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O part of hiftory is more inftructive and delighting, than the lives of great and worthy men: the fhortness of them invites many readers; and there are fuch little and yet remarkable paffages in them, too inconfiderable to be put in a general hiftory of the age in which they lived, that all people are very defirous to know them. This makes Plutarch's lives to be more generally read than any of all the books which the ancient Greeks or Romans writ.

But the lives of heroes and princes, are commonly filled with the account of the great things done by them, which do rather belong to a general, than a particular hiftory; and do rather amufe the reader's fancy with a fplendid fhew of greatnefs, than offer him what is really fo useful to himfelf: and indeed the lives of princes are either writ with so much flattery by those who intended to merit by it at their own hands, or others concerned in them; or with fo much fpite, by thofe who being. ill used by them; have revenged themselves on their memory, that there is not much to be built on them: and though the ill nature of many, makes what is fatirically writ to be generally more read and believed, than when the flattery is vifible and coarfe; yet certainly refentment may make the writer corrupt the truth of hiftory, as much as intereft: and fince all men have their blind fides, and commit errors, he that will induftrioufly lay thefe together, leaving out, or but flightly touching what should be fet against them, to ballance them, may make a very good man appear in very bad colours: fo upon the whole matter, there is not that reason to expect either much truth, or great instruction, from what is written concerning heroes or princes;

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for few have been able to imitate the patterns Suetonius fet the world in writing the lives of the Roman emperors, with the fame freedom that they had led them : but the lives of private men, tho' feldom they entertain the reader with fuch a variety of paffages as the other do; yet certainly they offer him things that are more imitable, and do prefent wifdom and virtue to him, not only in a fair idea, which is often look'd on as a piece of the invention or fancy of the writer, but in fuch plain and familiar inftances, as do both direct him better and perfuade him more; and there are not fuch temptations to biafs those who write them, fo that we may generally depend more on the truth of fuch relations as are given in them.

In the age in which we live, religion and virtue have been propofed and defended with fuch advantages, with that great force of reafon, and thofe perfuafions, that they can hardly be matched in former times; yet after. all this, there are but few much wrought on by them, which perhaps flows from this, among other reafons, that there are not fo many excellent patterns fet out, as might both in a fhorter, and more effectual manner recommend that to the world, which difcourfes do but coldly; the wit and stile of the writer being more confidered than the argument which they handle, and therefore the propofing virtue and religion in fuch a model, may perhaps operate more than the perspective. of it can do, and for the hiftory of learning, nothing does fo preferve and improve it, as the writing the lives of thofe who have been eminent in it.

There is no book the ancients have left us, which might have informed us more than Diogenes Laertius his lives of the philofophers; if he had had the art of writing equal to that great fubject which he undertook; for if he had given the world fuch account of them, as Gaffendus has done of Peiresk, how great a stock of knowlege might we have had, which by his unfkilfulnefs is in a great measure loft; fince we must now de



pend only on him, becaufe we have no other, or better author that has written on that argument,

For many ages there were no lives writ but by Monks, through whofe writings there runs fuch an incurable humour, of telling incredible and inimitable paffages, that little in them can be believed or propofed as a pattern Sulpitius Severus and Jerom thewed too much credulity in the lives they writ, and raised Martin and Hilarion, beyond what can be reasonably believed: after them, Socrates, Theodoret, Sozomen, and Palladius, took a pleasure to tell uncouth ftories of the Monks of Thebais, and Nitria: and those who came after them, fcorned to fall short of them, but raised their faints above those of former ages, fo that one would have thought that undecent way of writing could rife no higher; and this humour infected even those who had otherwife a good fenfe of things, and a juft apprehenfion of mankind, as may appear in Matthew Paris, who tho' he was a writer of great judgment and fidelity, yet he has cor rupted his hiftory with much of that alloy. But when emulation and envy rofe among the feveral orders or houfes, the. they improved in that art of making romances, instead of writing lives, to that pitch, that the world became generally much fandalized with them: the Francifcans and Dominicans tried who could fay the most ex-· travagant things of the founders, or other faints of their orders; and the Benedictines, who thought themfelves poffefs'd of the belief of the world, as well as of its wealth, endeavoured all that was poffible ftill to keep up the dignity of their order, by out lying the others all they could; and whereas here or there, a miracle, a vifion or trance, might have occured in the lives of former faints; now every paffage was full of those won- · derful things.

Nor has the humour of writing in fuch a manner, been quite laid down in this age, tho' more awakened and better enlightned, as appears in the life of Philip Nerius, and a great many more: and the Jefuits at Antwerp, are now taking care to load the world with a

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