S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
It is of no importance to read much except you be regular in reading. If it be interrupted for any considerable time, it can never be attended with proper improvement. There are some who study for one day with intense application, and repose themselves for ten days after. But wisdom is a coquet, and must be courted with unabating assiduity. It was a saying of the ancients that a man never opens a book without reaping some advantage by it.
Oliver Goldsmith (from the Chinese): Citizen of the World, Letter LXXXIII.
In England, where there are as many new books published as in all the rest of Europe put together, a spirit of freedom and reason reigns among the people; they have been often known to act like fools, they are generally found to think like men . An author may be considered as a merciful substitute to the legislature. He acts not by punishing crimes, but by preventing them.
Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others is a just criterion of lewdness; and whatever injures society at large, or any individual in it, is a criterion of iniquity. One should not quarrel with a dog without a reason sufficient to vindicate one through all the courts of morality.
People may tell you of your being unfit for some peculiar occupation in life; but heed them not. Whatever employ you follow with perseverance and assiduity will be found fit for you: it will be your support in youth and your comfort in age. In learning the useful part of any profession very moderate abilities will sufficegreat abilities are generally injurious to the possessors. Life has been compared to a race; but the allusion still improves by observing that the most swift are ever the most apt to stray from the course.
Man has called in the friendly assistance of Philosophy, and Heaven, seeing the incapacity of that to console him, has given him the aid of Religion. The consolations of philosophy are very amusing, but often fallacious. It tells us that life is filled with comforts, if we will but enjoy them; and, on the other hand, that though we unavoidably have miseries here, life is short, and it will soon be over. Thus do those consolations destroy each other; for if life is a place of comfort, its shortness must be misery; and if it be long, our griefs are protracted. Thus philosophy is weak, but religion comforts in a higher strain. Man is here, it tells us, fitting up his mind, and preparing for another abode. To religion then we must hold in every circumstance of life, for our truest comforts: for if already we are happy it is a pleasure to think we can make that happiness unending; and if we are miserable, it is very consoling to think there is a place of rest. Thus to the fortunate religion holds out a continuance of bliss, to the wretched a change from pain.
What real good does an addition to a fortune already sufficient procure? Not any. Could the great man by having his fortune increased increase also his appetites, then precedence might be attended with real amusement.
The ignorant critic and dull remarker can readily spy blemishes in eloquence or morals, whose sentiments are not sufficiently elevated to observe a beauty; but such are judges neither of books nor of life: they can diminish no solid reputation by their censure, nor bestow a lasting character by their applause: in short, I found, by my search, that such only confer real fame upon others who have merit themselves to deserve it.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter CIX.
Ridicule has ever been the most powerful enemy of enthusiasm, and properly the only antagonist that can be opposed to it with success. Persecution only serves to propagate new religions: they acquire fresh vigour beneath the executioner and the axe, and, like some vivacious insects, multiply by dissection. It is also impossible to combat enthusiasm with reason; for, though it makes a show of resistance, it soon eludes the pressure, refers you to distinctions not to be understood, and feelings which it cannot explain. A man who would endeavour to fix an enthusiast by argument might as well attempt to spread quicksilver with his fingers.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter CXI.
Mankind have ever been prone to expatiate on the praise of human nature. The dignity of man is a subject that has always been the favourite theme of humanity: they have declaimed with that ostentation which usually accompanies such as are sure of having a partial audience; they have obtained victories because there were none to oppose. Yet, from all I have ever read or seen, men appear more apt to err from having too high than by having too despicable an opinion of their nature; and by attempting to exalt their original place in the creation depress their real value in society.
The most ignorant nations have always been found to think most highly of themselves. The Deity has ever been thought peculiarly concerned in their glory and preservation; to have fought their battles, and inspired their teachers: their wizards are said to be familiar with heaven; and every hero has a guard of angels as well as men to attend him.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter CXV.
Whether love be natural or no, replied my friend, gravely, it contributes to the happiness of every society into which it is introduced. All our pleasures are short, and can only charm at intervals: love is a method of protracting our greatest pleasure; and surely that gamester who plays the greatest stake to the best advantage will, at the end of life, rise victorious.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter CXVI.
