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censure; and yet I cannot in this place help feeling a temptation to declare, that, in the long course of my observation of human nature, I have never discovered much real knowledge in your indefatigable book-collectors; and am often put in mind, when I am led in triumph to their libraries, which I am to consider as bearing testimony to their learning, of our common friend Mr. Patience, who, in a note to his advertisement, in which the afflicted are more particularly instructed how to find out his house,
" that his abilities are to be known by the blue lamps at his door.”
Lucian is very pleasantly severe upon the illiterate book-hunter, and enforces a sensible strain of ridicule with this story among
others. 66 A man of respectable quality, whose name was Evangelus, had conceived a mighty rage for gaining a victory at the Pythian Games. As his personal deficiencies precluded all excellence in running or wrestling, he bethought himself of his skill in playing on the harp, which had been so magnified by some treacherous flatterers, that he resolved to try the success of this fancied accomplishment. To Delphi then he came in great splendour, with a crown of laurel ornamented with gold and emeralds. Nothing could exceed the beauty and richness of his harp,
which was decorated with jewels and gems of great costliness, and on which the figures of Apollo, Orpheus, and the Muses, were admirably sculptured. When the day of celebration arrived, three candidates presented themselves; but Evangelus drew upon himselfthe admiration of all the spectators, arrayed as he was in a purple robe, and shining all over with diamonds of the finest lustre. Thespis, the Theban, came first into the lists, and exhibited no inconsiderable talent; but he could hardly prevent the impatience of his
auditors from breaking forth, so great were their expectations of the skill of Evangelus. At length the Theban harper finished; and now stepped forth, with a countenance betraying a confident security, the favourite of the public: a respectful silence prevailed: expectation had charmed every tongue, and every man was preparing himself to feel sensations he had never proved before; when, after a variety of flourishes and gestures on the part of the performer, a wretched unmusical strain assaulted their ears, accompanied with a snapping of the chords, which were not able to sustain the rudeness of his blows. The surprise of the assembly held them for some time in this silence, so flattering to the deluded Evangelus ; till at length the performance became so intolerable, that the judges, enraged with their disappointment, and conceiving themselvesin a manner insulted, ordered him to be turned out of the theatre, and well disciplined for his ignorant assurance. As soon as he was dismissed, an Elean, whose name was Eumelus, came modestly forward, whose whole appointment was scarcely worth ten drachms; his harp was old and crazy, and furnished with wooden pegs. The man's appearance, however, was presently forgotten when he began to sing and play, both of which he did in a manner so exquisite and masterly, that the most rapturous attention fixed every eye upon him ; and while he touched the chords, his air and figure, and his very instrument, homely as it was, appeared with infinitely more grace than his opponent was able to assume, with the aid of his trappings and insignia. As he was returning from the theatre, with his crown of victory on his head, he met Evangelus, and thus accosted him—“Friend, you have now had an opportunity of learning, that the union of folly and splendour draws
aggravated ridicule upon both; and that where we find it yoked with arrogance and pomposity, we cannot even pity the miscarriage of ignorance." I have no intention, any more
friend Lu. cian, to hold to ridicule those hunters after books and editions, in whom this curiosity is built on a eertain patriotism in literature, and that delicacy of selection which true taste inspires. I have only in my thoughts a set of characters who contemplate the sacred walks of the academy as a market or fair, where, in pedlar fashion, they have only to bustle among rows of book-stalls, and purchase learning on the true mercantile principle of buying that only which may be sold to advantage again. I am told that many of our adepts in this species of traffic, introducesomespeculation intothe commerce ofbooks, and will buy an author very much out of condition, to get him up in order, against a good time for sale; and that oftentimes an old stager, that has been hacked through a public school, will, under proper management,
come out in the spring with an entire new coat, and so judiciously hogged and cropped, that, except you opened his mouth, you might imagine him in the full prime and mettle of his years.
But this diffusion of literary property, which printing has produced, is not only chargeable with this nominal learning, to which it has given an injurious kind of credit among us; but we may lay to its account also a tendency to draw out our ancient weight of metal into flimsy wire, or to flatten its substance into tawdry plates, to cover over a larger surface indeed, but to impose a fictitious worth on the simple and the vulgar. There is little doubt but that the practice of transcribing, on which the ancients were forced from the scarcity of books, was calculated to impress them deeply with the subjects on which they were engaged, and opposed a salutary barrier to that roving inconstancy of pursuit, which, acting on the mind with opposite impulses, suspends it in a floating medium of broken particulars. The continuity of thought, and perseverance of application, enforced by these difficulties and restraints, had a direct tendency to give to the ancients that mastery over the subjects about which they were conversånt, that power of assimilation, that unperishing tenure, that unalienable property, which mightily manifests itself in the vigour and simplicity of their details, and the masculine touches of bold originality with which they abound.
The same literary wants, in which, on a superficial view, we seem to see so much to lament, threw them upon the frequent necessity of oral instruction and learned communications: a circumstance of twofold advantage, calculated at once, by a reflective force, to infix in the mind of the speaker his own acquisitions, and to press conviction on the hearer, by the weight of present authority. Since the æra of printing, it seems as if a flood of learning had been progressively spreading over the human mind, checking its wholesome productions, and nourishing the growth of a worthless vegetation ; but in the simpler ages of antiquity, it dropped from the mouth at intervals in gentle showers, fertilizing wherever it fell, sinking deep into the pores of the soil, and rising again in genial juices and vegetable life.
It is not unpleasant to remark, as this supposititious learning diffuses itself, the manner in which it operates upon the new provinces of life on which it encroaches; how soon it accommodates itself to a new range of subjects, elevates the low, amplifies the little, and decorates the vulgar. There is now no occupation so mean, into which it has not found its. way, and whose consequence it has not raised, from the maker of geometrical breeches, to the mere ma. nufacturer of manuscript sermons. We all begin to exalt our tones and pretensions, and adopt a prouder language. Mr. Powell, the fire-eater, is a singular genius; and Mendoza has more science than Johnson. I have heard of hieroglyphical buckles; so that our very shoes will want deciphering, and the Coptic language must soon make part of the education of our Birmingham buckle-makers. Alphabetical buckles are become common; insomuch that in teaching ourselves to talk with our fingers, we may begin with learning to spell with our toes. Our wigs are made upon principles, which used to be made upon blocks. Our chimneys are cured of smoking by professors; and a dancing-master engages to teach you the nine orders of the Graces, and if you take forty lessons, will throw you in an eleemosinary hornpipe. Our servants are beginning, as my correspondent tells me, to read behind our carriages ; and the Bond-street lounger, with his breeches cut by a problem, has as much of the language at least of learning, as any servitor in black logics at Oxford.
This wide spirit of accommodation, so characteristic of modern learning, has opened ways to the attainment of literary honours that were barred for ages before. There is scarcely a mind in which Nature has not drawn its line of demarcation between the rational and the brute; scarcely a creature that walks erect and inhales the breeze, but may find some employment in the provinces of literature level to its powers. If you cannot compose, you may scrape together; if you cannot build sentiment, you may rake anecdote ; if you cannot write a poem, you may sew together an opera; if