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Eblanæ Literis institutus,
In addition to this Latin epitaph, Dr. Johnson honoured the memory of his friend with the following Greek tetrastic:
Τον αφον εισoράας τον Ολιβαρίοιο, κονιων
Αφρoσι μη σεμνην, Ξεινε, πόδεσσι πάει
Κλαιέγε ποιηίην, ισιόρικος, φύσικον.
The general traits of Dr. Goldsmith's character have been in a great measure delineated in the preceding pages. He was generous in the extreme, and so strongly affected by compassion, that he has been known at midnight. to abandon his rest, in order to procure relief and an asylum for a poor dying object who was left destitute in the streets. Nor was there ever a mind whose general feelings were more benevolent and friendly. He is, however, supposed to have been often soured by jealousy or envy; and many little instances are mentioned of this tendency in his character: but whatever appeared of this kind was a mere momentary sensation, which he knew not how like other men to conceal. It was never the result of principle, or the suggestion of reflection ; it never embittered his heart, nor influenced his conduct. Nothing could be more amiable than the gene
mistaken, till his family some time after his death furnished correct information of the circumstance, which they state to have happened in the year 1728. That he was born in that year, is confirmed by his letter to his brother Henry, written in 1759, when he says his age was 31.
ral features of his mind : those of his person were not perhaps so engaging.
His stature was under the middle size, his body strongly built, and his limbs more sturdy than elegant : his complexion was pale, his forehead low, his face almost round, and pitted with the small-pox; but marked with strong lines of thinking. His first appearance was not captivating; but when he grew easy and cheerful in company, he relaxed into such a display of good humour, as soon removed every unfavourable impression.
Yet it must be acknowledged, that in company he did not appear to so much advantage, as might have been expected from his genius and talents. He was too apt to speak without reflection, and without a sufficient knowledge of the subject; which made Johnson observe of him, “ No man was more foolish when he « had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he " had *” Indeed, with all his defects, (to conclude nearly in the words of that great critic t,) « As a wri. 66 ter, he was of the most distinguished abilities. 6 Whatever he composed, he did it better than any « other man could. And whether we consider him
as a Poet, as a Comic Writer, or as an Historian, « (so far as regards his powers of composition, he
was one of the first writers of his time, and will 4 ever stand in the foremost class.”
INTO THE PRESENT STATE OF
It has been so long the practice to represent literature as declining, that every renewal of this complaint now comes with diminished influence. The public has been so often excited by a false alarm, that at present, the nearer we approach the threatened period of decay, the more our security increases.
It will now probably be said, that taking the decay of genius for granted, as I do, argues either resent ment or partiality. The writer, possessed of fame, it may be asserted, is willing to enjoy it without a rival, by lessening every competitor; or, if unsuccessful, he is desirous to turn upon others the contempt which is levelled at himself, and being convicted at the bar of literary justice, hopes for pardon by accusing every brother of the same profession.
Sensible of this, I am at a loss where to find an apology for persisting to arraign the merit of the age; for joining in a cry which the judicious have long since left to be kept up by the vulgar, and for adopting the sentiments of the multitude in a performance that at best can please only a few.
Complaints of our degeneracy in literature as well as in morals, I own, have been frequently exhibited of late ; but seem to be enforced more with the ardour of devious declamation, than the calmness of deliberate inquiry. The dullest critic, who strives at a reputation for delicacy, by showing he cannot be pleased, may pathetically assure us that our taste is upon the decline, may consign every modern performance to oblivion, and bequeath nothing to posterity except the labours of our ancestors or his own. ral invective, however, conveys no instruction; all it teaches is, that the writer dislikes an age by which he is probably disregarded. The manner of being useful on the subject, would be to point out the symptoms, to investigate the causes, and direct to the remedies of the approaching decay. This is a subject hitherto unattempted in criticism ; perhaps it is the oniy subject in which criticism can be useful.
How far the writer is equal to such an undertaking, the reader must determine ; yet, perhaps, his observations may be just, though his manner of expressing them should only serve as an example of the errors he undertakes to reprove.
Novelty, however, is not permitted to usurp the place of reason; it may attend, but shall not conduct the inquiry. But it should be observed, that the more original any performance is, the more it is liable to deviate ; for cautious stupidity is always in the right,
The causes which contribute to the decline of Learning". If we consider the revolutions which have happened in the commonwealth of letters, survey the rapid
progress of learning in one period of antiquity, or its amazing decline in another, we shall be almost induced 10 accuse nature of partiality, as if she had exhausted all her efforts in adorning one age, while she left the succeeding entirely neglected. It is not to nature, however, but to ourselves alone, that this partiality must be ascribed; the seeds of excellence are sown in every age, and it is wholly owing to a wrong direction in the passions or pursuits of mankind, that they have not received the proper cultivation.
As in the best regulated societies, the very laws which at first give the government solidity, may in the end contribute to its dissolution, so the efforts which might have promoted learning in its feeble commencement, may, if continued, retard its progress. The paths of science, which were at first intricate because untrodden, may at last grow toilsome, because too much frequented. As learning advances, the candidates for its honours become more numerous, and the acquisition of fame more uncertain ; the modest may despair of attaining it, and the opulent think it too precarious to pursue ; thus the task of supporting the honour of the times may at last de. volve on indigence and effrontery, while learning must partake of the contempt of its professors.
To illustrate these assertions, it may be proper to take a slight review of the decline of ancient learning; to consider how far its depravation was owing to the impossibility of supporting continued perfection; in what respects it proceeded from voluntary corruption; and how far it was hastened on by accident. If Modern learning be compared with Ancient in these different lights, a parallel between both, which has hitherto produced only vain dispute, may contribute to amusement, perhaps to instruction. We shall thus be enabled to perceive what period of anti