The English seem as silent as the Japanese, yet vainer than the inhabitants of Siam. Upon my arrival I attributed that reserve to modesty, which I now find has its origin in pride. Condescend to address them first, and you are sure of their acquaintance; stoop to flattery, and you conciliate their friendship and esteem. They bear hunger, cold, fatigue, and all the miseries of life, without shrinking; danger only calls forth their fortitude; they even exult in calamity; but contempt is what they cannot bear. An Englishman fears contempt more than death: he often flies to death as a refuge from its pressure; and dies when he fancies the world has ceased to esteem him. Pride seems the source not only of their national vices, but of their national virtues also. An Englishman is taught to love his king as his friend, but to acknowledge no other master than the laws which himself has contributed to enact. He despises those nations who, that one may be free, are all content to be slaves; who first lift a tyrant into terror, and then shrink under his power as if delegated from heaven.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter IV.
How then are the English more free (for more free they certainly are) than the people of any other country or under any other form of government whatever? Their freedom consists in their enjoying all the advantages of democracy with this superior prerogative borrowed from monarchy, that the severity of their laws may be relaxed without endangering the constitution.
In a monarchical state, in which the constitution is strongest, the laws may be relaxed without danger; for though the people should be unanimous in their breach of any one in particular, yet still there is an effective power superior to the people, capable of enforcing obedience, whenever it may be proper to inculcate the law either towards the support or welfare of the community.
Gratitude and love are almost opposite affections: love is often an involuntary passion, placed upon our companions without our consent, and frequently conferred without our previous esteem. We love some men we know not why; our tenderness is naturally excited in all their concerns; we excuse their faults with the same indulgence and approve their virtues with the same applause with which we consider our own. While we entertain the passion, it pleases us, we cherish it with delight, and give it up with reluctance, and love for love is all the reward we expect or desire.
Gratitude, on the contrary, is never conferred but where there have been previous endeavours to excite it; we consider it as a debt, and our spirits wear a load till we have discharged the obligation. Every acknowledgment of gratitude is a circumstance of humiliation; and some are found to submit to frequent mortifications of this kind, proclaiming what obligations they owe, merely because they think it in some measure cancels the debt.
Thus love is the most easy and agreeable, and gratitude the most humiliating affection of the mind: we never reflect on the man we love, without exulting in our choice, while he who has bound us to him by benefits alone, rises to our ideas as a person to whom we have in some measure forfeited our freedom.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXVI.
The Europeans are themselves blind who describe Fortune without sight. No first-rate beauty ever had finer eyes, or saw more clearly: they who have no other trade but seeking their fortune need never hope to find her; coquet like, she flies from her close pursuers, and at last fixes on the plodding mechanic, who stays at home and minds his business. I am amazed how men can call her blind, when by the company she keeps she seems so very discerning. Wherever you see a gaming-table, be very sure Fortune is not there; when you see a man whose pocket-holes are laced with gold, be satisfied Fortune is not there; wherever you see a beautiful woman good-natured and obliging, be convinced Fortune is never there. In short, she is ever seen accompanying industry, and as often trundling a wheelbarrow as lolling in a coach-and-six.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXX.
The volumes of antiquity, like medals, may very well serve to amuse the curious; but the works of the moderns, like the current coin of a kingdom, are much better for immediate use: the former are often prized above their intrinsic value, and kept with care; the latter seldom pass for more than they are worth, and are often subject to the merciless hands of sweating critics and clipping compilers: the works of antiquity were ever praised, those of the moderns read: the treasures of our ancestors have our esteem, and we boast the passion: those of contemporary genius engage our heart, although we blush to own it: the visits we pay the former resemble those we pay the great: the ceremony is troublesome, and yet such as we would not choose to forego: our acquaintance with modern books is like sitting with a friend; our pride is not flattered in the interview, but it gives more internal satisfaction.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXV.
Of all rewards, I grant, the most pleasing to a man of real merit is fame; but a polite age of all times is that in which scarcely any share of merit can acquire it. What numbers of fine writers in the latter empire of Rome, when refinement was carried to the highest pitch, have missed that fame and immortality which they had fondly arrogated to themselves! How many Greek authors, who wrote at the period when Constantinople was the refined mistress of the empire, now rest, either not printed, or not read, in the libraries of Europe! Those who came first, while either state as yet was barbarous, carried all the reputation away. Authors, as the age refined, became more numerous, and their numbers destroyed their fame. It is but natural, therefore, for the writer, when conscious that his works will not procure him fame hereafter, to endeavour to make them turn out to his temporal interest here.
