JANUARY the 1st, 1797.
Read the 21st and 22nd Books of Livy. How fortunate is it, that the preceding chasm in this history (of ten Books) extended no farther! His description of Hannibal's passage over the Alps, is lively and picturesque; and our interest in the narrative kindles, as the Scourge of Italy advances: yet we look, in vain, for that greatness of soul which should have distinguished the Roman people under such afflicting reverses; though Livy is disposed to say all he can for them.
Dipped into Addison's Travels; of which the chief merit is the classical allusions. Our style has so much improved of late, that many of his expressions appear already uncouth and mean.
JAN. the 6th
Read the 24th Book of Livy. An astonishing and unaccountable languor seems to have seized both the Roman and Carthaginian forces, after the battle of Cannae; just when we should have expected the mightiest and most decisive achievements, on one side or the other. The spirit of the Romans we may suppose to have been broken; but what shall we say for Hannibal, in not following up that stupendous victory!
JAN. the 8th
Attended Church in the afternoon. Mr. S., confounded (as among all sects of Christians, it is remarkable, has ever been the case) the Christian Lord's Day with the Jewish Sabbath:-a strange blunder, surely, however respectably sanctioned. We might as well confound Easter with the Passover.
JAN. the 9th
Finished the 27th Book of Livy. The forced march of the Consul Claudius Nero through the whole extent of Italy, to form a junction with his colleague M. Livius; their total defeat of Asdrubal; and the eagerness, the transports, with which the rumour, the report, and, at last, the official statement, of this momentous victory, was received at Rome, are recounted with uncommon animation. Hannibal's inertia, all this time, is perfectly amazing: he seems to have possessed great talents to gain an advantage; but not to make the most of it, when won.
JAN. the 15th
Looked over, by a cursory perusal, Beattie's Essay on Truth. I remember to have been much charmed with this work; but it has sunk lamentably in my estimation, on this maturer review. Its declamation, indeed, is lively and specious: but, as a disquisition, it is miserably deficient in acuteness of discrimination and solidity of judgment; and though we should allow that the author has, on many occasions, felt justly, we must confess that throughout he has reasoned very weakly. The great object of this Treatise, is, to prove, to the confusion of Des Cartes, Malbranche, Berkeley, and Hume,—that there are principles intuitively certain or intuitively probable,—that common sense determines what these principles are,—that all reasoning rests upon these principles, and that to bring such principles themselves to the test of reason, is a measure preposterous in its nature, and highly injurious to the interests of truth and virtue. In answer to all this, it might well be observed, that reasoning consists in nothing but the production of some one or more propositions, from which it follows, as. a necessary, or as a probable consequence, that the proposition to be proved or disproved, is true or false;—that the propositions thus adduced, are amenable to the judgment that if the dictates of common sense are consistent, they cannot overthrow each other;—that all fair reasoning, consequently, must at least be harmless; and, that to encourage men to adopt any opinion, and shut their ears, to all discussion upon it, as a point previously settled by common sense, and beyond the jurisdiction of reason, would be to give the privilege of sanctuary to every species of prejudice.
Read the 34th Book of Livy. The arguments on the Oppian Law, at the beginning of this Book, are highly curious. Valerius's, in favour of the ladies, though ingenious, passes over many topics which we should expect to be pressed with much spirit, on a similar occasion, at the present day.
JAN. the 20th
Read Moore's History of the French Revolution; a very inferior production to what I had promised myself from such a writer on such a subject. The causes of that momentous change are loosely investigated; their progressive operation and development, imperfectly displayed; in the reflections on the passing events, there is too frequent an affectation of smartness and naivety of sentiment; and there runs through the whole narrative, the same debility and languor which pervades his Journal—a composition, which, for any intrinsic marks to the contrary, might have been compiled in Grub-Street.
The critique on Burke's Regicide Peace, in the last Monthly Review, is ably written: the passage which warms, in defending our national horror at despotism, is uncommonly animated;—it breathes the eloquence of passion.
FEBRUARY the 1st
Finished the 40th Book of Livy. The speeches of Persius and Demetrius, indeed most of those which Livy introduces, bear a strong resemblance to the rhetorical theses of the schools, and seem formed on that taste. They are, of course, the entire composition of Livy; and I suppose he thought them fine.
Read the Castle of Otranto; which grievously disappointed my expectations. The tale is, in itself, insipid; and Mrs. Radcliffe, out of possible contingencies, evokes scenes of far more thrilling horror, than are attained by the supernatural and extravagant machinery, which, after all, alone imparts an interest to this Romance.—Let me, however, except from all censure, and honour with all praise, the scene in which Manfred receives the mute messengers of Challenge:—it is capitally supported.—The prefixed strictures on Voltaire, are just, but feeble.
FEB. the 5th
Read the 43rd Book of Liyy. The kind of apology which he makes (chap. 12) for recounting, as he regularly does, the portents of the year, marks the state of religious sentiment in his time; and paganism, about the beginning of our sera, seems to have been in much the same degree of credit, as Christianity is now.
FEB. the 7th
Finished the 45th and last Book extant, of Livy. Literature has never sustained a severer loss, than in the disappearance of the 105 Books, which are wanting to complete this comprehensive and elaborate History. How inestimable, from such a writer, would be the account of Roman affairs, from the passing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar, to the establishment of Augustus! As it is, we leave the Roman Empire, perhaps in its most respectable condition: Spain, in part subdued, and throughout in awe; the Macedonian monarchy extinct, and its king a captive; Carthage, tributary and dependent: and all surrounding monarchies and states, looking up, as to the lords of nature and arbiters of their fate, with gratitude, and fear, and reverence, to the senate and people of a single city—whose integrity and firmness (let me add), magnanimity and wisdom, seem worthy of holding that transcendent sway, which a long succession of these virtues had painfully won. Livy is a sound and satisfactory historian: he never soars; nor ever languishes—but with his subject: to this he steadily adheres; and pursues the stream of time with the same even current that it flows.
FEB. the 9th
Read the Dissertation prefixed to Dacier's Horace. The nature of Lyric Poetry is very vaguely defined; its origin and progress, confusedly traced; and the epithets "le grand," "la gracieuse," "le sublime," fortuitously applied to Horace, where we should expect to find his distinguishing excellencies appropriately marked. The defence of poetry in general, and of the Ancient poets, against the sophisms of Despreaux and others, is, I think, the soundest part: but, upon the whole, like many a French piece of goods, it is extremely showy and tasty, but defective both in materials and workmanship.
FEB. the 12th
Looked over the first fourteen Odes of Horace, Lib. I, with Dacier's and Bentley's Annotations. I am still undecided as to the construction of the twelve lines succeeding the 2nd, in the first ode: a verse seems wanting between the 10th and 11th "Siccis oculis" in the 3rd ode, appears a strange epithet—"rectis" is what one would wish; but I see no other authority for substituting it: to instance a man's fortitude, by saying that he can face danger without blubbering, is certainly not felicitous: but might not Horace sometimes be unhappy; and do we not criticise with more scrupulosity than he wrote?—It would be difficult, anywhere, to find a cramper construction of words than in the conclusion of the 5th Ode-
Me tabula sacer
Votiva paries indicat uvida
Vestimenta maris Deo.<13>
Could this ever have been clear, or pleasing?—Tarteron's prudery in suppressing, in his edition, the four last lines in the 4th, 6th, and 9th Odes, and the whole of the 5th, is perfectly ridiculous: one can have no opinion of the purity of that mind, which could suspect such verses as unchaste.
FEB. the 19th
Read De Pouilly's Critique sur la fidelité de l' histoire (Memoires de L'Academie des Inscriptions, Tom 8me.); in which, the nature of historical evidence is very ingeniously discussed. Hume, I think, has borrowed from this tract in his Essay on Miracles.-Allowing for the superior spirit of attack over defence, De Pouilly has shown himself a very superior writer to his antagonist l'Abbè Sallier, in a previous tract in the same vol., on the uncertainty of the earlier part of the Roman History, which well repays the reading.
