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April 31. perfect but there is something about him that might be amended; and none are so bad but we may find something belonging to them that merits applause. The great businefs of candid criticism is to separate the chaff from the corn, and neither to approve nor condemn by the lump.
Few writers are better calculated for captivating youthful minds than Sterne. Throughout his whole works there are interspersed many lively sallies of wit, many happy. strokes of humour. Even the desultory manner in which he proceeds seems to be so natural to him, and is so well suited to the volatility of youthful minds, that it is, to them, rather alluring than disgustful; and the innumerable touches of nature so frequently recurring, and so happily exprefsed, give to his writings a charm that is ineffably pleasing. Without being able to distinguish what are the particular ingredients in this tout ensemble that please, they admire even his quaintnesses and eccentricities. They think too often that the charm proceeds from the levity and frivolity of his manner, when it in fact arises from the singular of his mind. To this circumstance we are powers to attribute those countless swarms of imitators of his manner, and the disgusting insipidity of these miserable productions.
A talent for discriminating human characters, and delineating their traits with perfect accuracy, is one of the rarest gifts of heaven; and whoever pofsefses that talent in an eminent degree, will not fail to produce performances that will obtain an high degree of applause, whatever may be their defects in other respects. Shakespeare, who pofsefsed this happy talent
303 in a degree superior to that of any other of the sons of men who have yet appeared on the globe, has, notwithstanding the innumerable defects that abound in his works, obtained a degree of celebrity that nothing else could ever have given to him; and which, notwithstanding the attacks of snarling critics, will continue. to encrease as long as the language in which he writes fhall be understood. There have been people weak enough to believe that if they could imitate Shakespeare in the irregularity of his plots, in the disregard of the much talked of unities, in the antiquated turn of his phrases, and in the low buffoonery of some of his scenes, they would be entitled to a considerable share of that approbation which has been so liberally bestowed upon him. They did not advert that it was his superlative genius which made him triumph, not in consequence of these defects, but in spite of them.
In like manner Sterne pofsefses in a very eminent, though far inferior degree, that rare talent of discriminating characters, and of delineating them with precision by light touches of nature, which ever and anon occur even in the most trifling scenes. It is this which gives to these otherwise trifling scenes an interest [which nothing else could ever have conferred upon them. It is from the certainty of meeting with these delicate touches of nature, that the man of taste is induced to tolerate that nauseating affectation and puerility which is like to turn his stomach at every line: but miserable is the delusion, and perverted is the judgement of those who think that those pitiful quaintnefses of exprefsions, and filthy illusions, which so frequently occur,
constitute the efsence of that charm which has captivated so many of his readers. The fate of his imitators has proved the truth of these remarks. They have all sunk into deserved oblivion. Happily the time is now arrived, when even the silliest of his admirers,-admirers to be sure who are unable to perceive even a glimpse of his true excellence, see the folly of attempting to imitate him in his execrable ribaldry. Sterne is in many respects the most detestable writer in the English language. In some respects he has no superior but Shakespeare alone. What pity that such fine talents fhould have been conjoined with such a vitiated taste, and perverted understanding! It is a parcel of pearls kneaded up in a lump of ordure.
I heartily commend you for the ardent with you exprefs of obtaining a knowledge of that which constitutes what you call chastenefs of composition in the English or other languages; but you must not hope to be able to attain a clear perception of that at This must be the work of time and experience; for those only whose minds have been calmed by experience, and an attentive observation of the objects around them, and the effects that various incidents produce upon the human mind, can perceive those deviations from nature and truth, which constitute a bad taste in literary compositions. In the early stages of life, whatever ap pears to be brilliant, is thought excellent; whatever surprises, whatever seems to be beyond the ordinary course of nature, excites admiration at that period of life; hence extravagance is accounted perfec
305 tion, and the wildest eccentricities are deemed beau ties. By degrees the mind becomes sensible of the absurdity of such conceits,-in time loaths them, and gradually acquires a settled predilection for that modest propriety of exprefsion which leads the mind directly towards the object the writer had in view, without distraction or embarrassment. It is this last kind of writings which aged men have dignifiedwith the name of chastened compositions, and which they admire as models of perfection in literature.
I cannot recommend a more perfect pattern of this kind to your notice than the common English version of the Bible. The language is there at all times plain, simple, and unaffected; and the construction natural and easy, though the tone is grave and dignified. I know no performance that deserves so high a degree of praise, when considered merely as a work of literary merit; and it has happily given a stability and perfection to the English language it never otherwise could have attained. From the universal attention it has obtained from all ranks of people, especially in Scotland, even the vulgar there understand the meaning of most of the words in the language, so as to be able to use them with a much greater degree of accuracy than people of the same rank in any other part of the world. To this circumstance I imagine we are to ascribe the facility that people even of ordinary rank in Scotland find in becoming authors; and did they not undo in some measure the lefsons they have thus imperceptibly acquired in their youth, by attempting to imitate other more faulty models, which the changing whim
of fashion has exalted into celebrity for the time, we fhould probably have been able to produce a much. more respectable list of classical writers than we yet. can boast of. It is impofsible for me to contemplate that performance (I speak here merely of the translating of it into English,) without feeling a strong emotion of respect and admiration for the persons who atchieved it, and viewing it as one of the most striking monuments of human industry and genius. Open the book where you will, and you find the lan-. guage every where simple, grave, and natural; alike when the subject requires the plain tone of humble. narration, or rises into the most exalted heights of poetic enthusiasm. Like every translation indeed, from languages of such remote antiquity, obscurities do now and then occur, which have been occasioned by misunderstanding allusion to circumstances, now perhaps for ever lost and unknown; but even on these occasions, though the sense may be obscured, the language is never debased. On no occasion does it degenerate either into vulgarity and meanness, or into affectation and bombast. As a contrast to this performance, and as a striking example of the difference between a modest chastened stile of writing, and that affectedly ornamented stile which I with you to fhun, you need only take up Castalio's Latin translation of the Bible, and read a few pages of it. You will there find a perpetual effort to drefs up every phrase in the most ornamented manner. It is as if a man, instead of gravely walking forward, were forced to move in a kind of measured dance. Instead of that sober drefs and stayed