England, in some respects, may be considered as a kind of lumber-room, where the refuse of the fine arts among the Italians, French, and Flemings, is collected and sold for high prices.
|PART I. On Literature and Arts.|
|On the State of Learning in general,||Page 3|
|The Royal Society of London,||103|
|The Society of Antiquaries of London,||116|
|The Royal Society of Edinburgh,||120|
|On the State of Arts in England,||178|
WHOEVER is in the least acquainted with the annals of literature, and the history of the learned, knows how well the English have deserved with respect to the promotion of science, and the cultivation of all branches of learning. Whether it be true, as many of them seem to suppose, that they are the most learned nation on the globe, I will not decide. Perhaps national pride, and too little knowledge of the state of learning in other countries, may have produced such an opinion; from which, however, many truly learned Englishmen are free, who do full justice to the learning of other nations. Those sciences which require deep meditation, and abstract study, are cultivated by the English with the greatest success. They yield in this respect to no nation whatever, if they are not superior to any. It is said of them, 4 that they are not endowed with great powers of invention; but, I think, a Bacon, a Shakespeare, a Newton, may prove the contrary; and I am certain, that if they are once upon the scent, they will generally go as far as possible. Besides, they have this advantage, that among them the prejudices derived from supposed authority, and opinions established merely by length of time, are neither so common, nor so powerful in their influence, as is observable among other nations. Antiquity, and education, will frequently instil into the mind so great a veneration for old systems, and their pretended sanctity, that it is impossible afterwards to view such Gothic buildings, without a kind of awe. In England, the generality of the people are apt to reason for themselves, and by that means they stand a fair chance of succeeding in the pursuit of truth, the great and first object of all learning; though there are numerous instances here likewise, to prove, that even among those who are called learned, many are to be found, who have neither power nor inclination to divest themselves of old prejudices. They will rather adhere, either from weakness or from other motives, to their old systems, which reason would have shewn them to be exploded, if they were possessed of a sufficient strength of mind, 5 and an honest impartiality to listed to it. I shall hereafter have opportunities; in more than one respect, to prove what I have here said.
We entertain on the continent high ideas of the great encouragement given in England to learning, and to those who cultivate the sciences, or are friends and admirers of the Muses. No where, it is thought, are more to be found, who deserve the praises of a Mæcenas than on this island; but our ideas, in this respect, are rather too high and too sanguine. When I first came hither, I brought similar notions over with me; but my ideas on the subject were soon considerably altered, when I became more acquainted with the way of thinking among the modern English, and with the literary history of their country. There are, undoubtedly, encouragements to learning and its pursuits, which are held out by church and state; but they are precarious, and the rewards too often shared among those, who, notwithstanding their pretensions, ought to be called illiterate. It is commonly the whole public taken together, which acts the part of a Mæcenas, and not only praises, but sometimes amply rewards, the man of learning for his works, his talents, and his application; or the ingenious artist for the productions of his genius and his industry. The pension 6 list of government is long, and very expensive to the nation; but I believe that very few names of persons, eminent for learning and abilities, are to be found upon it; and they are, perhaps, only kept in pay for some state purposes. The great, the nobles, the rich, spend and squander away great sums of money; but very few can spare any thing for the encouragement of arts and sciences, except it were for the sake of personal praise, or for superficial amusement. The gaming-table, horse-racing, a favourite female, and an ostentatious way of living, require so much, that little or nothing is left to encourage the scholar or the artist; and those, who by trade and commerce do all they can to enrich themselves, are, if not ignorant, at least too fond of their money; and will lay out none, but for the sake of interest and profit, or to gratify pride and ostentation.
Many authors and artists have made their fortunes in England, when they had the good luck to succeed with the public, and to meet with rewards, derived from the contributions of the community at large. Thus Pope acquired a competency, such as seldom falls to the lot of poets; and there are instances where booksellers, probably not so much from motives of promoting learning, and of rewarding 7 learned men, as from a desire to serve their own interest, have proved to be the best substitutes for a to authors. This, however, greatly depends on circumstances and accidents. Milton obtained with difficulty the small sum of ten pounds for the first edition of his Paradise Lost; while Goldsmith for some of his poems, printed on a few sheets only, was paid an hundred guineas, or more, by the booksellers. Thomson, when he produced his now much admired poem The Seasons, could hardly procure a printer who would undertake it; but he was rewarded, at last, by the whole public. Yet this public, which thinks itself so sharp-sighted, was first to be told by somebody, that the poem was excellent, and that its author deserved encouragement and reward. Newton, it is said, might, perhaps, have remained unnoticed among his countrymen, if a foreigner, Huygens, had not first raised their attention to him. Let us, therefore, not entertain too high an opinion of an English public, as supposing it completely enlightened; for it resembles in many respects our publics abroad, who are first to be put in mind of their duty, and stand in need of spectacles, because their eyesight is weak, and their predilection for old tales very strong. Shakespeare, Dryden, Otway, 8 Sale, the translator of the Koran, and lately a Chatterton, besides many more, can prove, that the English public is not always to be depended upon, any more than those of other countries. Butler, the author of Hudibras, lived and died in poverty. Sir Christopher Wren, after having erected so great a number of monuments of architecture, which will perpetuate his memory for many centuries to come, was ungenerously deprived of his office; but this, indeed, was the act of the crown, and not of the public. However, a great many lives of learned Englishmen might be collected, to enlarge a book which was written, in Latin, on literary men who were unhappy, and struggled with misfortunes. The English public, however, notwithstanding what I have said, has reason to be proud, that it encourages arts and sciences more, and rewards merit better, than is usual among other nations. In saying this, I have not those premiums in view, which are held out, or given by parliament for some useful inventions; I mean only those private subscriptions to promote the undertakings of the learned or the artist, and the readiness, if I may not say eagerness, with which their works are bought, and consequently the authors rewarded. Jean Batiste Rousseau, and 9 after him Voltaire, laid the foundation of their good fortunes, as authors, in England; and, during the time of my residence in this country, several writers have disposed of the copies of their works in the most advantageous manner; some even have received many thousand pounds for them, and have acquired considerable fortunes. These instances, however, are not very common, and the good success of many an author has, perhaps, depended more on circumstances, and the whim of the public, than his own merits. But, after all, it must be owned, that in no country can learning and genius expect encouragement with more probability than in England, where the improvements in arts and sciences, and the rewards attending them, originate in the patronage of the people. Kings and princes give sometimes small pensions to men of learning and to artists; but he is infinitely better off, who succeeds with the English public, and is favoured by them. Besides, the rewards given by the great are not frequent, oftentimes scanty, and even precarious; when, on the contrary, an English public raises its favourites now and then to a state of independency, without laying them under a disagreeable obligation. It is, however, true, that this very public sometimes squanders away its rewards 10 without good sense, and where there is no merit to deserve them. A skipping and capering opera-dancer will gain, perhaps, more money in one winter-season with his toes, than a learned and enlightened man, is able to earn by the labours of his head, during his whole life-time. If Tasso’s muse had sung to the English, he never would have returned so rich to his country as many of his capon-like countrymen do, after they have fiddled or squeaked in the most unnatural manner, before what is called a refined English audience.
Speaking here of the encouragement and the rewards of those who are eminent for their writings, I will not omit to remark, that they are in a considerable degree secured against the danger of being deprived of the fruits of their labour, by pirated editions of their works. This is a real grievance, of which our German writers, of some eminence, have just reason to complain. Their works are scarcely printed, and begin to get into some repute, when a pirated edition, published by a dishonest bookseller, who lives in another principality, and under a different jurisdiction, deprives the original proprietor of the rewards which he expected, and, perhaps, was intitled to, from the public. In Great Britain, an author, or 11 the bookseller to whom he sells his copy, has, by an act of parliament, in which literary property is settled, the profits of his works to himself, for fourteen years together, from the time of the publication of the first edition; and if he survives this period, he may renew his right for as many years more. Should he die before this term is expired, he may leave his literary property in his will, for the remaining years, to whom he pleases. If, therefore, works are well received, and are really valuable, they may become a source of good revenues to an author, or his bookseller. In the same manner, a composer of music, an engraver, or other such artists, may have their productions secured to themselves as their property. This, indeed, is a great encouragement to genius; and it were to be wished that all countries, where arts and sciences have made any progress, would imitate this example which the English have given. Since, however, the best of institutions are liable to abuse, so it may be said, that this equitable and wise law, for the encouragement of literature, has accidentally been the means of rendering good literary works dear, and raised the price of some publications above their real value. Within these twenty years, I have observed, that many 12 books, on supposition that they would be well deceived, are published in a splendid manner, to raise the price of them. For mercantile reasons, the manuscript, which, without hurting the eyes of the reader, might have been handsomely printed off in a decent octavo volume, is presented to the public in a pompous quarto, where the text like a rivulet runs through a field of margin. This is quite the reverse of our paltry way of printing the generality of our books in Germany, where the pages are so crammed, that hardly any margin is left; as if the types were used to hide the colour of that abominable paper upon which most of them are printed; though many of our modern publications deserve to appear in a more handsome manner, and more pleasing to the eye. Indeed, I cannot help wishing, as English literary productions are so much esteemed and translated in Germany, that our printers and booksellers, would imitate the manner and elegance with which English books are printed. The price of them is rather high; but when I compare it to that of our German books of equal size, printed upon such disgusting paper, I am inclined to think, that, comparatively speaking, books printed in Germany are dearer than the English. This appears the more unreasonable 13 on our side, since English booksellers, in proportion, pay dearer for the copies of authors than our Germans do, and printing is more expensive than with us. It was, in the year 1784, on occasion of the commercial treaty with Ireland, asserted, by two eminent London booksellers, who were examined at the bar of the house of commons, that the value of the copy-right, bought by the booksellers in Great Britain, amounted at present, to no less than 200,000l. sterling, which makes 1,200,000 dollars of our money; a sum, which, I believe, all our booksellers in Germany together, extensive as the country is, and fertile of literary productions, have hardly paid to their authors for copies within a century. Yet it is astonishing, that the amount of money, which circulates annually among the booksellers, at the Leipsic and Francfort fairs, is reckoned, upon good grounds, to be 500,000 dollars, or somewhat more than 80,000l. sterling.
Being here inadvertently led to that kind of commerce, which is carried on with literary productions, I will add a few observations, relative to the number of books which are annually printed in Germany, compared with those that appear, within the same space of time, in England. It is calculated with some certainty, 14 that they amount, on an average, to five thousand. I have, for six following years, calculated those, which in English Reviews are announced annually, and the number of them, small pamphlets and single sermons excepted, is, on an average, not much above six hundred. Consequently, the proportion, between books annually published in England and in Germany, is almost as one to nine. Though it ought to be kept in mind, that Germany is inhabited by more than one and twenty millions of people, and England and Scotland together, by about nine; yet it is astonishing, that the itch of writing in our country should be so great, that there, within a year, almost as much is printed as in all the rest of Europe, within the same space of time. This, by no means, redounds to our honour, though some of our polygraphers may think differently; and other nations, particularly the English and the French, have, long ago, blamed us very justly for it. Strong as the expressions are, which sir Richard Steele makes use of in his Tatler1, yet there is a good deal of truth in them, when he says: “They (the blockheads introduced in the Epistolæ obscurorum virorum), are mostly of the German nation, whence from time to 15 time, inundations of writers have flowed, more pernicious to the learned world than the swarms of Goths and Vandals to the politic.”
The reasons why so much is printed and published in Germany, are various; and being properly investigated, it may, perhaps, at last appear, that the propensity to writing among the English is almost as great as among the Germans, notwithstanding the annual number of publications in Germany exceeds so much those in England. I have thought a little upon this subject, and I wish here to communicate a few observations concerning it. Perhaps there is no nation, which is so eager to read books published in other countries and foreign languages, as ours; consequently, the translations of them are exceedingly numerous. Very nearly two thirds of the new publications, which appear among us, within a year, are translations of books, originally written in foreign languages; and, therefore, hardly fifteen hundred still remain out of the five thousand, as original writings and compilations of all kinds. In England, translations of foreign books begin, at present, to appear more frequently, but, in proportion, are much fewer than with us; and our hungry translators and booksellers do not care how insignificant and undeserving some 16 foreign publications may be, if they can only dupe our reading public, and extort a little money from them. On perusing our annual Catalogues and Literary Reviews, in which new books are announced, it will be found, that those which relate to religion are the most numerous. There is no end of dogmatical, exegetical, and polemical works, of volumes of sermons, and books of devotion. Some of these pious authors want to clear up old doctrines, and to explain inexplicable mysteries; some write prolix commentaries, and think nobody before them has thrown so much light upon the sacred writings as they; some fight the good cause of their respective sects, and defend the holy tenets, by which they distinguish themselves from others, and claim an exclusive right to the kingdom of heaven; in short, there is no end of these, as they often are very improperly called, religious writings. On consulting on the contrary, the English Reviews, it will be found, that the articles in these monthly publications, mentioned under the head of Divinity and Controversy, are not very numerous; though there are among the different sects in England, always some too, who publish, in their own way, books and tracts, relating to religion, and, perhaps, far more than there is occasion for; but their number 17 is trifling, when compared with the literary inundations of this kind in Germany. In law, our publications are likewise more numerous than in England. Here the constitution, and the manner in which justice is administered, happily require not a great many new publications. With us the branches of jurisprudence, which are in use, are very various; and almost every little principality has its own constitution, as far as it is not inconsistent with that of the Germanic empire. Hence so many authors among us, whose pens are busy in different parts of the law, explaining or commenting upon them; whereas in England, besides the voluminous statute law, some few standard law-books, whose repute is established, supersede numerous law publications, though there are by no means wanting new ones which appear from time to time. In books relating to physic, and the various branches of medicine, we likewise exceed those which are annually published in Great Britain, in number, though I cannot say in intrinsic value. It is no wonder that it is so. Germany being much more extensive than England, has, of course, a greater number of physicians; and their repute, particularly of those who are professors in universities, depends much on their writings, which is not the case in England. The same may be said of our philological 18 writers, and of those who chuse for their object what are called Belles Lettres. Patronage is with us neither very extensive, nor has it to dispose of such good things as that in England, where he who meets with a good patron can make his fortune, and get into places of great emolument, though he be ever so illiterate; but in Germany, some Roman Catholic provinces excepted, a person, who wishes to obtain some emoluments annexed to literature, from those who have the disposal of them, stands generally the best chance when he can shew that he has a claim to it, by reason of a meritorious literary publication. If, therefore, numbers are prompted by ridiculous vanity to commence authors, others do it from necessity, and because they look upon it as a means to promote their interest. This will account, in some degree, for the numerous tribe of writers, the generality of whom do not much credit either to themselves or to their country. But, paradoxical as it may appear at first, yet I believe it can be proved, that the host of those beings, called authors, are proportionably as numerous in England as in Germany.
A few observations which I shall make on this subject, will explain and confirm this assertion. In the first place, all books written in our language are not the produce of Germany 19 alone; the greater part of Switzerland, East and West Prussia, Livonia, Courland, even some parts of Poland and Hungary, where the German language is spoken, join us in their literary produce. It is no wonder, therefore, if in such an extensive part of Europe, where literature, in general, is much esteemed, the learned and their works should be numerous; whether they are always worth publishing, is another question. In the second place, let it be considered, that Germany has above one and twenty millions of inhabitants, and England, perhaps, hardly seven; deducting, therefore, Scotland for those countries where our language is in use, though they do not belong to Germany, sixteen hundred annual new literary productions from our presses, and six hundred from those in England, will be in very good proportion with the number of inhabitants, and rather in favour of the latter. It will likewise appear, that among ten thousand people hardly one turns author. Besides, there are many, particularly in Germany, whose pens and industry are so prolific, that they write more than one work, and consequently lessen the number of other individuals to keep the presses employed. The English have, moreover, the advantage over us, by their numerous magazines, their numberless newspapers, and other periodical publications, 20 into which those who feel literary spasms, easily find admission to gratify their wish of seeing themselves in print, and increasing the number of writers, without being under a necessity of publishing separately, what they judge proper to favour the public with. This, indeed, till of late, has not been the case with us in Germany, where periodical papers are kept in the hands of a few, who are generally exclusively the heroes of their own tale; and as to our Newspapers, it is very well known, that they are, both in regard to their contents, and the liberty with which they are written, much confined, and of a very different complexion from those of England. If we had so many receptacles for all sorts of writers, we should have fewer separate publications; but our numerous German authors, not having such advantages, they must make pamphlets, or even books, of the little which they have to say, that it may be considerable enough in bulk to appear before the public. It is true, that publications of such kind and size are sufficiently numerous in England; but, nevertheless, it is certain, that the number of separate publications, and of authors, is considerably lessened by these magazines and newspapers, which, on account of the frequency of their publications are so ready to convey the thoughts, the letters, the essays on 21 various subjects, the attempts in poetry and prose, which are sent for insertion, to the public, if they are tolerably fit to meet its eye.
Much has been said against these magazines and periodical writings. Mr. Pope calls them2 “the eruptions of every miserable scribbler; the dirty scum of every stagnant newspaper; the rags of worn out nonsense and scandal, picked up from every dunghill, under the title of essays, reflections, queries, songs, epigrams, &c. equally the disgrace of human wit, morality, and common sense:” but I think that his expressions, and his invective, are rather too vehement. They are undoubtedly of some use, and many a one, who became in time no inconsiderable a writer, has made his first entrance into the literary world by means of these magazines, in which, besides, many valuable things are preserved. It is, however, likewise true, that numbers of miserable scribblers, as Mr. Pope calls them, throw into these collections their essays in prose and in verse, abundantly; which, indeed, proves my assertion, that the number of writers, and the productions of the press in England, are proportionably not smaller than in Germany, where the host of pretended authors, would appear infinitely less, if they 22 were, without mentioning their names, crowded together, in numberless magazines, as is the case in England. Every true friend to literature would wish, that less were published in the republic of letters, and only that which has real merit; but, from time immemorial, complaints have been made, that worthless writings have far exceeded those of any real value. However, I do not see that the harm done by the former is very great, since they disappear very soon, and are, almost at the moment that they appear, consigned to oblivion. Some old German catalogues, printed a little more than a century ago, which have escaped the devastation of time, announce books which then were published, though at present not a copy, nor even a fragment of them is to be found, because they are used for all other purposes, excepting those for which their authors intended them; who expected that they should be read, and even, perhaps, flattered themselves that they might immortalize their names. Such catalogues, and the literary journals, as well as biographical works, may be considered as a kind of tomb-stones, to preserve the memory of the deceased, till at last these very tomb-stones themselves moulder away by the force of all devouring time, when the monuments 23 of a ridiculously expected immortality vanish, and not even a wreck is left behind. How many ancient books, and names of authors are entirely lost, without being regretted. Among the modern ones, how many have already shared their fate, and how many will soon follow! There is, I am certain, besides London, no city on the globe, where the events and the objects of the day, which excite the least attention, are so eagerly caught, as they pass along, by numberless pens, which digest them into pamphlets and diurnal publications, to gratify the various passions of people, and to collect a little money from the public. This at first, when I came to England, surprized me not a little; but, at present, seeing how soon these things, which come merely recommended by novelty, are thrown aside, and forgotten, to make room for others of the same kind, I am perfectly reconciled to this sort of entertainment. Finding, besides, that many trades are benefited by printing and book-making, and that many readers are entertained and sometimes instructed by it, I think the complaint, that there is no end of composing books, no more of so very serious a nature as I did formerly.
In most countries literary publications are generally 24 to undergo an examination, by some persons in authority, before they are printed. A censor, appointed by those in possession of the powers of government, is to judge, previously to the printing of a manuscript, whether the author has advanced any thing against the interest of the church, or of the state. According to his verdict, the book either appears or not; it is printed either entirely from the author’s copy, or in a mutilated condition. Happily for England, such a censor-office is unknown in all Great Britain, the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge excepted, where, at least formerly, publications, which came from the university press, were adorned, on the back of the title page, with an Imprimatur, or a licence from the censor. In London, and in other places of the British empire, every thing may be printed, without a previous licence. Newspapers, which abroad are so strictly watched, and, before they go to press, carefully examined and curtailed by a censor, are printed in England without being previously by authority looked over, to see whether they contained any thing displeasing to those who are at the helm of church and state. A publication must have already begun to be distributed and to be sold, before the author or printer can 25 be sued in a legal way, by those who think themselves injured by it. I hardly expected that a nation, which respects the liberty of the press so much, would suffer any literary work to be condemned to the flames; yet this has happened once within my time. It was the famous number Forty-five of the North Briton, which had, I may almost say, the honour to be burnt by the hands of the hangman, and by this means was raised in reputation beyond its consequence. This is generally the case in such instances; the paper thus executed is then more eagerly sought after and read. True wisdom and policy would rather dictate, that as little notice as possible should be taken of such things, for fear of bringing them into greater repute, and making them more known, than is consistent with the intentions and wishes of those who order such kinds of punishments.
The liberty of the press has much increased in England, within these twenty years. When I first came here, the parliamentary debates were printed and published with great caution. The magazines gave them under the fictitious denomination of a Robin-Hood, or Debating-Club, and the names of the speakers were much disguised. At present it is quite different. The public papers give the debates at large, and the 26 names of the speakers not only at full length, but even sometimes with severe remarks and bitter criticisms.
As there is no previous examination by authority, of books and printing, so there is none of copper-plates and engraving. The most satirical and the most laughable caricatures are published, and publicly exposed for sale. The great and the low, down from the king to his lowest subjects, are presented before the windows of a print shop, in various attitudes and shapes, to excite mirth among the passengers who pass by in the street. Nobody, from the highest to the lowest, is secure against bitter satires; but I hardly know an instance wherein a printseller was prosecuted by law, for taking such liberties. I cannot help mentioning here, that very immoral and indecent prints, which offend modesty and virtue, are also publicly exposed for sale. There is no doubt of their having bad effects upon the minds of young people; and it certainly reflects no honour upon the London police, that it is so remiss in these matters.
To make the works of the learned, and their merit, known to the public, several Reviews or literary Journals are published on the first day of each month. When I first came to England, 27 there were only two, but their number has increased to four. In magazines, which are likewise published monthly, among a hundred other things, some account of new books is generally given; but the first mentioned publications are appropriated entirely to the review of books. It will, perhaps, be thought surprizing to many of my countrymen, that so few literary Journals appear in England, when Germany abounds with them, and every town of some consequence and every petty university furnishes at least one literary Gazette or Journal; though in neither of the famous English universities is a single one published. I think, however, that the English act wisely in not multiplying the number of literary tribunals, as we have done; for it is certainly, in more than one respect, not for the advancement of literature and science.
As far as I know, and I have made enquiry, no Reviews or literary Journals are published in Scotland or Ireland. All British authors appear before the critical tribunals erected in London, to receive sentence on the merit or demerit of their works.
I own that the plan of the English reviewers pleases me better than that which prevails in 28 ours in Germany3. Most of our critics, as they style themselves, endeavour, in their Reviews, to display more their own little learning, than to make their readers acquainted with the contents and merits of the book, of which they pretend to give an account. Instead of relating the contents of it, and shewing the manner of writing, and the style of the author, they too often give only their own ill-founded opinions, and frequently pass judgments with a pertness and arrogance, which neither do credit to their modesty and understanding, nor to their pretensions to learning. The English reviewers generally enable their readers to form a kind of judgment of their own, by giving extracts and pretty long passages from the book. These are not selected merely for the sake of criticizing upon them, as many of our old pedantic, or our young and beardless German critics do; but rather to give specimens of the book and the merit of its author, and to entertain and to instruct the reader in an agreeable maimer. I have read, but lately, in one of our modern 29 German reviews, which arrogates to itself a kind of superiority to others, as a censure of English reviewers, that they made the task of a critic very easy to themselves, by giving long extracts from the new books which pass through their hands, and that therefore it required no great talents to be an English critic. But this self-conceited censor betrayed certainly neither great knowledge of his profession, nor that necessary candour and commendable modesty, so requisite in a critic, when he gave this as his opinion. To select the useful and the entertaining, with taste and judgment, requires more talents than to assume the airs of a pedantic schoolmaster, who treats his author with insolence, which is generally the offspring of ignorance, and who pretends to find faults, where there are either none, or perhaps such only as do not deserve acrimonious or malignant censure. I know that many amongst the legions of our German journalists, make the business of reviewing very easy to themselves, by reading only the prefaces of books of which they presume to give their opinions to the public. They begin an idle declamation of their own, which has no natural connexion with the subject of their author; they pick out a few short passages to indulge their petulant humour, 30 or, if the author happens to be one of their friends, to bestow oftentimes undeserved praises on his performance; after which they cast a glance of complacency upon the judgment which they have passed, and think themselves most consummate critics, fit to adorn the tribunal which they mounted by their own authority. I could wish, that those of my countrymen whom this resembles, would rather learn of the English how to give a proper account of new publications, than to find fault with their manner of reviewing, which, in my opinion, is preferable to ours in many respects.
As various pens are employed in writing the English literary Journals, it is not to be expected, that in those who use them, the capacities, the taste, the education, and passions, which have so great an influence in the composition of critical works, should be alike. There are every where people who will talk about things, which they do not understand, like the peripatetic Phormio, when he declaimed before Hannibal on the office and duties of a general; but the number of such presuming instructors and critics, is, I am apprehensive, much greater with us, than in England. In most French and English Reviews, though there are many exceptions, more urbanity, and a more gentlemanlike 31 manner of writing, is generally conspicuous than in ours. The criticisms, which are interspersed between the quoted passages from books which are more circumstantially reviewed, and the judgment commonly given at the conclusion, are mostly candid, and keep the proper medium between that tumid praise, and that malignant censure, which too frequently disgrace our German reviews. The former Acta Eruditorum Lipsiensia, were, as to the greatest part of them, written in a masterly manner; but how few of our modern productions of this kind come up to them! Bayle’s Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres are patterns to be imitated by any reviewer; he criticises, but with modesty and candour; he instructs, but without ostentation or impertinence. Let the generality of our critical journalists, and our literary Gazette writers in Germany, be compared with Bayle, and how disgraceful will be the contrast. There is one circumstance more, which I shall mention as honourable to English literary Reviews, and recommend it most seriously to be imitated in my country; which is, that the proprietors of them, as I believe, would not knowingly permit the same book to be reviewed by the same person, who has already inserted an account of it, though disguised, 32 in another Review. The number of our German literary journals being so great, many a wretched critic, who is in want of bread, engages himself in half a dozen, or even more of them. He sends accounts, a little altered, of one and the same book to them all; and, unknown, pronounces his sentence upon it through many different mouths. The insignificant judgment of such an imposing Stentor, is frequently taken, by those who know no better, for the opinion of the public. I am pretty confident, that there is too much sense of honour and equity in the proprietors or managers of the English Reviews, to permit such an injustice, and such an imposition on the public, unless they were imposed upon themselves.
I shall conclude my observations on this subject, with observing, that the method of announcing new books and literary publications in England, is very different from ours in Germany. We make them chiefly known by those catalogues, which are published twice or three times a year, at the great fairs at Leipsic and Francfort, where our principal booksellers meet, to sell or to exchange among themselves their newly printed books. In England they are announced, by way of advertisements, in public papers, which is a very expensive method 33 of publishing them. The advertisements, and particularly the duties upon them, are extremely costly. To advertise a book properly, in several newspapers, will amount sometimes to more than twenty pounds sterling. This, indeed, is a hardship under which English literature, authors, and booksellers, are laid, and, which may be thought rather inconsistent with a due encouragement for learning, among a nation, which justly lays claim to celebrity in the arts and sciences. The high taxes upon advertisements, besides those with which the materials for printing are heavily burthened, must of course raise the price of books very much. With us in Germany, the publishing of a book costs a mere trifle, even when it is done in a newspaper; our printing materials, and the wages of workmen are cheaper; and yet, I cannot help repeating it, our books, oftentimes printed in a slovenly manner, and upon wretched paper, are in proportion much dearer than the English.
Literary Gazettes, published weekly, of which we have so great a number, are hitherto not to be found in England; at which I somewhat wonder. A publication of this kind, would, in my opinion, be well received, and of great use to the public. Literary works, 34 and those of artists, both foreign and domestic, might be thereby sooner and more expeditiously made known. All kinds of useful intelligence, relating to arts and sciences, and those who cultivate them, might be easily circulated, if a sufficient number of persons, qualified for such business, and assisted by the principal booksellers, joined in an undertaking of this nature. The contents of such a publication, being of great variety, and merely historical, could by no means interfere with those Reviews that I have mentioned before, which give a more ample and a critical account of the works of the learned. The booksellers, as well as the literati and artists, might be greatly benefited by it. The latter might procure all kinds of literary news, and such as relate to arts; the former might notify to the public their new books, without much expence of advertising; and all those who are now obliged to read numbers of newspapers, to learn what has lately been, or what is going to be published, would here, in one view, find it collected before them. I am aware, that it may be objected, such a literary gazette, with its literary intelligence, would be soon subjected to stamp-duties. I confess, that I am apprehensive, the greedy hand of a state-financier, may not be 35 inclined to spare such a source of intelligence from the republic of letters, but, under some pretence or other, may burden it with taxes; but I should think the danger might, in a great measure, be avoided, by stripping it of the appearance and form of a newspaper, and giving it in weekly octavo numbers, like other periodical papers. It would, indeed, be hard, and inconsistent with that regard which every liberal-minded man feels for the interests of learning, to tax a literary journal for the sake of an inconsiderable state revenue.
It is said, and very justly, of the English, that many of their authors write well, with solidity and judgment. Liberty and education are the principal causes of this merit. A learned Englishman, if he sits down to write on a subject, which is not of the historical kind, or not intended for a compilation, will not anxiously first collect what others have said and written on it, before him; he will rather investigate truth, unbiassed by the force of his own understanding, and represent it afterwards as he has found it. If he is not spoiled by a pedantically learned education, or prejudiced by early imbibed narrow principles, he will follow nature and his own good sense, as the two best guides he can be led by in his researches. Yet, 36 I do not know how it happens, that some English writers seem to be afraid to speak out freely. Many French authors have written, within these fifty years, more boldly and freely on political and religious subjects, than the generality of the English will venture to do; and some of them would have written with still more freedom, if they had lived in England. Fenelon, if that be true which Voltaire says of him4, would have written and acted quite differently from what he has done as archbishop of Cambray, if he had been born in England. The French authors, whom I have particularly in view, and who have so much contributed by their writings to that glorious revolution which has taken place in France, are here eagerly read, translated, admired, and, perhaps, envied by some; but I do not see that their example is much imitated, or that attempts are made to excel them.
That good and manly taste which distinguishes so many English writers, is greatly owing to the esteem in which the old Greek and Roman classics are held in this island. They 37 serve as models for a good style, and a proper manner of writing. They are the touchstone used by the true critic; they are the principal ornaments in English libraries; and the best editions of them, when sold in public auctions, keep always up to their price, like gold and silver plate, when it is disposed of by public sale, according to its intrinsic value. Those who do not understand the original language, in which these classics are written, may read them in very good translations5.
