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[Adventurer, No. 131.]
Newton, clofes a long enumeration of that great philofopher's virtues and attainments, with an obfervation, that "he was not diftinguished from other men, "by any fingularity either natural or affected."
It is an eminent inftance of Newton's fuperiority to the rest of mankind, that he was able to feparate knowledge from thofe weaknesses by which knowledge is generally disgraced; that he was able to excell in fcience and wifdom, without purchafing them by the neglect of little things; and that he stood alone, merely because he had left the rest of mankind behind him, not because he deviated from the beaten tract.
Whoever, after the example of Plutarch, fhould compare the lives of illuftrious men, might fet this part of Newton's character, to view with great advantage, by oppofing it to that of Bacon, perhaps the only man of later ages, who has any pretenfions to difpute with him the palm of genius or fcience.
Bacon, after he had added to a long and careful contemplation of almost every other object of knowledge a curious infpection into common life, and after having furveyed nature as a philofopher, had examined "men's "bufinefs and bofoms" as a statesman; yet failed fo much in the conduct of domeftic affairs, that in the most lucrative poft to which a great and wealthy kingdom could advance him, he felt all the miferies of dif tressful poverty, and committed all the crimes to which poverty incites. Such were at once his negligence and rapacity, that, as it is faid, he would gain by unworthy practices that money, which, when fo acquired, his fervants might steal from one end of the table, while he fat ftudious and abstracted at the other.
As fcarcely any man has reached the excellence, very few have funk to the weakness of Bacon: but almost all the ftudious tribe, as they obtain any participation of his knowledge, feel likewife fome contagion of his defects; and obstruct the veneration which learning
would procure, by follies greater or less to which only learning could betray them.
It has been formerly remarked by the Guardian, that the world punishes with too great feverity the error of thofe, who imagine that the ignorance of little things may be compenfated by the knowledge of great; for fo it is, that as more can detect petty failings than can diftinguish or esteem great qualifications, and as mankind is in general more easily disposed to cenfure than to admiration, contempt is often incurred by flight mistakes, which real virtue or usefulness cannot counterbalance.
Yet fuch mistakes and inadvertencies, it is not easy for a man deeply immersed in study to avoid; no man can become qualified for the common intercourfes of life, by private meditation; the manners of the world are not a regular fyftem, planned by philofophers upon fettled principles, in which every cause has a congruous effect, and one part has a juft reference to another. Of the fashions prevalent in every country, a few have arifen, perhaps, from particular temperatures of the climate, a few more from the conftitution of the government; but the greater part have grown up by chance, been started by caprice, been contrived by affectation, or borrowed without any just motives of choice from other countries.
Of all thefe, the favage that hunts his prey upon the mountains, and the fage that fpeculates in his closet, muft neceffarily live in equal ignorance; yet by the obfervation of these trifles it is, that the ranks of mankind are kept in order, that the addrefs of one to another is regulated, and the general bufinefs of the world carried on with facility and method.
These things, therefore, though fmall in themselves, become great by their frequency; and he very much mistakes his own intereft, who, to the unavoidable unsilfulness of abstraction and retirement, adds a voluntary neglect of common forms, and increases the disadvantages of a ftudious courfe of life by an arrogant contempt of those practices, by which others endeavour to gain favour and multiply friendships.
▲ real and interior disdain of fashion and ceremony,
is, indeed, not very often to be found: much the greater part of those who pretend to laugh at foppery and formality, fecretly wish to have poffeffed thofe qualifications which they pretend to defpife; and because they find it difficult to wash away the tincture which they have fo deeply imbibed, endeavour to harden themselves in a fullen approbation of their own colour. Neutrality is a state, into which the bufy paffions of man cannot eafily fubfide; and he who is in danger of the pangs of envy, is generally forced to recreate his imagination with an effort of contempt.
Some, however, may be found, who fupported by the consciousness of great abilities and elevated by a long course of reputation and applaufe, voluntarily confign themfelves to fingularity, affect to cross the roads of life because they know that they fhall not be juftled, and indulge a boundless gratification of will because they perceive that they fhall be quietly obeyed. Men of this kind are generally known by the name of HUMOURISTS, an appellation by which he that has obtained it, and can be contented to keep it, is fet free at once from the fhackles of fashion; and can go in or out, fit or ftand, be talkative or filent, gloomy or merry, advance abfurdities or oppofe demonftration, without any other reprehenfion from mankind, than that it is his way, that he is an odd fellow, and must be let alone.