Perused, but hastily, Erskine's pamphlet on the Causes and Consequences of the Present War; and was much struck with that part, in which he exposes the mischiefs of the coalition against France, by supposing that a similar confederacy had been formed against England, on the decapitation of Charles I.: yet, on the whole, the admirers of this great advocate must surely be disappointed with this specimen of his powers; and will be tempted to apply to him, what Cicero observed of Galba—"cujus in verbis mens ardentior spirat, ejus in scriptis, omnis illis vis et quasi flamma oratoris extinguitur."<14>
FEB. the 24th
W. who, by a happy choice of characteristic features, and the dexterous use of intermediate ideas, possesses, beyond any man I know, the enchanting art of painting vividly to the imagination whatever he has seen, has been for some days, delighting me with descriptions of what occurred during a voyage along the Western coast of Italy, the tour of Sicily, and a visit to Rome. The ample basin of the Bay of Naples, with its gay shores, surmounted by the awful form of Vesuvius—the Isles of Lipari, emitting flames and coruscations as he passed' them in the dead stillness of night—the first distant view of AEtna, through the clear medium, of an Italian atmosphere, tinged with ethereal blue, and lifting his snow-capped head in solitary majesty—the iron frontier of the coast of Scylla—the ascent of Etna in the night, by a torrent of liquid lava, surcharged with scoria, reddening the air with its glow, and plunging with a tremendous crash over a precipice equal to the cliffs of Dover—the pillar of smoke, slowly and steadily ascending through the vast concavity of the crater, till it caught the breeze upon. the summit, and scudded horizontally away, coldly tinged by the morning twilight—the first sparkle of the long expected sun; gilding, as he rose, the highest points. of the eminences beneath, while all below was buried in a purple gloom—Sicily, through all its extent and waving shores, at length spread under the eye, like an illuminated map; and Calabria and Malta, in opposite directions, rising faintly in the distance—the approach to Rome from the South, descending through a thick forest on the flat and dreary expanse of the Campania—Claudius' aqueduct, while Rome was yet invisible, shooting athwart the level, in a long line and endless succession of arcades—the first aspect of the Imperial City—the Coliseum as he passed it, bleached to the North, and apparently fresh from the architect:—The bare recital, of such scenes, fires the imagination, and kindles an eager curiosity to behold them: yet the perplexing difficulties, the vexatious delays, the misery of accommodation, the fatigue of body, and anxiety of mind, which would in many cases, attend the actual inspection of these interesting objects, must considerably deduct from the delight they are calculated to afford; and it is, perhaps, only under the purifying process of recollection, that the luxury of having seen them, can be fully enjoyed.—W. confessed, that the ruins of Rome, widely scattered as they are, in different directions, choked up with buildings, and in many instances artificially supported by iron cramps, at the first view, miserably disappointed him; as they inevitably must do, every one whose expectations have been formed on the sketches of Piranesi, &c. in which, all that is offensive is carefully excluded, and whatever is most interesting in these remains, selected and combined.—St. Peter's, though yielding to its powerful rival in exterior elegance of form, exhibits such vast dimensions and surpassing splendour within, that St. Paul's, on a review, appeared like the inside of a deserted tap-room.
MARCH the 14th
Read Freret's Essay on the Evidence Of Ancient History, Tom. 8me., of the Memoires de L' Academie—a masterly disquisition, which, so far as it forms a general argument, (for of its particular application to certain points of ancient history, I am an incompetent judge), has thy fullest assent. The concluding part, on the different and inconvertible natures of mathematical and moral evidence, particularly meets my ideas.
Pursued the Odes of Horace, Lib. 1. What does Dacier mean, in his concluding note on the 30th, by hinting, with a sort of pregnant brevity, that the reason is obvious why the ancients attached Mercury to Venus? Had he been criticising a modern, I should have supposed he meant to be smart.—I cannot bring myself to think, with him, that the 34th Ode is ironical: it appears very evidently to me, to have been written under a sudden fit of piety, produced, as such fits often are with the dissolute,—by imminent danger escaped.
MARCH the 21st
Looked over Malone's Enquiry into the Authenticity of Ireland's Shakespearian Papers; a learned and decisive piece of criticism, which would have settled my doubts, if all doubts had not been already removed by the forger's impudent confession. Yet Malone sometimes insists too strongly on slight proofs; as in his Objection from the word "amuse" in Q. Elizabeth's Letter, which affords sense in its primitive meaning, of arresting attention: his violent politics, too, are violently introduced; and suggest but a feeble argument against Shakespeare's Love Letter.
Read with much delight in the 8me. Tom of Memoires de L' Academie, Gedoyn's 'Dissertation de l' Urbanité Romaine, in which the origin and expansion of this quality are delicately traced, its volatile form delineated with elegance and spirit, and its separate nature forcibly and pointedly discriminated; nor is there any part of this disquisition exceptionable, but the application of this accomplishment to Homer, Pindar, and others, in whom it surely does not predominate. Amongst the moderns, I should point without hesitation to St. Evremond, as exhibiting this qualification in its purest form.—Racine, in a subsequent Essay, resolves the essence of poetry, into the language of passion.
Finished The Italian. This work will maintain, but not extend, Mrs. Radcliffe's fame as a novelist. It has the same excellencies and defects as her former compositions. In the vivid exhibition of the picturesque of nature, in the delineation of strong and dark character, in the excitation of horror by physical and moral agency, I know not that Mrs. R. has any equal: but she languishes in spinning the thread of the narrative on which these excellencies are strung; natural characters and incidents are feebly represented; probability is often strained without sufficient compensation; and the development of those mysteries which have kept us stretched so long on the rack of terror and impatience (an unthankful task at best) is lame and impotent. Eleanor and Vivaldi, either in their separate character or mutual attachment (a wire-drawn theme), touched me but little; but I confess myself to have been deeply and violently impressed, by the midnight examination of the corpse of Bianchi; by the atrocious conference of Schedoni and the Marquesa, in the dim twilight of the Church of San Nicolo; and, above all, by what passed in Spalatro's solitary dwelling on the sea shore. If Mrs. Radcliffe justly consulted her fame, she would confine herself to fragments.—She and Miss Burney might compose a capital piece between them—Mrs. R. furnishing the landscape, and Miss B. the figures.
MARCH the 26th
Finished Gibbon's Memoirs of himself—an exquisite morceau of literature, but which might have been rendered far more interesting by anecdotes of such of his acquaintance as were distinguished characters—a disclosure, properly conducted, of which I cannot see the harm; and by less reserve on the subject of his progress in infidelity—a topic which the biographer touches with all the caution of the historian.—ln the Memoirs, and in the Journal, there is one strange and material inconsistency which cannot reconcile. In the former, he represents himself as overpowered with admiration of the calm philosophy, and careless inimitable beauties of Hume's history: in his Journal, descriptive of a period immediately succeeding that in which he paints himself thus struck, he calls Hume's history, ingenious but superficial. The accuracy of Mr. Gibbon's memory, it is to be presumed, forsook him, on this occasion, in his Memoirs; and he has been led to ascribe to too early a period, the more enlightened judgment of maturer years.
MARCH the 31st
Read Swift's Four last Years of Queen Anne; a clear, connected detail of facts, exhibited with exquisite art (artis est, celare artem)<15> to give the particular impression he wished. How different do the same transactions appear, under the colouring of Swift and Burnet!—The Letter to a Whig Lord (Vol. 24, Nichols' edition) strikingly displays Swift's talents as a party writer: under the show of serious and earnest admonition., he shrewdly urges, with cutting force, and in galling succession, all the topics which malice could suggest, to bring the opponents of the Oxford administration, at the critical juncture when it was written, into general contempt and obloquy—.
... Si Pergama dextra
Defendi possent, etiam hac defensa fuissent.<16>
Read the first five Odes (Lib. 2.) of Horace. Bentley has completely puzzled himself with the passage in the 5th,—
illi, quos tibi dempserit
and proposed an emendation," quod" "annus,". by which, if there were any difficulty, it would doubtless be removed; but Dacier's explanation, that, to a certain period of life, the passing years may be considered as added, and after that period, as taken away, seems quite clear and satisfactory.
Gibbon might have applied the remarkable pun, which occurs somewhere in his history, with good effect to Ausonius' epigram, quoted in Dacier's last note to this Ode,
Dum dubitat Natura, marem faceretne puellam,
Factus es, o pulcher, pene puella, puer.<18>
APRIL the 4th
Looked through the European Magazine for last month. I hardly remember to have been more struck, on any occasion, by any composition, than with the remonstrance of one Gibbins, a Quaker, against the proceedings of the Monthly Meeting at Birmingham towards his expulsion, for manufacturing and selling firearms, is a masterpiece of sound and close reasoning, forcibly urged in the clearest, purest, and precisest language. I hope it will have its intended effect on those to whom it is addressed: such a man, if his integrity is on a par with his ability, would be an irreparable loss to any society.—On what principles do the Quakers reconcile to themselves the payment of war taxes, rather than of tithes?
