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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 fpecies than one; and fociety gives ftrength to our reafon as well as polish to our manners. The foul, when left entirely to her own folitary contemplations, is infenfibly drawn by a fort of constitutional bias, which generally leads her opinions to the fide of her inclinations. Hence it is that fhe contracts thofe peculiarities
rities of reasoning, and little habits of thinking, which so 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;
it 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 fewest 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 fo much juftice) that "there is no
opinion fo abfurd, but has fome philofopher or other to produce in its fupport."
UPON this principle, I imagine, it is, that some of the finest pieces of antiquity are written in the dialogue-manner. Plato and Tully, it should seem, thought truth could never be examined with more advantage, than amidst the amicable oppofition of well-regulated converfe. It is probable, indeed, that fubjects 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, likewife, 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 ftatues of the greatest masters of reafon that had then appeared in the world; and while Socrates or Ariftotle ftood in their view, it is no wonder their discourse fell upon thofe fubjects, which fuch animating representations would naturally fuggeft. It is probable, therefore,
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 scarce 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 thefe moft 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
the more lively dramatic manner, where a
BUT of all the converfation-pieces, whe-