Text: N. C. Brooks (???), “The Atlantis [part 3]” [Text-02], American Museum (Baltimore, MD), vol. I, no. 3, November 1838, pp. 321-341


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[page 321, unnumbered:]

THE ATLANTIS.

(Continued.)

CHAPTER IX.

Party at Mrs. Addison’s.

As I had been somewhat fatigued, or rather wearied with sitting, I resolved to walk from Dr. Johnson’s to my place of residence. In passing along the streets, I was soon recognized and surrounded by a group of men, women and children, who having heard of my arrival, and learned to distinguish my person, took this opportunity of having some communication with me. They consisted of the families of those soldiers who fought our battles during our revolutionary war. They hailed my arrival among them with loud and repeated acclamations, and requested me to inform all their friends and connexions upon my return home, that they were as happily settled in Saturnia and other parts of Atlantis, as their hearts could desire, and requested me to present their warmest greetings to their countrymen, and their earnest desires for the permanence and prosperity of the good Republick. Although she did not adequately reward us for our services, some of them exclaimed, yet we love her to the very bottom of our hearts. Tell our friends, said they, the States must remain united; if they separate, they will lose the boon for which we contended, and soil their honours in the dust. I was delighted with this inartificial display of patriotism and enthusiastic attachment to freedom. I spoke my good will and sympathy in terms as glowing as their own, promised to comply with. their wishes on my return to America, and left them amidst their loudest acclamations of approbation and rapture.

After refreshing myself with a walk through the city, and upon my return home, amusing my mind with my books, as usual, always finding a high. treat in the pages of Addison, Pope, Swift, Steele, or any of the classics in English or French, upon the arrival of the hour of eight in the evening, I hastened to Dr. Franklin’s to attend his family to the party of Mrs. Addison. I found the ladies in expectation of my arrival.. They informed me that the custom in Saturnia was to be very punctual in visiting, since the ladies never protracted their entertainments beyond eleven o’clock, in ordinary evening parties, nor beyond one or two in the morning when their [page 322:] largest assemblies are held, in which music and dancing are allowed, but from which all kinds of gambling or games of hazard are utterly excluded. This refined community, too, would think it a degradation to partake of a masquerade, or any amusement in which without meaning or moral purpose, they should assume the performance of any character different from their own. When we entered the dwelling, many elegant apartments were lighted, and there was evident preparation for a large assembly, although few persons haft as vet arrived. The Miss Franklins introduced me to Mrs. Addison, who appeared to be a beautiful and accomplished lady, dressed with neatness and elegance, without superfluous decoration, unaffected in tier manners and fluent in conver sation. She received us with grace and affability, and with that air of complacency and satisfaction which indicated a disposition to receive and communicate pleasure. I soon found myself at entire ease in her company, and began a conversation concerning the peculiar happiness and advantages of her present situation. I spoke to her of the well earned honours of her father and husband, and said, that her emotions must now be vastly different from what they were in tier lifetime, when the great Poet was driven by persecution into obscurity and want, and she and tier sister were occupied in committing to paper his Paradise Lost. She answered, that she had always regarded it as a peculiar hardship, that so many of those men of genius of whom posterity was proud, should spend their lives in indigence and obscurity, or perhaps, what was worse, become the objects of malignity, hatred, and perpetual molestation and oppression. As to the part which she and tier sister had acted, in consoling the retirement of her father, and softening the pains of age and infirmity, the world since that time, had laboured under air egregious mistake, arising out of the prejudices of the royalists against the republicans. She declared that no gratification could have been more exalted that hers in such offices of filial piety, and that she should never forget the impressions made upon her mind, as the several parts in the Paradise Lost were successively disclosed. The whole plan and conduct of the epic, the actors introduced upon the scene, and the sentiments expressed appeared, she continued, like the suggestions of some angelic spirit. One of the sources of her attachment to Mr. Addison, was his admiration of that greatest of all poems, and the excellent numbers he had written in the Spectator in commendation of it. We were, at this moment, joined by Madame Dacier, Madam De Stael, Madam Chastelet, Christina of Sweden, Mrs. Locke, Miss Burney, [page 323:] Mrs: Edgworth, and other celebrated ladies; Milton, the great poet, at the same time approached, and being made known to him by his daughter, I began to speak to him about his immortal works. Your poetic productions, I said, have conferred upon mankind one of its most invaluable treasures. This will be acknowledged by all ages, and their character has received the impress of eternity. The objections which have been brought against your Paradise Lost, have always appeared to me frivolous and futile, and particularly the one which is deemed the most important, relative to the scene which took place at the gates of hell, and the mythology, as it may be called, of sin and death. What say you to these exceptions? Have you regarded them as so important, as to omit them in the publication of your poem in the Saturnian edition?

Milton. — There are no productions of mankind which are entirely perfect, and as men are not perfect beings themselves, if they were so, they would not be so greatly relished as those which are imperfect. The very faults of a work not unfrequently, form its highest recommendations, and multiply the number of its readers. I have not, however, been able to discover the blemishes which have been mentioned in my Paradise Lost, although I clearly discern that it is susceptible of improvements. ’The fate of my work in this respect, nevertheless, is not singular. There never was issued any great attempt of genius, about which, besides all that is just and true, there has not been alleged every folly and absurdity which could arise or be engendered in the crude heads of the self-called critics. If Homer and Virgil have not met with more favourable treatment, I ought not to expect an escape from the fangs of this venomous tribe. He added, he had read carefully the exceptions taken by Voltaire, and thought them unsound and superficial. That writer wrote too rapidly to digest all his opinions.