In proportion as society refines, new books must ever become more necessary. Savage rusticity is reclaimed by oral admonition alone; but the elegant excesses of refinement are best corrected by the still voice of a studious inquiry. In a polite age almost every person becomes a reader, and receives more instruction from the press than the pulpit. The preaching Bonse may instruct the illiterate peasant, but nothing less than the insinuating address of a fine writer can win its way to a heart already relaxed in all the effeminacy of refinement. Books are necessary to correct the vices of the polite, but those vices are ever changing, and the antidote should be changed accordingly, should still be new. Instead, therefore, of thinking the number of new publications here too great, I could wish it still greater, as they are the most useful instruments of reformation.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXV.
I have visited many countries, and have been in cities without number, yet never did I enter a town which could not produce ten or twelve of those little great men, all fancying themselves known to the rest of the world, and complimenting each other upon their extensive reputation. It is amusing enough when two of those domestic prodigies of learning mount the stage of ceremony, and give and take praise from each other.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXV.
Nothing can be better calculated to increase the price of silk than the present manner of dressing. A ladys train is not bought but at some expense, and after it has swept the public walks for a very few evenings, is fit to be worn no longer; more silk must be bought in order to repair the breach, and some ladies of peculiar economy are thus found to patch up their tails eight or ten times in a season. This unnecessary consumption may introduce poverty here, but then we shall be the richer for it in China.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXXI.
Homer is the first poet and beggar of note among the ancients; he was blind, and sung his ballads about the streets; but it is observed that his mouth was more frequently filled with verses than with bread. Plautus, the comic poet, was better off; he had two trades,he was a poet for his diversion, and helped to turn a mill in order to gain a livelihood. Terence was a slave, and Boethius died in gaol.
Among the Italians, Paulo Burghese, almost as good a poet as Tasso, knew fourteen different trades, and yet died because he could get employment in none. Tasso himself, who had the most amiable character of all poets, has often been obliged to borrow a crown from some friend, in order to pay for a months subsistence: he has left us a pretty sonnet, addressed to his cat, in which he begs the light of her eyes to write by, being too poor to afford himself a candle. But Bentivoglio, poor Bentivoglio! chiefly demands our pity. His comedies will last with the Italian language: he dissipated a noble fortune in acts of charity and benevolence; but, falling into misery in his old age, was refused to be admitted into an hospital which he himself had erected.
If we turn to France, we shall there find even stronger instances of the ingratitude of the public. Vaugelas, one of the politest writers and one of the honestest men of his time, was surnamed The Owl, from his being obliged to keep within all day, and venture out only by night, through fear of his creditors .
But the sufferings of the poet in other countries is nothing when compared to his distresses here; the names of Spenser and Otway, Butler and Dryden, are every day mentioned as a national reproach: some of them lived in a state of precarious indigence, and others literally died of hunger.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXXIV.
I fancy the character of a poet is in every country the same, fond of enjoying the present, careless of the future, his conversation that of a man of sense, his actions those of a fool! Of fortitude able to stand unmoved at the bursting of an earthquake, yet of sensibility to be affected by the breaking of a teacup: such is his character, which, considered in every light, is the very opposite of that which leads to riches.
The poets of the West are as remarkable for their indigence as their genius, and yet among the numerous hospitals designed to relieve the poor, I have heard of but one erected for the benefit of decayed authors.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter LXXXIV.
Disappointed love makes the misery of youth; disappointed ambition that of manhood; and successful avarice that of age. These three attack us through life; and it is our duty to stand upon our guard. To love we ought to oppose dissipation, and endeavour to change the object of the affections; to ambition, the happiness of indolence and obscurity; and to avarice, the fear of soon dying. These are the shields with which we should arm ourselves; and thus make every scene of life, if not pleasing, at least supportable.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XCV.