APRIL the 5th
Read Swift's burlesque of Collins' arguments against Christianity,<19> in the 24th Vol. of his works:—some of these arguments will not be burlesqued.—It is related of Swift, in the preceding volume, that it was his custom, before committing his writings to the press, to read them over in the presence of two domestics, demanding occasionally what they understood by such and such passages; and if any appeared beyond their clear comprehension, that he carefully altered the language till they fully caught the sense. This test could hardly be applied on all occasions. Where the subject matter is understood by an auditor, it is doubtless always practicable to render oneself intelligible to him in the treatment of it; but surely not otherwise, without such an excess of explanation as would appear tedious and ridiculous where it was not wanted.
APRIL the 13th
Looked into the 18th and 19th Vols. of Swift's Works, Nichols' edition. Lord B—'s, (Qu. Lord Bathurst's?) Letters are written with the engaging ease and playful spirit of one who can afford to trifle without detriment; Gay's display the cheerful carelessness of his temper; and Lord Bolingbroke's exhibit that impetuous, indignant, overbearing vehemence of soul, and majesty of diction, which distinguish all the compositions of this noble writer.
Pursued Lib. 2. of Horace's Odes. The character ascribed to Bacchus in the 6th and 7th stanzas of the 19th Ode, a poem peculiarly devoted to the celebration of his praises, should have taught Bentley to tremble at depriving him of the epithet "proeliis audax" in the 12th Ode Lib. 1., on the ground of his being an effeminate and luxurious deity. The God of wine seems to have been as great in the field, as some of our modern heroes at the bottle.
APRIL the 15th
Finished a cursory perusal of Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful. The penetrating sagacity, various knowledge, and exquisite taste displayed in this disquisition, are subordinate merits: it is the original and just mode of investigation on such topics, of which it exhibits so, brilliant an example, that stamps upon it, in my estimation, its principal value.
Looked over Swift's Journal to Stella, in, the 20th Vol. of his Works. I can allow for the relaxations of greatness: trifling however, as their general cast and complexion may be, they usually confess, somewhere and by accident, the stock from whence they sprung.: but these Letters are, uniformly, and throughout, the most childish things I ever read; and it is wonderful how such a man as Swift could possibly keep his mind down to such a level, for any length of time.
APRIL the 16th
Read Sir William Temple on Popular Discontents, on Gardening, and on Ancient and Modern Learning. Temple, whatever topic he treats, always entertains: he has an easy regular stream of good, sense, which never overflows, or fails, or stagnates. In his Introduction to the History of England, he has opened our history to the death of William the Conqueror—a dark and confused period—very successfully; and laid a good foundation for a subsequent narrative. Swift, from a fragment of English history which he has left, beginning with the reign of William the II., appears to have had an intention, at one time, to follow his patron's career; but, from the specimen he has given, one cannot regret that he dropped: it. I am unable to discover, in this fragment, any traces of Swift, or of superior ability of any kind.
APRIL the 19th
Began Lib. 3. of. Horace's Odes. We should have despised such compositions.as the 12th, the 17th, and the 18th, had they been written by anyone but Horace. That "privatus" in the 8th, means "throwing aside public cares for a time, and becoming a private individual," appears to me to admit no doubt; nor do I feel, with Bentley, that this construction is harsh.
Consulted, for a particular purpose, Warburton's Divine Legation. One would, a priori, have supposed it impossible to weave such a miscellaneous mass of knowledge on all subjects, upon the slender and fragile thread of his Demonstration. For vigour of intellect, and amplitude of information, Warburton is almost without a rival: but his judgment and his taste are both defective. An implicit adoption of the first and hasty suggestions of his prompt and ardent mind, seems to have been his predominant foible; and to this cause, I think, may be referred, that waste of powers and erudition, in the support of untenable paradoxes, which vitiates so large a portion of his literary labours:—the pains which should have been bestowed on the discovery of truth, were perversely misapplied to the maintenance of error.
APRIL the 22nd
Read Adam Smith's History of Astronomy, in his posthumous tracts, published by Dugald Stewart.—Any unusual succession of events in the appearances of nature, by obstructing the ready passage of the imagination from one to the other, creates the uneasy and restless sensation of wonder; which we endeavour to remove, by filling up the gap between them, with some connecting element—some middle term—over which the mind can glide from one to the other with customary facility: on this principle he takes his stand, in reviewing the science of astronomy; and proceeds to consider, the various expedients which have been offered to explain the phenomena of the heavens, according to the advanced state of knowledge at the time, from the revolving concentric spheres of Aristotle, to the simple and sublime suggestion of Newton. It was Smith's design to have traced a history of all the leading divisions of philosophical enquiry, on the same original and happy idea; and, from the fragments he has left behind him, one deeply regrets that he did not pursue and complete a task, so congenial to his temper and his habits, and for which he was, in all respects, so admirably qualified.—This phasis<21> of philosophy seems bottomed on Hume's doctrine of cause and effect. There is frequently an earnestness in Smith's manner, arising from an anxiety to exhibit and enforce his opinion, which is very impressive. The preceding Memoirs of Smith, by Dugald Stewart, disappointed me; they are jejune in matter, and lifeless in expression.
APRIL the 27th
Finished the first Volume of Gregory's Essays: a most prolix and diffuse composition; from which you may just collect, by wading through 500 pages, that the author means to establish the liberty of human action, on a distinction between physical cause and intellectual motive.
Read the 24th of Horace's Odes, Lib. 3. I am not satisfied with Bentley's emendation and explication of the lines,—
Si figit adamantinos
Summis verticibus dire necessitas
Substituting "sic" for "si," and reading the whole parenthetically: but Dacier should have understood his construction, before he derided it; and far from thinking that his own (and the ordinary) interpretation of the passage, exhibits an idea "juste et belle," it appears to me that nothing can be more forced or uncouth than the image thus presented.
APRIL the 30th
Ran over Beattie's Elements of Moral Science—a miserable work; which does not answer to the title, and is deficient even in the wonted animation of its author. B. shines but as a disputant: as a calm disquisitionist, he is nothing.
Attended Church in the afternoon. It is strange, how differently the same subject appears to the same man at different times—how present consideration magnifies its relative importance! S. preached a sermon in which he represented "good works," as the substance of religion; and speculative dogmas, as dust in the balance: yet, I have heard him insist, at other times, on many particles of this dust, as points of supreme moment!
Looked over the first Vol. of the Tatlers—a happy design; which, however unequally executed, claims our esteem, as the. venerable parent of a literary progeny, that has rendered inestimable service, in quickening the understandings, enlarging the knowledge, refining the taste, and improving the morals, of the people of this country.—The character of Orlando, in the 50th and 51st Nos, is original and striking.
MAY the 7th
Began Lib. 4. of Horace's Odes. The 1st Ode opens most gorgeously, but concludes impotently: the 2nd is throughout of consummate excellence: in the 4th Horace loses himself, I think, by attempting to soar too high—his forte is elegance, not sublimity.
Read Coulthurst's Sermon on the 25th of Oct. 1796, with Geddes' version of it. The travesty is humourous and happy; but the original is so truly ridiculous, that it is difficult, by any burlesque, to render it more so.
Met Mr. E. He has given up his exposition of the prophecies, as applied to the present period; and does not seem prepared, or inclined, to adopt any other. He is convinced however, contrary to my opinion, that the Old Catholic establishment will start up again in France, as soon as the present hurricane is over.-His liberal views in politics, derived from an ample knowledge of men and things, and purified, by long commerce with the world, from all bigotry, are quite refreshing in these days of party violence.
MAY the 10th
Pursued the Tatlers. The 95th No. is particularly happy in describing an amiable domestic couple;—there are touches of truth and unaffected simplicity in it, which are quite pathetic the Vision Nos. 100 and 102-(l am not in general fond of these visions)—is neatly introduced, and prettily told: the 114th No. is affecting, connected with the 95th
Read the 6th and 7th Odes (Lib. 4.) of Horace. The former is disproportioned in its parts, involved, and obscure; nor do I think Horace successful in his laboured efforts to be great: the latter—a congenial theme—breathes all that simplicity, and tenderness, and graceful ease, for which I most admire this captivating poet. How naturally do the trains of imagery and sentiment follow each other!
