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Then let mistaken sorrow be supprest,
Not Rome, untouch'd with sorrow, heard her
And fierce Maria pitied her too late.
LOVE OF FAME, THE UNIVERSAL PASSION.
IN SEVEN CHARACTERISTICAL SATIRES.
Fulgente trahit constrictos gloria curru.
These satires have been favourably received at home and abroad. I am not conscious of the least malevolence to any particular person through all the characters ; though some persons may be so selfish, as to engross a general application to themselves. A writer in polite letters should be content with reputation; the private amusement he finds in his compositions; the good influence they have on his severer studies ; that admission they give him to his superiors; and the possible good effect they may have on the public; or else he should join to his politeness some more lucrative qualification.
But it is possible, that satire may not do much good : men may rise in their affections to their follies, as they do to their friends, when they are abused by others : it is much to be feared, that misconduct will never be chased out of the world by satire; all therefore that is to be said for it, is, that misconduct will certainly be never chased out of the world by satire, if no satires are written : nor is that term unapplicable to graver compositions. Ethics, heathen and christian, and the scriptures themselves, are, in a great measure, a satire on the weakness and iniquity of men; and some part of that satire is in verse too: nay, in the first ages, philosophy and poetry were the same thing; wisdom wore no other dress : so that, I hope, these satires will be the more easily pardoned that misfortune by the severe. Nay, historians themselves may be considered as satirists, and satirists most severe; since such are most human actions, that to relate, is to expose them.
No man can converse much in the world, but, at what he meets with, he must either be insensible, or grieve, or be angry, or smile. Some passion (if we are not impassive) must be moved ; for the general conduct of mankind is by no means a thing indifferent to a reasonable and virtuous man. Now to smile at it, and turn it into ridicule, I think most eligible ; as it hurts ourselves least, and gives vice and folly the greatest offence: and that for this reason; because what men aim at by them, is, generally, public opinion and esteem; which truth is the subject of the following satires; and joins them together, as several branches from the same root: a unity of design, which has not, I think, in a set of satires, been attempted before.
Laughing at the misconduct of the world, will, in a great measure, ease us of any more disagreeable passion about it. One passion is more effectually driven out by another, than by reason; whatever some may teach: for to reason we owe our passions : had we not reason, we should not be offended at what we find amiss : and the cause seems not to be the natural cure of any effect.
Moreover, laughing satire bids the fairest for success : the world is too proud to be fond of a serious tutor; and when an author is in a passion, the laugh, generally, as in conversation, turns against him. This kind of satire only has any delicacy in it. Of this delicacy Horace is the best master : he appears in good humour while he censures ; and therefore his censure has the more weight, as supposed to proceed from judgment, not from passion. Juvenal is ever in a passion : he has little valuable but his eloquence and morality: the last of which I have had in my eye; but rather for emulation, than imitation, through my
whole work. But though I comparatively condemn Juvenal, in part of the sixth satire (where the occasion most required it), I endeavoured to touch on his manner; but was forced to quit it soon, as disagreeable to the writer, and reader too. Boileau has joined both the Roman satirists with great success ; but has too much of Juvenal in his very serious satire on woman, which should have been the gayest of all. An excellent critic of our own commends Boileau's closeness, or, as he calls it, pressness, particularly; whereas, it appears to me, that repetition is his fault, if any fault should be imputed to him.
There are some prose satirists of the greatest delicacy and wit; the last of which can never, or should never, succeed without the former. An author without it, betrays too great a contempt for mankind, and opinion of himself, which are bad advocates for reputation and success. What a difference is there between the merit, if not the wit, of Cervantes and Rabelais ? The last has a particular art of throwing a great deal of genius and learning into frolic and jest; but the genius and the scholar is all you can admire; you want the gentleman to converse with in him : he is like a criminal who receives his life for some services; you commend, but you pardon too. Indecency offends our pride, as men; and our unaffected taste, as judges of composition: nature has wisely formed us with an aversion to it; and he that succeeds in spite of it, is, 'aliena venia, quam sua providentia tutior.
Such wits, like false oracles of old (which were wits and cheats), should set up for reputation among the weak, in some Boeotia, which was the land of oracles; for the wise will hold them in contempt. Some wits, too, like oracles, deal in ambiguities; but not with equal success: for though ambiguities are the first excellence of an impostor, they are the last of a wit.
Some satirical wits and humourists, like their father Lucian, laugh at every thing indiscriminately; which betrays such a poverty of wit, as
1 Val. Max.