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—a ftate probably more enviable in the ancient, than it has been in any period of the modern world, because the value of literature was then fo much enhanced by the difficulty of its acquifition.
From that period, they evidently subsisted by the public price of their literary exertions, and were precifely, therefore, in the fituation of the profeffed authors of our times. The change from patronage to this flate, feems alfo to have, in the fame manner, arisen from the multiplicity of pretenders, which the diffufion of knowledge had called forth. But they poffeffed, in one refpect, an eminent fuperiority, of which the art of printing has deprived modern authors. They received directly from the public, the price of their labours, undiminished by the profit of the bookfeller. Of. that profeffion, scarcely any veftiges are discoverable in Greece. The cuftom of lecturing, in a great measure, fuperfeded its ufe. Their existence in Rome is proved by the letters of Pliny, and the fatires of Juvenal: But the venders of manufcripts, the conductors of fo narrow a commerce, must have ever occupied a fecondary ftation. They were probably little better than the dif tributive agents of authors, and the collectors of curiofities for the wealthy. The art of printing, by enlarging the fphere of the commerce of books, gave utility and importance to its conductors; they speedily became to authors, what the monied capitalist is to the manufacturer. In fimple times, the manufacturer and the author distribute their own produce: But, in the progrefs of society, by a fort of division of labour, separate profeffions arife for this diftribution, the merchant and the bookfeller. Placed in circumstances more favourable to the growth of wealth, than the original producer, they foon obtain over him the fuperiority conferred by the command of capital, and, inftead of agents, become employers and mafters. It is this circumstance that renders the state of authorship lefs eligible among us than it was in the ancient world. A medium is now
interpofed between the author and the public. The profits of literature are abridged, while its profeffors are fubjected to a new dependence.
But while the intereft of learning is thus wounded, the interest of mankind is effentially promoted. These interefts are, in fact, oppofite; for it is the object of the author to enhance the value of his produce, and that of the public, to procure it as eafily as they can. The art of printing, and the profeffion of bookfeller, facilitate the difperfion of literary produce. In the fame proportion, they therefore lower the market of knowledge, and, perhaps, in fome degree, diminish the importance of authors, as they diffufe information more widely among men.
I have thus attempted to investigate a subject which has hitherto been little treated. In the first number, I have endeavoured to fhew, that a body of men, who may be called authors by profeffion, exift in every form of fociety. In the fecond, I have confidered the fucceffive changes which they undergo, and the causes which produce the fucceffion; and in the third and fourth, I have attempted to illuftrate and establish the theory, by an application of it to the literary history of England and of Greece. The details of the subject are infinite: It was fufficient for me to have contemplated its more general aspects; and should I refume the pen to treat it, it would be to offer fome miscellaneous remarks, which could not, with propriety, be comprehended in a systematic view.
Critical Remarks on fome of the most eminent Hiftorians of England.
THOUGH we are now in the close of the eighteenth century, the history of this ifland has never been studied with proper attention. That portion of it, in particular, which precedes the reformation, seems, at present,
buried in profound neglect. For this misfortune, fufficient reafons may be affigned; an hundred and fifty years were wasted in theological frenzy, or in defeating the tyranny of the houfe of Stuart; and a modern compiler of general hiftory is ftrongly tempted to rush with precipitation over the remoter periods, and to referve his abilities and research for those later fcenes, in which a reader of the prefent day is more heartily interested. On thefe modern compilers, a few candid obfervations may repay a perufal.
The name of RAPIN is now almoft forgotten; and Mr. Hume, in the end of his English History, has branded him as an author" the most defpicable both in style and matter." The cenfure is invidious, ungenerous, and unjuft: His work contains an immenfe multitude of interefting circumftances, wholly omitted by the Scottish author. From his perfonal fituation, a claffical compofition was not to be expected. He wrote a more complete General History of England, than had ever appeared in this country; and whatever be his faults, it is impoffible to deny his uncommon merit.