Men complain of not finding a place of repose. They are in the wrong: they have it for seeking. What they should indeed complain of is, that the heart is an enemy to that very repose they seek. To themselves alone should they impute their discontent. They seek within the short span of life to satisfy a thousand desires, each of which alone is insatiable. One month passes, and another comes on; the year ends and then begins; but man is still unchanged in folly, still blindly continuing in prejudice.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XCVI.
My lawyer tells me, returned he, that I have Salkeld and Ventris strong in my favour, and that there are no less than fifteen cases in point.I understand, said I, those are two of your judges who have already declared their opinion.Pardon me, replied my friend, Salkeld and Ventris are lawyers who some hundred years ago gave their opinions on cases similar to mine; these opinions which make for me my lawyer is to cite, and those opinions which look another way are cited by the lawyer employed by my antagonist: as I observed, I have Salkeld and Ventris for me, he has Coke and Hale for him, and he that has most opinions is most likely to carry his cause.But where is the necessity, cried I, of prolonging a suit by citing the opinions and reports of others, since the same good sense which determined lawyers in former ages may serve to guide your judges at this day? They at that time gave their opinions only from the light of reason: your judges have the same light at present to direct them, let me even add a greater, as in former ages there were many prejudices from which the present is happily free. If arguing from authorities be exploded from every other branch of learning, why should it be particularly adhered to in this? I plainly foresee how such a method of investigation must embarrass every suit, and even perplex the student: ceremonies will be multiplied, formalities must increase, and more time will thus be spent in learning the arts of litigation than in the discovery of right.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XCVIII.
It is the boast of an Englishman that his property is secure, and all the world will grant that a deliberate administration of justice is the best way to secure his property. Why have we so many lawyers, but to secure our property? Why so many formalities, but to secure our property? Not less than one hundred thousand families live in opulence, elegance, and ease, merely by securing our property.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XCVIII.
When the person is buried, the next care is to make his epitaph: they are generally reckoned best which flatter most: such relations, therefore, as have received most benefits from the defunct, discharge this friendly office, and generally flatter in proportion to their joy. When we read these monumental histories of the dead, it may be justly said that all men are equal in the dust; for they all appear equally remarkable for being the most sincere Christians, the most benevolent neighbours, and the honestest men, of their time. To go through an European cemetery, one would be apt to wonder how mankind could have so basely degenerated from such excellent ancestors: every tomb pretends to claim your reverence and regret; some are praised for piety, in these inscriptions, who never entered the temple until they were dead; some are praised for being excellent poets, who were never mentioned except for their dulness, when they were living; others for sublime orators, who were never noted except for their impudence; and others still for military achievements, who were never in any other skirmishes but with the watch.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XII.
Several rules have been drawn up for varying the poetic measure, and critics have elaborately talked of accents and syllables; but good sense and a fine ear, which rules can never teach, are what alone can in such a case determine.
The rapturous flowings of joy, or the interruptions of indignation, require accents placed entirely different, and a structure consonant to the emotions they would express. Changing passions, and numbers changing with those passions, make the whole secret of Western as well as Eastern poetry. In a word, the great faults of the modern professed English poets are, that they seem to want numbers which should vary with the passion, and are more employed in describing to the imagination than striking at the heart.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XL.
And what advantage has any country of Europe obtained from such calamities? Scarcely any. Their dissensions for more than a thousand years have served to make each other unhappy, but have enriched none. All the great nations still nearly preserve their ancient limits; none have been able to subdue the other, and so terminate the dispute. France, in spite of the conquests of Edward the Third and Henry the Fifth, notwithstanding the efforts of Charles the Fifth and Philip the Second, still remains within its ancient limits. Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, the states of the North, are nearly still the same. What effect then has the blood of so many thousands, the destruction of so many cities, produced? Nothing either great or considerable. The Christian princes have lost indeed much from the enemies of Christendom, but they have gained nothing from each other. Their princes, because they preferred ambition to justice, deserve the character of enemies to mankind; and their priests, neglecting morality for opinion, have mistaken the interests of society.
We shall find our expectation of the future to be a gift more distressful even than the former. To fear an approaching evil is certainly a most disagreeable sensation; and in expecting an approaching good we experience the inquietude of wanting actual possession.
