ePub 版

of the last century. Johnson excelled in argumentative discussion, Burke in the play of imagination and the glow of eloquence. The style of Johnson is forcible and regular, the language of Burke is varied and idiomatical. The learning of the former is more scholastic, of the latter more comprehensive. Johnson's views were chiefly confined to the improvement of social intercourse, and the illustration of moral truth, whilst Burke contemplated more widely the principles of legislation, and the effects of civil policy. But with these distinctive differences their minds were of kindred structure. They were alike endowed with a vigorous reason, a rich and glowing fancy, an inexhaustible knowledge: they alike combined a familiar observation of man in his actual state, with what history records of his past condition, and philosophy conjectures of his future destinies.' But one excellence belongs equally to both, which deserves a special commemoration. They understood the unalterable limits of theory and practice, of speculations upon possible attainments, and institutions founded on the supposition of real power. Though qualified by vigour of understanding and felicity of diction to be dictators of the intellectual world, they were free from the vicious ambition of framing new systems, either moral or political. They were content to point out the mistakes which admitted correction, and to animate the generous mind to aspire at new heights of excellence, but they respected those institutions which were the ground-work of what had been already accomplished. Instead of deluding the imagination with visionary schemes, or "sapping those' reli

gious and moral dictates, which are the foundation of society, they illustrated the excellence of what we actually enjoy, and enforced the obligations of truth by the sanction of their authority, and the weight of their arguments. They thus consecrated their works, as well-springs of civil wisdom and moral truth, and de. served the imperishable gratitude of Englishmen, as the probable saviours of their country.

The extent of our obligations to these great men will be best understood by contrasting them with Voltaire and Rousseau, who partially resembled them in the character of their intellects and the extent of their influence. The latter commenced their career with the consciousness of talent, and an insatiable appetite for celebrity. But they found the avenues to fame pre-occupied by the illustrious defenders of virtue and piety. Misled by a miserable vanity, and eager to attain notoriety, they supported any paradox however mischievous, or sentiment. however monstrous. They advocated whatever was new, and carried on an incessant warfare against every opinion and institution which had the crime of antiquity. They struck at the foundation of principles the most sacred, and prejudices the most useful: and if at last their pride was gratified by the popularity at which they aspired, it was purchased by plunging their country into the tempest of discord, and leaving it tossed on the waves of anarchy; by ruining the peace of their own generation, and transmitting error and crime to the latest posterity. We shall not go too far in ascribing our own preservation from similar miseries to the literary exertions of

Johnson and Burke ; to the extensive influence and wholesome direction of their exalted talents.

It may be remarked in general to the praise of our literature, that its writers have been commonly exempt from the affectation of new systems and an addiction to paradox. Superior minds indeed have always been commended by their acquiescence in received principles, and their respect for early establishments, whilst a love of contradiction and anardour for novelty have been the constant reproach of secondary genius. This assertion, however, may require defence, because it is fashionable to impute a respect for ancient authority to a narrow and bigotted understanding. It is not vindicated on the ground that men of former times exceeded those of the present day

collectively considered, is confessedly equal, and all actual differences must arise from greater opportunities of improvement. But in admitting that in intellect they did not naturally excel us, it should be remembered, that neither do we naturally surpass them; that if we would hope for an actual pre-eminence, it can only be derived from their previous exertions; and that in all points where their opportunities were equal, their judgment is as respectable as our own. But the preference for moral principles and social institutions which are derived from remote opinion and constant usage, is supported by the weight of more numerous suffrages and a longer experience. In the doctrines of abstract science and the results of difficult inquiry, which have occupied the attention of the curious, and had a feeble influence on the progress of life, discoveries may in

every period be alike adduced on the demonstrative or reasonable evidence which supports them: but the regulations of social life, the political institutions of communities, the maxims of civil and moral wisdom, have always been equally interesting to mankind, have operated with unremitting force in every age, and have presented their effects to the unavoidable observation of countless multitudes. When, therefore, a theorist ventures to bring forward some new principle, or to propose some fresh arrangement, against the concurrent voice of successive generations, against the common experience of revolving ages, in a case where all are alike concerned, where all have been capable of discerning, in which opinion is the only judge and experience the only proof, we may be allowed to reply, that what is new in morals or politics is probably false ; and that before we renounce what the judgment of millions has ratified, and the experience of generations confirmed, we require arguments of no common solidity, and authority the most venerable and extensive

It is almost superfluous to insist upon the advantages of a taste for reading. It introduces the mind to inexhaustible stores of pleasure and instruction ; to the sublimest flights of imagination, the acutest inquiries of reason, the most practical results of experience; to the intellectual wealth of mankind in every region, and through every period ; particularly to the whole compass of English literature, which for more than three centuries has been fruitful in splendidl and original productions, It is more important to enlarge upon the necessity of care in the choice of authors. The multiplication of books is su great, that without much circumspection, a person may spend all his life in reading and derive little or no improvement. This will inevitably happen if he does not confine himself to authors of the first class. But he who has the self-denial to abstain from works of inferior value and temporary interest, to restrict himself to the first-rate lights of the intellectual world, to become familiar with their sentiments and manner of expression, to study them as examples of the power of thinking and models of composition, will certainly attain the highest advantages which literature can afford. There will be the same difference between him and the former, as if the one should associate with the vulgar and ignorant, the other spend all his time with the most exalted and refined characters of his age. The difference indeed will be even greater ; for the latter will converse, not merely with the great spirits of one, but of every age ; and he will habitually participate not their casual remarks, or careless effusions, but the very essence of their intellect, the subtlest portion of that etherial fire which glows within them. As then the difference of individuals is more to be ascribed to variety of culture than of original capacity, he will thus give the most extensive opportunities to the expansion of his mental endowments, nor will fail, through any personal neglect, of being a comfort to himself, an ornament to his friends, and an advantage to his country.

« 上一頁繼續 »