Formosa was an illusion eminently bold,[44] and maintained with as much felicity as erudition; and great must have been that erudition which could form a pretended language and its grammar, and fertile the genius which could invent the history of an unknown people: it is said that the deception was only satisfactorily ascertained by his own penitential confes[Pg 137]sion; he had defied and baffled the most learned.[45] The literary impostor Lauder had much more audacity than ingenuity, and he died contemned by all the world.[46] Ireland's "Shakspeare" served to show that commentators are not blessed, necessarily, with an interior and unerring tact.[47] Genius and learning are ill directed in forming literary impositions, but at least they must be distinguished from the fabrications of ordinary impostors.

A singular forgery was practised on Captain Wilford by a learned Hindu, who, to ingratiate himself and his studies with the too zealous and pious European, contrived, among other attempts, to give the history of Noah and his three[Pg 138] sons, in his "Purana," under the designation of Satyavrata. Captain Wilford having read the passage, transcribed it for Sir William Jones, who translated it as a curious extract; the whole was an interpolation by the dexterous introduction of a forged sheet, discoloured and prepared for the purpose of deception, and which, having served his purpose for the moment, was afterwards withdrawn. As books in India are not bound, it is not difficult to introduce loose leaves. To confirm his various impositions, this learned forger had the patience to write two voluminous sections, in which he connected all the legends together in the style of the Puranas, consisting of 12,000 lines. When Captain Wilford resolved to collate the manuscript with others, the learned Hindu began to disfigure his own manuscript, the captain's, and those of the college, by erasing the name of the country and substituting that of Egypt. With as much pains, and with a more honourable direction, our Hindu Lauder might have immortalized his invention.

We have authors who sold their names to be prefixed to works they never read; or, on the contrary, have prefixed the names of others to their own writings. Sir John Hill, once when he fell sick, owned to a friend that he had over-fatigued himself with writing seven works at once! one of which was on architecture, and another on cookery! This hero once contracted to translate Swammerdam's work on insects for fifty guineas. After the agreement with the bookseller, he recollected that he did not understand a word of the Dutch language! Nor did there exist a French translation! The work, however, was not the less done for this small obstacle. Sir John bargained with another translator for twenty-five guineas. The second translator was precisely in the same situation as the first—as ignorant, though not so well paid as the knight. He rebargained with a third, who perfectly understood his original, for twelve guineas! So that the translators who could not translate feasted on venison and turtle, while the modest drudge, whose name never appeared to the world, broke in patience his daily bread! The craft of authorship has many mysteries.[48] One of the[Pg 139] great patriarchs and primeval dealers in English literature was Robert Green, one of the most facetious, profligate, and indefatigable of the Scribleri family. He laid the foundation of a new dynasty of literary emperors. The first act by which he proved his claim to the throne of Grub-street has served as a model to his numerous successors—it was an ambidextrous trick! Green sold his "Orlando Furioso" to two different theatres, and is among the first authors in English literary history who wrote as a trader;[49] or as crabbed Anthony Wood phrases it, in the language of celibacy and cynicism, "he wrote to maintain his wife, and that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow." With a drop still sweeter, old Anthony describes Gayton, another worthy; "he came up to London to live in a shirking condition, and wrote trite things merely to get bread to sustain him and his wife."[50] The hermit Anthony seems to have had a mortal antipathy against the Eves of literary men.


The present anecdote concerning Cardinal Richelieu may serve to teach the man of letters how he deals out criticisms to the great, when they ask his opinion of manuscripts, be they in verse or prose.

The cardinal placed in a gallery of his palace the portraits of several illustrious men, and was desirous of composing the inscriptions under the portraits. The one which he intended for Montluc, the marechal of France, was conceived in these[Pg 140] terms: Multa fecit, plura scripsit, vir tamen magnus fuit. He showed it without mentioning the author to Bourbon, the royal Greek professor, and asked his opinion concerning it. The critic considered that the Latin was much in the style of the breviary; and, had it concluded with an allelujah, it would serve for an anthem to the magnificat. The cardinal agreed with the severity of his strictures, and even acknowledged the discernment of the professor; "for," he said, "it is really written by a priest." But however he might approve of Bourbon's critical powers, he punished without mercy his ingenuity. The pension his majesty had bestowed on him was withheld the next year.

The cardinal was one of those ambitious men who foolishly attempt to rival every kind of genius; and seeing himself constantly disappointed, he envied, with all the venom of rancour, those talents which are so frequently the all that men of genius possess.

He was jealous of Balzac's splendid reputation; and offered the elder Heinsius ten thousand crowns to write a criticism which should ridicule his elaborate compositions. This Heinsius refused, because Salmasius threatened to revenge Balzac on his Herodes Infanticida.

He attempted to rival the reputation of Corneille's "Cid," by opposing to it one of the most ridiculous dramatic productions; it was the allegorical tragedy called "Europe," in which the minister had congregated the four quarters of the world! Much political matter was thrown together, divided into scenes and acts. There are appended to it keys of the dramatis personæ and of the allegories. In this tragedy Francion represents France; Ibere, Spain; Parthenope, Naples, &c.; and these have their attendants:—Lilian (alluding to the French lilies) is the servant of Francion, while Hispale is the confidant of Ibere. But the key to the allegories is much more copious:—Albione signifies England; three knots of the hair of Austrasie mean the towns of Clermont, Stenay, and Jamet, these places once belonging to Lorraine. A box of diamonds of Austrasie is the town of Nancy, belonging once to the dukes of Lorraine. The key of Ibere's great porch is Perpignan, which France took from Spain; and in this manner is this sublime tragedy composed! When he first sent it anonymously to the French Academy it was reprobated. He then tore it in a rage, and scattered it about his study. Towards evening,[Pg 141] like another Medea lamenting over the members of her own children, he and his secretary passed the night in uniting the scattered limbs. He then ventured to avow himself; and having pretended to correct this incorrigible tragedy, the submissive Academy retracted their censures, but the public pronounced its melancholy fate on its first representation. This lamentable tragedy was intended to thwart Corneille's "Cid." Enraged at its success, Richelieu even commanded the Academy to publish a severe critique of it, well known in French literature. Boileau on this occasion has these two well-turned verses:—

"En vain contre le Cid, un ministre se ligue;
Tout Paris, pour Chimene, a les yeux de Rodrigue."
"To oppose the Cid, in vain the statesman tries;
All Paris, for Chimene, has Roderick's eyes."

It is said that, in consequence of the fall of this tragedy, the French custom is derived of securing a number of friends to applaud their pieces at their first representations. I find the following droll anecdote concerning this droll tragedy in Beauchamp's Recherches sur le Théâtre.

The minister, after the ill success of his tragedy, retired unaccompanied the same evening to his country-house at Ruel. He then sent for his favourite Desmaret, who was at supper with his friend Petit. Desmaret, conjecturing that the interview would be stormy, begged his friend to accompany him.

"Well!" said the Cardinal, as soon as he saw them, "the French will never possess a taste for what is lofty; they seem not to have relished my tragedy."—"My lord," answered Petit, "it is not the fault of the piece, which is so admirable, but that of the players. Did not your eminence perceive that not only they knew not their parts, but that they were all drunk?"—"Really," replied the Cardinal, something pleased, "I observed they acted it dreadfully ill."

Desmaret and Petit returned to Paris, flew directly to the players to plan a new mode of performance, which was to secure a number of spectators; so that at the second representation bursts of applause were frequently heard!

Richelieu had another singular vanity, of closely imitating Cardinal Ximenes. Pliny was not a more servile imitator of Cicero. Marville tells us that, like Ximenes, he placed himself at the head of an army; like him, he degraded princes[Pg 142] and nobles; and like him, rendered himself formidable to all Europe. And because Ximenes had established schools of theology, Richelieu undertook likewise to raise into notice the schools of the Sorbonne. And, to conclude, as Ximenes had written several theological treatises, our cardinal was also desirous of leaving posterity various polemical works. But his gallantries rendered him more ridiculous. Always in ill health, this miserable lover and grave cardinal would, in a freak of love, dress himself with a red feather in his cap and sword by his side. He was more hurt by an offensive nickname given him by the queen of Louis XIII., than even by the hiss of theatres and the critical condemnation of academies.

Cardinal Richelieu was assuredly a great political genius. Sir William Temple observes, that he instituted the French Academy to give employment to the wits, and to hinder them from inspecting too narrowly his politics and his administration. It is believed that the Marshal de Grammont lost an important battle by the orders of the cardinal; that in this critical conjuncture of affairs his majesty, who was inclined to dismiss him, could not then absolutely do without him.

Vanity in this cardinal levelled a great genius. He who would attempt to display universal excellence will be impelled to practise meanness, and to act follies which, if he has the least sensibility, must occasion him many a pang and many a blush.


No philosopher has been so much praised and censured as Aristotle: but he had this advantage, of which some of the most eminent scholars have been deprived, that he enjoyed during his life a splendid reputation. Philip of Macedon must have felt a strong conviction of his merit, when he wrote to him, on the birth of Alexander:—"I receive from the gods this day a son; but I thank them not so much for the favour of his birth, as his having come into the world at a time when you can have the care of his education; and that through you he will be rendered worthy of being my son."

Diogenes Laertius describes the person of the Stagyrite.—His eyes were small, his voice hoarse, and his legs lank. He[Pg 143] stammered, was fond of a magnificent dress, and wore costly rings. He had a mistress whom he loved passionately, and for whom he frequently acted inconsistently with the philosophic character; a thing as common with philosophers as with other men. Aristotle had nothing of the austerity of the philosopher, though his works are so austere: he was open, pleasant, and even charming in his conversation; fiery and volatile in his pleasures; magnificent in his dress. He is described as fierce, disdainful, and sarcastic. He joined to a taste for profound erudition, that of an elegant dissipation. His passion for luxury occasioned him such expenses when he was young, that he consumed all his property. Laertius has preserved the will of Aristotle, which is curious. The chief part turns on the future welfare and marriage of his daughter. "If, after my death, she chooses to marry, the executors will be careful she marries no person of an inferior rank. If she resides at Chalcis, she shall occupy the apartment contiguous to the garden; if she chooses Stagyra, she shall reside in the house of my father, and my executors shall furnish either of those places she fixes on."

Aristotle had studied under the divine Plato; but the disciple and the master could not possibly agree in their doctrines: they were of opposite tastes and talents. Plato was the chief of the academic sect, and Aristotle of the peripatetic. Plato was simple, modest, frugal, and of austere manners; a good friend and a zealous citizen, but a theoretical politician: a lover indeed of benevolence, and desirous of diffusing it amongst men, but knowing little of them as we find them; his "Republic" is as chimerical as Rousseau's ideas, or Sir Thomas More's Utopia.

Rapin, the critic, has sketched an ingenious parallel of these two celebrated philosophers:—

"The genius of Plato is more polished, and that of Aristotle more vast and profound. Plato has a lively and teeming imagination; fertile in invention, in ideas, in expressions, and in figures; displaying a thousand turns, a thousand new colours, all agreeable to their subject; but after all it is nothing more than imagination. Aristotle is hard and dry in all he says, but what he says is all reason, though it is expressed drily: his diction, pure as it is, has something uncommonly austere; and his obscurities, natural or affected, disgust and fatigue his readers. Plato is equally delicate in his thoughts and in his expressions. Aristotle, though he[Pg 144] may be more natural, has not any delicacy: his style is simple and equal, but close and nervous; that of Plato is grand and elevated, but loose and diffuse. Plato always says more than he should say: Aristotle never says enough, and leaves the reader always to think more than he says. The one surprises the mind, and charms it by a flowery and sparkling character: the other illuminates and instructs it by a just and solid method. Plato communicates something of genius, by the fecundity of his own; and Aristotle something of judgment and reason, by that impression of good sense which appears in all he says. In a word, Plato frequently only thinks to express himself well: and Aristotle only thinks to think justly."

An interesting anecdote is related of these philosophers—Aristotle became the rival of Plato. Literary disputes long subsisted betwixt them. The disciple ridiculed his master, and the master treated contemptuously his disciple. To make his superiority manifest, Aristotle wished for a regular disputation before an audience, where erudition and reason might prevail; but this satisfaction was denied.

Plato was always surrounded by his scholars, who took a lively interest in his glory. Three of these he taught to rival Aristotle, and it became their mutual interest to depreciate his merits. Unfortunately one day Plato found himself in his school without these three favourite scholars. Aristotle flies to him—a crowd gathers and enters with him. The idol whose oracles they wished to overturn was presented to them. He was then a respectable old man, the weight of whose years had enfeebled his memory. The combat was not long. Some rapid sophisms embarrassed Plato. He saw himself surrounded by the inevitable traps of the subtlest logician. Vanquished, he reproached his ancient scholar by a beautiful figure:—"He has kicked against us as a colt against its mother."

Soon after this humiliating adventure he ceased to give public lectures. Aristotle remained master in the field of battle. He raised a school, and devoted himself to render it the most famous in Greece. But the three favourite scholars of Plato, zealous to avenge the cause of their master, and to make amends for their imprudence in having quitted him, armed themselves against the usurper.—Xenocrates, the most ardent of the three, attacked Aristotle, confounded the logician, and re-established Plato in all his rights. Since that time the academic and peripatetic sects, animated by the[Pg 145] spirits of their several chiefs, avowed an eternal hostility. In what manner his works have descended to us has been told in a preceding article, on Destruction of Books. Aristotle having declaimed irreverently of the gods, and dreading the fate of Socrates, wished to retire from Athens. In a beautiful manner he pointed out his successor. There were two rivals in his schools: Menedemus the Rhodian, and Theophrastus the Lesbian. Alluding delicately to his own critical situation, he told his assembled scholars that the wine he was accustomed to drink was injurious to him, and he desired them to bring the wines of Rhodes and Lesbos. He tasted both, and declared they both did honour to their soil, each being excellent, though differing in their quality;—the Rhodian wine is the strongest, but the Lesbian is the sweetest, and that he himself preferred it. Thus his ingenuity designated his favourite Theophrastus, the author of the "Characters," for his successor.


Abelard, so famous for his writings and his amours with Eloisa, ranks amongst the Heretics for opinions concerning the Trinity! His superior genius probably made him appear so culpable in the eyes of his enemies. The cabal formed against him disturbed the earlier part of his life with a thousand persecutions, till at length they persuaded Bernard, his old friend, but who had now turned saint, that poor Abelard was what their malice described him to be. Bernard, inflamed against him, condemned unheard the unfortunate scholar. But it is remarkable that the book which was burnt as unorthodox, and as the composition of Abelard, was in fact written by Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris; a work which has since been canonised in the Sarbonne, and on which the scholastic theology is founded. The objectionable passage is an illustration of the Trinity by the nature of a syllogism!—"As (says he) the three propositions of a syllogism form but one truth, so the Father and Son constitute but one essence. The major represents the Father, the minor the Son, and the conclusion the Holy Ghost!" It is curious to add, that Bernard himself has explained this mystical union precisely in the same manner, and equally clear. "The understanding," says this saint, "is the image of God. We find it consists of three parts: memory, intelligence, and will. To memory, we[Pg 146] attribute all which we know, without cogitation; to intelligence, all truths we discover which have not been deposited by memory. By memory, we resemble the Father; by intelligence, the Son; and by will, the Holy Ghost." Bernard's Lib. de Animâ, cap. i. num. 6, quoted in the "Mem. Secrètes de la République des Lettres." We may add also, that because Abelard, in the warmth of honest indignation, had reproved the monks of St. Denis, in France, and St. Gildas de Ruys, in Bretagne, for the horrid incontinence of their lives, they joined his enemies, and assisted to embitter the life of this ingenious scholar, who perhaps was guilty of no other crime than that of feeling too sensibly an attachment to one who not only possessed the enchanting attractions of the softer sex, but, what indeed is very unusual, a congeniality of disposition, and an enthusiasm of imagination.

"Is it, in heaven, a crime to love too well?"

It appears by a letter of Peter de Cluny to Eloisa, that she had solicited for Abelard's absolution. The abbot gave it to her. It runs thus:—"Ego Petrus Cluniacensis Abbas, qui Petrum Abælardum in monachum Cluniacensem recepi, et corpus ejus furtim delatum Heloissæ abbatissæ et moniali Paracleti concessi, auctoritate omnipotentis Dei et omnium sanctorum absolvo eum pro officio ab omnibus peccatis suis."

An ancient chronicle of Tours records, that when they deposited the body of the Abbess Eloisa in the tomb of her lover, Peter Abelard, who had been there interred twenty years, this faithful husband raised his arms, stretched them, and closely embraced his beloved Eloisa. This poetic fiction was invented to sanctify, by a miracle, the frailties of their youthful days. This is not wonderful;—but it is strange that Du Chesne, the father of French history, not only relates this legendary tale of the ancient chroniclers, but gives it as an incident well authenticated, and maintains its possibility by various other examples. Such fanciful incidents once not only embellished poetry, but enlivened history.

Bayle tells us that billets doux and amorous verses are two powerful machines to employ in the assaults of love, particularly when the passionate songs the poetical lover composes are sung by himself. This secret was well known to the elegant Abelard. Abelard so touched the sensible heart of Eloisa, and infused such fire into her frame, by employing his fine pen, and his fine voice, that the poor woman never[Pg 147] recovered from the attack. She herself informs us that he displayed two qualities which are rarely found in philosophers, and by which he could instantly win the affections of the female;—he wrote and sung finely. He composed love-verses so beautiful, and songs so agreeable, as well for the words as the airs, that all the world got them by heart, and the name of his mistress was spread from province to province.

What a gratification to the enthusiastic, the amorous, the vain Eloisa! of whom Lord Lyttleton, in his curious Life of Henry II., observes, that had she not been compelled to read the fathers and the legends in a nunnery, and had been suffered to improve her genius by a continued application to polite literature, from what appears in her letters, she would have excelled any man of that age.

Eloisa, I suspect, however, would have proved but a very indifferent polemic; she seems to have had a certain delicacy in her manners which rather belongs to the fine lady. We cannot but smile at an observation of hers on the Apostles which we find in her letters:—"We read that the apostles, even in the company of their Master, were so rustic and ill-bred, that, regardless of common decorum, as they passed through the corn-fields they plucked the ears, and ate them like children. Nor did they wash their hands before they sat down to table. To eat with unwashed hands, said our Saviour to those who were offended, doth not defile a man."

It is on the misconception of the mild apologetical reply of Jesus, indeed, that religious fanatics have really considered, that, to be careless of their dress, and not to free themselves from filth and slovenliness, is an act of piety; just as the late political fanatics, who thought that republicanism consisted in the most offensive filthiness. On this principle, that it is saint-like to go dirty, ragged and slovenly, says Bishop Lavington, in his "Enthusiasm of the Methodists and Papists," how piously did Whitfield take care of the outward man, who in his journals writes, "My apparel was mean—thought it unbecoming a penitent to have powdered hair.—I wore woollen gloves, a patched gown, and dirty shoes!"

After an injury, not less cruel than humiliating, Abelard raises the school of the Paraclete; with what enthusiasm is he followed to that desert! His scholars in crowds hasten to their adored master; they cover their mud sheds with the branches of trees; they care not to sleep under better roofs, provided they remain by the side of their unfortunate master.[Pg 148] How lively must have been their taste for study!—it formed their solitary passion, and the love of glory was gratified even in that desert.

The two reprehensible lines in Pope's Eloisa, too celebrated among certain of its readers—

"Not Cesar's empress would I deign to prove;
No,—make me mistress to the man I love!"—

are, however, found in her original letters. The author of that ancient work, "The Romaunt of the Rose," has given it thus naïvely; a specimen of the natural style in those days:—

Si l'empereur, qui est a Rome,
Souhz qui doyvent etre tout homme,
Me daignoit prendre pour sa femme,
Et me faire du monde dame!
Si vouldroye-je mieux, dist-elle
Et Dieù en tesmoing en appelle,
Etre sa Putaine appellée
Qu'etre emperiere couronnée.


A very extraordinary physiognomical anecdote has been given by De la Place, in his "Pièces Intéressantes et peu Connues," vol. iv. p. 8.

A friend assured him that he had seen a voluminous and secret correspondence which had been carried on between Louis XIV. and his favourite physician, De la Chambre, on this science. The faith of the monarch seems to have been great, and the purpose to which this correspondence tended was extraordinary indeed, and perhaps scarcely credible. Who will believe that Louis XIV. was so convinced of that talent which De la Chambre attributed to himself, of deciding merely by the physiognomy of persons, not only on the real bent of their character, but to what employment they were adapted, that the king entered into a secret correspondence to obtain the critical notices of his physiognomist? That Louis XIV. should have pursued this system, undetected by his own courtiers, is also singular; but it appears, by this correspondence, that this art positively swayed him in his choice of officers and favourites. On one of the backs of these letters De la Chambre had written, "If I die before his majesty, he will incur great risk of making many an unfortunate choice!"[Pg 149]

This collection of physiognomical correspondence, if it does really exist, would form a curious publication; we have heard nothing of it! De la Chambre was an enthusiastic physiognomist, as appears by his works; "The Characters of the Passions," four volumes in quarto; "The Art of Knowing Mankind;" and "The Knowledge of Animals." Lavater quotes his "Vote and Interest," in favour of his favourite science. It is, however, curious to add, that Philip Earl of Pembroke, under James I., had formed a particular collection of portraits, with a view to physiognomical studies. According to Evelyn on Medals, p. 302, such was his sagacity in discovering the characters and dispositions of men by their countenances, that James I. made no little use of his extraordinary talent on the first arrival of ambassadors at court.

The following physiological definition of Physiognomy is extracted from a publication by Dr. Gwither, of the year 1604, which, dropping his history of "The Animal Spirits," is curious:—

"Soft wax cannot receive more various and numerous impressions than are imprinted on a man's face by objects moving his affections: and not only the objects themselves have this power, but also the very images or ideas; that is to say, anything that puts the animal spirits into the same motion that the object present did, will have the same effect with the object. To prove the first, let one observe a man's face looking on a pitiful object, then a ridiculous, then a strange, then on a terrible or dangerous object, and so forth. For the second, that ideas have the same effect with the object, dreams confirm too often.

"The manner I conceive to be thus:—the animal spirits, moved in the sensory by an object, continue their motion to the brain; whence the motion is propagated to this or that particular part of the body, as is most suitable to the design of its creation; having first made an alteration in the face by its nerves, especially by the pathetic and oculorum motorii actuating its many muscles, as the dial-plate to that stupendous piece of clock-work which shows what is to be expected next from the striking part; not that I think the motion of the spirits in the sensory continued by the impression of the object all the way, as from a finger to the foot; I know it too weak, though the tenseness of the nerves favours it. But I conceive it done in the medulla of the brain, where is the common stock of spirits; as in an[Pg 150] organ, whose pipes being uncovered, the air rushes into them; but the keys let go, are stopped again. Now, if by repeated acts of frequent entertaining of a favourite idea of a passion or vice, which natural temperament has hurried one to, or custom dragged, the face is so often put into that posture which attends such acts, that the animal spirits find such latent passages into its nerves, that it is sometimes unalterably set: as the Indian religious are by long continuing in strange postures in their pagods. But most commonly such a habit is contracted, that it falls insensibly into that posture when some present object does not obliterate that more natural impression by a new, or dissimulation hide it.

"Hence it is that we see great drinkers with eyes generally set towards the nose, the adducent muscles being often employed to let them see their loved liquor in the glass at the time of drinking; which were, therefore, called bibitory Lascivious persons are remarkable for the oculorum nobilis petulantia, as Petronius calls it. From this also we may solve the Quaker's expecting face, waiting for the pretended spirit; and the melancholy face of the sectaries; the studious face of men of great application of mind; revengeful and bloody men, like executioners in the act: and though silence in a sort may awhile pass for wisdom, yet, sooner or later, Saint Martin peeps through the disguise to undo all. A changeable face I have observed to show a changeable mind. But I would by no means have what has been said understood as without exception; for I doubt not but sometimes there are found men with great and virtuous souls under very unpromising outsides."

The great Prince of Condé was very expert in a sort of physiognomy which showed the peculiar habits, motions, and postures of familiar life and mechanical employments. He would sometimes lay wagers with his friends, that he would guess, upon the Pont Neuf, what trade persons were of that passed by, from their walk and air.


The idea of describing characters under the names of Musical Instruments has been already displayed in two most pleasing papers which embellish the Tatler, written by Addison. He dwells on this idea with uncommon success. It has been[Pg 151] applauded for its originality; and in the general preface to that work, those papers are distinguished for their felicity of imagination. The following paper was published in the year 1700, in a volume of "Philosophical Transactions and Collections," and the two numbers of Addison in the year 1710. It is probable that this inimitable writer borrowed the seminal hint from this work:—

"A conjecture at dispositions from the modulations of the voice.

"Sitting in some company, and having been but a little before musical, I chanced to take notice that, in ordinary discourse, words were spoken in perfect notes; and that some of the company used eighths, some fifths, some thirds; and that his discourse which was the most pleasing, his words, as to their tone, consisted most of concords, and were of discords of such as made up harmony. The same person was the most affable, pleasant, and best-natured in the company. This suggests a reason why many discourses which one hears with much pleasure, when they come to be read scarcely seem the same things.

"From this difference of Music in Speech, we may conjecture that of Tempers. We know the Doric mood sounds gravity and sobriety; the Lydian, buxomness and freedom; the Æolic, sweet stillness and quiet composure; the Phrygian, jollity and youthful levity; the Ionic is a stiller of storms and disturbances arising from passion; and why may we not reasonably suppose, that those whose speech naturally runs into the notes peculiar to any of these moods, are likewise in nature hereunto congenerous? C Fa ut may show me to be of an ordinary capacity, though good disposition. G Sol re ut, to be peevish and effeminate. Flats, a manly or melancholic sadness. He who hath a voice which will in some measure agree with all cliffs, to be of good parts, and fit for variety of employments, yet somewhat of an inconstant nature. Likewise from the Times: so semi-briefs may speak a temper dull and phlegmatic; minims, grave and serious; crotchets, a prompt wit; quavers, vehemency of passion, and scolds use them. Semi-brief-rest may denote one either stupid or fuller of thoughts than he can utter; minimrest, one that deliberates; crotchet-rest, one in a passion. So that from the natural use of Mood, Note, and Time, we may collect Dispositions."[Pg 152]


It is painful to observe the acrimony which the most eminent scholars have infused frequently in their controversial writings. The politeness of the present times has in some degree softened the malignity of the man, in the dignity of the author; but this is by no means an irrevocable law.

It is said not to be honourable to literature to revive such controversies; and a work entitled "Querelles Littéraires," when it first appeared, excited loud murmurs; but it has its moral: like showing the drunkard to a youth, that he may turn aside disgusted with ebriety. Must we suppose that men of letters are exempt from the human passions? Their sensibility, on the contrary, is more irritable than that of others. To observe the ridiculous attitudes in which great men appear, when they employ the style of the fish-market, may be one great means of restraining that ferocious pride often breaking out in the republic of letters. Johnson at least appears to have entertained the same opinion; for he thought proper to republish the low invective of Dryden against Settle; and since I have published my "Quarrels of Authors," it becomes me to say no more.

The celebrated controversy of Salmasius, continued by Morus with Milton—the first the pleader of King Charles, the latter the advocate of the people—was of that magnitude, that all Europe took a part in the paper-war of these two great men. The answer of Milton, who perfectly massacred Salmasius, is now read but by the few. Whatever is addressed to the times, however great may be its merits, is doomed to perish with the times; yet on these pages the philosopher will not contemplate in vain.

It will form no uninteresting article to gather a few of the rhetorical weeds, for flowers we cannot well call them, with which they mutually presented each other. Their rancour was at least equal to their erudition,—the two most learned antagonists of a learned age!

Salmasius was a man of vast erudition, but no taste. His writings are learned, but sometimes ridiculous. He called his work Defensio Regia, Defence of Kings. The opening of this work provokes a laugh:—"Englishmen! who toss the heads of kings as so many tennis-balls; who play with crowns[Pg 153] as if they were bowls; who look upon sceptres as so many crooks."

That the deformity of the body is an idea we attach to the deformity of the mind, the vulgar must acknowledge; but surely it is unpardonable in the enlightened philosopher thus to compare the crookedness of corporeal matter with the rectitude of the intellect; yet Milbourne and Dennis, the last a formidable critic, have frequently considered, that comparing Dryden and Pope to whatever the eye turned from with displeasure, was very good argument to lower their literary abilities. Salmasius seems also to have entertained this idea, though his spies in England gave him wrong information; or, possibly, he only drew the figure of his own distempered imagination.

Salmasius sometimes reproaches Milton as being but a puny piece of man; an homunculus, a dwarf deprived of the human figure, a bloodless being, composed of nothing but skin and bone; a contemptible pedagogue, fit only to flog his boys: and, rising into a poetic frenzy, applies to him the words of Virgil, "Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum." Our great poet thought this senseless declamation merited a serious refutation; perhaps he did not wish to appear despicable in the eyes of the ladies; and he would not be silent on the subject, he says, lest any one should consider him as the credulous Spaniards are made to believe by their priests, that a heretic is a kind of rhinoceros or a dog-headed monster. Milton says, that he does not think any one ever considered him as unbeautiful; that his size rather approaches mediocrity than, the diminutive; that he still felt the same courage and the same strength which he possessed when young, when, with his sword, he felt no difficulty to combat with men more robust than himself; that his face, far from being pale, emaciated, and wrinkled, was sufficiently creditable to him: for though he had passed his fortieth year, he was in all other respects ten years younger. And very pathetically he adds, "that even his eyes, blind as they are, are unblemished in their appearance; in this instance alone, and much against my inclination, I am a deceiver!"

Morus, in his Epistle dedicatory of his Regii Sanguinis Clamor, compares Milton to a hangman; his disordered vision to the blindness of his soul, and so vomits forth his venom.[Pg 154]

When Salmasius found that his strictures on the person of Milton were false, and that, on the contrary, it was uncommonly beautiful, he then turned his battery against those graces with which Nature had so liberally adorned his adversary: and it is now that he seems to have laid no restrictions on his pen; but, raging with the irritation of Milton's success, he throws out the blackest calumnies, and the most infamous aspersions.

It must be observed, when Milton first proposed to answer Salmasius, he had lost the use of one of his eyes; and his physicians declared that, if he applied himself to the controversy, the other would likewise close for ever! His patriotism was not to be baffled, but with life itself. Unhappily, the prediction of his physicians took place! Thus a learned man in the occupations of study falls blind—a circumstance even now not read without sympathy. Salmasius considers it as one from which he may draw caustic ridicule and satiric severity.

Salmasius glories that Milton lost his health and his eyes in answering his apology for King Charles! He does not now reproach him with natural deformities; but he malignantly sympathises with him, that he now no more is in possession of that beauty which rendered him so amiable during his residence in Italy. He speaks more plainly in a following page; and, in a word, would blacken the austere virtue of Milton with a crime infamous to name.

Impartiality of criticism obliges us to confess that Milton was not destitute of rancour. When he was told that his adversary boasted he had occasioned the loss of his eyes, he answered, with ferocity—"And I shall cost him his life!" A prediction which was soon after verified; for Christina, Queen of Sweden, withdrew her patronage from Salmasius, and sided with Milton. The universal neglect the proud scholar felt hastened his death in the course of a twelve-month.

The greatness of Milton's mind was degraded! He actually condescended to enter into a correspondence in Holland, to obtain little scandalous anecdotes of his miserable adversary, Morus; and deigned to adulate the unworthy Christina of Sweden, because she had expressed herself favourably on his "Defence." Of late years, we have had too many instances of this worst of passions, the antipathies of politics![Pg 155]


We are indebted to the Italians for the idea of newspapers. The title of their gazettas was, perhaps, derived from gazzera, a magpie or chatterer; or, more probably, from a farthing coin, peculiar to the city of Venice, called gazetta, which was the common price of the newspapers. Another etymologist is for deriving it from the Latin gaza, which would colloquially lengthen into gazetta, and signify a little treasury of news. The Spanish derive it from the Latin gaza, and likewise their gazatero, and our gazetteer, for a writer of the gazette and, what is peculiar to themselves, gazetista, for a lover of the gazette.

Newspapers, then, took their birth in that principal land of modern politicians, Italy, and under the government of that aristocratical republic, Venice. The first paper was a Venetian one, and only monthly; but it was merely the newspaper of the government. Other governments afterwards adopted the Venetian plan of a newspaper, with the Venetian name:—from a solitary government gazette, an inundation of newspapers has burst upon us.

Mr. George Chalmers, in his Life of Ruddiman, gives a curious particular of these Venetian gazettes:—"A jealous government did not allow a printed newspaper; and the Venetian gazetta continued long after the invention of printing, to the close of the sixteenth century, and even to our own days, to be distributed in manuscript." In the Magliabechian library at Florence are thirty volumes of Venetian gazettas, all in manuscript.

Those who first wrote newspapers were called by the Italians menanti; because, says Vossius, they intended commonly by these loose papers to spread about defamatory reflections, and were therefore prohibited in Italy by Gregory XIII. by a particular bull, under the name of menantes, from the Latin minantes, threatening. Menage, however, derives it from the Italian menare, which signifies to lead at large, or spread afar.

We are indebted to the wisdom of Elizabeth and the prudence of Burleigh for the first newspaper. The epoch of the Spanish Armada is also the epoch of a genuine newspaper. In the British Museum are several newspapers which were printed while the Spanish fleet was in the English Channel[Pg 156] during the year 1588. It was a wise policy to prevent, during a moment of general anxiety, the danger of false reports, by publishing real information. The earliest newspaper is entitled "The English Mercurie," which by authority was "imprinted at London by her highness's printer, 1588." These were, however, but extraordinary gazettes, not regularly published. In this obscure origin they were skilfully directed by the policy of that great statesman Burleigh, who, to inflame the national feeling, gives an extract of a letter from Madrid which speaks of putting the queen to death, and the instruments of torture on board the Spanish fleet.

George Chalmers first exultingly took down these patriarchal newspapers, covered with the dust of two centuries.

The first newspaper in the collection of the British Museum is marked No. 50, and is in Roman, not in black letter. It contains the usual articles of news, like the London Gazette of the present day. In that curious paper, there are news dated from Whitehall, on the 23rd July, 1588. Under the date of July 26, there is the following notice:—"Yesterday the Scots ambassador, being introduced to Sir Francis Walsingham, had a private audience of her majesty, to whom he delivered a letter from the king his master; containing the most cordial assurances of his resolution to adhere to her majesty's interests, and to those of the Protestant religion. And it may not here be improper to take notice of a wise and spiritual saying of this young prince (he was twenty-two) to the queen's minister at his court, viz.—That all the favour he did expect from the Spaniards was the courtesy of Polypheme to Ulysses, to be the last devoured." The gazetteer of the present day would hardly give a more decorous account of the introduction of a foreign minister. The aptness of King James's classical saying carried it from the newspaper into history. I must add, that in respect to his wit no man has been more injured than this monarch. More pointed sentences are recorded of James I. than perhaps of any prince; and yet, such is the delusion of that medium by which the popular eye sees things in this world, that he is usually considered as a mere royal pedant. I have entered more largely on this subject, in an "Inquiry of the Literary and Political Character of James I."[51][Pg 157]

Periodical papers seem first to have been more generally used by the English, during the civil wars of the usurper Cromwell, to disseminate amongst the people the sentiments of loyalty or rebellion, according as their authors were disposed. Peter Heylin, in the preface to his Cosmography, mentions, that "the affairs of each town, of war, were better presented to the reader in the Weekly News-books." Hence we find some papers, entitled "News from Hull," "Truths from York," "Warranted Tidings from Ireland," &c. We find also, "The Scots' Dove" opposed to "The Parliament Kite," or "The Secret Owl."—Keener animosities produced keener titles: "Heraclitus ridens" found an antagonist in "Democritus ridens," and "The Weekly Discoverer" was shortly met by "The Discoverer stript naked." "Mercuriua Britannicus" was grappled by "Mercurius Mastix, faithfully lashing all Scouts, Mercuries, Posts, Spies, and others." Under all these names papers had appeared, but a "Mercury" was the prevailing title of these "News-books," and the principles[Pg 158] of the writer were generally shown by the additional epithet. We find an alarming number of these Mercuries, which, were the story not too long to tell, might excite laughter; they present us with a very curious picture of those singular times.

Devoted to political purposes, they soon became a public nuisance by serving as receptacles of party malice, and echoing to the farthest ends of the kingdom the insolent voice of all factions. They set the minds of men more at variance, inflamed their tempers to a greater fierceness, and gave a keener edge to the sharpness of civil discord.

Such works will always find adventurers adapted to their scurrilous purposes, who neither want at times either talents, or boldness, or wit, or argument. A vast crowd issued from the press, and are now to be found in private collections. They form a race of authors unknown to most readers of these times: the names of some of their chiefs, however, have reached us, and in the minor chronicle of domestic literature I rank three notable heroes; Marchmont Needham, Sir John Birkenhead, and Sir Roger L'Estrange.

Marchmont Needham, the great patriarch of newspaper writers, was a man of versatile talents and more versatile politics; a bold adventurer, and most successful, because the most profligate of his tribe. From college he came to London; was an usher in Merchant Tailors' school; then an under clerk in Gray's Inn; at length studied physic, and practised chemistry; and finally, he was a captain, and in the words of our great literary antiquary, "siding with the rout and scum of the people, he made them weekly sport by railing at all that was noble, in his Intelligence, called Mercurius Britannicus, wherein his endeavours were to sacrifice the fame of some lord, or any person of quality, and of the king himself, to the beast with many heads." He soon became popular, and was known under the name of Captain Needham, of Gray's Inn; and whatever he now wrote was deemed oracular. But whether from a slight imprisonment for aspersing Charles I. or some pique with his own party, he requested an audience on his knees with the king, reconciled himself to his majesty, and showed himself a violent royalist in his "Mercurius Pragmaticus," and galled the Presbyterians with his wit and quips. Some time after, when the popular party prevailed, he was still further enlightened, and was got over by President Bradshaw, as easily as by Charles I. Our Mercurial writer became once more a virulent Pres[Pg 159]byterian, and lashed the royalists outrageously in his "Mercurius Politicus;" at length on the return of Charles II. being now conscious, says our cynical friend Anthony, that he might be in danger of the halter, once more he is said to have fled into Holland, waiting for an act of oblivion. For money given to a hungry courtier, Needham obtained his pardon under the great seal. He latterly practised as a physician among his party, but lived detested by the royalists; and now only committed harmless treasons with the College of Physicians, on whom he poured all that gall and vinegar which the government had suppressed from flowing through its natural channel.

The royalists were not without their Needham in the prompt activity of Sir John Birkenhead. In buffoonery, keenness, and boldness, having been frequently imprisoned, he was not inferior, nor was he at times less an adventurer. His "Mercurius Aulicus" was devoted to the court, then at Oxford. But he was the fertile parent of numerous political pamphlets, which appear to abound in banter, wit, and satire. Prompt to seize on every temporary circumstance, he had equal facility in execution. His "Paul's Church-yard" is a bantering pamphlet, containing fictitious titles of books and acts of parliament, reflecting on the mad reformers of those times. One of his poems is entitled "The Jolt," being written on the Protector having fallen off his own coach-box: Cromwell had received a present from the German Count Oldenburgh, of six German horses, and attempted to drive them himself in Hyde Park, when this great political Phaeton met the accident, of which Sir John Birkenhead was not slow to comprehend the benefit, and hints how unfortunately for the country it turned out! Sir John was during the dominion of Cromwell an author by profession. After various imprisonments for his majesty's cause, says the venerable historian of English literature already quoted, "he lived by his wits, in helping young gentlemen out at dead lifts in making poems, songs, and epistles on and to their mistresses; as also in translating, and other petite employments." He lived however after the Restoration to become one of the masters of requests, with a salary of 3000l. a year. But he showed the baseness of his spirit, says Anthony, by slighting those who had been his benefactors in his necessities.

Sir Roger L'Estrange among his rivals was esteemed as[Pg 160] the most perfect model of political writing. He was a strong party-writer on the government side, for Charles the Second, and the compositions of the author seem to us coarse, yet they contain much idiomatic expression. His Æsop's Fables are a curious specimen of familiar style. Queen Mary showed a due contempt of him, after the Revolution, by this anagram:—

Roger L'Estrange,
Lye strange Roger!

Such were the three patriarchs of newspapers. De Saint Foix gives the origin of newspapers to France. Renaudot, a physician at Paris, to amuse his patients was a great collector of news; and he found by these means that he was more sought after than his learned brethren. But as the seasons were not always sickly, and he had many hours not occupied by his patients, he reflected, after several years of assiduity given up to this singular employment, that he might turn it to a better account, by giving every week to his patients, who in this case were the public at large, some fugitive sheets which should contain the news of various countries. He obtained a privilege for this purpose in 1632.

At the Restoration the proceedings of parliament were interdicted to be published, unless by authority; and the first daily paper after the Revolution took the popular title of "The Orange Intelligencer."

In the reign of Queen Anne, there was but one daily paper; the others were weekly. Some attempted to introduce literary subjects, and others topics of a more general speculation. Sir Richard Steele formed the plan of his Tatler. He designed it to embrace the three provinces, of manners and morals, of literature, and of politics. The public were to be conducted insensibly into so different a track from that to which they had been hitherto accustomed. Hence politics were admitted into his paper. But it remained for the chaster genius of Addison to banish this painful topic from his elegant pages. The writer in polite letters felt himself degraded by sinking into the diurnal narrator of political events, which so frequently originate in rumours and party fictions. From this time, newspapers and periodical literature became distinct works—at present, there seems to be an attempt to revive this union; it is a retrograde step for the independent dignity of literature.[Pg 161]


The strange trials to which those suspected of guilt were put in the middle ages, conducted with many devout ceremonies by the ministers of religion, were pronounced to be the judgments of God! The ordeal consisted of various kinds: walking blindfold amidst burning ploughshares; passing through fires; holding in the hand a red-hot bar; and plunging the arm into boiling water: the popular affirmation—"I will put my hand in the fire to confirm this," was derived from this custom of our rude ancestors. Challenging the accuser to single combat, when frequently the stoutest champion was allowed to supply their place; swallowing a morsel of consecrated bread; sinking or swimming in a river for witchcraft; or weighing a witch; stretching out the arms before the cross, till the champion soonest wearied dropped his arms, and lost his estate, which was decided by this very short chancery suit, called the judicium crucis. The bishop of Paris and the abbot of St. Denis disputed about the patronage of a monastery: Pepin the Short, not being able to decide on their confused claims, decreed one of these judgments of God, that of the Cross. The bishop and abbot each chose a man, and both the men appeared in the chapel, where they stretched out their arms in the form of a cross. The spectators, more devout than the mob of the present day, but still the mob, were piously attentive, but betted however now for one man, now for the other, and critically watched the slightest motion of the arms. The bishop's man was first tired:—he let his arms fall, and ruined his patron's cause for ever. Though sometimes these trials might be eluded by the artifice of the priest, numerous were the innocent victims who unquestionably suffered in these superstitious practices.

From the tenth to the twelfth century they were common. Hildebert, bishop of Mans, being accused of high treason by our William Rufus, was prepared to undergo one of these trials, when Ives, bishop of Chartres, convinced him that they were against the canons of the constitutions of the church, and adds, that in this manner Innocentiam defendere, set innocentiam perdere.

An abbot of St. Aubin, of Angers, in 1066, having refused to present a horse to the Viscount of Tours, which the[Pg 162] viscount claimed in right of his lordship, whenever an abbot first took possession of that abbey, the ecclesiastic offered to justify himself by the trial of the ordeal, or by duel, for which he proposed to furnish a man. The viscount at first agreed to the duel; but, reflecting that these combats, though sanctioned by the church, depended wholly on the skill or vigour of the adversary, and could therefore afford no substantial proof of the equity of his claim, he proposed to compromise the matter in a manner which strongly characterises the times: he waived his claim, on condition that the abbot should not forget to mention in his prayers himself, his wife, and his brothers! As the orisons appeared to the abbot, in comparison with the horse, of little or no value, he accepted the proposal.

In the tenth century the right of representation was not fixed: it was a question whether the sons of a son ought to be reckoned among the children of the family, and succeed equally with their uncles, if their fathers happened to die while their grandfathers survived. This point was decided by one of these combats. The champion in behalf of the right of children to represent their deceased father proved victorious. It was then established by a perpetual decree that they should thenceforward share in the inheritance, together with their uncles. In the eleventh century the same mode was practised to decide respecting two rival Liturgies! A pair of knights, clad in complete armour, were the critics to decide which was the authentic.

"If two neighbours," say the capitularies of Dagobert, "dispute respecting the boundaries of their possessions, let a piece of turf of the contested land be dug up by the judge, and brought by him into the court; the two parties shall touch it with the points of their swords, calling on God as a witness of their claims;—after this let them combat, and let victory decide on their rights!"

In Germany, a solemn circumstance was practised in these judicial combats. In the midst of the lists they placed a bier.—By its side stood the accuser and the accused; one at the head and the other at the foot of the bier, and leaned there for some time in profound silence, before they began the combat.

The manners of the age are faithfully painted in the ancient Fabliaux. The judicial combat is introduced by a writer of the fourteenth century, in a scene where Pilate[Pg 163] challenges Jesus Christ to single combat. Another describes the person who pierced the side of Christ as a knight who jousted with Jesus.[52]

Judicial combat appears to have been practised by the Jews. Whenever the rabbins had to decide on a dispute about property between two parties, neither of which could produce evidence to substantiate his claim, they terminated it by single combat. The rabbins were impressed by a notion, that consciousness of right would give additional confidence and strength to the rightful possessor. It may, however, be more philosophical to observe, that such judicial combats were more frequently favourable to the criminal than to the innocent, because the bold wicked man is usually more ferocious and hardy than he whom he singles out as his victim, and who only wishes to preserve his own quiet enjoyment:—in this case the assailant is the more terrible combatant.

Those accused of robbery were put to trial by a piece of barley-bread, on which the mass had been said; which if they could not swallow, they were declared guilty. This mode of trial was improved by adding to the bread a slice of cheese; and such was their credulity, that they were very particular in this holy bread and cheese, called the corsned. The bread was to be of unleavened barley, and the cheese made of ewe's milk in the month of May.

Du Cange observed, that the expression—"May this piece of bread choke me!" comes from this custom. The anecdote[Pg 164] of Earl Godwin's death by swallowing a piece of bread, in making this asseveration, is recorded in our history. Doubtless superstition would often terrify the innocent person, in the attempt of swallowing a consecrated morsel.

Among the proofs of guilt in superstitious ages was that of the bleeding of a corpse. It was believed, that at the touch or approach of the murderer the blood gushed out of the murdered. By the side of the bier, if the slightest change was observable in the eyes, the mouth, feet, or hands of the corpse, the murderer was conjectured to be present, and many innocent spectators must have suffered death. "When a body is full of blood, warmed by a sudden external heat, and a putrefaction coming on, some of the blood-vessels will burst, as they will all in time." This practice was once allowed in England, and is still looked on in some of the uncivilized parts of these kingdoms as a detection of the criminal. It forms a solemn picture in the histories and ballads of our old writers.

Robertson observes, that all these absurd institutions were cherished from the superstitious of the age believing the legendary histories of those saints who crowd and disgrace the Roman calendar. These fabulous miracles had been declared authentic by the bulls of the popes and the decrees of councils; they were greedily swallowed by the populace; and whoever believed that the Supreme Being had interposed miraculously on those trivial occasions mentioned in legends, could not but expect the intervention of Heaven in these most solemn appeals. These customs were a substitute for written laws, which that barbarous period had not; and as no society can exist without laws, the ignorance of the people had recourse to these customs, which, evil and absurd as they were, closed endless controversies. Ordeals are in truth the rude laws of a barbarous people who have not yet obtained a written code, and are not sufficiently advanced in civilization to enter into the refined inquiries, the subtile distinctions, and elaborate investigations, which a court of law demands.

These ordeals probably originate in that one of Moses called the "Waters of Jealousy." The Greeks likewise had ordeals, for in the Antigonus of Sophocles the soldiers offer to prove their innocence by handling red-hot iron, and walking between fires. One cannot but smile at the whimsical ordeals of the Siamese. Among other practices to discover[Pg 165] the justice of a cause, civil or criminal, they are particularly attached to using certain consecrated purgative pills, which they make the contending parties swallow. He who retains them longest gains his cause! The practice of giving Indians a consecrated grain of rice to swallow is known to discover the thief, in any company, by the contortions and dismay evident on the countenance of the real thief.

In the middle ages, they were acquainted with secrets to pass unhurt these singular trials. Voltaire mentions one for undergoing the ordeal of boiling water. Our late travellers in the East have confirmed this statement. The Mevleheh dervises can hold red-hot iron between their teeth. Such artifices have been often publicly exhibited at Paris and London. Mr. Sharon Turner observes, on the ordeal of the Anglo-Saxons, that the hand was not to be immediately inspected, and was left to the chance of a good constitution to be so far healed during three days (the time they required to be bound up and sealed, before it was examined) as to discover those appearances when inspected, which were allowed to be satisfactory. There was likewise much preparatory training, suggested by the more experienced; besides, the accused had an opportunity of going alone into the church, and making terms with the priest. The few spectators were always distant; and cold iron might be substituted, and the fire diminished, at the moment.

They possessed secrets and medicaments, to pass through these trials in perfect security. An anecdote of these times may serve to show their readiness. A rivalship existed between the Austin-friars and the Jesuits. The father-general of the Austin-friars was dining with the Jesuits; and when the table was removed, he entered into a formal discourse of the superiority of the monastic order, and charged the Jesuits, in unqualified terms, with assuming the title of "fratres," while they held not the three vows, which other monks were obliged to consider as sacred and binding. The general of the Austin-friars was very eloquent and very authoritative:—and the superior of the Jesuits was very unlearned, but not half a fool.

The Jesuit avoided entering the list of controversy with the Austin-friar, but arrested his triumph by asking him if he would see one of his friars, who pretended to be nothing more than a Jesuit, and one of the Austin-friars who religiously performed the aforesaid three vows, show instantly[Pg 166] which of them would be the readier to obey his superiors? The Austin-friar consented. The Jesuit then turning to one of his brothers, the holy friar Mark, who was waiting on them, said, "Brother Mark, our companions are cold. I command you, in virtue of the holy obedience you have sworn to me, to bring here instantly out of the kitchen-fire, and in your hands, some burning coals, that they may warm themselves over your hands." Father Mark instantly obeys, and, to the astonishment of the Austin-friar, brought in his hands a supply of red burning coals, and held them to whoever chose to warm himself; and at the command of his superior returned them to the kitchen-hearth. The general of the Austin-friars, with the rest of his brotherhood, stood amazed; he looked wistfully on one of his monks, as if he wished to command him to do the like. But the Austin monk, who perfectly understood him, and saw this was not a time to hesitate, observed,—"Reverend father, forbear, and do not command me to tempt God! I am ready to fetch you fire in a chafing-dish, but not in my bare hands." The triumph of the Jesuits was complete; and it is not necessary to add, that the miracle was noised about, and that the Austin-friars could never account for it, notwithstanding their strict performance of the three vows!


Innocent the Third, a pope as enterprising as he was successful in his enterprises, having sent Dominic with some missionaries into Languedoc, these men so irritated the heretics they were sent to convert, that most of them were assassinated at Toulouse in the year 1200. He called in the aid of temporal arms, and published against them a crusade, granting, as was usual with the popes on similar occasions, all kinds of indulgences and pardons to those who should arm against these Mahometans, so he termed these unfortunate Languedocians. Once all were Turks when they were not Romanists. Raymond, Count of Toulouse, was constrained to submit. The inhabitants were passed on the edge of the sword, without distinction of age or sex. It was then he established that scourge of Europe, The Inquisition. This pope considered that, though men might be compelled to[Pg 167] submit by arms, numbers might remain professing particular dogmas; and he established this sanguinary tribunal solely to inspect into all families, and Inquire concerning all persons who they imagined were unfriendly to the interests of Rome. Dominic did so much by his persecuting inquiries, that he firmly established the Inquisition at Toulouse.

Not before the year 1484 it became known in Spain. To another Dominican, John de Torquemada, the court of Rome owed this obligation. As he was the confessor of Queen Isabella, he had extorted from her a promise, that if ever she ascended the throne, she would use every means to extirpate heresy and heretics. Ferdinand had conquered Granada, and had expelled from the Spanish realms multitudes of unfortunate Moors. A few remained, whom, with the Jews, he compelled to become Christians: they at least assumed the name; but it was well known that both these nations naturally respected their own faith, rather than that of the Christians. This race was afterwards distinguished as Christianos Novos; and in forming marriages, the blood of the Hidalgo was considered to lose its purity by mingling with such a suspicious source.

Torquemada pretended that this dissimulation would greatly hurt the interests of the holy religion. The queen listened with respectful diffidence to her confessor; and at length gained over the king to consent to the establishment of this unrelenting tribunal. Torquemada, indefatigable in his zeal for the holy chair, in the space of fourteen years that he exercised the office of chief inquisitor, is said to have prosecuted near eighty thousand persons, of whom six thousand were condemned to the flames.

Voltaire attributes the taciturnity of the Spaniards to the universal horror such proceedings spread. "A general jealousy and suspicion took possession of all ranks of people: friendship and sociability were at an end! Brothers were afraid of brothers, fathers of their children."