Thus, whichever way we look, the prospect is disagreeable. Behind, we have left pleasures we shall never enjoy, and therefore regret; and before, we see pleasures which we languish to possess, and are consequently uneasy till we possess them.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XLIV.
Every mind seems capable of entertaining a certain quantity of happiness which no institutions can increase, no circumstances alter, and entirely independent of fortune. Let any man compare his present fortune with the past, and he will probably find himself, upon the whole, neither better nor worse than formerly.
Gratified ambition, or irreparable calamity, may produce transient sensations of pleasure or distress. Those storms may discompose in proportion as they are strong, or the mind is pliant to their impression. But the soul, though at first lifted up by the event, is every day operated upon with diminished influence; and at length subsides into the level of its usual tranquillity. Should some unexpected turn of fortune take thee from fetters, and place thee on a throne, exultation would be natural upon the change; but the temper, like the face, would soon resume its native serenity.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XLIV.
Had we a privilege of calling up, by the power of memory, only such passages as were pleasing, unmixed with such as were disagreeable, we might then excite at pleasure an ideal happiness, perhaps more poignant than actual sensation. But this is not the case: the past is never represented without some disagreeable circumstances which tarnish all its beauty; the remembrance of an evil carries in it nothing agreeable, and to remember a good is always accompanied with regret. Thus we lose more than we gain by the remembrance.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XLIV.
Positive happiness is constitutional, and incapable of increase; misery is artificial, and generally proceeds from our folly. Philosophy can add to our happiness in no other manner but by diminishing our misery: it should not pretend to increase our present stock, but make us economists of what we are possessed of. The great source of calamity lies in regret or anticipation: he, therefore, is most wise who thinks of the present alone, regardless of the past or the future. This is impossible to the man of pleasure; it is difficult to the man of business; and is in some measure attainable by the philosopher. Happy we were all born philosophers, all born with a talent of thus dissipating our own cares by spreading them upon all mankind!
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XLV.
[European] compacts for peace are drawn up with the utmost precision, and ratified with the greatest solemnity: to these each party promises a sincere and inviolable obedience, and all wear the appearance of open friendship and unreserved reconciliation. Yet, notwithstanding these treaties, the people of Europe are almost continually at war. There is nothing more easy than to break a treaty ratified in all the usual forms, and yet neither party be the aggressor. One side, for instance, breaks a trifling article by mistake; the opposite party, upon this, makes a small but premeditated reprisal; this brings on a return of greater from the other; both sides complain of injuries and infractions; war is declared; they beat; are beaten; some two or three hundred thousand men are killed; they grow tired; leave off just where they began; and so sit coolly down to make new treaties.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XVII.
The English have not yet brought the art of gardening to the same perfection with the Chinese, but have lately begun to imitate them; nature is now followed with greater assiduity than formerly; the trees are suffered to shoot out into the utmost luxuriance; the streams, no longer forced from their native beds, are permitted to wind among the valleys; spontaneous flowers take place of the finished parterre, and the enamelled meadow of the shaven green.
Yet still the English are far behind us in this charming art; their designs have not yet attained a power of uniting instruction with beauty. An European will scarcely conceive any meaning, when I say that there is scarcely a garden in China which does not contain some fine moral couched under the general design, where one is not taught wisdom as he walks, and feels the force of some noble truth, or delicate precept, resulting from the disposition of the groves, streams, or grottoes.
Oliver Goldsmith: Citizen of the World, Letter XXXI.
Writers of every age have endeavoured to show that pleasure is in us, and not in the objects offered for our amusement. If the soul be happily disposed, everything becomes capable of affording entertainment, and distress will almost want a name. Every occurrence passes in review, like the figures of a procession: some may be awkward, others ill-dressed; but none but a fool is for this enraged with the master of the ceremonies.
There can be no inducement to reveal our wants, except to find pity, and by this means relief; but before a poor man opens his mind in such circumstances, he should first consider whether he is contented to lose the esteem of the person he solicits, and whether he is willing to give up friendship to excite compassion. Pity and friendship are passions incompatible with each other; and it is impossible that both can reside in any breast, for the smallest space, without impairing each other. Friendship is made up of esteem and pleasure; pity is composed of sorrow and contempt: the mind may, for some time, fluctuate between them, but it can never entertain both at once.
