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Among great geniuses, those few draw the admiration of all the world upon them, and stand up as the prodigies of mankind, who by the meer strength of natural parts, and without any assistance of art or learning, have produced works that were the delight of their own times, and the wonder of posterity. There appears something nobly wild and extravagant in these great natural geniuses, that is infinitely more beautiful than all the turn and polishing of what the French call a Bel Esprit, by which they would express a genius refined by conversation, reflection, and the reading of the most polite authors. The greatest genius which runs through the arts and sciences, takes a kind of tincture from them, and falls unavoidably into imitation.
Many of these great natural geniuses that were never disciplined and broken by rules of art, are to be found among the ancients, and, in particular, among those of the more eastern parts of the world. Homer has innumerable flights that Virgil was not able to reach; and in the Old Testament we find several passages more elevated and sublime than any in Homer. At the same time that we allow a greater and more daring genius to the ancients, we must own that the greatest of them very much failed in, or, if you will, that they were much above, the nicety and correctness of the moderns. In their similitudes and allusions, provided there was a likeness, they did not much trouble themselves about the decency of the comparison : thus Solomon resembles the nose of his beloved to the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus; as the coming of a thief in the night, is a similitude of the same kind in the New Testament. It would be endless to make collections of this nature: Homer illustrates one of his heroes encompassed with the enemy, by an ass in a field of corn, that has his sides belaboured by all the boys of the village without stirring a foot for it; and another of them tossing to and fro in his bed, and burning with
Resembles] For “compares.” But resembles is a neutral verb, and is, therefore, used improperly.
resentment, to a piece of flesh broiled on the coals. This particular failure in the ancients, opens a large field of raillery to the little wits, who can laugh at an indecency, but not relish the sublime in these sorts of writings. The present emperor of Persia, conformable to this eastern way of thinking, amidst a great many pompous titles, denominates himself the Sun of Glory, and the Nutmeg of Delight.' In short, to cut off all cavilling against the ancients, and particularly those of the warmer climates, who had most heat and life in their imaginations, we are to consider that the rule of observing what the French call the Bienseance in an allusion, has been found out of latter years, and in the colder regions of the world; where we would make some amends for our want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous nicety and exactness in our compositions. Our countryman Shakespear was a remarkable instance of this first kind of great geniuses.
I cannot quit this head, without observing that Pindar was a great genius of the first class, who was hurried on by a natural fire and impetuosity to yast conceptions of things, and noble sallies of imagination. At the same time, can any thing be more ridiculous than for men of a sober and moderate fancy, to imitate this poet's way of writing in those monstrous compositions which go among us under the name of Pindarics? When I see people copying works, which, as Horace has represented them, are singular in their kind and inimitable; when I see men following irregularities by rule, and by the little tricks of art straining after the most unbounded flights of nature, I cannot but apply to them that passage in Terence.
-incerta hæc si tu postules Ratione certa facere, nihilo plus agas,
Quàm si des operam, ut cum ratione insanias. 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 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, thật has been laid out in walks and parterres, and cut into shape and beauty by the skill of the gardener.
The great danger in these 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 entirely 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
* Not as I think, &c.] It should have been “ not that I think,”-or, “ not as being inferior, "-r, « not as thinking them," &c.
perfection, that he would keep up four at a time for several minutes together, playing in the air, and falling into his hand 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: 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.
No. 162. WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5.
Servetur ad imum
Hor. ar.fiwal NOTHING that is not a real crime, makes a man appear so contemptible and little in the eyes of the world as inconstancy, especially when it regards religion or party. In either of these cases, though a man perhaps does but his duty in changing his side, he not only makes himself hated by those he left, but is seldom heartily esteemed by those he comes over to.
In these great articles of life, therefore, a man's conviction ought to be very strong, and, if possible, so well timed, that worldly advantages may seem to have no share in it, or mankind will be ill-natured enough to think he does not change sides out of principle, but either out of levity of temper, or prospects of interest. Converts and renegadoes of all kinds should take parti. cular care to let the world see they act upon honourable motives; or whatever approbations they may receive from themselves, and applauses from those they converse with, they may be very well assured that they are the scorn of all good men, and the public marks of infamy and derision,
Irresolution on the schemes of life which offer themselves to our choice, and inconstancy in pursuing them, are the greatest and most universal causes of all our disquiet and unhappiness. When ambition pulls one way, interest another, inclination a third, and perhaps reason contrary to all, a man is likely to pass his time but ill who has so many different parties to please. When the mind hovers among such a variety of allurements, one had better settle on a way of life that is not the very best we might have chosen, than grow old without determining our choice, and go out of the world, as the greatest part of mankind do, before we have resolved how to live in it. There is but one method of setting ourselves at rest in this particular, and that is, by adhering stedfastly to one great end, as the chief and ultimate aim of all our pursuits. If we are firmly resolved to live up to the dictates of reason, without any regard to wealth, reputation, or the like considerations, any more than as they fall in with our principal design, we may go through life with steadiness and pleasure; but if we act by several broken views, and will not only be virtuous, but wealthy, popular, and every thing that has a value set upon it by the world, we shall live and die in misery and repentance.
One would take more than ordinary care to guard one's self against this particular imperfection, because it is that which our nature very strongly inclines us to; for if we examine ourselves thoroughly, we shall find that we are the most changeable beings in the universe. In respect of our understanding, we often embrace and reject the very same opinions; whereas beings above and beneath us, have probably no opinions at all, or at least no waverings and uncertainties in those they have. Our superiors are guided by intuition, and our inferiors by instinct. In respect of our wills, we fall into crimes, and recover out of them, are amiable or odious in the eyes of our great Judge, and pass our whole life in offending and asking pardon. On the contrary, the beings underneath us are not capable of sinning, nor those above us of repenting. The one is out of the pos