The situation and the feelings of one imprisoned in the cells of the Inquisition are forcibly painted by Orobio, a mild, and meek, and learned man, whose controversy with Limborch is well known. When he escaped from Spain he took refuge in Holland, was circumcised, and died a philosophical Jew. He has left this admirable description of himself in the cell of the Inquisition. "Inclosed in this dungeon I could not even find space enough to turn myself about; I suf[Pg 168]fered so much that I felt my brain disordered. I frequently asked myself, am I really Don Balthazar Orobio, who used to walk about Seville at my pleasure, who so greatly enjoyed myself with my wife and children? I often imagined that all my life had only been a dream, and that I really had been born in this dungeon! The only amusement I could invent was metaphysical disputations. I was at once opponent, respondent, and præses!"

In the cathedral at Saragossa is the tomb of a famous inquisitor; six pillars surround this tomb; to each is chained a Moor, as preparatory to his being burnt. On this St. Foix ingeniously observes, "If ever the Jack Ketch of any country should be rich enough to have a splendid tomb, this might serve as an excellent model."

The Inquisition punished heretics by fire, to elude the maxim, "Ecclesia non novit sanguinem;" for burning a man, say they, does not shed his blood. Otho, the bishop at the Norman invasion, in the tapestry worked by Matilda the queen of William the Conqueror, is represented with a mace in his hand, for the purpose that when he despatched his antagonist he might not spill blood, but only break his bones! Religion has had her quibbles as well as law.

The establishment of this despotic order was resisted in France; but it may perhaps surprise the reader that a recorder of London, in a speech, urged the necessity of setting up an Inquisition in England! It was on the trial of Penn the Quaker, in 1670, who was acquitted by the jury, which highly provoked the said recorder. "Magna Charta," writes the prefacer to the trial, "with the recorder of London, is nothing more than Magna F——!" It appears that the jury, after being kept two days and two nights to alter their verdict, were in the end both fined and imprisoned. Sir John Howell, the recorder, said, "Till now I never understood the reason of the policy and prudence of the Spaniards in suffering the Inquisition among them; and certainly it will not be well with us, till something like unto the Spanish Inquisition be in England." Thus it will ever be, while both parties struggling for the pre-eminence rush to the sharp extremity of things, and annihilate the trembling balance of the constitution. But the adopted motto of Lord Erskine must ever be that of every Briton, "Trial by Jury."

So late as the year 1761, Gabriel Malagrida, an old man of seventy, was burnt by these evangelical executioners. His[Pg 169] trial was printed at Amsterdam, 1762, from the Lisbon copy. And for what was this unhappy Jesuit condemned? Not, as some have imagined, for his having been concerned in a conspiracy against the king of Portugal. No other charge is laid to him in this trial but that of having indulged certain heretical notions, which any other tribunal but that of the Inquisition would have looked upon as the delirious fancies of a fanatical old man. Will posterity believe, that in the eighteenth century an aged visionary was led to the stake for having said, amongst other extravagances, that "The holy Virgin having commanded him to write the life of Anti-Christ, told him that he, Malagrida, was a second John, but more clear than John the Evangelist; that there were to be three Anti-Christs, and that the last should be born at Milan, of a monk and a nun, in the year 1920; and that he would marry Proserpine, one of the infernal furies."

For such ravings as these the unhappy old man was burnt in recent times. Granger assures us, that in his remembrance a horse that had been taught to tell the spots upon cards, the hour of the day, &c., by significant tokens, was, together with his owner, put into the Inquisition for both of them dealing with the devil! A man of letters declared that, having fallen into their hands, nothing perplexed him so much as the ignorance of the inquisitor and his council; and it seemed very doubtful whether they had read even the Scriptures.[53]

One of the most interesting anecdotes relating to the terrible Inquisition, exemplifying how the use of the diabolical engines of torture forces men to confess crimes they have not been guilty of, was related to me by a Portuguese gentleman.

A nobleman in Lisbon having heard that his physician and friend was imprisoned by the Inquisition, under the stale pretext of Judaism, addressed a letter to one of them to request his freedom, assuring the inquisitor that his friend was as orthodox a Christian as himself. The physician, notwithstanding this high recommendation, was put to the torture; and, as was usually the case, at the height of his sufferings confessed everything they wished! This enraged the nobleman, and feigning a dangerous illness he begged the inquisitor would come to give him his last spiritual aid.

As soon as the Dominican arrived, the lord, who had prepared his confidential servants, commanded the inquisitor in[Pg 170] their presence to acknowledge himself a Jew, to write his confession, and to sign it. On the refusal of the inquisitor, the nobleman ordered his people to put on the inquisitor's head a red-hot helmet, which to his astonishment, in drawing aside a screen, he beheld glowing in a small furnace. At the sight of this new instrument of torture, "Luke's iron crown," the monk wrote and subscribed the abhorred confession. The nobleman then observed, "See now the enormity of your manner of proceeding with unhappy men! My poor physician, like you, has confessed Judaism; but with this difference, only torments have forced that from him which fear alone has drawn from you!"

The Inquisition has not failed of receiving its due praises. Macedo, a Portuguese Jesuit, has discovered the "Origin of the Inquisition" in the terrestrial Paradise, and presumes to allege that God was the first who began the functions of an inquisitor over Cain and the workmen of Babel! Macedo, however, is not so dreaming a personage as he appears; for he obtained a Professor's chair at Padua for the arguments he delivered at Venice against the pope, which were published by the title of "The literary Roarings of the Lion at St. Mark;" besides he is the author of 109 different works; but it is curious to observe how far our interest is apt to prevail over our conscience,—Macedo praised the Inquisition up to the skies, while he sank the pope to nothing!

Among the great revolutions of this age, and since the last edition of this work, the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal is abolished—but its history enters into that of the human mind; and the history of the Inquisition by Limborch, translated by Chandler, with a very curious "Introduction," loses none of its value with the philosophical mind. This monstrous tribunal of human opinions aimed at the sovereignty of the intellectual world, without intellect.

In these changeful times, the history of the Inquisition is not the least mutable. The Inquisition, which was abolished, was again restored—and at the present moment, I know not whether it is to be restored or abolished.[Pg 171]


The Maldivian islanders eat alone. They retire into the most hidden parts of their houses; and they draw down the cloths that serve as blinds to their windows, that they may eat unobserved. This custom probably arises from the savage, in early periods of society, concealing himself to eat: he fears that another, with as sharp an appetite, but more strong than himself, should come and ravish his meal from him. The ideas of witchcraft are also widely spread among barbarians; and they are not a little fearful that some incantation may be thrown among their victuals.

In noticing the solitary meal of the Maldivian islander, another reason may be alleged for this misanthropical repast. They never will eat with any one who is inferior to them in birth, in riches, or dignity; and as it is a difficult matter to settle this equality, they are condemned to lead this unsocial life.

On the contrary, the islanders of the Philippines are remarkably social. Whenever one of them finds himself without a companion to partake of his meal, he runs till he meets with one; and we are assured that, however keen his appetite may be, he ventures not to satisfy it without a guest.[54]

Savages, says Montaigne, when they eat, "S'essuyent les doigts aux cuisses, à la bourse des génitoires, et à la plante des pieds." We cannot forbear exulting in the polished convenience of napkins!

The tables of the rich Chinese shine with a beautiful varnish, and are covered with silk carpets very elegantly worked. They do not make use of plates, knives, and forks: every guest has two little ivory or ebony sticks, which he handles very adroitly.

The Otaheiteans, who are naturally social, and very gentle in their manners, feed separately from each other. At the hour of repast, the members of each family divide; two brothers, two sisters, and even husband and wife, father and mother, have each their respective basket. They place themselves at the distance of two or three yards from each other;[Pg 172] they turn their backs, and take their meal in profound silence.

The custom of drinking at different hours from those assigned for eating exists among many savage nations. Originally begun from necessity, it became a habit, which subsisted even when the fountain was near to them. A people transplanted, observes an ingenious philosopher, preserve in another climate modes of living which relate to those from whence they originally came. It is thus the Indians of Brazil scrupulously abstain from eating when they drink, and from drinking when they eat.[55]

When neither decency nor politeness is known, the man who invites his friends to a repast is greatly embarrassed to testify his esteem for his guests, and to offer them some amusement; for the savage guest imposes on himself this obligation. Amongst the greater part of the American Indians, the host is continually on the watch to solicit them to eat, but touches nothing himself. In New France, he wearies himself with singing, to divert the company while they eat.

When civilization advances, men wish to show their confidence to their friends: they treat their guests as relations; and it is said that in China the master of a house, to give a mark of his politeness, absents himself while his guests regale themselves at his table with undisturbed revelry.[56]

The demonstrations of friendship in a rude state have a savage and gross character, which it is not a little curious to observe. The Tartars pull a man by the ear to press him to drink, and they continue tormenting him till he opens his mouth; then they clap their hands and dance before him.

No customs seem more ridiculous than those practised by a Kamschatkan, when he wishes to make another his friend. He first invites him to eat. The host and his guest strip themselves in a cabin which is heated to an uncommon degree. While the guest devours the food with which they serve him, the other continually stirs the fire. The stranger must bear the excess of the heat as well as of the repast. He vomits ten times before he will yield; but, at length obliged to acknowledge himself overcome, he begins to compound matters. He purchases a moment's respite by a present of[Pg 173] clothes or dogs; for his host threatens to heat the cabin, and oblige him to eat till he dies. The stranger has the right of retaliation allowed to him: he treats in the same manner, and exacts the same presents. Should his host not accept the invitation of him whom he had so handsomely regaled, in that case the guest would take possession of his cabin, till he had the presents returned to him which the other had in so singular a manner obtained.

For this extravagant custom a curious reason has been alleged. It is meant to put the person to a trial, whose friendship is sought. The Kamschatkan who is at the expense of the fires, and the repast, is desirous to know if the stranger has the strength to support pain with him, and if he is generous enough to share with him some part of his property. While the guest is employed on his meal, he continues heating the cabin to an insupportable degree; and for a last proof of the stranger's constancy and attachment, he exacts more clothes and more dogs. The host passes through the same ceremonies in the cabin of the stranger; and he shows, in his turn, with what degree of fortitude he can defend his friend. The most singular customs would appear simple, if it were possible for the philosopher to understand them on the spot.

As a distinguishing mark of their esteem, the negroes of Ardra drink out of one cup at the same time. The king of Loango eats in one house, and drinks in another. A Kamschatkan kneels before his guests; he cuts an enormous slice from a sea-calf; he crams it entire into the mouth of his friend, furiously crying out "Tana!"—There! and cutting away what hangs about his lips, snatches and swallows it with avidity.

A barbarous magnificence attended the feasts of the ancient monarchs of France. After their coronation or consecration, when they sat at table, the nobility served them on horseback.


Saint Chrysostom has this very acute observation on kings: Many monarchs are infected with a strange wish that their successors may turn out bad princes. Good kings desire it, as they imagine, continues this pious politician, that their glory will appear the more splendid by the contrast; and the[Pg 174] bad desire it, as they consider such kings will serve to countenance their own misdemeanours.

Princes, says Gracian, are willing to be aided, but not surpassed: which maxim is thus illustrated.

A Spanish lord having frequently played at chess with Philip II., and won all the games, perceived, when his Majesty rose from play, that he was much ruffled with chagrin. The lord, when he returned home, said to his family—"My children, we have nothing more to do at court: there we must expect no favour; for the king is offended at my having won of him every game of chess." As chess entirely depends on the genius of the players, and not on fortune, King Philip the chess-player conceived he ought to suffer no rival.

This appears still clearer by the anecdote told of the Earl of Sunderland, minister to George I., who was partial to the game of chess. He once played with the Laird of Cluny, and the learned Cunningham, the editor of Horace. Cunningham, with too much skill and too much sincerity, beat his lordship. "The earl was so fretted at his superiority and surliness, that he dismissed him without any reward. Cluny allowed himself sometimes to be beaten; and by that means got his pardon, with something handsome besides."

In the Criticon of Gracian, there is a singular anecdote relative to kings.

A Polish monarch having quitted his companions when he was hunting, his courtiers found him, a few days after, in a market-place, disguised as a porter, and lending out the use of his shoulders for a few pence. At this they were as much surprised as they were doubtful at first whether the porter could be his majesty. At length they ventured to express their complaints that so great a personage should debase himself by so vile an employment. His majesty having heard them, replied—"Upon my honour, gentlemen, the load which I quitted is by far heavier than the one you see me carry here: the weightiest is but a straw, when compared to that world under which I laboured. I have slept more in four nights than I have during all my reign. I begin to live, and to be king of myself. Elect whom you choose. For me, who am so well, it were madness to return to court." Another Polish king, who succeeded this philosophic monarchical porter, when they placed the sceptre in his hand, exclaimed—"I had rather tug at an oar!" The vacillating fortunes of the Polish monarchy present several of these[Pg 175] anecdotes; their monarchs appear to have frequently been philosophers; and, as the world is made, an excellent philosopher proves but an indifferent king.

Two observations on kings were offered to a courtier with great naïveté by that experienced politician, the Duke of Alva:—"Kings who affect to be familiar with their companions make use of men as they do of oranges; they take oranges to extract their juice, and when they are well sucked they throw them away. Take care the king does not do the same to you; be careful that he does not read all your thoughts; otherwise he will throw you aside to the back of his chest, as a book of which he has read enough." "The squeezed orange," the King of Prussia applied in his dispute with Voltaire.

When it was suggested to Dr. Johnson that kings must be unhappy because they are deprived of the greatest of all satisfactions, easy and unreserved society, he observed that this was an ill-founded notion. "Being a king does not exclude a man from such society. Great kings have always been social. The King of Prussia, the only great king at present (this was THE GREAT Frederic) is very social. Charles the Second, the last king of England who was a man of parts, was social; our Henries and Edwards were all social."

The Marquis of Halifax, in his character of Charles II., has exhibited a trait in the royal character of a good-natured monarch; that trait, is sauntering. I transcribe this curious observation, which introduces us into a levee.

"There was as much of laziness as of love in all those hours which he passed amongst his mistresses, who served only to fill up his seraglio, while a bewitching kind of pleasure, called SAUNTERING, was the sultana queen he delighted in.

"The thing called SAUNTERING is a stronger temptation to princes than it is to others.—The being galled with importunities, pursued from one room to another with asking faces; the dismal sound of unreasonable complaints and ill-grounded pretences; the deformity of fraud ill-disguised:—all these would make any man run away from them, and I used to think it was the motive for making him walk so fast."[Pg 176]


The title of illustrious was never given, till the reign of Constantine, but to those whose reputation was splendid in arms or in letters. Adulation had not yet adopted this noble word into her vocabulary. Suetonius composed a book to record those who had possessed this title; and, as it was then bestowed, a moderate volume was sufficient to contain their names.

In the time of Constantine, the title of illustrious was given more particularly to those princes who had distinguished themselves in war; but it was not continued to their descendants. At length, it became very common; and every son of a prince was illustrious. It is now a convenient epithet for the poet.

In the rage for TITLES the ancient lawyers in Italy were not satisfied by calling kings ILLUSTRES; they went a step higher, and would have emperors to be super-illustres, a barbarous coinage of their own.

In Spain, they published a book of titles for their kings, as well as for the Portuguese; but Selden tells us, that "their Cortesias and giving of titles grew at length, through the affectation of heaping great attributes on their princes to such an insufferable forme, that a remedie was provided against it." This remedy was an act published by Philip III. which ordained that all the Cortesias, as they termed these strange phrases they had so servilely and ridiculously invented, should be reduced to a simple superscription, "To the king our lord," leaving out those fantastical attributes of which every secretary had vied with his predecessors in increasing the number.

It would fill three or four of these pages to transcribe the titles and attributes of the Grand Signior, which he assumes in a letter to Henry IV. Selden, in his "Titles of Honour," first part, p. 140, has preserved them. This "emperor of victorious emperors," as he styles himself, at length condescended to agree with the emperor of Germany, in 1606, that in all their letters and instruments they should be only styled father and son: the emperor calling the sultan his son; and the sultan the emperor, in regard of his years, his father.[Pg 177]

Formerly, says Houssaie, the title of highness was only given to kings; but now it has become so common that all the great houses assume it. All the great, says a modern, are desirous of being confounded with princes, and are ready to seize on the privileges of royal dignity. We have already come to highness. The pride of our descendants, I suspect, will usurp that of majesty.

Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his queen Isabella of Castile, were only treated with the title of highness. Charles was the first who took that of majesty: not in his quality of king of Spain, but as emperor. St. Foix informs us, that kings were usually addressed by the titles of most illustrious, or your serenity, or your grace; but that the custom of giving them that of majesty was only established by Louis XI., a prince the least majestic in all his actions, his manners, and his exterior—a severe monarch, but no ordinary man, the Tiberius of France. The manners of this monarch were most sordid; in public audiences he dressed like the meanest of the people, and affected to sit on an old broken chair, with a filthy dog on his knees. In an account found of his household, this majestic prince has a charge made him for two new sleeves sewed on one of his old doublets.

Formerly kings were apostrophised by the title of your grace. Henry VIII. was the first, says Houssaie, who assumed the title of highness; and at length majesty. It was Francis I. who saluted him with this last title, in their interview in the year 1520, though he called himself only the first gentleman in his kingdom!

So distinct were once the titles of highness and excellence, that when Don Juan, the brother of Philip II., was permitted to take up the latter title, and the city of Granada saluted him by the title of highness, it occasioned such serious jealousy at court, that had he persisted in it, he would have been condemned for treason.

The usual title of cardinals, about 1600, was seignoria illustrissima; the Duke of Lerma, the Spanish minister and cardinal, in his old age, assumed the title of eccellencia reverendissima. The church of Rome was in its glory, and to be called reverend was then accounted a higher honour than to be styled illustrious. But by use illustrious grew familiar, and reverend vulgar, and at last the cardinals were distinguished by the title of eminent.

After all these historical notices respecting these titles, the[Pg 178] reader will smile when he is acquainted with the reason of an honest curate of Montferrat, who refused to bestow the title of highness on the duke of Mantua, because he found in his breviary these words, Tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus; from all which he concluded, that none but the Lord was to be honoured with the title of highness! The "Titles of Honour" of Selden is a very curious volume, and, as the learned Usher told Evelyn, the most valuable work of this great scholar. The best edition is a folio of about one thousand pages. Selden vindicates the right of a king of England to the title of emperor.

"And never yet was TITLE did not move;
And never eke a mind, that TITLE did not love."


In countries where despotism exists in all its force, and is gratified in all its caprices, either the intoxication of power has occasioned sovereigns to assume the most solemn and the most fantastic titles; or the royal duties and functions were considered of so high and extensive a nature, that the people expressed their notion of the pure monarchical state by the most energetic descriptions of oriental fancy.

The chiefs of the Natchez are regarded by their people as the children of the sun, and they bear the name of their father.

The titles which some chiefs assume are not always honourable in themselves; it is sufficient if the people respect them. The king of Quiterva calls himself the great lion; and for this reason lions are there so much respected, that they are not allowed to kill them, but at certain royal huntings.

The king of Monomotapa is surrounded by musicians and poets, who adulate him by such refined flatteries as lord of the sun and moon; great magician; and great thief!—where probably thievery is merely a term for dexterity.

The Asiatics have bestowed what to us appear as ridiculous titles of honour on their princes. The king of Arracan assumes the following ones: "Emperor of Arracan, possessor of the white elephant, and the two ear-rings, and in virtue of this possession legitimate heir of Pegu and Brama; lord of the twelve provinces of Bengal, and the twelve kings who place their heads under his feet."[Pg 179]

His majesty of Ava is called God: when he writes to a foreign sovereign he calls himself the king of kings, whom all others should obey, as he is the cause of the preservation of all animals; the regulator of the seasons, the absolute master of the ebb and flow of the sea, brother to the sun, and king of the four-and-twenty umbrellas! These umbrellas are always carried before him as a mark of his dignity.

The titles of the kings of Achem are singular, though voluminous. The most striking ones are sovereign of the universe, whose body is luminous as the sun; whom God created to be as accomplished as the moon at her plenitude; whose eye glitters like the northern star; a king as spiritual as a ball is round; who when he rises shades all his people; from under whose feet a sweet odour is wafted, &c. &c.

The Kandyan sovereign is called Dewo (God). In a deed of gift he proclaims his extraordinary attributes. "The protector of religion, whose fame is infinite, and of surpassing excellence, exceeding the moon, the unexpanded jessamine buds, the stars, &c.; whose feet are as fragrant to the noses of other kings as flowers to bees; our most noble patron and god by custom," &c.

After a long enumeration of the countries possessed by the king of Persia, they give him some poetical distinctions: the branch of honour; the mirror of virtue; and the rose of delight.


There is a curious dissertation in the "Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres," by the Abbé Mongault, "on the divine honours which were paid to the governors of provinces during the Roman republic;" in their lifetime these originally began in gratitude, and at length degenerated into flattery. These facts curiously show how far the human mind can advance, when led on by customs that operate unperceivably on it, and blind us in our absurdities. One of these ceremonies was exquisitely ludicrous. When they voted a statue to a proconsul, they placed it among the statues of the gods in the festival called Lectisternium, from the ridiculous circumstances of this solemn festival. On that day the gods were invited to a repast, which was however spread in various quarters of the city, to satiate mouths more mortal. The gods were however taken[Pg 180] down from their pedestals, laid on beds ornamented in their temples; pillows were placed under their marble heads; and while they reposed in this easy posture they were served with a magnificent repast. When Cæsar had conquered Rome, the servile senate put him to dine with the gods! Fatigued by and ashamed of these honours, he desired the senate to erase from his statue in the capitol the title they had given him of a demi-god!

The adulations lavished on the first Roman emperors were extravagant; but perhaps few know that they were less offensive than the flatterers of the third century under the Pagan, and of the fourth under the Christian emperors. Those who are acquainted with the character of the age of Augustulus have only to look at the one, and the other code, to find an infinite number of passages which had not been tolerable even in that age. For instance, here is a law of Arcadius and Honorius, published in 404:—

"Let the officers of the palace be warned to abstain from frequenting tumultuous meetings; and that those who, instigated by a sacrilegious temerity, dare to oppose the authority of our divinity, shall be deprived of their employments, and their estates confiscated." The letters they write are holy. When the sons speak of their fathers, it is, "Their father of divine memory;" or "Their divine father." They call their own laws oracles, and celestial oracles. So also their subjects address them by the titles of "Your Perpetuity, your Eternity." And it appears by a law of Theodoric the Great, that the emperors at length added this to their titles. It begins, "If any magistrate, after having concluded a public work, put his name rather than that of Our Perpetuity, let him be judged guilty of high-treason." All this reminds one of "the celestial empire" of the Chinese.

Whenever the Great Mogul made an observation, Bernier tells us that some of the first Omrahs lifted up their hands, crying, "Wonder! wonder! wonder!" And a proverb current in his dominion was, "If the king saith at noonday it is night, you are to say, Behold the moon and the stars!" Such adulation, however, could not alter the general condition and fortune of this unhappy being, who became a sovereign without knowing what it is to be one. He was brought out of the seraglio to be placed on the throne, and it was he, rather than the spectators, who might have truly used the interjection of astonishment![Pg 181]


Fortune never appears in a more extravagant humour than when she reduces monarchs to become mendicants. Half a century ago it was not imagined that our own times should have to record many such instances. After having contemplated kings raised into divinities, we see them now depressed as beggars. Our own times, in two opposite senses, may emphatically be distinguished as the age of kings.

In Candide, or the Optimist, there is an admirable stroke of Voltaire's. Eight travellers meet in an obscure inn, and some of them with not sufficient money to pay for a scurvy dinner. In the course of conversation, they are discovered to be eight monarchs in Europe, who had been deprived of their crowns!

What added to this exquisite satire was, that there were eight living monarchs at that moment wanderers on the earth;—a circumstance which has since occurred!

Adelaide, the widow of Lothario, king of Italy, one of the most beautiful women in her age, was besieged in Pavia by Berenger, who resolved to constrain her to marry his son after Pavia was taken; she escaped from her prison with her almoner. The archbishop of Reggio had offered her an asylum: to reach it, she and her almoner travelled on foot through the country by night, concealing herself in the day-time among the corn, while the almoner begged for alms and food through the villages.

The emperor Henry IV. after having been deposed and imprisoned by his son, Henry V., escaped from prison; poor, vagrant, and without aid, he entreated the bishop of Spires to grant him a lay prebend in his church. "I have studied," said he, "and have learned to sing, and may therefore be of some service to you." The request was denied, and he died miserably and obscurely at Liege, after having drawn the attention of Europe to his victories and his grandeur!

Mary of Medicis, the widow of Henry the Great, mother of Louis XIII., mother-in-law of three sovereigns, and regent of France, frequently wanted the necessaries of life, and died at Cologne in the utmost misery. The intrigues of Richelieu compelled her to exile herself, and live an unhappy fugitive. Her petition exists, with this supplicatory open[Pg 182]ing: "Supplie Marie, Reine de France et de Navarre, disant, que depuis le 23 Février elle aurait été arrêtée prisonnière au château de Compiègne, sans être ni accusée ni soupçonné," &c. Lilly, the astrologer, in his Life and Death of King Charles the First, presents us with a melancholy picture of this unfortunate monarch. He has also described the person of the old queen-mother of France:—

"In the month of August, 1641, I beheld the old queen-mother of France departing from London, in company of Thomas, Earl of Arundel. A sad spectacle of mortality it was, and produced tears from mine eyes and many other beholders, to see an aged, lean, decrepit, poor queen, ready for her grave, necessitated to depart hence, having no place of residence in this world left her, but where the courtesy of her hard fortune assigned it. She had been the only stately and magnificent woman of Europe: wife to the greatest king that ever lived in France; mother unto one king and unto two queens."

In the year 1595, died at Paris, Antonio, king of Portugal. His body is interred at the Cordeliers, and his heart deposited at the Ave-Maria. Nothing on earth could compel this prince to renounce his crown. He passed over to England, and Elizabeth assisted him with troops; but at length he died in France in great poverty. This dethroned monarch was happy in one thing, which is indeed rare: in all his miseries he had a servant, who proved a tender and faithful friend, and who only desired to participate in his misfortunes, and to soften his miseries; and for the recompense of his services he only wished to be buried at the feet of his dear master. This hero in loyalty, to whom the ancient Romans would have raised altars, was Don Diego Bothei, one of the greatest lords of the court of Portugal, and who drew his origin from the kings of Bohemia.

Hume supplies an anecdote of singular royal distress. The queen of England, with her son Charles, "had a moderate pension assigned her; but it was so ill paid, and her credit ran so low, that one morning when the Cardinal de Retz waited on her, she informed him that her daughter, the Princess Henrietta, was obliged to lie a-bed for want of a fire to warm her. To such a condition was reduced, in the midst of Paris, a queen of England, and a daughter of Henry IV. of France!" We find another proof of her extreme[Pg 183] poverty. Salmasius, after publishing his celebrated political book, in favour of Charles I., the Defensio Regia, was much blamed by a friend for not having sent a copy to the widowed queen of Charles, who, he writes, "though poor, would yet have paid the bearer."

The daughter of James the First, who married the Elector Palatine, in her attempts to get her husband crowned, was reduced to the utmost distress, and wandered frequently in disguise.

A strange anecdote is related of Charles VII. of France. Our Henry V. had shrunk his kingdom into the town of Bourges. It is said that having told a shoemaker, after he had just tried a pair of his boots, that he had no money to pay for them, Crispin had such callous feelings that he refused his majesty the boots. "It is for this reason," says Comines, "I praise those princes who are on good terms with the lowest of their people; for they know not at what hour they may want them."

Many monarchs of this day have experienced more than once the truth of the reflection of Comines.

We may add here, that in all conquered countries the descendants of royal families have been found among the dregs of the populace. An Irish prince has been discovered in the person of a miserable peasant; and in Mexico, its faithful historian Clavigero notices, that he has known a locksmith, who was a descendant of its ancient kings, and a tailor, the representative of one of its noblest families.


Barbarous as the feudal customs were, they were the first attempts at organising European society. The northern nations, in their irruptions and settlements in Europe, were barbarians independent of each other, till a sense of public safety induced these hordes to confederate. But the private individual reaped no benefit from the public union; on the contrary, he seems to have lost his wild liberty in the subjugation; he in a short time was compelled to suffer from his chieftain; and the curiosity of the philosopher is excited by contemplating in the feudal customs a barbarous people carrying into their first social institutions their original ferocity.[Pg 184] The institution of forming cities into communities at length gradually diminished this military and aristocratic tyranny; and the freedom of cities, originating in the pursuits of commerce, shook off the yoke of insolent lordships. A famous ecclesiastical writer of that day, who had imbibed the feudal prejudices, calls these communities, which were distinguished by the name of libertates (hence probably our municipal term the liberties), as "execrable inventions, by which, contrary to law and justice, slaves withdrew themselves from that obedience which they owed to their masters." Such was the expiring voice of aristocratic tyranny! This subject has been ingeniously discussed by Robertson in his preliminary volume to Charles V.; but the following facts constitute the picture which the historian leaves to be gleaned by the minuter inquirer.

The feudal government introduced a species of servitude which till that time was unknown, and which was called the servitude of the land. The bondmen or serfs, and the villains or country servants, did not reside in the house of the lord: but they entirely depended on his caprice; and he sold them, as he did the animals, with the field where they lived, and which they cultivated.

It is difficult to conceive with what insolence the petty lords of those times tyrannized over their villains: they not only oppressed their slaves with unremitted labour, instigated by a vile cupidity, but their whim and caprice led them to inflict miseries without even any motive of interest.

In Scotland they had a shameful institution of maiden-rights; and Malcolm the Third only abolished it, by ordering that they might be redeemed by a quit-rent. The truth of this circumstance Dalrymple has attempted, with excusable patriotism, to render doubtful. There seems, however, to be no doubt of the existence of this custom; since it also spread through Germany, and various parts of Europe; and the French barons extended their domestic tyranny to three nights of involuntary prostitution. Montesquieu is infinitely French, when he could turn this shameful species of tyranny into a bon mot; for he boldly observes on this, "C'étoit bien ces trois nuits-là, qu'il falloit choisir; car pour les autres on n'auroit pas donné beaucoup d'argent." The legislator in the wit forgot the feelings of his heart.

Others, to preserve this privilege when they could not enjoy it in all its extent, thrust their leg booted into the bed[Pg 185] of the new-married couple. This was called the droit de cuisse. When the bride was in bed, the esquire or lord performed this ceremony, and stood there, his thigh in the bed, with a lance in his hand: in this ridiculous attitude he remained till he was tired; and the bridegroom was not suffered to enter the chamber till his lordship had retired. Such indecent privileges must have originated in the worst of intentions; and when afterwards they advanced a step in more humane manners, the ceremonial was preserved from avaricious motives. Others have compelled their subjects to pass the first night at the top of a tree, and there to consummate their marriage; to pass the bridal hours in a river; or to be bound naked to a cart, and to trace some furrows as they were dragged; or to leap with their feet tied over the horns of stags.

Sometimes their caprice commanded the bridegroom to appear in drawers at their castle, and plunge into a ditch of mud; and sometimes they were compelled to beat the waters of the ponds to hinder the frogs from disturbing the lord!

Wardship, or the privilege of guardianship enjoyed by some lords, was one of the barbarous inventions of the feudal ages; the guardian had both the care of the person, and for his own use the revenue of the estates. This feudal custom was so far abused in England, that the king sold these lordships to strangers; and when the guardian had fixed on a marriage for the infant, if the youth or maiden did not agree to this, they forfeited the value of the marriage; that is, the sum the guardian would have obtained by the other party had it taken place. This cruel custom was a source of domestic unhappiness, particularly in love-affairs, and has served as the ground-work of many a pathetic play by our elder dramatists.

There was a time when the German lords reckoned amongst their privileges that of robbing on the highways of their territory; which ended in raising up the famous Hanseatic Union, to protect their commerce against rapine and avaricious exactions of toll.

Geoffrey, lord of Coventry, compelled his wife to ride naked on a white pad through the streets of the town; that by this mode he might restore to the inhabitants those privileges of which his wantonness had deprived them. This anecdote some have suspected to be fictitious, from its extreme bar[Pg 186]barity; but the character of the middle ages will admit of any kind of wanton barbarism.

When the abbot of Figeac made his entry into that town, the lord of Montbron, dressed in a harlequin's coat, and one of his legs naked, was compelled by an ancient custom to conduct him to the door of his abbey, leading his horse by the bridle. Blount's "Jocular Tenures" is a curious collection of such capricious clauses in the grants of their lands.[57]

The feudal barons frequently combined to share among themselves those children of their villains who appeared to be the most healthy and serviceable, or remarkable for their talent; and not unfrequently sold them in their markets.

The feudal servitude is not, even in the present enlightened times, abolished in Poland, in Germany, and in Russia. In those countries, the bondmen are still entirely dependent on the caprice of their masters. The peasants of Hungary or Bohemia frequently revolt, and attempt to shake off the pressure of feudal tyranny.

An anecdote of comparatively recent date displays their unfeeling caprice. A lord or prince of the northern countries passing through one of his villages, observed a small assembly of peasants and their families amusing themselves with dancing. He commands his domestics to part the men from the women, and confine them in the houses. He orders the coats of the women to be drawn up above their heads, and tied with their garters. The men were then liberated, and those who did not recognise their wives in that state received a severe castigation.

Absolute dominion hardens the human heart; and nobles accustomed to command their bondmen will treat their domestics as slaves, as capricious or inhuman West Indians treated their domestic slaves. Those of Siberia punish theirs by a free use of the cudgel or rod. The Abbé Chappe saw two Russian slaves undress a chambermaid, who had by some[Pg 187] trifling negligence given offence to her mistress; after having uncovered as far as her waist, one placed her head betwixt his knees; the other held her by the feet; while both, armed with two sharp rods, violently lashed her back till it pleased the domestic tyrant to decree it was enough!

After a perusal of these anecdotes of feudal tyranny, we may exclaim with Goldsmith—

"I fly from PETTY TYRANTS—to the THRONE."

Mr. Hallam's "State of Europe during the Middle Ages" renders this short article superfluous in a philosophical view.


Gaming appears to be an universal passion. Some have attempted to deny its universality; they have imagined that it is chiefly prevalent in cold climates, where such a passion becomes most capable of agitating and gratifying the torpid minds of their inhabitants.

The fatal propensity of gaming is to be discovered, as well amongst the inhabitants of the frigid and torrid zones, as amongst those of the milder climates. The savage and the civilized, the illiterate and the learned, are alike captivated by the hope of accumulating wealth without the labours of industry.

Barbeyrac has written an elaborate treatise on gaming, and we have two quarto volumes, by C. Moore, on suicide, gaming, and duelling, which may be placed by the side of Barbeyrac. All these works are excellent sermons; but a sermon to a gambler, a duellist, or a suicide! A dice-box, a sword, and pistol, are the only things that seem to have any power over these unhappy men, for ever lost in a labyrinth of their own construction.

I am much pleased with the following thought. "The ancients," says the author of Amusemens Sérieux et Comiques, "assembled to see their gladiators kill one another; they classed this among their games! What barbarity! But are we less barbarous, we who call a game an assembly—who meet at the faro table, where the actors themselves confess they only meet to destroy one another?" In both these cases the philosopher may perhaps discover their origin in the[Pg 188] listless state of ennui requiring an immediate impulse of the passions, and very inconsiderate as to the fatal means which procure the desired agitation.

The most ancient treatise by a modern on this subject, is said to be by a French physician, one Eckeloo, who published in 1569, De Aleâ, sive de curandâ Ludendi in Pecuniam cupiditate, that is, "On games of chance, or a cure for gaming." The treatise itself is only worth notice from the circumstance of the author being himself one of the most inveterate gamblers; he wrote this work to convince himself of this folly. But in spite of all his solemn vows, the prayers of his friends, and his own book perpetually quoted before his face, he was a great gamester to his last hour! The same circumstance happened to Sir John Denham, who also published a tract against gaming, and to the last remained a gamester. They had not the good sense of old Montaigne, who gives the reason why he gave over gaming. "I used to like formerly games of chance with cards and dice; but of that folly I have long been cured; merely because I found that whatever good countenance I put on when I lost, I did not feel my vexation the less." Goldsmith fell a victim to this madness. To play any game well requires serious study, time, and experience. If a literary man plays deeply, he will be duped even by shallow fellows, as well as by professed gamblers.

Dice, and that little pugnacious animal the cock, are the chief instruments employed by the numerous nations of the East, to agitate their minds and ruin their fortunes; to which the Chinese, who are desperate gamesters, add the use of cards. When all other property is played away, the Asiatic gambler scruples not to stake his wife or his child, on the cast of a die, or the courage and strength of a martial bird. If still unsuccessful, the last venture he stakes is himself.

In the Island of Ceylon, cock-fighting is carried to a great height. The Sumatrans are addicted to the use of dice. A strong spirit of play characterises a Malayan. After having resigned everything to the good fortune of the winner, he is reduced to a horrid state of desperation; he then loosens a certain lock of hair, which indicates war and destruction to all whom the raving gamester meets. He intoxicates himself with opium; and working himself into a fit of frenzy, he bites or kills every one who comes in his way. But as soon as this lock is seen flowing, it is lawful to fire at the person[Pg 189] and to destroy him as fast as possible. This custom is what is called "To run a muck." Thus Dryden writes—

"Frontless and satire-proof, he scours the streets,
And runs an Indian muck at all he meets."

Thus also Pope—

"Satire's my weapon, but I'm too discreet
To run a muck, and tilt at all I meet."

Johnson could not discover the derivation of the word muck. To "run a muck" is an old phrase for attacking madly and indiscriminately; and has since been ascertained to be a Malay word.

To discharge their gambling debts, the Siamese sell their possessions, their families, and at length themselves. The Chinese play night and day, till they have lost all they are worth; and then they usually go and hang themselves. Such is the propensity of the Javanese for high play, that they were compelled to make a law, that "Whoever ventures his money at play shall be put to death." In the newly-discovered islands of the Pacific Ocean, they venture even their hatchets, which they hold as invaluable acquisitions, on running-matches.—"We saw a man," says Cook, "beating his breast and tearing his hair in the violence of rage, for having lost three hatchets at one of these races, and which he had purchased with nearly half his property."

The ancient nations were not less addicted to gaming: Persians, Grecians, and Romans; the Goths, and Germans. To notice the modern ones were a melancholy task: there is hardly a family in Europe which cannot record, from their own domestic annals, the dreadful prevalence of this passion.

Gamester and cheater were synonymous terms in the time of Shakspeare and Jonson: they have hardly lost much of their double signification in the present day.

The following is a curious picture of a gambling-house, from a contemporary account, and appears to be an establishment more systematic even than the "Hells" of the present day.

"A list of the officers established in the most notorious gaming-houses," from the Daily Journal, Jan. 9th, 1731.

1st. A Commissioner, always a proprietor, who looks in of a night; and the week's account is audited by him and two other proprietors.

2nd. A Director, who superintends the room.[Pg 190]

3rd. An Operator, who deals the cards at a cheating game, called Faro.

4th. Two Crowpees, who watch the cards, and gather the money for the hank.

5th. Two Puffs, who have money given them to decoy others to play.

6th. A Clerk, who is a check upon the PUFFS, to see that they sink none of the money given them to play with.

7th. A Squib is a puff of lower rank, who serves at half-pay salary while he is learning to deal.

8th. A Flasher, to swear how often the bank has been stript.

9th. A Dunner, who goes about to recover money lost at play.

10th. A Waiter, to fill out wine, snuff candles, and attend the gaming-room.

11th. An Attorney, a Newgate solicitor.

12th. A Captain, who is to fight any gentleman who is peevish for losing his money.

13th. An Usher, who lights gentlemen up and down stairs, and gives the word to the porter.

14th. A Porter, who is generally a soldier of the Foot Guards.

15th. An Orderly Man, who walks up and down the outside of the door, to give notice to the porter, and alarm the house at the approach of the constable.

16th. A Runner, who is to get intelligence of the justices' meeting.

17th. Link-boys, Coachmen, Chairmen, or others who bring intelligence of the justices' meetings, or of the constables being out, at half-a-guinea reward.

18th. Common-bail, Affidavit-men, Ruffians, Bravoes, Assassins, cum multis aliis.

The "Memoirs of the most famous Gamesters from the reign of Charles II. to Queen Anne, by T. Lucas, Esq., 1714," appears to be a bookseller's job; but probably a few traditional stories are preserved.[58][Pg 191]


An Arabic chronicle is only valuable from the time of Mahomet. For such is the stupid superstition of the Arabs, that they pride themselves on being ignorant of whatever has passed before the mission of their Prophet. The Arabic chronicle of Jerusalem contains the most curious information concerning the crusades: Longuerue translated several portions of this chronicle, which appears to be written with impartiality. It renders justice to the Christian heroes, and particularly dwells on the gallant actions of the Count de St. Gilles.

Our historians chiefly write concerning Godfrey de Bouillon; only the learned know that the Count de St. Gilles acted there so important a character. The stories of the Saracens are just the reverse; they speak little concerning Godfrey, and eminently distinguish Saint Gilles.

Tasso has given in to the more vulgar accounts, by making the former so eminent, at the cost of the other heroes, in his Jerusalem Delivered. Thus Virgil transformed by his magical power the chaste Dido into a distracted lover; and Homer the meretricious Penelope into a moaning matron. It is not requisite for poets to be historians, but historians should not be so frequently poets. The same charge, I have been told, must be made against the Grecian historians. The Persians are viewed to great disadvantage in Grecian history. It would form a curious inquiry, and the result might be unexpected to some, were the Oriental student to comment on the Grecian historians. The Grecians were not the demi-gods they paint themselves to have been, nor those they attacked the contemptible multitudes they describe. These boasted victories might be diminished. The same observation attaches to Cæsar's account of his British expedition. He never records the defeats he frequently experienced. The national prejudices of the Roman historians have undoubtedly occasioned us to have a very erroneous conception of the Carthaginians, whose discoveries in navigation and commercial enterprises were the most considerable among the ancients. We must indeed think highly of that people, whose works on agriculture, which they had raised into a science, the senate of Rome ordered to be translated into[Pg 192] Latin. They must indeed have been a wise and grave people.—Yet they are stigmatised by the Romans for faction, cruelty, and cowardice; and the "Punic" faith has come down to us in a proverb: but Livy was a Roman! and there is such a thing as a patriotic malignity!


If we except the belief of a future remuneration beyond this life for suffering virtue, and retribution for successful crimes, there is no system so simple, and so little repugnant to our understanding, as that of the metempsychosis. The pains and the pleasures of this life are by this system considered as the recompense or the punishment of our actions in an anterior state: so that, says St. Foix, we cease to wonder that, among men and animals, some enjoy an easy and agreeable life, while others seem born only to suffer all kinds of miseries. Preposterous as this system may appear, it has not wanted for advocates in the present age, which indeed has revived every kind of fanciful theory. Mercier, in L'an deux mille quatre cents quarante, seriously maintains the present one.

If we seek for the origin of the opinion of the metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls into other bodies, we must plunge into the remotest antiquity; and even then we shall find it impossible to fix the epoch of its first author. The notion was long extant in Greece before the time of Pythagoras. Herodotus assures us that the Egyptian priests taught it; but he does not inform us of the time it began to spread. It probably followed the opinion of the immortality of the soul. As soon as the first philosophers had established this dogma, they thought they could not maintain this immortality without a transmigration of souls. The opinion of the metempsychosis spread in almost every region of the earth; and it continues, even to the present time, in all its force amongst those nations who have not yet embraced Christianity. The people of Arracan, Peru, Siam, Camboya, Tonquin, Cochin-China, Japan, Java, and Ceylon still entertain that fancy, which also forms the chief article of the Chinese religion. The Druids believed in transmigration. The bardic triads of the Welsh are full of this belief; and a Welsh antiquary insists, that by an emigration which for[Pg 193]merly took place, it was conveyed to the Bramins of India from Wales! The Welsh bards tell us that the souls of men transmigrate into the bodies of those animals whose habits and characters they most resemble, till after a circuit of such penitential miseries, they are purified for the celestial presence; for man may be converted into a pig or a wolf, till at length he assumes the inoffensiveness of the dove.

My learned friend Sharon Turner has explained, in his "Vindication of the ancient British Poems," p. 231, the Welsh system of the metempsychosis. Their bards mention three circles of existence. The circle of the all-enclosing circle holds nothing alive or dead, but God. The second circle, that of felicity, is that which men are to pervade after they have passed through their terrestrial changes. The circle of evil is that in which human nature passes through those varying stages of existence which it must undergo before it is qualified to inhabit the circle of felicity.

The progression of man through the circle of evil is marked by three infelicities: Necessity, oblivion, and deaths. The deaths which follow our changes are so many escapes from their power. Man is a free agent, and has the liberty of choosing; his sufferings and changes cannot be foreseen. By his misconduct he may happen to fall retrograde into the lowest state from which he had emerged. If his conduct in any one state, instead of improving his being, had made it worse, he fell back into a worse condition, to commence again his purifying revolutions. Humanity was the limit of the degraded transmigrations. All the changes above humanity produced felicity. Humanity is the scene of the contest; and after man has traversed every state of animated existence, and can remember all that he has passed through, that consummation follows which he attains in the circle of felicity. It is on this system of transmigration that Taliessin, the Welsh bard, who wrote in the sixth century, gives a recital of his pretended transmigrations. He tells how he had been a serpent, a wild ass, a buck, or a crane, &c.; and this kind of reminiscence of his former state, this recovery of memory, was a proof of the mortal's advances to the happier circle. For to forget what we have been was one of the curses of the circle of evil. Taliessin, therefore, adds Mr. Turner, as profusely boasts of his recovered reminiscence as any modern sectary can do of his state of grace and election.

In all these wild reveries there seems to be a moral fable[Pg 194] in the notion, that the clearer a man recollects what a brute he has been, it is a certain proof that he is in an improved state!

According to the authentic Clavigero, in his history of Mexico, we find the Pythagorean transmigration carried on in the West, and not less fancifully than in the countries of the East. The people of Tlascala believe that the souls of persons of rank went after their death to inhabit the bodies of beautiful and sweet singing birds, and those of the nobler quadrupeds; while the souls of inferior persons were supposed to pass into weasels, beetles, and such other meaner animals.

There is something not a little ludicrous in the description Plutarch gives at the close of his treatise on "the delay of heavenly justice." Thespesius saw at length the souls of those who were condemned to return to life, and whom they violently forced to take the forms of all kinds of animals. The labourers charged with this transformation forged with their instruments certain parts; others, a new form; and made some totally disappear; that these souls might be rendered proper for another kind of life and other habits. Among these he perceived the soul of Nero, which had already suffered long torments, and which stuck to the body by nails red from the fire. The workmen seized on him to make a viper of, under which form he was now to live, after having devoured the breast that had carried him.—But in this Plutarch only copies the fine reveries of Plato.


The etiquette, or rules to be observed in royal palaces, is necessary for keeping order at court. In Spain it was carried to such lengths as to make martyrs of their kings. Here is an instance, at which, in spite of the fatal consequences it produced, one cannot refrain from smiling.

Philip the Third was gravely seated by the fire-side: the fire-maker of the court had kindled so great a quantity of wood, that the monarch was nearly suffocated with heat, and his grandeur would not suffer him to rise from the chair; the domestics could not presume to enter the apartment, because it was against the etiquette. At length the Marquis de Potat appeared, and the king ordered him to damp the fire;[Pg 195] but he excused himself; alleging that he was forbidden by the etiquette to perform such a function, for which the Duke d'Ussada ought to be called upon, as it was his business. The duke was gone out: the fire burnt fiercer; and the king endured it, rather than derogate from his dignity. But his blood was heated to such a degree, that an erysipelas of the head appeared the next day, which, succeeded by a violent fever, carried him off in 1621, in the twenty-fourth year of his reign.

The palace was once on fire; a soldier, who knew the king's sister was in her apartment, and must inevitably have been consumed in a few moments by the flames, at the risk of his life rushed in, and brought her highness safe out in his arms: but the Spanish etiquette was here wofully broken into! The loyal soldier was brought to trial; and as it was impossible to deny that he had entered her apartment, the judges condemned him to die! The Spanish Princess however condescended, in consideration of the circumstance, to pardon the soldier, and very benevolently saved his life.

When Isabella, mother of Philip II., was ready to be delivered of him, she commanded that all the lights should be extinguished: that if the violence of her pain should occasion her face to change colour, no one might perceive it. And when the midwife said, "Madam, cry out, that will give you ease," she answered in good Spanish, "How dare you give me such advice? I would rather die than cry out."

"Spain gives us pride—which Spain to all the earth
May largely give, nor fear herself a dearth!"—Churchill.

Philip the Third was a weak bigot, who suffered himself to be governed by his ministers. A patriot wished to open his eyes, but he could not pierce through the crowds of his flatterers; besides that the voice of patriotism heard in a corrupted court would have become a crime never pardoned. He found, however, an ingenious manner of conveying to him his censure. He caused to be laid on his table, one day, a letter sealed, which bore this address—"To the King of Spain, Philip the Third, at present in the service of the Duke of Lerma."

In a similar manner, Don Carlos, son to Philip the Second, made a book with empty pages, to contain the voyages of his father, which bore this title—"The great and admirable Voyages of the King Mr. Philip." All these voyages con[Pg 196]sisted in going to the Escurial from Madrid, and returning to Madrid from the Escurial. Jests of this kind at length cost him his life.


The terrific honours which these ferocious nations paid to their deceased monarchs are recorded in history, by the interment of Attila, king of the Huns, and Alaric, king of the Goths.

Attila died in 453, and was buried in the midst of a vast champaign in a coffin which was inclosed in one of gold, another of silver, and a third of iron. With the body were interred all the spoils of the enemy, harnesses embroidered with gold and studded with jewels, rich silks, and whatever they had taken most precious in the palaces of the kings they had pillaged; and that the place of his interment might for ever remain concealed, the Huns deprived of life all who assisted at his burial!

The Goths had done nearly the same for Alaric in 410, at Cosença, a town in Calabria. They turned aside the river Vasento; and having formed a grave in the midst of its bed where its course was most rapid, they interred this king with prodigious accumulations of riches. After having caused the river to reassume its usual course, they murdered, without exception, all those who had been concerned in digging this singular grave.


The vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, was a papist under the reign of Henry the Eighth, and a Protestant under Edward the Sixth; he was a papist again under Mary, and once more became a Protestant in the reign of Elizabeth.[59] When this scandal to the gown was reproached for his versatility of religious creeds, and taxed for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling, as Fuller expresses it, he replied, "Not so neither; for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle; which is, to live and die the vicar of Bray!"[Pg 197]

This vivacious and reverend hero has given birth to a proverb peculiar to this county, "The vicar of Bray will be vicar of Bray still." But how has it happened that this vicar should be so notorious, and one in much higher rank, acting the same part, should have escaped notice? Dr. Kitchen, bishop of Llandaff, from an idle abbot under Henry VIII. was made a busy bishop; Protestant under Edward, he returned to his old master under Mary; and at last took the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth, and finished as a parliament Protestant. A pun spread the odium of his name; for they said that he had always loved the Kitchen better than the Church!


It may be recorded as a species of Puritanic barbarism, that no later than the year 1757, a man of genius was persecuted because he had written a tragedy which tended by no means to hurt the morals; but, on the contrary, by awakening the piety of domestic affections with the nobler passions, would rather elevate and purify the mind.

When Home, the author of the tragedy of Douglas, had it performed at Edinburgh, some of the divines, his acquaintance, attending the representation, the clergy, with the monastic spirit of the darkest ages, published a paper, which I abridge for the contemplation of the reader, who may wonder to see such a composition written in the eighteenth century."

"On Wednesday, February the 2nd, 1757, the Presbytery of Glasgow came to the following resolution. They having seen a printed paper, intituled, 'An admonition and exhortation of the reverend Presbytery of Edinburgh;' which, among other evils prevailing, observing the following melancholy but notorious facts: that one who is a minister of the church of Scotland did himself write and compose a stage-play, intituled, 'The tragedy of Douglas,' and got it to be acted at the theatre of Edinburgh; and that he with several other ministers of the church were present; and some of them oftener than once, at the acting of the said play before a numerous audience. The presbytery being deeply affected with this new and strange appearance, do publish these sentiments," &c. Sentiments with which I will not disgust the reader; but[Pg 198] which they appear not yet to have purified and corrected, as they have shown in the case of Logan and other Scotchmen, who have committed the crying sin of composing dramas!


M. Morin, in the Memoirs of the French Academy, has formed a little history of Poverty, which I abridge.

The writers on the genealogies of the gods have not noticed the deity of Poverty, though admitted as such in the pagan heaven, while she has had temples and altars on earth. The allegorical Plato has pleasingly narrated, that at the feast which Jupiter gave on the birth of Venus, Poverty modestly stood at the gate of the palace to gather the fragments of the celestial banquet; when she observed the god of riches, inebriated with nectar, roll out of the heavenly residence, and passing into the Olympian Gardens, throw himself on a vernal bank. She seized this opportunity to become familiar with the god. The frolicsome deity honoured her with his caresses; and from this amour sprung the god of Love, who resembles his father in jollity and mirth, and his mother in his nudity. The allegory is ingenious. The union of poverty with riches must inevitably produce the most delightful of pleasures.

The golden age, however, had but the duration of a flower; when it finished, Poverty began to appear. The ancestors of the human race, if they did not meet her face to face, knew her in a partial degree; the vagrant Cain encountered her. She was firmly established in the patriarchal age. We hear of merchants who publicly practised the commerce of vending slaves, which indicates the utmost degree of poverty. She is distinctly marked by Job: this holy man protests, that he had nothing to reproach himself with respecting the poor, for he had assisted them in their necessities.

