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A variety of causes induce me to form such a wish, but I am principally influenced by the consideration that time can scarcely fail of enlarging and refining the powers of a man, while the world is sure to judge of his capacities and principles at fifty, from what he has written at fifteen.
Meanwhile, I deem it reasonable to explain the motives of the present publication, and must rely for credit on the good nature of my readers. The project is not a mercenary one. Nobody relies for subsistence on its success, nor does the editor put any thing but his reputation at stake. At the same time, he cannot but be desirous of an ample subscription, not merely because pecuniary profit is acceptable, but because this is the best proof which he can receive that his endeavours to amuse and instruct have not been unsuccessful.
Useful information and rational amusement being his objects, he will not scruple to collect materials from all quarters. He will ransack the newest foreign publications, and extract from them whatever can serve his purpose. He will not forget that a work, which solicits the attention of many readers, must build its claim on the variety as well as copiousness of its contents.
As to domestic publications, besides extracting from them any thing serviceable to the public, he will give a critical account of them, and in this respect, make his work an American Review, in which the history of our native literature shall be carefully detailed.
He will pay particular attention to the history of passing events. He will carefully compile the news, foreign and domestic, of the current month, and give, in a concise and systematic order, that intelligence which the common newspapers communicate in a vague and indiscriminate way. His work shall likewise be a repository of all those signal incidents in private life, which mark the character of the age, and excite the liveliest curiosity.
VOL. I....NO. I.
This is an imperfect sketch of his work, and to accomplish these ends, he is secure of the liberal aid of mamy most respectable persons in this city, and New-York. He regrets the necessity he is under of concealing these names, since they would furnish the public with irresistible inducements to read, what, when they had read, they would find sufficiently recommended by its own merits.
In an age like this, when the foundations of religion and morality have been so boldly attacked, it seems necessary in announcing a work of this nature, to be particularly explicit as to the path which the editor means to pursue. He, therefore, avows himself to be, without equivocation or reserve, the ardent friend and the willing champion of the Christian religion. Christian piety he reveres as the highest excellence of human beings, and the amplest reward he can seek, for his labour, is the consciousness of having, in some degree however inconsiderable, contributed to recommend the practice of religious duties.
As, in the conduct of this work, a supreme regard will be paid to the interests of religion and morality, he will scrupulously guard against all that dishonours or impairs that principle. Every thing that savours of indelicacy or licentiousness will be rigorously proscribed. His poetical pieces may be dull, but they shall, at least, be free from voluptuousness or sensuality, and his prose, whether seconded or not by genius and knowledge, shall scrupulously aim at the promotion of public and private virtue.
As a political annalist, he will speculate freely on foreign transactions; but, in his detail of domestic events, he will confine himself, as strictly as possible, to the limits of a mere historian. There is nothing for which he has a deeper abhorrence than the intemperance of party, and his fundamental rule shall be to exclude from his pages, all personal altercation and abuse. 2
He will conclude by reminding the public that there is not, at present, any other monthly publication in America; and that a plan of this kind, if well conducted, cannot fail of being highly conducive to amusement and instruction. There are many, therefore, it is hoped, who, when such an herald as this knocks at their door, will open it without reluctance, and admit a visitant who calls only once a month; who talks upon every topic; whose company may be dismissed or resumed, and who may be made to prate or to hold his tongue, at pleasure; a companion he will be, possessing one companionable property, in the highest degree, that is to say, a desire to please.
Sept. 1, 1803.
For the American Register. EXTRACTS
A STUDENT'S DIARY. SWIFT'S POLITE CONVERSATION.
I HAVE just been reading "Polite Conversation" by Swift. It is amusing to observe how many of the embellishments of modern conversation have been employed to the same purpose these hundred years. Many of them are probably of as old a date as the reign of Egbert, and most of them, at least, as old as that of Elizabeth, when, as the comedies and comic scenes of Shakespeare prove, the colloquial dialect of the English was the same as at present.
Every body knows that Swift, in these dialogues, intended to ridicule the practice of interlarding discourse with hackneyed and established witticisms or sarcasms. Most of these are wretched in themselves, but some are liable to no other objection than the want of novelty. And yet there are some to whom the most hackneyed will be new. In truth, this must necessarily be the case with every good-thing. The tritest saying must, by every
man, have once been heard for the first time, and must, therefore, have once been new to him.
The whole mass of good-things and good-stories, in current use, would make up a very large volume; and the very tritest of these if told in a mixed and casual company, would probably be new to more than one person present. Hence the irresistible temptation to repeat a good thing, which, when we heard it, was new to us, and hence the awkward situation in which a facetious narrator so often finds himself placed, that of finding the most impertinent gravity, on occasions where he looked for laughter and applause.
