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ancients, (Mason will say triumphantly) why should people read Greek to lose their imagination, their ear, and their mother tongue? But then there is Mr. Shenstone, who trusts to nature and simple sentiment, why does he do no better? he goes hopping along his own gravel-walks, and never deviates from the beaten paths for fear of being lost.
I have read Dr. Swift, and am disappointed.* There is nothing of the negociations that I have not seen better in M. de Torcy before. The manner is careless, and has little to distinguish it from common writers. I meet with nothing to please me but the spiteful characters of the opposite party and its leaders. I expected much more secret history.
MR. GRAY TO MR. STONHEWER.
Cambridge, August 18, 1758. I Am as sorry as you seem to be, that our acquaintance harped so much on the subject of materialism, when I saw him with you in town, because it was plain to which side of the long-de
Country Gentlemen of England, and afterwards made considerable alterations in that Collection of Odes which he had published in the earlier part of his life. We have seen in the second letter of this Section, that Mr. Gray thought highly of his descriptive talents at that time. We are not therefore to impute what he here says to any prejudice in the critic, but to that change of taste in the poet, which (if the above anecdote be true) would unavoidably flatten his descriptions, . and divest them of all picturesque imagery: nay, would sometimes convert his verse into mere prose; or, what is worse, hard inflated prose.
* His History of the Four Last Years of Queen Anne.
bated question he inclined. That we are indeed mechanical and dependent beings, I need no other proof than my own feelings, and from the same feelings I learn, with equal conviction, that we are not merely such: that there is a power within that struggles against the force and bias of that mechanism, commands its motion, and, by frequent practice, reduces it to that ready obedience which we call habit ; and all this in conformity to a preconceived opinion (no matter whether right or wrong) to that least material of all agents, a thought. I have known many in his case who, while they thought they were conquering an old prejudice, did not perceive they were under the influence of one far more dangerous; one that furnishes us with a ready apology for all our worst actions, and opens to us a full licence for doing whatever we please; and yet these very people were not at all the more indulgent to other men (as they naturally should have been), their indignation to such as offended them, their desire of revenge on any body that hurt them was nothing mitigated: in short, the truth is, they wished to be persuaded of that opinion for the sake of its convenience, but were not so in their heart; and they would have been glad (as they ought in common prudence) that nobody else should think the same, for fear of the mischief that might ensue to themselves. His French author I never saw, but have read fifty in the same strain, and shall read no more. I can be wretched enough without them. They put me in mind of the Greek sophist that got immortal honour by discoursing so feelingly on the miseries of our condition, that fifty of his audience went home and hanged themselves; yet he lived himself (I suppose) many years after in very good plight.
You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell you : Ist, he was a lord; 2dly, he was as vain as any of his readers; 3dly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; 4thly, they will believe any thing at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; 5thly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where; 6thly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seemed always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons ? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks but with commoners : vanity is no longer interested in the matter, for the new road is become an old one. The mode of free-thinking is like that of ruffs and farthingales, and has given place to the mode of not thinking at all; once it was reckoned graceful, half to discover and half conceal the mind, but now we have been long accustomed to see it quite naked : primness and affectation of style, like the good breeding of Queen Anne's court, has turned to hoydening and rude familiarity.
It will, I think, be no improper supplement to the foregoing letter to insert a paper of Mr. Gray's, which contains some very pertinent strictures on the writings of a later lord, who was pleased to attack the moral attributes of the Deity, or, what amounted to the same thing, endeavoured to prove, “that we have no adequate ideas of his goodness and justice, as we have of his natural ones, his wisdom and power.” This position the excellent author of the View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy, calls the MAIN PILLAR of his system; and adds, in another place, that the FATE OF ALL RELIGION is included in this question. On this important point, therefore, that able writer has dwelt largely, and confuted his Lordship effectually. Some sort of readers, however, who probably would slight that confutation, may regard the arguments of a layman, and even a poet, more than those which are drawn up by the pen of a divine and a bishop: it is for the use of these that the
paper is published; who, if they learn nothing else from it, will find that Mr. Gray was not of their party, nor so great a wit as to disbelieve the existence of a Deity.
I will allow Lord Bolingbroke, that the moral, as well as physical, attributes of God must be known to us only.à posteriori, and that this is the only real knowledge we can have either of the one or the other; I will allow too, that perhaps it may be an idle distinction which we make between them: his moral attributes being as much in his nature and essence as those we call his physical; but the occasion of our making some distinction is plainly this : his eternity, infinity, omniscience, and almighty power, are not what connect him, if I may so speak, with us his creatures. We adore him, not because he always did in 'every place, and always will, exist; but because he gave and still preserves to us our own existence by an exertion of his goodness. We adore him, not because he knows and can do all things, but because he made us capable of knowing and of doing what may conduct us to happiness : it is therefore his benevolence which we adore, not his greatness or power; and if we are made only to bear our part in a system, without any regard to our own particular happiness, we can no longer worship him as our all-bounteous Parent : there is no meaning in the term. The idea of his malevolence (an impiety I tremble to write) must succeed. We have nothing left but our fears, and those too vain; for whither can they lead but to despair and the sad desire of annihilation? “ If then, justice and goodness be not the same in God as in our ideas, we mean nothing when we say that God is necessarily just and good; and for the same reason it may as well be said that we know not what we mean when, according to Dr. Clarke, (Evid. 26th) we affirm that he is necessarily a wise and intelligent Being.” What then can Lord Bolingbroke mean, when he says every thing shews the wisdom of God; and yet adds, every thing does not shew in like manner the goodness of God conformably to our ideas of
* In one of his pocket-books I find a slight sketch in verse of his owu character, which may, on account of one line in it, come into a note here with sufficient propriety. It was written in 1761.
Too poor for a bribe, and too proud to importune;
But left church and state to Charles Townshend and Squire. This last line needs no comment for readers of the present time, and it surely is not worth while to write one on this occasion for posterity.