In the scriptures, legislators paid great attention to their relief. Moses, by his wise precautions, endeavoured to soften the rigours of this unhappy state. The division of lands, by tribes and families; the septennial jubilees; the regulation to bestow at the harvest-time a certain portion of all the fruits of the earth for those families who were in want; and the obligation of his moral law to love one's neighbour as one's[Pg 199] self; were so many mounds erected against the inundations of poverty. The Jews under their Theocracy had few or no mendicants. Their kings were unjust; and rapaciously seizing on inheritances which were not their right, increased the numbers of the poor. From the reign of David there were oppressive governors, who devoured the people as their bread. It was still worse under the foreign powers of Babylon, of Persia, and the Roman emperors. Such were the extortions of their publicans, and the avarice of their governors, that the number of mendicants dreadfully augmented; and it was probably for that reason that the opulent families consecrated a tenth part of their property for their succour, as appears in the time of the evangelists. In the preceding ages no more was given, as their casuists assure us, than the fortieth or thirtieth part; a custom which this singular nation still practise. If there are no poor of their nation where they reside, they send it to the most distant parts. The Jewish merchants make this charity a regular charge in their transactions with each other; and at the close of the year render an account to the poor of their nation.

By the example of Moses, the ancient legislators were taught to pay a similar attention to the poor. Like him, they published laws respecting the division of lands; and many ordinances were made for the benefit of those whom fires, inundations, wars, or bad harvests had reduced to want. Convinced that idleness more inevitably introduced poverty than any other cause, it was rigorously punished; the Egyptians made it criminal, and no vagabonds or mendicants were suffered under any pretence whatever. Those who were convicted of slothfulness, and still refused to labour for the public when labour was offered to them, were punished with death. The famous Pyramids are the works of men who otherwise had remained vagabonds and mendicants.

The same spirit inspired Greece. Lycurgus would not have in his republic either poor or rich: they lived and laboured in common. As in the present times, every family has its stores and cellars, so they had public ones, and distributed the provisions according to the ages and constitutions of the people. If the same regulation was not precisely observed by the Athenians, the Corinthians, and the other people of Greece, the same maxim existed in full force against idleness.[Pg 200]

According to the laws of Draco, Solon, &c., a conviction of wilful poverty was punished with the loss of life. Plato, more gentle in his manners, would have them only banished. He calls them enemies of the state; and pronounces as a maxim, that where there are great numbers of mendicants, fatal revolutions will happen; for as these people have nothing to lose, they plan opportunities to disturb the public repose.

The ancient Romans, whose universal object was the public prosperity, were not indebted to Greece on this head. One of the principal occupations of their censors was to keep a watch on the vagabonds. Those who were condemned as incorrigible sluggards were sent to the mines, or made to labour on the public edifices. The Romans of those times, unlike the present race, did not consider the far niente as an occupation; they were convinced that their liberalities were ill-placed in bestowing them on such men. The little republics of the bees and the ants were often held out as an example; and the last particularly, where Virgil says, that they have elected overseers who correct the sluggards:

"—— Pars agmina cogunt,
Castigantque moras."

And if we may trust the narratives of our travellers, the beavers pursue this regulation more rigorously and exactly than even these industrious societies. But their rigour, although but animals, is not so barbarous as that of the ancient Germans; who, Tacitus informs us, plunged the idlers and vagabonds in the thickest mire of their marshes, and left them to perish by a kind of death which resembled their inactive dispositions.

Yet, after all, it was not inhumanity that prompted the ancients thus severely to chastise idleness; they were induced to it by a strict equity, and it would be doing them injustice to suppose, that it was thus they treated those unfortunate poor, whose indigence was occasioned by infirmities, by age, or unforeseen calamities. Every family constantly assisted its branches to save them from being reduced to beggary; which to them appeared worse than death. The magistrates protected those who were destitute of friends, or incapable of labour. When Ulysses was disguised as a mendicant, and presented himself to Eurymachus, this prince observing him, to be robust and healthy, offered to give him employment, or[Pg 201] otherwise to leave him to his ill fortune. When the Roman Emperors, even in the reigns of Nero and Tiberius, bestowed their largesses, the distributors were ordered to exempt those from receiving a share whose bad conduct kept them in misery; for that it was better the lazy should die with hunger than be fed in idleness.

Whether the police of the ancients was more exact, or whether they were more attentive to practise the duties of humanity, or that slavery served as an efficacious corrective of idleness; it clearly appears how small was the misery, and how few the numbers of their poor. This they did, too, without having recourse to hospitals.

At the establishment of Christianity, when the apostles commanded a community of wealth among their disciples, the miseries of the poor became alleviated in a greater degree. If they did not absolutely live together, as we have seen religious orders, yet the wealthy continually supplied their distressed brethren: but matters greatly changed under Constantine. This prince published edicts in favour of those Christians who had been condemned in the preceding reigns to slavery, to the mines, to the galleys, or prisons. The church felt an inundation of prodigious crowds of these miserable men, who brought with them urgent wants and corporeal infirmities. The Christian families were then not numerous; they could not satisfy these claimants. The magistrates protected them: they built spacious hospitals, under different titles, for the sick, the aged, the invalids, the widows, and orphans. The emperors, and the most eminent personages, were seen in these hospitals, examining the patients; they assisted the helpless; they dressed the wounded. This did so much honour to the new religion, that Julian the Apostate introduced this custom among the pagans. But the best things are continually perverted.

These retreats were found insufficient. Many slaves, proud of the liberty they had just recovered, looked on them as prisons; and, under various pretexts, wandered about the country. They displayed with art the scars of their former wounds, and exposed the imprinted marks of their chains. They found thus a lucrative profession in begging, which had been interdicted by the laws. The profession did not finish with them: men of an untoward, turbulent, and licentious disposition, gladly embraced it. It spread so wide that the succeeding emperors were obliged to institute new laws; and[Pg 202] individuals were allowed to seize on these mendicants for their slaves and perpetual vassals: a powerful preservative against this disorder. It is observed in almost every part of the world but ours; and prevents that populace of beggary which disgraces Europe. China presents us with a noble example. No beggars are seen loitering in that country. All the world are occupied, even to the blind and the lame; and only those who are incapable of labour live at the public expense. What is done there may also be performed here. Instead of that hideous, importunate, idle, licentious poverty, as pernicious to the police as to morality, we should see the poverty of the earlier ages, humble, modest, frugal, robust, industrious, and laborious. Then, indeed, the fable of Plato might be realised: Poverty might be embraced by the god of Riches; and if she did not produce the voluptuous offspring of Love, she would become the fertile mother of Agriculture, and the ingenious parent of the Arts and Manufactures.


A Rabbin once told me an ingenious invention, which in the Talmud is attributed to Solomon.

The power of the monarch had spread his wisdom to the remotest parts of the known world. Queen Sheba, attracted by the splendour of his reputation, visited this poetical king at his own court; there, one day to exercise the sagacity of the monarch, Sheba presented herself at the foot of the throne: in each hand she held a wreath; the one was composed of natural, and the other of artificial, flowers. Art, in the labour of the mimetic wreath, had exquisitely emulated the lively hues of nature; so that, at the distance it was held by the queen for the inspection of the king, it was deemed impossible for him to decide, as her question imported, which wreath was the production of nature, and which the work of art. The sagacious Solomon seemed perplexed; yet to be vanquished, though in a trifle, by a trifling woman, irritated his pride. The son of David, he who had written treatises on the vegetable productions "from the cedar to the hyssop," to acknowledge himself outwitted by a woman, with shreds of paper and glazed paintings! The honour of the monarch's reputation for divine sagacity seemed diminished, and the[Pg 203] whole Jewish court looked solemn and melancholy. At length an expedient presented itself to the king; and one it must be confessed worthy of the naturalist. Observing a cluster of bees hovering about a window, he commanded that it should be opened: it was opened; the bees rushed into the court, and alighted immediately on one of the wreaths, while not a single one fixed on the other. The baffled Sheba had one more reason to be astonished at the wisdom of Solomon.

This would make a pretty poetical tale. It would yield an elegant description, and a pleasing moral; that the bee only rests on the natural beauties, and never fixes on the painted flowers, however inimitably the colours may be laid on. Applied to the ladies, this would give it pungency. In the "Practical Education" of the Edgeworths, the reader will find a very ingenious conversation founded on this story.


Oldham, in his "Satires upon the Jesuits," a work which would admit of a curious commentary, alludes to their "lying legends," and the innumerable impositions they practised on the credulous. I quote a few lines in which he has collected some of those legendary miracles, which I have noticed in the article Legends, and the amours of the Virgin Mary are detailed in that on Religious Nouvellettes.

Tell, how blessed Virgin to come down was seen,
Like play-house punk descending in machine,
How she writ billet-doux and love-discourse,
Made assignations, visits, and amours;
How hosts distrest, her smock for banner wore,
Which vanquished foes!
—— how fish in conventicles met,
And mackerel were with bait of doctrine caught:
How cattle have judicious hearers been!—
How consecrated hives with bells were hung,
And bees kept mass, and holy anthems sung!
How pigs to th' rosary kneel'd, and sheep were taught
To bleat Te Deum and Magnificat;
How fly-flap, of church-censure houses rid
Of insects, which at curse of fryar died.
How ferrying cowls religious pilgrims bore
O'er waves, without the help of sail or oar;
How zealous crab the sacred image bore,
And swam a catholic to the distant shore.
With shams like these the giddy rout mislead,
Their folly and their superstition feed.
[Pg 204]

All these are allusions to the extravagant fictions in the "Golden Legend." Among other gross impositions to deceive the mob, Oldham likewise attacks them for certain publications on topics not less singular. The tales he has recounted, Oldham says, are only baits for children, like toys at a fair; but they have their profounder and higher matters for the learned and inquisitive. He goes on:—

One undertakes by scales of miles to tell
The bounds, dimensions, and extent of HELL;
How many German leagues that realm contains!
How many chaldrons Hell each year expends
In coals for roasting Hugonots and friends!
Another frights the rout with useful stories
Of wild chimeras, limbos—PURGATORIES—
Where bloated souls in smoky durance hung,
Like a Westphalia gammon or neat's tongue,
To be redeem'd with masses and a song.—Satire IV.

The readers of Oldham, for Oldham must ever have readers among the curious in our poetry, have been greatly disappointed in the pompous edition of a Captain Thompson, which illustrates none of his allusions. In the above lines Oldham alludes to some singular works.

Treatises and topographical descriptions of HELL, PURGATORY, and even HEAVEN, were once the favourite researches among certain zealous defenders of the Romish Church, who exhausted their ink-horns in building up a Hell to their own taste, or for their particular purpose.[60] We have a treatise of Cardinal Bellarmin, a Jesuit, on Purgatory; he seems to have the science of a surveyor among all the secret tracks and the formidable divisions of "the bottomless pit."

Bellarmin informs us that there are beneath the earth four different places, or a profound place divided into four parts. The deepest of these places is Hell; it contains all the souls of the damned, where will be also their bodies after the resurrection, and likewise all the demons. The place nearest Hell is Purgatory, where souls are purged, or rather where they appease the anger of God by their sufferings. He says that the same fires and the same torments are alike in both these[Pg 205] places, the only difference between Hell and Purgatory consisting in their duration. Next to Purgatory is the limbo of those infants who die without having received the sacrament; and the fourth place is the limbo of the Fathers; that is to say, of those just men who died before the death of Christ. But since the days of the Redeemer, this last division is empty, like an apartment to be let. A later catholic theologist, the famous Tillemont, condemns all the illustrious pagans to the eternal torments of Hell? because they lived before the time of Jesus, and therefore could not be benefited by the redemption! Speaking of young Tiberius, who was compelled to fall on his own sword, Tillemont adds, "Thus by his own hand he ended his miserable life, to begin another, the misery of which will never end!" Yet history records nothing bad of this prince. Jortin observes that he added this reflection in his later edition, so that the good man as he grew older grew more uncharitable in his religious notions. It is in this manner too that the Benedictine editor of Justin Martyr speaks of the illustrious pagans. This father, after highly applauding Socrates, and a few more who resembled him, inclines to think that they are not fixed in Hell. But the Benedictine editor takes great pains to clear the good father from the shameful imputation of supposing that a virtuous pagan might be saved as well as a Benedictine monk! For a curious specimen of this odium theologicum, see the "Censure" of the Sorbonne on Marmontel's Belisarius.

The adverse party, who were either philosophers or reformers, received all such information with great suspicion. Anthony Cornelius, a lawyer in the sixteenth century, wrote a small tract, which was so effectually suppressed, as a monster of atheism, that a copy is now only to be found in the hands of the curious. This author ridiculed the absurd and horrid doctrine of infant damnation, and was instantly decried as an atheist, and the printer prosecuted to his ruin! Cælius Secundus Curio, a noble Italian, published a treatise De Amplitudine beati Regni Dei, to prove that Heaven has more inhabitants than Hell,—or, in his own phrase, that the elect are more numerous than the reprobate. However we may incline to smile at these works, their design was benevolent. They were the first streaks of the morning light of the Reformation. Even such works assisted mankind to examine more closely, and hold in greater contempt, the extravagant and pernicious doctrines of the domineering papistical church.[Pg 206]


The character of Bruyère's "Absent Man" has been translated in the Spectator, and exhibited on the theatre. It is supposed to be a fictitious character, or one highly coloured. It was well known, however, to his contemporaries, to be the Count de Brancas. The present anecdotes concerning the same person were unknown to, or forgotten by, Bruyère; and are to the full as extraordinary as those which characterise Menalcas, or the Absent Man.

The count was reading by the fireside, but Heaven knows with what degree of attention, when the nurse brought him his infant child. He throws down the book; he takes the child in his arms. He was playing with her, when an important visitor was announced. Having forgot he had quitted his book, and that it was his child he held in his hands, he hastily flung the squalling innocent on the table.

The count was walking in the street, and the Duke de la Rochefoucault crossed the way to speak to him.—"God bless thee, poor man!" exclaimed the count. Rochefoucault smiled, and was beginning to address him:—"Is it not enough," cried the count, interrupting him, and somewhat in a passion; "is it not enough that I have said, at first, I have nothing for you? Such lazy vagrants as you hinder a gentleman from walking the streets." Rochefoucault burst into a loud laugh, and awakening the absent man from his lethargy, he was not a little surprised, himself, that he should have taken his friend for an importunate mendicant! La Fontaine is recorded to have been one of the most absent men; and Furetière relates a most singular instance of this absence of mind. La Fontaine attended the burial of one of his friends, and some time afterwards he called to visit him. At first he was shocked at the information of his death; but recovering from his surprise, observed—"True! true! I recollect I went to his funeral."


We have heard of many curious deceptions occasioned by the imitative powers of wax-work. A series of anatomical sculptures in coloured wax was projected by the Grand Duke of[Pg 207] Tuscany, under the direction of Fontana. Twenty apartments have been filled with those curious imitations. They represent in every possible detail, and in each successive stage of denudation, the organs of sense and reproduction; the muscular, the vascular, the nervous, and the bony system. They imitate equally well the form, and more exactly the colouring, of nature than injected preparations; and they have been employed to perpetuate many transient phenomena of disease, of which no other art could have made so lively a record.[61]

There is a species of wax-work, which, though it can hardly claim the honours of the fine arts, is adapted to afford much pleasure—I mean figures of wax, which may be modelled with great truth of character.

Menage has noticed a work of this kind. In the year 1675, the Duke de Maine received a gilt cabinet, about the size of a moderate table. On the door was inscribed, "The Apartment of Wit." The inside exhibited an alcove and a long gallery. In an arm-chair was seated the figure of the duke himself, composed of wax, the resemblance the most perfect imaginable. On one side stood the Duke de la Rochefoucault, to whom he presented a paper of verses for his examination. M. de Marsillac, and Bossuet bishop of Meaux, were standing near the arm-chair. In the alcove, Madame de Thianges and Madame de la Fayette sat retired, reading a book. Boileau, the satirist, stood at the door of the gallery, hindering seven or eight bad poets from entering. Near Boileau stood Racine, who seemed to beckon to La Fontaine to come forwards. All these figures were formed of wax; and this philosophical baby-house, interesting for the personages it imitated, might induce a wish in some philosophers to play once more with one.

There was lately an old canon at Cologne who made a collection of small wax models of characteristic figures, such as personifications of Misery, in a haggard old man with a scanty crust and a brown jug before him; or of Avarice, in a keen-looking Jew miser counting his gold: which were done with such a spirit and reality that a Flemish painter, a Hogarth or Wilkie, could hardly have worked up the feeling[Pg 208] of the figure more impressively. "All these were done with truth and expression which I could not have imagined the wax capable of exhibiting," says the lively writer of "An Autumn near the Rhine." There is something very infantine in this taste; but I lament that it is very rarely gratified by such close copiers of nature as was this old canon of Cologne.


All the world have heard of these statues: they have served as vehicles for the keenest satire in a land of the most uncontrolled despotism. The statue of Pasquin (from whence the word pasquinade) and that of Marforio are placed in Rome in two different quarters. Marforio is an ancient statue of Mars, found in the Forum, which the people have corrupted into Marforio. Pasquin is a marble statue, greatly mutilated, supposed to be the figure of a gladiator.[62] To one or other of these statues, during the concealment of the night, are affixed those satires or lampoons which the authors wish should be dispersed about Rome without any danger to themselves. When Marforio is attacked, Pasquin comes to his succour; and when Pasquin is the sufferer, he finds in Marforio a constant defender. Thus, by a thrust and a parry, the most serious matters are disclosed: and the most illustrious personages are attacked by their enemies, and defended by their friends.

Misson, in his Travels in Italy, gives the following account of the origin of the name of the statue of Pasquin:[Pg 209]

A satirical tailor, who lived at Rome, and whose name was Pasquin, amused himself by severe raillery, liberally bestowed on those who passed by his shop; which in time became the lounge of the newsmongers. The tailor had precisely the talents to head a regiment of satirical wits; and had he had time to publish, he would have been the Peter Pindar of his day; but his genius seems to have been satisfied to rest cross-legged on his shopboard. When any lampoons or amusing bon-mots were current at Rome, they were usually called, from his shop, pasquinades. After his death, this statue of an ancient gladiator was found under the pavement of his shop. It was soon set up, and by universal consent was inscribed with his name; and they still attempt to raise him from the dead, and keep the caustic tailor alive, in the marble gladiator of wit.

There is a very rare work, with this title:—"Pasquillorum Tomi Duo;" the first containing the verse, and the second the prose pasquinades, published at Basle, 1544. The rarity of this collection of satirical pieces is entirely owing to the arts of suppression practised by the papal government. Sallengre, in his literary Memoirs, has given an account of this work; his own copy had formerly belonged to Daniel Heinsius, who, in verses written in his hand, describes its rarity and the price it too cost:—

Roma meos fratres igni dedit, unica Phœnix
Vivo, aureisque venio centum Heinsio.

"Rome gave my brothers to the flames, but I survive a solitary Phœnix. Heinsius bought me for a hundred golden ducats."

This collection contains a great number of pieces composed at different times, against the popes, cardinals, &c. They are not, indeed, materials for the historian, and they must be taken with grains of allowance. We find sarcastic epigrams on Leo X., and the infamous Lucretia, daughter of Alexander VI.: even the corrupt Romans of the day were capable of expressing themselves with the utmost freedom. Of Alexander VI. we have an apology for his conduct:

Vendit Alexander claves, altaria, Christum;
Emerat ille prius, vendere jure potest.
"Alexander sells the keys, the altars, and Christ;
As he bought them first, he had a right to sell them!"
[Pg 210]

On Lucretia:—

Hoc tumulo dormit Lucretia nomine, sed re
Thais; Alexandri filia, sponsa, nurus!

"Beneath this stone sleeps Lucretia by name, but by nature Thais; the daughter, the wife, and the daughter-in-law of Alexander!"

Leo X. was a frequent butt for the arrows of Pasquin:—

Sacra sub extremâ, si forte requiritis, horâ
Cur Leo non potuit sumere; vendiderat.

"Do you ask why Leo did not take the sacrament on his death-bed?—How could he? He had sold it!"

Many of these satirical touches depend on puns. Urban VII., one of the Barberini family, pillaged the Pantheon of brass to make cannon,[63] on which occasion Pasquin was made to say:—

Quod non fecerunt Barbari Romæ, fecit Barberini.

On Clement VII., whose death was said to be occasioned by the prescriptions of his physician:—

Curtius occidit Clementem; Curtius auro
Donandus, per quem publica parta salus.

"Dr. Curtius has killed the pope by his remedies; he ought to be remunerated as a man who has cured the state."

The following, on Paul III., are singular conceptions:—

Papa Medusæum caput est, coma turba Nepotum;
Perseu cæde caput, Cæsaries periit.

"The pope is the head of Medusa; the horrid tresses are his nephews; Perseus, cut off the head, and then we shall be rid of these serpent-locks."

Another is sarcastic—

Ut canerent data multa olim sunt Vatibus æra:
Ut taceam, quantum tu mihi, Paule, dabis?

"Heretofore money was given to poets that they might sing: how much will you give me, Paul, to be silent?"

This collection contains, among other classes, passages from the Scriptures which have been applied to the court of Rome; to different nations and persons; and one of "Sortes Virgilianæ per Pasquillum collectæ,"—passages from Virgil[Pg 211] frequently happily applied; and those who are curious in the history of those times will find this portion interesting. The work itself is not quite so rare as Daniel Heinsius imagined; the price might now reach from five to ten guineas.[64]

These satirical statues are placed at opposite ends of the town, so that there is always sufficient time to make Marforio reply to the gibes and jeers of Pasquin in walking from one to the other. They are an ingenious substitute for publishing to the world, what no Roman newspaper would dare to print.


The ladies in Japan gild their teeth; and those of the Indies paint them red. The pearl of teeth must be dyed black to be beautiful in Guzerat. In Greenland the women colour their faces with blue and yellow. However fresh the complexion of a Muscovite may be, she would think herself very ugly if she was not plastered over with paint. The Chinese must have their feet as diminutive as those of the she-goat; and to render them thus, their youth is passed in tortures. In ancient Persia an aquiline nose was often thought worthy of the crown; and if there was any competition between two princes, the people generally went by this criterion of majesty. In some countries, the mothers break the noses of their children; and in others press the head between two boards, that it may become square. The modern Persians have a strong aversion to red hair: the Turks, on the contrary, are warm admirers of it. The female Hottentot receives from the hand of her lover, not silks nor wreaths of flowers, but warm guts and reeking tripe, to dress herself with enviable ornaments.

In China, small round eyes are liked; and the girls are continually plucking their eye-brows, that they may be thin and long. The Turkish women dip a gold brush in the tincture of a black drug, which they pass over their eye-brows. It is too visible by day, but looks shining by night. They tinge their nails with a rose-colour. An African beauty must have small eyes, thick lips, a large flat nose, and a skin beautifully black. The Emperor of Monomotapa would[Pg 212] not change his amiable negress for the most brilliant European beauty.

An ornament for the nose appears to us perfectly unnecessary. The Peruvians, however, think otherwise; and they hang on it a weighty ring, the thickness of which is proportioned by the rank of their husbands. The custom of boring it, as our ladies do their ears, is very common in several nations. Through the perforation are hung various materials; such as green crystal, gold, stones, a single and sometimes a great number of gold rings.[65] This is rather troublesome to them in blowing their noses; and the fact is, as some have informed us, that the Indian ladies never perform this very useful operation.

The female head-dress is carried in some countries to singular extravagance. The Chinese fair carries on her head the figure of a certain bird. This bird is composed of copper or of gold, according to the quality of the person; the wings spread out, fall over the front of the head-dress, and conceal the temples. The tail, long and open, forms a beautiful tuft of feathers. The beak covers the top of the nose; the neck is fastened to the body of the artificial animal by a spring, that it may the more freely play, and tremble at the slightest motion.

The extravagance of the Myantses is far more ridiculous than the above. They carry on their heads a slight board, rather longer than a foot, and about six inches broad; with this they cover their hair, and seal it with wax. They cannot lie down, or lean, without keeping the neck straight; and the country being very woody, it is not uncommon to find them with their head-dress entangled in the trees. Whenever they comb their hair, they pass an hour by the fire in melting the wax; but this combing is only performed once or twice a year.

The inhabitants of the land of Natal wear caps or bonnets, from six to ten inches high, composed of the fat of oxen. They then gradually anoint the head with a purer grease, which mixing with the hair, fastens these bonnets for their lives.[Pg 213]


Erasmus, in his Age of Religious Revolution, expressed an alarm, which in some shape has been since realized. He strangely, yet acutely observes, that "literature began to make a great and happy progress; but," he adds, "I fear two things—that the study of Hebrew will promote Judaism, and the study of philology will revive PAGANISM." He speaks to the same purpose in the Adages, c. 189, as Jortin observes. Blackwell, in his curious Life of Homer, after showing that the ancient oracles were the fountains of knowledge, and that the votaries of the god of Delphi had their faith confirmed by the oracle's perfect acquaintance with the country, parentage, and fortunes of the suppliant, and many predictions verified; that besides all this, the oracles that have reached us discover a wide knowledge of everything relating to Greece;—this learned writer is at a loss to account for a knowledge that he thinks has something divine in it: it was a knowledge to be found nowhere in Greece but among the Oracles. He would account for this phenomenon by supposing there existed a succession of learned men devoted to this purpose. He says, "Either we must admit the knowledge of the priests, or turn converts to the ancients, and believe in the omniscience of Apollo, which in this age I know nobody in hazard of." Yet, to the astonishment of this writer, were he now living, he would have witnessed this incredible fact! Even Erasmus himself might have wondered.

We discover the origin of MODERN PLATONISM, as it may be distinguished, among the Italians. About the middle of the fifteenth century, some time before the Turks had become masters of Constantinople, a great number of philosophers flourished. Gemisthus Pletho was one distinguished by his genius, his erudition, and his fervent passion for platonism. Mr. Roscoe notices Pletho: "His discourses had so powerful an effect upon Cosmo de' Medici, who was his constant auditor, that he established an academy at Florence, for the sole purpose of cultivating this new and more elevated species of philosophy." The learned Marsilio Ficino translated Plotinus, that great archimage of platonic mysticism. Such were Pletho's eminent abilities, that in his old age those whom his novel system had greatly irritated either feared or[Pg 214] respected him. He had scarcely breathed his last when they began to abuse Plato and our Pletho. The following account is written by George of Trebizond.

"Lately has risen amongst us a second Mahomet: and this second, if we do not take care, will exceed in greatness the first, by the dreadful consequences of his wicked doctrine, as the first has exceeded Plato. A disciple and rival of this philosopher in philosophy, in eloquence, and in science, he had fixed his residence in the Peloponnese. His common name was Gemisthus, but he assumed that of Pletho. Perhaps Gemisthus, to make us believe more easily that he was descended from heaven, and to engage us to receive more readily his doctrine and his new law, wished to change his name, according to the manner of the ancient patriarchs, of whom it is said, that at the time the name was changed they were called to the greatest things. He has written with no vulgar art, and with no common elegance. He has given new rules for the conduct of life, and for the regulation of human affairs; and at the same time has vomited forth a great number of blasphemies against the Catholic religion. He was so zealous a platonist that he entertained no other sentiments than those of Plato, concerning the nature of the gods, souls, sacrifices, &c. I have heard him myself, when we were together at Florence, say, that in a few years all men on the face of the earth would embrace with one common consent, and with one mind, a single and simple religion, at the first instructions which should be given by a single preaching. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ, or that of Mahomet? he answered, 'Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from paganism.' These words I heard with so much indignation, that since that time I have always hated him: I look upon him as a dangerous viper; and I cannot think of him without abhorrence."

The pious writer might have been satisfied to have bestowed a smile of pity or contempt.

When Pletho died, full of years and honours, the malice of his enemies collected all its venom. This circumstance seems to prove that his abilities must have been great indeed, to have kept such crowds silent. Several Catholic writers lament that his book was burnt, and regret the loss of Pletho's work; which, they say, was not designed to subvert the Christian religion, but only to unfold the system of Plato,[Pg 215] and to collect what he and other philosophers had written on religion and politics.

Of his religious scheme, the reader may judge by this summary account. The general title of the volume ran thus:—"This book treats of the laws of the best form of government, and what all men must observe in their public and private stations, to live together in the most perfect, the most innocent, and the most happy manner." The whole was divided into three books. The titles of the chapters where paganism was openly inculcated are reported by Gennadius, who condemned it to the flames, but who has not thought proper to enter into the manner of his arguments. The extravagance of this new legislator appeared, above all, in the articles which concerned religion. He acknowledges a plurality of gods: some superior, whom he placed above the heavens; and the others inferior, on this side the heavens. The first existing from the remotest antiquity; the others younger, and of different ages. He gave a king to all these gods, and he called him ΖΕΥΣ, or Jupiter; as the pagans named this power formerly. According to him, the stars had a soul; the demons were not malignant spirits; and the world was eternal. He established polygamy, and was even inclined to a community of women. All his work was filled with such reveries, and, with not a few impieties, which my pious author has not ventured to give.

What were the intentions of Pletho? If the work was only an arranged system of paganism, or the platonic philosophy, it might have been an innocent, if not a curious volume. He was learned and humane, and had not passed his life entirely in the solitary recesses of his study.

To strain human curiosity to the utmost limits of human credibility, a modern Pletho has risen in Mr. Thomas Taylor, who, consonant to the platonic philosophy in the present day, religiously professes polytheism! At the close of the eighteenth century, be it recorded, were published many volumes, in which the author affects to avow himself a zealous Platonist, and asserts that he can prove that the Christian religion is "a bastardized and barbarous Platonism." The divinities of Plato are the divinities to be adored, and we are to be taught to call God, Jupiter; the Virgin, Venus; and Christ, Cupid! The Iliad of Homer allegorised, is converted into a Greek bible of the arcana of nature! Extraordinary as this literary lunacy may appear, we must observe, that it[Pg 216] stands not singular in the annals of the history of the human mind. The Florentine Academy, which Cosmo founded, had, no doubt, some classical enthusiasts; but who, perhaps, according to the political character of their country, were prudent and reserved. The platonic furor, however, appears to have reached other countries. In the reign of Louis XII., a scholar named Hemon de la Fosse, a native of Abbeville, by continually reading the Greek and Latin writers, became mad enough to persuade himself that it was impossible that the religion of such great geniuses as Homer, Cicero, and Virgil was a false one. On the 25th of August, 1503, being at church, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the priest, at the moment it was raised, exclaiming—"What! always this folly!" He was immediately seized. In the hope that he would abjure his extravagant errors, they delayed his punishment; but no exhortation or entreaties availed. He persisted in maintaining that Jupiter was the sovereign God of the universe, and that there was no other paradise than the Elysian fields. He was burnt alive, after having first had his tongue pierced, and his hand cut off. Thus perished an ardent and learned youth, who ought only to have been condemned as a Bedlamite.

Dr. More, the most rational of our modern Platonists, abounds, however, with the most extravagant reveries, and was inflated with egotism and enthusiasm, as much as any of his mystic predecessors. He conceived that he communed with the Divinity itself! that he had been shot as a fiery dart into the world, and he hoped he had hit the mark. He carried his self-conceit to such extravagance, that he thought his urine smelt like violets, and his body in the spring season had a sweet odour; a perfection peculiar to himself. These visionaries indulge the most fanciful vanity.

The "sweet odours," and that of "the violets," might, however, have been real—for they mark a certain stage of the disease of diabetes, as appears in a medical tract by the elder Dr. Latham.


A volume on this subject might be made very curious and entertaining, for our ancestors were not less vacillating, and perhaps more capriciously grotesque, though with infinitely less taste, than the present generation. Were a philosopher[Pg 217] and an artist, as well as an antiquary, to compose such a work, much diversified entertainment, and some curious investigation of the progress of the arts and taste, would doubtless be the result; the subject otherwise appears of trifling value; the very farthing pieces of history.

The origin of many fashions was in the endeavour to conceal some deformity of the inventor: hence the cushions, ruffs, hoops, and other monstrous devices. If a reigning beauty chanced to have an unequal hip, those who had very handsome hips would load them with that false rump which the other was compelled by the unkindness of nature to substitute. Patches were invented in England in the reign of Edward VI. by a foreign lady, who in this manner ingeniously covered a wen on her neck. Full-bottomed wigs were invented by a French barber, one Duviller, whose name they perpetuated, for the purpose of concealing an elevation in the shoulder of the Dauphin. Charles VII. of France introduced long coats to hide his ill-made legs. Shoes with very long points, full two feet in length, were invented by Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou, to conceal a large excrescence on one of his feet. When Francis I. was obliged to wear his hair short, owing to a wound he received in the head, it became a prevailing fashion at court. Others, on the contrary, adapted fashions to set off their peculiar beauties: as Isabella of Bavaria, remarkable for her gallantry, and the fairness of her complexion, introduced the fashion of leaving the shoulders and part of the neck uncovered.

Fashions have frequently originated from circumstances as silly as the following one. Isabella, daughter of Philip II. and wife of the Archduke Albert, vowed not to change her linen till Ostend was taken; this siege, unluckily for her comfort, lasted three years; and the supposed colour of the archduchess's linen gave rise to a fashionable colour, hence called l'Isabeau, or the Isabella; a kind of whitish-yellow-dingy. Sometimes they originate in some temporary event; as after the battle of Steenkirk, where the allies wore large cravats, by which the French frequently seized hold of them, a circumstance perpetuated on the medals of Louis XIV., cravats were called Steenkirks; and after the battle of Ramilies, wigs received that denomination.

The court, in all ages and in every country, are the modellers of fashions; so that all the ridicule, of which these are so susceptible, must fall on them, and not upon their ser[Pg 218]vile imitators the citizens. This complaint is made even so far back as in 1586, by Jean des Caures, an old French moralist, who, in declaiming against the fashions of his day, notices one, of the ladies carrying mirrors fixed to their waists, which seemed to employ their eyes in perpetual activity. From this mode will result, according to honest Des Caures, their eternal damnation. "Alas! (he exclaims) in what an age do we live: to see such depravity which we see, that induces them even to bring into church these scandalous mirrors hanging about their waists! Let all histories, divine, human, and profane, be consulted; never will it be found that these objects of vanity were ever thus brought into public by the most meretricious of the sex. It is true, at present none but the ladies of the court venture to wear them; but long it will not be before every citizen's daughter and every female servant, will have them!" Such in all times has been the rise and decline of fashion; and the absurd mimicry of the citizens, even of the lowest classes, to their very ruin, in straining to rival the newest fashion, has mortified and galled the courtier.

On this subject old Camden, in his Remains, relates a story of a trick played off on a citizen, which I give in the plainness of his own venerable style. Sir Philip Calthrop purged John Drakes, the shoemaker of Norwich, in the time of King Henry VIII. of the proud humour which our people have to be of the gentlemen's cut. This knight bought on a time as much fine French tawny cloth as should make him a gown, and sent it to the taylor's to be made. John Drakes, a shoemaker of that town, coming to this said taylor's, and seeing the knight's gown cloth lying there, liking it well, caused the taylor to buy him as much of the same cloth and price to the same intent, and further bade him to make it of the same fashion that the knight would have his made of. Not long after, the knight coming to the taylor's to take measure of his gown, perceiving the like cloth lying there, asked of the taylor whose it was? Quoth the taylor, it is John Drakes' the shoemaker, who will have it made of the self-same fashion that yours is made of! 'Well!' said the knight, 'in good time be it! I will have mine made as full of cuts as thy shears can make it.' 'It shall be done!' said the taylor; whereupon, because the time drew near, he made haste to finish both their garments. John Drakes had no[Pg 219] time to go to the taylor's till Christmas-day, for serving his customers, when he hoped to have worn his gown; perceiving the same to be full of cuts began to swear at the taylor, for the making his gown after that sort. 'I have done nothing,' quoth the taylor, 'but that you bid me; for as Sir Philip Calthrop's garment is, even so I have made yours!' 'By my latchet!' quoth John Drakes, 'I will never wear gentlemen's fashions again!'

Sometimes fashions are quite reversed in their use in one age from another. Bags, when first in fashion in France, were only worn en déshabillé; in visits of ceremony, the hair was tied by a riband and floated over the shoulders, which is exactly reversed in the present fashion. In the year 1735 the men had no hats but a little chapeau de bras; in 1745 they wore a very small hat; in 1755 they wore an enormous one, as may be seen in Jeffrey's curious "Collection of Habits in all Nations." Old Puttenham, in "The Art of Poesie," p. 239, on the present topic gives some curious information. "Henry VIII. caused his own head, and all his courtiers, to be polled and his beard to be cut short; before that time it was thought more decent, both for old men and young, to be all shaven, and weare long haire, either rounded or square. Now again at this time (Elizabeth's reign), the young gentlemen of the court have taken up the long haire trayling on their shoulders, and think this more decent; for what respect I would be glad to know."

When the fair sex were accustomed to behold their lovers with beards, the sight of a shaved chin excited feelings of horror and aversion; as much indeed as, in this less heroic age, would a gallant whose luxuriant beard should

"Stream like a meteor to the troubled air."

When Louis VII., to obey the injunctions of his bishops, cropped his hair, and shaved his beard, Eleanor, his consort, found him, with this unusual appearance, very ridiculous, and soon very contemptible. She revenged herself as she thought proper, and the poor shaved king obtained a divorce. She then married the Count of Anjou, afterwards our Henry II. She had for her marriage dower the rich provinces of Poitou and Guienne; and this was the origin of those wars which for three hundred years ravaged France, and cost the French three millions of men. All which, probably, had[Pg 220] never occurred had Louis VII. not been so rash as to crop his head and shave his beard, by which he became so disgustful in the eyes of our Queen Eleanor.

We cannot perhaps sympathise with the feelings of her majesty, though at Constantinople she might not have been considered unreasonable. There must be something more powerful in beards and mustachios than we are quite aware of; for when these were in fashion—and long after this was written—the fashion has returned on us—with what enthusiasm were they not contemplated! When mustachios were in general use, an author, in his Elements of Education, published in 1640, thinks that "hairy excrement," as Armado in "Love's Labour Lost" calls it, contributed to make men valorous. He says, "I have a favourable opinion of that young gentleman who is curious in fine mustachios. The time he employs in adjusting, dressing, and curling them, is no lost time; for the more he contemplates his mustachios, the more his mind will cherish and be animated by masculine and courageous notions." The best reason that could be given for wearing the longest and largest beard of any Englishman was that of a worthy clergyman in Elizabeth's reign, "that no act of his life might be unworthy of the gravity of his appearance."

The grandfather of Mrs. Thomas, the Corinna of Cromwell, the literary friend of Pope, by her account, "was very nice in the mode of that age, his valet being some hours every morning in starching his beard and curling his whiskers; during which time he was always read to." Taylor, the water poet, humorously describes the great variety of beards in his time, which extract may be found in Grey's Hudibras, Vol. I. p. 300. The beard dwindled gradually under the two Charleses, till it was reduced into whiskers, and became extinct in the reign of James II., as if its fatality had been connected with that of the house of Stuart.

The hair has in all ages been an endless topic for the declamation of the moralist, and the favourite object of fashion. If the beau monde wore their hair luxuriant, or their wig enormous, the preachers, in Charles the Second's reign, instantly were seen in the pulpit with their hair cut shorter, and their sermon longer, in consequence; respect was, however, paid by the world to the size of the wig, in spite of the hair-cutter in the pulpit. Our judges, and till lately our physicians, well knew its magical effect. In the reign of[Pg 221] Charles II. the hair-dress of the ladies was very elaborate; it was not only curled and frizzled with the nicest art, but set off with certain artificial curls, then too emphatically known by the pathetic terms of heart-breakers and love-locks. So late as William and Mary, lads, and even children, wore wigs; and if they had not wigs, they curled their hair to resemble this fashionable ornament. Women then were the hair-dressers.

There are flagrant follies in fashion which must be endured while they reign, and which never appear ridiculous till they are out of fashion. In the reign of Henry III. of France, they could not exist without an abundant use of comfits. All the world, the grave and the gay, carried in their pockets a comfit-box, as we do snuff-boxes. They used them even on the most solemn occasions; when the Duke of Guise was shot at Blois, he was found with his comfit-box in his hand.—Fashions indeed have been carried to so extravagant a length, as to have become a public offence, and to have required the interference of government. Short and tight breeches were so much the rage in France, that Charles V. was compelled to banish this disgusting mode by edicts, which may be found in Mezerai. An Italian author of the fifteenth century supposes an Italian traveller of nice modesty would not pass through France, that he might not be offended by seeing men whose clothes rather exposed their nakedness than hid it. The very same fashion was the complaint in the remoter period of our Chaucer, in his Parson's Tale.

In the reign of our Elizabeth the reverse of all this took place; then the mode of enormous breeches was pushed to a most laughable excess. The beaux of that day stuffed out their breeches with rags, feathers, and other light matters, till they brought them out to an enormous size. They resembled woolsacks, and in a public spectacle they were obliged to raise scaffolds for the seats of these ponderous beaux. To accord with this fantastical taste, the ladies invented large hoop farthingales; two lovers aside could surely never have taken one another by the hand. In a preceding reign the fashion ran on square toes; insomuch that a proclamation was issued that no person should wear shoes above six inches square at the toes! Then succeeded picked-pointed shoes! The nation was again, in the reign of Elizabeth, put under the royal authority. "In that time," says honest John Stowe, "he was held the greatest gallant that had the deepest[Pg 222] ruff and longest rapier: the offence to the eye of the one, and hurt unto the life of the subject that came by the other—this caused her Majestie to make proclamation against them both, and to place selected grave citizens at every gate, to cut the ruffes, and breake the rapiers' points of all passengers that exceeded a yeard in length of their rapiers, and a nayle of a yeard in depth of their ruffes." These "grave citizens," at every gate cutting the ruffs and breaking the rapiers, must doubtless have encountered in their ludicrous employment some stubborn opposition; but this regulation was, in the spirit of that age, despotic and effectual. Paul, the Emperor of Russia, one day ordered the soldiers to stop every passenger who wore pantaloons, and with their hangers to cut off, upon the leg, the offending part of these superfluous breeches; so that a man's legs depended greatly on the adroitness and humanity of a Russ or a Cossack; however this war against pantaloons was very successful, and obtained a complete triumph in favour of the breeches in the course of the week.

A shameful extravagance in dress has been a most venerable folly. In the reign of Richard II. their dress was sumptuous beyond belief. Sir John Arundel had a change of no less than fifty-two new suits of cloth of gold tissue. The prelates indulged in all the ostentatious luxury of dress. Chaucer says, they had "chaunge of clothing everie daie." Brantome records of Elizabeth, Queen of Philip II. of Spain, that she never wore a gown twice; this was told him by her majesty's own tailleur, who from a poor man soon became as rich as any one he knew. Our own Elizabeth left no less than three thousand different habits in her wardrobe when she died. She was possessed of the dresses of all countries.

The catholic religion has ever considered the pomp of the clerical habit as not the slightest part of its religious ceremonies; their devotion is addressed to the eye of the people. In the reign of our catholic Queen Mary, the dress of a priest was costly indeed; and the sarcastic and good-humoured Fuller gives, in his Worthies, the will of a priest, to show the wardrobe of men of his order, and desires that the priest may not be jeered for the gallantry of his splendid apparel. He bequeaths to various parish churches and persons, "My vestment of crimson satin—my vestment of crimson velvet—my stole and fanon set with pearl—my black gown faced with taffeta," &c.

Chaucer has minutely detailed in "The Persone's Tale"[Pg 223] the grotesque and the costly fashions of his day; and the simplicity of the venerable satirist will interest the antiquary and the philosopher. Much, and curiously, has his caustic severity or lenient humour descanted on the "moche superfluitee," and "wast of cloth in vanitee," as well as "the disordinate scantnesse." In the spirit of the good old times, he calculates "the coste of the embrouding or embroidering; endenting or barring; ounding or wavy; paling or imitating pales; and winding or bending; the costlewe furring in the gounes; so much pounsoning of chesel to maken holes (that is, punched with a bodkin); so moche dagging of sheres (cutting into slips); with the superfluitee in length of the gounes trailing in the dong and in the myre, on horse and eke on foot, as wel of man as of woman—that all thilke trailing," he verily believes, which wastes, consumes, wears threadbare, and is rotten with dung, are all to the damage of "the poor folk," who might be clothed only out of the flounces and draggle-tails of these children of vanity. But then his Parson is not less bitter against "the horrible disordinat scantnesse of clothing," and very copiously he describes, though perhaps in terms and with a humour too coarse for me to transcribe, the consequences of these very tight dresses. Of these persons, among other offensive matters, he sees "the buttokkes behind, as if they were the hinder part of a sheap, in the ful of the mone." He notices one of the most grotesque modes, the wearing a parti-coloured dress; one stocking part white and part red, so that they looked as if they had been flayed. Or white and blue, or white and black, or black and red; this variety of colours gave an appearance to their members of St. Anthony's fire, or cancer, or other mischance!

The modes of dress during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were so various and ridiculous, that they afforded perpetual food for the eager satirist.

The conquests of Edward III. introduced the French fashions into England; and the Scotch adopted them by their alliance with the French court, and close intercourse with that nation.

Walsingham dates the introduction of French fashions among us from the taking of Calais in 1347; but we appear to have possessed such a rage for imitation in dress, that an English beau was actually a fantastical compound of all the fashions in Europe, and even Asia, in the reign of Elizabeth.[Pg 224] In Chaucer's time, the prevalence of French fashions was a common topic with our satirist; and he notices the affectation of our female citizens in speaking the French language, a stroke of satire which, after four centuries, is not obsolete, if applied to their faulty pronunciation. In the prologue to the Prioresse, Chaucer has these humorous lines:—

Entewned in her voice full seemly,
And French she spake full feteously,
After the Scole of Stratford at Bowe:
The French of Paris was to her unknowe.

A beau of the reign of Henry IV. has been made out, by the laborious Henry. They wore then long-pointed shoes to such an immoderate length, that they could not walk till they were fastened to their knees with chains. Luxury improving on this ridiculous mode, these chains the English beau of the fourteenth century had made of gold and silver; but the grotesque fashion did not finish here, for the tops of their shoes were carved in the manner of a church window. The ladies of that period were not less fantastical.

The wild variety of dresses worn in the reign of Henry VIII. is alluded to in a print of a naked Englishman holding a piece of cloth hanging on his right arm, and a pair of shears in his left hand. It was invented by Andrew Borde, a learned wit of those days. The print bears the following inscription:—

I am an Englishman, and naked I stand here,
Musing in my mind, what rayment I shall were;
For now I will were this, and now I will were that,
And now I will were what I cannot tell what.

At a lower period, about the reign of Elizabeth, we are presented with a curious picture of a man of fashion by Puttenham, in his "Arte of Poetry," p. 250. This author was a travelled courtier, and has interspersed his curious work with many lively anecdotes of the times. This is his fantastical beau in the reign of Elizabeth. "May it not seeme enough for a courtier to know how to weare a feather and set his cappe aflaunt; his chain en echarpe; a straight buskin, al Inglese; a loose à la Turquesque; the cape alla Spaniola; the breech à la Françoise, and, by twentie maner of new-fashioned garments, to disguise his body and his face with as many countenances, whereof it seems there be many that make a very arte and studie, who[Pg 225] can shewe himselfe most fine, I will not say most foolish or ridiculous." So that a beau of those times wore in the same dress a grotesque mixture of all the fashions in the world. About the same period the ton ran in a different course in France. There, fashion consisted in an affected negligence of dress; for Montaigne honestly laments, in Book i. Cap. 25—"I have never yet been apt to imitate the negligent garb which is yet observable among the young men of our time; to wear my cloak on one shoulder, my bonnet on one side, and one stocking in something more disorder than the other, meant to express a manly disdain of such exotic ornaments, and a contempt of art."

The fashions of the Elizabethan age have been chronicled by honest John Stowe. Stowe was originally a tailor, and when he laid down the shears, and took up the pen, the taste and curiosity for dress was still retained. He is the grave chronicler of matters not grave. The chronology of ruffs, and tufted taffetas; the revolution of steel poking-sticks, instead of bone or wood, used by the laundresses; the invasion of shoe-buckles, and the total rout of shoe-roses; that grand adventure of a certain Flemish lady, who introduced the art of starching the ruffs with a yellow tinge into Britain: while Mrs. Montague emulated her in the royal favour, by presenting her highness the queen with a pair of black silk stockings, instead of her cloth hose, which her majesty now for ever rejected; the heroic achievements of the Right Honourable Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who first brought from Italy the whole mystery and craft of perfumery, and costly washes; and among other pleasant things besides, a perfumed jerkin, a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed with roses, in which the queen took such delight, that she was actually pictured with those gloves on her royal hands, and for many years after the scent was called the Earl of Oxford's Perfume. These, and occurrences as memorable, receive a pleasant kind of historical pomp in the important, and not incurious, narrative of the antiquary and the tailor. The toilet of Elizabeth was indeed an altar of devotion, of which she was the idol, and all her ministers were her votaries: it was the reign of coquetry, and the golden age of millinery! But for grace and elegance they had not the slightest feeling! There is a print by Vertue, of Queen Elizabeth going in a procession to Lord Hunsdon. This procession is led by Lady Hunsdon, who no doubt was the[Pg 226] leader likewise of the fashion; but it is impossible, with our ideas of grace and comfort, not to commiserate this unfortunate lady; whose standing-up wire ruff, rising above her head; whose stays, or bodice, so long-waisted as to reach to her knees; and the circumference of her large hoop farthingale, which seems to enclose her in a capacious tub; mark her out as one of the most pitiable martyrs of ancient modes. The amorous Sir Walter Raleigh must have found some of the maids of honour the most impregnable fortification his gallant spirit ever assailed: a coup de main was impossible.

I shall transcribe from old Stowe a few extracts, which may amuse the reader:—

"In the second yeere of Queen Elizabeth, 1560, her silke woman, Mistris Montague, presented her majestie for a new yeere's gift, a paire of black knit silk stockings, the which, after a few days' wearing, pleased her highness so well, that she sent for Mistris Montague, and asked her where she had them, and if she could help her to any more; who answered, saying, 'I made them very carefully of purpose only for your majestie, and seeing these please you so well, I will presently set more in hand.' 'Do so (quoth the queene), for indeed I like silk stockings so well, because they are pleasant, fine, and delicate, that henceforth I will wear no more CLOTH STOCKINGS'—and from that time unto her death the queene never wore any more cloth hose, but only silke stockings; for you shall understand that King Henry the Eight did weare onely cloath hose, or hose cut out of ell-broade taffety, or that by great chance there came a pair of Spanish silk stockings from Spain. King Edward the Sixt had a payre of long Spanish silk stockings sent him for a great present.—Dukes' daughters then wore gownes of satten of Bridges (Bruges) upon solemn dayes. Cushens, and window pillows of velvet and damaske, formerly only princely furniture, now be very plenteous in most citizens' houses."

"Milloners or haberdashers had not then any gloves imbroydered, or trimmed with gold, or silke; neither gold nor imbroydered girdles and hangers, neither could they make any costly wash or perfume, until about the fifteenth yeere of the queene, the Right Honourable Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, came from Italy, and brought with him gloves, sweete bagges, a perfumed leather jerkin, and other pleasant things; and that yeere the queene had a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed only with four tuffes, or roses of coloured silk. The[Pg 227] queene took such pleasure in those gloves, that she was pictured with those gloves upon her handes, and for many years after it was called 'The Earl of Oxford's perfume.'"

In such a chronology of fashions, an event not less important surely was the origin of starching; and here we find it treated with the utmost historical dignity.

"In the year 1564, Mistris Dinghen Van den Plasse, borne at Tænen in Flaunders, daughter to a worshipfull knight of that province, with her husband, came to London for their better safeties and there professed herself a starcher, wherein she excelled, unto whom her owne nation presently repaired, and payed her very liberally for her worke. Some very few of the best and most curious wives of that time, observing the neatness and delicacy of the Dutch for whitenesse and fine wearing of linen, made them cambricke ruffs, and sent them to Mistris Dinghen to starch, and after awhile they made them ruffes of lawn, which was at that time a stuff most strange, and wonderfull, and thereupon rose a general scoffe or by-word, that shortly they would make ruffs of a spider's web; and then they began to send their daughters and nearest kinswomen to Mistris Dinghen to learn how to starche; her usuall price was at that time, foure or five pound, to teach them how to starch, and twenty shillings how to seeth starch."

Thus Italy, Holland, and France supplied us with fashions and refinements. But in those days there were, as I have shown from Puttenham, as extravagant dressers as any of their present supposed degenerate descendants. Stowe affords us another curious extract. "Divers noble personages made them ruffes, a full quarter of a yeard deepe, and two lengthe in one ruffe. This fashion in London was called the French fashion; but when Englishmen came to Paris, the French knew it not, and in derision called it the English monster." An exact parallel this of many of our own Parisian modes in the present day.

