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LOVER of LITERATURE.
SEPTEMBER the 12th.
ON this day, the twenty-seventh anniversary (as Gibbon, in stately language, would describe it) of my birth, I begin a register of my observations and reflections : -a task which I deeply lament has been so long deferred, but which I am resolved to prosecute with vigour, now it is begun ; anticipating much delight from the review it will enable me to take of my occupations and pursuits, and of the feelings and opinions with which they were accompanied.
Read, in the evening, “ Temple on the Origin of Government :” in which the source of political power is justly traced ; and the doctrine of an original compact, as an historical fact, successfully exploded. He plainly states, what, though very obvious, is often overlooked, that all government is a restraint upon liberty; and, in all modes of it, the dominion over individuals equally absolute. Pope probably borrowed, from a part of this Essay, his thought
“ For forms of government let fools contest ;”
Essay on Man, Epistle 3, v. 303. A position, however, not defensible, since the form may influence the administration.—The whole Essay is extremely judicious and unreserved. Temple is a very sensible writer; and draws more from his own stock of observation and reflection, than is usual with the writers of the present day.
Finished, afterwards, Gulliver's Travels. Could this severe satire on poor human nature, be designed to reform it; or was it the overflowing merely of that “ sæva indignatio,” which in Swift, it is to be suspected, sprung less from a strong abhorrence of vice, than the exacerbations of mortified ambition? I am afraid we cannot hesitate in adopting the latter alternative.—Nothing can transcend the felicity of his contrivance for exposing our follies and our frailties, nor the consummate skill with which he has availed himself of it.
SEPT. the 14th.
Looked into the New Annual Register for 1795. The tone of politics in the History of Literature, and in the British and Foreign History, materially differ : but the wonder is, how so much consistency is preserved in works of this nature; and, instead of marvelling, with Johnson, how any thing but profit should incite men to literary labour, I am rather surprised that mere emolument should induce them to labour so well.—To review, in a connected series, those events which we caught only by detached snatches as they passed, is very amusing. Even an old Newspaper, in a moment of listlesness, has, with me, its charms. It puts one into something like the condition of a prescient being, perusing the Journals of the day : we see passions agitating, which are now extinct; reports affirmed, which we know to be false ; alarms sounded, which we are sure had no foundation ; and expectation all alive-upor projects which have ended in nothing.
SEPT. the 19th.
Met Mr. En at Mr. R.'s. The conversation (in which I took no part) turned, after dinner, on the prophecies applicable to the present period. Both Mr. E. and Mr. R. think there are such. Mr. E. is convinced, from a passage in the Apocalypse, that monarchy and hierarchy will be restored in France for three years. Appearances indicating so little the completion of this event, he was tauntingly asked, what he would think of the prophecies, if it did not take place? I see, said he, so manifestly that many parts of them have been fulfilled, that I should only conclude my application of this part was erroneous, and that it still remained to be accomplished. I should, of course, be disposed to examine very seriously, and to adopt if it was plausible, any other interpretation which might be offered ; but my assurance of the truth of the prophecies at large, would not be in the least impaired. Though, to a profane eye, the Book of Revelations may seem like the [1796.7 wild rhapsody of an enthusiastic and distempered mind, mistaking dreams for visions, and reveries for inspiration, I was not the less pleased with this temperate and ingenuous reply of one of its warmest devotees. Yet I marvel at his confidence. If prophecy is designed to convince, (and of the force of the proof which it is capable of rendering, no one can be more fully sensible than myself), why is it not clear? To me it seems evident, that unless the event is so distinctly and circumstantially foretold, that it might be distinctly and circumstantially foreseen, we can never have satisfactory assurance that a prediction has been fulfilled. Obscurity is so readily accommodated, by a willing mind, to any contingency; an ardent fancy, bent on the discovery, can so easily find whatever forms it pleases, in the clouds, that any supposed completion must otherwise be received with considerable distrust. What shall we say, then, when there are scarcely two commentators, of any note, on the Revelations, who are agreed in the application of its prophecies to events allowed, on all hands, to be past. I am aware of the old excuse, that if prophecy were so clear that the event could be foreseen, we should be induced to ascribe its accomplishment to art-to conclude that the prediction led to its completion. Such an argument, so far as it applied, would merely go to shew the incompetency of any such species of proof: but surely it is easy to imagine events foretold, which, as no human sagacity could foresee, so, from the opposite interests or utter ignorance of the parties concerned in bringing them to pass, we might be morally assured no human agency designedly promoted.--The most politic defence of the obscurity of prophecy, would be, to regard it as an exercise for our diligence and faith.
SEPT. the 22d.
Finished the New Annual Register for 1795. The account of the Religion and Government of the Japanese, is highly curious ; and exhibits that people, of whom we have known little but through defamatory channels, as considerably more advanced in all the refinements of civilization, than we had hitherto supposed. But has not the passion for the marvellous, which luxuriates equally in an excess of chiaro as oscuro, a little overcharged the picture? - The Review of Literature, is not enlivened by much critical discernment: the praise is far too indiscriminate, and the censures too feeble.
Attended a Concert, in the evening; at which Hague, of Cambridge, led the Band. His taste is refined, his tones sweet and rich, and his execution easy and correct : but, if I may judge from the concluding piece, he wants force to transfuse, and possibly genius to catch, the fire of Handel. It is a lamentable drawback on mu
sical composition, that the author cannot exhibit his conceptions directly to the (Public; but must trust, for this purpose, to the agency of others. The Pumter, the
Architect, the Poet, address themselves at once, and without any intervention, to the senses and feelings of mankind :--an inestimable advantage!
SEPT. the 23rd.
Began with eagerness, and read, with increasing avidity, the first four Chapters of Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de ledici. The style is luminous and flowing: not curiously elaborated, perhaps, into exquisite precision ; but utterly free from all affectation. The subject itself is ably treated : the thread of the narrative is steadily pursued; the collateral and explanatory matter, judiciously interwoven; and the images by which particular sentiments are enforced, are generally just, and sometimes original and happy.-His strained comparison, however, (C. 3), between the disciples of Plato and of Wesley, I either do not comprehend, or do not feel.-In the atrocious conspiracy of the Pope, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, and the Ecclesiastics, (C. 4), against the lives of Lorenzo and his brother, a real philosopher, per. haps, might see nothing peculiarly repugnant to the superstition of the times. Our deep abhorrence of the crime of murder, is the offspring, not of devotion, but of a cultivated and refined humanity--of a heart revolting at blood, the shrieks of terror, the convulsive agonies, the ghastliness, and all the horrors of sudden and violent death. The soldier, who undertook the assassination with readiness, yet shrunk back from performing it in church, displayed the genuine feelings of a Layman; but the Priests were Lords of the Sanctuary, and might surely apply it to any pious purpose. They probably would have shuddered with horror, at the proposal of throwing the consecrated wafer to the dogs.
Gibbon has touched the interesting period which Mr. Roscoe treats, with the hand of a master. I am surprised that in Mr. Roscoe's notice of him--for he does refer to him—he did not bestow an ampler measure of applause. Robertson, on a similar occasion, in his Disquisition upon Antient India, paid a just and noble tribute to the comprehensive erudition of this accomplished writer. Certainly in his qualifications as an historian and a critic, he is above all praise: but my opinion of him as a man and as a genius, has rather been diminished by the perusal of his Miscellaneous Works; and I heartily acquiesce in the very sensible judgment pronounced upon them, and upon the author, in the last Monthly Review.–Of Robertson himself, it is remarkable, that he has written nothing but History.