This feems to many, an eafy pafiport through the various factions of mankind; and thofe on whom it is bestowed, appear too frequently to confider the patience with which their caprices are fuffered, as an undoubted evidence of their own importance, of a genius to which fubmiffion is univerfally paid, and whofe irregularities are only confidered as confequences of its vigour. These peculiarities, however, are always found to fpot a character though they may not totally obfcure it: and he who expects from mankind, that they fhould give up eftablished cuftoms in compliance with his fingle will, and exacts that deference which he does not pay, may be endured, but can never be approved.
Singularity is, I think, in its own nature univerfally and invariably displeasing: in whatever respect a man K 2
differs from others, he must be confidered by them as either worse or better. By being better, it is well known that a man gains admiration oftener than love, fince all approbation of his practice muft neceffarily condemn him that gives it; and though a man often pleases by inferiority, there are few who defire to give fuch pleafure. Yet the truth is, that fingularity is almost always regarded as a brand of flight reproach; and where it is affociated with acknowledged merit, ferves as an abatement or an allay of excellence, by which weak eyes are reconciled to its luftre, and by which though kindness is not gained, at leaft envy is averted.
But let no man be in hafte to conclude his own merit fo great or confpicuous, as to require or juftify fingularity it is as hazardous for a moderate understanding to ufurp the prerogatives of genius, as for a common form to play over the airs of uncontested beauty. The pride of men will not patiently endure to fee one, whofe understanding or attainments are but level with their own, break the rules by which they have confented to be bound, or forfake the direction which they fubmiffively follow. All violation of established practice, implies in its own nature a rejection of the common opinion, a defiance of common cenfure, and an appeal from general laws to private judgment: he, therefore, who differs from others without apparent advantage, ought not to be angry if his arrogance is punished with ridicule; if thofe, whofe example he fuperciliously overlooks, point him out to derifion, and hoot him back again into the common road.
The pride of fingularity is often exerted in little things, where right and wrong are indeterminable, and where, therefore, vanity is without excufe. But there are occafions on which it is noble to dare to stand alone. To be pious among infidels, to be difinterefted in a time of general venality, to lead a life of virtue and reafon in the midft of fenfualifts, is a proof of a mind intent on nobler things than the praife or blame of men, of a foul fixed in the contemplation of the highest good, and fuperior to the tyranny of cuflom or example.
In moral and religious questions only, a wife man will
hold no confultations with fashion, because thefe duties are conftant and immutable, and depend not on the notions of men, but the commands of HEAVEN yet even of thefe, the external mode is to be in fome meafure regulated by the prevailing tafte of the age in which we live; for he is certainly no friend to virtue, who neglects to give it any lawful attraction, or fuffers it to difpleafe the eye or alienate the affections for want of innocent compliance with fashionable decorations.
It is yet remembered of the learned and pious Nelfon, that he was remarkably elegant in his manners, and fplendid in his drefs. He knew, that the eminence of his character drew many eyes upon him; and he was careful not to drive the young or gay away from religion, by reprefenting it as an enemy to any diftinction or enjoyment, in which human nature may innocently delight.
In this cenfure of fingularity, I have, therefore, no intention to fubject reafon or confcience to custom and example. To comply with the notions and practices of mankind, is in fome degree the duty of a focial being; becaufe by compliance only he can pleafe, and by pleafing only he can become ufeful: but as the end is not to be loft for the fake of the means, we are not to give up virtue to complaifance; for the end of complaifance is only to gain the kindness of our fellow beings, whofe kindness is defirable only as inftrumental to happiness, and happiness must be always loft by departure from virtue.
No life pleafing to God, that is not useful to man.
T pleafed our mighty fovereign Abbas Carafcan, from whom the kings of the earth derive honour and dominion, to fet Mirza his fervant over the province of Tauris. In the hand of Mirza, the balance of diftribution was fufpended with impartiality; and unK. 3