This was the golden period of cosmetics. The beaux of that day, it is evident, used the abominable art of painting their faces as well as the women. Our old comedies abound with perpetual allusions to oils, tinctures, quintessences, pomatums, perfumes, paint white and red, &c. One of their prime cosmetics was a frequent use of the bath, and the application of wine. Strutt quotes from an old MS. a recipe to make the face of a beautiful red colour. The person was to be[Pg 228] in a bath that he might perspire, and afterwards wash his face with wine, and "so should be both faire and roddy." In Mr. Lodge's "Illustrations of British History," the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had the keeping of the unfortunate Queen of Scots, complains of the expenses of the queen for bathing in wine, and requires a further allowance. A learned Scotch professor informed me that white wine was used for these purposes. They also made a bath of milk. Elder beauties bathed in wine, to get rid of their wrinkles; and perhaps not without reason, wine being a great astringent. Unwrinkled beauties bathed in milk, to preserve the softness and sleekness of the skin. Our venerable beauties of the Elizabethan age were initiated coquettes; and the mysteries of their toilet might be worth unveiling.

The reign of Charles II. was the dominion of French fashions. In some respects the taste was a little lighter, but the moral effect of dress, and which no doubt it has, was much worse. The dress was very inflammatory; and the nudity of the beauties of the portrait-painter, Sir Peter Lely, has been observed. The queen of Charles II. exposed her breast and shoulders without even the gloss of the lightest gauze; and the tucker, instead of standing up on her bosom, is with licentious boldness turned down, and lies upon her stays. This custom of baring the bosom was much exclaimed against by the authors of that age. That honest divine, Richard Baxter, wrote a preface to a book, entitled, "A just and seasonable reprehension of naked breasts and shoulders." In 1672 a book was published, entitled, "New instructions unto youth for their behaviour, and also a discourse upon some innovations of habits and dressing; against powdering of hair, naked breasts, black spots (or patches), and other unseemly customs."A whimsical fashion now prevailed among the ladies, of strangely ornamenting their faces with abundance of black patches cut into grotesque forms, such as a coach and horses, owls, rings, suns, moons, crowns, cross and crosslets. The author has prefixed two ladies' heads; the one representing Virtue, and the other Vice. Virtue is a lady modestly habited, with a black velvet hood, and a plain white kerchief on her neck, with a border. Vice wears no handkerchief; her stays cut low, so that they display great part of the breasts; and a variety of fantastical patches on her face.

The innovations of fashions in the reign of Charles II. were[Pg 229] watched with a jealous eye by the remains of those strict puritans, who now could only pour out their bile in such solemn admonitions. They affected all possible plainness and sanctity. When courtiers wore monstrous wigs, they cut their hair short; when they adopted hats with broad plumes, they clapped on round black caps, and screwed up their pale religious faces; and when shoe-buckles were revived, they wore strings. The sublime Milton, perhaps, exulted in his intrepidity of still wearing latchets! The Tatler ridicules Sir William Whitelocke for his singularity in still affecting them. "Thou dear Will Shoestring, how shall I draw thee? Thou dear outside, will you be combing your wig, playing with your box, or picking your teeth?" &c. Wigs and snuff-boxes were then the rage. Steele's own wig, it is recorded, made at one time a considerable part of his annual expenditure. His large black periwig cost him, even at that day, no less than forty guineas!—We wear nothing at present in this degree of extravagance. But such a wig was the idol of fashion, and they were performing perpetually their worship with infinite self-complacency; combing their wigs in public was then the very spirit of gallantry and rank. The hero of Richardson, youthful and elegant as he wished him to be, is represented waiting at an assignation, and describing his sufferings in bad weather by lamenting that "his wig and his linen were dripping with the hoar frost dissolving on them." Even Betty, Clarissa's lady's-maid, is described as "tapping on her snuff-box," and frequently taking snuff. At this time nothing was so monstrous as the head-dresses of the ladies in Queen Anne's reign: they formed a kind of edifice of three stories high; and a fashionable lady of that day much resembles the mythological figure of Cybele, the mother of the gods, with three towers on her head.[66]

It is not worth noticing the changes in fashion, unless to ridicule them. However, there are some who find amusement in these records of luxurious idleness; these thousand and one follies! Modern fashions, till, very lately, a purer taste has obtained among our females, were generally mere copies of obsolete ones, and rarely originally fantastical. The dress of some of our beaux will only be known in a few years[Pg 230] hence by their caricatures. In 1751 the dress of a dandy is described in the Inspector. A black velvet coat, a green and silver waistcoat, yellow velvet breeches, and blue stockings. This too was the æra of black silk breeches; an extraordinary novelty against which "some frowsy people attempted to raise up worsted in emulation." A satirical writer has described a buck about forty years ago;[67] one could hardly have suspected such a gentleman to have been one of our contemporaries. "A coat of light green, with sleeves too small for the arms, and buttons too big for the sleeves; a pair of Manchester fine stuff breeches, without money in the pockets; clouded silk stockings, but no legs; a club of hair behind larger than the head that carries it; a hat of the size of sixpence on a block not worth a farthing."

As this article may probably arrest the volatile eyes of my fair readers, let me be permitted to felicitate them on their improvement in elegance in the forms of their dress; and the taste and knowledge of art which they frequently exhibit. But let me remind them that there are universal principles of beauty in dress independent of all fashions. Tacitus remarks of Poppea, the consort of Nero, that she concealed a part of her face; to the end that, the imagination having fuller play by irritating curiosity, they might think higher of her beauty than if the whole of her face had been exposed. The sentiment is beautifully expressed by Tasso, and it will not be difficult to remember it:—

"Non copre sue bellezze, e non l'espose."

I conclude by a poem, written in my youth, not only because the late Sir Walter Scott once repeated some of the lines, from memory, to remind me of it, and has preserved it in "The English Minstrelsy," but also as a memorial of some fashions which have become extinct in my own days.



Ah, Laura! quit the noisy town,
And Fashion's persecuting reign:
Health wanders on the breezy down,
And Science on the silent plain.
[Pg 231]
How long from Art's reflected hues
Shalt thou a mimic charm receive?
Believe, my fair! the faithful muse,
They spoil the blush they cannot give.
Must ruthless art, with tortuous steel,
Thy artless locks of gold deface,
In serpent folds their charms conceal,
And spoil, at every touch, a grace.
Too sweet thy youth's enchanting bloom
To waste on midnight's sordid crews:
Let wrinkled age the night consume,
For age has but its hoards to lose.
Sacred to love and sweet repose,
Behold that trellis'd bower is nigh!
That bower the verdant walls enclose,
Safe from pursuing Scandal's eye.
There, as in every lock of gold
Some flower of pleasing hue I weave,
A goddess shall the muse behold,
And many a votive sigh shall heave.
So the rude Tartar's holy rite
A feeble MORTAL once array'd;
Then trembled in that mortal's sight,
And own'd DIVINE the power he MADE.[68]


In a book entitled "Intérêts et Maximes des Princes et des Etats Souverains, par M. le duc de Rohan; Cologne, 1666," an anecdote is recorded concerning the Jesuits, which neither Puffendorf nor Vertot has noticed in his history.

When Sigismond, king of Sweden, was elected king of Poland, he made a treaty with the states of Sweden, by which he obliged himself to pass every fifth year in that kingdom. By his wars with the Ottoman court, with Muscovy, and Tartary, compelled to remain in Poland to encounter these powerful enemies, during fifteen years he failed in accomplishing his promise. To remedy this in some shape, by the advice of the Jesuits, who had gained an ascendancy over him, he created a senate to reside at Stockholm, composed[Pg 232] of forty chosen Jesuits. He presented them with letters-patent, and invested them with the royal authority.

While this senate of Jesuits was at Dantzic, waiting for a fair wind to set sail for Stockholm, he published an edict, that the Swedes should receive them as his own royal person. A public council was immediately held. Charles, the uncle of Sigismond, the prelates, and the lords, resolved to prepare for them a splendid and magnificent entry.

But in a private council, they came to very contrary resolutions: for the prince said, he could not bear that a senate of priests should command, in preference to all the princes and lords, natives of the country. All the others agreed with him in rejecting this holy senate. The archbishop rose, and said, "Since Sigismond has disdained to be our king, we also must not acknowledge him as such; and from this moment we should no longer consider ourselves as his subjects. His authority is in suspenso, because he has bestowed it on the Jesuits who form this senate. The people have not yet acknowledged them. In this interval of resignation on the one side, and assumption on the other, I absolve you all of the fidelity the king may claim from you as his Swedish subjects." The prince of Bithynia addressing himself to Prince Charles, uncle of the king, said, "I own no other king than you; and I believe you are now obliged to receive us as your affectionate subjects, and to assist us to hunt these vermin from the state." All the others joined him, and acknowledged Charles as their lawful monarch.

Having resolved to keep their declaration for some time secret, they deliberated in what manner they were to receive and to precede this senate in their entry into the harbour, who were now on board a great galleon, which had anchored two leagues from Stockholm, that they might enter more magnificently in the night, when the fireworks they had prepared would appear to the greatest advantage. About the time of their reception, Prince Charles, accompanied by twenty-five or thirty vessels, appeared before this senate. Wheeling about, and forming a caracol of ships, they discharged a volley, and emptied all their cannon on the galleon bearing this senate, which had its sides pierced through with the balls. The galleon immediately filled with water and sunk, without one of the unfortunate Jesuits being assisted: on the contrary, their assailants cried to them that this was the time to perform some miracle, such as they were accus[Pg 233]tomed to do in India and Japan; and if they chose, they could walk on the waters!

The report of the cannon, and the smoke which the powder occasioned, prevented either the cries or the submersion of the holy fathers from being observed: and as if they were conducting the senate to the town, Charles entered triumphantly; went into the church, where they sung Te Deum; and to conclude the night, he partook of the entertainment which had been prepared for this ill-fated senate.

The Jesuits of the city of Stockholm having come, about midnight, to pay their respects to the Fathers, perceived their loss. They directly posted up placards of excommunication against Charles and his adherents, who had caused the senate of Jesuits to perish. They urged the people to rebel; but they were soon expelled the city, and Charles made a public profession of Lutheranism.

Sigismond, King of Poland, began a war with Charles in 1604, which lasted two years. Disturbed by the invasions of the Tartars, the Muscovites, and the Cossacs, a truce was concluded; but Sigismond lost both his crowns, by his bigoted attachment to Roman Catholicism.


The following tale, recorded in the Historical Memoirs of Champagne, by Bougier, has been a favourite narrative with the old romance writers; and the principal incident, however objectionable, has been displayed in several modern poems.

Howell, in his "Familiar Letters," in one addressed to Ben Jonson, recommends it to him as a subject "which peradventure you may make use of in your way;" and concludes by saying, "in my opinion, which vails to yours, this is choice and rich stuff for you to put upon your loom, and make a curious web of."

The Lord de Coucy, vassal to the Count de Champagne, was one of the most accomplished youths of his time. He loved, with an excess of passion, the lady of the Lord du Fayel, who felt a reciprocal affection. With the most poignant grief this lady heard from her lover, that he had resolved to accompany the king and the Count de Champagne to the wars of the Holy Land; but she would not oppose his wishes, because she hoped that his absence might dissipate the[Pg 234] jealousy of her husband. The time of departure having come, these two lovers parted with sorrows of the most lively tenderness. The lady, in quitting her lover, presented him with some rings, some diamonds, and with a string that she had woven herself of his own hair, intermixed with silk and buttons of large pearls, to serve him, according to the fashion of those days, to tie a magnificent hood which covered his helmet. This he gratefully accepted.

In Palestine, at the siege of Acre, in 1191, in gloriously ascending the ramparts, he received a wound, which was declared mortal. He employed the few moments he had to live in writing to the Lady du Fayel; and he poured forth the fervour of his soul. He ordered his squire to embalm his heart after his death, and to convey it to his beloved mistress, with the presents he had received from her hands in quitting her.

The squire, faithful to the dying injunction of his master, returned to France, to present the heart and the gifts to the lady of Du Fayel. But when he approached the castle of this lady, he concealed himself in the neighbouring wood, watching some favourable moment to complete his promise. He had the misfortune to be observed by the husband of this lady, who recognised him, and who immediately suspected he came in search of his wife with some message from his master. He threatened to deprive him of his life if he did not divulge the occasion of his return. The squire assured him that his master was dead; but Du Fayel not believing it, drew his sword on him. This man, frightened at the peril in which he found himself, confessed everything; and put into his hands the heart and letter of his master. Du Fayel was maddened by the fellest passions, and he took a wild and horrid revenge. He ordered his cook to mince the heart; and having mixed it with meat, he caused a favourite ragout, which he knew pleased the taste of his wife, to be made, and had it served to her. The lady ate heartily of the dish. After the repast, Du Fayel inquired of his wife if she had found the ragout according to her taste: she answered him that she had found it excellent. "It is for this reason that I caused it to be served to you, for it is a kind of meat which you very much liked. You have, Madame," the savage Du Fayel continued, "eaten the heart of the Lord de Coucy." But this the lady would not believe, till he showed her the letter of her lover, with the string of his hair, and the dia[Pg 235]monds she had given him. Shuddering in the anguish of her sensations, and urged by the utmost despair, she told him—"It is true that I loved that heart, because it merited to be loved: for never could it find its superior; and since I have eaten of so noble a meat, and that my stomach is the tomb of so precious a heart, I will take care that nothing of inferior worth shall ever be mixed with it." Grief and passion choked her utterance. She retired to her chamber: she closed the door for ever; and refusing to accept of consolation or food, the amiable victim expired on the fourth day.


The present learned and curious dissertation is compiled from the papers of an ingenious antiquary, from the "Present State of the Republic of Letters," vol. x. p. 289.[69]

The antiquity of this part of dress will form our first inquiry; and we shall then show its various uses in the several ages of the world.

It has been imagined that gloves are noticed in the 108th Psalm, where the royal prophet declares, he will cast his shoe over Edom; and still farther back, supposing them to be used in the times of the Judges, Ruth iv. 7, where the custom is noticed of a man taking off his shoe and giving it to his neighbour, as a pledge for redeeming or exchanging anything. The word in these two texts, usually translated shoe by the Chaldee paraphrast, in the latter is rendered glove. Casaubon is of opinion that gloves were worn by the Chaldeans, from the word here mentioned being explained in the Talmud Lexicon, the clothing of the hand.

Xenophon gives a clear and distinct account of gloves. Speaking of the manners of the Persians, as a proof of their effeminacy, he observes, that, not satisfied with covering their head and their feet, they also guarded their hands against the cold with thick gloves. Homer, describing Laertes at work in his garden, represents him with gloves on his hands, to secure them from the thorns. Varro, an ancient writer, is an evidence in favour of their antiquity among the Romans. In lib. ii. cap. 55, De Re Rusticâ, he says, that olives gathered[Pg 236] by the naked hand are preferable to those gathered with gloves. Athenæus speaks of a celebrated glutton who always came to table with gloves on his hands, that he might be able to handle and eat the meat while hot, and devour more than the rest of the company.

These authorities show that the ancients were not strangers to the use of gloves, though their use was not common. In a hot climate to wear gloves implies a considerable degree of effeminacy. We can more clearly trace the early use of gloves in northern than in southern nations. When the ancient severity of manners declined, the use of gloves prevailed among the Romans; but not without some opposition from the philosophers. Musonius, a philosopher, who lived at the close of the first century of Christianity, among other invectives against the corruption of the age, says, It is shameful that persons in perfect health should clothe their hands and feet with soft and hairy coverings. Their convenience, however, soon made the use general. Pliny the younger informs us, in his account of his uncle's journey to Vesuvius, that his secretary sat by him ready to write down whatever occurred remarkable; and that he had gloves on his hands, that the coldness of the weather might not impede his business.

In the beginning of the ninth century, the use of gloves was become so universal, that even the church thought a regulation in that part of dress necessary. In the reign of Louis le Debonair, the council of Aix ordered that the monks should only wear gloves made of sheep-skin.

That time has made alterations in the form of this, as in all other apparel, appears from the old pictures and monuments.

Gloves, beside their original design for a covering of the hand, have been employed on several great and solemn occasions; as in the ceremony of investitures, in bestowing lands, or in conferring dignities. Giving possession by the delivery of a glove, prevailed in several parts of Christendom in later ages. In the year 1002, the bishops of Paderborn and Moncerco were put into possession of their sees by receiving a glove. It was thought so essential a part of the episcopal habit, that some abbots in France presuming to wear gloves, the council of Poitiers interposed in the affair, and forbad them the use, on the same principle as the ring and sandals; these being peculiar to bishops, who frequently wore them richly adorned with jewels.[Pg 237]

Favin observes, that the custom of blessing gloves at the coronation of the kings of France, which still subsists, is a remain of the eastern practice of investiture by a glove. A remarkable instance of this ceremony is recorded. The unfortunate Conradin was deprived of his crown and his life by the usurper Mainfroy. When having ascended the scaffold, the injured prince lamenting his hard fate, asserted his right to the crown, and, as a token of investiture, threw his glove among the crowd, intreating it might be conveyed to some of his relations, who would revenge his death,—it was taken up by a knight, and brought to Peter, king of Aragon, who in virtue of this glove was afterwards crowned at Palermo.

As the delivery of gloves was once a part of the ceremony used in giving possession, so the depriving a person of them was a mark of divesting him of his office, and of degradation. The Earl of Carlisle, in the reign of Edward the Second, impeached of holding a correspondence with the Scots, was condemned to die as a traitor. Walsingham, relating other circumstances of his degradation, says, "His spurs were cut off with a hatchet; and his gloves and shoes were taken off," &c.

Another use of gloves was in a duel; he who threw one down was by this act understood to give defiance, and he who took it up to accept the challenge.[70]

The use of single combat, at first designed only for a trial of innocence, like the ordeals of fire and water, was in succeeding ages practised for deciding rights and property. Challenging by the glove was continued down to the reign of Elizabeth, as appears by an account given by Spelman of a duel appointed to be fought in Tothill Fields, in the year 1571. The dispute was concerning some lands in the county of Kent. The plaintiffs appeared in court, and demanded single combat. One of them threw down his glove, which the other immediately taking up, carried off on the point of his sword, and the day of fighting was appointed; this affair was, however, adjusted by the queen's judicious interference.

The ceremony is still practised of challenging by a glove at the coronations of the kings of England, by his majesty's[Pg 238] champion entering Westminster Hall completely armed and mounted.

Challenging by the glove is still in use in some parts of the world. In Germany, on receiving an affront, to send a glove to the offending party is a challenge to a duel.

The last use of gloves was for carrying the hawk. In former times, princes and other great men took so much pleasure in carrying the hawk on their hand, that some of them have chosen to be represented in this attitude. There is a monument of Philip the First of France, on which he is represented at length, on his tomb, holding a glove in his hand.

Chambers says that, formerly, judges were forbid to wear gloves on the bench. No reason is assigned for this prohibition. Our judges lie under no such restraint; for both they and the rest of the court make no difficulty of receiving gloves from the sheriffs, whenever the session or assize concludes without any one receiving sentence of death, which is called a maiden assize; a custom of great antiquity.

Our curious antiquary has preserved a singular anecdote concerning gloves. Chambers informs us, that it is not safe at present to enter the stables of princes without pulling off our gloves. He does not tell us in what the danger consists; but it is an ancient established custom in Germany, that whoever enters the stables of a prince, or great man, with his gloves on his hands, is obliged to forfeit them, or redeem them by a fee to the servants. The same custom is observed in some places at the death of the stag; in which case, if the gloves are not taken off, they are redeemed by money given to the huntsmen and keepers. The French king never failed of pulling off one of his gloves on that occasion. The reason of this ceremony seems to be lost.

We meet with the term glove-money in our old records; by which is meant, money given to servants to buy gloves. This, probably, is the origin of the phrase giving a pair of gloves, to signify making a present for some favour or service.

Gough, in his "Sepulchral Monuments," informs us that gloves formed no part of the female dress till after the Reformation.[71] I have seen some as late as the time of Anne richly worked and embroidered.[Pg 239]

There must exist in the Denny family some of the oldest gloves extant, as appears by the following glove anecdote.

At the sale of the Earl of Arran's goods, April 6th, 1759, the gloves given by Henry VIII. to Sir Anthony Denny were sold for 38l. 17s.; those given by James I. to his son Edward Denny for 22l. 4s.; the mittens given by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Edward Denny's lady, 25l. 4s.; all which were bought for Sir Thomas Denny, of Ireland, who was descended in a direct line from the great Sir Anthony Denny, one of the executors of the will of Henry VIII.


When relics of saints were first introduced, the relique-mania was universal; they bought and they sold, and, like other collectors, made no scruple to steal them. It is entertaining to observe the singular ardour and grasping avidity of some, to enrich themselves with these religious morsels; their little discernment, the curious impositions of the vendor, and the good faith and sincerity of the purchaser. The prelate of the place sometimes ordained a fast to implore God that they might not be cheated with the relics of saints, which he sometimes purchased for the holy benefit of the village or town.

Guibert de Nogent wrote a treatise on the relics of saints; acknowledging that there were many false ones, as well as false legends, he reprobates the inventors of these lying miracles. He wrote his treatise on the occasion of a tooth of our Lord's, by which the monks of St. Medard de Soissons pretended to operate miracles. He asserts that this pretension is as chimerical as that of several persons, who believed they possessed the navel, and other parts less decent, of—the body of Christ!

A monk of Bergsvinck has given a history of the translation of St. Lewin, a virgin and a martyr: her relics were brought from England to Bergs. He collected with religious care the facts from his brethren, especially from the conductor of these relics from England. After the history of the translation, and a panegyric of the saint, he relates the miracles performed in Flanders since the arrival of her relics. The prevailing passion of the times to possess fragments of saints is well marked, when the author particularises with a certain complacency all the knavish modes they used to carry off[Pg 240] those in question. None then objected to this sort of robbery; because the gratification of the reigning passion had made it worth while to supply the demand.

A monk of Cluny has given a history of the translation of the body of St. Indalece, one of the earliest Spanish bishops, written by order of the abbot of St. Juan de la Penna. He protests he advances nothing but facts: having himself seen, or learnt from other witnesses, all he relates. It was not difficult for him to be well informed, since it was to the monastery of St. Juan de la Penna that the holy relics were transported, and those who brought them were two monks of that house. He has authenticated his minute detail of circumstances by giving the names of persons and places. His account was written for the great festival immediately instituted in honour of this translation. He informs us of the miraculous manner by which they were so fortunate as to discover the body of this bishop, and the different plans they concerted to carry it off. He gives the itinerary of the two monks who accompanied the holy remains. They were not a little cheered in their long journey by visions and miracles.

Another has written a history of what he calls the translation of the relics of St. Majean to the monastery of Villemagne. Translation is, in fact, only a softened expression for the robbery of the relics of the saint committed by two monks, who carried them off secretly to enrich their monastery; and they did not hesitate at any artifice or lie to complete their design. They thought everything was permitted to acquire these fragments of mortality, which had now become a branch of commerce. They even regarded their possessors with an hostile eye. Such was the religious opinion from the ninth to the twelfth century. Our Canute commissioned his agent at Rome to purchase St. Augustin's arm for one hundred talents of silver and one of gold; a much greater sum, observes Granger, than the finest statue of antiquity would have then sold for.

Another monk describes a strange act of devotion, attested by several contemporary writers. When the saints did not readily comply with the prayers of their votaries, they flogged their relics with rods, in a spirit of impatience which they conceived was necessary to make them bend into compliance.

Theofroy, abbot of Epternac, to raise our admiration, relates the daily miracles performed by the relics of saints, their[Pg 241] ashes, their clothes, or other mortal spoils, and even by the instruments of their martyrdom. He inveighs against that luxury of ornaments which was indulged under religious pretext: "It is not to be supposed that the saints are desirous of such a profusion of gold and silver. They care not that we should raise to them such magnificent churches, to exhibit that ingenious order of pillars which shine with gold, nor those rich ceilings, nor those altars sparkling with jewels. They desire not the purple parchment of price for their writings, the liquid gold to embellish the letters, nor the precious stones to decorate their covers, while you have such little care for the ministers of the altar." The pious writer has not forgotten himself in this copartnership with the saints.

The Roman church not being able to deny, says Bayle, that there have been false relics, which have operated miracles, they reply that the good intentions of those believers who have recourse to them obtained from God this reward for their good faith! In the same spirit, when it was shown that two or three bodies of the same saint was said to exist in different places, and that therefore they all could not be authentic, it was answered that they were all genuine; for God had multiplied and miraculously reproduced them for the comfort of the faithful! A curious specimen of the intolerance of good sense.

When the Reformation was spread in Lithuania, Prince Radzivil was so affected by it, that he went in person to pay the pope all possible honours. His holiness on this occasion presented him with a precious box of relics. The prince having returned home, some monks entreated permission to try the effects of these relics on a demoniac, who had hitherto resisted every kind of exorcism. They were brought into the church with solemn pomp, and deposited on the altar, accompanied by an innumerable crowd. After the usual conjurations, which were unsuccessful, they applied the relics. The demoniac instantly recovered. The people called out "a miracle!" and the prince, lifting his hands and eyes to heaven, felt his faith confirmed. In this transport of pious joy, he observed that a young gentleman, who was keeper of this treasure of relics, smiled, and by his motions ridiculed the miracle. The prince indignantly took our young keeper of the relics to task; who, on promise of pardon, gave the following secret intelligence concerning them. In travelling[Pg 242] from Rome he had lost the box of relics; and not daring to mention it, he had procured a similar one, which he had filled with the small bones of dogs and cats, and other trifles similar to what were lost. He hoped he might be forgiven for smiling, when he found that such a collection of rubbish was idolized with such pomp, and had even the virtue of expelling demons. It was by the assistance of this box that the prince discovered the gross impositions of the monks and the demoniacs, and Radzivil afterwards became a zealous Lutheran.

The elector Frederic, surnamed the Wise, was an indefatigable collector of relics. After his death, one of the monks employed by him solicited payment for several parcels he had purchased for our wise elector; but the times had changed! He was advised to give over this business; the relics for which he desired payment they were willing to return; that the price had fallen considerably since the reformation of Luther; and that they would find a better market in Italy than in Germany!

Our Henry III., who was deeply tainted with the superstition of the age, summoned all the great in the kingdom to meet in London. This summons excited the most general curiosity, and multitudes appeared. The king then acquainted them that the great master of the Knights Templars had sent him a phial containing a small portion of the precious blood of Christ which he had shed upon the cross; and attested to be genuine by the seals of the patriarch of Jerusalem and others! He commanded a procession the following day; and the historian adds, that though the road between St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey was very deep and miry, the king kept his eyes constantly fixed on the phial. Two monks received it, and deposited the phial in the abbey, "which made all England shine with glory, dedicating it to God and St. Edward."

Lord Herbert, in his Life of Henry VIII., notices the great fall of the price of relics at the dissolution of the monasteries. "The respect given to relics, and some pretended miracles, fell; insomuch, as I find by our records, that a piece of St. Andrew's finger (covered only with an ounce of silver), being laid to pledge by a monastery for forty pounds, was left unredeemed at the dissolution of the house; the king's commissioners, who upon surrender of any foundation undertook to pay the debts, refusing to return[Pg 243] the price again." That is, they did not choose to repay the forty pounds, to receive apiece of the finger of St. Andrew.

About this time the property of relics suddenly sunk to a South-sea bubble; for shortly after the artifice of the Rood of Grace, at Boxley, in Kent, was fully opened to the eye of the populace; and a far-famed relic at Hales, in Gloucestershire, of the blood of Christ, was at the same time exhibited. It was shown in a phial, and it was believed that none could see it who were in mortal sin; and after many trials usually repeated to the same person, the deluded pilgrims at length went away fully satisfied. This relic was the blood of a duck, renewed every week, and put in a phial; one side was opaque, and the other transparent; the monk turned either side to the pilgrim, as he thought proper. The success of the pilgrim depended on the oblations he made; those who were scanty in their offerings were the longest to get a sight of the blood: when a man was in despair, he usually became generous!


No. 379 of the Spectator relates an anecdote of a person who had opened the sepulchre of the famous Rosicrucius. He discovered a lamp burning, which a statue of clock-work struck into pieces. Hence, the disciples of this visionary said that he made use of this method to show "that he had re-invented the ever-burning lamps of the ancients."

Many writers have made mention of these wonderful lamps.

It has happened frequently that inquisitive men examining with a flambeau ancient sepulchres which had been just opened, the fat and gross vapours kindled as the flambeau approached them, to the great astonishment of the spectators, who frequently cried out "a miracle!" This sudden inflammation, although very natural, has given room to believe that these flames proceeded from perpetual lamps, which some have thought were placed in the tombs of the ancients, and which, they said, were extinguished at the moment that these tombs opened, and were penetrated by the exterior air.

The accounts of the perpetual lamps which ancient writers give have occasioned several ingenious men to search after their composition. Licetus, who possessed more erudition[Pg 244] than love of truth, has given two receipts for making this eternal fire by a preparation of certain minerals. More credible writers maintain that it is possible to make lamps perpetually burning, and an oil at once inflammable and inconsumable; but Boyle, assisted by several experiments made on the air-pump, found that these lights, which have been viewed in opening tombs, proceeded from the collision of fresh air. This reasonable observation conciliates all, and does not compel us to deny the accounts.

The story of the lamp of Rosicrucius, even if it ever had the slightest foundation, only owes its origin to the spirit of party, which at the time would have persuaded the world that Rosicrucius had at least discovered something.

It was reserved for modern discoveries in chemistry to prove that air was not only necessary for a medium to the existence of the flame, which indeed the air-pump had already shown; but also as a constituent part of the inflammation, and without which a body, otherwise very inflammable in all its parts, cannot, however, burn but in its superficies, which alone is in contact with the ambient air.


Some stones are preserved by the curious, for representing distinctly figures traced by nature alone, and without the aid of art.

Pliny mentions an agate, in which appeared, formed by the hand of nature, Apollo amidst the Nine Muses holding a harp. At Venice another may be seen, in which is naturally formed the perfect figure of a man. At Pisa, in the church of St. John, there is a similar natural production, which represents an old hermit in a desert, seated by the side of a stream, and who holds in his hands a small bell, as St. Anthony is commonly painted. In the temple of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, there was formerly on a white marble the image of St. John the Baptist covered with the skin of a camel; with this only imperfection, that nature had given but one leg. At Ravenna, in the church of St. Vital, a cordelier is seen on a dusky stone. They found in Italy a marble, in which a crucifix was so elaborately finished, that there appeared the nails, the drops of blood, and the wounds,[Pg 245] as perfectly as the most excellent painter could have performed. At Sneilberg, in Germany, they found in a mine a certain rough metal, on which was seen the figure of a man, who carried a child on his back. In Provence they found in a mine a quantity of natural figures of birds, trees, rats, and serpents; and in some places of the western parts of Tartary, are seen on divers rocks the figures of camels, horses, and sheep. Pancirollus, in his Lost Antiquities, attests, that in a church at Rome, a marble perfectly represented a priest celebrating mass, and raising the host. Paul III. conceiving that art had been used, scraped the marble to discover whether any painting had been employed: but nothing of the kind was discovered. "I have seen," writes a friend, "many of these curiosities. They are always helped out by art. In my father's house was a gray marble chimney-piece, which abounded in portraits, landscapes, &c., the greatest part of which was made by myself." I have myself seen a large collection, many certainly untouched by art. One stone appears like a perfect cameo of a Minerva's head; another shows an old man's head, beautiful as if the hand of Raffaelle had designed it. Both these stones are transparent. Some exhibit portraits.

There is preserved in the British Museum a black stone, on which nature has sketched a resemblance of the portrait of Chaucer.[72] Stones of this kind, possessing a sufficient degree of resemblance, are rare; but art appears not to have been used. Even in plants, we find this sort of resemblance. There is a species of the orchis, where Nature has formed a bee, apparently feeding in the breast of the flower, with so much exactness, that it is impossible at a very small distance to distinguish the imposition. Hence the plant derives its name, and is called the Bee-Flower. Langhorne elegantly notices its appearance:—

See on that flow'ret's velvet breast,
How close the busy vagrant lies!
[Pg 246]His thin-wrought plume, his downy breast,
The ambrosial gold that swells his thighs.
Perhaps his fragrant load may bind
His limbs;—we'll set the captive free—
I sought the LIVING BEE to find,
And found the PICTURE of a BEE.

The late Mr. Jackson, of Exeter, wrote to me on this subject: "This orchis is common near our sea-coasts; but instead of being exactly like a BEE, it is not like it at all. It has a general resemblance to a fly, and by the help of imagination may be supposed to be a fly pitched upon the flower. The mandrake very frequently has a forked root, which may be fancied to resemble thighs and legs. I have seen it helped out with nails on the toes."

An ingenious botanist, after reading this article, was so kind as to send me specimens of the fly orchis, ophrys muscifera, and of the bee orchis, ophrys apifera. Their resemblance to these insects when in full flower is the most perfect conceivable: they are distinct plants. The poetical eye of Langhorne was equally correct and fanciful; and that too of Jackson, who differed so positively. Many controversies have been carried on, from a want of a little more knowledge; like that of the BEE orchis and the FLY orchis, both parties prove to be right.

Another curious specimen of the playful operations of nature is the mandrake; a plant, indeed, when it is bare of leaves, perfectly resembling that of the human form. The ginseng tree is noticed for the same appearance. This object the same poet has noticed:—

Mark how that rooted mandrake wears
His human feet, his human hands;
Oft, as his shapely form he rears,
Aghast the frighted ploughman stands.

He closes this beautiful fable with the following stanza not inapposite to the curious subject of this article:

Helvetia's rocks, Sabrina's waves,
Still many a shining pebble bear:
Where nature's studious hand engraves
The PERFECT FORM, and leaves it there.
[Pg 247]


Huet has given a charming description of a present made by a lover to his mistress; a gift which romance has seldom equalled for its gallantry, ingenuity, and novelty. It was called the garland of Julia. To understand the nature of this gift, it will be necessary to give the history of the parties.

The beautiful Julia d'Angennes was in the flower of her youth and fame, when the celebrated Gustavus, king of Sweden, was making war in Germany with the most splendid success. Julia expressed her warm admiration of this hero. She had his portrait placed on her toilet, and took pleasure in declaring that she would have no other lover than Gustavus. The Duke de Montausier was, however, her avowed and ardent admirer. A short time after the death of Gustavus, he sent her, as a new-year's gift, the POETICAL GARLAND of which the following is a description.

The most beautiful flowers were painted in miniature by an eminent artist, one Robert, on pieces of vellum, all of equal dimensions. Under every flower a space was left open for a madrigal on the subject of the flower there painted. The duke solicited the wits of the time to assist in the composition of these little poems, reserving a considerable number for the effusions of his own amorous muse. Under every flower he had its madrigal written by N. Du Jarry, celebrated for his beautiful caligraphy. A decorated frontispiece offered a splendid garland composed of all these twenty-nine flowers; and on turning the page a cupid is painted to the life. These were magnificently bound, and enclosed in a bag of rich Spanish leather. When Julia awoke on new-year's day, she found this lover's gift lying on her toilet; it was one quite to her taste, and successful to the donor's hopes.

Of this Poetical Garland, thus formed by the hands of Wit and Love, Huet says, "As I had long heard of it, I frequently expressed a wish to see it: at length the Duchess of Usez gratified me with the sight. She locked me in her cabinet one afternoon with this garland: she then went to the queen, and at the close of the evening liberated me. I never passed a more agreeable afternoon."[Pg 248]

One of the prettiest inscriptions of these flowers is the following, composed for

Modeste en ma couleur, modeste en mon séjour,
Franche d'ambition, je me cache sous l'herbe;
Mais, si sur votre front je puis me voir un jour,
La plus humble des fleurs sera la plus superbe.
Modest my colour, modest is my place,
Pleased in the grass my lowly form to hide;
But mid your tresses might I wind with grace,
The humblest flower would feel the loftiest pride.

The following is some additional information respecting "the Poetical Garland of Julia."

At the sale of the library of the Duke de la Vallière, in 1784, among its numerous literary curiosities this garland appeared. It was actually sold for the extravagant sum of 14,510 livres! though in 1770, at Gaignat's sale, it only cost 780 livres. It is described to be "a manuscript on vellum, composed of twenty-nine flowers painted by one Robert, under which are inserted madrigals by various authors." But the Abbé Rive, the superintendent of the Vallière library, published in 1779 an inflammatory notice of this garland; and as he and the duke had the art of appreciating, and it has been said making spurious literary curiosities, this notice was no doubt the occasion of the maniacal price.

In the great French Revolution, this literary curiosity found its passage into this country. A bookseller offered it for sale at the enormous price of 500l. sterling! No curious collector has been discovered to have purchased this unique; which is most remarkable for the extreme folly of the purchaser who gave the 14,510 livres for poetry and painting not always exquisite. The history of the Garland of Julia is a child's lesson for certain rash and inexperienced collectors, who may here

Learn to do well by others harm.


Montfleury, a French player, was one of the greatest actors of his time for characters highly tragic. He died of the violent efforts he made in representing Orestes in the Andromache of Racine. The author of the "Parnasse Reformé" makes him thus express himself in the shades. There is something extremely droll in his lamentations, with[Pg 249] a severe raillery on the inconveniences to which tragic actors are liable.

"Ah! how sincerely do I wish that tragedies had never been invented! I might then have been yet in a state capable of appearing on the stage; and if I should not have attained the glory of sustaining sublime characters, I should at least have trifled agreeably, and have worked off my spleen in laughing! I have wasted my lungs in the violent emotions of jealousy, love, and ambition. A thousand times have I been obliged to force myself to represent more passions than Le Brun ever painted or conceived. I saw myself frequently obliged to dart terrible glances; to roll my eyes furiously in my head, like a man insane; to frighten others by extravagant grimaces; to imprint on my countenance the redness of indignation and hatred; to make the paleness of fear and surprise succeed each other by turns; to express the transports of rage and despair; to cry out like a demoniac: and consequently to strain all the parts of my body to render my gestures fitter to accompany these different impressions. The man then who would know of what I died, let him not ask if it were of the fever, the dropsy, or the gout; but let him know that it was of the Andromache!"

The Jesuit Rapin informs us, that when Mondory acted Herod in the Mariamne of Tristan, the spectators quitted the theatre mournful and thoughtful; so tenderly were they penetrated with the sorrows of the unfortunate heroine. In this melancholy pleasure, he says, we have a rude picture of the strong impressions which were made by the Grecian tragedians. Mondory indeed felt so powerfully the character he assumed, that it cost him his life.

Some readers may recollect the death of Bond, who felt so exquisitely the character of Lusignan in Zara, which he personated when an old man, that Zara, when she addressed him, found him dead in his chair.

The assumption of a variety of characters by a person of irritable and delicate nerves, has often a tragical effect on the mental faculties. We might draw up a list of ACTORS, who have fallen martyrs to their tragic characters. Several have died on the stage, and, like Palmer, usually in the midst of some agitated appeal to the feelings.[73][Pg 250]

Baron, who was the French Garrick, had a most elevated notion of his profession: he used to say, that tragic actors should be nursed on the lap of queens! Nor was his vanity inferior to his enthusiasm for his profession; for, according to him, the world might see once in a century a Cæsar, but that it required a thousand years to produce a Baron! A variety of anecdotes testify the admirable talents he displayed. Whenever he meant to compliment the talents or merits of distinguished characters, he always delivered in a pointed manner the striking passages of the play, fixing his eye on them. An observation of his respecting actors, is not less applicable to poets and to painters. "Rules," said this sublime actor, "may teach us not to raise the arms above the head; but if PASSION carries them, it will be well done; PASSION KNOWS MORE THAN ART."

Betterton, although his countenance was ruddy and sanguine, when he performed Hamlet, through the violent and sudden emotion of amazement and horror at the presence of his father's spectre, instantly turned as white as his neckcloth, while his whole body seemed to be affected with a strong tremor: had his father's apparition actually risen before him, he could not have been seized with more real agonies. This struck the spectators so forcibly, that they felt a shuddering in their veins, and participated in the astonishment and the horror so apparent in the actor. Davies in his Dramatic Miscellanies records this fact; and in the Richardsoniana, we find that the first time Booth attempted the ghost when Betterton acted Hamlet, that actor's look at him struck him with such horror that he became disconcerted to such a degree, that he could not speak his part. Here seems no want of evidence of the force[Pg 251] of the ideal presence in this marvellous acting: these facts might deserve a philosophical investigation.

Le Kain, the French actor, who retired from the Parisian stage, like our Garrick, covered with glory and gold, was one day congratulated by a company on the retirement which he was preparing to enjoy. "As to glory," modestly replied this actor, "I do not flatter myself to have acquired much. This kind of reward is always disputed by many, and you yourselves would not allow it, were I to assume it. As to the money, I have not so much reason to be satisfied; at the Italian Theatre, their share is far more considerable than mine; an actor there may get twenty to twenty-five thousand livres, and my share amounts at the most to ten or twelve thousand." "How! the devil!" exclaimed a rude chevalier of the order of St. Louis, who was present, "How! the devil! a vile stroller is not content with twelve thousand livres annually, and I, who am in the king's service, who sleep upon a cannon and lavish my blood for my country, I must consider myself as fortunate in having obtained a pension of one thousand livres." "And do you account as nothing, sir, the liberty of addressing me thus?" replied Le Kain, with all the sublimity and conciseness of an irritated Orosmane.

The memoirs of Mademoiselle Clairon display her exalted feeling of the character of a sublime actress; she was of opinion, that in common life the truly sublime actor should be a hero, or heroine off the stage. "If I am only a vulgar and ordinary woman during twenty hours of the day, whatever effort I may make, I shall only be an ordinary and vulgar woman in Agrippina or Semiramis, during the remaining four." In society she was nicknamed the Queen of Carthage, from her admirable personification of Dido in a tragedy of that name.


These preachers, whose works are excessively rare, form a race unknown to the general reader. I shall sketch the characters of these pious buffoons, before I introduce them to his acquaintance. They, as it has been said of Sterne, seemed to have wished, every now and then, to have thrown their wigs into the faces of their auditors.[Pg 252]

These preachers flourished in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries; we are therefore to ascribe their extravagant mixture of grave admonition with facetious illustration, comic tales which have been occasionally adopted by the most licentious writers, and minute and lively descriptions, to the great simplicity of the times, when the grossest indecency was never concealed under a gentle periphrasis, but everything was called by its name. All this was enforced by the most daring personalities, and seasoned by those temporary allusions which neither spared, nor feared even the throne. These ancient sermons therefore are singularly precious, to those whose inquisitive pleasures are gratified by tracing the manners of former ages. When Henry Stephens, in his apology for Herodotus, describes the irregularities of the age, and the minutiæ of national manners, he effects this chiefly by extracts from these sermons. Their wit is not always the brightest, nor their satire the most poignant; but there is always that prevailing naïveté of the age running through their rude eloquence, which interests the reflecting mind. In a word, these sermons were addressed to the multitude; and therefore they show good sense and absurdity; fancy and puerility; satire and insipidity; extravagance and truth.

Oliver Maillard, a famous cordelier, died in 1502. This preacher having pointed some keen traits in his sermons at Louis XI., the irritated monarch had our cordelier informed that he would throw him into the river. He replied undaunted, and not forgetting his satire: "The king may do as he chooses; but tell him that I shall sooner get to paradise by water, than he will arrive by all his post-horses." He alluded to travelling by post, which this monarch had lately introduced into France. This bold answer, it is said, intimidated Louis: it is certain that Maillard continued as courageous and satirical as ever in his pulpit.

The following extracts are descriptive of the manners of the times.

In attacking rapine and robbery, under the first head he describes a kind of usury, which was practised in the days of Ben Jonson, and I am told in the present, as well as in the times of Maillard. "This," says he, "is called a palliated usury. It is thus. When a person is in want of money, he goes to a treasurer (a kind of banker or merchant), on whom he has an order for 1000 crowns; the treasurer tells him that he will pay him in a fortnight's time, when he is to receive[Pg 253] the money. The poor man cannot wait. Our good treasurer tells him, I will give you half in money and half in goods. So he passes his goods that are worth 100 crowns for 200." He then touches on the bribes which these treasurers and clerks in office took, excusing themselves by alleging the little pay they otherwise received. "All these practices be sent to the devils!" cries Maillard, in thus addressing himself to the ladies: "it is for you all this damnation ensues. Yes! yes! you must have rich satins, and girdles of gold out of this accursed money. When any one has anything to receive from the husband, he must make a present to the wife of some fine gown, or girdle, or ring. If you ladies and gentlemen who are battening on your pleasures, and wear scarlet clothes, I believe if you were closely put in a good press, we should see the blood of the poor gush out, with which your scarlet is dyed."

Maillard notices the following curious particulars of the mode of cheating in trade in his times.

He is violent against the apothecaries for their cheats. "They mix ginger with cinnamon, which they sell for real spices: they put their bags of ginger, pepper, saffron, cinnamon, and other drugs in damp cellars, that they may weigh heavier; they mix oil with saffron, to give it a colour, and to make it weightier." He does not forget those tradesmen who put water in their wool, and moisten their cloth that it may stretch; tavern-keepers, who sophisticate and mingle wines; the butchers, who blow up their meat, and who mix hog's lard with the fat of their meat. He terribly declaims against those who buy with a great allowance of measure and weight, and then sell with a small measure and weight; and curses those who, when they weigh, press the scales down with their finger. But it is time to conclude with Master Oliver! His catalogue is, however, by no means exhausted; and it may not be amiss to observe, that the present age has retained every one of the sins.

The following extracts are from Menot's sermons, which are written, like Maillard's, in a barbarous Latin, mixed with old French.

Michael Menot died in 1518. I think he has more wit than Maillard, and occasionally displays a brilliant imagination; with the same singular mixture of grave declamation and farcical absurdities. He is called in the title-page the golden-tongued. It runs thus, Predicatoris qui lingua aurea,[Pg 254] sua tempestate nuncupatus est, Sermones quadragesimales, ab ipso olim Turonis declamati. Paris, 1525, 8vo.

When he compares the church with a vine, he says, "There were once some Britons and Englishmen who would have carried away all France into their country, because they found our wine better than their beer; but as they well knew that they could not always remain in France, nor carry away France into their country, they would at least carry with them several stocks of vines; they planted some in England; but these stocks soon degenerated, because the soil was not adapted to them." Notwithstanding what Menot said in 1500, and that we have tried so often, we have often flattered ourselves that if we plant vineyards, we may have English wine.

The following beautiful figure describes those who live neglectful of their aged parents, who had cherished them into prosperity. "See the trees flourish and recover their leaves; it is their root that has produced all; but when the branches are loaded with flowers and with fruits, they yield nothing to the root. This is an image of those children who prefer their own amusements, and to game away their fortunes, than to give to their old parents that which they want."

He acquaints us with the following circumstances of the immorality of that age: "Who has not got a mistress besides his wife? The poor wife eats the fruits of bitterness, and even makes the bed for the mistress." Oaths were not unfashionable in his day. "Since the world has been world, this crime was never greater. There were once pillories for these swearers; but now this crime is so common, that the child of five years can swear; and even the old dotard of eighty, who has only two teeth remaining, can fling out an oath."

On the power of the fair sex of his day, he observes—"A father says, my son studies; he must have a bishopric, or an abbey of 500 livres. Then he will have dogs, horses, and mistresses, like others. Another says, I will have my son placed at court, and have many honourable dignities. To succeed well, both employ the mediation of women; unhappily the church and the law are entirely at their disposal. We have artful Dalilahs who shear us close. For twelve crowns and an ell of velvet given to a woman, you gain the worst lawsuit, and the best living."

In his last sermon, Menot recapitulates the various topics he had touched on during Lent. This extract presents a[Pg 255] curious picture, and a just notion of the versatile talents of these preachers.

"I have told ecclesiastics how they should conduct themselves; not that they are ignorant of their duties; but I must ever repeat to girls, not to suffer themselves to be duped by them. I have told these ecclesiastics that they should imitate the lark; if she has a grain she does not remain idle, but feels her pleasure in singing, and in singing always is ascending towards heaven. So they should not amass; but elevate the hearts of all to God; and not do as the frogs who are crying out day and night, and think they have a fine throat, but always remain fixed in the mud.

"I have told the men of the law that they should have the qualities of the eagle. The first is, that this bird when it flies fixes its eye on the sun; so all judges, counsellors, and attorneys, in judging, writing, and signing, should always have God before their eyes. And secondly, this bird is never greedy; it willingly shares its prey with others; so all lawyers, who are rich in crowns after having had their bills paid, should distribute some to the poor, particularly when they are conscious that their money arises from their prey.

"I have spoken of the marriage state, but all that I have said has been disregarded. See those wretches who break the hymeneal chains, and abandon their wives! they pass their holidays out of their parishes, because if they remained at home they must have joined their wives at church; they liked their prostitutes better; and it will be so every day in the year! I would as well dine with a Jew or a heretic, as with them. What an infected place is this! Mistress Lubricity has taken possession of the whole city; look in every corner, and you'll be convinced.

"For you married women! If you have heard the nightingale's song, you must know that she sings during three months, and that she is silent when she has young ones. So there is a time in which you may sing and take your pleasures in the marriage state, and another to watch your children. Don't damn yourselves for them; and remember it would be better to see them drowned than damned.

"As to widows, I observe, that the turtle withdraws and sighs in the woods, whenever she has lost her companion; so must they retire into the wood of the cross, and having lost their temporal husband, take no other but Jesus Christ.

"And, to close all I have told girls that they must fly[Pg 256] from the company of men, and not permit them to embrace, nor even touch them. Look on the rose; it has a delightful odour; it embalms the place in which it is placed; but if you grasp it underneath, it will prick you till the blood issues. The beauty of the rose is the beauty of the girl. The beauty and perfume of the first invite to smell and to handle it, but when it is touched underneath it pricks sharply; the beauty of a girl likewise invites the hand; but you, my young ladies, you must never suffer this, for I tell you that every man who does this designs to make you harlots."

These ample extracts may convey the same pleasure to the reader which I have received by collecting them from their scarce originals, little known even to the curious. Menot, it cannot be denied, displays a poetic imagination, and a fertility of conception which distinguishes him among his rivals. The same taste and popular manner came into our country, and were suited to the simplicity of the age. In 1527, our Bishop Latimer preached a sermon,[74] in which he expresses himself thus:—"Now, ye have heard what is meant by this first card, and how ye ought to play. I purpose again to deal unto you another card of the same suit; for they be so nigh affinity, that one cannot be well played without the other."[75] It is curious to observe about a century afterwards, as Fuller informs us, that when a country clergyman imitated these familiar allusions, the taste of the congregation had so changed that he was interrupted by peals of laughter!

Even in more modern times have Menot and Maillard found an imitator in little Father André, as well as others. His character has been variously drawn. He is by some represented as a kind of buffoon in the pulpit; but others more judiciously observe, that he only indulged his natural genius, and uttered humorous and lively things, as the good Father observes himself, to keep the attention of his audience awake.[Pg 257] He was not always laughing. "He told many a bold truth," says the author of Guerre des Auteurs anciens et modernes, "that sent bishops to their dioceses, and made many a coquette blush. He possessed the art of biting when he smiled; and more ably combated vice by his ingenious satire than by those vague apostrophes which no one takes to himself. While others were straining their minds to catch at sublime thoughts which no one understood, he lowered his talents to the most humble situations, and to the minutest things. From them he drew his examples and his comparisons; and the one and the other never failed of success." Marville says, that "his expressions were full of shrewd simplicity. He made very free use of the most popular proverbs. His comparisons and figures were always borrowed from the most familiar and lowest things." To ridicule effectually the reigning vices, he would prefer quirks or puns to sublime thoughts; and he was little solicitous of his choice of expression, so the things came home. Gozzi, in Italy, had the same power in drawing unexpected inferences from vulgar and familiar occurrences. It was by this art Whitfield obtained so many followers. In Piozzi's British Synonymes, vol. ii. p. 205, we have an instance of Gozzi's manner. In the time of Charles II. it became fashionable to introduce humour into sermons. Sterne seems to have revived it in his: South's sparkle perpetually with wit and pun.

Far different, however, are the characters of the sublime preachers, of whom the French have preserved the following descriptions.

We have not any more Bourdaloue, La Rue, and Massillon; but the idea which still exists of their manner of addressing their auditors may serve instead of lessons. Each had his own peculiar mode, always adapted to place, time, circumstance; to their auditors, their style, and their subject.

Bourdaloue, with a collected air, had little action; with eyes generally half closed he penetrated the hearts of the people by the sound of a voice uniform and solemn. The tone with which a sacred orator pronounced the words, Tu est ille vir! "Thou art the man!" in suddenly addressing them to one of the kings of France, struck more forcibly than their application. Madame de Sévigné describes our preacher, by saying, "Father Bourdaloue thunders at Notre Dame."

La Rue appeared with the air of a prophet. His manner was irresistible, full of fire, intelligence, and force. He had[Pg 258] strokes perfectly original. Several old men, his contemporaries, still shuddered at the recollection of the expression which he employed in an apostrophe to the God of vengeance, Evaginare gladium tuum!

The person of Massillon affected his admirers. He was seen in the pulpit with that air of simplicity, that modest demeanour, those eyes humbly declining, those unstudied gestures, that passionate tone, that mild countenance of a man penetrated with his subject, conveying to the mind the most luminous ideas, and to the heart the most tender emotions. Baron, the tragedian, coming out from one of his sermons, truth forced from his lips a confession humiliating to his profession; "My friend," said he to one of his companions, "this is an orator! and we are only actors!"


There have been found occasionally some artists who could so perfectly imitate the spirit, the taste, the character, and the peculiarities of great masters, that they have not unfrequently deceived the most skilful connoisseurs. Michael Angelo sculptured a sleeping Cupid, of which having broken off an arm, he buried the statue in a place where he knew it would soon be found. The critics were never tired of admiring it, as one of the most precious relics of antiquity. It was sold to the Cardinal of St. George, to whom Michael Angelo discovered the whole mystery, by joining to the Cupid the arm which he had reserved.

