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NOTES by SAMUEL JOHNSON
GEORGE STE EVEN S.
THE SECOND EDITION, REVISED AND AUGMENTED.
ΤΗΣ ΦΥΣΕΩΣ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΕΥΣ ΗΝ, ΤΟΝ ΚΑΛΑΜΟΝ ΑΠΟΒΡΕΧΩΝ ΕΙΣ ΝΟΥΝ
MULTA DIES, VARIUSQUE LABOR MUTABILIS EVI
Printed for C. Bathurst, W. Strahan, J. F. and C. Rivington,
HAT praifes are without reafon lavished on the dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always continued by thofe, who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence. from the herefies of paradox; or thofe, who, being forced by difappointment upon confolatory expedients, are willing to hope from pofterity what the present age refufes, and flatter themselves that the regard, which is yet denied by envy, will be at last bestowed by time.
Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not from reafon, but from prejudice. Some feem to admire indifcriminately whatever has been long preserved, without confidering that time has fometimes co-operated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to honour paft than prefent excellence; and the mind contemplates genius through the fhades of age, as the eye furveys the fun through artificial opacity. The great contention of criticisin is to find the faults of the moderns, and the beauties of the ancients. While an author is yet living, we eftimate his powers by his worft performance; and when he is dead, we rate them by his best. [A]
To works, however, of which the excellence is not abfolute and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not raised upon principles demonftrative and scientifick, but appealing wholly to obfervation and experience, no other teft can be applied than length of duration and continuance of esteem. What mankind have long poffeffed they have often examined and compared, and if they perfift to value the poffeffion, it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed opinion in its favour. As among the works of nature no man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain high, without the knowledge of many mountains, and many rivers; fo in the productions of genius, nothing can be ftiled excellent till it has been compared with other works of the fame kind. Demonftration immediately difplays its power, and has nothing to hope or fear from the flux of years; but works tentative and experimental must be eftimated by their proportion to the general and collective ability of man, as it is difcovered in a long fucceffion of endeavours. Of the first building that was raised, it might be with certainty determined that it was round or fquare; but whether it was spacious or lofty must have been referred to time. The Pythagorean scale of numbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but the poems of Homer we yet know not to tranfcend the common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little more thantranfpofe his incidents, new name his characters, and paraphrafe his fentiments.