Prospero. — You had a hard struggle, too, for the liberties of your country, and ,the prospect at one time seemed promising of establishing a republic.

Milton. — Yes; that, indeed, would have completed our triumph. Could such a man as Cicero, Cato, or Washington, have succeeded Cromwell, our victory would have been sure.

Prospero. — But would you not have found an insurmountable impediment in the inveterate habits and manners of the people and their deep-rooted attachment to monarchy? The readiness and alacrity with which tile nation united in the restoration of Charles, proved that they were not yet prepared for a total change in their Form of government. The old [page 324:] nobility of the kingdom, and the established church, were depressed for a time by the anarchy and military despotism which prevailed, but that military despotism could not have long endured from the very nature of things, and as soon as that overwhelming masterdom was removed, the community must have returned to that political condition for which their old institutions, habits and manners had fitted them. No law in the physical world seems to be more steady and invariable in its operations, than that tendency in the moral, by which mankind are propelled to the formation of those political, civil and religious establishments which accord to their sentiments, habits and manners.

Milton. — I acknowledge the validity of this reasoning. I have read Montesquieu’s admirable work, and assent to his opinions. The patriots in the time of Charles the First, felt the full force of that flood of public prejudice which swelled against them, and at last bore away all the mounds and embankments by which we endeavoured to secure our republic against the assaults of royalty. I have concluded, that changes in governments should be as gradually produced, as those which take place in the earth, waters, and atmosphere around us. Any efforts to precipitate them, do but produce mischief,, in the moral world, like storms, hurricanes, and inundations in the natural. We have the happiness to know, however, that tremendous as was the contest, and sanguinary as was the scene exhibited in. the empire, the patriots of that era sowed those seeds of civil liberty, which although depressed for a season in the arbitrary reigns which succeeded, sprang up at the revolution effected by William, and have ever since been producing the goodly fruits of freedom to England and the whole world.

Prospero. — This is an honour which will be awarded you by all intelligent and impartial men. The blood which was shed at that period, has proved the seed of unnumbered future patriots in your country, in America, and in France. Heaven grant, that in future, nations may learn wisely to improve their conditions.

At this moment came up to us the celebrated Laurence Sterne, whose smiling countenance, as I had seen it portrayed in the frontispiece of the works I had read from his pen, was instantaneously recognised as that of an old acquaintance. He, Rabelais, and Dean Swift, were always associated in my imagination, and I could not see one of the trio without thinking of the others also. This is a pleasure, said I, Mr. Yorick, that I never anticipated, of being in personal intercourse with the author of Tristram Shandy and the sentimental Journey, [page 325:] who has relieved me from many an hour of ennui and spleen. Whenever my body has been excessively languid, or my mind depressed with melancholy, I have found the perusal of these pieces an effectual cure. Are you acquainted with Rabelaisi? He must have been a great wit for his time, and have had a meaning in his caricatures, wildest machinery and most grotesque representations, but I must confess I never was able to discover it. His Yantagruel, Garagantua Panurge, and other comic heroes, have no archetypes that I can trace in nature, and of course his merriment has been lost upon me. I can almost always decipher the moral import of the Tristram Shandy, and the Tale of the Tub, but in the dreams of “Rabelais’ Easy Chair,” and the Gulliver’s Travels, I confess I perceive, except an occasional glimpse of light, nothing but shadowy forms, and incomprehensible symbols.

Sterne. — It was necessary that he should wrap up his meaning in an impenetrable veil of clouds and smoke. Had the politicians and ecclesiastics of his day been able to peep through the “blanket of that darkness,” in which he shrouded his meaning, he would probably for his pains have been complimented with a cloak of hell fire and painted devlis [[devils]] for his costume, and then have saved his soul by the pious combustion of his body. Rabelais had no ambition for that mode of salvation, or to make such good sport for the tribe of monks and inquisitors.

Prospero. — You suppose, then, that his purpose was to ridicule the prevalent follies and superstitions this tithe?

Sterne. — Undoubtedly; this is what he distinctly avows. — He had written serious works upon science and literature, in which his object was to advance human knowledge, and contribute to rational enjoyment. His contemporaries were too deeply steeped in ignorance and superstition, to read or regard them. He determined to take his revenge, by holding them up to ridicule so adroitly that they should laugh at their own follies and absurdities without knowing it. He succeeded, — priests, politicians, monks, read his book with avidity, were diverted with its nonsense as it appeared to them, anti as with their degree of comprehension of its contents it would have appeared to all. He reversed, in this work, the trick he practised upon the government, when being in absolute want of bread, he obtained a temporary support by feigning to have prepared poison for the king, Dauphin and royal family of France, which led to his arrest and maintenance by the officers of justice. In this work, he prepared a real poison for the ridiculous fooleries, superstitions and absurdities, maintained and practised in his time; but the poison was so disguised [page 326:] by palatable ingredients, as to be imperceptible” to the (lull senses of his contemporaries who imbibed it.

