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MARCH 16, 1713.
THOUGH most things which are wrong in their
own nature, are at once confessed and absolved in that single word, the custom; yet there are some, which as they have a dangerous tendency, a thinking man will the less excuse on that very account. Among these I cannot but reckon the common practice of Dedications, which is of so much the worse consequence as it is generally used by people of politeness, and whom a learned education for the most part ought to have inspired with nobler and juster sentiments. This prostitution of praise is not only a deceit upon the gross of mankind, who take their notion of characters from the learned; but also the better sort must by this means lose some part at least of that desire of fame which is the incentive to generous actions, when they find it promiscuously bestowed on the meritorious and undeserving. Nay, the author himself, let him be supposed to have ever so true a value for the patron, can find no terms to express it, but what have been already used, and rendered suspected by flatterers. Even truth itself in a dedication is like an honest man in a disguise or vizor-masque, and will appear a cheat by being drest so like one. Though the merit of the person is beyond dispute, I see no
reason, that, because one man is eminent, therefore another has a right to be impertinent, and throw praises in his face. It is just the reverse of the practice of the ancient Romans, when a person was advanced to triumph for his services: they hired people to rail at him in that circumstance, to make him as humble as they could; and we have fellows to flatter him, and make him as proud as they can. Supposing the writer not to be mercenary, yet the great man is no more in reason obliged to thank him for his picture in a dedication, than to thank the painter for that on a sign-post; except it be a less injury to touch the most sacred part of him, his character, than to make free with his countenance only. I should think nothing justified me in this point, but the patron's permission before-hand, that I should draw him as like as I could; whereas most authors proceed in this affair just as a dauber I have heard of, who, not being able to draw portraits after the life, was used to paint faces at random, and look out afterwards for people whom he might persuade to be like them. To express my notion of the thing in a word: to say more to a man than one thinks, with a prospect of interest, is dishonest; and without it, foolish. And whoever has had success in such an undertaking, must of necessity at once think himself in his heart a knave for having done it, and his patron a fool for having believed it.
I have sometimes been entertained with considering dedications in no very common light. By observing what qualities our writers think it will be most pleas ing to others to compliment them with, one may some judgment which are most so to themselves; and, in consequence, what sort of people they are. Without this view one can read very few dedications, but will give us cause to wonder, either how such things came to be said at all, or how they were said to such persons. I have known an hero complimented upon