Besides these, the works of several English authors, who wrote during the reigns of Charles II. and James II. and within the first thirty years of this century, are reckoned to be classic. They are even now read and esteemed; and I am inclined to think, that this, joined to the predilection for the old Greeks and Romans, is one of the principal causes of that good taste, which is to be met with in many modern English authors. The style and manner of writing are here not so changeable as with us in Germany; for the English are, in this respect, not so variable as they are in fashions and dress.38
I shall now endeavour to give a short sketch of the state of learning in England. The intention of this work, and the limits which I have prescribed to myself, will not permit me to be prolix; and, indeed, I should write the history of literature of this present century, if I would do justice to this subject. I only wish to touch the principal branches of science and learning. The opinions which I may here advance are merely my own; and I am far from presuming to intrude them upon others, or to think they are preferable to those which are entertained by them who think differently.
The language of the country, in which their books are written, deserves to be mentioned in the first place. It is seldom that Englishmen write in any other language than their own. I, therefore, have often wondered, why no society has been instituted for its improvement, of which, in many respects, it seems to stand in need. If this had been done long ago, and if a Lowth, who, in his Short Introduction to English Grammar, has pointed out so many grammatical errors in the writings of the best English authors; or if a Harris, whose Hermes may be deemed classical, had been at the head of such a society, it might be reasonably supposed, that it would have been of the greatest advantage to 39 the language; but hitherto nothing of this kind had been done, or even attempted. The English being a compound of many ancient and modern languages, receives additions from time to time, and adopts new words, when others, which were before much in use, become obsolete6. The translation of the Bible, was formerly regarded as a standard, or a classic of the language; and Dr. Johnson, in his Dictionary, quotes it frequently as an authority; but it is, at present, no more so. Many words which occur in the Bible, and the orthography of some, would at present not be used by good writers. It has several times been proposed to make a new translation for common use, and under authority, but, hitherto, it has been of no effect.
The pronunciation of the English language is difficult and unsettled; for there are no rules which, on account of so many exceptions, depending 40 on whim and custom, are in all instances, to which they seem to belong, applicable. Many words are, by different classes of people, and in different counties, differently pronounced. The dialects in several parts of the kingdom are various, and the country people, in provinces distant from the metropolis, drawl the words when they speak, in the same manner, and with the same tone of voice, as our rustics do their German. Even a foreigner, who has resided a proper time in London, if he has a good ear, will be able to know a Yorkshire man, a Scotchman, or an Irishman, when he speaks, by his pronunciation. But no foreigner, if he is not brought into England at a very early time of life, will ever attain a proper pronunciation of the English. Let him be ever so much a master of the language, he will, by speaking it, soon betray that he is no native of the country. He must expect that the same will happen to him which did to Theophrastus: after residing many years at Athens, and applying himself closely to the Greek in the Attic dialect, he thought he did not betray that he was not born in Attica, and yet an old woman in the market-place at Athens, of whom he wanted to buy apples, found out immediately, by his only speaking a few words, that he was 41 a foreigner7. The th, the shibboleth of most foreigners, betrays them almost instantly; though I know some who pronounce it perfectly well, and, nevertheless, shew themselves to be foreigners by the pronunciation of other words.
The manner of spelling the English, and the mode of teaching it to children, is totally different from the German, and infinitely more difficult. Since I became acquainted with this method of spelling, and its apparent perplexities, I have left off wondering how the children of the Jews could learn to read Hebrew, before the invention of the points for marking the vowels; which seemed to me one of the strongest objections against the assertion, that these vowel points are of a modern date. The generality of the common English people spell very indifferently, and this may be said particularly of the women; among whom, even many of those, who may be said to have received an expensive education, write in a manner that is hardly intelligible.42
The English language, in my ears, has not that harmony and softness, which are found in some other languages. Even our German, which so often, by those who do not know better, is called a rough and barbarous tongue, has, in my opinion, prejudiced as it may appear, more harmony to boast of, when it is pronounced in one of our best dialects, and is more melodious than the English. A modern English traveller, who is acknowledged to be one of the best judges in matters of sound and melody, though he makes no comparison between the English and the German, yet, he owns, that when he heard German singing for the first time, he was astonished to find that the German language, in spite of all its clashing consonants and gutturals, as he expresses himself, is better calculated for music than the French. And in another place he says, he was confirmed in his opinion, that, except the Italian, the German manner of singing is less vicious and less vulgar than that of any other people in Europe8. This could hardly be the case, if the language was not well adapted for music, and was as barbarous as many, who are unacquainted with it, think it to be.43
But, though the English has not that which most pleases the ear; it possesses, nevertheless, many advantages beyond others. Being very copious, as a selection from many languages, it is nervous and expressive; it is well adapted for reasoning, though not for declamation; it speaks to the understanding with energy, but it will not charm the ear with melody, or beauties derived from sound and harmony. Having borrowed or stolen its riches from a variety of tongues, it is capable of a great change and strength of expression. The same thought may be proposed in different views, and represented in various lights, which cannot be done in languages that are more original. I likewise think, that no language is more capable of what the French call double entendre, or double meaning, than the English; or, on account of its conciseness and brevity of expression, is better adapted for epigrams. But, as it happens, the English have no great epigrammatists among their writers; and Owen, who is well known in this character, wrote in Latin.
As for modern languages, there are not many of the English, who apply themselves to them. Even in great Grammar-schools, the French is no part of the public lessons. In private, or boarding-schools, it is generally taught, when 44 required and paid for, by persons who go under the denomination of French-ushers. Whether they are always qualified for such business, is a question, perhaps, not always to be answered in the affirmative. Notwithstanding, those children, of both sexes, which are educated in such schools, learn a little smattering of French, yet they generally forget it after leaving school. Though the French is almost the only modern language which is cultivated in England, in preference to other foreign tongues, it is, however, not frequently spoken, unless the conversation be with a foreigner, who does not understand English, but speaks French, and therefore renders it necessary. I remember that some years ago, scarcely any body durst speak French in the streets of London, or in public places, without running the risk of being insulted by the populace, who took any foreign language to be French, and frequently saluted him, who spoke what they did not understand, with the appellation of French dog. But there is a great alteration in this respect at present.
As navigation, commerce, and connexions for the sake of trade, lead many English into foreign countries over all parts of the globe, it may be naturally supposed, that many, who 45 are engaged in the mercantile line, find it necessary to learn something of the languages of those nations, among whom they reside, or with whom they have to do, on account of their trade. This, however, as having no connexion with learning, cannot properly be placed to the account of literature; and I have reason to think, that very few English have any inclination to learn foreign languages, if they can do without them, and if interest and gain do not prompt them to undertake the trouble. It is, therefore, among the learned, particularly those who think Albion to be the only seat of wisdom and knowledge on earth, very uncommon to apply to foreign languages, because they are of opinion, that English books contain every thing which is known, or that is worthy to be learned.
When I first came over into England, our German language and literature were very little known, or, perhaps, held in contempt; and even now, a few English merchants and officers excepted, hardly any among the learned are to be met with who are acquainted with either. A few that I know, have either on their travels, or at home, by industry, learned German, and seem to be very well satisfied with the acquisition they have made. Of late our books have 46 got into a little more repute, and I am in hopes that the time is not very far off, when both our language and our literature will be more esteemed in England. At Oxford, some gentlemen of genius, and desirous of extending their knowledge, have within these few years, divested themselves from prejudices in regard to our literature, and have procured for themselves a collection of books from Germany, in order to become acquainted with some of our authors, and our manner of writing. I most sincerely wish, that they may find their trouble and application amply rewarded, and that others may follow so good an example. Then, perhaps, German books will be more common in England and more easily procured; for hitherto no bookseller has thought it worth his while to import any, unless they were previously bespoken, or he had some assurance that they would not be left upon his hands.
The Latin, and the Oriental languages, but particularly the Greek, are much cultivated in England. As to the Latin, there are very few of the English by whom it is spoken. Their pronunciation is so different from that which prevails in all other countries, that it can be of no use in conversation between an Englishman and a foreigner, except one of 47 them could accommodate himself in his pronunciation to the other. I remember that the late Dr. Gregory Sharpe, who, in his younger years, had resided a good while in the university of Leipsic, mentioned to me a pleasant incident which happened to a German gentleman, who, on coming over to England, had been recommended to him. He wanted to introduce him to an English gentleman of learning, who, on finding that the foreigner understood English but very imperfectly, attempted to address him in Latin. It being then only a few months after the peace of Hubertsburg been concluded, one of the first questions he asked was, Suntne nunc omnia pacata in Germania? The other not being used to the English pronunciation, understood peccata for pacata; and, taking it for a sneer upon his country, replied with some warmth, Sunt quidem multa peccata in Germania, sed spero plures virtutes. Dr. Sharpe told me, that he had at first some trouble to bring them to a right apprehension of each other’s meaning.
In the year 1767, if I am not mistaken, a design was formed to introduce the foreign pronunciation of Latin and Greek into the two English universities, and the great grammar-schools of the kingdom; but, for what reason 48 I know not, the scheme was laid aside again; though it would undoubtedly have been very useful to English gentlemen of learning who travel abroad, and who are not always acquainted with the language of the country that they visit. I have observed, that some of the English are in the habit of calling German Latin, that kind of it, to which we have given the name of culinary or bad Latin, though we have more good Latinists among our writers, than England, perhaps, is able to produce. I confess that the custom, which is now exploded among us, of writing and publishing so many books in Latin, which was deemed a proof of great learning among the pedants of the last century, has produced a great number of Latin performances, which, on reading, will excite disgust; but we have, at the same time, some who have written with a degree of elegance, in the true Roman idiom, that does not yield to any modern production in the Latin language, of any other country. Had we in any of our schools, or universities, such encouragement, and such premiums annually held out, as are given at Oxford or Cambridge, to those who excel in the best Latin compositions, we certainly should abound in productions which would do honour to modern Latinity. But, 49 alas! our young scholars have no such incitements, and we may apply to us the lamentation of Martial:
Sint Mæcenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones!
The Greek language has been, for ages together, in great esteem in this country. Among the learned, both ecclesiastics and laymen have applied to it with uncommon assiduity. Even among the nobility, and people of fortune and independence, many are to be found, who are good Greek scholars, and read a Greek author with ease. This is more than can be said of our German nobility, though there are, perhaps, some among them, who would boast that they could trace their pedigree from Homer’s Grecian heroes. The study of the Greek fathers, in religious controversies and ecclesiastical history, has been in all probability one of the principal causes, why the Greek has obtained so great repute in England, and has been so much cultivated. We owe some very good editions of Greek classics to British scholars; but they are not so numerous as might be expected, considering the great attention that has been paid to the Greek language in English schools and universities. The Barneses, however, the Clarkes, the Bentleys, the Wartons, 50 the Huntingfords, the Glasses, and many besides, do honour to their country, as one that is famous for Greek literature.
I cannot help making here the same remark on the English pronunciation of the Greek, which I made before, relative to that of the Latin. An Englishman, when reading Greek to a foreigner, who is acquainted with the language, will be as unintelligible to him, and, perhaps, more so, than when he reads Latin. Yet I have met with some of them, who seriously contended, that their pronunciation was the true one, and the same which was in use among the ancient Greeks. It is not worth while seriously to refute an opinion of this kind, when the modern Greeks, with several of whom, and from various parts of Greece, I have conversed, pronounce it exactly as we do. All other learned nations in Europe, in pronouncing the Greek and Latin, differ from the English, who, incontestibly, have adopted a pronunciation of the Latin and Greek vowels, similar to that which is in use in their own language. The Scotch, by pronouncing the vowels broader, and being used to gutturals, approach of course more nearly to that pronunciation, which prevails on the continent.
The Hebrew meets with but few admirers in 51 England; and, in the two universities, not a great number will be found who are well versed in it. The Lightfoots, Pocockes, Shaws, Hunts, Lowths, and Kennicots, are scarce. In our Protestant churches in Germany, we cannot be admitted as ministers without understanding Hebrew, as it makes a part of that public examination, which we are to undergo before we enter on the pastoral office. But an English divine has no occasion for Hebrew, which is not required, and makes no part of his examination, previous to his ordination. I confess that this appears to me by far the most rational. Why should we spend so much time, and bestow so much pains, on the learning of a language, which is generally, after the examination is over, neglected and consigned to oblivion? We have translations of the Bible, which are used in our churches; we have commentaries written or compiled by men who were conversant with the original, which we may consult, if we entertain any doubts about the justness of the translation. It is very true, in our universities, we must have men, who understand Hebrew properly, that they may instruct those who wish to learn it; but whoever is not designed for a professor of Hebrew, has no occasion to learn the language, since so 52 many other things require his time. There are some English, who apply themselves to the Hebrew merely from inclination; and it may be proved by many instances, that those, who, as dilettanti, conquer the difficulties of learning a language, arrive at last to a higher degree of skill than those who regard such business as a drudgery to which they are driven by necessity, because their bread partly depends upon it. Most English, who understand Hebrew, read it without the vowel points, and pronounce it in a very different manner from the Jews, or, from what we are taught in our schools. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to understand them when they read; and it has appeared to me, as if some would put any vowels to the words which came first uppermost in their minds, merely by guess-work. Some regard those Hebrew letters as vowels, and pronounce them in their own way, which, their true sound being lost, neither we nor the Jews ever read.
Other oriental languages are by no means neglected in England. They are cultivated in both universities, particularly at Oxford, with great success. Dr. Hunt, who was professor of the Arabic, in the last mentioned university some years ago, was a gentleman extremely well versed in that language. The merits 53 of Dr. White, who published the four Gospels, according to the Syriac version of Philoxenus, are well known; and if sir William Jones returns safely from India, England then may boast of the greatest orientalist of the present century. The learned are also indebted for many very valuable and costly publications, relating to eastern literature, to the university or Clarendon-press at Oxford, which, perhaps, would never have appeared, if it had not been for this famous and noble institution.
The critical art, that which has the sacred writers, as well as that which has the profane authors for its object, was formerly in greater esteem in England than it is at present. The Critici Sacri, as well as other commentaries on the Bible, are bought cheap enough, at public sales; and in great libraries, where they are placed, they are not very often disturbed. Even booksellers seem now to be rather shy in undertaking the printing of such works. Some years ago, I undertook, at the intreaty of several learned English gentlemen, to translate Michaelis’s Introductory Lectures on the New Testament, from the third edition of that work; but, though Dr. Lowth, the then worthy bishop of London, and some other right reverend prelates, were among the first subscribers to this publication, which 54 besides was supported by several learned friends; and though advertisements announced the undertaking, in Great Britain as well as Ireland; yet, I was not able to procure a sufficient number of subscribers, to defray the expenses of printing; and as I could not find a bookseller, who would run the risk himself, I very soon abandoned my intentions.
There have appeared, however, within a few years past, several learned publications, which amply prove, that the critica sacra, and those languages and sciences with which it is connected, are by no means laid aside. The Hebrew Bible by Dr. Kennicot; Bishop Lowth’s Prælectiones de sacra Poesi Hebræorum; his translation of Isaiah; bishop Pearce’s Commentary on the Four Evangelists, besides many more of the kind, which have been published even within my time, are sufficient proofs, that the English keep up the renown in this branch of literature, which they have long acquired.
Notwithstanding the great esteem which they entertain for the old Greek and Roman authors, it is somewhat remarkable, that the nation has produced but few good critics, who have deserved well respecting them9. We have not 55 many excellent editions, particularly of Latin classics, which have been given by English philologists. Of some Greek ancient authors, we owe to them very valuable and elegant editions, with notes that do honour to the editors; but, though there are some Latin classics, printed in England in the most splendid and beautiful manner, so as to be ornaments to great libraries, yet they are generally without any notes. As, therefore, they required only a good copy to be printed from, and a careful corrector of the press, they are rather monuments of the typographical art than of critical skill, or deep learning. A beginning, however, has lately been made, to do justice to the Latin classics, 56 in publishing the works of Cicero, at Oxford, in a manner which does honour to the Clarendon press, the editors, and the university. It is a just subject of complaint, that most editions of Latin authors, printed in Great Britain, are very incorrect; some of them, however, such as Mattaire’s classics, and the Glasgow editions, are to be excepted. The latter are remarkable for typographical neatness, and a solicitous correctness.
The Dutch editions of the old classics are in great repute in England: they are much sought after, and dearly paid for. Though those editions, which generally go under the denomination of variorum, were formerly much blamed, and greatly depreciated10, perhaps more than they deserved; they are, notwithstanding, bought at high prices in England, particularly those which are thought to be the best editions. The Dutch quarto editions, by Burmann, Havercamp, Reitzius, Torrenius, and other classical editors, seem to have, even in public auctions, when libraries are sold, 57 their fixed price, under which they are seldom to be bought. I have often wondered to see, how far this predilection for scarce and supposed valuable editions of the classics, is carried by some of the English: it seems to border upon a kind of mania. There are dilettanti, who will pay almost any price for them, merely that they may say they have them in their possession, though they hardly ever make any use of them. I remember, that some years ago, a gentleman died, who had collected the most valuable and scarce editions of Greek and Roman classics, though his knowledge of Latin was much confined, and as to Greek, he could hardly read the characters. His greatest pride was, to be, as long as he lived, the owner of such a classical library, to shew it to strangers who wished to see it, and to tell them, that such a book was scarce, or had cost him so much, or that such another was the best edition. The prices given in public sales, for what are called editiones principes, have often astonished me; and I have been tempted to think, that they were not altogether consistent with reason, which, however, with those who are called dilettanti, may be out of the question. The first printed editions of the Greek and Roman classics, are, undoubtedly, of great value; when they are 58 printed from good manuscripts, with neatness, exactness, and accuracy, they are equal to manuscripts. But, since it can scarcely be conjectured from what manuscripts, and of what worth, most of them are printed off; and since they have been collated in our best subsequent modern editions, I do not see, why, at present, they should be so much extolled, and such great prices be given for them, except it be on account of their rarity and antiquity. I wish, by all means, to see them in public libraries, as they are so scarce, and difficult to be obtained; but it must excite a smile, to hear a young critic, or an old pedant, when he gets sight of such editions, exclaim, Heavens, what a treasure! Our best modern editions, in many respects, when reason is called in to judge, are superior to such dear editiones principes. There are two points only, besides their age, in which some of the former must yield to the latter; the first is, accuracy and correctness; for nothing could exceed the care which was taken in this respect; the other is, the elegance and the neatness of the types. As to usefulness, it cannot be denied, that our best modern editions have the superiority on their side. I will, however, say no more on this subject, for fear of incurring the displeasure of the dilettanti in these things, 59 and, perhaps, of being called injustus rerum æstimator, which I am not. I revere these monuments of the typographical art; I know that many of these editions have a great intrinsic value; I admire their neatness and their correctness, and I most sincerely wish, that we had in our days, among the proprietors of considerable printing offices, many who resembled an Aldus Manutius, a Henry and Robert Stephens, a Plantin, a Froben, an Oporin, and others, whose names are yet justly held in high esteem in the republic of letters.
After these general remarks relative to literature, I shall make a few observations on the state of the different branches of science. Those which relate to that which goes under the denomination of Divinity, will be given more amply when I treat on the state of religion. Books which concern religion, are, at present, as I have already mentioned, not so numerous as they were formerly. The character of this kind of writings is likewise much altered from what it was a century ago, and I may say much for the better. There appear, indeed, publications even now, which breathe the of the ancient controversial writings; and others full of fanatical and enthusiastical 60 ranting; but nobody minds them, except those who are of the same way of thinking. Lord Bacon was very much displeased with the theological writings of his countrymen. He said “they were generally diffuse, perplexed, and became, by long digressions in which they abounded, very tedious to read. In matters of dispute they were full of chicanery, and the method which was adopted in them was affected and embarrassed.” This was certainly more the case formerly, than it has been since the beginning of the present century. The writings of those English divines, who are of note, have been, since that time, thought remarkable for their solidity, their spirit of research, their learning, their candour, and that unaffected method in which they are often written. This praise is bestowed very liberally abroad upon English theological writings; though, in my opinion, the exceptions to be made are pretty numerous. As for those books, which have a reference to morality, the English writers on this subject have been long famous.
The science of the law, or what is called jurisprudence, is so intimately connected with the courts of judicature, and the manner of 61 justice, of both which I have spoken in another place11, that I shall be very brief in those few observations, which I have to add on this subject. When the clergy, who had formerly the greatest share in the administration of what was called justice, quitted the law-courts, and the principal of them, the court of king’s bench, was fixed in Westminster-hall, the gentlemen of the law, who before were dispersed about the kingdom, were now obliged to attend to their business in London. To facilitate the learning of the common law, and to give young men the opportunity of being instructed therein, a kind of colleges, somewhat resembling those in the universities, were formed, which go under the name of Inns of Chancery and Inns of Court. Not only lectures on the law were read, but even the degrees of bachelors and doctors of law were conferred, only with this difference from those in the university, that the names were altered; for a bachelor was called a barrister, and a doctor a sergeant at law. The ceremony of making a sergeant is such, that a person, who has never seen it before, can hardly refrain from laughter. These inns were formerly much more frequented, 62 and more respectable than now, when many of the nobility and young men of quality resorted to them. The two English universities, perhaps, looked upon them with not a very favourable eye12; indeed, I am inclined to think, that those who study the law in a university, make a greater proficiency in it than those who only qualify themselves for practising in the inns of court. The lectures, which are read there, are few, and of no consequence; the exercises which are to be performed, are of so trifling a nature, that a person who attends them merely as a stranger, cannot refrain from wonder and from pity. These Inns being in the middle of London, where dissipation reigns, and bad examples create so much mischief, it is hardly to be expected, that many of the young gentlemen who live in them, and who enjoy all possible liberty, should not fall into a way of life, which is by no means consistent with the intention for which they were placed there. It depends on them, whether they will apply themselves to study or not, and their conduct is left to their own discretion.63
Many, perhaps, will be inclined to think not very favourably of the peaceable disposition of the English, when they are told, that the number of lawyers in England amounts, as it is said, to more than forty thousand. But it ought to be considered, that the English are a commercial nation, and that the disputes concerning meum and tuum, among people who live by trade and manufactures, are almost infinite. The best laws are made in England; but nowhere are they oftener, if possible, evaded, or more readily and daringly transgressed than here. The philosopher, who knows, that the laws are the principal part of ethics, may exclaim, quid bonæ leges sine moribus proficiunt! but the lawyer will ask, How should we live, if they were strictly observed? Besides, as the forms in law-courts, are, if I may use the expression, almost mechanical, many persons who have never studied the law, but only acquired a superficial knowledge of its forms, practise as attornies. I knew a man, about twenty years ago, who originally by profession was a painter, and practised his art; but, as it did not produce a sufficient income to maintain his family, he practised as in attorney. I believe there are many similar cases, which, in my opinion, may account not only for the great number of lawyers, but be 64 the cause, that some of them can hardly support their existence, and therefore, by practices not the most honourable, disgrace their profession. In no country, I believe, are the lawyers the most beloved class of people; and, it seems, that in England they are not much more liked than those in other nations. There are undoubtedly among them, and to my own knowledge, the worthiest and the most characters; but it is suspected, that they do not constitute a majority.
The study of the law is very dry, and many who have entered upon it, found it so dull and tedious, that they soon abandoned it. David Garrick did so; and there is much reason to doubt, whether, in the profession of the law, his talents would ever have acquired him that celebrity and wealth, which he obtained as an actor.
As many great offices of state are to be filled with gentlemen of the law, and counsellors, who are eminent in their profession, easily obtain ample fortunes, and are sometimes raised to high polls under government, it is very natural, that the class of those who practise the law, should be regarded as one of the first in the kingdom. Peerages are often obtained in this profession; and a great part of the nobility owe 65 their rise, to ancestors, who from commoners and lawyers, were raised to peers of the realm, and officers of state.
The pleadings in an English court of judicature resemble much those which were in use among the Greeks and Romans of old. Oratorical talents, and rhetorical powers, therefore, can display and exert themselves no where with more freedom and brilliancy than here. But though certainly pleadings may sometimes be heard at an English bar, which would not have disgraced some of the first Grecian or Roman orators, yet the generality are, as the French say, comme à l’ ordinaire. Most counsellors, in their speeches, are cold and inanimated. They commonly lean upon their down-stretched arms and bent fingers, inclining the body a little forwards; and thus, they talk in a low, and often broken voice, repeating perpetually the phrase, my lord, with which they address the judge. Nevertheless, they are well paid; but they must take care to have their hands well filled with guineas by their clients, before they plead; for they cannot send in a bill, or legally demand payment, when their business is over.
Leaving here the science of jurisprudence, I shall make a few observations on the state of 66 physic and medicine. They are founded upon what my own eyes have seen, and what I have learned in conversation with some physicians in London, who might lay claim to some eminence in their art. I am myself no physician, and I entertain of medicine almost the same opinion as Montaigne; what I shall say, therefore, will be confined to general remarks only; which I write down, not for physicians, but for any reader, who, not having been in England, wishes to inform himself, in some measure, on this subject.
It is said, that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are not calculated for good schools of Esculapius; that though, perhaps, the professors in physic are men of medical knowledge, yet their lectures are too few and too insufficient. The salaries, which they receive, are fixed, and consequently they are not so solicitous about the number and applause of those who frequent their lectures, as the professors of Edinburgh, or other Scotch universities, whose rewards and income greatly depend on their skill, their industry, and the number of their pupils. Besides, it is objected to the two English universities, that they have not clinical lectures like those at Edinburgh, which are said to be the best schools for instructing young students 67 in the medical art. There is, indeed, a similar institution at Oxford, in the Radcliffe infirmary; but it is pretended that it is by no means equal to those in the Scotch universities. I remember, that other objections of this nature have been urged against the two English universities, during disputes which have subsisted between the licentiates and fellows belonging to the college in Warwick-lane. This college I have already mentioned, as to the building, in another place; and I shall add here a few observations relative to its origin, which may be traced as far back as the reign of Henry the Eighth. The necessity of keeping those, who would practise as physicians in London, under a proper inspection, was but then first thought of; and it is a subject of surprize, that this was not attended to centuries before. It was ordered about the year 1512, that no person, within seven miles from London, under a penalty of five pounds, should practise physic, without being licensed by the bishop of London, or the dean of St. Paul’s. Whoever applied to these ecclesiastics for a licence, was, before he obtained it, to be examined by four physicians and as many surgeons. When the utility of this new regulation was observed, a certain number of physicians 68 obtained, in 1519, a royal charter, by which they were made a corporation, and invested with several privileges. Four of them were to be chosen annually, to examine those who wished to act as physicians in London13; and the college was empowered to fine, or even imprison, those who practised without a licence, or who acted contrary to those rules which were judged requisite for good physicians. This corporation is the same which bears the name of the College of Physicians, and assigns for the true date of its existence the year 1523. It has good revenues, which arise from donations and legacies. Those who wish to write prescriptions, and feel the pulse of patients, under the authority of the college, are to pay for their examination fifty pounds. Physicians thus examined, are called Licentiates, and out of their number the fellows of the college are chosen. According to the charter, the fellows of this college must have studied in one of the two English universities. This regulation has, even within my time, produced great animosities and disputes. Attempts to obtain admission into the college, for licentiates educated at other universities, have 69 been made even by a kind of force; but without any effect.
Though a physician may have acquired the best knowledge of the medical art, in Scotch, Dutch, or other universities; and though he may have undergone an examination before the members of the college, with great honour and credit; yet he cannot aspire to a higher degree than that of licentiate. He is to renounce for ever the hope of partaking, de jure, of those elegant and epicurean dinners, given in the ornamented hall of the college, where the golden rules of diet are not inscribed, or to be seen among the decorations. The displeasure which this limitation, and this exclusion from fellowships creates, has occasioned sometimes quarrels, and scenes which have produced matter of merriment and satire, expressed in ludicrous prints, carricatures, and pamphlets.
Notwithstanding the care which is taken to prevent unlicensed people from practising physic, London and its environs are full of them. Even publicly quacks, mounted on a stage, and surrounded by patients, are to be seen in open places, such as Moorfields, or Covent-garden. The college of physicians has lately published, under the authority of government, a 70 Pharmacopœia14 of great merit; but the number of nostrums, which are perpetually advertised in daily papers, is nevertheless very great. That the sale of these quack medicines is very extensive and profitable, is manifest from these numerous advertisements, which must be attended with great expence, and be deducted out of the profits. Nay, the inventors, or proprietors, of such nostrums, are not satisfied with filling the English newspapers, with the praise of them; but even our German, the French, the Dutch, and other foreign gazettes, abound with their encomiums. This plainly proves, that foreigners are disposed, as well as the English, to believe in the efficacy of these quackeries, particularly when, as is frequently the case, they come recommended with a king’s patent. Very few people abroad have the least idea of the nature of such patents, or of the ease with which they are obtained. They believe, that, under royal authority, these medicines are examined by skilful physicians, and that, after having undergone a strict trial of their efficacy, their excellence is stamped with such royal certificate.71
The notion, too often entertained abroad, that physicians, who practise in London, acquire very soon, and with much ease, great fortunes, is not founded in truth. I am rather inclined to think, that the old saying, Dat Galenus opes, admits no where of more exceptions, even with regard to learned and skilful physicians, than in London. It has happened, indeed, that a sir Hans Sloane, a Mead, a Radcliffe, a Fothergill, and some others whom I could mention, have amassed great wealth; but these instances are not very common; and, among a hundred physicians, perhaps there is not more than one, who meets with such good luck; and this, sometimes, is more the result of accident, of particular circumstances, or of whim and fashion, than of eminent skill or learning. I have heard mentioned a kind of physicians, called by some bon ton doctors, who, as it is said, gain much money, not, as it is pretended, by eminence and superior knowledge of their profession, but by means of accommodating themselves, their prescriptions, and their conventions, to the taste of their either real or imaginary patients. I am of opinion, that the reason why so many physicians, particularly in London, are without much business, is to be looked for in the largeness of the fees, which 72 they either expect, or which are established by custom. I remember that the most eminent physicians at Hamburgh, who kept their carriages, and thus visited their patients, had no more for each visit than a mark, which amounts to sixteen pence sterling; and the utmost given by rich and generous persons, was, now and then, half a crown. But in London a physician, when he is called in for assistance, and writes a prescription, though, perhaps, but a mere palliative, expects a guinea for his fee, if not two. Should the illness of the patient be of a long duration, he is, perhaps, satisfied, with taking a fee only every other visit. In dangerous cases, if it be required that one or two more physicians are to be called in, for the sake of a consultation between them, to relieve the patient either one way or the other, they expect, as I have been informed, three, and sometimes five guineas each, for their trouble. This being the case, it may easily be supposed, that most people, without knowing that Hippocrates himself gave the wholesome advice φευγε , will, for the sake of saving expences, avoid the physicians as long as they can. In London, therefore, and in all England, the apothecary is the first to whom the patient applies, after he has tried what are called family remedies, or, 73 perhaps, made himself worse, by using some nostrums. The apothecary, indeed, does not expect fees like the doctor; but his bill for powders, pills, and draughts, which he sends in after the recovery, or happy decease of the patient, amounts sometimes to almost as much as the fees of the doctor. Should the disorder of the patient, after a little time, discover some dangerous symptoms, the regular bred physician is then called in for assistance; oftentimes merely that the patient may leave the world secundum artem. It is likewise said, though I do not vouch for the truth of it, that the apothecary sometimes will go hand in hand with the doctor. The former, it is pretended, with an air of gravity and sorrow, will inform either the patient himself, or his friends, that his own skill is exhausted, and that his powers are become too feeble to conquer the increasing disorder; and, therefore, that it would be adviseable to call in the aid of a physician. If it happens, that the patient is either not acquainted with an able physician, or has no particular attachment to any, the apothecary knows a very worthy and respectable physician, who would do his utmost for the relief of the much-to-be pitied patient, and his distressed friends or family. The doctor is, of course, introduced by the apothecary; 74 and the former, out of gratitude to the latter, will sometimes, it is said, though this appears to me hardly probable, prescribe liberally for the benefit of his recommending friend, and more, perhaps, than the weak stomach of the patient, or his purse, can well bear.