MAY the 20th
Finished, by a continued perusal, Burke's Two Letters on a Regicide Peace. They contain as much plenitude of thought, fertility of fancy, and vigour of argumentation, as any of his younger productions; nor do I perceive any symptoms of that decay of mind, which he so often asserts. How inestimable would be the remnant of such unrivalled powers!
Looked over Horace's Epodes—an unmeaning title. The 2nd is eminently happy in selecting and presenting the delights of a country life; and, notwithstanding its neatness and point, one almost regrets the concluding turn by which the illusion is destroyed.—The incantations in the 5th are very inferior, in grotesque wildness and horror, to those of the Witches in Macbeth.—How Dicier can consider the lines in the 11th,
"Simul calentis inverecundus Deus,
Fervidior mero, arcana promerat loco;"<23>
as meaning anything else than "when wine (Quid non ebrietas designat? Operta recludit, Epis. 5., Lib. 1.<24>) has unlocked the heart," or can impute any grossness to this idea, is perfectly amazing was he never warmed to such disclosures, by a friend and a bottle?—The 8th and 12th are most abominably filthy, and utterly unworthy their author.–On the whole, I am less pleased with the Epodes, than with any of Horace's compositions; and fancy, at least, that I discover in many of them, a hardness of manner, perplexity of construction, and acridness of spirit, very remote from the usual ease, suavity, and urbanity of this Favourite of the Graces.
JUNE the 2nd
Visited the Royal Exhibition. Particularly struck with a sea view by Turner—fishing vessels coming in, with a heavy swell, in apprehension of a tempest gathering in the distance, and casting, as it advances, a night of shade; while a parting glow is spread with fine effect upon the shore. The whole composition, bold in design, and masterly in execution. I am entirely unacquainted with the artist; but if he proceeds as he has begun, he cannot fail to become the first in his department.
JUNE the 9th
I was much amused this evening with a ventriloquist; the most perfect in his art I have ever met with. He maintained a spirited dialogue with himself, and sung an air, with good effect, in this assumed voice. The deception is highly curious. That it is in the power of the professors of this art, according to the vulgar notion, to cast their voice wherever they please, is certainly untrue: the delusion they produce, may, I think, thus be accounted for. Though I cannot admit with Reid (Enquiry into the Human Mind, chap. 4, sect. 1.) that sound does not indicate the quarter from whence it proceeds, since, as I have often observed, a dog, with nothing to direct him, will instantly turn towards the point from whence his master calls; yet unquestionably this indication is very vague and slight, and leaves the mind in considerable suspense. When the ventriloquist first inwardly articulates, we are prompted to refer the sound to him; but observing that not a muscle in his countenance stirs, and hearing a voice entirely different from that in which he had just addressed us, we naturally cast about to some other quarter for the speaker: the ventriloquist always takes care to lead the imagination, with much address, to that quarter from which he wishes us to suppose that the ideal speaker is talking: and we eagerly refer thither, those accents for which we could otherwise assign no place whatever.
JULY the 8th
Finished the perusal of "Les Lettres Provinciales, de Pascal." In the first ten Letters, he exposes in the liveliest and most striking forms, and aggravates by a vein of the most exquisite and cutting irony, the subtle and mischievous casuistry of the Jesuits: in the nine succeeding ones, he follows up his attack upon the morality and policy of this order, seriously and in earnest: the latter, however, though by no means destitute of force; though sometimes very powerful; and though in the 14th, particularly, the writer bursts out into a strain of vehement and impassioned eloquence, which; had it been found in Demosthenes, would have been the admiration of the world,—prove, upon the whole, far less interesting to a modern reader; and it is to the former, that Pascal will ultimately stand indebted for the meed of immortal fame.
JULY the 15th
Read in the Star, this morning, the following solemn and affecting account of the death of Edmund Burke. It has all the appearance of coming from authority.
"On Saturday night died, at his seat near Beaconsfield, after a long and painful illness, which he bore with a pious fortitude suited to his character, in his 68th year, the Right Honourable E. B. His end was suited to the simple greatness of mind which he displayed through life; every way unaffected; without levity, without ostentation. Full of natural grace and dignity, he appeared neither to wish nor to dread, but patiently and placidly to await, the appointed hour of his dissolution. He had been listening to some essay of Addison's, in which he ever took delight: he had recommended himself in many affectionate messages to the remembrance of those absent friends whom he never ceased to love: he had conversed some time with his accustomed force of thought and of expression, on the awful situation of his country, for the welfare of which, his heart was interested to the last beat: he had given, with steady composure, some private directions, in contemplation of his approaching death: when, as his attendants were conveying him to his bed, he sunk down, and, after a short struggle, passed quietly and without a groan, to eternal rest, in that mercy which he had just declared, he had long sought with unfeigned humiliation, and to which he looked with a trembling hope."
I shall never forget the chilling reply of a French Emigrant of condition, to whom I had communicated this awful event with some considerable emotion; "Ah! une grande perte: voila un orateur de mains!"<25>
JULY the 20th
Finished the perusal of some of the Orations of Demosthenes. Upon the whole, I am rather surprised, I confess, though it be to my shame, at the transcendental fame of this orator; and cannot help ascribing it, in some measure, to traditional veneration. Of the effects of these harangues upon. an Athenian audience at the time, I can readily believe anything: but they exhibit nothing of that artificial construction and rhetorical embellishment, which is calculated to extort the applause of the critic by profession; nor of that impassioned and overwhelming eloquence, which secures the admiration of the world at large. Sheer sense, urged with masculine force and inextinguishable spirit, is all they have to boast; nor.do I meet with anything in any of them—(and when I say this, I am not unmindful of Partridge's critique upon Garrick<26>)—which a person of sound judgment and strong feeling, long practised to an Athenian auditory, might not very naturally be supposed to urge in the same manner, on a similar occasion, without much premeditation. The speech on the Crown, is evidently the most laboured of any; yet, how inferior is it in genius, erudition, taste, and pathos, to Burke's matchless diatribe on the attack of the Duke of Bedford and Earl of Lauderdale!
JULY the 21st
Read the first Satire of Horace, Lib. 1.: a composition of exquisite urbanity: but in which I am unable to discover any adequate connection in the transition from discontent to avarice, even by the light of the "Illuc, unde abii, redeo,"<27> in the 108th verse. It is not merely from the love of gain, and envy of superior wealth, that we are discontented at our own situations, and sigh for those of others: nor do the instances which Horace adduces at the opening of this piece, appear to originate from this cause at all.
JULY the 23rd
Read Hurd's Discourse on Poetical Imitation: a critical disquisition of considerable depth and skill; but debased by a superfluous intricacy, and frequent affectation of quaintness. I cannot think that he satisfactorily exculpates Virgil from the charge of borrowing from Homer.—Read afterwards his Marks of Imitation; of which the canons are just, but the examples not always convincing.—The first dissertation, perhaps, would render us too credulous of originality; and the latter, too suspicious of imitation.
Pursued Horace's Satires, Lib. 1. One wishes that he had preserved more connection of thought, in many of these incomparable effusions:—it is really difficult in several passages of the 4th and 5th to make out and pursue the train of his ideas. The humour of the 7th, I confess myself unable to relish; but the 8th is infinitely curious.
JULY the 27th
Read Hurd's Dissertation on the Idea of Universal Poetry—a most impotent attempt to ravish a barren generality. Formally to deduce the necessity of versification to the constitution of a poem, from the abstract principle, that the end of poetry is pleasure, demanded a vigour of powers, and violence of compression, to which only his MASTER was equal. The fierce attack on novel writing, towards the close, appears unseasonable and unprovoked.—In the subsequent Dissertation on the Drama, Hurd recovers his wonted powers; and I am inclined to acquiesce in the different provinces which he assigns, with much subtlety of discrimination, to Tragedy, Comedy, and Farce.
Read the 2nd Satire of Horace, Lib. 2. The difficulty, is hardly repaid by the pleasure, of understanding this satire on luxurious gluttony. Many of its points are happily adapted to modern circumstances, and neatly urged, in Pope's spirited Imitation.
AUGUST the 4th
Read Burke's Memorial on a projected secession of Opposition during the American War—a most masterly composition; not breathing the fierce passions and party violence of the day, but temperate, guarded, firm; of measured strength; and adapted, by the largeness of its views, to the reason of unborn generations.