SALMON made an effay on the fame fubject. Though fhort, it contains much information, which is not to be found in more voluminous hiftorians on the fame fubject. His own reflections are brief, lively and fenfible. It is ufual to reprefent Richard III. as deformed and decrepid; and the fame authors inform us, that he unhorfed and killed with his own hand the standard-bearer of Henry VII. who was reputed to be the strongest knight in the rebel army. The inconfiftency of these two stories is pointed out by Salmon. He has left behind him no work of very fuperior value, yet he must have been an author of fuperior abilities; for, without becoming tirefome, he has written more than most of us have read.
The fame remarks apply with equal juftice to Dr. SMOLLET. The immenfe bulk of his writings proves
that he compofed with greater facility than ordinary men are able to converfe. By his own account, in the admirable expedition of Humphry Clinker, it appears that he very often wrote merely for wages; and on fuch occafions, nothing above mediocrity can with reason be demanded. The continuation of his English history, from 1748 to 1764, is a mere catchpenny chaos, without even a spark of merit. There is great reason to believe that he, or rather his journeymen, copied at random from fomebody elfe, most of the quotations and references arranged with fo much parade on the margin
of his text.
GUTHRIE has left behind him more than one ponderous fabric on British hiftory. He had fenfe, learning, candour, and induftry. He had an original manner, and wished to think for himfelf: But to elegance, he was an entire ftranger, and to that happy choice of circumstances which forms an inftructive hiftorian; he was often familiar without perfpicuity, and prolix without completenefs. No writer is at prefent lefs popular. A geographical grammar has been printed under his name; but it is generally understood, that he had no fhare in its compofition.
In point of ftile, Mr. HUME may be fludied as a per fect model. Pure, nervous, eloquent, he is fimple without weakness, and fublime without effort. In the art of telling an humorous ftory, he can never be excelled; and when he chose to exert himself, he was even a confiderable master of the pathetic: But it was his misfortune to defpife accuracy of research, and fidelity of citation. He was a bitter Tory; and while detection flashed in his face, he commonly adhered to whatever he had once written. His account of the houfe of Stuart is not the statement of an hiftorian, but the memorial of a pleader in a Court of Juftice. He fometimes afferts a pofitive falfehood, contradicted by the very author whom he pretends himself to be quoting; but more commonly gains his purpofe, by fup
preffing the whole evidence on the oppofite fide of the queftion. His conduct in the controversy with Mr. Tytler can hardly be defended: And his injurious treatment of Queen Mary of Scotland is not more difgufting than his elaborate panegyrics on the virtues of her pofterity. When we examine Mrs. Macaulay's performance on the fame period, we meet with a profufion of intelligence, of which the mere reader of Hume has not the most distant conception. The Scottish historian gives but short and partial excerpts from the writers of the times. His whig antagonist, on the other hand, gives large extracts from the original writers; and though to a fuperficial reader, her work affumes an air lefs pleafing and claffical, what is loft in elegance is fully repaid in authenticity. He is a zealous advocate for the tawdry ceremonies of the Church of England, and yet the main scope of his metaphyfical writings, is to extinguish every fentiment of religion : His history was written for fale; and there he condefcended to flatter public fuperftition at the expence of reafon.
Mr. Hume, in comn.on with most of our hiftorians, has omitted to give an account of his materials. A judicious reader, when he fees them perpetually referred to, will ask who is Froiffart, and who is Rhymer? Till the acceffion of the houfe of Tudor, his narrative is abrupt. For example, the reign of Edward III. extended to almost half a century, and is one of the most bufy and memorable in ancient or modern annals. It is compreffed by Mr. Hume within an hundred octavo pages, while the reign of Elizabeth alone fills one of his largest volumes. His warmeft admirers must allow, that he betrays a grofs difproportion of parts in the execution of his plan: But in truth, it was by far too extenfive to he completed by any fingle pen. It was neceffary to write a book of a faleable fize. As an epitome of English Hiftory, it is too large; but as a complete hiftory, it is by far too fhort. We, every day, fee whole folios printed on the antiquities of