When I first came to England, a large full bottomed and well powdered wig, a sword, and a cane, generally with a golden head, were reckoned among the essential requisites of a physician, and without which he could not be entitled to confidence. He was to approach the sick bed with an air of gravity, and a slow pace; and, after having seated himself by its side, he was to ask the patient some questions leaning with his upper lip on the head of his cane, and casting his eyes thoughtfully on the ground. Prescriptions were to be written with the appearance of deep meditation. But as fashion prevails even in the materia medica, and influences prescriptions and remedies, so it has extended its power over the physicians themselves, and their external appearance. The venerable wigs, the silver-hilted swords, and the gold-headed canes, were thrown aside; and the old and young London Esculapius’s, seemed to be at once wholly metamorphosed; a few 75 old, grave, solid, and solemn doctors excepted15. The others appeared in their own hair, tied in a handsome bag; with a brilliant ring on their finger, carefully displayed when they felt the pulse of their patients; and, after asking a few questions, rather in a cheerful manner, not to frighten the sick, they sat down to write a prescription, with so much ease and celerity, as if they had been long ago acquainted with the state of the disorder, with the constitution of the patient, and with the most certain remedies to restore him to health. I shall only observe, that an apothecary, after the decease of the patient, may not only send in his bill, but even, in case of non-payment, enforce it in a legal way. This a physician cannot do; he must take care to get paid, whilst the state of the patient renders him necessary, for his demands will not be supported in a court of judicature.
Some years ago, very laudable charities were instituted, under the denomination of Dispensaries, supported by the voluntary contributions of annual subscribers. A physician, chosen by them, and rewarded with a small salary, gives 76 advice gratis to the poor afflicted with illness, when they come recommended by a subscriber to the dispensary; and in case they are confined by their disorder, he visits them in their habitations. The medicines that are prescribed are given, gratis, to the poor, by an apothecary who is likewise chosen by the subscribers, and being endowed with a small stipend, his shop is supported also from the money subscribed. Such charities as these are, undoubtedly, highly commendable; and are proofs of the good intentions, and humane disposition, of a part of the English nation, which, can afford to give relief to the distressed poor.
It has been said of English physicians, that, in their prescriptions, they are more for powerful, or rather violent medicines than moderate. An eminent English physician observed to me, that their materia medica contains more chemical than Galenical preparations, because the former are stronger. For this very reason, he thought that the method of French physicians, in curing disorders, was far less efficacious than the English, because the former, in their pharmacy are more for Galenicals than chemicals. A German physician resident in London, who is eminent in the medical art, has assured me, that a greater quantity of laudanum, and more opiates, 77 are prescribed by English physicians in London within a twelvemonth, than in all Germany for many years together.
England, it cannot be denied, has produced very eminent physicians, and such as have greatly promoted the medical art by their learning and science. Even now I could mention gentlemen in this line, who are still living, and who do honour to their profession, not only as men of superior medical knowledge and abilities, but likewise as men of excellent and amiable characters.
The surgeons in England were, till the year 1745, upon the same footing as ours in Germany; they were both barbers and surgeons. At that time, however, they became two separate bodies, and the surgeons were made a corporation and a company by themselves. According to the charter of this company, nobody should practise surgery, within seven miles of London, except he be examined and licensed by the company. Notwithstanding this regulation, many, I believe, practise, without having undergone an examination, or received a licence. The Company has fine hall in the Old Bailey, with an anatomical theatre, where those are dissected, who are hanged for murder.78
England, and particularly London, has eminent and renowned surgeons; but, the majority, I believe, are not intitled to much commendation. The numerous hospitals, the army and the navy, are most excellent schools to breed good surgeons; though, at the same time, they are apt, to render some of them destitute of compassion, and to make them forget the dictates of humanity towards the unhappy objects who stand in need of their assistance. During the winter time, anatomical lectures are frequently announced in public prints, and read by eminent men in the profession. Dead bodies being with difficulty to be procured for dissection, a set of people, called in the London-phraseology Resurrection-men, clandestinely dig up some of the recently buried bodies; and though there is a severe punishment inflicted upon those, who are convicted of robbing the church-yards, yet they venture for the sake of a small gain to bring those bodies under the anatomical knife, which, by the surviving relations, are supposed to rest quietly in the graves in which they were interred.
The British philosophical writings, even the very modern ones, are well known with us in Germany; and, therefore, I need not be minute on this branch of literature. The manner 79 of teaching, in the two English universities, what is called in the schools philosophy, is, as I shall shew afterwards, rather unphilosophical. But such old Gothic and scholastic institutions are not the rules by which the state of philosophy in England is to be judged. Ever since experimental philosophy has been pursued by unremitted industry, the manner of philosophizing has happily received a very different turn. Locke has applied it successfully to logic and metaphysics, and Newton has done it with the same advantage in his pursuits and works. It has also been of the greatest service in those parts of philosophy which relate to ethics and to the nature of man. The British writers are the first, who, in this respect, opened the way for truth. Real philosophy is to teach us the principles of our knowledge, and how its different branches are related and connected; by a careful observation of effects which are perceived by our senses, it is to lead us to the finding out their causes; and by comparing the causes, we are to conclude what the effects of them will be. It, therefore, should long ago have been discovered, that the way of observations and experiments, and not the constructing of artificial, tottering, and ill-founded systems, to which we are too much still addicted in Germany, 80 is the only means of finding out and adhering to truth. Since the English have set an example of this kind of philosophy, morality, at least theoretically, has gained by it. The way has been opened of reasoning and of writing on legislation, government, finance, commerce, and other important subjects, philosophically and under the guidance of sound sense, much more than it used to be formerly. History has been restored to its true dignity, so as to become, as lord Bolingbroke expresses it, philosophy teaching by examples; nay, all kinds of sciences seem to be regenerated and enlivened by this spirit of philosophy, which is not given to erecting systematically castles in the air, but to a just way of reasoning from facts, from careful observations, and proper experiments. How much does the republic of letters, in this respect, owe to Great-Britain! I am, however, almost inclined to think, that some modern French philosophical writers, have trod this way of arriving at truth, with more boldness and success16, than many British authors of the same class. But, though a few of the French nation 81 have shewn themselves great in theory; yet the English have this preference, that they, as to the greatest part, have already long ago practised and reaped the benefit of those principles, which a few of the French have advanced only in their writings.
Notwithstanding the praise which is due to the English, on account of their promoting experimental philosophy, and the great service which by their writings they have done to learning, it can hardly be thought, that the manner in which this kind of philosophy is, at present, by some pursued, is consistent with its dignity, or that it can be productive of the utility which might otherwise be expected. Almost every one, who now claims the title of a philosopher, pretends to be conversant in natural history, though, in fact, many resemble only the virtuoso Nicholas Gimcrack, who, under the motto of nugis addere pondus, is recorded, with his last will, in the Tatler17. Their time is spent in real trifles, and they hunt after fame in pretended discoveries, which, far from being of any importance, are only children’s amusements in a different shape. It is the fashion to classify the different kingdoms of nature, as they are called, 82 and to build systems. This, indeed, is very useful, and even necessary, but there are many who style themselves natural philosophers, who think that in this consists the whole science of nature, and that it is nothing but a mere vocabulary, which employs only the memory, leaving the understanding unoccupied; priding themselves on being engaged in the noble study of nature, though they are doing nothing that has any tendency to produce the least benefit to society.
Chemistry has been cultivated, for some years past, with great success in England. Dr. Watson, the present bishop of Landaff, and Mr. Kirwan, have particularly signalized themselves in this branch of science, by their writings. The latter has even succesfully applied himself to the learning of the German language, that he might be able to read our books written upon this science, which, I believe, is almost the only one in which the English have hitherto allowed us any eminence.
The British writers in moral philosophy are undoubtedly of great merit, and they are very well known in our country. They, however, grow, at present, fewer in number, and, as some pretend, less in intrinsic value. Good moral periodical publications, and such as tend to promote 83 virtue, appear not so frequently as formerly; and many of the old ones may be said to be nearly consigned to oblivion. The Spectator, Guardian, Tatler, and other similar productions, which were formerly highly esteemed, are now, at public sales, bought at a cheap rate. Whoever meets them in family book-cases, may, in most instances, suppose that the owners look upon them as publications which suited the taste of their ancestors very well, to pass an idle hour with; but that they are now out of fashion, because genteel people, at present, know better how to spend their time, by going to assemblies, and other places of entertainment, by sitting down to the card-table, or following amusements of different kinds. The romances of a Richardson, a Fielding, and others, which were formerly in high repute, begin to be laid aside, as books which make the reader soon sleepy; and the rather, since almost every week new romances, in two or more little pocket volumes, are published in London; which are written with so much ease, and are so entertaining, because they correspond so much with the manners and the fashions of the present age. The works of Lord Shaftesbury, which went formerly through so many elegant editions; which contain so much truth and excellence; 84 which represent virtue in so amiable a light, are now almost forgotten. Lord Shaftesbury’s principle, that virtue is desirable for its own sake, does not altogether agree with that predominant propensity to luxury and sensuality, which cannot be so easily satisfied, on account of the accumulating taxes and dearness of living. Every one cries, virtus post nummos, and very few can form an idea of disinterested virtue. The fate which has attended Lord Shaftesbury’s writings, in regard to a natural instinct to virtue, has likewise befallen those of a Hutcheson, recommending the beauty of virtue, and a proper direction of the passions. The latter, perhaps, still meet with some admirers, in the poorer and barren parts of Scotland, where indigence has somewhat preserved the purity of manners, and where virtue, consequently, has not met with so many impediments. During the first years of my residence in England, what is called sentimental, was the hobby-horse of many moral writers, and of such persons, as pretended to have finer feelings, and tenderer moral nerves, than others, though they contradicted it frequently by their actions. The public, however, grew tired of this, as of all other things; and many persons of both sexes may now be seen, smiling with a kind of contempt, 85 though often without reason, and very little to their honour, at every thing which appears to them to come under the denomination of sentimental.
Mathematics are still, and deservedly, in that high repute, in which they have stood in England for so many years, and Euclid is, as formerly, the chief guide. The merits of the English in regard to these sciences are indisputable; and Newton’s name is known over half the globe. Even in these modern times a Maclaurin, a Simpson, a Smith, a Ferguson, and others, are become famous for their mathematical knowledge. Mathematical instruments are nowhere made to greater perfection than in England. They are exported to all countries where learning is cultivated; and it struck me when I observed, that the best telescopes, and other mathematical instruments, in the royal observatory at Paris, were of English fabrication. The greatest improvements of microscopes, electrical machines, and telescopes, we owe to the English; though our countryman, Herschel, in regard to the latter, has now gone farther than any one before him.
It is but of late years that England has produced any historians of note; though, perhaps, even now it may be said, that the Scotch have 86 the superiority. Burnet, Hume, Robertson, and some other modern historians, who have gained reputation by their historical writings, are Scotchmen. England, however, has some to boast of likewise; and, among others, Lord Littleton’s History of Henry the Second, as well as Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, are monuments, which will do credit to the English historical Muse for many years to come. The Universal History, which is translated into our language, and augmented with many new quarto volumes, has certainly its merit; but it is not so much admired in England as it seems to be with us in Germany.
In regard to ecclesiastical history, the English were formerly in greater repute than they are at present. Dr. Jortin, I believe, may be considered as the last, whose writings on this branch of science are of eminence. Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, which, some years ago, was translated into English, has met with uncommon success; but most of our other modern writers on this subject, which are of merit, are unknown in this country.
The famous Dictionary of Bayle, has been the means of introducing into England a great taste for biography. It has been not only 87 translated into English, but has even given rise to a similar work, under the title of Biographia Britannica, a second edition of which, with great additions, is now publishing. The learned editors spare no pains to make its merit far exceed the first; but as they cannot call their time so much their own, and have not so much leisure upon their hands, as those who are provided with prebends or sinecures of considerable emolument, the progress of the work is by no means equal to the wishes of those who want to see it soon completed, by the able hands which are now employed about it. Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets are undoubtedly a valuable biographical work, though there are some persons who think, that they are written with too much prolixity, and too little candour and accuracy. Biographies were formerly not very common in England, but at present hardly a person of any note in society, or an author little above mediocrity, can depart this life, or a criminal of some notoriety be executed, but he has instantly more than one biographer, who wishes to edify the survivors by writing his life in a magazine, in a pamphlet, or even in a whole volume.
Geography owes much to the English, particularly as they, by their sea voyages and new 88 discoveries, have greatly contributed towards enlarging the knowledge of the globe. Their accounts of voyages, when they are published, are generally very good. The British travellers are commonly cool observers, who do not stare with surprize and admiration, at every thing they meet with new, nor do they prefer every spot on the earth to their own country. They, therefore, relate what they have seen in the manner in which it really presented itself; though, indeed, there are some who will exaggerate and embellish their accounts, at the expence of truth, claiming the privilege of travellers, and requiring allowance to be made for what they relate. Englishmen who have travelled, or who have informed themselves by reading and conversation, are pretty well informed of the state of other countries; though even among the former, as I have before observed in another place, many exceptions are to be made. As for the bulk of the nation, I believe, that the generality even of those who have received what might be called a superior education, are much uninformed in matters relating to any other parts of the globe, except that little spot in their own country, which they have seen with their own eyes. The want of this species of knowledge I have frequently observed, in a most 89 laughable degree, in English newspapers; nay it has sometimes shewn itself among the speakers in the British senate.
As to what relates to the study of antiquity, I shall speak of that more amply, when I give an account of the Antiquarian Society. One remark, however, I cannot help making here, which is, that, as the English have brought so many remains of antiquity, at great expence, from Italy, Greece, Egypt, Asia, and other parts of the world to their island, it is rather remarkable, that they have but few learned antiquaries among their writers. Potter, of whom we have the Antiquities of Greece; Prideaux, Pococke, and Chandler, who is the editor of the Marmora Oxoniensia and of the Ionian Antiquities, are all learned men, much to be esteemed, but England cannot yet boast of a Montfaucon.
Eloquence is much cultivated and esteemed in England; and yet I think it has by no means risen to that degree of perfection, which might naturally have been expected; since the incitements, and opportunities for it, are nowhere greater, and more frequent, than in this island. Pulpit eloquence in England is not very brilliant, or calculated to excite great admiration. In the established church, it is generally moral 90 doctrine, dressed in cold logic, which is read with a kind of monotony, without animation, without any of zeal in the preacher, and commonly in a very low voice. Besides many, though they have their notes close before their eyes, read in a most timorous manner, as if they saw the instruments of punishment before them, which were in use at the rhetorical exercises at Lyons in France instituted by Caligula, to which Juvenal alludes in that well known line:
. . . Lugdunensem rhetor dicturus ad aram.
There are, indeed, some excellent compositions for the pulpit, such as those of a Tillotson, a Sherlock, and in modern times a Blair; but their excellence consists more in the elegance of expression, and the purity of language, in which they are written, than in that ravishing eloquence, which not only addresses the understanding, but awakens the passions, and goes directly to the heart. The French, in my opinion, have greater orators among their clergy than the English, who cannot boast of a Bossuet, a Flechier, a Bourdaloue, a Massillon, or a Saurin. Addison complained in his time, that the clergy of his nation were not possessed of the exterior qualities of an orator; they stand, he says, in the pulpit like blocks, and will hardly 91 move a finger, to enforce the doctrines which they preach. Whoever has studied the fathers of eloquence, and read the third book of Cicero on the Orator, or the eleventh of Quintilian, will rather hesitate before he pronounces favourably on such kind of pulpit eloquence. There are, indeed, among some enthusiastic English preachers, many, who run into the other extreme; they bawl like madmen, and gesticulate in the pulpit, in a manner which certainly cannot promote devotion; but neither their exterior deportment, nor the interior quality of their discourses, are such as come before the tribunal of eloquence; for they are both, in general, beneath all criticism.
The eloquence at the bar, and in parliament, is far superior; but considering the frequent opportunities which occur, and the various and important subjects which offer themselves there, for practising the rhetorical art, and displaying the power of eloquence, it is rather surprizing, that it is not carried to greater perfection. Some speeches which I have heard at the bar, and in parliament, were, indeed, excellent, and master-pieces of oratory, quite in the spirit of Cicero or a Demosthenes; but they are not very frequent. There are counsellors at the bar, and speakers in parliament, whose delivery is animated, 92 and their action suitable to the subject of which they are treating; but with the generality it is the reverse. Very few speak with that fire and energy, which, as we are told by ancient writers, distinguished the principal orators of Athens or of Rome.
How much the talent of speaking publicly is esteemed and cultivated in England, may be seen by the many debating societies, which at different times have been established in London. The subjects to be debated on in these societies are various, though mostly political, and are often announced in the public papers several days before the debate takes place. There were even, some years ago, theological debating clubs, where all kinds of people, coblers and butchers, had a right to dispute upon intricate matters of faith and subtile points of divinity, certainly not to promote religious knowledge, edification, charity, and toleration. This nuisance, however, became so flagrant, that a stop was put to it. In some of these societies I have observed much decorum and regularity. It cannot be expected, that in so motley an assembly as these societies sometimes are, the speakers should be always well informed of the subject upon which they presume to give their opinion, or that their arguments should be delivered in 93 such a manner as to afford much evidence of their rhetorical talents. I have, however, sometimes been entertained, and even surprized by speakers, who, when they arose, did not promise much. When the subject of debate happens to be political, speakers and orators start up in great plenty; but when it relates to the sciences, there is rather a scarcity. I happened once to be present in one of the principal societies of this kind, where the question to be debated was, Whether it required more talents to write a comedy, or a tragedy? The assembly was sufficiently numerous; but the speakers were very few, and those who delivered their opinion, seemed to be much unacquainted with the subject. One man only, who, by his apron and his strait hair, which he wore, betrayed that fortune had not been favourable to him, spoke with fluency, and with so much good sense, delivered with natural eloquence, that it pleased me much. But, though he excelled the other speakers, who were dressed like gentlemen; yet he shewed, that he had thought very little on the subject, and perhaps had never read any thing relating to it. The eloquence and the powers of speaking, in these societies, appear never more brilliant, nor is the number of orators ever greater, than when the 94 subject of the debate happens to be the favorite topic of the English, marriage and women. Every one of those present, who is in the least inclined to entertain the company with a speech, becomes animated; and though, perhaps his beard has hardly begun to sprout forth, is as wise and as eloquent as Homer’s Nestor could be,
Του και ἀπο γλωσσης μελιτος γλυκιων ῥεεν ἀυδη.
Accidentally, to please a friend, I went with him to one of these debating societies, where the question to be debated was, Whether it was more adviseable to marry an old maid or a widow? What a mellifluous strain of eloquence was there to be heard from old and young! All seemed to be animated by the presence of many female hearers; when, after a long and spirited debate, the widows came off victorious.
In the year 1779, the attempts for the promotion of eloquence went so far, as to give even the female sex an opportunity of improving and displaying publicly those gifts and powers of their tongues, with which nature has so bountifully endowed them. This rhetorical school received a French name, and was called la belle assemblée, though all the declamations were in English. It was held once a week; in the evening, 95 and the admittance into the room where it was kept, cost four times as much as in other debating societies. I was once present, when the subject of debate was, Whether a country life was preferable to a town life? There were about ten who spoke from the galleries, and the first two or three who had masks on, appeared to have learned their speeches by heart, and were perhaps actresses, to set the debate a‑going. Others harangued afterwards without masks, and some delivered their sentiments extremely well. One, I am pretty certain, spoke, as it is called, extempore, and much to the purpose. Another, who, I believe, was never in want of words at a tea table, or in sight of the curtains, attempted several times to speak; but was as often obliged to stop, and at last to give it up. This belle assemblée, however, did not last long, and another school for orators was opened, which was to represent the house of commons. The illusion that attended this imitation was carried to a high degree, indeed. The appearance of the room, the representation of the speaker, and of the ministerial and opposition party, the subjects of their debates, the warmth with which they were carried on, and the manner in which the speakers expressed themselves, was entirely in the style of the house of commons. 96 But this curious institution was of a short duration. Some of the speakers who were bred to the law, or had received a proper education, did, after they had once or twice shewn their talents, not appear any more in their seats, and the debates became of course very imperfect. Besides, the spectators in the galleries were not numerous enough to defray the necessary expences, which attended such a kind of entertainment, and this mock parliament could not impose taxes and great sums of money for its own support. It was, however, a good school for orators; and it might have been far more so, if the subjects had not referred to the dry politics of the day, but had rather been chosen from ancient history, and the topics been such as engaged formerly the Greek orators, or those in the senate and the forum at Rome. It is said, that members of parliament, who shone afterwards in the house of commons, have delivered the first fruits of their eloquence at the shrine of a Robinhood.
The state of poetry in England is well known with us in Germany, where some of the English poets are reprinted in the original, and others, with Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, are translated into our language. It is said of the English poets, that they are more eminent for 97 genius than taste, more distinguished for spirit and fire, and for strength and force, than for art; but respecting this I will decide nothing. This only I shall observe, that those who think that this island has not at present any good poets, are much mistaken. Many times have I heard foreigners exclaim, The glory of English poetry is past, there are no more Miltons, Popes, Youngs, or Thomsons! Generally such pretended connoisseurs of British literature, come over with a conceit that they are thoroughly acquainted with all its branches, though in fact they know very little of it. They are imperfectly informed of what it was fifty years ago, and still more imperfectly of what it is at present. I will not say, that the encomiums which are bestowed upon the poets just now mentioned, have exhausted all the topics of panegyric in such a manner, that nothing is left for those who come after them, but this I will assert, that to many modern English poets, and their poetical talents, more justice would have been done, if the former had not previously taken possession of so much praise as they really have. However, as posterity generally judges with more impartiality, when the heat of enthusiasm is past, than the contemporaries are accustomed to do, so it seems to me, as if the 98 English themselves begin to lower the tone in which those poets were formerly spoken of. Milton, , who was almost put upon an equality with any of the Greek or Roman most renowned poets, seems to lose ground. Lord Chesterfield, who, in his time, was at the head of what the French call beaux esprits, writes to his son in this manner: “But what will you say, when I tell you truly, that I cannot possibly read our countryman Milton through. I acknowledge him to have some sublime passages, some prodigious flashes of light, but then you must acknowledge that light is often followed by darkness visible, to use his own expression. Besides, not having the honour of being acquainted with any of the parties in his poem, except the man and the woman, the characters and speeches of a dozen or two of angels, and of as many devils, are as much above my reach as my entertainment. Keep this secret for me, for if it should be known, I should be abused by every tasteless pedant, and every solid divine in England18.”
Within a few years past, several poets have died in this island, who cannot be considered as much inferior to those before mentioned. Gray’s 99 Elegy written in a Country Church-yard, is thought by Englishmen, who may be esteemed good judges in such matters, to be equal to any of the elegies of the ancients, of an Ovid or a Tibullus. His odes are equally esteemed. Akenside’s Poem, the Pleasures of Imagination, is by some supposed to be one of the best which has been written in the English language. Mason wrote, besides many other valuable pieces, a Monody on the Death of Pope, which many think Pope himself could not have surpassed. Glover’s Leonidas is an heroic poem, much known, and more esteemed in Germany, than here in England itself, where it seemed to begin to be consigned to oblivion, even before its author died. Goldsmith was a poet of fine feelings and line imagination, whose versification is easy and harmonious. His Deserted Village and his Traveller have, in my opinion, much poetical and moral merit. Mr. Hayley, Dr. Joseph Warton, and his brother Thomas Warton, to whom we are indebted for The History of English Poetry, are poets, who in England are thought to be possessed of considerable merit. The English Muse, within these thirty years, has particularly signalized herself in satirical compositions, and Churchill ought to be placed at the head of the English poets of this 100 kind. His satirical lash was almost as much dreaded as that of Peter Aretine, who used to boast of his, that he put even princes, by its menace, under a kind of tribute. It is to be regretted, that Churchill’s poems, which are written so much in point, so bitter, and in such smooth and flowing numbers, are, as satires, too local and too personal, so that even now they can hardly be understood without a commentary. Since Pope published his translation of Homer, England has produced poets, who, by their translations in metre, have acquired fame. Grainger’s Tibullus and West’s Pindar are deemed to be of decided merit; and Hoole’s Tasso is, in regard to versification, pronounced, by some, to be equal to that of Pope. This age has even produced many English poetesses, such as a Seward, a Smith, a Williams, a Carter, a Barbauld, a More, who, whilst I am writing this, are still living, and possessed of acknowledged merit.
How fond the English are of making verses, may be seen from the monthly poetical productions in each of the Magazines, where many appear as poets, of whom the same may be said, that Horace pronounces upon many in his time,
Non homines, non Di, non concessere columnæ.
There is hardly any daily newspaper, in which a small room, under the denomination of Poet’s Corner, &c. is not assigned to the makers of verses; to gratify readers, who are delighted with reading rhimes, let them he of whatever kind they will.
During my residence in London, two strange meteors have appeared in the English poetical atmosphere; I mean the poems of Ossian by Mr. Macpherson, and Rowley’s Poems by Chatterton. I believe that, at present, among the learned Britons, who are in the least acquainted with these pretended relics of old poetry, few will be found, who are not convinced, that the pretended connoisseurs were as much taken in by these publications, as Scaliger formerly was by those few verses of Muretus, which he, according to his arrogated scent of antiquity, declared to be remnants of the old poet, Trabea19. Those, indeed, who endeavoured to defend the ingenious fiction of Macpherson, and the poetry of Chatterton, which, as it is supposed by some, was compiled, in great measure, from Bailey’s Dictionary, have exposed themselves not a little. Dr. Johnson, when he was asked, Whether he thought any person 102 now living, could have written such a poem as Ossian? is said to have replied, with his usual roughness “Yes, sir, many men, many women, many children.”
It is time for me to conclude this general view of the State of Literature in England. I am well aware, that much is wanted to render it more perfect; but I shall content myself, with adding only a short account of those societies, which are instituted for the advancement of learning, and with a few observations relative to public libraries.
1 Tatler, No 197, vol. iv. p. 30.
2 Dunciad. B. i. v. 42. in a note.
3 What follows here, concerning the German Reviews, might have been left out in this translation, since the original was intended merely for my own countrymen; but, after some consideration, I rather resolved to insert it, as a proof of my impartiality.
4 Ramsay élève de ce célèbre Archevêque, m’a écrit ces mots: s’il étoit né en Angleterre, il auroit développé son genie et donné l’essor sans crainte à ses principes que personne n’a connus. Siècle de Louis XIV. p. 70.
5 In the original German, the English translations of the Greek and Latin classics, are mentioned in alphabetical order; but being well known to the learned in this country, they are here omitted.
6 Dr. Johnson, in his great Dictionary, has collected about 48,000 words, and it was then thought that he had left but very few behind. The rev. Mr. Croft, however, has asserted, that he has found more than 11,000, which are omitted. The new Dictionary which he proposes to publish, will, on this supposition, and on account of the new plan he has adopted, have a great superiority over that of Johnson. It is, therefore, much to be wished, that he may meet in his great undertaking, with that encouragement, which it deserves.
7 I have observed, in conversations with modern Greeks, that they pronounce their θ exactly as the English do their th, and yet these very Greeks, when they speak English, betray immediately, and in a striking manner, that they are foreigners. They pronounce it like Frenchmen, among whom I have never met with one who spoke English tolerably.
8 Dr. Burney’s State of Music in Germany, &c. vol. i. p. 84, and 117.
9 This is by no means owing to want of learning, acuteness, judgment, or genius; but rather, perhaps, because they do not think occupations of this kind, of that consequence and value, which many of the learned have done in other countries. I confess, they appear to me not much in the wrong; and there is certainly good sense in what the learned Dr. Middleton wrote to the late bishop of Gloucester, Warburton, when, in his younger days, he had an intention of giving an edition of Velleius Paterculus, with various readings, and some notes. “It is,” says he, in his letter, “a laudable and liberal amusement, to try now and then in our reading, the success of conjecture; but in the present state of the generality of old writers, it can hardly be thought a study fit to employ a life upon, at least not worthy, I am sure, of your talents and industry, which, indeed, instead of trifling on words, seem calculated rather to correct the manners and opinions of the world.”
10 The various opinions entertained of them, are related in Walchii Hist. Critica Latinæ Linguæ, p. 483, and also by Baillet in his Jugemens des Sçavans, &c. tom. ii. part ii. p. 394. Morhof, in his Polyhistor. p. 838, judges too severely, when he calls them Ineptæ variorum editiones, &c.
12 Blackstone says: “That a science like this should ever have been deemed unnecessary to be studied in an university, is a matter of astonishment and concern.” Commentaries, vol. i. p. 27.
13 The late Mr. Foote, in his play of The Devil upon Two Sticks, has made very merry with these examinations.
14 Pharmacopœia Collegii regalis Medicorum Londinensis. 1788. 4to.
15 It should be remembered that this was written in 1782; at present, a proper dress prevails among the medical gentlemen in London.
16 This assertion is now strongly confirmed by the late revolution in France, which, in a great measure, is to be attributed to those writers, which I had in view, when I wrote this, more than seven years ago.
17 Vol. iv. No. 216.
18 Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son. Letter cclix. vol. iii. p. 370.
19 Dictionaire de Bayle, tom. iv. Art. Trabea, Rem. A.
In the German original, “On Literature and Arts” was the fourth and last volume, coming after religion. In this volume’s Table of Contents—though not in the text itself—the first part, on Learning, is helpfully subdivided: Gottesgelehrsamkeit (study of divinity), Rechtsgelehrsamkeit (study of law), Arzneigelehrsamkeit (study of medicine), Mundärzte (dentists), Uebrige Zweige der Wissenschaften (other branches of learning), wrapping up with Gelehrte Societäten (learnèd societies) and Bibliotheken (libraries).
the best substitutes for a Mæcenas to authors
text has Mecænas
Goldsmith for some of his poems, printed on a few sheets only, was paid an hundred guineas, or more, by the booksellers
[And then there was The Vicar of Wakefield, which has a whole story attached to it.]
Thomson, when he produced his now much admired poem The Seasons . . . was rewarded, at last, by the whole public.
[Yup. Editions, some of them lavishly illustrated, would continue to come out regularly for a century and more after Thomson’s death.]
