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This perhaps can never be effected in its utmost extent. But it is of the most unfavourable effect, where the division and reserve pertinaciously force themselves upon observation.
Secondly, the despotism which is thus exeré cised, is peculiarly grating to a mind of generosity and spirit. Curiosity is one of the strongest impulses of the human heart. To curiosity it is peculiarly incident, to grow, and expand itself under difficulties and opposition. The greater are the obstacles to its being gratified, the more it seems to swell, and labour to burst the mounds that confine it: Many an object is passed by with indifference, till it is rendered a subject of prohibition, and then it starts up into a source of inextinguishable passion. It may be alleged, that “this uneasiness and impatience in a young person are capable of being corrected.” But is this any thing more than saying in other words, that the finest springs of the human mind may be broken, and the whole reduced to a chaos of dishonourable lumber? As long as the fiery grandeur of the foul remains, that will not be controled, and cannot be moulded by the frigid dictates of another's will, the kind of prohibitions here spoken of, will be felt with exquisite indignation, and, though involuntarily, will be regiftered as examples of a galling injustice. K 2
Thirdly, the trial of skill thus instituted between the parent and child, is of the most per, nicious tendency. The child is employed in doing that, in which it is bis endeavour not to be detected. He muft liften with anxious attention, left he should be burst in upon before he is aware. He must break off his reading, and hide his book, a thousand times upon a false alarm. At length, when the interruption really occurs, he must rouse his attention, and compofe his features. He imposes imperious filence upon the flutterings of his heart; he pitches to the true key.of falshood the tone of his voice; the object of his most anxious effort, is to appear the thing that he is not. It is not possible to imagine a school of more refined hypocrisy.
The great argument in favour of this project of an Index Expurgatorius, is derived from the various degrees of moral or immoral tendency that is to be found in literary compositions.
One of the most obvious remarks that offer, themselves under this head, is, that authors themselves are continually falling into the groffest mistakes in this respect, and show themselves fuperlatively ignorant of the tendency of their own writings. Nothing is more futile, than the formal and regular moral frequently nexed to Esop's fables of animals. Examine the fable impartially, and you will find that
the leffon set down at foot of it, is one of the last inferences that would have occurred to you. It is in a very different temper that the bookmaker squeezes out what he calls his Use, from that in which the reader becomes acquainted with the circumstances of the fable.
To ascertain the moral of a story, or the gehuine tendency of a book, is a science peculiarly abstruse. As many controversies might be raised upon some questions of this fort, as about the number fix bundred and fixty fix in the book of Revelations.
What is the tendency of Homer's Iliad ? The author seems to have designed it, as an example of the fatal consequences of difcord among political allies. One of the effects it appears most conspicuously to have produced, is that of enhancing the false lustre of military atchievements, and perpetuating the noxious race of heroes in the world.
What is the tendency of Gulliver's Travels, particularly of that part which relates to the Houybnmhns and Yahoos? It has frequently been affirmed to be, to inspire us with a loathing aversion to our species, and fill us with a frantic preference for the fociety of any class of animals, rather than of men. A poet of our own day [Hayley*], as a suitable remuneration for the # Triumphs of Temper,
production of such a work, has placed the author in hell, and consigned hiin to the eternal torment of devils. On the other hand it has been doubted whether, under the name of Houyhnmhns and Yahoos, Swift has done any thing more than exhibit two different descriptions of men, in their highest improvement and lowest degradation ; and it has been affirmed that no book breathes more firongly a generous indignation against vice, and an ardent love of every thing that is excellent and honourable to the human heart.
There is no end to an enumeration of controverlies of this sort. Authors themselves are no more infallible in this respect, than the men who read them. If the moral be invented first, the author did not then know where the brilliant lights of his story would fall, nor of consequence where its principal power of attraction would be found. If it be extracted afterwards, he is often taken at a disadvantage, and must cxtricate himself as he can.
Otway seems to have pursued the last method. The moral to his tragedy of the Orphan is thus expressed :
'Tis thus that heav'n its empire does maintain ;
It may afflict ; but man must not complain. Richardson pursued the opposite method. He has drawn in Lovelace and Grandison models of a debauched and of an elevated character. Neither of them is eminently calculated to produce imitation ; but it would not perhaps be adventurous to affirm that more readers have wished to resemble Lovelace, than have wished to resemble Grandifon.
Milton has written a sublime poem upon a ridiculous story of eating an apple, and of the eternal vengeance decreed by the Almighty against the whole human race, because their progenitor was guilty of this black and deteftable offence. The object of his poem, as he tells us, was To justify the ways of God to men.
B. I, ver.
26. But one of the most memorable remarks that suggest themselves under this branch of the subject, is, that the true moral and fair inference from a composition has often lain concealed for ages from its most diligent readers. Books have been handed down from generation to generation, as the true teachers of piety and the love of God, that represent him as lo merciless. and tyrannical a despot, that, if they were considered otherwise than through the medium of prejudice, they could inspire nothing but hatred. It seems that the impression we derive from a book, depends much less upon its real contents, than upon the temper of mind and preparation with which we read it.