It is brought forward in the Monthly Magazine; but they do not mean, I should hope, to charge this against him as a proof of inconsistency.
AUGUST the 6th
Attended, by particular invitation, a public Meeting of the Quakers, at which P. W. of G. with his suite, and between three and four hundred soldiers, were present. There were four principal speakers; two men, and two women. The dismal twang, the braying whine, the suspiration of forced breath, the sudden and violent transitions, from oracular slowness to vehement rapidity, and from sibyllistic fury to colloquial familiarity, in wild rhapsodies without coherence or drift, and perplexed applications of shreds of Scripture, Old and New, with no discoverable propriety, to no apparent purpose——contrasted with the mute attention, the sobs and tears of their own auditory—were really convulsive. With every disposition to be serious, it was difficult to preserve a decency of deportment. This sect completely puzzles me. That persons, all above the vulgar, many of excellent good sense and extensive information, most exemplary in their conduct, mingling in the business if not the pleasures of the world, performing all the common offices of life like other folks, and governing their own society by maxims of the soundest discipline, should, at this time of day, persist in nourishing a fanaticism so extravagant and revolting to all common sense, is very surprising: that they should wish, as in this instance, to exhibit a public spectacle of their folly, is altogether unaccountable.-On showing a disposition to withdraw, we were repeatedly pressed to stay till the conclusion; and thanks were then formally returned for the general silence and decorum maintained by the spectators (which indeed was exemplary), as if they were sensible of the difficulty of preserving it. I really thought the thanks well merited.
Read the 3rd Satire of Horace, Lib. 2. The humour of this piece is rather recondite; and the personages introduced in the narrative of Damasippus, renders it frequently perplexed. I was at one time, inclined to transpose the transition which Dacier places at the 187th verse, to the 182nd
AUGUST the 18th
Finished the perusal of Mattel's Droit des Gens: a masterly work, in which the duties of the sovereign power of nations, are ingeniously and ably deduced, in applicable detail, from the simple principle of the general good; and the rights of humanity, forcibly and eloquently vindicated against the maxims and practice of ambition. The Editor, an initiate apparently of the New School of Philosophy, seems possessed with a fanatical horror against the idea of punishment, in its ordinary acceptation, as inflicted by equals on equals, by man on man; and to surprise, and hunt, and combat, this many-headed monster, wherever it starts up in the text, appears the eternal purpose of his tasteless annotations.
Began the 1st Book of Horace's Epistles. The first of these Epistles is a most delightful and mellifluous composition, full of natural ease and grace. Dacier, appears to me, to misunderstand the 19th verse,
Et mihi res, non me rebus, submittere conor:<28>
this he considers as a qualification on his relapses to Epicureanism: I am inclined to regard it as opposed to the 17th verse, and expressive of the effect of such relapses; which was, that he endeavoured to accommodate things to his mind, like an Epicurean; and not his mind to the nature of things, like a Stoic. Pope, in his spirited imitation, seems to have viewed it in the same light; and "subjungere," I observe, is substituted for "submittere," in the text. I am disposed to adopt Bentley's emendation of "lenta" for "longa" V. 21., as "piger" is the varied epithet to "annus."—The 3rd Epistle is written with uncommon ease and spirit.—If the 4th was addressed by way of consolation to Tibullus, on his ruin,—as Dacier plumes himself on having discovered,-never were topics more unhappily selected.-Dacier has translated the 9th in the true spirit of a Frenchman under the old regime.
AUGUST the 25th
Read the 1st Epistle of Horace, Lib. 2. (the celebrated Epistle to Augustus) with the aid of Dacier's notes, and Hurd's Commentary. I am not entirely satisfied with the explanations of either of these critics. Dacier is less happy than usual in his auxiliary lights; and Hurd extracts an order and coherence, which I am unable to recognize in the original, the true connection and bearing of which, in various passages, eludes all my research. Bentley, tempted perhaps by the difficulty of the subject, is more than usually audacious in his conjectural emendations: he appears on this occasion, in the elation of conscious superiority, to give the full reins to his genius; and where it is impossible to force our assent, he at least extorts our admiration, by the extent of his learning and the vigour of his fancy. Hurd, complexionally of a very different temperament, is always acute and ingenious, and plausible, even in his most eccentric aberrations. His explanation, in a note on the 14th verse, of Virgil's Allegory at the opening of the 3rd Georgic, if it be chimaerical, is gradually wrought out with exquisite art, and ultimately displayed with matchless effect; and his disquisitions on the double sense of verbs (note v. 97.) and the rules of criticism (note v. 214.), though in both cases depraved by too extreme a subtlety of refinement, are unquestionably, in substance, at once profound and just. For his fulsome adulation of Warburton; for the servile application of his minute and microscopic researches, to justify the casual glances of his patron, he well deserves the burning lashes of Parr: yet, when I estimate his critical achievements, I could wish his fierce assailant had given weight to his censures of them, by having previously asserted to the world the strength of his own powers in this congenial department of literature.—Pope's Imitation of this Epistle to Augustus, though sometimes flat, is frequently felicitous. He is still more unequal in his Imitation of the next—a composition in which Horace particularly shines: his account however, of the obstructions in London-Streets, is eminently happy; Horace's description fades beside it.
AUGUST the 28th
Read Horace de Arte Poetica. I eagerly adopt Bentley's substitution of "adfient" for "adsunt," v. 101.; of "qui" for "quae," v. 277.; and incline to read, with him, "praesectum" for "perfectum" v. 294.: but cannot bring myself to embrace his emendation, however strenuously enforced, of " ter natos" for "tornados" v. 441.—I wish to believe, that "tornatos" may be translated "rounded" as well as turned." His restoration, in a note on v. 402., of a corrupted passage in Ampelius, is very masterly: it flashes instant conviction; and does him greater credit, in my judgment, than all his other emendations put together.—With regard to this celebrated Epistle to the Pisos,<29> if it has any method, I confess I am unable to discover it; and, considered as a didactic tractate on the art of Poetry, I cannot help regarding it as a miserably lame and defective composition.
AUGUST the 29th
Read Hurd's Commentary on Horace's Art of Poetry. Hurd's idea is, that this Epistle is nothing but a critique on the Roman Drama, and he spins out on this principle, sometimes with difficulty enough, a sort of loose epistolary connection through all its parts. But what must we think of a poem, whose subject, method, and drift, though anxiously investigated by the ablest critics, have defied detection for seventeen centuries and a half. The annotations appended to the commentary, are replete with critical entertainment.—On v. 47., he successfully illustrates, from Shakespeare, his idea of Horace's direction, "so to order old words, that they shall have the effect of new."—On v. 94., he justly deduces, that poetry is the language of passion; that each passion presents its peculiar images, and suggests its appropriate expression; that these are modified by the situation, habits, age, profession, &c. of the person thus affected; and, that the just exhibition of the passions thus modified, constitutes the excellence of dramatic composition.—On v. 99., he very ingeniously traces the signification of "pulchrum" from its original and appropriate sense of "beauty in visible form," to "every species of pleasurable image whatever," and finally "to whatever excites any pleasurable feeling through the imagination:" and he then proceeds to set the sense of the terms "pulchra" and "dulcia," as opposed to each other in this verse, in a very happy light; restricting the former, which might singly have denoted poetical excellence in general, to beautiful imagery; and assigning the other to pathos.—On v. 103., he endeavours to solve the celebrated question, why we are pleased in representation, with what would shock us in reality; but omits the grand cause, which has been justly assigned by Burke (Sub. and Beaut. Pt. 1. Sect. 13, 14, 15).—On v. 244. he very happily evolves the charm of pastoral poetry; and traces its progress from the Idyllia of Theocritus, to Milton's Comus.—On v. 273., he refers the coarseness of ancient wit, to the free and popular government of their states, and, to their festal licenses.—-And, on v. 317., he very ably explains, and illustrates Horace's recommendation for attaining truth of expression in Dramatic Poetry—to study the human mind in general, to know what conduct, from the predominancy of certain qualities, the imputed character requires; and, to study real life as it prevails, to know with what degree of strength that character will, on particular occasions, most probably display itself—How lamentable is it that such erudition and acuteness should be occasionally polluted, by a superfluous and crafty semblance of intricacy and depth, by a detestable affectation of quaint expression, and by a pert provoking petulance, a cool, sly, contemptuous jeering, even of the most respected characters, the intended mischief of which can only recoil in shame and disgrace upon the author.
