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The power, indeed, of every individual is small, and the consequence of his endeavours imperceptible in a general prospect of the world. Providence has given no man ability to do much, that something might be left for every man to do. The business of life is carried on by a general co-operation; in which the part of any single man can be no more distinguished, than the effect of a particular drop when the meadows are floated by a summer shower : yet every drop increases the inundation, and every hand adds to the happiness or misery of mankind.
That a writer, however zealous or eloquent, seldom works a visible effect upon cities or nations, will readily be granted. The book which is read most, is read by few, compared with those that read it not; and of those few, the greater part peruse it with dispoitions that very little favour their own improvement.
It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every pallion which incites to any other action, fcrves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.
Soine are fond to take a celebrated volume into their hands, because they hope to diftinguish their penetration, by finding faults which have escaped the publick; others eagerly buy it in the first bloom of reputation, that they may join the chorus of praise, and not lag, as Faili af terms it, in " the “ rearward of the fashion."
Some read for style, and some for argument: one has little care about the sentiment, he observes only
how it is expressed ; another regards not the conclusion, but is diligent to mark how it is inferred : they read for other purposes than the attainment of practical knowledge; and are no more likely to grow wife by an examination of a treatise of moral prudence, than an architect to inflame his devotion by considering attentively the proportions of a temple.
Some read that they may embellish their conversa. tion, or shine in dispute ; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments : but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the imposibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally dependent on the hour or the weather. He that wants money to follow the chase of pleasure through her yearly circuit, and is left at home when the
gay world rolls to Bath or Tunbridge; he whose gout compels him to hear from his chamber the rattle of chariots transporting happier beings to plays and assemblies, will be forced to seek in books a refuge from himself.
The author is not wholly useless, who provides innocent amusements for minds like these. There are in the present state of things so many more instigations to evil, than incitements to good, that he who keeps me in a neutral state, may be justly considered as a benefactor to life.
But, perhaps, it seldom happens, that study terminates in mere pastime. Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas : he that reads books of science,
though though without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious trentises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are often offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is difpofed to receive them.
It is, therefore, urged without reason, as a difcouragement to writers, that there are already books fufficient in the world ; that all the topicks of persuasion have been discussed, and every important question clearly ítated and justly decided; and that, therefore, there is no room to hope, that pigmies ihould conquer where heroes have been defeated, or that the petty copiers of the present time should adcance the great work of reformation, which their predeceffors were forced to leave unfinished.
Whatever be the prefent extent of human knowledge, it is not only tinite, and therefore in its own nature capable of increale; but so narrow, that almost every understanding may, by a diligent application of its powers, hope to enlarge it. however, not neceffary, that a man should forbear to write, till he has discovered some truth unknown before ; he may be sufficiently useful, by only diverfifying the surface of knowledge, and luring the mind by a new appearance to a second view of those beauties which it had pailed over inattentively before. Every writer may find intellects correspondent to his own, to whom his expressions are familiar, and his thoughts congenial; and, perhaps, truth is often more successfully propagated by men of moderate abilities, who, adopting the opinions of
others, have no care but to explain them clearly, than by subtile speculatists and curious searchers, who exact from their readers powers equal to their own, and if their fabricks of science be strong, take no care to render them accessible.
For my part, I do not regret the hours which I have laid out in these little compositions. That the world has grown apparently better, since the publication of the Adventurer, I have not observed; but am willing to think, that many have been affected by single sentiments, of which it is their business to renew the impression; that many have caught hints of truth, which it is now their duty to pursue; and that those who have received no improvement, have wanted not opportunity but intention to improve.
Nume. 138. SATURDAY, March 2, 1754.
Quid pure tranquillet? honos, an dulce lucellum,
AVING considered the importance of au
thors to the welfare of the publick, I am led by a natural train of thought, to reflect on their condition with regard to themselves ; and to enquire what degree of happiness or vexation is annexed to the difficult and laborious employment of providing instruction or entertainment for mankind.
In estimating the pain or pleasure of any particular state, every man, indeed, draws his decisions from his own breast, and cannot with certainty determine, whether other minds are affected by the fame causes in the same manner. Yet by this criterion we must be content to judge, because no other can be obtained ; and, indeed, we have no reason to think it very fallacious, for excepting here and there an anomalous mind, which either does not feel like others, or diffembles its sensibility, we find men unanimously concur in attributing happiness or misery to particular conditions, as they agree in acknowledging the cold of winter and the heat of autumn.