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It is chiefly required of him, that he be sprightly and interesting. The French, during two centuries, have poured forth a flood of memoirs; the most of which are little more than agreeable trifles. We must, however, except from this censure the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz, and those of the Duke of Sully. The former join to a live
a ly narrative great knowledge of human nature. The latter deserve very particular praise. They approach to the usefulness and dignity of legitimate history. They are full of virtue and good sense ; and are well calculated to form both the heads and hearts of those who are designed for public business, and high stations in the world.
Biography is a very useful kind of composition ; less stately than history ; but perhaps not less instructive. It affords full opportunity of displaying the characters of eminent men, and of entering into a thorough acquaintance with them. In this kind of writing, Plutarch excels; but his matter is better than his manner; he has no peculiar beauty nor elegance. His judgment and accuracy also are sometimes taxed. But he is a very humane writer, and fond of displaying great men in the gentle lights of retirement.
Before we conclude this subject, it is proper to observe, that of late years a great improvement has been introduced into historical composition. More particular attention than formerly has been given to laws, customs, commerce, religion, literature, and to every thing that shows the spirit and genius of nations. It is now conceived that a historian ought to illustrate manners as well as facts and events. Whatever displays the state of
Philosophical Writing and Dialogue.
mankind in different periods ; whatever illustrates the progress of the human mind, is more useful than details of sieges and battles.
PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING AND DIALOGUE.
OF philosophy, the professed design is instruction. With the philosopher, therefore, style, form, and dress are inferior objects. But they' must not be wholly neglected. The same truths and reasonings, delivered with elegance, will strike more, than in a dull and dry manner.
Beyond mere perspicuity, the strictest precision and accuracy are required in a philosophical writer; and these qualities may be possessed without dryness. Philosophical writing admits a polished, neat, and elegant style. It admits the calm figures of speech; but rejects whatever is florid and tumid. Plato and Cicero have left philosophical treatises, composed with much elegance and beauty. Seneca is too fond of an affected, brilliant, sparkling manner. Locke's Treatise on Human Understanding is a model of a clear and distinct philosophical style. In the writings of Shaftsbury, on the other hand, philosophy is dressed up with too much ornament and finery,
Among the ancients, philosophical writing often assumed the form of dialogue, Plato is eminent for the beauty of his dialogues. In richness of imagination, no philosophic writer, ancient or modern, is equal to him. His only fault is the excessive fertility of his imagination, which soine
times obscures his judgment, and frequently carries him into allegory, fiction, enthusiasms, and the airy regions of mystical theology. Cicero's dialogues are not so spirited and characteristical as those of Plato. They are however agreeable, and well supported; and show us conversation, carried on among some principal persons of ancient Rome with freedom, good breeding, and dignity. Of the light and humourous dialogue, Lucian is a model ; and he has been imitated by several modern writers. Fontenelle has written dialogues, which are sprightly and agreeable ; but his characters, whoever his personages be, all became Frenchmen. The divine dialogues of Dr. Henry More, amid the academic stiffness of the age, are often remarkable for character and vivacity. Bishop Berkley's dialogues are abstract, yet perspicuous.
In epistolary writing we expect ease and familiarity; and much of its charm depends on its introducing us into some acquaintance with the writer. Its fundamental requisites are nature and simplicity, sprightliness and wit. The style of letters, like that of conversation, should flow easily. 'It ought to be neat and correct, but no more. Cicero's epistles are the most valuable collection of letters, extant in any language. They are composed with purity and elegance, but without the least affectation. Several letters of Lord Boling
broke and of Bishop Atterbury are masterly. In those of Pope there is generally too much study; and his letters to ladies in particular are full of affectation. Those of Swift and Arbuthnot are written with ease and simplicity. Of a familiar correspondence, the most accomplished model are the letters of Madame de Sevigne. They are easy, varied, lively and beautiful. The letters of Lady Mary Wortly Montague, are perhaps more agreeable to the epistolary style, than any in the English language.
This species of composition includes a very numerous, and in general a very insignificant class of writing, called romances and novels. Of these, however, the influence is known to be great both on the morals and taste of a nation. Notwithstanding the bad ends to which this mode of writing is applied, it might be employed for very useful purposes. Romances and novels describe human life and manners, and discover the errors into which we are betrayed by the passions. Wise men in all ages have used fables and fictions, as vehicles of knowledge; and it is an observation
: of Lord Bacon, that the common affairs of the world are insufficient to fill the mind of man. He must create worlds of his own, and wander in the regions of imagination.
All nations whatsoever have discovered a love of fiction, and talents for invention. The Indians,
Persians, and Arabians, abounded in fables and parables. Among the Greeks, we hear of the Ionian and Milesian tales. During the dark ages, fiction assumed an unusual form from the prevalence of chivalry. Romances arose, and carried the marvellous to its summit. Their knights were patterns not only of the most heroic courage, but of religion, generosity, courtesy and fidel. ity; and the heroines were no less distinguished for modesty, delicacy, and dignity of manners. Of these romances the most perfect model is the Orlando Furioso. But, as magic and enchantment came to be disbelieved and ridiculed, the chivalerian romances were discontinued, and were succeeded by a new species of fictitious writing
Of the second stage of romance writing, the Cleopatra of Madame Scuderi and the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney are good examples. In these, however, there was still too large a proportion of the inarvellous ; and the books were too voluminous and tedious. Romance writing appeared therefore in a new form; and dwindled down to the familiar novel. Interesting situations in real life are the ground work of novel writing. Upon this plan, the French have produced some works of considerable merit. Such are the Gil Blas of Le Sage and the Marianne of Marivaux.
In this mode of writing, the English are inferior to the French ; yet in this kind there are some performances which discover the strength of the British genius. No fiction was ever better supported than the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Fielding's novels are highly distinguished for humour and boldness of character. Richardson,