SEPTEMBER the 3rd
Read Terence's Andria. I cannot applaud the construction or conduct of the plot; but the dialogue is, throughout, supported with inimitable ease and spirit. Only one passage made me smile; and that was, where Pamphilus says to Davus, in a pet, on the unlucky conclusion of his first scheme, and the proposal of another, Act 4th Sc. 1st
Imo etiam: nam sati credo, si advigilaveris,
Est unis, geminas mihi confides nuptias.<30>
The expression "hinc illae lachrymae"<31> comes from the 1st ecene, act 1st: the source of these proverbial quotations is frequently unknown.
Read Sir Horace Walpole's Mysterious Mother. There is a gusto of antiquity, and peculiar raciness in this piece, which is quite to my taste: the terrible graces are finely maintained, and the passion of horror is ably prepared, and successfully excited; but the catastrophe is at last worked up to a crisis of distraction, for which no power of thought or language can find adequate expression.
Perused Gibbon's lively attack (Letter 9.) on the Government of Berne; which evinces that he had early imbibed just political notions.
SEP. the 8th
Finished, with much interest, the Pursuits of Literature. The text is frequently stiff and intricate; but the prefaces and notes perstringe with acute criticism and poignant wit, whatever has, of late years, obtained celebrity in politics or literature. The Author is unquestionably a good scholar, and has formed his taste on classic models: his knowledge of modern works, and of the leading characters of the day, and the secret history of both, is extensive and curious: in politics, he seems a temperate Burkite; but with a strange obliquity from this standard, in a ridiculous alarm, which he cherishes, of the return of Popery into this country, through the influence of the French emigrant priests: his jealous orthodoxy he evinces in a fierce attack on Dr. Geddes for questioning the inspiration of the historical parts of the Bible: he appears fully to understand, and decidedly loathe, the New System of Morals, with all its votaries: and he displays a mortal antipathy to the frippery of affected refinement, from the Della Cruscans, to hot-pressed vellum paper.—With an affectation of concealment, he throws out many hints, which, if not designed to mislead, might surely conduct to his detection.—His character of a true Poet, in the 4th Part, is itself animated with a high spirit of poetry, very different from the general texture of his Satire.
Read Terence's Eunuch. The characters of Gnatho and Thraso, the Parasite and his braggart patron, are delineated with considerable humour and spirit. The difference of manners, particularly in whatever respects the intercourse of the sexes, between the Ancients and the moderns, is very striking; and I think greatly to the disadvantage of the former. Love, it is observable, with them, seems not at all to have cooled by a premature and surreptitious enjoyment—at least if the representations here given, are just.
There is a very happy ridicule of the prevailing system of terror in certain modern novels, by a "Jacobin Novelist," in the last Monthly Magazine. It seems hard, but it is true, that original excellence in any department of writing, by provoking scurvy imitation, has a natural tendency to bring disgrace upon itself.
SEP. the 9th
Read the 1st Book of Cicero De Finibus; in which the moral system of the Epicureans is ably expounded and justified. The licentious air of this philosophy entirely results from the equivocal sense of the terms, pleasure, and pain, on which the system hinges—terms, which were perhaps adopted a little in the spirit of paradox, and which have been industriously perverted by the malevolence of party. In truth, the system itself very sensibly makes happiness the end of action; and the means of obtaining it, the business of wisdom; the rules which wisdom prescribes for this purpose, constituting the virtues.
Read the first two of Burke's Memorials on French Affairs. The latter, strongly marks the distinguishing character of the French Revolution; illustrates its influence in producing new and most important interests in the surrounding states, by the analogous cases of the aristocratic and democratic factions in Greece headed by Lacedaemon and Athens, the parties of the Guelphs and Ghibbelines in Italy, and the Reformation of Luther; and perpends, in a masterly survey, its probable course through all the States of Europe. We see in this grave composition, pure and unadorned, the native force and vigour of Burke's mind; and have a taste of the immense stores of information, from which he drew in his more popular works.
SEP. the 10th
Read the 2nd Book of Cicero de Finibus: in which Cicero himself dexterously attacks the Epicureans; taking the term "voluptas" in its more obvious and restricted sense, and bantering them on their not daring to expose publicly the pretended motives of their actions. Cicero, I think, tacitly confesses some difficulty in this attack, by insisting so copiously on an absurd doctrine which the Epicureans held, probably to avoid scandal, that privation of pain, is pleasure; and that all positive pleasures, are only modifications of this negative good.
Read the 3rd and 4th of Burke's Memorials on French Affairs. The latter opens, in a masterly style, the true interior of France; and points out, with infinite force of mind, and a consummate knowledge of the human character and the case before him, the only feasible, and the only honourable, course for the allied powers to pursue, in their endeavour to restore a regular government in France—which is, to consider the emigrants, each in his department, as the only true representatives of the French State; to treat them as their ally; and to reinstate them in their property and their authority, as they advance. One grieves to see a man of Burke's genius and intentions, conflicting against a giant evil with such intractable instruments!—What a hopeless case, do these Memorials, written in 1791, 1792, and 1793, now make out!
SEP. the 11th
Read the 3rd Book of Cicero de Finibus, in which he unfolds the Stoic system, in the personage of Cato. The grounds and qualifications of this system are intricate and obscure; but its leading feature consists in placing, not merely the "summum" with the Peripatetics, but the "solum" "bonum," not the chief only but the sole good, in the "honestum," the virtuous and praiseworthy: the superhumanity of which scheme is finely exposed by Cicero in the next Book. The truth is, these different sects of philosophers, though they varied prodigiously in words, were, with some slight shades of real difference, for which it would be easy to assign a philosophical reason, substantially agreed.
I was much pleased with some anecdotes of Buffon,<32> in the last Supplement to the Monthly Magazine; though they lower this fine writer, unintentionally perhaps, into a French atheistic coxcomb in private life.
Finished Terence's Heautontimorumenos, with which I am not much delighted. One becomes weary with the cajoled father, amorous son, cunning slave, and fond mistress. Were the Romans deficient in variety of character, or their poets in the skill to mark it?
SEP. the 20th
Read the ΕΡΑΣΤΑΙ (Erastai–The Rival Lovers) and ΕΥΘΥΦΡΩΝ (Euthyphron) of Plato.—In the former, Socrates, in his interrogatory way, leads these Lovers—a suspicious appellation in Greece—to concede, that Philosophy consists, not in attaining secondary eminence in all the arts, but pre-eminence in the art of life, in governing oneself, one's household, and mankind.—In the latter, he attacks the fastness of pagan priestcraft; and reduces Euthyphron, who maintains that there are duties peculiarly due to the Gods, and who is engaged on this principle in the prosecution of his own father for murder, to a non plus. The toil is thus artfully spread. Euthyphron, on Socrates pretended wish for information, lays down, that what is pleasing to the Gods is sacred, what is otherwise, profane: a position which he is obliged to abandon, on considering the acknowledged difference of sentiment among the Gods; when he adopts, at Socrates' suggestion, the amendment, that what is pleasing to all the Gods, is sacred, what is displeasing to all, profane, and the rest indifferent. On which, Socrates, who has apparently gained little advantage in this first round, but the credit of giving his antagonist a fall and setting him on his legs again, proceeds to involve him in perplexity, this way. As, when anything acts or suffers, it is active and passive because it acts and suffers, and does not act and suffer because it is active and passive; so, when anything pleases, it is pleasing because it pleases, and does not please because it is pleasing; but that which is sacred, confessedly pleases the Gods, because it is sacred, and is not sacred because it pleases the Gods; therefore, that which pleases the Gods cannot be sacred, nor that which is sacred pleasing to the Gods, the one being pleasing because it pleases, while the other pleases because it is pleasing:—An entangling subtlety, which can hardly be exhibited but in Greek; and which we might wish, perhaps, with Johnson, not difficult merely, but impossible, of exhibition in any language. Socrates then leads Euthyphron to assert or to allow, that sanctity is a part of duty; that it is that part which relates to the service of the Gods; that it consists in rightly giving, and rightly asking; and that it may be regarded consequently, as a sort of commerce between Heaven and Earth. But, in commerce, what is useful is given for what is useful. Do we give, for their favours, what is useful to the Gods? Euthyphron, with a sort of pious horror, instantly rejects this idea, and says—not what is useful, list what is agreeable. He is thus brought round to the point from whence he started, since what is agreeable is synonymous to what is pleasing;—and, feigning an awkward excuse, abruptly breaks up the conference.—There is in all this, surely, much solemn trifling—a childish attempt to puzzle and confound, by considerations entirely foreign from the merits of the question; and the best apology for Socrates, if justly represented on this occasion by Plato, is, that he fought the Sophists with their own weapons, and endeavoured, in a good cause, to "win his way, by yielding to the tide."