An anecdote of Peter Mignard is more singular. This great artist painted a Magdalen on a canvas fabricated at Rome. A broker, in concert with Mignard, went to the Chevalier de Clairville, and told him as a secret that he was to receive from Italy a Magdalen of Guido, and his masterpiece. The chevalier caught the bait, begged the preference, and purchased the picture at a very high price.

He was informed that he had been imposed upon, and that the Magdalen was painted by Mignard. Mignard himself caused the alarm to be given, but the amateur would not believe it; all the connoisseurs agreed it was a Guido, and the famous Le Brun corroborated this opinion.

The chevalier came to Mignard:—"Some persons assure me that my Magdalen is your work!"—"Mine! they do me[Pg 259] great honour. I am sure that Le Brun is not of this opinion." "Le Brun swears it can be no other than a Guido. You shall dine with me, and meet several of the first connoisseurs."

On the day of meeting, the picture was again more closely inspected. Mignard hinted his doubts whether the piece was the work of that great master; he insinuated that it was possible to be deceived; and added, that if it was Guido's, he did not think it in his best manner. "It is a Guido, sir, and in his very best manner," replied Le Brun, with warmth; and all the critics were unanimous. Mignard then spoke in a firm tone of voice: "And I, gentlemen, will wager three hundred louis that it is not a Guido." The dispute now became violent: Le Brun was desirous of accepting the wager. In a word, the affair became such that it could add nothing more to the glory of Mignard. "No, sir," replied the latter, "I am too honest to bet when I am certain to win. Monsieur le Chevalier, this piece cost you two thousand crowns: the money must be returned,—the painting is mine." Le Brun would not believe it. "The proof," Mignard continued, "is easy. On this canvas, which is a Roman one, was the portrait of a cardinal; I will show you his cap."—The chevalier did not know which of the rival artists to credit. The proposition alarmed him. "He who painted the picture shall repair it," said Mignard. He took a pencil dipped in oil, and rubbing the hair of the Magdalen, discovered the cap of the cardinal. The honour of the ingenious painter could no longer be disputed; Le Brun, vexed, sarcastically exclaimed, "Always paint Guido, but never Mignard."

There is a collection of engravings by that ingenious artist Bernard Picart, which has been published under the title of The Innocent Impostors. Picart had long been vexed at the taste of his day, which ran wholly in favour of antiquity, and no one would look at, much less admire, a modern master. He published a pretended collection, or a set of prints, from the designs of the great painters; in which he imitated the etchings and engravings of the various masters, and much were these prints admired as the works of Guido, Rembrandt, and others. Having had his joke, they were published under the title of Imposteurs Innocentes. The connoisseurs, however, are strangely divided in their opinion of the merit of this collection. Gilpin classes these "Innocent[Pg 260] Impostors" among the most entertaining of his works, and is delighted by the happiness with which he has outdone in their own excellences the artists whom he copied; but Strutt, too grave to admit of jokes that twitch the connoisseurs, declares that they could never have deceived an experienced judge, and reprobates such kinds of ingenuity, played off at the cost of the venerable brotherhood of the cognoscenti.

The same thing was, however, done by Goltzius, who being disgusted at the preference given to the works of Albert Durer, Lucas of Leyden, and others of that school, and having attempted to introduce a better taste, which was not immediately relished, he published what were afterwards called his masterpieces. These are six prints in the style of these masters, merely to prove that Goltzius could imitate their works, if he thought proper. One of these, the Circumcision, he had printed on soiled paper; and to give it the brown tint of antiquity had carefully smoked it, by which means it was sold as a curious performance, and deceived some of the most capital connoisseurs of the day, one of whom bought it as one of the finest engravings of Albert Durer: even Strutt acknowledges the merit of Goltzius's masterpieces!

To these instances of artists I will add others of celebrated authors. Muretus rendered Joseph Scaliger, a great stickler for the ancients, highly ridiculous by an artifice which he practised. He sent some verses which he pretended were copied from an old manuscript. The verses were excellent, and Scaliger was credulous. After having read them, he exclaimed they were admirable, and affirmed that they were written by an old comic poet, Trabeus. He quoted them, in his commentary on Varro De Re Rusticâ, as one of the most precious fragments of antiquity. It was then, when he had fixed his foot firmly in the trap, that Muretus informed the world of the little dependence to be placed on the critical sagacity of one so prejudiced in favour of the ancients, and who considered his judgment as infallible.

The Abbé Regnier Desmarais, having written an ode or, as the Italians call it, canzone, sent it to the Abbé Strozzi at Florence, who used it to impose on three or four academicians of Della Crusca. He gave out that Leo Allatius, librarian of the Vatican, in examining carefully the MSS. of Petrarch preserved there, had found two pages slightly glued, which[Pg 261] having separated, he had discovered this ode. The fact was not at first easily credited; but afterwards the similarity of style and manner rendered it highly probable. When Strozzi undeceived the public, it procured the Abbé Regnier a place in the academy, as an honourable testimony of his ingenuity.

Père Commire, when Louis XIV. resolved on the conquest of Holland, composed a Latin fable, entitled "The Sun and the Frogs," in which he assumed with such felicity the style and character of Phædrus, that the learned Wolfius was deceived, and innocently inserted it in his edition of that fabulist.

Flaminius Strada would have deceived most of the critics of his age, if he had given as the remains of antiquity the different pieces of history and poetry which he composed on the model of the ancients, in his Prolusiones Academicæ. To preserve probability he might have given out that he had drawn them, from some old and neglected library; he had then only to have added a good commentary, tending to display the conformity of the style and manner of these fragments with the works of those authors to whom he ascribed them.

Sigonius was a great master of the style of Cicero, and ventured to publish a treatise De Consolatione, as a composition of Cicero recently discovered; many were deceived by the counterfeit, which was performed with great dexterity, and was long received as genuine; but he could not deceive Lipsius, who, after reading only ten lines, threw it away, exclaiming, "Vah! non est Ciceronis." The late Mr. Burke succeeded more skilfully in his "Vindication of Natural Society," which for a long time passed as the composition of Lord Bolingbroke; so perfect is this ingenious imposture of the spirit, manner, and course of thinking of the noble author. I believe it was written for a wager, and fairly won.


Our Edward the Fourth was dissipated and voluptuous; and probably owed his crown to his handsomeness, his enormous debts, and passion for the fair sex. He had many Jane Shores. Honest Philip de Comines, his contemporary, says, "That what greatly contributed to his entering London as soon as he appeared at its gates was the great debts this[Pg 262] prince had contracted, which made his creditors gladly assist him; and the high favour in which he was held by the bourgeoises, into whose good graces he had frequently glided, and who gained over to him their husbands, who, for the tranquillity of their lives, were glad to depose or to raise monarchs. Many ladies and rich citizens' wives, of whom formerly he had great privacies and familiar acquaintance, gained over to him their husbands and relations."

This is the description of his voluptuous life; we must recollect that the writer had been an eye-witness, and was an honest man.

"He had been during the last twelve years more accustomed to his ease and pleasure than any other prince who lived in his time. He had nothing in his thoughts but les dames, and of them more than was reasonable; and hunting-matches, good eating, and great care of his person. When he went in their seasons to these hunting-matches, he always had carried with him great pavilions for les dames, and at the same time gave splendid entertainments; so that it is not surprising that his person was as jolly as any one I ever saw. He was then young, and as handsome as any man of his age; but he has since become enormously fat."

Since I have got old Philip in my hand, the reader will not, perhaps, be displeased, if he attends to a little more of his naïveté, which will appear in the form of a conversazione of the times. He relates what passed between the English and the French Monarch.

"When the ceremony of the oath was concluded, our king, who was desirous of being friendly, began to say to the king of England, in a laughing way, that he must come to Paris, and be jovial amongst our ladies; and that he would give him the Cardinal de Bourbon for his confessor, who would very willingly absolve him of any sin which perchance he might commit. The king of England seemed well pleased at the invitation, and laughed heartily; for he knew that the said cardinal was un fort bon compagnon. When the king was returning, he spoke on the road to me; and said that he did not like to find the king of England so much inclined to come to Paris. 'He is,' said he, 'a very handsome king; he likes the women too much. He may probably find one at Paris that may make him like to come too often, or stay too long. His predecessors have already been too much at Paris and in Normandy;' and that 'his company was not agreeable this[Pg 263] side of the sea; but that, beyond the sea, he wished to be bon frère et amy.'"

I have called Philip de Comines honest. The old writers, from the simplicity of their style, usually receive this honourable epithet; but sometimes they deserve it as little as most modern memoir writers. No enemy is indeed so terrible as a man of genius. Comines's violent enmity to the Duke of Burgundy, which appears in these memoirs, has been traced by the minute researchers of anecdotes; and the cause is not honourable to the memoir-writer, whose resentment was implacable. De Comines was born a subject of the Duke of Burgundy, and for seven years had been a favourite; but one day returning from hunting with the Duke, then Count de Charolois, in familiar jocularity he sat himself down before the prince, ordering the prince to pull off his boots. The count laughed, and did this; but in return for Comines's princely amusement, dashed the boot in his face, and gave Comines a bloody nose, From that time he was mortified in the court of Burgundy by the nickname of the booted head. Comines long felt a rankling wound in his mind; and after this domestic quarrel, for it was nothing more, he went over to the king of France, and wrote off his bile against the Duke of Burgundy in these "Memoirs," which give posterity a caricature likeness of that prince, whom he is ever censuring for presumption, obstinacy, pride, and cruelty. This Duke of Burgundy, however, it is said, with many virtues, had but one great vice, the vice of sovereigns, that of ambition!

The impertinence of Comines had not been chastised with great severity; but the nickname was never forgiven: unfortunately for the duke, Comines was a man of genius. When we are versed in the history of the times, we often discover that memoir-writers have some secret poison in their hearts. Many, like Comines, have had the boot dashed on their nose. Personal rancour wonderfully enlivens the style of Lord Orford and Cardinal de Retz. Memoirs are often dictated by its fiercest spirit; and then histories are composed from memoirs. Where is TRUTH? Not always in histories and memoirs![Pg 264]


This great queen passionately admired handsome persons, and he was already far advanced in her favour who approached her with beauty and grace. She had so unconquerable an aversion for men who had been treated unfortunately by nature, that she could not endure their presence.

When she issued from her palace, her guards were careful to disperse from before her eyes hideous and deformed people, the lame, the hunchbacked, &c.; in a word, all those whose appearance might shock her fastidious sensations.

"There is this singular and admirable in the conduct of Elizabeth that she made her pleasures subservient to her policy, and she maintained her affairs by what in general occasions the ruin of princes. So secret were her amours, that even to the present day their mysteries cannot be penetrated; but the utility she drew from them is public, and always operated for the good of her people. Her lovers were her ministers, and her ministers were her lovers. Love commanded, love was obeyed; and the reign of this princess was happy, because it was the reign of Love, in which its chains and its slavery are liked!"

The origin of Raleigh's advancement in the queen's graces was by an act of gallantry. Raleigh spoiled a new plush cloak, while the queen, stepping cautiously on this prodigal's footcloth, shot forth a smile, in which he read promotion. Captain Raleigh soon became Sir Walter, and rapidly advanced in the queen's favour.

Hume has furnished us with ample proofs of the passion which her courtiers feigned for her, and it remains a question whether it ever went further than boisterous or romantic gallantry. The secrecy of her amours is not so wonderful as it seems, if there were impediments to any but exterior gallantries. Hume has preserved in his notes a letter written by Raleigh. It is a perfect amorous composition. After having exerted his poetic talents to exalt her charms and his affection, he concludes, by comparing her majesty, who was then sixty, to Venus and Diana. Sir Walter was not her only courtier who wrote in this style. Even in her old age she affected a strange fondness for music and dancing, with a kind of childish simplicity; her court seemed a court of love,[Pg 265] and she the sovereign. Secretary Cecil, the youngest son of Lord Burleigh, seems to have perfectly entered into her character. Lady Derby wore about her neck and in her bosom a portrait; the queen inquired about it, but her ladyship was anxious to conceal it. The queen insisted on having it; and discovering it to be the portrait of young Cecil, she snatched it away, tying it upon her shoe, and walked with it; afterwards she pinned it on her elbow, and wore it some time there. Secretary Cecil hearing of this, composed some verses and got them set to music; this music the queen insisted on hearing. In his verses Cecil said that he repined not, though her majesty was pleased to grace others; he contented himself with the favour she had given him by wearing his portrait on her feet and on her arms! The writer of the letter who relates this anecdote, adds, "All these things are very secret." In this manner she contrived to lay the fastest hold on her able servants, and her servants on her.

Those who are intimately acquainted with the private anecdotes of those times, know what encouragement this royal coquette gave to most who were near her person. Dodd, in his Church History, says, that the Earls of Arran and Arundel, and Sir William Pickering, "were not out of hopes of gaining Queen Elizabeth's affections in a matrimonial way."

She encouraged every person of eminence: she even went so far, on the anniversary of her coronation, as publicly to take a ring from her finger, and put it on the Duke of Aleçnon's hand. She also ranked amongst her suitors Henry the Third of France, and Henry the Great.

She never forgave Buzenval for ridiculing her bad pronunciation of the French language; and when Henry IV. sent him over on an embassy, she would not receive him. So nice was the irritable pride of this great queen, that she made her private injuries matters of state.

"This queen," writes Du Maurier, in his Memoires pour servir à l'Histoire de la Hollande, "who displayed so many heroic accomplishments, had this foible, of wishing to be thought beautiful by all the world. I heard from my father, that at every audience he had with her majesty, she pulled off her gloves more than a hundred times to display her hands, which indeed were very beautiful and very white."

A not less curious anecdote relates to the affair of the Duke of Anjou and our Elizabeth; it is one more proof of her par[Pg 266]tiality for handsome men. The writer was Lewis Guyon, a contemporary.

"Francis Duke of Anjou, being desirous of marrying a crowned head, caused proposals of marriage to be made to Elizabeth, queen of England. Letters passed betwixt them, and their portraits were exchanged. At length her majesty informed him, that she would never contract a marriage with any one who sought her, if she did not first see his person. If he would not come, nothing more should be said on the subject. This prince, over-pressed by his young friends (who were as little able of judging as himself), paid no attention to the counsels of men of maturer judgment. He passed over to England without a splendid train. The said lady contemplated his person: she found him ugly, disfigured by deep sears of the small-pox, and that he also had an ill-shaped nose, with swellings in the neck! All these were so many reasons with her, that he could never be admitted into her good graces."

Puttenham, in his very rare book of the "Art of Poesie," p. 248, notices the grace and majesty of Elizabeth's demeanour: "Her stately manner of walk, with a certaine granditie rather than gravietie, marching with leysure, which our sovereign ladye and mistresse is accustomed to doe generally, unless it be when she walketh apace for her pleasure, or to catch her a heate in the cold mornings."

By the following extract from a letter from one of her gentlemen, we discover that her usual habits, though studious, were not of the gentlest kind, and that the service she exacted from her attendants was not borne without concealed murmurs. The writer groans in secrecy to his friend. Sir John Stanhope writes to Sir Robert Cecil in 1598: "I was all the afternowne with her majestie, at my booke; and then thinking to rest me, went in agayne with your letter. She was pleased with the Filosofer's stone, and hath ben all this daye reasonably quyett. Mr. Grevell is absent, and I am tyed so as I cannot styrr, but shall be at the wourse for yt, these two dayes!"[76]

Puttenham, p. 249, has also recorded an honourable anecdote of Elizabeth, and characteristic of that high majesty which was in her thoughts, as well as in her actions. When[Pg 267] she came to the crown, a knight of the realm, who had insolently behaved to her when Lady Elizabeth, fell upon his knees and besought her pardon, expecting to be sent to the Tower: she replied mildly, "Do you not know that we are descended of the lion, whose nature is not to harme or prey upon the mouse, or any other such small vermin?"

Queen Elizabeth was taught to write by the celebrated Roger Ascham. Her writing is extremely beautiful and correct, as may be seen by examining a little manuscript book of prayers, preserved in the British Museum. I have seen her first writing book, preserved at Oxford in the Bodleian Library: the gradual improvement in her majesty's handwriting is very honourable to her diligence; but the most curious thing is the paper on which she tried her pens; this she usually did by writing the name of her beloved brother Edward; a proof of the early and ardent attachment she formed to that amiable prince.

The education of Elizabeth had been severely classical; she thought and she wrote in all the spirit of the characters of antiquity; and her speeches and her letters are studded with apophthegms, and a terseness of ideas and language, that give an exalted idea of her mind. In her evasive answers to the Commons, in reply to their petitions to her majesty to marry, she has employed an energetic word: "Were I to tell you that I do not mean to marry, I might say less than I did intend; and were I to tell you that I do mean to marry, I might say more than it is proper for you to know; therefore I give you an answer, Answerless!"


The Chinese language is like no other on the globe; it is said to contain not more than about three hundred and thirty words, but it is by no means monotonous, for it has four accents; the even, the raised, the lessened, and the returning, which multiply every word into four; as difficult, says Mr. Astle, for an European to understand, as it is for a Chinese to comprehend the six pronunciations of the French E. In fact, they can so diversify their monosyllabic words by the different tones which they give them, that the same character differently accented signifies sometimes ten or more different things.[Pg 268]

P. Bourgeois, one of the missionaries, attempted, after ten months' residence at Pekin, to preach in the Chinese language. These are the words of the good father: "God knows how much this first Chinese sermon cost me! I can assure you this language resembles no other. The same word has never but one termination; and then adieu to all that in our declensions distinguishes the gender, and the number of things we would speak: adieu, in the verbs, to all which might explain the active person, how and in what time it acts, if it acts alone or with others: in a word, with the Chinese, the same word is substantive, adjective, verb, singular, plural, masculine, feminine, &c. It is the person who hears who must arrange the circumstances, and guess them. Add to all this, that all the words of this language are reduced to three hundred and a few more; that they are pronounced in so many different ways, that they signify eighty thousand different things, which are expressed by as many different characters. This is not all: the arrangement of all these monosyllables appears to be under no general rule; so that to know the language after having learnt the words, we must learn every particular phrase: the least inversion would make you unintelligible to three parts of the Chinese.

"I will give you an example of their words. They told me chou signifies a book: so that I thought whenever the word chou was pronounced, a book was the subject. Not at all! Chou, the next time I heard it, I found signified a tree. Now I was to recollect; chou was a book or a tree. But this amounted to nothing; chou, I found, expressed also great heats; chou is to relate; chou is the Aurora; chou means to be accustomed; chou expresses the loss of a wager, &c. I should not finish, were I to attempt to give you all its significations.

"Notwithstanding these singular difficulties, could one but find a help in the perusal of their books, I should not complain. But this is impossible! Their language is quite different from that of simple conversation. What will ever be an insurmountable difficulty to every European is the pronunciation; every word may be pronounced in five different tones, yet every tone is not so distinct that an unpractised ear can easily distinguish it. These monosyllables fly with amazing rapidity; then they are continually disguised by elisions, which sometimes hardly leave anything of two mono[Pg 269]syllables. From an aspirated tone you must pass immediately to an even one; from a whistling note to an inward one: sometimes your voice must proceed from the palate; sometimes it must be guttural, and almost always nasal. I recited my sermon at least fifty times to my servant before I spoke it in public; and yet I am told, though he continually corrected me, that of the ten parts of the sermon (as the Chinese express themselves), they hardly understood three. Fortunately the Chinese are wonderfully patient; and they are astonished that any ignorant stranger should be able to learn two words of their language."

It has been said that "Satires are often composed in China, which, if you attend to the characters, their import is pure and sublime; but if you regard the tone only, they contain a meaning ludicrous or obscene. In the Chinese one word sometimes corresponds to three or four thousand characters; a property quite opposite to that of our language, in which myriads of different words are expressed by the same letters."


In the Philosophical Magazine for May, 1806, we find that "several of the medical literati on the continent are at present engaged in making inquiries and experiments upon the influence of music in the cure of diseases." The learned Dusaux is said to lead the band of this new tribe of amateurs and cognoscenti.

The subject excited my curiosity, though I since have found that it is no new discovery.

There is a curious article in Dr. Burney's History of Music, "On the Medicinal Powers attributed to Music by the Ancients," which he derived from the learned labours of a modern physician, M. Burette, who doubtless could play a tune to, as well as prescribe one to, his patient. He conceives that music can relieve the pains of the sciatica; and that, independent of the greater or less skill of the musician, by flattering the ear, and diverting the attention, and occasioning certain vibrations of the nerves, it can remove those obstructions which occasion this disorder. M. Burette, and many modern physicians and philosophers, have believed that music has the power of affecting the mind, and the whole nervous system, so as to give a temporary relief in certain diseases,[Pg 270] and even a radical cure. De Mairan, Bianchini, and other respectable names, have pursued the same career. But the ancients recorded miracles!

The Rev. Dr. Mitchell, of Brighthelmstone, wrote a dissertation, "De Arte Medendi apud Priscos, Musices ope atque Carminum," printed for J. Nichols, 1783. He writes under the assumed name of Michael Gaspar; but whether this learned dissertator be grave or jocular, more than one critic has not been able to resolve me. I suspect it to be a satire on the parade of Germanic erudition, by which they often prove a point by the weakest analogies and most fanciful conceits.

Amongst half-civilized nations, diseases have been generally attributed to the influence of evil spirits. The depression of mind which is generally attendant on sickness, and the delirium accompanying certain stages of disease, seem to have been considered as especially denoting the immediate influence of a demon. The effect of music in raising the energies of the mind, or what we commonly call animal spirits, was obvious to early observation. Its power of attracting strong attention may in some cases have appeared to affect even those who laboured under a considerable degree of mental disorder. The accompanying depression of mind was considered as a part of the disease, perhaps rightly enough, and music was prescribed as a remedy to remove the symptom, when experience had not ascertained the probable cause. Homer, whose heroes exhibit high passions, but not refined manners, represents the Grecian army as employing music to stay the raging of the plague. The Jewish nation, in the time of King David, appear not to have been much further advanced in civilization; accordingly we find David employed in his youth to remove the mental derangement of Saul by his harp. The method of cure was suggested as a common one in those days, by Saul's servants; and the success is not mentioned as a miracle. Pindar, with poetic licence, speaks of Æsculapius healing acute disorders with soothing songs; but Æsculapius, whether man or deity, or between both, is a physician of the days of barbarism and fable. Pliny scouts the idea that music could affect real bodily injury, but quotes Homer on the subject; mentions Theophrastus as suggesting a tune for the cure of the hip gout, and Cato as entertaining a fancy that it had a good effect when limbs were out of joint, and likewise that Varro thought it good for the gout. Aulus[Pg 271] Gellius cites a work of Theophrastus, which recommends music as a specific for the bite of a viper. Boyle and Shakspeare mention the effects of music super vesicam. Kircher's "Musurgia," and Swinburne's Travels, relate the effects of music on those who are bitten by the tarantula. Sir W. Temple seems to have given credit to the stories of the power of music over diseases.

The ancients, indeed, record miracles in the tales they relate of the medicinal powers of music. A fever is removed by a song, and deafness is cured by a trumpet, and the pestilence is chased away by the sweetness of an harmonious lyre. That deaf people can hear best in a great noise, is a fact alleged by some moderns, in favour of the ancient story of curing deafness by a trumpet. Dr. Willis tells us, says Dr. Burney, of a lady who could hear only while a drum was beating, insomuch, that her husband, the account says, hired a drummer as her servant, in order to enjoy the pleasure of her conversation.

Music and the sounds of instruments, says the lively Vigneul de Marville, contribute to the health of the body and the mind; they quicken the circulation of the blood, they dissipate vapours, and open the vessels, so that the action of perspiration is freer. He tells a story of a person of distinction, who assured him, that once being suddenly seized by violent illness, instead of a consultation of physicians, he immediately called a band of musicians; and their violins-played so well in his inside, that his bowels became perfectly in tune, and in a few hours were harmoniously becalmed. I once heard a story of Farinelli, the famous singer, who was sent for to Madrid, to try the effect of his magical voice on the king of Spain. His majesty was buried in the profoundest melancholy; nothing could raise an emotion in him; he lived in a total oblivion of life; he sate in a darkened chamber, entirely given up to the most distressing kind of madness. The physicians ordered Farinelli at first to sing in an outer room; and for the first day or two this was done, without any effect, on the royal patient. At length, it was observed, that the king, awakening from his stupor, seemed to listen; on the next day tears were seen starting in his eyes; the day after he ordered the door of his chamber to be left open—and at length the perturbed spirit entirely left our modern Saul, and the medicinal voice of Farinelli effected what no other medicine could.[Pg 272]

I now prepare to give the reader some facts, which he may consider as a trial of credulity.—Their authorities are, however, not contemptible.—Naturalists assert that animals and birds, as well as "knotted oaks," as Congreve informs us, are sensible to the charms of music. This may serve as an instance:—An officer was confined in the Bastile; he begged the governor to permit him the use of his lute, to soften, by the harmonies of his instrument, the rigours of his prison. At the end of a few days, this modern Orpheus, playing on his lute, was greatly astonished to see frisking out of their holes great numbers of mice, and descending from their woven habitations crowds of spiders, who formed a circle about him, while he continued breathing his soul-subduing instrument. He was petrified with astonishment. Having ceased to play, the assembly, who did not come to see his person, but to hear his instrument, immediately broke up. As he had a great dislike to spiders, it was two days before he ventured again to touch his instrument. At length, having overcome, for the novelty of his company, his dislike of them, he recommenced his concert, when the assembly was by far more numerous than at first; and in the course of farther time, he found himself surrounded by a hundred musical amateurs. Having thus succeeded in attracting this company, he treacherously contrived to get rid of them at his will. For this purpose he begged the keeper to give him a cat, which he put in a cage, and let loose at the very instant when the little hairy people were most entranced by the Orphean skill he displayed.

The Abbé Olivet has described an amusement of Pelisson during his confinement in the Bastile, which consisted in feeding a spider, which he had discovered forming its web in the corner of a small window. For some time he placed his flies at the edge, while his valet, who was with him, played on a bagpipe: little by little, the spider used itself to distinguish the sound of the instrument, and issued from its hole to run and catch its prey. Thus calling it always by the same sound, and placing the flies at a still greater distance, he succeeded, after several months, to drill the spider by regular exercise, so that at length it never failed appearing at the first sound to seize on the fly provided for it, even on the knees of the prisoner.

Marville has given us the following curious anecdote on this subject. He says, that doubting the truth of those who[Pg 273] say that the love of music is a natural taste, especially the sound of instruments, and that beasts themselves are touched by it, being one day in the country I tried an experiment. While a man was playing on the trump marine, I made my observations on a cat, a dog, a horse, an ass, a hind, cows, small birds, and a cock and hens, who were in a yard, under a window on which I was leaning. I did not perceive that the cat was the least affected, and I even judged, by her air, that she would have given all the instruments in the world for a mouse, sleeping in the sun all the time; the horse stopped short from time to time before the window, raising his head up now and then, as he was feeding on the grass; the dog continued for above an hour seated on his hind legs, looking steadfastly at the player; the ass did not discover the least indication of his being touched, eating his thistles peaceably; the hind lifted up her large wide ears, and seemed very attentive; the cows slept a little, and after gazing, as though they had been acquainted with us, went forward; some little birds who were in an aviary, and others on the trees and bushes, almost tore their little throats with singing; but the cock, who minded only his hens, and the hens, who were solely employed in scraping a neighbouring dunghill, did not show in any manner that they took the least pleasure in hearing the trump marine.

A modern traveller assures us, that he has repeatedly observed in the island of Madeira, that the lizards are attracted by the notes of music, and that he has assembled a number of them by the powers of his instrument. When the negroes catch them for food, they accompany the chase by whistling some tune, which has always the effect of drawing great numbers towards them. Stedman, in his Expedition to Surinam, describes certain sibyls among the negroes, who, among several singular practices, can charm or conjure down from the tree certain serpents, who will wreath about the arms, neck, and breast of the pretended sorceress, listening to her voice. The sacred writers speak of the charming of adders and serpents; and nothing, says he, is more notorious than that the eastern Indians will rid the houses of the most venomous snakes, by charming them with the sound of a flute, which calls them out of their holes. These anecdotes seem fully confirmed by Sir William Jones, in his dissertation on the musical modes of the Hindus.[Pg 274]

"After food, when the operations of digestion and absorption give so much employment to the vessels, that a temporary state of mental repose must be found, especially in hot climates, essential to health, it seems reasonable to believe that a few agreeable airs, either heard or played without effort, must have all the good effects of sleep, and none of its disadvantages; putting the soul in tune, as Milton says, for any subsequent exertion; an experiment often successfully made by myself. I have been assured by a credible eye-witness, that two wild antelopes used often to come from their woods to the place where a more savage beast, Sirájuddaulah, entertained himself with concerts, and that they listened to the strains with an appearance of pleasure, till the monster, in whose soul there was no music, shot one of them to display his archery. A learned native told me that he had frequently seen the most venomous and malignant snakes leave their holes upon hearing tunes on a flute, which, as he supposed, gave them peculiar delight. An intelligent Persian declared he had more than once been present, when a celebrated lutenist, surnamed Bulbul (i.e., the nightingale), was playing to a large company, in a grove near Shiraz, where he distinctly saw the nightingales trying to vie with the musician, sometimes warbling on the trees, sometimes fluttering from branch to branch, as if they wished to approach the instrument, and at length dropping on the ground in a kind of ecstacy, from which they were soon raised, he assured me, by a change in the mode."

Jackson of Exeter, in reply to a question of Dryden, "What passion cannot music raise or quell?" sarcastically returns, "What passion can music raise or quell?" Would not a savage, who had never listened to a musical instrument, feel certain emotions at listening to one for the first time? But civilized man is, no doubt, particularly affected by association of ideas, as all pieces of national music evidently prove.

The Ranz Des Vaches, mentioned by Rousseau in his Dictionary of Music, though without anything striking in the composition, has such a powerful influence over the Swiss, and impresses them with so violent a desire to return to their own country, that it is forbidden to be played in the Swiss regiments, in the French service, on pain of death. There is also a Scotch tune, which has the same effect on some of our North Britons. In one of our battles in Calabria, a bagpiper of the[Pg 275] 78th Highland regiment, when the light infantry charged the French, posted himself on the right, and remained in his solitary situation during the whole of the battle, encouraging the men with a famous Highland charging tune; and actually upon the retreat and complete rout of the French changed it to another, equally celebrated in Scotland, upon the retreat of and victory over an enemy. His next-hand neighbour guarded him so well that he escaped unhurt. This was the spirit of the "Last Minstrel," who infused courage among his countrymen, by possessing it in so animated a degree, and in so venerable a character.


The Iliad of Homer in a nutshell, which Pliny says that Cicero once saw, it is pretended might have been a fact, however to some it may appear impossible. Ælian notices an artist who wrote a distich in letters of gold, which he enclosed in the rind of a grain of corn.

Antiquity and modern times record many such penmen, whose glory consisted in writing in so small a hand that the writing could not be legible to the naked eye. Menage mentions, he saw whole sentences which were not perceptible to the eye without the microscope; pictures and portraits which appeared at first to be lines and scratches thrown down at random; one formed the face of the Dauphiness with the most correct resemblance. He read an Italian poem, in praise of this princess, containing some thousand verses, written by an officer, in a space of a foot and a half. This species of curious idleness has not been lost in our own country, where this minute writing has equalled any on record. Peter Bales, a celebrated caligrapher in the reign of Elizabeth, astonished the eyes of beholders by showing them what they could not see; for in the Harleian MSS. 530, we have a narrative of "a rare piece of work brought to pass by Peter Bales, an Englishman, and a clerk of the chancery;" it seems by the description to have been the whole Bible "in an English walnut no bigger than a hen's egg. The nut holdeth the book: there are as many leaves in his little book as the great Bible, and he hath written as much in one of his little leaves as a great leaf of the Bible." We are told that this wonderfully unreadable copy of the Bible was "seen[Pg 276] by many thousands." There is a drawing of the head of Charles I. in the library of St. John's College, at Oxford, wholly composed of minute written characters, which, at a small distance, resemble the lines of an engraving. The lines of the head, and the ruff, are said to contain the book of Psalms, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. In the British Museum we find a drawing representing the portrait of Queen Anne, not much above the size of the hand. On this drawing appears a number of lines and scratches, which the librarian assures the marvelling spectator includes the entire contents of a thin folio, which on this occasion is carried in the hand.

The learned Huet asserts that, like the rest of the world, he considered as a fiction the story of that indefatigable trifler who is said to have enclosed the Iliad in a nutshell. Examining the matter more closely, he thought it possible. One day this learned man trifled half an hour in demonstrating it. A piece of vellum, about ten inches in length and eight in width, pliant and firm, can be folded up, and enclosed in the shell of a large walnut. It can hold in its breadth one line, which can contain 30 verses, and in its length 250 lines. With a crow-quill the writing can be perfect. A page of this piece of vellum will then contain 7500 verses, and the reverse as much; the whole 15,000 verses of the Iliad. And this he proved by using a piece of paper, and with a common pen. The thing is possible to be effected; and if on any occasion paper should be most excessively rare, it may be useful to know that a volume of matter may be contained in a single leaf.


The learned, after many contests, have at length agreed that the numerical figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, usually called Arabic, are of Indian origin. The Arabians do not pretend to have been the inventors of them, but borrowed them from the Indian nations. The numeral characters of the Bramins, the Persians, the Arabians, and other eastern nations, are similar. They appear afterwards to have been introduced into several European nations by their respective travellers, who returned from the East. They were admitted into calendars and chronicles, but they were not introduced into charters, says Mr. Astle, before the sixteenth century. The Spaniards, no doubt, derived their use from the Moors who invaded[Pg 277] them. In 1210, the Alphonsean astronomical tables were made by the order of Alphonsus X. by a Jew, and an Arabian; they used these numerals, from whence the Spaniards contend that they were first introduced by them.

They were not generally used in Germany until the beginning of the fourteenth century; but in general the forms of the ciphers were not permanently fixed there till after the year 1531. The Russians were strangers to them, before Peter the Great had finished his travels in the beginning of the last century.

The origin of these useful characters with the Indians and Arabians is attributed to their great skill in the arts of astronomy and of arithmetic, which required more convenient characters than alphabetic letters for the expressing of numbers.

Before the introduction into Europe of these Arabic numerals, they used alphabetical characters, or Roman numerals. The learned authors of the Nouveau Traité Diplomatique, the most valuable work on everything concerning the arts and progress of writing, have given some curious notices on the origin of the Roman numerals. Originally men counted by their fingers; thus, to mark the first four numbers they used an I, which naturally represents them. To mark the fifth, they chose a V, which is made out by bending inwards the three middle fingers, and stretching out only the thumb and the little finger; and for the tenth they used an X, which is a double V, one placed topsy-turvy under the other. From this the progression of these numbers is always from one to five, and from five to ten. The hundred was signified by the capital letter of that word in Latin, C—centum. The other letters, D for 500, and M for a 1000, were afterwards added. They subsequently abbreviated their characters, by placing one of these figures before another; and the figure of less value before a higher number, denotes that so much may be deducted from a greater number; for instance, IV signifies five less one, that is four; IX ten less one, that is nine; but these abbreviations are not found amongst the ancient monuments.[77] These numerical letters are still continued by us in the accounts of our Exchequer.

That men counted originally by their fingers, is no impro[Pg 278]bable supposition; it is still naturally practised by the people. In semi-civilized states small stones have been used, and the etymologists derive the words calculate and calculations from calculus, the Latin term for a pebble-stone, and by which they denominated their counters used for arithmetical computations.

Professor Ward, in a learned dissertation on this subject in the Philosophical Transactions, concludes that it is easier to falsify the Arabic ciphers than the Roman alphabetical numerals; when 1375 is dated in Arabic ciphers, if the 3 is only changed into an 0, three centuries are taken away; if the 3 is made into a 9 and take away the 1, four hundred years are lost. Such accidents have assuredly produced much confusion among our ancient manuscripts, and still do in our printed books; which is the reason that Dr. Robertson in his histories has also preferred writing his dates in words, rather than confide them to the care of a negligent printer. Gibbon observes, that some remarkable mistakes have happened by the word mil. in MSS., which is an abbreviation for soldiers, or for thousands; and to this blunder he attributes the incredible numbers of martyrdoms, which cannot otherwise be accounted for by historical records.


A belief in judicial astrology can now only exist in the people, who may be said to have no belief at all; for mere traditional sentiments can hardly be said to amount to a belief. But a faith in this ridiculous system in our country is of late existence; and was a favourite superstition with the learned.

When Charles the First was confined, Lilly the astrologer was consulted for the hour which would favour his escape.

A story, which strongly proves how greatly Charles the Second was bigoted to judicial astrology, is recorded is Burnet's History of his Own Times.

The most respectable characters of the age, Sir William Dugdale, Ellas Ashmole, Dr. Grew, and others, were members of an astrological club. Congreve's character of Foresight, in Love for Love, was then no uncommon person, though the humour now is scarcely intelligible.[Pg 279]

Dryden cast the nativities of his sons; and, what is remarkable, his prediction relating to his son Charles took place. This incident is of so late a date, one might hope it would have been cleared up.

In 1670, the passion for horoscopes and expounding the stars prevailed in France among the first rank. The new-born child was usually presented naked to the astrologer, who read the first lineaments in his forehead, and the transverse lines in its hand, and thence wrote down its future destiny. Catherine de Medicis brought Henry IV., then a child, to old Nostradamus, whom antiquaries esteem more for his chronicle of Provence than his vaticinating powers. The sight of the reverend seer, with a beard which "streamed like a meteor in the air," terrified the future hero, who dreaded a whipping from so grave a personage. One of these magicians having assured Charles IX. that he would live as many days as he should turn about on his heels in an hour, standing on one leg, his majesty every morning performed that solemn gyration; the principal officers of the court, the judges, the chancellors, and generals, likewise, in compliment, standing on one leg and turning round!

It has been reported of several famous for their astrologic skill, that they have suffered a voluntary death merely to verify their own predictions; this has been reported of Cardan, and Burton, the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy.

It is curious to observe the shifts to which astrologers are put when their predictions are not verified. Great winds were predicted, by a famous adept, about the year 1586. No unusual storms, however, happened. Bodin, to save the reputation of the art, applied it as figure to some revolutions in the state, and of which there were instances enough at that moment. Among their lucky and unlucky days, they pretend to give those of various illustrious persons and of families. One is very striking.—Thursday was the unlucky day of our Henry VIII. He, his son Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, all died on a Thursday! This fact had, no doubt, great weight in this controversy of the astrologers with their adversaries.[78][Pg 280]

Lilly, the astrologer, is the Sidrophel of Butler. His Life, written by himself, contains so much artless narrative, and so much palpable imposture, that it is difficult to know when he is speaking what he really believes to be the truth. In a sketch of the state of astrology in his day, those adepts, whose characters he has drawn, were the lowest miscreants of the town. They all speak of each other as rogues and impostors. Such were Booker, Backhouse, Gadbury; men who gained a livelihood by practising on the credulity of even men of learning so late as in 1650, nor were they much out of date in the eighteenth century. In Ashmole's Life an account of these artful impostors may be found. Most of them had taken the air in the pillory, and others had conjured themselves up to the gallows. This seems a true statement of facts. But Lilly informs us, that in his various conferences with angels, their voices resembled that of the Irish!

The work contains anecdotes of the times. The amours of Lilly with his mistress are characteristic. He was a very artful man, and admirably managed matters which required deception and invention.

Astrology greatly flourished in the time of the civil wars. The royalists and the rebels had their astrologers, as well as[Pg 281] their soldiers! and the predictions of the former had a great influence over the latter.

On this subject, it may gratify curiosity to notice three or four works, which hear an excessive price. The price cannot entirely be occasioned by their rarity, and I am induced to suppose that we have still adepts, whose faith must be strong, or whose scepticism but weak.

The Chaldean sages were nearly put to the rout by a quarto park of artillery, fired on them by Mr. John Chamber, in 1601. Apollo did not use Marsyas more inhumanly than his scourging pen this mystical race, and his personalities made them feel more sore. However, a Norwich knight, the very Quixote of astrology, arrayed in the enchanted armour of his occult authors, encountered this pagan in a most stately carousal. He came forth with "A Defence of Judiciall Astrologye, in answer to a treatise lately published by Mr. John Chamber. By Sir Christopher Heydon, Knight; printed at Cambridge, 1603." This is a handsome quarto of about 500 pages. Sir Christopher is a learned writer, and a knight worthy to defend a better cause. But his Dulcinea had wrought most wonderfully on his imagination. This defence of this fanciful science, if science it may be called, demonstrates nothing, while it defends everything. It confutes, according to the knight's own ideas: it alleges a few scattered facts in favour of astrological predictions, which may be picked up in that immensity of fabling which disgraces history. He strenuously denies, or ridicules, what the greatest writers have said against this fanciful art, while he lays great stress on some passages from authors of no authority. The most pleasant part is at the close, where he defends the art from the objections of Mr. Chamber by recrimination. Chamber had enriched himself by medical practice; and when he charges the astrologers with merely aiming to gain a few beggarly pence, Sir Christopher catches fire, and shows by his quotations, that if we are to despise an art, by its professors attempting to subsist on it, or for the objections which may be raised against its vital principles, we ought by this argument most heartily to despise the medical science and medical men! He gives here all he can collect against physic and physicians; and from the confessions of Hippocrates and Galen, Avicenna and Agrippa, medicine appears to be a vainer science than even astrology! Sir Christopher is a shrewd and ingenious adversary; but when he[Pg 282] says he means only to give Mr. Chamber oil for his vinegar, he has totally mistaken its quality.

The defence was answered by Thomas Vicars, in his "Madnesse of Astrologers."

But the great work is by Lilly; and entirely devoted to the adepts. He defends nothing; for this oracle delivers his dictum, and details every event as matters not questionable. He sits on the tripod; and every page is embellished by a horoscope, which he explains with the utmost facility. This voluminous monument of the folly of the age is a quarto valued at some guineas! It is entitled, "Christian Astrology, modestly treated of in three books, by William Lilly, student in Astrology, 2nd edition, 1659." The most curious part of this work is "a Catalogue of most astrological authors." There is also a portrait of this arch rogue, and astrologer: an admirable illustration for Lavater![79]

Lilly's opinions, and his pretended science, were such favourites with the age, that the learned Gataker wrote professedly against this popular delusion. Lilly, at the head of his star-expounding friends, not only formally replied to, but persecuted Gataker annually in his predictions, and even struck at his ghost, when beyond the grave. Gataker died in July, 1654; and Lilly having written in his almanac of that year for the month of August this barbarous Latin verse:—

Hoc in tumbo jacet presbyter et nebulo!
Here in this tomb lies a presbyter and a knave!

he had the impudence to assert that he had predicted Gataker's death! But the truth is, it was an epitaph like lodgings to let; it stood empty ready for the first passenger to inhabit. Had any other of that party of any eminence died in[Pg 283] that month, it would have been as appositely applied to him. But Lilly was an exquisite rogue, and never at fault. Having prophesied in his almanac for 1650, that the parliament stood upon a tottering foundation, when taken up by a messenger, during the night he was confined, he contrived to cancel the page, printed off another, and showed his copies before the committee, assuring them that the others were none of his own, but forged by his enemies.


Mrs. Thomas, the Corinna of Dryden, in her Life, has recorded one of the delusions of alchymy.

An infatuated lover of this delusive art met with one who pretended to have the power of transmuting lead to gold; that is, in their language, the imperfect metals to the perfect one. The hermetic philosopher required only the materials, and time, to perform his golden operations. He was taken, to the country residence of his patroness. A long laboratory was built, and that his labours might not be impeded by any disturbance, no one was permitted to enter into it. His door was contrived to turn on a pivot; so that, unseen and unseeing, his meals were conveyed to him without distracting the sublime meditations of the sage.

During a residence of two years, he never condescended to speak but two or three times in a year to his infatuated patroness. When she was admitted into the laboratory, she saw, with pleasing astonishment, stills, cauldrons, long flues, and three or four Vulcanian fires blazing at different corners of this magical mine; nor did she behold with less reverence the venerable figure of the dusty philosopher. Pale and emaciated with daily operations and nightly vigils, he revealed to her, in unintelligible jargon, his progresses; and having sometimes condescended to explain the mysteries of the arcana, she beheld, or seemed to behold, streams of fluid and heaps of solid ore scattered around the laboratory. Sometimes he required a new still, and sometimes vast quantities of lead. Already this unfortunate lady had expended the half of her fortune in supplying the demands of the philosopher. She began now to lower her imagination to the standard of reason. Two years had now elapsed, vast quantities of lead had gone in, and nothing but lead had come out. She[Pg 284] disclosed her sentiments to the philosopher. He candidly confessed he was himself surprised at his tardy processes; but that now he would exert himself to the utmost, and that he would venture to perform a laborious operation, which hitherto he had hoped not to have been necessitated to employ. His patroness retired, and the golden visions resumed all their lustre.

One day, as they sat at dinner, a terrible shriek, and one crack followed by another, loud as the report of cannon, assailed their ears. They hastened to the laboratory; two of the greatest stills had burst, and one part of the laboratory and the house were in flames. We are told that, after another adventure of this kind, this victim to alchymy, after ruining another patron, in despair swallowed poison.

Even more recently we have a history of an alchymist in the life of Romney, the painter. This alchymist, after bestowing much time and money on preparations for the grand projection, and being near the decisive hour, was induced, by the too earnest request of his wife, to quit his furnace one evening, to attend some of her company at the tea-table. While the projector was attending the ladies, his furnace blew up! In consequence of this event, he conceived such an antipathy against his wife, that he could not endure the idea of living with her again.[80]

Henry VI., Evelyn observes in his Numismata, endeavoured to recruit his empty coffers by alchymy. The record of this singular proposition contains "the most solemn and serious account of the feasibility and virtues of the philosopher's stone, encouraging the search after it, and dispensing with all statutes and prohibitions to the contrary." This record was probably communicated by Mr. Selden to his beloved friend Ben Jonson, when the poet was writing his comedy of the Alchymist.

After this patent was published, many promised to answer the king's expectations so effectually, that the next year he published another patent; wherein he tells his subjects, that the happy hour was drawing nigh, and by means of THE[Pg 285] STONE, which he should soon be master of, he would pay all the debts of the nation in real gold and silver. The persons picked out for his new operators were as remarkable as the patent itself, being a most "miscellaneous rabble" of friars, grocers, mercers, and fishmongers!

This patent was likewise granted authoritate Parliamenti; and is given by Prynne in his Aurum Reginæ, p. 135.

Alchymists were formerly called multipliers, although they never could multiply; as appears from a statute of Henry IV. repealed in the preceding record.

"None from henceforth shall use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication; and if any the same do, he shall incur the pain of felony." Among the articles charged on the Protector Somerset is this extraordinary one:—"You commanded multiplication and alcumestry to be practised, thereby to abate the king's coin." Stowe, p. 601. What are we to understand? Did they believe that alchymy would be so productive of the precious metals as to abate the value of the coin; or does multiplication refer to an arbitrary rise in the currency by order of the government?

Every philosophical mind must be convinced that alchymy is not an art, which some have fancifully traced to the remotest times; it may be rather regarded, when opposed to such a distance of time, as a modern imposture. Cæsar commanded the treatises of alchymy to be burnt throughout the Roman dominions: Cæsar, who is not less to be admired as a philosopher than as a monarch.

Gibbon has this succinct passage relative to alchymy:—"The ancient books of alchymy, so liberally ascribed to Pythagoras, to Solomon, or to Hermes, were the pious frauds of more recent adepts. The Greeks were inattentive either to the use or the abuse of chemistry. In that immense register where Pliny has deposited the discoveries, the arts, and the errors of mankind, there is not the least mention of the transmutations of metals; and the persecution of Diocletian is the first authentic event in the history of alchymy. The conquest of Egypt by the Arabs diffused that vain science over the globe. Congenial to the avarice of the human heart, it was studied in China, as in Europe, with equal eagerness and equal success. The darkness of the middle ages ensured a favourable reception to every tale of wonder; and the revival of learning gave new vigour to hope, and suggested[Pg 286] more specious arts to deception. Philosophy, with the aid of experience, has at length banished the study of alchymy; and the present age, however desirous of riches, is content to seek them by the humbler means of commerce and industry."

Elias Ashmole writes in his diary—"May 13, 1653. My father Backhouse (an astrologer who had adopted him for his son, a common practice with these men) lying sick in Fleet-street, over against St. Dunstan's church, and not knowing whether he should live or die, about eleven of the clock, told me in syllables the true matter of the philosopher's stone, which he bequeathed to me as a legacy." By this we learn that a miserable wretch knew the art of making gold, yet always lived a beggar; and that Ashmole really imagined he was in possession of the syllables of a secret! He has, however, built a curious monument of the learned follies of the last age, in his "Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum." Though Ashmole is rather the historian of this vain science than an adept, it may amuse literary leisure to turn over this quarto volume, in which he has collected the works of several English alchymists, subjoining his commentary. It affords a curious specimen of Rosicrucian mysteries; and Ashmole relates several miraculous stories. Of the philosopher's stone, he says he knows enough to hold his tongue, but not enough to speak. This stone has not only the power of transmuting any imperfect earthy matter into its utmost degree of perfection, and can convert the basest metals into gold, flints into stone, &c.; but it has still more occult virtues, when the arcana have been entered into by the choice fathers of hermetic mysteries. The vegetable stone has power over the natures of man, beast, fowls, fishes, and all kinds of trees and plants, to make them flourish and bear fruit at any time. The magical stone discovers any person wherever he is concealed; while the angelical stone gives the apparitions of angels, and a power of conversing with them. These great mysteries are supported by occasional facts, and illustrated by prints of the most divine and incomprehensible designs, which we would hope were intelligible to the initiated. It may be worth showing, however, how liable even the latter were to blunder on these mysterious hieroglyphics. Ashmole, in one of his chemical works, prefixed a frontispiece, which, in several compartments, exhibited Phœbus on a lion, and opposite to him a lady, who represented Diana, with the moon in one[Pg 287] hand and an arrow in the other, sitting on a crab; Mercury on a tripod, with the scheme of the heavens in one hand, and his caduccus in the other. These were intended to express the materials of the stone, and the season for the process. Upon the altar is the bust of a man, his head covered by an astrological scheme dropped from the clouds; and on the altar are these words, "Mercuriophilus Anglicus," i.e., the English lover of hermetic philosophy. There is a tree, and a little creature gnawing the root, a pillar adorned with musical and mathematical instruments, and another with military ensigns. This strange composition created great inquiry among the chemical sages. Deep mysteries were conjectured to be veiled by it. Verses were written in the highest strain of the Rosicrucian language. Ashmole confessed he meant nothing more than a kind of pun on his own name, for the tree was the ash, and the creature was a mole. One pillar tells his love of music and freemasonry, and the other his military preferment and astrological studies! He afterwards regretted that no one added a second volume to his work, from which he himself had been hindered, for the honour of the family of Hermes, and "to show the world what excellent men we had once of our nation, famous for this kind of philosophy, and masters of so transcendant a secret."

Modern chemistry is not without a hope, not to say a certainty, of verifying the golden visions of the alchymists. Dr. Girtanner, of Gottingen, not long ago adventured the following prophecy: "In the nineteenth century the transmutation of metals will be generally known and practised. Every chemist and every artist will make gold; kitchen utensils will be of silver, and even gold, which will contribute more than anything else to prolong life, poisoned at present by the oxides of copper, lead, and iron, which we daily swallow with our food." Phil. Mag. vol. vi., p. 383. This sublime chemist, though he does not venture to predict that universal elixir, which is to prolong life at pleasure, yet approximates to it. A chemical friend writes to me, that "The metals seem to be composite bodies, which nature is perpetually preparing; and it may be reserved for the future researches of science to trace, and perhaps to imitate, some of these curious operations." Sir Humphry Davy told me that he did not consider this undiscovered art an impossible thing, but which, should it ever be discovered, would certainly be useless.[Pg 288]


Were it inquired of an ingenious writer what page of his work had occasioned him most perplexity, he would often point to the title-page. The curiosity which we there would excite, is, however, most fastidious to gratify.

Among those who appear to have felt this irksome situation, are most of our periodical writers. The "Tatler" and the "Spectator," enjoying priority of conception, have adopted titles with characteristic felicity; but perhaps the invention of the authors begins to fail in the "Reader," the "Lover," and the "Theatre!" Succeeding writers were as unfortunate in their titles, as their works; such are the "Universal Spectator," and the "Lay Monastery." The copious mind of Johnson could not discover an appropriate title, and indeed in the first "Idler" acknowledged his despair. The "Rambler" was so little understood, at the time of its appearance, that a French journalist has translated it as "Le Chevalier Errant;" and when it was corrected to L'Errant, a foreigner drank Johnson's health one day, by innocently addressing him by the appellation of Mr. "Vagabond!" The "Adventurer" cannot be considered as a fortunate title; it is not appropriate to those pleasing miscellanies, for any writer is an adventurer. The "Lounger," the "Mirror," and even the "Connoisseur," if examined accurately, present nothing in the titles descriptive of the works. As for the "World," it could only have been given by the fashionable egotism of its authors, who considered the world as merely a circuit round St. James's Street. When the celebrated father of reviews, Le Journal des Sçavans, was first published, the very title repulsed the public. The author was obliged in his succeeding volumes to soften it down, by explaining its general tendency. He there assures the curious, that not only men of learning and taste, but the humblest mechanic, may find a profitable amusement. An English novel, published with the title of "The Champion of Virtue," could find no readers; but afterwards passed through several editions under the happier invitation of "The Old English Baron." "The Concubine," a poem by Mickle, could never find purchasers, till it assumed the more delicate title of "Sir Martyn."