Shakespeare, Dryden, Otway, Sale, the translator of the Koran, and lately a Chatterton, besides many more, can prove, that the English public is not always to be depended upon
[When we get to painting, will he similarly list Gainsborough, Reynolds and Zoffany?]
his capon-like countrymen
[The German says verschnitten, so I guess he means it literally. Castrati—most often Italian—lingered on until the early 20th century, but the 18th century was their real heyday. Even in Wendeborn’s time they were starting to go out of fashion, at least for secular music. See here (including audio of the only castrato known to have been recorded), here, and here.]
the manuscript, which . . . might have been handsomely printed off in a decent octavo volume
[Wendeborn’s English-language publishers must not have had very high hopes for his sales. The London edition was printed in octavo—and the Dublin edition in duodecimo with still smaller print. A few years in the future, Charles Cooke will start putting out his adorably tiny duodecimos.]
there is no nation, which is so eager to read books published in other countries and foreign languages, as ours; consequently, the translations of them are exceedingly numerous
[Why, then, are Germans to this day incapable of translating into their own language? (This is a phenomenon which I noticed already in childhood. Once and only once can I remember reading a good translation into German . . . and then it turned out I had been mistaken about the author’s nationality, and the book was in fact originally written in German.)]
the greater part of Switzerland, East and West Prussia, Livonia, Courland, even some parts of Poland and Hungary
[It is disorienting to think of a German empire that does not include Prussia. But in fact Prussia didn’t take charge until 1871, after they had walloped France in the Franco-Prussian war.]
Germany has above one and twenty millions of inhabitants, and England, perhaps, hardly seven
[A few pages ago he said that the combined population of England and Scotland, combined, was about nine million. And I very much doubt that Scotland at this time had a population of two million, since its population tends to run about one-tenth that of England.]
from time immemorial, complaints have been made, that worthless writings have far exceeded those of any real value
[Anticipating Sturgeon’s Law by almost two centuries.]
if a Lowth, who, in his Short Introduction to English Grammar, has pointed out so many grammatical errors in the writings of the best English authors . . . had been at the head of such a society
[Now there’s a thought to make the blood run cold.]
Having borrowed or stolen its riches from a variety of tongues
[Can it be called a loanword if you have no intention of giving it back?]
At Oxford, some gentlemen of genius . . . have procured for themselves a collection of books from Germany
[They had to do so by private initiative, since the universities didn’t begin teaching German—or, for that matter, English—until far into the 19th century.]
Their pronunciation [of Latin] is so different from that which prevails in all other countries
[“New Style” Latin pronunciation didn’t show up until late in the 19th century. Before then, Latin was pronounced exactly as if it were English. Other languages didn’t all pronounce it identically—especially as regards “c” and “g”—but at least they got the vowels right.]
understood peccata for pacata
[Prounouncing the short “a” in pacata as “æ”, which to German ears is indistinguishable from “e”.]
some of the English are in the habit of calling German Latin, that kind of it, to which we have given the name of culinary or bad Latin
[This would have been much more intelligible if he had put it in quotation marks: The English apply the name “German Latin” to what we call “culinary Latin”.]
the modern Greeks . . . pronounce it exactly as we do
[He had better be talking about the vowels, or I simply do not believe him.]
if sir William Jones returns safely from India, England then may boast of the greatest orientalist of the present century
[Whew. He may have been grievously mistaken about the merits of Bishop Lowth, but nobody could take issue with this assessment.]
A beginning, however, has lately been made, to do justice to the Latin classics
[Fun fact: Teubner editions have been around since 1849; Oxford Classical Texts didn’t come along until 1898.]
Those which relate to that which goes under the denomination of Divinity, will be given more amply when I treat on the state of religion.
[In the original German, where religion took up Volume III (of four), the equivalent reads: Vom Zustande der Gottesgelehrsamkeit habe ich nicht nöthig, umständlich hier zu reden, da man aus demjenigen, was ich im dritten Theile von der Religion gesagt habe, sich schon einen hinlänglichen Begriff davon wird machen können.]
publications even now, which breathe the spirit of the ancient controversial writings
text has spririt
the courts of judicature, and the manner of administering justice
text has administring
and, indeed, I am inclined to think, that those who study the law in a university
text has and; for and,
[Corrected from Dublin edition.]
the worthiest and the most respectable characters
text has respectabe
a few observations on the state of physic and medicine
[Don’t apologize, Gebhard. It is well known that German medical education was entering upon the period when it was the best in the world—and Scottish medical schools were probably better than English ones.]
Hippocrates himself gave the wholesome advice φευγε ἰατρους
text has ἰατρου
[Corrected from Dublin and German editions. (Since the printed text used the then-standard ȣ ligature, I couldn’t simply take it as a -ου for -ον error. Fortunately the other editions both had the expected form.)]
the apothecary is the first to whom the patient applies
[In Jane Austen, when people get sick they never call anyone but the apothecary.]
for the relief of the much-to-be pitied patient
[Punctuated as shown. I would have expected “much-to-be-pitied” with one more hyphen.]
those are dissected, who are hanged for murder
[When you have 220 capital crimes, something has to distinguish the murderers from the 219 others receiving the same penalty. In England, the solution was to make only the bodies of executed murderers available for dissection. (As Wendeborn himself points out, it wasn’t awfully effective as a deterrent.)]
experimental philosophy has been pursued by unremitted industry
[This sounds alarming until you remember that “philosophy” encompassed what is now known as science.]
nor do they prefer every spot on the earth to their own country
[Quite the contrary, I should think.]
without any appearance of zeal in the preacher
text has appearrnce
Του και ἀπο γλωσσης μελιτος γλυκιων ῥεεν ἀυδη.
[Printed as shown, with breathing marks but no accents.]
Milton, at least, who was almost put upon an equality
text has atleast
[I would have been prepared to accept “atleast” as an 18th-century variant form, if the Dublin edition had not had the expected “at least” in two words.]
Keep this secret for me, for if it should be known
[No worries, Lord Chesterfield. Your son probably never even read your letter.]
[Footnote] after some consideration, I rather resolved to insert it
[Thanks, Gebhard. I appreciate it.]
[Footnote] Frenchmen, among whom I have never met with one who spoke English tolerably
[As we know, the French speak English even worse than the English speak French—“which is quite an accomplishment” or, if you prefer, “something that is almost impossible to do”.]
[Footnote] The late Mr. Foote, in his play of The Devil upon Two Sticks, has made very merry with these examinations.
[Not to be confused with the 1707 French novel Le Diable Boiteux—translated as Asmodeus, The Devil on Two Sticks—by Alain-René Lesage, nor yet with its 1790 continuation, The Devil upon Two Sticks in England by W. Combe. Samuel Foote’s (1720–1777) play came out in 1768.]
THIS learned Society has contributed, undoubtedly, much towards the promotion of true and useful knowledge; and it is, perhaps, among all societies of this kind, the first and the most eminent. Since such institutions have taken place, the eyes of men are somewhat more opened. Ill founded hypotheses, and systems, built upon them, began to be thrown aside. Nature was more carefully inquired into, and experiments of various sorts were made. From these two sources, inferences were drawn. Human knowledge, which otherwise is so much confined, became more enlarged; truth and error were now better distinguished, and many, who followed this new method of searching after knowledge, shewed more modesty in judging, and left off speaking in a decisive tone. By this they distinguished themselves from the bulk of those, who are called learned, and from those, who, under a supposed divine authority, are fond of speaking in a dictatorial manner, and of persecuting those, 104 who are not inclined to adopt their opinions. The true philosopher finds, by such researches, his understanding strengthened, and his mind composed and tranquil. He reveres the hints, which nature gives him, when he is enquiring after truth, and particularly that which concerns ethics or morality.
I do not introduce this as an enthusiastical admirer of that society of which I am speaking; but I mention it rather with a view of previously declaring, that I am acquainted with its merits, and know how to value them; though, at the same time, sincerity and a regard to truth will oblige me to say a few things, which do not come under the denomination of praise.
In the year 1645, some learned men in London agreed to meet once a week, and to have a conversation upon philosophical and mathematical subjects. Dr. Wallis, Dr. Wilkins, Dr. Goddard, Samuel Forster, professor of astronomy in Gresham college, and Theodore Haak, a German from the Palatinate, may be considered as the first who gave rise to the institution of the Royal Society. These gentlemen used to meet sometimes at the house of Dr. Goddard in Wood-street, because he had a glass-grinder with him; sometimes at professor Forster’s, in Gresham college. 105 They very wisely laid it down as one of their principal laws, that all political questions and debates should be entirely excluded from their conversation, when they met; and instead of them natural philosophy, geometry, astronomy, mathematical sciences, chemistry, navigation, and mechanical arts should be the topics of discourse.
Some time after the society was in danger of being entirely dissolved, because many of its members, particularly Dr. Wilkins and Dr. Wallis, quitted it, and fixed their residence elsewhere, on account of the public commotions and troubles, which then prevailed in the kingdom. However, towards the latter end of the year 1660, several of the old members, when public tranquillity was restored, assembled again, and soon erected a society more numerous and more respectable than the former. They met at the College of Physicians, in Warwick-lane, and consisted of fifty-five members. It was then resolved, that whoever became a member of the society, should be elected by at least one and twenty votes, and his character should be scrutinized into, unless he were a noble lord, which appears rather a singular exception to be made by philosophers. It was likewise resolved, that every member should pay a shilling weekly to 106 the treasurer of the society, and ten shillings for entrance, which latter expence was afterwards raised to two guineas, and it is now five. For the weekly shillings, or two pounds twelve shillings annually, the members receive the Philosophical Transactions, as they are published.
In December of the above mentioned year Mr. Boyle, Mr. Denham, Mr. Ashmole, and Henry Oldenburg, a German, who afterwards became secretary to the society, were received as members. In 1663 Charles the Second took this institution under his protection, and constituted it a Royal Society, and a corporation. The diplomas given on this occasion may be seen before the printed statutes of the society1. According 107 to these statutes, every one, who wishes to become a member of the society, is to promise, that he will promote the knowledge of natural philosophy. The meeting of the society is fixed in these statutes, for Wednesday, at three o’clock in the afternoon; but it has been since changed, and Thursday at eight o’clock in the evening, is the time now substituted. Different letters and memoirs, addressed to the society, are then read, and the new members, who have been proposed in the manner required by the statutes, are balloted for. This lasts for an hour, after which the President dismisses the society. It is, at present, not the custom to converse or debate, during the meeting, upon the subjects which are communicated either in memoirs or letters. There has been, within these last years, a pretty warm debate in the society, of which I shall presently say a few words, but it was not upon points relating to natural philosophy.
The history of this society was first undertaken by Dr. Sprat, afterwards bishop of Rochester; but as his book appeared so early as the year 1667, it extends itself only over a very short space of time. Dr. Birch, who was, for some years, secretary to the society, took the subject up again; but, finding that the sale of his book 108 did not answer the expences, he dropped his undertaking, after he had carried his history only down as far as the year 16872. Every thing remarkable, which was transacted in the society, during that period, is here collected from the minutes of the secretaries. The lives of the members, who died during this time, are inserted; and though they are not so complete as might be wished, are yet entertaining to those who are fond of biography. Among them that of Oldenburg is to be found. This honest, learned, and laborious man, who particularly, by means of his very extensive foreign correspondence, did, in his time, much contribute to the renown which the society then acquired, had a salary of forty pounds as secretary; and he says, in one of his letters, that with a hundred pounds annually, including sixty which he had by marriage, he was hardly able to maintain his family.
Those papers, which the society selects for publication, are now collected annually in one volume, and printed under the title of Philosophical Transactions. The number of volumes published hitherto, to about eighty. Great part 109 of them has been abridged by several learned men3, but these Abridgments, which certainly are of great use, go no farther at present than to the year 1750.
It has been frequently asserted, that many of the memoirs, or papers, which are printed by the society, do not answer the expectation, which might naturally be formed of the publications of so respectable a body4. This is not so much to be wondered at, considering that among four or five hundred of its members, the number of those who write, and do it to the credit and honour of the society, is not very great. Besides, it was but a few years since, as I believe, that a committee was appointed, to select those papers which are to be laid before the public; and it is thought, that, from that time, the selection of them, is, in many respects, superior to what it was formerly.110
I have before declared, that the usefulness of this society, and the services which it has rendered to the sciences, are undeniable; but it has nevertheless, from time to time, met with adversaries, who have attacked both the society itself, and its publications. It has been said, that many of its members became such merely from vanity; and that they are admitted only on account of their payments, though they have, as it is pretended, no claim either to learning or taste. It is also brought as a charge against the society, that in their elections of new members rank, titles, and riches, have too much influence; and that learning, and particularly in natural philosophy, is not much enquired after. I have myself heard these charges frequently, but I have found that they are by no means new. Sir Richard Steele, in the Tatler, advances the same charges, when he says: “There is no study more becoming a rational creature, than that of natural philosophy; but as several of our modern virtuosos manage it, their speculations do not so much tend to open and enlarge the mind, as to contract and fix it upon trifles. This in England is, in great measure, owing to the worthy elections that are so frequently made in our Royal Society. They seem to be in confederacy against men of polite genius, noble thought, 111 and diffusive learning; and chuse into their assemblies such as have no pretence to wisdom, but want of wit; or to natural knowledge, but ignorance of every thing else. I have made observations on this matter so long, that when I meet with a young fellow, that is an humble admirer of these sciences, but more dull than the rest of the company, I conclude him to be a fellow of the Royal Society5”. The late Dr. Hill, as it is supposed from resentment, gave extracts from the Philosophical Transactions, with remarks6, which are very laughable. I have heard sensible members of the Royal Society express a wish, that those memoirs, which the doctor has quoted, had never been inserted into the Transactions; and they acknowledged, that many of his ironical remarks were not without foundation. Before Dr. Hill, Abraham Johnson, and others, have attacked the society in their writings.
The society, which at the beginning assembled in Gresham college, now turned into a costly residence of the excise, had afterwards a house in Crane-court, Fleet-street, where the 112 were held, and its library and museum kept. But since a very noble building has been erected, in the Strand, where formerly Somerset-palace stood, the society has been there provided with very convenient apartments. The library, which is opened twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday, is of no great consequence. The greatest part consists of the old library of Bilibald Pirkheimer, which was bought at Nurenberg in Germany, by one of the ancestors of the dukes of Norfolk, and afterwards presented to the Royal Society7. A proper fund is wanting to increase this library. The museum, which belonged to the society, is at present united with the British museum in Great Russel-street.
Besides a patron, who is always the king, the society has a president and two secretaries, who are elected annually; but if nothing can be alleged against them, and they choose to continue in their places, they are generally re-chosen. The society has, likewise, a council, in which the president presides, consisting of one and twenty members, ten of whom go out annually, and as many are reelected. These elections 113 take place on the 30th of November, or St. Andrew’s day, when at the same time it is decided, who is to receive the golden medal, left in the will of sir Godfrey Copley, for the author of the best memoir, relating to natural philosophy, which during that year has been printed in the Transactions of the society.
The foreign correspondence, which, at the time when Oldenburg was secretary, was of great extent and of much consequence, is at present no more so. It has, however, been lately proposed to make it again more extensive.
The number of honorary members, which were received into the society, was, some years ago, very great. It was by no means difficult to obtain this honour, and d’Alembert, Diderot, and other Frenchmen, celebrated in the republic of letters, used to ask in joke, their learned countrymen, who travelled into England, Whether they had a desire to become members of the Royal Society in London; in which case they gave them a few letters of recommendation, which procured them this honour without much difficulty. These jokes, and it having been discovered, that many people, from all parts of Europe, who among their own nations were considered as men 114 of no bright talents, were received as members of the Royal Society in London, occasioned the election of honorary members, for some years to be suspended, till the number was reduced to a hundred, which now it is not to exceed.
It has been asserted, that some members of the society are not very fond of receiving learned and eminent men of the Dissenters amongst them; but they certainly do not constitute a majority, and the seal of the society, a tabula rasa with the motto, nullius in verba, is by no means applicable to their way of thinking.
During the winter of 1784, some commotions prevailed in the society, and produced debates rather too violent for a philosophical spirit. Some of the members menaced a secession, and one of them thus addressed the president in the heat of debate: “Sir, when the hour of secession comes, the president will be left with his train of feeble amateurs, and that toy upon the table, the ghost of that society in which Philosophy once reigned, and Newton presided as her minister.” However this hour did not come; the philosophers grew cool and calm again, and the president seems to be esteemed as much as ever.115
I have drawn up this article the more extensively, because Brucker, in his voluminous work on the History of Philosophy8, has little more than barely mentioned this society, though it makes, if I may so express it, a new epocha in the history of true philosophy.
1 Diplomata et Statuta Regalis Societatis, Londini, pro Scientia naturali promovenda—Jussu præsidis et concilii edita, 1752. The Latin in which these diplomata are written is such, that it is scarcely possible for it to be worse. A foreigner, who is not acquainted with the English language, will hardly be able to understand it. It is to be regretted, that the Society did not commission one or more of its members to draw them up properly, and, if not to give them a Roman or classical turn, at least to expunge the grammatical errors which are to be found in them. The editors seem to have been afraid to alter any thing, in printing them. The grammatical faults, therefore, are conscientiously printed off, and marked with a star, referring to the words at the bottom of the page, Sic legitur in authentica!
2 The History of the Royal Society for improving Natural Knowledge, from its first Rise, &c. By Thomas Birch, D. D. Four Vols. 4to. London, 1756.
3 Philosophical Transactions and Collections of the Royal Society to the Year 1700, abridged by John Lowthorpe, 3 Vols 4to. 1705.—From 1700 to 1720, abridged by Benjamin Motte, 2 Vols. 4to. 1721.—From 1719 to 1733, by John Eames and John Martyn, 2 Vols. 4to. 1734. With a general Index 1735.—From 1732 to 1750, by John Martyn. 4 Vols. 4to. 1756.
4 I refer the reader to the new edition of the Biographia Britannica, vol. i. Art. Baker (Henry), note [A], where he will find this subject more amply discussed.
5 Tatler, vol. iv. No. 237. p. 178.
6 Review of the Works of the Royal Society of London, by John Hill, M. D. 1751, 4to. There has been a new edition printed since.
7 See Bibliotheca Norfolciana Regiæ Societati donata. London. 1681.
8 Historia Philosophiæ, tom. v. p. 663. sec. edit.
In the year 1645
[The Royal Society itself dates its origins only to the 1660 reboot.]
some learned men in London agreed to meet
[The first female Fellows were not elected until 1945. By Wendeborn’s time the Royal Society had already published its first scientific paper by a woman: Caroline Herschel, whose brother was mentioned admiringly on page 85.]
The number of volumes published hitherto, amount to about eighty.
text unchanged: expected amounts
Crane-court, Fleet-street, where the meetings were held
text has metings
but if nothing can be alleged against them, and they choose to continue in their places, they are generally re-chosen
[This strikes me as an exceedingly low bar.]
[Footnote] The Latin in which these diplomata are written is such, that it is scarcely possible for it to be worse
[If you want to form your own opinion, the 1776 version is available online (page images only) at Hathi Trust.]
TOWARDS the end of the sixteenth century, about the year 1572, a kind of Antiquarian Society was formed, under the patronage of archbishop Parker, which assembled for twenty years together, in the house of sir Robert Cotton, and got into some repute. The little mind and the jealousy of James I. took alarm, and he dissolved it. In the beginning of the present century, some lovers of antiquity agreed to meet every Wednesday, in a house in Fleet-street; and whoever was desirous of being received as a member of their society, paid half a guinea for entrance, and a shilling at every meeting. It was by the interest of lord Hardwicke and their then president Martin Folkes, that in the year 1751, they obtained a charter similar to that of the Royal Society, in which the king declared himself their Founder and Patron. They now compiled a body of statutes, and adopted a common seal, which, as an engraving, is to be seen upon the title page of 117 their Transactions, representing a burning lamp, with the motto, nōn extinguetur.
The chief object of the enquiries and researches of the society are British Antiquities and History, not, however, wholly excluding those of other countries. Since the year 1770, the society has published its transactions, in a similar manner as those of the Royal Society, under the title of Archæologia; or, Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Antiquity, of which about nine volumes have been printed. It has been said, that the attention and the researches of the society are too often employed about trifles, and the sweepings of antiquity; that many of the memoirs, which they publish, have the appearance of micrology, instead of furnishing both instruction and entertainment, by discovering and restoring traits of the character, the manners, the arts and sciences of ancient times and nations, which have been nearly obliterated by a long series of elapsed centuries. But, supposing there were some foundation for such a censure, allowance should be made for the difference of the taste of those who write such memoirs, and of those who read them. Some readers will be highly amused with reading that, which a critic may condemn as trifling and useless; and it may very well be 118 asked, Why the taste of the former should not as well be gratified as that which the latter thinks to be the only true one? The late Mr. Foote used to entertain the audience at his theatre at the expence of this society, but he carried, in my opinion, the ridicule too far.
The expences of the members of this society, and the regulations observed in their meetings, together with the manner of electing new members, resemble much those of the Royal Society. Noblemen and persons of high rank are received into the society, without a previous scrutiny of character, to which other members are subject, before they are admitted. Perhaps, it might not altogether be amiss, to make some exceptions in regard to such an immediate admittance, even for reasons of finance; for, I have been rather surprized and diverted, when I have sometimes been present at the meetings of this society, and seen pieces of paste-board shoved about upon the long table, exposing the names of noble persons, who, for years together, have not paid, for reasons best known to themselves, the contributions for the support of the society, to which they are bound by its statutes.
This society has likewise apartments in the new buildings of Somerset-place, and assembles 119 in a room contiguous to that of the Royal Society, on the same day when the latter meets, but an hour earlier. Those members, therefore, of the Antiquarian Society, who are of the Royal Society likewise, may go, when the former breaks up, into the latter immediately.
About the middle of the month of June this society closes its sessions, as well as the Royal Society, and renews them again in the month of November.
The little mind and the jealousy of James I. took alarm, and he dissolved it
[Much like the Royal Society (above), today’s Society of Antiquaries only dates itself to 1707. They do acknowledge the existence of the earlier College of Antiquaries, active from 1586 to 1614, at which time James kicked up an unspecified fuss. And they beat the Royal Society in another way: the first female Fellows were nominated in 1920.]
A Society for improving arts and sciences, which went by the title of The Philosophical Society, had existed many years at Edinburgh, and had published several volumes of Transactions, when, in 1782, it was proposed to establish a new society on a more extensive plan. This being done, it obtained in the following year a royal charter, and was incorporated under the name of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
It is formed upon a plan somewhat different from that in London; and, as it appears to me, upon a plan that is rather preferable; for it is divided into two classes; one of which is called the physical, and the other the literary class. The first alone, has all those sciences for its object which engage the Royal Society of London; and the other is occupied about general literature, philology, history, antiquities, and speculative philosophy. The whole society has a president, two vice-presidents, a council consisting 121 of twelve members, a secretary, and a treasurer. Each of the two classes has, besides, four presidents, and two secretaries. This society has lately begun to publish its Transactions, and the first volume of them appeared in 1788.
There also a Society of Antiquaries at Edinburgh like that of London.
At Dublin in Ireland, a Royal Society has recently been instituted; but, none of its transactions, so far as I know, have yet been printed.
Besides these Royal Societies, others which do not boast of royal patronage, have been formed in several parts of Great Britain, with an intent to promote arts and sciences. Some are of a longer standing, others of a later date; some, perhaps, cease to exist, and others rise again. Among the many institutions of this kind, I shall only mention those at Manchester and Spalding, which have published some volumes of their memoirs. Literary clubs have also been formed, particularly in London; but generally upon plans not much calculated to answer their intention, to promote the true interest of literature, and to procure to those who visit them, that agreeable conversation, of which literary men stand so much in need, 122 partly to enjoy a necessary relaxation from more serious studies, partly to communicate useful thoughts to each other, or to hear literary news, and to give and to receive hints, which might be turned to the advantage of science. Such clubs too frequently turn out eating and drinking societies, and for a literary, agreeable, conversation, idle political debates are oftest substituted. Indeed, I have found, during a long residence in London, that men of letters have much reason to with that, in so great a metropolis, two of their wants might be better supplied, I mean in regard to public libraries, and agreeable literary conversation.
As to public libraries; there is none of note, except that in the British Museum, which, though a very numerous and valuable collection, is yet in many respects very deficient, and, as to its use, much circumscribed. Several attempts have been made, within these few years, and many schemes have been formed, to remove this want, and the inconveniences arising from it, but without the wished-for success. As for circulating libraries, even those which are thought to be the best and most eminent, they are more for the convenience of idle people than of the learned. The honourable Mr. Cavendish is now forming a kind of public library in Bedford-square, upon 123 a very useful plan, and I cannot but wish that the best success may attend it. From the intention of its founder, the collection of books of which it consists, is confined only to certain sciences and select branches of literature.
A public library, well situated, consisting of the best ancient and modern books, designed more for utility than to gratify curiosity, to which there was an easy access, and which was open at all proper times, would be an institution of the greatest advantage to the learned who resided, or made some stay in London. If to the rooms of such a library, another was added for conversation, and for perusing the newest literary journals, it would gratify the utmost wishes which men of letters could reasonably entertain. A liberal subscription, and some patronage, might easily produce so noble and useful an establishment; which, at the same time that it must do honour to the character of the nation, as a learned one, would be a more lasting, and more respected monument, to perpetuate the memory of its first founders, than any which might be erected for them in Westminster-abbey.
In several great towns on the continent, a society of learned men, resident there, have, by annual subscriptions, hired either a whole house, or only a set of rooms, which are opened 124 every day for subscribers, and hardly ever empty of company, where they meet under certain regulations and rules, not for eating and drinking, but merely for conversation, at any time of the day which they please. Learned foreigners are sometimes introduced by some of the subscribers, and whoever wishes for an hour of relaxation, or to see a friend belonging to such a society, will seldom be disappointed in those intentions, with which he left his home or his study. Many of such societies and conversation rooms might be established in so large a town as London, at no great expence; but I have never heard of any thing of this kind resembling what I have seen on the continent, and which I found highly useful and agreeable to a traveller. Oftentimes have I met with foreigners, of different nations, coming from the continent, who have expressed their surprize at such a want, and considered it as a proof of that unsociableness with which the English character is charged abroad; but which, in my opinion, does not go to the extent that foreigners are apt to believe. They draw their inferences of this kind from the number of solitary beings who walk about with an air of melancholy, or from those who come thoughtfully into the gloomy coffee-house, look out for an empty box or 125 table to sit down by themselves, and to read the papers, or to eat their dinner without speaking to any body. If another person happens to take his seat in the same box, he finds his neighbour as silent as an Harpocrates, and sees that he avoids the meeting of each other’s eyes very carefully, or perhaps even with a sulky air. From this foreigners are apt to conclude, that the generality of the English, both the learned and the unlearned, are averse to society; in which opinion I have often taken much pains to undeceive them, though I cannot say always successfully. Abroad the booksellers shops are frequently the places where the learned meet, and have some conversation about literary news, and learned subjects; a custom which prevailed even in antient But this is likewise not the case in London; a few booksellers shops, perhaps, excepted, where sometimes two or three literary men, who are either customers, or acquainted with the master of the shop, accidentally meet, and spend a few minutes in a conversation about literary matters.
1 Apud sigillaris forte in libraria, ego et Julius Paulus, vir memoria nostra doctissimus, confederamus, &c. A. Gellius lib. v. cap. 4.
a custom which prevailed even in antient Rome.
final . missing
GRAMMAR schools in England are those, wherein the Latin, the Greek, and perhaps the Hebrew languages are taught, and boys prepared to go, if they choose it, to one of the English universities. They, therefore, properly speaking, belong to the episcopal church, though, sometimes, children of dissenting parents are educated in them, without afterwards going to either of the two English universities, where they would be obliged to subscribe the nine and thirty Articles, or make a declaration of their being members of the church of England. Schools of this denomination are established in many of the principal towns of the kingdom; and in London are no less than the following four, that of Westminster, that of St. Paul, the Charterhouse, and Merchant-taylors schools. Most of these institutions are endowed, for the benefit of a limited number of scholars, either by royal munificence, or by corporations, or by some other benefactors. It is not my intention to give here a minute account 127 of the plans upon which these schools are founded; and I shall only observe, that there is much room for their reformation and improvement, as well in regard to instruction and learning, as to manners and morals.
I have before observed, in another place, that in most English public schools, the number of those who instruct is not altogether in proportion to those who are to be instructed. A Grammar-school has, generally, a head or upper-master, and an under-master, assisted by some ushers or assistant masters. The number of boys is nearly two, or perhaps three hundred, divided into seven or eight forms or classes. It can hardly be expected, that so few teachers should keep proper order among so many boys, and give them such instruction as may be supposed to be adequate to the purpose for which they are placed in these schools, or could be adapted, even but in a small degree, to their different capacities. Besides, there is generally, but one large school-room, where the greatest part of the boys, if not all, are to assemble, and to receive at one time, their instruction from their different masters. It is easily to be imagined, that this must be a great impediment to that attention, which is so necessary, and yet so seldom to be met with in schools; and that the noise, produced by the 128 teaching of different masters at the same time, and the noise of the boys, which is a matter of course, must give such an assembly rather the appearance of a Jewish synagogue than of a well regulated school.
The manners and the conduct of many of the boys, educated in these schools, particularly in London, where bad examples and opportunities to do evil, are so frequent, and operate so powerfully, deserve little commendation. They have too much liberty, and are treated with too much lenity, and indulgence, which young people, for want of better judgment and more experience, are very apt to abuse. Being, therefore, early initiated in many vices, they render themselves too often, even at the beginning of life, unhappy both with regard to mind and body.
The masters of the principal grammar schools are generally men of learning and of eminence. Their yearly income is very considerable; and I am certain, that the head masters of our Grammar-schools in Germany, though their labour is far greater, have not the twentieth part of what those have in England. Besides, the masters of English Grammar-schools have the fairest chance, from various reasons, to be promoted to high and very lucrative places in the established church, to which they belong. Deaneries and 129 bishopricks are sometimes the rewards of their scholastic labours.
I have been informed, that seven years are required in some of these schools, to go through all the different forms or classes, and to rise from the lowest to the highest. No sciences, not even mathematics are taught, nor foreign living languages. Whoever is desirous of being instructed in them, or in music, dancing, drawing, is to pay the separate teachers, who give lessons in each particular branch. A collection of school-books, and selections from Latin and Greek authors, particularly those which are used at Eton-school, were sent some years ago, by order of a great personage, to professor Heyne at Gottingen, the editor of a much admired edition of Virgil, to give his opinion of them. He has done it, and it is published1, but his judgment is not very favourable.
In some of these schools, the boys now and then act Latin plays. I have myself seen, at several times, a play of Terence performed in the dormitory of Westminster school, and I was pleased to see how much justice the actors did 130 to the best of Latin comic writers. A foreigner, however, who is not acquainted with the English pronunciation of the Latin, will be totally at a loss to understand them. Some new Latin prologues and epilogues, which were spoken on such occasions, did honour to those who wrote them.