Prospero. — This might have been very diverting and productive to him, as his work sold, and his reputation was established, but it deprived his work of all moral effect, or salutary influence upon manners and sentiments. Like Gulliver’s Travels, it was read and excited merriment, but amended and reformed nothing. The Don Quixotte, therefore, is greatly to be preferred to it, and Tristram Shandy will afford good lessons to all posterity; but although, in general, your meaning is sufficiently evident, when you attack pernicious opinions, the arts of hypocrisy, the pedantry and affectation of learning in the schools, and contemptible prejudices and follies, yet you sometimes also hide yourself in mystery, where you use your significant asterisks, dotted lines, blank, dark, red and blotted panes, which appear as blemishes in volumes so full of genuine wit and pleasantry. I never could conceive why such expedients should be adopted by the author who wrote the history of Uncle Toby and corporal Trim, the story of Le Fevre, the sketch of Yorick’s life, the pungent rebuke of ignorant critics, the tale of Maria, of the enormous Nose which appeared at Strasburg, and all those inimitable sketches of nature, which would embalm for immortality any production of human genius.

Sterne. — You would dive too deeply into the mysteries of .our art, and I must not be too liberal in my revelations. But the fact is, that some mystery awakes the curiosity of mankind, and a little buffoonery diverts them, while whatever the greatest sticklers for modesty may say in reference to smut and obscenity, we know that allusions of that kind, stimulate their appetite for the work. Even the most scrupulous lady will pour over such pages with greater avidity in private, although she might blush in public to acknowledge she had read them. If such indulgence be a fault, it is not mine but nature’s.

Prospero. — I must think, however, that the perfection of wit, would consist in furnishing g pure and pungent. repast to readers, and which would amuse the mind in the highest degree, without sullying or corrupting it.

At that moment our attention was drawn to a gentleman who was passing forward to pay his respects to Mrs. Addison, whose figure was very commanding, and who appeared to be a Frenchman. Sterne observed, there goes the celebrated Duke of Rochefoucault, who enjoying no distinction here from his titles, holds as good a place from his acknowledged wit and learning, as well as accomplished manners. [page 327:]

Is that, said I, the author of the book of maxims?

Sterne. — The same.

Prospero. — fine would not suppose, from his amiable expression of countenance, and courtly demeanor, that he would be such a misanthrope in his writings, and prove so unfavourable a painter of his own species.

Sterne. — He is but too faithful a painter, however, and preserves a strict likeness to the original.

Prospero. — I think your observation thus far jest, that Rochefoucault has always detected a true principle in human nature, but there his faithfulness to the original terminates. He has totally distorted and disfigured that principle, and lost sight of its connection with other principles that modify, control and overpower it in their action. Because self-love or our personal advantage, always blends itself with all our nobler and more generous qualities, he represents that as the predominant motive to action, when it is only a subordinate motive, and perhaps most inconsiderable one. I compare him to a chymist, who in his discourse, when speaking of a very compound mixture, describes it only by mentioning a single one of its ingredients.

Sterne. — That view of Rochefoucault’s maxims is new to me, and I do not remember to have seen it stated by any author. I am fond of such speculations, as they disclose the principles of our nature, and the workings of the human heart. Be so good as to explain your idea, by a recurrence to some of his maxims, if you can recollect any of them.

Prospero. — I can readily do so, as I am very familiar with his work. Take this example — “Under pretence of bewailing the loss of a person who was dear to us, we bewail ourselves, and weep over the diminution of our fortune, our pleasures, and our credit. Thus have the dead the honour of tears which stream only for the living.” Is not this account of our emotions upon such occasions, as if the chymist should denominate as soda, that which was a mixture of soda, sulphur and magnesia? There can be no doubt, that where we have a great interest in the life of a friend, we should more deeply regret this loss, from the circumstance that we should be deprived of the advantages which his life and influence afforded us. But how small a portion of sorrow, in a virtuous mind, would flow from this source, if we were tenderly attached to the deceased? Thisr system supposes us to be entirely without affections or sympathies, and that our feelings are excited and tears flow, only from cold calculations of interest. Again, “In the adversities of our friends, we always find something which does not displease us.” If Rochefoucault supposed, [page 328:] that this something which does not displease us in the adversities of friends, is a selfish consideration of advantage, or dishonourable to our nature, he discovered again, only a very small part of that complex emotion which arises in our minds upon the recurrence of such disasters, That ingredient which communicates pleasure in these cases, is, our sympathy for suffering, and more especially the sufferings of friends, and instead of implying a debasement of our moral nature, is one of its highest honours. It is this sympathy with the wretched, whie”I is the silken cord that draws us toward them, and in the breasts of all mankind, the great storehouse in nature from which the Creator furnishes supplies of relief and consolation to the miserable. Were it not for this conformation of our hearts and minds, we should fly from the unhappy, the sick, or dying, as we would from a plague or pestilence. It is not, therefore, an accurate interpretation of nature, to say that we experience pleasure in the adversities of friends, but our pleasure in these instances arises out of our sympathy with their sorrows. We are so constituted by the Creator, that we have a secret satisfaction in grief, even in our own. The same or a similar fallacy pervades all the maxims of Rochefoucault, which are dishonourable to us, and the suggestion I have given, will place in your hands a key to detect that fallacy.

Sterne. — I thank you for — the present of such a solution; for you know that I am no misanthrope, and all my works tend to the culture of the greatest kindness and brotherly love among our race, and even tenderness for all animals. But you agree with me, I presume, that the “Maxims of Rochefoucault,” is an excellent work.

Prospero. — Admirable; it is one of the finest efforts of ge., nius. He taught the French that wit and fine writing; do not consist in swelling thoughts and pompous phraseology, but in the depth of our conceptions, ingenious and striking views of things, adroit turns andAnovements of the mind, unexpected disclosures of the inward workings of nature, to; ether with the choicest language in which to convey them with perspicuity. The work, though tinctured: and deeply tinctured with sophistry, is a fine production. He sets mankind to close and profound thinking for themselves, and this is one of the best effects which can be produced upon readers.

