The most inviolable attachment to the laws of our country is everywhere acknowledged a capital virtue; and where the people are not so happy as to have any legislature but a single person, the strictest loyalty is, in that case, the truest patriotism.
In common life, we may observe that the circumstance of utility is always appealed to; nor is it supposed that a greater eulogy can be given to any man than to display his usefulness to the public, and to enumerate the services which he has performed to mankind and to society.
One that has well digested his knowledge, both of books and men, has little enjoyment but in the company of a few select companions. He feels too sensibly how much all the rest of mankind fall short of the notions which he has entertained; and his affections being thus confined within a narrow circle, no wonder he carries them further than if they were more general and undistinguished.
Were we to distinguish the ranks of men by their genius and capacity, more than by their virtue and usefulness to the public, great philosophers would certainly challenge the first rank, and must be placed at the top of mankind. So rare is this character, that perhaps there has not as yet been above two in the world who can lay a just claim to it. At least Galileo and Newton seem to me so far to excel all the rest, that I cannot admit any other into the same place with them.
Great poets may challenge the second place; and this species of genius, though rare, is yet much more frequent than the former. Of the Greek poets that remain, Homer alone seems to merit this character; of the Romans, Virgil, Horace, and Lucretius; of the English, Milton and Pope; Corneille, Racine, Boileau, and Voltaire of the French; Tasso and Ariosto of the Italians.
It is a certain rule that wit and passion are entirely incompatible. When the affections are moved there is no place for the imagination. The mind of man being naturally limited, it is impossible that all its faculties can operate at once; and the more any one predominates, the less room there is for the others to exert their vigour. For this reason a greater degree of simplicity is required in all compositions where men, actions, and passions are painted, than in such as consist of reflections and observations. And as the former species of writing is the more engaging and beautiful, one may safely upon this account give the preference to the extreme of simplicity above that of refinement.
We may also observe that those compositions which we read the oftenest, and which every man of taste has got by heart, have the recommendation of simplicity, and have nothing surprising in the thought when divested of that elegance of expression and harmony of numbers with which it is clothed. If the merit of the composition lie in a point of wit, it may strike at first; but the mind anticipates the thought in the second perusal, and is no longer affected by it. When I read an epigram of Martial, the first line recalls the whole; and I have no pleasure in repeating to myself what I know already. But each line, each word, in Catullus has its merit; and I am never tired with the perusal of him. It is sufficient to run over Cowley once; but Parnell after the fiftieth reading is as fresh as at first. Besides, it is with books as with women, where a certain plainness of manner and of dress is more engaging than that glare of paint, and airs, and apparel, which may dazzle the eye but reaches not the affections. Terence is a modest and bashful beauty to whom we grant everything because he assumes nothing, and whose purity and nature make a durable though not a violent impression on us.
Nothing is so improving to the temper as the study of the beauties either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting. They give a certain elegance of sentiment to which the rest of mankind are strangers. The emotions which they excite are soft and tender. They draw off the mind from the hurry of business and interest; cherish reflection; dispose to tranquillity; and produce an agreeable melancholy, which of all dispositions of the mind is best suited to love and friendship. In the second place, a delicacy of taste is favourable to love and friendship, by confining our choice to few people, and making us indifferent to the company and conversation of the greater part of men.
The common people, no longer maintained in vicious idleness by their superiors, were obliged to learn some calling or industry, and became useful both to themselves and to others. And it must be acknowledged, in spite of those who declaim so violently against refinement in the arts, or what they are pleased to call luxury, that as much as an industrious tradesman is both a better man and a better citizen than one of those idle retainers who formerly depended on the great families, so much is the life of a modern nobleman more laudable than that of an ancient baron.
David Hume: Hist. of Eng., chap, xxvi., Reign of Henry VIII.
Such a superiority do the pursuits of literature possess above every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions.
It is no wonder that faction is so productive of vices of all kinds: for, besides that it inflames all the passions, it tends much to remove those great restraints, honour and shame,when men find that no iniquity can lose them the applause of their own party, and no innocence secure them against the calumnies of the opposite.
History, being a collection of facts which are multiplying without end, is obliged to adopt arts of abridgment,to retain the more material events, and to drop all the minute circumstances which are only interesting during the time, or to the persons engaged in the transactions.