As a subject of literary curiosity, some amusement may be[Pg 289] gathered from a glance at what has been doing in the world, concerning this important portion of every book.

The Jewish and many oriental authors were fond of allegorical titles, which always indicate the most puerile age of taste. The titles were usually adapted to their obscure works. It might exercise an able enigmatist to explain their allusions; for we must understand by "The Heart of Aaron," that it is a commentary on several of the prophets. "The Bones of Joseph" is an introduction to the Talmud. "The Garden of Nuts," and "The Golden Apples," are theological questions; and "The Pomegranate with its Flower," is a treatise of ceremonies, not any more practised. Jortin gives a title, which he says of all the fantastical titles he can recollect is one of the prettiest. A rabbin published a catalogue of rabbinical writers, and called it Labia Dormientium, from Cantic. vii. 9. "Like the best wine of my beloved that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak." It hath a double meaning, of which he was not aware, for most of his rabbinical brethren talk very much like men in their sleep.

Almost all their works bear such titles as bread—gold—silver—roses—eyes, &c.; in a word, anything that signifies nothing.

Affected title-pages were not peculiar to the orientals: the Greeks and the Romans have shown a finer taste. They had their Cornucopias, or horns of abundance—Limones, or meadows—Pinakidions, or tablets—Pancarpes, or all sorts of fruits; titles not unhappily adapted for the miscellanists. The nine books of Herodotus, and the nine epistles of Æschines, were respectively honoured by the name of a Muse; and three orations of the latter, by those of the Graces.

The modern fanatics have had a most barbarous taste for titles. We could produce numbers from abroad, and at home. Some works have been called, "Matches lighted at the Divine Fire,"—and one "The Gun of Penitence:" a collection of passages from the fathers is called "The Shop of the Spiritual Apothecary:" we have "The Bank of Faith," and "The Sixpennyworth of Divine Spirit:" one of these works bears the following elaborate title: "Some fine Biscuits baked in the Oven of Charity, carefully conserved for the Chickens of the Church, the Sparrows of the Spirit, and the sweet Swallows of Salvation." Sometimes their quaintness has some humour. Sir Humphrey Lind, a zealous puritan,[Pg 290] published a work which a Jesuit answered by another, entitled "A Pair of Spectacles for Sir Humphrey Lind." The doughty knight retorted, by "A Case for Sir Humphrey Lind's Spectacles."

Some of these obscure titles have an entertaining absurdity; as "The Three Daughters of Job," which is a treatise on the three virtues of patience, fortitude, and pain. "The Innocent Love, or the Holy Knight," is a description of the ardours of a saint for the Virgin. "The Sound of the Trumpet," is a work on the day of judgment; and "A Fan to drive away Flies," is a theological treatise on purgatory.

We must not write to the utter neglect of our title; and a fair author should have the literary piety of ever having "the fear of his title-page before his eyes." The following are improper titles. Don Matthews, chief huntsman to Philip IV. of Spain, entitled his book "The Origin and Dignity of the Royal House," but the entire work relates only to hunting. De Chantereine composed several moral essays, which being at a loss how to entitle, he called "The Education of a Prince." He would persuade the reader in his preface, that though they were not composed with a view to this subject, they should not, however, be censured for the title, as they partly related to the education of a prince. The world was too sagacious to be duped, and the author in his second edition acknowledges the absurdity, drops "the magnificent title," and calls his work "Moral Essays." Montaigne's immortal history of his own mind, for such are his "Essays," has assumed perhaps too modest a title, and not sufficiently discriminative. Sorlin equivocally entitled a collection of essays, "The Walks of Richelieu," because they were composed at that place; "The Attic Nights" of Aulus Gellius were so called, because they were written in Attica. Mr. Tooke, in his grammatical "Diversions of Purley," must have deceived many.

A rhodomontade title-page was once a great favourite. There was a time when the republic of letters was over-built with "Palaces of Pleasure," "Palaces of Honour," and "Palaces of Eloquence;" with "Temples of Memory," and "Theatres of Human Life," and "Amphitheatres of Providence;" "Pharoses, Gardens, Pictures, Treasures." The epistles of Guevara dazzled the public eye with their splendid title, for they were called "Golden Epistles;" and the "Golden Legend" of Voragine had been more appropriately entitled leaden.[Pg 291]

They were once so fond of novelty, that every book recommended itself by such titles as "A new Method; new Elements of Geometry; the new Letter Writer, and the new Art of Cookery."

To excite the curiosity of the pious, some writers employed artifices of a very ludicrous nature. Some made their titles rhyming echoes; as this one of a father, who has given his works under the title of Scalæ Alæ animi; and Jesus esus novus Orbis. Some have distributed them according to the measure of time, as one Father Nadasi, the greater part of whose works are years, months, weeks, days, and hours. Some have borrowed their titles from the parts of the body; and others have used quaint expressions, such as—Think before you leapWe must all dieCompel them to enter. Some of our pious authors appear not to have been aware that they were burlesquing religion. One Massieu having written a moral explanation of the solemn anthems sung in Advent, which begin with the letter O, published this work under the punning title of La douce Moelle, et la Sauce friande des os Savoureux de l'Avent.[81]

The Marquis of Carraccioli assumed the ambiguous title of La Jouissance de soi-même. Seduced by the epicurean title of self-enjoyment, the sale of the work was continual with the libertines, who, however, found nothing but very tedious essays on religion and morality. In the sixth edition the mar[Pg 292]quis greatly exults in his successful contrivance; by which means he had punished the vicious curiosity of certain persons, and perhaps had persuaded some, whom otherwise his book might never have reached.

If a title be obscure, it raises a prejudice against the author; we are apt to suppose that an ambiguous title is the effect of an intricate or confused mind. Baillet censures the Ocean Macromicrocosmic of one Sachs. To understand this title, a grammarian would send an inquirer to a geographer, and he to a natural philosopher; neither would probably think of recurring to a physician, to inform one that this ambiguous title signifies the connexion which exists between the motion of the waters with that of the blood. He censures Leo Allatius for a title which appears to me not inelegantly conceived. This writer has entitled one of his books the Urban Bees; it is an account of those illustrious writers who flourished during the pontificate of one of the Barberinis. The allusion refers to the bees which were the arms of this family, and Urban VIII. is the Pope designed.

The false idea which a title conveys is alike prejudicial to the author and the reader. Titles are generally too prodigal of their promises, and their authors are contemned; but the works of modest authors, though they present more than they promise, may fail of attracting notice by their extreme simplicity. In either case, a collector of books is prejudiced; he is induced to collect what merits no attention, or he passes over those valuable works whose titles may not happen to be interesting. It is related of Pinelli, the celebrated collector of books, that the booksellers permitted him to remain hours, and sometimes days, in their shops to examine books before he purchased. He was desirous of not injuring his precious collection by useless acquisitions; but he confessed that he sometimes could not help being dazzled by magnificent titles, nor being mistaken by the simplicity of others, which had been chosen by the modesty of their authors. After all, many authors are really neither so vain, nor so honest, as they appear; for magnificent, or simple titles, have often been given from the difficulty of forming any others.

It is too often with the Titles of Books, as with those painted representations exhibited by the keepers of wild beasts; where, in general, the picture itself is made more striking and inviting to the eye, than the inclosed animal is always found to be.[Pg 293]


The Greeks composed lipogrammatic works; works in which one letter of the alphabet is omitted. A lipogrammatist is a letter-dropper. In this manner Tryphiodorus wrote his Odyssey; he had not α in his first book, nor β in his second; and so on with the subsequent letters one after another. This Odyssey was an imitation of the lipogrammatic Iliad of Nestor. Among other works of this kind, Athenæus mentions an ode by Pindar, in which he had purposely omitted the letter S; so that this inept ingenuity appears to have been one of those literary fashions which are sometimes encouraged even by those who should first oppose such progresses into the realms of nonsense.

There is in Latin a little prose work of Fulgentius, which the author divides into twenty-three chapters, according to the order of the twenty-three letters of the Latin alphabet. From A to O are still remaining. The first chapter is with out A; the second without B; the third without C; and so with the rest. There are five novels in prose of Lopes de Vega; the first without A, the second without E, the third without I, &c. Who will attempt to verify them?

The Orientalists are not without this literary folly. A Persian poet read to the celebrated Jami a gazel of his own composition, which Jami did not like: but the writer replied, it was notwithstanding a very curious sonnet, for the letter Aliff was not to be found in any one of the words! Jami sarcastically replied, "You can do a better thing yet; take away all the letters from every word you have written."

To these works may be added the Ecloga de Calvis, by Hugbald the monk. All the words of this silly work begin with a C. It is printed in Dornavius. Pugna Porcorum; all the words beginning with a P, in the Nugæ Venales. Canum cum cattis certamen; the words beginning with a C: a performance of the same kind in the same work. Gregorio Leti presented a discourse to the Academy of the Humorists at Rome, throughout which he had purposely omitted the letter R, and he entitled it the exiled R. A friend having requested a copy, as a literary curiosity, for so he considered this idle performance, Leti, to show that this affair was not so difficult, replied by a copious answer of seven pages, in which he had observed the same severe ostracism against the[Pg 294] letter R! Lord North, in the court of James, I., has written a set of Sonnets, each of which begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. The Earl of Rivers, in the reign of Edward IV., translated the Moral Proverbs of Christiana of Pisa, a poem of about two hundred lines, the greatest part of which he contrived to conclude with the letter E; an instance of his lordship's hard application, and the bad taste of an age which, Lord Orford observes, had witticisms and whims to struggle with, as well as ignorance.

It has been well observed of these minute triflers, that extreme exactness is the sublime of fools, whose labours may be well called, in the language of Dryden,

Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry.

And Martial says,

Turpe est difficiles habere nugas,
Et stultus labor est ineptiarum.

Which we may translate,

'Tis a folly to sweat o'er a difficult trifle,
And for silly devices invention to rifle.

I shall not dwell on the wits who composed verses in the forms of hearts, wings, altars, and true-love knots; or as Ben Jonson describes their grotesque shapes,

A pair of scissors and a comb in verse.

Tom Nash, who loved to push the ludicrous to its extreme, in his amusing invective against the classical Gabriel Harvey, tells us that "he had writ verses in all kinds; in form of a pair of gloves, a pair of spectacles, and a pair of pot-hooks," &c. They are not less absurd, who expose to public ridicule the name of their mistress by employing it to form their acrostics. I have seen some of the latter where, both sides and crossways, the name of the mistress or the patron has been sent down to posterity with eternal torture. When one name is made out four times in the same acrostic, the great difficulty must have been to have found words by which the letters forming the name should be forced to stand in their particular places. It might be incredible that so great a genius as Boccaccio could have lent himself to these literary fashions; yet one of the most gigantic of acrostics may be seen in his works; it is a poem of fifty cantos! Ginguené has preserved a specimen in his Literary History of Italy, vol. iii. p.54. Puttenham, in "The Art of Poesie,"[Pg 295] p. 75, gives several odd specimens of poems in the forms of lozenges, rhomboids, pillars, &c. Puttenham has contrived to form a defence for describing and making such trifling devices. He has done more: he has erected two pillars himself to the honour of Queen Elizabeth; every pillar consists of a base of eight syllables, the shaft or middle of four, and the capital is equal with the base. The only difference between the two pillars consists in this; in the one "ye must read upwards," and in the other the reverse. These pillars, notwithstanding this fortunate device and variation, may be fixed as two columns in the porch of the vast temple of literary folly.

It was at this period, when words or verse were tortured into such fantastic forms, that the trees in gardens were twisted and sheared into obelisks and giants, peacocks, or flower-pots. In a copy of verses, "To a hair of my mistress's eye-lash," the merit, next to the choice of the subject, must have been the arrangement, or the disarrangement, of the whole poem into the form of a heart. With a pair of wings many a sonnet fluttered, and a sacred hymn was expressed by the mystical triangle. Acrostics are formed from the initial letters of every verse; but a different conceit regulated chronograms, which were used to describe dates—the numeral letters, in whatever part of the word they stood, were distinguished from other letters by being written in capitals. In the following chronogram from Horace,

feriam sidera vertice,

by a strange elevation of CAPITALS the chronogrammatist compels even Horace to give the year of our Lord thus,

—feriaM siDera VertIce. MDVI.

The Acrostic and the Chronogram are both ingeniously described in the mock epic of the Scribleriad.[82] The initial[Pg 296] letters of the acrostics are thus alluded to in the literary wars:—

Firm and compact, in three fair columns wove,
O'er the smooth plain, the bold acrostics move;
High o'er the rest, the TOWERING LEADERS rise
With limbs gigantic, and superior size.[83]

But the looser character of the chronograms, and the disorder in which they are found, are ingeniously sung thus:—

Not thus the looser chronograms prepare
Careless their troops, undisciplined to war;
With rank irregular, confused they stand,
The CHIEFTAINS MINGLING with the vulgar band.

He afterwards adds others of the illegitimate race of wit:—

To join these squadrons, o'er the champaign came
A numerous race of no ignoble name;
Riddle and Rebus, Riddle's dearest son,
And false Conundrum and insidious Pun.
Fustian, who scarcely deigns to tread the ground,
And Rondeau, wheeling in repeated round.
On their fair standards, by the wind display'd,
Eggs, altars, wings, pipes, axes, were pourtray'd.

I find the origin of Bouts-rimés, or "Rhyming Ends," in Goujet's Bib. Fr. xvi. p. 181. One Dulot, a foolish poet, when sonnets were in demand, had a singular custom of preparing the rhymes of these poems to be filled up at his leisure. Having been robbed of his papers, he was regretting most the loss of three hundred sonnets: his friends were astonished that he had written so many which they had never heard. "They were blank sonnets," he replied; and explained the mystery by describing his Bouts-rimés. The[Pg 297] idea appeared ridiculously amusing; and it soon became fashionable to collect the most difficult rhymes, and fill up the lines.

The Charade is of recent birth, and I cannot discover the origin of this species of logogriphes. It was not known in France so late as in 1771; in the great Dictionnaire de Trévoux, the term appears only as the name of an Indian sect of a military character. Its mystical conceits have occasionally displayed singular felicity.

Anagrams were another whimsical invention; with the letters of any name they contrived to make out some entire word, descriptive of the character of the person who bore the name. These anagrams, therefore, were either satirical or complimentary. When in fashion, lovers made use of them continually: I have read of one, whose mistress's name was Magdalen, for whom he composed, not only an epic under that name, but as a proof of his passion, one day he sent her three dozen of anagrams all on her lovely name. Scioppius imagined himself fortunate that his adversary Scaliger was perfectly Sacrilege in all the oblique cases of the Latin language; on this principle Sir John Wiat was made out, to his own satisfaction—a wit. They were not always correct when a great compliment was required; the poet John Cleveland was strained hard to make Heliconian dew. This literary trifle has, however, in our own times produced several, equally ingenious and caustic.

Verses of grotesque shapes have sometimes been contrived to convey ingenious thoughts. Pannard, a modern French poet, has tortured his agreeable vein of poetry into such forms. He has made some of his Bacchanalian songs to take the figures of bottles, and others of glasses. These objects are perfectly drawn by the various measures of the verses which form the songs. He has also introduced an echo in his verses which he contrives so as not to injure their sense. This was practised by the old French bards in the age of Marot, and this poetical whim is ridiculed by Butler in his Hudibras, Part I. Canto 3, Verse 190. I give an example of these poetical echoes. The following ones are ingenious, lively, and satirical:—

Pour nous plaire, un plumet
Tout en usage:
[Pg 298]
Mais on trouve souvent
Dans son langage.
On y voit des Commis
Comme des Princes,
Après être venus
De leurs Provinces.

The poetical whim of Cretin, a French poet, brought into fashion punning or equivocal rhymes. Maret thus addressed him in his own way:—

L'homme, sotart, et non sçavant
Comme un rotisseur, qui lave oye,
La faute d'autrui, nonce avant,
Qu'il la cognoisse, ou qu'il la voye, &c.

In these lines of Du Bartas, this poet imagined that he imitated the harmonious notes of the lark: "the sound" is here, however, not "an echo to the sense."

La gentille aloüette, avec son tirelire,
Tirelire, à lire, et tireliran, tire
Vers la voute du ciel, puis son vol vers ce lieu,
Vire et desire dire adieu Dieu, adieu Dieu.

The French have an ingenious kind of Nonsense Verses called Amphigouries. This word is composed of a Greek adverb signifying about, and of a substantive signifying a circle. The following is a specimen, elegant in the selection of words, and what the French called richly rhymed, but in fact they are fine verses without any meaning whatever. Pope's Stanzas, said to be written by a person of quality, to ridicule the tuneful nonsense of certain bards, and which Gilbert Wakefield mistook for a serious composition, and wrote two pages of Commentary to prove this song was disjointed, obscure, and absurd, is an excellent specimen of these Amphigouries.

Qu'il est heureux de se defendre
Quand le cœur ne s'est pas rendu!
Mais qu'il est facheux de se rendre
Quand le bonheur est suspendu!
[Pg 299]
Par un discours sans suite et tendre,
Egarez un cœur éperdu;
Souvent par un mal-entendu
L'amant adroit se fait entendre.
How happy to defend our heart,
When Love has never thrown a dart!
But ah! unhappy when it bends,
If pleasure her soft bliss suspends!
Sweet in a wild disordered strain,
A lost and wandering heart to gain!
Oft in mistaken language wooed,
The skilful lover's understood.

These verses have such a resemblance to meaning, that Fontenelle, having listened to the song, imagined that he had a glimpse of sense, and requested to have it repeated. "Don't you perceive," said Madame Tencin, "that they are nonsense verses?" The malicious wit retorted, "They are so much like the fine verses I have heard here, that it is not surprising I should be for once mistaken."

In the "Scribleriad" we find a good account of the Cento. A Cento primarily signifies a cloak made of patches. In poetry it denotes a work wholly composed of verses, or passages promiscuously taken from other authors, only disposed in a new form or order, so as to compose a new work and a new meaning. Ausonius has laid down the rules to be observed in composing Cento's. The pieces may be taken either from the same poet, or from several; and the verses may be either taken entire, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere; but two verses are never to be taken together. Agreeable to these rules, he has made a pleasant nuptial Cento from Virgil.[84]

The Empress Eudoxia wrote the life of Jesus Christ, in centos taken from Homer; Proba Falconia from Virgil. Among these grave triflers may be mentioned Alexander[Pg 300] Ross, who published "Virgilius Evangelizans, sive Historia Domini et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi Virgilianis verbis et versibus descripta." It was republished in 1769.

A more difficult whim is that of "Reciprocal Verses," which give the same words whether read backwards or forwards. The following lines by Sidonius Apollinaris were once infinitely admired:—

Signa te signa temere me tangis et angis.
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.

The reader has only to take the pains of reading the lines backwards, and he will find himself just where he was after all his fatigue.[85]

Capitaine Lasphrise, a French self-taught poet, boasts of his inventions; among other singularities, one has at least the merit of la difficulté vaincue. He asserts this novelty to be entirely his own; the last word of every verse forms the first word of the following verse:

Falloit-il que le ciel me rendit amoureux
Amoureux, jouissant d'une beauté craintive,
Craintive à recevoir la douceur excessive,
Excessive au plaisir qui rend l'amant heureux;
Heureux si nous avions quelques paisibles lieux,
Lieux où plus surement l'ami fidèle arrive,
Arrive sans soupçon de quelque ami attentive,
Attentive à vouloir nous surprendre tous deux.

Francis Colonna, an Italian Monk, is the author of a singular book entitled "The Dream of Poliphilus," in which he relates his amours with a lady of the name of Polia. It was considered improper to prefix his name to the work; but being desirous of marking it by some peculiarity, that he might claim it at any distant day, he contrived that the initial letters of every chapter should be formed of those of his name, and of the subject he treats. This strange invention was not discovered till many years afterwards: when the wits employed themselves in deciphering it, unfortunately it became a source of literary altercation, being susceptible of various readings. The correct appears thus:—Poliam Frater Franciscus Columna Peramavit. "Brother Francis Colonna passionately loved Polia." This gallant monk, like another Petrarch, made the name of his mistress[Pg 301] the subject of his amatorial meditations; and as the first called his Laura, his Laurel, this called his Polia, his Polita.

A few years afterwards, Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus employed a similar artifice in his Zodiacus Vitæ, "The Zodiac of Life:" the initial letters of the first twenty-nine verses of the first book of this poem forming his name, which curious particular was probably unknown to Warton in his account of this work.—The performance is divided into twelve books, but has no reference to astronomy, which we might naturally expect. He distinguished his twelve books by the twelve names of the celestial signs, and probably extended or confined them purposely to that number, to humour his fancy. Warton, however, observes, "This strange pedantic title is not totally without a conceit, as the author was born at Stellada or Stellata, a province of Ferrara, and from whence he called himself Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus." The work itself is a curious satire on the Pope and the Church of Rome. It occasioned Bayle to commit a remarkable literary blunder, which I shall record in its place. Of Italian conceit in those times, of which Petrarch was the father, with his perpetual play on words and on his Laurel, or his mistress Laura, he has himself afforded a remarkable example. Our poet lost his mother, who died in her thirty-eighth year: he has commemorated her death by a sonnet composed of thirty-eight lines. He seems to have conceived that the exactness of the number was equally natural and tender.

Are we not to class among literary follies the strange researches which writers, even of the present day, have made in Antediluvian times? Forgeries of the grossest nature have been alluded to, or quoted as authorities. A Book of Enoch once attracted considerable attention; this curious forgery has been recently translated. The Sabeans pretend they possess a work written by Adam! and this work has been recently appealed to in favour of a visionary theory![86] Astle gravely observes, that "with respect to Writings attributed to the Antediluvians, it seems not only decent but rational to say that we know nothing concerning them." Without alluding to living writers, Dr. Parsons, in his erudite "Remains of Japhet," tracing the origin of the alphabetical[Pg 302] character, supposes that letters were known to Adam! Some, too, have noticed astronomical libraries in the Ark of Noah! Such historical memorials are the deliriums of learning, or are founded on forgeries.

Hugh Broughton, a writer of controversy in the reign of James the First, shows us, in a tedious discussion on Scripture chronology, that Rahab was a harlot at ten years of age; and enters into many grave discussions concerning the colour of Aaron's ephod, and the language which Eve first spoke. This writer is ridiculed in Ben Jonson's Comedies:—he is not without rivals even in the present day! Covarruvias, after others of his school, discovers that when male children are born they cry out with an A, being the first vowel of the word Adam, while the female infants prefer the letter E, in allusion to Eve; and we may add that, by the pinch of a negligent nurse, they may probably learn all their vowels. Of the pedantic triflings of commentators, a controversy among the Portuguese on the works of Camoens is not the least. Some of these profound critics, who affected great delicacy in the laws of epic poetry, pretended to be doubtful whether the poet had fixed on the right time for a king's dream; whether, said they, a king should have a propitious dream on his first going to bed or at the dawn of the following morning? No one seemed to be quite certain; they puzzled each other till the controversy closed in this felicitous manner, and satisfied both the night and the dawn critics. Barreto discovered that an accent on one of the words alluded to in the controversy would answer the purpose, and by making king Manuel's dream to take place at the dawn would restore Camoens to their good opinion, and preserve the dignity of the poet.

Chevreau begins his History of the World in these words:—"Several learned men have examined in what season God created the world, though there could hardly be any season then, since there was no sun, no moon, nor stars. But as the world must have been created in one of the four seasons, this question has exercised the talents of the most curious, and opinions are various. Some say it was in the month of Nisan, that is, in the spring: others maintain that it was in the month of Tisri, which begins the civil year of the Jews, and that it was on the sixth day of this month, which answers to our September, that Adam and Eve were created, and that it was on a Friday, a little after four o'clock in the afternoon!"[Pg 303] This is according to the Rabbinical notion of the eve of the Sabbath.

The Irish antiquaries mention public libraries that were before the flood; and Paul Christian Ilsker, with profounder erudition, has given an exact catalogue of Adam's. Messieurs O'Flaherty, O'Connor, and O'Halloran, have most gravely recorded as authentic narrations the wildest legendary traditions; and more recently, to make confusion doubly confounded, others have built up what they call theoretical histories on these nursery tales. By which species of black art they contrive to prove that an Irishman is an Indian, and a Peruvian may be a Welshman, from certain emigrations which took place many centuries before Christ, and some about two centuries after the flood! Keating, in his "History of Ireland," starts a favourite hero in the giant Partholanus, who was descended from Japhet, and landed on the coast of Munster 14th May, in the year of the world 1987. This giant succeeded in his enterprise, but a domestic misfortune attended him among his Irish friends:—his wife exposed him to their laughter by her loose behaviour, and provoked him to such a degree that he killed two favourite greyhounds; and this the learned historian assures us was the first instance of female infidelity ever known in Ireland!

The learned, not contented with Homer's poetical pre-eminence, make him the most authentic historian and most accurate geographer of antiquity, besides endowing him with all the arts and sciences to be found in our Encyclopædia. Even in surgery, a treatise has been written to show, by the variety of the wounds of his heroes, that he was a most scientific anatomist; and a military scholar has lately told us, that from him is derived all the science of the modern adjutant and quarter-master general; all the knowledge of tactics which we now possess; and that Xenophon, Epaminondas, Philip, and Alexander, owed all their warlike reputation to Homer!

To return to pleasanter follies. Des Fontaines, the journalist, who had wit and malice, inserted the fragment of a letter which the poet Rousseau wrote to the younger Racine whilst he was at the Hague. These were the words: "I enjoy the conversation within these few days of my associates in Parnassus. Mr. Piron is an excellent antidote against melancholy; but"—&c. Des Fontaines maliciously stopped at this but. In the letter of Rousseau it was, "but unfortunately he departs soon." Piron was very sensibly affected at[Pg 304] this equivocal but, and resolved to revenge himself by composing one hundred epigrams against the malignant critic. He had written sixty before Des Fontaines died: but of these only two attracted any notice.

Towards the conclusion of the fifteenth century, Antonio Cornezano wrote a hundred different sonnets on one subject, "the eyes of his mistress!" to which possibly Shakspeare may allude, when Jaques describes a lover, with his

Woeful ballad,
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.

Not inferior to this ingenious trifler is Nicholas Franco, well known in Italian literature, who employed himself in writing two hundred and eighteen satiric sonnets, chiefly on the famous Peter Aretin. This lampooner had the honour of being hanged at Rome for his defamatory publications. In the same class are to be placed two other writers. Brebeuf, who wrote one hundred and fifty epigrams against a painted lady. Another wit, desirous of emulating him, and for a literary bravado, continued the same subject, and pointed at this unfortunate fair three hundred more, without once repeating the thoughts of Brebeuf! There is a collection of poems called "La PUCE des grands jours de Poitiers." "The FLEA of the carnival of Poietiers." These poems were begun by the learned Pasquier, who edited the collection, upon a FLEA which was found one morning in the bosom of the famous Catherine des Roches!

Not long ago, a Mr. and Mrs. Bilderdyk, in Flanders, published poems under the whimsical title of "White and Red."—His own poems were called white, from the colour of his hair; and those of his lady red, in allusion to the colour of the rose. The idea must be Flemish!

Gildon, in his "Laws of Poetry," commenting on this line of the Duke of Buckingham's "Essay on Poetry,"

Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well:

very profoundly informs his readers "That what is here said has not the least regard to the penmanship, that is, to the fairness or badness of the handwriting," and proceeds throughout a whole page, with a panegyric on a fine handwriting! The stupidity of dulness seems to have at times great claims to originality!

Littleton, the author of the Latin and English Dictionary,[Pg 305] seems to have indulged his favourite propensity to punning so far as even to introduce a pun in the grave and elaborate work of a Lexicon. A story has been raised to account for it, and it has been ascribed to the impatient interjection of the lexicographer to his scribe, who, taking no offence at the peevishness of his master, put it down in the Dictionary. The article alluded to is, "Concurro, to run with others; to run together; to come together; to fall foul of one another; to Con-cur, to Con-dog."

Mr. Todd, in his Dictionary, has laboured to show the "inaccuracy of this pretended narrative." Yet a similar blunder appears to have happened to Ash. Johnson, while composing his Dictionary, sent a note to the Gentleman's Magazine to inquire the etymology of the word curmudgeon. Having obtained the information, he records in his work the obligation to an anonymous letter-writer. "Curmudgeon, a vicious way of pronouncing cœur méchant. An unknown correspondent." Ash copied the word into his dictionary in this manner: "Curmudgeon: from the French cœur unknown; and méchant, a correspondent." This singular negligence ought to be placed in the class of our literary blunders; these form a pair of lexicographical anecdotes.

Two singular literary follies have been practised on Milton. There is a prose version of his "Paradise Lost," which was innocently translated from the French version of his epic! One Green published a specimen of a new version of the "Paradise Lost" into blank verse! For this purpose he has utterly ruined the harmony of Milton's cadences, by what he conceived to be "bringing that amazing work somewhat nearer the summit of perfection."

A French author, when his book had been received by the French Academy, had the portrait of Cardinal Richelieu engraved on his title-page, encircled by a crown of forty rays, in each of which was written the name of the celebrated forty academicians.

The self-exaltation frequently employed by injudicious writers, sometimes places them in ridiculous attitudes. A writer of a bad dictionary, which he intended for a Cyclopaedia, formed such an opinion of its extensive sale, that he put on the title-page the words "first edition," a hint to the gentle reader that it would not be the last. Desmarest was so delighted with his "Clovis," an epic poem, that he solemnly concludes his preface with a thanksgiving to God,[Pg 306] to whom he attributes all its glory! This is like that conceited member of a French Parliament, who was overheard, after his tedious harangue, muttering most devoutly to himself, "Non nobis Domine."

Several works have been produced from some odd coincidence with the name of their authors. Thus, De Saussay has written a folio volume, consisting of panegyrics of persons of eminence whose Christian names were Andrew; because Andrew was his own name. Two Jesuits made a similar collection of illustrious men whose Christian names were Theophilus and Philip, being their own. Anthony Saunderus has also composed a treatise of illustrious Anthonies! And we have one Buchanan, who has written the lives of those persons who were so fortunate as to have been his namesakes.

Several forgotten writers have frequently been intruded on the public eye, merely through such trifling coincidences as being members of some particular society, or natives of some particular country. Cordeliers have stood forward to revive the writings of Duns Scotus, because he had been a cordelier; and a Jesuit compiled a folio on the antiquities of a province, merely from the circumstance that the founder of his order, Ignatius Loyola, had been born there. Several of the classics are violently extolled above others, merely from the accidental circumstance of their editors having collected a vast number of notes, which they resolved to discharge on the public. County histories have been frequently compiled, and provincial writers have received a temporary existence, from the accident of some obscure individual being an inhabitant of some obscure town.

On such literary follies Malebranche has made this refined observation. The critics, standing in some way connected with the author, their self-love inspires them, and abundantly furnishes eulogiums which the author never merited, that they may thus obliquely reflect some praise on themselves. This is made so adroitly, so delicately, and so concealed, that it is not perceived.

The following are strange inventions, originating in the wilful bad taste of the authors. Otto Venius, the master of Rubens, is the designer of Le Théâtre moral de la Vie humaine. In this emblematical history of human life, he has taken his subjects from Horace; but certainly his conceptions are not Horatian. He takes every image in a literal sense.[Pg 307] If Horace says, "Misce stultitiam CONSILIIS BREVEM," behold, Venius takes brevis personally, and represents Folly as a little short child! of not above three or four years old! In the emblem which answers Horace's "Raro antecedentem scelestum deseruit PEDE PŒNA CLAUDO," we find Punishment with a wooden leg.—And for "PULVIS ET UMBRA SUMUS," we have a dark burying vault, with dust sprinkled about the floor, and a shadow walking upright between two ranges of urns. For "Virtus est vitium fugere, et sapientia prima stultitiâ caruisse," most flatly he gives seven or eight Vices pursuing Virtue, and Folly just at the heels of Wisdom. I saw in an English Bible printed in Holland an instance of the same taste: the artist, to illustrate "Thou seest the mote in thy neighbour's eye, but not the beam in thine own," has actually placed an immense beam which projects from the eye of the cavalier to the ground![87]

As a contrast to the too obvious taste of Venius, may be placed Cesare di Ripa, who is the author of an Italian work, translated into most European languages, the Iconologia; the favourite book of the age, and the fertile parent of the most absurd offspring which Taste has known. Ripa is as darkly subtle as Venius is obvious; and as far-fetched in his conceits as the other is literal. Ripa represents Beauty by a naked lady, with her head in a cloud; because the true idea of beauty is hard to be conceived! Flattery, by a lady with a flute in her hand, and a stag at her feet; because stags are said to love music so much, that they suffer themselves to be taken, if you play to them on a flute. Fraud, with two hearts in one hand, and a mask in the other;—his collection is too numerous to point out more instances. Ripa also describes how the allegorical figures are to be coloured; Hope is to have a sky-blue robe, because she always looks towards heaven. Enough of these capriccios![Pg 308]


In the article Milton, I had occasion to give some strictures on the asperity of literary controversy, drawn from his own and Salmasius's writings. If to some the subject has appeared exceptionable, to me, I confess, it seems useful, and I shall therefore add some other particulars; for this topic has many branches. Of the following specimens the grossness and malignity are extreme; yet they were employed by the first scholars in Europe.

Martin Luther was not destitute of genius, of learning, or of eloquence; but his violence disfigured his works with singularities of abuse. The great reformer of superstition had himself all the vulgar ones of his day; he believed that flies were devils; and that he had had a buffeting with Satan, when his left ear felt the prodigious beating. Hear him express himself on the Catholic divines: "The Papists are all asses, and will always remain asses. Put them in whatever sauce you choose, boiled, roasted, baked, fried, skinned, beat, hashed, they are always the same asses."

Gentle and moderate, compared with a salute to his holiness:—"The Pope was born out of the Devil's posteriors. He is full of devils, lies, blasphemies, and idolatries; he is anti-Christ; the robber of churches; the ravisher of virgins; the greatest of pimps; the governor of Sodom, &c. If the Turks lay hold of us, then we shall be in the hands of the Devil; but if we remain with the Pope, we shall be in hell.—What a pleasing sight would it be to see the Pope and the Cardinals hanging on one gallows in exact order, like the seals which dangle from the bulls of the Pope! What an excellent council would they hold under the gallows!"[88]

Sometimes, desirous of catching the attention of the vulgar, Luther attempts to enliven his style by the grossest buffooneries: "Take care, my little Popa! my little ass! Go on slowly: the times are slippery: this year is dangerous: if[Pg 309] them fallest, they will exclaim, See! how our little Pope is spoilt!" It was fortunate for the cause of the Reformation that the violence of Luther was softened in a considerable degree by the meek Melancthon, who often poured honey on the sting inflicted by the angry wasp. Luther was no respecter of kings; he was so fortunate, indeed, as to find among his antagonists a crowned head; a great good fortune for an obscure controversialist, and the very punctum saliens of controversy. Our Henry VIII. wrote his book against the new doctrine: then warm from scholastic studies, Henry presented Leo X. with a work highly creditable to his abilities, according to the genius of the age. Collier, in his Ecclesiastical History, has analysed the book, and does not ill describe its spirit: "Henry seems superior to his adversary in the vigour and propriety of his style, in the force of his reasoning, and the learning of his citations. It is true he leans too much upon his character, argues in his garter-robes, and writes as 'twere with his sceptre." But Luther in reply abandons his pen to all kinds of railing and abuse. He addresses Henry VIII. in the following style: "It is hard to say if folly can be more foolish, or stupidity more stupid, than is the head of Henry. He has not attacked me with the heart of a king, but with the impudence of a knave. This rotten worm of the earth having blasphemed the majesty of my king, I have a just right to bespatter his English majesty with his own dirt and ordure. This Henry has lied." Some of his original expressions to our Henry VIII. are these: "Stulta, ridicula, et verissimè Henricicana et Thomastica sunt hæc—Regem Angliæ Henricum istum planè mentiri, &c.—Hoc agit inquietus Satan, ut nos a Scripturis avocet per sceleratos Henricos," &c.—He was repaid with capital and interest by an anonymous reply, said to have been written by Sir Thomas More, who concludes his arguments by leaving Luther in language not necessary to translate: "cum suis furiis et furoribus, cum suis merdis et stercoribus cacantem cacatumque." Such were the vigorous elegancies of a controversy on the Seven Sacraments! Long after, the court of Rome had not lost the taste of these "bitter herbs:" for in the bull of the canonization of Ignatius Loyola in August, 1623, Luther is called monstrum teterrimum et detestabilis pestis.

Calvin was less tolerant, for he had no Melancthon! His adversaries are never others than knaves, lunatics, drunkards[Pg 310] and assassins! Sometimes they are characterised by the familiar appellatives of bulls, asses, cats, and hogs! By him Catholic and Lutheran are alike hated. Yet, after having given vent to this virulent humour, he frequently boasts of his mildness. When he reads over his writings, he tells us, that he is astonished at his forbearance; but this, he adds, is the duty of every Christian! at the same time, he generally finishes a period with—"Do you hear, you dog?" "Do you hear, madman?"

Beza, the disciple of Calvin, sometimes imitates the luxuriant abuse of his master. When he writes against Tillemont, a Lutheran minister, he bestows on him the following titles of honour:—"Polyphemus; an ape; a great ass, who is distinguished from other asses by wearing a hat; an ass on two feet; a monster composed of part of an ape and wild ass; a villain who merits hanging on the first tree we find." And Beza was, no doubt, desirous of the office of executioner!

The Catholic party is by no means inferior in the felicities of their style. The Jesuit Raynaud calls Erasmus the "Batavian buffoon," and accuses him of nourishing the egg which Luther hatched. These men were alike supposed by their friends to be the inspired regulators of religion![89]

Bishop Bedell, a great and good man, respected even by his adversaries, in an address to his clergy, observes, "Our calling is to deal with errors, not to disgrace the man with scolding words. It is said of Alexander, I think, when he overheard one of his soldiers railing lustily against Darius his enemy, that he reproved him, and added, "Friend, I entertain thee to fight against Darius, not to revile him;" and my sentiments[Pg 311] of treating the Catholics," concludes Bedell, "are not conformable to the practice of Luther and Calvin; but they were but men, and perhaps we must confess they suffered themselves to yield to the violence of passion."

The Fathers of the Church were proficients in the art of abuse, and very ingeniously defended it. St. Austin affirms that the most caustic personality may produce a wonderful effect, in opening a man's eyes to his own follies. He illustrates his position with a story, given with great simplicity, of his mother Saint Monica with her maid. Saint Monica certainly would have been a confirmed drunkard, had not her maid timelily and outrageously abused her. The story will amuse.—"My mother had by little and little accustomed herself to relish wine. They used to send her to the cellar, as being one of the soberest in the family: she first sipped from the jug and tasted a few drops, for she abhorred wine, and did not care to drink. However, she gradually accustomed herself, and from sipping it on her lips she swallowed a draught. As people from the smallest faults insensibly increase, she at length liked wine, and drank bumpers. But one day being alone with the maid who usually attended her to the cellar, they quarrelled, and the maid bitterly reproached her with being a drunkard! That single word struck her so poignantly that it opened her understanding; and reflecting on the deformity of the vice, she desisted for ever from its use."

To jeer and play the droll, or, in his own words, de bouffonner, was a mode of controversy the great Arnauld defended, as permitted by the writings of the holy fathers. It is still more singular, when he not only brings forward as an example of this ribaldry, Elijah mocking at the false divinities, but God himself bantering the first man after his fall. He justifies the injurious epithets which he has so liberally bestowed on his adversaries by the example of Jesus Christ and the apostles! It was on these grounds also that the celebrated Pascal apologised for the invectives with which he has occasionally disfigured his Provincial Letters. A Jesuit has collected "An Alphabetical Catalogue of the Names of Beasts by which the Fathers characterised the Heretics!" It may be found in Erotemata de malis ac bonis Libris, p. 93, 4to. 1653, of Father Kaynaud. This list of brutes and insects, among which are a vast variety of serpents, is accompanied by the names of the heretics designated![Pg 312]

Henry Fitzsermon, an Irish Jesuit, was imprisoned for his papistical designs and seditious preaching. During his confinement he proved himself to be a great amateur of controversy. He said, "he felt like a bear tied to a stake, and wanted somebody to bait him." A kind office, zealously undertaken by the learned Usher, then a young man. He engaged to dispute with him once a week on the subject of antichrist! They met several times. It appears that our bear was out-worried, and declined any further dog-baiting. This spread an universal joy through the Protestants in Dublin. At the early period of the Reformation, Dr. Smith of Oxford abjured papistry, with the hope of retaining his professorship, but it was given to Peter Martyr. On this our Doctor recants, and writes several controversial works against Peter Martyr; the most curious part of which is the singular mode adopted of attacking others, as well as Peter Martyr. In his margin he frequently breaks out thus: "Let Hooper read this!"—"Here, Ponet, open your eyes and see your errors!"—"Ergo, Cox, thou art damned!" In this manner, without expressly writing against these persons, the stirring polemic contrived to keep up a sharp bush-fighting in his margins. Such was the spirit of those times, very different from our own. When a modern bishop was just advanced to a mitre, his bookseller begged to re-publish a popular theological tract of his against another bishop, because he might now meet him on equal terms. My lord answered—"Mr.——, no more controversy now!" Our good bishop resembled Baldwin, who from a simple monk, arrived to the honour of the see of Canterbury. The successive honours successively changed his manners. Urban the Second inscribed his brief to him in this concise description—Balduino Monastico ferventissimo, Abbati calido, Episcopo tepido, Archiepiscopo remisso!

On the subject of literary controversies, we cannot pass over the various sects of the scholastics: a volume might be compiled of their ferocious wars, which in more than one instance were accompanied by stones and daggers. The most memorable, on account of the extent, the violence, and duration of their contests, are those of the Nominalists and the Realists.

It was a most subtle question assuredly, and the world thought for a long while that their happiness depended on deciding, whether universals, that is genera, have a real[Pg 313] essence, and exist independent of particulars, that is species:—whether, for instance, we could form an idea of asses, prior to individual asses? Roscelinus, in the eleventh century, adopted the opinion that universals have no real existence, either before or in individuals, but are mere names and words by which the kind of individuals is expressed; a tenet propagated by Abelard, which produced the sect of Nominalists. But the Realists asserted that universals existed independent of individuals,—though they were somewhat divided between the various opinions of Plato and Aristotle. Of the Realists the most famous were Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The cause of the Nominalists was almost desperate, till Occam in the fourteenth century revived the dying embers. Louis XI. adopted the Nominalists, and the Nominalists flourished at large in France and Germany; but unfortunately Pope John XXIII. patronised the Realists, and throughout Italy it was dangerous for a Nominalist to open his lips. The French King wavered, and the Pope triumphed; his majesty published an edict in 1474, in which he silenced for ever the Nominalists, and ordered their books to be fastened up in their libraries with iron chains, that they might not be read by young students! The leaders of that sect fled into England and Germany, where they united their forces with Luther and the first Reformers.

Nothing could exceed the violence with which these disputes were conducted. Vives himself, who witnessed the contests, says that, "when the contending parties had exhausted their stock of verbal abuse, they often came to blows; and it was not uncommon in these quarrels about universals, to see the combatants engaging not only with their fists, but with clubs and swords, so that many have been wounded and some killed."

On this war of words, and all this terrifying nonsense John of Salisbury observes, "that there had been more time consumed than the Cæsars had employed in making themselves masters of the world; that the riches of Crœsus were inferior to the treasures that had been exhausted in this controversy; and that the contending parties, after having spent their whole lives in this single point, had neither been so happy as to determine it to their satisfaction, nor to find in the labyrinths of science where they had been groping any discovery that was worth the pains they had taken." It may be added that Ramus having attacked Aristotle, for "teach[Pg 314]ing us chimeras," all his scholars revolted; the parliament put a stop to his lectures, and at length having brought the matter into a law court, he was declared "to be insolent and daring"—the king proscribed his works, he was ridiculed on the stage, and hissed at by his scholars. When at length, during the plague, he opened again his schools, he drew on himself a fresh storm by reforming the pronunciation of the letter Q, which they then pronounced like K—Kiskis for Quisquis, and Kamkam for Quamquam. This innovation Was once more laid to his charge: a new rebellion! and a new ejection of the Anti-Aristotelian! The brother of that Gabriel Harvey who was the friend of Spenser, and with Gabriel had been the whetstone of the town-wits of his time, distinguished himself by his wrath against the Stagyrite. After having with Gabriel predicted an earthquake, and alarmed the kingdom, which never took place (that is the earthquake, not the alarm), the wits buffeted him. Nash says of him, that "Tarlton at the theatre made jests of him, and Elderton consumed his ale-crammed nose to nothing, in bear-baiting him with whole bundles of ballads." Marlow declared him to be "an ass fit only to preach of the iron age." Stung to madness by this lively nest of hornets, he avenged himself in a very cowardly manner—he attacked Aristotle himself! for he set Aristotle with his heels upwards on the school gates at Cambridge, and with asses' ears on his head!

But this controversy concerning Aristotle and the school divinity was even prolonged. A professor in the College at Naples published in 1688 four volumes of peripatetic philosophy, to establish the principles of Aristotle. The work was exploded, and he wrote an abusive treatise under the nom de guerre of Benedetto Aletino. A man of letters, Constantino Grimaldi, replied. Aletino rejoined; he wrote letters, an apology for the letters, and would have written more for Aristotle than Aristotle himself perhaps would have done. However, Grimaldi was no ordinary antagonist, and not to be outwearied. He had not only the best of the argument, but he was resolved to tell the world so, as long as the world would listen. Whether he killed off Father Benedictus, the first author, is not affirmed; but the latter died during the controversy. Grimaldi, however, afterwards pursued his ghost, and buffeted the father in his grave. This enraged the University of Naples; and the Jesuits, to a man, de[Pg 315]nounced Grimaldi to Pope Benedict XIII. and to the Viceroy of Naples. On this the Pope issued a bull prohibiting the reading of Grimaldi's works, or keeping them, under pain of excommunication; and the viceroy, more active than the bull, caused all the copies which were found in the author's house to be thrown into the sea! The author with tears in his eyes beheld his expatriated volumes, hopeless that their voyage would have been successful. However, all the little family of the Grimaldis were not drowned—for a storm arose, and happily drove ashore many of the floating copies, and these falling into charitable hands, the heretical opinions of poor Grimaldi against Aristotle and school divinity were still read by those who were not out-terrified by the Pope's bulls. The salted passages were still at hand, and quoted with a double zest against the Jesuits!

We now turn to writers whose controversy was kindled only by subjects of polite literature. The particulars form a curious picture of the taste of the age.

"There is," says Joseph Scaliger, that great critic and reviler, "an art of abuse or slandering, of which those that are ignorant may be said to defame others much less than they show a willingness to defame."

"Literary wars," says Bayle, "are sometimes as lasting as they are terrible." A disputation between two great scholars was so interminably violent, that it lasted thirty years! He humorously compares its duration to the German war which lasted as long.

Baillet, when he refuted the sentiments of a certain author always did it without naming him; but when he found any observation which, he deemed commendable, he quoted his name. Bayle observes, that "this is an excess of politeness, prejudicial to that freedom which should ever exist in the republic of letters; that it should be allowed always to name those whom we refute; and that it is sufficient for this purpose that we banish asperity, malice, and indecency."

After these preliminary observations, I shall bring forward various examples where this excellent advice is by no means regarded.

Erasmus produced a dialogue, in which he ridiculed those scholars who were servile imitators of Cicero; so servile, that they would employ no expression but what was found in the works of that writer; everything with them was Ciceronian[Pg 316]ised. This dialogue is written with great humour. Julius Cæsar Scaliger, the father, who was then unknown to the world, had been long looking for some occasion to distinguish himself; he now wrote a defence of Cicero, but which in fact was one continued invective against Erasmus: he there treats the latter as illiterate, a drunkard, an impostor, an apostate, a hangman, a demon hot from hell! The same Scaliger, acting on the same principle of distinguishing himself at the cost of others, attacked Cardan's best work De Subtilitate: his criticism did not appear till seven years after the first edition of the work, and then he obstinately stuck to that edition, though Cardan had corrected it in subsequent ones; but this Scaliger chose, that he might have a wider field for his attack. After this, a rumour spread that Cardan had died of vexation from Julius Cæsar's invincible pen; then Scaliger pretended to feel all the regret possible for a man he had killed, and whom he now praised: however, his regret had as little foundation as his triumph; for Cardan outlived Scaliger many years, and valued his criticisms too cheaply to have suffered them to have disturbed his quiet. All this does not exceed the Invectives of Poggius, who has thus entitled several literary libels composed against some of his adversaries, Laurentius Valla, Philelphus, &c., who returned the poisoned chalice to his own lips; declamations of scurrility, obscenity, and calumny!

Scioppius was a worthy successor of the Scaligers: his favourite expression was, that he had trodden down his adversary.

Scioppius was a critic, as skilful as Salmasius or Scaliger, but still more learned in the language of abuse. This cynic was the Attila of authors. He boasted that he had occasioned the deaths of Casaubon and Scaliger. Detested and dreaded as the public scourge, Scioppius, at the close of his life, was fearful he should find no retreat in which he might be secure.

The great Casaubon employs the dialect of St. Giles's in his furious attacks on the learned Dalechamps, the Latin translator of Athenæus. To this great physician he stood more deeply indebted than he chose to confess; and to conceal the claims of this literary creditor, he called out Vesanum! Insanum! Tiresiam! &c. It was the fashion of that day with the ferocious heroes of the literary republic, to overwhelm each other with invectives, and to consider that their[Pg 317] own grandeur consisted in the magnitude of their volumes; and their triumphs in reducing their brother giants into puny dwarfs. In science, Linnæus had a dread of controversy—conqueror or conquered we cannot escape without disgrace! Mathiolus would have been the great man of his day, had he not meddled with such matters. Who is gratified by "the mad Cornarus," or "the flayed Fox?" titles which Fuchsius and Cornarus, two eminent botanists, have bestowed on each other. Some who were too fond of controversy, as they grew wiser, have refused to take up the gauntlet.

The heat and acrimony of verbal critics have exceeded description. Their stigmas and anathemas have been long known to bear no proportion to the offences against which they have been directed. "God confound you," cried one grammarian to another, "for your theory of impersonal verbs!" There was a long and terrible controversy formerly, whether the Florentine dialect was to prevail over the others. The academy was put to great trouble, and the Anti-Cruscans were often on the point of annulling this supremacy; una mordace scritura was applied to one of these literary canons; and in a letter of those times the following paragraph appears:—"Pescetti is preparing to give a second answer to Beni, which will not please him; I now believe the prophecy of Cavalier Tedeschi will be verified, and that this controversy, begun with pens, will end with poniards!"

Fabretti, an Italian, wrote furiously against Gronovius, whom he calls Grunnovius: he compared him to all those animals whose voice was expressed by the word Grunnire, to grunt. Gronovius was so malevolent a critic, that he was distinguished by the title of the "Grammatical Cur."

When critics venture to attack the person as well as the performance of an author, I recommend the salutary proceedings of Huberus, the writer of an esteemed Universal History. He had been so roughly handled by Perizonius, that he obliged him to make the amende honorable in a court of justice; where, however, I fear an English jury would give the smallest damages.

Certain authors may be distinguished by the title of Literary Bobadils, or fighting authors. One of our own celebrated writers drew his sword on a reviewer; and another, when his farce was condemned, offered to fight any one of the audience who hissed. Scudery, brother of the celebrated Mademoiselle Scudery, was a true Parnassian bully. The[Pg 318] first publication which brought him into notice was his edition of the works of his friend Theophile. He concludes the preface with these singular expressions—"I do not hesitate to declare, that, amongst all the dead, and all the living, there is no person who has anything to show that approaches the force of this vigorous genius; but if amongst the latter, any one were so extravagant as to consider that I detract from his imaginary glory, to show him that I fear as little as I esteem him, this is to inform him that my name is

"De Scudery."

A similar rhodomontade is that of Claude Trellon, a poetical soldier, who begins his poems by challenging the critics, assuring them that if any one attempts to censure him, he will only condescend to answer sword in hand. Father Macedo, a Portuguese Jesuit, having written against Cardinal Noris, on the monkery of St. Austin, it was deemed necessary to silence both parties. Macedo, compelled to relinquish the pen, sent his adversary a challenge, and according to the laws of chivalry, appointed a place for meeting in the wood of Boulogne. Another edict forbad the duel! Macedo then murmured at his hard fate, which would not suffer him, for the sake of St. Austin, for whom he had a particular regard, to spill either his ink or his blood.

Anti, prefixed to the name of the person attacked, was once a favourite title to books of literary controversy. With a critical review of such books Baillet has filled a quarto volume; yet such was the abundant harvest, that he left considerable gleanings for posterior industry.