Continuing to speak, I said, do ou ever meet here, Mr. Sterne, such ladies as you found in’ Paris, whom you so humorously describe in your Sentimental Journey? I have always considered as one of your finest chapters, that in which you describe the fashionable company of that city, [page 329:] their fondness for flattery, and its influence more especially over the learned or literati of both sexes. Have the fashionable females in Saturnia as in Paris, three distinct epochs in their empire, that of coquettes, of infidels, and of devotees?

Sterne. — There is a great difference in the cases, but human nature will show its whimsies as well as its virtues and vices every where. The large body of really great and excellent women in this capital, give a tone to the public sentiments and manners, a chasteness and intelligence to their conversations, and a sobriety mingled with cheerfulness, in their whole air, dress and demeanor, that render any breaches of decorum and perfect propriety dangerous to the experimenter. Nevertheless, even here and scattered throughout Atlantis, we have our coquettes, our infidels and devotees among the ladies. — How shall a lady, some gentlemen too, show their superiority of understanding, their wit and pleasantry, as well as contempt for vulgar opinions, so easily and at so little cost of study and research, as by attacks against religion, or insinuations that they are freethinkers? While in early life, and durinoo the sway of a lady’s blooming beauties, it might interfere wit her conquests to be suspected of unbelief; for, after all, our sex are not disposed to relish those appearances in women, which indicate that they have thrown down the strongest safeguards of their virtue and female modesty. But when they are married, they can safely indulge in bolder declarations, and adopt a creed which allows them greater license. In old age, when adorers have departed, and license itself becomes joyless, nature and good sense resume their rights, and their minds find all the relief of which they are susceptible in those succours of religion to which they ought always to have had recourse. But while we are speaking, behold here are two among the order of coquettes and infidels. That gentleman you see is the celebrated John James Rousseau, and the lady whom he is leading about the room, is the no

less notorious Miss Woolstoncraft. There is a sort of equivocal alliance between them. They live together, and appear in company as man and wife, although nobody knows the true relation subsisting between them, and it is said that their domestic state is no halcyon sea. If you will. look towards that group of company in the corner, too, you may recognize the more justly celebrated Voltaire, who seems to be highly diverting a party of French who are collected around him.

Prospero. — The face of Voltaire, is not to be mistaken by any persons who have seen his numerous likenesses which have been executed by painters and statuaries. I conceive a great difference between him and Rousseau. If he has frequently [page 330:] raised my utmost indignation and disgust by his shameless attacks upon Christianity and the Bible, he has always been faithful to the being of a God, and generally to the interests of morality. This credit does not belong to Rousseau. He is consistent; in nothing but his own madness.

Sterne. — There is one consideration, however, which has greatly consoled me, for all the evils which I have seen produced, and with deep regret, by these enemies of our religion. I believe that as storms and tempests are said to produce wholesome changes in the atmosphere, baleful as may be their immediate devastations, so the whose fraternity of infidels, have been rendered subservient to the purification and improvement of the Christian church. Their attacks upon it, have led it to the preparation of more ample defences and fortifications. They have aided in the task of a more thorough reformation of its errors in doctrine, and superstitions in practice. No such follies as were formerly perpetrated, would now be endured; and no one can deny to Voltaire, at least, one peculiar merit above all those who were his coadjutors, that of having largely contributed to depress and rebuke the evil spirit of intolerance and persecution. He is the man among them, whom I could most desire to have been a Christian.

Prospero. — In this opinion I entirely agree with you; for his conduct in reference to the family of Galos, that of Sirven, and many other objects of detestable persecution, I can not but honour him. Were an expurgated edition of his works, containing about one half published, it might contribute to the progress of taste and sound literature, repress bigotry and intolerance of opinion, and be serviceable, or certainll not injurious to religion. It is worth the labour of every learned man, to become familiar with his wit, as it is of a peculiar stamp, and very delightful. I do not remember to have seen any thing said to Rousseau so aptly, and at tire same time so keenly sarcastic, as that which was contained in a letter of Voltaire, in which he thanked him for a copy with which he honoured him, of his work upon the comparative advantages of civilized and savage life, in which lie, With his usual fondness for paradox, gives the preference to the latter. Voltaire tells trim in courtly style, indeed, and with more commendations of his writings than they deserved, that while perusing his work, he found his reasoning so derogatory to, the honour of the human race, that “he felt a propensity to go upon all fours.”

Sterne. — It was truly a merited rebuke of such folly, and A cutting sarcasm. [page 331:]

Prospero. — By the bye, you profess here to distribute rewards and punishments to the good and bad, what have been the penalties you have inflicted upon Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as the host of Infidels, for their attacks upon the Bible and Christianity? Certainly men who do this, are the enemies of the human race, and ought to be brought to condign punishment in this world of retributive justice.

Sterne. — True, we reward and punish as far as our understandings and moral sense enable us to proceed with safety. We do not claim infallibility, however, and we have no Pope to settle points of casuistry, or of right and wrong. We leave a’final adjustment of these matters to the great Assize. Prospero.-But, surely, you have not allowed such oiTenders to escape with entire impunity?