When we examine the pretensions of reputed wits, we shall be surprised to find how much of their reputation is founded upon the same invariable stock of good things. They rarely tell a story which they have not told a thousand times before, and as these stories may sometimes be real occurences or original inventions of their own, they will of course be new to strangers. We must pass some time with them before we perceive that one day's banquet is merely a counterpart of that of the day before.
Perhaps, however, it is very seldom that the humorist knowingly repeats the same story to the same company. Memory, as it grows retentive of remote transactions, is apt to lose its hold of more recent ones. Thus an old man of three score will frequently repeat to the same man, on the same day, a relation of some event that happened fifty years before.
A story, however, is one thing, and a witticism is another. It is the latter which the Dean makes the object of his ridicule in these dialogues, and which so often intrudes itself into conversation. Every one desirous of steering clear of this folly, ought to read this performance carefully, for it not only teaches us to shun so childish a practice, but tells us what we are to shun.
THERE is nothing about which newspaper writers are more anxious than to dignify the account of a fire. The plain and direct expressions are so simple and so brief, that they are by no means satisfied with them. They must amplify and decorate the disastrous narrative as much as possible, and for this end, they deal in circuitous and pompous phrases; in affecting epithets and metaphors. I have often been amused at their laborious efforts to be solemn and eloquent on these occasions.
For instance;...the story to be told is, that, at such time and place, a fire broke out and burnt or destroyed such and such buildings.
They disdain so straight a path as this, and will ramble very ingeniously thus:..." The citizens were disturbed by the alarm of fire;" or, (as an Albany editor once had it) the peaceful slumbers of the inhabitants were broken by vociferated fire!... In spite of the exertions of the citizens, such and such buildings were "swallowed up by the conflagration:"or, (still more poetically) "became victims to the devouring element;"...or, "fell a prey to the remorseless fury of the flames."
A late newspaper introduces a column of such news by this sentence..." We are sorry to announce to our readers, the devastation committed yesterday by the devouring element of fire." In the ensuing narrative we are told, that the "rage of the conflagration was appeased," at such an hour and that such a part of the town was "snatched from the grasp of the devouring element."
How powerfully is the imagination affected by the frequent and almost periodic returns of this new, strange and unwelcome visitant. 'Till the
year 1793, we, in this part of America, at least, the present generation, had only heard and read of pestilence. Since that period it has visited us five years out of ten, and, in our great cities, there is no domestic event more familiar to us; none which we anticipate with more probability, and by which we prepare more naturally to regulate our motions, than this.
I often imagine to myself my feelings on being informed, by some one able to give the information, at the opening, for instance, of the year 1793, that for the ensuing ten years, a destructive plague would rage among us, during five summers, by which the city would be, for two or three months, almost entirely depopulated; by which all the usual functions and employments of life would be suspended, and a large portion of sixty thousand people, which subsist by daily and uninterrupted employment, would be suddenly bereft of all activity.
My notions of the evil would doubtless have been imperfect and inadequate, as, indeed, these notions, with all the benefits of experience, still are. I should have underrated it in some respects, while in other respects, I should equally have overrated it. I should have had but feeble conceptions of the misery which individuals were about to suffer, while I should probably have computed its influence on population and general prosperity at much too high a rate. I could not have imagined before-hand the effect of familiarity, the power which custom has to enable us to accommodate ourselves to inevitable evils, and that vigour which one spring of population is sure to derive from the depression of another.
There is one thing, at least, which my ignorance of human nature would have hindered me from predicting; and that is, the effect which the introduction of this new disease has had on the habits and opinions of physicians. Who would have dreamed that this order of men would split into hostile factions, which should
wage war against each other with the utmost animosity; that they would arrange themselves in parties, the champions of opposite opinions not only as to the mode of curing the malady, but as to the source to which the malady itself is to be traced.
What volumes of acrimonious controversy have the last ten years produced on these subjects? How dogmatic the assertions, how violent the invectives, which the importation-men and the home-originmen have darted at each other. How is the pride of human reason humbled, by observing that in this enlightened age, with so vigilant a police, with such comprehensive and exact methods of investigating facts, and such diffusing vehicles of information and comparison as newspapers afford, there should still be in the community opposite opinions as to the nature and origin of a pestilence which has visited our principal cities five times in ten years? That even its contagious nature should not be unanimously settled? If I go into company, indeed, and talk with a physician on this subject, I shall be told that the means of information, on this head, have been so abundant and satisfactory, that the question has long ago been settled by all rational people. Every thing, he will go on to tell me, demonstrates the origin of the yellow fever to be foreign, and its appearance among us to be in consequence of importation. I cannot help being biassed by the positive assertions of a man of general candour, of knowledge and experience; but what am I to think when I meet another man, a physician, of equal understanding and experience with the former, whose assertions are just as positive, and directly opposite? But still greater is my perplexity when I meet a third, who tells me that this question has engaged his attention for many years, but that the more he collects, investigates and compares, the farther is he from an absolute decision, the more inscrutable the question be
comes; and time, he is now fully of opinion, instead of clearing up the darkness, will only involve the matter in greater obscurity.
