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obliged to the great inodern improvement of digreffions : The late refinements in knowledge running parallel to those of diet in our nation, which, among men of a judicious taste, are dressed up in various compounds, consisting in foups and olio's, fricassees and ragoufts.
It is true, there is a fort of morose, detracting, ill-bred people, who pretend utterly to disrelish these polite innovations. And as to the similitude from diet, they allow the parallel ; but are so bold to pronounce the example itself, a corruption and degeneracy of taste. They tell us, that the fashion of jumbling fifty things together in a dish, was at first introduced in compliance to a depraved and debauched appetite, as well as to a crazy conftitution : And to see a man hunting through an olio after the head and brains of a goose, a widgeon, or a woodcock, is a sign he wants a stomach and digestion for more substantial victuals. Farther they affirm, that digreffions in a book are like foreign troops in a state, which argue the nation to want a heart and hands of its own; and often either subdue the natives, or drive them into the most unfruitful corners.
But, after all that can be objected by these supercilious censors, it is manifest, the society of writers would quickly be reduced to a very
inconfiderable number, if men were put upon making books, with the fatal confinement of delivering nothing beyond what is to the purpose. It is acknowledged, that were the case the same among
us as with the Greeks and Romans, when learning was in its cradle, to be reared, and fed, and clothed by invention ; it would be an eafy task to fill up volumes upon particular occafions, without farther expatiating from the subject, than by moderate excursions, helping to advance or clear the main design. But with knowledge it has fared as with a numerous army, encamped in a fruitful country; which for a few days maintains itself by the product of the soil it is on; till, provisions being spent, they are sent to forage many a mile, among friends or enemies, it matters not. Mean while, the neighbouring fields, trampled and beaten down, become barren and dry, affording no suftenance but clouds of dust.
The whole course of things being thus entirely changed between us and the ancients, and the moderns wisely sensible of it; we of this age have discovered a shorter, and a more prudent method, to become scholars and wits, without the fatigue of reading and thinking. The most accomplished way of using books at present, is twofold : Either, first, to serve them as some men do lords, learn their titles exactly, and then brag of their acquaintance; or, secondly, which is indeed the choicer, the profounder, and politer method, to get a thorough insight into the index, by which the whole book is governed and turned, like fishes by the tail. For to enter the palace of learning at the great gate, requires an expence of time and forms; therefore men of much hafte and little
ceremony are content to get in by the back-door. For the arts are all in a fying march, and therefore more easily subdued by attacking them in the rear. Thus physicians discover the state of the whole body, by consulting only what comes from behind. Thus men catch knowledge by throwing their wit on the posteriors of a book, as boys do sparrows by flinging falt upon their tails. Thus human life is best understood by the wife man's rule of regarding the end. Thus are the sciences found, like Hercules's oxen, by tracing them backwards. Thus are old sciences unravelled like old stockings, by beginning at the foot.
Besides all this, the army of the sciences hath been of late, with a world of martial discipline, drawn into its close order, so that a view, or a muster may be taken of it with abundance of expedition. For this great blessing we are wholly indebted to Syftems and abstracts, in which the modern fathers of learning, like prudent usurers, spent their sweat for the ease of us their children. For labour is the feed of idleness, and it is the peculiar happiness of our noble age to gather the fruit.
Now, the method of growing wise, learned, and fublime, having become so regular an affair, and fo established in all its forms; the number of writers must needs have increased accordingly, and to a pitch that has ma le it of absolute neceffity for then to interfere continually with cach other. Beldes, it is reckoned, that there is not at this prefent a fufficient quantity of new matter VOL. I. Ee
have not any
left in nature, to furnish and adorn any one particular subject to the extent of a volume. This I am told by a very skilful computer, who hath given a full demonstration of it from the rules of arithmetii.
This perhaps may be objected against by those who maintain the infinity of matter, and therefore will not allow that any species of it can be exhausted. For answer to which, let us examine the noblest branch of modern wit or invention, planted and cultivated by the present age, and which of all others hath borne the most, and the fairest fruit. For though fome remains of it were left us by the ancients, yet
of thofe, as I remember, been translated, or compiled into systems for modern use. Therefore we may affirm, to our own honour, that it hath, in some sort, been both invented, and brought to a perfection by the same hands. What I mean, is that highly celebrated talent among the modern wits, of deducing fimilitudes, allusions, and applications, very surprising, agreeable, and appofite, from the pudenda of either sex, together with their proper uses. And truly, having observed how little invention bears any vogue, besides what is derived into these channels, I have sometimes had a thought, that the happy genius of our age and country was prophetically held forth by that ancient typical description of the Indian pygmies ; whose stature did not exceed above two foot ; sed quorum pudenda crafı, et ad talos usque pertin
gentia * Now, I have been very curious to infpect the late prodactions, wherein the beauties of this kind have most prominently appeared. And although this vein hath bled so freely, and all endeavours have been used in the
of human breath, to dilate, extend, and keep it open ; like the Scythians, who had a cufom, and an instrument, to blow up the privities of their mares, that they might yield the more milk ti yet I am under an apprehension, it is near growing dry, and past all recovery; and that either some new fonde of wit should, if possible, be provided, or else that we must e'en be content with repetition here, as well
all other occasions. This will stand as an incontestable argument, that our modern wits are not to reckon upon the infinity of matter, for a constant supply. What rernains therefore, but that our last recourse must be had to large indexes, and little compendiums ? Quotations must be plentifully gathered, and booked in alphabet. To this end, though authors need be little consulted, yet critics, and commentators, and lexicons, carefully must. But above all, those judicious collectors of bright parts, and flowers, and observanda's, are to be nicely dwelt on, by fome called the seves and boulters of learning; though it is left undetermined, whether they dealt in pearls or meal ; and consequently, whether we are more to value that which pased through, or what staid behind Ee 2
Ву * Ctesie fragm. apud Photium. + Herodot. 1. 4