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XCIX. Letter, containing the plan of a new Alma-
BY MR. TOWN,
CRITIC AND CENSOR-GENERAL.
No. LXXI. THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 1758,
Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se
I write, as I would talk; am short, and clear;
AMONG the several degrees of authors, there are none perhaps, who have more obstacles to surmount at their setting out, than the writers of periodical essays. Talk with a modern critic, and he will tell you, that a new paper is a vain attempt after the inimitable Spectator and others; that all the proper subjects are already preoccupied, and that it is equally impossible to find out a new field for observation, as to discover a new world. With these prejudices, the public are prepared to receive us; and while they expect to be cloyed with the stale repetition of the same
fare, though tossed up in a different manner, they sit down with but little relish for the entertainment.
That the Spectator first led the way, must undoubtedly be acknowledged; but that his followers must for that reason be always supposed to tread in his steps, can by no means be allowed. In the high road of life there are several extensive walks, as well as bye-paths, which we may strike into, without the necessity of keeping the same beaten track with those that have gone before us. New objects of ridicule will continually present themselves; and even the same characters will appear different by being differently disposed, as in the same pack of cards, though ever so often shuffled, there will never be two hands exactly alike.
After this introduction, I hope to be pardoned, if I indulge myself in speaking a word or two concerning my own endeavours to entertain the public. And first, whatever objections the reader may have had to the subjects of my papers, I shall make no apology for the manner in which I have chose to treat them. The dread of falling into (what they are pleased to call) colloquial barbarisms, has induced some unskilful writers to swell their bloated diction with uncouth phrases and the affected jargon of pedants. For my own part, I never go out of the common way of expression, merely for the sake of introducing a more sounding word with the Latin termination. The English language is sufficiently copious and expressive without any farther adoption of new terms; and the native words seem to me to have far more force than any foreign auxiliaries, however pompously ushered in: as British soldiers fight our battles better than the alien troops taken into our pay.
The subjects of my essays have been chiefly such, as I thought might recommend themselves to the public notice by being new and uncommon. For this
reason, I purposely avoided the worn-out practice of retailing scraps of morality, and affecting to dogmatize on the common duties of life. In this point, indeed, the Spectator is inimitable; nor could I hope to say any thing new upon these topics after so many excellent moral and religious essays, which are the principal ornament of that work. I have, therefore, contented myself with exposing vice and folly by painting mankind in their natural colours, without assuming the rigid air of a preacher, or the moroseness of a philosopher. I have rather chose to undermine our fashionable excesses, by secret sapping, than to storm them by open assault. In a word, upon all occasions I have endeavoured to laugh people into a better behaviour: as I am convinced, that the sting of reproof is not less sharp for being concealed; and advice never comes with a better face, than when it comes with a laughing one.
There are some points in the course of this work, which perhaps might have been treated with a more serious air. I have thought it my duty to take every opportunity of exposing the absurd tenets of our modern free-thinkers and enthusiasts. The enthusiast is, indeed, much more difficult to cure than the freethinker; because the latter, with all his bravery, cannot but be conscious that he is wrong; whereas the former may have deceived himself into a belief, that he is certainly in the right; and the more he considers himself as 'patiently suffering for the truth's sake.' Ignorance is too stubborn to yield to conviction; and on the other hand, those, whom a little learning has made mad,' are too proud and self-sufficient to hearken to the sober voice of reason. The only way left us, therefore, is to root out superstition, by making its followers ashamed of themselves: and as for our free-thinkers, it is but right to turn their boasted weapons of ridicule against them; and as