It is usually said by grammarians that the use of language is to express our wants and desires; but men who know the world hold, and I think with some show of reason, that he who best knows how to keep his necessities private is the most likely person to have them redressed; and that the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.
In fact, pity, though it may often relieve, is but, at best, a short-lived passion, and seldom affords distress more than transitory assistance; with some it scarce lasts from the first impulse till the hand can be put into the pocket; with others it may continue for twice that space; and on some of extraordinary sensibility I have seen it operate for half an hour together; but still, last as it may, it generally produces but beggarly effects; and where from this motive we give five farthings from others we give five pounds: whatever be your feelings from the first impulse of distress, when the same distress solicits a second time, we then feel with diminished sensibility; and, like the repetition of an echo, every stroke becomes weaker; till, at last, our sensations lose all mixture of sorrow, and degenerate into downright contempt.
Among men long conversant with books we too frequently find those misplaced virtues of which I have now been complaining. We find the studious animated with a strong passion for the great virtues, as they are mistakingly called, and utterly forgetful of the ordinary ones. The declamations of philosophy are generally rather exhausted on those supererogatory duties than on such as are indispensably necessary. A man, therefore, who has taken his ideas of mankind from study alone, generally comes into the world with a heart melting at every fictitious distress. Thus he is induced, by misplaced liberality, to put himself into the indigent circumstances of the person he relieves.
Mankind in general are not sufficiently acquainted with the import of the word justice: it is commonly believed to consist only in a performance of those duties to which the laws of society can oblige us. This I allow is sometimes the import of the word, and in this sense justice is distinguished from equity; but there is a justice still more extensive, and which can be shown to embrace all the virtues united.
Justice may be defined, That virtue which impels us to give to every person what is his due. In this extended sense of the word, it comprehends the practice of every virtue which reason prescribes, or society should expect. Our duty to our Maker, to each other, and to ourselves, are fully answered if we give them what we owe them. Thus justice, properly speaking, is the only virtue; and all the rest have their origin in it.
As boys should be educated with temperance, so the first greatest lesson that should be taught them is to admire frugality. It is by the exercise of this virtue alone they can ever expect to be useful members of society. It is true, lectures continually repeated upon this subject, may make some boys, when they grow up, run into an extreme, and become misers; but it were well had we more misers than we have amongst us.
A boy will learn more true wisdom in a public school in a year, than by a private education in five. It is not from masters, but from their equals, youth learn a knowledge of the world: the little tricks they play each other, the punishment that frequently attends the commission, is a just picture of the great world; and all the ways of men are practised in a public school in miniature. It is true, a child is early made acquainted with some vices in a school; but it is better to know these when a boy, than be first taught them when a man; for their novelty then may have irresistible charms.
In history such stories alone should be laid before them as might catch the imagination; instead of this, they are too frequently obliged to toil through the four empires, as they are called, where their memories are burdened by a number of disgusting names, that destroy all their future relish for our best historians, who may be termed the truest teachers of wisdom.
The reader must not be surprised to find me once more addressing schoolmasters on the present method of teaching the learned languages, which is commonly by literal translations. I would ask such, if they were to travel a journey, whether those parts of the road in which they found the greatest difficulties would not be the most strongly remembered? Boys who, if I may continue the allusion, gallop through one of the ancients with the assistance of a translation can have but a very slight acquaintance either with the author or his language.
It was reckoned the fault of the orators at the decline of the Roman empire, when they had been long instructed by rhetoricians, that their periods were so harmonious as that they could be sung as well as spoken. What a ridiculous figure must one of these gentlemen cut, thus measuring syllables, and weighing words, when he should plead the cause of his client!
What I have observed with regard to natural philosophy I would extend to every other science whatsoever. We should teach them as many of the facts as were possible, and defer the causes until they seemed of themselves desirous of knowing them. A mind thus leaving school, stored with all the simple experiences of science, would be the fittest in the world for the college course; and though such a youth might not appear so bright or so talkative as those who had learned the real principles and causes of some of the sciences, yet he would make a wiser man, and would retain a more lasting passion for letters, than he who was early burdened with the disagreeable institution of effect and cause.
