Obrázky stránek

compensate for the feebleness by the frequency of his efforts: hence the reader is apt to become tired before the writer becomes intelligible.*

Whoever reads the Essay with attention, will probably confess himself satiated with explanations and recapitulations, which for the most part are only repetitions in other terms. There seems indeed now to be but one opinion as to its merits and its faults; and perhaps no book is at the same time so much praised and so little read; for while the subject invites all,† the treatment of it repels most. On its first publication it laboured under the merits of the matter; it now labours under the faults of the style: it was then decried as novel and dangerous; it is now neglected as tedious and immethodical.

When the Editor began his task, he was not aware that the best apology for his undertaking was to be found in the Author's epistle to the reader; where, suitably to the modest title of his work, he tells us the occasion of his beginning and the manner of his prosecuting it:-that it was

[ocr errors]

Speron Speroni explique très-bien comment un auteur qui 'énonce très clairement pour lui-même est quelquefois obscur pour son lecteur: c'est, dit il, que l'auteur va de la pensée à l'expression, et que le lecteur va de l'expression à la pensée. Maximes, &c. par Nicolas Chamfort.

See note 1, at the end of the Preface.

written upon no regular plan, but at intervals, as the ideas arose in his mind; and not with a view to support, but to discover and unfold a system.

[ocr errors]

To those who object that abridgments serve only to debase good books, and to make idle readers and superficial thinkers, by offering learning at too cheap a rate, he would suggest, that it is not the purpose of an abridgment to supersede, but to recommend and promote the study of the original; and to enable the reader to comprehend the scope of a work, by compacting those thoughts which lye scattered and disjoined, and drawing forth those which lye hid in a thicket of words.

He might justify this opinion by the authority of many great names. Milton himself did not disdain to publish an epitome of Bucer's judgment on divorce: the profound disquisitions of Hartley have been adapted to popular use in the abridged edition of Priestley and Gibbon thought it worth his pains to abridge for his own use the Commentaries of Blackstone.

That our author was well aware of the redundancy of his style, appears from his frequent mention of it in his letters to Molyneux; though he refused the labour of correcting it.

"You will find by my epistle to the reader, that I was not insensible of the fault I committed by being too long upon some points, and the repeti

tions that by my way of writing of it had got in, I let it pass with, but not without advice so to do. But now that my notions are got into the world, and have in some measure bustled through the opposition and difficulty they were like to meet with from the received opinion, and that prepossession which might hinder them from being understood upon a short proposal, I ask you whether it would not be better now to pare off, in a second edition, a great part of that which cannot but appear superfluous to an intelligent and attentive reader. If you are of that mind, I shall beg the favour of you to mark to me those passages which you would think fittest to be left out."

Ed. fo. 1751. vol. 3. p. 481. "I am not fond of any thing in my book, because I have once thought or said it and therefore I beg you, if you will give yourself the pains to look over my book again, with this design to oblige me, that you would use all manner of freedom, both as to matter, style, disposition, and every thing wherein, in your own thoughts, any thing appears to you fit in the least to be altered, omitted, explained, or added. I find none so fit, nor so fair judges as those whose minds the study of mathematics has opened and disentangled from the cheat of words,* which has too great an influ

* Molyneux was both a good mathematician and a good


ence in all the other which go for sciences; and, I think (were it not for the doubtful and fallacious use made of those signs) might be made much more sciences than they are."

p. 485. "I confess, I thought some of the explications in my book too long, though turned several ways, to make those abstract notions the easier sink into minds prejudiced in the ordinary way of education, and therefore I was of a mind to contract it. But finding you and some other friends of mine, whom I consulted in the case, of a contrary opinion, and that you judge the redundancy in it a pardonable fault, I shall take very little pains to reform it."

p. 486. "Think it not a compliment that I desire you to make what alterations you think fit. One thing particularly you will oblige me and the world in, and that is, in paring off some of the superfluous repetitions, which I left in for the sake of illiterate men and the softer sex, not used to abstract notions and reasonings."

[ocr errors]

p. 513.

reasoner: but Condillac has observed (vol. vi. p. 225. in 12mo.) nous avons quatre métaphysiciens célebres, Descartes, Malbranche, Leibnitz, et Locke; le dernier est le seul qui ne fut pas géometre, et de combien n'est il pas su périeur aux trois autres."

See Kirwan's Logic, pref. p. 5.

"I know too well the deficiency of my style, to think it deserves the commendations you give it. That which makes my writings tolerable, if any thing, is only this, that I never write for any thing but Truth, and never publish any thing to others, which I am not fully persuaded of myself, and do not think that I understand. So that I never have need of false colours to set off the weak parts of an Hypothesis, or of obscure expressions or the assistance of artificial jargon, to cover an error of my system or party. Where I am ignorant (for what is our knowledge !) I own it; and though I am not proud of my errors, yet I am always ready and glad to be convinced of any of them. I think there wants nothing but such a preference of Truth to Partyinterest and Vain-glory, to make any body outdo me in what you seem so much to admire."

p. 524.

His friend Molyneux thought its prolixity tended only to illustrate the subject, and dissuaded him from making any alteration: but urged him to turn his Essay into a system of Logic and Metaphysics, accommodated to the usual forms; because, says he, "it would be much more taking in the Universities, wherein youths do not satisfy themselves to have the breeding or business of the

« PředchozíPokračovat »