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It is indeed difficult, to affign the reafons why talents equally promifing, fhould, even under the like early cultivation, bear fuch unequal crops of fame. But if we attend minutely to the caufes by which men have acquired renown, we fhall find that perhaps the far greater part owed their reputation to adventitious circumftances, concurring to excite their emulation, and render application grateful.
Genius is not forward to endure the toil of perfevering study. It is afpiring and impatient. Unless animated by the early dawn of enlivening hope, it will foon become torpid and fupine: or at beft only break forth by fudden and unequal starts. Praise and renown, are the rich rewards it covets. Praife, as POPE obferves, is to a young wit, like rain to a tender flower. If it is not occafionally revived by refreshing fhowers of applaufe, it will fhrink and wither.
The fruits of genius can only be matured by a conftant and affiduous culture; without it, excelling parts may now and then produce a momentary blaze, but will never diffufe that ftrong and fteady fplendor, which fhines to lateft pofterity.
* The difplay of genius feems to depend on the power of attention, which is greater or lefs according to the ftrength of the paffion which excites it: and this again in a great measure depends on certain conftitutional, though unknown, differences in the ftructure of our minds.
As fuch affiduity alone, can procure and eternize the glory of public applause, so it is the beft title from whence we can derive the heartfelt pleasures of felf-commendation. To be proud of the gifts of nature, is a prepofterous vanity. Our improvements only, are what we can properly call our own, and which afford the most rational ground of inward approba
Various circumstances however frequently occur to check the habit of improvement. The fame exquifite fenfibility, and ftrong glow of spirits, which warms the genius, fires the libertine; and opens to every mode of diffipation. The blandishments of beauty, the joys of feftivity, the attractions of pleasure, under all its alluring forms, confpire to withdraw the mind from great and noble purfuits. These allurements have greater or lefs afcendancy, in proportion as the objects of ambition are more or Îefs diftant. The habit of application will be vigorous or faint, as the reward propofed is great or small, near or remote. When genius wanders without a friendly guide to direct its fteps, and encourage its progrefs; when it views but a faint profpect of reaping the rich rewards to which it afpires, then it too often becomes defpondent *; and refigns itself to the fatal in
We now and then, it is true, meet with a rare inftance, where the paffion which infpires a genius, is fo strong and irrefiftible, as to rife fuperior to all difcouragements and oppofitions.
toxication of the fofter pleasures. Thus in many, the latent powers of the mind remain unknown even to the poffeffor; and to these, among other reasons, it may be imputed that fo many stop short in the career of glory, and that their names never reach pofterity.
Among the few diftinguished characters, however, whose names are rescued from oblivion, and enrolled in the bright annals of fame, they stand in the most confpicuous line, who have reaped the harvest of glory, in the active scenes of life. The bulk of mankind, are more folicitous to learn the hiftory of statesmen and warriors, than to be acquainted with the calm and tranquil pursuits of poets and philofophers.
The regular and uniform tenor of a studious life, affords little variety for the entertainment of those who are more amused by a fucceffion of glaring incidents, which gratify idle curio-fity; than affected by a history, which might tend to enlarge the fund of useful knowledge.
It is nevertheless of more general importance to be acquainted with what, in fome degree, concerns men of every rank, than with that which can only be interefting to a few, who move in the higher ftations. It is more effential to reflect on the means by which an obfcure man made his way to fame, through the ftill paths of life, than to pry into the intrigues of minifters, or gape at the atchievements of heroes.
Add to this, that in the histories of ftatefmen and warriors, we often admire merit which is not their own. They are often directed by thofe, whom they appear to guide. Accident likewife, has a confiderable fhare in the events, which render them celebrated. Nay, their very errors frequently, by ftrange and fortuitous occurrences, prove propitious to their fame.
But when we perufe the lives of the learned, when we admire the fentiments which adorn their pages, when we approve the moral and focial rules, by which they framed their conduct; we then pay the just tribute of applause, where alone it is due.
At the fame time it must be confeffed, that even literary reputation has fometimes been undefervedly acquired, and unjustly withheld. There are not many readers perhaps who judge for themfelves. The far greater part determine upon the authority of others, rather than from their own fentiments. Thus the partial judgment or caprice of fome fashionable and over-ruling critic, often mifleads the herd.
When a falfe judgment is once established, it is not cafily fubverted. They, adhere most tinacioufly to their opinions, who build them on the authority of others. Men in general are not forward to condemn, what their fathers approved. Thus error gains a kind of prefcriptive title: till fome other admired critic, to whom the throng pay implicit homage, has the
fpirit and virtue to oppose mistaken prejudice, and fet the public judgment right.
There have been fome, however, in the learned world, whofe merit ftands on fo fair and firm a bafis, as not to need the prop of partiality to support it, or to be in danger of being fhaken or undermined by prejudice or caprice.
Among the few whofe fame is thus firmly rooted, Mr. POPE ftands capitally diftinguished. Our bard, however, experienced the common fate of every man who ftarts from the crowd. Ignorance and envy waged war against his merit. So true is Moliere's obfervation
La vertu dans le monde est toujours poursuivie,
His towering fame however foon foared above the reach of thofe obfcure DUNCES, who would have ftopped his afpiring growth. But envy would not quit her hold; and when fhe could no longer detract from the faculties of his mind, maliciously endeavoured to arraign the virtues of his heart.
With what little juftice attempts have beenmade to depreciate either the one or the other, will be examined in the courfe of the following fheets; and as an admiration of his genius fhall not pervert the juftice of criticism, fo neither