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ther place he observed a whole troop of his fellowmen famished and in fetters, yet led by one of their brethren who had enslaved them, and pressing furiously onwards in the hope of famishing and enslaving another troop moving in an opposite direction. For the first time, the prophet missed his accustomed power of distinguishing between his dreams and his waking perceptions. He stood gazing and motionless, when several of the race gathered around him, and inquired of each other, Who is this man? how strangely he looks! how wild !— a worthless idler! exclaims one: assuredly, a very dangerous madman! cries a second. In short, from words they proceeded to violence: till harassed, endangered, solitary in a world of forms like his own, without sympathy, without object of love, he at length espied in some foss or furrow a quantity of the maddening water still unevaporated, and uttering the last words of reason, IT IS IN VAIN TO BE SANE IN A WORld of madmen, plunged and rolled himself in the liquid poison, and came out as mad as, and not more wretched than, his neighbours and acquaintances.
The plan of The Friend is comprised in the motto to this essay. This tale or allegory seems to me to contain the objections to its practicability in all their strength. Either, says the sceptic, you are the blind offering to lead the blind, or you are talking the language of sight to those who do not possess the sense of seeing. If you mean to
be read, try to entertain and do not pretend to instruct. To such objections it would be amply sufficient, on my system of faith, to answer, that we are not all blind, but all subject to distempers of the mental sight, differing in kind and in degree; that though all men are in error, they are not all in the same error, nor at the same time; and that each therefore may possibly heal the other, even as two or more physicians, all diseased in their general health, yet under the immediate action of the disease on different days, may remove or alleviate the complaints of each other. But in respect to the entertainingness of moral writings, if in entertainment be included whatever delights the imagination or affects the generous passions, so far from rejecting such a mean of persuading the human soul, my very system compels me to defend not only the propriety, but the absolute necessity, of adopting it, if we really intend to render our fellow-creatures better or wiser.
But it is with dullness as with obscurity. It may be positive, and the author's fault; but it may likewise be relative, and if the author has presented his bill of fare at the portal, the reader has himself only to blame. The main question then is, of what class are the persons to be entertained?"One of the later school of the Grecians (says Lord Bacon) examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets; nor
for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open day-light, that doth not shew the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily, as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that sheweth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that sheweth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleaDoth any man doubt, that if there were taken from men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?"*
A melancholy, a too general, but not, I trust, a universal truth!—and even where it does apply, yet in many instances not irremediable. Such at least must have been my persuasion: or the present volumes must have been wittingly written to no purpose. If I believed our nature fettered to all this wretchedness of head and heart by an absolute and innate necessity, at least by a necessity which no human power, no efforts of reason or eloquence, could remove or lessen; I should deem it even presumptuous to aim at other or higher object than that of amusing a small portion of the reading public.
* Essays. I. Of Truth.-Ed.
And why not? whispers worldly prudence. To amuse, though only to amuse, our visitors is wisdom as well as good-nature, where it is presumption to attempt their amendment. And truly it would be most convenient to me in respects of no trifling importance, if I could persuade myself to take the advice. Released by these principles from all moral obligation, and ambitious of procuring pastime and self-oblivion for a race, which could have nothing noble to remember, nothing desirable to anticipate, I might aspire even to the praise of the critics and dilettanti of the higher circles of society; of some trusty guide of blind fashion; some pleasant analyst of taste, as it exists both in the palate and the soul; some living gauge and mete-wand of past and present genius. But alas ! my former studies would still have left a wrong bias! If instead of perplexing my common sense with the flights of Plato, and of stiffening over the meditations of the imperial Stoic, I had been labouring to imbibe the gay spirit of a Casti, or had employed my erudition, for the benefit of the favoured few, in elucidating the interesting deformities of ancient Greece and India, what might I not have hoped from the suffrage of those, who turn in weariness from the Paradise Lost, because compared with the prurient heroes and grotesque monsters of Italian romance, or even with the narrative dialogues of the melodious Metastasio, that adventurous song,
Which justifies the ways of God to man,—
has been found a poor substitute for a Grimaldi, a most inapt medicine for an occasional propensity to yawn! For, as hath been decided, to fill up pleasantly the brief intervals of fashionable pleasures, and above all to charm away the dusky gnome of ennui, is the chief and appropriate business of the poet and-the novelist! This duty unfulfilled, Apollo will have lavished his best gifts in vain; and Urania henceforth must be content to inspire astronomers alone, and leave the sons of verse to more amusing patronesses. And yetand yet but it will be time to be serious, when my visitors have sat down.