Sterne. — Not so neither; our judges Minos and Rhadamanthus, I am told, considered the cases of Voltaire and Rousseau, as considerably mitigated in guilt, by the political and religious good they had accomplished in promoting the progress of civil liberty, and In the purification of Christianity from its odious bigotry and superstition. Many French families appeared in behalf of Voltaire, and by the affecting stories they told of the relief he afforded them, and the tears which they shed in his behalf, inclined the judges to lean upon the side of mercy. There were not wanting advocates, too, for Rousseau, who plead the merits of his Social Contract, and the principles of civil liberty which he contributed to diffuse.

Prospero. — But I hope the judges did not allow them to get off Scottsfree?

Sterne. — Oh, no; they were condemned for ten years, not to a bastile or penitentiary, but to attend the lectures and sermons of Dr. Clarke and Bishop Warburton, among the English divines, and Bossuet and Fenelon among the French. And as you know, I have no slight turn for waggery and amusement, I had a curiosity to see the conduct of these two French infidels during the execution of the sentence, and the delivery of the lectures. I accordingly sometimes attended in the halls and churches at which they were to be held. I was diverted with the sly look of incredulity which was depicted in the countenance of Voltaire, and the more gloomy and indignant aspect of Rousseau. They seemed greatly to wince and be impatient under the bold and unqualified invectives of Warburton and Bossuet, but the conclusive seasonings and clear illustrations of Clarke, and the tender and persuasive accents of Fenelon, seemed to check their resentment, soften their hostility, and gain a more patient and attentive ear. [page 332:]

Prospero. — And what is understood to be the effect which this discipline has produced upon them? Have they been convinced and reclaimed by these great men?

Sterne. — It is said not. They still adhere to their former hostility to christianity in the abstract, but declare, that they are satisfied that the people should acquiesce in it, under that mild and tolerant shape to which it subsists in this republic. They declare that they will disturb the faith of nobody, since nobody interferes with them. All the unbelievers in this realm, therefore, French, English, German, Scotch and Italian, have purchased a large tract of land, and founded a colony for themselves, which they denominate Eldorado, within which they have made an experiment of the practical efficacy of their principles. The king of Prussia, Voltaire, Hume, and others, have been successively at its head.

Prospero. — Admirable experiment! And what have been the fortunes of the establishment?

Sterne. — I have learned, that in the beginning, they, found great difficulty in concurring upon the model which should be adopted in regard to government, their laws, and more especially divine worship. Hume, Helvetius, d’Holbach, and others, were warmly opposed to all religious establishments whatever, maintaining that as there was no God, it was absurd to spend their time in making mouths at nature, and indulging idle ceremonies. On the other hand, Frederick, Voltaire, Rousseau, D’Alembert, and their coadjutors, insisted upon the being of a God, and that all due reverence and homage should be paid to him. This last opinion prevailed, and the establishment seemed to advance towards prosperity, but it soon received a check that has become fatal to it. They have discovered that they want a sanction for their laws, their refined speculations about the intrinsic excellence and eternal fitness of virtue, produce no salutary effects upon the community, and the loose opinions about morality inculcated by many of their own fraternity, have extended among their women, and dissolved the very bonds of their society. No man among them is certain that his children are his own, property is insecure, adulteries, murders, and suicides common, and licentiousness universal. Some commissioners from their town, are now in Saturnia, making application to our Congress for powers either to dissolve their association, or to effect a complete reformation, and fall into a coalescence with the other portions of Atlantis.

Prospero. — Ha, ha, ha — this is excellent. Then this fraternity have practically refuted their own doctrines, and infidelity gone out in smoke. [page 333:]

But lest my story should become as long and tedious as the sermon of an old divine, the Tale of my Grandmother, a speech in Congress, or an electioneering harangue, I must reserve to another chapter the conclusion of my account of this conversation party.

CHAPTER X.

Mrs. Addison’s Party.

So, continued I, renewing the conversation which passed between Sterne and myself, so this infidel settlement, has proved to be a house built upon sand, and has fallen, from the rottenness of its own materials?

Sterne. — Yes; it is said that the leaders found their own wives were unfaithful, their children refractory, and the people ungovernable. Voltaire, forgetting his Eldorado of the other world, erected a church at his villa, called Ferney, after the name of his former abode, drew up a volume of the finest morals of Confucius, and of all the greatest sages, not forgetting those of Solomon and of Christ, read them to assembled congregations on Sundays, and instituted a form of Deistical worship. But his discourses had no influence upon the multitude, and he had better have attempted to move them by the harp of Orpheus. The people could not discern the force of his moral distinctions, and if they did sometimes comprehend his lessons, saw no reasons why they should yield obedience to his arbitrary injunctions. The most violent feuds soon arose among them, idleness, extravagance, intemperance and debauchery became the habits of the place, and the beautiful Eldorado was changed tog Pandemonium. Thus perish all systems which have not their foundations in the nature of man.

Prospero. — Who are that lady and gentleman that with so gay an air are conversing with a squad of mingled Englishmen, Americans and Frenchmen, who seem to be diverted with their wit?

Sterne. — Those are Scarron, the first husband of Madam Maintenon, and the lady herself. As Lewis XIV. has lost his royal dignity and all peculiar distinction above ordinary men, her ladyship has returned to her first alliance, and preferred the wit to the king. Indeed, it is said, when she meets Lewis, her conduct is not unlike that of Dido, upon recognizing Æneas amidst the shades below. She does not hesitate to show her contempt and indignation for the unjust suspicion to which he exposed her reputation, by refusing to make known the marriage which they had privately contracted. [page 334:]

Prospero. — Why, Scarron has been relieved from all those bodily deformities with which he made merriment in his writings, and is quite a tolerable figure. His body no longer presents the figure Zed, as he himself declares it did in his lifetime[[.]]

