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mankind; that, though the world must be granted to be yet in ignorance, he is not destined to dispel the cloud, nor to shine out as one of the luminaries of life. For this suspicion, every catalogue of a library will furnish sufficient reason as he will find it crowded with names of men, who, though now forgotten, were once no less enterprizing or confident than himself, equally pleased with their own productions, equally caressed by their patrons, and flattered by their friends.
But though it should happen that an author is capable of excelling, yet his merit may pass without notice, huddled in the variety of things, and thrown into the general miscellany of life. He that endeavours after fame by writing, solicits the regard of a multitude fluctuating in pleasures or immersed in business, without time for intellectual amusements; he appeals to judges, prepossessed by passions, or corrupted by prejudices, which preclude their approbation of any new performance. Some are too indolent to read any thing, till its reputation is established; others too envious to promote that fame which gives them pain by its increase. What is new is opposed, because most are unwilling to be taught; and what is known is rejected, because it is not sufficiently considered, that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed. The learned are afraid to declare their opinion early, lest they should put their reputation in hazard; the ignorant always imagine themselves giving some proof of delicacy, when they refuse to be pleased: and he that finds his way to reputation |
through all these obstructions, must acknowledge that he is indebted to other causes besides his industry, his learning, or his wit.
No. 7. TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 1750.
O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas,
Disjice terrena nebulas & pondera molis,
O thou whose power o'er moving worlds presides,
From thee, great God, we spring, to thee we tend,
HE love of Retirement has, in all ages,
or elevated by genius. Those who enjoyed every thing generally supposed to confer happiness, have been forced to seek it in the shades of privacy. Though they possessed both
1 Johnson advised Elizabeth Carter "to undertake a translation of Boethius de Consolatione, because there is prose and verse, and to put her name to it when published. This advice," Boswell adds, was not followed.
How well Johnson himself could have executed a translation of this philosophical poet we may judge from the following
power and riches, and were, therefore, surrounded by men who considered it as their chief interest to remove from them every thing that might offend their ease, or interrupt their pleasure, they have soon felt the languors of satiety, and found themselves unable to pursue the race of life without frequent respirations of intermediate solitude.
To produce this disposition, nothing appears requisite but quick sensibility, and active imagination; for, though not devoted to virtue, or science, the man, whose faculties enable him to make ready comparisons of the present with the past, will find such a constant recurrence of the same pleasures and troubles, the same expectations and disappointments, that he will gladly snatch an hour of retreat, to let his thoughts expatiate at large, and seek for that variety in his own ideas, which the objects of sense cannot afford him.
Nor will greatness, or abundance, exempt him from the importunities of this desire, since, if he is born to think, he cannot restrain himself from a thousand inquiries and speculations, which he must pursue by his own reason, and which the splendour of his condition can only hinder for those who are most exalted above dependence or control, are yet condemned to pay so large a
specimen which he has given in the Rambler." [He hereupon quotes the lines above.]-Boswell's Johnson, i. 139. Boswell is in error in speaking of Boethius as if he were only a poet, since by far the greater part of his writings were in prose. Johnson, in the Idler, No. 69, says that "Boethius on the Comforts of Philosophy, is the book which seems to have been the favourite of the middle ages."
tribute of their time to custom, ceremony, and popularity, that, according to the Greek proverb, no man in the house is more a slave than the master.
When a king1 asked Euclid, the mathematician, whether he could not explain his art to him in a more compendious manner? he was answered, That there was no royal way to geometry. Other things may be seized by might, or purchased with money, but knowledge is to be gained only by study, and study to be prosecuted only in retire
These are some of the motives which have had power to sequester kings and heroes from the crowds that soothed them with flatteries, or inspirited them with acclamations; but their efficacy seems confined to the higher mind, and to operate little upon the common classes of mankind, to whose conceptions the present assemblage of things is adequate, and who seldom range beyond those entertainments and vexations, which solicit their attention by pressing on their senses.
But there is an universal reason for some stated intervals of solitude, which the institutions of the church call upon me now especially to mention ; a reason which extends as wide as moral duty, or the hopes of divine favour in a future state; and which ought to influence all ranks of life, and all degrees of intellect; since none can imagine themselves not comprehended in its obligation; but such as determine to set their Maker at defiance by obstinate wickedness, or whose enthusiastic
1 Ptolemy Lagos.-Chalmers's Biog. Dict., xiii. 344.
security of his approbation places them above external ordinances, and all human means of improve
The great task of him who conducts his life by the precepts of religion, is to make the future predominate over the present, to impress upon his mind so strong a sense of the importance of obedience to the divine will, of the value of the reward promised to virtue, and the terrors of the punishment denounced against crimes, as may overbear all the temptations which temporal hope or fear can bring in his way, and enable him to bid equal defiance to joy and sorrow, to turn away at one time from the allurements of ambition, and push forward at another against the threats of calamity.
It is not without reason that the apostle represents our passage through this stage of our exis. tence by images drawn from the alarms and solicitude of a military life; for we are placed in such a state, that almost every thing about us conspires against our chief interest. We are in danger from whatever can get possession of our thoughts; all that can excite in us either pain or pleasure, has a tendency to obstruct the way that leads to happiness, and either to turn us aside, or retard our progress.
Our senses, our appetites, and our passions, are our lawful and faithful guides, in most things that relate solely to this life; and, therefore, by the hourly necessity of consulting them, we gradually sink into an implicit submission, and habitual confidence. Every act of compliance with their