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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 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 Greek 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 ufeful channel. Their rooms and gardens were generally adorned, you know, with the statues of the greatest masters of reason that had then appeared in the world and while Socrates. or Ariftotle ftood in their view, it is no wonder their discourse fell upon those subjects, which such animating representations would naturally fuggeft. fuggeft. It is probable, therefore,
therefore, that many of those antient pieces which are drawn up in the dialogue-manner, were no imaginary conversations in• vented 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 Odyffey; together with thofe of my very ingenious friend Philemon to Hydafpes; are, almost, the only productions in this way; which have hitherto come forth amongst us with advantage. Thefe, indeed, are all masterpieces of the kind, and written in the true fpirit of learning and politeness. The converfation in each of these most elegant performances is conducted, not in the ufual abfurd method of introducing one disputant to be tamely filenced by the other; but in the
the more lively dramatic manner, where a just contraft of characters is preserved throughout, and where the feveral speakers fupport their refpective fentiments with all the ftrength and spirit 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. I call it anonymous, tho' I am fenfible it has been ascribed, not only to Tacitus and Quinctilian, but even to Suetonius. The reasons which the critics have refpectively produced, are fo exceedingly precarious and inconclufive, that one must have a very extraordinary fhare 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 dif posed 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;
refpondents; it is marked with fome fimilar expreffions and fentiments. But as arguments of this kind are always more impofing than folid, I recommend it to you as a piece, concerning the author of which, nothing fatisfactory can be collected. This I may one day or other, perhaps, attempt to prove in form, as I have amused myself with giving it an English drefs. In the mean time I have enclofed my tranflation in this packet; not only with a view to your fentiments, but in return to your favor. I was perfuaded I could not make you a better acknowledgment for the pleafure of that conversation I lately participated through your means, than by introducing you to one, which (if my copy is not extremely injurious to its original) I am fure, you cannot attend to without equal entertainment and advantage. Adieu.
A DIALOGUE concerning
OU have frequently, my friend, required me to affign a reafon whence it has happened, that the Oratorical character, which spread fuch a glorious luftre upon former ages, is now so totally extinct amongst us, as fcarce to preserve even its name. İt is the antients alone, you obferved, whom we distinguish with that appellation; while the Eloquent of the present times are styled only pleaders, patrons, advocates, or any thing, in short, but Orators.
HARDLY, I believe, fhould I have attempted a folution of your difficulty, or ventured upon the examination of a queftion wherein the genius of the moderns, if they cannot, or their judgment, if they
It is neceffary to inform thofe readers of the following dialogue who may be disposed to compare it with the original, that the edition of Heumannus, printed at Gottingen, 1719, has been generally followed.