I have observed, that many private persons, though their fortune is not adequate to the expences required, will send their sons to such schools which are in reputation, that they may be educated with noblemen’s sons, and others, who, it is supposed, will have, in time, some influence in the state, in order to form connexions with them, and, by means of their friendship and patronage, advance themselves in the world. This, in many instances, I have found to turn out a very fallacious speculation. Connexions formed from a view of selfishness and interest, arising generally from a narrow mind, are frequently broken off; and the advantages, which were expected, vanish at a time when they were considered as necessary to the happiness of those who lived in hope of them. Sometimes, boys, instructed by their parents previously how to behave and to promote such views, will, by cringing submission and an abject flattery, render themselves contemptible, 131 even in the eyes of those whom they wish to oblige; sometimes, when they remove with their supposed future patrons to one of the two universities, they will go to greater expences than they are able to bear, and get involved in an extravagant, or even profligate way of life. Friendships formed and supported upon such a plan can never be lasting; and when they are once broken off, the expectations, which were long entertained, are not only at an end, but a habit of living is contracted by them, which, as it cannot be maintained, must render the person, who is accustomed to it, the more miserable.
Besides these Grammar-schools, a number of a more private nature, for both sexes, are to be met with, which go under the denomination of Boarding-schools, or, by a more refined name, that of Academies. There is hardly a small town, or even a large village in England, where the traveller is not presented with the sight of a large black board, on which is inscribed in golden letters, “A Boarding-school” or “An Academy.” Some of these houses, by their outward appearance, do not promise much; though they bear sometimes the inscription “Young Ladies genteely educated.” In boarding 132 schools for boys, here and there, much wildness is to be seen; and as to those for girls, that genteel education which is signified on the board, has frequently the happy consequences, that the boarding-school misses get their heads so full of fantastical notions and modish follies, that they become for ever unfit to make good wives. Nay, they commence love-intrigues at a very early period of life, and sometimes run away, even from school, upon a matrimonial expedition, with a man who pretends to be captivated by their beauty and accomplishments, and leaves them afterwards in a situation, in which they have reason and leisure enough to repent of their folly. Every person, man or woman, is at liberty to set up a boarding-school, if they have any hope of meeting with success; though there are many, even within my own knowledge, who are in all respects very well qualified for the education of children; yet there are others who are quite the contrary. A tradesman, who, perhaps, has failed in business, either from misfortune or his own fault, or a woman, who never had a proper education herself, or whose moral character cannot very well bear a strict enquiry, will set up boarding-schools, and sometimes meet with more encouragement 133 than those who are more deserving. They keep ushers, teachers, and masters to assist them, who are frequently as unqualified for the business they are employed in, as those by whom they were hired at a salary as low as possible. I confess, I have often wondered, how unconcerned many English parents seem to be about the education of their children. Many a rich man, when he has a horse to be broken in, or a dog to be trained, will carefully enquire whether the person he entrusts them with, is properly qualified for the business; but, this is not always the case with parents, when they place their children to be educated. Clergymen, who are not provided with a sufficient income to support themselves or their family, will now and then set up a boarding-school, and such are mostly the best of the kind, though they also admit of exceptions. I shall make an observation upon the English boarding-schools, which I think to be a very just one, when I give, in the second part of this volume, an account of the Quakers.
The generality of children, who are educated in these schools, do not make any great progress in their learning. The frequent holidays, which sometimes continue for several weeks, 134 and are given, during the course of the year, for the benefit of those who keep such schools, do not contribute towards their improvement, either in learning or manners. They go home, during such a vacation, to their parents, where they indulge themselves in every thing else but what they are to learn at school: for very few fathers or mothers give themselves the trouble to prevent them from returning worse to school than they came from thence; though some, perhaps, will discharge even this duty towards the education of their children.
It ought to be said, in favour of the generality of English boarding-schools for boys, that they are more calculated to make them useful for society, than to fill their head and their memory with such things as are very useless to those who afterwards follow no learned professions. Good school-masters are more intent to make those, whom they instruct, develope their capacities, and render them in time prudent and skilful to discharge the duties of life and society, than to make them shine with a little learning, that is forgotten almost as soon as they leave the school. Rousseau, in his treatise on education, very justly censures those school-masters, who chiefly teach their boys those things, which 135 render them in course of life more vain than useful; but I wish he had left out an anecdote, with which he concludes the first volume of his Emilius, and the truth of which I have had an opportunity of examining. An English gentleman, after three years absence, returned to his own country. Being desirous to know what progress in learning his little boy, nine years of age, had made during his absence, he repaired to the school where he was placed, in an afternoon, and walking with his son, accompanied by the school-master, on the play-ground, he asked the boy, Where stands the kite of which you see the shade here on the ground? The boy, knowing that his school-fellows as well as himself, used to play with their kites on the other side of the wall, where the highway runs along, answered immediately, “Over the road.” The father, thinking his son, only nine years old, answered his question from optical principles, embraced his child with parental warmth, finished his examination immediately, and rewarded the school-master most bountifully the day following, by settling an annuity upon him. Full of his usual fire, honest Rousseau exclaims upon this occasion, “Quel homme que ce pere-là, et quel fils lui étoit promis! La question 136 est précisement de l’age: la réponse est bien simple; mais voyez quelle netteté de judiciaire enfantine elle suppose! C’est ainsi que l’éleve d’ Aristote apprivoisoit ce coursier celebre, qu’ aucun écuyer n’avoit pu dompter!” A person unacquainted with the merits and talents of Rousseau, both which are so estimable, might here ask, Where is the deep and sharp-sighted philosopher? and find it difficult to avoid laughter. The young modern Alexander, whom he extols so highly, has never acquired any celebrity.
The mode of education in England has its singularities, in schools for boys as well as for girls. This may be considered as the foundation of those characteristic traits, by which the English distinguish themselves from other nations. When in England the Romish was the established religion, and its government had more resemblance to such arbitrary power as is prevalent in many other countries, the education, under the direction of priests, who were either foreigners, or Englishmen educated abroad, was more similar to that in other countries, and consequently the character of the nation more like that of its neighbours. But, at present, if a child born in England, was from 137 its early years educated in a foreign country, and sent back to England at the age of eighteen, let it be boy or girl, it would be spoiled for life, and find itself if not wretched, at least very uncomfortable in its native country. An Englishman, educated from his early days in France, Germany, Italy or in Switzerland, will always, even against his will, betray something of the foreigner; he will find, that many of his countrymen, from prejudice, will look upon him in such a light, that he cannot gain their confidence and esteem so easily as if he had been bred among them; and, if I may express myself so paradoxically, being left more to nature, had been more transformed, by the art of English education, into an Englishman. I need not mention, that if a German boy, at three years of age, were to be carried over to England, and educated among English boys, he would become in time a complete Englishman. He would, if he returned to his own country, at the age of manhood, express as much aversion and indignation against German manners, and the German way of life, as ever a true John Bull would shew, if he were at once, out of the midst of England, transported into Westphalia. That the English extol their manners, 138 their way of life, their pleasures, above those of any other country, and, from a ridiculous national pride, despise and laugh at them as infinitely inferior to theirs, is owing to the education which they receive. So much does an Englishman’s national character, his way of thinking, nay his whole happiness, depend on the manner in which he is educated!
1 In the Gottingen Magazine for the year 1780. No. 6. p. 429. in German.
those things, which render them in the course of life more vain than useful
text has in the the course
honest Rousseau exclaims upon this occasion
[In Émile, ou, de l’Éducation. Rousseau’s words are exactly as Wendeborn quotes them, give or take a few diacritics and punctuation marks.]
[Footnote] In the Gottingen Magazine . . . in German.
[That would be “Von den Elementar- und Schulbüchern auf den beiden Königl. Schulen zu Westmünster und zu Eton”, pg. 429-467 in Vol. I, no. 6 of Göttingisches Magazin der Wissenschaften und Litteratur (“Göttingen Magazine of Science and Literature”). Unfortunately “in German” means “printed in fraktur”. Highlights of the section on Latin textbooks:
Auch in diesem Theile des Unterrichts sind wir Deutschen weiter; wie es scheint, sind die Englischen Schulen noch zu sehr an den alten Einrichtungen hängen geblieben, ohne sich die vielen philosophischen Werke über die Sprachen zu Nutze zu machen, und ohne auf die Erleichterung der Erlernung Rücksicht zu nehmen.
And, under specific titles:
Terentii Comoediae tres—es ist die Andria, der Eunuch und die Adelphi, aber castrirt.
This is pretty funny, in view of the second title. But Bowdler—and hence the verb “bowdlerize”—was several decades in the future.]
A Boy, if only fifteen years old, when he wishes to be entered as a member of either of the two English universities, is to subscribe previously the nine and thirty Articles; even if he had never read them in his life, for
By statute he’s oblig’d to vow
To do, he knows not what, nor how.
This unhallowed custom has been frequently censured, remonstrated, and written against, but hitherto to little purpose1. It appears from this subscription, which is always required, that the two English universities can be frequented only by those of the episcopal or established church, and that, on this account, all dissenters are excluded from them.
It is well known among us, that the manner in which studies are prosecuted, in these universities, 140 is very different from that which prevails in other protestant universities. The students at Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin, live in colleges, greatly resembling monasteries. Much, of what is called, learning, but at the same time much ignorance and pedantry, is to be met with in them. Gray, one of the best English poets, who spent many years of his life at Cambridge, does not represent them in the most favourable light, when in one of his poems he apostrophizes the colleges, and begins with
Hail, horrors, hail, ye ever gloomy bowers!
Ye Gothic fanes and antiquated towers, &c.
Though this description of Gray, which I do not choose to transcribe at full length, appears to me rather too poetical, or, which is the same, a little outré; yet, upon the whole, I think he is in the right. The greatest part, indeed, of those who frequent these universities, do not make any considerable progress in learning, or knowledge; and, if lord Chesterfield is to be credited, neither do they in manners2. There have been, and are now, both at Oxford and Cambridge, men eminent for their learning, and celebrated by their writings; and I am myself acquainted with some, who deserve to be esteemed 141 for their erudition and politeness; but, whether they owe this to their education and their residence in the universities I cannot decide. This I know, that many who have resided in them, and have afterwards acquired celebrity, frequently join in the censure and the satire that is thrown out against these seats of learning. The foundations, the legacies, and the donations of which these universities may boast, are very great; and the accumulated benefactions bestowed from ages to their colleges, for the encouragement of learning, are the most generous. Nevertheless, the end is but indifferently obtained. Indeed, the state of these celebrated universities makes quite a contrast with many on the continent. Education and science are in a flourishing condition in many of ours, such as Leipsic, Gottingen, Halle, and Jena, notwithstanding the scanty manner in which they and their professors are endowed. The contrary might be said of those in England; and I am inclined to think, that their very riches, and the affluence which their members enjoy, is the true reason why they differ so much. The well-being of our universities, and the subsistence of our learned men in them, depends on their abilities, their assiduity, and their reputation; but in England, they live in luxury, in colleges resembling 142 palaces, and their annual income is secured, without the assistance of industry; or, if they are professors, they seem to be unconcerned about the applause of the students. The latter, finding themselves rather neglected, and the lectures which are read but few in number, and of little importance, their emulation naturally is not much excited, and they are led to prefer amusements and vices, to study and improvement in sciences. In short, the English universities stand in need of much reformation; and though the reasons for it are very obvious, and the necessity visible, yet I think it will be a long while before any thing of this kind will ever take place. Many rich monasteries on the continent have been abolished, by power, within these ten years; but I am certain, that none of the societies that lived, and were fed in them, would voluntarily have submitted to a thorough reformation of their convents, and much less would they themselves have brought it about, by their own accord.
The constitution of the English universities, and the circumstance of the students living in colleges, is not so old as they themselves pretend. Nay, it is even a subject of dispute between these two almæ matres, which of them is the oldest; though it is acknowledged, that 143 very old age does not strengthen the powers of the mind, but rather leads to a second childhood. The origin of the colleges, in both these universities, is to be sought for in the middle of the thirteenth century. Before that time, the students lived in private houses, and hired some large rooms, where lectures were read and academical exercises performed. Afterwards some bishops, some men of quality or riches, nay kings and queens themselves, who wished to shew themselves as patrons of learning, erected, at their own expence, these convent-like mansions, in which a number of young men, under the care of a superior or master, and those who were made his associates, received their education, and were maintained by the provision made by the founder of such a college, and other benefactors. The heads of colleges, therefore, might have been compared to abbots, though they went under a different name; and those who were placed at their side as socii, or, in English, Fellows, were equal to those in convents, which are called conventuales. The fellows in these colleges are, as such, not permitted to marry, and if they do, they lose their fellowships. The number of those who live as students in a college, depends partly on the extent of its endowments, and 144 partly on the reputation of its tutors, who are to instruct the young men sent there for education. There are at Oxford five Halls, which are not reckoned to be colleges, because they have no endowments for fellowships, and are looked upon as appendages to some college, though they have a principal of their own. At Cambridge the name of Hall is likewise in use, but there it is equivalent to a college. Clare-hall, Trinity-hall, &c. are splendid colleges; have a number of fellows, and are independent. The heads of colleges go under different names. In some they are called provost, in others master, or warden, or principal, or rector. Besides them each college has a visitor, who is, frequently a bishop, though sometimes noblemen are chosen for that kind of dignity.
It appears from the constitution of these colleges, that their founders had particularly two things in view. The first was, that young men might be instructed in them; and the second, that the fellows, and the scholars also who had past the instruction of the tutor, might pursue by themselves their studies in quietness, and without being subject to many of the cares of life. But noble as these intentions are, it cannot often be said that they are answered. Each college has its library, some of which are very 145 large, and well furnished with valuable books. A garden frequently belongs to a college, for the recreation of its inhabitants. I have seen in some of these gardens a bowling-green, and in Emmanuel-college at Cambridge a neat cold-bath. Each college has likewise a chapel, and chaplains are appointed to read the prayers. The halls in which they dine in common are generally very elegant. In short, every provision is made for those who, for the sake of study, live in these colleges; and every conveniency is thought of, that they may, without interruption, if they choose it, apply themselves to their studies. And, indeed, if the fellows, and the masters of arts in such colleges, are friends to science and learning; if they can reconcile themselves to a studious life, and to retirement; if they find a pleasure in rational amusements, in books and meditation, or in agreeable literary conversation among themselves, I believe no institutions could be better calculated for such purposes than these colleges. But I am sorry to think, that this is seldom the case, and that what I have said, suits very few of their inhabitants. Most of them, I believe, had rather be anywhere else than in these mansions, which were dedicated to the Muses, but which they consider 146 as the gloomy dwellings of sadness and melancholy.
Whatever a student learns in these universities, it is from the tutors, or from his own private application. Most colleges of any note have two of them, some perhaps more. If he has spent four years under such a tuition, and attended the hours of instruction, he then is left in his studies to himself and his own application. It may easily be supposed, that these tutors have much to do; that they must be men of no small abilities, of considerable learning, and much industry; three qualities which, perhaps, are not always found united in one person. There are, to my own knowledge, very able, learned, and deserving men among them, who take great pains with their pupils; but I will not presume to assert, that such constitute the majority. Here again, I cannot help repeating, that the number of instructors is not proportionable to the pupils. So many of different capacities, who come so differently qualified from school to the university, are here, at the same time, instructed by the same tutor; and it cannot be supposed, that they should be equally benefitted by the instruction which they receive.147
It appears to us in Germany, considering the manner in which studies are prosecuted in our universities, almost impossible to conceive, how one tutor should be able to give lessons in all those sciences which a student, according to our ideas, is to learn in the university. But we ought to know, that in England not the third part of that is required, which in our country is deemed necessary for a student to know, or at least to be instructed in. The English, in this respect, certainly attend more to the dictates of good sense, than we do. The principal rule, by which all instruction in schools and universities should be regulated, is that which, according to Plutarch, Agesilaus gave for answer to him, who asked, what boys were to be taught? “Teach them”, said he, “that which they will find still useful, when they are grown up men.” I will, however, not affirm, that this wise and excellent advice is always kept in view in English universities. The instruction in them generally refers to Latin and Greek, to grammar, to mathematics, to natural and some other branches of philosophy. It depends on the tutor what Latin and Greek authors he chooses to explain to his pupils; and the custom of some of them, of reading the scientific classical authors with their pupils 148 in the original, is certainly much to be approved. Thus sometimes Euclid and Aristotle will be explained from the Greek, when the instruction to be given refers to mathematics, to rhetoric, or to poetry. In the same manner, and for the same purpose, parts of the works of Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, Quintilian, and others, will be read. By these means the learning of the languages is facilitated, the pupils are made acquainted with the sciences, and they have an opportunity, by due attention and proper application, to form their taste more after the ancient classics. Whether this method, on account of its utility, is so frequently adopted as might be expected, and whether the pupils avail themselves properly of it, to improve both in languages and in sciences, are questions upon which I do not pretend to decide.
As for the other books, which serve as lecture-books, for the instruction of the young students, they are mostly of an old date; and I wonder that modern authors are not substituted instead of them, as preferable. At Cambridge, Locke and Newton are used by some tutors in their philosophical lectures; Maclaurin, Helsham, Hamilton, and Ferguson in mathematics; Usher and Marsham in history and chronology; Grotius or Puffendorff in the law of 149 nations; but at Oxford, these modern writers, as I have been informed, are not those from which the young students receive their instruction. By the statutes of the university of Oxford, the authority of Aristotle is still very great. He is to be the guide in dialectics, and whoever wishes to obtain the degree of bachelor of arts, is to prepare himself by exercises, which are thus described: Diebus lunæ, &c. questiones logicales proponat, quas secundum Aristotelem (cujus suprema sit auctoritas) defendat. This, indeed, founds pretty scholastic! Since, however, mathematics are so much cultivated in these universities, and the Elements of Euclid are justly styled by Locke the best system of logic in the world, and superior to all dry and frequently useless rules and doctrines of metaphysics, I am rather inclined to give the preference, in this branch of education, which in our schools is called philosophy, to the English. Metaphysics are over-rated, and too much time spent upon them in our universities, which produces that attachment to systems, and that inclination for system-building, that many of our learned men are so often, and frequently not without reason, censured for, by those of other countries. I therefore, cannot help wishing, that, in imitation of the English, we applied 150 ourselves in our universities rather more to mathematics, and that the rule of the old Pythagoreans were inscribed over the lecture-rooms in our universities: οὐδεις ἀγεωμετρητος εἰσιτω.
According to the statutes of the university, a student is to be four years under the instruction of his tutor. The sons of peers of the realm are, however, excepted from this regulation; for three years, or, if the chancellor will grant it, even less time is sufficient to finish their studies under the tutor. A person that knows no better, might perhaps suspect here, that the alma matres, who are looked upon as the nutrices bonarum literarum atque artium, are, in this instance, not unlike other good nurses, who think that noble birth and riches supply the want of talents and learning. If a young man has thus spent under his tutor the time prescribed, he prepares himself to take the first degree of academical honours, which is that of a bachelor of arts. At the college of Dublin, the student is to undergo quarterly examinations, during the first of his academical years; which, though to all appearance a very useful regulation, is, as I find, not adopted in the two English universities. Most young men pass the three first years, after their matriculation, in a manner not much suited to progress in learning, 151 and their occupations are oftentimes very different from those of scholars. On entering the fourth year of their residence in the university, they get themselves ready, as well as they can, to take their first degree. For this purpose a disputation is required, which, indeed, is not of much consequence; and yet many seem to entertain great apprehensions before it is over. When these exercises are performed, hardly any body is present, excepting those who are obliged to be there; nay, I was told at Oxford that it was deemed impolite for any body to come in, who had no particular business there. As the disputants find it often very difficult to perform their exercises in Latin, it has been more than once proposed to substitute the English language; but this alteration has hitherto not taken place. At Cambridge, the exercises for the degree of bachelor, are more serious than at Oxford, and examinations in rhetoric, grammar, &c. follow after the disputation. They continue for three days together, though but a few hours each day. The usefulness of them, to ascertain the progress in learning of those who take their first degree, is undeniable; but they make only a part of the education at Cambridge.152
The young student having obtained his first degree, is released from attending the instruction of the tutor, and should now continue his studies, by means of his own industry and private application. But many leave the university after this, and return, perhaps, only at the end of each term, to shew themselves as members of the university, and to retain the right to other academical degrees. Of these terms, annually four are kept at Oxford, and three at Cambridge; for the Easter term of the latter university includes the Trinity-term of the former. At Cambridge, therefore, is less vacation-time; and for that reason, as may be supposed, more industry.
On the number of terms, in which the members of these universities have attended, depends their progress in rising to academical degrees. After having obtained that of a bachelor of arts, twelve terms, or three years more are required at Oxford to become a master of arts, and to be received into the academical senate. To be created a doctor of civil law requires at Oxford five, and a doctor of physic three years more. At Cambridge it is one year less. The degree of doctor in divinity cannot be obtained in so short a space of time. A master of arts must wait seven years before he 153 can claim the degree of bachelor in divinity, and four more to be created a doctor. We have in our universities in Germany doctors in philosophy, a degree which the English universities have not; but they create another kind of doctors, of which we know nothing; I mean doctors of music.
The two English universities think very highly of their academical degrees, and will not admit any graduate of another university, ad eundem as it is called, in theirs; except those who have received their degrees at the episcopal college at Dublin. The archbishop of Canterbury has the right of creating doctors in divinity by diploma; but the two universities look upon such as have received their degree in this manner, by no means in so honourable a light, as those who, by mere length of time, have been raised to such a dignity by them. Yet, many of those whom they, with a kind of sneer, call Lambeth-doctors, are men of greater merit and learning than some of the university-doctors can boast. Sometimes honorary degrees are given, but very seldom accompanied by a diploma; by which means those upon whom this honour is conferred, are excluded from sitting and voting in the academical senate, or convocation. Mosheim, when he had translated Cudworth’s 154 Intellectual System into Latin, with valuable notes and additions of his own, was created a master of arts by the university of Cambridge, though he at that time was already a doctor in divinity, and an eminent professor in one of our universities. Father Courayer was, in 1727, made a doctor in divinity at Oxford, by diploma, because he had written in favour of the English episcopal ordinations; but, I presume, he would not have received a diploma, if the university had thought that he would have come over to England; though, so far as I know, Courayer never made use of the privileges to which his diploma entitled him.
Both English universities are provided with a number of professorships, founded by various patrons, and at various times. They are enumerated in books which are easily to be procured, and, therefore, I shall decline giving any account of them here. Salaries are annexed to them, and some are very considerable; but those who enjoy them hold generally other places of emolument besides. The labour of the professors is very easy, and in no respect to be compared to the drudgery of those in our universities. The lectures which they read are very few, and generally very little attended by the students. The celebrated Dodwell, when he 155 was professor of history at Oxford, read within three years, two and twenty lectures; and it was thought that he excelled in industry. In our universities, one single professor reads as many in one week only. Perhaps, it is because these professorships are almost sinecures, that they are frequently disposed of by favour, and not always given to the most deserving candidate. It is to be regretted, and is certainly not for the credit of the universities, that no reform takes place in regard to these professorships and lectures, and the statutes of the university concerning them, of which they stand so much in need.
The number of those, who study in these universities, is not so great as is commonly thought on the continent. The English, at least at present, are more addicted to trade and commerce, to agriculture and manufactures, to the navy and army, than to the sciences, particularly those which may be called speculative. Money is the general desire, and since Mercury can procure it sooner than Minerva, he has of course the preference. The universities are not so full as formerly; which, in my opinion, is not to be regretted. Learning and sciences would be far more respectable, and more valued, if only the tenth part of those existed, who 156 have frequented universities, and who appropriate to themselves the name of learned. It ought to be likewise remembered, that only those of the episcopal church resort to these universities, and that other sects in England have likewise their academies and learned seminaries. It is certainly fabulous, that under the reign of Henry III. no less than thirty thousand students were to be found at Oxford. This is so much the more incredible, as Oxford has hardly the circumference of Leipsic, and but a few colleges were then erected. It is calculated, that in full term-time, Oxford, upon the whole, contains about fifteen hundred members of the university, and Cambridge somewhat less. Of under-graduates there may be at Oxford perhaps six hundred, and at Cambridge about five hundred. Sometimes, but not very frequently, it happens, that in term-time some colleges cannot contain all those who belong to it, and in that case only it is permitted to take lodgings at the houses of citizens.
The students in these colleges are distinguished by the manner in which they are supported. Those who live at their own expence are called commoners; those who are upon foundations, or are exhibitioners, because they are supported by exhibitions or stipends, go 157 generally under the name of scholars; and lastly those, who, on account of their necessitous condition, must submit to what may be called officia servilia, and are maintained by the college where they receive instruction in common with the others, are styled servitors at Oxford, and sizars at Cambridge. A servitor’s place is often sought for as a favour, and is not to be obtained without some friends. There have been many instances wherein servitors have turned out men of learning and celebrity; nay, have raised themselves to the highest preferments in the church. All these three classes of students are distinguished by the difference in their dress, besides their manner of living, and the treatment which they receive. The commoners live not only in a higher style, but are likewise treated by their tutors with much lenity and indulgence, sometimes with familiarity. The scholars are nearly upon the same footing; but the servitors with whom many of the commoners will not associate, experience sometimes hardships, to which they must submit in silence, or against which they have no redress. For, though even the beggars in London are the most impertinent set of people, yet, these servitors, who had perhaps only the misfortune of being born of poor parents, must verify, until they have taken 158 the degree of batchelor of arts, what Juvenal says:
. . . Plurima sunt quæ
Non audent homines pertusa dicere læna.
Those who are received in the college, as king’s or other scholars, upon foundation, or who enjoy exhibitions, are sometimes sons of opulent parents, and their treatment is as mild as perhaps that of servitors has the appearance of rigour.
The life led by many who are members of these universities, is not deserving of much praise. An ingenious author, who is still living, and who himself was of the university of Oxford, expresses himself rather strongly on this subject, when he says: “I saw in our universities, immorality, habitual drunkenness, idleness, ignorance, and vanity, openly and boastingly obstruding themselves on public view3.” It is to be hoped, that there are not many instances which confirm this assertion; though it cannot be denied that the number of those is not very small, who bring much wildness along with them even from school, which they afterwards greatly increase. Perhaps some of the fellows in these colleges are liable to censure too; and it is asserted, 159 that they who cultivate languages and sciences, who love retirement and study, do by no means constitute a majority. Mr. Blackburn, who himself was educated at Cambridge, relates in his celebrated book The Confessional4, “that the eminent Dr. Prideaux had proposed, among other necessary regulations in these seats of learning, to have a new college erected in each, by the name of Drone-Hall, for reasons there specified, by no means honourable to these academical bodies.” Some have thought, that there was no necessity of being at the expence of erecting such a new college, but only to exchange the names of some that have been built long ago. There are not a few fellows, and masters of arts, who spend their evenings either out of the college, or in their common or combination-room, where the conversation does not frequently relate to learning and the sciences. Neither the Bodleian or university library, nor those belonging to the colleges, are much frequented; and the ingenious author of the Companion to the Oxford Guide5, has laid open the far more easy road, which the students at Oxford take, to improve in the arts and sciences. Many of the Abelards, who live in these colleges, 160 keep their Eloisas, perhaps not always very privately, in the town or in the neighbourhood, though the laws of the university in this respect are pretty strict. They are particularly fond of taking trips to London, where they indulge themselves liberally in the pleasures of the metropolis. A short play, called the Oxonian in Town, which is not unfrequently acted on the London theatres, represents their manner of living in lively colours, but it is said, that they are not yet sufficiently strong. It was not long since proposed in parliament, to pass an act, to give leave that the fellows of colleges, who originally derive their existence as such, from monastic institutions, though they do not make the vow of chastity, might marry, without losing their fellowships on committing the act of matrimony, provided they did not reside in the college; but the matter is dropped, and things remain as before. The reason, in all probability, is this, that fellowships would then not so frequently be vacant, and those who wish for them would either be disappointed, or be obliged to wait a long while before they could be provided.
It is evident from what I have said, that the two English universities do not come up to the idea, which is generally entertained of them 161 on the continent. They were, as I have before observed, modelled upon a monastic plan; and it cannot, upon reflection, but excite surprise, that a nation, famous for wise regulations, and for learning, has not yet thought of reforming its universities, and substituting a better plan in the room of that, which obviously does not only contain many useless things, but even such as have a tendency to impede the progress of learning. The ancient foundations and endowments, together with the benefactions which these universities are from time to time enriched with, are so considerable, that infinitely more might be done with them, towards the promotion of literature and the sciences, than is now actually the case. Changes in idle fashions, alterations for the better, in trade, commerce, and manufactures, are very frequent in England; but they are brought about with difficulty in old institutions, which produce a large income, and are very comfortable to those persons, who, by means of such established revenues, are enabled to enjoy an easy life, without much labour and fatigue. Many of them, if an attempt for a salutary reform were made, would call it sacrilege, and be inclined even to cry out treason! merely because their laziness, avarice, and assumed authority, were threatened with 162 some danger. The universities and the established church are closely connected; the latter is, for good reasons, protected by the government; and thus, happily for all three, every thing remains, without reformation, upon the old footing. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge are good schools either of law or physic; so that those, who want to make proficiency in the common law, and wish to try their fortune in courts of judicature, are obliged to enter the inns of court in London; and physicians who are not satisfied merely with acquiring the title of doctor, by keeping a number of terms at Oxford or Cambridge, go to Scotch, or to foreign universities, to render themselves more skilful in their profession.
I have said enough of the interior complexion of the two English universities; and I shall only add a few observations, which relate to the exterior of them. The city of Oxford is, in situation and in houses, superior to Cambridge, though, in regard to colleges, both universities are, in my opinion, upon an equality. Cambridge has some that are very elegant and splendid; and as to the public buildings belonging to that university, such as the senate-house, the public library, and the schools, they, being modern erections, are superior to those of the 163 same kind at Oxford. Both towns are irregularly built, and they were, when I first saw them, badly paved, and unclean; but this is altered since, and both have as fine a pavement as the best streets in London. A stranger, visiting these seats of learning, will find, that on approaching them, Oxford makes a much finer appearance than Cambridge, which lies in a plain. The distance of both universities from London is nearly the same; Oxford being fifty-seven, and Cambridge fifty-two miles distant. A foreigner, who thinks, that having seen Oxford, he may go from thence in a regular stage, or in a post-coach, to the other university, will meet with disappointment; there being no connexion or communication of that kind between them. Nay, I have met with many gentlemen, who had studied at Cambridge, or were fellows of colleges there, who had never in their lives been at Oxford; and of many Oxonians the same may be said with regard to Cambridge: so little connexion is there between these universities. Whoever comes from the continent, as a man of letters, and visits, on his travels in England, these seats of learning, having heard so much of the Bodleian library, will undoubtedly when he comes to Oxford, let this be one of the first objects to gratify his curiosity. He 164 will, however, in all probability, find that his expectations were raised rather too high, at least in regard to the building in which this literary treasure is contained. He will be still more surprized, when he finds an elegant roomy edifice, under the denomination of the Radcliffe-library, close by, with a few books only deposited in it. He will wonder, why the Bodleian library is not placed in this convenient and safe building, which might easily be fitted up with three times the number of book-cases that now are to be seen there; another gallery might likewise be easily erected, without spoiling the symmetry of the building; and the under part of the building, which serves at present merely for room for the winds to play and to howl in, might be, with great propriety, fitted up for the reception of at least the greatest part of the Arundelian and Pomfret marbles. The present rooms, in which the Bodleian library is placed, are over the Divinity-school. They are in the form of a Roman H, of which I took the dimensions when I was last at Oxford, and found that the length of the middle walk, from one window to the other, was about seventy-four of my paces, and each of the two others on the side, forty-two; the breadth of a walk was about twelve. A gallery above, with proper 165 repositories, contains the greatest part of the manuscripts. When I saw this library for the first time, the books, at least below, were chained to the shelves; but they are since set at liberty. There is no doubt that this is, if not the very first, certainly one of the best libraries any where to be met with; and as to old manuscripts, it surpasses all others. Sir Thomas Bodley was not, properly speaking, the first founder of it; but rather Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who finished, long before, the uncompleted building, and gave many printed books, as well as manuscripts. Bodley, however, spent afterwards almost his whole fortune upon this library, which is said to have cost him no less than 17,000l. He has shewn what a rich man, possessed of good sense and a good will, may do, if he has a desire to be useful. Perhaps thousands, who were richer than him, had studied at Oxford, and none of them, though they frequently offered costly sacrifices to folly and vanity, had any thought of erecting so honourable a monument as Bodley has done, for which, no doubt, some ambitious men have envied him. He has had, however, followers, who have trodden in his steps. Archbishop Laud, an earl of Pembroke, sir Thomas Roe, and sir Kenelm Digby, were great benefactors to this 166 library. They collected manuscripts wherever they could, in all parts of the world, and furnished it with them. Within a few years it may be far more valuable, in regard to printed books, than it was formerly. Modern books were much wanting, particularly foreign ones; and the university has but lately instituted a fund, which will amply supply the expences to remedy this defect. Of all the new books, which are entered at Stationer’s-hall in London, a copy is to be delivered for the Bodleian, as well as for the university-library at Cambridge.
