« AnteriorContinuar »
never attained the glory either of Admiral Vernon or the Duke of Cumberland, yet his visage has filled many a sign-post, and much ale and gin has been sold under his auspices.
These are the last whom the people of GreatBritain have thought worthy of being so honoured; and though the thing itself may seem ludicrous, yet the tale has a moral, by no means flattering to the well-wishers of this country. We have been now for five years employed in attempting to reduce our rebellious colonies; we have been two years at war with France, and one with Spain; many troops have been raised, many millions have been expended; expeditions without number have been planned and supported, and the most powerful fleets have been fitted out that the coasts and dock-yards of England ever beheld; yet, during this long period, with so many opportunities, and so much force, we have not an admiral whose head would sell a single cann of flip, nor a general whose full length would procure custom for an additional pot of porter.
That this expression of public gratitude may be sometimes misplaced, I will by no means deny ; but still this tribute paid by the people is more like ly, than any other circumstance, to be a sure proof of real merit. The sovereign may be misinformed as to the deservings of those whom he is pleased to honour; and although, in the present reign, no substantial mark of unmerited favour has been conferred, yet every body remembers the late General Blakeney, who gave up Minorca, made a Lord for defending it, merely to support a sinking administration. What reliance can be had on the thanks of parliament as a proof of public merit, may be learned from the answer of a gallant sea-officer (not an admiral,) who, upon being told that the House of Commons meant to give him thanks for his intrepid
and successful conduct on the coast of France, swore, if they did, he would instantly resign his
Perhaps at that time, some recent instance of party injustice and partiality had brought the thanks of parliament into disrepute; but, be that as it may, I shall never think our affairs, either by sea or land, in a prosperous condition, until I see the sign-posts of England filled with fresh figures of generals and admirals. When that happens, it will be a sure proof that our affairs have taken a favourable turn, and that some of our commanders, have at last, acted in a manner suitable to the troops and treasure with which, from the beginning of this war, they have all been so liberally supplied.
No. LXXXIII. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22.
IN a paper published at Edinburgh, it would be improper to enter into any comparison of the writers of this country with those on the other side of the Tweed: but, whatever be the comparative rank of Scottish and English authors, it must surely be allowed, that, of late, there have been writers in this country, upon different subjects, who are possessed of very considerable merit. In one species of writing, however, in works and compositions of humour, there can be no sort of doubt that the English stand perfectly unrivalled by their northern neighbours. The English excel in comedy; several of their romances are replete with the most humourous representations of life and character, and many of their other works are full of excellent ridicule. But, in Scotland, we have hardly any book
which aims at humour, and, of the very few which do, still fewer have any degree of merit. Though we have tragedies written by Scots authors, we have no comedy, excepting Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd; and though we have tender novels, we have none of humour, excepting those of Smollet, who, from his long residence in England can hardly be said to have acquired in this country his talent for writing; nor can we, for the same reason, lay a perfect claim to Arbuthnot, who is still a more illustrious exception to my general remark. There must be something in the national genius of the two people which makes this remarkable difference in their writings, though it may be difficult to discover from what cause it arises.
I am inclined to suspect, that there is something in the situation and present government of Scotland, which may, in part, account for this difference in the genius of the two countries. Scotland, before the union of the two kingdoms, was a separate state, with a parliament and constitution of its own. Now the seat of government is removed, and its constitution is involved in that of England. At the time the two nations came to be so intimately connected, its great men were less affluent than those of England, its agriculture was little advanced, and its manufactures were in their infancy. A Scotsman was, therefore, in this situation, obliged to exert every nerve, that he might be able to hold his place.
• If preferment, or offices in public life, were his object, he was obliged to remove from home to a city, which, though now the metropolis of the united kingdoms, had formerly been to him a sort of foreign capital.
If wealth was the object of his pursuit, he could only acquire it at home by great industry and perseverance; and if he found he could not easily succeed in his own country, he repaired to other coun
tries, where he expected to be able to amass a fortune. Hence it has been remarked, that there are more natives of Scotland to be found abroad than of any other country.
People in this situation are not apt to indulge themselves in humour; and few humorous characters will appear. It is only in countries where men wanton in the extravagancies of wealth, that some are led to indulge a particular vein of character, and that others are induced to delineate and express it in writing. Besides, where men are in a situation which makes it necessary for them to push their way in the world, more particularly if they are obliged to do so among strangers, though this may give them a firmness and a resoluteness in their conduct, it will naturally produce a modest caution and reserve in their deportment, which must chill every approach to humour. Hence, though the
Scots are allowed to be brave and undaunted in dangerous situations; yet bashfulness, reserve, and even timidity of manner, unless when they are called forth to action, are justly considered as making part of their character. Men of this disposition are not apt to have humour; it is the open, the careless, the indifferent, and the forward, who indulge in it; it is the man who does not think of interest, and who sets himself above attending to the proprieties of conduct. But he who has objects of interest in view, who at tends with circumspection to his conduct, and finds it necessary to do so, is generally grave and silent, and seldom makes any attempt at humour.
These circumstances may have had a considerable influence upon the genius and temper of the people in Scotland; and if they have given a particular formation to the genius of the people in general, they would naturally have a similar effect upon its authors: the genius of an author commonly takes its direction from that of his countrymen.
To these causes, arising from the present situation and government of our country, may be added another circumstance, that of there being no court or seat of the monarch in Scotland. It is only where the court is, that the standard of manners can be fixed, and, of consequence, it is only in the neighbourhood of the court that a deviation from that standard can be exactly ascertained, or a departure from it be easily made the object of ridicule. Where there is no court, it becomes of little importance what dress the people wear, what hours they observe, what language they express themselves in, or what is their general deportment. Men living at distance from the court become also unacquainted with the rules of fashion which it establishes, and are unable to mark or point them out. But the great object for wit and ludicrous representation arises from men's having a thorough knowledge of what is the fashionable standard of manners, and being able to seize upon, and hold out a departure from it, in an humorous point of view. In Scotland, therefore, which, since the removal of the court, has become, in a certain degree, a provincial country, there being no fixed standard of manners within the country itself, one great source of ridicule is cut off, and an author is not led to attempt humorous composition; or, if he does, has little chance of succeeding.
There is another particular which may have had a very considerable effect upon the genius of the Scots writers, and that is, the nature of the language in which they write. The old Scottish dialect is now banished from our books, and the English is substituted in its place. But though our books be written in English, our conversation is in Scotch. Of our language it may be said, as we are told of the wit of Sir Hudibras, that we have a suit for holidays, and another for working-days. The Scot