Such reasoners as the last, are, indeed, rarely to be met with. Doubt is so painful a state, and a man's pride and prejudice are so unavoidably engaged, on one side or the other, as he advances in his inquiry, and we so easily and suddenly pass from a state of neutrality, in which we only inquire after truth, into a state of conviction, when we merely search for arguments and facts in favour of one side; that nothing is rarer than a physician who hesitates on this subject. Some men may vary from year to year, and change sides as often as the fever visits us, but they are ardent and dogmatic in maintaining what happens to be their present opinion, and stigmatize all their opponents as fools and villains.
This medical controversy is much to be regretted on many accounts. It is not one of the least evils that it tends to shake the confidence of mankind in the skill of those, whose skill is indebted for the greater part of its success to the confidence with which the patient is inspired by it.
IN Europe, Authorship is in some instances a trade: it is a calling by which those who pursue it, seek their daily bread as regularly as a carpenter or smith pursues the same end, by means of the adze or the anvil. But authorship, as a mere trade, seems to be held in very little estimation. There is no other tradesman, to whom the epithet poor is more usually applied. A poor author is a phrase so often employed, that the two words have almost coalesced into one. The latter, if used alone, signifies merely a man who writes and publishes;
but if foor be prefixed, it clearly indicates a writer by trade.
This trade is the refuge of idleness and poverty. Any thing that gives a permanent revenue, however scanty the sum, or laborious the service, is deemed preferable to authorship: but when a poor fellow has either too little steadiness, industry, or reputation, for the post of clerk in a banker's office, or usher in a school, or curacy in Wales, he betakes himself, as his last resource, to writing paragraphs for a newspaper, translating new novels or travels from the French or German, or spinning Romances from his own brain; and these enable him to live as well as habits of improvidence and heedlessness as to all economical matters, will allow him. While the poor author, that is to say, the author by trade, is regarded with indifference or contempt, the author, that is, the man who devotes to composition the leisure secured to him by hereditary affluence, or by a lucrative profession or office, obtains from mankind an higher, and more lasting, and more. genuine reverence, than any other class of mortals. As there is nothing I should more fervently deprecate than to be enrolled in the former class, so there is nothing to which I more ardently aspire, than to be numbered among the latter. To write, because the employment is delightful, or because I have a passion for fame or for usefulness, is the summit of terrestrial joys, the pinnacle of human elevation.
There is my friend H......Can a man be situated more happily? His aunt not only secures him and his charming Eleanor from the possibility of want, she secures them not only the pleasures and honors of extraordinary affluence, but even from the common cares of a master of a family. She is his steward, that is, she manages exclusively the fortune which is hereafter to be absolutely, as it is now virtually his: she is his housekeeper, inasmuch as she takes upon herself the management of servants, the ordering of provisions,
and the payment of all family expenses. The young and happy couple have nothing to do but to give themselves up to the delights of mutual tenderness, and to fill up the interval between these joys with bathing and walking, or with music, conversation, reading and writing. He has no other labour on his hands than to decide whether the coming hours shall be employed at the clarionet, the pencil, the book or the pen. After a good deal of fluctuation, a passion for the pen seems to have gotten the mastery, and a part of every day is regularly engrossed by an interesting and important project. Every day is witness to some progress, and though his views continually extend to futurity and immortality, yet the immediate pleasures of reasoning, invention, and acquired knowledge are his, and every day is happy in itself, while it brings supreme felicity still nearer.
I HAVE been reading Burke's speeches on Economical Reform. Notwithstanding all the eloquence displayed on that occasion, notwithstanding the pressure of public exigencies, and the hard expedients to which the government has been driven; who would believe, if there were any possibility of doubting it, that four noblemen of overgrown private fortunes, divide between them eight thousand pounds (forty thousand dollars) per annum, as salaries; one as master of the foxhounds, another as master of the buck-hounds, a third as master of the harriers, and a fourth as ranger of some park!
The government, however, exercises a most laudable economy in other respects. The greatest moral or literary merit, attended with the greatest poverty, will not tempt the ruling powers to stretch their libe