« ZurückWeiter »
The foregoing observations apply in some measure to essay writing of every kind, but they are chiefly applicable to those essays that are published in succession at short intervals of time, like that which you propose; and where they are not confined to a particular class of writers, but where full liberty is given for every individual to become a writer when he feels a propenfity to it, without any farther limitation than good manners and becoming politeness requires. By means of such a publication, to pursue your own fimile, men may be said to be introduced to a literary society, on the most liberal plan, in which they may not only hear and observe, but may also become active members of it. They may there converfe with freedom, on the footing of unbounded equality ; but they are at the same time compelled to act with propriety, and to think with justness; because any deviation from this plan will immediately receive the correction it requires. What travelling therefore, and a general acquaintance with mankind, is to man in his private capacity, writing in a periodical work, is to literary persons. It is only by mixing with society, on a footing of equality, that man can learn to rub off those rude inattentions to others, which self love fo naturally produces in every individual, when confined to folitude; and to acquire that suavity of manner, and attention to others, which constitutes the highest pleasure of social life, that is now denominated urbanity. In like manner, it is only when literary men mix with others in a periodical publication, where liberty is permitted to every one to do what he thinks proper, on a footing of perfect equality, that they can properly feel their own weight, and be compelled to relinquish those ungracious felf-fuffi. cient tones, which the fancied superiority that every man is disposed to ascribe to himself, before he has experienced the powers of others, so naturally inspires ; and to give that becoming modesty in reasoning, which constitutes the highest polish of a literary character. It
has been remarked, that clergymen, who have confined their literary efforts to discourses delivered from the pulpit, are more apt to assume that dictatorial air, and dogmatic self sufficiency of manner, than other classes of literary men. Nor can any thing be more natural : Such pulpit discourses, from the reverence due to the place where delivered, are never criticised : The pastor therefore, has no opportunity of being ever convinced of the weakness or the futility of the reasoning. He of course concludes that his arguments are strong and unanswerable; and delivers them with the tone and manner that such an idea will naturally inspire. It is perhaps to this circumstance we may ascribe the asperity of manner that so long prevailed among mankind with respect to theological controversies and literary disputes managed by divines. Fortunately it has happened that periodical publications have now become so common in Britain, as to have afforded young divines more frequent opportunities of trying their powers fairly, than formerly. The consequence has been, that gentleness of manner, and liberality of sentiment, in disputed subjects, begin to prevail even antong men of this class. In those foreign countries where such periodical performances are rare, the same rudeness and illiberality is still observed to prevail in literary disputes; and we shall in general find that the progress of nations in knowledge, but more especially their advancement in literary politeness of manner, will keep pace with the number of periodical publications allowed to circulate, and the freedom of discussion that is tolerated in such publications, when under proper restrictions. As I doubt not, Sir, from the general character you bear, that your work will be conducted on the most liberal principles. I most sincerely, from these and other considerations, wish you a continuance of health and spirits to complete your plan, and that share of public support which may enable you to go forward in your enterprise with vi. gour and alacrity, .
I a On Prejudices affecting the Truth of History. AMONG an ignorant people, human actions are hever fairly appreciated : The delicate operations of the mind are not sufficiently adverted to ; and a precipitant judgment is formed of the inotives for every action, that is in most cases erroneous. Hence it happens, that men of great talents, when they appear among such a people, are either reprefented as monsters of wickedness, or adored as angels ; and, those who record the transactions of their life, will allow no share of good to those they condeon, nor the finallest imputation of wrong, to those whom they have taken delight to honpur.
Among a civilized people, however, the case is much the reverie: Those who have adverted to the constitution of the human mind, are fufficiently aware, that the beft are not exempted from the frailties and errors of human nature, and that she most wicked, are never so thoroughly debased, as not to have something about them that would deserve applause-while among the the ordinary run of mankind, virtues and frailties are so equally balanced, as to make it often difficult to say, which of them preponderate,
Historians however, who give an account of past transactions, find it a difficult maiter to delineate juftly the character of perfons, whose actions have been fo much misrepresented by their cotemporaries. To weigh the whole with attention, and to form a just judgment of the character of any person, from the contradictory accounts of persons, who are in every refpect equally worthy of credit, requires an attention, and a painful research, that many wish to avoid, Hence it is usual for the historian of modern times, in characterising ancient personages to follow with great
exactness, the outlines that have been left to him, by the annalist he copies from,—and thus the monstrous picture is perpetuated. ....
The present age, however, is distinguished from all those that have preceded it, by more frequent attempts to get the better of this delusion than formerly.-Several persons of great talents, have stepped forward in dcfence of injured merit, and in fome cases have proved far more successful than was expected. The champions of Mary of Scotland, have gone far to do away the fianderous reproaches, with which she has been too long loaded,-and an attempt to apologize even for Richard the Third, has not been without its effects.
But among all the conspicuous characters in the an. cient story of Britain, Thomas Becket has had fewer favourers than any other :-Hume and Lyttleton have loaded him with blame without the smallest scruple, nor has any one till the present time, ventured to speak one word in his unpopular cause. The character of him we now present to our readers, is very different from that they have been accustomed to read,--and whether it be juit or not, it has an undisputable right to the claim of being well written; on which account, as well as the new ideas it suggests, we think to do our readers a pleasure by laying it before them.
Character of Becket, by the Reverend Mr. Berington.
“ Thus, in the 53d year of his age, died Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Primate of England. Without incurring the imputation of a vain singularity, may I say, that the character of this man has never been fairly appreciated ? When the Catholic draws the portrait, all his virtues are emblazoned, and his blemishes are lost in the glare of light. They view him as a faint; and unfortunately, so imposing has that character been rendered, that the essential stains of mortality are not allowed to rest upon it. Since the recent date of the reformation, it should seem, that the moral order of things has been inverted. Some virtues loft their name; and what had been religious, exemplary, and perfect above the reach of unaslisted nature, ceafed to be so. The Protestant then seized the pencil, and, viewing Becket, drew a portrait, on which were feen no lines of former beauty. On both sides is much partial judgment. The ancient historians, I know, who lie before me, wrote with too warm an impression. The glare of miracles, they thought, was flashing round them; and the praises of Rome and of Europe echoed in their ears. It is an apotheosis which they celebrate. But because this is too much, can we sit down with too lit. tle, and say that we are just ?
- With fome enthufiafra: on my mind, I confefs, I have described the conduct of Becket. Every where I saw hiin great as other men, and on some occasions I faw him greater. Real excellence there may be ; but it is, by comparing only, that we judge. By his fide, the contemporary men of the day, the greatest the æra could produce in church or state, lose all their fplendor. Alexander * is an irresolute and timid politician : The prelates of England basely deserting a cause, which their own consciences held sacred, are courtly sycophants, and excite contempt: The sacred college of cardinals, bribed by gold, forget their dignity, and bartering away the privileges of the Roman fee, publicly post up their venality, and become the shame of Christendom : Henry, the lord of many people, whom Europe then admired, and whom posterity has called the greatest of English Kings, through the quarrel which himself provoked, is wayward, vindictive, timorous, and deceptious, never Thewing one exertion which became a king, and ever indulging a train of affections, which would have difgraced his lowest vassal : Becket, from the beginning, is firm, dauntless, composed, and manly; like a deep and majestic river, he proceeds even in his course, hardjy ruffled by rocks of oppofition, and true to the level lie had taken.
* Thc Pope.