« PreviousContinue »
from the wild fuggestions of an heated imagination.
FROM the fame fource may be derived thofe divifions and animofities, which break the union both of public and private focieties, and turn the peace and harmony of human intercourse into diffonance and contention. For while men judge and act by such measures as have not been proved by the standard of dispaffionate reason, they must equally be mistaken in their estimates both of their own conduct and that of others.
If we turn our view from active to contemplative life, we may have occasion, perhaps, to remark, that thinking is no less uncommon in the literary than the civil world. The number of those writers who can with any juftness of expreffion be termed think→ ing authors, would not form a very copious library, tho' one were to take in all of that kind which both antient and modern times have produced. Neceffarily, I imagine, muft one exclude from a collection of this fort, all critics, commentators, modern Latin poets, tranflators, and, in short, all that numerous under-tribe in the commonwealth of literature that owe their existence mere
ly to the thoughts of others. I should reject for the fame reason such compilers as Valerius Maximus and Aulus Gellius: tho', it must be owned indeed, their works have acquired an accidental value, as they preserve to us feveral curious traces of antiquity, which time would otherwife have entirely worn out. Those teeming geniuses, likewise, who have propagated the fruits of their studies thro' a long feries of tracts, would have little pretence, I believe, to be admitted as writers of reflection. For this reason I cannot regret the lofs of those incredible numbers of compofitions, which fome of the antients are faid to have produced :
Quale fuit Caffi rapido ferventius amni Ingenium; capfis quem fama est esse, librifque Ambuftum propriis. HOR.
Thus Epicurus, we are told, left behind him three hundred volumes of his own works, wherein he had not inferted a single quotation; and we have it upon the authority of Varro's own words *, that he him
*This paffage is to be found in Aul. Gellius, who quotes it from a treatise which Varro had written con
felf compofed four hundred and ninety books. Seneca affures us, that Didymus the grammarian wrote no lefs than four thousand; but Origen, it feems, was yet more prolific, and extended his performances even to fix thoufand treaties. It is obvious to imagine with what fort of materials the productions of such expeditious workmen were wrought up: found thought and well-matured reflections could have no fhare, we may be fure, in these hafty performances. Thus are books multiplied, whilst authors are fcarce; and so much eafier is it to write than to think! But shall I not myself, Palamedes, prove an instance that it is fo, if I fufpend any longer your own more important reflections, by interrupting you with fuch as mine? Adieu.
cerning the wonderful effects of the number Seven. But the fubject of this piece cannot be more ridiculous, than the ftyle in which it appears to have been compofed : for that most learned author of his times (as Cicero, if I mistake not, fomewhere calls him) informed his readers in that performance, fe jam duodecimam annorum hebdomadam ingreffum effe, et ad eum diem feptuaginta bebdomadas librorum confcripfiffe. Aul. Gell. iii. 10.
To ORON TES.
T is with much pleasure I look back up
on that philosophical week, which I lately enjoyed at ***, as there is no part, perhaps, of social life, which affords more real fatisfaction, than those hours which one paffes in rational and unreserved converfation. The free communication of fentiments amongst a set of ingenious and speculative friends, fuch as those 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 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 false bent, than the counter-warmth of impartial debate. Conversation 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 thofe 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 loofe upon the world, have generally owed their birth to perfons, whofe circumftances or difpofitions have given them the fewest opportu nities 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 circles, ere they had given vent to them in public; the obfervation of Varro had never, 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