Anti-Gronovius was a book published against Gronovius, by Kuster. Perizonius, another pugilist of literature, entered into this dispute on the subject of the Æs grave of the ancients, to which Kuster had just adverted at the close of his volume. What was the consequence? Dreadful!—Answers and rejoinders from both, in which they bespattered each other with the foulest abuse. A journalist pleasantly blames this acrimonious controversy. He says, "To read the pamphlets of a Perizonius and a Kuster on the Æs grave of the ancients, who would not renounce all commerce with antiquity? It seems as if an Agamemnon and an Achilles were railing at each other. Who can refrain from laughter, when one of these commentators even points his attacks at the very name of his adversary? According to Kuster, the name[Pg 319] of Perizonius signifies a certain part of the human body. How is it possible, that with such a name he could be right concerning the Æs grave? But does that of Kuster promise a better thing, since it signifies a beadle; a man who drives dogs out of churches?—What madness is this!"

Corneille, like our Dryden, felt the acrimony of literary irritation. To the critical strictures of D'Aubignac it is acknowledged he paid the greatest attention, for, after this critic's Pratique du Théâtre appeared, his tragedies were more artfully conducted. But instead of mentioning the critic with due praise, he preserved an ungrateful silence. This occasioned a quarrel between the poet and the critic, in which the former exhaled his bile in several abusive epigrams, which have, fortunately for his credit, not been preserved in his works.

The lively Voltaire could not resist the charm of abusing his adversaries. We may smile when he calls a blockhead, a blockhead; a dotard, a dotard; but when he attacks, for a difference of opinion, the morals of another man, our sensibility is alarmed. A higher tribunal than that of criticism is to decide on the actions of men.

There is a certain disguised malice, which some writers have most unfairly employed in characterising a contemporary. Burnet called Prior, one Prior. In Bishop Parker's History of his Own Times, an innocent reader may start at seeing the celebrated Marvell described as an outcast of society; an infamous libeller; and one whose talents were even more despicable than his person. To such lengths did the hatred of party, united with personal rancour, carry this bishop, who was himself the worst of time-servers. He was, however, amply paid by the keen wit of Marvell in "The Rehearsal Transposed," which may still be read with delight, as an admirable effusion of banter, wit, and satire. Le Clerc, a cool ponderous Greek critic, quarrelled with Boileau about a passage in Longinus, and several years afterwards, in revising Moreri's Dictionary, gave a short sarcastic notice of the poet's brother; in which he calls him the elder brother of him who has written the book entitled, "Satires of Mr. Boileau Despréaux!"—the works of the modern Horace, which were then delighting Europe, he calls, with simple impudence, "a book entitled Satires!"

The works of Homer produced a controversy, both long and virulent, amongst the wits of France. This literary quarrel[Pg 320] is of some note in the annals of literature, since it has produced two valuable books; La Motte's "Réflexions sur la Critique," and Madame Dacier's "Des Causes de la Corruption du Goût." La Motte wrote with feminine delicacy, and Madame Dacier like a University pedant. "At length, by the efforts of Valincour, the friend of art, of artists, and of peace, the contest was terminated." Both parties were formidable in number, and to each he made remonstrances, and applied reproaches. La Motte and Madame Dacier, the opposite leaders, were convinced by his arguments, made reciprocal concessions, and concluded a peace. The treaty was formally ratified at a dinner, given on the occasion by a Madame De Staël, who represented "Neutrality." Libations were poured to the memory of old Homer, and the parties were reconciled.


When Dante published his "Inferno," the simplicity of the age accepted it as a true narrative of his descent into hell.

When the Utopia of Sir Thomas More was first published, it occasioned a pleasant mistake. This political romance represents a perfect, but visionary republic, in an island supposed to have been newly discovered in America. "As this was the age of discovery," says Granger, "the learned Budæus, and others, took it for a genuine history; and considered it as highly expedient, that missionaries should be sent thither, in order to convert so wise a nation to Christianity."

It was a long while after publication that many readers were convinced that Gulliver's Travels were fictitious.[90]

But the most singular blunder was produced by the ingenious "Hermippus Redivivus" of Dr. Campbell, a curious banter on the hermetic philosophy, and the universal medicine; but the grave irony is so closely kept up, that it deceived for a[Pg 321] length of time the most learned. His notion of the art of prolonging life, by inhaling the breath of young women, was eagerly credited. A physician, who himself had composed a treatise on health, was so influenced by it, that he actually took lodgings at a female boarding-school, that he might never be without a constant supply of the breath of young ladies. Mr. Thicknesse seriously adopted the project. Dr. Kippis acknowledged that after he had read the work in his youth, the reasonings and the facts left him several days in a kind of fairy land. I have a copy with manuscript notes by a learned physician, who seems to have had no doubts of its veracity. After all, the intention of the work was long doubtful; till Dr. Campbell assured a friend it was a mere jeu-d'esprit; that Bayle was considered as standing without a rival in the art of treating at large a difficult subject, without discovering to which side his own sentiments leaned: Campbell had read more uncommon books than most men, and wished to rival Bayle, and at the same time to give many curious matters little known.

Palavicini, in his History of the Council of Trent, to confer an honour on M. Lansac, ambassador of Charles IX. to that council, bestows on him a collar of the order of Saint Esprit; but which order was not instituted till several years afterwards by Henry III. A similar voluntary blunder is that of Surita, in his Annales de la Corona de Aragon. This writer represents, in the battles he describes, many persons who were not present; and this, merely to confer honour on some particular families.

Fabiana, quoting a French narrative of travels in Italy, took for the name of the author the words, found at the end of the title-page, Enrichi de deux Listes; that is, "Enriched with two lists:" on this he observes, "that Mr. Enriched with two lists has not failed to do that justice to Ciampini which he merited."[91] The abridgers of Gesner's Bibliotheca ascribe the romance of Amadis to one Acuerdo Olvido; Remem[Pg 322]brance, Oblivion; mistaking the French translator's Spanish motto on the title-page for the name of the author.

D'Aquin, the French king's physician, in his Memoir on the Preparation of Bark, takes Mantissa, which is the title of the Appendix to the History of Plants, by Johnstone, for the name of an author, and who, he says, is so extremely rare, that he only knows him by name.

Lord Bolingbroke imagined, that in those famous verses, beginning with Excudent alii, &c., Virgil attributed to the Romans the glory of having surpassed the Greeks in historical composition: according to his idea, those Roman historians whom Virgil preferred to the Grecians were Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus. But Virgil died before Livy had written his history, or Tacitus was born.

An honest friar, who compiled a church history, has placed in the class of ecclesiastical writers Guarini, the Italian poet, on the faith of the title of his celebrated amorous pastoral, Il Pastor Fido, "The Faithful Shepherd;" our good father imagined that the character of a curate, vicar, or bishop, was represented in this work.

A blunder has been recorded of the monks in the dark ages, which was likely enough to happen when their ignorance was so dense. A rector of a parish going to law with his parishioners about paving the church, quoted this authority from St. Peter—Paveant illi, non paveam ego; which he construed, They are to pave the church, not I. This was allowed to be good law by a judge, himself an ecclesiastic too.

One of the grossest literary blunders of modern times is that of the late Gilbert Wakefield, in his edition of Pope. He there takes the well-known "Song by a Person of Quality," which is a piece of ridicule on the glittering tuneful nonsense of certain poets, as a serious composition. In a most copious commentary, he proves that every line seems unconnected with its brothers, and that the whole reflects disgrace on its author! A circumstance which too evidently shows how necessary the knowledge of modern literary history is to a modern commentator, and that those who are profound in verbal Greek are not the best critics on English writers.

The Abbé Bizot, the author of the medallic history of Holland, fell into a droll mistake. There is a medal, struck when Philip II. set forth his invincible Armada, on which are represented the King of Spain, the Emperor, the Pope,[Pg 323] Electors, Cardinals, &c., with their eyes covered with a bandage, and bearing for inscription this fine verse of Lucretius:—

O cæcas hominum menteis! O pectora cæca!

The Abbé, prepossessed with the prejudice that a nation persecuted by the Pope and his adherents could not represent them without some insult, did not examine with sufficient care the ends of the bandages which covered the eyes and waved about the heads of the personages represented on this medal: he rashly took them for asses' ears, and as such they are engraved!

Mabillon has preserved a curious literary blunder of some pious Spaniards, who applied to the Pope for consecrating a day in honour of Saint Viar. His holiness, in the voluminous catalogue of his saints, was ignorant of this one. The only proof brought forward for his existence was this inscription:—


An antiquary, however, hindered one more festival in the Catholic calendar, by convincing them that these letters were only the remains of an inscription erected for an ancient surveyor of the roads; and he read their saintship thus:—


Maffei, in his comparison between Medals and Inscriptions, detects a literary blunder in Spon, who, meeting with this inscription,

Maximo VI Consule

takes the letters VI for numerals, which occasions a strange anachronism. They are only contractions of Viro Illustri—V I.

As absurd a blunder was this of Dr. Stukeley on the coins of Carausius; finding a battered one with a defaced inscription of


he read it


And sagaciously interpreting this to be the wife of Carau[Pg 324]sius, makes a new personage start up in history; he contrives even to give some theoretical Memoirs of the August Oriuna.[92]

Father Sirmond was of opinion that St. Ursula and her eleven thousand Virgins were all created out of a blunder. In some ancient MS. they found St. Ursula et Undecimilla V. M. meaning St. Ursula and Undecimilla, Virgin Martyrs; imagining that Undecimilla with the V. and M. which followed, was an abbreviation for Undecem Millia Martyrum Virginum, they made out of Two Virgins the whole Eleven Thousand!

Pope, in a note on Measure for Measure, informs us, that its story was taken from Cinthio's Novels, Dec. 8. Nov. 5. That is, Decade 8, Novel 5. The critical Warburton, in his edition of Shakspeare, puts the words in full length thus, December 8, November 5.

When the fragments of Petronius made a great noise in the literary world, Meibomius, an erudit of Lubeck, read in a letter from another learned scholar from Bologna, "We have here an entire Petronius; I saw it with mine own eyes, and with admiration." Meibomius in post-haste is on the road, arrives at Bologna, and immediately inquires for the librarian Capponi. He inquires if it were true that they had at Bologna an entire Petronius? Capponi assures him that it was a thing which had long been public. "Can I see this Petronius? Let me examine it!"—"Certainly," replies Capponi, and leads our erudit of Lubeck to the church where reposes the body of St. Petronius. Meibomius bites his lips, calls for his chaise, and takes his flight.

A French translator, when he came to a passage of Swift, in which it is said that the Duke of Marlborough broke an officer; not being acquainted with this Anglicism, he translated it roué, broke on a wheel![Pg 325]

Cibber's play of "Love's Last Shift" was entitled "La Dernière Chemise de l'Amour." A French writer of Congreve's life has taken his Mourning for a Morning Bride, and translated it L'Espouse du Matin.

Sir John Pringle mentions his having cured a soldier by the use of two quarts of Dog and Duck water daily: a French translator specifies it as an excellent broth made of a duck and a dog! In a recent catalogue compiled by a French writer of Works on Natural History, he has inserted the well-known "Essay on Irish Bulls" by the Edgeworths. The proof, if it required any, that a Frenchman cannot understand the idiomatic style of Shakspeare appears in a French translator, who prided himself on giving a verbal translation of our great poet, not approving of Le Tourneur's paraphrastical version. He found in the celebrated speech of Northumberland in Henry IV.

Even such a man, so faint, so spiritless,
So dull, so dead in look, so woe-begone

which he renders "Ainsi douleur! va-t'en!"

The Abbé Gregoire affords another striking proof of the errors to which foreigners are liable when they decide on the language and customs of another country. The Abbé, in the excess of his philanthropy, to show to what dishonourable offices human nature is degraded, acquaints us that at London he observed a sign-board, proclaiming the master as tueur des punaises de sa majesté! Bug-destroyer to his majesty! This is, no doubt, the honest Mr. Tiffin, in the Strand; and the idea which must have occurred to the good Abbé was, that his majesty's bugs were hunted by the said destroyer, and taken by hand—and thus human nature was degraded!

A French writer translates the Latin title of a treatise of Philo-Judæus Omnis bonus liber est, Every good man is a free man, by Tout livre est bon. It was well for him, observes Jortin, that he did not live within the reach of the Inquisition, which might have taken this as a reflection on the Index Expurgatorius.

An English translator turned "Dieu défend l'adultère" into "God defends adultery."—Guthrie, in his translation of Du Halde, has "the twenty-sixth day of the new moon." The whole age of the moon is but twenty-eight days. The blunder arose from his mistaking the word neuvième (ninth) for nouvelle or neuve (new).[Pg 326]

The facetious Tom Brown committed a strange blunder in his translation of Gelli's Circe. The word Starne, not aware of its signification, he boldly rendered stares, probably from the similitude of sound; the succeeding translator more correctly discovered Starne to be red-legged partridges!

In Charles II.'s reign a new collect was drawn, in which a new epithet was added to the king's title, that gave great offence, and occasioned great raillery. He was styled our most religious king. Whatever the signification of religious might be in the Latin word, as importing the sacredness of the king's person, yet in the English language it bore a signification that was no way applicable to the king. And he was asked by his familiar courtiers, what must the nation think when they heard him prayed for as their most religious king?—Literary blunders of this nature are frequently discovered in the versions of good classical scholars, who would make the English servilely bend to the Latin and Greek. Even Milton has been justly censured for his free use of Latinisms and Grecisms.

The blunders of modern antiquaries on sepulchral monuments are numerous. One mistakes a lion at a knight's feet for a curled water dog; another could not distinguish censers in the hands of angels from fishing-nets; two angels at a lady's feet were counted as her two cherub-like babes; and another has mistaken a leopard and a hedgehog for a cat and a rat! In some of these cases, are the antiquaries or the sculptors most to be blamed?[93]

A literary blunder of Thomas Warton is a specimen of the manner in which a man of genius may continue to blunder with infinite ingenuity. In an old romance he finds these lines, describing the duel of Saladin with Richard Cœur de Lion:—

A Faucon brode in hande he bare,
For he thought he wolde thare
Have slayne Richard.

He imagines this Faucon brode means a falcon bird, or a hawk, and that Saladin is represented with this bird on his[Pg 327] fist to express his contempt of his adversary. He supports his conjecture by noticing a Gothic picture, supposed to be the subject of this duel, and also some old tapestry of heroes on horseback with hawks on their fists; he plunges into feudal times, when no gentleman appeared on horseback without his hawk. After all this curious erudition, the rough but skilful Ritson inhumanly triumphed by dissolving the magical fancies of the more elegant Warton, by explaining a Faucon brode to be nothing more than a broad faulchion, which, in a duel, was certainly more useful than a bird. The editor of the private reprint of Hentzner, on that writer's tradition respecting "the Kings of Denmark who reigned in England" buried in the Temple Church, metamorphosed the two Inns of Court, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn, into the names of the Danish kings, Gresin and Lyconin.[94]

Bayle supposes that Marcellus Palingenius, who wrote the poem entitled the Zodiac, the twelve books bearing the names of the signs, from this circumstance assumed the title of Poeta Stellatus. But it appears that this writer was an Italian and a native of Stellada, a town in the Ferrarese. It is probable that his birthplace originally produced the conceit of the title of his poem: it is a curious instance how critical conjecture may be led astray by its own ingenuity, when ignorant of the real fact.


Marriage is such a rabble rout;
That those that are out, would fain get in;
And those that are in, would fain get out.

Having examined some literary blunders, we will now proceed to the subject of a literary wife, which may happen to prove one. A learned lady is to the taste of few. It is however matter of surprise, that several literary men should have felt such a want of taste in respect to "their soul's far dearer part," as Hector calls his Andromache. The wives of[Pg 328] many men of letters have been dissolute, ill-humoured, slatternly, and have run into all the frivolities of the age. The wife of the learned Budæus was of a different character.

How delightful is it when the mind of the female is so happily disposed, and so richly cultivated, as to participate in the literary avocations of her husband! It is then truly that the intercourse of the sexes becomes the most refined pleasure. What delight, for instance, must the great Budæus have tasted, even in those works which must have been for others a most dreadful labour! His wife left him nothing to desire. The frequent companion of his studies, she brought him the books he required to his desk; she collated passages, and transcribed quotations; the same genius, the same inclination, and the same ardour for literature, eminently appeared in those two fortunate persons. Far from withdrawing her husband from his studies, she was sedulous to animate him when he languished. Ever at his side, and ever assiduous; ever with some useful book in her hand, she acknowledged herself to be a most happy woman. Yet she did not neglect the education of eleven children. She and Budæus shared in the mutual cares they owed their progeny. Budæus was not insensible of his singular felicity. In one of his letters, he represents himself as married to two ladies; one of whom gave him boys and girls, the other was Philosophy, who produced books. He says that in his twelve first years, Philosophy had been less fruitful than marriage; he had produced less books than children; he had laboured more corporally than intellectually; but he hoped to make more books than men. "The soul (says he) will be productive in its turn; it will rise on the ruins of the body; a prolific virtue is not given at the same time to the bodily organs and the pen."

The lady of Evelyn designed herself the frontispiece to his translation of Lucretius. She felt the same passion in her own breast which animated her husband's, who has written, with such various ingenuity. Of Baron Haller it is recorded that he inspired his wife and family with a taste for his different pursuits. They were usually employed in assisting his literary occupations; they transcribed manuscripts, consulted authors, gathered plants, and designed and coloured under his eye. What a delightful family picture has the younger Pliny given posterity in his letters! Of Calphurnia, his wife, he says, "Her affection to me has given her a turn to books;[Pg 329] and my compositions, which she takes a pleasure in reading, and even getting by heart, are continually in her hands. How full of tender solicitude is she when I am entering upon any cause! How kindly does she rejoice with me when it is over! While I am pleading, she places persons to inform her from time to time how I am heard, what applauses I receive, and what success attends the cause. When at any time I recite my works, she conceals herself behind some curtain, and with secret rapture enjoys my praises. She sings my verses to her lyre, with no other master but love, the best instructor, for her guide. Her passion will increase with our days, for it is not my youth nor my person, which time gradually impairs, but my reputation and my glory, of which, she is enamoured."

On the subject of a literary wife, I must introduce to the acquaintance of the reader Margaret Duchess of Newcastle. She is known, at least by her name, as a voluminous writer; for she extended her literary productions to the number of twelve folio volumes.

Her labours have been ridiculed by some wits; but had her studies been regulated, she would have displayed no ordinary genius. The Connoisseur has quoted her poems, and her verses have been imitated by Milton.

The duke, her husband, was also an author; his book on horsemanship still preserves his name. He has likewise written comedies, and his contemporaries have not been, penurious in their eulogiums. It is true he was a duke. Shadwell says of him, "That he was the greatest master of wit, the most exact observer of mankind, and the most accurate judge of humour that ever he knew." The life of the duke is written "by the hand of his incomparable duchess." It was published in his lifetime. This curious piece of biography is a folio of 197 pages, and is entitled "The Life of the Thrice Noble, High, and Puissant Prince, William Cavendish." His titles then follow:—"Written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess, Margaret Duchess of Newcastle, his wife. London, 1667." This Life is dedicated to Charles the Second; and there is also prefixed a copious epistle to her husband the duke.

In this epistle the character of our Literary Wife is described with all its peculiarities.

"Certainly, my lord, you have had as many enemies and as many friends as ever any one particular person had; nor do I[Pg 330] so much wonder at it, since I, a woman, cannot be exempt from the malice and aspersions of spiteful tongues, which they cast upon my poor writings, some denying me to be the true authoress of them; for your grace remembers well, that those books I put out first to the judgment of this censorious age were accounted not to be written by a woman, but that somebody else had writ and published them in my name; by which your lordship was moved to prefix an epistle before one of them in my vindication, wherein you assure the world, upon your honour, that what was written and printed in my name was my own; and I have also made known that your lordship was my only tutor, in declaring to me what you had found and observed by your own experience; for I being young when your lordship married me, could not have much knowledge of the world; but it pleased God to command his servant Nature to endue me with a poetical and philosophical genius, even from my birth; for I did write some books in that kind before I was twelve years of age, which for want of good method and order I would never divulge. But though the world would not believe that those conceptions and fancies which I writ were my own, but transcended my capacity, yet they found fault, that they were defective for want of learning, and on the other side, they said I had pluckt feathers out of the universities; which was a very preposterous judgment. Truly, my lord, I confess that for want of scholarship, I could not express myself so well as otherwise I might have done in those philosophical writings I published first; but after I was returned with your lordship into my native country, and led a retired country life, I applied myself to the reading of philosophical authors, on purpose to learn those names and words of art that are used in schools; which at first were so hard to me, that I could not understand them, but was fain to guess at the sense of them by the whole context, and so writ them down, as I found them in those authors; at which my readers did wonder, and thought it impossible that a woman could have so much learning and understanding in terms of art and scholastical expressions; so that I and my books are like the old apologue mentioned in Æsop, of a father and his son who rid on an ass." Here follows a long narrative of this fable, which she applies to herself in these words—"The old man seeing he could not please mankind in any manner, and having received so many blemishes and aspersions for the[Pg 331] sake of his ass, was at last resolved to drown him when he came to the next bridge. But I am not so passionate to burn my writings for the various humours of mankind, and for their finding fault; since there is nothing in this world, be it the noblest and most commendable action whatsoever, that shall escape blameless. As for my being the true and only authoress of them, your lordship knows best; and my attending servants are witness that I have had none but my own thoughts, fancies, and speculations, to assist me; and as soon as I set them down I send them to those that are to transcribe them, and fit them for the press; whereof, since there have been several, and amongst them such as only could write a good hand, but neither understood orthography, nor had any learning, (I being then in banishment, with your lordship, and not able to maintain learned secretaries,) which hath been a great disadvantage to my poor works, and the cause that they have been printed so false and so full of errors; for besides that I want also skill in scholarship and true writing, I did many times not peruse the copies that were transcribed, lest they should disturb my following conceptions; by which neglect, as I said, many errors are slipt into my works, which, yet I hope, learned and impartial men will soon rectify, and look more upon the sense than carp at words. I have been a student even from childhood; and since I have been your lordship's wife I have lived for the most part a strict and retired life, as is best known to your lordship; and therefore my censurers cannot know much of me, since they have little or no acquaintance with me. 'Tis true I have been a traveller both before and after I was married to your lordship, and some times shown myself at your lordship's command in public places or assemblies, but yet I converse with few. Indeed, my lord, I matter not the censures of this age, but am rather proud of them; for it shows that my actions are more than ordinary, and according to the old proverb, it is better to be envied than pitied; for I know well that it is merely out of spite and malice, whereof this present age is so full that none can escape them, and they'll make no doubt to stain even your lordship's loyal, noble, and heroic actions, as well as they do mine; though yours have been of war and fighting, mine of contemplating and writing: yours were performed publicly in the field, mine privately in my closet; yours had many thousand eye-witnesses; mine none but my waiting-maids. But the great God, that[Pg 332] hitherto bless'd both your grace and me, will, I question not, preserve both our fames to after-ages.

"Your grace's honest wife,
"and humble servant,
"M. Newcastle."

The last portion of this life, which consists of the observations and good things which she had gathered from the conversations of her husband, forms an excellent Ana; and shows that when Lord Orford, in his "Catalogue of Noble Authors," says, that "this stately poetic couple was a picture of foolish nobility," he writes, as he does too often, with extreme levity. But we must now attend to the reverse of our medal.

Many chagrins may corrode the nuptial state of literary men. Females who, prompted by vanity, but not by taste, unite themselves to scholars, must ever complain of neglect. The inexhaustible occupations of a library will only present to such a most dreary solitude. Such a lady declared of her learned husband, that she was more jealous of his books than his mistresses. It was probably while Glover was composing his "Leonidas," that his lady avenged herself for this Homeric inattention to her, and took her flight with a lover. It was peculiar to the learned Dacier to be united to woman, his equal in erudition and his superior in taste. When she wrote in the album of a German traveller a verse from Sophocles as an apology for her unwillingness to place herself among his learned friends, that "Silence is the female's ornament," it was a trait of her modesty. The learned Pasquier was coupled to a female of a different character, since he tells us in one of his Epigrams that to manage the vociferations of his lady, he was compelled himself to become a vociferator.—"Unfortunate wretch that I am, I who am a lover of universal peace! But to have peace I am obliged ever to be at war."

Sir Thomas More was united to a woman of the harshest temper and the most sordid manners. To soften the moroseness of her disposition, "he persuaded her to play on the lute, viol, and other instruments, every day." Whether it was that she had no ear for music, she herself never became harmonious as the instrument she touched. All these ladies may be considered as rather too alert in thought, and too spirited in action; but a tame cuckoo bird who is always re[Pg 333]peating the same note must be very fatiguing. The lady of Samuel Clarke, the great compiler of books in 1680, whose name was anagrammatised to "suck all cream," alluding to his indefatigable labours in sucking all the cream of every other author, without having any cream himself, is described by her husband as entertaining the most sublime conceptions of his illustrious compilations. This appears by her behaviour. He says, "that she never rose from table without making him a curtsey, nor drank to him without bowing, and that his word was a law to her."

I was much surprised in looking over a correspondence of the times, that in 1590 the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, writing to the Earl of Shrewsbury on the subject of his living separate from his countess, uses as one of his arguments for their union the following curious one, which surely shows the gross and cynical feeling which the fair sex excited even among the higher classes of society. The language of this good bishop is neither that of truth, we hope, nor certainly that of religion.

"But some will saye in your Lordship's behalfe that the Countesse is a sharpe and bitter shrewe, and therefore licke enough to shorten your lief, if shee should kepe yow company, Indeede, my good Lord, I have heard some say so; but if shrewdnesse or sharpnesse may be a juste cause of separation between a man and wiefe, I thinck fewe men in Englande would keepe their wives longe; for it is a common jeste, yet trewe in some sense, that there is but one shrewe in all the worlde, and everee man hath her: and so everee man must be ridd of his wiefe that wolde be ridd of a shrewe." It is wonderful this good bishop did not use another argument as cogent, and which would in those times be allowed as something; the name of his lordship, Shrewsbury, would have afforded a consolatory pun!

The entertaining Marville says that the generality of ladies married to literary men are so vain of the abilities and merit of their husbands, that they are frequently insufferable.

The wife of Barclay, author of "The Argenis," considered herself as the wife of a demigod. This appeared glaringly after his death; for Cardinal Barberini having erected a monument to the memory of his tutor, next to the tomb of Barclay, Mrs. Barclay was so irritated at this that she demolished his monument, brought home his bust, and declared[Pg 334] that the ashes of so great a genius as her husband should never be placed beside a pedagogue.

Salmasius's wife was a termagant; Christina said she admired his patience more than his erudition. Mrs. Salmasius indeed considered herself as the queen of science, because her husband was acknowledged as sovereign among the critics. She boasted that she had for her husband the most learned of all the nobles, and the most noble of all the learned. Our good lady always joined the learned conferences which he held in his study. She spoke loud, and decided with a tone of majesty. Salmasius was mild in conversation, but the reverse in his writings, for our proud Xantippe considered him as acting beneath himself if he did not magisterially call every one names!

The wife of Rohault, when her husband gave lectures on the philosophy of Descartes, used to seat herself on these days at the door, and refused admittance to every one shabbily dressed, or who did not discover a genteel air. So convinced was she that, to be worthy of hearing the lectures of her husband, it was proper to appear fashionable. In vain our good lecturer exhausted himself in telling her, that fortune does not always give fine clothes to philosophers.

The ladies of Albert Durer and Berghem were both shrews. The wife of Durer compelled that great genius to the hourly drudgery of his profession, merely to gratify her own sordid passion: in despair, Albert ran away from his Tisiphone; she wheedled him back, and not long afterwards this great artist fell a victim to her furious disposition.[95] Berghem's wife would never allow that excellent artist to quit his occupations; and she contrived an odd expedient to detect his indolence. The artist worked in a room above her; ever and anon she roused him by thumping a long stick against the ceiling, while the obedient Berghem answered by stamping his foot, to satisfy Mrs. Berghem that he was not napping.

Ælian had an aversion to the married state. Sigonius, a learned and well-known scholar, would never marry, and alleged no inelegant reason; "Minerva and Venus could not live together."

Matrimony has been considered by some writers as a condition not so well suited to the circumstances of philosophers[Pg 335] and men of learning. There is a little tract which professes to investigate the subject. It has for title, De Matrimonio Literati, an cœlibem esse, an verò nubere conveniat, i.e., of the Marriage of a Man of Letters, with an inquiry whether it is most proper for him to continue a bachelor, or to marry?

The author alleges the great merit of some women; particularly that of Gonzaga the consort of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino; a lady of such distinguished accomplishments, that Peter Bembus said, none but a stupid man would not prefer one of her conversations to all the formal meetings and disputations of the philosophers.

The ladies perhaps will be surprised to find that it is a question among the learned, Whether they ought to marry? and will think it an unaccountable property of learning that it should lay the professors of it under an obligation to disregard the sex. But it is very questionable whether, in return for this want of complaisance in them, the generality of ladies would not prefer the beau, and the man of fashion. However, let there be Gonzagas, they will find converts enough to their charms.

The sentiments of Sir Thomas Browne on the consequences of marriage are very curious, in the second part of his Religio Medici, sect, 9. When he wrote that work, he said, "I was never yet once, and commend their resolutions, who never marry twice." He calls woman "the rib and crooked piece of man." He adds, "I could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way to procreate the world without this trivial and vulgar way." He means the union of sexes, which he declares, "is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life; nor is there anything that will more deject his cooled imagination, when he shall consider what an odd and unworthy piece of folly he hath committed." He afterwards declares he is not averse to that sweet sex, but naturally amorous of all that is beautiful: "I could look a whole day with delight upon a handsome picture, though it be but of a horse." He afterwards disserts very profoundly on the music there is in beauty, "and the silent note which Cupid strikes is far sweeter than the sound of an instrument." Such were his sentiments when youthful, and residing at Leyden; Dutch philosophy had at first chilled his passion; it is probable that passion afterwards inflamed his philosophy—for he married, and had sons and daughters![Pg 336]

Dr. Cocchi, a modern Italian writer, but apparently a cynic as old as Diogenes, has taken the pains of composing a treatise on the present subject enough to terrify the boldest Bachelor of Arts! He has conjured up every chimera against the marriage of a literary man. He seems, however, to have drawn his disgusting portrait from his own country; and the chaste beauty of Britain only looks the more lovely beside this Florentine wife.

I shall not retain the cynicism which has coloured such revolting features. When at length the doctor finds a woman as all women ought to be, he opens a new string of misfortunes which must attend her husband. He dreads one of the probable consequences of matrimony—progeny, in which we must maintain the children we beget! He thinks the father gains nothing in his old age from the tender offices administered by his own children: he asserts these are much better performed by menials and strangers! The more children he has, the less he can afford to have servants! The maintenance of his children will greatly diminish his property! Another alarming object in marriage is that, by affinity, you become connected with the relations of the wife. The envious and ill-bred insinuations of the mother, the family quarrels, their poverty or their pride, all disturb the unhappy sage who falls into the trap of connubial felicity! But if a sage has resolved to marry, he impresses on him the prudential principle of increasing his fortune by it, and to remember his "additional expenses!" Dr. Cocchi seems to have thought that a human being is only to live for himself; he had neither heart to feel, a head to conceive, nor a pen that could have written one harmonious period, or one beautiful image! Bayle, in his article Raphelengius, note B, gives a singular specimen of logical subtlety, in "a reflection on the consequence of marriage." This learned man was imagined to have died of grief, for having lost his wife, and passed three years in protracted despair. What therefore must we think of an unhappy marriage, since a happy one is exposed to such evils? He then shows that an unhappy marriage is attended by beneficial consequences to the survivor. In this dilemma, in the one case, the husband lives afraid his wife will die, in the other that she will not! If you love her, you will always be afraid of losing her; if you do not love her, you will always be afraid of not losing her. Our satirical celibataire is gored by the horns of the dilemma he has conjured up.[Pg 337]

James Petiver, a famous botanist, then a bachelor, the friend of Sir Hans Sloane, in an album signs his name with this designation:—

"From the Goat tavern in the Strand, London,
Nov. 27. In the 34th year of my freedom,
A.D. 1697."


Some authors excelled in this species of literary artifice. The Italian Doni dedicated each of his letters in a book called La Libraria, to persons whose name began with the first letter of the epistle, and dedicated the whole collection in another epistle; so that the book, which only consisted of forty-five pages, was dedicated to above twenty persons. This is carrying literary mendicity pretty high. Politi, the editor of the Martyrologium Romanum, published at Rome in 1751, has improved on the idea of Doni; for to the 365 days of the year of this Martyrology he has prefixed to each an epistle dedicatory. It is fortunate to have a large circle of acquaintance, though they should not be worthy of being saints. Galland, the translator of the Arabian Nights, prefixed a dedication to each tale which he gave; had he finished the "one thousand and one," he would have surpassed even the Martyrologist.

Mademoiselle Scudery tells a remarkable expedient of an ingenious trader in this line—One Rangouze made a collection of letters which he printed without numbering them. By this means the bookbinder put that letter which the author ordered him first; so that all the persons to whom he presented this book, seeing their names at the head, considered they had received a particular compliment. An Italian physician, having written on Hippocrates's Aphorisms, dedicated each book of his Commentaries to one of his friends, and the index to another!

More than one of our own authors have dedications in the same spirit. It was an expedient to procure dedicatory fees: for publishing books by subscription was then an art undiscovered. One prefixed a different dedication to a certain number of printed copies, and addressed them to every great man he knew, who he thought relished a morsel of flattery,[Pg 338] and would pay handsomely for a coarse luxury. Sir Balthazar Gerbier, in his "Counsel to Builders," has made up half the work with forty-two dedications, which he excuses by the example of Antonio Perez; but in these dedications Perez scatters a heap of curious things, for he was a very universal genius. Perez, once secretary of state to Philip II. of Spain, dedicates his "Obras," first to "Nuestro sanctissimo Padre," and "Al Sacro Collegio," then follows one to "Henry IV.," and then one still more embracing, "A Todos." Fuller, in his "Church History," has with admirable contrivance introduced twelve title-pages, besides the general one, and as many particular dedications, and no less than fifty or sixty of those by inscriptions which are addressed to his benefactors; a circumstance which Heylin in his severity did not overlook; for "making his work bigger by forty sheets at the least; and he was so ambitious of the number of his patrons, that having but four leaves at the end of his History, he discovers a particular benefactress to inscribe them to!" This unlucky lady, the patroness of four leaves, Heylin compares to Roscius Regulus, who accepted the consular dignity for that part of the day on which Cecina by a decree of the senate was degraded from it, which occasioned Regulus to be ridiculed by the people all his life after, as the consul of half a day.

The price for the dedication of a play was at length fixed, from five to ten guineas from the Revolution to the time of George I., when it rose to twenty; but sometimes a bargain was to be struck when the author and the play were alike indifferent. Sometimes the party haggled about the price, or the statue while stepping into his niche would turn round on the author to assist his invention. A patron of Peter Motteux, dissatisfied with Peter's colder temperament, actually composed the superlative dedication to himself, and completed the misery of the apparent author by subscribing it with his name. This circumstance was so notorious at the time, that it occasioned a satirical dialogue between Motteux and his patron Heveningham. The patron, in his zeal to omit no possible distinction that might attach to him, had given one circumstance which no one but himself could have known.

I must confess I was to blame,
That one particular to name;
The rest could never have been known
I made the style so like thy own.
[Pg 339]
I beg your pardon, Sir, for that.
Why d——e what would you be at?
I writ below myself, you sot!
Avoiding figures, tropes, what not;
For fear I should my fancy raise
Above the level of thy plays!

Warton notices the common practice, about the reign of Elizabeth, of an author's dedicating a work at once to a number of the nobility. Chapman's Translation of Homer has sixteen sonnets addressed to lords and ladies. Henry Lock, in a collection of two hundred religious sonnets, mingles with such heavenly works the terrestrial composition of a number of sonnets to his noble patrons; and not to multiply more instances, our great poet Spenser, in compliance with this disgraceful custom, or rather in obedience to the established tyranny of patronage, has prefixed to the Faery Queen fifteen of these adulatory pieces, which in every respect are the meanest of his compositions. At this period all men, as well as writers, looked up to the peers as if they were beings on whose smiles or frowns all sublunary good and evil depended. At a much later period, Elkanah Settle sent copies round to the chief party, for he wrote for both parties, accompanied by addresses to extort pecuniary presents in return. He had latterly one standard Elegy, and one Epithalamium, printed off with blanks, which by ingeniously filling up with the printed names of any great person who died or was married; no one who was going out of life, or was entering into it, could pass scot-free.

One of the most singular anecdotes respecting Dedications in English bibliography is that of the Polyglot Bible of Dr. Castell. Cromwell, much to his honour, patronized that great labour, and allowed the paper to be imported free of all duties, both of excise and custom. It was published under the protectorate, but many copies had not been disposed of ere Charles II. ascended the throne. Dr. Castell had dedicated the work gratefully to Oliver, by mentioning him with peculiar respect in the preface, but he wavered with Richard Cromwell. At the Restoration, he cancelled the two last leaves, and supplied their places with three others, which softened down the republican strains, and blotted Oliver's[Pg 340] name out of the book of life! The differences in what are now called the republican and the loyal copies have amused the curious collectors; and the former being very scarce, are most sought after. I have seen the republican. In the loyal copies the patrons of the work are mentioned, but their titles are essentially changed; Serenissimus, Illustrissimus, and Honoratissimus, were epithets that dared not shew themselves under the levelling influence of the great fanatic republican.

It is a curious literary folly, not of an individual but of the Spanish nation, who, when the laws of Castile were reduced into a code under the reign of Alfonso X. surnamed the Wise, divided the work into seven volumes; that they might be dedicated to the seven letters which formed the name of his majesty!

Never was a gigantic baby of adulation so crammed with the soft pap of Dedications as Cardinal Richelieu. French flattery even exceeded itself.—Among the vast number of very extraordinary dedications to this man, in which the Divinity itself is disrobed of its attributes to bestow them on this miserable creature of vanity, I suspect that even the following one is not the most blasphemous he received. "Who has seen your face without being seized by those softened terrors which made the prophets shudder when God showed the beams of his glory! But as He whom they dared not to approach in the burning bush, and in the noise of thunders, appeared to them sometimes in the freshness of the zephyrs, so the softness of your august countenance dissipates at the same time, and changes into dew, the small vapours which cover its majesty." One of these herd of dedicators, after the death of Richelieu, suppressed in a second edition his hyperbolical panegyric, and as a punishment to himself, dedicated the work to Jesus Christ!

The same taste characterises our own dedications in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. The great Dryden has carried it to an excessive height; and nothing is more usual than to compare the patron with the Divinity—and at times a fair inference may be drawn that the former was more in the author's mind than God himself! A Welsh bishop made an apology to James I. for preferring the Deity—to his Majesty! Dryden's extravagant dedications were the vices of the time more than of the man; they were loaded with flattery, and no disgrace was annexed to such an exercise of[Pg 341] men's talents; the contest being who should go farthest in the most graceful way, and with the best turns of expression.

An ingenious dedication was contrived by Sir Simon Degge, who dedicated "the Parson's Counsellor" to Woods, Bishop of Lichfield. Degge highly complimented the bishop on having most nobly restored the church, which had been demolished in the civil wars, and was rebuilt but left unfinished by Bishop Hacket. At the time he wrote the dedication, Woods had not turned a single stone, and it is said, that much against his will he did something, from having been so publicly reminded of it by this ironical dedication.


The "Botanic Garden" once appeared to open a new route through the trodden groves of Parnassus. The poet, to a prodigality of Imagination, united all the minute accuracy of Science. It is a highly-repolished labour, and was in the mind and in the hand of its author for twenty years before its first publication. The excessive polish of the verse has appeared too high to be endured throughout a long composition; it is certain that, in poems of length, a versification, which is not too florid for lyrical composition, will weary by its brilliance. Darwin, inasmuch as a rich philosophical fancy constitutes a poet, possesses the entire art of poetry; no one has carried the curious mechanism of verse and the artificial magic of poetical diction to a higher perfection. His volcanic head flamed with imagination, but his torpid heart slept unawakened by passion. His standard of poetry is by much too limited; he supposes that the essence of poetry is something of which a painter can make a picture. A picturesque verse was with him a verse completely poetical. But the language of the passions has no connexion with this principle; in truth, what he delineates as poetry itself, is but one of its provinces. Deceived by his illusive standard, he has composed a poem which is perpetually fancy, and never passion. Hence his processional splendour fatigues, and his descriptive ingenuity comes at length to be deficient in novelty, and all the miracles of art cannot supply us with one touch of nature.[Pg 342]

Descriptive poetry should be relieved by a skilful intermixture of passages addressed to the heart as well as to the imagination: uniform description satiates; and has been considered as one of the inferior branches of poetry. Of this both Thomson and Goldsmith were sensible. In their beautiful descriptive poems they knew the art of animating the pictures of Fancy with the glow of Sentiment.

Whatever may be thought of the originality of Darwin's poem, it had been preceded by others of a congenial disposition. Brookes's poem on "Universal Beauty," published about 1735, presents us with the very model of Darwin's versification: and the Latin poem of De la Croix, in 1727, entitled "Connubia Florum," with his subject. There also exists a race of poems which have hitherto been confined to one subject, which the poet selected from the works of nature, to embellish with all the splendour of poetic imagination. I have collected some titles.

Perhaps it is Homer, in his battle of the Frogs and Mice, and Virgil in the poem on a Gnat, attributed to him, who have given birth to these lusory poems. The Jesuits, particularly when they composed in Latin verse, were partial to such subjects. There is a little poem on Gold, by P. Le Fevre, distinguished for its elegance; and Brumoy has given the Art of making Glass; in which he has described its various productions with equal felicity and knowledge. P. Vanière has written on Pigeons, Du Cerceau on Butterflies. The success which attended these productions produced numerous imitations, of which several were favourably received. Vanière composed three on the Grape, the Vintage, and the Kitchen Garden. Another poet selected Oranges for his theme; others have chosen for their subjects, Paper, Birds, and fresh-water Fish. Tarillon has inflamed his imagination with gunpowder; a milder genius, delighted with the oaten pipe, sang of Sheep; one who was more pleased with another kind of pipe, has written on Tobacco; and a droll genius wrote a poem on Asses. Two writers have formed didactic poems on the Art of Enigmas, and on Ships.

Others have written on moral subjects. Brumoy has painted the Passions, with a variety of imagery and vivacity of description; P. Meyer has disserted on Anger; Tarillon, like our Stillingfleet, on the Art of Conversation; and a lively writer has discussed the subjects of Humour and Wit.

Giannetazzi, an Italian Jesuit, celebrated for his Latin[Pg 343] poetry, has composed two volumes of poems on Fishing and Navigation. Fracastor has written delicately on an indelicate subject, his Syphilis. Le Brun wrote a delectable poem on Sweetmeats; another writer on Mineral Waters, and a third on Printing. Vida pleases with his Silk-worms, and his Chess; Buchanan is ingenious with the Sphere. Malapert has aspired to catch the Winds; the philosophic Huet amused himself with Salt and again with Tea. The Gardens of Rapin is a finer poem than critics generally can write; Quillet's Callipedia, or Art of getting handsome Children, has been translated by Rowe; and Du Fresnoy at length gratifies the connoisseur with his poem on Painting, by the embellishments which his verses have received from the poetic diction of Mason, and the commentary of Reynolds.

This list might be augmented with a few of our own poets, and there still remain some virgin themes which only require to be touched by the hand of a true poet. In the "Memoirs of Trevoux," they observe, in their review of the poem on Gold, "That poems of this kind have the advantage of instructing us very agreeably. All that has been most remarkably said on the subject is united, compressed in a luminous order, and dressed in all the agreeable graces of poetry. Such writers have no little difficulties to encounter: the style and expression cost dear; and still more to give to an arid topic an agreeable form, and to elevate the subject without falling into another extreme.—In the other kinds of poetry the matter assists and prompts genius; here we must possess an abundance to display it."


Myles Davis's "Icon Libellorum, or a Critical History Pamphlets," affords some curious information; and as this is a pamphlet-reading age, I shall give a sketch of its contents.

The author observes: "From Pamphlets may be learned the genius of the age, the debates of the learned, the follies of the ignorant, the bévues of government, and the mistakes of the courtiers. Pamphlets furnish beaus with their airs, coquettes with their charms. Pamphlets are as modish ornaments to gentlewomen's toilets as to gentlemen's pockets; they carry reputation of wit and learning to all that make them their companions; the poor find their account in stall-[Pg 344]keeping and in hawking them; the rich find in them their shortest way to the secrets of church and state. There is scarce any class of people but may think themselves interested enough to be concerned with what is published in pamphlets, either as to their private instruction, curiosity, and reputation, or to the public advantage and credit; with all which both ancient and modern pamphlets are too often over familiar and free.—In short, with pamphlets the booksellers and stationers adorn the gaiety of shop-gazing. Hence accrues to grocers, apothecaries, and chandlers, good furniture, and supplies to necessary retreats and natural occasions. In pamphlets lawyers will meet with their chicanery, physicians with their cant, divines with their Shibboleth. Pamphlets become more and more daily amusements to the curious, idle, and inquisitive; pastime to gallants and coquettes; chat to the talkative; catch-words to informers; fuel to the envious; poison to the unfortunate; balsam to the wounded; employ to the lazy; and fabulous materials to romancers and novelists."

This author sketches the origin and rise of pamphlets. He deduces them from the short writings published by the Jewish Rabbins; various little pieces at the time of the first propagation of Christianity; and notices a certain pamphlet which was pretended to have been the composition of Jesus Christ, thrown from heaven, and picked up by the archangel Michael at the entrance of Jerusalem. It was copied by the priest Leora, and sent about from priest to priest, till Pope Zachary ventured to pronounce it a forgery. He notices several such extraordinary publications, many of which produced as extraordinary effects.

He proceeds in noticing the first Arian and Popish pamphlets, or rather libels, i. e. little books, as he distinguishes them. He relates a curious anecdote respecting the forgeries of the monks. Archbishop Usher detected in a manuscript of St. Patrick's life, pretended to have been found at Louvain, as an original of a very remote date, several passages taken, with little alteration, from his own writings.

The following notice of our immortal Pope I cannot pass over: "Another class of pamphlets writ by Roman Catholics is that of Poems, written chiefly by a Pope himself, a gentleman of that name. He passed always amongst most of his acquaintance for what is commonly called a Whig; for it seems the Roman politics are divided as well as popish[Pg 345] missionaries. However, one Esdras, an apothecary, as he qualifies himself, has published a piping-hot pamphlet against Mr. Pope's 'Rape of the Lock,' which he entitles 'A Key to the Lock,' wherewith he pretends to unlock nothing less than a plot carried on by Mr. Pope in that poem against the last and this present ministry and government."

He observes on Sermons,—"'Tis not much to be questioned, but of all modern pamphlets what or wheresoever, the English stitched Sermons be the most edifying, useful, and instructive, yet they could not escape the critical Mr. Bayle's sarcasm. He says, 'République des Lettres,' March, 1710, in this article London, 'We see here sermons swarm daily from the press. Our eyes only behold manna: are you desirous of knowing the reason? It is, that the ministers being allowed to read their sermons in the pulpit, buy all they meet with, and take no other trouble than to read them, and thus pass for very able scholars at a very cheap rate!'"

He now begins more directly the history of pamphlets, which he branches out from four different etymologies. He says, "However foreign the word Pamphlet may appear, it is a genuine English word, rarely known or adopted in any other language: its pedigree cannot well be traced higher than the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. In its first state wretched must have been its appearance, since the great linguist John Minshew, in his 'Guide into Tongues,' printed in 1617, gives it the most miserable character of which any libel can be capable. Mr. Minshew says (and his words were quoted by Lord Chief Justice Holt), 'A Pamphlet, that is Opusculum Stolidorum, the diminutive performance of fools; from πἁν, all, and πλἡθω, I fill, to wit, all places. According to the vulgar saying, all things are full of fools, or foolish things; for such multitudes of pamphlets, unworthy of the very names of libels, being more vile than common shores and the filth of beggars, and being flying papers daubed over and besmeared with the foams of drunkards, are tossed far and near into the mouths and hands of scoundrels; neither will the sham oracles of Apollo be esteemed so mercenary as a Pamphlet.'"

Those who will have the word to be derived from Pam, the famous knave of Loo, do not differ much from Minshew; for the derivation of the word Pam is in all probability from πἁν, all; or the whole or the chief of the game.

Under this first etymological notion of Pamphlets may be[Pg 346] comprehended the vulgar stories of the Nine Worthies of the World, of the Seven Champions of Christendom, Tom Thumb, Valentine and Orson, &c., as also most of apocryphal lucubrations. The greatest collection of this first sort of Pamphlets are the Rabbinic traditions in the Talmud, consisting of fourteen volumes in folio, and the Popish legends of the Lives of the Saints, which, though not finished, form fifty folio volumes, all which tracts were originally in pamphlet forms.

The second idea of the radix of the word Pamphlet is, that it takes its derivations from πἁν, all, and φιλἑω, I love, signifying a thing beloved by all; for a pamphlet being of a small portable bulk, and of no great price, is adapted to every one's understanding and reading. In this class may be placed all stitched books on serious subjects, the best of which fugitive pieces have been generally preserved, and even reprinted in collections of some tracts, miscellanies, sermons, poems, &c.; and, on the contrary, bulky volumes have been reduced, for the convenience of the public, into the familiar shapes of stitched pamphlets. Both these methods have been thus censured by the majority of the lower house of convocation 1711. These abuses are thus represented: "They have republished, and collected into volumes, pieces written long ago on the side of infidelity. They have reprinted together in the most contracted manner, many loose and licentious pieces, in order to their being purchased more cheaply, and dispersed more easily."

The third original interpretation of the word Pamphlet may be that of the learned Dr. Skinner, in his Etymologicon Linguæ Anglicanæ, that it is derived from the Belgic word Pampier, signifying a little paper, or libel. To this third set of Pamphlets may be reduced all sorts of printed single sheets, or half sheets, or any other quantity of single paper prints, such as Declarations, Remonstrances, Proclamations, Edicts, Orders, Injunctions, Memorials, Addresses, Newspapers, &c.

The fourth radical signification of the word Pamphlet is that homogeneal acceptation of it, viz., as it imports any little book, or small volume whatever, whether stitched or bound, whether good or bad, whether serious or ludicrous. The only proper Latin term for a Pamphlet is Libellus, or little book. This word indeed signifies in English an abusive paper or little book, and is generally taken in the worst sense.[Pg 347]

After all this display of curious literature, the reader may smile at the guesses of Etymologists; particularly when he is reminded that the derivation of Pamphlet is drawn from quite another meaning to any of the present, by Johnson, which I shall give for his immediate gratification.

Pamphlet [par un filet, Fr. Whence this word is written anciently, and by Caxton, paunflet] a small book; properly a book sold unbound, and only stitched.

The French have borrowed the word Pamphlet from us, and have the goodness of not disfiguring its orthography. Roast Beef is also in the same predicament. I conclude that Pamphlets and Roast Beef have therefore their origin in our country.

Pinkerton favoured me with the following curious notice concerning pamphlets:—

"Of the etymon of pamphlet I know nothing; but that the word is far more ancient than is commonly believed, take the following proof from the celebrated Philobiblon, ascribed to Richard de Buri, bishop of Durham, but written by Robert Holkot, at his desire, as Fabricius says, about the year 1344, (Fabr. Bibl. Medii Ævi, vol. i.); it is in the eighth chapter.

"Sed, revera, libros non libras maluimus; codicesque plus dileximus quam florenos: ac PANFLETOS exiguos phaleratis prætulimus palescedis."

"But, indeed, we prefer books to pounds; and we love manuscripts better than florins; and we prefer small pamphlets to war horses."

This word is as old as Lydgate's time: among his works, quoted by Warton, is a poem "translated from a pamflete in Frenshe."


Myles Davies has given an opinion of the advantages of Little Books, with some humour.

"The smallness of the size of a book was always its own commendation; as, on the contrary, the largeness of a book is its own disadvantage, as well as the terror of learning. In short, a big book is a scare-crow to the head and pocket of the author, student, buyer, and seller, as well as a harbour of ignorance; hence the inaccessible masteries of the inexpugnable ignorance and superstition of the ancient heathens, degenerate Jews, and of the popish scholasters and canonists,[Pg 348] entrenched under the frightful bulk of huge, vast, and innumerable volumes; such as the great folio that the Jewish rabbins fancied in a dream was given by the angel Raziel to his pupil Adam, containing all the celestial sciences. And the volumes writ by Zoroaster, entitled The Similitude, which is said to have taken up no more space than 1260 hides of cattle: as also the 25,000, or, as some say, 36,000 volumes, besides 525 lesser MSS. of his. The grossness and multitude of Aristotle and Varro's books were both a prejudice to the authors, and an hindrance to learning, and an occasion of the greatest part of them being lost. The largeness of Plutarch's treatises is a great cause of his being neglected, while Longinus and Epictetus, in their pamphlet Remains, are every one's companions. Origen's 6000 volumes (as Epiphanius will have it) were not only the occasion of his venting more numerous errors, but also for the most part of their perdition.—Were it not for Euclid's Elements, Hippocrates' Aphorisms, Justinian's Institutes, and Littleton's Tenures, in small pamphlet volumes, young mathematicians, fresh-water physicians, civilian novices, and les apprentices en la ley d'Angleterre, would be at a loss and stand, and total disencouragement. One of the greatest advantages the Dispensary has over King Arthur is its pamphlet size. So Boileau's Lutrin, and his other pamphlet poems, in respect of Perrault's and Chapelain's St. Paulin and la Pucelle. These seem to pay a deference to the reader's quick and great understanding; those to mistrust his capacity, and to confine his time as well as his intellect."

