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PROSPEOTUS OF THE FRIEND, (EXTRACTED FEOM A LETTER TO A
It is not unknown to you, that I have employed almost the whole of my life in acquiring, or endeavoring to acquire, useful knowledge by study, reflection, observation, and by cultivating the society of my superiors in intellect, both at home and in foreign countries. You know, too, that at different periods of my life I have not only planned, but collected the materials for, many works on various and important subjects; so many indeed, that the number of my unrealized schemes and the mass of my miscellaneous fragments have often furnished my friends with a subject of raillery, and sometimes of regret and reproof. Waiving the mention of all private and accidental hinderances, I am inclined to believe that this want of perseverance has been produced in the main by an over-activity of thought, modified by a constitutional indolence, which made it more pleasant to me to continue acquiring, than to reduce what I had acquired to a regular form. Add, too, that almost daily throwing off my notices or reflections in desultory fragments, I was still tempted onward by an increasing sense of the imperfection of my knowledge, and by the conviction that, in order fully to comprehend and develop any one subject, it was necessary that I should make myself master of some other, which again as regularly involved a third, and so on with an ever-widening horizon. Yet one habit, formed during long absences from those with whom I could converse with full sympathy, has been of advantage to me,that of daily noting down in my memorandum or common-place books both incidents and observations ;—whatever had occurred to me from without, and all the flux and reflux of my mind within itself. The number of these notices and their tendency, miscellaneous as they were, to one common end-(quid sumus et quid futuri gigni7997, what we are and what we are born to become; and thus from
the end of our being to deduce its proper objects)—first encouraged me to undertake the weekly essay, of which you will consider this letter as the prospectus.
Not only did the plan seem to accord better than any other with the nature of my own mind, both in its strength and in its weakness; but, conscious that in upholding some principles both of taste and philosophy, adopted by the great men of Europe, from the middle of the fifteenth till toward the close of the seventeenth century, I must run counter to many prejudices of many of my readers (for old faith is often modern heresy), I perceived too in a periodical essay the most likely means of winning instead of forcing my way. The truth supposed on my side, the shock of the first day might be so far lessened by the reflections of succeeding days, as to procure for my next week's essay a less hostile reception than it would have met with had it been only the next chapter of a present volume. I hoped to disarm the mind of those feelings, which preclude conviction by contempt, and, as it were, fling the door in the face of reasoning by a presumption of its absurdity. A motive too for honorable ambition was supplied by the fact, that every periodical paper of the kind now attempted, which had been conducted with zeal and ability, was not only well received at the time, but has become permanently, and in the best sense of the word, popular. By honorable ambition I mean the strong desire to be useful, aided by the wish to be generally acknowledged to have been so. As I feel myself actuated in no ordinary degree by this desire, so the hope of realizing it appears less and less presumptuous to me since I have received from men of highest rank and established character in the republic of letters, not only strong encouragements as to my own fitness for the undertaking, but likewise promises of support from their own stores.
The object of The Friend, briefly and generally expressed, is—to uphold those truths and those merits, which are founded in the nobler and permanent parts of our nature, against the caprices of fashion and such pleasures as either depend on transitory and accidental causes, or are pursued from less worthy impulses. The chief subjects of my own essays will be:
The true and sole ground of morality or virtue, as distinguished from prudence :
The origin and growth of moral impulses, as distinguished from external and immediate motives :
The necessary dependence of taste on moral impulses and habits, and the nature of taste (relative to judgment in general and to genius) defined, illustrated, and applied. Under this head I comprise the substance of the Lectures given, and intended to have been given, at the Royal Institution on the distinguished English poets, in illustration of the general principles of poetry; together with suggestions concern
ing the affinity of the fine arts to each other, and the principles common to them all ;-architecture; gardening; dress; mụsic; painting ; poetry:
The opening out of new objects of just admiration in our own language, and information as to the present state and past history of Swedish, Danish, German, and Italian literature,—to which, but as supplied by a friend, I may add the Spanish, Portuguese, and French
-as far as the same has not been already given to English readers, or is not to be found in common French authors :
Characters met with in real life;—anecdotes and results of my own life and travels, as far as they are illustrative of general moral laws, and have no direct bearing on personal or immediate politics :
Education in its widest sense, private and national:
Sources of consolation to the afflicted in misfortune, or disease, or dejection of mind, from the exertion and right application of the reason, the imagination, and the moral sense; and new sources of enjoyment opened out, or an attempt (as an illustrious friend once expressed the thought to me) to add sunshine to daylight, by making the happy more happy. In the words “Dejection of mind” I refer particularly to doubt or disbelief of the moral government of the world, and the grounds and arguments for the religious hopes of human nature.
Such are the chief subjects in the development of which I hope to realize, to a certain extent, the great object of my essays. It will assuredly be my endeavor, by as much variety as is consistent with that object, to procure entertainment for my readers as well as instruction : yet I feel myself compelled to hazard the confession, that such of my readers as make the latter the paramount motive for their encouragement of The Friend, will receive the largest portion of the former. I have heard it said of a young lady,—“if you are told, before you see her, that she is handsome, you will think her ordinary; if that she is ordinary, you will think her handsome." I may perhaps apply this remark to my own essays. If instruction and the increase of honorable motives and virtuous impulses be chiefly expected, there will, I would fain hope, be felt no deficiency of amusement; but I must submit to be thought dull by those who seek amusement only. The Friend will be distinguished from its celebrated predecessors, the Spectator and the like, as to its plan, chiefly by the greater length of the separate essays, by their closer connection with each other, and by the predominance of one object, and the common bearing of all to one end.
It would be superfluous to state, that I shall receive with gratitude any communications addressed to me: but it may be proper to say, that all remarks and criticisms in praise or dispraise of my contemporaries (to which, however, nothing but a strong sense of moral interest will ever lead me) will be written by myself only; both because I can not have the same certainty concerning the motives of others, and because I deem it fit, that such strictures should always be attended by the name of their author, and that one and the same person should be solely responsible for the insertion as well as composition of the same.
COMMENCEMENT OF NO. I.
If it be usual with writers in general to find the first paragraph of their works that which has given them the most trouble with the least satisfaction, The Friend may be allowed to feel the difficulties and anxiety of a first introduction in a more than ordinary degree. He is embarrassed by the very circumstances that discriminate the plan and purposes of the present weekly paper from those of its periodical brethren, as well as from its more dignified literary relations, which come forth at once and in full growth from their parents. If it had been my ambition to have copied its whole scheme and fashion from the great founders of the race, the Tatler and Spectator, I should indeed have exposed my essays to a greater hazard of unkind comparison. An imperfect imitation is often felt as a contrast. On the other hand, however, the very names and descriptions of the fictitious characters, which I had proposed to assume in the course of my work, would have put me at once in possession of the stage ; and my first act have opened with a procession of masks. Again, if I were composing one work on one given object, the same acquaintance with its grounds and bearings, which had authorized me to publish my opinions, would, with its principles or fundamental facts, have supplied me with my best and most appropriate commencement. More easy still would my task have been, had I planned The Friend chiefly as a vehicle for a weekly descant on public characters and political parties. My perfect freedom from all warping influences; the distance which permitted a distinct view of the game, yet secured me from its passions; the liberty of the press; and its especial importance at the present period from whatever event or topic might happen to form the great interest of the day; in short, the recipe was ready to my hand, and it was framed so skilfully, and has been practised with such constant effect, that it would have been affectation to have deviated from it. For originality for its own sake merely is idle at the best, and sometimes monstrous. Excuse me,