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Primus mortales tollere contra
THE Spanish nation has, for many centuries past, been remarkable for the grossest ignorance in polite literature, especially in point of natural philosophy; a science so useful to mankind, that her neighbours have ever esteemed it a matter of the greatest importance, to endeavour, by repeated experiments, to strike a light out of the chaos, in which truth seemed to be confounded. Their curiosity in this respect was so indifferent, that, though they had discovered new worlds, they were at a loss to explain the phænomena of their own, and their pride so unaccountable, that they disdained to borrow from others that instruction, which their natural indolence permitted them not to acquire.
It gives me, however, a secret satisfaction, to behold an extraordinary genius now existing in that nation, whose studious endeavours seem calculated to unde. ceive the superstitious, and instruct the ignorant: I mean the celebrated padre Freijo. In unravelling the mysteries of nature, and explaining physical experiments, he takes an opportunity of displaying the concurrence of second causes in those very wonders, which the vulgar ascribe to supernatural influence.
An example of this kind happened a few years ago in a small town of the kingdom of Valencia. Passing
through at the hour of mass, he alighted from his mule, and proceeded to the parish-church, which he found extremely crouded, and there appeared on the faces of the faithful a more than usual alacrity. The sun, it seems, which had been for some minutes urder a cloud, had begun to shine on a large crucifix, that stood on the middle of the altar, studded with several precious stones. The reflexion from these, and from the diamond eyes of some silver saints, so dazzled the multitude, that they unanimously cried out, A miracle ! a miracle! whilst the priest at the altar, with seeming consternation, continued his heavenly conversation. Padre Freijo soon dissipated the charm, by tying his handkerchief roun.. the head of one of the statues, for which he was arraigned by the inquisition; whose flames, however, he has had the good fortune hitherto to escape.
WERE I to measure the merit of my present undertaking by its success, or the rapidity of its sale, I might be led to form conclusions by no means favourable to the pride of an author. Should I estimate my fame by its extent, every newspaper and magazine would leave me far behind. Their fame is diffused in a very wide circle, that of some as far as Islington, and some yet farther still: while mine, I sincerely believe, has hardly travelled beyond the sound of Bow bell; and while the works of others fly like unpinioned swans, I find my own move as heavily as a new-plucked goose.
Still, however, I have as much pride as they who have ten times as many readers. It is impossible to repeat all the agreable delusions, in which a disapointed author is apt to find comfort. I conclude, that what my reputation wants in extent, is made up by its solidity. Minus juvat gloria lata quam magna. I have great satisfaction in considering the delicacy and discernment of those readers I have, and in ascribing my want of popularity to the ignorance or inattention of those I have not. All the world may forsake an author, but vanity will never forsake him. † Yet notwithstanding so sincere a confession, I was once induced to show my indignation against the
public, by discontinuing my endeavours to please ; and was bravely resolved, like Raleigh, to vex them by burning my manuscript in a passion. Upon recollection, however, I considered what set or body of people would be displeased at my rashness. The sun, after so sad an accident, might shine next morning as bright as usual; men might laugh and sing the next day, and transact business as before, and not a single creature feel any regret but myself.
I reflected upon the story of a minister, who, in the reign of Charles II, upon a certain occasion, resigned all his posts, and retired into the country in a fit of resentment. But as he had not given the world entire. ly up with his ambition, he sent a messenger to town, to see how the courtiers would bear his resignation. Upon the messenger's return he was asked whether there appeared any commotion at court? To which he replied, There were very great ones. “Ay," says the minister, “ I knew my friends would make a bustle; 66 all petitioning the king for my restoration, I pre66 sume.” “ No, sir,” replied the messenger, “ they « are only petitioning his majesty to be put in your “ place.” In the same manner, should I retire in indignation, instead of having Apollo in mourning, or the Muses in a fit of the spleen; instead of having the learned world apostrophising at my untimely decease, perhaps all Grub-street might laugh at my fall, and self-approving dignity might never be able to shield me from ridicule. In short, I am resolved to write on, if it were only to spite them. If the present generation will not hear my voice, hearken, O posterity, to you I call, and from you I expect redress! What rapture will it not give to have the Scaligers, Daciers, and Warburtons of future times commenting with admiration upon every line I now write, working away those ignorant creatures, who offer to arraign my merit, with all the virulence of learned reproach. Ay, my friends, let them feel it; call names, never spare them; they deserve it all, and ten times more. I have been told of a critic, who was crucified at the command of another to the reputation of Homer. That, no doubt, was more than poetical justice, and I shall be perfectly content if those, who criticise me, are only clapped in the pillory, kept fifteen days upon bread and water, and obliged to run the gantelope through Paternoster-row. The truth is, I can expect happiness from posterity either way. If I write ill, happy in being forgotten; if well, happy in being remembered with respect.
Yet, considering things in a prudential light, perhaps I was mistaken in designing my paper as an agreeable relaxation to the studious, or an help to conversation among the gay ; instead of addressing it to such, I should have written down to the taste and apprehension of the many, and sought for reputation on the broad road. Literary fame I now find like religious, generaliy begins among the vulgar. As for the polite, they are so very polite, as never to applaud upon any account. One of these, with a face screwed up into affectation, tells you, that foois may admire, but men of sense only approve. Thus, lest he should rise in rapture at any thing new, he keeps down every passion but pride and self-importance; approves with phlegm, and the poor author is damned in the taking a pinch of snuff. Another has written a book himself, and being condemned for a dunce, he turns a sort of king's evi. dence, in criticism, and now becomes the terror of every offender. A third, possessed of full-grown reputation, shades off every beam of favour from those W.10 endeavour to grow beneath him, and keeps down that merit, which, but for his influence, might rise into equal eminence. While others, still worse, peruse old books for their amusement, and new books only to condemn; so that the public seem lieartily sick of all but the business of the day, and read every thing now VOL. I.