At this moment Sterne caught me by the arm, exclaiming, I will now show you two of the greatest poets and wits that ever lived, and then introduced me to Shakspeare, and Butler, the author of Hudibras. To the latter, who was next me, while Shakspeare was in conversation with Sterne, I re marked, this is a most unexpected honor. While I have had infinite satisfaction from your Hudibras, which I think more pregnant with genuine wit than any work that was ever written either in ancient or modern times, — I have wished to obtain an answer to a single question. The critics and the learned have endeavoured to discover for your Hudibras an archetype in real life. Some have supposed that you had reference to Sir Samuel Luke, the gentleman who was your friend, although of opposite politics.

Butler. — Whenever an allegorical piece of that kind is printed, the public seem as spontaneously to look for originals to the personages introduced, as they refer to the natural world to find images with which to convey abstract ideas and moral sentiments. Perhaps, too, the malignity, of human nature, may receive some satisfaction from an application of such odious features to living characters. But surely the great and learned ought not to be subject to any mistakes of this kind, or misapprehensions of the purport and structure of the work. It is evident that by the character of Hudibras, I intended to embody and strikingly represent, an odious and disgusting compound of jacobinism, hypocrisy, ignorance and absurdity of the times of Cromwell. All the other characters who co-operated with him in the work of mischief, were mere modifications of this principal figure, as such men would be diversified in real life. That, in composing the poem my mind would glance upon real characters, who had resembling traits to my mock hero’s, was unavoidable. Thus the mind will do when we are speculating with our highest abstractions about the virtues and vices.

Turning, then, to Shakspeare, I said, in regard to your productions, there has been a greater variety of opinions, and more abundant commentaries, than in reference to any works ever written, the sacred volume alone excepted.

Shakspeare. — Yes, indeed, they have bestowed more toil upon my lucubrations than I ever did myself; and some of the interpreters have communicated more meaning to them, [page 335:] than my brain ever conceived. I have frequently read the learned commentaries and disquisitions about them with no slight amusement, although I allow, they are sometimes ingenious and profound. I myself cannot convince Johnson and Warburton that they were not always right. They know more than I do about my own performances.

Sterne. — I wish I could say as much in. reference to my own works. But most of my readers, let all my learning pass through their minds like water through sieves, and retaining only the dregs of the pleasantry, which if not defecated by science and taste is filthy enough.

Butler. — I have precisely the same complaint to make of the community of readers. And I have seen Swift almost in a rage when speaking of the inefficiency of his Martinus Scriblerus, which in my estimation is one of the richest pieces of irony and burlesque that was ever composed, replete with wit, just criticism and most admirable lessons of rhetorick. The Dean declares, that although he, Pope, and Arbuthnot, have exerted their utmost efforts to expose the affectation and pedantry of the schools, the whimsies of false science, the absurdities of corrupt taste and all the counterfeit beauties or real deformities of style and thought, the same faults are incessantly repeated, the same round of follies compassed, and the same specimens of writing circulated and approved. As examples of this stamp, he says, are not of phrenologists, or the geographical surveyors of heads, animal magnetists, and magnetical somnambulists, indulging all the contemptible whims and practising the disgraceful arts of Martinus and Cornelius? And what are the works, and the numerous volumes, too, of Mrs. Sherwood, Boz, and many other authors, but so many modes of cookery to prepare Martins’ ginger-bread for the public, or the workings of machinery to fabricate rare-shows, puppet-shows, and geographical suits of clothes, with which to teach grown children the lessons of science.

Prospero. — I think there never was a time in the annals of literature, in which the study of the Martinus Scriblerus was. more needed than at present, in England, France, and America. But to return to the topic we had just broached. I should like to know of Shakspeare himself, what he would say of some controversies which have been held relative to his performances. Addison and Johnson are at variance in regard to the termination of your Lear, the one approving the death of Cordelia, and the other considering it as a blemish in the play. Johnson maintains that it is too shocking to the feelings, and discordant to the course of a just [page 336:] Providence, and the other, that by leaving the impression upon the mind of a virtuous sorrow for the good queen under her melancholy fate, it is favourable to morality and piety.

Shakspeare. — Some severe stroke of that kind was necessary to bring Lear to an end that was worthy of him, as king and hero of the play. In the course of nature, and in his state of mind at that time, he would not have died, but have lingered out a wretched existence for some months, had not that event by a violent and sudden blow severed the cord of life. My effort always was to follow nature and not to force her.

Prospero. — But Dr. Johnson complains, that this sacrifice was not even required by the real history.

Shakspeare. — With that as a dramatist, I had little to do, when it did not serve my purpose. The important task to be executed in that case, was to briny about a catastrophe suited to the strain of feelings excited by tile previous acts. To have left Cordelia of course here alive, at last, would have been an important conclusion. I must, also, agree with Addison and Aristotle, that it is oftentimes the most happy exercise of the heart and mind, to indulge the deepest sympathy for suffering innocence. It purifies them from evil passions, and brings us all to submission under the discipline of a mysterious Providence.