SEP. the 26th
Finished Gibbon's Correspondence. I envy him his splendid acquaintance; his literary labours, tempered by the most elegant habits; the first appearance of his History; and his introduction to the House of Commons. He seems to have consummated, all that the accomplished gentleman and scholar could desire: nor can I complain of his insensibility to his happy fortune—he frequently speaks of his condition with much complacency. The motives which he assigns for his silence in the House, are addressed directly to the heart.—His Letters to Deyverdun are interesting as they open a little the interior of his domestic economy:—'he seems to have entertained high end expensive notions of living. The concluding Letters, addressed to a Right Honourable Lady, are of consummate elegance.
SEP. the 29th
Read the History of Literature, and the British and Foreign History, in the New Annual Register for 1796. The materials for the former, though slight and of easy access, are judiciously managed, and with tolerable fairness: but the latter is conducted in a strain of partiality, highly unbecoming anything which assumes the semblance of historical narrative; and even disgusting, I should think, to those who might be disposed to make similar reflections on the events related.
Began the 2nd Vol. of Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works. I was disappointed with his remarks on Hurd's Horace, which, though certainly ingenious, possess little interest, and give no satisfaction. His final sentence on Hurd's Essay on Poetical Imitation-"Mr. H. thinks these circumstances, all or some, necessary to form a suspicion; I allow they are very useful to confirm one," is pointed and just.
OCTOBER the 13th
Finished Longinus on the Sublime; to which I had been led, by Gibbon's critique in his Extraits Raisonnés. Notwithstanding the unquestionable merits of this critical composition in many points of view, I doubt exceedingly, from its want of method and exactness, whether it would have been favourably received, had it now made its appearance for the first time, as the production of a modern author. Longinus seems to have possessed a nice sensibility and just taste; but to have wanted penetration and discernment to ascertain the causes by which he was affected. His conception of his subject, is confused, since he places it in whatever so violently agitates and transports the mind, as to overpower reflection; his five sources of the sublime, are neither distinctly assigned, nor distinctly kept; and he evidently ascribes to expression, what is due to sentiment.
OCT. the 15th
Read Boileau's Reflections, prefixed to his translation of Longinus; with which, however, they have very little connection. The first nine are levelled at Perrault, for degrading the Ancients; and the three last at Messrs. Huet and Le Clerc, for contesting the sublimity of the celebrated passage in Genesis—"And God said, let there be light; and there was light." He has the advantage on both occasions; but uses it arrogantly. Read, afterwards, the Examen of this disputed passage, by Messrs. Huet and Le Clerc; and Le Clerc's Reply to Boileau's strictures on his Remarks.—After all, there seems little substantial ground of difference in the conflict so fiercely worked up between them: Le Clerc and Huet acknowledge the sentiment, though necessarily and unintentionally, to be sublime; and what can Boileau want more?—With respect to the other theme of literary warfare—the merits of the ancients—in our judgment of them, there seems one prejudice to be guarded against—a fond admiration of whatever is antique, which leads us to treat old writers like young children, and to be transported with an overweening delight at any excellence they may display; and one presumption most deliberately to be weighed—that what has extorted applause for so many generations, from such varieties of tastes and tempers, and through such changes of ephemerous fashion, must possess intrinsic merit deserving permanent esteem.
OCT. the 18th
Finished Gibbon's Extraits Raisonnés. His critique on Burke's Sublime and Beautiful, evinces that he had not sufficiently entered into the spirit of that disquisition. He expresses a surprise at the difference between Longinus and Burke, on the effect of the sublime; the former, describing it as calculated to rouse and elevate the mind; the latter, to overpower and depress it: but this is not a just representation of Burke's sentiments. B. makes the sublime turn, indeed, on pain and danger, which, when near, overpower and oppress; but on pain and danger removed; in which case, the mind, arrogating to itself some portion of the importance which these qualities confer, feels that swelling and triumph, that glorying and sense of inward greatness, which he expressly quotes Longinus as ascribing to the Sublime.
Read Boileau's Arret Burlesque—Discours sur la Satire,—Lettre au Duc de V.—,and his reconciliatory Letter to Perrault. The first, is an exquisite piece of irony on the obstinate adherence of old foundations to exploded error:—the second, a neat defence of personal allusions in satire:—the third, a happy sample of French flummery:—and the last, a delicate execution of a difficult task; containing a judicious mixture of firmness and concession.
OCT. the 23rd
Looked over the Postulata prefixed by Saunderson to his Algebra. I should have expected from him a better explanation of the Rnle of Proportion; with the rationale of which, I have found even proficients unacquainted. The object of this Rule is, to find a number bearing a proposed ratio to a given number. In the Rule of Three, Direct, it is to find a fourth number, bearing the same ratio to the third, as the second does to the first. What is the process which reason prescribes for this purpose? Divide the second number by the first—this will ascertain the ratio between them; then multiply the third with the quotient, which must necessarily produce a fourth number bearing precisely the same ratio to the third. In the Rule of Three Inverse, the object is the same; only, from the nature of the question, the terms are so transposed, that the 4th No. sought, must bear the same ratio to the 2nd, as the 3rd does to the 1st: so that, putting the 3rd No. in the place of the 1st, the process becomes the same. The intent of the Double Rule of Three Direct, is to find a 6th No. which shall bear the same ratio to the product of the 4th and 5th, as the 3rd does to the product of the 1st and 2nd: make those products therefore, and proceed as in the Single Rule of Three Direct. The intent of the Double Rule of Three Inverse, is to find a 6th No. which shall bear the same ratio to the quotient of the 4th divided by the 5th, as the 3rd does to the quotient of the 1st-divided by the 2nd: form these quotients therefore, and proceed as before.—Such are the processes which common sense prescribes for the attainment of these ends: but, as in practice it is more convenient to multiply first and then divide, we have adopted accordingly an inverted method, leading precisely to the same result, but obscuring the principle on which the proceeding is founded.
OCT. the 26th
Finished the 1st Vol. of Sir George Staunton's Account of Lord Macartney's Embassy to China. There is an ostentatious prolixity in the explanation of common events, and a solemn pomp of phraseology in the narration of trifling occurrences (particularly exemplified in the opening of the 3rd chap.), which cast an air of ridicule on what, had it been touched with naiveté, (for I love detail), would have been sufficiently interesting: but the author seems to have considered it as a necessary point of duty, to swell himself out to a bulk suitable to the proposed amplitude and magnificence of his publication. The first Volume only just conducts us, after a De Istitutione Oratoria long (I will not say, a tedious) passage, to the promised land,—the object of our eager curiosity,—China.
OCT. the 29th
Finished the 1st Book of Quintilian "De Institutione Oratoria." The first three chapters evince, that good sense is the same in every age and country:—the greater part of his observations are of as perfect application now, as they could have been at the time they were written. The four succeeding ones are occupied with matters of grammar and philology in the Latin language, of little present use. In the 8th and 9th judicious directions are given respecting the first reading and elocution of the infant orator: and in the three last, he enforces the subsidiary aid of various collateral studies, particularly geometry and music, to the attainment of perfect eloquence. That the more the mind is stored with knowledge, the more materials it must possess for thinking and for speaking, is sufficiently obvious; but I have never been satisfied with the particular directions which rhetoricians have prescribed on this subject: heated by the intense and exclusive consideration of their favourite theme, the qualifications they require in a consummate orator, are usually extravagant and absurd; and they are too apt to neglect enforcing, with due earnestness, matters of more essential practical import, in the vain pursuit of unattainable perfection.
NOVEMBER the 2nd
Began the 2nd Vol. of Sir George Staunton's Embassy to China. The account of the stupendous wall of China, probably the greatest work of man, is highly interesting; and the narrative of the first audience with the Emperor, in whose court art seems to have exhausted all its powers in investing the royal personage with awful dignity, is impressively worked up. I confess, on this solemn and august occasion, I felt tremblingly for the honour of my country.
