« VorigeDoorgaan »
distaff. What think you of their thin-spun systems of philosophy, or lascivious poems, or Milesian fables? Nay, what is still worse, are there not panegyrics on tyrants, and books that blaspheme the gods, and perplex the natural sense of right and wrong? I believe if Eurystheus was to set me to work again, he would find me a worse task than any he imposed; he would make me read through a great library; and I would serve it as I did the Hydra: I would burn as I went on, that one Chimæra might not rise from another, to plague mankind. I should have valued myself more on clearing the library, than on cleansing the Augean
It is in those libraries only that the memory of your labours exists. The heroes of Marathon, the patriots of Thermopylæ owe their immortality to me. All the wise institutions of lawgivers, and all the doctrines of sages, had perished in the ear, like a dream related, if letters had not preserved them. Oh Hercules! it is not for the man who preferred virtue to pleasure, to be an enemy
enemy to the Muses. Let Sardanapalus and the silken sons of luxury, who have wasted life in inglorious ease, despise the records of action, which bear no honourable testimony to their lives: but true merit, heroic virtue, each genuine offspring of immortal Jove, should honour the sacred source of lasting fame.
Indeed, if writers employed themselves only in recording the acts of great men, much might be said in their favour. But why do they trouble people with their meditations? Can it signify to the world what an idle man has been thinking?
Yes it may. The most important and extensive advantages mankind enjoy, are greatly owing to men who have never quitted their closets. To them mankind is obliged for the facility and security of navigation. The invention of the compass has opened to them new worlds. The knowledge of the mechanical powers has enabled them to construct such wonderful machines, as per
form what the united labour of millions, by the severest drudgery, could not accomplish. Agriculture too, the most useful of arts, has received its share of improvement from the same source. Poetry likewise is of excellent use, to enable the memory to retain with more ease, and to imprint with more energy upon the heart, precepts of virtue and virtuous actions. Since we left the world; from the little root of a few letters, science has spread its branches over all nature, and raised its head to the heavens. Some philosophers have entered so far into the counsels of Divine Wisdom, as to explain to us many of its most stupendous operations. The dimensions, distances, and causes of the revolutions of the planets, the path of comets, and the ebbing and flowing of tides, are understood and laid open. Can any thing raise the glory of the human species more, than to see a little creature, inhabiting a small spot, amidst innumerable worlds, taking a survey of the universe, comprehending its arrangement, and entering into the scheme of that wonderful connexion and correspondence of things so remote,
mote, which infinite wisdom and power have combined to establish? What a volume of wisdom, what a noble theology do these discoveries open to us! While some superior geniuses have soared to these sublime subjects, other sagacious and diligent minds have been enquiring into the most minute works of the infinite Artificer: the same care, the same providence is exerted through the whole, and we should learn from it that to true Wisdom utility and fitness appear perfection, and whatever is beneficial is noble.
I approve of science as far as it is assistant to action. I like the improvement of navigation, and the discovery of the greater part of the globe, because it opens a wider field for the master spirits of the world to bustle in.
There spoke the soul of Hercules. But if learned men are to be esteemed for the assistance they give to active minds in their schemes, they are not less to be valued for their endeavours to give them a right diT rection,
rection, and moderate their too great ardour. The study of history will teach the warrior and the legislator, by what means armies have been victorious, and states have become powerful; and in the private citizen. they will inculcate the love of liberty and order. The writings of sages point out a private path of virtue, and shew that the best empire is self-government, and subduing our passions the noblest of conquests. HERCULES.
The true spirit of heroism acts by a sort of inspiration, and wants neither the experience of history, nor the doctrines of philosophers to direct it. But do not arts and sciences render men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive; and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes?
I will own that there are some natures so happily formed, they hardly want the assistance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in every thing they do. But these heaven-inspired geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plen,