« AnteriorContinuar »
with some warmth ; and that Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them, that “ if “ Shakespeare had not read the Antients, he had
not stolen from them; and if he (Jonson) “ would produce any one Topic finely treated " by any one of them, he would undertake to " shew something upon the same subject at least " as well written by Shakespeare."
Now although this might apply to topics, or. Common places, of descriptive Poetry, to beautiful and splendid Amplification, yet these are bath inferior in point of dignity, and are not freai quent in the Ancient Writers, especially the Dramatie, of whom Jonson was most probably speaking. The sententious gravity of that learned. and great Author (for great he is, and too little read at present) would naturally lead him to the praise of the aphoristio wisdom of Antiquity. Ile probably mention's Senecan and notic'd Plautus with respect. And for its moral and prudentia! Aphorisms what has come down to us of Roign Tragedy. We may be confident that he thought, and spake of Euripides: the favorite Poet and Friend of Socrates; and perhaps for his Aphorisms, even more than for the sweetness, sim
plicity, and pathos of his Dramas, the favorite of Milton. But had it before ' been doubtful, the present Collection would ascertain the truth: that no Writer of Greek or Roman Antiquity can justly bear the palm of this Excellence from Shakespeare: the rival of the best Days of Antiquity in so many other,' and so great Excellencës.
And how great an Excellence it is, the ever memorable Sir Francis Bacon was fully sensible. He has contributed not only his Eulogium, büt his own Share to this ebncise and weighty mode of conveymg practical Wisdom. And indeed, whether we resort to the Psalins, Proverbs *, the Book of Wisdom, and Écclesiasticust; the Maxims of Confucius, Zoroaster, Pilpay, and the Egyptian Hermes ; or to Homer, especially in the Odyssey; Euripides, and Pindar, Æschylus : and less frequently, less abstractedly, and di
* The common Proverbs of a Country, however different from these, are still the popular and traditional Wisdom of Nations. See Ray's Proverbs; and a Collection publisht at Oxford, 1803
# Extracts have been lately publisht from these, under the title of “ Meral Maxims," by a Lady.
rectly, Sophocles; or to the remains of Menan. der and Philemon, and the other elegant and nervous Writers of the Middle Age, or Sentimental Comedy, of the Attic Theatre *, we are surrounded by striking instances of the antiquity and dignity of the aphoristic form of In. struction. Of this kind were the Maxims and Golden Precepts of Pythagoras. And what illus. trious Writers have excell'd since in the use of it! Boerhave, after the example of Hippocrates and Celsus, has reduc'd the precepts of medical prudence to this form, Gravesande successfully applied the same form to impress on the memory the series of Principles and Discoveries of the Newtonian Philosophy. And Vattel the Law of Nations. As to its principles, great part of the Roman Law is expresst in Aphorisms, And so of our own. And to return to those who have made this the vehicle not of particular Science, but of general Instruction: the Aphorisms in Virgil which come home to men's business and bosoms," are not few. His illustrious Imitator,
The Remark applies to Terence; that most elegant Imitator and Translator of the Grecian Comedy,
Tasso, loses not this feature of resemblance. In Ovid they are not thinly scatter'd. In Horáce they supply a rich fund of prodential and moral inforination. In Juvenal they are weighty and sublime. And it is not easy to forget the sententious dignity of Lucan. Isocrates, is often wholly aphoristic. Demosthenes, Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides,' Polybius, and Plutarch; Epictetus, Arrian, Antoninus; Cicero, Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus, all abound in Aphorisms. Theophrastus, in his Characters, is, very aphoristic. One Class of Poetical Writers on Morality in Greece has been nam'd for this very circumstance*, In the pensive and exquisitely elegant Petrarch not a little of this turn may be observ’ds and more in what we have of Michael Angelo, and the illustrious Dante. Much in Sannazaro, Guarini, and Guidi. Machiavelli, whose real scope has been ill understood till lately, is in bis Prince, and in bis Comments on Livy professedly aphoristic; and occasionally so in his noble History of Florence, This turn is
Cronologi. Of this kitid, among the Romans, are Cato and Publius Syrus.
amply observable in the acute and reflective Mind of Cervantes. Besides the lively and interesting Bruyere, the severe and sarcastic Rochefoucault, and the profound Pascal, who are avowedly aphoristic Writers, from Fenelon many Aphorisms of moral and civil Prudence and religious Duty might be extracted: Much from the mild, per-, spicuous, and amiable Florian. And De Lille should not be omitted in this enumeration. In Moliere much indeed may be found, either direct or more latent, and embodied with the Cha, racter and Dramatic Occasion. There are many in Milton; both in his Poetry and his rich and nervous Prose. They form nearly the Body of Montesquieu's immortal Work, The Spirit of the Laws: and almost equally so of that never to be forgotten Tract of Beccaria on Crimes and Punishments. In the writings of Richardson they are frequent: -and in those of Franklin, of Rousseau, and of Lavater, they are most ahundant. Of the latter, as of Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, a distinct Collection drawn up by himself has been publisht. D'Anois, under the name of Danæus, publisht a Collection of Aphorisms in Latin. Arid lately the Aphorisms have