Prospero. — You have lately had some ladies as your expounders. One of these maintains that you did not intend to represent lady Macbeth as so much a monster of depravity as commentators have supposed, but that your design was to mitigate her guilt, and soften the direful malignity and cruelty of her nature by love for her husband. By this attachment to her husband, she is supposed to have been actuated in the plan she projected, and the atrocities she practised, and propelled Macbeth to perpetrate, in pursuit of the crown.

Shakspeare. — We must not quarrel with the ladies, but my intent in that drama, it is evident from its whole strain of thought and feeling, is to represent Lady Macbeth as a female fury, whose mind is completely gangrened by ambition, and who is ready to wade through any enormities to obtain the sovereignty. She is much worse than Macbeth; the only link that binds her to her race, and saves her character from utter monstrosity, is shown in that expression put into her mouth, when she declares that she could have committed the murder of Duncan herself, had lie not resembled her father as he slept.

Prospero. — Another lady interpreter asserts, that you intended to exhibit Hamlet, as not under the influence of a [page 337:] feigned, but real madness, amidst the antic tricks that he plays, and the various and discordant passions by which he is agitated.

Shakspeare. — Such an idea would mar the whole plan, and soil the conduct of the piece. I should think that the language of Hamlet on various occasions, sufficiently discloses his plan to counterfeit insanity with a view more severely to punish the murder of his father.

Prospero. — Did you not conceive of Hamlet and Ophelia as deeply attached to each other?

Shakspeare. — Undoubtedly; this appears in all their language and deportment.

Prospero. — Some critics have complained of the inconsistencies of Hamlet’s character. Sometimes he is determined to destroy his uncle, and breathes the most exterminating fury, but as soon as a fair opportunity is presented of executing his purpose, lie fails in his resolution, fabricates excuses for delay, and at last takes his just revenge only when mortally wounded. ,

Shakspeare. — All these variations of feeling, and vacillations of purpose, were the natural result of Hamlet’s character, situation and excitement at the time. He is sup

posed to be a youth of the most proud, sensitive and daring character, but of fine moral feelings, and under the influence of religious principles and scruples. He had strong suspicions from the outset, that foul play had been practised upon his father, but had nothing like proof of the murder until the appearance of his father’s ghost, and that was very delusive; and although tremendously exciting to his mind, he would furnish to the world but a poor excuse for the slaughter of an uncle. The subsequent scene at the play, acted before the king and queen, was very convincing to him and Horatio, and furnished sufficient ground upon which to express his suspicion and deep conviction to his mother, but not yet for acting upon it as an undoubted fact. After the acknowledgment of it by his mother, and, her evident remorse, he could proceed upon certain ground, and therefore no longer hesitates to seize the first opportunity to slay his uncle, which he thought wad accomplished when he killed Polonius behind the arras. Besides that, Hamlet had no sufficient proof of his uncle’s guilt until the agitating interview with his mother, let it be recollected that he had been educated in the deepest reverence for this uncle, that this uncle was now his king, and the husband of a mother lie had tenderly loved, and I think the philosopher will allow him any eccentricities and inconsistencies of deportment amidst such conflicting passions, while fixing his [page 338:] purpose to slay him. Those who are conversant with human nature, know that so ardent and impetuous a mind as Hamlet’s when seized with such strong but opposing passions, is raised from its position, bereft of all poise and-sel -command, and tossed in different directions like a balloon inflated and set afloat in the atmosphere, and subject to impulse from every gust of wind. It is thus that I have been led to think natural, all- the antics and caprices, the vacillations and whirling movements of Hamlet.

Sterne. — That is certainly a satisfactory solution of all the extravagancies of Hamlet. But those ladies appear to be in excellent spirits from their lively looks, and earnest conversation with each other; let us join their hilarity and endeavour to partake of their hilarity and enjoyment. Forthwith we passed to that part of the room which we had left, and in which were still standing Madam Dacier, De Stael, Chatelet, Mrs. Newton, Lady Mary W. Montague, and Miss Burney, conversing with Voltaire, La Motte, Perault, and Boileau. As we approached, I heard Madam Dacier say, Ah Mr. Voltaire, I must acknowledge that in the lower world, I had a great preference of the ancient writers over the modern, and contended manfully in their behalf, but since I arrived in these regions, and perused them all without prejudice, I am of opinion that there are no distinctions to be drawn between fine writers in all ages. My mind was excited in favour of the ancients by the constant perusal of them, and their laborious acquisition in dead languages, besides the novel emotions of pleasure they gave me by their numerous beauties and excellencies. More mature reflection has convinced me, that they have similar and equal, but not preferable pretensions to the moderns.

Voltaire. — My dear madam, you must not, become a deserter from our ranks, or we shall lose our ablest champion. The translator of Homer, and the writer of those admirable commentaries upon his text, cannot surely allow that any poem in the world is to be compared to the Iliad.

Madam Dacier. — I allow that the Iliad is inimitable, and so is the Æneid, but so also is the Paradise Lost. The Jerusalem delivered of Tasso, is equal to the Pharsalia of Lucan; the Henriad, and the Lusiad are beautiful poems, but I can. not withhold the opinion, that nothing can be more noble and sublime than the Paradise Lost. It is a superb performance.

