« AnteriorContinuar »
of the Grub-street brotherhood, have of late years fallen under many prejudices, nor how it has been the perpetual employment of two junior startup societies to ridicule them and their authors, as unworthy their established post in the commonwealth of wit and learning. Their own consciences will easily inform them whom I mean; nor has the world been so negligent a looker-on, as not to observe the continual efforts made by the societies of Gresham,* and of Will's, † to edify a name and reputation upon the ruin of OURS. Ånd this is yet a more feeling grief to us, upon the regards of tenderness as well as of justice, when we reflect on their proceedings not only as unjust, but as ungrateful, undutiful, and unnatural. For how can it be forgot by the world or themselves, to say nothing of our own records, which are full and clear in the point, that they both are seminaries not only of our planting, but our watering too? I am informed, our two rivals have lately made an offer to enter into the lists with united forces, and challenge us to a comparison of books, both as to weight and number. In return to which, with licence from our president, I humbly offer two answers ; first, we say, the proposal is like that which Archimedes made upon a smaller affair, I including an impossibility in the practice; for, where can they find scales of capacity enough for the first, or an arithmetician
Gresham college was the place where the Royal Society then met, from whence they removed to Crane-Court in Fleet-Street.
† Will's coffee house in Covent-Garden was formerly the place where the poets usually met, which, though it be yet fresh in memory, in some years may be forgotten, and want this explaation. I Viz. About moving the earth.
of capacity enough for the second ? Secondly, we are ready to accept the challenge ; but with this condition, that a third indifferent person be assigned, to whose impartial judgment it should be left to decide, which society each book, treatise, or pamphlet, do most properly belong to. This point, God knows, is very far from being fixed at present: for, we are ready to produce a catalogue of some thousands, which in all coinmon justice ought to be entitled to our fraternity, but by the revolted new and new-fangled writers, most perfidiously ascribed to the others. Upon all which, we think it very unbecoming our prudence, that the determination should be remitted to the authors themselves; when our adversaries, by briguing and caballing, have caused so universal a defection from us, that the greatest part of our society has already deserted to them, and our nearest friends begin to stand aloof, as if they were half ashamed to own us.
This is the utmost I am authorised to say upon so ungrateful and melancholy a subject; because we are extreme unwilling to inflame a controversy, whose continuance may be so fatal to the interests of us all, desiring much rather that things be amicably composed ; and we shall so far advance on our side, as to be ready to receive the two prodigals with open arms, whenever they shall think fit to return from their husks and their harlots; which, I think, from the present course of their studies, * they most properly may be said to be engaged in; and like an indulgent parent, continue to them our affection and our blessing.
But the greatest maim given to that general re
* Virtuoso experiments, and modern comedies.
ception, which the writings of our society have formerly received (next to the transitory state of all sublunary things) has been a superficial vein among many readers of the present age, who will by no means be persuaded to inspect beyond the surface and the rind of things; whereas, wisdom is a fox, who, after long hunting, will at last cost you the pains to dig out: it is a cheese, which, by how much the richer, has the thicker, the homelier, and the coarser coat; and whereof, to a judicious palate, the maggots are the best: it is a sack-posset, wherein the deeper you go, you will find it the sweeter. Wisdom is a hen, whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg : but then lastly, it is a nut, which, unless you choose with judgement, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm. In consequence of these momentous truths, the grubæan sages have always chosen to convey their precepts and their arts, shut up within the vehicles of types and fables; which having been perhaps more careful and curious in adorning, than was altogether necessary, it has fared with these vehicles, after the usual fate of coaches over finely painted and gilt, that the transitory gazers have so dazzled their eyes, and filled their imaginations with the outward lustre, as neither to regard or consider the person, or the parts, of the owner within. A misfortune we undergo with somewhat less reluctancy, because it has been common to us with Pythagoras, Æsop, Socrates, and other of our predecessors.
However, that neither the world, nor ourselves, may any longer suffer by such misunderstandings, I have been prevailed on, after much importunity from my friends, to travel in a complete and laborious dissertation, upon the prime productions
of our society'; which, beside their beautiful externals, for the gratification of superficial readers, have darkly and deeply couched under them, the most finished and refined systems of all sciences and arts; as I do not doubt to lay open, by untwisting or unwinding, and either to draw up by exantlation, or display by incision.
This great work was entered upon some years ago, by one of our most eminent members : he began with the History of Reynard the Fox, * but neither lived to publish his essay, nor to proceed farther in so useful an attempt; which is very much to be lamented, because the discovery he made, and communicated with his friends, is now universally received ; nor do I think, any of the learned will dispute that famous treatise to be a complete body of civil knowledge, and the revelation, or rather the apocalypse of all state arcana. But the progress I have made is much greater, having already finished my annotations upon several dozens; from some of which, I shall impart a few hints to the candid reader, as far as will be necessary to the conclusion, at which I aim.
The first piece I have handled, is that of Tom Thumb, whose author was a Pythagorean philosopher. This dark greatise contains the whole scheme of the Metempsychosis, deducing the progress of the soul through all her stages.
* The “ History of Reynart the Foxe” was originally written in German, and, as Mr Douce thinks, was composed long before the 12th century. Hearne calls it “ An admirable thing, and the design very good,” viz. to represent a wise and politic government. It was translated and printed b;; Caxton; but, having been often reprinted, had past into a mere popular story book, in which degraded light it is presented in the text. In 1701 it was reprinted,
newly corrected, and purged from all grossness in phrase and matter," with a moral exposition annexed.
The next is Dr Faustus, penned by Artephius, an author bonæ notæ, and an adeptus ; he published it in the nine-hundred-eighty-fourth year of his age; * this writer proceeds wholly by reincrudation, or in the via humida : and the marriage between Faustus and Helen does most conspicuously dilucidate the fermenting of the male and female dragon.
Whittington and his Cat is the work of that mysterious rabbi, Jehuda Hannasi, containing a defence of the gemara of the Jerusalem misna, t and its just preference to that of Babylon, contrary to the vulgar opinion.
The Hind and Panther. This is the master-piece of a famous writer now living, I intended for a complete abstract of sixteen thousand school-men, from Scotus to Bellarmin.
Tommy Pots. Another piece supposed by the same hand, by way of supplement to the former.
The Wise Men of Gotham, cum appendice. This is a treatise of immense erudition, being the great original and fountain of those arguments, bandied about both in France and England, for a just defence of the moderns learning and wit, against the presumption, the pride, and ignorance of the ancients. This unknown author has so exhausted the subject, that a penetrating reader will easily discover whatever has been written since
upon that dispute, to be little more than repetition. An
* The chemists say of him in their books, that he prolonged his life to a thousand years, and then died voluntarily:
+ The gemara is the decision, explanation, or interpretation of the Jewish rabbis : and the misna is properly the code or body of the Jewish civil or common law.
Viz. In the year 1697.