Read Burke's Letter to Elliot on the D. of N.'s Speech in the House of Lords: a most animated, festive, and poignant philippic, against those leaders of the aristocracy, who, by their own conduct, precipitated that cause, which with little personal interest in it, he had been struggling to uphold in their favour, in despite of themselves. This piece exhibits Burke in somewhat a new light-frolicsome in satire; with a mind, unbroken by disappointment though stung with indignation, and sportive though afflicted; mingling contempt and scorn and laughter, at the defection of those, on whose policy, if not their virtue, he had relied for support, in the great question now at issue between the advocates for Ancient order and sweeping innovation, on which his whole soul seems suspended.—The latter part, where he exhorts his young correspondent not to despair; and animates him to take an active part in the contest, is prodigiously spirited and fine.
NOV. the 7th
Finished Sir George Staunton's Account of the Embassy to China. The disquisition on the Chinese language in the 6th chapter, is highly curious. By this it appears, that the Chinese words are all monosyllables; that they have no inflections to express contingent circumstances, as time, plurality, &c.; that the characters, expressing words, amount to 80,000, to which there are assigned only 1500 distinct sounds; that the characters are originally hieroglyphical; that upwards of 200 of these characters are radical, and denote a radical idea, and as such are arranged at the beginning of their dictionaries; that the species under each genus, are formed by additional strokes; that there are no auxiliary articles expressive of relations, but that the qualities arising out of such relation, become frequently the foundation of the names by which the relations themselves are denoted; and, that to study the language (such is its peculiar structure), is, in effect, to study the Encyclopaedia of the country. In all this, there is an artificial contrivance, which indicates a system, rather struck out in the maturity of reason for the purposes of communication, than gradually growing up, as in other languages, with our exigencies and our means: but when could such a system have been organised; and by what power could it have been imposed on the swarming population of this extensive empire?
NOV the 16th
Began the 2nd Book of Quintilian's Institutes. Having taken his pupil from the nurse, instructed him in grammar, elocution and composition, and imbued him with the elements of subsidiary knowledge, in the preceding Book, he in this delivers him over directly to the rhetorician. The two first chapters contain some excellent observations on the morals, temper, and manners, to be wished for in a rhetorical preceptor, which may still be very usefully consulted with this view. In the 3rd he judiciously recommends, with much earnestness, the choice of the ablest and the best, in the first instance, quoting the well-known anecdote of Timotheus, who always required double fees from a pupil who had been previously instructed. The 4th delivers much sensible advice on the subject of preliminary exercises, such as historical narratives, historical disquisitions, commonplace arguments on general questions, &c.; and he here takes occasion to display, with the happiest fertility of imagery on his own part, the advantage of that exuberance in youth, which may be pruned, over that sterility which can never be fecundated. In the 5th he recommends, in a way that cannot be sufficiently praised, the reading over together the most celebrated oratorical and rhetorical compositions; the master commenting on their nature, their structure, their excellencies and defects: and he closes his observations on this subject, with noting two opposite faults to be guarded against—the passion for antiquity, which leads, through imitation, to a hardness of manner—and a love for the flowery and ephemerous productions of the day; exhorting us to give our first attention to those compositions, on which time has set his seal of approbation, without defacing their beauties. In the 11th and 12th chapters, the casual advantages of untutored genius in declamation, over a mind refined by culture, and the final ascendancy of the latter from the equalization of its powers, are happily stated. The 13th shows very forcibly the subordination of precepts to their end, which may sometimes supersede their observance. The remaining chapters are consumed in frivolous and idle discussions on the etymology and definition of rhetoric, its utility, morality, &c. The Ancients often trifle in this way. Who can bear, with temper and patience, to be detained on the threshold of the art of eloquence, while it is formally debated, whether a good orator must necessarily be a good man?—Parr in his Preface to Bellendenus, has evidently borrowed a sentence from the 12th c. "verum illis, quidem, gratulemur, sine labore, sine ratione, sine disciplina, disertis,"<33> says Quintilian: "gratulemur illis, quidem, sine litteris, et sine disciplina, disertis," says Parr.
NOV the 22nd
Read, by a rapid perusal, Burke's Third Letter on a Regicide Peace. I am overpowered with this stupendous effort of Burke's mind; whose genius never flamed so fiercely, as in this expiring conflagration. He seems to gambol, at his ease, in a multitudinous ocean of matter, obedient to his will; and to sport with a pressure, under which Atlantean shoulders would have groaned. The passage in which he exposes the impolicy of Lord Malmsbury's first humiliating mission, has irresistible force; and that in which he arrays what he should have supposed would have been the Minister's conduct, on this scornful repulse of Britannia's humble suit, is most awfully and transcendent ly sublime. Really, compared with this astonishing effusion, all the most celebrated specimens of Ancient or modern eloquence, appear like child's play.—The hiatus in that part in which he has drawn a cheering picture of our resources, is well supplied by the Editors:—I confess I cannot exactly trace it. It was a very delicate task.
Looked over the Beggar's Opera. The slang of low iniquity, is happily given in this strange drama; divested of its repulsive coarseness, and brightened with appropriate wit. It must have been of most difficult execution.
DECEMBER the 6th
Read the 3rd Book of Quintilian's Institutes. The first chapter gives a succinct history of the art of rhetoric: the greater part of the remainder, are consumed in a vain endeavour to reduce to precise limits, what is of too vague and arbitrary a nature to be accurately defined,—the constituent parts, and different kinds, of declamation: he involves himself, accordingly, and his reader, in the entangling intricacies of multifarious divisions, which only darken what they were designed to illustrate; and perplexes the subject still more, by giving an account of the attempts of others in this way.
Was much pleased with Burke's Letter to Murphy, inserted in the last European Magazine, in which he strongly inculcates, the adopting that easy natural style in writing, which we pursue in conversation; in opposition to the prevailing affectation of modern authors. His own example powerfully strengthens this recommendation.
DEC. the 17th
Read the 4th Book of Quintilian's Institutes; in which, mingled with other less instructive matter, are some excellent observations on the opening, the narrative, and the distribution, in speeches on judicial causes. After all, however, precept on this subject is of little efficacy; and Quintilian is never more judicious, than when he leaves the practice, to good sense guided by the circumstances of the case.
Looked over Brown's Essays on Satire, prefixed to Pope's Moral Poems; in which the nature and end of satire is happily portrayed; and its history deduced from the earliest ages to its consummation in Pope, with uncommon spirit and correctness. These essays contain some of the best verses I ever met with—but their excellence is of one kind. Dipped afterwards into Pope's Essays: his manner is infinitely more diversified, and delights with a thousand varied charms.
I have been for some time amusing myself with the Arabian Nights Entertainments, to whose fascinating influence I am quite ductile. Nothing can be happier than the leading plan of these tales; the stories themselves, though physically extravagant, are such, to which we yield without scruple, what smooths, without effort, all physical difficulties—a willing fancy; and their variety keeps expectation perpetually alive.
DEC. the 22nd
Read the 5th Book of Quintilian's Institutes; in which he discusses the management of proofs and arguments. His incidental remarks are often excellent; but, here again, he loses himself and perplexes his readers, in endeavouring to distribute into some sort of classification, a multifarious subject which seems to disdain such chains.—I was much pleased with the close of the 10th chapter, in which he derives precept from the observation of excellence, and places the perfection of its power in its unobserved operation; and of the 14th in which he strenuously defends the combining eloquence with logic.
Read some of Addison's translations from Ovid, which I thought but cold and stiff; his notes on these pieces, which are neat and just; and his Essay on the Georgics, a very exquisite piece of criticism. Addison's style is incomparably limpid.
DEC. the 24th
Read the 6th Book of Quintilian's Institutes; on the peroration, and the moving of the passions. The Prooemium is pathetic, and reminds one of Burke's complaints on the loss of his only surviving son; but I cannot help thinking it affectedly prefixed to this part of his subject. With regard to moving the passions, I was much pleased with what he earnestly urges as his own peculiar advice—to kindle them first in ourselves, before we hope to transfuse them into others: but Horace had said nearly the same thing before; of which he takes no notice. From the 3rd chapter, "de risu", I expected some entertainment; but was disappointed: the Ancients do not appear to have understood the practice, much less the theory, of wit and humour—a subject perhaps, after all, too aerial and volatile to be submitted to rigid analysis.