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No. 476. FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5.
Hlor. Ars Poet. 41.
Among my daily papers which I bestow on the public, there are some which are written with regularity and method, and others that run out into the wildness of those compositions which go by the name of Essays. As for the first, I have the whole scheme of the discourse in my mind before I set pen to paper. In the other kind of writing, it is sufficient that I have several thoughts on a subject, without troubling myself to range them in such order, that they may seem to grow out of one another, and be disposed under the proper heads. Seneca and Montaigne are patterns for writing in this last kind, as Tully and Aristotle excel in the other. When I read an author of genius who writes without method, I fancy myself in a wood that abounds with a great many noble objects, rising among one another in the greatest confusion and disorder. , When I read a methodical discourse, I am in a regular plantation, and can place myself in its several centers, so as to take a view of all the lines and walks that are struck from them. You may ramble in the one a whole day together, and every moment discover something or other that is new to you; but when you have done, you will find but a confused imperfect notion of the place : in the other, your eye commands the whole prospect, and gives you such an idea of it, as is not easily worn out of the memory.
Irregularity and want of method are only supportable in men of great learning or genius, who are often too full to be exact, and therefore chuse to throw down their pearls in heaps before the reader, rather than be at the pains of stringing them.
Method is of advantage to a work, both in respect to the writer and the reader. In regard to the first, it is a great help to his invention. When a man has planned his discourse, he finds a great many thoughts rising out of every head, that do not offer themselves upon the general survey of a subject. His thoughts are at the same time more intelligible, and better discover their drift and meaning, when they are placed in their proper lights, and follow one another in a regular series, than when they are thrown together without order and connection. There is always an obscurity in confusion, and the same sentence that would have enlightened the reader in one part of a discourse, perplexes him in another. For the same reason, like. wise, every thought in a methodical discourse shews itself in its greatest beauty, as the several figures in a piece of painting receive new grace from their disposition in the picture. The advantages of a reader from a methodical discourse, are correspondent with those of the writer. He comprehends every thing easily, takes it in with pleasure, and retains it long.
Method is not less requisite in ordinary conversation than in writing, provided a man would talk to make himself understood. I, who hear a thousand coffee-house debates every day, am very sensible of this want of method in the thoughts of my honest countrymen. There is not one dispute in ten which is managed in those schools of politics, where, after the three first sentences, the question is not entirely lost. Our disputants put me in mind of the skuttle-fish, that when he is unable to extri. cate himself, blackens all the water about him till he becomes invisible. The man who does not know how to methodize his thoughts, has always, to borrow a phrase from the Dispensary, ' a barren superfluity of words; the fruit is lost amidst the exuberance of leaves.
Tom Puzzle is one of the most eminent immethodical dispu.
tants of any that has fallen under my observation. Tom has read enough to make him very impertinent; his knowledge is sufficient to raise doubts, but not to clear them. It is pity that he has so much learning, or that he has not a great deal more. With these qualifications Tom sets up for a Free-thinker, finds a great many things to blame in the constitution of his country, and gives shrewd intimations that he does not believe another world. In short, Puzzle is an atheist as much as his parts will give him leave. He has got about half a dozen common-place topics, into which he never fails to turn the conversation, whatever was the occasion of it: though the matter in debate be about Doway or Denain, it is ten to one but half his discourse runs upon the unreasonableness of bigotry and priest-craft. This makes Mr. Puzzle the admiration of all those who have less sense than himself, and the contempt of all those who have more. There is none in town whom Tom dreads so much as my friend Will Dry. Will, who is acquainted with Tom's Logic, when he finds him running off the question, cuts him short with a What then ? we allow all this to be true, but what is it to our present
I have known Tom eloquent half an hour together, and triumphing, as he thought, in the superiority of argument, when he has been non-plused on a sudden by Mr. Dry's desiring him to tell the company what it was that he endeavoured to prove. In short, Dry is a man of a clear methodical head, but few words, and gains the same advantages over Puzzle, that a small body of regular troops would gain over a numberless undisciplined militia.