Age, that lessens the enjoyment of life, increases our desire of living. Those dangers which, in the vigour of youth, we had learned to despise, assume new terrors as we grow old. Our caution increasing as our years increase, fear becomes at last the prevailing passion of the mind, and the small remainder of life is taken up in useless efforts to keep off our end, or provide for a continued existence . Whence, then, is this increased love of life, which grows upon us with our years? whence comes it that we thus make greater efforts to preserve our existence at a period when it becomes scarce worth the keeping? Is it that nature, attentive to the preservation of mankind, increases our wishes to live, while she lessens our enjoyments; and, as she robs the senses of every pleasure, equips imagination in the spoil? Life would be insupportable to an old man who, loaded with infirmities, feared death no more than when in the vigour of manhood: the numberless calamities of decaying nature, and the consciousness of surviving every pleasure, would at once induce him with his own hand to terminate the scene of misery: but happily the contempt of death forsakes him at a time when it could only be prejudicial, and life acquires an imaginary value in proportion as its real value is no more.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XIV.; also in Citizen of the World, Letter LXXIII.
A French woman is a perfect architect in dress: she never, with Gothic ignorance, mixes the orders; she never tricks out a squabby Doric shape with Corinthian finery; or, to speak without metaphor, she conforms to general fashion only when it happens not to be repugnant to private beauty.
The English ladies, on the contrary, seem to have no other standard of grace but the run of the town. If fashion gives the word, every distinction of beauty, complexion, or stature ceases. Sweeping trains, Prussian bonnets, and trollopees, as like each other as if cut from the same piece, level all to one standard. The Mall, the gardens, and the playhouses are filled with ladies in uniform; and their whole appearance shows as little variety of taste as if their clothes were bespoke by the colonel of a marching regiment, or fancied by the artist who dresses the three battalions of guards.
But not only the ladies of every shape and complexion, but of every age too, are possessed of this unaccountable passion for levelling all distinction in dress. The lady of no quality travels first behind the lady of some quality; and a woman of sixty is as gaudy as her grand-daughter.
I am not for whining at the depravity of the times, or for endeavouring to paint a prospect more gloomy than in nature; but certain it is, no person who has travelled will contradict me when I aver that the lower orders of mankind in other countries testify, on every occasion, the profoundest awe of religion; while in England they are scarcely awakened into a sense of its duties, even in circumstances of the greatest distress.
This dissolute and fearless conduct foreigners are apt to attribute to climate and constitution: may not the vulgar being pretty much neglected in our exhortations from the pulpit be a conspiring cause? Our divines seldom stoop to their mean capacities; and they who want instruction most, find least in our religious assemblies.
There are but few talents requisite to become a popular preacher; for the people are easily pleased if they perceive any endeavours in the orator to please them; the meanest qualifications will work this effect if the preacher sincerely sets about it. Perhaps little, indeed very little, more is required than sincerity and assurance; and a becoming sincerity is always certain of producing a becoming assurance. Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum tibi ipsi, is so trite a quotation that it almost demands an apology to repeat it; yet though all allow the justice of the remark, how few do we find put it in practice! Our orators, with the most faulty bashfulness, seem impressed rather with an awe of their audience, than with a just respect for the truths they are about to deliver: they, of all professions, seem the most bashful, who have the greatest right to glory in their commission.
The French preachers generally assume all that dignity which becomes men who are ambassadors from Christ; the English divines, like erroneous envoys, seem more solicitous not to offend the court to which they are sent, than to drive home the interests of their employer.
Their discourses from the pulpit are generally dry, methodical, and unaffecting: delivered with the most insipid calmness; insomuch that should the peaceful preacher lift his head over the cushion, which alone he seems to address, he might discover his audience, instead of being awakened to remorse, actually sleeping over this methodical and laboured composition.
It will be perhaps objected, that by confining the excellences of a preacher to proper assurance, earnestness, and openness of style, I make the qualifications too trifling for estimation; there will be something called oratory brought up on this occasion; action, attitude, grace, elocution, may be repeated as absolutely necessary to complete the character: but let us not be deceived: common sense is seldom swayed by fine tones, musical periods, just attitudes, or the display of a white handkerchief; oratorial behaviour, except in very able hands indeed, generally sinks into awkward and paltry affectation.