All those solemnities, commemorations, and academical promotions, which at Cambridge are performed in the senate-house, take place at Oxford in the Sheldonian theatre; a noble edifice, built towards the close of the last century, by sir Christopher Wren, at the expence of Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, who was then chancellor of the university.
The Ashmolean museum was of more importance before it was, if I may use the expression, eclipsed by the British Museum, and the collection of sir Ashton Lever. Notwithstanding, there are many valuable things to be seen here, which still entitle it to the attention of the curious.167
The university press was formerly under the Sheldonian theatre, for which, reason the books printed there in ancient languages, bore on the title-page, the words, E Typographeo Sheldoniana; but since the magnificent Clarendon printing-house was erected, about the year 1711, books have no longer been printed at the Theatre, and the above words are changed into, E Typographeo Clarendoniano. I have observed already in another place, that many valuable and costly publications, particularly such as relate to Eastern literature, owe their appearance to this press. They would never, perhaps, have been in the hands of the learned, or become ornaments to libraries, if the university had not liberally furnished the expences for their publication.
The botanical or physic-garden was instituted by the earl of Danby, but afterwards much improved by Dr. Sherrard, who had resided many years at Smyrna. He stocked the garden with valuable and numerous exotics, brought from distant climates. He founded a professorship for botany, and built a house for the reception of a botanical library, in which the professor should also reside. This garden, together with the Radcliffe Infirmary, which was first opened in the year 1770, might be very good schools for those who study physic in this university, 168 but it is said that there is a want of good regulations.
An observatory, built upon an extensive and well adapted plan, has lately been erected. It is furnished with an excellent and complete set of astronomical instruments; and I sincerely wish, that astronomy, may, in time, reap many advantages from so noble an institution.
I shall not enter into a minute description of the different colleges, either of this university or that of Cambridge. There are many books easily to be procured, which give an ample account of them6.
Cambridge, as I have before observed, is situated in a plain, and its air is thought to be salubrious; the north, and north-east winds are, however, apt to produce agues among the inhabitants. The town is very indifferently built, and the colleges, by which it is encompassed, are almost its only ornaments. The best view of it is from a hill close by, upon which, in former times, a castle was built, the remains of which now make the county gaol. St. Mary’s church is that of the university, and has, both 169 as to in and outside, a better appearance than that at Oxford of the same name, in which likewise the sermons are preached before the university on Sundays and holidays. Near it, on the north-side, is the senate-house, a magnificent building, which serves for the same purposes as the Sheldonian theatre at Oxford. Opposite the church are the schools and the public library, which constitute likewise an elegant modern building, well-planned, and of a handsome appearance. If the south-side of this quadrangle, opposite to the senate-house, was likewise adorned with a building corresponding with the rest, the whole would make a very neat little square, highly ornamental to the university. It was in contemplation to do so, when I was the last time at Cambridge. Under the library are the schools, and the room in which the natural curiosities, collected by the late Dr. Woodward, are deposited in the best order. The public library consists of four galleries, each of which takes up one side of the building, which is quadrangular, and has a court within. Of the printed books, which are very numerous, a catalogue was printed, and the new books which have been purchased since, are added in writing. A small square-room, enlightened by a cupola, contains the manuscripts; 170 a good collection of the first editions of the Greek and Latin classics, and most of the works of William Caxton, who was the first printer in England. I need not mention, that here, among the manuscripts, the famous Codex Bezæ is to be found, of which an edition, in fac-simile letters, like that published lately of the New Testament of the Alexandrian manuscript, is preparing for the press. There is a written and well arranged catalogue of the manuscripts belonging to this library. Gentlemen belonging to the university, after they have taken their first degree, may borrow books out of this library, on leaving a memorandum with their names, and have them home for their perusal. This is not the case at Oxford, where no book or manuscript in the Bodleian library is lent out; and whoever wishes to peruse one is obliged to do it on the spot. When I was at Cambridge, I was offered, with the greatest kindness, to have such books sent me, as I wanted out of the library, to the inn where I lodged; and I cannot help acknowledging here, with particular pleasure, the politeness, and the very friendly reception, which I met with from the learned and worthy Dr. Farmer, master of Emmanuel college, who was the principal librarian, when I visited some years ago that university.171
The botanical garden has been instituted only within these thirty years. It is nearly of the same dimensions as that at Oxford; but things appeared to me to be here in better order than there; and a very fine green-house contains a number of exotic plants. Thomas Martin, professor of Botany at Cambridge, has published a catalogue of what this garden contains7, which is arranged according to the Linnæan system.
Cambridge cannot boast of such an observatory, as that which is lately added to the splendour of Oxford; but there is an observatory over the great gate of Trinity college, where sir Isaac Newton used to make his observations.
1 At Cambridge, some alteration has been lately made; subscription to the Articles is not required at matriculation; but the students are obliged to declare themselves members of the church of England, which is nearly equivalent, and they must still subscribe before they can take any degree.
2 Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son, lett. clxxxi. ccxii. cclvi.
3 Knox on Liberal Education. London, 1783. Sixth edit. p. 367.
4 P. 437 not. p, third edit. 1770.
5 P. 11. fourth edit.
6 For the benefit of my countrymen, the Germans, I have inserted in the original a short description of each of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, which it would be superfluous to translate here.
7 Catalogus Horti Botanici Cantabrigiensis. 1773.
This unhallowed custom has been frequently censured, remonstrated, and written against
[Religious tests at the national universities weren’t fully abolished until 1871, after a bit of loosening-up beginning in the mid-1850s. As Wendeborn’s footnote points out, Dissenters had recently been allowed to enroll at Cambridge. But they couldn’t take degrees; at the English universities this was and remains an entirely separate process, independent of lectures and tutorials. (This explains why Cambridge and Oxford both had women’s colleges from the late 19th century, although women weren’t allowed to take degrees until well into the 20th.)]
The students at Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin, live in colleges, greatly resembling monasteries.
[Query: Just how luxurious was the average German monastery in the late 18th century?]
examinations in mathematics, rhetoric, grammar, &c. follow
comma after “mathematics” missing
We have in our universities in Germany doctors in philosophy, a degree which the English universities have not
[The English universities didn’t start awarding academic doctorates (the Ph.D.) until around the turn of the 20th century. They had to, because increasing numbers of students were going over to Germany or even—horrors!—America to continue their studies.]
there being no connexion or communication of that kind between them
[The A421 between Cambridge and Oxford was not completed until . . . 2010. Before then, you had to go via London or very nearly so.]
eclipsed by the British Museum, and the collection of sir Ashton Lever
[Unfortunately, the Leverian Museum ceased to exist approximately five minutes after this was written.]
a catalogue was printed, and the new books which have been purchased since, are added in writing
[Fun fact: The card catalog was developed in the US in the mid-19th century, and was standardized by the 1920s. It is said that, as late as the end of the 20th century, Oxford’s library catalog was so convoluted and hard to use, faculty members would happily drive to Cambridge to use their library instead. And that was before the A421, cutting the distance down to 84 miles or less than two hours’ drive.]
THERE are four universities in Scotland; at Edinburgh, at Glasgow, at Aberdeen, and at St. Andrew’s. The preference is to be given, in many respects, to these universities before the English; and Scotland has produced, within these modern times, learned men and writers of great reputation, who cannot but excite the jealousy of their southern neighbours. Dr. Johnson1, indeed, is of opinion, that the students in the Scotch universities learn there but little, because they go to them at too early an age, and leave them again before they arrive at manhood. This accusation, however, is one of those numerous proofs that he saw, on his travels in Scotland, too many things through the spectacles of prejudice. As far as I know, very few Scotch youths go to their universities at so early an age as is generally the case in England; and if they remain there, perhaps, three years, and make good use of their time, and of the instruction given by so many eminent 173 men, who read their lectures with care and assiduity, I do not see why they should not learn at least as much as a student in an English university, under a single tutor. What are called in English universities Terms, go in Scotland under the name of Sessions. They last generally eight months, from the beginning of October, to the beginning of June, when the vacation takes place. I look upon this regulation to be preferable to that of the English universities, because the studies of the young men are not so frequently interrupted, by an absence from the university, and repeated vacations within the year.
If the Scotch universities are to be mentioned according to the time when they were first founded, that of St. Andrew’s stands the first; being instituted in the year 1411. There were formerly three colleges here, but at present only two, since that of St. Salvator and that of St. Leonard are united. The new college, which is called St. Mary’s, was founded in the year 1553, and has a principal. The university and the town, which were formerly in a flourishing situation, are said at present to be much in decline, and the whole number of students, is, as I have been informed, only about an hundred. This, perhaps, is the more to be wondered at, 174 since the town is agreeably situated, the living very cheap, and the cold in winter not so intense by far as at Copenhagen, though the latitude of both places is nearly the same. The expences of a student, during a whole session, if he be not extravagant, are said to be only between fifteen and twenty pounds. The university has a chancellor, two principals or heads of the colleges, and eleven professors, between whom the lectures on all the principal branches of science are divided.
Glasgow follows next; for the university there was founded about the year 1454. There is a college here also, but the students do not reside in it; they live in lodgings, or in the houses of the citizens, as is the custom with our students in Germany and those in Holland. Many of them are lodged and boarded in the houses of the professors; but the expences are then pretty high. The number of students in this university amounts to about four hundred, who are instructed by fourteen professors; some of them are for the Greek, the Hebrew, the Oriental languages, and Belles Lettres. The public library of this university is said to contain good books, and some manuscripts.
Aberdeen has two colleges. The one was founded in the year 1477 by James I. and is 175 called King’s-college. It has a chancellor, a rector, a principal, and seven professors. The other is called Marischal-college, in New-Aberdeen, it being founded by an earl marischal, about the year 1593. Here are likewise a chancellor, a rector, a principal, and seven professors. Attempts have been more than once made to unite both these colleges, so as make but one, which, it is thought, would be very beneficial to both. I have not heard, that this salutary union his hitherto taken place.
Edinburgh, the fourth and principal university in Scotland, is of the year 1582. It has a college, but the students live as at Glasgow, in the houses of the citizens, and their dress has nothing distinguishing. The number of them is said to be between six and seven hundred, with whose instruction no less than twenty-three professors are occupied. Each branch of literature and science is well provided for; but particularly the medical. Edinburgh has been, for many years past, one of the best schools for young physicians; and, therefore, almost half the number of students that frequent the university, are said to be in the medical line. Many of them are foreigners, and some from 176 America. The public library, which belongs to the university, is sufficiently numerous, but deficient in modern books.
I have already observed, in another place, that the professors in the Scotch universities, take much pains in instructing the young students, and generally read their lectures with great assiduity. And, indeed, this is very necessary, for the endowments of their universities are but indifferent; and besides, the small salaries, annexed to the professorships, the fees received from the scholars make a great part of their emoluments. They, therefore, must take much pains, as their subsistence is necessarily connected with their learning, their reputation, and their assiduity.
Though the Scotch students do not seem under that restraint, and close observation, as those in English universities; yet, I have not heard, and I do not believe, that their behaviour, and their manner of life is more extravagant, or more blameable, than of those at Oxford or Cambridge. The merit, however, and the surprize, in this respect, lessens, when it is considered, that the Scotch students have not so much money to spend as the English generally have, and that luxury is not yet arrived 177 at that height in Scotland, to which it is carried in England.
Of the schools and academical colleges among the Dissenters in England, I shall say more, when I treat on the state of religion in this country.
1 Journey to the Western Islands, p. 375.
Dr. Johnson . . . . saw, on his travels in Scotland, too many things through the spectacles of prejudice
[This would be the same Dr. Johnson who said that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life—an utterance that has been charitably described as “fatuous”.]
Attempts have been more than once made to unite both these colleges
[King’s College and Marischal College merged in 1860. In the intervening years, the city of Aberdeen was able to boast that by itself it contained as many universities as all of England.]
I shall say more, when I treat on the state of religion
[In the German original, which covered religion in Volume Three (of four), the Dissenters’ schools have already been described: ist im dritten Theile dieses Werks Erwehnung geschehen.]
THE arts, of which I am speaking here, are not those which are called mechanical or useful, but those which are known under the name of fine, polite, or liberal arts. In treating on this subject, I do not lay the most distant claim to the title of a connoisseur in these things. My senses, my feelings, common understanding, and hints from a few who are conversant in these arts, shall be my only guides.
Montesquieu, du Bos, Winckelman, and others, have denied that the English had any natural genius for the fine arts. Physical causes, which are attributed to the climate of the island, are said to be in the fault. The English pass with them for good mechanics, with a compass and plumb-rule in their hand; but they deny that they are possessed of genius and taste for these arts. The English, they say, can calculate well, but their imagination is without life, and their feelings are blunt with respect to what 179 is beautiful in the arts. I shall by no means enter into a disquisition, how far these accusations have any foundation, much less shall I presume to decide whether they are just or unjust. Thus far I will boldly assert, that the English, at present, in mechanical arts, surpass all other nations. Real use, and what is best adapted to obtain the end in view, is that which chiefly engages their attention in works of industry. A Frenchman wishes to shew his taste; he makes good designs, and draws excellent patterns; but an Englishman, when he is to execute them, does it in a manner far superior to the Frenchman, though the inventor. Besides, the climate has, in my opinion, by no means that great influence which some have pretended, on the character, on the manner of thinking and acting of inhabitants of different countries. The climate of Great Britain is never so bad, or so obnoxious to genius and talents for arts, as many on the continent have gravely asserted, even in their writings. There are at present among the English eminent painters, some very good engravers, and other ingenious artists; perhaps, future times may produce greater numbers.
The reasons why the arts have not made a considerable progress in England, and why the Britons 180 remained behind some other nations, are various. The character of the nation was already formed, when they began to sacrifice to the finer arts. This, even among the English themselves, is assigned as one of the principal causes, why they have not met with a warmer reception, and have not risen to a greater perfection. The Reformation, in the sixteenth century, is also blamed for obstructing in the nation, the exertions of genius for painting and music. In Italy, and in other Roman catholic countries, the decoration of churches with paintings, and the music as well as the singing in them, have greatly contributed towards promoting the arts. In Great Britain, the walls of the temples are bare, the churches and meeting-houses are without decorations, and most of the psalms, which are sung in honour of the Deity, have, perhaps, no more melody in them, than the songs of the bards of old. I have already mentioned, in another place, that eminent painters, such as a Reynolds, a West, and others, have offered to ornament the cathedral of St. Paul with paintings, but that the Gothic religious prejudices of a bishop rejected their proposal. The large halls of corporations, and trading companies, are, in general, as void of decorations by the arts, 181 as the members which assemble in them are often void of taste, eating and drinking excepted. These societies, particularly in London, and other commercial towns in England, are generally rich, and have therefore the best opportunities and means to encourage the art of painting, sculpture, and statuary; but when they assemble, a table profusely set out with costly dishes, and a side-board well stored with various sorts of wine, has infinitely more charms for them, than all the masterpieces of painting and sculpture that might decorate their halls, attract the eye of the beholder, and enrapture the admirer of the arts. They would look upon the sum paid to an artist, for ornamenting their hall with an excellent picture, as a most idle and unpardonable expence; they would enquire how many fine haunches of venison, how many well-fed turkies, how many delicious turtles, how many dozens of excellent old wine might have been bought for such a sum? It is the more extraordinary, that these corporations and societies have not, even from Epicurean principles, and œconomical motives, entertained the thought of decorating their halls with good paintings, and thereby accidentally called forth and encouraged a genius for arts, since the trifle which is 182 paid for seeing the painted hall at Greenwich, has already produced not less than 20,000l. How many more good dinners might the members of such corporations and companies enjoy, if they erected a similar fund at the expence of the curiosity of strangers! But to speak seriously; might it not be asked, why these rich societies give no encouragement to the artist, or opportunities to genius to exert itself, when either want of riches in churches cannot, or bigotry and prejudice will not do it. Foreigners are told much of the public spirit of the English, which, as it is said, operates so powerfully for the honour of the nation, and is directed to the noblest purposes; but if it really existed, in the manner which is pretended, why does it not shew itself more in such things, which might be deemed not only useful and ornamental, but also such as are intimately connected with the reputation of the nation, as far as it lays claim to arts and sciences? If the churches be shut against the arts, why should palaces and public buildings not give them a liberal entrance?
It is an observation, which history confirms, that liberty has not always promoted arts and sciences. They began to flourish most among the Greeks when the republics fell into decay, 183 and when tyranny lifted up its head. The times when Rome began to lose its freedom, were the most favourable to the arts, and the reign of Augustus is justly celebrated for them. Arts and sciences never shone with greater lustre in modern times than during the reign of Louis XIV. Liberty is most favourable to trade and commerce. Of this the English nation affords the strongest evidence. The spirit of gambling and commerce are nearly related; to gain riches by means of genius and enthusiasm for the arts, is exceedingly precarious. It is far more easy to obtain a fortune as a tradesman or merchant, assisted with the good luck of a gambler, and his not always very honest maxims. No wonder, therefore, if the greatest part of the English, whose summum bonum is money, are tasteless in the arts, and treat them with neglect, or even look upon them with a kind of disdain; no wonder if a tradesman or merchant, favoured by liberty, regards the accumulation of money above all, and considers a man of talents and learning, or an artist endowed with excellent genius, as beings far below him. Most of those who exhibit themselves between two or three o’clock, with greedy and envious eyes, on the Royal Exchange, think the images of the British kings 184 on the guineas, and the white figures in the black spot upon bank notes, to be the most excellent and most pleasing productions of the arts. As for the rest it is, in the eyes of the generality of them, little better than trash.
Modern English writers, who are well acquainted with the subject of which I am speaking, have given, without hesitation, with respect to the imitative arts, the preference to the French before the English. In a letter to sir Joshua Reynolds, by Mr. Valentine Green1, it is asserted, that the arts are much more patronized in France than in England. He praises Louis XIV. and Colbert, as the first who raised them to any considerable height in that kingdom. He asserts, that the protection and encouragement which the arts have received in France, are not only very great, but even so durable, that they can be shaken only by the greatest convulsions in the state. According to this, it might be supposed, that Mr. Green had no great opinion of the Royal Academy in England, instituted about twenty years ago; and that he does not look upon it as so great, durable, and useful an institution, as some, perhaps, 185 may be apt to think. In my opinion, however, this royal establishment has produced already many good effects, towards reforming the taste of the English with regard to the polite arts. It is true, that the artists of genius, who have started up since its institution, are not very numerous; but, certainly, some have been called forth, who otherwise, perhaps, might have been buried in obscurity. That the first has not happened is not the fault of the academy; for it is not in its power to create genius, or to distribute talents.
The yearly exhibition of the Royal Academy, in Somerset-place, is considered by some as a kind of barometer of the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture in England; though it is said not to be very favourable, because, according to those who pretend to be connoisseurs, it has sunk for several years past, and the exertions of genius are supposed to decrease.
It is rather singular, that most of those who have excelled in the polite arts in England, have been foreigners. This is by no means owing to the great encouragement given them by the English, who are not very much inclined to encourage strangers, except they be fidlers, dancers, or singers. A foreign artist, though a 186 man of talents, has many difficulties to struggle with, arising from his not being born on the island. The English painters travel frequently, either at their own expence or otherwise supported, into France and Italy; but they return, too often, without having much cultivated or refined their taste; and it is therefore not to be wondered at, that few of them shine afterwards. From whatever cause this may arise, whether from the usual extravagant way of life which they generally lead, particularly in foreign countries, or from that want of genius with which they are charged, I shall not presume to decide.
Italy draws yearly considerable sums from England, not only by means of her singers, castratos, dancers, and musicians, but likewise by her productions of the arts. Rich lords and others, whose understanding and taste are, perhaps, exceeded by their money, give commissions for buying up paintings, statues, and antiquities, for considerable sums, and have them brought over to England, to ornament their London residences and their country-seats. In my opinion, those who send these sums to Italy, would do better to apply at least a part of them, as an encouragement for their own countrymen, who discover a genius for the fine arts, 187 instead of giving so much money to Italian painters, who, besides, impose too frequently upon the ignorant, by selling copies only instead of originals. No man can justly be considered as an enlightened patriot, or a patron of the polite arts, who merely purchases the celebrated works of foreign artists, without giving himself any trouble to encourage the production of similar works in his own country.
I have had frequently occasion to observe, that some of the owners of such works of art, appear to enjoy the possession of them without much liberality of mind, and with little inclination to communicate the pleasure which they may afford to others. Many town-residences and country-seats of noblemen, and persons of opulence, are by no means inferior to those the Romans; where, according to Juvenal’s description,
. . . Cum Parrhasii tabulis signisque Myronis
Phidiacum vivebat ebur, nee non Polycleti
Multus ubique labor.
But it seems as if the owners of such costly things, which belong to luxury and splendor, thought themselves perfectly happy, merely 188 because they can say that they are the possessors of them. In France and Italy, the rich, to whom some scarce and valuable monuments of the arts belong, seem rather obliged to him who thinks it worth his while to come to see, and to admire them; but, in England, he is sometimes given to understand, that he lies under a kind of obligation to the master of the house, if he permits him to see it, and to reward the servant, who shewed him about, with a crown, or half a guinea. It seems to be a characteristical part of this class of Englishmen, to gratify their pride and vain self-love in this point, and to value themselves merely, because they have things which others have not, and which are costly; though it is frequently no concern of theirs, whether they have an intrinsic value or not. Hence it arises, that England, in some respects, may be considered as a kind of lumber-room, where the refuse of the fine arts among the Italians, French, and Flemings, is collected and sold for high prices. Many of those in London, who, as auctioneers, with the hammer in their hand, offer pictures at public sales, assume the character of perfect judges of their value, of their beauty, and of the masters, as if they were possessed of the greatest knowledge, and the most exquisite 189 taste in things relating to the arts. Their judgments, however, and their decisions, which would often make a true connoisseur smile, are received like oracles, by those who have their money ready for the purchase. Thus many old pictures covered with smoke, and many that are executed by obscure artists, are sold for pieces of Rubens; and many opulent dilettanti are enabled to enrich their collections with the works of a Raphael, a Carache, a Titian, a Poussin, and others, merely because it has pleased the auctioneer to father inferior productions upon these great artists, and thereby to disgrace their celebrated names. I have seen pictures among the collections of noble lords and others, which, as I was told, had cost four or five hundred guineas, though men who are well acquainted with the true value of such things, have assured me, that they were not worth half the money. Some English painters, it is said, turn this singular and frequently very ill-founded predilection of their countrymen for foreign paintings, to their own advantage. They send, unknown, some of their works to the continent, and have them as foreign productions re-imported; they enter them at the custom-house as such, and pay the duties, 190 which are rather high. Notwithstanding all these expences, they sell them afterwards at a much higher price than what they would have fetched, if it had been known that they were the works of English artists.
I shall now speak more particularly and distinctly on those arts, which are generally called polite, after having first said a few words on a society erected to promote them, under the name of a Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, which was instituted in the year 1754. Some patriots, and promoters of what is good and useful, united together, to raise voluntary contributions among themselves, to give rewards to those that exerted themselves in useful inventions and improvements, relating to the fine arts, to manufactures, and commerce. It might have been expected, that a society, whose views were so noble, and whose generosity in rewarding was so beneficial to the state, would have been taken under the fostering protection of government, and been supported to the utmost; but no such thing happened. It was from the liberality of private persons; it was the good genius of Great Britain, by whom all this was done for the benefit of the public and the honour of the 191 nation; nay, of all mankind. It could never be too much regretted, if this society should ever cease for want of support. With an income, of perhaps, 4000l. it has done an infinite deal of good. Many young rising geniusses in the art of painting, statuary, and architecture, have met with encouragement from this society; and it has also rendered great services to agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. And if so much good could be done with so small a sum, raised by a few patriots, how much more might have been expected, if government had supported them? If assistance had been afforded by the parliament, which, within a century, has voted more than five hundred millions of money out of the people’s pockets, perhaps, not always for the benefit and happiness of the nation?
The number of the members of this society is uncertain, since some die, others are struck off from the list, when they do not pay their subscription, and others are new chosen. Hence it is, that the yearly revenues of the society are unequal. A few years ago it was apprehended, that these times of luxury and dissipation, when patriotism is rather sickly, had thrown it into a decline; but I am happy to 192 say, that it has recovered itself, and is at present in a flourishing situation2.
If this society, the usefulness of which is undeniable, should have the proper influence upon the nation, it would be necessary, in order to render it more extensively beneficial, to institute another society, which should offer premiums to those who would adopt the useful inventions and improvements made known by the former society, and put them into practice in common life. There are not wanting hardly in any country, wise and patriotic men, who wish to improve the arts, and to lessen labour, and the burdens of life; but it really requires oftentimes more skill to persuade people, and the bulk of mankind, who are ignorant and self-conceited, to adopt useful inventions and improvements, than to invent them. I have seen in the house of the Society a large chamber, containing models for machines and tools to make labour easy, and to save time and trouble; but how much is it to be lamented, that most of them are confined to this room, when they should be met with in the fields, in the habitations of the industrious poor, and in the 193 workshops of artisans. Nay, even many of those who should be wiser, and whose duty it is to promote, by their authority, useful inventions and rational improvements, because they are paid for it by the state, decline rendering this service to the public, either from ignorance, or from indolence. The Society has a house in the Adelphi-Buildings, where the members meet every Wednesday, at five o’clock in the evening, from the fourth Wednesday in October to the first Wednesday in June. The erection of this house cost the Society four thousand pounds, and it was expected that government would have defrayed the expences; but no such thing has happened. In the house are, besides other apartments, an elegant room where the meetings of the Society are held, and the large chamber mentioned before, where numbers of models of various kinds are kept. The great room is ornamented with a series of historical and allegorical paintings, executed, in a most masterly style, by Mr. James Barry. In one of the lesser rooms I have seen a collection of books, which, however, on account of its smallness, can hardly be called a library. The Society has published seven volumes of its Transactions.194
I shall only mention, that in other parts of the kingdom attempts have been made to promote the arts. Thus, for instance, there was instituted at Liverpool, in the year 1773, a Society for the Encouragement of Designing, Drawing, and Painting, &c. but I have not heard that it has met with great success.
1 A Review of the polite Arts in France, compared with their present State in England; in a Letter to Sir Joshua Reynolds, by Valentine Green, London, 1782, 4to.
2 Here follows, in the German original, a more circumstantial account of this society, which, being well known in this country, is here omitted.
I have already mentioned, in another place, that eminent painters . . . have offered to ornament the cathedral of St. Paul
[On page 348 of Volume I, as part of the description of London.]
singers, castratos, dancers, and musicians
[I am fascinated by the implication that singers and castrati are two different, mutually exclusive groups.]
by no means inferior to those of the Romans
text has those of / of the at line break
a Raphael, a Carache, a Titian, a Poussin
[Query: Who the heck was Poussin? Answer: French baroque painter. “Carache” looks like the French spelling of Carracci. We will not ask whether he means brothers Annibale and Agostino, or their cousin Ludovico, all of whom were rough contemporaries of Poussin. Tantalizingly, the German list is Raphael, Guido, Carache, Titian, Poussin. Guido—Reni, perhaps—must have fallen precipitously out of fashion before 1791.]
Some English painters . . . turn this singular and frequently very ill-founded predilection of their countrymen for foreign paintings, to their own advantage.
[In future centuries, winemakers in both California and Australia would resort to a similar ploy.]
Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce
[Now the Royal Society for et cetera, RSA for short. (The Society’s royal charter dates back to 1847, although the “Royal” name had to wait until 1908.)]
IT is but of late, that England has possessed painters of eminence who were natives of the country. Formerly the painters in England of any celebrity, were mostly foreigners. Vertue’s Anecdotes of Painting, published by Mr. Horace Walpole, will sufficiently evince this assertion. The abbé Winckelman, however, if he had written his History of the Arts among the Ancients, at the present time, would not have dared to assert, that England had not produced one single painter of celebrity1, since a Reynolds, a West, a Gainsborough, and many others, have done great credit and honour to their profession. There are, perhaps, some who will agree with him, when he says, that all the descriptions in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the love scenes of the first pair in paradise only excepted, are like well painted Gorgons, which bear a resemblance to each other, and are always equally frightful. But this certainly is not owing, as Winckelman supposes, to the 196 climate of England. Thomson, who was born much more northerly than Milton, has, in his celebrated poem, The Seasons, such picturesque descriptions, as would furnish subjects for the most pleasing pictures. And how many other English poets might be mentioned, whose powers of imagination have drawn the most beautiful scenes, in which the skill of able painters might be successfully employed. Among the inhabitants of England, numbers of handsome men and women are to be met with, the country is full of fine prospects, and romantic views; why then should it be impossible for the Britons to arrive at a high degree of eminence in painting? Who knows, but that future ages may give to England painters, perhaps, not inferior to those of which Greece or Italy can boast? If the climate did inspire, why have not the modern Greeks a Zeuxis, an Apelles, a Protogenes, an Apollodorus? Why is there nobody among them, who can use the chisel like a Phidias, a Praxiteles, a Polycletes? The climate is still the same, and yet no such artists now appear.
During the present reign, the arts of painting, sculpture, engraving, and architecture, have certainly risen to a considerable height. This, in no small degree, is owing to the Royal 197 Academy, which was instituted in the year 1769. Some artists, painters, and statuaries, who had instituted a society before, may be considered as the origin and foundation of this royal academy.
It exhibits the new productions of its members and associates every year, in the month of May. The exhibition rooms in Somerset-place, are at that time often so crowded with gentlemen and ladies, with pretended connoisseurs and supercilious critics, who all come to stare at the pictures that, in the middle of the day some ladies are ready to faint, on account of the heat of the rooms, and the powerful perfumes of the odoriferous company with which they are filled.
