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In the present state of literature, I am doubtful whether it be an evidence of merit, that a fourth edition of this book is called for. The popularity which the dullest performances can, under certain circumstances, obtain, robs my friend Mr. OliveBRANCH of this ground of self-commendation; or, at best, leaves it very equivocal. The absence of those circumstances, which bring to the productions of the day their popularity, should be shown, before this testimony is cleared of its ambiguity, and public favour becomes an argument of genuine desert. These papers will demonstrate for themselves, how far they are entitled to this distinction, to such as are disposed and qualified to examine their spirit and tendency. To those, however, whose observations have led them to draw no favourable infe. rences from public patronage, I deem it a respect due to their prejudices, to assure them, that, by this little work of my friend's, religion is not philosophised, and philosophy is not sophisticated; truth is not made to consist in infidelity; and the old distinctions of virtue and vice are maintained. Magnetically fixed on an axis of immutable direction, the tenor of these volumes have kept at polar distances
the denominations of good and ill; and the ear of profligacy has been tickled with no soft appellations, confounding things in their natures irreconcilable. Ancient and prescriptive rules have been adhered to, in rejection of modern discoveries in morals; and sense, experience, and conscience, are gravely set up, in defiance of the polite system of ethics which at present prevails. Yet, with all these disadvantages in the plan of the LOOKER-ON, it has lived to a fourth edition : and it is pleasing to think, that there is yet a party in the country which can relish the formal cut of Mr. OLIVE-BRANCH's morality. There must needs (my friendship and these facts suggest to me) be something in the manner and character of this pious old gentleman that resists the unpropitiating effect of his
doctrines, and disguises the salutary roughness of his admonitions. Vigorous in mind, though puny in structure ; waxing in virtue, though waning in strength; a certain adolescence about the heart counteracts the decline of his years, and gives a spreading and active effect to his goodness, at a time of life when virtue for the greater part consists in negatives, and gives no proofs of its existence, but in the forbearances of impotency. He has collected these transcripts of instruction from among a multiplicity of papers, devolved to him through a prudent ancestry, remarkable for their inheritance of innocence, and the antiquity of their estate, in a characteristic probity. He chose this juncture (it should have seemed an inauspicious one) to produce this little fund of morality, assuming to himself the task of giving it applicability to the times, and furnishing it with the vehicle which he thought might most attractively display it. Nothing as it appeared to him, was better suited to this purpose than a periodical paper,
on account of the scope and variety of such a work, and the versatility of its style and matter, as the interests of virtue might require, or as this or that folly might seem ripest for reprobation. He did not think that this branch of literature was exhausted; for besides its infinite capability of diversification, which tends so much to protract its interest, its successful cultivators had been comparatively but few. Its difficulty had been proved by a multitude of imbecile imitations of the original Spectatorial plan. Some bolder writers, in affecting to deviate from that plan, have been instances to show, that where a great and original genius has primarily trodden, guided as it were by the hand of nature, he has struck out the true path ; and though the footsteps of the first adventurer may be avoided, the same track must still be pursued.
Rules insensibly form themselves upon his model, and the design of the great projector must lead all subsequent attempts. It is the description indeed of a liberal, as distinguished from a servile imitation, that it is studious only of the principle and spirit of its model; and, without straining the resemblance to a mechanical conformity, raises a likeness not discernible in the detail, but stamped upon the generality of the whole ; not existing in outward admeasurement and correspondence of feature, but furtively produced from a latent consentaneity of genius and character. Ignorance of these rules, or inability to follow them, has been one of the causesof the common failure of attempts to copy the graces and urbanity of the Spectator. There is, indeed, a sort of physical languor in all imitations; the conception and execution must be connate in the mind, to carry to their perfection the productions of genius. It is not so in the manual and mechanical
arts; and the ground of the distinction is obvious. What is sensible and tangible, and what is purely ideal and intellectual, must proceed by very different principles of growth to their consummation ; and it is easy to see, that the nature of one will scarcely endure the handling of different operators, and perishes under the ponderous accumulation of pretended improvements; while the perfection of the other arises from use and repetition, and the multiplied efforts of ingenuity and industry.
As there is no room for originality in this species of composition, disadvantaged as in many respects are the efforts of imitation, yet it is all that we can aspire to ; and grace and dignity in the execution of a secondary part must content our ambition. The delicacy of Addison's morality, the vivacity of his comments, and above all the spirit of his plan, are the just objects of judicious imitation; and he will most egregiously have failed, who aims only at forcing into his work a few of the principal ingredients of the Spectator, without having sounded the secret of those happy combinations of language, and that easy controul of imagery and illustration, which finish and adorn the admonitions, the raillery, and the reasonings of that master production. Many of our late periodical writers, disdaining to imitate another's plan, have struck out a course in which no plan has been disclosed. They have miscarried, I think, in their attempts. A mere succession of essays, not connected by any common design, and conspiring to no general effect, is accordingly all that they have produced; and for want of that characteristic colouring, which in some instances has made this sort of publication the history of the mind of a thoughtful individual, whose character, insinuated through the work, has fixed the regards