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T is with much pleasure I look back upon that philofophical week, which I lately enjoyed at ***; as there is no part, perhaps, of focial life, which affords more real fatisfaction, than thofe hours which one paffes in rational and unreserved converfation. The free communication of fentiments amongst a set of ingenious and speculative friends, fuch as thofe you gave me the opportunity of meeting, throws the mind into the most advantageous exercise, and fhews the strength or weakness of its opinions with greater force of conviction, than any other method we can employ.
THAT it is not good for man to be alone, is true in more views of our species than one; and fociety gives ftrength to our reafon as well as polish to our manners. foul, when left entirely to her own folitary contemplations, is infenfibly drawn by a fort of conftitutional bias, which generally leads her opinions to the fide of her inclinations. Hence it is that the contracts those peculia
rities of reasoning, and little habits of thinking, which fo often confirm her in the most fantastical errors. But nothing is more likely to recover the mind from this falfe bent, than the counter-warmth of impartial debate. Converfation opens our views, and gives our faculties a more vigorous play;
puts us upon turning our notions on every fide, and holds them up to a light that discovers those latent flaws, which would probably have lain concealed in the gloom of unagitated abstraction. Accordingly one may remark, that most of those wild doctrines, which have been let loose upon the world, have generally owed their birth to perfons, whofe circumftances or difpofitions have given them the feweft opportunities of canvaffing their respective systems, in the way of free and friendly debate. Had the authors of many an extravagant hypothefis, difcuffed their principles in private cir→ cles, ere they had given vent to them in public; the observation of Varro had ne ver, perhaps, been made (or never at least with so much justice) that "there is no "opinion fo abfurd, but has fome philofo"pher or other to produce in its fupport."
UPON this principle, I imagine, it is, that fome of the finest pieces of antiquity are written in the dialogue-manner. Plato and Tully, it should feem, thought truth could never be examined with more advantage, than amidst the amicable oppofition of well-regulated converfe. It is probable, indeed, that subjects of a serious and philofophical kind, were more frequently the topics of Greeks and Roman conversations, than they are of ours; as the circumstances of the world had not yet given occafion to those prudential reasons which may now, perhaps, reftrain a more free exchange of fentiments amongst us. There was fomething, likewise, in the very scenes themfelves where they ufually affembled, that almost unavoidably turned the stream of their converfations into this useful chanel. Their rooms and Gardens were generally adorned, you know, with the statues of the greatest mafters of reason that had then appeared in the world; and while Socrates or Ariftotle stood in their view, it is no wonder their discourse fell upon thofe fubjects, which fuch animating representations would naturally fuggeft. It is probable,
therefore, that many of those antient pieces which are drawn up in the dialogue manner, were no imaginary converfations invented by their authors; but faithful tranfcripts from real life. And it is this circumftance, perhaps, as much as any other, which contributes to give them that remarkable advantage over the generality of modern compofitions, which have been formed upon the fame plan. I am fure, at leaft, I could fcarce name more than three or four of this kind which have appeared in our language, worthy of notice. My lord Shaftesbury's dialogue entitled The moralifts ; Mr. Addifon's upon antient Coins; Mr. Spence's upon the Odyssey; together with thofe of my very ingenious friend Philemon to Hydafpes; are; almoft, the only productions in this way, which have hitherto come forth amongst us with advantage. Thefe indeed, are all mafterpieces of the kind, and written in the true fpirit of learning and politenefs. The converfation in each of these most elegant per+ formances is conducted, not in the ufual abfurd method of introducing one difputant to be tamely filenced by the other; but in
the more lively dramatic manner, where a juft contraste of characters is preserved throughout, and where the several speakers fupport their respective sentiments with all the ftrength and fpirit of a well-bred oppofition.
BUT of all the converfation-pieces, whether antient or modern, either of the moral or polite kind, I know not one which is more elegantly written, than the little anonymous dialogue concerning the rife and decline of Eloquence among the Romans. Icall it anonymous, tho I am fenfible it has been ascribed, not only to Tacitus and Quinctilian, but even to Suetonius. The reafons, which the critics have respectively produced are fo exceedingly precarious and inconclufive, that one must have a very extraordinary share of claffical faith indeed, to receive it as the performance of any of those celebrated writers. It is evidently, however, a compofition of that period in which they florished: and if I were disposed to indulge a conjecture, I should be inclined to give it to the younger Pliny. It exactly coincides with his age; it is addreffed to one of his particular friends and corB b refpondents;