Imagens das páginas



Plato. WELCOME to Elysium, O thou, the most pure, the most gentle, the most refined disciple of philosophy, that the world, in modern times, has produced! Sage Fenelon, welcome !—I need not name myself to you. Our souls by sympathy must kuow one another.

Fen. I know you to be Plato, the most amiable of all the disciples of Socrates, and the philosopher of all antiquity whom I most desired to resemble.

Plato. Homer and Orpheus are impatient to see yon in that region of these happy fields, which their shades inhabit. They both acknowledge you to be a great poet, though you have written no verses. And they are now busy in composing for you unfading wreaths of all the finest and sweetest Elysian flowers. But I will lead you from them to the sacred grove of philosophy, on the highest hill of Elysium, where the air is most pure and most serene. I will conduct you to the fountain of Wisdom, in which you will see, as in your own writings, the fair image of Virtue perpetually reflected. It will raise in you more love than was. felt by Narcissus, when he contemplated the beauty of his own face in the unruffled spring. But you shall not pine, as he did, for a shadow. The goddess herself will affectionately meet your embraces, and mingle with your soul.

Fen. I find you retain the allegorical and poetical style, of which you were so fond in many of your writings. Mive also ran sometimes into poe.

try; particularly in my Telemachus, which I meant to make a kind of epic composition. But I dare not rank myself among the great poets, nor pretend to any equality in oratory with you, the most eloquent of philosophers, on whose lips the attic bees distilled all their honey.

Plat. The French language is not so harmonious as the Greek: yet you have given a sweetness to it, which equally charms the ear and heart. When one reads your compositions, one thinks that one hears Apollo's lyre, strung by the hands of the Graces, and tuned by the Muses. The idea of a perfect king, which you have exhibited in your Telemachus, far excels, in my own judgment, my imaginary republic. Your Dialogues breathe the pure spirit of virtue, of unaffected good sense, of just criticism, of fine taste. They are in general as superior to your countryman Fontenelle's, as reason is to false wit, or truth to affectation, The greatest fault of them, I think is, that some are too short,

Fen. It has been objected to them, and I am sensible of it myself, that most of them are too full of common-place morals. But I wrote them for the instruction of a young prince: and one cannot too forcibly imprint on the minds of those who are born to empire the most simple truths: becanse, as they grow up, the flattery of a court will try to disguise and conceal from them those truths, and to eradicate from their hearts the love of their duty, if it has not taken there a very deep root.

Flato. It is indeed the peculiar misfortune of princes, that they are often instructed with great care in the refinements of policy; and not taught the first principles of moral obligations, or taught so superficially, that the virtuous map is soon lost in the corrupt politician. But the lessons of virtue you gave your royal pupil are so graced by the charms of your eloquence, that the oldest and wisest men may attend to them with pleasure. All your writings are embellished with a sublime and agreeable imagination, which gives elegance to simplicity, and dignity to the most vulgar and obvious truths. I have heard, indeed, that your countrymen are less sensible of the beauty of your genius and style than any of their neighbours. What has so much depraved their taste?

Fen. That which depraved the taste of the Romans after the age of Augustus; an immoderate love of wit, of paradox, of refinement. The works of their writers, like the faces of their women, must be painted and adorned with artificial embellishments, to attract their regards. And thus the natural beauty of both is lost. But it is no wonder if few of them esteem my Telemachus; as the maxims I have principally inculcated there are thought by many inconsistent with the grandeur of their monarchy, and with the splendour of a refined and opulent nation. They seem generally to be falling into opinions, that the chief end of society is to procure the pleasures of luxury; that a nice and elegant taste of voluptuous enjoyments is the perfection of merit; and that a king, who is gallant, magnificent, liberal, who builds a fine palace, who furpishes it well with good statues and pictures, who encourages the fine arts, and makes them subservient to every modish vice, who has a restless ambition, a perfidious policy, and a spirit of con

[blocks in formation]

quest, is better for them than a Numa, or a Marcus Aurelius. Whereas to check the excesses of luxury, those excesses I mean which enfeebles the spirit of a nation; to ease the people, as much as is possible, of the burden of taxes; to give them the blessings of peace and tranquillity, when they can be obtained without injury or dishonour; to make them frugal, and hardy, and masculine in the temper of their bodies and minds, that they may be the fitter for war whenever it does come upon them; but above all to watch diligently over their morals, and discourage whatever may defile or corrupt them; is the great business of government, and onght to be in all circumstances the principal object of a wise legislature. Unques. tionably that is the happiest country which has most virtue in it: and to the eye of sober reason the poorest Swiss canton is a much nobler state than the kingdom of France, if it has more liberty, better morals, a more settled tranquillity, more moderation in prosperity, and more firmness in danger

Plato. Your notions are just; and if your country rejects them, she will not hold long the rank of the first nation in Europe. Her declension is begun, her ruin approaches. For, omitting all other arguments, can a state be well served, when the raising of an opulent fortune in its service, and making a splendid use of that fortune, is a distinction more envied than any which arises from integrity in office, or public spirit in government? can that spirit, which is the parent of national greatness, continue vigorous and diffusive, where the desire of wealth, for the sake of a luxury

which wealth alone can support, and an ambition aspiring, not to glory, but to profit, are the predominant passions ? If it exist in a king, or a minister of state, how will either of them find, among people so disposed, the necessary instruments to execute his great designs; or rather, what obstruction will be not find, from the continual opposition of private interest to public? But if, on the contrary, a court incline to tyranny, what a facility will begiven by these dispositions to that evil purpose! how will men, with minds relaxed by the enervating ease and softness of luxury, have vigour to oppose it! will not most of them lean to servitude, as their natural state, as that in which the extravagant and insatiable cravings of their artificial wants may best be gratified, at the charge of a bountiful master, or by the spoils of an enslaved and ruined people? Wheu all sense of public virtue is thus destroyed, will not fraud, corruption, and avarice, or the opposite workings of court-factions to bring disgrace on each other, ruin armies and fleets without the help of an enemy, and give up the independence of the nation to foreigners, after having betrayed its liberties to a king? All these mischiefs you saw attendant on that luxury, which some modern philosophers account (as I am in. formed) the highest good to a state Time will show, that their doctrines are pernicious to society, pernicious to government; and that yours, tempered and moderated so as to render them more practicable in the present circumstances of your country, are wise, salutary, and deserving of the general thanks of mankind. But, lest you should think, from the praise I have given you,

« AnteriorContinuar »