Voltaire. — I see, madam, we shall have to try you for a literary heresy. But if you think the moderns have rivalled the ancient nations in epic poetry, what do you say of their efforts in the drama, in history, oratory and philosophy? [page 339:]

Madam Dacier. — Their excellence in epic poetry and oratory, are the strongest points held by the ancients in comparison with the moderns. In philosophy all allow an immense superiority to the moderns; in popular eloquence, from the peculiar habits and circumstances of the Greeks and Romans, and more especially their forms of government, they may be allowed to have surpassed all others, because that and military talents were the only instruments by which mankind obtained influence and elevated themselves to greatness and distinction. But in that kind of eloquence which consists in unfolding the great principles of political wisdom and establishing . the maxims of jurisprudence, as well as in the persuasions of the pulpit — in that which enlightens the minds of men in the maxims of justice, truth, morals and humanity, and operates the conviction of intelligent and able assemblies, and propels them to judicious and wholesome action, the moderns have greatly the advantage. Where shall we find works upon political science and jurisprudence, to be compared to those of Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, Burke, and the writers of the Federalist in America? Upon political economy they, knew little, and it is now becoming a cultivated field of science. Come ladies, you must lend me aid, as I shall be out of breath if I begin to declaim.

Miss Burney. — I entirely agree with you in opinion. Where shall we find among ancient dramatic writers, any thing to be compared to Shakspeare? Beautiful as are the simple tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, what are they to the stupendous monuments of genius of this extraordinary man, omitting all others who would justly rival these inimitable ancients? In history, we need not be ashamed to place Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, or the author of the Age of Lewis XIV. by the side of Thucydides and Xenophon, of Livy and Tacitus. The ancients have no works of wit that bear any similitude to those of Butler, Swift, Addison, Steel, Pope, Sterne, Boileau, Voltaire, Moliere, and all those other authors of like pretensions with which England and France have abounded. Now, gentlemen, as you have listened to the prattle of the ladies, let us hear what you grave and learned seniors have to say in this controversy.

La Motte. — Mr. Pirault and I are delighted to hear our opinions so ably advocated. Our modern veneration for antiquity, although just to a certain extent, has been carried to a ridiculous extreme by the prejudices of the learned, and the pedantry of the schools. The ancient writers cannot have too much honour bestowed upon them, as they led the way in science, literature and the arts; but that honour should not be [page 340:] permitted to throw into eclipse the glory of their successors, Because Horace is revered as an admirable poet, this need not diminish the merits of Pope and Roisseau, who are the Horaces of their respective countries. And in regard to eloquence among the Greeks and Romans, or that of Demosthenes and Cicero, their finest models, their fame was greatly aergmented by the circumstance, that their orations were addressed to those popular assemblies, upon whose immediate action the fate of individuals and empires entirely depended. The same orations delivered from the rostra of Athens and Rome, and in the parliament of England, and congress of America, would produce very different results, and obtain for their deliverers very different degrees of farm. When upon the lips of Pericles and Demosthenes hung the fate of Greece, every word they uttered would have a thousand times more effect, than in a cool, deliberative council. In Saturnia, we all feel the immense power of Demosthenes and Cicero, in the congress of Atlantis, but we find modern orators who always equal them, and in some instances, I think, decidedly surpass them. There is no man in our congress that can claim a superiority to the former Earl of Chathain and the American Hamilton.

Prospero. — Now, that we have discussed this point, allow me, gentlemen and ladies, to propose for the decision of this learned company, a controversy in reference to the great Roman epic, which we all admire. Dr. Johnson, in one of the numbers of his Rambler, maintains that Virgil in representing Dido as meeting Eneas in the shades below, in perfect silence, without deigning to address him, has violated nature in order to imitate Homer, who describes the same scene as passing between Ajax and Ulysses. He says, that although this indignant silence was perfectly in character to Ajax, who was a man, and a sullen one, yet a woman on such occasions, would have broken forth into loud complaints and exclamations of wrath. Is this a just criticism of Virgil?

Voltaire. — Her ladyship had been too much comforted by meeting Sicheus, her former husband, in Elyseum, to be greatly concerned at the approach of Æneas, her late jilt. If she had boxed his ears for him, it would have been no more than he deserved.

Prospero. — But what say you, madam Dacier, in the solution of this problem? As you are familiar with the great epics of Homer and Virgil, we should wish to have your decision.

Madam Dacier. — The decision of this controversy, as it depends upon the operation of the great principles of human [page 941:] nature, should be referred to Shakspeare. He has torched every spring in the human heart, and can best unfold its most hidden workings.

Shakspeare. — If I must obey the mandate of the ladies, and give an opinion, I should say, that both Homer and Virgil are right. There are many strong passions, which in their conflict stop the utterance of men. Ajax was ambitious and haughty, and when he met Ulysses in hell, who had gained a victory over him in their contest for the arms of Achilles, hie was too indignant to notice him. Dido had more serious cause of resentment, arising out of disappointed love, mingled with a sense of shame, that a queen could allow herself to be so deceived and ill treated. Could a woman of her high dignity, condescend to speak to a man who, as she conceived, had acted so base a part? Surely not. But to have broken forth into loud reproaches and railings against her deceiver, would have been a degradation of her character, and an exposure of her own shame. This would have been more like a fishwoman than a queen. Her dignity was best maintained by silence, and if we presume her a woman of understanding, she must have perceived this.

At this moment the crowd began to gather around us, and the conversation turned upon more trivial matters; we all indulged ourselves in the excellent wines and other refreshments offered to the guests, and then took the usual leave for the evening. As Sterne and I had been naturally pleased with each other, he promised to call and see me in the morning, carry me to his house, and accompany me through the city in search of every thing that was worthy to be seen.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - AM, 1838] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Atlantis [part 3] [Text-02]