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-Incerta hæc si tu postules
Ratione certâ facere, nihilo plus agas,
EUN. Act. 1. Sc. 1.
You may as well pretend to be mad and in your senses at the same time, as to think of reducing these uncertain things to any certainty by reason.
In short, a modern Pindaric writer compared with Pindar, is like a sister among the Camisars * compared with Virgil's Sibyl: there is the distortion, grimace, and outward figure, but nothing of that divine impulse which raises the mind above itself, and makes the sounds more than human.
There is another kind of great geniuses which I shall place in a second class, not as I think them inferior to the first, but only for distinction's sake, as they are of a different kind. This second class of great geniuses are those that have formed themselves by rules, and submitted the greatness of their natural talents to the corrections and restraints of art. Such among the Greeks were Plato and Aristotle; among the Romans, Virgil and Tully; among the English, Milton and Sir Francis Bacon.
The genius in both these classes of authors may be equally great, but shews itself after a different manner. In the first it is like a rich soil in a happy
* More commonly known by the name of the French Prophets, a set of enthusiasts originally of the Cevennes in France, who came into England about the year 1707, and had at first a considerable number of votaries. A fuller account of the rise and progress of this strange sect may be gained from two pamphlets, one in French intitled, Le Theatre sacre de Cevennes, ou Recit de diverses Merveilles nouvellement ope rees dans cette Partie de la Province de Languedoc. Lond. 1707, 12mo.' The other in English, viz. A Brand plucked from the Burning; exemplify'd in the unparalleled Case of Samuel Keimer, &c. London, 1718. 12mo.
climate, that produces a whole wilderness of noble plants rising in a thousand beautiful landscapes without any certain order or regularity. In the other it is the same rich soil under the same happy climate, that has been laid out in walks and parterres, and cut into shape and beauty by the skill of the gardener.
The great danger in the latter kind of geniuses, is, lest they cramp their own abilities too much by imitation, and form themselves altogether upon models, without giving the full play to their own natural parts. An imitation of the best authors is not to compare with a good original; and I believe we may observe that very few writers make an extraordinary figure in the world, who have not something in their way of thinking or expressing themselves, that is peculiar to them, and intirely their own.
It is odd to consider what great geniuses are sometimes thrown away upon trifles.
'I once saw a shepherd,' says a famous Italian author, who used to divert himself in his solitudes with tossing up eggs and catching them again without breaking them: in which he had arrived to so great a degree of perfection that he would keep up four at a time for several minutes together playing in the air, and falling into his hands by turns. I think,' says the author, I never saw a greater severity than in this man's face; for by his wonderful perseverance and application, he had contracted the seriousness and gravity of a privy-counsellor; and I could not but reflect with myself, that the same assiduity and attention, had they been rightly applied, 'might*' have made him a greater mathematician than Archimedes,
* Would. Spect. in folio
No 161. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1711.
Ipse dies agitat festos: Fususque per herbam,
Hanc Remus et frater. Sic fortis Etruria crevit,
VIRG. Georg. ii. 527.
Himself, in rustic pomp, on holy-days,
To rural powers a just oblation pays;
And on the green his careless limbs displays:
The hearth is in the midst; the heardsmen round
The groom his fellow-groom at buts defies,
I AM glad that my late going into the country has increased the number of my correspondents, one of whom sends me the following letter:
THOUGH you are pleased to retire from us so soon into the city, I hope you will not think
the affairs of the country altogether unworthy of your inspection for the future. I had the honour of seeing your short face at Sir Roger de Coverley's, and have ever since thought your person and writings both extraordinary. Had you staid there a few days longer, you would have seen a country wake, which you know in most parts of England is the eve-feast of the dedication of our churches. I was last week at one of these assemblies which was held in a neighbouring parish; where I found their green covered with a promiscuous multitude of all ages and both sexes, who esteem one another more or less the following part of the year, according as they distinguish themselves at this time. The whole company were in their holiday clothes, and divided into several parties, all of them endeavouring to shew themselves in those exercises wherein they excelled, and to gain the approbation of the lookers on.
I found a ring of cudgel-players, who were breaking one another's heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses' hearts. I observed a lusty young fellow, who had the misfortune of a broken pate; but what considerably added to the anguish of the wound, was his overhearing an old man, who shook his head and said, "That he questioned now if Black Kate would marry him these three years.". I was diverted from a farther observation of these combatants by a foot-ball match, which was on the other side of the green: where Tom Short behaved himself so well, that most people seemed to agree, "it was impossible that he should remain a bachelor until the next wake." Having played many a match myself, I could have looked longer on this sport, had I not observed a country girl, who was posted on an eminence at some distance from me, and was making so many odd grimaces, and writhing and distorting her whole body in so
strange a manner, as made me very desirous to know the meaning of it. Upon my coming up to her, I found that she was over-looking a ring of wrestlers, and that her sweetheart, a person of small stature, was contending with a huge brawny fellow, who twirled him about, and shook the little man so violently, that by a secret sympathy of hearts it produced all those agitations in the person of his mistress, who I dare say like Calia in Shakspeare on the same occasion, could have wished herself "invisible to catch the strong fellow by the leg." The 'squire of the parish treats the whole company every year with a hogshead of ale; and proposes a beaver hat as a recompense to him who gives most falls. This has raised such a spirit of emulation in the youth of the place, that some of them have rendered themselves very expert at this exercise; and I was often surprised to see a fellow's heels fly up, by a trip which was given him so smartly that I could scarce discern it. I found that the old wrestlers seldom entered the ring until some one was grown formidable by having thrown two or three of his opponents; but kept themselves as it were in a reserved body to defend the hat, which is always hung up by the person who gets it in one of the most conspicuous parts of the house, and looked upon by the whole family as something redounding much more to their honour than a coat of arms. There was a fellow who was so busy in regulating all the ceremonies, and seemed to carry such an air of importance in his looks, that I could not help inquiring who he was, and was immediately answered, "That he did not value himself upon nothing, for that he and his ancestors had won so many hats, that his parlour looked like a haberdasher's shop." How ever, this thirst of glory in them all was the reason
As You like it. Act i. Sc. 6. Shaksp.