There is probably no country so barbarous, that would not disclose all it knew, if it received equivalent information; and I am apt to think that a person who was ready to give more knowledge than he received would be welcome wherever he came. All his care in travelling should only be, to suit his intellectual banquet to the people with whom he conversed: he should not attempt to teach the unlettered Tartar astronomy, nor yet instruct the polite Chinese in the arts of subsistence: he should endeavour to improve the barbarian in the secrets of living comfortably, and the inhabitant of a more refined country in the speculative pleasures of science.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XVIII., and in Citizen of the World, Letter CVIII.
It was a usual observation of Boyle the English chemist, that, if every artist would but discover what new observations occurred to him in the exercise of his trade, philosophy would thence gain innumerable improvements. It may be observed with still greater justice, that, if the useful knowledge of every country, howsoever barbarous, was gleaned by a judicious observer, the advantages would be inestimable.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XVIII., and in Citizen of the World, Letter No. CVIII.
Whatever may be the merits of the English in other sciences, they seem particularly excellent in the art of healing. There is scarcely a disorder incident to humanity against which our advertising doctors are not possessed with a most infallible antidote. The professors of other arts confess the inevitable intricacy of things; talk with doubt, and decide with hesitation: but doubting is entirely unknown in medicine: the advertising professors here delight in cases of difficulty.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XX., and Citizen of the World, Letter XXIV.
When I consider the assiduity of this profession, their benevolence amazes me. They not only, in general, give their medicines for half-value, but use the most persuasive remonstrances to induce the sick to come and be cured. Sure there must be something strangely obstinate in an English patient, who refuses so much health upon such easy terms! Does he take a pride in being bloated with a dropsy? does he find pleasure in the alternations of an intermittent fever? or feel as much pleasure in nursing up his gout as he found pleasure in acquiring it? He must! otherwise he would never reject such repeated assurances of instant relief. What can be more convincing than the manner in which the sick are invited to be well? The doctor first begs the most earnest attention of the public to what he is going to propose; he solemnly affirms the pill was never found to want success: he produces a list of those who have been rescued from the grave by taking it. Yet, notwithstanding all this, there are many here who now and then think proper to be sick:only sick did I say? there are some who even think proper to die! though they might have purchased the health-restoring specific for half a crown at every corner.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XX., and Citizen of the World, Letter XXIV.
Friendship is like a debt of honour: the moment it is talked of it loses its real name, and assumes the more ungrateful form of obligation. From hence we find that those who regularly undertake to cultivate friendship find ingratitude generally repays their endeavours. That circle of beings which dependence gathers around us is almost ever unfriendly: they secretly wish the terms of their connections more nearly equal; and, where they even have the most virtue, are prepared to reserve all their affections for their patron only in the hour of his decline. Increasing the obligations which are laid upon such minds, only increases their burden: they feel themselves unable to repay the immensity of their debt, and their bankrupt hearts are taught a latent resentment at the hand that is stretched out with offers of service and relief.
Books, while they teach us to respect the interest of others, often make us unmindful of our own; while they instruct the youthful reader to grasp at social happiness, he grows miserable in detail; and, attentive to universal harmony, often forgets that he himself has a part to sustain in the concert. I dislike, therefore, the philosopher who describes the inconveniences of life in such pleasing colours that the pupil grows enamoured of distress, longs to try the charms of poverty, meets it without dread, nor fears its inconveniences till he severely feels them.
A youth who has thus spent his life among books, new to the world, and unacquainted with man but by philosophic information, may be considered as a being whose mind is filled with the vulgar errors of the wise: utterly unqualified for a journey through life, yet confident of his own skill in the direction, he sets out with confidence, blunders on with vanity, and finds himself at last undone.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XXVII., and Citizen of the World, Letter LXVII.
He speaks to a people not easily impressed with new ideas, extremely tenacious of the old; with difficulty warmed, and as slowly cooling again. How unsuited then to our national character is that species of poetry which rises upon us with unexpected flights! where we must hastily catch the thought, or it flies from us! and, in short, where the Reader must largely partake of the Poets enthusiasm in order to taste of his beauties!
Oliver Goldsmith: Review of Odes by Mr. Gray: Lon. Mon. Rev., Sept. 1757.