Whoever pays a shilling at the entrance, may go in, and is, besides, furnished with a catalogue of the exhibition. This catalogue not only informs him of the artists who have executed every production he sees before him, but also that a portrait, which attracts his attention, and of which he wants to know a little more, is that of a gentleman and not of a lady; or he is told, that the animals which he sees painted before him, are horses or dogs; or that such a picture is intended for a landscape, and not for a sea-piece. I own, I have often wondered, 198 why the composers of such catalogues do not gratify the curiosity of the spectators, in regard to portraits, by adding the name of those for whom they are intended, particularly since they may easily be learnt from the newspaper criticisms. Besides, though many a portrait is exhibited by the desire of the painter, which was granted by its owner, with a view to do him service; yet it may well be supposed, that a great number of those who have their portraits drawn, and suffer them to be exposed to public view, do it from a motive of vanity, and that it therefore would gratify their little pride, if the public were informed, that it was their effigy.
Those who want to see the exhibition of the principal paintings must not grudge the trouble of ascending two very high pair of stairs, before they reach the principal rooms. It excites, indeed, a little wonder, why it has not been contrived, to have this exhibition in a room not so high, with a dome or a sky-light, that the curious and the friends of the art, might satisfy their wishes for a pleasing sight, without being in the same predicament with those, who want to see a fine prospect, and are obliged first to mount, at the expence of their lungs, a lofty tower, or a high mountain. Those who want 199 to observe the heavens and the stars, in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, remain on the ground; but, whoever wishes to contemplate the works of art among mortal men, is to ascend till he becomes breathless, as if they were only to be seen in a higher atmosphere. During the time of such annual exhibition, the London newspapers teem with criticisms upon the works of the painters. Some are just, and to the purpose, others are the production of ignorance, and not unfrequently of malice and of envy.
Before the academy had any apartments of their own, and were obliged to hire rooms for their exhibitions, nobody found fault that a shilling was demanded on entering them; but when those in Somerset-place were opened for the first time, and money was demanded, a great clamour was raised against it, and the public papers were very free and very severe in their censure. It was said to be a disgrace to the nation, and a dishonour to an academy which was called royal; the noise, however, soon subsided. And, indeed, there is no other, nor any better method, to keep the crowd of the populace out of the rooms, which, notwithstanding money is to be paid, are generally, in the middle of the day, very full. It is said, that in some years, 200 during the month of the exhibition, three thousand pounds have been collected by single shillings. By means of this money, a fund is established for the benefit of the society, to pay the professors, officers, and menial servants belonging to the academy, and to procure the necessary models, books, and prints, for the benefit of the pupils. In fact, therefore, the pockets of the people, as in a hundred other instances, are the support of the Royal Academy, of which foreigners, on account of its denomination, generally think that it is merely royal munificence which gave it existence, and which keeps it in being. Out of this same fund, some young English painters, as it is said, are supported in Italy, to render themselves there more perfect in their profession. I will not omit to mention, that paintings, which are presented to the public view in the exhibitions of the Royal Academy, are generally, if they are thought to be interesting, or if they acquire some applause, engraved, and thus multiplied.
The academy consists of forty members, who are called Royal Academicians. Painters, sculptors, and architects, are all comprehended under this denomination. Among these members are four royal professors, one 201 for painting, one for anatomy, one for architecture, and one for perspective. A professor has no more than thirty pounds salary; but it ought to be remembered, that he is to read only six lectures for the benefit of the pupils, during the winter. Besides the royal academicians, there are associates and honorary members. These latter, now and then, expose their works before the public in the annual exhibitions. Their number is undetermined.
As the English are very fond of having their pictures drawn, it is no wonder that portraits constitute the greater part in the exhibitions of the Royal Academy, and that those painters are the most successful, and gain most money, who have acquired the fame of drawing good and pleasing likenesses. Sir Godfrey Kneller soon grew rich, and when he died, he left five hundred portraits unfinished behind, for which he had received, before-hand, half the price. When Vanloo came into England, and acquired some fame, as many coaches used to wait at his door, as perhaps were seen on court-days at St. James’s. He likewise soon acquired a fortune. Formerly the price of a full-length portrait was twenty or thirty guineas; at present, eminent painters are paid an hundred and more. The fate of such portraits is oftentimes 202 doleful. They are as transitory, and as mortal as the persons whom they are to represent, and to whom they were expected to procure a kind of immortality. The pictures of a couple, which were drawn most charmingly, just before the wedding-day, and were paid for with fifty or sixty guineas, wander frequently, a few years after the gentleman and lady are dead, into the lumber-room, up into the garret; if the nephews, or heirs, do not even dispose of them very cheap to a broker, in whose shop they remain a good while before he sells them for a few shillings profit. I am apprehensive, that many of those portraits, which have been very dearly paid for, and which I have seen in the exhibitions of the Royal Academy, will have met with the same fate, before half the next century is elapsed, though they have been admired, and came from the hands of artists, who now are called eminent. Pope, when he flattered his friend Jarvis with long duration of his portraits, and prophesied him,
Bloom in his colours for a thousand years,
did not expect that the painter and his portraits would be so soon forgotten, and their value so much lowered, within forty years after his death.203
Sir James Thornhill was a painter whom the English justly esteem, though the abbé le Blanc says2, “that nature had refused him genius, and that a connoisseur would be puzzled to decide, not in what part the painter excelled, but what it was in which he was least faulty.” The abbé pays in the same breath but a very indifferent compliment to the English, when he says of sir Godfrey Kneller, that this German shewed his judgment in choosing England for his place to exercise his talents in, it being the only country where he could possibly gain so much credit and honour; for no where else would the name of a painter have been bestowed upon him. However, though the abbé speaks much truth in many parts of his letters, yet his decisions are not greatly to be depended upon, when the liveliness of his temper gets the better of him, and when his partiality for his own country biasses his judgment in favour of the French. Sir James Thornhill has undoubtedly merit, though it seems to be acknowledged, that before the American Mr. West, England had nobody who could be styled an eminent historical painter. Comparing the price of the labour of portrait-painters, such as Kneller and Vanloo, with that 204 which was paid to Thornhill, it did, indeed, reflect no great honour upon the English at that time, that they rewarded so indifferently the merits of their own countryman. He received only two pounds sterling for a square foot, when he painted the dome of St. Paul. Hogarth, who married his only daughter, against the consent of her father, was certainly an original, and a master in his art of drawing caricatures, which he himself used likewise to engrave. Le Blanc acknowledges, that he was a man of genius in his way, but he will not pronounce him to be a painter. Since Hogarth’s time, of whom the English have reason to be proud, the taste for caricatures in England has increased amazingly; probably because it gratifies to a high degree that turn for satire, which is prevalent among the generality of the nation, and which delights more in that which is overdone, than in that which shews refinement, pointed delicacy, and real wit.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who is at the head of the Royal Academy, and their president, must be pronounced to be the first painter in England at present, and at the same time the greatest in his art, which this island ever produced. Mr. Horace Walpole is of opinion, that Italy has not at present any painter, who can pretend to 205 rival an imagination so fertile, and that the attitudes of his portraits are as various as those of history. Indeed, freedom and boldness seem to be the two principal characteristics of sir Joshua’s pictures. Horace, when he compares poetry and painting, says of the latter, that some please more on standing near, and others on keeping a longer distance,
. . . Erit, quæ, si stes,
Te capiet magis; et quædam, si longius abstes.
The latter ought to be said of sir Joshua. As to his colouring, much has been advanced against it, and as it is so little durable, a person might be inclined to think, that the painter did not care whether his paintings came down to posterity or not. However, the engraving of his works, will, in prints, preserve the merit of them.
Mr. West’s colouring is very superior to that of the president, and he is, undoubtedly, the ablest historical painter at present in England, though by birth an American. It is this branch of painting to which his genius seems wholly to lead him; and it is much to his credit that he has laid aside portrait-painting, to follow the bent of his talents, and that he sacrifices to history only, when the 206 former, perhaps, would be more conducive to his interest.
Mr. Gainsborough3 is justly esteemed an excellent landscape painter, and as one whose portraits bear the strongest likenesses. I am inclined to think, that some of his paintings will be much sought after, and, perhaps, in time, fetch, in proportion, a higher price, when they pass down to posterity, than any of his contemporaries.
Mr. Barry, the professor of painting to the Royal Academy, is a painter of decided merit. It was he who executed in so masterly a style, that series of pictures in the great room of the society of arts which I before mentioned. His residence in Italy has been of great advantage to him, in regard to his profession, and he has made himself known as an ingenious writer, relative to the state of the arts in England4.
I could add to these few, many more respectable names of painters, now living on this island, who are well and deservedly known in their profession; but it is not my intention to give a list of them. Besides, as formerly Tillemans, 207 Monami, Watteau, Arland, Dahl, Zincke, and many others, who excelled in the art of painting in England, were foreigners, so it is the same at present. Zoffani, Loutherbourg, Rigaud, Cipriani, Angelica Kauffman5, and many more, are foreigners, who, therefore, cannot come under the description of English artists. Neither do I intend to insert here a catalogue of the principal works of the present English painters. Their number is not great; and Mr. Green, in his Letter to Sir Joshua Reynolds, which I have before quoted, says, “6It is with no pleasure that I enter into a recapitulation of the labours of the English school, as they are known to be so few; it is the less pleasant, when I am not impowered to hold them all forth as instances of national patronage.” He likewise complains bitterly, that the Houghton collection of pictures was left to be bought by the empress of Russia for forty-two thousand pounds; and he asserts, “that the omission of seizing the opportunity of buying the whole of that capital collection, and depositing them in the principal apartments of the new buildings in Somerset-place, was losing the only opportunity 208 which England ever had of forming a school of the art that could yield the consequence, and the uses such an establishment ought to possess, whereby its students might be benefited, and the institution become truly respectable.” Indeed, if this was the only opportunity which could ever occur, it is much to be lamented, that it was lost either by neglect or by oversight.
The limits which I have prescribed to myself in composing this work, prevent me from being circumstantial in relating the state of the various branches of painting. Miniature is still in good repute, and many pretty pictures of this kind, are to be seen in the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy. Zincke from Dresden, who distinguished himself so much in enamel painting in England, and who died in 1767, is said not hitherto to have been excelled. Mr. Hurter, who is certainly very great in this branch of painting, and outdoes Zincke by far in the size of his enamel pictures, came over to England, not many years ago; but, I am sorry to say, he did not meet with that encouragement he expected, and to which he thought himself intitled.
As the English are very fond of painted windows, 209 so they have of late years bestowed much pains on this kind of painting. I have before mentioned, in speaking of the English universities, that some colleges have been lately ornamented with this sort of painting, executed in a new stile, which is by some highly admired; while others have thought the taste for this kind of painting rather whimsical, and neither so beautiful, nor so striking, as it is thought to be by its admirers.
Drawing and painting in water-colours are very common in England. Many persons do it for their amusement, others procure themselves a subsistence by it. There are numbers of drawing masters in London, who either give lessons, or keep schools for instruction, where young people may be taught, at a very moderate expence.
Whether a late invention, by which pictures are said to be copied in oil colours, by a chemical and mechanical process, be really such, and of that importance which is given out, it is impossible for me to decide, since the method by which the copying is performed, is kept a great mystery. It seems not hitherto to have met with that success, and that encouragement, which it would deserve, if the invention were 210 really such, as it is said to be by those who are in the secret.
There have been many instances in England, wherein painters, either on account of their real, or pretended merit, have been raised to the honour of knighthood.
1 Vol. i. p. 29. German edit.
2 Letters on the English and French Nations, vol. i. let. xxiii.
3 Since dead.
4 An Enquiry into the real and imaginary Obstructions to the Acquisition of the Arts in England. London 1775, 8vo.
5 She has left England since.
6 Page 46.
the Royal Academy, which was instituted in the year 1769
[December 1768, in fact. (Publishers often used the same trick when dating books, to make them seem even more recent.)]
a portrait, which attracts his attention, and of which he wants to know a little more, is that of a gentleman and not of a lady
[This seems to have been a pervasive problem in the early years. The Preface to Algernon Graves’s eight-volume directory of Royal Academy exhibits (through 1904) helpfully notes:
When the early catalogues before 1797 give only such descriptions as “Portrait of a lady” or “Portrait of a gentleman,” and a name is added in italics, this name has been discovered by me as the result of research through innumerable sources during the last thirty years ]
Sir Godfrey Kneller soon grew rich, and when he died, he left five hundred portraits unfinished behind
[The Tate gives the same “five hundred” figure; other sources say more cautiously “perhaps hundreds”.]
Erit, quæ, si propius stes
text has proprius
[Ars Poetica, lines 361-62:
ut pictura poesis; erit quae, si propius stes,
te capiat magis, et quaedam, si longius abstes;
The choice between “capiat” and “capiet” can be passed off as alternative readings, but “proprius” is obviously nonsense.]
I am inclined to think, that some of [Gainsborough’s] paintings will . . . fetch, in proportion, a higher price
[Cursory research tells me that the auction record for Gainsborough (d. 1788) is something over $10 million US, while for Reynolds (d. 1792) it is closer to $15 million.]
Mr. Hurter . . . outdoes Zincke by far in the size of his enamel pictures
[Is it just me or . . . is this an odd point to make when talking specifically about miniature painting?]
[Footnote] Page 46.
[Of the Letter to Reynolds, not of the present book. The full citation is in Footnote 1 to “On the State of Arts”.]
THIS art is so nearly related to that painting, that I cannot help mentioning it here in immediate connexion with it. It is that which multiplies the works of painters, makes them more common, and gives them a kind of immortality. It is to be regretted, that this art, of which the Germans justly claim the first invention, was not discovered till about the middle of the fifteenth century; or else, how many representations of master pieces of antiquity, by celebrated painters, statuaries, and architects, which were single originals, and now long ago destroyed by all-devouring time, might have gone down to the latest posterity! The English were formerly very much behind in this art; but they have in later years greatly raised their reputation in it, though it must be owned that the principal artists are foreigners, or of foreign extraction. To prove this, I need only mention the names of Bartolozzi, Ravenet, Grignion, and others. The English, however, have many of their own, who do honour to this 212 art, and to their own names. I could give a catalogue of no inconsiderable length, if it were consistent with the limits which I have prescribed to myself in this work. Ryland, who by applying his ingenuity and his art to criminal purposes made his exit at Tyburn, was certainly very eminent in his profession. A Strange, a Sherwin, a Collier, a Heath, a Taylor, are undoubtedly engravers of merit, as are some others. The English have likewise excelled in what is called mezzotinto, united with etchings; but, as it is said, formerly more so than at present.
French prints have been thought superior in execution to the English; but the period, perhaps, is not far distant, when they will be equal, if not even have the preference. The trade which is carried on with English prints is very considerable, and begins, as I have already mentioned in another place1, to make a branch of commerce of no small importance. That the number of those who earn a subsistence by being employed in the art of engraving, consists not of a few, may easily be guessed from the number of prints and engravings which appear, either singly, or added to books and new publications. Authors, who wish to illustrate and to adorn their works with maps or engravings; 213 booksellers, who want to promote the sale of their new publications by copper plates; publishers of monthly magazines, together with the maps and printsellers, procure many an engraver a livelihood. Though capital engravers receive high prices for their labours; yet, the greater part in the profession are paid but very moderately; and it appears to me sometimes inexplicable, how some books and magazines, embellished with copper-plates, can be sold at so small a price as they really are. Some prints which are now and then to be met with in them are, indeed, elegantly executed, and do honour to the artists from whose hands they came; others are abominable.
Among the many countries, which lay out considerable sums in buying English prints, Germany is not the last. I know, from very good intelligence, that quantities of them are sent from hence, and that some of our rich dilettanti will pay oftentimes for an English print, three times the money which it costs in London, when they are told that it is scarce, or one of the first impressions; though, perhaps, the one is as improbable as the other. Caricature prints go likewise in great quantities over to Germany, and from thence to the adjacent countries. This is the more singular and ridiculous, as very few of those who pay dearly for them, know 214 any thing of the characters and transactions which occasioned such caricatures. They laugh at them, and become merry, though they are entirely unacquainted with the persons, the manners, and the customs which are ridiculed. The wit and the satire of such prints, being generally both local, are entirely lost upon them.
A foreigner will frequently meet in England with collections of fine prints, elegantly framed to ornament rooms; and, though this may be reckoned among the luxuries of life, yet I think a well-wisher to the arts will not be very rigorous in judging of such an expence, even when he views it in a moral light2. It is true, this noble art of engraving, is, in many respects, much abused for very immoral representations; and prints of this kind are in abundance. The art of painting has been always liable to the same reproaches; but as prints from copper-plates are easily multiplied, and spread rapidly, they may of course do more mischief; for, comparatively speaking, paintings of that sort come only under 215 the eye of a few. Besides as I have observed in another place, the police, in London, is so neglectful, that it suffers prints to be publicly exposed at the windows of printshops, which may put modesty to a blush, and virtue out of countenance. But it is with engraving, as it is with the liberty of the press. The abuses in both are great, but the advantages far greater. Many excellent paintings are by means of this art preserved from being lost or destroyed by time, by fire or by any other accident; many portraits of eminent men are transmitted down to a late posterity; many views of distant towns, of prospects in remote countries, of scenes in life, of memorable events, are brought before the eye of a spectator, without his being at the expence and the trouble of travelling; much knowledge is communicated to the lovers of science, of arts, of antiquity, of curiosities, of travelling, by means of prints, of maps, of engraved drawings, by which books are embellished and made useful. Indeed, the ancients would be astonished, if they could be made acquainted with our modern improvements in regard to arts and sciences; they would become envious on account of the many advantages which we have over them. I often cannot help thinking, how an ancient sage would stare, if 216 he were introduced into the study of one in our time, seeing him read with spectacles, in printed books, adorned with copper-plates and maps; things altogether unknown to antiquity.
As the art of engraving is so valuable, and as it begins to be of consequence to English commerce and fame for arts, I wonder that artists who excel in it, are excluded from being members of the Royal Academy. I cannot discover any reason for an exclusion, except the painters compare themselves to original authors, and regard the engravers only as their printers. But I own, that a good engraver, in my opinion, is far superior to a middling painter. If engravers of real merit were received as a class of artists in the Royal Academy, there is no doubt but that it would excite emulation for the benefit of the art.
It deserves mentioning that the English laws have secured, by act of parliament, to the engraver, the works of his skill and industry, in the same manner as they have secured to an author the profits of his pen and his labours. For this reason the words published as the act directs, or according to act of parliament, are frequently seen under prints. In some of our German Journals, which give an account of new publications relative to the fine arts, with an air of 217 great sagacity and pretended knowledge, I have seen these words frequently translated, as if their meaning was, that such prints were published by the express order of parliament, and therefore had an additional value.
The engraving of seals, and of other works in steel and in precious stones, has been carried from time to time to a greater degree of perfection. Christian Reisen, a Norwegian by birth, raised the art of engraving seals very much in England. As to medals, the English have produced no great artists in this branch of engraving, and whatever of this kind is of note has been done by foreigners. Dassier was a native of Geneva, and Tanner, together with Natter, were both Germans. They resided for some time in England, but meeting with no encouragement, they went abroad again, where they died.
2 One collection of capital prints and paintings, in London, is, at present, that of alderman Boydel, which is well worth seeing. The access to it is not very difficult, as the owner is an obliging and worthy gentleman, who is pleased when strangers and foreigners come to view it.
THIS art is so nearly related to that of painting
text has that ot
the greater part in the profession are paid but very moderately
[We met one of them in Orley Farm:
the daughter of an engraver,—not of an artist who receives four or five thousand pounds for engraving the chef-d’œuvre of a modern painter,—but of a man who executed flourishes on ornamental cards for tradespeople, and assisted in the illustration of circus playbills. ]
the police, in London, is so neglectful
[This is not the first time, and will not be the last, that our author betrays the curious belief that the police, on their own initiative, should decide what is decent and lawful. (It is also not the first time he has said “the police is”. Call it a calque, since Polizei would appear to be grammatically singular.)]
I wonder that artists who excel in it, are excluded from being members of the Royal Academy
[In Wendeborn’s time, most engravers who made it into the Academy were also painters or architects; engravers as such had to make do with the title Associate Engraver. The title of Academician Engraver was not created until 1853. Even then, engravers were capped at four (two Academicians, two Associates).]
Christian Reisen, a Norwegian by birth
[Charles Christian Reisen (1679?-1725) was in fact born in London. His father—also Christian Reisen—emigrated from Norway in 1664. (Sources seem to have trouble with this family. Some say the son was born in 1680, making his 1679 baptism a bit premature, while at least one reputable source says the father was born in 1664.)]
BEFORE Rysbrack a Fleming, and Roubillac a Frenchman, raised this art in England to some dignity, it was but little regarded. Le Blanc, who in his Letters frequently assumes the air of a great connoisseur, though it is said that he in fact was none, speaks of Rysbrack in a very contemptuous manner1. Of Cibber, whom I have already mentioned in another place, he says, that he does not deserve to be ranked among the most ordinary sculptors, though the English took him to be a second Praxiteles. Rysbrack, among many other works, executed Newton’s monument in Westminster-abbey, which, as I have mentioned in another place, was erected neither by the desire, nor at the expence of the public, but by Mr. Conduit, who married Newton’s niece. Before Rysbrack got into repute, he was employed by Gibbs the architect, who, as Mr. 219 Walpole relates, paid to the Flemish artist, only five and thirty guineas for works that he had finished, out of an hundred which he had taken himself. Rysbrack, however, soon got rid of this kind of oppression, and acquired by his works great fame and emolument. Roubillac, who left so many fine pieces of statuary behind him, and Scheemacker, who executed Shakespeare’s monument in Westminster-abbey, were his contemporaries and his rivals.
This abbey is still the principal theatre of sculpture in England, and it was Rysbrack who introduced there a better taste, than that which had prevailed before. Busts and bas-reliefs became the fashion, which latter have received an addition from scenical representations. These, if the monuments are low, suffer much by the hands of the populace and children. Thus many a genius on Newton’s monument has lost a limb, or is else disfigured; and the monument for major André, who was executed as a spy by the Americans, had been opened only a few months to public view, when one of the principal figures had already lost its head, and the work was otherwise damaged. In the abbey, room for monuments begins to be wanting, whilst the walls of St. Paul’s cathedral 220 remain bare; for, as I have observed in another place, many are interred here, and monuments erected to preserve their memory, who never had any just claim to such an honour. A grave in any church-yard, and a common tomb-stone might have been quite sufficient for them, without crowding the tombs and the walls of the abbey, so as to puzzle the grave-diggers, in finding room without disturbing the ashes of others, and to force the sculptor to confine his art in a dark corner, or within a small space of the wall, or on the side of a window.
There are sculptors and statuaries enough in England, and particularly in London; but their merits, in respect to their art, are generally not very great, though a person that perambulates London, may, perhaps, meet with a yard in which the sculptor has displayed his works, and where the passenger is entertained by a collection of gods, men, and beasts, to whom the art, such as it is, has given an inanimate existence. Carlini, by birth an Italian, who worked some time for the late king of Prussia at Sans Souci, but has resided above twenty years in England, Nollekens, Wilton, Bacon, and Moore, are, perhaps, at 221 present, the principal artists who do credit to the art of sculpture in England.
I may place under this article the works of that art which goes under the technical name of Plastick. In this respect, the skill of the English, in founding statues and figures from any kind of metal, is said not yet to have arrived at any great perfection; but their works of ornament, in what is called papier maché, and those carved in wood, are in general exceedingly good. The earthen ware, the compositions, and the imitations of works of antiquity, of a Wedgwood and Bentley, exceed every thing in its kind; they are well known abroad, and admired by the curious. A well drawn up catalogue, of cameos, intaglios, medals, and bas-reliefs, with a general account of vases and other ornaments, after the antique, made by Wedgwood and Bentley, and sold at their warehouse in London, has been published many years ago; and I cannot but advise a curious and inquisitive stranger, or foreigner, not to neglect going to see these elegant productions of a manufactory, which, hitherto, in its kind, has not its equal. The collection of cameos and intaglios made and sold by Tassie, in Leicester-fields, deserves likewise the attention of a lover of the arts. 222 His impressions, which are said to amount to nearly fourteen thousand, are made, from the originals, in so neat a stile, that the very glass composition in which they are taken, is stained in such a manner, that it resembles the colour of the originals.
1 Vol. i. let. xxiii.
INIGO Jones, and after him sir Christopher Wren, have corrected the taste of the English in regard to architecture. They endeavoured to introduce the chaste and good taste of the Greeks of old, from whom it came into Italy and some other countries; but they found that this was a difficult undertaking. Sir Christopher experienced many disagreeable things, which originated in a propensity to a bad taste in architecture, then prevailing among his countrymen. Of Vanburgh, who after sir Christopher excited most attention, it is said, he built without taste, and that his erections are very heavy. For this reason a wit made that well known monumental inscription for him, in which he calls on the earth to lie heavy on him1. It seems, however, as if justice were not done altogether to Vanburgh’s talents. James Gibbs was a celebrated architect among the English; but it is said of him likewise, that most of his erections are tasteless, and have nothing either attractive or 224 pleasing. The Radcliffe-library at Oxford, and St. Martin’s church at Westminster, are among his works. The two earls of Pembroke and Burlington patronized the arts in general, and architecture in particular. About thirty or forty years ago, a kind of rage for Chinese architecture broke out, which was frequently joined to a Gothic taste. Luckily, this folly, together with that of furnishing houses in the Chinese way, has subsided.
There are here and there many good modern buildings to be met with in London; but they are too often hid between other houses, or in a place where they do not present themselves to the eye to any advantage. The Adelphi buildings, in Durham-yard, were erected not many years ago, and cried up as the finest monuments of modern architecture; but the tone has since been much lowered.
The principal architects in England, at present, are reckoned to be sir William Chambers, Wyat, Stuart, Payne, Sandby, Dawkins, and the two Adams. Westminster-Bridge is one of the finest pieces of architecture in its kind; but, as I have observed already in another place, it is the work of Labelye, a Swiss, who died in the year 1763, at Paris.225
Many foreigners, on visiting this island, have found fault with the English taste in architecture, and, perhaps, not always without reason; but there are certainly many public as well as private buildings, which always deserve the admiration and the esteem of any one who is unprejudiced, and who knows something of the architectonical art. Though, perhaps, the mansion of the lord-mayor is a building which does no great credit to its architect, yet there are close by, the Royal-Exchange, and still nearer, St. Stephen’s church, which cannot but give satisfaction even to a connoisseur. St. Paul’s cathedral, notwithstanding it is said to be an imitation of St. Peter’s at Rome, upon a smaller scale, in which the proportion is neglected, will, nevertheless, always be esteemed a noble piece of architecture. It were to be wished only, that the avenues were constructed in conformity to the plan proposed by sir Christopher Wren, for the rebuilding of London, after the great fire.
Among the fine country-seats of the nobility and the wealthy, which are scattered over the whole kingdom, many are to be met with, which shew a good taste, and are very convenient and splendid. There are, besides the 226 Vitruvius Britannicus, many modern books with neat engravings, on which the principal country-seats, and other buildings, which are worth seeing in England, are represented. Such country-seats are generally furnished in a splendid and costly style; they are kept not only within, but even in their avenues, extremely neat and clean. Some French authors have preferred, in their writings, the chateaux and villas of their country to those in England; but I confess, that I am of a contrary opinion. As to the neatness, cleanliness, and elegance of such rural seats, no one who has seen both those in England and in France, will hesitate to give the preference to the former. The parks, the gardens, the lawns which adorn them, and which so carefully, and I may say expensively, are kept in order, give them even at first sight, a superiority and preference to those in France. It is but a few years since I traversed, during the summer months, France from Calais as far as Lyons, and from thence into Switzerland. I then had an opportunity of seeing many of their chateaux and villas, both within-side and without; but, unprejudiced as I am, I confess that those which I saw in France were not comparable to those of the same kind 227 in England. I could draw, in this respect, many comparisons, if the limits which I have prescribed to myself would admit of it.
The modern way of building dwelling-houses in England for the middling class of people, differs very much from that which prevailed fifty years ago. The present is by no means very durable; but more neat and convenient than formerly. There is much uniformity in the plans, upon which the generality of houses at present are constructed. The materials, which are used for building, particularly the bricks, are commonly very indifferent; but the houses are only erected for a certain number of years, which they commonly last, and perhaps, a good while longer. Most of the modern country-seats and villas are magnificent and splendid erections, which indicate pomp and luxury; but many of them, it is said, do not contain that old English hospitality and simplicity of manners, which are reported in former times to have been so conspicuous in England. The old mansion-houses in the country, if they are not pulled down and new ones erected in their place, are now let out for boarding-schools, or for other purposes. There is something venerable in these old country-seats, and when I have had opportunities of seeing, or of being 228 in them, a series of pleasing reflexions has presented itself to the mind. Indeed, many of them will lead to contemplations similar to those which occurred to Seneca, when he wrote his eighty-sixth epistle to Lucilius, at Liternum, on the spot where Scipio Africanus the Elder concluded his days. The reflexions contained in that letter are very applicable to our modern times; and though the Sybarites of the age may think the epistle rather an insipid one, yet it contains much sound reasoning, and shews, that the turns which manners, fashions, and luxury take, are in all ages, in regard to beginning, progress, and exit, the same. The contrast between the country mansion of Scipio, and those in Seneca’s time, only two hundred and thirty years after, was striking; but of Scipio’s humble farm, and of the proud and costly villas which, a few centuries afterwards, abounded in Campania and the neighbourhood of Liternum, hardly any vestiges are now to be found. On comparing the old mansions in England, with the splendid country-seats of modern times, it requires, by reasoning from analogy, no spirit of prophecy to say what will be, in the end, the fate of luxury and ostentatious pride.
Lie heavy on him earth! for he,
Laid many a heavy load on thee.
If you can read the first page of this chapter, and not hear Gilda Radner as Emily Litella demanding “What’s all this fuss about presidential erections?” . . . you’re a better man than I.
Luckily, this folly, together with that of furnishing houses in the Chinese way, has subsided.
[Written a few decades before the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton came to fruition.]
generally furnished in a splendid and costly style
[I suspect the author thinks “costly” is a close translation of kostbar or (in this case) köstlich. It really isn’t; both German words have a range of meanings, not limited to “expensive”.]
THE present taste of the English in gardening is original, and entirely their own. It is said, that among the Chinese, long ago, their gardens have been laid out in a somewhat similar, but very wild taste. So much has been written upon English gardening, that it would be very superfluous if I were to give here a circumstantial account of it. Mr. Horace Walpole, at the end of the fourth volume of his Anecdotes of Painting, to which I have already referred more than once, has given an entertaining history of this modern gardening, and of William Kent its inventor. Mr. Mason has written an excellent poem, intitled, The English Garden; and I must refer the reader, who wishes to be more instructed on this subject, to these two authors; and, indeed, there are many others whom he may consult1.230
Kent wanted to make the garden a representation of a landscape, where, in a small compass, a number of objects should present themselves to the eye, without being anxiously connected according to rules of order. It was to be a miniature picture of nature, as it is seen on the surface of the earth. His garden was to be somewhat in the taste of Faustus, the friend of Martial, of whom the poet says:
. . . . . Rure vero barbaroque lætatur.