Notwithstanding so much may be alleged in favour of books of a small size, yet the scholars of a former age regarded them with contempt. Scaliger, says Baillet, cavils with Drusius for the smallness of his books; and one of the great printers of the time (Moret, the successor of Plantin) complaining to the learned Puteanus, who was considered as the rival of Lipsius, that his books were too small for sale, and that purchasers turned away, frightened at their diminutive size; Puteanus referred him to Plutarch, whose works consist of small treatises; but the printer took fire at the comparison, and turned him out of his shop, for his vanity at pretending that he wrote in any manner like Plutarch! a specimen this of the politeness and reverence of the early printers for their learned authors; Jurieu reproaches Calomiès that he is a great author of little books![Pg 349]

At least, if a man is the author only of little books, he will escape the sarcastic observation of Cicero on a voluminous writer—that "his body might be burned with his writings," of which we have had several, eminent for the worthlessness and magnitude of their labours.

It was the literary humour of a certain Mæcenas, who cheered the lustre of his patronage with the steams of a good dinner, to place his guests according to the size and thickness of the books they had printed. At the head of the table sat those who had published in folio, foliissimo; next the authors in quarto; then those in octavo. At that table Blackmore would have had the precedence of Gray. Addison, who found this anecdote in one of the Anas, has seized this idea, and applied it with his felicity of humour in No. 529 of the Spectator.

Montaigne's Works have been called by a Cardinal, "The Breviary of Idlers." It is therefore the book for many men. Francis Osborne has a ludicrous image in favour of such opuscula. "Huge volumes, like the ox roasted whole at Bartholomew fair, may proclaim plenty of labour, but afford less of what is delicate, savoury, and well-concocted, than SMALLER PIECES."

In the list of titles of minor works, which Aulus Gellius has preserved, the lightness and beauty of such compositions are charmingly expressed. Among these we find—a Basket of Flowers; an Embroidered Mantle; and a Variegated Meadow.


In a religious book published by a fellow of the Society of Jesus, entitled, "The Faith of a Catholic," the author examines what concerns the incredulous Jews and other infidels. He would show that Jesus Christ, author of the religion which bears his name, did not impose on or deceive the Apostles whom he taught; that the Apostles who preached it did not deceive those who were converted; and that those who were converted did not deceive us. In proving these three not difficult propositions, he says, he confounds "the Atheist, who does not believe in God; the Pagan, who adores several; the Deist, who believes in one God, but who rejects a particular Providence; the Freethinker, who presumes to serve God according to his fancy, without being attached to[Pg 350] any religion; the Philosopher, who takes reason and not revelation for the rule of his belief; the Gentile, who, never having regarded the Jewish people as a chosen nation, does not believe God promised them a Messiah; and finally, the Jew, who refuses to adore the Messiah in the person of Christ."

I have given this sketch, as it serves for a singular Catalogue of Heretics.

It is rather singular that so late as in the year 1765, a work should have appeared in Paris, which bears the title I translate, "The Christian Religion proved by a single fact; or a dissertation in which is shown that those Catholics of whom Huneric, King of the Vandals, cut the tongues, spoke miraculously all the remainder of their days; from whence is deduced the consequences of this miracle against the Arians, the Socinians, and the Deists, and particularly against the author of Emilius, by solving their difficulties." It bears this Epigraph, "Ecce Ego admirationem faciam populo huic, miraculo grandi et stupendo." There needs no further account of this book than the title.


Authors of moderate capacity have unceasingly harassed the public; and have at length been remembered only by the number of wretched volumes their unhappy industry has produced. Such an author was the Abbé de Marolles, otherwise a most estimable and ingenious man, and the patriarch of print-collectors.

This Abbé was a most egregious scribbler; and so tormented with violent fits of printing, that he even printed lists and catalogues of his friends. I have even seen at the end of one of his works a list of names of those persons who had given him books. He printed his works at his own expense, as the booksellers had unanimously decreed this. Menage used to say of his works, "The reason why I esteem the productions of the Abbé is, for the singular neatness of their bindings; he embellishes them so beautifully, that the eye finds pleasure in them." On a book of his versions of the Epigrams of Martial, this critic wrote, Epigrams against Martial. Latterly, for want of employment, our Abbé began a translation of the Bible; but having inserted the notes of[Pg 351] the visionary Isaac de la Peyrere, the work was burnt by order of the ecclesiastical court. He was also an abundant writer in verse, and exultingly told a poet, that his verses cost him little: "They cost you what they are worth," replied the sarcastic critic. De Marolles in his Memoirs bitterly complains of the injustice done to him by his contemporaries; and says, that in spite of the little favour shown to him by the public, he has nevertheless published, by an accurate calculation, one hundred and thirty-three thousand one hundred and twenty-four verses! Yet this was not the heaviest of his literary sins. He is a proof that a translator may perfectly understand the language of his original, and yet produce an unreadable translation.

In the early part of his life this unlucky author had not been without ambition; it was only when disappointed in his political projects that he resolved to devote himself to literature. As he was incapable of attempting original composition, he became known by his detestable versions. He wrote above eighty volumes, which have never found favour in the eyes of the critics; yet his translations are not without their use, though they never retain by any chance a single passage of the spirit of their originals.

The most remarkable anecdote respecting these translations is, that whenever this honest translator came to a difficult passage, he wrote in the margin, "I have not translated this passage, because it is very difficult, and in truth I could never understand it." He persisted to the last in his uninterrupted amusement of printing books; and his readers having long ceased, he was compelled to present them to his friends, who, probably, were not his readers. After a literary existence of forty years, he gave the public a work not destitute of entertainment in his own Memoirs, which he dedicated to his relations and all his illustrious friends. The singular postscript to his Epistle Dedicatory contains excellent advice for authors.

"I have omitted to tell you, that I do not advise any one of my relatives or friends to apply himself as I have done to study, and particularly to the composition of books, if he thinks that will add to his fame or fortune. I am persuaded that of all persons in the kingdom, none are more neglected than those who devote themselves entirely to literature. The small, number of successful persons in that class (at present I do not recollect more than two or three) should not impose[Pg 352] on one's understanding, nor any consequences from them be drawn in favour of others. I know how it is by my own experience, and by that of several amongst you, as well as by many who are now no more, and with whom I was acquainted. Believe me, gentlemen! to pretend to the favours of fortune it is only necessary to render one's self useful, and to be supple and obsequious to those who are in possession of credit and authority; to be handsome in one's person; to adulate the powerful; to smile, while you suffer from them every kind of ridicule and contempt whenever they shall do you the honour to amuse themselves with you; never to be frightened at a thousand obstacles which may be opposed to one; have a face of brass and a heart of stone; insult worthy men who are persecuted; rarely venture to speak the truth; appear devout, with every nice scruple of religion, while at the same time every duty must be abandoned when it clashes with your interest. After these any other accomplishment is indeed superfluous."


The origin of the theatrical representations of the ancients has been traced back to a Grecian stroller singing in a cart to the honour of Bacchus. Our European exhibitions, perhaps as rude in their commencement, were likewise for a long time devoted to pious purposes, under the titles of Mysteries and Moralities. Of these primeval compositions of the drama of modern Europe, I have collected some anecdotes and some specimens.[96][Pg 353]

It appears that pilgrims introduced these devout spectacles. Those who returned from the Holy Land or other consecrated places composed canticles of their travels, and amused their religious fancies by interweaving scenes of which Christ, the Apostles, and other objects of devotion, served as the themes. Menestrier informs us that these pilgrims travelled in troops, and stood in the public streets, where they recited their poems, with their staff in hand; while their chaplets and cloaks, covered with shells and images of various colours formed a picturesque exhibition, which at length excited the piety of the citizens to erect occasionally a stage on an extensive spot of ground. These spectacles served as the amusements and instruction of the people. So attractive were these gross exhibitions in the middle ages, that they formed one of the principal ornaments of the reception of princes on their public entrances.

When the Mysteries were performed at a more improved period, the actors were distinguished characters, and frequently consisted of the ecclesiastics of the neighbouring villages, who incorporated themselves under the title of Confrères de la Passion. Their productions were divided, not into acts, but into different days of performance, and they were performed in the open plain. This was at least conformable to the critical precept of that mad knight whose opinion is noticed by Pope. It appears by a MS. in the Harleian library, that they were thought to contribute so much to the information and instruction of the people, that one of the Popes granted a pardon of one thousand days to every person who resorted peaceably to the plays performed in the Whitsun week at Chester, beginning with "The Creation," and ending with the "General Judgment." These were performed at the expense of the different corporations of that city, and the reader may smile at the ludicrous combinations. "The Creation" was performed by the Drapers; the "Deluge" by the Dyers; "Abraham, Melchisedech, and Lot," by the Barbers; "The Purification" by the Blacksmiths; "The Last Supper" by the Bakers; the "Resurrection" by the[Pg 354] Skinners; and the "Ascension" by the Tailors. In these pieces the actors represented the person of the Almighty without being sensible of the gross impiety. So unskilful were they in this infancy of the theatrical art, that very serious consequences were produced by their ridiculous blunders and ill-managed machinery. The following singular anecdotes are preserved, concerning a Mystery which took up several days in the performance.

"In the year 1437, when Conrad Bayer, Bishop of Metz, caused the Mystery of 'The Passion' to be represented on the plain of Veximel near that city, God was an old gentleman, named Mr. Nicholas Neufchatel, of Touraine, curate of Saint Victory, of Metz, and who was very near expiring on the cross had he not been timely assisted. He was so enfeebled, that it was agreed another priest should be placed on the cross the next day, to finish the representation of the person crucified, and which was done; at the same time Mr. Nicholas undertook to perform 'The Resurrection,' which being a less difficult task, he did it admirably well."—Another priest, whose name was Mr. John de Nicey, curate of Metrange, personated Judas, and he had like to have been stifled while he hung on the tree, for his neck slipped; this being at length luckily perceived, he was quickly cut down and recovered.

John Bouchet, in his "Annales d'Aquitaine," a work which contains many curious circumstances of the times, written with that agreeable simplicity which characterises the old writers, informs us, that in 1486 he saw played and exhibited in Mysteries by persons of Poitiers, "The Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ," in great triumph and splendour; there were assembled on this occasion most of the ladies and gentlemen of the neighbouring counties.

We will now examine the Mysteries themselves. I prefer for this purpose to give a specimen from the French, which are livelier than our own. It is necessary to premise to the reader, that my versions being in prose will probably lose much of that quaint expression and vulgar naïveté which prevail through the originals, written in octo-syllabic verses.

One of these Mysteries has for its subject the election of an apostle to supply the place of the traitor Judas. A dignity so awful is conferred in the meanest manner; it is done by drawing straws, of which he who gets the longest becomes the apostle. Louis Chocquet was a favourite com[Pg 355]poser of these religious performances: when he attempts the pathetic, he has constantly recourse to devils; but, as these characters are sustained with little propriety, his pathos succeeds in raising a laugh. In the following dialogue Annas and Caiaphas are introduced conversing about St. Peter and St. John:——

I remember them once very honest people. They have often brought
their fish to my house to sell.
Is this true?
By God, it is true; my servants remember them very well. To live
more at their ease they have left off business; or perhaps they were in
want of customers. Since that time they have followed Jesus, that wicked
heretic, who has taught them magic; the fellow understands necromancy,
and is the greatest magician alive, as far as Rome itself.

St. John, attacked by the satellites of Domitian, amongst whom the author has placed Longinus and Patroclus, gives regular answers to their insulting interrogatories. Some of these I shall transcribe; but leave to the reader's conjectures the replies of the Saint, which are not difficult to anticipate.


You tell us strange things, to say there is but one God in three persons.


Is it any where said that we must believe your old prophets (with whom your memory seems overburdened) to be more perfect than our gods?

pathoclus. You must be very cunning to maintain impossibilities. Now listen to me: Is it possible that a virgin can bring forth a child without ceasing to be a virgin?


Will you not change these foolish sentiments? Would you pervert us? Will you not convert yourself? Lords! you perceive now very clearly what an obstinate fellow this is! Therefore let him be stripped and put into a great caldron of boiling oil. Let him die at the Latin Gate.


The great devil of hell fetch me if I don't Latinise him well. Never shall they hear at the Latin Gate any one sing so well as he shall sing.


I dare venture to say he won't complain of being frozen.

[Pg 356]


Frita, run quick; bring wood and coals, and make the caldron ready.


I promise him, if he has the gout or the itch, he will soon get rid of them.

St. John dies a perfect martyr, resigned to the boiling oil and gross jests of Patroclus and Longinus. One is astonished in the present times at the excessive absurdity, and indeed blasphemy, which the writers of these Moralities permitted themselves, and, what is more extraordinary, were permitted by an audience consisting of a whole town. An extract from the "Mystery of St. Dennis" is in the Duke de la Vallière's "Bibliothèque du Théâtre François depuis son Origine: Dresde, 1768."

The emperor Domitian, irritated against the Christians, persecutes them, and thus addresses one of his courtiers:——

Seigneurs Romains, j'ai entendu
Que d'un crucifix d'un pendu,
On fait un Dieu par notre empire,
Sans ce qu'on le nous daigne dire.
Roman lords, I understand
That of a crucified hanged man
They make a God in our kingdom,
Without even deigning to ask our permission.

He then orders an officer to seize on Dennis in France. When this officer arrives at Paris, the inhabitants acquaint him of the rapid and grotesque progress of this future saint:——

Sire, il preche un Dieu à Paris
Qui fait tout les mouls et les vauls.
Il va à cheval sans chevauls.
Il fait et defait tout ensemble.
Il vit, il meurt, il sue, il tremble.
Il pleure, il rit, il veille, et dort.
Il est jeune et vieux, foible et fort.
Il fait d'un coq une poulette.
Il joue des arts de roulette,
Ou je ne Sçais que ce peut être.
Sir, he preaches a God at Paris
Who has made mountain and valley.
He goes a horseback without horses.
He does and undoes at once.
He lives, he dies, he sweats, he trembles.
He weeps, he laughs, he wakes, and sleeps.
[Pg 357]He is young and old, weak and strong.
He turns a cock into a hen.
He knows how to conjure with cup and ball,
Or I do not know who this can be.

Another of these admirers says, evidently alluding to the rite of baptism,——

Sire, oyez que fait ce fol prestre:
Il prend de l'yaue en une escuele,
Et gete aux gens sur le cervele,
Et dit que partants sont sauvés!
Sir, hear what this mad priest does:
He takes water out of a ladle,
And, throwing it at people's heads,
He says that when they depart they are saved!

This piece then proceeds to entertain the spectators with the tortures of St. Dennis, and at length, when more than dead, they mercifully behead him: the Saint, after his decapitation, rises very quietly, takes his head under his arm, and walks off the stage in all the dignity of martyrdom.

It is justly observed by Bayle on these wretched representations, that while they prohibited the people from meditating on the sacred history in the book which contains it in all its purity and truth, they permitted them to see it on the theatre sullied with a thousand gross inventions, which were expressed in the most vulgar manner and in a farcical style. Warton, with his usual elegance, observes, "To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies which the unpolished ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear surprising that the people who were forbidden to read the events of the sacred history in the Bible, in which they are faithfully and beautifully related, should at the same time be permitted to see them represented on the stage disgraced with the grossest improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, sullied with impurities, and expressed in the language and gesticulations of the lowest farce." Elsewhere he philosophically observes that, however, they had their use, "not only teaching the great truths of scripture to men who could not read the Bible, but in abolishing the barbarous attachment to military games and the bloody contentions of the tournament, which had so long prevailed as the sole species of popular amusement. Rude, and even ridiculous as they were, they softened the manners of the people, by diverting[Pg 358] the public attention to spectacles in which the mind was concerned, and by creating a regard for other arts than those of bodily strength and savage valour."

Mysteries are to be distinguished from Moralities, and Farces, and Sotties. Moralities are dialogues where the interlocutors represented feigned or allegorical personages. Farces were more exactly what their title indicates—obscene, gross, and dissolute representations, where both the actions and words are alike reprehensible.

The Sotties were more farcical than farce, and frequently had the licentiousness of pasquinades. I shall give an ingenious specimen of one of the Moralities. This Morality is entitled, "The Condemnation of Feasts, to the Praise of Diet and Sobriety for the Benefit of the Human Body."

The perils of gormandising form the present subject. Towards the close is a trial between Feasting and Supper. They are summoned before Experience, the Lord Chief Justice! Feasting and Supper are accused of having murdered four persons by force of gorging them. Experience condemns Feasting to the gallows; and his executioner is Diet. Feasting asks for a father-confessor, and makes a public confession of so many crimes, such numerous convulsions, apoplexies, head-aches, and stomach-qualms, &c., which he has occasioned, that his executioner Diet in a rage stops his mouth, puts the cord about his neck, and strangles him. Supper is only condemned to load his hands with a certain quantity of lead, to hinder him from putting too many dishes on table: he is also bound over to remain at the distance of six hours' walking from Dinner upon pain of death. Supper felicitates himself on his escape, and swears to observe the mitigated sentence.[97]

The Moralities were allegorical dramas, whose tediousness seems to have delighted a barbarous people not yet accustomed to perceive that what was obvious might be omitted to great advantage: like children, everything must be told in such an age; their own unexercised imagination cannot supply anything.

Of the Farces the licentiousness is extreme, but their pleasantry and their humour are not contemptible. The[Pg 359] "Village Lawyer," which is never exhibited on our stage without producing the broadest mirth, originates among these ancient drolleries. The humorous incident of the shepherd, who having stolen his master's sheep, is advised by his lawyer only to reply to his judge by mimicking the bleating of a sheep, and when the lawyer in return claims his fee, pays him by no other coin, is discovered in these ancient farces. Bruèys got up the ancient farce of the "Patelin" in 1702, and we borrowed it from him.

They had another species of drama still broader than Farce, and more strongly featured by the grossness, the severity, and personality of satire:—these were called Sotties, of which the following one I find in the Duke de la Vallière's "Bibliothèque du Théâtre François."[98]

The actors come on the stage with their fools'-caps each wanting the right ear, and begin with stringing satirical proverbs, till, after drinking freely, they discover that their fools'-caps want the right ear. They call on their old grandmother Sottie (or Folly), who advises them to take up some trade. She introduces this progeny of her fools to the World, who takes them into his service. The World tries their skill, and is much displeased with their work. The Cobbler-fool pinches his feet by making the shoes too small; the Tailor-fool hangs his coat too loose or too tight about him; the Priest-fool says his masses either too short or too tedious. They all agree that the World does not know what he wants, and must be sick, and prevail upon him to consult a physician. The World obligingly sends what is required to a Urine-doctor, who instantly pronounces that "the World is as mad as a March hare!" He comes to visit his patient, and puts a great many questions on his unhappy state. The World replies, "that what most troubles his head is the idea of a[Pg 360] new deluge by fire, which must one day consume him to a powder;" on which the physician gives this answer:——

Et te troubles-tu pour cela?
Monde, tu ne te troubles pas
De voir ce larrons attrapars
Vendre et acheter benefices;
Les enfans en bras des Nourices
Estre Abbés, Eveques, Prieurs,
Chevaucher tres bien les deux soeurs,
Tuer les gens pour leurs plaisirs,
Jouer le leur, l'autrui saisir,
Donner aux flatteurs audience,
Faire la guerre à toute outrance
Pour un rien entre les chrestiens!
And you really trouble yourself about this?
Oh, World! you do not trouble yourself about
Seeing those impudent rascals
Selling and buying livings;
Children in the arms of their nurses
Made Abbots, Bishops, and Priors,
Intriguing with girls,
Killing people for their pleasures,
Minding their own interests, and seizing on what belongs to another,
Lending their ears to flatterers,
Making war, exterminating war,
For a bubble, among Christians!

The World takes leave of his physician, but retains his advice; and to cure his fits of melancholy gives himself up entirely to the direction of his fools. In a word, the World dresses himself in the coat and cap of Folly, and he becomes as gay and ridiculous as the rest of the fools.

This Sottie was represented in the year 1524.

Such was the rage for Mysteries, that René d'Anjou, king of Naples and Sicily, and Count of Provence, had them magnificently represented and made them a serious concern. Being in Provence, and having received letters from his son the Prince of Calabria, who asked him for an immediate aid of men, he replied, that "he had a very different matter in hand, for he was fully employed in settling the order of a Mystery—in honour of God."[99][Pg 361]

Strutt, in his "Manners and Customs of the English," has given a description of the stage in England when Mysteries were the only theatrical performances. Vol. iii, p. 130.

"In the early dawn of literature, and when the sacred Mysteries were the only theatrical performances, what is now called the stage did then consist of three several platforms, or stages raised one above another. On the uppermost sat the Pater Cœlestis, surrounded with his Angels; on the second appeared the Holy Saints, and glorified men; and the last and lowest was occupied by mere men who had not yet passed from this transitory life to the regions of eternity. On one side of this lowest platform was the resemblance of a dark pitchy cavern, from whence issued appearance of fire and flames; and, when it was necessary, the audience were treated with hideous yellings and noises as imitative of the howlings and cries of the wretched souls tormented by the relentless demons. From this yawning cave the devils themselves constantly ascended to delight and to instruct the spectators:—to delight, because they were usually the greatest jesters and buffoons that then appeared; and to instruct, for that they treated the wretched mortals who were delivered to them with the utmost cruelty, warning thereby all men carefully to avoid the falling into the clutches of such hardened and remorseless spirits." An anecdote relating to an English Mystery presents a curious specimen of the manners of our country, which then could admit of such a representation; the simplicity, if not the libertinism, of the age was great. A play was acted in one of the principal cities of England, under the direction of the trading companies of that city, before a numerous assembly of both sexes, wherein Adam and Eve appeared on the stage entirely naked, performed their whole part in the representation of Eden, to the serpent's temptation, to the eating of the forbidden fruit, the perceiving of, and conversing about, their nakedness, and to the supplying of fig-leaves to cover it. Warton observes they had the authority of scripture for such a representation, and they gave matters just as they found them in the third chapter of Genesis. The following article will afford the reader a specimen of an Elegant Morality.[Pg 362]


One of the most elegant Moralities was composed by Louise L'Abé; the Aspasia of Lyons in 1550, adored by her contemporaries. With no extraordinary beauty, she however displayed the fascination of classical learning, and a vein of vernacular poetry refined and fanciful. To accomplishments so various she added the singular one of distinguishing herself by a military spirit, and was nicknamed Captain Louise. She was a fine rider and a fine lutanist. She presided in the assemblies of persons of literature and distinction. Married to a rope-manufacturer, she was called La belle Cordière, and her name is still perpetuated by that of the street she lived in. Her anagram was Belle à Soy.—But she was belle also for others. Her Morals in one point were not correct, but her taste was never gross: the ashes of her perishable graces may preserve themselves sacred from our severity; but the productions of her genius may still delight.

Her Morality, entitled "Débat de Folie et d'Amour—the Contest of Love and Folly," is divided into five parts, and contains six mythological or allegorical personages. This division resembles our five acts, which, soon after the publication of this Morality, became generally practised.

In the first part, Love and Folly arrive at the same moment at the gate of Jupiter's palace, to join a festival to which he had invited the gods. Folly observing Love just going to step in at the hall, pushes him aside and enters first. Love is enraged, but Folly insists on her precedency. Love, perceiving there was no reasoning with Folly, bends his bow and shoots an arrow; but she baffled his attempt by rendering herself invisible. She in her turn becomes furious, falls on the boy, tearing out his eyes, and then covers them with a bandage which could not be taken off.

In the second part, Love, in despair for having lost his sight, implores the assistance of his mother; she tries in vain to undo the magic fillet; the knots are never to be unloosed.

In the third part, Venus presents herself at the foot of the throne of Jupiter to complain of the outrage committed by Folly on her son. Jupiter commands Folly to appear.—She replies, that though she has reason to justify herself, she will not venture to plead her cause, as she is apt to speak too much, or to omit what should be said. Folly asks for a counsellor,[Pg 363] and chooses Mercury; Apollo is selected by Venus. The fourth part consists of a long dissertation between Jupiter and Love, on the manner of loving. Love advises Jupiter, if he wishes to taste of truest happiness, to descend on earth, to lay down all his majesty, and, in the figure of a mere mortal, to please some beautiful maiden: "Then wilt thou feel quite another contentment than that thou hast hitherto enjoyed: instead of a single pleasure it will be doubled; for there is as much pleasure to be loved as to love." Jupiter agrees that this may be true, but he thinks that to attain this it requires too much time, too much trouble, too many attentions,—and that, after all, it is not worth them.

In the fifth part, Apollo, the advocate for Venus, in a long pleading demands justice against Folly. The Gods, seduced by his eloquence, show by their indignation that they would condemn Folly without hearing her advocate Mercury. But Jupiter commands silence, and Mercury replies. His pleading is as long as the adverse party's, and his arguments in favour of Folly are so plausible, that, when he concludes his address, the gods are divided in opinion; some espouse the cause of Love, and some, that of Folly. Jupiter, after trying in vain to make them agree together, pronounces this award:——

"On account of the difficulty and importance of your disputes and the diversity of your opinions, we have suspended your contest from this day to three times seven times nine centuries. In the mean time we command you to live amicably together without injuring one another. Folly shall lead Love, and take him whithersoever he pleases, and when restored to his sight, the Fates may pronounce sentence."

Many beautiful conceptions are scattered in this elegant Morality. It has given birth to subsequent imitations; it was too original and playful an idea not to be appropriated by the poets. To this Morality we perhaps owe the panegyric of Folly by Erasmus, and the Love and Folly of La Fontaine.


I shall notice a class of very singular works, in which the spirit of romance has been called in to render religion more attractive to certain heated imaginations.

In the fifteenth century was published a little book of[Pg 364] prayers, accompanied by figures, both of a very uncommon nature for a religious publication. It is entitled Hortulus Animæ, cum Oratiunculis aliquibus superadditis quæ in prioribus Libris non habentur.

It is a small octavo en lettres gothiques, printed by John Grunninger, 1500. "A garden," says the author, "which abounds with flowers for the pleasure of the soul;" but they are full of poison. In spite of his fine promises, the chief part of these meditations are as puerile as they are superstitious. This we might excuse, because the ignorance and superstition of the times allowed such things: but the figures which accompany this work are to be condemned in all ages; one represents Saint Ursula and some of her eleven thousand virgins, with all the licentious inventions of an Aretine. What strikes the ear does not so much irritate the senses, observes the sage Horace, as what is presented in all its nudity to the eye. One of these designs is only ridiculous: David is represented as examining Bathsheba bathing, while Cupid hovering throws his dart, and with a malicious smile triumphs in his success. We have had many gross anachronisms in similar designs. There is a laughable picture in a village in Holland, in which Abraham appears ready to sacrifice his son Isaac by a loaded blunderbuss; but his pious intention is entirely frustrated by an angel urining in the pan. In another painting, the Virgin receives the annunciation of the angel Gabriel with a huge chaplet of beads tied round her waist, reading her own offices, and kneeling before a crucifix; another happy invention, to be seen on an altar-piece at Worms, is that in which the Virgin throws Jesus into the hopper of a mill, while from the other side he issues changed into little morsels of bread, with which the priests feast the people. Matthison, a modern traveller, describes a picture in a church at Constance, called the Conception of the Holy Virgin. An old man lies on a cloud, whence he darts out a vast beam, which passes through a dove hovering just below; at the end of a beam appears a large transparent egg, in which egg is seen a child in swaddling clothes with a glory round it. Mary sits leaning in an arm chair, and opens her mouth to receive the egg.

I must not pass unnoticed in this article a production as extravagant in its design, in which the author prided himself in discussing three thousand questions concerning the Virgin Mary.[Pg 365]

The publication now adverted to was not presented to the world in a barbarous age and in a barbarous country, but printed at Paris in 1668. It bears for title, Dévote Salutation des Membres sacres du Corps de la Glorieuse Vièrge, Mère de Dieu. That is, "A Devout Salutation of the Holy Members of the Body of the glorious Virgin, Mother of God." It was printed and published with an approbation and privilege, which is more strange than the work itself. Valois reprobates it in these just terms: "What would Innocent XI. have done, after having abolished the shameful Office of the Conception, Indulgences, &c. if he had seen a volume in which the impertinent devotion of that visionary monk caused to be printed, with permission of his superiors, Meditations on all the Parts of the Body of the Holy Virgin? Religion, decency, and good sense, are equally struck at by such an extravagance." I give a specimen of the most decent of these salutations.

Salutation to the Hair.

"I salute you, charming hair of Maria! Rays of the mystical sun! Lines of the centre and circumference of all created perfection! Veins of gold of the mine of love! Chains of the prison of God! Roots of the tree of life! Rivulets of the fountain of Paradise! Strings of the bow of charity! Nets that caught Jesus, and shall be used in the hunting-day of souls!"

Salutation to the Ears.

"I salute ye, intelligent ears of Maria! ye presidents of the princes of the poor! Tribunal for their petitions; salvation at the audience of the miserable! University of all divine wisdom! Receivers general of all wards! Ye are pierced with the rings of our chains; ye are impearled with our necessities!"

The images, prints, and miniatures, with which the catholic religion has occasion to decorate its splendid ceremonies, have frequently been consecrated to the purposes of love: they have been so many votive offerings worthy to have been suspended in the temple of Idalia. Pope Alexander VI. had the images of the Virgin made to represent some of his mistresses; the famous Vanozza, his favourite, was placed on the altar of Santa, Maria del Popolo; and Julia Farnese furnished a subject for another Virgin. The same genius of pious[Pg 366] gallantry also visited our country. The statuaries made the queen of Henry III. a model for the face of the Virgin Mary. Hearne elsewhere affirms, that the Virgin Mary was generally made to bear a resemblance to the queens of the age, which, no doubt, produced some real devotion among the courtiers.

The prayer-books of certain pious libertines were decorated with the portraits of their favourite minions and ladies in the characters of saints, and even of the Virgin and Jesus. This scandalous practice was particularly prevalent in that reign of debauchery in France, when Henry III. held the reins of government with a loose hand. In a missal once appertaining to the queen of Louis XII. may be seen a mitred ape, giving its benediction to a man prostrate before it; a keen reproach to the clergy of that day. Charles V., however pious that emperor affected to be, had a missal painted for his mistress by the great Albert Durer, the borders of which are crowded with extravagant grotesques, consisting of apes, who were sometimes elegantly sportive, giving clysters to one another, and in more offensive attitudes, not adapted to heighten the piety of the Royal Mistress. This missal has two French verses written by the Emperor himself, who does not seem to have been ashamed of his present. The Italians carried this taste to excess. The manners of our country were more rarely tainted with this deplorable licentiousness, although I have observed an innocent tendency towards it, by examining the illuminated manuscripts of our ancient metrical romances: while we admire the vivid colouring of these splendid manuscripts, the curious observer will perceive that almost every heroine is represented in a state which appears incompatible with her reputation. Most of these works are, I believe, by French artists.

A supplement might be formed to religious indecencies from the Golden Legend, which abounds in them. Henry Stephens's Apology for Herodotus might be likewise consulted with effect for the same purpose. There is a story of St. Mary the Egyptian, who was perhaps a looser liver than Mary Magdalen; for not being able to pay for her passage to Jerusalem, whither she was going to adore the holy cross and sepulchre, in despair she thought of an expedient in lieu of payment to the ferryman, which required at least going twice, instead of once, to Jerusalem as a penitential pilgri[Pg 367]mage. This anecdote presents the genuine character of certain devotees.

Melchior Inchoffer, a Jesuit, published a book to vindicate the miracle of a Letter which the Virgin Mary had addressed to the citizens of Messina: when Naudé brought him positive proofs of its evident forgery, Inchoffer ingenuously confessed the imposture, but pleaded that it was done by the orders of his superiors.

This same letter of the Virgin Mary was like a donation made to her by Louis the Eleventh of the whole county of Boulogne, retaining, however, for his own use the revenues! This solemn act bears the date of the year 1478, and is entitled, "Conveyance of Louis the Eleventh to the Virgin of Boulogne, of the right and title of the fief and homage of the county of Boulogne, which is held by the Count of Saint Pol, to render a faithful account before the image of the said lady."

Maria Agreda, a religious visionary, wrote The Life of the Virgin. She informs us that she resisted the commands of God and the holy Mary till the year 1637, when she began to compose this curious rhapsody. When she had finished this original production, her confessor advised her to burn it; she obeyed. Her friends, however, who did not think her less inspired than she informed them she was, advised her to re-write the work. When printed it spread rapidly from country to country: new editions appeared at Lisbon, Madrid, Perpignan, and Antwerp. It was the rose of Sharon for those climates. There are so many pious absurdities in this book, which were found to give such pleasure to the devout, that it was solemnly honoured with the censure of the Sorbonne; and it spread the more.

The head of this lady was quite turned by her religion. In the first six chapters she relates the visions of the Virgin, which induced her to write her life. She begins the history ab ovo, as it may be expressed; for she has formed a narrative of what passed during the nine months in which the Virgin was confined in the womb of her mother St. Anne. After the birth of Mary, she received an augmentation of angelic guards; we have several conversations which God held with the Virgin during the first eighteen months after her birth. And it is in this manner she formed a circulating novel, which delighted the female devotees of the seventeenth century.[Pg 368]

The worship paid to the Virgin Mary in Spain and Italy exceeds that which is given to the Son or the Father. When they pray to Mary, their imagination pictures a beautiful woman, they really feel a passion; while Jesus is only regarded as a Bambino, or infant at the breast, and the Father is hardly ever recollected: but the Madonna la Senhora, la Maria Santa, while she inspires their religious inclinations, is a mistress to those who have none.

Of similar works there exists an entire race, and the libraries of the curious may yet preserve a shelf of these religious nouvellettes. The Jesuits were the usual authors of these rhapsodies. I find an account of a book which pretends to describe what passes in Paradise. A Spanish Jesuit published at Salamanca a volume in folio, 1652, entitled Empyreologia. He dwells with great complacency on the joys of the celestial abode; there always will be music in heaven with material instruments as our ears are already accustomed to; otherwise he thinks the celestial music would not be music for us! But another Jesuit is more particular in his accounts. He positively assures us that we shall experience a supreme pleasure in kissing and embracing the bodies of the blessed; they will bathe in the presence of each other, and for this purpose there are most agreeable baths in which we shall swim like fish; that we shall all warble as sweetly as larks and nightingales; that the angels will dress themselves in female habits, their hair curled; wearing petticoats and fardingales, and with the finest linen; that men and women will amuse themselves in masquerades, feasts, and balls.—Women will sing more agreeably than men to heighten these entertainments, and at the resurrection will have more luxuriant tresses, ornamented with ribands and head-dresses as in this life!

Such were the books once so devoutly studied, and which doubtless were often literally understood. How very bold must the minds of the Jesuits have been, and how very humble those of their readers, that such extravagances should ever be published! And yet, even to the time in which I am now writing,—even at this day,—the same picturesque and impassioned pencil is employed by the modern Apostles of Mysticism—the Swedenborgians, the Moravians, the Methodists!

I find an account of another book of this class, ridiculous enough to be noticed. It has for title, "The Spiritual Kalendar, composed of as many Madrigals or Sonnets and[Pg 369] Epigrams as there are days in the year; written for the consolation of the pious and the curious. By Father G. Cortade, Austin Preacher at Bayonne, 1665." To give a notion of this singular collection take an Epigram addressed to a Jesuit, who, young as he was, used to put spurs under his shirt to mortify the outer man! The Kalendar-poet thus gives a point to these spurs:—

Il ne pourra done plus ni ruer ni hennir
Sous le rude Eperon dont tu fais son supplice;
Qui vit jamais tel artifice,
De piquer un cheval pour le mieux retenir!
Your body no more will neigh and will kick,
The point of the spur must eternally prick;
Whoever contrived a thing with such skill,
To keep spurring a horse to make him stand still!

One of the most extravagant works projected on the subject of the Virgin Mary was the following:—The prior of a convent in Paris had reiteratedly entreated Varillas the historian to examine a work composed by one of the monks; and of which—not being himself addicted to letters—he wished to be governed by his opinion. Varillas at length yielded to the entreaties of the prior; and to regale the critic, they laid on two tables for his inspection seven enormous volumes in folio.

This rather disheartened our reviewer: but greater was his astonishment, when, having opened the first volume, he found its title to be Summa Dei-paræ; and as Saint Thomas had made a Sum, or System of Theology, so our monk had formed a System of the Virgin! He immediately comprehended the design of our good father, who had laboured on this work full thirty years, and who boasted he had treated Three Thousand Questions concerning the Virgin! of which he flattered himself not a single one had ever yet been imagined by any one but himself!

Perhaps a more extraordinary design was never known. Varillas, pressed to give his judgment on this work, advised the prior with great prudence and good-nature to amuse the honest old monk with the hope of printing these seven folios, but always to start some new difficulties; for it would be inhuman to occasion so deep a chagrin to a man who had[Pg 370] reached his seventy-fourth year, as to inform him of the nature of his favourite occupations; and that after his death he should throw the seven folios into the fire.


——Bentley, long to wrangling schools confined,
And but by books acquainted with mankind——
To Milton lending sense, to Horace wit,
He makes them write, what never poet writ.

Dr. Bentley's edition of our English Homer is sufficiently known by name. As it stands a terrifying beacon to conjectural criticism, I shall just notice some of those violations which the learned critic ventured to commit, with all the arrogance of a Scaliger. This man, so deeply versed in ancient learning, it will appear, was destitute of taste and genius in his native language.

Our critic, to persuade the world of the necessity of his edition, imagined a fictitious editor of Milton's Poems: and it was this ingenuity which produced all his absurdities. As it is certain that the blind bard employed an amanuensis, it was not improbable that many words of similar sound, but very different signification, might have disfigured the poem; but our Doctor was bold enough to conjecture that this amanuensis interpolated whole verses of his own composition in the "Paradise Lost!" Having laid down this fatal position, all the consequences of his folly naturally followed it. Yet if there needs any conjecture, the more probable one will be, that Milton, who was never careless of his future fame, had his poem read to him after it had been published. The first edition appeared in 1667, and the second in 1674, in which all the faults of the former edition are continued. By these faults, the Doctor means what he considers to be such: for we shall soon see that his "Canons of Criticism" are apocryphal.

Bentley says that he will supply the want of manuscripts to collate (to use his own words) by his own "Sagacity," and "Happy Conjecture."

Milton, after the conclusion of Satan's speech to the fallen angels, proceeds thus:[Pg 371]

1. He spake: and to confirm his words out flew
2. Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs
3. Of mighty cherubim: the sudden blaze
4. Far round illumin'd hell; highly they rag'd
5. Against the Highest; and fierce with grasped arms
6. Clash'd on their sounding shields the din of war,
7. Hurling defiance tow'rd the Vault of heaven.

In this passage, which is as perfect as human wit can make, the Doctor alters three words. In the second line he puts blades instead of swords; in the fifth he puts swords instead of arms; and in the last line he prefers walls to vault. All these changes are so many defœdations of the poem. The word swords is far more poetical than blades, which may as well be understood of knives as swords. The word arms, the generic for the specific term, is still stronger and nobler than swords; and the beautiful conception of vault, which is always indefinite to the eye, while the solidity of walls would but meanly describe the highest Heaven, gives an idea of grandeur and modesty.

Milton writes, book i. v. 63—

No light, but rather DARKNESS VISIBLE
Served only to discover sights of woe.

Perhaps borrowed from Spenser:—

A little glooming light, much like a shade.
Faery Queene, b. i. c. 2. st. 14.

This fine expression of "DARKNESS VISIBLE" the Doctor's critical sagacity has thus rendered clearer:—

No light, but rather A TRANSPICIUOUS GLOOM.

Again, our learned critic distinguishes the 74th line of the first book—

As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole,

as "a vicious verse," and therefore with "happy conjecture," and no taste, thrusts in an entire verse of his own composition—


Milton writes,

Our torments, also, may in length of time
Become our elements. B. ii. ver. 274.

Bentley corrects

Then, AS WAS WELL OBSERV'D our torments may
Become our elements.
[Pg 372]

A curious instance how the insertion of a single prosaic expression turns a fine verse into something worse than the vilest prose.

To conclude with one more instance of critical emendation: Milton says, with an agreeable turn of expression—

So parted they; the angel up to heaven,
From the thick shade; and Adam to his bower.

Bentley "conjectures" these two verses to be inaccurate, and in lieu of the last writes—

Adam, to ruminate on past discourse.

And then our erudite critic reasons! as thus:—

After the conversation between the Angel and Adam in the bower, it may be well presumed that our first parent waited on his heavenly guest at his departure to some little distance from it, till he began to take his flight towards heaven; and therefore "sagaciously" thinks that the poet could not with propriety say that the angel parted from the thick shade, that is, the bower, to go to heaven. But if Adam attended the Angel no farther than the door or entrance of the bower, then he shrewdly asks, "How Adam could return to his bower if he was never out of it?"

Our editor has made a thousand similar corrections in his edition of Milton! Some have suspected that the same kind intention which prompted Dryden to persuade Creech to undertake a translation of Horace influenced those who encouraged our Doctor, in thus exercising his "sagacity" and "happy conjecture" on the epic of Milton. He is one of those learned critics who have happily "elucidated their author into obscurity," and comes nearest to that "true conjectural critic" whose practice a Portuguese satirist so greatly admired: by which means, if he be only followed up by future editors, we might have that immaculate edition, in which little or nothing should be found of the original!

I have collected these few instances as not uninteresting to men of taste; they may convince us that a scholar may be familiarized to Greek and Latin, though a stranger to his vernacular literature; and that a verbal critic may sometimes be successful in his attempts on a single word, though he may be incapable of tasting an entire sentence. Let it also remain as a gibbet on the high roads of literature; that "conjectural critics" as they pass may not forget the unhappy fate of Bentley.[Pg 373]

The following epigram appeared on this occasion:—

Did Milton's prose, O Charles! thy death defend?
A furious foe, unconscious, proves a friend;
On Milton's verse does Bentley comment? know,
A weak officious friend becomes a foe.
While he would seem his author's fame to farther,
The MURTHEROUS critic has avenged thy MURTHER.

The classical learning of Bentley was singular and acute; but the erudition of words is frequently found not to be allied to the sensibility of taste.[100]


When L'Advocat published his concise Biographical Dictionary, the Jansenists, the methodists of France, considered it as having been written with a view to depreciate the merit of their friends. The spirit of party is too soon alarmed. The Abbé Barral undertook a dictionary devoted to their cause. In this labour, assisted by his good friends the Jansenists, he indulged all the impetuosity and acerbity of a splenetic adversary. The Abbé was, however, an able writer; his anecdotes are numerous and well chosen; and his style is rapid and glowing. The work bears for title, "Dictionnaire Historique, Littéraire, et Critique, des Hommes Célèbres," 6 vols. 8vo. 1719. It is no unuseful speculation to observe in what manner a faction represents those who have not been its favourites: for this purpose I select the characters of Fenelon, Cranmer, and Luther.

Of Fenelon they write, "He composed for the instruction of the Dukes of Burgundy, Anjou, and Berri, several works; amongst others, the Telemachus—a singular book, which partakes at once of the character of a romance and of a poem, and which substitutes a prosaic cadence for versification.[Pg 374]"

But several luscious pictures would not lead us to suspect that this book issued from the pen of a sacred minister for the education of a prince; and what we are told by a famous poet is not improbable, that Fenelon did not compose it at court, but that it is the fruits of his retreat in his diocese. And indeed the amours of Calypso and Eucharis should not be the first lessons that a minister ought to give his scholars; and, besides, the fine moral maxims which the author attributes to the Pagan divinities are not well placed in their mouth. Is not this rendering homage to the demons of the great truths which we receive from the Gospel, and to despoil J. C. to render respectable the annihilated gods of paganism? This prelate was a wretched divine, more familiar with the light of profane authors than with that of the fathers of the church. Phelipeaux has given us, in his narrative of Quietism, the portrait of the friend of Madame Guyon. This archbishop has a lively genius, artful and supple, which can flatter and dissimulate, if ever any could. Seduced by a woman, he was solicitous to spread his seduction. He joined to the politeness and elegance of conversation a modest air, which rendered him amiable. He spoke of spirituality with the expression and the enthusiasm of a prophet; with such talents he flattered himself that everything would yield to him.

In this work the Protestants, particularly the first Reformers, find no quarter; and thus virulently their rabid catholicism exults over the hapless end of Cranmer, the first Protestant archbishop:—

"Thomas Cranmer married the sister of Osiander. As Henry VIII. detested married priests, Cranmer kept this second marriage in profound secrecy. This action serves to show the character of this great reformer, who is the hero of Burnet, whose history is so much esteemed in England. What blindness to suppose him an Athanasius, who was at once a Lutheran secretly married, a consecrated archbishop under the Roman pontiff whose power he detested, saying the mass in which he did not believe, and granting a power to say it! The divine vengeance burst on this sycophantic courtier, who had always prostituted his conscience to his fortune."

Their character of Luther is quite Lutheran in one sense, for Luther was himself a stranger to moderate strictures:—

"The furious Luther, perceiving himself assisted by the credit of several princes, broke loose against the church with[Pg 375] the most inveterate rage, and rung the most terrible alarum against the pope. According to him we should have set fire to everything, and reduced to one heap of ashes the pope and the princes who supported him. Nothing equals the rage of this phrenetic man, who was not satisfied with exhaling his fury in horrid declamations, but who was for putting all in practice. He raised his excesses to the height by inveighing against the vow of chastity, and in marrying publicly Catherine de Bore, a nun, whom he enticed, with eight others, from their convents. He had prepared the minds of the people for this infamous proceeding by a treatise which he entitled 'Examples of the Papistical Doctrine and Theology,' in which he condemns the praises which all the saints had given to continence. He died at length quietly enough, in 1546, at Eisleben, his country place—God reserving the terrible effects of his vengeance to another life."

Cranmer, who perished at the stake, these fanatic religionists proclaim as an example of "divine vengeance;" but Luther, the true parent of the Reformation, "died quietly at Eisleben:" this must have puzzled their mode of reasoning; but they extricate themselves out of the dilemma by the usual way. Their curses are never what the lawyers call "lapsed legacies."


It would be no uninteresting literary speculation to describe the difficulties which some of our most favourite works encountered in their manuscript state, and even after they had passed through the press. Sterne, when he had finished his first and second volumes of Tristram Shandy, offered them to a bookseller at York for fifty pounds; but was refused: he came to town with his MSS.; and he and Robert Dodsley agreed in a manner of which neither repented.

The Rosciad, with all its merit, lay for a considerable time in a dormant state, till Churchill and his publisher became impatient, and almost hopeless of success.—Burn's Justice was disposed of by its author, who was weary of soliciting booksellers to purchase the MS., for a trifle, and it now yields an annual income. Collins burnt his odes after indemnifying his publisher. The publication of Dr. Blair's Sermons was refused by Strahan, and the "Essay on the Immutability of[Pg 376] Truth," by Dr. Beattie, could find no publisher, and was printed by two friends of the author, at their joint expense.

"The sermon in Tristram Shandy" (says Sterne, in his preface to his Sermons) "was printed by itself some years ago, but could find neither purchasers nor readers." When it was inserted in his eccentric work, it met with a most favourable reception, and occasioned the others to be collected.

Joseph Warton writes, "When Gray published his exquisite Ode on Eton College, his first publication, little notice was taken of it." The Polyeucte of Corneille, which is now accounted to be his masterpiece, when he read it to the literary assembly held at the Hotel de Rambouillet, was not approved. Voiture came the next day, and in gentle terms acquainted him with the unfavourable opinion of the critics. Such ill judges were then the most fashionable wits of France!

It was with great difficulty that Mrs. Centlivre could get her "Busy Body" performed. Wilks threw down his part with an oath of detestation—our comic authoress fell on her knees and wept.—Her tears, and not her wit, prevailed.

A pamphlet published in the year 1738, entitled "A Letter to the Society of Booksellers, on the Method of forming a true Judgment of the Manuscripts of Authors," contains some curious literary intelligence.

"We have known books, that in the MS. have been damned, as well as others which seem to be so, since, after their appearance in the world, they have often lain by neglected. Witness the 'Paradise Lost' of the famous Milton, and the Optics of Sir Isaac Newton, which last, 'tis said, had no character or credit here till noticed in France. 'The Historical Connection of the Old and New Testament,' by Shuckford, is also reported to have been seldom inquired after for about a twelvemonth's time; however, it made a shift, though not without some difficulty, to creep up to a second edition, and afterwards even to a third. And which is another remarkable instance, the manuscript of Dr. Prideaux's 'Connection' is well known to have been bandied about from hand to hand among several, at least five or six, of the most eminent booksellers, during the space of at least two years, to no purpose, none of them undertaking to print that excellent work. It lay in obscurity, till Archdeacon Echard, the author's friend, strongly recommended it[Pg 377] to Tonson. It was purchased, and the publication was very successful. Robinson Crusoe in manuscript also ran through the whole trade, nor would any one print it, though the writer, De Foe, was in good repute as an author. One bookseller at last, not remarkable for his discernment, but for his speculative turn, engaged in this publication. This bookseller got above a thousand guineas by it; and the booksellers are accumulating money every hour by editions of this work in all shapes. The undertaker of the translation of Rapin, after a very considerable part of the work had been published, was not a little dubious of its success, and was strongly inclined to drop the design. It proved at last to be a most profitable literary adventure." It is, perhaps, useful to record, that while the fine compositions of genius and the elaborate labours of erudition are doomed to encounter these obstacles to fame, and never are but slightly remunerated, works of another description are rewarded in the most princely manner; at the recent sale of a bookseller, the copyright of "Vyse's Spelling-book" was sold at the enormous price of £2200, with an annuity of 50 guineas to the author!


Whatever may be the defects of the "Turkish Spy," the author has shown one uncommon merit, by having opened a new species of composition, which has been pursued by other writers with inferior success, if we except the charming "Persian Letters" of Montesquieu. The "Turkish Spy" is a book which has delighted our childhood, and to which we can still recur with pleasure. But its ingenious author is unknown to three parts of his admirers.

In Boswell's "Life of Johnson" is this dialogue concerning the writer of the "Turkish Spy." "B.—Pray, Sir, is the 'Turkish Spy' a genuine book? J.—No, Sir. Mrs. Mauley, in her 'Life' says, that her father wrote the two first volumes; and in another book—'Dunton's Life and Errours,' we find that the rest was written by one Sault, at two guineas a sheet, under the direction of Dr. Midgeley."

I do not know on what authority Mrs. Manley advances that her father was the author; but this lady was never nice in detailing facts. Dunton, indeed, gives some information in a very loose manner. He tells us, p. 242, that it is probable,[Pg 378] by reasons which he insinuates, that one Bradshaw, a hackney author, was the writer of the "Turkish Spy." This man probably was engaged by Dr. Midgeley to translate the volumes as they appeared, at the rate of 40s. per sheet. On the whole, all this proves, at least, how little the author was known while the volumes were publishing, and that he is as little known at present by the extract from Boswell.

The ingenious writer of the Turkish Spy is John Paul Marana, an Italian; so that the Turkish Spy is just as real a personage as Cid Hamet, from whom Cervantes says he had his "History of Don Quixote." Marana had been imprisoned for a political conspiracy; after his release he retired to Monaco, where he wrote the "History of the Plot," which is said to be valuable for many curious particulars. Marana was at once a man of letters and of the world. He had long wished to reside at Paris; in that emporium of taste and luxury his talents procured him patrons. It was during his residence there that he produced his "Turkish Spy." By this ingenious contrivance he gave the history of the last age. He displays a rich memory, and a lively imagination; but critics have said that he touches everything, and penetrates nothing. His first three volumes greatly pleased: the rest are inferior. Plutarch, Seneca, and Pliny, were his favourite authors. He lived in philosophical mediocrity; and in the last years of his life retired to his native country, where he died in 1693.

Charpentier gave the first particulars of this ingenious man. Even in his time the volumes were read as they came out, while its author remained unknown. Charpentier's proof of the author is indisputable; for he preserved the following curious certificate, written in Marana's own handwriting.

"I, the under-written John Paul Marana, author of a manuscript Italian volume, entitled 'L'Esploratore Turco, tomo terzo,' acknowledge that Mr. Charpentier, appointed by the Lord Chancellor to revise the said manuscript, has not granted me his certificate for printing the said manuscript, but on condition to rescind four passages. The first beginning, &c. By this I promise to suppress from the said manuscript the places above marked, so that there shall remain no vestige; since, without agreeing to this, the said certificate would not have been granted to me by the said Mr. Charpentier; and for surety of the above, which I ac[Pg 379]knowledge to be true, and which I promise punctually to execute, I have signed the present writing. Paris, 28th September, 1686.


This paper serves as a curious instance in what manner the censors of books clipped the wings of genius when it was found too daring or excursive.

These rescindings of the Censor appear to be marked by Marana in the printed work. We find more than once chasms, with these words: "the beginning of this letter is wanting in the Italian translation; the original paper being torn."

No one has yet taken the pains to observe the date of the first editions of the French and the English Turkish Spies, which would settle the disputed origin. It appears by the document before us, to have been originally written in Italian, but probably was first published in French. Does the English Turkish Spy differ from the French one?[101]


The characters of these three great masters of English poetry are sketched by Fuller, in his "Worthies of England." It is a literary morsel that must not be passed by. The criticisms of those who lived in or near the times when authors flourished merit our observation. They sometimes elicit a ray of intelligence, which later opin