The great principles upon which Mr. Kent went to work, were perspective, and light and shade. Besides, he was of opinion, that nature is averse to a strait line; which, however, is subject to many limitations and exceptions. According to this supposition, therefore, fountains which spout water, compressed by art, in strait lines, and cascades that make it fall perpendicularly, were to be banished from a garden. Little streams or small rivulets, which gently flow in meandering windings, through the unadorned lawn, were adopted, where it could be done, in their place. Over these rivulets considerable bridges are built; and as the roads in England are not strait, as those in France, but turn so often, that a person is to walk two miles from one place to another, which in a strait line are only one mile distant from each other, no strait 231 walks are to be suffered in a garden, which is to be a representation of the surface of the country. Notwithstanding the strict adherence to a true representation of the country, Chinese, Greek, and Roman temples in the neighbourhood of a Gothic church; a witch-house not far from St. Augustine’s cave, besides other foreign curiosities, may be seen in English gardens, to represent to those who perambulate them, and will believe it, that this is a scene of an English landscape in miniature. But to speak seriously, the English gardens, in which even the parks may be classed, are very pleasing, and have many charms. The fine gravelled winding walks, which are kept in the best order, may serve for short promenades all seasons. On one side of them frequently trees, shrubs, and fragrant flowers are planted, when on the other, an even lawn, or a smooth grass-plat, delights the eye. A variety of foreign trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers, which the English have collected from all quarters of the globe, and brought to their island, contribute greatly to the beauty of their gardens. They have with much care selected and propagated those which agree with the English climate, and can bear the open air through the 232 year; others they keep in green-houses during the severer season.
In planning and cultivating their gardens, they endeavour to assist nature, and to display its beauties, if there be any, to greater advantage. Those spots, where none are to be found, they endeavour to hide, or place them in the shade. In some I have observed, that fine prospects were aimed at, so as to surprize the wanderer with them.
Whoever wishes to acquire an idea of the beauties of English gardens, ought to see the Leasowes, Persfield, Hagley, Painshill, and Stowe; and, in the neighbourhood of London, Kew, and lord Tilney’s seat on Epping-Forest. On account of fine prospects, Richmond, and what is called near Chertsey, are worth seeing.
We have endeavoured in some parts of Germany to imitate English gardens; but they will never come to the perfection of those in England; for we want the English gravel to render the walks firm and agreeable; and we want the English climate, which, on account of its moisture, keeps the gardens, and the fields, almost the whole year round, in a constant verdure.
1 For instance, Mr. Whatley, in his Observations on modern Gardening, illustrated by Descriptions. London, 1770. 8vo.
nature is averse to a strait line
[In George Shaw’s Miscellany of roughly similar vintage, I noticed the same habit of using “strait” where today we would require the spelling “straight”.]
what is called Woodburn-Farm near Chertsey
text has Wooburn-Farm
[Corrected from Dublin edition.]
I SHALL certainly not enter into a critical disquisition of the taste of the English with regard to music. Dr. Burney has given a history of this art, and has treated the subject in a very ample and satisfactory manner. Those, therefore, who wish to be informed of the state of music in different ages, in different countries, and particularly in England, must be referred to his work.
To me it is perfectly indifferent, how the questions are decided, Whether the English have a national taste in music, or not? Whether, if they have any, they owe it to our countryman Handel? Whether the music of the English be a dialect of the Germans, or of the Italians? It is sufficient for me to say, that the Britons love music, and the North-Britons more than their Southern neighbours. The Scotch, indeed, are unable to pay for their entertainment large sums of money to German and Italian musicians, like the English; but they have a kind of national music of their 234 own which is not disagreeable, and their airs and songs are often lively and melodious.
It seems at present to be a part of female education, to have the girls instructed in music, if the parents think they can afford it. Few, however, acquire sufficient skill to play well; and the little which they have learnt, they generally forget again, as soon as they are provided with husbands. For too many seem to be of opinion, that marriage is the chief end of education, and that this being obtained they need not trouble themselves with the acquisition of new accomplishments, or even with retaining those which they might, in some degree, have acquired. Some exceptions, indeed, are to be made to this assertion; but they are not very numerous.
A lover of music may be entertained in London with many public and private concerts. Those at Vauxhall and Ranelagh I have already mentioned. Musical societies are likewise formed, such as the Anacreontic, the Society of Ancient Music, the Catch-Club, &c. Some dilettanti have established clubs, where they regularly meet on fixed evenings, to amuse themselves with instrumental music, or with singing, naturally accompanied with drinking. When feasts, or great dinners are given in taverns, 235 some of the company entertain, after dinner, the rest with songs, or even public singers are occasionally invited for such a purpose. Sometimes in private companies, even of the better sort, after supper, a song, perhaps, will be sung by a gentleman or a lady, in a very entertaining manner, though it will happen that voices obtrude themselves, which produce symptoms of ear-ach. The streets of London, not altogether for the honour of the police, abound in ballad-singers of both sexes. Many ill-looking fellows, and many tattered syrens, sing their silly songs, and soon gather a croud around them, which contains very dexterous hands, that search the pockets of those who are enchanted by the charms of the song, or of the female singers.
The church-music of the English is but indifferent, when compared to that in many parts of the continent. The Dissenters have not even so much as organs, and they often sing their psalms not in very pleasing melodies. In episcopal churches organs are generally to be found; though many in the country, nay, even some churches in London, are without them. Sometimes a set of people, a little instructed in singing, make up the want of an organ on Sundays. The chanting in cathedrals, in some 236 college-chapels in the two universities, and in a few others, where choristers are trained and kept for that purpose, is not equal to what I have heard of the kind on the continent: it is too monotonous, and soon becomes tiresome. However, that grand church or sacred music, which, for several years past, has been performed in the beginning of the summer, in Westminster-abbey, has, perhaps, never had its superior in any country. In St. Paul’s cathedral, and in the Foundling-hospital, for the sake of promoting charitable donations, great musical performances take place annually, which consist mostly of some compositions of Handel; and as the admittance is paid for, the sums collected are considerable. During the time of Lent, sacred oratorios are performed more than once a week, on the two London theatres, to numerous audiences, where a friend to good music, and who even can judge of it, will not repent his attendance.
Though it is thought by foreigners, that the English language is not the best adapted to singing and melody, yet English operas are composed and represented on the stage, and some not without success, such as Artaxerxes, Love in a Village, and the Duenna. But none of them is oftener brought out than the Beggar’s 237 Opera, which was originally written with an intent to ridicule all operas. The good reception it always meets with, is not owing to the music to which it is set, but to the scenes it represents, which are particularly adapted to the taste of the generality of that sort of audience which then attends the theatre, and relishes, in a high degree, such kind of representations. Upon the whole, it may be said, that as the English, to their credit, prefer nature and truth to improbability and bombast, the operas, which, by some of their best writers, particularly by Addison, are so justly ridiculed, have not met with great encouragement. There is, indeed, an Italian opera supported in London, at a very great expence, by subscription; but as it is the only one in Great Britain and Ireland, so it is certain, that by far the greatest number of subscribers lavish their money because it is the fashion, and not because it is their taste, or contributes much to their pleasure and entertainment. Many foreign singers, fidlers, and dancers, are extravagantly paid; and, if they are the least frugal, they are enabled to retire to their own country, where they may live in affluence, enriched by English money. As I am convinced, that the greatest number of those who constitute the audience at the opera, do 238 either not at all understand the Italian language, or at least very imperfectly; it is easily to be conceived, that they pay very dear for being tired, and very little entertained. Lord Chesterfield, though he understood Italian, says, nevertheless, “Whenever I go to an opera, I leave my sense and reason at the door with my half guinea, and deliver myself up to my eyes and my ears1.”
Those who are musicians by profession, and who earn part of their livelihood by teaching, have seen formerly, as it is said, better times than at present. I have heard of some receiving a guinea, or half a guinea for a lesson, who now, perhaps, must be content with five shillings. Nay, those that had acquired a kind of celebrity, kept their carriages to wait on their scholars, as is the case, in these days, with some hair-dressers, who are in high vogue. Musicians of note are frequently called to private concerts of the rich, where they receive four or more guineas for a few hours playing; I, however, have reason to think, that this kind of liberality is at present somewhat lessened. The most eminent in their profession, as musicians or singers, have besides a custom to give concerts at Free-mason’s hall, or at the 239 Rooms in Hanover-square, or in the Little Theatre in the Hay-market, or in some other place, where the admission tickets are half a guinea each. The emoluments arising from such performances are their own. These kinds of charitable contributions, under which the public is laid, are called benefits, and produce sometimes pretty handsome sums of money to those who partake of them. They amount, deducting all the expences, perhaps, to an hundred and more guineas. It might be supposed that, in England, people in a musical line, if they are eminent in their profession, have an opportunity of acquiring some fortune, or at least a sufficient income to live upon; but the case is generally the reverse. Several of the principal German and Italian musicians in London, I have known to live in a most deranged state of their finances; they were involved in debt, and died wretchedly poor. It is very probable, that an inconsiderate and extravagant manner of living, was the cause which produced this effect. A fund for decayed musicians his been instituted, which I presume to be considerable, as among other sources for its increase, no small share of those great sums which have been raised by the grand music 240 in Westminster-abbey, has been appropriated to it.
England has, within the latter half of this century, produced some eminent men in regard to musical compositions; but far the greater part of those excellent musical works, which, within this space of time, have appeared in London, were composed by foreigners, Germans and Italians. It is almost incredible what a number of new musical pieces, from time to time, make their appearance, and are exposed for sale in music-shops. They are bought eagerly at first, but soon get out of fashion, to make room for those that follow next. Those who compose such music find it very profitable, if their compositions meet with success. Not a great many sheets of new music are bought for half a guinea, and the composer is frequently very well paid for his copy. The property of such kind of composition is secured to the owner by law, in the same manner as literary property, or as the copper-plate to its engraver.
England is famous for fine musical instruments, and the best of them in regard to harpsichords, piano fortes, guitars, and organs, are made by Germans. The reasons why they 241 execute work here in a much superior manner to what they do in their own country, are, partly, because being better paid than any where else, they can bestow more time and more pains upon what they have in hand; partly, because they work with the best tools, and on the best materials.
1 Letters to his Son. Vol. iii. Lett. 237. p. 257.
Dr. Burney has given a history of this art
[Charles Burney (1726–1814), now better remembered as the father of novelist Fanny Burney (1752–1840).]
The streets of London, not altogether for the honour of the police
[Again with the police. It makes me wonder just how much power municipal police forces had in Wendeborn’s Germany.]
on the two London theatres
[Not a calque but a ghost of an earlier wording involving “on the stage”. The German has auf den Schaubühnen von Drurylane und Coventgarden.]
Artaxerxes, Love in a Village, and the Duenna
[Nope, I’d never heard of them either, although modern reviews suggest all three may be due for a revival. Artaxerxes and Love in a Village are both by Thomas Arne—now best remembered for “Rule, Britannia” from his opera Alfred, which also helped popularize “God Save the King”. The Duenna is by Thomas Linley and Thomas Linley (father and son) from a play by Sheridan.]
SO much has been written on the British theatre, in England as well as abroad, that it can by no means be difficult to satisfy the curiosity of those who wish to be more fully informed. I, therefore, shall confine myself to a short account of its present state, into which I intend to insert here and there a remark, as occasion shall offer. The best and latest accounts of the London theatres are to be met with in Colley Cibber’s Apology; in Davies’s Life of Garrick, and his Dramatic Miscellanies; in Victor’s History of the Theatres of London and Dublin, which goes as far as the year 1770; in Baker’s Biographia Dramatica; in Egerton’s Theatrical Remembrancer, containing a complete list of all the dramatic performances in the English language, which reaches as far as 1788. Dodsley’s Theatrical Records, or an account of English dramatic authors and their works, were published in 1756.243
As the propensity of the English for dramatic performances is so great, it is rather to be wondered at, that there are so few theatres in London. Properly speaking, there are but two, that in Drury-lane and that in Covent-garden; for the Little Theatre in the Hay-market is only open during the summer season, when the other two are shut. In the year 1786, a new theatre was built near Wellclose-square; but so many impediments have been laid in its way, that hitherto the proprietors have not been able to obtain permission to act regular plays. The reasons which have prevented it are very well known in London. In Shakespeare’s time, no less than six theatres existed in the city, and in each of them plays were performed. Dryden says, that the English dramatical productions of that time are the best, particularly in regard to language. There are theatres at Bath, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Margate, Wakefield, Edinburgh, and in some other places in Great Britain, but they do not come up to those in London; and many of them are only open during the summer season, when they can get some London actors and actresses. The theatrical season of Covent-garden and Drury-lane, is from the middle of September to the beginning of June; and 244 those months that are between belong to the Little Theatre in the Hay-market, which the late Mr. Foote brought into repute.
The London theatres have nothing attractive on their outside; but within they are very neat; nay, I may say splendid and convenient. Besides the pit and the boxes, there are only two galleries; in Paris I have found five or six. The entrance-price into the theatres, considering the dearness of every thing in London, seems to be pretty moderate; and there is even, in Drury-lane, and Covent-Garden, after the three first acts of the play are over, admittance for half price, except when a new pantomime is represented, on which occasion nothing less than the full price is taken. The playhouses are generally much crowded, when any thing of note is acted; and it will sometimes happen, that they fill so fast on their being opened, that numbers cannot be admitted, which seems to be a plain proof that more playhouses are wanted, particularly as these two which now exist, are situated in one part of London only, and close to one another. Before the doors are opened, there is generally for an hour and longer such a crowd, and such a mobbing, that many a one, who, perhaps is inclined to see a play performed, stays away, because he does not like to be jostled about for 245 such a length of time, among a multitude, where the least politeness is entirely out of the question, and where pick-pockets of all sorts are extremely busy. The house in Covent-garden is said to hold, when it is full, about fifteen hundred people; and that in Drury-lane about thirteen hundred, because it is somewhat smaller. The income of an evening, when there is a full audience, is reckoned to amount to about three hundred and twenty pounds. Supposing, therefore, that, during eight months in a year, six and twenty plays are performed every month, and the income of every evening amounts, on an average, in each theatre, to three hundred pounds, it will make the revenue of both houses, during eight months, 124,800 pounds. If I reckon the income of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket at 20,000 pounds, it makes the whole 144,800 pounds sterling. This is, according to our money in Germany, nearly a million of dollars, which the London public contributes annually with pleasure and eagerness, for the support of only three theatres!
The English, particularly the inhabitants of London, taking so much pleasure in theatrical representations, it is no wonder, that the principal actors and actresses find their situations 246 very comfortable; that they are esteemed, and live in a very decent style. I know that some of the latter have been paid, during the season, between twenty and thirty pounds per week; out of which, however, they are to defray the expences of dress. Some of the actors have from ten to twenty pounds per week. Besides, they have generally, in every theatrical season, a benefit night, which to some, who are eminent in their profession, is worth between two and three hundred pounds. I need not mention that the character of a player has nothing degrading in England, and that those who are at the head of the profession, are rather courted, even by people of rank, and introduced into the best companies. In France, they have hitherto denied an actor, or an actress, what is called a Christian burial; in England, players are interred with magnificence in Westminster-abbey, on the side of kings, when it is paid for.
Since good actors are so well paid in England, it is no wonder, that, at present, dramatic writers, whose works meet with applause, should likewise earn, in a very ample manner, the fruits of their labour. It is true, that Otway, for his much admired tragedy, Venice Preserved, could hardly find a purchaser, till at last the 247 bookseller Tonson gave him fifteen pounds for it; but the times are greatly altered. The author of a play, which meets with tolerable success, may promise himself between four and five hundred pounds, if it is acted a dozen times running. The profits of the third, the sixth, and the ninth night belong to him1. When during the winter of 1786, the comedy Such Things Are, was produced on the stage, the authoress, Mrs. Inchbald, who wrote it, received for the first benefit night, if the account then stated in the newspapers be true, an hundred and sixty pounds; on the second an hundred and ninety; and on the third, an hundred and fifty-five. The copy of the play, as it was likewise mentioned in the public prints, she sold for two hundred pounds. Thus a work of only a few sheets produced to the writer no less than seven hundred and five pounds. If such be the reward, it is surely well worth while to write a play.
Though the theatre in Drury-lane bears the name of a Royal Theatre; yet, it does not differ, in regard to its constitution and its support, from the rest. It is not the king who supports 248 it, but the whole public, whose contributions are far more considerable than the expenses, which kings and princes are accustomed to bestow on the support of their theatres.
Many traits of the national character of a people may be observed in their public entertainments; and it appears to me, as if the English intended to shew that liberty, which they are used to glory in, no where more than in their playhouses. Persons of high rank, and others of the very lowest, are present; and it seems as if the latter were determined to intimate that they were as good as the former. The upper-gallery, which is occupied by the low part of the audience, will oftentimes govern the whole house, and the players are under a necessity to accommodate themselves to their whim, and to humour them. It has afforded me now and then pleasure, when I have observed, that the gods, as the company in the upper gallery are called, have been among the first whose sensations have discovered some of the good things of a new play, and welcomed them with noisy applause. A good thought, or a satirical expression, aimed at modish follies and vices, has, perhaps, hardly escaped the lips of an actor, before the gods have in a moment signified their pleasure by a roar of approbation, 249 and the noise of their hands and feet. Nay, the composers of new dramas, and the players themselves, will lay snares to catch the applause of the upper gallery, in order to balance the judgment of the critics below, in the pit. They call this, in the technical language of the theatre, clap-traps; but it is oftentimes mere chaff that the populace suffer themselves to be caught with.
It is said on the continent, that the English are more fond of tragedies than comedies. This, perhaps, may have been true formerly, but not at present. They seem to be given in these modern times more to chearfulness than melancholy and sadness; and it is certain, that more comedies are performed on the stage than tragedies, and that a far less number of the latter sort are written at present than formerly. Whether the reason of this is, because it is more difficult to court with success the tragic muse than the comic, I will not minutely investigate; but the latter appearing far oftener on the stage than the former, shews plainly, that the public are more fond of the comic than the tragic, and that, therefore, the managers, for the sake of profit, entertain the audience oftenest with that of which they are sure that it will fill the house most. Besides, I believe 250 that there is no nation under the sun, which produces more original characters than the English, and that, therefore, a comic writer has an ample field before him to gather fruit, with which he may entertain a public that has a great propensity to satire.
Most of those who frequent the theatre, go there for the sake of pleasure and entertainment. The managers are, for this reason, obliged to call in for their aid splendid scenes, theatrical processions, pantomimes and harlequin, to draw a full house, and to increase their revenues. This was not only the taste in Shakespeare’s time, but it has been always so with the greatest part of a playhouse audience, ever since theatrical representations took place among men. Shakespeare found himself, on account of the taste of his countrymen, under a necessity to interlard his tragedies with some scenes of drollery, and to enliven them with witches, with apparitions of ghosts, and spectres. A pedantic critic, who is less acquainted with the human heart than Shakespeare was, will, perhaps, look upon all these things as such of which the poet’s tragedies stood not in need; but this was nevertheless the case. Many of the gentlemen and ladies in the boxes, elegantly dressed and outwardly adorned as they are, resemble, 251 notwithstanding, their very homely friends in the upper-gallery, who are more taken and pleased with the outward shew of the representation than with the intrinsic value of a good play. For this very reason, among the tragedies of Shakespeare, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, are those which produce the fullest houses. From motives on the same principle, to please the eye and to fill the theatre, very expensive pantomimes are exhibited, the first representation of which, will cost, perhaps, several thousand pounds. The pleasure and the astonishment of the greatest part of the audience on such occasions is very great, when apparitions and transformations are exhibited on the stage, by the tricks of harlequin, or the wand of a pretended conqueror. The herbs of Pontus, which Virgil’s Alphesibœus2 praises for their power of changing men into wolves, and raising the ghosts of the deceased from their graves, could never produce such effects and raise such astonishment.
It has been frequently, and perhaps, not unjustly objected to English theatrical entertainments, that they last too long; and that the 252 spectators, at least those in the pit and in the galleries, are obliged to remain in their places above four hours together. It is, therefore, the more necessary to keep the stage, during that time, always busy, and that the dramatic writers should introduce as much variety in their plays, and multiply the situations in them, as much as possible. It is, indeed, very visible in the theatres in London, that the eyes and the thoughts of the generality of the spectators wander much about; that they begin to yawn, and forget the play. For this reason, good humour is to be kept up between the acts, by means of songs, dances, processions, and things of that kind. I have observed, that this was necessary even in many of Shakespeare’s plays, to prevent drowsiness among the audience; though perhaps a Garrick, a Woodward, or other principal actors, endeavoured to render them pleasing.
English plays, and the writers of them, have been frequently blamed for a great neglect of the three unities so strongly enjoined by Aristotle; and Shakespeare has been particularly censured on this account. But defenders have not been wanting, who have pleaded English liberty, and that their dramatic writers were not subject to the laws of the Stagirite. Indeed, 253 it seems as if the unity of action was the first and the principal dramatic law, which a dramatic writer, in regard to the three unities, ought never to transgress; though he may, without much blame, deviate in some degree from the two others, in a manner not much to be perceived. I do not know, whether the violation of truth, upon which the law of the three unities is said to be founded, can be greater, or the confidence in the deception of the spectators of the play be more stretched beyond the proper bounds, than when the scenes are shifted so often; when sometimes a private room, sometimes a prison, sometimes a public place, and a variety of other sights, are brought before an audience, which does not change its place. It supposes a total want of critical observation among all the spectators, to think that not one of them, when he sees a play performed, in which the three unities are strictly observed, such, for instance, as Addison’s Cato, should not find it pleasant to hear the old Romans, represented there, speaking in elegant English blank verse; or smile when he sees, as I have done more than once, the grave Cato before him, in a modern wig, and white silk stockings, or in an elegant cap, made 254 up after the newest fashion. If we, without any complaint, can put up with these deviations from truth, if we do not desire a unity of language, of dress, and an hundred other unities, which historical truth might require, why should we, on seeing an excellent play of Shakespeare’s, or of any other good dramatic writer, performed, be angry, because the three unities, prescribed by Aristotle, are not strictly adhered to. The English, who like to be unshackled, may certainly say many things against this censure of their plays, which have some resemblance to their modern taste of gardening.
Whether the English or the French theatre has the preference, is a question, which I am very far from deciding. I have seen some plays performed on the French stage at Paris and at Lyons; but as I should not attempt to judge even of the English stage, which I have often frequented, so should I much less venture to give my opinion of the French, of which I have seen but little. Lord Chesterfield, who is looked upon as a connoisseur in these things, may do that which I dare not. He gives the French theatre the preference before all the rest in the world, and consequently, before the English also. He expresses himself thus very 255 emphatically, “There is not, nor ever was, any theatre comparable to the French3”. In another place he says, “I could wish there were a treaty, made between the French and English theatres, in which both parties should make considerable concessions. The English ought to give up their notorious violations of all unities; and all their massacres, racks, dead bodies, and mangled carcasses, which they so frequently exhibit upon their stage. The French should engage to have more action, and less declamation; and not to cram and crowd things together, to almost a degree of impossibility, from a too scrupulous adherence to the unities4.”
The English stage has been blamed, particularly during the reign of Charles II. for being exceedingly licentious; but it has been, in this respect, much reformed; though there occur frequently such expressions and double entendres as may put modesty to the blush, which, however, seem not to be disliked by the majority even of female spectators, who either bestow a smile upon them, or hide their titter behind their fans. Lord Chesterfield ascribes the merit of this reform to the good example of the 256 French theatre; and Mr. Hume says, “The English are become sensible of the scandalous licentiousness of their stage from the example of French decency and morals5.”
There are plenty of new plays, and sometimes very excellent ones, which appear from time to time; but, as I have before observed, comedies are more numerous than tragedies. French plays are frequently translated, and many who write for the stage take very liberally from French dramatic authors. In France, they sometimes take the same liberties with English plays; but, I believe, not near so frequently as is done in England. It appears to me rather remarkable, that the Scotch have none among their authors, who have shewn great talents for theatrical productions. Whether this be owing, as I have heard it asserted, to their more rigid education as Presbyterians, or to any other cause, I am unable to determine.
Riccoboni6, who bestows so much praise upon the English stage, says of the actors, that they are far superior to those of France and Italy. This may be true in national plays, or such as relate to English transactions and manners; 257 but I doubt very much the truth of this assertion, when it is applied to the performing of plays where the scene is not in England, or when the play is translated from another language, particularly if it be a tragedy. It is very true, that the English have had many excellent actors and actresses; but the generality of them are but indifferent. Dr. Burney, when he saw a play performed at St. Omer’s, even by a strolling company, does not hesitate to praise French actors at the expence of those of his own country. He says of them which he saw, “They seemed much more at their ease, and appeared more like the characters they were to represent, than those on the English stage, who, except a few of the principal actors, are generally so aukward and unnatural, as to destroy all illusion.” I have seen instances in London, where players were raised in the opinion and estimation of the public, without much merit, merely because some, who pretended to be judges in these matters, though in fact they were not, cried them up as the most excellent in their profession. The multitude, as is generally the case, good naturedly, did not trouble themselves with inquiring into the truth of what they were told by these supposed judges, and players thus acquired a name, 258 who, without such kind of puffing, would have remained in that obscurity to which they were originally designed. It ought, however, to be said, in praise of English players of both sexes, that they commonly have learnt their part extremely well, and give very little trouble to the prompter. The declamation of some is excellent, of others middling, and of many very indifferent. Though the action of the generality is, as Dr. Burney describes it, in the passage which I have just quoted; yet there are likewise some who do perfect justice to the characters which they represent, and whose action is natural, easy, and well adapted. I never saw a greater master in this respect than Garrick was. No man, I believe, had the features of his countenance more at his command than he had, to adapt them to almost every situation of character; and nobody understood the language of the eyes and the mien better than him; he was completely master of the mimic art. I, therefore, have often wondered, why the English thought it an honour to call him the English Roscius. The Roman Roscius spoke, according to the custom of the ancient actors, under a mask7; 259 he consequently could never appear to that advantage upon the stage, which Garrick did, even if he had possessed all the talents of the English actor.
The decorations of the theatres are splendid, and the dress of the actors very becoming. As many ladies appear in the boxes, to see and to be seen, the illuminations of the playhouses are fine, which I found quite the reverse at Paris, as if the Parisians were ashamed to shew their theatres, which, at present, are worth seeing. The English orchestra is well attended, and the music by no means bad. The new prologues and epilogues are generally full of wit and humour. To condemn a new play for the first time in a tumultuous manner, is, at present, not very common, though I have seen instances wherein it was done. I have mentioned in another place, that a censor-office in regard to the press, where a single person, or a whole committee, armed with authority from government, decides whether a manuscript may be printed or not, is unknown in England; but, in regard to the representation of dramatic works, there exists an office of this kind; for the lord chamberlain is to examine every new play, before it be represented the first time; and if he thinks it inadmissible, he may forbid its being brought upon the stage, though 260 he cannot prevent the printing of it. I have heard, likewise, complaints against some managers of the theatres, who will sometimes act the part of theatrical tyrants, and use dramatic writers rather despotically, when they offer their new works to them for representation. It is said, that they will, now and then, reject them in a pretty arbitrary manner; though it may be suspected that some authors, from a natural predilection for their own productions, will think themselves ill used, when the manager had good reason to decline their offers.
Visiting the theatre is, at present, in England, no disgrace to any body. Playhouses are more frequented now than they were ever before. This renders them so very profitable to managers and players. They are, at present, more productive than they were in Garrick’s time. It is even not looked upon as an offence against decorum, to see clergymen there, some Methodists and rigid Calvinists perhaps excepted. Nay, some clergymen, belonging to the established church, will write plays to be acted for the entertainment of the public. Formerly it was not so. “In Dryden’s time,” Dr. Johnson says,8 “the drama was very far from that universal approbation which it has now obtained. The playhouse was abhorred by the Puritans, 261 and avoided by those who desired the character of seriousness or decency. A grave lawyer would have debased his dignity, and a young trader would have impaired his credit, by appearing in those mansions of dissolute licentiousness.” The great propensity of the present English, to see plays of all kinds performed; the crowded playhouses in London; the private theatres, and the spouting-clubs, make a fine contrast with the times in which Dryden lived. It might, perhaps, be wished, for the sake of morality, that the reservedness and seriousness of that age were not, as it seems, totally given up. Numbers of women of easy virtue are to be seen within the theatre, and in the avenues leading to them, which contributes not a little to increase that immorality which playhouses are said to promote. Formerly this class of females, when they frequented the theatre, were obliged to wear either masks, or hats with a black crape, and they were not admitted into every part of the house. At present, they are seen in numbers in the boxes, or any division of the house, among the rest of the company, without the least distinctive mark, impudence perhaps excepted. Nay, they often give the ton in dress, and in an easy and free deportment, to those of their sex who are reputed modest; so that it is attended with some 262 difficulty to distinguish innocence lost, from that which is supposed still to exist.
Besides the theatres, where regular plays are performed, many are to be found in the outskirts of London; such as Sadler’s Wells, the Circus, Astley’s amphitheatre, and others, where the audience is entertained with pantomimes, singing, dancing, tumbling, horsemanship, and things of a similar nature. These theatres afford high entertainment to the lower classes of people; but even people of fashion, and foreigners, go there sometimes to gratify their sight, and amuse themselves with observing what human ingenuity can invent, and what art, joined with assiduity, will do to earn a little money, by affording a few hours pleasure to an idle set of spectators.
Attempts have been several times made to have French plays performed in London; but always without success. The jealousy of the national theatres, and the dislike the people have hitherto borne to the French, are the chief causes why these attempts have been frustrated. I expected, that the late commercial treaty with France would have facilitated the introduction of French players, and their theatrical commodities; but things have hitherto remained as they were before.
1 Formerly a dramatic writer had but one benefit. The first that had two nights was Southern, and the first that had three was Rowe. Johnson’s Lives, &c. vol. ii. p. 74.
Hic ego sæpe lupum fieri, et se condere silvis
Mœrin, sæpe animas imis exire sepulchris
3 Chesterfield’s Letters, vol. iii. p. 71.
4 Ibid. p. 254.
5 Hume’s Essays, vol. i. p. 120.
6 Account of the Theatres in Europe, p. 176.
7 Cicero says, therefore, “In ore sunt omnia. In eo autem ipso dominatus est omnis oculorum: quo melius nostri illi senes, qui personatum, nec Roscium quidem, magnopere laudabant.” Cic. de Oratore, lib. iii. c. 59.
8 Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets. vol. ii. p. 47.
They call this, in the technical language of the theatre, clap-traps
[The term “click bait” not having been invented yet.]
defenders have not been wanting, who have pleaded . . . that their dramatic writers were not subject to the laws of the Stagirite
[It’s 1787. By now it should be completely permissible to suggest that Aristotle’s pronouncements need not be treated as holy writ.]
or Porcia in an elegant cap
[She is spelled the same in German.]
the good example of . . . French decency and morals
[And that’s not something you hear every day.]
things have hitherto remained as they were before
[Spoiler: In regard to relations between France and England, things will get worse before they get better.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.